Group ‘A’ for ‘Atmosphere’: ‘B’ for ‘Beşiktaş’, C for ‘Çarşı’

Posted: November 13, 2007 in Euro jaunts, Fan Culture
Beşiktaş   2   Liverpool  1,    24th October 2007 
Everyone who was there agreed it was simply the most stunning display of vocal support we had ever seen at a sporting event. The Beşiktaş Ultras, the “Çarşı”, broke their own decibel record by a few decimal points in the process. I’m simply not  a good enough writer to do justice to the atmosphere, so I was glad to be told  later that it did come across well on TV, which saves me the trouble if you had your telly on nice and loud. If not, find it on Youtube. The moments after the match when many of the Çarşı  stayed behind to join with us in You’ll Never Walk Alone and applaud our own players’ warm-down will never be forgotten. We knew that we could not equal the experience in Liverpool, but we did our best to return as much hospitality as possible (the last 4 or 5 photos below are from the return match).

Things to do in Beşiktaş when you’re Dead Friendly 
Nigel Shaw  reports from Istanbul

Four hours or so before kick off in Istanbul, it was already getting dark and, as we were about to leave the bar, a group of Reds at another table had just ordered more drinks .

‘Where are you going ?’ they asked.

‘We’ve arranged to meet some Beşiktaş fans in that bar down there by the footbridge, and we’re already late – join us there when you’ve finished your ale. It’s called Kazan.’

‘You mean the bar where there’s hundreds outside lighting flares in the dark and chanting ? Errm, looks a bit dodgy, doesn’t it ?  A couple of them said ‘F*** you Liverpool’ as we went past, so we just kept walking. That’s why we came here.’

‘Don’t worry, I was in there a bit earlier on – it’s sound, most of them are dead friendly and the rest are just having a laugh. Put a Beşiktaş scarf on, agree with everything they say, and we’ll see you in there.’

Sure enough, within five minutes of us going in to the locally-famous Kazan pub, home of the world-famous Çarşı ultras,  their good-humoured chant had changed to ‘F*** you Everton’, while ours had become a hearty chorus of ‘We hate Fenerbahce, we hate Gala too (they’re shit)…’

I’d only wanted to swap one scarf with the locals, but somehow the friendliness was overwhelming and I ended up with four different scarves and was minus a few bits of LFC regalia in return…


There must be hundreds of ways to spend a couple of days in Istanbul, and where you choose to book your hotel –whether in the sightseeing centre of Sultanahmet or the throbbing nightlife hub of Taksim – will depend whether you mainly want to do the tourist stuff in the old city (where there are enough palaces, markets, mosques, city walls, underground cisterns, Byzantine and Roman ruins and views to last you a fortnight) or hang around the hundreds of lively bars and restaurants in the Beyoğlu area near Taksim.

What is certain is that when you’re here in the overcast autumn for a group match in a stadium that holds fewer than 30,000 souls on Champions League nights (away allocation 1400, with LFC and tour operators doing their best to discourage people from travelling), you can’t expect the throng of tens of thousands of reds and their flags that we saw in Taksim square in that glorious May of  2005. In fact, there was no chance of generating any atmosphere whatsoever in the Taksim area this time, so you were better off exploring and trying to meet the locals – and if you were ready to be outgoing and friendly, then Beşiktaş itself  was the place to be.

I stayed in the Taksim area because it’s handy for the wonderful old Inönü stadium, just down the hill, which, contrary to the propaganda put out on Liverpool’s official website, is a wonderful little place to watch a football match and to experience one of the greatest atmospheres in world football. Taksim is also handy for the Beşiktaş area itself, about 1km further past the ground, up the shoreline of the Bosphorous. There’s tourist stuff to do in Beşiktaş too – you could get a guided tour of Dolmabahce palace or visit the Naval museum (by the footbridge opposite the Beşiktaş supporters’ pub called Kazan– see below), but personally we were too busy making friends over a few beers.

