08 August 2014

I hope you like Turkey. It's what's we've been served. Again.

Apparently not content at our demolition of Fenerbahçe in last season's Champions League playoff, UEFA has pitted us against Turkish side Beşiktaş, who finished third in the Supr Lig and defeated Feyenoord 3-1 (5-2 aggregate) on new signing Demba Ba's hat-trick. So we're off to Istanbul for the first leg on 19 August and home for the second leg on 27 August, with a trip to Goodison Park sandwiched in as well on 23 August. It's not the toughest draw we could have gotten (which might have been Lille or Atletic Bilbao, but we should be wary all the same. Just who is Beşiktaş, anyway?

Along with Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, they are one of Turkey's biggest clubs. They're the oldest, having been founded in 1903. They've never been relegated, and they've won the Super Lig thirteen times. They've once advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals, losing 0-7 to Dynamo Kyiv in 1987 (actually the European Cup at the time). More recentley, though, they were banned from European competition in 2013 for domestic match-fixing, as were Fener.

As to their squad, Ba might be their highest-profile player in a squad full of Turkish players, none of whom ring many alarm bells on their own. However, as with our previous trip to Turkey, it's perhaps the atmosphere we'll encounter, more than the players on the pitch, that we have to consider. Beşiktaş's supporters are fervid, perhaps even rabid, in their support. Once known as Çarşı (innocuously translated to "market" or "bazaar"), their logo and reputation are a bit more ominous. Their logo features the "a" from anarchy, and they've been described variously as a philosophical collective with anti-fascist, anti-racist, democratic leanings, and their members were apparently instrumental in protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan back in 2013. Now, the supporters of each of Turkey's big clubs are all known for their, er, enthusiasim, but the Çarşı are apparently notorious for their willingness to resort to violence against other clubs' supporters.

If this is true, we should expect a reception more-hostile than the one offered by Fener's fans, whose reputation seems less volatile. It's odd, considering that most of what I'ved read of the Çarşı suggests a more-thoughtful, philosophical mindset, not to so much the stone-throwing, fireworks-tossing ultras who try to terrorize opponents. Then again, when "anarchy" features so prominently in the logo, I suppose a bit of violence is to be expected.

That said, travel always a bit to the challenge, but we handled it just fine last year and I expect we'll do the same this time through.

Matchday 1
Tuesday August 19
Kickoff: 19:45 UK time
Ataturk Olimpic Stadium, Turkey

Matchday 2
Wednesday, August 27
Kickoff: 19:45 UK time
Emirates Stadium