Monday, May 21, 2007

The American Fenerbahce Fan: My Story

There is an old saying that says everyone has their 15 minutes of fame. I guess I am in the midst of mine right now, as I am amazed by the e-mails, messages here, on facebook.com, and antu.com, etc. that I have received after the article was published about me in Hurriyet on Saturday. I am flattered beyond belief, but I'm also honored. Fenerbahce is more than just a team I support; it has become an innate part of me. Some of the closest friends in my life I have met because of my support of Fenerbahce and my travels to Turkiye. I am proud to say that I've met many new ones in the last few days as a result of the article. The messages I have received have only confirmed what I previously believed - Turks are the greatest people in the world. I am more sure of that today than ever before. Ofcourse, as I meet supporters from the around the world, people ask the same question - "why?" How did an American graduate student with little connection to Turkiye come to love Fenerbahce? This article will likely be quite lengthy, but hopefully it will answer this question.

I grew up in a small midwestern American town. Futbol (or soccer as it is called here) was not a part of my vernacular. I grew up the all-American kid, playing baseball all day, every day. I had one friend who played futbol, but he couldn't convince me of it. (NOTE: I refuse to call it "soccer" when 99.9% of the world calls it some variation of "football." It is and always will be "football" or "futbol" to me). In high school, I dated a girl for four years who played futbol. Her sisters played futbol. Her father is one of the most successful futbol coaches in my state. I attended many, many futbol games during these four years. However, it never clicked with me. I didn't understand it, nor did I want to. I was enthralled with baseball, basketball, and American football. I was ignorant about futbol, and too stubborn to learn about it.

I went to college, studied business, and after graduation, moved to Nashville, Tennessee to work in music business. While there, I met a girl named Kristen who captured my heart and my imagination. As we got to know each other, I learned that she had lived in Italy, Taiwan, and Izmir, Turkiye growing up while her dad was in the military. She spoke highly of each place, but it was obvious that Turkiye had a special place in her heart. I married that girl, and we later moved to Louisville, Kentucky so she and I could attend graduate school at the University of Louisville (I had also received my Bachelor's degree from this university). We talked a lot about traveling, and she had an aunt and uncle who had moved to Turkiye to start a business. We also had met some wonderful Turkish people in Louisville who became very close to us. The first one was a girl named Esen, from Ankara, who became like a sister to us. The second was a guy named Abdullah, who was passionate about a Turkish futbol team named Fenerbahce.

A few years after moving to Louisville, Kristen and I decided to take a trip to Istanbul to see her aunt and uncle and visit the country that she loved so much as a child. In April of 2005, I took my first trip to Turkiye.

In our lives, we tend to overuse the phrase "it changed my life." "Diet Coke changed my life." "The Subaru Outback changed my life." We overuse the phrase all the time for meaningless experiences. However, I can say without a doubt, my first trip to Turkiye changed my life. As soon as I arrived, I was home. I fell in love with Turkiye. The food, the culture, the scenery all enthralled me. Most of all, however, I fell in love with the people. I honestly felt like I was home when I was hanging out with other Turks. Everyone I met felt like family.

During my trip, I was near Beyazit and the Grand Bazaar and wandered into a place called "Fenerium." I knew it was a fan shop for a Turkish futbol team, but I didn't know much else. When I got back to my apartment, I e-mailed my friend Abdullah to ask if this yellow and blue team was "his" team and he said yes. A few days later, I was visiting a market with Kristen and her aunt and we drove past a huge stadium. The cab driver said "that is Sukru Saracoglu" with a proud smile. I quickly snapped a photo to show my friend Abdullah when I got home.

After a couple of weeks, we were ready to leave Turkiye, but instead of being homesick, I felt like I was leaving my home. Istanbul was amazingly comfortable for a city so large. I felt like Turkiye was a part of me when I left. I felt like I was leaving my home for another place, despite the fact that I had lived my entire life in America. Around this time, I started making a lot of friends (Turks and other nationalities) who were futbol fans. I had spent time traveling to Mexico, Turkiye, and Italy, and made friends from around the globe. Regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or nationality, I realized they all had one thing in common - futbol. It seemed that everyone with the exception of Americans loved this game. This must mean that the rest of the world saw something that I did not.

