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Capital City Blues: Cebeci Inönü Stadyumu, Ankara, Turkey (Ankara Demirspor); Ankara Demirspor-Anadolu Uskudarspor (0-2) BONUS: Ankara Demirspor Home Shirt 2012-13

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Walking down Ankara’s Dikmen Boulevard you know you are in a capital city. The drab blocks of government buildings go on for as far as the eye can see. The General Directorate of the Police. The Finance Ministry. The Coast Guard. The Department of Navy. (The Irony of the last two being located in a land locked city in central Anatolia not withstanding). The Parliament. The Prime Minister’s Residence. The State Water Management. The Highway Department. Its all here. I shudder at the thought of the red tape that must line the hallways of those drab buildings as I walk on towards Kizilay Square, the center of life in the capital.

I walk on down the streets in the shadows of the state apparatus to the Cebeci Inonu Stadium. Built in 1967 it was Ankara’s first large stadium and, with a capacity of 37,000, it is surprisingly Turkey’s sixth biggest. Of course, I would later learn that at least half of that capacity is unusable due to urban decay—but the facts are the facts, according to the Turkish Football Federation.

Crossing from the Cankaya into Cebeci district it feels like a time warp. Even the Uludag Gazoz signs on the coffee houses remind me of a bygone Turkey, the Turkey I grew up in.

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The stadium is a forlorn sight rising into the blue sky ahead of me as I delicately traverse the crumbling steps. It looks like a bomb exploded somewhere nearby and I’m unsure of what to expect as I walk beneath the rusting sign that reads “Inonu Stadyumu”. I pay my three Lira for a ticket at a booth that makes me feel like I’m visiting a prison. Once I’m through the obligatory pat down I’m in the stands along with another 17 souls (I counted) on a clear Monday afternoon. I head to the top of the stands and look out at the dilapidated sections of Ankara spreading out below me. All sections of life must live in those apartments, who knows what kinds of marriages and childhoods are being lived? I shudder at the thoughts and turn to back my seat in order to stand at attention for the National Anthem. Its lyrics echo through the emptiness, it feels like a funeral.

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As the match kicks off I can the players yelling instructions to one another, its like I’m on the field. “Come back back BACK!” yells the Ankara Demirspor goalkeeper trying to keep his defense focused. It is no use, and just three minutes in Cagatay Ceken puts the visitors up 0-1. The stands are silent and all the noise comes from the home team’s bench as the irate Ankara Demirspor coach attempts to rush the field, held back by his assistants. The choice words he has for the referee echo through the stadium and up to me but the goal will not be disallowed.

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After the first ten minutes a few more fans trickle in, including a small group of young kids who could only be playing hookey for this rare weekday afternoon fixture. With nothing much to watch on the pitch I turn my attention to the moss growing out of the concrete stands, thinking to myself that it must be a rare species.

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At half time I head down to the gates for a water but, alas, there is no café. In fact, there is just a gate with a few security guards who look bored out of their minds. I ask for water and the female shrugs.

“Its outside, but I can get you some. It costs a Lira”.

I hand her the coin between the metal bars and she returns, handing me a plastic cup. As I drink it down eagerly, I watch a fellow fan pass some money through the bars for a simit, a sesame covered bagel. I think that this is what prison must feel like.

“There is no system like this,” says the male security guard looking at me.

“There is no stadium like this,” is my reply and we both laugh.

 

Indeed there is not be. Even the concourses feel like a prison, despite the sunlight flowing through. I take the halftime break to explore the innards of the stadium—the chipped paint tells me that this stadium’s days are numbered. I’m just glad to have gotten the chance to visit another place that will soon fall victim to the urban renewal sweeping Turkey, such demolition and construction serve as ready sources of income for a government looking for investment to keep the economy going.

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The second half witnesses a few more fans in the stands, taking the total to just over 70 (again, I counted). Sadly the extra support fails to jump-start the Ankara Demirspor players who seem to be stuck in third gear—it is surprising, since the team is currently in the playoff spots. Ankara Demirspor pay for their inability to turn the screw and Uskudar Anadolu add a second goal in the 74th minute through Seyit Ali Akgul. Down by two goals the fans know that there will be no return and decide to spend their energy berating the team—what else can they do?

After the final whistle I head to the player’s exit in order to inquire about an Ankara Demirspor shirt. As one of Turkey’s most famous teams (they were founding members of Turkish football’s top tier for its first season in 1958-59). I felt like it would be a necessary addition to the collection, and I make an appointment to meet one of the team’s officials the next morning at the Ankara Demirspor grounds.

 

As befitting such an historic team, Ankara Demirspor’s history is fascinating. There are two interesting Turkish Language websites that outline the histories of all of Turkey’s various “Demirspors”: http://www.kentvedemiryolu.com/icerik.php?id=301 and http://demirsporlar.blogspot.com.tr. My thanks to Mr. Yavuz Yildirim and the blogger Mustava for their valuable insights, some of which I will translate for English language readers below:

Ankara Demirspor were founded in 1930, but at that time there were already a few Demirspors in Turkey. Such teams are, of course, the teams of the railways. In many ways they are similar to the eastern European railway teams such as Lokomotiv Moscow, Lokomotiv Sofia, Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Locomotive Tblisi, CFR Cluj (Romania), and Zeljeznicar Sarajevo to name a few. As Yavuz Yildirim notes, the such Demirspors were a critical way of tying the country together after the founding of the new republic in 1923 since they connected the industrial strength of an emerging country to the cultural aspect of a sports club becoming a symbol of the country’s modernization. Generally, these clubs were formed in major cities along the rail network according to the 26th element of the Youth and Sports General Directorate law numbered 3289 (it is still in effect today) which states “factories and foundations with more than 500 officers or workers must make sports facilities and hire a coach for the physical education of their personnel.” (“memur ve işçi sayısı 500’den fazla olan kuruluşlar ve fabrikalar, öncelikle kendi personeline beden eğitimi ve spor yaptırmak için spor tesisleri yapmaya ve antrenör tutmaya mecburdurlar.”). The reason for such a law was simple: To keep the country’s youth fit in order to preform national guard duties in interwar period of instability—in many ways this is similar to the rationale in the former Soviet Union for the formation of Lokomotiv, Torpedo, Dynamo, and CSKA teams which were all tied to important industries and entities critical to the state (Please see my article on the history of Lokomotiv Plovdiv for more on this).

