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Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Passion of Turkish fans
Galatasaray supporters
Galatasaray fans have rarely been involved in incidents with foreigners
By former Ankara Correspondent Pam O'Toole

Galatasary - one of Turkey's oldest and most prestigious clubs - has a large and devoted following in this football-crazy country.

In recent years it and other top Turkish teams have seen increasing success in European tournaments.

Galatasaray supporters have rarely been involved in serious incidents involving foreign fans.

The last major incident involving Galatasaray and British football supporters was in 1993, when there were scuffles between Galatasaray and Manchester United supporters in Istanbul.
fans
Galatasaray's fans are crazy for their team
Turkish witnesses alleged that the Manchester fans had provoked the trouble by urinating on a Turkish flag - a highly provocative action in such a nationalist country.

More than 100 Mancunians were deported after incidents in which United supporters were accused of smashing windows and furniture in their hotel in Istanbul's Old City.

Rivalry

Galatasaray officials insist that their supporters were not involved in the incidents in Istanbul yesterday in which two Leeds fans were killed.

But that is not to say that Turkish football supporters are never involved in violence.

The rivalry between Galatasaray and another Istanbul club, Fenerbahce, is so fierce that some kind of trouble is reported between their fans almost every league season.

Turkish police have previously confiscated knives, hatchets and kebab cutters ahead of big games, while fans' over-enthusiastic use of fireworks has sometimes caused significant damage to stadiums.

Some gun-toting Turkish football supporters have the habit of firing into the air in the street after a match to celebrate their team's victory, killing innocent people watching the celebrations on nearby balconies.

The government is doing its best to discourage such actions.

Violence on the pitch

Footballers themselves are not exempt from violence.

A Fenerbahce goalkeeper was recently hauled from his car and soundly beaten by fans who blamed him for losing a match.

Players have also been involved in a number of well publicised scuffles on the pitch, both in national and international matches.

An on-pitch fight which broke out between two Turkish teams in 1998 was so fierce that the referee halted the game, saying that lives were in danger.

The visiting team were given a police guard when they left the stadium.

But mostly it is the attitude - rather than the actions - of Turkish fans which has given them their daunting international reputation.

Visiting supporters have reported being intimidated by the now traditional banners reading "Welcome to Hell" and by boisterous fans who arrive in the stadium hours early and whip themselves into a frenzy by chanting and banging drums.

But the Turkish fans are usually not as aggressive as they appear, as the Italian team, Juventus, found when they arrived in Istanbul to play Galatasaray last year, during a low point in Turkish-Italian relations.

At a time when Italian-made goods were being burned in the street over Italy's refusal to extradite a Turkish Kurdish rebel leader, Galatasaray supporters gathered at Istanbul airport to throw white lilies in front of the Juventus bus.

The Italian players were pleasantly surprised by their welcome.

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See also:

06 Apr 00 | Europe
Fans' anguish at deaths
06 Apr 00 | Europe
Tragedy mars match fever
06 Apr 00 | Europe
Tight security for Euro match
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