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Journalists Attacked After Turkey’s 3-1 Victory over Kazakhstan: What It Means

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Often sports can provide an interesting lens through which to view societies. The aftermath of Turkey’s 3-1 victory over Kazakhstan in Sunday’s Euro 2016 Qualifier provides a very good example of this phenomenon. While the game was supposed to be an awakening for a Turkish side that has had a shaky start to the qualifying campaign, it instead became a showcase for many of the issues affecting Turkish society in general and Turkish sports in particular.

Before the game Turkey’s first choice goalkeeper and Fenerbahce stalwart Volkan Demirel (Not Suleyman Demirel) was subjected to verbal abuse from the home fans (In Turkish). The match was played at Galatasaray’s Turk Telekom Arena and evidently some fans forgot that this was not the Istanbul derby. Sadly, the profanity got the best the goalkeeper and he refused to play. In fact, he opted to leave the stadium entirely.

While the fans were unquestionably wrong to abuse a player suiting up for the national team—club rivalries should be forgotten in such cases—I personally think that Volkan should have shown a little more professionalism in this instance. After all, he is on the field and they are in the stands. Instead of responding to the crude jeers he should just do what he does best—playing hard and stopping shots. But on this night it was too much for him.

His deputy Volkan Babacan suited up instead and the victory came. But after the game it was an ugly scene, a scene that truly shows the darker side of today’s Turkey. A group of journalists trying to get access to Volkan Demirel and take video of him leaving the stadium were attacked by private security guards inside the stadium.

Video of the incident is here:

Police intervention came too late and many journalists were savagely beaten. Following the attacks the Turkish Sports Writers Association (TSYD) made a strongly worded statement calling for justice; afterwards five of the private security guards were detained and taken in for questioning by prosecutors.

Attacking journalists—especially at a sporting event—is unforgivable, but for a moment let’s look at Turkey’s press freedom rankings in general. They don’t make for good reading. Most recently Al-Jazeera wrote a piece one month ago noting that according to “Turkish media watchdog Bianet media freedom is at its lowest point in decades”. One year ago the US based Committee to Protect Journalists noted that Turkey is the world’s leader in jailing journalists—211 to be exact, ahead of such bastions of journalistic freedom Iran and China. Others rounding out the top ten (or bottom ten) of this list were Eritrea, Vietnam, Syria, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Uzbekistan. Not exactly honeymoon destinations, although both Egypt and Uzbekistan are undoubtedly beautiful in their own ways.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 154th out of 180 countries, their summary is below:

Despite its regional aspirations, Turkey (154th) registered no improvement and continues to be one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists. The Gezi Park revolt highlighted the repressive methods used by the security forces, the increase in self-censorship and the dangers of the prime minister’s populist discourse. In view of the upcoming elections and the unpredictability of the peace process with the Kurdish separatists, 2014 is likely to be a decisive year for the future of civil liberties in Turkey.

Turkey’s ranking of 154th—one step below Iraq and one step above Gambia—is abhorrent for a country whose leader always sings the praises of democracy. In fact, in 2002—when the current ruling Ak Party came to power—the country was ranked 99th. That spot now belongs to Turkey’s long time geopolitical rival Greece.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://rsf.org/index2014/data/carte2014_en.png

But Turkey’s precipitous drop in worldwide rankings in the years since 2002 is not confined to journalistic freedom alone. According to the most recent FIFA World Rankings Turkey is ranked 46th—tied with Serbia (a country with their own sporting problems) and just below Israel (a country with their own political problems). In September 2002 Turkey was ranked 7th in the world—a spot now occupied by France.

What has become clear in the aftermath of a dark Sunday night is that Turkey has declined in several societal aspects in the past twelve years. What the future holds is an open question…

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Fifa.com’s Comical Freudian Slip—Süleyman Demirel’s New Job

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Everyone knows that I love football and politics. But I also value hard work and professionalism. Apparently the folks at Fifa.com share my first passion but not the rest, which was glaringly lacking. After Turkey’s 0-4 drubbing at the hands of Brazil last night the mood was understandably subdued. Then Fifa.com came to the rescue, giving us all something to laugh about.

Here is an excerpt of Fifa.com’s match story:

Neymar opened the scoring after 19 minutes when he picked up a cross from Fernandinho before dribbling the ball into the area and stabbing it past a static Suleyman Demirel in the Turkish goal.

Five minutes later it was 2-0 when defender Suat Kaya put through his own goal under pressure from debutant Luiz Adriano who was trying to reach a cross from Danilo.

