Negotiating Europe

In March 2013, I interviewed the owner and the main bartender of the Fenerbah^e Pub. The owner, Emre (29), is a dedicated Fenerbah^e fan and the main bartender, Alper (23), is a passionate Galatasaray supporter. The interview situation got rather heated at some point due to the fact that both interview partners were enthusiastically arguing why their respective team is the better one. The following section is an example of this discussion.

Emre: Galatasaray is a great team. Bejiktaj likewise. But at Fenerbahpe

you notice quality, I would say. How they behave, what they do. No, it is really like this. [...] Galatasaray is a great team, Fenerbahpe too, but if you look in terms of quality Fenerbahpe is a bit better, for the whole ofTurkey. Fenerbahpe is more European.

Alper: No, no, it has nothing to do with that, in my opinion, because

Galatasaray is more European. The problem is that Galatasaray has more Kurdish fans. That’s the bad thing.

Emre: More Anatolian fans. Let’s put it this way.

Alper: But you know that we have this problem: Turkish — Kurdish. And

Gala has more Kurdish fans and that’s the ugly thing about it.

Emre: They are not as civilised as Fenerbahpe fans. Well, not as a fan,

there are Kurds that are Fenerbahpe fans. In Urfa [city in the southeast of Turkey], for example, there are more Fenerbahpe fans than Galatasaray fans. If you really look at regions you can really measure it up. [...] But, what he is saying and what I am saying is totally different. Galatasaray is better in European football than we are. But I am not talking about football. I’m saying that Fenerbahpe has been managed in a more European way than Galatasaray. Until now.

Nina: Okay, what do you mean exactly?

Emre: I am trying to say that we. how can I say that? You simply notice

quality. For example, if you go to the Fenerbahpe stadium and you look around, there are probably 50.000 people of whom 40.000 came with an original jersey. And for sure it was bought in the Fenerium, the official Fenerbahpe shop. If you look around in the Galatasaray stadium, though, it’s just less. Why? Because fans of Galatasaray are a little poorer.

Alper: They are coming from poverty...

Emre: Exactly.

Alper: The poverty line.

Emre: The richest fans are Fenerbahpe fans.[1]

Emre’s and interestingly also Alper’s lines of argument — Alper is a Galatasaray fan himself - to underline Galatasaray’s inferiority reveal the inclusion and exclusion practices of how they define a legitimate fan. In their view a ‘legitimate’ or ‘good’ fan is definitely not Kurdish or Anatolian. Via the practice of othering, by using the ethnicised concepts of ‘Turkish vs. Kurdish’, which implies dichotomies based on ‘good vs. bad’ and ‘wealthy vs. poor’, they find a way to bond even though they are fans of antagonist teams. The bonding in the discussion is especially important for Alper because of the social hierarchy in this interview situation: Emre is, after all, Alper’s boss, and Alper is additionally one of the few Galatasaray fans in this pub.

In their discussion, both Emre and Alper refer to one main category in this interview section: Europe. It is true that Galatasaray is located in Istanbul’s European side whereas Fenerbah^e is located in the Anatolian side of the city, which might implicate notions of what is considered European and not European. However, both Emre and Alper are claiming that their club is ‘more’ European. Thereby, they are referring to imagined or cultural geographies, which shape their symbolic meaning. Alper links Europe to European championships such as the Champions League and the Europa League whereas Emre links it to a specific way of management, meaning having a good marketing concept and fans that buy expensive jerseys. It becomes clear that Europe is a vague construct that is contested. Ba§ak Alpan and Alexandra Schwell summarise:

There are many ways to “think Europe”, but no matter how you look at it Europe is a relevant category to order, categorise and “think” the social world and to locate self and other. Likewise, the Europes of the European Union, the Eurovision Song Contest and the Champions League are not identical. [.] Throughout history the very concept of “Europe” has proved very resistant to concise definitions, which is why it has very often defined in negation: Europe is not Asia, is not the Islamic world, is not the US, and so on. (Alpan and Schwell 2015, pp. 10—11)

In the interviews that I conducted, Europe often represents modernity, freedom and (financial) progress. Interview partners who are eager to identify with those categories used Europe as a reference point while talking about their fandom. Nevertheless, Europe is a vague term that can refer to a number of different political, social and cultural concepts such as the European Union, UEFA - as mentioned above - or a place of yearning, financial stability, a way of life and so on.[2] Consequently, it provokes various images and interpretations. In the interview section, Emre and Alper refer to different definitions of Europe and consequently argue about what Europe and European means to them.

