JOOST LAGENDIJK

The discouraging sight of football wars

Ever since childhood I have been a big football fan. I was 12 years old when Feyenoord »»

Ever since childhood I have been a big football fan. I was 12 years old when Feyenoord won the European Cup, the predecessor of the Champions League, on May 6, 1970, my sister's birthday. Since then I have been a passionate supporter of the team from Rotterdam. That was not always easy, to put it mildly.

During the last four decades, Feyenoord was outshone by archrivals Ajax and PSV Eindhoven. Changing club allegiance, though, has never been an option. Once a Feyenoord supporter, always a Feyenoord supporter. Ten years ago, in May 2002, that unconditional backing was finally rewarded when Feyenoord won the UEFA Cup, mainly because of the leadership and free kicks of Pierre van Hooijdonk. After 2002, a dark period of sportive and financial decay set in, culminating in a humiliating 10th place in last year's Dutch league. This season's second place was therefore a gift from heaven. After the last away game, 30,000 diehard fans came to the Feyenoord stadium to welcome their heroes and celebrated the number two position as if the team had won the championship.

How different was the reaction to the second place of my other favorite team, Fenerbahçe. Since Pierre van Hooijdonk switched from Feyenoord to Fenerbahçe, I have been a loyal supporter of the Kadıköy team. Over the years, I was lucky to witness some great games against Galatasaray at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium, and I will never forget the 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 2008. Fenerbahçe did much better than Feyenoord over the last couple of years but got into trouble because of some infamous off-pitch events.

The club is the focal point of the ongoing match-fixing scandal and Chairman Aziz Yıldırım is still in prison pending trial. Fenerbahçe was forced to withdraw from this season's Champions League and as a result had to sell some of its best players, like Diego Lugano, Andre Santos and Mamadou Niang. Taking all these obstacles into consideration, I think the team performed optimally and was only outstripped, not surprisingly, by Galatasaray, which profited from its non-implication in the match-fixing case and, especially, from the arrival of legendary coach Fatih Terim and crucial players such as Fernando Muslera, Selçuk İnan, Emmanuel Eboue and Johan Elmander.

I know it's always difficult to concede defeat, but sometimes you have to. This season, Galatasaray, overall, was the better team and simply deserved to win the title. For that reason I was deeply saddened and ashamed to see the supporters of my team creating such incredible chaos and havoc after the final match last Saturday. We could talk for hours about the reasons behind their misbehavior: the frustration with the court case, the incarceration of Aziz Yıldırım and the clashes with the police on trial days. These may all be true, but none of them presents any excuse for the objectionable acts that we witnessed: throwing stadium chairs and petrol bombs at the police. No football club is served by such violent behavior of its fans, and therefore I was happy to see that one day later Fenerbahçe congratulated Galatasaray with their 18th league title and condemned the post-match riots.

Putting the blame on irresponsible fans is one thing. But there are at least two other culprits that should learn the lessons from what happened in and around the stadium. One is the Turkish Football Federation (TFF). It gave in to commercial pressures to organize this Super Final, an experiment that failed miserably and made the incomprehensible mistake of organizing the handing of the league trophy to the Galatasaray team on the pitch of the Fenerbahçe stadium. That was an incitement that would have caused serious problems in every country where two teams have such a record of eternal enmity.

Finally, the police showed again that they are better in crowd provocation than in crowd control. Before and after the match, they used pepper spray as if it was some new brand of eau de toilette. Even more disconcerting is the fact that despite being caught on camera, most of the violent perpetrators will get away with their despicable behavior. In the UK or the Netherlands, these hooligans would be banned for life and would never be able to enter a stadium again. In Turkey, breaking the rules by so-called football fans seems to have no consequences.

It is sad to see such a beautiful sport damaged by a combination of fanaticism, commercial blinding and the incompetence of security officials.

2012-05-15

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Columnist:: JOOST LAGENDIJK