As a simple football enthusiast who at least knows football has nothing to do with gender, and as a women’s football commentator for half-a-decade “Beyond Winning: Memoir of a Women’s Soccer Coach” by S.S Hanna has become one of my favourite books ever. Mr., Dr. or Coach Hanna, who is actually an English professor coaching varsity sports teams part-time, in this book, presents what he went through when he decided to coach the women’s football team of a small American liberal arts college in its first season. The diary of the season is full of defeats scorewise, but it is also a memoir of how people progress, even evolve when they all get a share of participation in the game. I loved the book because it’s not about the superstars and how they become superheroes by acquiring super powers, it’s about how and what sports can contribute to normal people’s lives. To me, that’s what sports is all about. Therefore, below you’ll read an “Hannaesque” review of Turkey’s 10-1 defeat against Spain.
Turkish women’s football team has always been mythical to me. On Eurosport, I commentated dozens, maybe hundreds of women’s footbal games, I have known Kim Kulig or Lira Bajramaj since they got their first U17 caps, but I could never have a chance to commentate, even fully see a single game of Turkey women’s national football team, for a simple reason, they always played in small fields in provincial Anatolia, the TV never broadcast their games. They were treated like the ugly child of the family. While the men’s team reached semi-finals in the World Cup and in the Euro, they kept on conceding goals. Not a single TFF president could dare to damage his reputation with a poor display of “football-learning women”. The team wasn’t expected to improve anyway, all they supposed to do was to stay away.
For this last couple of years, while the conditions are still less than desired, there’s a drastical change, thanks to a number of factors. First of all, especially Platini’s UEFA urged its many hesitant members like us to invest in grassroots and especially in women’s football. As women’s football found a prominent place in the famous Grassroots Charter, Turkish Football Federation found itself obliged to make a move. That’s where the FGM, Football General Directorate comes in. This small department of the TFF consists of hard-working people who are trying swim against the flow in the hypercommodified environment of Turkish football. They handle all the grassroots projects and campaigns with a budget which looks like a tip comparing to the hundred-million dollar budget of Turkish Super League. They also have to face the overwhelming bureacracy of the federation in daily basis, of which the motto is “don’t even dream about it”.
So, the FGM and its women’s football department managed to stage this Euro 2013 qualifier against Spain, in Istanbul and in Kasımpaşa, which used to be a Super League stadium. This was a major step as Istanbul is definitely the football capital of the country and the match was -for once- in a stadium where people actually knew its location. Besides, the game was free and the well-known “the Grey Owls” fan group were invited to the stadium. “The Grey Owls” is a young and witty bunch of people who decided to support İstanbul BB club in Super League, simply because “they had no fans”. They obviously had an affection towards the castaways of football and they didn’t refuse the invitation. Along with locals from Kasımpaşa, nearly a hundred curious women and the relatives of the players, we were about 500 in the stands. Yeah, it’s sort of depressing when you see 5000 people watched the US team’s training in Kansas but it’s relieving when you know it’s 470-480 fans more than our last national game.
The game did not have too much to talk about. The team started rather nervous and over-excited (maybe because they weren’t used to playing while people cheer) and they conceded two goals in the first minutes of the game. They also seemed physically slow as most of them did not have a summer training programme (the ones playing in Turkish League do not really have a proper winter training programme anyway, one training and one game per week). Leyla Güngör, playing in Malmö, created a major buzz when she craftedly chipped the ball over the Spanish keeper and made it 2-1. People started to expect a minor defeat or even a draw in those minutes but it didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t the case. The WPS star Vero Boquete and her teammates exploited every single mistake of Turkish defenders and god, well there were too many of them. After 8-1, Turkey changed the keeper due to an injury and captain Bilgin Defterli arranged a small on-pitch huddle to get things back into order, at least as much as it might be possible. Turkish team showed a better display in attack after that but their condition could not keep up with it and they conceded two more in counters. The result was what any football fan would dread about; a double digit score in opponent’s side.
While some fifty, sixty people left the stands when things became more cruel gradually, most of the fans remained seated till the final whistle. Then, something unexpected happened. The fans called the team to the stands and cheered, “Turkey is proud of you”. This is something we don’t have in our football culture. I am 30 years old, I have been working as a sports professional for almost ten years and this is the first time I see a football team getting cheered up after being thrashed by ten goals. Turkish football perception is generally based on expectations and not on encouragement. Therefore, what I saw after the game was shockingly pleasant or pleasantly shocking. Maybe the team was too depressed to realize this but I guess they will come to get it someday soon.
What I hope for is the TFF would stop hiding this team from people. They were against a big opponent, they weren’t obviously ready for this. But they weren’t booed, the fans did not leave them alone and they stood by them. When they get used to playing with a crowd in the stands, when they get better shape and when the TFF stops investing all the money to the corrupted and mafia-driven men’s Super League things will change. These women come from a country where conservative men still kill their wives and get away with it, where even the luckiest women have to face unfair treatment and/or sexual harassment in their professional lives. These women know how to face and tackle difficulties. They win not by scoring more goals than they concede, but by playing football, setting an example and seeking respect and recognition as women in a male-dominated country.
Sometimes a victory is not about what you win at the end, it’s about what you fought for. And that’s how Turkish women’s football team won the game, conceding ten goals and scoring only one.
Sport sociology lecturer with a PhD degree in sport and social issues, and a women’s football commentator in Turkey.