After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United (2009)

Review | ‘After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United’ (2009)

Directors and brothers Christopher and Alex Browne filmed After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United during the 2004-05 season. Almost 15 years have passed since the events were recorded, but judging from more recent soccer movies such as Forever Pure, life has changed very little for Arabs in Israel. Israeli Arabs (Palestinians) remain second-class citizens, and Arabic players are still subjected to hostilities from fanatic Jews, such as the fans of Beitar Jerusalem.

The film captures the brief minutes of glory for Bnei Sakhnin FC (Sons of Sakhnin United) and its captain Abbas Suan. The team competes in Israel’s Premier League with a roster composed of Israeli Arabs and a few foreigners. Abbas Suan is their captain and also plays on the Israeli national team. 

The title of the film was a little misleading for me. In American parlance, “After the Cup” would normally mean the story is about a team in pursuit of a tournament championship. However in this case, the title refers to what happens to the club after its unexpected May-2004 win of Israel’s State Cup (a national competition similar to USSoccer’s Open Cup).

Being the first Arab team to win the State Cup, Bnei Sakhnin’s triumph is heralded as the coming of a new Middle East, symbolizing equality and hope for Arab Israelis. Sakhnin is the first Arab club to qualify for the UEFA Cup. In the same season, Abbas Suan is called up to the national team and scores a goal in WC qualifying.

Unfortunately, the jubilation doesn’t last long. Bnei Sakhnin is one of the poorest clubs in the league. Its stadium doesn’t meet Premier League standards, and the team has to play its home games 36 km away at Nazareth Illit. As the 2004-05 season moves along under Coach Eyal Lachman, Sakhnin falls down the league table. But Captain Abbas Suan maintains a positive attitude and hope for his club and country. When he plays for Israel, he throws off the anti-Arab chants directed at him by his countrymen.

Coach Lachman seems to compound the team’s problems. Despite fans’ criticism, as the season sinks, he refuses to let the high-paid foreigners off the bench. Lachman took over in 2003 after the team won promotion and led them to the State Cup victory. Eyal Lachman is quite the journeyman coach, who often does not complete a season. Characteristically, he resigns with 5-6 games remaining in the season and leaves the relegation fight to returning caretaker manager Momy Zafran.

After the Cup is an interesting film, and the football is well-captured. Interviews with the club’s president, broadcast announcer, and the leader of its supporters group give you a good idea of the passion for the team. Like many soccer movies, it took 4 years to be released and distributed, but it arrived in time for WC 2010. But compared to present-day documentaries with similar issues, e.g. Forever Pure and The People of Nejmeh, the Brownes’ style feels a bit dated and rote. Perhaps because it tries to be too positive?

Note: Roger Bennett of Men in Blazers fame, is the producer.

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7