If Galatasaray means ‘Galata (one of the oldest areas of the town) Palace’, and Fenerbahce means ‘Lighthouse Park’, then its appropriate that the worker’s team, Beşiktaş, has a more workaday meaning – ‘Five Streets’ or ‘Fiveways’.  Let’s have a wander around those streets and I’ll give you five ways to spend your time.

5.  The BJK club shop
There are several good reasons to wander down to the stadium the day before the match, and its proximity to Taksim Square makes getting there (taxi £1.50, minibus 50p, ten minutes on foot and downhill all the way ) really easy.

First there’s the view from the wooded hill above the stadium. Take a picture looking over the main (West) stand and towards the spectacular eagle banner which sits over the top seats of the Çarşı stand, symbolising the fact that the spirit of the club is absent until it takes it place there on match days. Then move to your left and take another shot which shows the ground with the clocktower of the palace, the mosque and the Bosphorous in the background. Try to include at least 3 passing ships in your shot, which shouldn’t be difficult, as unlike the Mersey, this particular sea-lane still bustles with international trade and a dozen passenger ferry routes. You can see why no less an authority than the great Pele has called this one of the greatest stadiums of the world – maybe it’s because of the setting, the only ground in the world from which you can see another continent, or maybe it’s because there’s a very handy section of pavement high above the NW corner, from which Pele could watch the Liverpool players train the evening before the match … if  he’d remembered to bring his binoculars.

Turkey used to be a cheap country, but these days many central Istanbul prices are not so different from those of Liverpool, and the same applies in the BJK club shop. Nevertheless, just like at Anfield, the club shop has plenty of trendy new clothing designs to choose from, and (if you want one of my dubious fashion tips) the Umbro & BjK  own-brand trackie tops would go quite nicely with any polo or t-shirt that has the Beşiktaş crest in the middle. I was disappointed that the variety of scarves on sale were limited to very modern designs at about £8, so if you want a more traditional bar-style scarf you’d be better off with the street sellers (where a scarf is £4, cap £2, shirt £8 with discounts negotiable for bulk buying) and if you want a 70’s style silkie, well, they seem hard to find so you’d better meet some BJK fans and negotiate  a swap.

Incidentally, on the streets of Beşiktaş on matchday you have a chance to pay £4 for one of the great scarves of European football – the Çarşı scarf with the anarchy symbol and the unforgettable slogan on the  reverse “Against Everything (since 1982)”   I bought 5 of them myself ! I thought it would a great Xmas present for anyone born in 1982 (half of the lads in my footy team in fact) … but then I had been drinking somewhat.

4.  The Club Museum

A large percentage of the space in the Beşiktaş museum, located under the away fans section, seems to be taken up with the kind of less-than-fascinating memorabilia that is exchanged between club officials at welcome events on the eve of European games and tour matches – the sort of silverware and tacky ornaments which are on display in the players’ and directors’ lounges at Anfield because there’s simply no room for them in the LFC museum. Nevertheless, there are also a lot of fascinating insights into the history of the club starting with documents from 1903 when the official script of Ottoman Turkey was  still Arabic-style, or a proudly-displayed letter from the early 50’s from the Turkish FA announcing that the Turkish team to play Spain would be comprised of the eleven men of the Beşiktaş side… still the only Turkish club to ever receive that distinction.

The museum is probably worth visting for one aerial photograph alone, showing a 2-kilometre long Beşiktaş flag carried through the streets of Istanbul by hundreds of thousands of supporters to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the club in 2003, though it struck me that it would be great if they could have more about the history and traditions of their supporters.

There’s no stadium tour, but when I wandered out through an open door and down onto the pitch behind the goal, the peeved security guard made his point by shutting me out, so that I had to knock on the door and  grovel apologetically to get back into the museum.

But at least the whole thing was free of charge !