To Brazil fans and casual football fans this may all seem normal. But to those more educated in Turkish football—and Turkish politics—the text is ridiculous. It certainly wasn’t missed by the folks at Futbolarena.com and NTVspor.net.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.futbolarena.com/haber/158589/fifadan-skandal-turkiye-hatalari.html

While Neymar is an amazing footballer, even I could stab a ball past a “static Suleyman Demirel”, seeing as how Süleyman Demirel is now a healthy ninety years young! Mr. Demirel is one of Turkey’s most famous politicians, having served as Prime Minister seven times between 1965 and 1993 and president from 1993 to 2000.

As for “Defender Suat Kaya” putting it through his own goal, even that would be a stretch—Suat Kaya retired eleven years ago after a strong career that saw him lift the 2000 UEFA cup and UEFA Super Cup as a midfield anchor for Galatasaray.

Thankfully, Fifa.com has since corrected their amazing error by inserting the correct names into the story: Fenerbahce’s Goalkeeper Volkan Demirel and Galatasaray Defender Semih Kaya. I still wonder if anyone lost their jobs over this one . . .

Perhaps the addition of these two older players into the squad was the reason for the disappointing loss?

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.haberler.com/gaziantep-buyuksehir-belediyespor-suat-kaya-ile-3-5237446-haberi/

 

 

 

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.tccb.gov.tr/sayfa/cumhurbaskanlarimiz/suleyman_demirel/

 

Beylerbeyi 75. Yil, Beylerbeyi, Istanbul, Turkey — (Beylerbeyispor SK and Anadolu Üsküdarspor): Anadolu Üsküdarspor-Beylerbeyispor (0-1) Matchday

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Despite not being on the same level as Besiktas’s Inonu Stadium or Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage, the Beylerbeyi 75. Yil is still a beautifully situated stadium. Despite its current dilapidated state, it is clear that with a little bit of a make over the 75. Yil could become a fairly decent ground. The all-seater (which is missing more than a few seats) has a capacity of 5500. For anyone looking to get away from the urban sprawl in Istanbul for a few hours a trip to the Beylerbeyi 75. Yil to see a match, followed up by a fish meal on the Bosphorus, makes a good afternoon trip. The stadium is right off the Bosphorus bridge, following the “Welcome to Asia” sign. It is about a 15 minute walk from the Boğaziçi Köprüsü Metrobus stop, or a similar 15-20 minute ride via dolmuş from Üsküdar’s port–the stadium is a five minute walk inland from Beylerbeyi’s center. Here are a few more pictures from the derby between Anadolu Üsküdarspor and Beylerbeyispor.

 

Istanbul Excursions: A Visit to Beylerbeyi–November 9 2014

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The space between the Bosphorus Bridge and Beylerbeyi 75. Yil Stadium may be the only large green area left in Istanbul. I honestly do not think that it is an exaggeration as I take the narrow dilapidated staircase that leads from the highway down into the forest. The cracked concrete steps and leafy trees remind me of an Eastern European park and I feel free, released from Istanbul’s chaos. At the bottom of the staircase I’m greeted by a vacant lot with a run down gecekondu—shanty—and a restaurant parking lot full of Mercedes Benzes. The extremes of Istanbul’s inequality are everywhere.

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The walls are scrawled with Üsküdarspor graffiti and I follow the winding road, keeping the stadium in view to my left. Outside the stadium gates a few Anadolu Üsküdarspor fans are milling around, identifiable only by their green and white scarves. The cops on duty tell me that although Anadolu Üsküdarspor have been designated as the home team the situation is complicated, and I would be better off as a neutral supporter in the Beylerbeyi section. It is definitely complicated; it is, after all, a derby between two teams from two neighboring neighborhoods of the city that share the same stadium. But this is not the San Siro/Giuseppe Meazza for AC Milan-Inter Milan in the Serie A, this is the Beylerbeyi 75. Yil for Üsküdar Anadoluspor-Beylerbeyispor in the TFF 3rd Division. I head over to the Beylerbeyi entrance to find their fans hanging out in front of a kebab restaurant in green and red shirts and buy a ten Lira ticket.

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A wall opposite me says “Wake Up Muslims!! Wallahi Wake Up”. Üsküdar is one of Istanbul’s oldest and most pious neighborhoods, like Eyüp on the European side (which also lies outside the old city walls). For the population of 500,000 there are 180 mosques, and walking around one can feel the differences between Üsküdar and the European district of Beşiktaş that lies just across the Bosphorus. Unfortunately, Üsküdar was also a victim of the Istanbul riots of September 1955 and many Greek homes and businesses in the neighborhood were vandalized by looters. Much of the Greek presence can be traced back to the 7th century BC, when ancient Greek colonists settled in the area, then called Chrysopolis. But that is far away today—now it is a bustling Muslim neighborhood, the Green of the team’s jerseys serving as an interesting coincidence.

