A Fener Fan On The FerryCommentary • Author: Emre Kızılkaya • Thursday, February 7, 2008
A widespread urban legend depicts three Turkish football fans that are reading the newspaper on a ferry traveling through the Bosphorus: The Fener fan bought the newspaper and is reading it. The Beşiktaş fan is trying to read over the shoulder of the Fener fan. The Galatasaray fan on the other hand, waits until the Fenerbahçe fan is done with it and the newspaper is disposed, then goes, picks it up, and reads it comfortably.
Unlike the fans in the countries like Spain, Italy, or any of the Latin American countries, it is not really possible to classify the Turkish fans according to their political, social, or cultural preferences. One can find at least one person of every political current, religion or lifestyle choice amongst the fan base of each Turkish football club.
However, a fairly accurate conclusion can be drawn from that urban legend of the football fans on the ferry, which, admittedly, was most likely started by a Fenerbahçe fan. That anecdote paints a good picture of the psychological and social profiles of the supporters that call the Istanbulian big three their teams, albeit with a crude sense of humour.
The Southern European or the Latin American equivalents of this urban legend most likely take the political preferences of the travellers as a focal point. But in Turkey, the fans on the ferry are separated by the sharp differences in their socio-economical alliance to their respective clubs.
First of all this little anecdote has a very clear message: The supporters of the biggest three teams in Turkey, who by estimates make up 90% of the 70 million citizens, are very interested in the news regarding their clubs, and this is true across the board, with no variation amongst the fans of the different clubs. This is evidenced by the fact that the three fans, who support different teams, all want to read the newspaper sooner or later.
The difference lies in this: The Fenerbahçe fans are willing to give up some of their disposable income in order to be more closely related with their team. The Beşiktaş fans, who are responsible for the infamous “watching the team from a nearyby hill instead of paying to get into the stadium” incident, usually look for and find a way to be “free riders." The Galatasaray fans, not willing to publicly scoop down to the level of free riders, prefer to wait for the newspaper to become useless to the current owner. Maybe he saw what pages the owner took more time to read, hence coming to the conclusion that he was a Fenerbahçe fan, and he did not want to interact with a supporter of a club that is Galatasaray’s archrival. Maybe notions like “nobleness” and “elitism” that is the history of Galatasaray created a sense of “uniqueness” in that fan.
Since this joke-like anecdote makes almost all the Turkish fans smile, without differentiating between the fans of Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş, there must be some credibility to it; or at least it must be carrying a semblance of truth. Therefore, the tentative conclusion that Fenerbahçe fans are more willing to support their team economically, Beşiktaş fans are stronger in the face of physical obstacles, and Galatasaray fans are a little more passive and superficial in their support of the club must be correct to a certain degree.
There has been a somewhat cliché criticism trend in the recent years, that blames the “tabloid sports media” for favouring Fenerbahçe over the other teams in terms of coverage. The people who utilize this criticism are missing a very basic fact: Even when the heads of the sports sections of the newspapers are Galatasaray or Beşiktaş fans, Fenerbahçe receives more coverage than the other two. This is simply due to the fact that there are numerically more supporters of Fenerbahçe in Turkey than the other members of the Istanbulian big three, and this in turn not only provides more nominal economic gain, but also since Fener fans are more interested in products related to their club, they provide a marginally more profitable consumer base: Fenerbahçe equals more sales, more ratings.
As an incorporated company that reached a 1 billion YTL (Approximately $850 million) worth in a short period of time, Fenerbahçe owes this success to its fans, and the management that successfully utilized the potential of this fan base. In a race where its stocks started at much lower values than its Istanbulian rivals, Fenerbahçe today reached the “most valuable football team of the stock market” title, mainly thanks to the ownership and loyalty feelings of its fans.
In terms of merchandising, none of its rivals can reach the success of Fenerium, the merchandise brand of Fenerbahçe and the name given to its merchandise stores, and with services like Fenerbahçe TV and Fenerbahçe Magazine, the club is constantly widening the gap between itself and its archrivals thanks to the quality of the services provided. This widening gap is more important than any cup or title that can be won: For sustainable growth, the importance of economic strength precedes any football related achievements.
The Fenerbahçe Worldwide initiative can be seen as an extension of the allegory that is the “Fener fan on the ferry”. Which other team, a member of the Istanbulian elite or not, can boast of having fans, two of whom are not even Turkish, that are so devoted to their club that they would, with a corporation-like professionalism, broadcast a multi-lingual website dedicated to the colours they love?
The omnipotent bond that is formed between the fans and the club of Fenerbahçe, regardless of the nationalities of the fans, and that makes Fenerbahçe the “Only Big” (A reference to the “big three” title) team in Turkey has perhaps been best explained by one of the most influential sports writers of his time, İslam Çupi (1932-2001):
“If the Republic of Fenerbahçe is healthy and successful, everyone in Turkey will also be happy and peaceful. The merchants will have smiles on their faces, the sales will all go well. Theatres, bars, taverns are full. The stadiums in every city are filled to capacity. Even though its fans are called “f.gs” by the other teams’ supporters, Fenerbahçe brings prosperity and wealth to every city it visits.
“If the Republic of Fenerbahçe is non-existent, there is no Turkey, there is no football, there is no prosperity, there are no people, living entities have a hard time breathing and the country becomes a graveyard. The greatness of Fenerbahçe doesn’t come from titles or cups. Its greatness is something else that has no name for it...