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Human Trafficking And Globalization: Not Just a Girl Problem, but a Global Problem in Football Too

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Stories of human trafficking are gut wrenching. The hopelessness. The poverty. The desire to escape somewhere, anywhere, other than where you are. And desperate times call for desperate measures, which leads people to trust anyone, believe anything, just for a chance at an out. Globalization, which has advanced hand in hand with modern capitalism, has offered the world a degree of interconnectedness unimaginable a century ago. You can Skype or Facetime from Boston to Beijing without any extra effort, you can sip the same Starbuck’s coffee in Stockholm while sitting on the same couches you would in Seattle, and you can get from Adelaide to Zurich and anywhere in between on an airplane at a moment’s notice. For many, these are the positive aspects of globalization. Unfortunately, people sometimes ignore the fact that to enjoy these “positives” there are certain prerequisites: you must own a computer or an iPhone to use the technology that facilitates global communication, you must have the disposable income to sip a coffee at Starbuck’s instead of at home, and you need to have the time (not to mention wealth) to afford an airplane ticket. In short, you need to have money and the truth is that not everyone has it. Globalization is built on the premise of enjoying things that require money; the flip side of this is that globalization can have devastating consequences for those on the outside looking in: those who are not wealthy.

Those who are not wealthy look to use the interconnectedness created by globalization to their advantage, at least as best that they can. Often times this comes in the form of economic migration (something that—as Brexit has shown—elicits a strong backlash) but other times this can come in other forms. Human trafficking is one of those other forms. Often it is a wealthy individual who offers a poorer individual a “way out” by using one of the channels of globalization: travel. The most publicized of this type of human trafficking comes in the form of sex trafficking. Poor regions in eastern Europe are especially vulnerable to it; in countries like Moldova—where the average income is less than 2,000 USD annually—sometimes all people have to sell is their body, whether for sex or for kidneys. Al Jazeera’s project on sex trafficking in Romania is particularly enlightening since it highlights not just the hopeless desperation many young girls feel, but also as the attitude of the traffickers themselves, who see themselves as helping the young girls by offering them a way out.

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The Poverty in Some Regions of Romania Can Be Unbearable. Image Courtesy Of: http://projects.aljazeera.com/2015/08/sex-trafficking-in-romania/index.html

 

It is true that sad stories like this exist around the world and not just in Eastern Europe, and one common thread of international human trafficking is that it affects a disproportionately large number of women. A 2014 European Union report cited by the BBC explains that in the three years leading up to 2013, 30,146 people were registered as victims of human trafficking across the bloc. 80 per cent of the victims were women, and 69 per cent were victims of “sexual exploitation”. The fact that, tellingly, only 8,551 people were prosecuted for human trafficking and that there were just 3,786 convictions—which is only around ten per cent of the number of victims—tells us that this is a global issue. While the high rates of female victimization are certainly alarming, I will bring in an example from the football world to show that human trafficking does not discriminate according to gender or race; it is a global problem in the globalized age.

Many living in global West during the modern era may believe that the slave trade is over. Africans are no longer being put on boats and shipped overseas to become slave labor driving Western agricultural production—that’s true. But Africans are certainly being put on airplanes (often by fellow Africans) and are flown to the West in order to—they hope—play a role in driving Western cultural production. This cultural production is the sport of football. Didier Drogba. George Weah. These are the African stars of world football that every young footballer hopes to emulate one day, escaping Africa for a footballing career in Europe. But for every one of them, there are hundreds of young men like Musa, emigrating from Nigeria to (in his case) Turkey for a chance at football greatness. Comparatively, Musa might be one of the lucky ones.

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Didier Drogba Is One In a Million; Not Everyone Gets A Chance To Shine Under The Lights Of European Nights. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/chelsea/11635116/Chelsea-transfer-news-and-rumours-Didier-Drogba-wanted-by-Marseille.html

 

A 2015 Al Jazeera piece explains that “up to 15,000 young African footballers are taken abroad annually under false hopes [of finding a team] – over a third of them head to Europe. Many end up stranded in Europe, Asia, North America or the Middle East as they cannot afford to return or are too ashamed to do so”. The figure of 15,000 annually sounds like a large number, considering the number of 30,146 registered as victims of human trafficking over three years, but we need to remember that many of these African footballers may not consider themselves to have been trafficked, since the process is based on deception. Sports Agent Aby Emenike explains that “fake agents usually manage to extort sums between $300 and $3,000 for processing paperwork, paying for travel expenses, passports and visas”. The players—all too often blinded by their desperation for an opportunity—do not question them.

A case presented on Futbolgrad shows how the process plays itself out in the politically and sportingly marginal area of post-Soviet central Asia. The story is Olawale Sunday’s, a Nigerian who—in 2014—found himself struggling to make a name for himself in football in one of the world’s unlikeliest destinations: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. By Mr. Sunday’s own admission, however, it is “a lot better than Dushanbe” (a city for which I have a soft spot, but nonetheless I understand Mr. Sunday). In 2013 the footballer left Nigeria after paying “USD$3350 to a rogue agent who had promised him a trial with an unnamed club in Russia”. The rest of the story, as related by David McArdle, is worth quoting at length:

Accompanied by a group of similar recruits, they [Sunday and other hopefuls] arrived in Dubai and were each given one-way tickets to Dushanbe, where they were then met by a Ghanaian merchant-of-sorts: ‘Charles [the Ghanaian] met us off the plane and told us we would play for Lokomotiv Dushanbe’, a side with little in common with their Muscovite namesake, Wale elaborates. The unusual composition of a Ghanaian in Tajikistan was never thoroughly explained although his role in assuring the young players upon reaching Dushanbe, with hindsight, reads crucial in the de facto abandoning process: ‘Charles married a Tajik girl so he is stuck there forever’, Wale reveals as if discussing a lengthy period of incarceration. ‘He uses players as slaves’, Wale pronounces suddenly.

The last sentence in Mr. Sunday’s testimony is key, the trafficked footballers are treated as slaves. While Mr. Sunday has since left for (slightly?) greener pastures (after an adventure with the kind of post-Soviet bureaucracy I have had experience with) in Kyrgyzstan, the fact remains that there are many others in still worse positions.

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Mr. Sunday Navigates Central Asia Off The Pitch. Image Courtesy of: http://futbolgrad.com/football-slave-naive-willing-migrant-selling-dreams-along-silk-road/#more

 

Playthegame.org tells a story that is not so different than that of the young Eastern European girls who have fallen victim to sex traffickers:

The trade of under-age African footballers is primarily a phenomenon that plays on distressed families’ hopes for a way out of poverty. The fake agents make unknowing parents spend all their savings on their son’s flight to Europe, but in the end, the boy might only get a single trial at a European club – or perhaps none at all – and is left on his own in an unknown world far away from family and without a safety net.

In Moldova, we see the same root cause: “All of these forms of human trafficking are running so incredibly rampant in Moldova primarily because of one thing. Poverty.”

Jean-Claude Mbouvin, founder and director of Foot Solidaire, an organization raising awareness of the trafficking of young African footballers, explains that “Today, there are fake football agents who only use football to make money. They make fake contracts, lure young African players to come to Europe under illegal conditions, and then they just leave them”. As Mr. Mbouvin reminds us, for the players “it is an opportunity for the young kids to get a chance to get out of poverty”.

Contrast this with the story of girls in Romania who fall victim to sex traffickers:

Most girls remain unaware of the real fate that awaits girls who follow the often familiar faces of men known as lover boys. The lover boy method is the technique most often used to recruit girls. A trafficker purports to fall in love with a vulnerable girl, offering romance, nice dinners, gifts and the promise of a fairy tale life far away. The lover boy then claims to fall on hard times and persuades the girl to sell herself just to help make ends meet for a short time. Once the girls are swayed into selling their bodies, manipulated into feeling obligated to repay the lovely meals and gifts, they are often too ashamed to return home, fearing they will no longer be accepted.

The African footballers fall victim to the trafficker’s ruse because of a love of football while the young Romanian girls fall victim to the trafficker’s ruse because of love itself. Both cases represent internal exploitations; Africans exploiting Africans on the one hand and Romanians exploiting Romanians on the other. In both cases bodies are being exploited; in one case it is in the name of sport and in the other it is in the name of sex. In both cases no one can go back; they will both be shamed by their respective communities due to their perceived “failures”. And both root causes are the same: A hopeless despair caused by extreme poverty.

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Some Are Trafficked To Perform On The Pitch…                                                                                                             Image Courtesy Of: http://futbolgrad.com/football-slave-naive-willing-migrant-selling-dreams-along-silk-road/#more

 

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And Some Are Trafficked to Perform In The Clubs…But It’s The Same Sad Result.                                              Image Courtesy Of: http://projects.aljazeera.com/2015/08/sex-trafficking-in-romania/index.html

 

These two cases—although seemingly unrelated—actually represent two sides of the same coin. Human trafficking is not just an issue that females face; men face this evil as well but in different forms. The debate surrounding human trafficking, therefore, represents yet another one where divisions—in this case along the lines of gender—should not be created. Such divisions cannot help us solve the root cause of poverty which, after all, knows no race or gender. Unfortunately, it is a by-product of the modern society, simultaneously connected and disconnected, that we live in today.

My Favorite Nike Football Advertisements

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Since the release of Nike’s latest epic football advertisement Winner Takes All ahead of this summer’s World Cup many websites have been writing about the greatest football advertisements in history (Even Esqire got into it!) Unfortunately, many of the lists have been all too similar. So I decided to create a list of my own—one along the lines of one of the themes that this blog follows—football shirts. As I wrote about in the “About” section there is an air of nostalgia in the way that I follow football—the players and shirts are what define historical eras in my mind. Therefore, while “Winner Takes All” is certainly an incredible video that embraces the grass-roots football we grew up on, there are a few more out there that take me back to a simpler time, and still others that fully embody the true meaning of modern, “industrial”, football.

Here is my list that I hope may serve as a sort of anthology for some. I tried my best to include the directors of each film as well as the songs that provided the soundtracks, in addition to a list of the footballers featured in each advertisement. For this effort Vincent Battaglia’s website was quite useful, in addition to that bastion of free information (as long as it is double checked), Wikipedia.

 

Winner Takes All (2014, For the FIFA World Cup in Brazil)

Featuring: Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Gerard Piqué, Gonzalo Higuaín, Mario Götze, Eden Hazard, Thiago Silva, Andrea Pirlo, David Luiz, Andrés Iniesta, Thibaut Courtois, and Tim Howard.

Since this is the most recent advertisement—and the one that sparked this column—it is a fitting one to start with. The theme of young kids playing in a pick-up game is one that many of us football fans can relate to, and for that I commend Nike in returning to the theme. As a kid in Turkey my friends and I definitely embodied the stars of our time, and that’s why this video stuck a chord with me. My poor foot-work made me more of a Tony Meola at the time—so Tim Howard (or the Hulk, of course) in this video 20 years on.

This advertisement also represents many facets of “industrial football”. Note that the players who appear in their team jerseys are those whose teams (national and/or club) are contracted with Nike. That’s why Eden Hazard (Belgium/Chelsea) and Mario Gotze (Germany/Bayern Munich) wear non-descript kits in this video. Hazard plays in Burrda Sport for Belgium and Adidas for Chelsea while Gotze plays in Adidas for both Germany and Bayern Munich. It is also why Kobe Bryant has a cameo—he is, after all, contracted by Nike. And he appeals to an American audience, one very distant from European soccer. When the bottom line is making money, it explains the rather bizarre scene of Kobe Bryant conversing with Andrea Pirlo—even if Bryant grew up in Italy and is reported to be a soccer fan.

Secret Tournament (Cage Football) (2002, For the FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan)

Directed by Terry Gilliam

For More Please See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_Tournament

Featuring (Teams in Parantheses): (Thierry Henry, Francesco Totti, Hidetoshi Nakata), (Patrick Viera, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Paul Scholes), (Fredrik Ljungberg, Javier Saviola, Luis Enrique), (Edgar Davids, Lilian Thuram, Sylvain Wiltord), (Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo), (Denilson, Ronaldinho, Seol Ki-Hyeon), (Fabio Cannavaro, Tomas Rosicky, Rio Ferdinand), (Claudio Lopez, Gaizka Mendieta, Hernan Crespo), and Eric Cantona.

Music: JXL Vs. Elvis Presley “A Little Less Conversation”

In my mind this is the best Nike advertisement and it takes its place at the top of my list. It is the true roots of the game with players engaged in a quick competition that focuses on individual skill while in a team setting and just one rule, as Cantona charismatically explains: “First goal wins”. The twenty-four football stars are divided into teams of three, competing in a cage football match aboard a freighter. The winners move on and the losers are dumped into the ocean to swim ashore. Notably, none of the players wear their club or national team shirts—whether contracted by Nike or not. In this sense, then, it avoids the awkwardness of “Winner Take All” with Zlatan rocking the shirt of his club side Paris Saint Germain (Sweden are with Adidas) while Cristiano Ronaldo is in Portugal’s Nike shirt (Real Madrid are with Adidas) and Hazard is in a Nike training shirt bearing no resemblance to the kit of either his club or country (his kit allegiances are explained above).

There is also a bit of nostalgia for me personally. This is a clip that made a summer classic out of JXL’s remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation”. The lyrics itself invoke a summer night of world class football which is fitting since the advertisement was released in the run up to the 2002 World Cup: “Baby close your eyes and listen to the music/Drifting through a summer breeze”. Lets also not forget that two of the three footballers on the winning team from the advert—Thierry Henry and Francesco Totti—are still playing; Henry is in the USA with Red Bull New York while Totti continues to turn back the clock for his only club, AS Roma.

 

Take It To The Next Level (2008)

Directed by Guy Ritchie

For More Please See: http://www.72andsunny.com/work/nike/next-level

And: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/top-10-soccer-commercials-ever-made-130585?page=2

Featuring: Wayne Rooney, Arsene Wenger, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marco Materazzi, Ronaldinho, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder and others including much of Arsenal’s 2008 squad.

Music: Eagles of Death Metal “Don’t Speak”

This advertisement is up there simply because it is a tour de force of football and filmmaking simultaneously. This advert is shot entirely in the first person; we are put in the shoes of an aspiring Dutch footballer who is signed to Arsenal. We follow him through his own eyes as he gets his kits from the equipment manager at Arsenal and is humbled on his first substitute appearance by the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United (Remember, both United and Arsenal’s kits at the time were—and still are—made by Nike). We follow the young footballer back to the training ground where he works hard—even vomiting from the effort—to become a top class footballer.

Guy Ritchie’s directorial acumen shows through when the kiss of a team-mate celebrating a game winning goal gives way to a kiss from a beautiful lady friend, transporting us from the on-pitch world of a professional European footballer to the glitz and glamour of European nights off the pitch. The excesses mean some failure on the pitch, of course (including a lost tooth) before more training ground work pays off for an amazingly struck free kick goal for the Dutch national team in what we assume to be the World Cup. Truly an inspiring and at times humorous three and a half minutes in keeping with Nike’s epic style.

 

Match In Hell/Good Vs. Evil (1996, For the UEFA European Championship in England)

Featuring: Eric Cantona, Paulo Maldini, Luis Figo, Ian Wright, Jorge Campos, Patrick Kluivert, Thomas Brolin, Rui Costa, Ronaldo.

This simply has to make the list if only because of the two (!) lines of dialogue. We are presented with a team of world football superstars from the era competing in a match in hell (Hell Trafford—perhaps a nod to Manchester United’s ill-fated trip to the “Hell” of Galatasaray’s Ali Sami Yen Stadium?? I don’t know . . .). In any case our superstars—including the faded star Thomas Brolin—are roughed up by a few undead footballers before coming into their own and defeating them with a hard shot by non other than Eric Cantona. Paulo Maldini’s immortal “Maybe they’re friendly?” could only be eclipsed by Cantona’s classic “Au Revoir” as he flips the collar on his shirt up in a way that only Cantona could.

For me the best part of this clearly “period” advertisement is that Nike had not yet taken a strangle hold on the brands presented in their advert—in the months leading up to Euro 1996 industrial football was still in its early stages. The team of “world all-stars” wear the shirts they’re famous for. Brolin is in Parma’s classic Puma kit and Figo carries Barcelona’s Kappa shirt while Cantona wears the Umbro kit United made famous.

 

Airport 90 (1998, For FIFA World Cup in France)

Featuring: Brazil’s 1998 World Cup Squad.

Music: Sergio Mendes “Mas Que Nada”

This is—judging by many of the lists I’ve perused—another favorite, and rightly so. Before the “Secret Tournament” made “A Little More Conversation” famous Airport 90 made Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” famous. The advert features Brazil’s World Cup squad—the one that would finish runners up to France in the summer—making the most of a flight delay. Ronaldo, who was the darling of the football world at the time, is the most prominent star in this clip while Roberto Carlos and Denilson appear alongside him. This video evokes times of a more relaxed airport atmosphere, before the draconian measures that came into force in airports worldwide following the tragedies of September 11, 2001.

 

Write The Future (2010, for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa)

Directed by Alejandro Iñárritu

Featuring: Didier Drogba, Fabio Cannavaro, Wayne Rooney, Lassana Diarra, Theo Walcott, Patrice Evra, Franck Ribery, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Jeremy Toulalan, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Thiago Silva, Luis Fabiano, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Oojier AND Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant, Homer Simpson.

Music: Focus “Hocus Pocus”

Write The Future is along the lines of 2008’s Take It To The Next Level—it is, after all, a sequel. Unlike most sequels, however, this one more than holds its own. It chronicles two different outcomes of England’s future based on Wayne Rooney’s performance. He fails to stop Franck Ribery and France win, while the English stock market crashes and Rooney is reduced to a groundskeeper living in a trailer park. He stops Ribery and England win, the stock market goes sky high and babies across England are being named Wayne. Never mind that reality is somewhere between the two outcomes, its still an amusing advertisement. Perhaps the most realistic outcome is that concerning Cristiano Ronaldo—his star has only risen six years on.

As for a mention on the shirts in this advertisement note that Rooney is sporting the double diamond of Umbro in this Nike advert—since, at that point, Nike had bought Umbro. As a double dose of the globalization of world football Kobe Bryant also has a prominent cameo in this ad, along with the “like” button of social media. I can’t help but be thankful that social media made no appearance in Take It To The Next Level.

 

The Mission 90 (2000, For the UEFA European Championship in Belgium/Netherlands)

Featuring: Edgar Davids, Oliver Bierhoff, Hidetoshi Nakata, Luis Figo, Francesco Totti, Lilian Thuram, Josep Guardiola, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, and Louis Van Gaal.

This is one of the last of the Nike advertisements that didn’t go full-scale into the global marketing of the game. Like the 2002 Secret Tournament ad the players do not sport the shirts of their individual teams—as such, the cast is open to footballers regardless of the teams they may play for. The plot is someone sensationalist, similar to 1996’s Match In Hell. The players are attempting to retrieve a ball because it is “rounder”, according to mission leader Louis van Gaal. Indeed, this is the match ball for the 2000 European Championships. The stars proceed to battle cyborg samurais before escaping with their bounty before the building explodes as the advert ends. Normal stuff, right?

 

My Time Is Now (2012, For the UEFA European Championship in Poland/Ukraine)

Featuring: Franck Ribery, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozil, Neymar, and others—including . . . Lebron James??

Music: The Eighties Matchbox B Line Disaster “Chicken”

I rank this video last in my hierarchy of Nike football advertisements for many reasons. First of all, it is pretty ridiculous. Sure, many of the previous adverts listed here were ridiculous in their own right but please, hear me out. In this clip there seems to be no cohesive plot, and it seems to be a glorified pitch invasion. Having witnessed one such unfortunate event myself it doesn’t sit well with me to support such defamations of the game. Also, the blatant advertising put forth my Nike in this ad disappointed me. Yes, it is an advertisement for Nike, but please—don’t ram that down the viewer’s throats so crudely!

The fictional match is between Holland and France—both in Nike kits—while the players streaming onto the pitch are sporting Nike’s training line of apparel. As if all of that weren’t enough, Lebron James makes an appearance—a gross representation of the global advertising motives of Nike. I would have been much happier if a football goalkeeper made the “save” that James makes in this video since, well, it’s a football video! Nike chose to have Kobe Bryant return in this year’s Winner Takes All as the resident American sports star. While it is still a weird blurring of sport lines for money making purposes that makes me uncomfortable, at least Bryant has a history with the game of soccer as I mentioned earlier. I’m not sure of any similar natural associations that Lebron James has with football (other than his part-ownership of Liverpool, which is in the business realm).

Fever Pitch…Invasion: Besiktas JK-Galatasaray 09.22.13

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“Beşiktaş! Beşiktaş! Beşiktaş!” A group of fans are lighting flares in front of the eagle statue that marks the center of Beşiktaş’s Çarşı, or market, which is also the center of the Istanbul district the team take their name from. It’s a beautiful fall day in Istanbul and the fans are getting ready for the first derby of the season against Galatasaray. I make my way through the smoky haze, maneuvering through table lined alley-ways where fans are enjoying lunches of fish washed down by endless glasses of beer and rakı. The derby atmosphere is so pervasive that one would be forgiven for thinking that they are in a European city, and not in the heart of Istanbul.

“They’re drinking rakı at this hour, can you believe it?” My friend is incredulous, as we sit down for a pre-match hookah.

“I can believe it—I’m going to go for some J&B instead,” I laugh, pulling a small bottle of scotch out of my jacket pocket.

“Let me take care of this,” my friend says, asking the table next to us to discreetly fill up my can of Coca-Cola, away from the waiter’s eyes. They oblige. It’s a derby, and one of those odd times where a total stranger can be at once your closest friend or your most bitter enemy. Right now, in the heart of Beşiktaş, even those of us who may not be Beşiktaş fans must hide our true colors. I a Galatasaray fan, and my friend—himself a Fenerbahçe fan—know this all too well. In return, we have made four friends from the neighboring table all in the name of football.

With the kick-off approaching I begin the trip by walking along the Bosphorus between the construction site of the new Beşiktaş stadium and the famous Dolmabahçe Palace, the clichéd synthesis of old and new makes itself ever-present in Istanbul. It’s a relaxing day in the fall sunlight, and before long I’ve reached the first leg of my journey, the tramline from Kabataş to Yusufpaşa.

One of the most interesting things about public transportation in Istanbul is that it allows one to see people from all walks of life; its a welcome feeling of unity in days that division seems to be the only thing on people’s minds. In front of me is a family with two children, the headscarved mother has eyes as blue as the golden horn we pass over, one of the daughters has freckles that would be more suited for Dublin. I look at the father, who gives me a tired smile in return. He is only at the start of his journey as well, no doubt destined for an outer suburb where so many struggle to make ends meet in this metropolis. Around us are others; the western tourists with guidebooks in hand disembarking at the Blue Mosque, and of course the football fans, conspicuous in their black and white jerseys. When I switch at Yusufpaşa I follow the crowd of fans to the next station, where we meet a second train.

A young couple is packed in the crowd in front of me, the girl pretty in a Turkish sense with eyes as dark as Turkish Coffee. You can tell that she might not have the money of the girls in the trendy districts of Nişantaşı or Etiler, but she certainly looks beautiful in a white Adidas Beşiktaş shirt. Yes, all walks of metropolitan life indeed come together on derby day.

Outside the stadium it is almost sunset and the celebrations of DerbyFest, organized by Beşiktaş’s fans, are dying down. All over are trucks with grills in front of them, selling everything from meatball and sausage sandwiches to sweet lokma, like donuts. I grab some lokma and a cold Efes beer (sold out of the trunk of a car in a bucket of ice). The Turkish business mind knows no bounds. As I lean against a chain link fence I watch it all unfold, everyone mingling in the parking lot in perfect harmony. In Beşiktaş’s Çarşı it could have been Europe but here it is like a tailgate party in the United States, and when a group of girls ask me to take their picture with the stadium as their backdrop I am back in college, partying outside Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado. Before entering I grab a second beer and a sausage sandwich, which proves to be a bad choice—no sooner does it enter my stomach does it exit. After the match I realize that I had broken a golden rule of Turkish football matches: always choose the meatballs, never the sausage.

Inside the stadium the Beşiktaş fans are keeping their promise of unfurling a banner of record-breaking proportions—two huge pieces of fabric fall over the two levels of supporters across the field from me. One is black and white with an eagle reading “Our return will be amazing”, the other an image of a modern football stadium with “Vodafone Arena” written beneath it—a reference to the new Beşiktaş stadium whose construction I had passed earlier in the day. Above the banners flares are being lit, doing justice to this night that the Turkish Super League attendance record will be broken.

When play gets underway, Galatasaray’s players are subject to the jeers that are de rigeur in any derby. I am conscious of hiding my own fan identity when, fifteen minutes in, a Galatasaray attack fizzles beneath a sea of boos. Just three minutes later the tables turn and a cross is headed in by Portugal’s Hugo Almeida, it is 1-0 to Beşiktaş and the stands behind me become a sea of color as the fans light their smuggled flares, smoke trailing into the suburban Istanbul air.

Galatasaray struggle to be effective in the first half, with striker Burak Yimaz squandering what few chances he gets. The man in front of me says it best, “Even Galatasaray fans hate him.” For what its worth, he’s right—even if I refrain from telling him on the spot for fear of my own physical well-being.

Beşiktaş go into halftime up 1-0, while their fans provide the halftime entertainment. Dots of white lights fill the opposite stand as the stadium becomes bathed in an iPhone glow. Where there were once lighters, there are now iPhones. Indeed, between this light show and the Vodafone sponsored banner to begin the match, it is clear that industrial football is alive and well in the Turkish Super League. I try to convince myself that technology will not subsume every human activity—including football—as the second half begins.

Ten minutes in the referee begins taking abuse, as (in the eyes of Beşiktaş fans, at least) the calls begin to go against the home team. The Beşiktaş fans are not ones to give up that easily, however, and they break into a verse of my favorite chant:

Laylalaaay, laylalaylalaylalaylalay . . .

It doesn’t matter,

It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t love you,

Your brothers will never ever leave you.

On some level it reminds me of Liverpool’s “you’ll never walk alone”, just in the context of a country where love from the opposite sex is harder to come by. Beşiktaş’s joy is short lived though, as Galatasaray grab two goals in the span of eleven minutes—both courtesy of a man accustomed to such big occasions, none other than Didier Drogba. With 18 minutes to go Galatasaray are up 2-1 and the referee is hearing it from the record-breaking 76,127 in attendance. There is a commotion in the lower portion of the stand opposite me with fans swinging flagpoles like lances at one another. Yet, for some strange reason, the police don’t intervene. Meanwhile, on the field, Beşiktaş are still pushing for an equalizer as the clock continues to tick down to the inevitable end.

Then it happens—Beşiktaş’s star Manuel Fernandes is just outside the box, setting the play, when Galatasaray’s “pitbull” Felipe Melo slides in with an ill-timed and vicious two-footed tackle. The players start pushing on the field, and I think ‘This is how it starts”. And indeed it does. I am among over 76 thousand people already incensed at their team’s giving up a one goal halftime advantage, counting down the seconds until a historic Galatasaray victory. “One Mississippi, two Mississippi . . .” I’m counting as the red card is hoisted into the air in Melo’s face and, as the players continue their shoving match, I’m looking at the stand. Then back to the field, then to the stand again and back to the field. ‘The shit is really going to hit the fan!’ It’s the only thing I can think. And, lo and behold, it is hitting the fan. Its times like these that I wonder why I can’t say “she is going to fall in love with me” and have her fall into my arms, just like that. But no one is falling into my arms. Instead, fans are falling on to the field.

They are streaming over the knee-high wall on the edge of the athletics track and, from where I stand on the second level, it is like watching a tide stream across a wind-swept beach from a cliffside. Orange clad security guards turn and run for their lives, an unlucky member of the crew trips and falls in the chaos, his reward is a swift kick to the jaw. I wince. The fans keep coming, the unstoppable tidal-wave of human flesh streaming across the grass. I can feel my right leg shaking, uncontrollable, like an orgasm.

Where players had been chasing a ball minutes ago, fans wielding plastic chairs are now chasing police officers across the grass, like a scene out of a pro-wrestling broadcast. But this is real. A police officer shields his head in his hands as a chair is broken across his back. He tries to recover as two fellow officers help him hobble away. The fans all around me start yelling that familiar refrain, “Everywhere is Taksim, Everywhere is Resistance”, followed by the traditional “You’re all sons of whores”. Broken chairs litter the pitch, and the fans don’t know what to do. It shouldn’t have been this easy. Where are the police? Some people on the field are taking pictures on their iphones, a macabre souvenir of this dark night.

Eventually the police regroup, forming a barricade in front of the player’s tunnel. It is an eerie parallel to the barricades erected by protesters throughout central Istanbul back in June.  Yes, there is blood lust. Yes, the fans like seeing the police beaten back. But why did this happen here? Why now? Why tonight? The police are moving forward in a human chain, and the fans are returning to the stands, leavıng the field of play to the security forces. They know this wont go anywhere, not tonight. The police, for their part, have strangely not resorted to brute force—something they have not shied away from in the past. But why not? The police, by this point, have reached the middle of the field where they mill around like baseball players at the end of a bench-clearing brawl. The worst of it lasted just five minutes. In front of me, a plastic chair is thrown off the balcony. There are at least fifteen thousand people below us. As I cringe at the thought of a plastic chair landing on my head from forty feet above, a kid pushes me aside as he waves a full plastic water bottle.

“Don’t do it!” I yell.

“There are people down there, you’ll never reach the field. Stop!” urges an old man.

“Who cares?” is his response to both of us, as the bottle flies into this darkest of nights. But why?

That is the question that Turkey has grappled with since this ugly pitch invasion marred the final minutes of the Istanbul derby. Why on earth would the fans of a team that has one four out of four matches to start the season, and who could still snatch a point or more with their opponents down to ten men, storm the field before the final whistle?

It is definitely odd, and it does not seem right. Beşiktaş are known for their passionate fans, of which the biggest group is Çarşı, the same fan group that played a large role in supporting the Gezi Park protesters in June. Why would these same fans want to sully their reputation, after warming the hearts of so many? This is where to start looking for an answer and—like so much in football—it involves a little bit of politics and a little bit of human nature. But first, there is some history. The Çarşı group have been Beşiktaş’s main supporter group (or ultra group in European parlance) since their inception in 1982, a time when most social organization was illegal in Turkey due to the laws put into effect after the 1980 military coup.

Most recently it was in June, during the Gezi protests, that these football fans rose to international prominence for their stance “against injustice, wherever it may be.” But nationally, Çarşı has been a social force both in and outside of the stadium for a long time. They are the fan group that has given the most blood to Kızılay, the Turkish version of the Red Cross, who give blood to wounded Turkish soldiers. The Mehmetcik Vakfı, a foundation for wounded and deceased soldiers, even provided the shirt sponsor for Beşiktaş’s jerseys one season. Çarşı also made their voice clear in opposition to the government’s plans to build a nuclear reactor on the Black Sea coast, due to environmental concerns, a few years back.

To truly understand the social effect of Çarşı in Turkey one need only look back at this same fixture—the Beşiktaş-Galatasaray derby—of two years ago in November of 2011. The game was played in the wake of a devasating 7.1 degree earthquake in the eastern Turkish city of Van. 604 people died, while the estimated number of homeless ranged to 40,000. Çarşı’s response to this natural disaster was simple: “If Van is freezing, then we will freeze too”. It was with that chant raising from the stands that thousands of Beşiktaş fans—led by the Çarşı group—stripped off their jerseys, scarves, sweatshirts, and winter coats and threw them onto the sidelines of the pitch in a mass public donation of clothing to those that had lost everything. This heartwarming gesture was in stark contrast to the thousands of fans who stood half naked on a winter night, braving the chill that comes off the Bosphorus with only their consciences to warm them. Now think. Are these the kinds of fans who would want to sully their name, who would want to embarrass their team and their country by way of a savage pitch invasion? I don’t think so.

And that is where politics and human nature come into this, something that many—including even the English paper Daily Mirror (http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/besiktas-v-galatasaray-violence-mans-2296118)—conspicuously ignore. After the Gezi protests, and in response to Çarşı’s role, a new Beşiktaş supporter group was formed. They named themselves the 1453 Kartallar (Eagles), the date referring to the year Fatih Sultan Mehmet’s Ottoman army captured Istanbul and the “Eagles” referring to Beşiktaş’s nickname, “the black eagles.” The group are known to be supporters of the current AKP government even if they won’t say so directly; many members of the supporter group are openly members of the AKP’s youth wing.

After the match, founding member Aşkın Aydoğmuş did his group no favors during an appearance on a CNN Turk political talk show, where the waters were muddied further. When asked why the group spontaneously appeared on the scene—so notably in the wake of the Gezi protests—he claimed that it was a response to Çarşi’s hegemony, and that his group wants politics out of the stadiums. This was the same goal of the ruling party, I might add, when they announced that those who yell political slogans at games would be punished to the fullest extent of the law. In the eyes of Mr. Aydoğmuş, flags bearing the images of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and leftist hero Che Guevara have no place in the stadium. In a reply to these views, a sports journalist on the panel asked if the 1453 in the group’s name was, in itself, not a political statement? Mr. Aydoğmuş’s defense was that it is merely a date commemorating “the conquering of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmet and the armies of the Prophet Muhammad (!), when Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and Turks all came together in harmony.” The sports writer’s response was telling: That is just one view of the Ottoman conquest, and a fairly optimistic one at that. Others might say something very different.

Now with the backgrounds of these two fan groups established, it is helpful to look at what actually happened. Officially, the record-breaking crowd is numbered at 76,120, but reports have claimed that at least 5000 people entered without tickets. However, for some odd reason, the government can’t get their stories straight on this matter. The head of Istanbul’s security bureau Hüseyin Çapkın insists that no un-ticketed fans entered, yet Youth and Sports minister Suat Kılıç says that ten gates were broken and that six iron doors were also broken, allowing un-ticketed fans to stream in. Indeed, video from the stadium confirms the damage. Normally, at any match at this level, all tickets are scanned electronically—meaning that they can’t be used again—and everyone is subject to a security pat-down upon the scanning of their tickets. Videos clearly show masses of people streaming through the gates unchecked, while others climb over metal fences. My own ticket was not scanned, and neither was the name on the ticket checked against my identification card. To me, this means that it is very likely that many ticketless fans—among them perhaps also a few known hooligans—were in attendance.

In the wake of this ticket scandal breaking, many remembered the pre-match tweets by the 1453 Kartallar group that pictured hundreds of tickets without names attached to them (convenient when no one checked up on that detail at the stadium). What we do know is that there were likely many ticketless fans at the stadium who were not subject to any security checks, and that starting about fifteen minutes from the end of the match there were a few scuffles in the lower end of the East stand. Television cameras confirmed eye-witness accounts of skirmishes between Besiktas fans—I saw the flagpoles being wielded like lightsabres myself. I also saw, around the 88th minute, some fans attempt to storm the field before the security guards pushed them back. The match observers sent by the Turkish Football Federation confirmed these incidents.

So why didn’t the police intervene? I’ve been to many games, and every time such small-scale violence is nipped in the bud. But on this night it seems a blind eye was turned. And that leads to everyone’s question: Why was security so laughably lax for this, a high tension Istanbul derby, which had been announced as a sell out days before?

And this is where we come to the meat and potatoes, the breaking point. I sensed the tension rising all around me, t was like being in a pot of water coming to a boil as choice words rained down on referee Firat Aydinus, whose decision indeed sparked the chaos. But his decision was one that went in favor of the home side, a crucial detail. It was then that fans seated in the area that 1453 Kartallar had set as their own began leaving their seats for the field. Contrary to what the Daily Mirror would have you believe, this was not Çarşı’s doing. They have always sat in the upper decks, away from the sidelines, and this night was no different. Like the Roma Ultras have the Curva Sud, so too do Çarşı have their own geographical location in the stadium, and one that is decidedly far from the pitch.

Some other eyewitness accounts claim that those storming the pitch did so with “Tekbir”, “Bismillah”, and “Allahu Ekber”, Islamic terms that have entered our common lexicon and need no explanation here. Others say that those in the group of pitch invaders had earlier in the match attempted to drown out with whistles the “Everywhere is Taksim, Everywhere is Resistance” chant that Çarşı start at the 34th minute mark of every home game. We may never definitively know who these savages were, but one thing—at least to me—is certain. These people were not members of Çarşı. Even Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said that these people were “provocateurs”.

As chaos reigned on the pitch, fans started yelling “direniş”, “resistance”, which The Mirror correctly pointed out. And this is where we segue into human nature. In order to spear-head such a pitch invasion in Turkey, only a small group—maybe 50-100 people at most—need run onto the pitch. Unfortunately, this can encourage others—who may not have been so inclined previously—to participate, such as the boy next to me who let his water bottle fly. This is unfortunately a fact of life in Turkey.

The international media chose to focus on the flying chairs, and the fighting between fans and security forces. It is normal, it makes for a flashier headline. But it does not—and cannot—tell the whole story. In the Turkish media there were similar pictures of the violence, but also more mundane ones. Friends taking pictures on their smartphones, the day they got onto the field in Turkey’s biggest stadium. No, not everyone ran onto the pitch that night with the aim of fomenting chaos, not by a long shot. But a few most certainly did. Many fans in my section, the Western stand, fell for this ruse as the dark thoughts began forming in my mind. As the chairs were breaking over the heads of cops, the anti government chants rose with deafening proportions into the Istanbul night. Perhaps those who goaded on their colleagues down on the pitch with such chants didn’t fully realize what was going on. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those clashing with police hadn’t just been sucked into the moment and were merely taking advantage of a chance to live out that familiar Ultra code of A.C.A.B—“All Cops Are Bastards”. In any case the plan worked; it was a well-played provocation.

The fallout has already had some of the desired outcome. If this was an attempt to sully the name of Çarşı, then the ill-informed Daily Mirror article is a sad example of this in the international media, even if those in Turkey have not bought it. If this was a way to silence Çarşı and other political minded football fans in Turkey, then it has succeeded as well. The government, in the near future, will no longer need to censor the live telecasts of Beşiktaş home games by dubbing in crowd sounds from old matches at the 34th minute—Beşiktaş will not have fans for their next four home games. Citing this match as proof, the government has also approved the presence of police within the stadium as a deterrent to violence (as well as to prevent any anti-government chants). The European Union and UEFA are not pleased, but that is of no concern to those running the show. In the end, what should have gone down as one of the brightest days in Turkish football history has instead been sullied by the acts of a few that may have had tacit backing. The bright days may still be quite a ways off, but at least—as Beşiktaş have taught me—I can know that those fighting agaınst injustice will never stop, since “My brothers will never ever leave me”…

Before:

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After:

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