Üsküdar Anadoluspor was founded in 1908 by lawyer and journalist Burhan Felek (who helped Yusuf Ziya Öniş in founding the precursor to the Turkish Football Federation) and achieved some success as runners up in the Istanbul Football League in 1915 and 1917. But the story gets more complicated with this team, one of the first three clubs to be founded after the big three of Beşiktaş (1903), Galatasaray (1905), and Fenerbahçe (1907). Some of the founders left for Kadiköy and founded Fenerbahçe, others stayed in Üsküdar. After the 1980 military coup many of Üsküdar Anadoluspor’s grounds were confiscated by the junta and the few cups the team had won were stolen by looters—one of the few pieces of memorabilia left is this license from the club’s founding years:

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.zaman.com.tr/cumaertesi_istanbulun-100-yillik-uc-buyuk-takimi-daha-var_774666.html

 

Author’s Note: This is where it gets weird—feel free to skip this paragraph and move on to the next if you’re not so into football:

After a confusing situation involving the formation—and name change—of a subsequent team, the team carrying the original name of Üsküdar Anadoluspor became Selimiyespor, now in the amateur leagues. The current Anadolu Üsküdarspor is what was once Üsküdar Öz Sahrayı Cedidspor, which changed its name to Anadolu Üsküdarspor in order to stay in the second division (If they kept the name of the original team they would have had to start from the third division) after Üsküdar Anadoluspor was relegated to the amateur leagues. If you are still with me the end result is that the current Anadolu Üsküdar team is not the same team that was founded in 1908. Thank you to Süleyman Bitmez and altligler.blogspot for this information, the two team’s almost identical badges are below:

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Images Courtesy Of: http://altligler.blogspot.com.tr/2012/07/anadolu-uskudar-mi-uskudar-anadolu-mu.html

The history of the team on the other side of the “derby”, Beylerbeyispor, is equally intriguing in a political sense. The team, like Anadolu Üsküdar (or Üsküdar Anadolu) is also one of Turkey’s oldest, formed in 1911. Unlike their counterparts from Üsküdar, however, Beylerbeyispor did not have much success in their early years (the club has never featured in Turkey’s top flight)—instead, their notoriety has come in the last decade. The team served as Galatasaray SK’s feeder team from 2003 to 2009 in order to give playing time to up-and-coming young players, similar to the minor league system in America’s Major League Baseball. I even have a Beylerbeyispor shirt from those years that has the same brand, sponsor, and even design (Adidas quartered pattern) as Galatasaray’s shirts from the period, the only difference is the color scheme.

The relationship between the two clubs was cut in 2009 after Galatasaray reportedly took issue with the way Beylerbeyispor was being run; during the six year relationship not a single player of significance rose from Beylerbeyispor to feature for Galatasaray and the adventure ended up costing the latter 6.5 million dollars. More recently other reports have come up concerning the team, including this one from an admittedly biased leftist news portal.

The news story in question was published immediately following the Gezi Park protests in June of 2013. While the content of the article may be debatable, the picture certainly is not: a large banner reading “Adam Gibi Adam” (A Man’s Man), featuring now president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s portrait, had been hung from the top of the Beylerbeyi 75. Yil Stadium’s main stand in true cult of personality fashion.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/spor/pankartin-ardindan-tff-hesaplari-mi-cikiyor-haberi-76463

According to the story the president of Beylerbeyispor, Mustafa Yazici (himself from the same town as Mr. Erdoğan and a former Turkish Football Federation executive) admitted to hanging the portrait while the stadium manager claimed that it was fans who hung it. Regardless of the conflicting reports, what is clear is that the stadium became something of a political advertisement, no doubt due to its prominent location. (The stadium is clearly visible on the left to eastbound traffic exiting the Bosphorus Bridge).

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These, however, are mere details. What matters is that it is a balmy November day in Istanbul, one where I can sit in shirt-sleeves on the terraces basking in the sun with a beautiful view of green trees, the Bosphorus bridge, and football. It is almost San Francisco in the spring. Beylerbeyi even hit a free kick a quarter of an hour in, the keeper punching it into the roof of the net and making it 0-1 to the “visitors”. The fans are happy for a few moments…until the inevitable tensions come to the fore. Both teams are battling for promotion to the Turkish Second Division, with Beylerbeyi one point behind their rivals and one point out of the final playoff spot. The fans know this, and take offense at a hard foul by an Üsküdar player who, judging by the reactions, used to play for Beylerbeyi. No one likes Benedict Arnolds, especially not in football, and the fans rocking the fences below me show it. A lone plastic seat flies onto the pitch before the police push the fans back into their seats.