Europe is often an important point of reference for Turkish football (cf. Alpan and §enyuva 2015). One reason is that while Turkish football teams can gain recognition in Europe as an accepted member of UEFA, politically Turkey has long fought for membership in the European Union. Tanil Bora and Ozgehan §enyuva summarise:

[G]ames against other European national and club teams allow for revenge against the Europeans for what is traditionally perceived cunning and historical efforts to exclude Turkey and Turks, culturally, politically and economically. (Bora and §enyuva 2011, p. 38)

Still, even though Turkey has been affiliated with UEFA since 1962,[3] it does not mean that all members of UEFA are equal partners (Dietschy et al. 2009, p. 130, p. 137). Paul Dietschy et al. emphasise that Turkey in the past was willing to undergo ‘a long, often humiliating process of recognition’ (ibid., p. 131) to prove its ‘Europeanness’ in the football context and beyond.

Europe was a point of reference mentioned on several occasions throughout the interviews. In the football context, it received an entirely positive connotation ^mentioned. The Galatasaray fan Cem, for example, uses the category Europe to distinguish himself from Fenerbah^e fans, as well:

Cem: I really see a difference when- well, I have good friends who are

Fenerbahfe fans. Yes. Two of my five best friends are Fenerbahfe fans. But when you talk to them about football, it’s a dead end. They always have arguments that they do not get beaten under normal circumstances but because of this and that and because of the referee. They always have a pretext. Well, in my opinion.

If you asked a Fenerbahfe fan he might say the same about Galatasaray fans. But there are some who wouldn’t. [...] For me, Galatasaray is the part of Turkey that could become part of the European Union with a good conscience.

Nina: Aha.

Cem: Fenerbahfe symbolises ploy [List] and (takes a deep breath) the

newly rich who are doing everything for money and with money. Yes. They are not interested in manners, they are not considerate [Rucksicht nehmen]. But, as I said before, I do also have friends, good friends, whom I get along with very well in other parts of life.

If they win they always make fun of us. I rare- I don’t do that. Maybe there are other Galatasaray fans who like doing that but I don’t.26

Cem also constructs the Fenerbah^e-Galatasaray antagonism by applying orientalising arguments. He starts with describing Fenerbah^e fans as unfair and lousy losers. He emphasises his arguments by saying that he is (even) friends with some Fenerbah^e fans. In this way his narrative becomes less fanatical. He tries to add a self-critical notion by saying that Fenerbah^e fans might use the same arguments against Galatasaray fans. In the end, however, he returns to generalising all Fenerbah^e fans using more degrading and orientalising arguments to emphasise Galatasaray’s superiority and Fenerbah^e’s inferiority. He describes Fenerbah^e fans as disrespectful and dishonest. Furthermore, he links this kind of behaviour to the newly rich. By attributing all these characteristics to Fenerbah^e, he expresses not only what he considers to be negative traits, he also makes clear that he considers himself, the Galatasaray fan, honest and respectful. Similarly to Emre and Alper, he links his arguments to a concept of Europe, in this case very specifically to the European Union.

Cem’s definition of Europe differs from Emre’s and Alper’s definition. It differs particularly from Alper’s argument as to why Galatasaray is the better club. Both Alper and Cem assign positive connotations to ‘Europe’, however Alper understands Europe as a category of success whereas Cem attaches a culturalised political meaning to it. Via the football club, Cem defines what values and ideas, in his opinion, constitute the European Union. Especially in Cem’s case, the football club becomes part of a cultural geography: Galatasaray can obviously never become part of the European Union as it is a football club. Nevertheless, he uses it as symbol for the part of Turkey that he considers fit to be part of the European Union. Thereby, he claims that Fenerbah^e is not ready to join the European Union because of its ‘bad manners’, implying that characteristics that fit the European Union include good manners, consideration and respect.

Cem opposes the classic orientalising categories of ‘civilised’ and ‘primitive’ to make his point of distinction. This strongly contradicts the argument that Alper and Emre had finally agreed upon: that Galatasaray does not have as ‘civilised’ fans as Fenerbah^e does because of a possible bigger Kurdish and poorer fan base. Cem includes social class to his distinction. By underlining that, in his opinion, Galatasaray fans are more ‘cultivated’ (kultiviert) and Fenerbah^e fans in contrast have ‘bad manners’ and are newly-rich, he makes clear that for him Galatasaray fans belong to a better educated social class. Here, he reproduces the myth of the well-educated and elite Galatasaray fan (cf. Dmowski 2013). This is in stark contrast to all of Emre’s and Alper’s arguments about Galatasaray.

Referring to Sandvoss’s semantic and psychoanalytical approach to fandom, which I introduced at the beginning of this chapter, the contradicting arguments of Cem, Alper and Emre make clear how a fan constructs or reads his or her club in a nexus to his or her image of self. This construction sometimes fits pre-existing discursive strategies, like in the case of the elite Galatasaray fan, and sometimes it does not. To underline how arbitrary these respective readings of clubs can be, I will shortly refer to a statement by the Fenerbah^e fan Ayla that is again in stark contrast to the arguments that Emre and Alper used.

