SPORT NEWS
Old Trafford is a dream for Tomer

Picture: Paul Hazlewood/BAHFC

BY SIMON YAFFE

BRIGHTON and Hove Albion footballer Tomer Hemed has already achieved two of his dreams by playing in Spain and England.

And now the Israeli forward is set to make it a hat-trick of achievements by appearing in next season's Premier League.

The South Coast club have secured promotion to England's top flight for the first time in 34 years.

They are owned by Jewish businessman - and lifelong supporter - Tony Bloom.

Hemed has pinpointed one stadium he cannot wait to play in.

"I have always supported Manchester United - I actually share my birthday with David Beckham," said Hemed, who will celebrate his 30th birthday on Tuesday.

"It will be very special to face United at Old Trafford."

He also shares his birthday with his best-friend and team-mate Beram Kayal.

Hemed and Arab Kayal both started their careers in the Maccabi Haifa youth system and joined Brighton in 2015, the former from Spanish side Almeria and the latter from Celtic.

They have both been regularly targeted by the anti-Israel Brighton BDS, which is prominent in the city.

But Hemed shrugged off any suggestions that their poisonous views affected him.

He said: "I cannot control what people think, but I hope that people can look at me and Beram and learn what Israel is really about.

"We show that it does not matter if you are Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Christian, whatever. We can all live together - and we do.

"I believe that we can be examples to all youngsters.

"We have a good friendship, but it is not just about me and Beram in the team; it is about all of us."

It was midfielder Kayal who advised him to leave Almeria, who were then playing in La Liga, and head to Brighton.

Hemed recalled: "We have been best friends since our days in Haifa and we would always speak when he was in Glasgow and I was in Spain.

"He called me once to tell me that Brighton had asked about me and that he had told them good things.

"Beram told me that the facilities were amazing.

"Lots of people in Israel questioned why I would leave La Liga to play in the Championship, but now they will realise that it was the best move for me."

Brighton's Jewish community has been welcoming to him, his wife Shunit and their daughter, Mia.

And Hemed is a regular at the Hove Hebrew Congregation.

He was raised in Kiryat Tiv'on, near to Haifa.

He made his debut for Maccabi Haifa as a teenager at the end of the 2006/7 season, before spending three seasons developing on loan at various Israeli clubs.

It was at the last of these - Maccabi Ahi Nazareth - where he flourished, under former Aston Villa manager John Gregory. He was top scorer for the bottom-of-the-table side.

Recalled to Haifa, where he was top scorer in 2010/11, Hemed moved to Real Mallorca, in Spain.

After three seasons on the Balearic island, he moved to mainland Spain, with Almeria, where he spent one season before being snapped up by Brighton manager Chris Hughton.

Last season, Brighton suffered heartbreak when they lost to Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship semi-finals.

Hemed recalled: "The club were already targeting reaching the Premier League when I signed.

"I am so happy for everyone - my team-mates, the chairman and the fans - that we have finally done it. I came here to play in the Premier League and now I want to do good things there.

"We have done our job as it was very difficult what happened to us in the play-offs last season. But we went again and I think it made us stronger and more determined."

Last month, Hemed was banned by the Israel Football Association for two games after criticising manager Elisha Levi on Twitter for leaving him out of a World Cup qualifier with Spain.

He said: "My comments were not meant as criticism. Sometimes, the media makes things different to the way they actually are.

"I have spoken to the manager about it and now appreciate the decision he had to make over the team.

"I would never say bad things about the other players and the staff. I am proud to play for my country and every time I am picked, it is an honour."

Meanwhile goalkeeper Ofir Marciano is desperate to continue his "love affair" with Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership next season.

The Israeli international is currently on loan from SC Ashdod, but the deal is scheduled to expire in the coming weeks.

The 27-year-old said: "I don't know what's going to happen, but I can just say that I'm really happy here and I appreciate what the people around the club do for me and the support that I get and the love that I get.

"This club was good to me this year, the gaffer was good to me this year and everyone involved in the club was good to me, and I appreciate that.

"When you get so much love it's a place that you want to stay, obviously."


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