I am a big sports fan. My favorite sport is baseball (Go Twins!), but I’ll watch the Vikings play on Sundays and sit through the occasional basketball or hockey game. Soccer, however, has become my new favorite sport to watch. I used to play back in first and second grade, but my interest moved to other activities and I stopped following the sport. Once I got to college, my interest picked up again; I was able to know players and teams, and I could understand the flow of the game. Admittedly, much of this was from playing a soccer based video game with my friends at Olaf, but the teams and the tactics were similar nonetheless. That being said, there isn’t a MLS team (the top U.S. professional soccer league) in Minnesota, and the U.S. isn’t a huge soccer hub regardless. So when planning activities for Turkey, I made it a priority to find a game and experience the culture and the atmosphere of a soccer match. There are three professional clubs in Istanbul: Galatasaray, Fenerbache, and Beşiktaş. Beşiktaş was the closest to the Superdorm and the only team playing in Istanbul last weekend. And so on Monday, Ben and I took a bus down to the BJK Inonu Stadium and tried to find tickets to the match.
Finding a box office in a country where you don’t speak the language is an event in itself. After walking through hordes of people clad in black and white striped jerseys, we found ourselves on the exact opposite side of the stadium of the ticket booths. We wandered back around to the other side of the stadium, through a multitude gift shops and police barricades to hold back traffic. After asking multiple security personnel for directions, we finally found ourselves at the ticket booth. We got general admission tickets for 35 Turkish lira (about $20). With about an hour and a half before kickoff, we backtracked to a busy merchandise store to get apparel for our new home team. Ben picked up a scarf, while I purchased a jersey. Having officially joined the Beşiktaş fan club, we devoured a simit and found our way to the entrance of the stadium. After being accosted by security (apparently Nalgenes and loose change are not permitted inside the stadium) and funneling through lines, we found two dirty plastic seats and claimed them as ours. We were by one of the goals, and the other was clearly visible.
We were told by a season ticket holder outside the stadium that Beşiktaş had the best atmosphere and the best fans in all of Europe. And while I can’t speak for the rest of the continent, I can say that it was unlike any sporting event I have ever been to. The mood was electric from start to finish. Three massive flags flapped through the air in our section. Someone beat out a rhythm on a drum, and the section leader belted out songs that we didn’t know, but that everyone else did by heart. About ten minutes into the half, call and response pieces were hollered across the field to the other sections. It was loud and contagious. Both Ben and I found ourselves clapping and humming to the beat of the drum as the two sides fought on the field. No goals were scored in the first half, but there were some chippy fouls and one shot off the post.
Shortly after the start of the second half, Beşiktaş scored their first goal off of a corner kick. The stadium, anxious before at the prospect of a scoreless draw, burst into action. We cheered and whistled the goal scorer, before doing what Turkish soccer fans do best: sing loudly and off key. The song, which I cannot sing, repeated itself for seven – 7! – full minutes after the goal. Ten minutes later, Beşiktaş scored again on their way to a 3 – 0 victory over S. B Elazigspor. With each goal, the crowd got louder and more boisterous. Towards the end of the match, with the game safely in hand, the section at the other goal started a call and response game with where we were sitting. While singing a short refrain, they would perform some action, such as jumping up and down on your chair, gesticulating, or bobbing up and down. We joined the rest of our section in responding to these actions accordingly. It was the most involved crowd I have seen at a professional sports game for the longest period of time. We left the stadium still buzzing from the adrenaline of the crowd and the excitement on the pitch. I have found a new favorite event to attend; hopefully we can go back next week. And when my friends start playing FIFA at Olaf, I can play as my new favorite team, and serenade them with the songs I learned from that stadium. *Clap clap clap* *Clap clap clap* *Clap clap clap* “Beşiktaş!”