Forty-five suspected English hooligans have been deported from Istanbul, but others are known to have slipped through the net. And with Turkish fans preparing to don red shirts en masse for tonight’s game, tomorrow’s headline writers are sharpening their quills.
The image of the national game in England is already reeling after a fortnight in which allegations of gang rape, violence and drug taking among players were capped by an unprecedented strike threat by the national team.
But in one corner of London, rival fans are trying to defuse the gathering sense of crisis by peacefully coming together for a joint screening of the game at 1800 BST.
“It’s a way of celebrating the fact that football is about friendship with people from other cultures as well as supporting your own team,” said Mark Perryman of the Official England Supporters Association.
“When we realised that we couldn’t travel to Istanbul we got in touch with the Turkish and Kurdish Football Federation and said we’d like to watch the game together”
The ‘Away at Home’ initiative was launched in the run-up to the football clash, as English fans were banned from attending the game.
“When we realised that we couldn’t travel to Istanbul we got in touch with the Turkish and Kurdish Football Federation and said we’d like to watch the game together,” Mark explained.
“We arranged for more than 100 of us to meet in a Turkish pub, the Marquis of Landsdowne in Stoke Newington, eating Turkish food, watching Turkish TV and speaking the common language of the game we love.”
A passion for the ‘beautiful game’ unites the fans of both countries, but it has also torn them apart; literally so when two Leeds United fans were killed in a fight with supporters of the Turkish team Galatasaray on April 5th 2000.
A violent feud between fans from the two countries was further entrenched when Arsenal fans clashed with Galatasaray supporters in the Uefa cup final in Copenhagen the following month.
Arsenal fans have in the past shown themselves not above attacking Turkish and Kurdish shops in north London after matches against Turkish teams, and more than a hundred English hooligans were arrested when England played Turkey in Sunderland earlier this year.
According to Piarra Power of the Kick Racism Out of Football Campaign, “It’s a cultural thing with English fans. They are aggressively territorial and like to take on people who they see as ‘inferior’.”
“The Turks became Public Enemy Number One because they were seen as challenging British fans on their own terms. Key elements of Turkish society will not put up with drunkenness or swaggering or people abusing their national flag.”
The enmity has been exploited by far right groups like the British National Party and the Turkish Grey Wolves, who are active on the terraces. But beyond them, Piarra believes that fans from the two countries see a mirror image of themselves in each other.
“There’s almost a symbiosis between the two sets of fans,” he said. “They’re very alike and in some sense, you could say that the trouble was a begrudging way of offering respect.”
However, some say that the rivalry has been over-hyped. Emma Levine, an author and expert on Turkish football fans, told Aljazeera.net, “The trouble at the Leeds-Galatasaray match was the exception, not the rule.”
England soccer captain David
“It all started with the ‘Welcome to Hell’ banner the Galatsaray fans waved at the arriving Leeds supporters. But that was actually the name they had given to a corner of the Galatasaray stadium.”
Emma, who is based in Istanbul, said that British fans in the country would find it difficult to get admittance to the stadium tonight.
“The authorities are sending home people who arrive at Istanbul airport so to get in, they will have had to have booked package holidays to other cities, and travelled here by bus. Then at the stadium, they will have to show ID cards and passports to get through.”
Commentators are already speculating that the pattern of fans causing trouble after being denied entry to grounds could repeat itself tonight. “It’s an unknown quantity,” Emma Levine conceded.
“At the James Joyce, Istanbul‘s Irish pub, they’re not allowing Turkish men in tonight and I know plenty of English people who are going to stay off the streets in case there’s trouble.”
Mark Perryman blamed the situation on the English Football Association for their decision to send back the England fans ticket allocation, a move that perplexed many Turkish supporters.
“There are hooligan elements that follow both teams but criminalising all fans is not the answer,” Mark said. “You have to work with the peaceful majority.”
“I have friends who have gone to Istanbul and I support their decision, but I’m not brave enough to go myself. When it becomes a matter of stopping fans from getting to the game, it’s not a pleasant experience.”
Unsavory events though, have become the daily diet for followers of the national game.
The allegations that members of the England team were involved in a gang rape at the Grosvenor Hotel in Mayfair, followed by the arrest of a Leeds United player on rape charges and the dispatching of England defender Rio Ferdinand for refusing to take a drug test have dominated media coverage in the run up to the game.
Piarra Power says his group is planning a complaint to the Commission for Racial Equality over comments made on RTE’s Morning Ireland show by the TV pundit Brian Glanville.
Glanville blamed the football crisis on “West Indian players [who] have very little education and are projected into a world in which they are earning £40,000 or £50,000 a week.”
With racism added to the litany of violence, misogyny, alcohol and drug abuse now swirling around the beautiful game, fans might be expected to be abandoning the spectacle in droves.
But Mark Perryman will be cheering on England this evening. “There’s nothing wrong with friendly rivalry between fans,” he said “but that doesn’t mean you should use it as an excuse for hatred, violence and racism.”
“We want England to win but not at the expense of Turkish shops being burned down. I despise the sort of people who do that. I have nothing but contempt for them. If you offer fans football fans positive alternatives, the vast majority will be drawn to them.”