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I decide to keep watching from a safe distance, high in the stands, trying to focus on the sun that has cleared the clouds away instead of on the fans yelling obscenities at their counterparts across the protocol stands that serve as a buffer. I try to block it all out and just focus on the beautiful day. But it isn’t easy. At the half hour mark the fans inside the stadium start chanting together with fans outside the stadium standing on a hilltop overlooking the goal in front of me.

Beleştepe canlandı! Seksenlerin stadyum kültürüne geri döndük! (Freeloader hill has come alive! We’ve returned to the stadium culture of the eighties!),” quips one of the older men in front of me. It is humorous, I can’t lie.

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The halftime show is what really makes the stadium come alive however. The PA system chooses to play an odd Turkish rap song similar to this one—the lyrics “Yeşil-Beyaz Şampiyon Üsküdarspor (Green and White, Champions Üsküdarspor)” are what stick out to me…and to the other fans. Soon a crowd of men attempt to climb the fence separating the press box from the stands. As the crush ensues the police have to resort to their billy-clubs to keep the blood thirty group away. The PA announcer tries to explain that he was paid to play the song but—probably due to a request from the cops—he relents and decides on a more innocuous tune: Faydee—Can’t Let Go.

I decide to change my seat for a third time, the further you are from the crowds the less likely it is that you’ll get caught up in the nonsense, after all.

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The second half starts with a rowdier Beylerbeyi crowd. They’ve been worked into a frenzy and, with not much happening on the pitch, have focused their energy on the opposing fans. It is clear that the tensions will rise like the colors rising into the clear day from the fan’s smoke bombs. Why they chose turquoise and purple—when the team’s colors are red and green—is beyond me. I figure its all they could get their hands on and just laugh, moving for a fourth time so as to not suffocate from the chemicals.

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When extra riot control police are called in with ten minutes to go I see the writing on the wall and decide to head out with five minutes to go since neither team has shown the potential to change the score.

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I head down to the Bosphorus, a cobble-stoned waterfront promenade lined with Beylerbeyi’s famous fish restaurants, and grab a lunch of stuffed peppers and eggplant moussakka. The excitement and tension of the match day is all gone now, and it feels like another planet. Tourists visitng the Ottoman summer residence—Beylerbeyi Palace—are everywhere, ready to get on their boat for the next stop in a Bosphorus tour. Out on the water front it is calm as the sunset hour nears, young couples take selfies galore and I know that I should get going.

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As I near the main street I hear a familiar din, the sound of young voices singing in unison backed by drums. Indeed, Beylerbeyispor held on for the win. It is gridlock as the fans have blocked traffic to celebrate their derby victory. The tourists look on, mouths agape at the spectacle.

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I leave them to witness the odd scene and flag down a passing dolmus. Fifteen minutes to Üsküdar via minibus, and fifteen more to Beşiktaş via boat, just trying to outrun the setting sun for a little while longer.

Memories of Sofia

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“Everywhere is white! This year the winter has come early.” Outside the windows of our bus it is a white blur; a Mercedes sedan is slipping in the breakdown lane, unable to cope with the icy conditions.

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Just an hour ago in Plovdiv it had been clear, now it is a full-blown blizzard as I talk to the lady in the seat in front of me. She is Anna in Bulgaria but Ayten in Turkey, a victim of the forced assimilation policies of Bulgaria’s former communist government. She asks me where I study in Bulgaria. Then I tell her I don’t study (although I’m flattered that she thinks I look that young) and she asks me where in Bulgaria I am from—I guess I just don’t look that Turkish.

When I tell her I’m American she sees the parallels between me and her own son. He moved to Turkey after growing up in Bulgaria but couldn’t get used to Turkish culture—now he works for a Turkish company in Sofia. I tell her that yes, Turkish culture can be difficult for those used to Western culture. I think back to ten hours ago, on the Istanbul metro in Aksaray. A lone girl got on our car and immediately all the male eyes descended on her, dark desiring eyes devouring all her being with their gaze. She tried to avoid their stares by looking at the screen of her Samsung as if searching for something impossible to find and I even started to feel sorry for her. She is just a lone girl trying to get from point A to point B like all of us in life, but to them she is a lone girl on a metro car after dark, looking for something they think they can give her.

