Israel and Maccabi mourn a legend
England were expected to thrash Israel in a February 1986 friendly in Tel Aviv. The Three Lions were, after all, stepping up their preparations for that year’s FIFA World Cup™ - a competition in which their opponents would play no part – while their recent results included a 3-0 defeat of West Germany, 5-0 wins over USA and Turkey, and a 4-0 success in Egypt.
Yet despite the fact Bryan Robson, Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle, John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and Co monopolised possession and had innumerable shots, they were repeated frustrated by the Israel No1 and only snatched a 2-1 away victory courtesy of a last-gasp Robson penalty. “He’s one of the best goalkeepers I’ve seen,” remarked a surprised England coach Bobby Robson post-match, still unaware of his subject’s identity.
But while that subject may have been largely unknown outside Israel, he was, despite being only 22 years old, already considered to be firmly en route to becoming one of the greatest performers in Israeli football history. Avi Ran, indeed, had broken into the Maccabi Haifa team as a 17-year-old and performed heroics between their sticks thereafter as they won back-to-back league titles in 1983/84 and 1984/85. Moreover, he set club records by playing every minute of every game for three successive seasons and conceding just 18 goals during the 1984/85 campaign, while he became the first man to keep four consecutive clean sheets in the Haifa Derby and would, later that year, be named Israeli footballer of the year for 1986.
Ran’s chances of fulfilling his enormous potential were, however, tragically ended 25 years ago to this Wednesday. The nine-times-capped Israel international was enjoying a close-season dip in the lake with his Maccabi team-mates when he was fatally struck by a motorboat. Israel had lost a legend who was just six weeks short of his 24th birthday.
Ran’s funeral took place at the Kiryat Eliezer, the stadium in which he had thrilled the Maccabi supporters on so many occasions. The 14,000 in attendance, along with the countless others who lined the streets as the Tiberias native’s coffin made its way to the service, was testament to just how much he meant to club and country.