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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Turks put blame on Alpay
By Jonny Dymond
in Istanbul

You might expect Turkey to be springing to the defence of Alpay.

The Turkish people are inclined to patriotic outbursts, which can sometimes slip into some pretty ugly nationalism.

But either times have changed or the Alpay-Beckham clash was simply too much an open-and-shut case.

The day after the Turkey v England match, the story of who said what to whom barely made the papers.

Instead, there was mass hand-wringing by Turkish sportswriters over the lousy performance of the Turkish team in the Euro 2004 qualifier they had to win to reach the finals automatically.

Although some papers carried photos of Alpay and Beckham (literally) head to head, the story itself was buried well inside the back pages.

Little sympathy

Two days later and it's still rumbling but now it's dwarfed by we-can't-believe-our-luck stories about how Turkey faces Latvia in the November play-offs.

And rather than springing to Alpay's defence, the papers pin the blame fairly and squarely on the Aston Villa defender's shoulders.

"It's Alpay's Mistake" is the headline in bestselling Hurriyet; "Anger on Alpay" is how Sabah headlines the story.

Radical reports Alpay's denial that he did anything wrong ("I Said Nothing Bad").

But nowhere is there the kind of full-throated defence that you might expect.

Amongst Istanbul's workers and residents there's little sympathy for Alpay, but not a whole load of interest in the story either.

"Complex, complex," said Hakan Oner, a 29-year-old sipping a soft drink with his friend Bora Sarisu, 24, outside a café in the autumn sunlight.

"Alpay's fault," was Hakan's verdict.

Bora agreed: "The way Beckham missed the penalty, he was already upset, so why did Alpay go and talk to him? You don't do that."

Just a few metres down the road inside Osman Café, there was general agreement with that point of view, but deep irritation at the suggestion that Turkey was a violent or inhospitable place.

"It was a good match except for Alpay's behaviour," was a typical comment.

Alpay is a controversial figure at Aston Villa
Alpay is not Mr Popular at Villa
A number of customers mentioned the conspiracy theory currently doing the rounds - that Alpay doesn't want to work in England anymore and is trying to get thrown out.

Mere mention of Turkey's image in Britain - or the image promulgated by some of the British press - got a sharp retort.

"That's not true," was the response to the suggestion that Turkish fans were violent or that it was dangerous to come to Turkey.

One bank worker overheard the conversation and threw in his opinion.

"When they come over here we give them flowers," he said.

"When we go over there we're kept in the arrivals hall where they interrogate us for hours."

Turkey seems happy to let to Alpay swing by the rope he has made for himself; but it will not allow his behaviour to blacken the name of the team, its fans or the country as a whole.

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