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London Fall Football Fest 2014 (10.01.2014-10.06.2014): Six Days, Four Matches, One City

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Ölümle Yaşamı Ayıran Çizgi, Siyahla Beyazı Ayıramaz Ki . . .

The Line That Separates Life From Death Can’t Separate Black From White . . .

Those poetic lines come from Beşiktaş supporters and they became a bit of a mantra for me during my recent trip to London. It was four matches in six days, punctuated by all sorts of lessons learned on either side of lines that separate so many instances of life—things that are so close yet so far apart. One often thinks of white and black as opposites—symbolizing life and death, respectively. Yet, in the context of one football team, these two opposites are inseparable; separate they may mean two different things but together they symbolize something that is very much alive: love for one football team.

 

London Fall Football Fest Part One: The Line That Separates Football Crazy From Just Plain Crazy

 

Çocukluk aşkımsııııııın!!!!!

Sen ilk göz ağrımsıııııın!!!!

You’re my childhood love!!

You’re the first apple of my eye!!!

 

The tune—if it can even be called that—rises from a single tinny voice somewhere behind me. Imagine the most off-key singer you’ve ever heard . . . then ten times worse. This is something like that. I haven’t turned my head yet, neither has Ekin. We want to make it crystal clear that we are not with this man.

 

Kimseyi, kimseyi sevmedim senin gibiiiiii…

Sevdanın uğruna terkettim herşeyiiiii…

No one, I’ve loved no one like I’ve loved you…

I’ve abandoned everything for the sake of your passion…

 

No, we have certainly never seen this man in our life.

“John, what was our flight number?”

“Let me check . . . 519.”

“519? What kind of a flight number is that?”

“I don’t know man! It’s on the boarding pass!”

 

Hayatın anlamıııııı

GALATASARAY!!!!!!

Hayatın anlamıııııı

GALATASARAY!!!!!!

 

The meaning of life is….

GALATASARAY!!!!!

The meaning of life is….

GALATASARAY!!!!!

 

The off key-tune keeps interrupting us as we try to fill out our immigration cards. Our minds have turned to mush after traveling and now, at 12am, this one-man sideshow is really the last straw. By now others have noticed him and are starting to stare. The UK citizens line is staring, and the non-Turkish contingent in the non-UK citizens line begin to send disapproving looks his way. He seems to be oblivious as I look him over.

He is definitely a strange looking fellow. But, then again, you’ve got to be a little off to be belting out Galatasaray songs in the middle of the night below the UK BORDER sign in the passport control line at London Stansted Airport.

I just hope that his ill-timed display of team pride won’t disrupt our entry; our purpose of visit—to see some football matches—could mean we get painted with the same brush as our wayward friend in line behind us. After all, the UK BORDER sign puts us in our place. We are all guilty until proven innocent here.

 

We inch through the line at a snail’s pace, everyone is being scrutinized down to the last detail. I’m not worried about getting to where we need to go—the busses to central London run 24 hours a day from Stansted. However, I am worried about the exchanges taking place behind me.

“I can see the light! We will get the three points from Arsenal!” He sounds confident, judging by the sound of his voice. Perhaps he hasn’t watched the first five matches of the season.

“What light? Have you seen us play lately? I’m treating this as a sightseeing trip!” Someone gives him the answer I would have given.

“A sight-seeing trip?” He gets in the other man’s face. “If you’re just here to see the sights then you can’t say ‘Galatasaray’!” He is definitely out of his mind and I just turn to Ekin. We share the same grave looks, looks we know all too well from living in the same country some 3,000 Kilometers away.

 

Gözlerime bak! Gözlerime baksana!! (Look into my eyes! Look me in the eyes!)” he has now found another adversary and is staring him down in a zero-sum game. After all, they don’t have anywhere to go—they’re surrounded by velvet ropes on either side. Another man tries to intervene.

Yapma, değmez. Haydi kardeşim, en azından burada yapma (Don’t do it, its not worth it. Come on brother, at least don’t do it here)”. I chuckle at the “don’t do it here”. Its clear that this man will cause some trouble in England—this just isn’t the time or place for it.

 

Ekin and I laugh at this with the people behind us in line. They are at least normal. One is a girl who has lived in London for seven years, another is a middle aged man who has come to see the game, like us. He says he is looking for tickets to the Beşiktaş match as well and Ekin—ever the optimist—assures him that some can be found.

“Well, if not, all I want to do is watch this Galatasaray match safe and sound.” He pauses as if for effect and all four of us look over our shoulders. “I mean, there will be people like that.”

Yes, there will indeed be people like that. I can read Ekin’s mind as we stand, immigration papers in hand, waiting for our turn to be examined beneath the UK BORDER sign. All we can do now is stay away from those who live on the other side of that line separating football crazy and just plain old crazy.

 

London Fall Football Fest Part Two: The Line That Separates Turkey From Europe (And England From Europe, For That Matter)—Arsenal FC-Galatasaray SK (4-1) 10.01.2014

 

We’re seated in the Arsenal seats but we may as well be in the Galatasaray section. Only a single police officer separates us from our fellow fans to the right; nothing separates us from the Arsenal fans to our left (who would surely tear us limb from limb if they knew our true allegiance).

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Before I can get settled and take in the atmosphere of Emirates Stadium it seems as if the game is already over. Danny Welbeck has already netted two goals in the first half hour en route to his eventual hat trick. Not that this surprises me of course, I just thought that Galatasaray would be able to at least hold “the Gunners” off until the second half—such is the hopeless hope of a football fan. “Two nil, to the Arsenal…two NIL, to the Arsenal!” rings out across the Emirates Stadium, and I just hope that those around us don’t notice our conspicuous silence.

