Sam, one of my students, asked me for directions to Oba, a suburb-like entity right outside of Alanya – why any of the students would ever willingly go to Oba on a Sunday afternoon was beyond me. He wasn’t going to hang out with middle-aged Russian women, but rather to a football game. Later that evening, Alanya’s team (aptly named Alanyaspor) was facing Denizlispor (Denizli being a city known for its weirdly-cooing roosters). A few minutes of indecision later, and I was registering for a Passolig card – part of a new system requiring Turkish football fans to buy cards to better monitor football fans and supposedly reduce violence (aka crush stadium culture). There’s a lot of controversy surrounding it, but I caved and promptly fell into a deep hole of bureaucracy and passport numbers to get my card.
The taxi driver didn’t even know there was a game happening, but we nevertheless found the stadium. A group of superfans let us linger near them. At first suspicious (“Are you tourists?” followed by a spit on the ground), the guys quickly warmed up to us when we told them about our reason for being in Alanya and showing up to this game. I was even given permission to bang out a rhythm on the drum. The rhythm was horrible and off-beat, but they still cheered and laughed with me. A TV crew asked if I would like to be interviewed for television, an opportunity I obviously couldn’t turn down. To give the appearance of fandom, I was thrown a few Alanyaspor scarves (which are the most lovely [read: awkward] shade of green and orange). The interview was in Turkish (still giving myself a pat on the back for that), but the gist of it was this:
“What does Alanyaspor mean to you?”
“I love Alanya so much – I’ve lived here a total of six months now, and it is like a second home to me. I know how much football means to Turkey, and so it’s an important thing for me too.”
After interviewing and chanting and drumming, it was time to find our seats. This turned out to be a more difficult process than anticipated. We searched for a long time for the right kapı, gate, with no luck. Fearing we accidentally bought tickets in the Denizlispor fan section, Sam told me to hide my newly-acquired Alanyaspor flag and take off the orange and green headband. Fortunately, we avoided this fate, and finally found the right gate.
Our seats were right up in the front row – which, judging by the emptiness of the rest of the row, was probably not the best spot to view the game. It was, though, the best place to watch the men scream and lead the crowd in chants. These men are probably doctors and lawyers during the day – suit-wearing, law-abiding citizens. But during the game… all bets are off. Sam and I caught on to most of the chants, at least the easy ones. My favorite call and repeat:
I know nothing really about football, but still managed to get very into the game. Denizlispor played dirrrrrtyyyy (in football fan terms, “chippy,” apparently). The goalie wasted plenty of time adjusting his gloves and scanning the field; one player, Burak (damn Burak), flailed around on the ground pretending to be injured; others provoked fights with Alanya players, who were too classy to brawl with Denizlililer.
Denizli scored early on in the game, and so Alanya was down 0-1 for much of the game. Fans made no effort to hide their frustration and disappointment at poor passes and weak attempts at goals. The refs added four minutes to the end of the game, and as the seconds counted down, it appeared Alanya had lost the game.
At what may literally have been the last second, though:
The stadium erupted in cheers and screams. ALANYA, ALANYA, ALANYA! A fat kid tried to run onto the field, but was pulled off by security forces. A line of riot police formed between the Denizlispor and Alanyaspor fans, but the same men who led chants guided fans out of the stadium and away from potential fights.
We filed out of the stadium, past the piles of sunflower seeds and empty çay cups that fans nervously consumed and tossed on the ground. Biggest takeaway of the evening: it’s amazing that a tie could feel like such a victory.