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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Attempts to Re-Brand Himself as a Nationalist by Renaming Football Stadiums

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Turkey’s controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a savvy political leader to say the least. He is also very intelligent, and his latest move is another attempt to survive amidst the ongoing global turmoil. Mr. Erdogan sees the rising tide of populist nationalism (most prominently exemplified by June 2016’s “Brexit” and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in November 2016) and is looking to exploit it by re-branding himself as a populist nationalist leader. His latest tactic focuses on football stadiums. On 29 May 2017 Mr. Erdogan announced that he was “going to remove the word ‘arena’ from stadiums”, deeming the word “un-Turkish”. According to The Telegraph, Mr. Erdogan asked a rhetorical question: “What does arena mean? We don’t have such a thing in our language,’ Mr Erdogan added, urging people to examine the ‘meaning and interpretation’ of arenas saying the word was ‘neither polite nor elegant’ “.

 

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Ataturk’s Language Reform. Image Courtesy of: http://www.nationalturk.com/en/turkey-83th-anniversary-of-turkish-language-reform-to-be-celebrated-14675/

 

Of course, such a move is not new or unprecedented in Turkish history. Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, pursued a language revolution which brought the Latin alphabet to Turkey by eliminating the Perso-Arabic script of Ottoman Turkish; it was one of the cornerstones of Ataturk’s revolution designed to “Westernize” Turkey. More recently, as scholar Banu Eligur points out in her illuminating book on Political Islam in Turkey, the military did the same after the 1980 intervention when “the state-owned television issued a long list of words that were banned from use over the network” (Eligur, 2010: 117). According to the author, “the state was not simply expected to promote a conservative understanding of national culture, but to discourage—or, as one document puts it—to ‘extinguish’ modernist movements in literature and the arts” (Eligur, 2010: 117). This is the same kind of consolidation that Mr. Erdogan is looking to achieve with his attempt to ban the word “arena” from use in Turkish stadiums; it is also an attempt for Mr. Erdogan to equate himself with Ataturk.

 

 

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According to Mr. Erdogan’s Decree, the Names of Galatasaray’s Turk Telekom Arena (Top) and Besiktas’ Vodafone Arena (Bottom) Will Have to Change. Images Courtesy of https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g293974-d2329797-i222044743-Turk_Telekom_Arena-Istanbul.html (Top) and http://www.vodafonearena.com.tr/_assets/images/layout/og-image.jpg (Bottom).

 

It would behoove observers to realize that Mr. Erdogan’s purported goal is a façade. After breaking with Fethullah Gulen—the reclusive Islamic cleric blamed for the 15 July 2016 coup attempt—Erdogan is looking to become more of a nationalist and less of a globalist (as Mr. Gulen is). Mr. Gulen, who is undoubtedly an Islamist, embraces a globalist vision without countries; it is a vision where an Islamic umma (believers) is united as Muslims and not Turks, Egyptians, Iranians, etc. State media in the United States decided to publish a statement by Mr. Gulen (himself a traitor to his country) on 15 May 2017, in which he states his position clearly. He argues that:

 

school curriculum that emphasizes democratic and pluralistic values and encourages critical thinking must be developed. Every student must learn the importance of balancing state powers with individual rights, the separation of powers, judicial independence and press freedom, and the dangers of extreme nationalism, politicization of religion and veneration of the state or any leader. [Emphasis added].

 

It is remarkable how closely Mr. Gulen’s emphasis on “pluralistic values” and “critical thinking” resembles the indoctrination strategies of many universities in the United States, where “critical thinking” is a code-word for anything but; in reality it means “think like your professors think”. Mr. Gulen’s decrying of nationalism and the “veneration of the state or any leader” fits in with the same anti-nationalist rhetoric of globalists around the world. That American state media should publish the words of a shady Islamic cleric is, also, sadly not surprising. The Washington Post turned against Mr. Erdogan since his split with Mr. Gulen; after Mr. Erdogan’s bodyguards thuggishly attacked anti Erdogan protesters in May of 2017 the newspaper called Mr. Erdogan’s security detail “thugs” and “goons”. That the newspaper is finally outing Mr. Erdogan for his authoritarianism does not absolve them of their guilt for supporting Mr. Erdogan (while he still worked with Mr. Gulen) during the Gezi Park protests of 2013 when Max Fisher cited a poll which said Mr. Erdogan had “high approval ratings” despite the protests. The false nature of the claims—designed to discredit the anti-government protestors—is made clear by the newspaper’s own admission of misrepresenting the facts. A disclaimer in the story reads:

 

Correction: This post originally indicated that the Pew poll had been taken after protests began. In fact, it was taken in March, before protests started. 

