I just got back to my room after attending my first “real” soccer game. A couple of the guys met up with our Turkish friend Serkan and his girlfriend Sarah and headed down to watch Besiktas play Genclerbirgli. It was amazing how similar the experience was to attending an important sporting event in the United States, but there were noticeable differences as well.
We took a crowded bus through the streets of Istanbul that were clogged with gameday traffic three and a half hours before kickoff. We stepped into a mob of jovial Besiktas supporters that reminded me of walking down South Mint Street to Bank of America Stadium. We then ducked into a bar/restaurant filled with more Besiktas fans. We ordered a couple of pitchers of Efes (the local Turkish beer) and cheeseburgers with fries. It wasn’t quite like grilling brats on the back of my pickup before a NASCAR race but it was fun to be Besiktas supporters and to watch them marching by, decked out in Besiktas gear and waving flares.
By the time Serkan finished explaining the current match-fixing scandal in Turkey’s top league, it was time to head for the stadium. The stadium is pretty old and only seats about 35,000 people, but it has an unbelievable view overlooking the Bosphorus and the tower to the Dolmabache Palace. We packed into crowded section behind the goal and listened with awe to the Besiktas chants and cheers. Nobody sat down the entire game. This might have been because the seats were absolutely disgusting, but the Besiktas supporters cheered and sang for every minute of the match. The electric atmosphere was very familiar but I never seen fans so coordinated with their chants (not even the Cameron Crazies). There seems to be more comraderie among soccer fans than American sports fans. In Turkey, the fan bases are not identified but region but by political parties or socioeconomic class. Besiktas supporters are stereotypically anarchists and communists while Istanbul rivals Galatasaray and Fennerbache are working class and rich people respectively. The game itself was in a way less exciting than being part of the crowd. Beskitas came out sluggish and trailed 1-0 at half. They got their act together though and tallied two straight goals. Hugo Almeida (a star Portuguese player) finished a beautiful cross right in front of us and sent the crowd into a frenzy. Besiktas kept it interesting with some sloppy play and allowed another goal but quickly got a laser strike from the captain Julio Alves to pull ahead for good. I still enjoy watching American football more (I have a pretty big bias) but I came away respecting the Turkish soccer fans and their passion for the game.