The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

“It’s like religion. There’s no why.”

Posted by steigs on July 10, 2008

Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, talked to Germany’s Der Speigel about soccer in advance of Euro 2008.  He grew up in Istanbul a fan of Fenerbahce:

SPIEGEL: Why Fenerbahçe?

Pamuk: It’s like religion. There is no “why.”

Here’s Pamuk remembering watching the games as a child.  Can you tell he’s a writer?’

The image that I remember most of all is of the Fenerbahçe players storming into the stadium before kickoff. They were called the canaries because of their yellow jerseys. It was as if they, like canaries, were fluttering into the stadium out of a hole. I loved it. It was poetry.

Pamuk is less of a fan these days, perhaps not surprising, given his difficulties with Turkish nationalists, such as nearly being prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness” for comments about the Armenian genocide.

Pamuk: My childhood proved to me that there could be no enjoyment of football without community. But it becomes difficult when this community is having problems with its identity. That’s when we experience all possible forms of nationalist exaggeration. And there are many of those in Turkey today. Our relationship with the European Union has not been resolved, nor has our relationship with the Kurds.

SPIEGEL: Has football alienated you?

Pamuk: I still support my club, but it must be through some sort of Pavlovian response I have when I see the colors of Fenerbahçe. Even though national trainer Fatih Terim is an ultra-nationalist, I will of course support the Turkish team during the European Championship, just as you will support the German team. But am I a fan? No.

I wonder what he made of the fabulous Turkish run in the tourney, the scrappy underdogs who specialized in come-from-behind victories.  That’s a team one could root for.  A final thought from Pamuk, which in its own way sums up what I mean by the “five billion person party:”

SPIEGEL: What can one learn from football?

Pamuk: A lot. For example, that there are other countries and people of different skin colors, people who are our equals and whom we should respect. Football can teach us that although a team’s individual players may be weak, it can still be successful if it uses common sense. Or that we should not attack anyone physically when we suffer a depressing defeat. And one more thing: If French President (Nicolas) Sarkozy says that Turkey is not part of Europe, we can say that Fenerbahçe, as an international club, has been part of Europe for 50 years.


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