 

It seems “fake news”, or at least deliberate misrepresentation of the facts by state media in the U.S., was alive and well long before the Donald Trump era in a bid to prop up Mr. Erdogan. Now, having lost his globalist ally, state media is changing their tune just as Mr. Erdogan is. It is important to realize that Mr. Erdogan is merely adapting to a changing world without truly changing at all.

The fact that Galatasaray was the first team to change the name of their stadium in response to Mr. Erdogan’s comments is not surprising (the team has been close to Mr. Erdogan), but it is indicative of the falseness inherent in Mr. Erdogan’s comments. Sports Illustrated reported that Galatasaray changed their stadium’s name from “Turk Telekom Arena” to “Turk Telekom Stadium”. But…what is a “stadium”? Is “stadium” not a non-Turkish word? Of course it is, and it underlines the ridiculousness of the call to erase “Arena” from Turkish stadiums; it is more ridiculous when one realizes that most of the new stadiums built in Turkey under the AKP regime have been named…arenas. Mr. Erdogan is trying to re-brand himself by separating himself from the era of Gulenist influence but it will not be that easy since Mr. Erdogan is not a nationalist, and has never been one.

As Banu Eligur notes, Mr. Erdogan said in January 1995 that “the 21st century will be an era in which systems that are based on Islam will come to power in the world” (Eligur, 2010: 162). Islamism is, clearly, not compatible with nationalism, itself a secular ideology. Thus, it is unlikely that Mr. Erdogan’s about face is credible. It shouldn’t be surprising, since his own reformist wing within the Turkish Islamist movement founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP); it was a wing that, according to Eligur, “placed a greater value on electoral victory, which required a significant expansion of the party’s constituency base, than on the religious purity of the membership” (Eligur, 2010: 198). In other words, Mr. Erdogan was never really a Islamist (in terms of faithfulness to the religion of Islam), rather he was looking for votes (and by extension) power. Thus his new-found populist nationalism is similarly false.

To understand this, Banu Eligur’s work is again useful. Eligur ends her book by pointing out that

 

Islamism, unlike Turkish nationalism, does not accept the notion of a Turkish identity. Turkish nationalism, as a secular ideology, seeks to protect both the secular and the unitary character of the state. The Islamist movement is likely to have a hard time competing against the very foundations of the secular-democratic Turkish Republic: the Turkish nationalism of Ataturk. However, Islamist entrepreneurs may opt once again, as they have after each threat to the survival of their movement, to reframe their message to the Turkish people so as to neutralize the nationalist challenge and secure the power and appeal of the Islamist movement in Turkey. (Eligur, 2010: 283)

 

This is the essential point that observers of Turkey should keep in mind at this critical juncture in history. Mr. Erdogan’s move regarding stadium naming policy is—to borrow Eligur’s term—a “reframing” of the message. Mr. Erdogan, being the observant leader that he is, senses the rising tide of populist nationalism in the world and is looking to reframe himself in that context. None should be fooled, however, as to Mr. Erdogan’s intentions. He is still a politician who—in the context of extreme capitalism—is looking to keep his hold on power in Turkey using whatever methods necessary. Due to the global context, for the foreseeable future it seems as if Mr. Erdogan will look to exploit Turkish nationalism as a means to keep his hold on power and the Turkish state.

 

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Banal Nationalism. Image Courtesy Of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag-map_of_Turkey.svg

Istanbul Excursions: A Visit to Beylerbeyi–November 9 2014

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The space between the Bosphorus Bridge and Beylerbeyi 75. Yil Stadium may be the only large green area left in Istanbul. I honestly do not think that it is an exaggeration as I take the narrow dilapidated staircase that leads from the highway down into the forest. The cracked concrete steps and leafy trees remind me of an Eastern European park and I feel free, released from Istanbul’s chaos. At the bottom of the staircase I’m greeted by a vacant lot with a run down gecekondu—shanty—and a restaurant parking lot full of Mercedes Benzes. The extremes of Istanbul’s inequality are everywhere.

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The walls are scrawled with Üsküdarspor graffiti and I follow the winding road, keeping the stadium in view to my left. Outside the stadium gates a few Anadolu Üsküdarspor fans are milling around, identifiable only by their green and white scarves. The cops on duty tell me that although Anadolu Üsküdarspor have been designated as the home team the situation is complicated, and I would be better off as a neutral supporter in the Beylerbeyi section. It is definitely complicated; it is, after all, a derby between two teams from two neighboring neighborhoods of the city that share the same stadium. But this is not the San Siro/Giuseppe Meazza for AC Milan-Inter Milan in the Serie A, this is the Beylerbeyi 75. Yil for Üsküdar Anadoluspor-Beylerbeyispor in the TFF 3rd Division. I head over to the Beylerbeyi entrance to find their fans hanging out in front of a kebab restaurant in green and red shirts and buy a ten Lira ticket.

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A wall opposite me says “Wake Up Muslims!! Wallahi Wake Up”. Üsküdar is one of Istanbul’s oldest and most pious neighborhoods, like Eyüp on the European side (which also lies outside the old city walls). For the population of 500,000 there are 180 mosques, and walking around one can feel the differences between Üsküdar and the European district of Beşiktaş that lies just across the Bosphorus. Unfortunately, Üsküdar was also a victim of the Istanbul riots of September 1955 and many Greek homes and businesses in the neighborhood were vandalized by looters. Much of the Greek presence can be traced back to the 7th century BC, when ancient Greek colonists settled in the area, then called Chrysopolis. But that is far away today—now it is a bustling Muslim neighborhood, the Green of the team’s jerseys serving as an interesting coincidence.

Üsküdar Anadoluspor was founded in 1908 by lawyer and journalist Burhan Felek (who helped Yusuf Ziya Öniş in founding the precursor to the Turkish Football Federation) and achieved some success as runners up in the Istanbul Football League in 1915 and 1917. But the story gets more complicated with this team, one of the first three clubs to be founded after the big three of Beşiktaş (1903), Galatasaray (1905), and Fenerbahçe (1907). Some of the founders left for Kadiköy and founded Fenerbahçe, others stayed in Üsküdar. After the 1980 military coup many of Üsküdar Anadoluspor’s grounds were confiscated by the junta and the few cups the team had won were stolen by looters—one of the few pieces of memorabilia left is this license from the club’s founding years:

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.zaman.com.tr/cumaertesi_istanbulun-100-yillik-uc-buyuk-takimi-daha-var_774666.html

 

Author’s Note: This is where it gets weird—feel free to skip this paragraph and move on to the next if you’re not so into football:

After a confusing situation involving the formation—and name change—of a subsequent team, the team carrying the original name of Üsküdar Anadoluspor became Selimiyespor, now in the amateur leagues. The current Anadolu Üsküdarspor is what was once Üsküdar Öz Sahrayı Cedidspor, which changed its name to Anadolu Üsküdarspor in order to stay in the second division (If they kept the name of the original team they would have had to start from the third division) after Üsküdar Anadoluspor was relegated to the amateur leagues. If you are still with me the end result is that the current Anadolu Üsküdar team is not the same team that was founded in 1908. Thank you to Süleyman Bitmez and altligler.blogspot for this information, the two team’s almost identical badges are below:

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Images Courtesy Of: http://altligler.blogspot.com.tr/2012/07/anadolu-uskudar-mi-uskudar-anadolu-mu.html

The history of the team on the other side of the “derby”, Beylerbeyispor, is equally intriguing in a political sense. The team, like Anadolu Üsküdar (or Üsküdar Anadolu) is also one of Turkey’s oldest, formed in 1911. Unlike their counterparts from Üsküdar, however, Beylerbeyispor did not have much success in their early years (the club has never featured in Turkey’s top flight)—instead, their notoriety has come in the last decade. The team served as Galatasaray SK’s feeder team from 2003 to 2009 in order to give playing time to up-and-coming young players, similar to the minor league system in America’s Major League Baseball. I even have a Beylerbeyispor shirt from those years that has the same brand, sponsor, and even design (Adidas quartered pattern) as Galatasaray’s shirts from the period, the only difference is the color scheme.

The relationship between the two clubs was cut in 2009 after Galatasaray reportedly took issue with the way Beylerbeyispor was being run; during the six year relationship not a single player of significance rose from Beylerbeyispor to feature for Galatasaray and the adventure ended up costing the latter 6.5 million dollars. More recently other reports have come up concerning the team, including this one from an admittedly biased leftist news portal.

The news story in question was published immediately following the Gezi Park protests in June of 2013. While the content of the article may be debatable, the picture certainly is not: a large banner reading “Adam Gibi Adam” (A Man’s Man), featuring now president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s portrait, had been hung from the top of the Beylerbeyi 75. Yil Stadium’s main stand in true cult of personality fashion.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/spor/pankartin-ardindan-tff-hesaplari-mi-cikiyor-haberi-76463

According to the story the president of Beylerbeyispor, Mustafa Yazici (himself from the same town as Mr. Erdoğan and a former Turkish Football Federation executive) admitted to hanging the portrait while the stadium manager claimed that it was fans who hung it. Regardless of the conflicting reports, what is clear is that the stadium became something of a political advertisement, no doubt due to its prominent location. (The stadium is clearly visible on the left to eastbound traffic exiting the Bosphorus Bridge).

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These, however, are mere details. What matters is that it is a balmy November day in Istanbul, one where I can sit in shirt-sleeves on the terraces basking in the sun with a beautiful view of green trees, the Bosphorus bridge, and football. It is almost San Francisco in the spring. Beylerbeyi even hit a free kick a quarter of an hour in, the keeper punching it into the roof of the net and making it 0-1 to the “visitors”. The fans are happy for a few moments…until the inevitable tensions come to the fore. Both teams are battling for promotion to the Turkish Second Division, with Beylerbeyi one point behind their rivals and one point out of the final playoff spot. The fans know this, and take offense at a hard foul by an Üsküdar player who, judging by the reactions, used to play for Beylerbeyi. No one likes Benedict Arnolds, especially not in football, and the fans rocking the fences below me show it. A lone plastic seat flies onto the pitch before the police push the fans back into their seats.

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I decide to keep watching from a safe distance, high in the stands, trying to focus on the sun that has cleared the clouds away instead of on the fans yelling obscenities at their counterparts across the protocol stands that serve as a buffer. I try to block it all out and just focus on the beautiful day. But it isn’t easy. At the half hour mark the fans inside the stadium start chanting together with fans outside the stadium standing on a hilltop overlooking the goal in front of me.

Beleştepe canlandı! Seksenlerin stadyum kültürüne geri döndük! (Freeloader hill has come alive! We’ve returned to the stadium culture of the eighties!),” quips one of the older men in front of me. It is humorous, I can’t lie.

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The halftime show is what really makes the stadium come alive however. The PA system chooses to play an odd Turkish rap song similar to this one—the lyrics “Yeşil-Beyaz Şampiyon Üsküdarspor (Green and White, Champions Üsküdarspor)” are what stick out to me…and to the other fans. Soon a crowd of men attempt to climb the fence separating the press box from the stands. As the crush ensues the police have to resort to their billy-clubs to keep the blood thirty group away. The PA announcer tries to explain that he was paid to play the song but—probably due to a request from the cops—he relents and decides on a more innocuous tune: Faydee—Can’t Let Go.

I decide to change my seat for a third time, the further you are from the crowds the less likely it is that you’ll get caught up in the nonsense, after all.

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The second half starts with a rowdier Beylerbeyi crowd. They’ve been worked into a frenzy and, with not much happening on the pitch, have focused their energy on the opposing fans. It is clear that the tensions will rise like the colors rising into the clear day from the fan’s smoke bombs. Why they chose turquoise and purple—when the team’s colors are red and green—is beyond me. I figure its all they could get their hands on and just laugh, moving for a fourth time so as to not suffocate from the chemicals.

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When extra riot control police are called in with ten minutes to go I see the writing on the wall and decide to head out with five minutes to go since neither team has shown the potential to change the score.

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I head down to the Bosphorus, a cobble-stoned waterfront promenade lined with Beylerbeyi’s famous fish restaurants, and grab a lunch of stuffed peppers and eggplant moussakka. The excitement and tension of the match day is all gone now, and it feels like another planet. Tourists visitng the Ottoman summer residence—Beylerbeyi Palace—are everywhere, ready to get on their boat for the next stop in a Bosphorus tour. Out on the water front it is calm as the sunset hour nears, young couples take selfies galore and I know that I should get going.

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As I near the main street I hear a familiar din, the sound of young voices singing in unison backed by drums. Indeed, Beylerbeyispor held on for the win. It is gridlock as the fans have blocked traffic to celebrate their derby victory. The tourists look on, mouths agape at the spectacle.

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I leave them to witness the odd scene and flag down a passing dolmus. Fifteen minutes to Üsküdar via minibus, and fifteen more to Beşiktaş via boat, just trying to outrun the setting sun for a little while longer.

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?