backdate: 16 May
preparing for the big day
Tonight was the long-anticipated match. Actually, there were two. Glorious Galatasaray, having dropped from any consideration for the champions league, was in town to play Ankara's Gençlerbirliği. Meanwhile, in distant Istanbul, Fener and Trabzon were battling it out in Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium.
I had been wandering the steep streets around Ankara Kalesi - alone, at night, against common sense - to gather information for one final paper on the site. It's actually not a threatening place at night, once you adjust, but perceptions about the low-income neighborhood are strong in people's minds. At any rate, as dusk fell i could hear the championship match blaring from a television in a side-street hotel. I was curious to find a place to watch it, and i descended the cobblestone streets toward the thoroughfares of Ulus. On Anafartalar Cad, two men stood leaning against a building. One held a pocket radio, and i asked him, Fener maç? He nodded.
Kaç-kaç? i inquired.
Bir-bir, he replied.
Ten minutes later i saw a waiter and two patrons at a sidewalk table, watching the match through restaurant windows. Kaç-kaç? i asked again.
Speaking of beer, i was thirsty. Now, i don't drink often, but once in a long while the mood strikes, and no other beverage will do. So i stopped at a convenience store ("Kuruyemiş & Tekel", they're called here; the former means dried fruits and the latter refers to the state alcohol monopoly). Asked for bir bira, and gulped it down on a dark corner.
Didn't seem like there was any place to watch the match, aside from peering into a window here or there; there aren't really any pubs in Ulus to speak of. The street was pretty deserted, too, and i had two hours before boarding the midnight bus to Antalya. So i wandered to Gençlik Park. In January, i'd thought it must be enchanting on a warm summer night, and the thought wasn't too far off. The park was lit in a spray of color. Shfting lights suffused the fountains first red, then blue, green. The spreading trees and pavilions were all lit in their own unique way, and spotlights cast patches of primary color upon the pavement. Across the reflecting pool the rides at lunapark flashed eye-catching patterns; spotlights reached skyward, crossing beams with the floodlights of 19 Mayıs Stadium, and as i watched, Venus and a thin sliver of moon sank into the luminous fray.
Then a great roar rose from the Stadium. I asked one of the park's plentiful security guards who had won the championship match. Bursa şampiyon, he replied. The Istanbul match had in fact ended a draw, and that was all Bursaspor needed to best Fenerbahce's record for the season. At least he too was disappointed - a fellow Fener fan. Others were not so inclined. Chanting rose as fans streamed out of the Ankara stadium, and soon car horns and sirens added to the celebratory din. About that time the beer, gulped down on an empty stomach, kicked in - and it was perhaps the best timed beer i've ever had. As chanting fans paraded down the street and others hung out car windows, streaming team scarves and banners behind them, whistling, i got caught up in the party atmosphere. I will forever be a Fenerbahçe fan, but the night had come alive.
This din of car horns did not die out in a few minutes. Instead of jumping the metro in Ulus and switching trains at Kızılay, i figured i had plenty of time; something drew me on foot towards Kızılay. I'm glad i stayed above ground! In Guvenlik park a crowd was gathering, and it grew bigger by the moment. People formed a mass rows deep towards the statue, and soon a few intrepid souls climbed it, waving flags and banners from the top. Ole, ole ole ole Bursa, Şampiyon!, they chanted. Television vans hugged the curb, and rooftop cameramen captured a birds-eye view over the crowd. Banners and chants flew for Bursa, Trabzon, and AnkaraGüçü. Men played traditional drums and folk instruments from the black sea region, and a line of dancers coalesced into a circle. Still the car horns wailed.
At last i had to leave. I penned the first draft of this post on an overnight bus to Antalya - when we got stuck in a traffic jam for nearly an hour. A jam of nothing but trucks and overnight buses, thanks to a rotary mysteriously closed by police. But that's another story.