If there is one thing I learned from attending my first Turkish Süper Lig game between Beşiktas and Samsunspor, it is that these fans know how to chant, sing and generate an atmosphere so loud that in 2007 it officially became the loudest stadium in the world.
The 32,145 all-seater Fiyapı İnönou Stadium, situated on the banks of the Bosporus on the European side, is the only stadium in the world from where you can view two continents. Along with a fellow media student, we were treated to VIP passes thanks to Hürriyet sports journalist İsmail E.R. The veteran journalist and Beşiktas fan had promised me free admission to the game, but the VIP treatment was almost too good to be true.
Turning up at the stadium, thousands of Beşiktas fans swarmed around the ground, while the few away fans who braved the cauldron stood huddled in one corner at the mercy of the sporadic home taunts. Initial trepidation gave way to relief as we soon realised that while the atmosphere was loud and abrasive, the number of security personal involved prevented any chant from getting too abusive and calm was quickly restored.
Once outside the ground, I rang İsmail and through broken English he told us to wait. So we did. After thirty minutes and very near kick-off time there was still no sign of him so another tentative but a more translucent phone call was had. We were in the wrong place. A quick dash up some stairs and there was the likeable silver-haired man with the two VIP passes (to our shock) and a broad smile. We were in. Ten minutes had passed in the game but in truth that didn’t matter.
The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of fans chanting. All singing in unison, the 25,000 or so home fans, especially the ‘The Group Çarşı’ a faction of hard-core fans in the ‘Kapalı’ stand, sang at such volume that my colleague and I had to shout to each other just to talk. But it didn’t end there: to my amazement the home fans in separate stands, and on different tiers, chanted to each other and even applauded when finished.
Not knowing the culture or language, I didn’t know what was going on or being sung for that matter. However, it all became clear much later on that evening after a chat with Selim, a friendly barman, who told us: “The fans are teaching each other their songs.” When I probed a bit further he added, “the different groups of fans in the stadium create their own unique chants and sing them to other fans in the stadium so they can all learn them”. Although a Galatasaray fan, he said the Beşiktas fans were well-liked and respected and, “Yes, they are very loud!”
The volume reached its peak when a decision went against the home team or a player missed a glorious chance, which they consistently did in the first half against the weaker opponents of Samsurpor. Portuguese winger Ricardo Quaresma dribbled in from the left, beat two players and had the goal at his mercy only for his standing foot to touch the ball first as he struck wildly and his effort ballooned wide. Cue the chorus of whistles. The absurdly loud, high-pitched tsunami was deployed for many reasons including drowning out the away fans if they dared attempt a chant and berating the referee at every available opportunity.
But the fans have a softer side too. An opposition player threw a scarf back into the crowd and was applauded. A member of Samsunspor coaching staff elegantly controlled a wayward ball and laid it off for a Beşiktas player to throw in and he was similarly applauded. The notion that hooliganism runs rampant through Turkish football has been well-documented. However, we failed to see anything more than slagging going on, although riot police were deliberately and clearly visible inside the ground.
The Black Eagles, as they’re known, missed a plethora of chances in the first half and they would rue these misses come full-time. Samsunspor midfielder Murat Yıldırım scored the winner for the visiting side in the 70th minute allowing a temporary reprieve from their relegation woes. The fans fell silent. Even the introduction of Manchester United loanee Bebe couldn’t alter the final result. Cue more whistles of annoyance at full-time.
But Beşiktas need not worry too much. Due to Fenerbahce’s alleged match fixing scandal that has rocked Turkish football, this season will see the introduction of a play-off for the top four placed teams and BJK are safely nestled in fourth.
In a much-criticised move, all four teams will have their points cut by half and a six-week ‘mini league’ at the end of the regular season will commence. The team who finishes fourth will then have to play the winners of a second play-off group consisting of teams from fifth to eighth.
This, the Turkish federation say, will cut out any more potential match-fixing but journalists and fans disagree. Speaking to the Hürriyet newspaper sports writer Attila Gökçe said the plan meant the federation ‘indirectly accepted the existence of match fixing.’
Whatever the outcome I will leave here with an unflinching respect and tolerance for fans of Turkish football. A loud bunch they may be but this is part and parcel of football on the continent and, judging by our time in Istanbul, very much part of their everyday lives.