He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly with a strained sound Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

            ‘They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”

                                                                          -F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


In front of the TV in a crowded hookah café watching Galatasaray face Bursaspor in the second round of the Turkish Super League season, I’m sweating in the late August night. It’s not the stress of the match making me sweat—I know there are still 32 matches to go in the long marathon that is a European football season—rather, it is the long sleeved jersey I am wearing that makes me sweat. Yet, it is totally worth it. It is a beautiful example of a shirt, from an era that quality won over quantity; from the 1996-1997 season to be exact.

It is an Adidas shirt, in the classic red and yellow quartered pattern that Galatasaray still wear today, even if the yellow became orange somewhere down the line. Around 2005, perhaps. The sponsor—Vakıf Bank—is sewn onto the front, the back has the official player’s sized number 11 (belonging, then, to Swiss striker Adrian Knup—now it is Didier Drogba’s) in felt. I feel the line where the red meets yellow. It is two pieces of thick fabric sewn together, a fabric not meant to cope with summer heat. My fingers can feel the special nature of the shirt, a far cry from the mass produced Nike line Galatasaray are wearing on the television, with sleek dri-fit fabric designed to keep the players cool. It isn’t to say, of course, that the new jerseys are bad. They are just, different. From different eras, before and after Industrial football came to Turkey, and with it multi-million dollar sponsorship deals. In the face of modern jerseys, this one is comical. It is an extra large and definitely match worn—but back then the players were smaller, and the sizing reflects that. It would now be sized a large.

As my fingers feel the fabric on my back my thoughts move from the game to Gatsby, and Daisy’s reaction to his shirt collection. I can feel a bond with Gatsby, one that goes beyond the pages and the years, but down to the human nature of collecting memories. Every football season, every goal, every foul, every shirt is a memory in and of itself. I was ten years old when this shirt was worn by Adrian Knup. Who would have known then that Galatasaray would go onto become UEFA cup champions, and one of the best sides in Europe for a spell. And now, that shirt is on my back, almost two decades later.

I get back to the match. Galatasaray are up 1-0 thanks to a goal by striker Burak Yılmaz, the man who has taken the nickname “Kral”, or “King”, from Hakan Şükür, the striker that starred for Galatasaray and Turkey in the late 1990s. He later became the Turkish Super League’s leading goal scorer, now he is an MP for the AKP—a move that has lost him more than a few casual fans. For me, he will always be the football star of my youth, even if I might not agree with him politically. After the “king’s” goal the tempo slows and mid-way through the second half Drogba is taken off, a questionable move to all of us watching. Indeed, the loss of a pressing forward up front allows Bursaspor to mount their attacks from the back, wave on wave crashing into the Galatasaray defense—a levy waiting to be breached.

The expected goal comes in the 74th minute, Bursaspor equalizing through substitute Enes. Two minutes after coming on, at sixteen he became the youngest goal scorer in Turkish Super League history. The happiness on his face was unmistakable; he was still a child, his jersey number 97 represented his birth year. Even though Galatasaray lost a victory on the night, I felt happy for the young man who had scored his first career goal; a young man who had not even been born when Adrian Knup wore the number 11 shirt on my back. But such is football as it mirrors life—the saying in Turkish, from a Turkish film about football, is “Futbol acayip şekilde hayata benzer”—“Football is strangely similar to life”.

I felt like someone driving down the highway, hearing their favorite rock and roll band on the classic rock station for the first time. It might not have made me feel old, necessarily, but it gave that unmistakable sense of time passing. Small moments like this—of realizing the passage of time—are what growing up truly is. It is coming to terms with life, and with it the knowledge that nothing is eternal. The “king” will not always be Hakan Şükür, the youngest goal-scorer in history will not always be Enes. As we know well, this too shall pass.


My unending thanks to Taylan Meşin for the Galatasaray shirt mentioned here, pictures are below.

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