According to Yavuz Yildirim’s piece there were (in 2007) 38 Demirspors throughout Turkey. The same article claims that in 1942 the following Demirspors were in operation: Haydarpaşa, Derince, İzmit, Bilecik; Ankara, Irmak, Çankırı, Karabük, Çatalağzı, Zonguldak; Balıkesir, Bandırma, Soma, Tavşanlı, Kütahya; Kayseri, Sivas, Zile; Samsun, Çetinkaya, Divrik, Yerköy; Malatya, Diyarbakır, Maden; Adana, Fevzipaşa, Mersin, İskenderun, Ulukışla, Afyon, Konya , Uşak; İzmir, Manisa, Alaşehir, Nazilli, Çamlık; Denizli, Dinar; Sirkeci, Edirne; Erzurum; Sarıkamış, Erzincan; Eskişehir; Mudanya; Edremit. Alongside these cities various other Demirspors are in operation currently, such as Kars Demirspor and Kocaeli Demirspor—they all play in the amateur leagues of their respective provinces. Of the Demirspors, only Ankara Demirspor and their famous cousin—Adana Demirspor—are in the professional leagues.

 

On Tuesday morning I am at the Ankara Demirspor grounds before lunch. A sign advertising the team’s wedding packages greets me. Who (other than maybe me) would want to get married at a soccer team’s grounds by the Ankara Region train depot is beyond me but, I suppose, some people have interesting tastes. Since I won’t be getting married any time soon, I hope they find people to fill the reservations as I walk on past the train repair yard trying to avoid a couple stray dogs that are looking a bit too menacing.

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Inside the offices I meet the team’s personnel manager for a tea and am presented with an amazing Ankara Demirspor shirt. The TCDD (Turkish Republic State Railways) sponsor is fitting, along with a rear sponsor from the Ulastirma Bakanligi (Ministry of Transportation). The colors are striking and top off a truly amazing shirt. I send my unending thanks to all the folks at Ankara Demirspor for the tea and the shirt, truly Turkish hospitality at its best.

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You Bring the Fish We’ll Bring the Raki: Brotherly Love By the Bosphorus

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This is certainly not the FA Cup, with its thrilling history of lower league sides upsetting the favorites against all odds. Its not the French cup, where the exploits of Calais (my personal favorite) and Quevilly live on in memory. No, it is just the Ziraat Turkish Cup group stage. The chaos outside the stadium tells me that a big team is in town for a rare fixture and that the small Yusuf Ziya Öniş stadium cannot cope with the excitement. Fans with vodka and beer in hand mix on the streets with the riot policemen trying to organize the crowds. It is nigh on impossible and the fans are milling in the streets, blocking through traffic and my entrance to the ticket booths.

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I decide to head to a nearby market and grab a beer while I ask for some advice. Turkish giants Beşiktaş have made the trip up the Bosphorus to face third tier Sarıyer for a small Istanbul derby and the home fans are excited at the prospect of seeing their heroes in person. According to the shopkeeper there are no tickets on sale but he urges me to try my luck. Things are flexible, to a point, after all. I finish my Bomonti and head back to the gates. The fans are still mixing vodka with orange juice on park benches and the cops are still engaging in shoving matches with those trying to enter without tickets. I thread my way through the rowdy scene and ask a young cop about tickets. He shakes his head and I can tell that the helmet is too big, it looks like a rented Halloween costume. “No tickets, No tickets”.

“Are you sure? There is a guy getting some at ticket office 1 right behind you!”

“No tickets”. He doesn’t even bother to turn and look, perhaps his visor is equipped with a mirror? Of course it isn’t.

“Where is your chief? I want to speak with your chief.” Asking for a higher authority never fails, it helps the younger cops feel like they’re doing their jobs correctly. I’m sent over to the chief who is struggling to keep up his end of the shoving match with his arms constricted by the tear gas launcher slung across his chest.

“Where can I get tickets?”

“There are no tickets.” Its always the same answer, like they’re speaking from the same script, but I can play that game as well.

“But what about the guy at ticket office 1? He’s getting tickets.” This has the desired affect as the cop spins around and orders a subordinate to ask the ticket office what is happening. The subordinate’s report upon returning is neither what the chief expected to hear nor what he wanted to hear.

“They’re selling tickets.”

“What? First they say they’re sold out, now they’re selling them again?!” Exasperated the chief police officer pushes me through, cursing under his breath.

At last I’m at ticket office 1 grabbing a twenty seven lira ticket to the Beşiktaş section. I’m not used to sitting in away sections, but after London why not join the Beşiktaş faithful on another trip away from home? The entrance to the home section looks like a nightmare anyway.

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Inside the Beşiktaş fans have almost filled all of their section of 4000 fans and are creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the old Inönü Stadium. The Beşiktaş chants are coming with an intensity equal to the player’s play on the field as a squad made up of mainly reserves keep surging forward, threatening the Sarıyer goal. Cenk Tosun and Olcay Şahan score two quick goals in the first ten minutes, a sign of a comfortable victory ahead for the visitors.

With the result looking certain—Beşiktaş win 4-0 after all—I take my time to study the fans around me. To my left a father is teaching his young son what it means to love Beşiktaş as he joins full force in the chanting.

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They are cheering with the Sarıyer fans. It is undoubtedly a rarity in football these days.

“Sarıyer sen bizim Kardeşimizsin!”

“Sarıyer you are our Brother!”

I remember a trip to the bank a couple years ago where I learned first hand about the brotherhood of these two teams. I had been waiting in line with a number twenty spots behind the one being serviced. Just as I was resigning myself to an hour’s wait a man saw my Sarıyer scarf and, walking over, said “Sarıyer are our brothers”. He was wearing a Beşiktaş shirt and gave me his number, two behind the one currently being serviced. I was momentarily shocked, but the relationship between the two teams intrigued me.

 

In European football there are many such relationships, but they are often international friendships. When I went to the PAOK-Aris derby in Salonika, Greece, there were Borussia Dortmund and Botev Plovdiv flags in the stands, a mutual support club of three teams that share the colors of yellow and black. On the walls of PAOK’s Toumba Stadium one can find graffiti for the “Orthodox Brothers” of PAOK and Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade, two teams that share black and white as their colors. On the other side, supporters of Olympiakos Piraeus—PAOK’s bitter rivals from Athens—share a friendly relationship with Partizan’s eternal rivals in Belgrade, Red Star Belgrade (Both teams are red and white).

In Italy there are some domestic friendships that mainly break down along political lines. S.S. Lazio Roma’s fans have a strong fascist identity and maintain a friendship with Hellas Verona, a side whose Ultras share a right wing political stance. Due to on the field play, Lazio are also friendly with Inter Milan and Triestina. Internationally, Lazio have important friendships with Real Madrid (themselves Franco’s team), Espanyol, West Ham United (due to Paolo Di Canio, famous for his fascist salute), and Levski Sofia who flew Lazio flags at the Eternal Derby of Sofia that I attended.

 

On the other end of the political spectrum in Italy is AS Livorno, a team with a strong left wing identity from the city where the Italian communist party was founded. They have good relationships with other left wing supporters, most famously Olympique de Marseille and AEK Athens (whose fan’s political activity I have also written about). Livorno also have a famous friendship with Turkey’s foremost workers team, the team of the railways Adana Demirspor, whom they played a rare friendly with in 2009. After all, it isn’t every day that a Serie A team come to visit a (then) third division Turkish team.

While I do not know the roots of the Beşiktaş-Sarıyer connection, I personally believe that some of it may be rooted in politics. The district of Sarıyer borders Beşiktaş along the Bosphorus and, like Beşiktaş, has been a Republican People’s Party (CHP) stronghold in recent elections. In the 2014 local elections the CHP’s Murat Haznedar won Beşiktaş’s mayoralty with 76.1 percent of the vote. His nearest challenger was the AKP’s Zeynel Abidin Okul who took 16.6 percent of the vote. In the same elections the CHP’s Şükrü Genç won Sarıyer’s mayoralty with 51.1 percent of the vote, besting the AKP’s Mahmut Sedat Özsoy who took 39.2 percent of the vote.

When looking at past elections in both Beşiktaş and Sarıyer the same trend is evident. In the 2011 general elections the CHP won 64.17 percent of the vote to the AKP’s 20.28 percent in Beşiktaş. In the 2010 Constitutional referendum (seen as a referendum on then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule) 77.73 percent of Beşiktaş’s voters rejected the change, and in the 2009 local elections 68.9 percent of Beşiktaş voted for the CHP’s Ismail Ünal as mayor to the 15.8 percent who voted for the AKP candidate Sibel Çarmıklı.

In Sarıyer’s 2011 general election vote the CHP narrowly edged out the AKP 41.79 percent to 40.32 percent. In the 2010 referendum 55.94 voted against the change, while in the 2009 local elections 37.5 percent of Sarıyer voted for the CHP’s Şükrü Genç to 31.8 percent who voted for the AKP’s Mehmet Akif Şişmanoğlu.

In fact the CHP strength in Sarıyer has been so prominent that it even prompted some gerrymandering by officials in 2012 when three neighborhoods with strong AKP support were taken from Şişli district (A CHP stronghold) and tied to Sarıyer in order to lower the CHP advantage. Şişli district saw strong support for the DSP candidate Mustafa Sarıgül, who is now a CHP member, in the 2009 and 2011 elections. However, in three neighborhoods of Şişli, there was a conspicuous AKP advantage in 2011. The vote totals in the 2011 general elections from the three gerrymandered neighborhoods, Maslak, Huzur, and Ayazağa are below:

Maslak Mahallesi

AK Parti: 452

CHP:389

MHP:191

AKP Advantage: 63

 

Huzur Mahallesi

AK Parti: 2.060

CHP:2.621

MHP:636

CHP Advantage: 561

 

Ayazağa Mahallesi

AK Parti: 12.549

CHP: 3.424

MHP: 2.427

AKP Advantage: 9,125

 

Total:

AK Parti: 19.748

CHP: 15.994

MHP: 5.115

 

If these three neighborhoods had been added to Sarıyer in the 2011 elections, when the AKP won 71,301 votes and the CHP won 74,066 votes, the almost 4,000 extra AKP votes would have won the district for the party. By taking pro-AKP neighborhoods out of a district that they have no hope to win and putting them in a district that sees a tighter race the AKP can ensure electoral victory by way of gerrymandering, an unsightly scene for a democracy indeed.

So back to the football. Beşiktaş have won the match 4-0, after much mutual chanting, and the atmosphere is, indeed brotherly. But not to the cops, who seem to want something to happen. They have blocked the exits, saying that the policy is home fans out first, then away fans. But that is in matches where there is tension right? And if there is no tension…why not create it—that seems to be the mentality of the cops. We’re literally locked in, and the Beşiktaş fans give our captors a little piece of their mind.

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A small chant of “Mustafa Kemalin Askerleriyiz” comes up—“We are Mustafa Kemal’s Soldiers” before a less political and more effective chant comes up from the Sarıyer stands.

 

“Hep beraber, kapıya—Hep beraber, rakı’ya!”

“All together to the doors—All together to raki!”

 

The Beşiktaş fans answer them as only they can:

“Balıklar sizden—Rakılar bizden!”

“The fish are on you—The raki is on us!”

 

Indeed, Sarıyer’s badge sports two fish in an oval shape, so why not. The cops don’t know what to do, and it is clear that the only thing on people’s minds is a relaxing meal of fish washed down by Turkey’s famous anise flavored liquor. The cops relent, the doors are opened, and we are all released onto the streets, blue and white shirts mixing with black and white shirts in a march all the way to the shores of the Bosphorus.

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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.

Istanbul Excursions: A Visit to Eyüp–October 12 2014

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An eerie calm has descended over the stadium mid way through the first half, a calm unlike any I have experienced in a stadium before. The hardcore supporters in the stand to my left have, incredibly, silenced themselves. I can almost make out the voices of the players as they shout instructions to one another, the dull thud of the ball hitting a foot sounds louder than ever. That is, during the few moments that the Muezzin’s voice falls silent in between pauses for breath. The call to prayer emanating from the minaret facing the stadium dominates the proceedings as Eyüpspor face Halide Edip Adivar SK in a Turkish Third Division match at the Eyüp Stadium.

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Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised—Eyüp is one of Istanbul’s most conservative districts, and the fans have silenced themselves in deference to the afternoon prayer. The centrally located Eyüp Sultan Camii (Eyüp Sultan Mosque)—the first major mosque built in Istanbul after the Turkish conquest and constructed by the Sultan Mehmed II in 1458 in honor of the companion of the Prophet Mohammed, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari— dominates the center of the district and many facets of life here. Football is not exception.

But Turkey can still surprise in a contradictory way—it never fails to. Despite the pious nature of Eyüpspor’s supporters they don’t hesitate to break into song at halftime when, despite the 0-0 halftime score, they boisterously sing along to Hakan Peker’s Atesini Yolla as it plays on the PA system. The fact that the song was made famous by Beşiktaş’ Çarşı group (themselves from the opposite end of the political spectrum then most of Eyüp’s residents) seems to have not affected Eyüpspor’s faithful. I don’t blame them—it’s a catchy song after all (Hakan Peker’s original and Carsi’s versions are below).

Original:

Çarşı:

The irony of the chants coming from Eyüpspor’s stands doesn’t end there, however. They hold the tune of “Eyüp’e, rahat yok, Halide Edipe koymadan… (No rest for Eyüp until putting it to Halide Edip)” as the second half starts. While this may seem innocuous to the laymen, the fact that Halide Edip was one of Turkey’s foremost feminist writers—and supporters of Ataturk’s revolution in Turkey—the obvious sexual connotations of the chant make me laugh (and cringe) simultaneously. It doesn’t matter to me that Halide Edip Adivar’s name now graces a sports club, since I would like to think that the Eyüpspor fans would have shown a little more class. No such luck here though.

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Luckily for this article, my mind is taken off of the subject when Eyüpspor pick up their game in the last twenty minutes. It takes an injury to Tuncy Öndel—who has to be carted off to the hospital after a hit to the head—for Eyüpspor to score on a beautifully taken free kick in the 70th minute by Gencay Ertan. 1-0 to the home team and all the animosity following the foul is forgotten (the Eyüpspor faithful made it clear through their chants that a Katliam—carnage—would ensue if they were “messed” with”).

Minutes later, just as the ambulance is about to pull out of the stadium, a corner kick creates a goal mouth scramble and Eyüpspor make it 2-0 in the 73rd minute with Güray Kula poking it in. The supporters make it clear that they are confident as they start to hold their tune—Ya seve seve, ya sike sike, Eyüpspor Ikinci Lige (Either by loving or by fucking, Eyüpspor to the second division). The fans want a third goal and, with the visitors in disarray, it even seems likely. The fans take a break from their profanity laced chants in the 78th minute as the call of “Eyy ALLAH! Eyy ALLAH! Rises from the stands, the fans prostrating themselves en masse. I can honestly say its one of the strangest scenes I’ve witnessed in a stadium but, then again, I don’t come to Eyüp regularly.

Two minutes later they resort to more traditional chants:

Beraber Yürüdük bu Yollardan

Beraber Islandik Yağan Yağmurlarda

Şimdi Sıra Geldi Sampiyonluğa

Haydi Bastır Şanlı Eyüp Sultan

 

We walked these roads all together,

The rains that rained soaked us all together,

Now its time for the championship

Push on blessed Eyüp Sultan

Indeed the excitement of the fans continues to excite the players, as Eser Şen hits Eyüpspor’s third goal, and their second from a free kick, this time taken from just outside the box. It is 3-0 and the stadium is in raptures. Even I am taking pleasure in the goal show on display. And just when I think its over the home team does it again—A curved shot from the corner of the penalty area by Alperen Doğan meets its mark and, in the 89th minute, it is 4-0. The fans celebrate with a chant that is in vogue recently—Şehitler Ölmez Vatan Bölünmez (The Martyrs Will Never Die, The Nation Will Never be Divided)—I suppose the large Turkish flag in the stands has something to do with it but they are understandably enthused. 4 Eylül Beyeldiyespor have managed only a draw and Eyüpspor is now in sole position of first place in the Turkish Third Division Group 2.

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I figure that a suitable celebration will be wandering Eyüp’s back streets, but only after acquiring one of the team’s purple and yellow scarves. Scarf in hand (I chose not to wear it) I followed the crowds into Eyüp’s central square, dominated by the Mosque and courtyard. It was crowded with families out for Sunday strolls—most mothers wore clothing more befitting of Arabia while the fathers wore hard expressions as they tried to keep an eye on their children. The ones that weren’t running circles around the adults were busy munching on sesame seed-encrusted simit rings, the same size as their faces. Yes, this could indeed be Turkey’s future.

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But for now, I prefer to look into the past. Down a small side street to the left of the mosque is a narrow pathway that slants up hill through the cemetery. One of Istanbul’s oldest, it is a relic from a time that Eyüp was considered a suburb and provided a quiet resting place for the departed—now Eyüp is a part of the city and its urban sprawl.

