There are boundary places that escape from space and time, lashing out at prejudices and offering a different reality from original expectations. İzmir shows up in that way: the Aegean Pearl, Occidental outpost of that chaotic intersection of our earth called Turkey. The gulf in front of Alsancak is almost unreachable: external pressures and traditions don’t condition the town’s life too much. The controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defins Izmir “the unfaithful“, and maybe he’s right.
What is İzmir, if not a mysterious and indipendent woman, apparently conquered, but always remained on her own?
People going, people coming. İzmir has always lived liked that, along the centuries, on the brink between Greece and Turkey, Occident and Orient. So nobody noted nothing exceptional in the moment when, about a hundred years ago, that game with the ball started its diffusion away from indiscreet eyes.
Some years before a English group taught the same creed in an Italian port, close thanks to exchanges and commerce, Genoa. Different shades, distant traditions that have few common points: as always, football created a common language, arrived in Turkey on the piers of a crowded port.
They began to call it futbol, the Ispanic way, but with no accent. The Greek community founded Apollon, infecting Italian and Turkish people of that place. The new mode spread to Karşıyaka, a district where being different from the rest of İzmir is a rule. Here we find another club: its colours, red and green, remind at Italy, an interesing photography for the most eccentric team of the Aegean Pearl.
The tricolor flag will be raised again in Karşıyaka even after Ottoman Empire’s fall, but just because of futbol. The rest will be left to the red colour, unquestionably Turkish. Apollon Smyrni, Greek soul of the new game of the town, transferred to Athens. Apollon made futbol real in town, but it was just on a point of passage.
And here we leave as we came
goodbye brother sea
I harbor a bit ‘of your gravel
a bit’ of your salt blue
a bit ‘of your infinity
and a little bit of your light
Different people and stories leave the country: who might describe better their moment than Nâzım Hikmet, the Turkish poet par excellence, a life-long point of passage existance. Born in Greece, he is forced to Turkey: expelled by his country, he finds the melancholic words of a generation split by ethnic divisions.
Still today, growing up in İzmir means remembering 1923’s legacy.
We’re different, the ones in Karşıyaka. From the government, from the others,
says Alper, a slightly almond-eyed guy, with a smile on his face. Alper every day wakes up between the majestic palaces of a new district, Mavişehir, that some years ago did not even exist; once people lived thanks to commerce trades, near the port piers. Then, goodbye brother sea. That age is remembered through the Pelican, Karşıyaka‘s symbol, still present in front of the club’s offices a few metres away of Anadolu high-schools. There, every morning, a strong music rises in the air: a crowded group wearing school uniforms form a kind of official gathering. Singing out, all together, a chorus learnt probably by heart.
It’s that moment of the day we, young Turks, dedicate to the Father of our Homeland
tells Alper. Exactly in that moment, his eyeview is caught by that rebel ball, kicked by a group that left the gathering. Futbol is even there, in the Mustafa Kemal Paşa memorial moment.
The Aegean Pearl, naturally, has a soft spot towards west: a pilot-project for Turkish entrance into the European Union passes exactly through Izmir, a worldwide example of efficiency in transports, infrastructures and modern experiments.
The relationship beetween the Aegean Pearl and Atatürk might be seen that way. Nevertheless, the Father of the Homeland contributed to that Iron Curtain, a linguistic-cultural barrier towards Greece that left the Aegean Sea red in blood, remembering the Turkish literary effort more suitable when we talk about Occident and Orient divisions, the one by Yaşar Kemal. The meeting between Poyraz Musa and Vasili in the Greek-Turkish island is the personal history of any person in Izmir, of that choice that meant, for many, leaving towards the Aegean Sea with no possibility of return.
The sea always runs the game. The brother sea of Hikmet and the ones that live in the points of passage. The Izmir sea-crossing reminds that Bosphorus trip separating Beyoğlu from Kadiköy, for football fans a poetic symphony named Galatasaray-Fenerbahçe. In Izmir football followed some Istanbul mechanisms. On one side Karşıyaka, on the other Göztepe: a matter or territory, as always in Turkey.
But the comparisons with Bosphorus quite bother the unfaithful town, terribly undervalued and snubbed when the historic comparison with Kostantiniyye put her in second sight. Furthermore, also in the football élite İzmir was, as always, just a point of passage.
Door to the Occident for Turkey, İzmir dreams the Continent through a great feat, remained sculpted for the eternity.
Göztepe‘s futbol saw Europe in the sixties. Since then, Europe did never leave Göztepe: an imponent sculpture, showing those European nights’ heroes, stands out in a memorial in the central square of the yellow-and-red district.
Even a Bosnian take-away paints itself of red-and-yellow, melting different traditions and kicking away many clichés. The owner cooks Ćevapčići continuously, does not speak too much, but he expresses an unambiguous judgement: he comes from Sarajevo, but he lives for Göztepe. Well, so he said. İzmir is also this: barriers that melt during the İzmir Derbisi eve. The only division is represented by colours: a north-south barrier between Karşıyaka and Göztepe.
The fleeing fascination of a sea-crossing between the seagulls in Feribot is part of the derby, even if not the Izmir Derbisi itself.
So, heading north to Karşıyaka, I realize how futbol there gives hope, means life. It’s the soundtrack of the derby’s eve. A huge crowd give their warm welcome to people on the boats, jumping at the rhythm of stadium chants: 18 hours to the game mean nothing, the final is already written. Karşıyaka at the end really win the game, in spite of predictions. İzmir Derbisi, as the whole Izmir, follows its own unexplainable rules. Göztepe fight but lose at the end, and will try to reach İstanbul’s theatres in the remaining games.
It had to end like that: football came back where everything began, on the northern side of the bay. Even if just for 90 minutes, remembering that time when somebody tried to follow a ball on the piers. Those men were passing. Futbol, instead, decided to stay there, and to write a different story, re-writing even the town inner borders.
Exactly there, today, hundreds of Syrian boys watch the sea, waiting for a signal from Occident. İzmir waits for it, and probably Turkey too.
We’ve been able to say a lot of things
on your destiny sea
here we are with a little ‘more than hope
here we are with a little’ more wisdom
and we leave as we came
goodbye brother sea