Unity in Lefter tributes an oasis, Turkish football drowns in hatred

Unity in Lefter tributes an oasis, Turkish football drowns in hatred

Hürriyet Daily News
Unity in Lefter tributes an oasis, Turkish football drowns in hatred

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Gone is the short moment of peace and unity. A day after fans of different teams gathered to pay a final tribute to a football hero, they did not waste time in returning to their poisonous enmity.

On Jan. 15, the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in Istanbul was not just home to Fenerbahçe fans as usual, but also rival Galatasaray and Beşiktaş supporters, in a ceremony organized to pay a final tribute to Lefter Küçükandonyadis, one of the greatest players to grace the country’s football scene.

Lefter, 86, had died of a coronary failure on Jan. 13, and upon a very respectable call from Fenerbahçe, where the Turkish player of Greek descent spent most of his glorious career, fans from several clubs gathered in the stadium to bid a farewell to the legend. Known for his humility and gentlemanly manner, Lefter was giving another lesson to fans though the ceremony, and they were apparently learning it well.

However, the football scene returned to its usual hatred-filled atmosphere after the start of Round 20 of the Spor Toto Super League, as if the winds of unity and fair play off-the-pitch had not been blowing just the other day.

Hours before their team’s Jan. 16 game against Manisaspor, Fenerbahçe fans, angry at the latest wave of Galatasaray statements calling the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) to act against their alleged involvement in the match-fixing scandal, took it to social media with an ugly pun on their rival’s name. In response, Galatasaray fans did the same to Fenerbahçe’s name, in an even uglier way.

After Fenerbahçe won the game thanks to a goal scored in the fifth minute of the stoppage time, rival fans staged new and improved attacks, claiming it was just another act of “match fixing,” since the team was at the center of a gripping investigation which became public July 3, 2011. Those are not the only examples of hatred in Turkish football. Trabzonspor striker Burak Yılmaz, for example, has 21 goals to his name this season, averaging more than one goal per game. He has scored more than double his closest rival in the league, and the way he has improved in two years deserves real respect. But for rival fans he is just a “cheat,” nothing else.

Yılmaz’s Turkish international team partner Arda Turan is another example. Last week he made a phone call to NTV Spor’s “Yenilsen de Yensen de” show saying that he was feeling “very happy and peaceful” at Atletico Madrid. Arda, at 24, was one of the country’s hottest prospects and has lived up to expectations. He is the most talented player of his generation, if not the whole national team pool, but apparently he was not feeling “happy and peaceful” enough at Galatasaray, the club where he started out and became captain. The reason was clear: Arda was criticized harshly by the media and even started a legal battle against former referee and pundit Erman Toroğlu for claiming his injuries were caused by “too much sex” rather than challenges on the pitch. It was not only the media, even Galatasaray fans were blaming him first when the team was underperforming. Thus, Arda decided to fly the nest, apparently much to his peace.

True, it is impossible to get free of the hatred in just one day. But what Turkish fans are showing is that their tribute to Lefter was just an oasis in the desert. Fans’ hatred toward each other exceeds any bit of love left in the game. There is such little love left in the game that it is even being deprived of some of the stars, as in Arda’s case.

Turkish football has never been among the top of the continent in terms of quality. But back in Lefter’s days the love and the innocence in the game were there, at least. Right now, the national football agenda seems to be drying out with hate, and there is no end to the hatred in sight.

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