Friday, July 28, 2017

Beşiktaş JK – Kasımpaşa SK (20-05-2017)

This May I had to be in Istanbul for work and there was no way I was going to pass on the opportunity to see a game… or so I thought. Because going to a game in Turkey has become almost impossible these days. Since supporters of all three major Istanbul teams played a major role in the Gezi protests against Erdogan, the government has responded by taking full control of the football experience. You have to get a special pass, which you can only order online, and requires all your personal details, including passport – the system is not made for non-Turkish citizens, which makes it all worse. I had a Turkish student help me with all of this, but that made it only barely workable. Anyway, that same card is the only way you can buy tickets, again online, making this as much about corruption as about security.

Istanbul traditionally has two really big teams, Fenerbahçe SK and Galatasaray SK, and a third, slightly smaller team, Beşiktaş Jimnastik Kulübü. Beşiktaş is a district known for its independence, and its people, including the football fans, have been among the most vocal Erdogan opponents. But Beşiktaş has also become a powerhouse in Turkish football, playing in a new stadium, Vodafone Park (bit better than the previous name, Vodafone Arena), and having won the Super Lig (First Division) last year.

My student arranges a ticket through family connections – tickets went on sale less than a week before the game and were sold out within 10 minutes. Not surprising as Beşiktaş is again set to win the league and this is the third last game of the season. They play Kasımpaşa Spor Kulübü, a mid-table team from another district of Istanbul, also on the European side of the city.

We arrive early some 2 hours early at the stadium and go directly to the ticket office. It takes my student quite some convincing to get my pass, which also functions as my ticket, but it works. After that we go to the packed fan shop, which is huge and slow, where I buy a jersey. This all takes so much time that we now have only 30 minutes left until kick-off. After some serious security measures, where cards are scanned and security personnel can check your picture, we finally get into the stadium.

As the tickets were sold out within minutes, the student was only able to get tickets for some of the most expensive places – fourth row in the middle. They cost a staggering 320 Tl (ca. $90) each, but it was all worth it. Vodafone Park is an ultramodern multi-purpose stadium at the site of the old stadium, of which it integrated a few parts, situated inside the historic district of Beşiktaş. It has an official capacity of 41,903, because the club was founded in 1903, even though the real capacity is 43,500.

Although the stadium is officially sold out, there are still quite a lot of empty seats. Overall the audience is very heavily male and, seemingly (upper) middle class – which could be in part because of where I sit, but the district of Beşiktaş is more middle class. After listening to a lot of singing, sitting through the commercials and national anthem – a bizarre ritual they share (only?) with South Korea and the United States – the game finally starts.

And how! After 1 minute and 20 seconds Beşiktaş has a great rush inside, a double pass, and a finish from very close high in the goal: 1-0 and the stadium explodes. But exactly two minutes later a Kasımpaşa player gets free at 20 meters from the goal and shoots hard and low in the corner: 1-1 and the stadium is silent and in shock.

After about 15 minutes a shot by the home team was tipped over the goal by the goalkeeper. A few minutes later a sneaky through-ball puts the striker of the visitors before the goal, but he but cannot control the ball. In a direct counter-attack a Beşiktaş striker gets a great chance but heads the ball straight at the goalie. Five minutes later they hit the crossbar with a header. Then, after half an hour, a good attack by the hosts leads to a ball on the hand of a defender: penalty. While it is not well taken, it goes just under the goalie: 2-1! This is also the halftime score.

The second half starts well. A Beşiktaş cross is headed corner just next to the goal. The corner is headed over. Two minutes later, after foul on a Kasımpaşa player, Beşiktaş starts an attack through the center, and a little lob is finished with a clever flick: 3-1. Great goal!

The hosts keep at it. The striker gets passed two people and shoots high over the goal from within the box. In the 57th minute the visitors have a long but slow attack, but the shot from 20 meters out is an easy catch for the goalkeeper. After a few good shots on both sides, Beşiktaş scores again, but I miss the goal. It is scored by the former Dutch international Ryan Babel and it seems to have been a header: 4-1. After that Babel disappears and the home team is mainly playing for time. This gives the visitors a few chances, against very uninspired defending Beşiktaş, but they miss several times from close range. 4-1 is the final score.

As soon as the final whistle is blown the stadium explodes again. While Beşiktaş didn’t play a particularly good game, but mainly profited from a very mediocre opponent, they took a giant step closer to the title (which they would indeed clinch two weeks later in the last (home) game of the season). The crowd celebrated the team for many more minutes.

While I am normally not a fan of big clubs in big new stadium, let alone “arenas”, I have a special place in my heart for Beşiktaş. It is a club truly grounded in the neighborhood, with deeply loyal and loud supporters, who don’t shy away from mixing football with (opposition) politics – during the game almost the whole stadium sang an opposition (to President Erdogan) song. Definitely worth a visit for every groundhopper!

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