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The Humor of the ZIraat Turkish Cup First Round Offers Some Relief for the Turkish Football Scene

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22 August 2017 was a rough day for Turkish football fans. Istanbul Basaksehirspor—a team I have written about in the past—was a post away from qualifying for the UEFA Champions League in their tie with Sevilla FC. Meanwhile, the chairman of Atiker Konyaspor—Turkish Super Cup champions—Ahmet San was questioned by prosecutors for having ByLock (an app used by the alleged planners of the 15 July 2016 coup) on his phone. After being questioned by prosecutors, his cellular telephone and computer were confiscated while he himself was released. After being released Mr. San resigned from his post at the head of Konyaspor, but it did little to quell the controversy.

 

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Mr. San Has Resigned, But The Controversy Rages On. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberturk.com/spor/futbol/haber/1606389-konyaspor-baskani-nin-bylock-sorusturmasinda-ifadesi-alindi

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Former Goalkeeper Omer Catkic Was Arrested For Possessing the Same App as Mr. San. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/darbe-girisimi-macka-ilce-jandarma-komutani-tegmene-gozalti/

 

An MP from the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), Metin Kulunk, questioned the decision to release Mr. San and asked the rhetorical question “Is there someone protecting this person [Mr San]?”. Indeed, it is a good question since—on the same day—former goalkeeper Omer Catkic was arrested for having the same “Bylock” app on his phone as Mr. San! Mr. Kulunk went on to say that the state needs to get tougher on FETO’s organization in Turkish football and that “football’s intestines must be cleaned”. (Here FETO refers to the Fethullah Terrorist Organization, a loose group of the followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who is blamed for masterminding last summer’s failed coup attempt). Regardless of whether or not Mr. San is guilty, the double standard in use here is unmistakable. Since Konyaspor have reached unprecedented heights—experiencing the most successful period in the club’s history—due to investors with ties to “green capital” (businesses connected to the conservative community), it is clear that the Turkish state does not want to alienate too many of their supporters. It will be interesting the follow the fall out from this latest development but, in the meantime, I will share some new from the lighter side of football.

22 August 2017 was also the first round of the Ziraat Turkish cup, the national cup competition that brings together teams from all corners of Turkey. Since the first round is played by teams from provinces that are not represented in the top four (professional) leagues, this is grassroots football at its best. Turkish television showed five of the matches live, and it was a good way for fans to appreciate Turkey’s geographic diversity. Even if fans couldn’t go in person, they could see the different scenery ranging from the Central Anatolian steppe behind MKE Kirikkalespor’s stadium to the majestic peak of Mount Ararat rising behind Igdirspor’s stadium in Turkey’s easternmost province. The Aegean hinterland was represented by the derby between Kutahyaspor and Tavsanli Linyitspor, while the black sea could be seen behind the stand of Sinopspor’s stadium (even if it was blocked by one gentleman’s head in the broadcast).

Twitter users laughed at the small idiosyncrasies of small town football—like the post which blocked the view of television cameras in Sinop’s stadium, the weight of some of the amateur players, or the policeman who wandered onto the pitch seemingly oblivious to the match being played. As one Twitter user said, “if there is a better sports organization than this one, please tell us”. In response to the poor policeman’s embarrassing gaffe, an editor of an online news aggregator penned the headline “I cannot watch a match in another country!”. While the football may not have been great, these small moments from the first round of the Ziraat Turkish Cup gave Turkish fans something to laugh about and that is something to be celebrated during these troubling times. Football can unite just as it can divide, and in this case the Ziraat Turkish Cup allows fans to appreciate all parts of Turkish life regardless of what region of Turkey they may live in. I share with you some of the best moments from the first round and congratulate all the teams that have moved onto the second round!

 

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Clearly, Sinopspor’s Stadium Is Not Made For Televised Matches. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/search?q=bhdrizgec&src=typd

 

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The Gentleman Is Not Only Blocking the View of the Field, But Also Of the Black Sea! No, There Might Not Be a Better Sports Organization Than This One. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/mossmeister/status/899984776882532353

 

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The Footballers In the Lower Leagues Are…Not the Fittest. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/KocumKosecki/status/899982792439758848

 

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The Snowcapped Summit of Mount Ararat Rises Behind the Stands of Igdirspor’s Stadium in Turkey’s Easternmost Province. Image Courtesy Of the Author (From ASpor Channel).

 

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The Plains of Central Anatolia Behind the Stands of MKE Kirikkalespor’s Stadium. Image Courtesy Of the Author (From ASpor Channel).

 

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It Feels Like Your’e In the Stadium! As Fans Lean Over In the Stands, They Block the Cameras During the Kutahya Derby. Image Courtesy Of the Author (From ASpor Channel).
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Turkish Football Is a Major Money-Maker for Pro-Government News Outlets At The Expense of Player Safety

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The Ziraat Turkish Cup is Turkey’s second-biggest football competition, providing a space for lesser-known clubs to shine. While not quite the FA Cup, the Ziraat Turkish Cup does provide smaller clubs with useful income: Entering the group stages nets clubs 50,000 USD, with an extra 40,000 USD for each win and 20,000 USD for each draw; qualifying for the last 16 by finishing in the top two provides another 100,000 USD. But the Ziraat Turkish Cup is not only a money maker for football clubs—it is also a money maker for the pro-government ATV Television channel, which holds the rights for broadcasting cup matches (a typical match day program can be seen here).

The owner of ATV (and its sister channels ASpor and A2, the latter which was created in 2016 seemingly exclusively in order to broadcast cup matches) is the Turkuvaz Media Group, which also owns major newspapers like Sabah, Takvim, and sports daily Fotomac. The CEO of Turkuvaz is Serhat Albayrak, the brother of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak. TV revenues are ever-increasing in the age of industrial football, and the case of ATV and the Ziraat Turkish Cup represent an interesting example of how industrial football can be used by the government. The Turkish cup used to be a standard knock out competition until 2012-2013, when the group stages were devised. Clubs qualifying for the group stages play home and away series with each team in the four-team groups, Champions League-style. Unlike the Champions League, however, these games take place between the end of November and the middle of January during the league season. This means that in some weeks teams play three games—during the coldest time of the year in Turkey. I emphasize this last point because it means that players are exposed to a greater risk of injury due to a combination of fatigue, cold temperatures, and dangerous playing conditions.

As a football fan, it is worrisome to see this type of greed which seek to increase profits with seemingly no concern for the well-being of players. The fact that this revenue is designed to bolster a pro-government media group is even more worrisome. In the end it means that fans are left to watch matches that are less football and more ice hockey. The match program for the Cup’s third match day on 28-29 December 2016 reported that six of the eleven matches were to be played in snowstorms. Four matches were even slated to take place in below-freezing temperatures, with the low for the Atiker Konyaspor-Gumushanespor match predicted to be -6 degrees Celsius! While sports fans in the United States are used to unnecessary games being played for the sake of making money (why does the NBA play an astounding 82-game regular season, for instance?), in Turkey criticism has come mainly as a result of Turkuvaz Media Group’s involvement. Below are some of the more ridiculous images from this season’s Ziraat Turkish Cup so far.

 

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On 20 December 2016 Besiktas’s Match With Boluspor was Stopped Multiple Times Due to Blizzard Conditions. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ajansbesiktas.com/yogun-kar-yagisi-maci-duraklatti-2929h.htm

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Besiktas Eventually Muddled to a 1-1 Draw With Boluspor, While Boluspor’s Coach Said “It would be Wrong to Expect Anything Resembling Football In These Conditions”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/27/ziraat-turkiye-kupasi-nda-kar-tehlikesi-1269188
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On 21 December 2016 Gaziantepspor Hosted Kirklarelispor in a Match Where the Lines Were Barely Visible and Referee Murat Ozcan’s Hair Actually Froze. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/spor/futbol/zorla-mac-oynattilar-hakemin-saclari-dondu?page=1
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On 15 December 2016 Gumushanespor and Kizilcabolukspor Played on What Was Basically a Sheet of Ice While the Referee Struggled To Keep His Footing. Images Courtesy Of: http://spor.internethaber.com/buz-ustunde-oynanan-macta-kayan-kayana-1739134h.htm

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On 14 December 2016 Turkish Giants Galatasaray Faced 24 Erzincanspor in Sub-Zero Temperatures on a Pitch Unfit for Football. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/spor/futbol/2016/12/14/galatasaray-24-erzincanspor-maci-oncesi-zemin-korkuttu
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On 20 December 2016 Atiker Konyaspor and Gumushanespor played out a 1-1 Draw on Another Frozen Tundra. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/21/gumushanespor-atiker-konyaspor-mac-sonucu-1-1-1268240

 

While everyone has focused on the poor playing conditions on the field, there have been other developments off the field.  On 18 December 2016 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the new Akyazi Sports Complex—and Black Sea club Trabzonspor’s new stadium—alongside the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Tani. Mr. Erdogan used the event to inaugurate other state-led development projects in the Black Sea region, including 423 housing units, a dental health hospital, seven schools, 3 university dormitories, a stray animal shelter, and two Koran course buildings among other things. While these latter construction projects have nothing at all to do with football, they represent part of what stadium building means for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP): A modernization project fueled by construction and designed to bolster a faltering economy. The result of such projects is likely to be similar to the restructuring of the Ziraat Turkish Cup. Construction provides short-term economic gains that are not sustainable in the long term, just like increasing the number of cup matches may provide short-term income boosts for pro-government entities but the diminishing quality of the football overall will only serve to lower interest in the Turkish Cup in the long run.

Amedspor Upsets Bursaspor On The Field While Ethnic Tensions are Highlighted Through Football

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The Bursapor-Amedspor Turkish Cup match on 31 January, 2016 confirmed what many in Turkey feared. Amedspor’s surprising upset victory—1-2 to take them into the quarterfinal—was the biggest shock. What happened off the field, however, was sadly all too predictable.

While the away fans of Amedspor were not allowed into the stadium due to security concerns the match was still televised live on ATV, a channel known to be close to the ruling AKP government. During and after the match, fans took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with announcer Gökhan Telkenar. Among other things, he refused to refer to the Amedspor team by name. Instead, he called them “onlar”, or “them in Turkish”. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior by the employee of a national TV Channel only served to exacerbate the divide between Kurds and Turks that has recently been re-emphasized by the government, prompting some commentators to even speak of civil war.

As with most things in Turkish football, however, the entire situation was not without irony. An Tweet by Amedspor asked the rhetorical question “Bursa Takımında Türkiyeden sadece 2oyuncu var. Gerisi hepsi yabancı.

Bizde Türkiyenin her halkından oyuncu var.
Ama biz hainiz Bursa milli”/”On the Bursa team there are only two players from Turkey. Everyone else is foreign. On our team we have players from every group [of people] in Turkey. But we are the traitors and Bursa are national[ist]”. A cursory look at the line-up card confirms Amedspor’s assertions—at least as regards the starting XI. Bursaspor’s lineup boasted two Turks—Goalkeeper Mert Gunok and Forward Sercan Yildirim—while everyone else was non-Turkish: there was a Cameroonian, a Japanese, a Senegalese, an Australian, a Hungarian, a Slovak, and two Czechs. By contrast, third-tier Amedspor had a lineup of all Turkish nationals.

The founder of Amedspor’s fan group, Barikat, Bilal Akkalu had spoken before the match explaining the troubles his team faces during away matches. The home teams treat Amedspor as if they, in Mr. Akkalu’s words, “come from another country”. The divisive policies of the AKP government are swiftly manifesting themselves in Turkey’s most popular sport, football. Where the sport could once unite the country—such as during Galatasaray’s run to the 2000 UEFA Cup and Turkey’s international success during the 2002 World Cup and 2008 European Championships—the sport (with the aid of the government) is now becoming a forum for airing political differences predicated on ethnic lines. The process started during last year’s Turkish cup and, unfortunately, seems to be continuing. Let us hope that whichever team (and fans) Amedspor face in the quarterfinal round are more cognizant of the influence that football holds over the general populace. If sport can unite—rather than divide—let it be shown in the next round of matches. Otherwise, it will certainly be a difficult road ahead for both Amedspor and the Turkish nation.

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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Buca Arena, Buca, Izmir, Turkey – (Bucaspor): Karşıyaka Izmir-Altay Izmir (1-1, 4-5 PEN)

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A few more match day photos of the 13,000 capacity Buca Arena taken during the Ziraat Turkish Cup Second Round matchup between city rivals Karşıyaka and Altay:

 

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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: