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March 22, 2013
Galatasaray’s advance to the Champions League Round of 16 presented a welcome opportunity to attend a European match in the stadium. As my PhD thesis is on Süper Lig fans in Vienna, TV fan culture in bars and restaurants forms a crucial part of my research. However, mobility and transnational fan networks are important aspects of migrant fan culture, which is why a trip to Gelsenkirchen seemed promising.
‘Only English and Turkish’
While taking the tram from Gelsenkirchen Central Station to the stadium, I witnessed an interesting encounter. The train was full of Schalke and Galatasaray fans going to the Veltins-Arena — all of them wearing their team’s colours. There were roughly the same amount of supporters from the two clubs, their chants ringing throughout the tram, generating an exciting atmosphere ahead of an appealing match.
Closer to the stadium, a merry Schalke supporter boarded the tram with his friends. He approached a group of Galatasaray fans and started expressing his opinion on players from the two teams. All he got in return were irritated looks. After a moment of confusion, one man from the group explained in German that apart from him, they were all from Turkey and only spoke English and Turkish, not German.
The couple seated beside me repeated his words in hushed whispers: ‘They are from Turkey. They only speak English and Turkish.’ People were both surprised and interested. The Schalke fan was now even more eager to learn their opinion on specific players. The man who understood German was left to translate.
People on the tram were astonished to encounter football supporters from Turkey, although a Turkish club was playing an important European match. It got me thinking: Is it considered more unusual for fans of a Turkish club to travel from Turkey to watch the game in Gelsenkirchen than if they live in Germany? Is this a good sign that people with Turkish backgrounds are accepted as part of German society? I am not entirely sure whether this is truly the case, especially as during the match I heard several discriminatory comments levelled against the Turkish team and their fans from the Schalke fan that was sat next to me.
Having observed national prejudices come to the fore in the stadium, I understand how easily a football match can become a struggle for recognition on various levels. My interviewees often equate winning a Champions League match with gaining recognition in Europe.
Indeed, the Champions League offers the perfect platform to attach importance to it — the Champions League anthem, the crisp HD pictures and slow motion as well as media reports and comments by famous ex-players all suggest that something momentous will take place on the pitch.
Within the stadium though, producing the myth of importance is not easy. I was quite disappointed when the usual proceedings began, because I had somehow expected more excitement. The impressive Champions League anthem was practically lost among the chants, the stadium commentator was as ineloquent as they often are, and it was six degrees below zero.
Watching the match on TV may not be more exciting, but ironically, it is more likely to make you feel as though you are genuinely participating in something significant. Anyway, the compensation for my initial disillusionment was a thrilling match. Seeing Galatasaray score twice right in front of me was priceless. Do I still prefer watching football on TV? Yes, I do, but only because six degrees below zero does not bother me in a pub.