'Fans have been like family providing support, humour and friendship' - meet the Israel Leeds United supporters group

We explore Leeds United's devoted following in Israel in our latest We All Love Leeds feature.

By Joe Urquhart
Saturday, 19th September 2020, 4:04 pm
Israel Leeds United Supporters Club.
Israel Leeds United Supporters Club.

Leeds United boast one of the most passionate and loyal fan bases in world football.

No matter how far you go or where you travel, you're never a great distance from a club crest, scarf, car sticker or even welcoming a friendly salute, such is the outpouring.

It is a football club that has tested the very core of its support during ups and downs on and off the pitch in recent history.

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Israel Leeds United Supporters Club.

Those far and wide, though - just like the city of Leeds - have remained steadfast and unwavering in their loyalty to the team that plies its trade in Beeston.

In the Yorkshire Evening Post’s We All Love Leeds series, we look at those supporters groups from far and wide around the world.

We examine their passion for Leeds United and get to the root of what makes the club so special to follow from all corners of the globe.

This week, we speak to Rob Cohen who is a member of the Israel Leeds United Supporters Club.

Rob, who is a member of the Israel Leeds United Supporters Club, with his kids at Elland Road.

Firstly, can you introduce yourself - tell us a little bit about who you are and where you are from...

Hi, my name is Rob Cohen, 51 years old, originally from Leeds but now live in a small village in Israel called Haniel. I moved to Israel 12 years ago and now have two gorgeous Israeli kids and a dog called Lola.

Why are you a fan of Leeds United? What drew you to the football club?

My abiding first footballing memory was messing around with a ball in our back garden with the legendary Peter Lorimer. The ball was bigger than I was. Peter lived a few doors up the road from us and my Dad.

I was born in Leeds but dragged to live in Birmingham as a youngster. At school I was obviously surrounded by Brummies and just to annoy them I used to put on a really thick Yorkshire accent.

As my interest in football grew it was only natural that I continue the trend of annoying my mostly Villa and Blues supporting school mates, by sticking rigidly (and noisily) with my hometown club, the mighty Whites. And not a second of regret at not succumbing to the many many attempts my friends made to convert me to claret and various shades of blue.

What is so special about being a Leeds United supporter?

It's like having a twin - only there's thousands of you - Leedstuplets - all of you on the same emotional rollercoaster, feeling the same pain and the same joy.

Now that I live in Israel, the Leedstuplets have been even more important. Israel is an amazing country, but its not without its challenges as a place to live - especially if your language skills are shocking!

The Leeds fans here have been like family providing support, humour, friendship and, most importantly, a safe space to rant like a lunatic.

Tell me about the supporters club? How did it come to be? How many members do you have?

For many years there was an almost subconscious awareness of the existence of Leeds fans dotted all around the country - but it was a disparate group that hung around in smaller more local groups - kind of ashamed to come out of the closet as Leeds fans.

And then something happened, not sure what, but it was like iron filings and a magnet - we just started to gravitate together, and we became more and more aware of a growing number of fans being here.

Around two years ago, our social media guru said - this is nuts, lets get everyone together - and so the Israel Whites was born.

Today we have around 50 members at the moment, but we’re discovering more and more Leeds fans, especially since we got promoted! We’re hoping to hit 100 members soon.

Do you hold any special events or meet ups for Leeds United games and fans?

Every game (and not just the first team games) is a special event! More so in these COVID times, where we usually have a good 3 hours together talking nonsense and joking and sharing - I think we average about 600 messages in the WhatsApp group per game. It really brings everyone together.

It's not all virtual, we try and get together for games as often as possible – either in a pub or at a member’s house. We also have a general meeting in December every year and an end of season dinner with some funny awards and we review the season and vote on player of the year and other similar things.

What does it show about Leeds United's global reach that you can have a supporters club in Israel?

For quite a while many of us thought that it was just a bunch of degenerate ex-pats that support Leeds in Israel. We were wrong.

Quite recently we found out there is significant support for Leeds amongst native Israelis. They even had a Facebook group before we did, that has almost 2000 followers!

It also seems that a couple of the high profile sports journalists here are Leeds fans too - and over the past couple of years you would be surprised at how often the local TV broadcasters chose to screen Leeds games with full on Hebrew commentary.

This is the global draw of Leeds United. And it's going to get stronger and bigger. I now hear people in the street talking about Leeds - it's fantastic! The supporters club here has created a way to bring these two groups together - Israeli Leeds fans and Leeds fans in Israel and it's a beautiful thing.

Why do you think Leeds fans - no matter where they are from - are so passionate and loyal to the club?

It's genetic. There is an X chromosome and a Y chromosome - and there is a recently discovered L chromosome. We have similar afflictions - a desire to stick out like a sore thumb, a love of derision, an extreme wanting to be different and maligned. And we all love to throw it all back in the faces of our foes as a single amorphous mass of writhing, seething Leeds fans with a blast of Marching on Together. No better feeling in the world.

Have you ever visited Elland Road? If so, what was the experience like? Do you have a favourite game or memory? If not, is it on your list of things to do?

Despite being Jewish, I've been to church many many times! Before moving to Israel I was a season ticket holder and went to most games - home and away. There is no place like it!

How do you keep up to date with what is going on with Leeds United?

We’re all in a WhatsApp group. Individually we’re all online and whenever we hear or see anything we share it in the group. So, we’re all up to date all the time with the rumours and stories coming out of the club.

Finally, is there anything else you'd like to mention about the supporters club?

Although he doesn't actually live in Israel (his brother does) we are honoured to count the amazingly talented Ilan Sherman, who has sung and produced a number of Leeds United songs.

I'd also like to give kudos to Jacob Ziv, who created the Hebrew language Leeds United Facebook group - he scours the media and translates everything to help the Israeli supporters keep up to date with everything that's going on. Amazing dedication!