Ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, Turkish media published a story on 28 October 2016 about a man going out of his way to make home feel like “home” for his team. Ali Erginer, a fan of Turkish Second Division side Eskisehirspor, answered a social media call to help prepare his side’s new stadium before opening day on Sunday 30 October. Mr. Erginer said he responded to a call on social media for fans of the team to assist the municipality’s workers, who were understaffed, with preparing the stadium for its first match. Mr. Erginer said that he expected 100-200 people to help with the preparations—or at least 50—but ended up being the only fan to answer the social media call.
Mr. Erginer Cuts a Lonely Figure. Images Courtesy Of: http://spor.mynet.com/futbol/ptt-1-lig/102480-eskisehir-stadi-icin-cagrilara-sadece-o-yanit-verdi.html
In the age of social media—where even a simple cat video can go viral in minutes—it is surprising that only Mr. Erginer should come out to prepare his team’s new stadium; indeed if this were a story about anything else I would have been suspicious as to its veracity. Given the political nature of stadium construction in Turkey, however, I can see why Mr. Erginer might have been the only one willing to volunteer his time. As Christopher Gaffney writes in his eminently readable study of stadia Temples of the Earthbound Gods, “at the local level, stadiums are monuments, places for community interaction, repositories of collective memory, loci of strong identities, sites for ritualized conflict, political battlefields, and nodes in global systems of sport” (Gaffney 2008, 4). Given the importance of the stadium to local community and culture, it is not surprising that a fan would want to help prepare one for its opening; what is surprising, however, is that a single fan should want to help. And this is where we visit another of Gaffney’s observations, that “stadiums are sites and symbols of power, identity, and meaning that allow us to enter and interpret the cultural landscape through a common medium” (Ibid., 24).
Eskisehir’s old stadium, built in 1965, was the Ataturk Stadium named after Turkey’s founding father. The new stadium may not be named after the nation’s founding father, since those in power realize that—in Gaffney’s words—the stadium is “a symbol of power [and] identity”. An opposition MP wanted the new stadium to be called the “Yeni Ataturk Stadyumu” (New Ataturk Stadium) but, as of this weekend, media stories are calling it just the “Yeni Eskisehir Stadyumu” (New Eskisehir Stadium). Regardless of what happens with the name, even by attempting to take the name away—and certainly in taking the stadium away—from the fans a new identity can be fostered for subsequent generations; this does not mean that this new identity will be accepted by all fans, and that fact that Mr. Erginer was the only one to show up to prepare the stadium for its grand opening is telling.
Out With the Old. Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2016/10/16/eskisehirde-bir-tarih-kapandi-539577/
Even if the fans have a grievance with the renaming of the stadium, they—as true fans who have an attachment to the stadium if only because of its role as “repository of collective memory”—should be expected to support the new stadium, right? Perhaps—but that would depend in part, of course, on the motives of the capitalist entrepreneur(s) at the helm who pushed for the construction of the new stadium itself. Indeed after the last match was played in the old stadium fans got together and a banner was put up in the (empty) stadium reading “Separation Shouldn’t Be Like This”.
Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberler.com/eskisehirspor-yarim-asirlik-evine-galibiyetle-veda-8864924-haberi/
The team’s (old) stadium has been closed for the first four weeks of the season following events that took place on the final day of last season, when Eskisehir fans burned down part of the Ataturk Stadium. For a few stories on this one can visit Sports Illustrated‘s heavily biased piece that cites—of all things—Russia Today. The media in the United States only saw the fan violence on a surface level, a visceral paroxysm of rage because the team had been relegated. Knowing the passions in Turkish football, I have no doubt that emotions played a part in the inferno. But I think there were deeper concerns that the likes of Sports Illustrated could never hope to understand.
The Final Match Attended by Fans at the Old Eskisehir Ataturk Stadium. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.rt.com/sport/343071-turkey-football-stadium-fire/
It is also possible that the fans were angry that their home was being taken from them, and that pushed them to violence. Judging by the fact that Mr. Erginer was the only one to answer the social media call suggests that some fans are not happy with the erasure of the past resulting from the construction of a new stadium. Industrial football—like the capitalism that finances it—has a way of erasing (and even re-writing) history to suit current needs. The closure of the Eskisehir Ataturk stadium—and its replacement with a modern, state-of-the-art facility—is just the latest chapter in a trend that is unfolding throughout Turkish (and indeed world) football.
The New Digs. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/10/28/eskisehirspor-bandirmaspor-maci-ankara-da-oynanacak-1259526
Author’s Note: The opening of the stadium was ultimately delayed, with this weekend’s match taking place in Ankara’s Osmanli Stadium.