Brighton & Hove Albions striker Tomer Hemed says he can’t wait to playing in the Premier League, as he reflected back on what he called “an amazing” promotion-winning season on the South Coast.
Speaking after a 1-0 home defeat by Bristol City, which put their title celebrations on ice – they need to either match or better Newcastle’s result next weekend to go up as champions, he said: “It’s been an amazing season. Of course we wanted to finish the season here with the three points to win the title, but we have one more game to do it. In the end we achieved our main target which was to be promoted. It was an amazing feeling after last season to come back and to do it, so I think all of us are really happy and looking forward to next year.
“It was important for us to get in the Premier League, especially after what happened to us last season. We were so close [12 months ago] and it hurt when we missed out, but we had two options – to fall down or come back stronger. All of us this season remembered the moment last season and we focussed on getting this season what was taken from us last, so promotion for us is a very good feeling. The first days of last summer were very difficult for us, to finish like that with nothing was difficult, but since the first day of this pre-season, we were focussed on how to react and be better this season.”
Speaking on a personal level and what it will mean to be playing in the top flight of English football, he said: “I’m very excited. I came from the Spanish League, where I played against their best teams and best players. I then came here to Brighton, to the Championship, with one target – to go the Premier League with them and I’m very happy that after two seasons we got it. We’ve done it and now of course me and the team have to show that we can compete in the division.”
In terms of how they can, he says: “I think we have a good group, a team. Of course the club will bring in new players and the team will be stronger. We just have to think about staying in the division, for the first season it will be difficult, but we just have to think about staying in the league and to show that we can compete there. Of course, we know against which teams we’ll be competing with, we’re not going to be fighting for the title, we know which sides are on our level – and have to show we are better than them.”
Another enjoyment factor for the 29-year-old has been playing alongside his compatriot Beram Kayal. “It’s a very good feeling to be playing with a friend when you’re away from your country”, he says. “We’ve been good friends since when we were young, it’s a nice feeling, it’s special, and apart from the football, we can share a bit of our life together as well.”
While the pair are playing in a foreign country, games at the Amex stadium are almost like a home from home for the two of them, such is the support they get, with Israeli flags once more evident at Saturday’s game. Saying how welcome he’s felt at the South Coast since joining the club in 2015, he said: “First of all I’ve got a big support in the last two seasons from all of our fans, they’ve been very good to me since my first day and I want to thanks them all for their support.
“The Jewish community have also supported me here, every time I go to the Synagogue or when I see friends of the community, they’re always asking me about the team, they support us and are happy for us and it’s nice to see the Israeli flags in the stadium.
“Of course I’m always happy to represent my country and community here and I’m happy for them that we did it and gave them a good feeling at the end of the season.”
Their success has not surprisingly seen the club earn a few more supporters in Israel. “After winning promotion, myself and Beram had a lot of phone calls from Israeli radio and TV,” he said. “Before that we were already in the media spotlight, but now of course the media are speaking a lot about us and want to know about us!
“After last season we already had big support, now the team is even more popular and next season it will be even more. All of Brighton’s
games are shown live on Israeli TV and it’s fair to say the club has a big following there. Many Israelis have already attended games here this season and it’s nice to see them and the flags in the stadium, it’s a good feeling to know your country support your team and I think there will be even more Israelis coming over to watch the games next season. I’m happy that Brighton has a big following in Israel!”
Someone else who offered his congratulations was the Israeli national team manager Eli Levy. All the more special for Hemed after he was handed a two-game suspension from the national squad after comments he made about not starting their last World Cup qualifier, he said: “Our relationship is ok, we appreciate and respect each other, and he knows I didn’t mean to do what happened, he took the decision and I respected it. He spoke to me (and Beram) after we won promotion and congratulated us. It was a good feeling for me to receive from many people in Israel but also the support of the national team manager and to know that’s they’re happy for me.
“I am still suspended for one game, but the manager has said after that everything will be ok and if I’m good here I will be called back into the squad.”
With one game of the season left, and then a summer to look forward to life in the Premier League, where is he most looking forward to playing? “I used to support Manchester United as a kid, so it will be special to play at Old Trafford”, he says, it’s the one I’m looking forward too most