As any Leeds United fan knows, Istanbul is a dodgy place to be if you’re identifiable as a follower of any team pitted against a local side, whose fans tend to glory in a reputation for bloodthirstiness with “Welcome to Hell” banners, throat-slitting gestures and other manifestations of their complete lack of civilised conduct and behaviour. Leeds fans know this better and more painfully than most after the savage murder in 2000 of two of their number on the eve of a UEFA Cup semi final between Galatasaray and United. Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight were knifed to death in Taksim Square – the amount of justice meted out since then for their senseless slaughter would fit comfortably, disgracefully, inside a peanut.
Now the madmen of Istanbul are at it again, as another supporter of a team visiting from outside Turkey has met an untimely death at the hands of lunatic cowards armed with knives. Marko Ivkovic was stabbed and killed on November 21 in Istanbul in front of the venue where a Turkish Airlines Euroleague game between Galatasaray Liv Hospital and the visiting side was being played. The name of the game is unimportant – basketball or football. Once again, as in 2000, the message has been sent out that Istanbul is not a safe or a civilised place for supporters of visiting teams to be seen or heard. And once again, local authorities in Turkey are leaning over backwards to blame the murdered rather than the murderers – Istanbul police saying that the killing was the result of a fight between Red Star’s supporters. The Serbian club Liv Hospital claimed in a written statement that the 25-year-old Marko Ivkovic was “killed by Galatasaray hooligans” and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic voiced “outrage over the monstrous murder,” according to a government statement on November 22. Vucic also said that Galatasaray coach Ergin Ataman would not be welcome in Serbia after he “accused the killed young man and all other Red Star fans of terrorism,” the Serbian government statement said.
All of this harks uncomfortably back to the murder of the two Leeds supporters, when a campaign of misinformation aimed to heap blame on Leeds fans as a group, labelling the Turkish murderers as sturdy patriots. Such is the warped sense of right and wrong, the utter absence of any sense of justice, in a city and a country which appears to embrace the knife culture as something to be proud of.
UEFA acted like a timid old woman in 2000 – in that it failed to act at all, in any meaningful or effective way. On a few occasions since then, when the animal fans of an animal club have acted to bring further disgrace on the game, the buffoons at UEFA have continued to cower behind their desks, afraid, seemingly, of any risk of upsetting the cowards and thugs of Istanbul, be they on the streets or in the local corridors of power.
Will anything happen now? Probably not. Istanbul is a blind spot for sporting authorities, it seems. Will still more innocent visitors to “Hell” have to die, before anything effective is done? Sadly, that is quite probably going to be the case.
It’s way past time for severe action. Individuals should be brought to justice by local powers who are more inclined, it seems, to make excuses and protect the guilty, the murderers. If the authorities in Istanbul are unable or unwilling to do this, then the teams, in whatever sport, that represent that city should be banned, forthwith and sine die, from competition outside the borders of Turkey. Let them slake their thirst for blood and violence on each other, let them be a local difficulty. They should not be welcome in civilised countries, neither should teams from nations which don’t routinely harbour tawdry killers be expected to visit such a very backward part of the world.
Sport and the rest of the world can do without Galatasaray and the thugs and cowards of Istanbul who wear their colours and stain their reputation with the blood of fans who simply wanted to watch a game, but ended up losing their lives. How many more will die before this simple truth will be recognised by the simpering fools of UEFA and the other European sports governing bodies?
RIP Chris and Kev – and now sadly also Marko Ivkovic.