Bnei Sakhnin F.C.
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|Full name||Ihoud Bnei Sakhnin F.C.
איחוד בני סכנין
اتحاد أبناء سخنين
|Ground||Doha Stadium, Sakhnin|
|Chairman||Mohammed Abu Younes|
|League||Israeli Premier League|
Bnei Sakhnin F.C. (Hebrew: איחוד בני סכנין, Ihud Bnei Sakhnin, Arabic: اتحاد أبناء سخنين, Ittihad Abna Sakhnin, lit. Sons of Sakhnin United), is a Israeli football club based at the Doha Stadium in Sakhnin. They are the most successful Israeli Arab club in the country, having won the State Cup in 2004.
The club was formed by a merger of Maccabi Sakhnin and Hapoel Sakhnin in 1991. They were promoted to Liga Artzit (then the second tier) in 1997. In 1998–99 they finished in the relegation zone, but were reprieved when Maccabi Jaffa, who had finished bottom of the top division, were relegated three leagues due to financial problems.
In 2002–03 the club finished as runners-up and promoted alongside fellow Israeli-Arab club Macacbi Ahi Nazareth, becoming the joint-second Israeli-Arab club to play in the top flight after Hapoel Tayibe. Promotion was only won on the last day of the season, the club overtaking Hapoel Jerusalem when they won 1–0 away to Maccabi Kiryat Gat, whilst Hapoel were held to a 0–0 draw at Hapoel Ra'anana.
Prior to their first season in the top division, Sakhnin were favourites to be relegated, and it was thought that Nazareth had a better chance of survival. Questions remained as to whether the squad that gained promotion would be able to compete at the top level, along with the added pressures not to become the next Hapoel Taibe (who were relegated in their first season in the top flight, and subsequently suffered financial problems leading to repeated relegations thereafter). They also lost manager Momy Zafran who resigned shortly after the club won promotion, replacing him with Eyal Lahman. In addition, the club had to play games in Haifa's Kiryat Eliezer Stadium, as their home ground in Sakhnin was deemed unfit for the Premier League.
The club signed former Maccabi Haifa striker Raffi Cohen and loaned another striker, Lior Asulin from Maccabi Herzliya. Sagi Strauss was brought in to mind the nets from Maccabi Petah Tikva. Despite the gloomy predictions, the club defied the odds, eventually finishing 10th, four points clear of relegation, whilst Nazareth finished bottom. However, the highlight of the season was the State Cup victory, also a first by an Israeli-Arab club. In the final, Sakhnin beat surprise finalists, second division side Hapoel Haifa 4–1. The team gained a reputation for being a tough, combative outfit, similar in style to the Crazy Gang period at English club Wimbledon. Captain and club stalwart Abbas Suan (he had been at the club since its formation, having been part of the Hapoel Sakhnin team since 1994) won particular acclaim, gaining a call-up to the Israel squad, and winning his first cap in February 2004.
The cup win meant that the club became the first Arab team to play in Europe, entering the UEFA Cup. After beating Partizani Tirana 6–1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round, the club faced Newcastle United in the first round. However, Sakhnin were beaten 7–1 on aggregate, including a 5–1 home defeat in a match played at the National Stadium in Ramat Gan due to security concerns.
During their spell in the top flight, several Sakhnin games were plagued by hooliganism. Despite chairman Ghnaim's stated mission to create a "cultural rainbow" from his football club, games against Beitar Jerusalem were particularly violent, at least partially due to the presence of notoriously anti-Arab supporters of Beitar; when Sakhnin won the State Cup, Beitar fans paid for an obituary to be printed in Israel's leading daily Yediot Aharonot, claiming that Israeli football was dead. On 29 January 2005 Sakhnin fans rioted during a home match (played at Kiryat Eliezer) against Hapoel Tel Aviv after a violent incident on the field between a team official and a referee, who had earlier had sent off two Sakhnin players. As a punishment, the IFA ordered the club to play two games behind closed doors.
Despite a large cash injection made by Israeli businessman Arcadi Gaydamak ($400,000) in the hope of promoting peace and harmony among the citizens of Israel, and a return to their rebuilt home stadium (largely financed by the Emir of Qatar, hence the renaming to Doha Stadium), Sakhnin were relegated at the end of 2005–06 season, finishing nine points from safety.
However, with one of the largest budgets in the division (around five and a half million shekels), the club were amongst the favourites to return quickly to the Premier League, and did so by finishing as runners-up to Kiryat Shmona. In their first season back in the Premier League, they finished fourth, their highest ever league position, qualifying for the Intertoto Cup. Problems due to political unrest in the region, did that leaders in the club asked to postpone matches in Intertoto cup in the Summer of 2008, Most of the stars of the team were sold, most notably Maor Buzaglo who signed for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
In popular culture
The rise of the Bnei Sakhnin F.C. was the subject of a popular documentary film by noted Israeli director Ram Loevy.
The team is also the subject of the critically acclaimed 2010 documentary film "After The Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United", which follows the team after they win the Israel State Cup directed by American Christopher Browne.
During the 2005–06 season, the club signed a shirt sponsorship deal with Israeli mobile phone company Cellcom. Talks are currently ensuing over continuing the deal even though the chief executive of Cellcom's Arab sector affairs, Suliman Diab, has left his non-executive post with Bnei Sakhnin to join Liga Artzit (third tier) side Bnei Tamra.
The club's budget was bolstered on 15 June 2006 when Gaydamak announced that he would donate two million shekels to the club in hope that they will make a return to Israel's top league.
Big matches (especially those against rival club Beitar Jerusalem) can attract large crowds but toward the end of the 2005–06 season when the club was set to be relegated, the attendance at matches declined dramatically. The peak of fan attendance was the Israel State Cup final when Ramat Gan Stadium was filled with Arabs from Israel who had all come to support the club.
- As of 25 February 2015
Only up to five non-Israeli nationals can be in an Israeli club squad. Those with Jewish ancestry, married to an Israeli, or have played in Israel for an extended period of time (e.g. Gustavo Boccoli), can claim a passport or permanent residency which would allow them to play with Israeli status.
- Momy Zafran (2002)
- Eyal Lahman (2003–04)
- Momy Zafran (2006)
- Elisha Levy (July 1, 2006–June 30, 2008)
- Freddy David (July 1, 2008–08)
- Eyal Lahman (2008–09)
- Eran Kulik (2009–Oct 19, 2009)
- Marco Balbul (Oct 21, 2009–June 30, 2010)
- Yuval Naim (July 1, 2010–Aug 11, 2010)
- Haim Levy (2010)
- Slobodan Drapić (2010–11)
- Shlomi Dora (April 4, 2011–March 10, 2013)
- Marco Balbul (March 11, 2013– June 19, 2014)
- Guy Levy (June 19, 2014)
- Eli Cohen (footballer born 1961) (2014-)
- Israel State Cup:
- Winners (1): 2003–04
- Toto Cup
- Runner-up (1) 2007–2008
- Liga Leumit:
- Israeli Premier League:
- Best finish: 4th 2007–08
- Most League Goals: 93 Saleem lafi Abounis (2001–2014)
- Most League Goals in a Season (individual): 16 Oren Muharer, Liga Leumit, 2000–01
- Most Goals scored in a match: 3 Samir Zampir v SK Nes Ziona, 6 March 1999 / 3 Wissam Isami v Hapoel Bat Yam, 21 May 1999 / 3 Oren Muharer v Hapoel Jerusalem, 31 October 1999
- Most League Goals in a Season (team): 56 1998–99
- Spurs Legend On Life At Racist Israeli Club Sky News, 6 October 2006
- Soccer: In Israel and Italy, storied teams rise International Herald Tribune, 15 April 2007
- Harush, Moshe (14 January 2011). "Gaza war sparks tensions for Israeli Arab soccer team – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2011-06-30.
- "Say Goodbye to Los Angeles » Patrick J. Buchanan – Official Website". Buchanan.org. Retrieved 2011-06-30.