I started watching the small amount of futbol that was on television in America, and decided to find out some information about this Fenerbahce team. I also started working on my Master's degree in Sport Management, and my first class was "International Sport." Our first guest speaker was an English former pro futbol player who talked about "the beautiful game." I found Fenerbahce's website and the schedule/fikstur, and began keeping up with them to see how they were. My friend Abdullah, the Fenerbahce fan, also invited me to his apartment in Louisville to watch THE Derby - Fenerbahce vs. Galatasaray. I was hooked. I fell in love with futbol around the same time that I fell in love with Fenerbahce. I started realizing that most Americans supported teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Manchester United. I watched a little of those teams and read about them, but none of them compared to what I was learning about Fenerbahce. It was like something clicked when I saw Fenerbahce. No other team mattered. I felt like a drug addict who couldn't get a fix, because I started looking for anything Fenerbahce I could find - DVDs, books, magazines, etc. I even bought an old Fener shirt on ebay. It was probably ten years old, but I didn't care - I wore it with pride.

Kristen thought I was living some sort of double life. My Saturday and Sunday afternoons were spent following this Turkish futbol team online. I met some other Fener fans and one even sent me a kit from Fenerium in Istanbul. I started getting a group of people together to play futbol each week, and I wore my Fener shorts each week. I couldn't get enough of Fenerbahce. I was reading about the team, but realized that very little content on Fener was in English. Through my travels and some language books, I was starting to learn a little Turkish. Finally I thought "there must be some other non-Turkish-speaking person out there who likes this team," so I started a blog - in English - about this team that I had grown to love so much. Fenerbahce Worldwide (www.fenerbahceworldwide.blogspot.com) was launched in the summer of 2006.

I finally talked Kristen into letting me subscribe to Fox Soccer Channel last summer. Even though I knew I wouldn't likely see Fenerbahce, I couldn't get enough futbol. I had finally learned about this game and was absolutely in love with it. Each weekend I would watch Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, etc. I loved what I was seeing, but this wasn't Fenerbahce. None of these players or teams excited me like Tuncay Sanli, Stephen Appiah, or my beloved Fenerbahce. I started wondering why Americans were fans of these teams. As I learned about Fenerbahce, I realized the past successes of the club, the amazing facilities of Sukru Saracoglu, the leadership and charisma of Aziz Yildirim, and what I believe is the most passionate fan base of any club in the world. Americans would ask "why not support Arsenal or an English team?" My answer was simple: they aren't Fenerbahce. Don't get me wrong, the afore-mentioned clubs are fantastic. They are popular for many reasons. However, after studying why these clubs are so popular and successful (I am a graduate student, after all), I came to one hypothesis: One day, Fenerbahce will mentioned in the same sentence as all of those clubs. In fact, I believe one day Fenerbahce will be the world's greatest club.

The few American futbol fans I knew scoffed at me. They thought (and still think) I was crazy. But I knew something they did not. I had been to Turkiye, and we had something they didn't. We have the most incredible fans in the world. I can say this because I've been around fans of other teams. I've been to an Italian Serie A game. We have money, resources, facilities, and many other things those teams have. However, I saw pictures of Fenerbahce fans when we played in the tiny Faroe Islands last summer. I saw photos of Fener fans when we played in Syria early this season. I've seen Fener fans take to the streets of New York City, Holland, England, and around the globe. That is something that most clubs can only dream about.

So, here I am, nearly one year after starting this website. I've received attention for this site that I never dreamed of. I am so honored, but more earnestly, I am thrilled to see Fenerbahce receive the attention. I am only one member of the Fenerbahce Cumhuriyeti and no more important than any other fan. I am proud of my little blog and the attention it has received, but I am more proud to consider myself a Fenerbahceli, a supporter of this great team that has changed my life. As I finish my Master's degree in Sport Management next year, Kristen and I hope to move to Europe and eventually, to Turkiye. My dream is to one day work for this club that has changed my life, but that matters little. Regardless of where I live, I will be a Fenerli for life. One day, I will look back to my early days of being a Fenerbahce fan and remember what it was like to miss out on European glory. One day, it will seem strange that Fenerbahce had not won the UEFA Champions League. One day, it will seem strange that there were so few non-Turks who were Fenerbahce fans. One day I will remember when I used to say "bir gun herkes Fenerbahceli olacak." Then I will realize that one day...is now.

21 Comments:

Blogger Murat said...

Great story Nathan! Good to hear from you in antu forums as well!

2:57 PM  
Blogger Kezm@n said...

Nice blog mate, it's a site I often visit as I too am a non-Turk who is mad about Fener.
It is nice to read up on whats happening in the Fener Republic when the vast majority of sites and news agencies are in Turkish only.
EN BUYUK FENERBAHCE !!
fenerbahce@manx.net

2:58 PM  
Blogger Nathan L. Redd said...

Tesekkurler, Murat!

2:58 PM  
Blogger Nathan L. Redd said...

Kezman, where are you from? I think there are more non-Turkish Fener fans that anyone realizes, which I why I started this site. Thanks for your kind words!

2:59 PM  
Blogger Kezm@n said...

