Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona won the Israeli soccer championship on Monday for the first time in the small northern city’s history. The team, which won the Toto Cup in January, drew 0-0 against its second-place rival, Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Izzy Sheratsky, a Tel Aviv-born tech millionaire, founded the team ten years ago in an attempt to provide the city with a distraction from the constant bombardment of rockets fired by Hizbullah from Lebanon.
“Izzy came here when I was a player and said we’d be champions and after that be in the Champions' League,” the club’s general manager, Yossi Edri, said in February. “I thought, ‘Who is this man?’ We thought he was crazy.”
Fireworks filled the sky above Ironi Stadium as the players celebrated the title win in front of about 4,000 fans.
“This is undoubtedly the best moment in my career so far,” forward Shimon Abuhatzeira said. “We overcame many things on the way … We worked hard and today everyone saw we could do it. I am so happy that today (the title) is finally in our hands.”
“It is one of the most incredible championships in Israeli history, in my opinion,” striker Barak Badash told Channel 1 television. “I am the happiest man in the world.”
Hapoel Ironi is now only two qualifying rounds away from playing in next season’s Champions League and potentially playing against Barcelona, Manchester United or Bayern Munich, noted the Associated Press.