Ayla is very dedicated to helping other people in her everyday life and is eager to talk about charity events that are organised by Fenerbah^e or its fan clubs. She emphasises that she likes Fenerbah^e and Turkish football in general because all kinds of people come together to play. She explains that it does not matter where you are from or what colour your skin, whether you are an Arab, in her words a ‘gypsy’, a Kurd or from the Balkans, whether you are rich or poor. She sums up:

In the stadium, all are united.27

She projects what is important to her onto Fenerbah^e in the same way as Emre and Alper do, only in her argument football does not divide but unify. Sandvoss writes that ‘opposing readings also emerge among fans of the same team’ (2003, p. 27). Hall’s concept of representation is also helpful to understand the antagonist descriptions and interpretations of the very same fan object:

In any culture, there is always a great diversity of meanings about any topic,

and more than one way of interpreting or representing it. (Hall 1997, p. 2)

Sibel has a similar background to Cem and belongs to the same group of students from Istanbul. Accordingly, she uses similar arguments when describing what she likes about Galatasaray:

Sibel: Well, yes, for me it [Galatasaray] is always this, this less oriental, you know, a little more European regarding the mentality, that everybody has to be somehow an individual. You know, still a group, a team but it is more about sport, you know, human achievements and it is not always these tricks and not these power plays, you know, “I have the money, I am like this”. You know? It’s more about other things, well for me and for most other people as well. [...] But sometimes I think that Turkish football is really awful.

Nina: Why?

Sibel: Because it is somehow the opposite to what’s happening here in Europe. Everything is corrupt and there are scandals happening every day. [...] You know, Galatasaray for me is a counterpoise to all this rubbish [Brei], you know. Because you know about all these stories about fraud, you know, what do you call it? At betting, not betting?

Nina: Match fixing?

Sibel: Yes, match fixing and manipulation and so on. It [Galatasaray] was the only team that wasn’t part of it.28

Sibel distances herself from those parts about Turkish football that she does not like. But, she manages to maintain a positive image about her club, Galatasaray, and counterpoises it to all the ‘bad things’ in football such as corruption and scandals. Sibel’s argument is about attitudes or as she calls it ‘mentalities’. Similarly to Cem, she links what she considers to be ‘good’ categories such as ‘individuality’ and ‘human achievements’ to the football club Galatasaray. In her opinion, achievements must happen without cheating and without making too much use of money. She opposes being European (Galatasaray) to being oriental (Turkish football in general and Fenerbah^e in particular) and thereby, not only on a meta-level but literally, uses an orientalising narrative to other Fenerbah^e fans and to self herself as a Galatasaray fan that is superior. In this narrative Galatasaray symbolises Europe and all the characteristics she links to her concept of Europe. At the same time, she links Fenerbah^e and Turkish football to her degrading concept of the ‘orient’. In this example we see how Sibel (re)produces the construct ‘orient’ and how she reproduces prejudices about this construct in the very sense of Edward Said (1978).

In contrast, Mesut, the student from Berlin, who decided to study at the University of Vienna, describes Fenerbah^e like this:

Mesut: I n Turkey, there are many rumours. Every club is accused by everyone. Everybody has different reasons. At Fenerbahpe one could have the feeling, well the Turkish government is strictly Islamist, and it could be possible that Fenerbahpe fans are just too modern or that the whole club is just too modern, too Western- oriented. That therefore the government and the association want to harm the club. I, myself, do believe that, too, and yes, it is generally the problem with the government.[4]

For the Fenerbah^e fan Mesut, Fenerbah^e represents all the characteristics that Sibel and Cem claim to be represented by Galatasaray. Mesut does not symbolically use ‘Europe’ to do so but uses the terms ‘modernity’ and ‘West’. He also directly criticises the Turkish government which he calls ‘Islamist’ and opposes it to an assumed Western ‘modernity’. It is striking that narratives about the two clubs can contradict, overlap, intersect or synchronise. They are an assemblage that can change depending on the situation, context, and person who is talking. They are always relational constructions.

  • [1] Interview Emre and Alper, 29 and 23 years old, both male, Fenerbah^e fan and Galatasaray fan,20 March 2013, Fenerbah^e Pub, Vienna, afternoon.
  • [2] See for example the negotiation of Europe in Schwell (2008).
  • [3] Official homepage of UEFA, (accessed 15 October 2014).
  • [4] Interview Mesut, 27 years old, male, Fenerbah^e fan and Hertha Berlin fan, 7 Februar 2013traditional Viennese coffee house, afternoon.
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >