Millions to say farewell to legendary Beşiktaş chair Seba

Millions to say farewell to legendary Beşiktaş chair Seba

Ali Kayalar ISTANBUL
Millions to say farewell to legendary Beşiktaş chair Seba

Süleyman Seba was among the rare people in Turkish football who had earned the appreciation and affection of supporters of rival clubs.

Süleyman Seba, the honorary chairman of the Beşiktaş football club, will be laid to rest Aug. 15, after a ceremony at the under-construction Vodafone Arena. The new stadium is being built on the plot of the historic İnönü Stadium, where Seba became a club legend both on and off the pitch.

Seba scored the first ever goal at the stadium back in 1947 in its opening friendly against Sweden’s Allmänna Idrottsklubben.

This is where he emerged as a brilliant young player with eight stunning goals in 14 matches in 1950, at a time when the Turkish league was still not even officially founded and the Istanbul sides mostly competed against each other.

This is where he buried his hopes of becoming an even bigger player due to a knee injury in 1954.

This is where he would return in “his famous raincoat” and that charismatic cap as an enthusiastic administrator in 1963, open to learning much from elders, mainly Hakkı Yeter - or “Father Hakkı” - another Beşiktaş hero as a player, coach and chairman.

This is where he would salute the fans as a president in 1984, the start of a 16-year term that is inarguably the Black Eagles’ most successful era. He would be awarded with a proud kiss on his brow from Yeten, who first discovered him as a player at the Kabataş Lycee decades ago.

However, his monuments were never his successes on the pitch, but rather his attitude, honesty, pure love for the game and, above all, the sense of justice that today allows the Istanbul side as well as its archrivals to speak of a “Seba doctrine.”

As president, he put together a great team that would put Beşiktaş back into top competition with five league titles. These impressive players were often symbolized by Metih-Ali-Feyyaz, three strikers who remained in the squad at times of economic bottleneck despite multimillion contracts offered by rivals. These were seasons when Seba offered the same salary to the whole team in a bid to fuel the feeling of unity.

“You wouldn’t know how many times I had to loan back my players from leading rivals mid-season, without letting the press or anyone else hear about them having left the team,” he said during a friendly talk at Bordo, an Istanbul café where he used to spend his days of retirement in Beşiktaş, just meters away from the club headquarters and his modest house.

Seba also reportedly forbid players from celebrating a cup title on the plane from İzmir to Istanbul, as the losing Fenerbahçe squad was also on board. He did the same on the return from a Trabzon away match, after having won the league.

His soft power created a feeling of sincere respect by players to this father-figure president, who usually preferred to listen to the speaker on the radio rather than going to the stadium.

He received numerous phone calls from ex-players during the same café chat, calling to ask, “How are you?”

Feyyaz Uçar of the celebrated trio wrote a letter earlier this year when Seba was in hospital at the age of 88:  “We were the ones who polluted the handkerchief in the pocket of his brown jacket, which in fact he never changed much. He would wipe our noses and our tears when we cried. We were just kids. But he would see us as men and insisted that we wear that glorious shirt. We really looked like grown men in those shorts, which were very short to show off our muscles, and with spikes laced on the side. It was the shirt that really made us men … He would talk but did not forget a word of what he said. Maybe he will be unforgettable just because he did not forget anything.”

Of course, he came across some bad seeds also. “There have been players who have confessed that they took bribes; I forgave them after a brief fight,” Seba once said at Bordo café.

“If you would like to do something at Beşiktaş, be the man of no one,” he would also say, in a famous quote.

Presidents calls for renaming stadium after Seba

Now, as millions mourn him, Beşiktaş President Fikret Orman has told the press that he would suggest to Vodafone, the sponsor of the new stadium, that it include Seba’s name in the official title of the ground. “Standing by the name of Seba would be beneficial for any sponsor,” he said Aug. 14. He has a point.

But the honorary president also had a point of his own. The issue of the stadium’s name was also widely discussed last year, when Seba showed up at the club’s 110th anniversary celebration. Days later he responded to a persistent question about his view of the new stadium’s name: “Look journalist, you won’t write this, OK? Now they are talking about giving my name to the stadium. The fans say so. The fans would say anything. But what does it all mean when we have ‘Father Hakkı.’ If I was president, I’d name the stadium after him.”