Sports are often presented as a figurative “war in peacetime”. Sometimes, however, sports can also become a staging ground for wider social malaise—and create war zones itself. That was the case this weekend, as the Trabzonspor-Fenerbahçe derby at the Hüseyin Avni Aker Stadium in Trabzon had to be abandoned at halftime due to crowd violence. It is the second derby to be abandoned in Turkey this year (I attended the first).
On Saturday night—the night before the derby—I had planned to write a post for this blog on an unfortunate event that occurred at an amputee league match. Yes, you read that right. Not only do amputees have a soccer league in Turkey, but they also have incidents at the matches. On March 9th Malatya Bedensel Engellilerspor faced off against Istanbul Özürlülerspor at the Inönü University’s synthetic grass field in Malatya in the Turkish Amputee Football Super League.
According to the news report the guests from Istanbul went up 1-0 in the 12th minute, before Malatya Bedensel Engellilerspor got an equalizer in the 36th minute and then a go-ahead goal in the 40th minute. Three minutes later Gazi Öztop of Malatya Bedensel Engellilerspor was sent off for a second yellow—at that point his team-mate, Mustafa Çolak, was sent off as well for dissent. That is when everything fell apart. Çolak was apparently seen to hit the referee, Sadık Kayhan, with one of his crutches before a pitch-invading fan attacked Mr. Kayhan, followed by the rest of Malatya’s team. Kayhan had to escape to the locker room and called the game off while riot police entered the field with tear gas in a bid to restore order.
For me, this was reminiscent of a similarly disgusting event at a Turkish Wheelchair Basketball Super League match between Beşiktaş and Galatasaray on 10 December 2012. Indeed the headlines on Sporx.com were the same for both events—“Sözün Bittiği Yerdeyiz” (We Are At The Point That Words End). In that incident the match had to be abandoned in the second quarter with Galatasaray up by 5 as debris rained onto the court while Beşiktaş and Galatasaray fans clashed; videos of players crawling from damaged wheelchairs were gut-wrenching. In the aftermath, grainy pictures—taken through clouds of tear gas—showed a basketball court strewn with destroyed wheelchairs in an unthinkable embarrassment for two of Turkey’s biggest sporting clubs.
A friend of mine in Istanbul—a life long Galatasaray fan and season ticket holder for the football matches—was so angry that he was brought to tears by the incident—to think that his fans could do such a thing. Indeed, it was unthinkable. It is unthinkable. Yet, Sunday happened in Malatya. And Monday happened in Trabzon. The signs of social malaise, creeping through all levels of Turkish sport, are undeniable.
Before Monday’s match there were fears of major clashes because of the bad blood between the two teams. Fenerbahçe beat Trabzonspor to the Turkish title on the final day of the 2010-11 season, a championship that led to chairman Aziz Yıldırım landing in jail over a match fixing scandal. Snipers were placed on roof-tops surrounding the stadium, a move by Turkish security forces that—according to one news report—angered fans before the match even started.
In the match, Fenerbahçe’s Emmanuel Emenike put Fenerbahçe up 1-0 in the 23rd minute—seven minutes later rocks rained down on the pitch from Trabzonspor’s fans and the referee had to stop the match for ten minutes. When the unruly displays started again in the last minutes of the first half the referees went to the locker room. The match would not continue.
Trabzonspor fan favorite and Turkish national team star, goalkeeper Onur Kıvrak, went outside the stadium with security escorts to urge the fans to leave. His words, however, may have egged them on even more:
“We are the followers of this virtuous jersey. But these [events] don’t befit our virtuous fans. We will fight until the death but now is not the time. Now leave in a way befitting of Trabzonspor. Later, we will fight until death.”
I hesitate to brand Kıvrak as a rabble-rouser—he was bold enough to attempt to do something amid the chaos, and that should be applauded. However, one cannot predict the fans’ reactions to his words—perhaps they could have been chosen more wisely. Indeed, Trabzonspor board members were allegedly furious at Ibrahim Hacıosmanoğlu, himself a controversial figure in Turkish football, about Kıvrak’s move while taking a shot at their own fans (!):
“President, who sent Onur amongst the fans? There are [alcohol] drinkers and [marijuana] smokers among them. What if someone had stabbed him?”
Hacıosmanoğlu just chose to ask the question back: “Who sent Onur?” I’m not so sure anyone sent him, my personal opinion is that he—a representative of the Turkish national team himself—just felt a personal duty to go where no one dared go and confront the social malaise head on.
Unfortunately, he had no calming effect as police wounded in the riots had to be carried into the stadium to be treated by Fenerbahçe’s team doctors (the team was stranded inside the stadium as chaos ensued outside). In the end an armored vehicle had to be brought in to carry the Fenerbahçe team to the airport—at 12:45 am. This was more than four hours after kick off, and more than three hours after the referee called the match off.
In the fall I attended an amateur league match at Çeşmespor’s stadium, in my hometown. There I had written about the tensions simmering below the surface in Turkish society that, unfortunately, tend to come out at sporting events. Hopefully Turkey’s social malaise—that manifests itself most often in the football stadium—will be dealt with. But the weekend ended with improbable violence at an obscure amputee match in central Anatolia before this week started with more probable—and still unacceptable—crowd violence on the Black Sea coast. It is something to be wary of as local elections in the wake of last June’s protests take place later in March. My friend, the life-long Galatasaray fan, told me “The people of this country are full of hate for each other.” As a Turk I certainly hope the politicians take note in this election season. Otherwise, it will certainly be a rocky road ahead—on and off the field.
NOTE: All translations are my own.
Thanks to Ultras Tifo (http://www.ultras-tifo.net/news/2323-riots-trabzonspor-fenerbahce-10032014.html) for the pictures below, please check the link for more photos from the match.
The violence was real on the pitch:
And off the pitch: