An insight into Turkish top-flight football

If you think English football has problems, with its over-paid footballers, debt-ridden clubs and poorly performing referees, they pale into insignificance when compared to the Turkish Spor Toto Super Lig. As David Powles found out during his quest to watch some top-flight Turkish action.

 

It all seemed so apt. The mighty Canaries are my favourite team, The Yellow Canaries is the nickname of Fenerbahce, one of Istanbul’s five top-flight clubs.

So when we found out that our nine-day break to one of the world’s most chaotic, hectic, but completely stunning cities, coincided with a Fenerbahce home game, we couldn’t resist the opportunity.

But what we hadn’t accounted for was the current crazy state of Turkish football - and the fact that being a man meant I wouldn’t be allowed to watch the club’s home game against Manisapor.


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You see the suits within the Turkish Football Association had decided to allow only women and children to attend the game being played while we were in the city.

The move, which turned out to be completely inspired, receiving praise all over the world, came about due to crowd trouble at a previous Fenerbahce match - a friendly of all things.

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Think Norwich fans rioting after our 2-0 pre-season defeat to Histon.

Initially it was decided they should play two games behind closed doors, but after the first one was deemed to unfairly punish the players, a women and children only rule was devised.

And what a success it was, with some 41,000 turning out for what turned out to be a 1-1 draw, a staggering number considering Turkish football is not as popular with women as it is here.

And by all accounts the game was played out in a completely different atmosphere, with the home fans clapping both sets of teams and the tannoy announcer having to recite words to the songs.

I’ll leave it to you to insert an all too obvious wise-crack about the offside rule at this point.

All very bizarre, but then I quickly found out during my time in Turkey that the one thing its football isn’t lacking is drama.

By the time we turned up, the season was already a month behind schedule due to an investigation into match-fixing - also involving The Yellow Canaries.

Already more than 30 players and officials from at least half a dozen clubs have been jailed pending trial over alleged manipulation in 19 matches.

This has controversially seen Fenerbahce kicked out of the Champions League, and the club itself offer to drop down a league.

I don’t think our own Canaries will be looking to set up some sort of twinning partnership anytime soon.

The season was also put back a month in the hope that the scandal would have been sorted by the time the action began.

With everything wrapped up in the courts this hasn’t happened, so by the time we arrived the season had begun.

But rather than allow my wife to go see a game while I stayed at home (that’s just wrong) we instead chose to catch their bitter rivals Besiktas in their Tuesday night home game against Ankaragucu.

The Black Eagles (no - not all the club nicknames are colourful birds) play in the Fiyapi Inonu Stadium, a relatively ramshackle, but picturesque, ground situated in the hills very close to the city’s Bosphorus Strait and the magnificent Dolmabahce Palace.

To be fair it’s the kind of historic ground, full of character, that I love visiting on away games in this country. So much more going for it than the somewhat soulless out of town stadiums that are becoming increasingly popular.

You certainly don’t get the opportunity in the new grounds to find a spot up in the hills, in front of the Ritz Carlton, and watch the game for free, as hundreds do once the action kicks off here.

The club is one of the biggest in the country, but perhaps less well known over here than the big two - Fenerbahce and Galatasaray. Last winners of the league in 2008/09, victory in last season’s Turkish Cup secured them qualification for the Europa League. They play Stoke in England this Thursday.

But while the team may not be world beaters, the fans certainly are.

And that’s official after, in a 2008 Champions League match against Liverpool, they were officially crowned the loudest supporters in the world.

And believe me they don’t tone it down for the run of the mill Tuesday nighters either.

In Turkey match day is as much about the whole experience, as opposed to just the game itself.

A good two hours before kick-off thousands are already gathered outside, many enjoying meatball sandwiches or simit (Turkish bread) from the dozens of inpromptu stalls that have suddenly emerged outside the ground.

With 90 minutes to go before our 7.45pm kick off we head inside, expecting to see the odd fellow fan dotted here much as you would find at Carrow Road at this time.

But instead the ground is already busy and the songs have begun.

The inside of the ground probably befits most people’s stereotype of European grounds.

Think Wembley in the 1990s. Plastic seats, set against concrete slabs. I absolutely love it.

The other most striking thing is the crunch of your feet every time you move. There’s sunflower seed shells literally everywhere. I soon learn these are as traditional a Turkish football snack as pies in England.

What I am unable to learn is the knack of getting the seed out without crunching down on the horrible hard shells.

With half an hour to go until kick off most of the fans are inside the ground. It’s mainly Besiktas with around 150 away fans behind the opposite goal, separated by netting next to and above them.

As the players warm up each gets their own song, at which point they respond by running towards the fans and fist-pumping along to three ‘oles’. The two goalkeepers do it hand in hand.

It’s a nice touch and shows the unity between players and fans at this club. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see such a thing at Carrow Road?

By the time the game begins the atmosphere is superb - and every side of the ground is having a sing.

We soon spot some strange fellow to our right who doesn’t seem to be taking much interest in the game.

We learn that several sections of the stadium have what is best described as ‘fan conductors’, who orchestrate the singing.

Our ‘conductor’ is almost as entertaining as the game itself - flamboyantly directing supporters and getting visibly angry when they fail to reach acceptable levels of volume.

He barely looked at the game, so immersed is he in his duty. And he’s even putting his own life on the line for the cause, waving his arms about while perilously perched on top of a barrier overlooking fans below.

The funny thing is I learn from speaking to a fan at half-time that these guys simply appoint themselves. Nevertheless everyone seemed happy (or perhaps scared) enough to follow his lead.

The game itself is entertaining, if not a classic. The away team have their own dramas (of course). They are in serious financial problems and have had to sell many of their best players.

Besiktas are expected to secure an easy win.

But football isn’t always that straightforward and the home team initially struggle to break them down, until a 35 minute header from Brazilian defender Sidnei breaks the deadlock.

Come the second half Besiktas seem to be in cruise control. On this showing at least it resembled a top end Championship side playing a League One team.

But then Ankaragucu manage to score on the break, levelling the score and leading to furious protestations from the home fans.

The away fans celebrate by breaking chairs and throwing them - now I know what the netting is there for.

But their joy doesn’t last long and the virtually incessant chanting from the home fans quickly resumes when Sidnei scores from another header and five minutes later substitute Mustafa Pektemek puts the result beyond doubt.

Both goals are set up by Besiktas best-known player, Portugeuse winger Ricardo Quaresma, who played four games for Chelsea in a loan spell two seasons ago. From the number of fans who have his name on the back of their shirts, he’s obviously a favourite.

By the time the final whistle is blown it is easy to imagine how and why the Besiktas fans were named the world’s loudest.

 

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