Israel’s most venerable and decorated club, Maccabi Tel Aviv have claimed each of the last three league titles. Champions League competitors in 2015-16, Maccabi have had to move their European games to Haifa, the Sammy Ofer Stadium now of a better standard than the club’s regular home of the Bloomfield in Jaffa, south of downtown Tel Aviv.
Maccabi also share the Bloomfield with their age-old city rivals Hapoel. The pair dominated the domestic game from the pre-war days of the British Mandate in Palestine until the 1960s. Formed as a social club in 1906, Maccabi set the mould for similar sports organisations to be created across the region, across Europe, in fact.
In Tel Aviv, the original Maccabi provided many of the players who represented the Mandatory Palestine side in the qualifying tournaments for the World Cups of 1934 and 1938. Among them, Jerry Beit haLevi went on to become Maccabi’s manager in the 1950s, goals from prolific striker Shiye Glazer bringing five titles in nine seasons.
The next great Maccabi side came either side of Israel’s historic appearance at the 1970 World Cup Finals, defender Miko Bello and striker Giora Spiegel part of the side who held finalists Italy to a 0-0 draw. Spiegel would play more than 200 games for Maccabi but had to break with then club chairman Beit haLevi to seek his fortune in France in the mid 1970s.
Breaking into the side at that time was classic libero Avi Cohen, who would become the first Israeli to play in England when he signed for Liverpool, after winning two league titles for Maccabi. The other big star of the era was Cohen’s brother-in-law Vicky Peretz, who played nearly 200 times for Maccabi, following Spiegel to Strasbourg between two stints at the Bloomfield. His strike partner, Benny Tabak, would play for the Yellows until the late 1980s.
In 1991, Avram Grant arrived at Maccabi from his home club of Hapoel Petah Tikva and transformed the side almost overnight. Grant’s trademark use of young players – most notably attacking midfielders Avi Nimni and Itzik Zohar – helped an exciting, high-scoring team win the Israeli title for the first time in over a decade. Nimni again starred for the title wins of 1995, Grant’s last, and 1996.
With Israel in the European fold from 1992, Maccabi had gained valuable if painful international experience with narrow defeats to Grasshoppers Zürich and Fenerbahce before making their Champions League group-stage debut in 2004. Beating Ajax and drawing with Juventus, the Yellows hardly disgraced themselves, and would go on to hold Dynamo Kyiv to two draws in the Europa League of 2011-12. In 2013-14, Maccabi twice beat Bordeaux and overcame Eintracht Frankfurt 4-2 to reach the knock-out rounds of the same competition.
In the league, Nimni again proved crucial when Maccabi dramatically snatched the title on goal difference under former team captain Nir Klinger in 2003. Domestic silverware and the chance to play in Europe attracted the likes of ex-West Ham star Eyal Berkovic to the Bloomfield but it needed the managerial team of Jordi Cruyff and Óscar García, and goals of Eliran Atar, before Maccabi could end a decade-long title drought in 2013. With Atar sold to Stade de Reims, ex-Hapoel star Eran Zahavi stepped into the limelight to score the goals that kept the title at Maccabi in 2014, repeating the feat as top league scorer in 2015.
Now as captain, Zahavi also scored the vital goals that helped Maccabi through the qualifying rounds of the 2015-16 Champions League and into the group stage for the second time of asking.
Stadiums & Shops
Maccabi have been based at the Bloomfield Stadium, original home of Hapoel, since 2000.
The club’s ground in the early days was the Maccabiah, built for the Games of the same name in 1932. Today it’s a training pitch within the Tel Aviv Convention Center on Rokach Boulevard north of town. Maccabi also have their own training centre south of town in the district of Kiryat Shalom, where the club shop can be found at 106 Ben Zvi Road near the Holon Junction.
There’s also an outlet downtown on the main street of Dizengoff, No.147.
At the Bloomfield, Maccabi’s hard-core fans gather through gates 10 and 11.
For 2015-16, Maccabi have been staging their Champions League games at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, 100km north of Tel Aviv.