Saturday, November 10, 2012

How I became a fan of a Turkist soccer team

This is how I became a Beşiktaş fan.

I've always admired European soccer shirts. They are so much more interesting than U.S. sports team shirts, except maybe for Nascar and professional bass fishing. And, in Europe, they let you buy copies of the soccer shirts exactly like those worn by the players with the sponsors' names plastered on them and everything. 

(I don't think you can buy clothes exactly like those worn by Nascar drivers or professional bass pros. Anyone know?)

When I've been in Europe in the past I've wanted to buy a impressive-looking soccer team shirt several times but Jane has managed to dissuade me. I'd point one out to Jane I liked the look of. "Rah-eeeel-ly?" she would say, and roll her eyes.

Rolling her eyes had always worked until our trip this past September to visit our daughter in Istanbul. Maybe because the Washington Nationals were leading the league and we all had a natitude, I insisted on buying a soccer shirt this time.

My daughter Nancy said that I should at least make sure it was a shirt from her local team, a team called Beşiktaş.  Nancy's partner Brennan took us to the nearby official Beşiktaş fan store. I bought a shirt and a cap. They were cheaper than Nats shirts and caps, by the way.

I decided to wear my new shirt and cap to the airport when we were leaving Turkey. It was an  experience. People pumped their fists in the air in expressions of victory as I walked through the airport. They gave me thumb-ups. They shouted what seemed to be positive things at me ... at least they were smiling as they shouted them.

One man came running with his camera and motioned for Jane to take a picture of him with his arm around my shoulders. He managed two words of English. Pointing to my shirt, he said proudly, "My team!" I think there were tears in his eyes.

As soon as I got back to Washington, I googled Beşiktaş and found a fascinating article by Elif Batuman, an essayist whose writings I have always enjoyed. I had no idea she had moved to Turkey.

She wrote an article in the March 7, 2011 issue of The New Yorker entitled The View from the Stands: Life among Turkey's soccer fanatics. She was also interviewed on the New Yorker podcast. Both the magazine piece and the interview are fascinating. (ALERT -- The article and podcast include language not suitable for young children and maybe not even suitable for me.)

Soccer in Turkey, especially Istanbul, has been politicized. After the 1980 Turkish coup d'état, political gatherings were banned. Beşiktaş had always been considered the populist, working class Istanbul soccer team while other teams were considered  to have more aristocratic or middle class followers.

With all populist or progressive political groups outlawed, the newspapers started turning to the Beşiktaş fan club called Çarşı for quotes representing opinions of the working class.

In fact, some fans today report that they were drawn to join Çarşı not because they were originally Beşiktaş fans or even much interested in soccer but because it was the only group they felt politically aligned with.

Beşiktaş fans are known for being totally and fanatically loyal to their team win or lose. The fan club Çarşı has a cheer that says, in effect: Other fans love their teams because they win. We love you, Beşiktaş, just because of who you are.

Çarşı has another cheer in which they jump up and down shouting: Beşiktaş, my one and only darling. 

After we returned from Turkey, during the final weeks of the baseball season and play-offs, I wore my Beşiktaş shirt and cap to Nats games in honor of Beşiktaş' loyal fans.

Now I've been trying to follow Beşiktaş on the internet. They seem to be winning. They seem to have made it to the fourth or fifth round of some competition.

 If, as it seems, they are winning, good for Beşiktaş! But apparently whether they win or lose is not as important as who they are.

Fans of other teams started to get on a Beşiktaş player who was from Senegal because he is black. Beşiktaş fans started bringing banners to the game that said: We are all black.

When another team's manager make disparaging remarks about Beşiktaş' manager's father being a janitor, they brought signs to the stadium saying: We are all janitors.

When the international committee of astronomers removed Pluto from the list of planets, Beşiktaş fans brought a banner to the stadium that said: We are all Pluto. 

I can't help it. I just like the Beşiktaş fans' natitude.  


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