Turkish football mourns loss of Lefter Küçükandonyanis
ISTANBULThousands of football fans packed into Istanbul’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium yesterday to pay a final tribute to the legendary Lefter Küçükandonyadis.
Fenerbahçe icon Lefter, nicknamed “Ordinaryüs” (distinguished professor), died from heart failure at the age of 86 on Jan. 13, much to the sorrow of millions of football fans in the country.
Yesterday, Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium was filled with not only Fenerbahçe fans, but supporters of several other clubs, including the team’s fierce rivals, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş.
Fenerbahçe released a statement calling for “fans of all teams to come to Şükrü Saracoğlu” to pay their final dues to the football legend.
“Today we have fans with many different colors [of jerseys] in the stands,” Fenerbahçe Vice Chairman Ali Koç said at the ceremony yesterday. “Thanks to everyone who came here to share our pain. It is so good to have you all here.”
Apart from the Fenerbahçe board, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is known as a Fenerbahçe supporter, Turkish Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bağış and Istanbul deputy and former Galatasaray player Hakan Şükür were also present.
Some fans booed Erdoğan, who is not a popular figure among Fenerbahçe fans currently due to the ongoing match-fixing investigation that has especially focused on Fenerbahçe.
The investigation has seen Fenerbahçe Chairman Aziz Yıldırım and three other club members jailed pending trial and put the team’s 2011 Super League championship in doubt.
Last week while hospitalized, Lefter sent an emotional letter to Yıldırım, saying he “wanted to visit him” in the prison. “[But] damn it, [the doctors] won’t let me.”
One of the most important players in Turkish football history, Lefter, son of a father of Greek descent and a Turkish mother, had many records to his name.
Known for his classy dribbling and scoring abilities, he scored 423 goals in 615 matches during two separate spells at Fenerbahçe between 1947 and 1951 before a second stint from 1953 to 1964.
His transfer to Italian heavyweight Fiorentina in 1951 was the first time an international team paid a Turkish club to sign a Turkish footballer.
The current holder of Fenerbahçe’s coveted “number 10,” captain Alex de Souza, attended the ceremony yesterday and said Lefter’s loss “hurt him.”
“I am deeply sorrowed that Lefter passed away,” he said through a translator. “But people like that never die. Big clubs such as Fenerbahçe never let those icons die. I promise that I will never let the jersey, which he wore, down.”
WHY LEFTER WAS IRREPLACEABLE FOR FOOTBALL FANS
Çetin Cem Yılmaz - ISTANBUL
It might be tough to tell outsiders why thousands of football fans have been mourning since receiving news of the death of a footballer that they have never seen in action. Why Lefter Küçükandonyadis meant a lot to football fans, not only to the supporters of his Fenerbahçe, but to all lovers of the beautiful game, transcends today’s football fans.
Lefter, one of the biggest legends in Turkish football history, departed us Jan. 13, joining the likes of Metin Oktay and Hakkı Yeten. Like “Metin the King” and “Hakkı the Godfather,” who were almost synonymous with Galatasaray and Beşiktaş, respectively, Lefter was everything to Fenerbahçe. And fans of every other team loved him for that.
Lefter, like Metin and Hakkı, was one of those players whose memories were passed on to the next generations like a family heritage. Fathers proudly told semi-mythical stories to their sons to inject their football love – just like they were taught by their fathers too.
The great Küçükandonyadis, or Antoniadis with his Greek father’s surname, was the last of the legends in Turkish football because his stories were not from the era when the game was televised. They were not earning millions and living in villas, they were not living in the higher streets than the fans of the games were. They were wearing jerseys which had nothing else on them other than the colors, the badges and the numbwers. The love for Lefter goes to show that fans miss the days when football was not tainted by money and suit-wearing men off the pitch.
It was always said that Lefter, who was the object of the fans’ chant “Ver Lefter’e, yazsın deftere” (Pass it to Lefter and add one to the ledger), loved dribbling. He would dribble past one, then another, and then stop by to wait for the first to come again. He was from a time when winning did not mean everything, but winning with style and elegance did.
Lefter was a symbol that love for the beauty of the game can fit perfectly well with competition and success. This is something clearly not belonging to today’s game, but Lefter’s departure was reminiscent of what the game has been, and how beautiful and pure it could be. The fact that he is now gone can either be taken as a bitter reminder that those days are gone or a good wake-up call for the remaining fans of the beautiful game.