Friday, July 2, 2010

Maç manyaklik

I've worked at a Turkish newspaper long enough that I've pretty much stricken the word "soccer" from my vocabulary, but when the World Cup rolled around, I didn't spare much thought to all the fuss. Still, when the televisions clicked on at 5 p.m. on the first day of the matches, and looming deadlines couldn't tear any of my coworkers away from the screen, it was hard not to be a little curious. The international nature of the game intrigued me -- Turkey wasn't in it, and neither the U.S. nor England had much hope, but my Turkish, American, and British friends were still riveted. I was amused by the idea that referees had to monitor for swearing in 17 different languages. And there was definitely something satisfyingly cosmopolitan about watching the Australia-Germany match in Turkey while my Danish friend explained it all to me.

Football's still a lot more fun when Turkey's playing, though. Not long ago, I took a visitor down to Nevizade (a popular street for meyhanes and other nightlife) to watch the final match of the Turkish Super League. Bars had set up televisions on every floor, each wall-to-wall with people. The narrow street was nearly impassable due to the throngs angling for an over-the-shoulder glimpse at the screens. When fans of Fenerbahçe (a team I like to think of as the Yankees of Turkish football, and not really in a good way) mistakenly thought their squad had emerged victorious, they set off Roman candles amid the tightly packed crowd, causing the paranoid mind to look frantically about for an escape route from the fire-fleeing stampede that was sure to ensue.

Two years ago, Turkey took a shockingly successful run at the European championship, a development so big around these parts that even I couldn't ignore the nighttime screaming, wailing, and gunshots as our boys progressed through the competition. I watched what turned out to be Turkey's last hurrah at a large and absolutely packed çay bahçesi (tea garden, although this one also served beer) on the lovely Aegean island of Bozcaada, drinking Efes and trying to follow the action on the outdoor screen with the aid of a guy I'd met on the beach, an amusing exercise in that he spoke basically no English and my sports vocabulary was pretty much limited to "takim" (team) and "bayrak" (flag). No matter, I quickly learned to chant "Türk-i-ye, Türk-i-ye!" with the best of them, and that was all that mattered.

NOTE: Check out other Lonely Planet bloggers' takes on World Cup watching all around the world, from Spain to South Korea, Berkeley to Beirut.

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