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As the match starts to slip away from Galatasaray I can feel the tensions rise and the policeman next to us starts to scan the crowd, the nervous look showing in his young eyes. Like the oppressive humidity before an oncoming rainstorm the air is heavy and the inevitable thunderclap comes in the form of sound bombs. Then comes the downpour. Flares are literally raining down onto the pitch as the Galatasaray section is bathed in an orange glow. Smoke rises into the London night and that old familiar burning scent comes to my nostrils. I can’t help but think that “this is football”.

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The grass has caught fire and Galatasaray keeper Fernando Muslera picks up one of the flares as Wesley Sneijder does his best to calm his fans down.

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The Arsenal fans, for their part, are watching with a mix that is equal parts fear and glee. Fear because it is an unpredictable situation, glee because London has not seen such a colorful night in a long time. While pyro shows are common in Eastern European stadia, they are virtually non-existent in Britain. It is that strange sense of being both in and out of Europe that the English love to cultivate.

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The PA announcer is barely audible as bottles begin to fly in the Galatasaray section. Arsenal fans in the upper decks are egging on the visiting supporters below as they return fire, not to be outdone. Extra police are called in to form a ring around the unruly supporters while the riot gear gets distributed among them. The policeman to our right takes off his vest and calmly dons his helmet as the Arsenal fans hold the tune “Who are ya?!” It is definitely going to be a long night, I can read it in the faces of the cops swarming around us.

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The Arsenal fans are booing the Galatasaray fans with each chair that is thrown into the air. Their reaction is the right one—after all, you don’t go into someone’s house and ransack it. But this is football. The hooliganism that Britain terrorized Europe with in the 1980s has now come back to them. I would have preferred it if my fellow fans could have shown a modicum of self-control but that isn’t always possible. I think back to the man in the line at passport control. No, it isn’t always possible at all, and I’m not surprised. It is the childish glee of the Arsenal supporters that surprises me more. But it too is normal. After all, they can relax. They are the ones on the other side of the line. They are behind their police. They are an island. They are in Europe. And Turkey is not, it is that simple.

 

By halftime it is 3-0, seven minute into the second half it is 4-0 as Danny Welbeck completes his hat trick and I’m bracing for the chant “Five nil, to the Arsenal. FIVE nil! To the Arsenal!” but it never comes. Keeper Wojciech Szczesny is sent off just past the hour mark and Burak Yilmaz sends the substitute keeper the wrong way to grab a consolation goal and make it 4-1. My consolation is that four of the five goals came in the goal directly in front of me. But it is a hollow feeling, scraping what little happiness we can get out of a night where the lines between Turkey and Europe showed themselves as clear as the bright orange flares burning in the smoky air.

As the police dogs come onto the field to prevent a pitch invasion after the final whistle we file out, headed to the Arsenal Tavern down the road to drown our sorrows in a few pints of London Pride.

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London Fall Football Fest Interlude #1: The Line That Separates Art from Art

 

I don’t think I’ll ever understand modern art. I’m trying to work off the previous night’s stress before tonight’s Tottenham-Beşiktaş match by taking in some “high culture” to offset my days and nights spent in the “low culture” of football stadiums. The day before it had been the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, today it is Tate Modern on the banks of the Thames. As I stroll through the exhibits I find it difficult to wrap my mind around what constitutes “Art”. The masterpieces I saw at the National Gallery blew me away. On the same level as the pieces of the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg they inlcuded, among other things, Monets, Friedrichs, and what was probably the first “Instagram collage”…from 1642, a portrait of Cardinal Richelieu by Pilippe de Champaigne.

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Now, I can only laugh when a mirror on canvas is presented to me as art. As if the mirror wasn’t enough, then there is of course a beige octagon on the wall. Or vertical brush strokes, painted until the paint runs out. Those too are art. I was hoping that the beers I drank at the Globe Theater—the absurdity of Shakespeare’s famous venue housing a watering hole aside—would kick in at the Tate but I have no such luck. I look at myself in the mirror, criticizing the lines on my face and decide “No. This is much too ugly to be art”. Or is it?

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I remember a conversation I once had with a friend, himself an aspiring artist. When I told him that I disliked some of the pieces of modern art on display at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) museum—after all, is a simple black canvas with a red square art?—he told me that was exactly what art is supposed to do. Anger or dislike are still emotions just like love or enjoyment, so—even if it is not positive, if it elicits an emotion in the viewer then it is indeed art. By his definition then yes, I suppose Tate modern is certainly a tour de force of emotionally stirring artwork!

I am left trying to work out the thin line that separates the concepts of “art” in my head as I leave the former power plant that is now a modern art Mecca and head down the walking path along the Thames. Teenagers are skateboarding in front of an urban gallery of spray painted “art” while I peruse the nearby used book market. I choose The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence, reasoning that a British author is most fitting. Plus, I think most of us can agree to its merit as “art”.

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London Fall Football Fest Part Three: The Line That Separates The Bad People From The Good People—Tottenham Hotspur FC-Besiktas JK (1-1) 10.02.2014

“Hey! You! Take that Galatasaray shirt off, you can’t wear that here!” I look around with the most innocent “Who, me?” face I can muster as the cop comes up to me. We are buried in the innards of White Hart Lane in the small café area allotted to the Beşiktaş fans–the walls tell me what section I am in.

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“Come on now, put something on over that shirt.” The cop is getting impatient as I attempt to explain. As I tell him that our friend invited me here and explicitly told me to wear my Galatasaray shirt it even seems like he will let me go. That is, until I feel a hand on my collar, trying to get at my throat. It is not the policeman’s hand, and it is not an English voice yelling in my ear. It’s…a Turkish voice.

Cikart o formayı! (Take that jersey off!)”

Sakin ol, polis ile konuşmaya calışıyorum! (Calm down, I’m trying to talk to the cop!)”

Burası siyah beyaz tribünü seni öldürürüm! (This is a black and white crowd I’ll kill you!)”

The cop gives me his best “I told you so” look and all I can do is relent. After all, if these two Beşiktaş men were rational—and could understand from logic—I wouldn’t have a hand around my throat. All I can do is resign myself to falling into the policeman’s clutches. It is undoubtedly the safer option.

“Alright, alright” I acquiesce as he carts me away. I can feel the fifty-pound ticket going out the window, I figure he’s ejecting me.

“Where are your seats?” I’m relieved but he still has his arms around me as I direct him to where we were seated. As soon as I’m released I go for my shirt and begin buttoning it up over my beloved jersey. Ekin does the same as the cop looks on, making sure the job is done correctly.

Ne yaptığıni sanıyorsun? (What do you think you’re doing?)” Asks one of the Beşiktaş fans below us as he watches me button up my shirt.

Formaları çıkart dedi (He told us to take off our jerseys).” I say, nodding to the cop.

Hayır. Çıkartmayacaksın. Forma kalcak. (No, you’re not taking it off. You’re going to keep it on)”.

The cop can only shake his head as they start arguing with him before he wanders off realizing we are in good hands. Sometimes there is no reasoning with football fans.

Aşağıda saldırdılar bize (They attacked us downstairs).” I explain in a bid to clear our names as I slowly take my shirt off, revealing the jersey again.

“Boşver. Burası siyah beyaz tribünü falan değil forma’da ay yıldız yok mu? Burası kırmızı beyaz tribünü! (Forget it. This is not a black and white crowd isn’t there a Turkish flag on your shirt? This is a red and white crowd!).” He’s right—we’re here to support a Turkish team, as if the Englishmen surrounding us—the ones yelling profanities at us from behind the police line—care what team we support. They just know we’re the enemy, football is sometimes simple like that.

 

The men in front of us are definitely the good guys, the great guys. They almost want the people who attacked us to come to our seats so that they can set them straight. As one man says, its better to be in a Galatasaray shirt among the Beşiktaş supporters than be the one in a Fenerbahçe shirt among the Tottenham fans (apparently, there was someone like that in the stadium). One guy gives Ekin a Beşiktaş scarf that he wraps around his neck and I know that here, within five minutes, I have interacted with both spectrums of humanity. Luckily, here good has prevailed over bad in spectacular fashion. It’s one nil to the good guys after all.

Buoyed by the good guys’ support I redouble my singing, belting out Beşiktaş songs at the top of my lungs and sending a few choice words out to the Tottenham supporters to our right, focusing on a particular asshole who is mocking my Galatasaray shirt.

“Keep going in his language,” say the fans around me as I continue in a profanity laced exchange that cannot be printed here.

Luckily Demba Ba equalizes by converting his 88th minute spot kick to save me—and us—the blushes, allowing me to take out my anger at the bad guys by giving it to the Tottenham supporters. They’re not to be out done though, sending bottles and coins our way as a scuffle erupts between the fans following the final whistle. I have half a mind to pick up the coins that were thrown at us—after all, they’re British Pounds Sterling! Before I can do that, however, the cops push us back—there is no separation between good guys and bad guys, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş supporters here. We are all just potential hooligans, and they deal with us accordingly before sending us out into the night.

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The author wearing the questionable jersey beneath the Spurs Shop.

 

London Fall Football Fest Interlude #2–The Line That Separates Being Lost in Life and Just Finding Your Way Through Life

Four in the morning and you’re sitting at a roulette table on Leicester Square. Soon the morning will come and make everything clear. Or so you hope. Until then its one more Maker’s Mark, and one more bet on Red. Or should it be evens? The day has been long but it isn’t over yet.

It started sightseeing and walking all over the city before moving to a London club, dancing with those girls who carry themselves with a sense of purpose, in a way that only the residents of a true world city can. Some were pretty in a British sense—something about the way they wear their hair. Others were partiers, on vacation from Berlin and Amsterdam. Staring at those dancing crowds you realize you’ve come a long way from getting foreign objects thrown at you on the terraces of White Hart Lane. But that’s not the purpose of your journey, they are not the objects of your attention. It can all wait, you say, following your friends into the casino.

You tell yourself you’re not lost, you’re just finding your way through life like you find your way through the crowds of the cities, the club, the casino, of the football stadiums. And that is where you find your confidence even though your life is as random as the silver ball spinning around the roulette table, waiting to land somewhere, anywhere at all . . .

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London Fall Football Fest Part Four: The Line That Separates Dreams From Reality—Southend United-Morecambe (0-1) 10.04.2014

No trip to London would be complete without a little rain, and I get my share of it on a Saturday afternoon. In the drizzle the train pulls out of London’s Liverpool Street station and I settle in for the hour-long ride to Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea. The train stops at a lonely suburban station and I follow the crowds in what I assume is the direction of the stadium under a rain that is slowly picking up.

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At the central intersection there are a few pubs and the crowds have gotten larger, everyone making their way to Roots Hall Stadium. The mood seems buoyant, which is normal considering that Southend have gone four matches without defeat.

 

I queue for twenty minutes, thankful to be out of the rain, and eventually get my twenty-one pound ticket with…the amazing view of a support column. Thankfully, due to my experiences at Fenway Park I’m not too disappointed. It’s all just a part of the adventure.

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No sooner have I settled in than Morecambe strike, Jack Redshaw hitting a fifth minute shot to put the visitors up 0-1. The home “shrimper” fans are not too disappointed that the visiting “shrimps” have scored—after all, Southend are on a good run of form. I like the idea of the match as a “Shrimp Derby” (both teams have shrimps on their badges) and strain around the column to look at the proceedings. Sitting behind that column and listening to the fans screaming at the top of their lungs I can’t help but realize it is all part of a losing battle. Roots Hall, with a capacity of just over 12,000, can not compete with the big money in London that I saw first hand in Emirates Stadium and White Hart Lane. Yet here these fans are, fighting the good fight of dreams in the face of reality. As football has become more and more about money, it is unlikely that any of these smaller teams will ever be able to truly compete with the teams in the Premier League and Championship any time soon. Sadly there isn’t much to see on the field either and, forty minutes later, its still 0-1 at halftime.

I head down to the bar underneath the stand for a half time pint of Foster’s in order to get the gloomy thoughts out of my head. It’s not surpising that a bar exists in the stadium—after all, the team were formed on May 19 1906 in the Blue Boar Pub! Watching highlights of other League Two matches deep inside Roots Hall I think back to high school. My soccer coach at the time, himself an ex Southend United player, had brought our whole team to London when we were just fifteen. It had been our first real experience in European Football (and European drinking), and for that I am forever indebted. The least I can do is take in a match at Roots Hall in return.

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I decide to watch the second half from the top of the stand—I couldn’t go back to the column, now that Southend were attacking the goal with the obstructed view. Again, there isn’t much action even though Southend go close numerous times. Before the final whistle I get scolded for taking pictures by the steward—apparently it is grounds for dismissal. I told him I wasn’t going to make a live stream of the match via my smart phone’s video camera but he wasn’t amused. I guess, for some reason, I just can’t stop getting in trouble at matches during this London Fall Football Fest.

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I’m not offended, he’s just doing his job. The match ends 0-1 to the visitors, just as the sun begins to break through the clouds. I head to the club shop after the final whistle and grab myself a Southend United shirt. I ask whose name should be on it and after a fierce discussion amongst the workers Jack Payne’s #19 is decided upon. Apparently he has been the best over the past month, shortlisted for the Player of the Month award.

What drove me to the shirt was a charity fundraiser for Prostate Cancer UK. The Men United logo to raise prostate cancer awareness in the UK will be displayed on every number of every football shirt in the Football League during the 2014-2015 season. This may not be as famous as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge but it is no less important. Prostate Cancer affects one in every eight men in the UK, and one man will die of it every hour according to the charity. So the next time you pull on a Football League shirt, go the extra mile and get a name and number set to help raise awareness while showing your team pride.

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For the match report please see Southend United’s website at http://www.southendunited.co.uk/news/article/041014-morecambe-match-report-1988517.aspx. For some professional quality pictures of the match please visit Southend United’s website for the Match Gallery at http://www.southendunited.co.uk/news/article/060114-morecambe-gallery-2000937.aspx.

 

London Fall Football Fest Part Five: The Line That Separates England’s Past from England’s Future—West Ham United-Queens Park Rangers (2-0) 10.05.2014

On my last day in London I find myself on Green Street (of Green Street Hooligans fame) getting tickets for an East London-West London derby clash between West Ham United and Queen’s Park Rangers. After getting my tickets from the Boleyn Ground I head down Green Street alone, just to get a sense of the area, and here it hits me how blurred the lines between England’s future and England’s past truly are.

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It is a sight to see. Subcontinental clothiers line the street, windows full of saris that carry all the colors of the rainbow. The colors remind me a bit about my own closet of football shirts back home, and I feel how far I am from the clothiers of Picadilly Circus. Even the signs in the Underground advertise the same things—either sending money to India or Islamic dating. Britain’s colonial past is alive and well here in East London.

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Being a child of parents that come from two different cultures I know how valuable biculturalism can be—but only if it is accepted. Otherwise, it falls pray to xenophobia and racism—destroyed before it can show its benefits. Here on Green Street watching the QPR and West Ham United fans walk together beneath signs for the Al-Madinah bookstore, I see just how complicated the relationship between England’s past and England’s future is.

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Once my friends finally make it into the Boleyn Ground I’m confronted with this harsh reality again and—not being one to hold my tongue—I almost pay the price for it. I understand how difficult it is to accept immigrants and I know that those glassy blue eyes and beautiful blonde girls (who could only be British) are slowly being outnumbered by new arrivals either from the ex-colonial territories or Eastern Europe. Therefore, I understand but could never condone the sentiments of a particular West Ham United fan I encountered at the Boleyn Ground.

The friend I was staying with, Berker—himself Turkish but a man of the world having studied in the United States and lived in London for four years—led us to our seats. We thought we were in the correct row, since the writing noting the letters of the rows had worn out on the steps. Berker told the man sitting in what he thought were our seats that he was in the wrong area. Well, it turns out we were mistaken, standing in Row J instead of row I.

We apologized to the man, but—after explaining to us our error—I heard him mumble “learn the language”. And it pushed me off the deep end. I told him that it wasn’t my friend’s lack of linguistic skills (which he has in abundance, I might add) that brought us to the wrong row, it was the fact that the stadium’s infrastructure was out of date and that the paint denoting rows had worn off in this particular row. Before he could give me a response my friends chided me for talking back to him. Perhaps they are more refined than I am, I’m not sure. But the one thing I am sure of—despite not being part of any firm—is that one line from Green Street Hooligans rings true: “Its not about your friends having your back. Its about you having your friend’s backs”.

 

Our conflict settled we sat down and watched. West Ham went one to the good early on, much to the enjoyment of our ‘‘friend’’ behind us and went into halftime with the lead. At the half I went for a snack, as is my custom—Carlsberg and spicy hot dog was the fare on offer.

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In feasting I missed United’s second goal, right at the beginning of the second half, but I didn’t really care. After all, I came for stadium culture and stadium fare. Plus, I’d already heard the faithful sing “Bubbles” upon entering the stadium, which was truly an experience to behold and something we can all relate to. We all have hopes and dreams that—for reasons out of our control—cant always be realized.

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I’m forever blowing bubbles,

Pretty bubbles in the air,

They fly so high,

Nearly reach the sky,

Then like my dreams,

They fade and die.

Fortune’s always hiding,

I’ve looked everywhere,

I’m forever blowing bubbles,

Pretty bubbles in the air.

 

For a clip of a few renditions taken from Green Street Hooligans:

And for a Punk Rock Cover, why not the Cockney Rejects rendition from the 1980s—London Calling eh?

Turkey’s Hopes for EURO 2016 Take a Big Hit in the First Rounds of Qualifying: A Statistical Analysis of Why This Happened

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 “Çok üzgünüz. İnanın, bu kadar gol kaçmaz. Belki birlik, beraberlik, bütün Türkiye birlikte olamadığımız için olabilir. Gerçekten şaşkınlık içindeyiz.” 

“We are very sad. Believe me, we can’t miss this many goals. Maybe unity, togetherness–maybe its because we in Turkey aren’t together [that this happened]. We are really in shock.”

These words were spoken by goal scorer Bilal Kisa after Turkey lost points again during the European Qualifiers following a 1-1 draw with Latvia. Of course, this is not normal. A country the size of Turkey, with the economic strength that its leaders continually boast about, should not be struggling this much in football. But Mr. Kisa was able to point to one serious problem: the lack of unity not only in the context of the Turkish national football team on the pitch, but also the lack of unity in the country itself as it faces internal conflict as a result of ISIS’ continued attacks on Kurds in northern Syria—an issue that has proved to be extremely divisive in Turkey’s domestic political scene.

In order to shed some light on the subject I decided to compare Turkey and the three countries it played against in the context of three variables: Population size, economic strength (as measured by GDP), and the number of footballers—registered and unregistered—as a percentage of the population of each country involved (I did a similar study following the World Cup which will be forthcoming). Here are the results:

 

Iceland-3

Population Rank: 180th—317,351 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP Rank: 22nd—39,996 International Dollars (From Wikipedia and World Bank.

Players (From FIFA):

All Players: 32,408

Registered Players: 21,508

As Percentage of Population: 10.2% Players, 6.8% Registered

Turkey-0

Population Rank: 17th—81,619,392 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP Rank : 59th—18,975 International Dollars (From Wikipedia  and World Bank)

Players (From FIFA):

All Players: 2,748,657

Registered Players: 197,657

As Percentage of Population: 3.4% Players, .03% Registered

 

Iceland won the match decisively, 3-0, despite being a much smaller country than Turkey. In fact, their population is almost the same as that of Turkey’s Nigde province! That said, we can clearly see that Iceland’s GDP per capita is almost double that of Turkey’s, while the percentage of their population that plays football is almost three times that of Turkey’s—despite the fact that Iceland is a northern European country where football is all but impossible to play in four months of the year! When looking at registered players—those actively in the Football Association system playing for clubs, the disparity is even greater. Almost seven percent of Iceland’s population is registered as a player, while only .03% of Turkey’s is. With this kind of organization—combined with a stronger economic base—in Iceland, it is not hard to understand why Turkey were humbled in the way that they were.

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Turkey’s Hope’s are Crushed as Iceland Celebrate (Image Courtesy of: http://www.turkiyegazetesi.com.tr/spor/184216.aspx)

 

Turkey-1

Population Rank: 17th—81,619,392 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP Rank: 59th—18,975 International Dollars (From Wikipedia  and World Bank)

Players (From FIFA):

All Players: 2,748,657

Registered Players: 197,657

As Percentage of Population: 3.4% Players, .03% Registered

 

Czech Republic-2

Population Rank: 83rd— 10,627,448 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP Rank: 37th— 27,344 International Dollars (From Wikipedia and World Bank)

Players (From Fifa):

All Players: 1,040,357

Registered Players: 686,257

As Percentage of Population: 10.1% Players, 6.1% Registered

 

In this match Turkey took a 1-0 lead early on, bolstered by the home crowd, only to lose 1-2. Again, Turkey is much larger than the Czech Republic but the Czech GDP per capita is almost one third again bigger than Turkey’s. Also, when it comes to footballers, they are more organized. Almost ten percent of the population plays, while a hefty six percent are registered footballers. In fact, the Czech Republic has more than three times as many registered footballers than Turkey, despite being one eighth of Turkey’s size in terms of population. Organizationally, the Czech Republic is miles ahead of Turkey. Again, the loss is disappointing but by no means surprising.

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Arda Is Left to Rue Miss Chances as Turkey Fall in Istanbul (Image Courtesy of: http://www.turkiyegazetesi.com.tr/editorunsectikleri/193254.aspx)

 

Latvia-1

Population Rank: 144th—2,165,165 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP: 49th—23,028 International Dollars (From Wikipedia and World Bank)

Players (From FIFA):

All Players: 85,285

Registered Players: 8,385

As Percentage of Population: 4% Players, .04% Registered

 

Turkey-1

Population Rank: 17th—81,619,392 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP Rank: 59th—18,975 International Dollars (From Wikipedia  and World Bank)

Players (From FIFA):

All Players: 2,748,657

Registered Players: 197,657

As Percentage of Population: 3.4% Players, .03% Registered

 

In this match Turkey drew Latvia, a moment that will certainly go down as a turning point in Turkish football history. On this day all commentators realized that something is rotten in state of the Turkish Football Federation, to borrow the words from Shakespeare. Latvia’s population is near that of Turkey’s Adana province, one of the larger provinces and home to current Turkish national team coach Fatih Terim. The GDPs of both countries are similar, as are the numbers of total players and registered players (Latvia still has a slight edge in both categories). Again, based on the statistics, a draw in this match is a fair result. But that is what is scary about the situation. In no way should Turkey and Latvia be on the same plane. A country of Latvia’s size should not have the same amount of footballers—registered or not—as a country almost forty times as big in terms of population!

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Turkey’s Players Walk Off Frustrated as Latvia Celebrate an Unlikely Draw in Riga’s Skonto Stadium (Image Courtesy of: http://www.ankarameydani.com/spor/letonya-turkiye-1-1-mac-ozeti-ve-golleri-h36918.html)

 

Although just an amateur statistical analysis, these numbers should still serve as food for thought not only to those in Istanbul running the Turkish Football Federation, but to those in Ankara running the country as well. After all, organization—both in terms of foreign policy and in terms of football associations—is born out of sound leadership.

Eyüp Stadium, Eyüp, Istanbul, Turkey — (Eyüpspor): Eyüpspor-Halide Edip Adivar Spor Külübü (4-0) Matchday

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A few pictures from the TFF Third Division match between Eyüpspor and Halide Edip Adivar Spor Külübü. The stadium currently has a capacity of 2,500–the away “stand” is merely a set of bleachers at the moment–but the municipality has plans for a new stadium with a capacity of 3,000 in addition to a basketball arena, swimming pool, and wrestling center. The project is due to start later this year and be completed in 2015 according to this announcement.

 

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Istanbul Excursions: A Visit to Eyüp–October 12 2014

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An eerie calm has descended over the stadium mid way through the first half, a calm unlike any I have experienced in a stadium before. The hardcore supporters in the stand to my left have, incredibly, silenced themselves. I can almost make out the voices of the players as they shout instructions to one another, the dull thud of the ball hitting a foot sounds louder than ever. That is, during the few moments that the Muezzin’s voice falls silent in between pauses for breath. The call to prayer emanating from the minaret facing the stadium dominates the proceedings as Eyüpspor face Halide Edip Adivar SK in a Turkish Third Division match at the Eyüp Stadium.

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Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised—Eyüp is one of Istanbul’s most conservative districts, and the fans have silenced themselves in deference to the afternoon prayer. The centrally located Eyüp Sultan Camii (Eyüp Sultan Mosque)—the first major mosque built in Istanbul after the Turkish conquest and constructed by the Sultan Mehmed II in 1458 in honor of the companion of the Prophet Mohammed, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari— dominates the center of the district and many facets of life here. Football is not exception.

But Turkey can still surprise in a contradictory way—it never fails to. Despite the pious nature of Eyüpspor’s supporters they don’t hesitate to break into song at halftime when, despite the 0-0 halftime score, they boisterously sing along to Hakan Peker’s Atesini Yolla as it plays on the PA system. The fact that the song was made famous by Beşiktaş’ Çarşı group (themselves from the opposite end of the political spectrum then most of Eyüp’s residents) seems to have not affected Eyüpspor’s faithful. I don’t blame them—it’s a catchy song after all (Hakan Peker’s original and Carsi’s versions are below).

Original:

Çarşı:

The irony of the chants coming from Eyüpspor’s stands doesn’t end there, however. They hold the tune of “Eyüp’e, rahat yok, Halide Edipe koymadan… (No rest for Eyüp until putting it to Halide Edip)” as the second half starts. While this may seem innocuous to the laymen, the fact that Halide Edip was one of Turkey’s foremost feminist writers—and supporters of Ataturk’s revolution in Turkey—the obvious sexual connotations of the chant make me laugh (and cringe) simultaneously. It doesn’t matter to me that Halide Edip Adivar’s name now graces a sports club, since I would like to think that the Eyüpspor fans would have shown a little more class. No such luck here though.

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Luckily for this article, my mind is taken off of the subject when Eyüpspor pick up their game in the last twenty minutes. It takes an injury to Tuncy Öndel—who has to be carted off to the hospital after a hit to the head—for Eyüpspor to score on a beautifully taken free kick in the 70th minute by Gencay Ertan. 1-0 to the home team and all the animosity following the foul is forgotten (the Eyüpspor faithful made it clear through their chants that a Katliam—carnage—would ensue if they were “messed” with”).

Minutes later, just as the ambulance is about to pull out of the stadium, a corner kick creates a goal mouth scramble and Eyüpspor make it 2-0 in the 73rd minute with Güray Kula poking it in. The supporters make it clear that they are confident as they start to hold their tune—Ya seve seve, ya sike sike, Eyüpspor Ikinci Lige (Either by loving or by fucking, Eyüpspor to the second division). The fans want a third goal and, with the visitors in disarray, it even seems likely. The fans take a break from their profanity laced chants in the 78th minute as the call of “Eyy ALLAH! Eyy ALLAH! Rises from the stands, the fans prostrating themselves en masse. I can honestly say its one of the strangest scenes I’ve witnessed in a stadium but, then again, I don’t come to Eyüp regularly.

Two minutes later they resort to more traditional chants:

Beraber Yürüdük bu Yollardan

Beraber Islandik Yağan Yağmurlarda

Şimdi Sıra Geldi Sampiyonluğa

Haydi Bastır Şanlı Eyüp Sultan

 

We walked these roads all together,

The rains that rained soaked us all together,

Now its time for the championship

Push on blessed Eyüp Sultan

Indeed the excitement of the fans continues to excite the players, as Eser Şen hits Eyüpspor’s third goal, and their second from a free kick, this time taken from just outside the box. It is 3-0 and the stadium is in raptures. Even I am taking pleasure in the goal show on display. And just when I think its over the home team does it again—A curved shot from the corner of the penalty area by Alperen Doğan meets its mark and, in the 89th minute, it is 4-0. The fans celebrate with a chant that is in vogue recently—Şehitler Ölmez Vatan Bölünmez (The Martyrs Will Never Die, The Nation Will Never be Divided)—I suppose the large Turkish flag in the stands has something to do with it but they are understandably enthused. 4 Eylül Beyeldiyespor have managed only a draw and Eyüpspor is now in sole position of first place in the Turkish Third Division Group 2.

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I figure that a suitable celebration will be wandering Eyüp’s back streets, but only after acquiring one of the team’s purple and yellow scarves. Scarf in hand (I chose not to wear it) I followed the crowds into Eyüp’s central square, dominated by the Mosque and courtyard. It was crowded with families out for Sunday strolls—most mothers wore clothing more befitting of Arabia while the fathers wore hard expressions as they tried to keep an eye on their children. The ones that weren’t running circles around the adults were busy munching on sesame seed-encrusted simit rings, the same size as their faces. Yes, this could indeed be Turkey’s future.

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But for now, I prefer to look into the past. Down a small side street to the left of the mosque is a narrow pathway that slants up hill through the cemetery. One of Istanbul’s oldest, it is a relic from a time that Eyüp was considered a suburb and provided a quiet resting place for the departed—now Eyüp is a part of the city and its urban sprawl.

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Still, the cemetery is as beautiful as it was on my first visit, a similar grey fall day eight years ago. Refreshingly, in a city where so much changes, here things seem to have stayed the same. I guess when a faith is involved the forces of change are slowed. Here the cats still weave their way between the gravestones and pine trees, hoping for a few scraps from the living. I don’t have anything for them and ignore the “meeeeows”, looking out at what has changed. Across the Golden Horn the fresh skyscrapers of “new Istanbul” are visible, in stark contrast to the gravestones marking the final resting places of those who lived—and died—in a very different Istanbul.

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I head higher and higher through the cemetery, up to the Pierre Loti café, named after the famous (Orientalist) French writer—it is said that he wrote his masterpiece Aziyade here among these same trees, looking out at the waters of the Golden Horn. Despite being off the tourist trail Pierre Loti is one of Istanbul’s must see sights, a world away from European Pera or the modern tourist center that Sultanahmet has become. This is old Stamboul, where the truths of Istanbul—and Turkish society at large—are on display for those intrepid enough to make the trip up the Golden Horn.

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Turkey is certainly a Muslim country. You see it in the souvenir stands selling the typical goods—tesbih, Muslim prayer beads, to those selling the absurd—bumper stickers that read “Damn Israel”.

Yes, if you spend enough time in Eyüp you will see one of Turkey’s best Third Division sides in action. More importantly, you will also get a good lesson in some of modern Turkey’s paradoxical realties—the plaques on the cemetery walls are just a small example.

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While the messages are sound they make me think of current events, when some ostensibly pious Turkish Muslims are supporting ISIS  by vandalizing the homes of Kurds—giving their faith a bad name in the process.

Yusuf Ziya Öniş Stadium, Sariyer, Istanbul, Turkey – (Sariyer SK): Sariyer SK-Nazilli Belediyespor (0-0) Matchday

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A few pictures of the Yusuf Ziya Öniş Stadium taken during the TFF Second League Kirmizi Group match between Sariyer and Nazilli Belediyespor. The stadium itself was completed in 1988 and hosted many first division matches when Sariyer was in the top flight from 1998 to 1994 and the 1996-1997 season. The stadium has three stands, all covered, that provide a capacity of 10,000. Most of the stadium is colored in the team’s colors–navy blue (to symbolize royalty) and white (to symbolize cleanliness). The stadium is named after Yusuf Ziya Öniş, the first president of the Turkish Football Federation and one of the leaders in trying to bring a professional system to Turkish football. After playing for Galatasaray SK in Turkey and Servette FC Geneva in Switzerland he became president of the Turkish Football Federation from 1922-1926 and of Galatasaray SK 1922-1925. After resigning from this post he became part of the breakaway Güneş Spor Külübü until it dissolved in 1938. Before his death in 1960 he returned for a second stint at the head of Galatasaray SK from 1950-1953. Outside of football, he was also a high ranking executive at both the Türkiye İş Bankası and Denizbank.

Interestingly, despite the stadium being named after a man with close ties to Galatasaray SK, Sariyer currently are very close to Besiktas JK. It is not uncommon to see the scarves of the Çarşı group at Sariyer matches and the two clubs often play exhibition matches against one another, most recently in 2012.

 

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Istanbul Excursions: A Visit to Sariyer–October 8 2014

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I take bus 152 on the Hacıosman-Kısırkaya route and get off in the center of Sariyer; to me it is one of Istanbul’s most beautiful districts. The location is picturesque, on the northwestern shore of the Bosporus where it opens up into the Black Sea. I stand on the pier and look past the green hills where the grey waters flow into a grey horizon, it reminds me of the previous times that I have come to see matches here.

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The fans are generally a respectful bunch, and I have taken girlfriends to matches here before. It’s a relatively short trip from the center of Istanbul, and the delicious börek and pide restaurants make for some good pre-match meals. Here I even became friends with a couple of young girls three years ago, their headscarves might have made us different but it didn’t matter when the subject was football. Another time that arbitrary boundaries were bridged by sport. But that was three years ago, and every year the differences within Turkish society seem to become more and more pronounced.

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I wander the back streets, lined with historic wooden houses built in the traditional Ottoman style. Some are derelict while others have been restored as I search out a spot for a pre-match drink in the British style. I find my spot just off the main square, Meydan Pub. It looks admittedly dodgy, and the irony of the AKP and MHP offices opposite the entrance doesn’t escape me.

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As the waiter pours me a raki I attempt to justify my drinking at 3 in the afternoon by telling him I’m going to the match.

“What match?” he asks with obvious indifference.

“Sariyer-Nazilli Belediyespor.”

He just raises his eyebrows in a look of surprise as he slides the ice bucket over to me. Turkish 2nd division football doesn’t exactly elicit much passion in these parts.

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I soon see why—it’s a miracle that I don’t fall asleep during a first half that ends as it began: 0-0 with no real chances to speak of. I stretch my legs during the break, walking below the stands as the last fans are let in, all free of charge. They’re all young kids, just out of school—normal for a rare Wednesday afternoon fixture.

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“Does my hair look good? Wait, lets not go in yet. (Saçlarım düzgün mi? Bekle, daha girmeyelim)” She steals a look at the stands. “Lets wait a bit”. Two young girls share an exchange that I can’t help but chuckle at as I overhear it. If she was looking to impress a particular boy I would think the football stadium would be the last place to flirt. Her “Too cute for you” t-shirt only makes it a more ridiculous scene.

“Atilla! Atilla! What are you doing at a match, you’re a married man now?! (Atilla, Atilla! Ulan evlendin bahtlandın ne işin var maçta?!)” The two men embrace and I laugh at myself this time. All the small town lives that have converged at the Yusuf Ziya Öniş Stadium on a Wednesday afternoon make for some good people watching, there can be no denying that. If only the football was as amusing as the conversations.

I decide to dig into a köfte sandwich for my halftime snack, in memory of “Köfte” Hüseyin—a Sariyer fan who passed away in June at a young age from a heart attack. I look at the banner hanging behind the goal that he himself had written as I eat: OLACAKSA SENDEN BİR MENFAATİM BİR BAYRAK OLSUN O DA TABUTUMDA DURSUN (If There Will Be One Profit I Get From You May It Be a Flag That Can Lie On My Coffin). The meat and onions are good even if the bread is a level above rubber; I feel like my teeth are going to snap off as I take a bite but I don’t care. Let it be my one act of remembrance for a man I never knew but who shared the same passions as I do—may he rest in peace.

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The second half is a little more lively but it still seems unlikely that any goals will come. As the fans get restless they mouth a tongue in cheek chant—“This isn’t the cinema or theater, fans that don’t yell can fuck off! (Burası sinema tiyatro değil, bağırmayan taraftar siktirsin gitsin)”. I choose not to be offended and continue watching in silence. Two school age boys start fighting over a scarf in front of me before their “Abiler”—older “brothers”—put them in their place. “You little pricks, instead of fighting you bastards should be yelling! (Ulan ibneler, kavga edeceğinizi bağırin piçler!). In this way, the smaller teams are definitely a society unto themselves.

With three minutes left Sariyer get their chance but it goes just past the post—Sariyer are left to settle for their sixth draw in seven matches. We all know that this is hardly the stuff of a promotion contender at this early stage of the season as we file out into the grey afternoon under a light drizzle coming in from the north.

 

I have nowhere to go so I decide to head back to the pub. It is full this time with businessmen sipping beers in their work clothes; it is almost European in a sense. That is, until you raise your head to look at the TV. I follow the news reports. A curfew has been declared in six eastern provinces, including Diyarbakir, where a friend of mine has gone for the Bayram. Those old familiar battles between Kurds and Turks should have long gone out of style but ISIS have reignited them. Far from those bloody battles I sip my raki on the shores of the Bosphorus, watching it all unfold on Show TV. It doesn’t look good, and as I watch I recognize the city. I had been to a match there five years ago and I know those streets well.

All I can do now is hope that cooler heads prevail. As a writer for Hurriyet Daily news said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.” Hopefully, all involved can take heed.