Gaziantepspor; the Turkish club playing dangerously close to the Syrian civil war, and their predecessors in proximity to conflict

By Tom Simmonds.

In 1960, the then UK prime minister, Harold Macmillan, reportedly said “Events, my dear boy, events”, in response to a question about what he felt the biggest destabilising factor for governments was. Whether Macmillan actually said this will forever be a matter of conjecture, but what is not in dispute is that he was right.

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That quote can also be viewed through a footballing prism. The fate of the brilliant Red Star Belgrade side of the late 1980s and early 1990s is an example. This was a team representative of the former Yugoslavia, containing a majority of Serbs, but also Croats (Robert Prosinecki), Bosnians (Refik Sabanadzovic) and Macedonians (Darko Pancev, Ilija Najdoski).

Red Star became European club champions in 1990 after boring Marseille to death in a final performance at odds with their verve in previous rounds. A year later, Yugoslavia was plunged into civil, and later international, war by President Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal actions. These also resulted in a superb Yugoslav national side, who arguably underachieved by reaching the quarter-finals of the Italia 90 World Cup, then being banned from Euro 92, which they would likely have won, being replaced by winners Denmark.

The fate that awaits Turkish Super Lig side Gaziantepspor is one to keep an eye on in this regard. Located approximately 30 miles from the Syrian border, Gaziantep is a city perilously close to the current conflict in Syria, and there are many reports of the city being used as a staging post for travellers looking to join the jihad.

Gaziantepspor, currently managed by legendary Turkish midfielder Buruk Okan, have been ever present in the Super Lig since 1990, finishing 4th as recently as 2010-11. Their 2011-12 Europa League campaign resulted in a narrow loss to Legia Warsaw in the third qualifying round. Their recent European history also includes another narrow loss to Roma (1-2 on aggregate, after winning the first leg 1-0) in 2003.

While it is unlikely that Antep will qualify for Europe this season (they sit 10th with eight games left), it will be interesting to see the reaction from the game’s governing bodies should they manage to do so soon. Shakhtar Donetsk’s inability to play at their state-of-the-art Donbass Arena due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is a contemporary example of what might be on the horizon for Antep should events escalate.

There is also the reaction of other clubs to be taken into account, particularly in light of Friday’s firearms attack on the Fenerbahce team bus by Trabzonspor fans; an incident that has prompted the suspension of Turkish domestic fixtures for a week. The western perception of Turkish football being a byword for an extreme brand of hooliganism will surely be turned up to 11 by this, and Gaziantep’s location would certainly serve to make any team drawn to play there twitchy.

There is precedent for this twitchiness. Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala are used to playing their European games in Moscow owing to perpetual unrest in their region. In 2001, six Chelsea players chose not to travel to an away Uefa Cup tie against Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2001 due to personal safety fears in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the commencement of Coalition military action in Afghanistan.

The hope for all of Gaziantep’s proud citizens is that the Sahinler (Falcons) can continue playing at the Kamil Ocak Stadium in whatever competitions they have earned the right to enter. It is not an unrealistic prospect; the Turkish military machine is more than capable of protecting its cities. This is a club whose red and black heraldry was chosen as a tribute to the 6,000-plus martyrs who died in the Defence of Gaziantep in Turkey’s War of Independence from 1919-23. This is not a city that countenances retreat. We all hope events take a turn that allows Antepis to live, and support their club in peace, in their city.

Do you support a club that has been destabilised by international events?

What great teams do you remember being cut off in their prime by factors beyond their control?

Follow @TallulahonEarth

Read more from Tom Simmonds here

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