Photographers' Blog

Fans, fire and fury

May 20, 2010

Fenerbahce’s hopes of winning the Turkish league title for the 18th time were all resting on the final round of games in the 2009-2010 Super League. Expectations among their fans were high, with the major Istanbul club knowing a win at home against Trabzonspor was enough to clinch the championship.

Second-placed Bursaspor were one point behind Fenerbahce on 72 points and faced the tough prospect of a match against last year’s champions Besiktas. Some 50,000 Fenerbahce fans wearing navy blue and yellow jerseys took their seats at the Sukru Saracoglu stadium with their attention focused more on celebrating their imminent title triumph than on watching the game.

Fenerbahce's Daniel Guiza of Spain celebrates scoring a goal against Trabzonspor during their Turkish Super League soccer match at Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul May 16, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Spanish striker Daniel Guiza scored the opening goal in the 14th minute, but nine minutes later Trabzonspor equalized with a goal from Burak Yilmaz. The first half ended 1-1. Even at that stage, Fenerbahce fans were very confident of victory. There was an atmosphere of celebration in the stadium. In the second half Fenerbahce played more attacking football.

The home side kept up the pressure but was unable to convert chance after chance. With the 90 minutes over, the referee signaled four minutes of extra time. Fenerbahce kept on attacking with the aim of scoring a winning goal. In the second extra minute, an announcement changed everything in the stadium.

The stadium announcer shouted out that Bursaspor had equalized 2-2 against Besiktas. This result would have meant that Fenerbahce were champions. Even players and team members of Fenerbahce believed this announcement and they stopped attacking their opponents goal.

When the match ended, the fans took advantage of the absence of any barriers and streamed onto the pitch to celebrate the championship triumph with the players. Within 10 seconds, the pitch was full of joyful fans. I saw Fenerbahce’s Uruguayan defender Lugano on the shoulders of celebrating fans. I could not see any other players or team members because of the crowd. Following another announcement, the joy of winning the title was ripped away from the fans and players. The same announcer who declared Fenerbahce champions corrected his mistake and revealed the reality. “The Bursaspor vs Besiktas game in fact finished 2-1. Bursaspor are the champions.” Fenerbahce had needed another goal.

Fenerbahce soccer fans occupy the field at the end of the Turkish Super League soccer match between Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor at Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul May 16, 2010.  REUTERS/Murad Sezer

A Fenerbahce soccer fan covers his face at the end of the Turkish Super League soccer match between Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor at Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul May 16, 2010.  REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Nobody wanted to believe it. Even I myself thought it was a plan to remove joyful fans from the pitch. Everybody, including photographers, were asking one another who the real champions were. In a short time, the truth emerged. After the 1-1 draw with Trabzonspor at home, the favorites Fenerbahce had lost the championship. Thousands of disappointed Fenerbahce fans froze where they stood. The players ran off to the dressing rooms.

After a short silence, with the shock of the wrong announcement and of losing the championship, the fans started to break seats and set fire to the stands. Riot police instantly responded. With tear gas they drove back fans from the pitch and onto the stands. Fire trucks drove on to the field.

Fenerbahce soccer fans set fire the seats at the end of the Turkish Super League soccer match between Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor at Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul May 16, 2010.   REUTERS/Murad Sezer

I usually work with two camera bodies one with a 400mm long lens and the other a 70-200mm zoom. Until that time I had worked with these long lenses. I realized that it had become a major incident. I sheltered my minibook and other equipment behind advertising hoardings, attached a wide 16-35mm lens to one of my Canon Mark IV bodies and ran onto the pitch. I got closer and took pictures of disappointed fans clashing with police. Thanks to my years of experience in covering conflicts and as an experienced news photographer I knew how to take cover and protect myself from the tear gas.

Turkish riot police speak to each other as Fenerbahce fans throw flares at the end of the Turkish Super League soccer match between Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor at Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul May 16, 2010.  REUTERS/Murad Sezer

At one point angry fans started to shout at me not to take pictures. I had enough images so I stepped back. I rushed back to my spot. While sending the first riot images to the Singapore global pictures desk, fire trucks began extinguishing the burning stands. I took a few final pictures and sent them to the picture desk before leaving the stadium.

A fireman tries to extinguish a fire after Fenerbahce fans set ablaze some seats at the end of the Turkish Super League soccer match between Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor at Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul May 16, 2010.   REUTERS/Murad Sezer

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