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Still, the cemetery is as beautiful as it was on my first visit, a similar grey fall day eight years ago. Refreshingly, in a city where so much changes, here things seem to have stayed the same. I guess when a faith is involved the forces of change are slowed. Here the cats still weave their way between the gravestones and pine trees, hoping for a few scraps from the living. I don’t have anything for them and ignore the “meeeeows”, looking out at what has changed. Across the Golden Horn the fresh skyscrapers of “new Istanbul” are visible, in stark contrast to the gravestones marking the final resting places of those who lived—and died—in a very different Istanbul.

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I head higher and higher through the cemetery, up to the Pierre Loti café, named after the famous (Orientalist) French writer—it is said that he wrote his masterpiece Aziyade here among these same trees, looking out at the waters of the Golden Horn. Despite being off the tourist trail Pierre Loti is one of Istanbul’s must see sights, a world away from European Pera or the modern tourist center that Sultanahmet has become. This is old Stamboul, where the truths of Istanbul—and Turkish society at large—are on display for those intrepid enough to make the trip up the Golden Horn.

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Turkey is certainly a Muslim country. You see it in the souvenir stands selling the typical goods—tesbih, Muslim prayer beads, to those selling the absurd—bumper stickers that read “Damn Israel”.

Yes, if you spend enough time in Eyüp you will see one of Turkey’s best Third Division sides in action. More importantly, you will also get a good lesson in some of modern Turkey’s paradoxical realties—the plaques on the cemetery walls are just a small example.

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While the messages are sound they make me think of current events, when some ostensibly pious Turkish Muslims are supporting ISIS  by vandalizing the homes of Kurds—giving their faith a bad name in the process.

Istanbul Excursions: A Visit to Sariyer–October 8 2014

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I take bus 152 on the Hacıosman-Kısırkaya route and get off in the center of Sariyer; to me it is one of Istanbul’s most beautiful districts. The location is picturesque, on the northwestern shore of the Bosporus where it opens up into the Black Sea. I stand on the pier and look past the green hills where the grey waters flow into a grey horizon, it reminds me of the previous times that I have come to see matches here.

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The fans are generally a respectful bunch, and I have taken girlfriends to matches here before. It’s a relatively short trip from the center of Istanbul, and the delicious börek and pide restaurants make for some good pre-match meals. Here I even became friends with a couple of young girls three years ago, their headscarves might have made us different but it didn’t matter when the subject was football. Another time that arbitrary boundaries were bridged by sport. But that was three years ago, and every year the differences within Turkish society seem to become more and more pronounced.

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I wander the back streets, lined with historic wooden houses built in the traditional Ottoman style. Some are derelict while others have been restored as I search out a spot for a pre-match drink in the British style. I find my spot just off the main square, Meydan Pub. It looks admittedly dodgy, and the irony of the AKP and MHP offices opposite the entrance doesn’t escape me.

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As the waiter pours me a raki I attempt to justify my drinking at 3 in the afternoon by telling him I’m going to the match.

“What match?” he asks with obvious indifference.

“Sariyer-Nazilli Belediyespor.”

He just raises his eyebrows in a look of surprise as he slides the ice bucket over to me. Turkish 2nd division football doesn’t exactly elicit much passion in these parts.

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I soon see why—it’s a miracle that I don’t fall asleep during a first half that ends as it began: 0-0 with no real chances to speak of. I stretch my legs during the break, walking below the stands as the last fans are let in, all free of charge. They’re all young kids, just out of school—normal for a rare Wednesday afternoon fixture.

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“Does my hair look good? Wait, lets not go in yet. (Saçlarım düzgün mi? Bekle, daha girmeyelim)” She steals a look at the stands. “Lets wait a bit”. Two young girls share an exchange that I can’t help but chuckle at as I overhear it. If she was looking to impress a particular boy I would think the football stadium would be the last place to flirt. Her “Too cute for you” t-shirt only makes it a more ridiculous scene.

“Atilla! Atilla! What are you doing at a match, you’re a married man now?! (Atilla, Atilla! Ulan evlendin bahtlandın ne işin var maçta?!)” The two men embrace and I laugh at myself this time. All the small town lives that have converged at the Yusuf Ziya Öniş Stadium on a Wednesday afternoon make for some good people watching, there can be no denying that. If only the football was as amusing as the conversations.

I decide to dig into a köfte sandwich for my halftime snack, in memory of “Köfte” Hüseyin—a Sariyer fan who passed away in June at a young age from a heart attack. I look at the banner hanging behind the goal that he himself had written as I eat: OLACAKSA SENDEN BİR MENFAATİM BİR BAYRAK OLSUN O DA TABUTUMDA DURSUN (If There Will Be One Profit I Get From You May It Be a Flag That Can Lie On My Coffin). The meat and onions are good even if the bread is a level above rubber; I feel like my teeth are going to snap off as I take a bite but I don’t care. Let it be my one act of remembrance for a man I never knew but who shared the same passions as I do—may he rest in peace.

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The second half is a little more lively but it still seems unlikely that any goals will come. As the fans get restless they mouth a tongue in cheek chant—“This isn’t the cinema or theater, fans that don’t yell can fuck off! (Burası sinema tiyatro değil, bağırmayan taraftar siktirsin gitsin)”. I choose not to be offended and continue watching in silence. Two school age boys start fighting over a scarf in front of me before their “Abiler”—older “brothers”—put them in their place. “You little pricks, instead of fighting you bastards should be yelling! (Ulan ibneler, kavga edeceğinizi bağırin piçler!). In this way, the smaller teams are definitely a society unto themselves.

With three minutes left Sariyer get their chance but it goes just past the post—Sariyer are left to settle for their sixth draw in seven matches. We all know that this is hardly the stuff of a promotion contender at this early stage of the season as we file out into the grey afternoon under a light drizzle coming in from the north.

 

I have nowhere to go so I decide to head back to the pub. It is full this time with businessmen sipping beers in their work clothes; it is almost European in a sense. That is, until you raise your head to look at the TV. I follow the news reports. A curfew has been declared in six eastern provinces, including Diyarbakir, where a friend of mine has gone for the Bayram. Those old familiar battles between Kurds and Turks should have long gone out of style but ISIS have reignited them. Far from those bloody battles I sip my raki on the shores of the Bosphorus, watching it all unfold on Show TV. It doesn’t look good, and as I watch I recognize the city. I had been to a match there five years ago and I know those streets well.

All I can do now is hope that cooler heads prevail. As a writer for Hurriyet Daily news said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.” Hopefully, all involved can take heed.

Izmir Derby Part III: Karşıyaka SK Izmir-Altay Izmir

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It surprising how Izmir—arguably Turkey’s most Western city—can sometimes look like the provincial backwaters of central Anatolia or south-east Turkey. Maybe it was the darkness that had just settled—that purgatorial hour where the streets are still crowded; not due to economic activity, but rather from the people (men) leaving their jobs to go back home to their loved ones (wives), families, or television screens. Or maybe it was the strange curve of the road, dodging a Fiat Doblo coming at me a little too fast while trying to look away from the blinding lights of the BIM grocery store to my right. I was taken back in time five years, to a night bathed in a similar shade of darkness where I negotiated a similar curve in a similar setting—albeit as a pedestrian—in the center of Şırnak, Turkey, just off the border of an Iraq then simmering on the brink of all-out civil war. There the street urchins had stuck to me like glue, fitting since I certainly stuck out as a “foreigner” on those dark forgotten frontier streets. Here in Buca district of Izmir province and off the coast of Greece I was at least sheltered by the four doors of my green Ford Mondeo, negotiating the dark alleys while glancing at my phone in search of the Buca Arena.

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The 13,000 capacity Buca Arena was built in this frontier district of Izmir’s city limits in 2009 when the old Buca Stadium proved itself to be obsolete. Indeed, the Buca Arena is only the second stadium in a city with a population of over four million to have stands on four sides of the field (the other is the Ataturk Stadium, for those who are curious). Tonight I was going to see the Izmir derby between Karşıyaka SK and Altay Izmir SK in the second round of the Ziraat Turkish Cup. I was lost in the maze of Buca’s forlorn back streets because of the closure of the Alsancak Stadium, which I wrote about a few days ago. Otherwise, this match would have certainly taken place there. Alas, it wasn’t to be. But I was still determined to take in my third Izmir derby, and the maze of pitch-black streets would not deter me.

 

Indeed I followed the bright glow of the stadium’s floodlights to a vacant lot dotted with stones that bordered on boulder size where I parked my car. Following the directions of a well-meaning police officer I headed up hill from the lot to get a 20 Turkish Lira ticket for the closed stand and walked back down hill to the entrance by the lot. I had paid ten Liras extra to walk ten extra minutes; the entrance immediately by the ticket booth was for the 10 Lira seats. The irony didn’t escape me but the pat-down at the entrance (it was cursory at best) proved my decision to pay a little extra to be sound since the cops never suspect the fans who pay more money to create trouble at games. Indeed they were right, there was no trouble during the match, even though the riot police seemed to walk around the perimeter of the field at random intervals, dragging their helmets and shields behind them. My optimistic side preferred to think that they were just getting some exercise.

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I watch the first half in a veritable daze, just taking in the feeling of watching a match on a fall evening where the temperatures tell you that summer is giving its last breaths, unable to hold up against the inevitable onset of winter. The gusts from the west tell me that soon my flip-flops and shorts will have to be retired. On the field Karşıyaka wear their traditional red and green kit, while Altay wear a special design that has made headlines in Turkey. It is a turquoise kit with an Izmir themed design that strays from their traditional black and white, the colors their fan section is bathed in. In place of a sponsor it has the silhouette of Izmir’s symbols, the clock tower in Konak Square and the statue of Ataturk on horseback that stands in Izmir’s Republic square, with seagulls flying above them. In short, it’s a shirt that eschews a sponsor in order to tell the story of a city—a shirt I hope to add to my collection soon.

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(Image Courtesy of: http://galeri.haberturk.com/spor/galeri/442610-altayin-yeni-formasi-begenildi)

Meanwhile n the field twenty-two men chase the ball beneath an advertisement for the Bucaspor Football Academy:

 

“Bucaspor Gençliği, Milli Takımların Geleceği . . . İyi Birey, İyi Vatandaş, İyi Futbolcu . .” 

“Bucaspor’s Youth, The National Team’s Future . . . A Good Individual, A Good Citizen, A Good Footballer . .”

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I find the message a satisfying one. After all, football is not the end all and be all of life. What matters is being a good person and a good citizen, wherever you live. Beneath the advertisement stand the core of Karşıyaka supporters, behind them their classic banner reads “The Red of Turkishness, the Green of Islam”. At least I know where I am I reason as the first half ends with the score knotted at 0-0. Karşıyaka have had many chances but just haven’t managed to capitalize against their city rivals that sit one division below them in the Turkish football pyramid.

 

At half time I decide to sample the food that is on offer—its always good to sample match-day cuisine in various places. I think back to the sausage stuffed pastry in Tallinn, the popcorn in Kiev, and the Souvlaki in Thessaloniki as I grab myself a sandwich stuffed with shredded sosis and cheese. If I attended a match a day I wouldn’t live past forty eating the stadium fare, but I reason that a few times a year won’t hurt as I dig in. After all, the sosis and cheese sandwich is a common form of fast food in Izmir—and nothing less would do at the Izmir derby.

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As I sit on the dirty plastic seats Turkish pop blares from the loudspeakers, giving us some half time entertainment. Eating this grease bomb of a sandwich with Hande Yener’s Alt Dudak (you know you want to listen) blaring in the background and looking at the young couples decked out in red and green that sip tea two rows in front of me I can’t help but wonder what life would have been had I grown up only in Turkey. Before my mind sends me on a tailspin of “what-ifs” I reason that being half and half is a blessing too, and I just sway along to the music in a bid to stay warm in the winds that are blowing in, colder and colder.

 

I’m still thinking of where I’ve been and where I’ll go when the second half starts—for some reason the Izmir derby has become a reflective one for me. There are no skirmishes between rival fans, just a celebration of a city and its football clubs. Both teams are still playing an even game before the hour mark, when the Karşıyaka goalkeeper gets sent off with a straight red card for an intentional hand ball outside the box. Down to ten men Altay get more chances, but Karşıyaka still hold their own. In fact, it seems like a miracle that they keep throwing away the chances they have at the Altay end. It is indeed a full on display of attacking football at its best.

 

Just when it seems like that we are destined to see a goalless draw Altay hit off on the counter attack, one long ball grazes the head of Altay’s Tahir Kurt and the ball slips past Karşıyaka’s reserve goalkeeper into the corner of the net. 87th minute and it is 0-1 to the “visitors”. The stadium falls silent except for the Altay corner, and that is where the Altay players rush to.

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But there is no booing. Karşıyaka’s fans take it on the chin, and it is refreshing to see such brotherly love between the two teams—it is a rare scene at a derby like this. With three minutes left Karşıyaka waste no time as their two Brazilian stars Juninho and Kahe push forward. Again, they inexplicably muff their chances in front of goal but I get one of those strange feelings that an equalizer is going to come. It just has to, and I stand riveted to the scenes unfolding in front of me.

 

Indeed as the clock reads 90 and the five minutes of added time wind down the chance comes, and in spectacular fashion. Karşıyaka are pouring men forward and the cross comes in, it is headed out before being hit on the volley from the 18 yard box. The shot gets blocked in front of goal and as the rebound hangs in the air above the six yard box Juninho takes his chance; sizing the ball up he hurls himself in the air and with a deft bicycle kick sends the ball hard into the back of the net. 90th minute and the score is 1-1 as the Buca Arena explodes.

 

We are going to get another half hour of football tonight—which means Karşıyaka will have played a full hour with ten men. The end-to-end stuff continues through the extra period as the tense Karşıyaka fans around me react to every move of the ball with visceral emotional outbursts but there will be no goal forthcoming. The victor will be decided from the penalty spot in a shootout. The cops to my left begin to put on their riot gear—they definitely do their best to make normal sporting moments tenser then they should be.

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It is Karşıyaka who go first in the shootout, Kahe’s strong blast finding the net despite the goalkeeper’s guessing the correct corner. Altay equalize with a simple finish, the keeper diving in the opposite direction. It is now Juninho’s turn to keep it going for the “home side”. He already came up with the biggest goal of the night but his work is not done yet. But football—like life—doesn’t always give you a storybook ending. Juninho skies his kick over the bar and can only hold his head and slowly walk back to the center of the pitch in a now silent stadium; hero becomes villain in one small moment. Indeed it is a sign of things to come. Altay hit their next three penalties while Karşıyaka hit both of theirs, keeping within striking distance, before Karşıyaka’s Nigerian forward Chikeluba Ofoedu puts his spot kick in the same place Juninho put his—into the stands. Altay’s players rush into the field to celebrate, they have taken the match 5-4 on penalties and move on to the third round, another Izmir derby in the books.

 

The shootout in its entirety:

 

 

 

Requiem For a Theater of Dreams: Izmir Alsancak Stadium

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One month ago on August 20, 2014 Izmir football was dealt an unexpected blow. The famed Alsancak stadium, located near the center of the city’s trendy shopping district of the same name, was condemned. The Provincial Sports Directorate claimed that following tests made on August 6th the stadium was found to be in danger of collapse in the event of an earthquake. Apparently, both stands—as well as the office building which is home to the Altay Izmir football club and Provincial Sports Directorate—do not have foundations. As such, the order was given to evacuate all offices immediately and to close down the stadium.

Such a decision sent shockwaves through the collective heart of Izmir football, since it was made just days before the start of the season. Four of Izmir’s teams—Karşıyaka SK and Altinordu, both from the second division, and Göztepe SK and Altay Izmir, both from the third division—share the Alsancak Stadium. In fact, all four teams spent 700,000 Turkish Liras each for pitch improvements. Altay Izmir, the stadium’s owner, make most of their money by renting out the stadium to the other three teams. As tenants, Altay president Aslan Savasan said that his team spent 300,000 Turkish Liras on new gates and 325,000 Turkish Liras on new seats in preparation for the new season. This is not to mention a monthly bill of 7,000 Turkish Liras for watering costs. Without rent money, Altay—one of Turkey’s oldest, formed during the war of independence in 1914—is in danger of collapsing.

Of course, underneath this decision—as with so many in Turkey—lies the specter of political maneuvering. The stadium was originally owned by the Greek side Paninios, which moved to Athens after the Turkish war of independence (for more on this you may read the first chapters of my thesis) and the stadium was taken over by Altay. The first stands—those same stands that supposedly have no foundation—were built in 1929, six years after the founding of the Turkish Republic. This makes the Alsancak Stadium one of Turkey’s oldest. But old doesn’t necessarily mean it is worth saving, as one of the Altay officials I met August 30 told me when we chatted beneath the team’s offices. He claimed it was a completely political decision, due to the fact that Izmir always votes for the CHP. They say the plan is to build a mall in place of the old stadium, otherwise why can’t they restore it? I had to agree with him as I looked out to the old Cypresses that stand behind one of the goals, baking in the sun. He told me he had worked for the team for 50 years, since those tall Cypresses—a symbol of the stadium—had been knee high.

I had gone on this day to pay my respects to the stadium where my stadium adventures began. It was a hot August day not unlike this one, a day where—ultimately—my innocence would be lost forever. But I hadn’t known that at the time. Otherwise, I might not have even gone.

 

We were in high school then, back in August of 2003. Berker and Ekin, two of my childhood friends, and I had made a decision to attend the Izmir derby between Karşıyaka and Göztepe. It was one of those foolhardy decisions that youth is made of—one of those days you throw caution to the wind and just wave your parents away when they make comments like “Don’t go” or “Its too dangerous, just watch it on TV”.

It was my first game, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. A row of riot policemen where standing behind their shields, blocking the road that curves in front of the stadium. A few ticket stands were set up, small prefabricated plastic cubicles. There we got tickets to the Göztepe side. I personally am a Karşıyaka fan but—even at that young age—my friends knew better than to allow us to be separated and my protests fell on deaf ears. Ekin and I got our tickets as well as one for Berker, who would be meeting us. With nothing better to do than wait, Ekin and I took a seat on the sidewalk, taking advantage of the shade provided by the wall of the Alsancak train station. The sun was high in the clear summer sky, it was a beautiful day that was soon to be marred by some of the worst scenes I have—to this day—ever seen at a match.

It all happened in a blur. One moment we heard a commotion on the main road, in front of the line of riot police, and we moved off the sidewalk into the middle of the street. Göztepe fans were streaming towards us in their red and yellow shirts, fear shown in their eyes. The municipality busses from Karşıyaka had arrived under a hail of stones, thrown by Göztepe fans protected by the line of riot police. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like they could hold those lines. Bottles, lighters, rocks, flares. Everything was flying through the air as the Karşıyaka fans rushed the cops. Ekin and I took cover behind one of the plastic ticket booths. I still remember the hollow sounds of stones bouncing off the plastic as we hunched over. Then came the sound of a bottle shattering, falling into pieces just like the calm of this lazy summer day on the Aegean coast that had been shattered. I don’t remember why but for some reason I left Ekin. I knew Berker would be arriving right in the middle of that chaos. We had arranged to meet in the courtyard of the train station. Looking back on it, I blame it on the foolish courage of youth. I didn’t want to be a hero—what is a hero even? I just wanted to meet my friend. I was also more than a little wary of being a sitting duck in the event that the police line was broken.

I reasoned that my black t-shirt—conspicuously chosen as a neutral color—would protect me. Ekin wasn’t having any of it. He would stay there, crouched down behind the ticket box. I assured him I would return with Berker and took a deep breath before stepping out, hugging the grey concrete wall of the train station as I walked. In the chaos no one even noticed me. I guess I didn’t look like I was looking for a fight. Bodies were running all around me as I turned the corner, into the courtyard of the train station. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as I took out my phone, frantically calling Berker. I could barely hear him on the other end, his voice was drowned out by the screams of fans engaged in pitched battles in front of the station.

“Im in front of Alsancak Station!”

“What??”

“In front of the stati—oh shit. Shit. Shit!!”

“What? What happened?”

“Come, come just come as fast as you can, we need to find Ekin!” I was staring in front of me. Staring at a man who was doubled over, his shoulder length hair had fallen in disarray all over his face. “WHY???” A blood curdling scream flew out of his lungs.

I was frozen, stuck to the ground as fresh blood dripped onto the concrete no more than ten feet in front of me. Amazing how quickly a white t-shirt becomes soaked with blood.

He had been stabbed with a doner knife then and there. His assailants mixed back into the crowd as onlookers more seasoned than I ran to his side. Somewhere would be an ambulance. But where? I could no longer make out sounds, just the frantic voices of people trying to stop the bleeding. I shook myself out of it and got to the doors of the station, the safest place in sight since the fighting hadn’t yet spread into the building. And I waited for Berker, trying to shake the things I’d seen from my mind. It wasn’t easy, my heart was beating with adolescent excitement and fear mixed together in equal parts. When he showed up his eyes had a worried look as I gave him a look back that said “I couldn’t even begin to explain it to you”.

When we found Ekin he was surrounded by a pack of riot police, they had retreated to the immediate front of the stadium. The street was a mess of stones and shattered bottles, empty cans of soft drinks and water bottles. Ekin’s hands were trembling as he tried to light a Winston. In high school you choose your cigarettes by price—cheapest is best, since you’re going to look cool no matter what. He couldn’t light it, an older man behind him took care of it before Ekin puffed frantically, words mixing with the grey smoke into the air.

“This guy broke through the police lines…he came face to face with me. Behind…behind the ticket booth. He had a…crazed look on his face. He was carrying a rock so large he was stumbling along the road with it. And he threw it at us!” We took comfort in being together again, three seventeen-year old boys in a savage world.

Inside the stadium we were packed like sardines chanting profanity in unison at the other side (even though…I supported the other side!). Berker went to light a cigarette—he had a superstition that it would bring a goal—as a sound bomb exploded on his neck.

“I can’t hear! I can’t hear! My ear!” He bent over as Ekin and I inspected his neck. It seemed fine enough, I tried to sound confident but what did I know? He went back to the cigarette, rubbing his ear as if to make it better between drags. By halftime his hearing was restored but I could understand his fear. It seemed as if anything could happen. And indeed, it did on that night.

After the match we learned the truth—a twenty three year old Karşıyaka fan had been stabbed to death in the open stands across from us during the match. They say it wasn’t related to football—something about a girl, apparently. But whatever it was, even I knew at that age that no one should die because of football or because of a girl. They said that there hadn’t been enough cops—just 800. Looking back on it all, it wasn’t the cops fault completely. It is society’s fault, and sadly eleven years later it seems that not much has changed. There is still violence at stadiums and—as we see with Alsancak stadium’s imminent destruction—it is still political games and money rather than respect for human life or historical value that govern people’s actions on so many levels, both politically and culturally.

280045

 

(Image Courtesy of: http://www.goal.com/tr/slideshow/3420/3/title/futbolun-aldığı-canlar. For more on this match in Turkish please see these two stories archived on Hurriyet.com: http://webarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr/2003/08/06/326527.asp And http://webarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr/2003/08/07/327015.asp)

Below are a few pictures of the stadium I took on the day I visited. I also was able to get an Altay shirt from last season, which was their centenary, which can be viewed here.

 

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The streets that have seen many a pitched battle between football fans in a calmer time.

 

 

 

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“Mustafa Kemal’s Soldiers”, graffiti from protesters from more recent times sends a clear message.

 

 

 

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