3.  Bosphorous Ferry trip.

The main things I’d always recommend to overseas fans visiting Liverpool would be  a visit to the LFC museum and stadium tour (book in advance) the day before the match, a pub crawl from the Albert Dock to The Cavern, and a ferry trip across the Mersey, if only to get the best views of the city. In Beşiktaş it would be very similar – no visit to Istanbul is complete without a Bosphorous tour or a ferry trip. The first option is to just buy a normal 50p ticket (all public transport in Istanbul currently costs 1.30 YTL a ride) across to Kadiköy and back. The boats go every half an hour from the right-hand terminal at Beşiktaş and return from Kadiköy half an hour later. You’ll get a great view of the mosques and palaces of Sultanahmet, the thrill of watching all the maritime traffic, and if you stay on board after everyone disembarks, at busy times of day you may not have to pay again for the return journey.

If you want to be with tourists rather than the general population, then go to the ticket offices at the far left of Beşiktaş quay and get on one of the hour-long tours (5 YTL – £2) in the other direction up the Bosphorous that go at 1pm, 3pm, 5pm and (I think) 7pm, passing under the 2 spectacular trans-continental suspension bridges and up to Rumeli Castle (Hizar). This impressive fortress was one of a pair built by the Ottoman Turks as part of the war attrition preceding the great siege of Byzantium, effectively closing the Bosphorous to the Byzantines and completing the encircling of the city in the years before its inevitable doom in 1453.  By the way, refreshements on the ferries will probably be limited to hot drinks and the odd pastry, but with a Beşiktaş scarf on a match day nobody’s going to mind you supping from a takeaway can of Efes or two.

As you get off the boat on a matchday, you’ll notice the younger BjK supporters meeting their mates and gathering in groups in the square beside the ferry terminal – ask them if you can have your photo taken with their ‘132 Decibels ? Don’t remember – we were drunk’ banner.

2. The Five Streets of Beşiktaş

Of the Istanbul clubs, it is Beşiktaş that has most kept in touch with the streets that give the club its name, and on a match-day it is these streets around the bustling fish market which reverberate  to the beat of the latest chants. In fact the Beşiktaş Ultras, the Çarşı, are even named after the market – Çarşı means ‘bazaar’. Don’t forget, by the way, to grab another photo opportunity at one or both of the two imposing, monumental Beşiktaş centenary eagle statues which guard nearby  intersections of the ‘Çarşı’.

[By the way, a short note for commentators and pundits – Ç is ‘CH’ as in ‘Chelsea’  and ş  is ‘SH’ as in ‘are sh*te’ – OK ? Why, after you’ve spent  a couple of days of your life reporting on a match home and away, is it so hard to say a simple 3-syllable word like BESH-ik-tash?  Especially you, Lawro. It can’t be that difficult, if it rhymes with FRESH-thick-‘tache. OK ? ]

In restarants like Harbi  overlooking the fish market, the repertoire of  anti-Fenerbahce and anti-Galatasaray chants is regularly renewed. Most of the anti-Gala chants seem to be about getting to know members of the Gala fans’ immediate families quite intimately, while the anti-Fener chants seem to involve asking them about sucking something or other – the most popular version is to the tune of  Those were the Days –  I’m sorry, my Turkish vocabulary isn’t great so I can’t attempt a full translation here.  This is a one-club zone – you don’t see rival clubs’ shirts here like the Everton shirts you might see on the streets around Anfield.  So with all the black and white striped shirts, it looks a bit like Newcastle on a match-day… only with a lot more fish.

The remarkable thing is that the chanting is coming from people not standing drinking beer, though some are, but mostly sitting eating sumptuous pre-match meals of meze and fish, accompanied by large glasses of raki. Most of the restaurants have dozens, if not hundreds, of old photographs of players on their walls, and at least one even has memorabilia under the glass of the tables. Sitting in ‘Orta Balik’ restaurant I was introduced to a former Beşiktaş goalkeeper whose face was reflected there on the wall above me, smiling down looking half a century younger in a 1950s team photo.

