The World Cup

Hakan Sukur image
Image via Wikipedia


Turkey advanced to the second round of the World Cup for the first time in its history, and I found it out from the streets. Our gypsies – peddling flowers, oregano, carrying babies, dumpster-diving – were stoping cars and screaming their heads off. We walked down the block from our apartment to Baghdat Caddesi, and the place was a spontaneous parade. The avenue is always a delightful mix of gypsies; “tourists” from the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus wearing headcoverings and looking confused, envious, and apalled; and the natives, the rich-bitch teenage girls shopping at the Marks and Spencer, eating at TGIFridays, and speaking Turkish in an ungodly Valley Girl accent, all body parts (some real, some bought) on display, along with Tammy Faye makeup, perfume on top of body odor, and hair dyed onion-skin red (I should be thankful – two years ago it was blonde, which does not suit Turks at all). Cars were draped in Turkish flags, people hanging out of the windows, faces painted red and white, beating on drums, playing Zurnas (which sounds like a bagpipe but looks like an oboe), and screaming and honking. One guy holding a flare-gun in the air. Crowds of young men, arms around each other in lines or circles, hopping up and down in that wonderful combination of homoeroticism, nationalism, and violence that is soccer. Department store owners coming out of their stores, trying to clear a path for customers. Gypsy boys’ shoeshine equipment piled in corners, unattended so the gypsies could join and hop up and down in the moshpit, side-by-side with Turks who regard them on any other day as damn gypsies. Turkish marches that no one quite new the words to, so their words all became “Li li li” after awhile (the beat, one-two-three-four on the drum, would certainly have been more interesting had we lived in Ghana and if Ghana made the second round).

A huge crowd gathers, whooping it up and dancing, blocking the entrance to everything, even the mosque. The storm troopers arrive, along with what looks like a local chief of police, to clear a path to the mosque and break up the crowd. The cops advance, the crowd continues celebrating and won’t budge, and Elisha and the worshippers of Baal are waiting to see whose sacrifice would burst into flames. The crowd plays a brilliant move: they break into the Turkish national anthem, of all things, causing the cops to stop on a dime, drop their hands to their sides, and sing along. The cops move them across the street without incident.



I monitored this World Cup game by keeping an ear to the window. Early in the morning, a huge cheer, gypsies yelling, then dead silence for a good long while. I was sure that meant the score was 18-1 against. But then it came in a big roar: 1-0, Turkey defeats Japan. Elif’s 16-year-old cousin comes over, I check my cell phone to check the time; the satellite, instead of displaying “Suadiye” as where I am, registers “TURKLER GELIYOR” – The Turks are Coming! – as my location.

This time on our street, the Turks were more raucous. It was still a red-white face-painted Zurna-playing drumbeating multigenerational impromptu parade, but much more so. Businessmen in ties wearing socks sat on the roofs of their cars, waving flags, as the cars crawled past the musicians and the flag-waving fans. One side of the street screams “Kirmizi” (red), the other “Beyaz” (white). Nobody knows any songs, which all degenerate into something like Turkiye, Turkiye, Lo Lo Lo Li Li Li Lum. They even sung some of Carmen at the top of their lungs. On the sidewalks, groups of 100 or so would coagulate around a barechested uber-fan banging on a drum leading the songs and handwaving. One of the group leaders was not happy that another person was lighting three flares at once and holding them in the air, over my head. Peering at him through the smoke and spitting red flame, I could make out that it wasn’t that my flare-bearer was using too many up at once – it was that it would attract too much police attention to our merry band. Our barechested leader decided that the best way to explain his position was through the universal Mediterranean language of fisticuffs. I was having so much fun, pogo-dancing with sweaty Turks screaming “Turks, shoulder-to-shoulder, Li Li Li Li Lum,” that another fisticuff-or-almost-fisticuff street scene wouldn’t really add much to the proceedings – it’s usually fun to watch Turkish men have a nice harmless little row in the streets, but this was so “family.” After the requisite in-your-face and shoving and shouting and people saying come, brother (and after I snapped off three great photographs that I think got the drummer and the almost-fighters, with fire raining down from the flare gun), another drummer started singing a football or march song (who can tell the difference?) and everybody joined in and it was all over.

Next up is Senegal in the Quarter-finals on Saturday. They’re supposed to be great. CNN website, rating the strengths and weaknesses of each squad, lists the Turks’ weakness as their temper.



Tremendous game – first organized sport event I’ve seen since the 92 super bowl. Turks had ball 98 percent of the time; took 500 shots on goal; “star” Hakan Sukur missed every one. Was pulled for a Tartar (that’s why the fancy hairstyle) who did the nifty extra-time golden goal. Reaction on the street: E’s stepfather and aunts cried; many people fired gunshots; most hit the streets and were babbling in tongues, ecstatically. We went to Baghdat St. again, but it was impossible to move there – it was Sat. afternoon at 5PM, you can imagine! People were still partying same time the next day… Of course it would be neat if Turkey won; I’m no cabbie but expect Turkey to beat South Korea in the consolation for 3rd – but you never know…



People still showed up on Bagdat St., banged on drums, waved flags, sung patriotic songs, honked horns, belly-danced, and shouted Turkey is the greatest, after its heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Brazil today. They looked happy and sad and proud; they were still even buying red and white shirts and flags, even after the game.



Turkey beat South Korea in the consolation soccer playoff game, which put Turkey at #3 in the world, which meant more joy all around. Game ends, we gather in the center of the room, the gunshots again, then we can safely look out the windows. The coach is being blamed for losing to Brazil by sticking with Hakan Sukur. The latter is Turkey’s biggest soccer star like, ever – his wedding was broadcast live on TV – but he’s 30 and has been riding the bench for 2 years in Parma and was very rusty – he scored zero goals the entire tournament and his last goal was in April in a friendly match against Chile. But the coach stuck with him; every game they’d remove him with 10 minutes left in the game, after he’d scored zero goals and missed great opportunities, and replaced him with a young Ilhan Mansiz, who would play amazing and score late goals. Both players started yesterday; Ilhan Mansiz scored two. Hakan Sukur scored his only goal of the tournament in unusual fashion – 11 seconds into the game, breaking a World Cup record for fastest first goal ever scored – I’m sure South Korea wanted to start the game over after that! The team arrives home today – we’re not leaving the house.

In times of economic hardship, there’s always football, and this has been an amazing ride. Although it was only Turkey’s second time in the final 16 in 50 years, they outplayed everyone and only lost to Brazil, twice, and both times by one point. But they won in garnering the most red and yellow flags of any team in the tournament.


Postscript (from, “World Cup 2002: Recap, Results and Statistics by Sean Wilsey”

Despite a third-place finish Turkey was the second best team in the 2002 World Cup. (In consolation they got stadiums, bridges and streets named after them back home: a boulevard in Adana for left winger Hasan Sas, a park in Istanbul for coach Senol Günes and a stadium in the seaside town of Zonguldak for midfielder Ergün Penbe.)

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