Monday, October 22, 2007

Fenerbahce Worldwide in Turkiye: Day Two



(above: Nathan L. Redd, Mateja Kezman
below: Nathan L. Redd, Ugur Pembecioglu)
Fenerbahce Worldwide in Turkiye: Day Two

By Nathan L. Redd


Day two of my trip started out about as perfectly as day one - a Turkish breakfast overlooking the Bosphorous before THE day - match day - Fenerbahce vs. Konyaspor. To many here in Istanbul, it's not a huge day as it was a Super Lig opponent and not a great one at that. Don't get me wrong, it's still an incredibly energized atmosphere, but Fener fans here don't get quite as geared up for it as they would for a UEFA Champions League match or the Galatasaray derby.
I checked out of my hotel in the morning and went across the Bosphorous to see my friend Olcan. He owns a designer t-shirt and apparel manufacturing company (http://www.crenoms.com/) and graciously offered to let me stay with him for a few days. I met Olcan's roommate Cumhur and we took the short trip across the Bosphorous to Besiktas. Olcan had some other friends visiting from Moscow, and we sat and talked for a while about Fenerbahce, etc. It wasn't long, however, until it was time to get ready for the match.
Just preparing for the match, for me, was a surreal experience. Those of you that know me know that I'm also a huge fan of my university's sports teams, the University of Louisville. I rarely miss a game and the experience of gameday is as wonderful as the game itself. However, this would be different. First, I don't get to visit Turkiye very often. Secondly, I love futbol and there is no high-level professional futbol in the United States (sorry, MLS). Third, this is the team that I fell in love with by watching one game on a Saturday afternoon a few years ago. I was finally going to see the team that I had fallen so deeply in love with.
I have a good friend named Ugur Pembecioglu who lives in Istanbul and plays a huge role in my entire trip. Ugur has a website (http://www.since1907.blogspot.com/) for Fenerbahce and we've communicated via e-mail for a while now. To be honest, I don't remember if I found his site or he found mine, but he's been a great friend that I had just never met in person yet. Ugur has been incredibly wonderful to me and he e-mailed me a week or two ago to let me know that he had two loca (skyboxes, luxury suites) passes for the Fener match and wanted me to be his guest. Incredible - not only was I attending my first Fener match, but I would watch the game from a place that most Fener fans never get to see. More about Ugur later...
So I leave Besiktas decked out in yellow and navy thinking "I hope I don't get my ass kicked in Besiktas for wearing these colors" and headed down to the port. Here, I would catch the boat from Besiktas to Kadikoy to watch the game. Fortunately, there were lots of other Fener fans dressed as I was waiting for the boat as well. I really had no idea where I was going. Although I was at the stadium the day before, I really didn't know how to get there from the port. Nevertheless, I followed the Fener fans dressed in yellow and navy after we got off the boat and assumed we were walking toward Sukru Saracoglu. By this time, the atmosphere was electric - there was a buzz in the air and everyone was wearing yellow and navy. It was a cool October Saturday night in Kadikoy and although maybe it was just mediocre to everyone else, it felt like I was going to the UEFA Champions League final.
It wasn't long before three guys walked up to me and said "Fenerbahce Nathan?" I guess they recognized me from the shows or articles and took me under the wing. On the way to the stadium, they took me in to a small shop for a baklava stop (I highly endorse baklava, by the way) and the baklaveci (I hope I got that word right - Turkcem cok kotu) also recognized me and we talked for several minutes. I got out my wallet to pay and it was quickly forced back into my pocket; there would be no paying for this food. This would become a recurring theme for my trip - one that I am tremendously grateful for.
It wasn't much longer before I saw the enormous kale (castle) that said "Dogus Otomotiv" and "Avea" around the sides. It was illuminated on this night and it seemed that all of Istanbul was pouring in. There it was - mabed (heaven). It was grand and incredible on Friday, but it was majestic on Saturday as you could see the glare of the lights on the thousands pouring in. I said "hosca kal ve sag olun" (goodbye and thank you so much) to my friends and went on my way. Ipek and Serkan from Fenerbahce TV told me to come by the media offices before I went in to the game. There was one problem - there were crazies, maybe some hooligans from Genc Fenerbahceliler or KFY trying to get past security and they were literally pushing them down out of the way. I thought "great - this is my gate to get in and these aren't the same security guys working yesterday that knew me." Somehow I had to get in and also needed to call Ugur once inside to see where to meet him. I walked up to the gate and before I got through my sentence, I was whisked away past the gate into the depths of the stadium. Tesekkur Ederim, Allah - they recognized me and quickly moved me into safety. The police then took me and escorted me into the stadium where I would find my way to the television studios. So, here's the deal - I'm not famous, but I guess a lot of people know who I am to some degree here. I'm just a lucky guy, but I always heard real celebrities say that one of the perks of being "famous" was getting into places they normally wouldn't get into. For a few moments, that's how I felt - I was given a police escort and quickly brought into the stadium where I would meet my friend for a private box to watch the game. Un-freaking-believable. I get to the TV studios and Ipek and Serkan were not there, so I spoke with Levent, a guy that I had met the day before. Levent's English is about as bad as my Turkish, but he is super-nice and helped me find where I needed to go. I called Ugur and a few minutes later, I met my friend to go to our seats.
Ugur had his six-year-old son Cem with him who is about as well-behaved and polite as any six-year-old I've ever met (kudos, Ugur). We went to our box and I mingled a bit with some friends of Ugur's while he and Cem went to go eat. Now, these boxes have inside seating with a bar as well as seats outside that are covered to watch the game. We step out into these seats and I look to my right and said to myself "holy crap - there is Mateja Kezman." Kezman had received a red card in the last match and was therefore suspended from this match and was in the box next door with his wife and kids. When I say he was in the box next door, he was actually standing two feet away from me. Ugur came back and introduced me to Kezman who seemed a little surprised to know that some crazy American was a Fener fan. Ironically, I was wearing a Kezman shirt that night that was given to me by Fenerbahce TV. Kezman plays a pivotal role in this whole trip also - on Fenerbahce TV's "Countdown," I talked about how the fans needed to support Mateja through his struggles and difficulties and how we needed to give him the confidence he needed to play well. Twelve hours later, he and I were talking in a private box and I was playing with his kids. Ugur went out for a bit and Kezman came up to me and said "you speak Turkish, too, right?" I told him I spoke a little and he asked if I would help him order from the dinner menu and tell him what everything was since he spoke no Turkish. I helped as much as I could and we took a photo together before we took our seats. Note to Kezman critics - it is times like these when you see what these guys are really like. The cameras aren't rolling, he is there in his private box with his family, and he doesn't have to give anyone the time of day. For the record, he was as nice as could be. Very genuine, very polite, very easy to talk to. He introduced his wife and kids to us and it seemed that he had picked up some of the famous Turkish hospitality. Although I'm a huge fan and love meeting the players, I HATE asking for autographs and pictures because I think guys deserve their privacy. Kezman, however, made it easy to ask for a quick photo.
A few minutes later, the teams took the pitch and the game began. From the opening kickoff, the singing began - first from Migros Tribun on the end behind one of the goals, then to Telsim Tribun at the other end. Ten months ago I was at an ACF Fiorentina Serie A match in Firenze, Italia, and the Fenerbahce fans made that seem like a tea party. The crowd was alive......until Konyaspor struck first only a short time in. Down 1-0. This was starting to seem like every Fener match recently where we trail and equalize only to come away with a 1-1 draw. This night, however, would be different. It had been a long, long time since Fenerbahce had produced any sort of offensive explosion. There has been only one three-goal game as of late and that was a rarity. One or two goals was about as much as we could muster dating back to the end of last season.
Shortly after Konyaspor struck first, Semih Senturk equalized for Fener. His goal got the crowd fired up and we were back on equal terms still very early into the game. Less than ten minutes later, Alex de Souza found the back of the net to put Fener up 2-1. Fourteen minutes after that, Wederson struck to put Fener up 3-1 and put the game likely out of reach. The scoreline was 3-1 headed into halftime and I could relax and get something to eat. I went to the lobby to see what I could find and I knew I was home. American sporting events are typically characterized by really crappy, overpriced food consisting of who knows what. People eat at sporting events because they have to, not because of food quality. At Sukru Saracoglu, however, doner was on the menu. Ofcourse, it's typical in Turkiye, but we don't get much doner in America and so for me it was like finding prime rib on the menu.
I returned to my seat before the beginning of the second half and less than ten minutes in, Edu Dracena scored to put Fenerbahce up 4-1. Despite the scoreline, I leaned over to tell Ugur "you get the feeling we might score three or four more goals." Konyaspor was outplayed in every facet and Fener looked a little like the team they can be when healthy and clicking on all cylinders. The game ended 4-1 and we left to head home. Ugur drove me to Uskudar where I took the boat across to Besiktas to go stay with my friend Olcan.
In addition to being amazingly and incredibly grateful to Ugur for the seats, I told him it was actually better than I expected and I had very, very high expectations. The crowd seemed more energetic and the stadium was nicer than I expected. I was surprised to find that Sukru Saracoglu was even more elegant and extravagant than I expected. We Americans pride ourselves on our sports and our ability to pour money into facilities, but Sukru Saracoglu was nicer than most American sport stadiums that I've visited, and I've seen some of the biggest and best.
You know, sometimes you have weird, unsuspecting memories of events or times that you didn't think "that is what I'll remember." Ofcourse I have fond memories of the entire experience, but one thing I'll remember is after every goal, the PA announcer saying:
"Sarı Lacivert rengimiz
Fenerbahçe herşeyimiz
Hiçbir şeye değişmeyiz "
and everyone in the stadium responds by shouting:
"Çünkü Fenerbahçeliyiz!"
I have this march on my ipod, which I admit I listen to frequently, and now I'll think of this match and my experience every time I hear it.
Day two came to a close with certainly one of the highlights of my entire life. I FINALLY attended my first Fenerbahce match. It seemed at times like it would never happen. As amazing as it was, it was also a little depressing because I'm even more hooked - I want to be there for every match now. My friends told me that I should come to a derby or a UEFA Champions League match, but still - Fenerbahce vs. Konyaspor was truly mabed for me. I think it's possible that sometimes you fall in love, and then later you can fall deeper in love. If I fell in love with Fenerbahce a while back, I was now ready to get married - I knew now that we would be together forever :)
Day three coming soon....

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