Walking down Ankara’s Dikmen Boulevard you know you are in a capital city. The drab blocks of government buildings go on for as far as the eye can see. The General Directorate of the Police. The Finance Ministry. The Coast Guard. The Department of Navy. (The Irony of the last two being located in a land locked city in central Anatolia not withstanding). The Parliament. The Prime Minister’s Residence. The State Water Management. The Highway Department. Its all here. I shudder at the thought of the red tape that must line the hallways of those drab buildings as I walk on towards Kizilay Square, the center of life in the capital.
I walk on down the streets in the shadows of the state apparatus to the Cebeci Inonu Stadium. Built in 1967 it was Ankara’s first large stadium and, with a capacity of 37,000, it is surprisingly Turkey’s sixth biggest. Of course, I would later learn that at least half of that capacity is unusable due to urban decay—but the facts are the facts, according to the Turkish Football Federation.
Crossing from the Cankaya into Cebeci district it feels like a time warp. Even the Uludag Gazoz signs on the coffee houses remind me of a bygone Turkey, the Turkey I grew up in.
The stadium is a forlorn sight rising into the blue sky ahead of me as I delicately traverse the crumbling steps. It looks like a bomb exploded somewhere nearby and I’m unsure of what to expect as I walk beneath the rusting sign that reads “Inonu Stadyumu”. I pay my three Lira for a ticket at a booth that makes me feel like I’m visiting a prison. Once I’m through the obligatory pat down I’m in the stands along with another 17 souls (I counted) on a clear Monday afternoon. I head to the top of the stands and look out at the dilapidated sections of Ankara spreading out below me. All sections of life must live in those apartments, who knows what kinds of marriages and childhoods are being lived? I shudder at the thoughts and turn to back my seat in order to stand at attention for the National Anthem. Its lyrics echo through the emptiness, it feels like a funeral.
As the match kicks off I can the players yelling instructions to one another, its like I’m on the field. “Come back back BACK!” yells the Ankara Demirspor goalkeeper trying to keep his defense focused. It is no use, and just three minutes in Cagatay Ceken puts the visitors up 0-1. The stands are silent and all the noise comes from the home team’s bench as the irate Ankara Demirspor coach attempts to rush the field, held back by his assistants. The choice words he has for the referee echo through the stadium and up to me but the goal will not be disallowed.
After the first ten minutes a few more fans trickle in, including a small group of young kids who could only be playing hookey for this rare weekday afternoon fixture. With nothing much to watch on the pitch I turn my attention to the moss growing out of the concrete stands, thinking to myself that it must be a rare species.
At half time I head down to the gates for a water but, alas, there is no café. In fact, there is just a gate with a few security guards who look bored out of their minds. I ask for water and the female shrugs.
“Its outside, but I can get you some. It costs a Lira”.
I hand her the coin between the metal bars and she returns, handing me a plastic cup. As I drink it down eagerly, I watch a fellow fan pass some money through the bars for a simit, a sesame covered bagel. I think that this is what prison must feel like.
“There is no system like this,” says the male security guard looking at me.
“There is no stadium like this,” is my reply and we both laugh.
Indeed there is not be. Even the concourses feel like a prison, despite the sunlight flowing through. I take the halftime break to explore the innards of the stadium—the chipped paint tells me that this stadium’s days are numbered. I’m just glad to have gotten the chance to visit another place that will soon fall victim to the urban renewal sweeping Turkey, such demolition and construction serve as ready sources of income for a government looking for investment to keep the economy going.
The second half witnesses a few more fans in the stands, taking the total to just over 70 (again, I counted). Sadly the extra support fails to jump-start the Ankara Demirspor players who seem to be stuck in third gear—it is surprising, since the team is currently in the playoff spots. Ankara Demirspor pay for their inability to turn the screw and Uskudar Anadolu add a second goal in the 74th minute through Seyit Ali Akgul. Down by two goals the fans know that there will be no return and decide to spend their energy berating the team—what else can they do?