As we get within 3 hours or so of the kick-off, the more financially-challenged BjK supporters are gathered in the alleyways and corners that lead down to the small square by the Beşiktaş mosque, drinking from cans, some smoking a bit of weed, but all chanting and bouncing along.  And so, squeezing our way through the black-and-white-clad crowds, we come to Kazan …….

1. Meet their supporters

There aren’t many out-and-out pubs in this restaurant-packed part of town (though for some strange reason my mates were repeatedly drawn to one bar called ‘Beer City’) but the most famous one is truly spectacular. Kazan, down by the footbridge where the taxis and minibuses from Taksim drop you off, is truly the Çarşı’s pre-match drinking venue of choice, and as it shakes to the pre-match chants it feels a bit like The Albert did, pre-match in the good old days.

Just as most of us gladly welcome visiting supporters in our pubs, if they show respect, so we were welcome in theirs. I know I shouldn’t have to tell anyone what is basic common sense, but let’s face it, a lot of football supporters lack common sense when they’re abroad. So, to state the obvious, it helped that:

· we went in with locals who knew the place
· we  went in small, non-threatening groups, not mob-handed
· some of us were prominently wearing Beşiktaş regalia
·  we responded to everything with as smile or a laugh, even when some of them got  a bit excited and told us in very direct terms that there was nothing down for Liverpool in the match (anyway, let’s face it – they were right)
·  we had  a few badges, etc. that we were happy to swap
·  we tried to join in with any anti-Fener & anti-Gala chants (in fact, as I mentioned above, we even made up a couple of our own)
·   we answered their questions about LFC, and showed plenty of interest in BJK and its supporter culture
·  we only sang our own songs when requested to do so

Make no mistake –  if any bunch of visiting supporters came to this part of Istanbul intent on provocation or even with excessively territorial body language, there would be … well, it doesn’t bear thinking about …. Put it this way, less than two months before our visit, an internal  feud within the Çarşı left a man lying dead on the main street of  Beşiktaş, a fact which thankfully never made it beyond the Istanbul press and which I was careful not to mention to any of my mates, because I knew we would have no problems during our visit if we were respectful friendly and up-for-a-laugh.  By the way, the local police are nowhere to be seen in Beşiktaş itself on match days. When I asked the Çarşı why this was, they said ‘they wouldn’t stand a chance’.

What really made our visit work, though, was the fact that we had our ‘chaperones’ from the Forza Beşiktaş website, through whom we’d also hoped to arrange a supporters’ match on the eve of the match, which unfortunately didn’t come off. These lads insisted on escorting us to the match, and incidentally, when they later heard that there had been a little outbreak of pre-match aggro from some wannabe hooligans a couple of miles away in Taksim Square (and possibly also on the way down from Taksim to the stadium ?), the BJK lads were very apologetic that ‘we should have arranged Çarşı protection for  them too’.

One of the reasons we were given for our proposed supporters’ match eventually not being organised was that there was a general feeling of national mourning about incidents in Eastern Turkey involving PKK attacks on the Turkish army, with many fatalities, and it was not felt appropriate to organise events that might detract from the sombre mood of  the day. Pity. And what a pity too that the message about the minute’s silence in the stadium was not relayed in English, as it took some of our more inebriated supporters most of the minute to realise. At the beginning and end of each half the Çarşı stand unveiled a huge Turkish flag and slogan of support for the military in their action against the PKK. As I’ve said, everyone who was there agreed it was simply the most stunning display of vocal support we had ever seen at a sporting event

Finally four pictures from the return leg in Liverpool. Thank you to Lancashire’s finest young indie band for lending us their singer to help us return some hospitality (they’re called the Rascallies by the way and they’re at the Zanzibar this Thursday evening the 15th November 2007)


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