Hi Nathan, I'm in the Isle of Man
a small island near England.
fenerbahce@manx.net

3:08 PM  
Blogger Oz Kanka said...

Great story Nathan. As you know I hate Fenerbahce and all Istanbul teams, but what you are doing is fantastic. Keep up the great work.

Who knows, one day when you are working for Fenerbahce you can invite me into the protocol section at the Fener stadium for Gencler's away match.

On that day mate, I'll buy you a beer.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Nathan and Kristen Redd said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Nathan L. Redd said...

Oz, do you have an e-mail address where I can reach you? I have a few questions for you, and I also have a little news to share. Feel free to e-mail me - nathan.redd@louisville.edu

4:16 PM  
Blogger Emre Kizilkaya said...

Impressive story! And finally it's revealed in detail:)

And two notes from me:

1) The university that I graduated is just 3 minutes walking distance to Fenerium in Beyazit. I was probably around when you came in 2005.

2) My fiancee is a Russian and she supports Fenerbahce too. (OK, mostly because of me, but that's not the thing:) She was shopping in Moscow last week and got free Turkish tea from some Fenerbahce supporter shop-owners, thanks to her Fenerium bag:)

4:35 PM  
Blogger Nathan L. Redd said...

Emre, try printing that story in Hurriyet.....it would take up the entire paper!

My wife laughs at me because I wear Fenerbahce stuff a lot because you never know who you will meet. Even in America, I've had people walk up to me and talk about Fenerbahce just because I am wearing a Fener shirt.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Cetin said...

Hi Nathan, I learned about you when I read the article in Hurriyet which was also posted in the antu forum, of which I'm a member. It's nice to meet a Fenerbahce fan from a far corner of the world, a corner that is not reknown for its interest in football (soccer) :-). I hope in near future you have a chance to come to Turkiye and join or fans in our stadium, which we call "mabed" i.e. "temple". By the way, it is very kind of you to call our country as "Turkiye", the way we call it in our mother tongue. I wish the best to you and your wife. Take care.

4:43 PM  
Blogger şafak said...

nathan'cım ingilizce bilmiyorum yani (I dont speak english demeyi biliyorum çok şükür:D) türkçe yazıcam
sevdim seni nathan
polarda yakışmış sana
asaleti renginde gizli zaten
neyse işte kib

criticize - antu

4:46 PM  
Blogger Nathan L. Redd said...

Cok tesekkurler, Cetin ve Safat. I will come to Turkiye again soon; I'm just not sure when yet. I am a graduate student at University, so it depends on when I get the money to go! And Cetin, I only say "Turkiye" just like I only say "futbol." :)

4:52 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

As a fan of Galatasaray I write the following:

Saturday’s match was surely one of the blackest days in Galatasaray’s history.
I would like to say that it was a small minority but unfortunately it was the majority that behaved like mindless idiots. I sometimes wonder what goes on in these people heads; do they really want to injure or even kill the opponent?

I can understand some of the anger that the fans have mainly with the way the club is being run, I think that my local Bakkal owner has more manger skills than most of the people on the current board.

I know from close sources that violence was expected at the match, as it was supposed to be a protest against the board but why was nothing done to prevent this? Where was Canaydin? What is Polat’s roll in all this? Who is running the club?
Who is in charge?

I cannot say that I am a huge fan of Fenerbache but as a football fan, I congratulate them on wining the title, they were the best team in the super league this season & Cimbom very extremely poor with Besiktas little better.

Most of the fans do not like the Ali Sam Yen stadium, it is not fit for a Super league team, let alone a team like Galatasaray, if you go to Kasimpasa’s new stadium just off Taksim you will be able to find better facilities.
The media certainly does not help the problem the constant hysteria when things are not going to plan, clearly creates little stability and panic management takes over which helps no one including the fans, but I guess it helps sell more papers.

The bottom line is that you treat your fans like animals they will behave like them.
The current federation run by Haluk Ulusoy and his band of merry fools do not have a clue of what to do and this is very disturbing for the future of Turkish football.
Fines & stadium bans will solve nothing! in fact it will prolong the problem.

