Fenerbahce Worldwide in Turkiye: Day Three
Fenerbahce Worldwide in Turkiye: Day Three
By Nathan L. Redd
Sunday morning was a rainy, cool morning in Istanbul. It's actually been a bit warmer than expected here, so I may have been in the minority who enjoyed Sunday's start. Olcan, my friend that I am staying with, myself, and two friends of his drove down by the Bosphorous to catch a late breakfast. We had a great view overlooking the water as we sipped our cay and consumed ekmek (bread) with honey and jam, olives, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. The Turkish breakfast is one of the things I miss the most about Turkiye when I'm in America. You can find most of the ingredients there, but it's just not the same.
We spent several hours at the restaurant and then several more hours in traffic trying to get back to the apartment. By the time we did, I had only 45 minutes to get ready and catch the boat to go across to Uskudar. My friend Ugur, the guy I went to the match with, was taking me to Samandira, the training facilities for Fenerbahce. Ugur's wife knows Volkan Balli's wife quite well and Volkan was nice enough to invite us out to watch the team and meet the players. As if the match weren't enough, this was just icing on the cake.
I met Ugur and we began the long drive out to Samandira. It's located way outside of the city past Kadikoy on the Asian side. Ugur and I were both running a little late and it seemed that the more we drove, the further Samandira seemed to be. Ugur decided to pull over to ask directions and sure enough, we had past it. We called my friend Kivanc and Volkan Balli just to make sure we had the right place. We were running really late by this time and were afraid we were going to miss the training.
We finally found Samandira and pulled in to the security gate. It resembled some sort of military base - a beautiful area in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, with security all over the place. I got the feeling that sharp-shooters were eyeing us :). When we pulled in, we noticed that several cars were leaving. One of them stopped and rolled down their windows and saw us and asked the security guard "is that Nathan, the American?" The security guard said yes and the man said "send him on through." I still don't know who that guy was. Ugur and I cleared security and drove down a long, straight road with futbol pitches on the sides. Finally straight ahead was a building that sort of resembled a country club's clubhouse and we got out. Ugur's son Cem was also with us. As we got out, we noticed Alex de Souza getting in to his car getting ready to leave. Alex was incredibly nice - we asked for a picture and he got out of his car to take pictures and sign my shirt. Again, I hate asking for this sort of thing but it was incredibly generous of him to get out of his car.
We went into the facility and the staff were extremely accomodating. They said the players had finished the training so we had missed the practice session. However, they told us they are all around the building now eating, getting dressed, etc. and we could wait for them if we want. If I recall correctly, the first guy we saw come out was Mateja Kezman. He was fully dressed and walked right past everyone. Some of the staff tried to get his attention as the players have to sign out, but he walked right past and didn't respond to anyone. Having met Mateja the night before and being very impressed with him, we knew something was wrong - he wouldn't act this way unless he had good reason to. Later that night we found out that he had been left off of the UEFA Champions League roster for the PSV match. After hearing this, I certainly understood why he seemed so upset. In fact, I thought I probably would have been more upset than Mateja showed.
We waited for a bit and began seeing players walking back and forth. Unfortunately, because we were running so late, several players had already left. Roberto Carlos, Deivid de Souza, Edu Dracena, Mehmet Aurelio and several others had already left. However, several began walking out and all of them gladly stopped for photos and to sign our shirts. Diego Lugano, Stephen Appiah, Gokhan Gonul, Ilhan Parlak, Tumer Metin, etc. Deniz Baris and Diego Lugano were there with their kids and Cem (Ugur's son) seemed to enjoy seeing them. Stephen Appiah and Deniz Baris asked how I became a Fenerbahce fan and why I came all the way from America. I told them "I came to see you play" and Appiah mistakenly thought I meant that I came to see Deniz play. He laughed and said "you wasted your money!" Deniz and Appiah were very cool; in fact, all of the players were. Colin Kazim-Richards seemed to be one of the most down-to-Earth and we talked for a few minutes about America, him not knowing Turkish, etc. Some of the players like Kemal Aslan and Ugur Boral were nice, but quiet. They posed for photos, signed our shirts, and left. Others like Appiah, Deniz, Lugano, etc. seemed happy to know they had an American fan. Yasin Cakmak and Volkan Demirel were two of the last to walk out. I was excited to meet Volkan actually because of my wife. She has a crush on him (as do a lot of women) and so I wanted to get my picture with him. She told me this morning that she has it on her computer wallpaper at work, but I have a feeling it's not because of me :). Zico also came out to pose and was very cordial. It would have been worth it just to meet Zico, a legend of the game. On a personal note, Stephen Appiah , Tumer Metin and Deniz Baris are three of my favorite players so I was thrilled to meet them. Actually, so is Volkan Demirel. As we Fenerbahce fans know, Volkan endures a lot of criticism (and sometimes rightfully so) from fans but rarely gets praised when he plays well. He has made some mistakes, but he has also made some fantastic game-saving stops.
Volkan Balli, the Director of Futbol Operations for Fenerbahce, was there and we spoke for several more minutes. I can't stress enough how wonderful and nice Volkan has been to me since I arrived. On this night, he told me again that I was welcome back to Samandira anytime when I'm in Turkiye - just give him a call. We talked for a bit about his kids who are attending university in England, and how they were still big Fener fans. I'll never forget how wonderful he has been and how he made a lot of these dreams come true for me. I can say the same about my friend Ugur Pembecioglu. Ugur took me to the match with him and then to Samandira with him as well. I can honestly never repay Ugur for his generosity, although I will keep trying. I have many, many Turkish friends and they are all so hospitable, but as an American, it's hard to believe that there really are people like this out there. In America we are taught not to trust anyone and that nothing is for free, so it blows my mind to meet people like Ugur, Volkan Balli, etc.
So Day Three ended by meeting some of my heroes. I have several meetings coming up this week before I leave, including another visit to Sukru Saracoglu Stadium and the Fenerbahce facilities there. I'll also be meeting with the Turkish Basketball Federation (I love futbol, but basketball is a big passion of mine as well) later this week. More on the meetings to come...