Sunday, February 24, 2008

Carling Cup FYI

I'll bet you didn't know that today in the UK is English soccer's first competition final of the season called the Carling Cup, which features two London teams, Chelsea vs Tottenham. This competition is UK soccer's equivalent of NCAA basketball's pre-season NIT tournament - the winner gets bragging rights of having won it, but all anyone cares about are the end-of-season glories. Did you know there is an Israeli connection? Besides an Israeli bench-warmer, the team is coached (excuse me all you proper Brits, I mean managed) by an Israeli named Avram Grant. Although he has a scowl that could dry up a river, he has an interesting family history (as most Israelis do).

Avram Grant's father Meir will be a special guest at Sunday's Carling Cup final just days after celebrating his 80th birthday.

Meir, a holocaust survivor of the Second World War, is Grant's idol and the 52-year-old Israeli has paid for his dad to see their Wembley showdown with Tottenham.

Grant knew nothing of his family's fate until one night, aged 15, he heard his father screaming in his sleep and rushed into his room to find that he was having a bad dream.

His father explained that he had been dreaming he was back in the Russian forest in which he had been forced to dig graves for his parents and five brothers and sisters as each, in turn, died of cold or starvation. Only he and one brother survived. [...]

Grant said: 'My father was 80 years old on Thursday so we are celebrating of course, and he will be at the game.

'I don't know if you know the story of my father but he is a great man, one of the greatest that I know. He is optimistic like I have never seen in my life and he suffered a lot in the age when he was young.

'He was a survivor of the holocaust and I am of the name of my grandfather that died in the holocaust. But what impressed me about him is that he always sees the positive things.

'Even now, he is optimistic. If you speak to him about the past, he says it was in the past but I live the future. He's only 80 years old. I wish him all the best. I love him.

'My father would accept everything in a positive way. Everything that happened in my life, I can only thank them for it. I have bought him his ticket - I think I can afford it!'

Meir was 13 when he and his family fled their native Poland in 1941.

'In 1941 we realised things were looking bleak in Poland and decided to take our chances in Russia,' said Meir.

'We were exiled to the far north. Guards dropped us off in a forest and said, `build a home or die'.

'It was minus 40 in winter and in such circumstances, people who are not young stand no chance.

'When I buried my father, I cut off my peyot [sidecurls] and removed my kippah. To survive, you must look forward in hope, never back.

'Avram is similar to me. He gets on with everyone and never argues but knows how to shout if people aren't working the way they should.'
Good luck, and may the best team win.

UPDATE - Tottenham beat Chelsea 2-1 after extra time (tied 1-1 at the end of regulation). Chelsea has the better team but was outplayed today. Avram was, well, the scowl says it all.If you want to lose a tournament, this is the one to lose. Cheers to Tottenham though (they beat United, you know).

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