The lady just shakes her head as I recount the story. “In Bulgaria a girl can walk home from a night club alone at two or three in the morning and no one will bat an eye. Its bad for girls in Turkey”.

“And for boys,” I say laughing and she smiles. We know it’s the same, and that it all changes across one land border on the Thracian peninsula.


Its late afternoon, a grey day fades into an orange sunset as fall slowly fades into winter. I’m in front of the Alexsander Nevsky cathedral, standing in the cold air on the cobblestones and staring into a house of God. I turn as I hear the click-clack of feminine heels on the stones, disturbing the calm silence. She smiles as she walks past, one of those small moments of mutual understanding between the sexes, like lifeblood, that are so conspicuously absent in Turkey.

I think of my first trip to Sofia eight years ago, before the European Union, before I even knew myself, and the pictures I took in this same spot on a similarly cold late afternoon. Then, I had someone to take my picture. Now who knows where she is. I think back to another trip to Sofia, five years ago, when I thought I knew myself, and the pictures I took in this same spot on a summer afternoon. Then, I had someone to take my picture. Now who knows where she is. But you can never turn back the clock, so I turn my back on the cathedral and the memories and walk on.

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“What brings you to Sofia?” He says it with the tone of a young, excited, and most of all homesick American. Its one of those things you just recognize.

“Just living the dream man, how about you? What brings you here?” I respond the only way I can—in the way Americans communicate when in strange lands miles and miles from home.

“This dream right here bro,” he says, nodding over his shoulder at the girl working at the bar. She smiles with a shyness that is endearing, befitting her as she dries a coffee mug.

For a moment I see myself in him. No cares for the future, just living in the moment and taking all that is for what it could be, not for what it is or is not.

He met her in New York when she came on a Work and Travel program. Then they fell in love and he followed her across the world. Simple, when you think about it. With almost seven billion people in the world the chances of finding two that understand one another are less than winning the local lottery so you need to take your chances when you get them. Sometimes in life you need to make your own luck—in this case to the tune of two in seven billion.

He invites us back to his apartment for some midnight vodka and I decide to trust him. I’m taken back in time to an apartment near the Pliska Hotel where I spent some of my best days in Sofia so many years ago. Soon I get yet another first hand experience in the benefits of travel. My friend never went to college and started working straight out of high school. But his time in Bulgaria has changed him.

He says that only now he realizes how narrow his world-view had been growing up in upstate New York. He says only now can he realize how good people have it in the United States. Only now can he realize that so many people complain about small things that other people around the world would give anything to have. He says that some people in the United States seem like spoiled children to him, with no idea of what people go through in other countries.

In Turkey they ask the question of who knows more: One who travels a lot or one who reads a lot. I think it’s a healthy mix of both that creates the optimum return, but I know that this young man is getting a learning experience through love that no school, however highly rated, could ever give. And that is worth celebrating.

Stadion Lokomotiv/Lauta, Plovdiv, Bulgaria – (PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv): Lokomotiv Plovdiv-Botev Plovdiv (1-1) Matchday

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Some more pictures of the Plovdiv derby in the Bulgarian Cup quarterfinals. For more information on the stadium please see my Stadion Lokomotiv/Lauta pictures posted earlier, taken during a visit before renovations were completed.

 

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Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria–(Bulgarian National Team): Levski Sofia-CSKA Sofia (0-3) Matchday

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Some more shots of a snow covered Vasil Levski National Stadium taken during the Eternal Derby between Levski Sofia and CSKA Sofia. Bulgaria’s national stadium hosts international matches, UEFA Champion’s League matches, and the Bulgarian Cup Finals with its capacity of 43,230. As is fitting for a National Stadium it is also very easy to access, located in Sofia’s oldest park, the beautiful green Borisova Gradina, in central Sofia near CSKA’s Balgarska Armia Stadium. Construction on the Vasil Levski National Stadium was completed in 1953 after the demolition of two former stadiums on the territory–Levski Sofia’s Levski Field and Yunak Stadium. After the destruction of Levski Field the team was given land outside of the city center where they constructed the Georgi Asparuhov. Since then the stadium as seen a few large scale renovations, most recently in 2002. This year, Ludogorets Razgrad–a team with few fans that have come out of nowhere to appear in the 2014 UEFA Champions League–are playing their European matches here (41,000 came out to see them face Real Madrid). The images are interesting in that they follow the course of events–from snow covered pitch, to cleared pitch, to the fans building up in numbers, to the developments of both teams’ choreos. Also, the way the snow rests on the branches of the trees behind the stands is purely beautiful.

 

 

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