My first lesson in attending a football match in Turkey had to do with coins.
“Do you have any coins?” Mert asked as we headed toward the steps of the Metro station.
“Uh, yeah,” I said. I’d grabbed plenty before I’d left the apartment to meet up with him.
My pocket was full of coins. I pulled out a handful and showed them to him.
“Okay. We have to get rid of them. They won’t let you take coins into the stadium.”
He made a throwing motion with his arm. “People throw them on the field.”
I explained that the reason I had so many was that it’s very hard to get lira coins but you need them because Turkish shopkeepers don’t like to make change for anything bigger than a ten lira note.
We counted out my change and I had ten lira. Mert took it from me. “No problem,” he said. We went down into the Metro station and then we went from shop to shop trying to see if they would exchange the coins for a ten lira note. Several shops wouldn’t. At one shop we bought two half-liter bottles of water for a couple of lira and then they gave us a ten lira note for all of the change I had.
Lighter in my pockets, we rode the trains which were tightly-packed with people in red and yellow jerseys to Turk Telecom Arena for the match.
Our friend Murat has season tickets to Galatasaray matches. Murat was out of town for a conference so he couldn’t go to the match. He offered me his ticket and I took him up on it. I met with his friend Mert and that’s when I was given the lesson on coins and football matches.
Mert proved to be a cheerful, amiable guide and companion to this largely football-illiterate American.
Once outside the arena, Mert and I went through several ticket and security checks. I don’t have a ticket as a souvenir. Season ticket holders have debit card that is linked with the seat and the price of the tickets. At the final security check, you hand the card to the ticket agent and he places it in a slot next to a floor-to-ceiling turn-style gate. When the light on the slot turns green, you go through and the agent hands you back your card. (I had never seen this before. It was new to me. Maybe I need to get out more often.)
The final check also required the donation of your coins into a clear plastic box. I donated the leftover 70 kurus that had remained in my pocket.
In the U.S., no professional sports arena is going to prohibit you from bringing money inside, regardless of the denomination. Any money you bring inside is potential revenue at the many food and souvenir stands. The goal of professional sports teams in the U.S. isn’t often to have a winning team, it’s to separate you from your money (much like a Vegas casino). I should note that Turk Telecom has far fewer food and souvenir stands than the average U.S. arena.
Water bottles are also prohibited. So we had to down our water. It was a warm night so I didn’t mind. Mert explained that it could be filled with water or piss and thrown onto the field.
Pretty much anything that could be thrown on the field that could cause harm is prohibited inside Turk Telecom Arena.
Our seats were on the upper level, just above the main cheering section. This section, on the bottom level behind one of the goals, contains the fans who lead all of the chants throughout the match. There are drums which are pounded almost constantly. I don’t know if you can see them below.
Then there was this guy.
He stood the entire match on the railing of that platform waving his arms in helping lead the chants.
The chants started a half-hour before the match. Those were mostly a warm-up. There was a tribute to Metin Oktay, a legendary Galatasaray player.
And then the national anthem was played.
Notice the section in the upper-left that is empty? That’s for fans of the opposing team. It’s completely fenced off and has its own entrance. That’s to keep them from getting the crap beat out of them by the Gala fans.
By the time the match against Antalya started, the entire arena was roaring so loudly that any conversation I and Mert attempted to have had to be shouted. The cheering is constant. The only real break in the cheering is during the break at the half. Mert pointed out that the people down in the cheering section often aren’t even paying attention to the match, they’re so busy with their chants.
I asked Mert about the chants, “Cim Bom Bom” (pronounced “Jeem Boam Boam”) being the most used. He told me how that was the team’s nickname and how no one knows just how it came to be. But the fans sing the Galatasaray march and various chants that feature the nickname. He also told me that some of the phrases the fans shout can be translated as things like “We’ll fuck your mother! We’ll fuck you in the shower! etc.” He wouldn’t tell me the phrases. I was like, hey, I need to learn Turkish slang, too!
Whenever there was a goalie kick for the opposing team, the whistling started. Thousands of people whistling in unison is the definition of an ear-splitting sound.
Mert warned me that at 34 minutes into the match there would be a Taksim Square chant. Why 34? Because that’s the postal code for Istanbul. So at 34 minutes into the match a large section of the crowd chanted (in Turkish) “Everywhere is Taksim. Everywhere is resistance.”
This is no small thing. It gets picked up on the TV and radio broadcasts, which the broadcasters try to censor. It also can lead to the broadcasters turning off the sound for the match. The government is now even more annoyed by Turkish football fans.
A couple of weeks ago, [Interior Minister Muammer Guler] announced plans to turn a 2011 law intended to control violence at soccer games into a tool for controlling politics at the matches as well. A current prohibition against “slogans exceeding the limits of sports” is to be more widely interpreted to also include political comments. To be in compliance, the Besiktas club is asking its season-ticket holders to sign a pledge “not to insult in a manner that could ignite social, political and ideological incidents or that would target a certain group of people.”
There’s a small park not far from here in Istanbul that has a large block with Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights on it, written in both Turkish and English. It reads:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Another friend told me that the government has done something that had been thought impossible: it has united a majority of the Besiktas, Fenerbahce, and Galatasaray fans. These are the three Istanbul teams. They form an intense rivalry among each other, with Fenerbahce and Galatasaray being the most intense.
I had a fantastic time with Mert at the match Friday night, though it ended in a tie, 1-1. At the end of the night, my ears weren’t quite ringing but my hearing was muffled. Mert was hoarse. My own voice was only a few levels above from hoarse. It’s very easy to get caught up in the cheering. It’s an experience far more intense than any American football, baseball, or basketball game. In my experience, it’s much closer to the intensity of a NIN or Social Distortion concert.
Did I mention that the loudest crowd ever recorded was at Turk Telecom Arena?
Well, at least until last weekend….
I’d love to go again.