A female look at a macho game in Turkey
Despite the rise in religious conservatism and erosion of certain secular values in the last decade, Turkey still differs tremendously from the other majority Muslim societies.
You cannot see, for instance, a gay parade taking place in any majority Muslim country except Turkey. Similarly, I don’t think you can find so many women attending football matches as in Turkey. In fact, last year when Fenerbahçe was expected to be handed the more usual punishment of being forced to play two league games in an empty stadium due to misbehaviour in a previous match, the rules were amended to include women and children; 41,000 women and children duly packed the stadium.
I grew up in a family with total indifference to football, so it is still a mystery to me why I developed an interest in it as a child. Likewise, I have no idea why I became a Fenerbahçe supporter – probably I liked the colours.
But I must admit that this interest died out to a great deal during my years as a student, as well as in the first decade of my career as a journalist. I only picked up interest when I moved to Istanbul because, let’s face it, as the stronghold of the three big clubs, one is more exposed to football in this city.
But in “my absence,” football had turned into a “totally new ball game.” It had become a big industry and sort of lost its innocence in the course of that process. “Winner take all” had become the sole and only motto, next to “do whatever to win.” Fair play had become an alien notion.
The fanaticism that I witnessed in my entourage and among my friends shocked me.
Whenever a Turkish club other than the one I support plays abroad, I support that club, and I see nothing unnatural about it. But this normal seems to have become abnormal. (Ironically, the tendency of supporting a foreign club when it plays a rival Turkish club is said to have been started by a Turkish journalist who enjoys an international reputation with his analysis on Turkey and is also known as a big fan of Fenerbahçe.)
No one would like to admit misbehavior on the part of the club one supports; it was always the fault of the other club.
I soon became the fiercest critic of my club – both toward the officials and the players. Some of the best players of my club – no matter how excellent they could be technically – were not “sportsmen” for me, as I had not seen them once display an exemplary fairplay attitude. On the contrary, they were the source of tension in each game. But I was often alone in my criticism and regarded almost as a traitor.
The fanaticism we observe in Turkish leagues is akin to the polarization in society. Nowadays, it has become a rarity to see supporters of different political parties dining together, just like you cannot see supporters of Fenerbahçe watching a game next to a supporter of Galatasaray; yet in the past they use to watch the games standing next to each other. This is impossible to envisage for new generations.
While I would have liked to blame all this on testosterone, I came to known female supporters who can rival the opposite sex in their fanaticism.
At the end of the day, I stopped following the leagues and watching the games because it no longer gives me pleasure; on the contrary, it stresses me. In big derbies, instead of good football, we see lots of fights.
I want to see players like Barcelona’s former captain, Carles Puyol. I recently watch a video of him where he received a slap from an opposing team; he subsequently stopped his team members who rushed to react to the player who slapped him. In another instance, annoyed by the excessive cheering of his team members after they scored a goal, he went to disrupt their show to tell them to get back on with the game.
Turkish leagues have been suspended for a week after a gunman shot a bus carrying the Fenerbahçe team members.
Everything is human made. Instead of blaming the state, the government, the system, the federation, the foreign forces, the clubs and the players, we should first and foremost blame the supporters – in other words, ourselves – for having gotten carried away with fanaticism.