Twelve Israeli soccer fans found themselves in court Tuesday following the chaos at a Tel Aviv soccer game the night before when they stormed the field and began attacking the players, forcing the game to be called off before halftime.
The brawl began when a shirtless fan ran onto the field in the 33rd minute of the 1-1 tied game and began hitting star Maccabi Tel Aviv player Eran Zehavi.
Video of the incident showed the fan move to kick Zehavi, who raised his own leg in an apparent effort to defend himself — earning him a red card, according to rules of the game barring player violence on the field.
The fistfight went on for at least 10 seconds before security guards intervened. Meanwhile, other spectators poured onto the field and went at the players, leading to the game to be called off altogether.
The Times of Israel reported that Zehavi refused to get off the field and argued unsuccessfully for about 10 minutes to have the decision reversed.
The referee’s decision to slap Zehavi with a red card sparked outrage among Zehavi team supporters as well as well-known sports commentators. Television and radio shows and online forums were filled with debate about the incident including questions about why it took so long for security guards to tackle the dozen intruders who ran on the field.
Yael Arad, a former judoka who won Israel’s first Olympic medal, came to Zehavi’s defense.
“Eran Zehavi, you deserve a black belt in self-defense. You acted in real time and proportionately. You didn’t attack, rather defended and moved aside,” Arad wrote on Facebook. “Embarrassing, annoying and incomprehensible. A soccer game, tense as it can be, can’t serve as an excuse for hooligans.”
“I never saw such an ugly event. I never saw such a thing that a fan enters the field and punches a player,” observed a sportscaster on Israel Broadcasting Authority television.
Eyal Berkovic, the manager of Hapoel Tel Aviv, told a reporter for Israel’s NRG in the locker room, “I feel like puking from soccer. In the end I’m going to leave.”
Hapoel Tel Aviv issued a statement Monday night strongly condemning the shirtless man, who is a fan of the club.
“The club will use all means at its disposal in order to ban this man who does not deserve to be called a Hapoel fan from Bloomfield [Stadium] for the rest of the days of his life,” the Hapoel Tel Aviv statement read.
"This is soccer, not war," team manager Berkovic said.
Watch the melee unfold: