The Travesty That Is Turkish Futbol
A couple of years ago, after my travels to Turkiye and making numerous Turkish friends, I began watching as much Turkish futbol as I could (despite knowing NO Turkish at the time). I had friends that were Besiktas, Galatasaray, and Fenerbahce fans, and I decided that I liked what I had learned about Fenerbahce and their players. Shortly after, I began following Fener and decided they would be the team I supported. However, I was forewarned about being a Fenerbahce fan. Fenerbahce fans told me "Just so you know, there has been a conspiracy for quite some time against Fener from the Turkish Futbol Federation. The president's name is Haluk Ulusoy, and he is the biggest Galatasaray fan in the world." As a fan of some American sports, I hear similar claims all the time, so I brushed it off. However, after talking to some of my Besiktas and Galatasaray friends, I began to hear the same things. "Fenerbahce will never win because of Ulusoy." "Fener has three opponents for every game - the other team, the referees, and the TFF." I thought it was strange that I was hearing this from fans of BJK and GS; people who hated Fenerbahce adamantly. Still, I didn't think much of it. Every sports fan thinks there is a conspiracy against their team.
So, here I am - two years later, and I'm starting to see that what I was told is in fact correct. I had held off making that claim for as long as I could, but I cannot hold it in any longer. Yes, the Turkish Futbol Federation does hate Fenerbahce. Yes, to some degree, there is some sort of effort put against them to hold them down. Is it the sole reason for Fenerbahce's complacency on the pitch? No, ofcourse not, but has it cost Fenerbahce some wins? Absolutely. Yesterday was the final straw. Fenerbahce dominated Besiktas, just like they did at Inonu Stadium a couple of weeks earlier. Yet Fenerbahce is going home while Besiktas advances. Yes, Fenerbahce should have scored at least two more goals, especially with the way they dominated the Black Eagles. But the double standard of Turkish futbol is out of control. A foul is a foul, and a penalty is a penalty. Kicking another player, the last time I checked, is a penalty. Yet while Tuncay Sanli is home today putting ice on his leg and taking pain killers, Baki Mercimek is going to play for the Fortis Turkish Cup. What Mercimek did to Tuncay should have warranted an automatic red card. But conveniently, the Ulusoy-assigned referees didn't see it that way.
This wasn't the only discrepancy in Thursday's game, ofcourse. Referees tend to look the other way when Fenerbahce's opponents make a threatening tackle attempt from behind, pull a player down on a corner kick, or score a goal in a clearly offsides position. However, if Diego Lugano sneezes, the card comes out immediately.
So, why is there such an effort against Fenerbahce? If you are the head of the governing body of national futbol, one would expect you to look out for the best interests of your nation and your league. So, with that being said, typically you would want the team with the best chance to make noise in European competition to win the league, right? Don't get me wrong, Fenerbahce isn't exactly playing UEFA Champions League winning futbol at the moment. But as bad as Fener has looked at times, they have still looked better than Besiktas and Galatasaray. Fener is the nation's wealthiest club, the one with the largest fan base, and arguably, the most respected club outside of Turkiye. Despite the fact that they have inarguably underachieved all season, the team still has the most talent of any club in Turkiye. So, as the leader of the federation, wouldn't you want this team to do well, qualify for UEFA Champions League, and actually have a chance to make a run and show the world that the Turkish league is not a pushover?
There is ofcourse, another angle at a possible conspiracy. Most futbol fans outside of Turkiye don't respect the Turkcell Super Lig. They think it's always Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, Besiktas, and a bunch of other bad teams. Nevermind the fact that the same could be said for the EPL, Dutch league, French league, etc., but that's another story. So, one could take the angle that to gain respect, another of the "non-Istanbul teams" needs to win and move on in Euro competition. Would the league get more respect if Kayserispor or Rizespor or Genclerbirligi or even Trabzonspor won the Super Lig and played in the Champions League? It's possible.
The problem is that the conspiracy against Fenerbahce does not have any logic. Ok, so Haluk Ulusoy, the president of the Turkish Futbol Federation is a Galatasaray fan. It's difficult to remain unbiased in sports, but when you are president of a governing body, you have to act in the best interest of your nation. Ulusoy is setting Turkiye up to be a laughing stock on the world futbol stage. I believe Fenerbahce will play good (but not great) futbol in the final five Super Lig games of the season. I believe they will play good enough to win all five games. But they will not. Besiktas will win the Super Lig. Then Besiktas, the champion of Turkiye, will go to the UEFA Champions League and be quickly eliminated. Yes, I realize Fener, if finishing outside of the top spot, could also qualify. Afterwards, Turkiye will again be viewed as a second-tier league; just a stop on the road to European stardom for its best players.
One of the reasons I became a Fenerbahce fan was first, their fans. To this day, some of my closest friends are Besiktas and Galatasaray fans. Both of those teams have tremendous fans who should be applauded. But they also have a great deal of......how shall I say....people looking for trouble. On my travels to Turkiye and my conversations with other fans, I heard a lot of BJK and GS fans complain about Fener and make threatening comments. Ofcourse, Fenerbahce has some of those fans as well, but I have encountered a lot fewer of them. One of the other reasons I became a Fenerbahce fan was their potential. I knew Galatasaray had won the UEFA Cup, and I knew that Fener's European success was less than stellar. But I saw Sukru Saracoglu Stadium (post-expansion). It was as beautiful and grand as any stadium I've ever seen, in any sport, on any continent. I began learning of the wealth and prestige that Fenerbahce had in the club. I saw that while many teams were trying to sign whomever would play for them, Fenerbahce was legitimately trying to sign the best players in Europe and South America. When people in other parts of Europe and America asked who my team was and I responded by saying Fenerbahce, people immediately said great things about them. "I loved Hooijdonk." "Revivo was fun to watch." "Rustu Recber is one of the most underrated goalkeepers in Europe." I was impressed that Fenerbahce seemed well-respected outside of Turkiye.
As I learned about teams like Arsenal, AC Milan, even Real Madrid, I realized that none of those teams have been great forever. Arsenal was downright terrible not so long ago. But they had great facilities, money, respect, and they played in Europe. All of the things that Fenerbahce has. They also have one other thing that helps them success - fair referees and a national governing body that wants to send their best teams, under fair play, to play in UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup. Yesterday's travesty at Sukru Saracoglu proved that this is something that Fenerbahce, and Turkish futbol fans, are sorely lacking.