The Israeli supporters’ trust movement (yes, there is such a thing!) is part of a growing network promoting sustainable clubs through community and fan ownership across Europe. As many will know, Supporters Direct – the body responsible for growing much of this network – began a decade ago in Britain. It is now a movement that is establishing itself successfully across the rest of Europe, including in Israel.
Clubs in Israel
From the very first days of the state of Israel (and even before), sport clubs were established in affiliation with political parties and ideological agendas, and up until the early 90s club ownership was highly politically oriented. The major examples were Hapoel clubs associated with the labor movement and Maccabi clubs associated with the Zionist movement.
In the early 90s, the Israeli Football Association (IFA) relocated to UEFA’s European confederation, after previously playing in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and then the Oceania Football Federation (OFC). The move to European affiliation and to UEFA’s competitions started to create an atmosphere for change.
A seemingly dramatic change in the ownership and management of football clubs began to take place: from the politically affiliated associations, which were run by diverse groups of people, connected with vast and various groups in the Israeli society, to private ownership.
At first, the supporters were in favour of this privatisation of their clubs: no more political corruption, but professional clubs with a guaranteed budget that would help them improve their chances in UEFA competitions. Or so they thought.
However, slowly but surely familiar problems related to private ownership started popping up. First, ticket prices increased dramatically, leading to a decrease in the number of fans attending the games. Later, a new law gave the police more responsibilities at the grounds, which led to even more repression of the fans. Above all, the gap between the clubs and their fans was widening.
To be a football fan in Israel has become an almost masochistic pursuit. Football clubs are run by single owners without consideration of the fans and as a result the stadia are empty.
In other countries as well, clubs often refuse to have a dialogue with fans and are run on the basis that clubs are simply ‘businesses’. Yet there is usually some sort of acknowledgment that there are fans out there support the club — not so in Israel.
As a result, there has long been a lot of frustration amongst fans, and a rather depressing mood amongst those in the grounds, as well as the many who don’t even bother watching their clubs anymore.
In 2006, in face of this deteriorating situation, Israfans, the Israeli sport supporters’ association, was officially established. Most interestingly, following thorough research conducted by the organisation, a very interesting fact was uncovered: the clubs never actually were privatised!
In fact, most of the clubs were still largely funded by direct and indirect governmental sources. The research also found that most of the problems supporters were having were a result of ownership issues and the fact that the voice of the supporters was not (and still isn’t) listened to when the clubs are making their decisions, like selling the home ground or changing kick-off times.
Establishing Supporters’ Trusts
The supporters responded with a positive counter-attack and set up supporters’ clubs and supporters’ trusts. This was done in something of a hybrid version between British-style supporters’ trusts (along the models suggested by Supporters Direct) and the German Fan Projects’ social programmes. Supporters’ trusts aim to serve as an instrument to increase the involvement of supporters in the running of their clubs, ideally gaining ownership, while addressing and involving the whole community. The German Fan Projects, on the other hand, aim to develop the supporters’ communities through social work to bring in the community in active and interesting ways.
In the beginning of 2010, a pilot project was established with Hapoel Petach Tikva Supporters Union, a club in the Israeli Premier League, in collaboration with Israfans, the Hothouse, a local youth centre, and the Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC) foundation. The Trust, whose board was composed of various supporter representatives, consulted with Israfans’ social advisor for several months and developed a set of tools that built on both the supporters’ trust and fan project models.
The toolkit involved social tools like developing a vision for the trust, social marketing and long-term planning, as well as lectures about similar initiatives from around the world.
One of the outcomes of development stage was “The Youth Project”. The Trust took the youth teams of the club under their wing and offered them a series of lectures about the clubs’ importance, and arranged meetings between the youth players and the board of the club – overall not the typical behavior of an Israeli club.
The project was so successful and received so much support that from next season on it will be implemented in the entire youth department of Hapoel Petah Tikva and in six other cities. In addition, the trust set up a handball and basketball team.
The Hapoel Tikva Supporters Trust was the first of its kind in Israel, but many have been established since: Now Israfans represents six supporters’ trusts, three supporter owned clubs and 25 other supporter clubs. Today, we can talk confidently of a growing supporters’ movement in Israel, and Israfans will continue to help develop and grow, assisting trusts in achieving their goals of greater openness and transparency in clubs, along with representation in the running of their clubs. Beyond this, Israfans continues to lobby the IFA and Ministry of Sport to further these objectives.
The growing number of supporters’ trusts in Israel show that the number of responsible supporters who are not happy with the way their club is run has grown and resulted in action. Above all, these fans want to ensure their clubs continue to exist and want to be able to support their club. What they recognise is that in order to achieve this, the ownership structure of clubs has to change and football clubs need to be more transparent and democratically run.