After the final whistle I head to the player’s exit in order to inquire about an Ankara Demirspor shirt. As one of Turkey’s most famous teams (they were founding members of Turkish football’s top tier for its first season in 1958-59). I felt like it would be a necessary addition to the collection, and I make an appointment to meet one of the team’s officials the next morning at the Ankara Demirspor grounds.
As befitting such an historic team, Ankara Demirspor’s history is fascinating. There are two interesting Turkish Language websites that outline the histories of all of Turkey’s various “Demirspors”: http://www.kentvedemiryolu.com/icerik.php?id=301 and http://demirsporlar.blogspot.com.tr. My thanks to Mr. Yavuz Yildirim and the blogger Mustava for their valuable insights, some of which I will translate for English language readers below:
Ankara Demirspor were founded in 1930, but at that time there were already a few Demirspors in Turkey. Such teams are, of course, the teams of the railways. In many ways they are similar to the eastern European railway teams such as Lokomotiv Moscow, Lokomotiv Sofia, Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Locomotive Tblisi, CFR Cluj (Romania), and Zeljeznicar Sarajevo to name a few. As Yavuz Yildirim notes, the such Demirspors were a critical way of tying the country together after the founding of the new republic in 1923 since they connected the industrial strength of an emerging country to the cultural aspect of a sports club becoming a symbol of the country’s modernization. Generally, these clubs were formed in major cities along the rail network according to the 26th element of the Youth and Sports General Directorate law numbered 3289 (it is still in effect today) which states “factories and foundations with more than 500 officers or workers must make sports facilities and hire a coach for the physical education of their personnel.” (“memur ve işçi sayısı 500’den fazla olan kuruluşlar ve fabrikalar, öncelikle kendi personeline beden eğitimi ve spor yaptırmak için spor tesisleri yapmaya ve antrenör tutmaya mecburdurlar.”). The reason for such a law was simple: To keep the country’s youth fit in order to preform national guard duties in interwar period of instability—in many ways this is similar to the rationale in the former Soviet Union for the formation of Lokomotiv, Torpedo, Dynamo, and CSKA teams which were all tied to important industries and entities critical to the state (Please see my article on the history of Lokomotiv Plovdiv for more on this).
According to Yavuz Yildirim’s piece there were (in 2007) 38 Demirspors throughout Turkey. The same article claims that in 1942 the following Demirspors were in operation: Haydarpaşa, Derince, İzmit, Bilecik; Ankara, Irmak, Çankırı, Karabük, Çatalağzı, Zonguldak; Balıkesir, Bandırma, Soma, Tavşanlı, Kütahya; Kayseri, Sivas, Zile; Samsun, Çetinkaya, Divrik, Yerköy; Malatya, Diyarbakır, Maden; Adana, Fevzipaşa, Mersin, İskenderun, Ulukışla, Afyon, Konya , Uşak; İzmir, Manisa, Alaşehir, Nazilli, Çamlık; Denizli, Dinar; Sirkeci, Edirne; Erzurum; Sarıkamış, Erzincan; Eskişehir; Mudanya; Edremit. Alongside these cities various other Demirspors are in operation currently, such as Kars Demirspor and Kocaeli Demirspor—they all play in the amateur leagues of their respective provinces. Of the Demirspors, only Ankara Demirspor and their famous cousin—Adana Demirspor—are in the professional leagues.
On Tuesday morning I am at the Ankara Demirspor grounds before lunch. A sign advertising the team’s wedding packages greets me. Who (other than maybe me) would want to get married at a soccer team’s grounds by the Ankara Region train depot is beyond me but, I suppose, some people have interesting tastes. Since I won’t be getting married any time soon, I hope they find people to fill the reservations as I walk on past the train repair yard trying to avoid a couple stray dogs that are looking a bit too menacing.
Inside the offices I meet the team’s personnel manager for a tea and am presented with an amazing Ankara Demirspor shirt. The TCDD (Turkish Republic State Railways) sponsor is fitting, along with a rear sponsor from the Ulastirma Bakanligi (Ministry of Transportation). The colors are striking and top off a truly amazing shirt. I send my unending thanks to all the folks at Ankara Demirspor for the tea and the shirt, truly Turkish hospitality at its best.