As we leave the apartment, Sean finishes wrapping his black and white scarf around his neck and turns to us. "Everyone wearing team colors?"
I look down at my black shirt with a start. Uh, I guess. I didn't know it mattered that much. Apparently, it does because Sean and his Turkish friend from work later convince a friend visiting from Eugene that he needs to change his shirt. Though he's wearing navy blue with yellow, which are the colors of a rival team that's not even playing in the game tonight, Sean and the girl are convinced that this bearded American guy in the Che hat is going to be beaten down by an unruly soccer mob if he's seen in a navy shirt. It takes a lot of convincing because this harmless guy cannot fathom this happening.
Nathan and I, on the other hand, lived across from a soccer stadium in Scotland and regularly saw the fan riots, and are not difficult to convince. We meet in a courtyard not far from the stadium which is filled with men happily drinking, cheering, and singing the various Besiktas fight songs. The din gradually increases as a large group surges past in a parade toward the stadium. Apparently it's the club fans following the van of players who have just been driven by the courtyard.
An old woman is steadily selling beer from a wheelbarrow filled with ice next to me. The din grows as someone begins playing a pan-pipe. A drunken guy begins to bob and weave. It seems to be a dance. His equally drunk girlfriend pulls her team scarf from her neck and holds it above her head. He grabs an end. They spin and kick, bobbing their heads and snapping their fingers in time (mostly) to the music, each holding an end of her scarf. Someone sets off flares. A man stands holding a flare in each hand. He begins singing and everyone joins in. It is, of course, a bunch of undecipherable words. But they are said with great feeling.
Later, at the game, seated in the top row of the huge stadium with a giant cloud of cigarette smoke hovering just above our heads, the continuous chanting ebbs and flows around us. It takes nothing more than a referee whistle toot to rile the crowd into a frenzy. At one point, the stadium seats seem to fill with white balloons as whole sections blow them up and hold them, popping them simultaneously upon receiving some unseen signal. The game itself is relatively boring, both teams well-matched.
Nathan grimaces as a man lights up a Turkish cigarette and moves to a seat just in front of him. Sean is sitting in front of us, talking anarchy with the glassblower from Oregon. He is impervious to the smoke, the dull roar, and the soccer game. Meanwhile, Nathan has taken to roaming the back wall, trying unsuccessfully to escape the chain smoking fans surrounding us.
A call from the ref preventing the Besiktas goal from being counted elicits catcalls and cursing from the crowd. The last two minutes are exciting as the score is tied and there is now a fire lit under the fans and in their team. The cheering reaches a fevered pitch as Besiktas takes two or three more shots on goal, but to little success. The game ends in a tie.
Still, they haven't lost, and everyone seems in satisfied spirits. No euphoria, but no anger either. As the rival team and their throng file off the field they are surrounded by policemen in full riot gear forming a screen of plastic shields overhead, and someone half-halfheartedly throws a bottle. It falls far short of the target. We join the river of fans streaming through the gates out into the streets.
We wander through a darkened park, heading toward the lighted patio of a hookah bar in the distance.