Maccabi Kabilio Jaffa FC are perhaps like no other club in the world. Founded and owned by their fans, who named the side after a legendary goalkeeper, they celebrated back-to-back promotions at the first attempt and have suffered just a single league defeat in their entire history.
"It all began with a phone call made by a fan called Bar Cohen," recalled Ron Amikam, a sports writer, supporter and one of the club's founders as well as a current member of the board. That telephone conversation led to several meetings, the registration of numerous fans and an inaugural assembly on 24 December 2007, during which the first membership fees were collected. "Within six months, we had 85 players for trials. Four weeks later, the club began operating," added Amikam.
Maccabi Kabilio have risen from the ashes of Maccabi Jaffa FC, whose core support hailed from the Bulgarian Jewish immigrant community in the historic city of Jaffa, just south of Tel-Aviv. Relegated from the top flight due to financial irregularities in 1999, Maccabi Jaffa folded the following year, but it is their fans who pushed for the formation of a successor club.
The new entity can trace their links with Maccabi Jaffa through their name too, with Herzel Kabilio an iconic goalkeeper for the defunct club and a terrace idol during their 1980s heyday. Also a singer-songwriter whose works live on as football anthems in Israel, Kabilio died from cancer at the age of 35 in 1986, but preserving his winning mentality was central to the intentions of Maccabi Kabilio's founders.
"We built Maccabi Kabilio to be a new club with a new DNA," Amikam told UEFA.com. "We're aiming for the highest level and our fate is in our own hands. Poor management sent [Maccabi Jaffa] to hell, but the fans have turned Maccabi Kabilio into heaven."
Since their inauguration in what is now the fifth and lowest tier of Israeli football, Maccabi Kabilio have soared. A total of 27 wins from 30 matches in 2008/09 allowed 10,000 supporters to celebrate immediate promotion at neighbouring Bloomfield stadium, with the team suffering just one defeat along the way – still their only setback in league action.
Last season, former Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC midfielder and current assistant coach, Yossi Abuksis, opted to come out of retirement and, now 39, helped lead Maccabi Kabilio to a second successive promotion this time around. Unbeaten in the league, the club's only reverse came in their State Cup last-16 tie with Hapoel Tel-Aviv. Abuksis ruled himself out of the game and the Ligat Ha'al leaders and now cup semi-finalists avoided an upset by triumphing 5-0.
"We could end up losing only to the side which wins an Israeli league and cup double, so I'm delighted with what we have achieved," explained Kabilio's joint coach, Ofer Reuven. As for Abuksis, one of the most decorated footballers in Israel and clearly enjoying playing in front of crowds averaging 1,500, he has not ruled out coming back for a tilt at the third tier next term. "At first, people thought that a club managed by fans was a gimmick. But we proved everyone wrong as the way this club is managed is phenomenal and of the highest level."
With membership figures rising from 250 to 439 and an annual operating budget of €250,000, not to mention three youth teams - which like the first team boast a healthy mix of Arab and Jewish players - and over 100 youngsters learning the ropes in the club's growing academy, Maccabi Kabilio certainly appear to be in safe hands.
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