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White and Blue is Their Colour

Shalom Sionov (09/12/2015)

They grew up together, shared both achievements and injuries and overcame some bad experiences. A joint interview with Tomer Hemed and Beram Kayal who lead Brighton and Hove Albion to the top of The Championship

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During the month of November Tomer Hemed (28) and Beram Kayal (27) set our with their wives on a romantic weekend in Paris. Unfortunately, their dream vacation turned into a nightmare amid the deadliest terror attack France has seen in recent years.

“There was hysteria and panic. We too felt unsafe”, Hemed recalls, “It was very odd to see a city which is usually very upbeat, happy and touristic so quiet. We stayed in the hotel until our flight and were happy to go home”.

“I felt the different attitudes between the Israelis and the French”, Hemed continues, “In Israel life goes on and there’s faith in the IDF to keep us safe. In France the panic simply paralysed the people and no one really knew how to behave”.

"My connection to the team was instant". Beram Kayal

“It’s not a routine event there like it is in Israel”, Kayal adds, “but despite it all everyone needs to reflect on the value of life, family and our children. When you’re abroad it feels scarier and less secure”.

The light shines bright in Brighton
The connection between the two started as teenagers growing up in northern Israel. “I know him since age 13, from Maccabi Haifa’s youth team”, says Kayal, “We meet with our families and tell stories from our joint past. Every little thing reminds us of situations from our days training in the youth team. Naturally, Tomer’s arrival is really helpful for me. I have a real friend, not just a friend on the pitch and our families get along perfectly. We even have the same birthday and we celebrate together on May 2nd”.

Their lives are filled with more similar experiences and about a year ago they both became fathers for the first time, in close succession. Hemed resides with his wife Shunit and their daughter, Mia, in central Hove. “We love the city. It host plenty of tourists but most importantly we’re close to the shul, the sea and Mia’s kindergarten.”

Kayal lives with his wife Angelina and their son, Pirlo, in the Brighton Marina area: “I’m having a good time here, the biggest advantage is of course the warmer weather and the proximity to London. That’s a big plus”.

Kayal, who plays defensive midfielder, was the first of the two to play in Britain. After years representing Maccabi Haifa he went to play for Scottish club Celtic in 2010. After four successful years and a Scottish League Championship he decided on a change of scenery and in January 2015 signed for two and a half seasons with Brighton and Hove Albion.

"I have not experienced any type of racism in Britain and even in Spain". Tomer Hemed

“My connection to the team was instant”, he says, “They received me very warmly. The coach had faith in me from day one and gave me the reigns which helped me play better and improve.”

Hemed also played for Maccabi Haifa’s A squad. After being loaned to Bnei Yehuda and Ahi Nazareth he returned to Haifa and scored 18 goals he decided in 2010, almost simultaneously with Kayal, to play in Europe. Hemed signed for three seasons with Mallorca and then for another year with Almeria. After the team has relegated he committed at the beginning of this season for three seasons in Brighton. Hemed is a striker and started the season strong scoring five goals but then went quiet. “You experience periods when it’s easier to score and periods when things just don’t work out”, he explains. The scoring drought ended against Charlton when coming on a sub he scored the winning goal.

Racism in football, in Israel and the UK both is a widespread phenomenon. One would think that two Israeli footballers, a Jew and an Arab, will experience some tension or ethnic fraction, but the two were pleasantly surprised. “Surprisingly, I have not experienced any type of racism in Britain and even in Spain I was warmly accepted with zero racism over my Israeli identity”, Hemed says.

Kayal was also impressed: “Oddly enough I never experienced any racism during the six years I have spent in the UK. We are very well received, people seem to like me and have nice things to say. I’m very happy I got the chance to be in the company of people who appreciate human beings and don’t say tasteless things about colour and religion”.

Injury time
Another issue in common for both players is some rough injuries they suffered. “It wasn’t easy”, admits Hemed, ”I was out for seven months during my second season in Mallorca, in the middle of a fantastic run. The doctors said my achilles was torn. When I returned Mallorca has already been relegated but nevertheless they gave me a chance and were patient for me to get back in form. Initially it was a total shock to be injured like that, it took me several days to realise what had happened but my family and my wife helped me and cheered me up. Most important during these times is to see the glass half full and not be negative, otherwise it affects the way you come back. I was delighted to return even better, stronger and more confident.”

Kayal has tasted the bitter taste of injury no less than four times in Celtic but was able to sweeten the ordeal by support from his loved ones: “My family has always been there for me in tough moments and the coaches always believed in me and told me it’s just bad luck. These injuries have thought me a lot and made me stronger. I learned how to deal with losing the key player status and each time having to fight through a long rehab and getting back in form for the first eleven. These things are hard to go through especially when you’re a leading player and in the first team”.

In spite of the injuries, it seems the friendship between the two Israelis has proven strong and worthy for the success of the Brighton and Hove team. At the time of print Brighton is in the first place in the Championship and has not lost a match yet.

What does the future hold for the new Brightonians and their team? “The league is very long and our goal is to stay close to the top until the end. We started strongly out of the gates but that just drives us to keep working hard as our goal is to make it to the Premier League”, sums Hemed.


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