Ankara-based Anthony Lake believes that the recent history of Anglo-Turkish matches could lead to serious danger if fans travel to October's key qualifier
England over 100 Turkey 0 is an unsurprising arrest statistic, though it is one unlikely to be repeated if England fans are permitted by the Football Association to travel to Istanbul for the return game in October. Sadly the score is likely to be more even, and someone, at least one and maybe more, could be killed.
Turkey is a far less yobbish society than England and street violence is very rare, but on the occasions when things do get violent, they can quickly and easily become murderously so. The Turks are passionate about football and the recent successes of the national side have become a source of great national pride and honour. English hooligans should be aware of that if they intend to come to Istanbul and behave in provocative ways. If insult is taken, the extremely violent response could include knives and even guns, no matter how wrong and misguided such a response would be.
Watching a game on the big screen in a bar or cafe is as popular a way to watch football in Turkey as it is in England. I often do it and remember how the whole of Ankara erupted into an enormous carnival when Ilhan Mansiz scored that golden goal against Senegal in the World Cup quarter-final last summer. Even in the middle of their celebrations people on the street wished England success in the competition on learning that I am English. Had England got past Brazil and played Turkey for a place in the final, I would have confidently gone to the city centre again and watched the match in a cafe or bar.
For this European Championship qualifier, I decided to stay at home and watch it. And I will do the same thing in October, and I don’t even live in Istanbul. The bad behaviour of some of the England fans in Sunderland will have added more fuel to a fire that has been burning ever since the night in 2000 when two Leeds United fans were killed in Istanbul. No one wants to see more football-related murders, and I hope that the FA will, as has been reported, have the courage not to sell tickets for the game in October. Even more, I hope that England fans in the habit of travelling to games without tickets will have the sense not to come. I fear this is a forlorn hope.
Just as I imagine the worst in October if England fans come, I was saddened but not surprised by what happened the night before that game between Galatasaray and Leeds. Newspaper coverage of those events was shameful on both sides, with the British tabloids’ indignantly implying that English fans never behave badly, and the equivalent sections of the Turkish press making it look like the unfortunate Leeds fans had brought what happened on themselves.
Last month’s match in Sunderland was seen in Turkey as a further test of their development as a footballing nation and the in-form team had been widely expected to win. Most local press reports were gracious enough, however, to acknowledge that England were deserving winners. Of the trouble, on and off the pitch, only the attack on Alpay was mentioned, along with a few less than complimentary remarks about David Beckham. There was no mention of the hostilities between players and coaching staff in the tunnel after the game reported in the British press. In the days following the game, some further articles expressed disquiet at the prospect of England fans coming to Istanbul in October, unsurprisingly.
Turkey has its share of football hooligans: the Istanbul derby between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce is often marred by crowd violence, and some of the fans of Trabzonspor and Ankaragucu leave a lot to be desired, too. Many will probably fancy testing themselves against the “world champions” of football hooliganism. Add to that the growing bad feeling between the two countries where football is concerned, and the propensity of some England fans to see a trip to a foreign game as a chance to rebuild the British Empire, and all the ingredients are in place for another tragedy. Like I said, I will watch the game in October at home. So should all other England fans. Or go down the pub, for the pub will be in England.
From WSC 196 June 2003. What was happening this month