Maccabi Tel Aviv will open their State Cup campaign for the current season on Saturday against hosts Hapoel Umm El Fahm in Afula, kickoff at 19:50, and while Israel’s top club has many fans throughout the country, by coincidence, the northern Arab town is home to probably Maccabi’s most fervent supporter.

Mahdi Jabarin, 37, has been a Maccabi fan for 29 years and he’s not shy in telling us where his loyalties lie. “I have been a Maccabi fan since 1990, I live and breathe Maccabi Tel Aviv,” he said. 

His connection is more than just of a fan, however. “I had a dream to play for Maccabi one day and I was part of the junior setup and played for the Boys B and Boys A teams and then for the youth team for two years. I played alongside Tal Ben Haim, Reuven Oved, Salem Abu Siam and Avi Strul,” Jabarin recalled.

He said that he was attracted to Maccabi after watching a game that was particularly impressive.

“When I was eight years old, I saw one of their games and they played really well. I asked my dad which team that was, when he told me it was Maccabi Tel Aviv. I fell in love. I go to every game and many supporters now know me,” Jabarin said proudly.

The upcoming game does not present a dilemma for Jabarin and he has no divided loyalties.

“Everybody has pride, there are Maccabi fans in my town and there are many Hapoel Umm El Fahm supporters too but I know exactly who I will be supporting. Maccabi are in my being and I know that there are others who are really excited and waiting for this match.”

“I want Maccabi to come to Afula and play well and win. I don’t want to hear any sectarian or racist cries, this is football and it needs to be clean game so that fans everywhere will be able to say that Maccabi won fair and square. I want to go home after the game with my head held high.”

Jabarin has been keeping close tabs on Umm El Fahm and has many friends who play for the Second Division club. 

“I have watched them train, my family and neighbourhood friends are among the management members. A few days ago, I went to a training session and they all said to me: ‘Here comes Mahdi, the Maccabi fan who will tell them all about us,'” he said jokingly.

Umm El Fahm lie fourth in the Second Division, nine points adrift of a promotion spot and Jabarin is hoping that Maccabi’s defence and superior technical skills will see them prevail.

Umm El Fahm’s fans have gained a good reputation as loyal supporters of their own club and Jabarin concurs: “The local fans are some of the best in the Second Division. The town was missing a decent football team for a long time and with the club’s improvement the fans are able to display their love for the game and their team.”

Jabarin said he was hoping for a clear victory for Maccabi “hopefully by three, four or five goals, the more the merrier. I don’t want it to go to extra time or penalties, let’s get it done in 90 minutes,” he said.