As this season draws to a close we are reminded of another season when Maccabi Tel Aviv celebrated all the way to the championship
It's not unusual at any particular point in a season for football fans to get that feeling of déjà vu, but when it happens through long periods of that season, well, that's another story altogether. The look of the current season, and in particular of the upper tier play-offs, draws a number of parallels with Maccabi's championship season of 21 years ago. Then too there was an upper tier play-off and though the clubs themselves may have traded places, the roles they played in Maccabi Tel Aviv's championship run were in many cases strikingly similar. And just for openers, any Maccabi Tel Aviv fan will no doubt be delighted to discover a pleasant anecdote from the 1991/92 season, especially where it concerns a match against a particular team wearing red jerseys!
In the 1991/92 season, the team having a similar run to this year's Maccabi Haifa was Bnei Yehuda, who started out hesitantly, then recovered and later became Maccabi Tel Aviv's chief rival in the run up to the championship. And in similar fashion to this year, then too Maccabi Tel Aviv beat their title chasers at home and lost to them away during the regulation season. One can even pinpoint a particular moment in the course of the 1991/92 season, the start of eleven consecutive victories, when the momentum began to build for the Maccabi Tel Aviv championship surge. And if the recent 4-0 derby victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv still remains a sweet memory for Maccabi fans, you'll be pleased to know that it's happened before, and yes, in that same 1991/92 season. And then too it came after a long derby drought, four years to be exact, just like this season.
When Maccabi Tel Aviv went into the play-offs in 1992, the second match of the series, much like this season, saw them host the then second placed side, Bnei Yehuda, and with the same result – a draw that kept the hopes of the deputy leaders of the pack alive of perhaps surpassing their superiors, Maccabi Tel Aviv. The role of Hapoel Ramat Gan today was then played by Maccabi Netanya, who were the first club Maccabi Tel Aviv faced in an away match in the second series of play-off ties with just five games remaining to the season. Maccabi Tel Aviv triumphed 0-3 to take yet another significant stride towards claiming the title that, like this season, had eluded them for many years going all the way back to '78/'79.
At the end of the 80's and the beginning of the 90's, Bnei Yehuda were a familiar face among the top clubs in the Israeli Premier League, with the 1989/90 season producing the only championship in their history. Much like Maccabi Haifa today, who won the championship two years ago, Bnei Yehuda followed their championship with an indifferent season in 1990/91 only to return to contention with Maccabi Tel Aviv the year after. And much like this year, with just four games left to play in the upper tier play-offs and the season as a whole, round 33 saw the second placed team, Bnei Yehuda, host the league leaders, Maccabi Tel Aviv, who with a 12 point lead were on the verge of celebrating the title and could suffice with a draw. Maccabi however preferred to finish in style and won the match 2-3, performing their intoxicating championship celebrations at the home of their chief rivals. Just to sweeten the pudding still more, the following week saw the outgoing champions, Maccabi Haifa, arrive in Tel Aviv, much like this year's holders Ironi Kiryat Shmona. Haifa too were finishing a somewhat indifferent season by their standards which kept them some distance from retaining the title. And they were beaten for the second time during the play-off series 5-1, leaving Maccabi Tel Aviv without a loss throughout the whole series.
Maccabi Tel Aviv's 1991/92 championship was the start of the golden years of the early 1990's, with three championships and two National Cups. This season hasn't finished yet and obviously no promises it will end like '91/'92. Everything depends on the current leaders so we'll simply have to wait and see what is in store for us in this, the critical stage of this special season. So whether you're out in the terraces, or glued to your television screens, don't miss a moment of it!