What should they be doing?
1. Football is the number one sport in the country; so investment in all stadiums needs to fore fill to an agreed criteria by say 2010.
2. Every major city in Turkey should get a grant or funding to redevelop their stadiums. (Cities like Diyarbakir & Malatya come to mind)
3. Teams not able to implement these criteria would not be legible to play in the super league.
4. A fairer way of disturbing of money among the teams needs to be found
5. The TFF should talk to the EPL and work with it’s model and implement for the 2009 – 2010 season, the reason being is that currently the EPL is the best and most profitable league in the world.
6. Talk with the British Police about how to deal with hooligans at the game, before & after the match, The British went through many similar situations in the past and have managed to control hooligans.
7. Video cameras & CCTV should be installed in all the grounds.
8. The identified hooligans should be named and shamed.
9. All the hooligans should have stadium life time bans,
10. Better training for the Police to deal with such situations, the Police at the match dealt with the situation in a totally uncoordinated fashion.
11. Change rules to allow outright ownership, lift the current restriction on foreign players.
12. While Turkish football is still run by large groups of board members their can and will never be a coherent agenda, the typical and ugly snipes at each other will continue, the chief or owner has to be more accountable. Football is a huge business worth millions in prize money, the board members do not speak for the fans they have different agenda’s. Look at successful Turkish companies and the way they are run why is football not done in the same way.

I am sure that there are others that can easily be added.

After reading this one may ask why does a foreigner care about violence in Turkish football?
The answer is simple like it or not the world is getting smaller, Nothing is exclusive any more Turkey now has people from all round the world living in it and it is all our duties if we can to improve the conditions in our environment.

One day when I take my 50% Turkish kid to a Galatasaray game I want him or her to see true Turkish sportsmanship in a safe and wonderful environment that the crowds create.

This is the showpiece of Turkish football it has to be protected.

Let’s not allow a group of mindless animals to take the beautiful game away from us!

6:14 PM  
Blogger Nathan L. Redd said...

Alex, you make some great points. I agree with much of what you said. You're right - there have to be some major changes made to really "right this ship." To be honest, it will be a long-term project, but it must be done.

On a personal note, thanks for visiting my site. I'm happy to have a GS fan and another non-Turk. You're always welcome here.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Tims@h said...

Excellent story Nathan, very well put. Keep up the good work.
By the way my statcounter.com account shows hits to my blog (http://since1907.blogspot.com) from Man of Isle. I was wondering if it was Kezm@n visiting my blog.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Thanks Nathan, I'm very impressed with your blog. keep up your great work. You & Gulay offer a great service to us non Turks.

6:04 PM  
Blogger ahmet said...

Nathan,

Just so you know that you have a place to watch the FB games on a giant screen tv if you happen to be in Boston. My 8 years old son Timo and myself would be very happy to have you to watch the game while drinking Turkish tea in our house.

ahmet

9:17 PM  
Blogger Pandion said...

Hi peeps,
That is an amazing story Nathan..
And you've doen a great job on your blog.. Keep it up.

I'm from Holland and a FB fan..
wish luck to FB for next season on Champ.League..
Gr.

1:17 AM  
Blogger TURKISHSOCCER said...

Dear Nathan,Great Marathon for you and you site.... Do you remember this e-mail!

Ahmet,Merhaba, my name is Nathan Redd and I am an American and a big Fenerbahce fan. In fact, I am a big fan of Turkish futbol in general. My wife lived in Izmir, Turkiye for a few years and we love the country and especially Turkish futbol. Unfortunately, I speak a very small amount of Turkish only, so it is often hard for me to keep up as I try to translate online content into English. A friend of mine told me about your site, and I am so happy! Now I can get up-to-date Turkish futbol news in my language! Your site is wonderful, and I will be checking back every day!
Tesekkur Ederim for everything! Your site is cok guzel!Iyi Gunler -Nathan
******************************
I am very glad for you!... first as a Turkish soccer fans than as a Fenerbahce fan....You wil get your dream jon in Turkey!...I am sure of that!

Regards,
AHMET TURGUT
www.turkishsocccer.com

2:35 AM  
Blogger Leticia said...

Hello Nathan! Finally today i read your story and i could realize that we, Fenerlis who aren't turk, have some points in common. I felt some feelings you had when i was in Türkiye... and incredible!! We have gone to the same Fenerium little shop in Beyazit, near Grand Bazaar :))) I've been there 1 year later than you (i was in Türkiye in May 2006) and it is amazing we have gone to the same place. I was in Sukru Saracoglu too, but i couldn't visit there, coz it was closed for visitation :(((
Actually, when i was near Sukru Saracoglu Stadyumu it was one of the saddest day in our history coz Fenerbahçe lost 2005/2006 Süper Lig season to GS... but as many of Fenerlis who were at Bagdat Caddesi in that day (2006 May 14th), i cried a lot too...
And as you well said, i felt Türkiye as my home too. So, when i left there in May 28th, i cried like a child before the plan took off from Atatürk Airport... i felt as i've left there a part of me. I am used to say that "I am a brazilian body with a Turkish soul".
Çok tesekkur ederim for share with us your story and congratulations for your wonderful blog!!
Regards from Brazil
Leticia
lesenna4@gmail.com

3:10 PM  

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