I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but “weird American” has probably taken the top spot in recent years. There are many reasons I’ve been called this, but my following the game of futbol (I refuse to call it “soccer”) is one of the major ones.
Even more, my team isn’t an MLS team, the professional league here in America. Instead, my passion and devotion belongs to Turkish super club, Fenerbahce. When Americans (or anyone, for that matter) find out, I usually get a confused, befuddled look followed by “…why?!?”
It all started for me a few years ago. Like most Americans, I grew up hating futbol primarily because I didn’t understand it. However, as I said, I can point to one thing that changed my life and my perspective: travel. After college, I began traveling internationally and in early 2005, my travels took me to Istanbul, Turkiye. I’ve often said that we overuse the phrase “it changed my life.” However, my first trip to Istanbul absolutely changed my life.
I’ve traveled to some fantastic places in the last several years, including destinations considered the most beautiful on Earth. I have loved each place I’ve visited, but I fell in love with Turkiye immediately. It was surreal – I knew I was home within days of arriving.
I knew that one day I would call Turkiye my home and I couldn’t wait. The scenery was beautiful and I was greatly impressed by the Blue Mosque and many of the wonderful sites in Istanbul. There was one thing, however, that made me fall in love with Turkiye more than anything else – the people. Sure, the Turks are gracious and wonderfully hospitable people, but my admiration for them went beyond the obvious. There was something special about the people that called this wonderful nation home.
WATCHING THE DERBY IN LOUISVILLE
Ironically, after traveling a bit, I started realizing something. The rest of the world absolutely loved futbol; everyone but us Americans. I though if everyone else loved it, we must be missing out on something. Not long before my first trip to Turkiye, I started watching the game as I tried to figure out what I must be missing.
I had a Turk friend here in Louisville who invited me to his apartment to watch The Derby – Fenerbahce vs. Galatasaray. He was a big Fenerbahce fan and he was eager to share his love for this team with me. I sat and watched the fans at Sukru Saracoglu cheer passionately for their team and I started to understand what I had been missing out on. The game was starting to make sense to me and the more I watched it, the more I loved it.
By the time I made my first trip to Turkiye, I was starting to watch a bit more futbol and like most fans new to the game, I watched Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and other world powers. I was watching arguably the best teams in the world, but I began to realize something – they weren’t Fenerbahce. Sure, they had incredible resources, amazing stadiums, and large fan bases around the world. But there was something missing – something that I only found when I watched Fenerbahce.
The more futbol I watched, the more I realized there was something magical about this club. It seemed to me that they had everything those other big clubs had, but they had something even more impressive - the best fans in the world. There was something special about the Fenerli’s. Sure, those other clubs had passionate, devoted fans but Fener seemed like more than a futbol club to its fans. It was a religion; a sense of brotherhood linked its fans around the world. I knew that I was starting to love this team as I watched them more, and I desperately wanted to be a part of this brotherhood.
FANHOOD BECOMES PASSION
After my first trip to Turkiye in 2005, I began following Fenerbahce more and more. It was difficult, as there aren’t exactly a lot of Turkish futbol games on TV in America. Even more, I didn’t speak a bit of Turkish other than “merhaba” and a few basic words. I started following the team online which was even more difficult with the seven-hour time difference. However, my fanhood was becoming more of passion.
For early kick-offs, I would get up at 7:00 in the morning to follow Fenerbahce scores online. My wife thought I was crazy, as I would sit in front of my computer clicking “refresh” every few minutes and screaming when I would see that Fener had scored. By following the team online and through the club’s website, I started learning some basic Turkish words. Although I was learning more, I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of information on the club in English. By this time I knew that Fener was a big global club with fans around the world, which baffled me even more as to why there was so little news on the club in English. I became determined to try to do something about it.
My love for Fenerbahce, combined with developing more friendships with Turkish people in my city and other fans online, allowed me to learn more Turkish. Finally, in July 2006, I decided that there must be at least someone else in the world that loved Fenerbahce but didn’t speak Turkish. I had read about people starting blogs and it seemed rather easy from what I heard, so I decided I would start a blog about Fenerbahce in English. I had learned a small amount of Turkish just from following Fenerbahce, and I knew it would help me down the road because I knew I would one day call Turkiye my home. Finally, in July 2006, I started Fenerbahce Worldwide. I covered news on the team, wrote recaps of games, even began writing editorials on the team’s performance.
In May 2007, the Turkish media found out about the “weird American” who loved Fenerbahce and had this little blog. Hurriyet, Zaman, Fenerbahce TV, Fenerbahce Magazine, and many others began requesting interviews. Fenerbahce USA invited me to New York to speak at their annual banquet. In October 2007, I went back to Turkiye to appear on Fenerbahce TV again and to do interviews and meetings with other sports organizations in Istanbul. I was honored by all of the attention, but I felt like it was part of my calling. I knew that if I could fall in love with this club, there would be others as well.
MOVING TO TURKEY
Two years ago I began working on a Master’s degree in Sport Management, which is essentially the marketing and management of sports organizations. This turned into part of my mission – to get my Master’s degree and move to Turkiye to work for this club that I had fallen so deeply in love with. I’ll finish my degree later this year and my wife and I are planning to move to Turkiye, hopefully, next year. Meanwhile, the little blog has evolved into something much larger. I have three co-workers now, and we launched www.fenerbahceworldwide.org on January 28th. The new site will not only feature up-to-the-minute news on Fenerbahce in English, but also will feature sections in Turkish, Portuguese, and Spanish.
We also have correspondents in Turkiye, USA, and Brasil on staff now. Although the blog evolved into something much larger than it started out as, it’s just the first step of our goal to take Fenerbahce to the world. However, the introduction of Fenerbahce is also just a beginning. Most people who have yet to visit Turkiye have an incorrect perception of this incredible nation. My goal has become not only to introduce this club I love so much to the world, but also to share this nation that I hope to call home with others. It started with a little blog, now evolving into a full website with employees and plans to launch new media ventures in the near future. My friends are finally starting to realize that I’m on to something with this Fenerbahce craze, but to most, I’m still just the “weird American.”
(February 2008, Tourism Special Issue)