My favourite sport is sitting outside an Aroma coffee shop watching the world go by. So that’s how I met Tony and Russ – a couple of lads from Manchester - gabbing the sort of soccer usually reserved for Sabbath morning services.
“You’re expecting me to believe it’s all because you’re a ‘blue’?”, Russell Simons was sneering as I began to listen. “C’mon. It’s me you’re talking to.”
“Look, Russ. It keeps happening. Last year, City won the F.A. Cup for the first time in 42 years. Agreed?
“Then comes this week’s ‘Roy of the Rovers’ turn-around in the final game of the Premier League season. Which bookie in his right mind would have given odds on City pulling back to win 3-2 in the closing moments of the match?”
“Yeah! O.K. – and …?”
“So it’s ‘part of a piece’.”
“What do you know about ‘pieces’, mate? I was in the rag trade and the only soccer pattern I use is the one that goes ‘to follow Manchester City is to have a disease without a cure’. Even my late Val called it ‘football nervosa’. I refuse to believe you. It doesn’t happen!"
Now I couldn’t resist butting in. “What doesn’t happen? I’m intrigued. You lads must be from Manchester - I’d recognise that accent anywhere.”
“Hey, you must be too!” returned Tony Brunner. “Come and join us and listen to the best story of the week,” he invited as they introduced themselves.
“Thanks, I’m Bernie Pfeffer,” I said moving over. “I came to Haifa from Whitefield 12 years ago and I love a chance to talk ‘real’ football. Most of my new friends are Yanks and even they say that Israeli soccer used to be bad – and now it’s even worse!”
“Oh, ho!,” laughed Tony. “Russell’s here visiting me in Afula and I’ve been trying to persuade him that things happen in Israel which seem impossible anywhere else.”
“Go, on!”, I said.
“I’d brought him to Haifa as there’s a solicitor near the port who authorises television licences and …”
“That’s what I mean, Tony,” said Russell. “If I went to Moore, Morrison on Bury New Road for a TV licence, the girls at reception would say I needed a shrink, not a lawyer.”
“Shut it, Russ and let me tell Bernie the story.”
“So tell – I’m all ears.”, I said.
“Anyway,” continued Tony, “I left Russell to wonder round the shops here at the Lev ha-Mifratz Cinemall, while I tootled to the port. It took me a while to find the door for Khalid Fahoum.
“I didn’t feel very confident when I finally got inside as the place was a gloomy mess and apparently unstaffed.
“But a couple of seconds later, a pleasant young man emerged from nowhere and using my broken Hebrew, I explained that I was a fairly recent immigrant and a pensioner needing to buy a television licence.”
“You’d better cut the story short Tony”, said Russ. “Bernie’s looking confused.”
“O.K. After some toing and froing, Mr Fahoum himself appeared and ushered me into his office. He examined my papers, made a phone call, then smiled hugely.
“’Mr Brunner. Kol b’seder – all’s o.k.,’” he said, as he used his professional seal.
“’You don’t owe anything this year as your immigrant status still applies. However, there is a NIS 100 charge for my service.’”
But as I pulled out my wallet, Mr Fahoum continued chatting as though we were old pals.
“’Tell me, my friend. You are from America?’”
“No, I’m from England – Manchester. I suppose you know Manchester United football team – everyone in Israel is crazy about them. My problem is that I’ve loved their rivals, Manchester City since I was a boy but very few people here know or care.”
“’You’re wrong, Mr Brunner. I care - very much. Do you know Italy? That’s where I gained my law degree. I admire City’s manager, Roberto Mancini and I watched this week’s match on television. It was so exciting – and what a glorious finish!’”
“And believe it or not, Bernie,” added Tony looking hard at Russell, “as I leaned forward to give him the cash, he gestured that I should put it back.
“’You’re a good man, Mr Brunner. I like you. Today you owe me nothing. Perhaps we’ll do business another time.’”
As Tony finished speaking, my wife, Rosie arrived. She’d spent the past hour at Beauty4U in Carmel and looked gorgeous.
“Hi, you!,” she said, collapsing dramatically in an adjacent chair. “ … and your friends …?”
“Russell Simons and Tony Brunner – they’re also from Manchester.”
I noticed Rosie and Russell share more than a flicker of mutual recognition.
“You look a million shekels.” I told her.
“At least the price of ten TV licences,” quipped Tony. But Russell went quiet. Then he clapped his hand to his forehead:
“Blimey! Rosie Levine! You still have that cloud of blue-black curls that used to drive me mad.”
“Russ – of course! I don’t believe it! We’ve not seen each other since …”
“Yeah! The weather wasn’t like it is here. We were drenched to the skin after that midweek fixture and you came back to our house to dry off.”
“I certainly did - happy days! Soon after, I went to university in Birmingham and we lost touch.”
“Shame that”, said Russell.
“I think it’s time we went,” I told Rosie. “Great meeting you lads – and enjoy the rest of your time in Israel,” I motioned to Russell.
But as we left, Rosie got dead chippie.
“What’s the matter? Old flame still burning?”
“Well, honey. You know how it is,” she replied beginning to hum that dratted tune. “I’m just replaying an old match of the day.”
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 18 May 2012)