Monday, May 21, 2007

Turkish Futbol's Black Eye

Saturday, May 19, was to be a special day in Turkish futbol, and futbol in general. One of the great sports rivalries on Earth, and arguably the World's Biggest Derby, was to take place at Ali Sami Yen Stadium in Istanbul. Turkcell Super Lig Champions Fenerbahce were visiting, and still up for grabs was a second-place Super Lig spot and a reservation for the UEFA Champions League next season. The pieces were in place for a great day of futbol. Instead, a riot occured overshadowing what could have been a great game.

The scene is becoming all too common, especially in Turkiye. For a nation that is still clamoring for respect on the European futbol landscape, these are not the headlines they were hoping for. My article is titled "Turkish futbol's black eye," but maybe I should have called it "Turkish futbol's bloody assault" instead.

What happened at Ali Sami Yen is appalling, to say the least. It was a freakshow in the stands, putting the lives of fans, polis, players, and managers at stake. Galatasaray should be ashamed. But don't get me wrong, this is not just a Galatasaray problem; this is a problem throughout the league. As many of you know, I am as passionate of a Fenerbahce fan as you will ever meet. However, we have these types of fans also. So does Besiktas. So does Trabzonspor. Even Ankaragucu, with their small contingency of fans, probably has at least one violent soul who would love to stick a knife into Fener or GS. It's time for us, the fans, to step up against this. To Galatasaray's defense, this type of behavior is being exhibited by a small minority of fans. Some of my closest friends are Galatasaray fans, and they are appalled by this.

So, what can be done? What can we do to stop this behavior? First, the Turkish Futbol Federation has to take swift and harsh action. Sure, playing without fans in the stadium hurts, but we've seen it before and obviously, it isn't working. Once the fans return, the small group of idiots do as well. The TFF must do something unprecedented that will grab everyone's attention. I don't know the answer, but that's up to Ulusoy to decide. Secondly, the clubs themselves have to step up. We, the fans, are loyal to our clubs. We hang on every word and command from our Club Presidents. It's time for the clubs to make eye-catching moves to curb this violence.

However, the real answer to this problem will not come from the Turkish Futbol Federation or the clubs. It will have to come from us, the fans. It's easy for us to say "that isn't me - I wasn't the one doing that." Especially for me, as I sat at a computer here in the United States watching the game. But when Fenerbahce wins, we talk of ourselves as being one with the club and one with other fans. We are the Fenerbahce Cumhuriyeti. The same must happen when we lose and when violence occurs. We must say "I am a fan and I'm tired of this." Do we report other fans? Do we step in ourselves? We must take responsibility and act to prevent this from happening again.

Some will read this and say "it wasn't us - it was the Galatasaray fans." Yes, you are absolutely right....to an extent. But don't kid yourselves, we have those fans too. All of the clubs do. You may even know someone who has acted violently at a game. It's time to stop pointing fingers and claim responsibility for the sake and future of Turkish futbol.

I know that a large majority of GS fans don't act this way, despite what we Fener fans want to think. But that minority is stealing the attention from those of us who love good futbol and enjoy a great rivalry. As an American, I am constantly fighting for respect and attention for Turkish futbol. I'm tired of turning on Fox Soccer Channel to see English games with a little Italian Serie A thrown in. I want Turkish futbol to be seen as the great entity that it is. We have great fans, great teams, great players, and we play in what I believe to be the greatest nation in the world. We fans of Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, and Besiktas have fanbases and resources that many European teams only dream of. It's time to channel that energy from violent behavior into passionate (and safe) fan behavior. We can make the rest of the world see what we already know - that there is nothing quite like Turkish futbol.

The fact is that we are only hurting ourselves. After the game, Mateja Kezman said he was "shocked" and feared for his life. Is this how we are supposed to lure great players to Turkiye? Do you think guys like Roberto Carlos or Deco will see this and think "Man, I can't wait to play there!" We only have six foreign spots for our teams. Each foreign player we sign is crucial and valuable. Making them fear for their life is not the way to get big names to Turkiye. I want players to see tens of thousands of fans screaming and jumping up and down chanting their names without having to cover their heads on a throw-in because of fear.

I know that Galatasaray was obviously frustrated. They lost the championship to their bitter rivals, they were losing 2-0 at the break, and they were looking at possibly missing out on an $8 million payday and a spot in UEFA Champions League. I'm a sports fan who has endured years of frustration in America. But please....log on to your message boards and call in to radio shows. Write an e-mail to your club's board. Don't hurt the image of Turkiye and the game by becoming physically violent.

I look forward to the day that I open Hurriyet or another European paper and read about the classic game played at Sukru Saracoglu, Ali Sami Yen, or Inonu stadium rather than the violence that overshadowed the game. I anticipate one day taking my kids to Sukru Saracoglu and letting them fall in love with Fener, the way I did after watching Hooijdonk, Revivo, Tuncay, etc. I look forward to the day that they can jokingly remind their friends who are GS fans of the 6-0 drubbing Fener gave them not so long ago. But after what I saw on Saturday, it will be a long, long time before my kids can enjoy such a nonviolent atmosphere.

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