Thursday, January 27, 2011

My first futbol maçı

So this past weekend my friends Sasha and Dane (both Fulbrighters) came to Istanbul before jetting off on their winter holidays. Sasha had a college friend also in town--Austin--who came via Israel with his cousin Phoebe. 

Sunday night we all went to the Galatasaray game. Now, in Istanbul there are three big teams: Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş and Galatasaray. There are a handful of other regional sports teams that factor in as well, Trabzonspor and Bursaspor are definitely up there in popularity, but typically most Turks (at least the ones I've encountered) have some allegiance to one of the big three teams. I have found that choosing one of these teams will likely alienate the majority of my students so I have yet to commit myself to any one team. 

In any case, we went to Galatasaray because they were the ones playing at the most convenient time. It was decided that we should get the cheapest tickets possible (about $17) and the way to do this was to get a seat in the away section of the stadium. Additionally the stadium only opened on January 15th so things are still not totally finished. For example the exits are woefully under-completed. But we'll get to that. 

So, on the way there, we discussed recent happenings with the team: at the stadium's opening President Erdoğan was to give an address (since it was TOKI, the government's housing and development branch, who fronted the $600 million needed to build the structure), but he was booed. Instead of addressing the crowd, he simply left. This is a kind recounting of what happened. Rumors abound that he is seeking to find out who booed him and to revoke their season passes, but again, Turks and their silly conspiracy theories.

We arrived and were prompted through two different security sections. Sasha and I were separated from Austin and Phoebe and had quite the time trying to find our section. Now, I don't know if this is a prank that the stadium ownership is trying to play on the visiting team's fans, but the section we were looking for is not actually marked and doesn't make any logical, chronological sense when looking at the map of the stadium's sections. We walked the entire way around the giant 52,000 person structure only to find ourselves up against a police barricade barring people from passing. 

I didn't take any pictures of them, I was too busy shitting my pants.
Just picture this at night, at a rowdy football match, and some with machine guns. 
We showed them our tickets and, surprisingly, we were admitted. Turns out that was the section we were looking for. The section with riot police. Yes.

We made our way up, we had missed kick-off unfortunately. All four of us reunited, we took our seats and enjoyed both the match and the general hostility of football hooligans going on around us. I learned a whole hoard of new gestures that I am quite sure don't mean, "Well played, sir." 
"Ah, yes, bravo sir, well played sir."

Here are my favorite clips from the night:

  1. When a Galatasaray fan somehow gained access to our double-barricaded, police surrounded section and was promptly taken down by the police who were in turn, taken down by the Sivaspor fans who just wanted to get their hands on the Galatasaray fan. All in good fun I'm sure. 
  2. When the gigantic Sivaspor banner was dropped over the balcony of our section by a bunch of idiots. 
  3. When, after being returned their banner by stadium staff, they promptly re-dropped the banner.
  4. When, on the way in, security made me "donate" all of my coin money (amounting to over 7TL or ~ $5) so that it couldn't be thrown or used as a weapon(??)
  5. When even though I couldn't have coins, some young men lit a flare in our section. With 3 dozen police around, you would have thought someone would be on that, but nope. No worries, its just an incendiary divice. No big deal.
We made some friends with quiet and calm, undercover Galatasaray fans who had had the same money-saving idea as we. The treated us to tea at half time. And then it struck me: I'm having tea at a football game. 

Sasha with our delicious çay
I doubt many of you follow the World Cup closely, but for those real fans, you will have seen that Qatar was chosen for the 2022 World Cup. And, since I watch Al-Jazeera, everyone seemed quite thrilled (since Al-Jazeera is based in Doha... Qatar's capital), only when I switched to the BBC did I realize something that had been played down on Al-Jazeera: Qatar is an Islamic Republic. 

Okay? What does that mean. Well, that means that alcohol is effectively banned. There are only a handful of places in the entire country where one can legally purchase and consume alcohol and, if I am correct, they are all major tourist hubs. This is a major problem for nearly all European football fans. I imagine South American and African fans as well, I don't know where East Asian fans stand on alcohol consumption, but still, imagine a British football hooligan shotgunning a cup of hot black tea. Ha. Yes. Problem.

I knew therefore, that there would not be alcohol for sale at concessions at the match, but it was actually quite refreshing to drink a tea after sitting on a cold concrete structure for an hour. It was funny though, that all the fabled Turkish hooligan hostility happens with minimal alcohol. Don't get me wrong, there were beer bottles scattered every which way on the way there, but what I'm saying is really, on average most of the men were completely sober. And they still stab each other. 

When leaving, we decided to make moves about three minutes before the end of the regulation time only to find that we were locked into our section. Like, literally, locked in. Turns out that all Galatasaray fans must all leave before security will let any of the visiting fans out of their section. Good idea in concept, given that Turkish football hooligans have quite possibly the most violent reputation on the planet, but quite horrible in execution. 

You see this is a new stadium and like I said before, the exits aren't fully worked out. Bad idea for a stadium that holds upwards of 50,000 people. Remember the Hillsborough Disaster where almost 100 people were crushed to death? Yeah, its because of idiotic contraptions like the locked barricade doors and an insufficient subway system that will cause the next one. I'm predicting it'll happen in Turkey, probably at this stadium. Well we stood there, crammed like sardines, against old men, in a stairwell, for about a half hour before they decided it would be prudent to let us out into the open rather than keep us corralled like animals. So, we went out into the parking lot, only to be greeted by riot police barricades working to keep Galatasaray fans from attacking those around us. Now, don't misunderstand me, they weren't actively trying to attack us, that would be far more intense than it really was. It was more that the police remained to deter those lingering from making their way over and making trouble. 

This is when being a yabanci comes in handy. The four of us stayed together and I badgered a police officer, bitching in fast, slang English, a language he clearly didn't understand. Eventually, it worked, he gave in to my incessant complaining and let the four of us pass since clearly we didn't care either way who won and, as three women and one man, we were not prime targets for lunatic fans. 

We got outside only to find that there was about half the stadium waiting in the big open area between the subway stop and the stadium gates. As far as I could tell, unless you wanted to climb the muddy wall up to the highway and thumb your way back to town, the subway was the only way in or out of this place. We went back inside (the Galatasaray section) since it began raining and was absolutely freezing. About a half hour later we went back out to find the line significantly diminished, though the rain had really picked up. We squeezed our way through throngs of people and pushed our way onto the subway.

About 3 hours after the game ended I got home.

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