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Turkey in shock after ‘night football died’

Istanbul (AFP) – Turkish football was reeling on Friday from one of the grimmest nights in its recent history that saw an ill-tempered Istanbul derby abandoned after a club manager needed stitches in his head after being hit by an object hurled out of the stands.

Besiktas coach Senol Gunes required five stitches and was hospitalised after the incident in his side’s chaotic and violent Turkish cup match away against arch Istanbul rivals Fenerbahce.

The scenes, which were condemned as unacceptable by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, underlined the continued issues with crowd behaviour in Turkish football.

“The night football died,” was the headline in the Hurriyet daily. “Football in emergency care,” added the Fanatik sports daily above a picture of Gunes in hospital on a stretcher.

The match, a Turkish Cup semi-final second leg at Fenerbahce’s ground, was abandoned in the 57th minute after the incident with the score at 0-0 on the night and 2-2 on aggregate.

– ‘Turkish football the victim’ –

Erdogan said he was upset by the incident, which he described as a “plot” rather than a spontaneous act.

“Someone organised this terror. This did not take place on its own. It is not possible to accept what happened to Senol,” he told reporters in televised comments.

Gunes, 65, the legendary former Turkish international goalkeeper who has led Besiktas to two consecutive championship titles and took Turkey to third place at the 2002 World Cup, was evacuated by his own medical staff to the changing rooms. 

Turkish media said he was finally allowed to go home early in the morning after spending the night under observation.

“The victim was not me but Turkish football,” Gunes told the Milliyet daily after emerging from hospital. “All the actors in football must meet and find urgent solutions to this problem.” 

Turkish television pictures showed Gunes clutching his head in pain and bewilderment and falling to the turf after being hit by the projectile, suspected to be a cigarette lighter.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said there was “no difference between anarchy and the violence that took place”, saying such incidents “harm our country and our football”.

– ‘Never want to see’ –

The atmosphere had already been tense following a five-minute stoppage in the first half and the sending off of Besiktas’ star Portuguese defender Pepe for an outrageous tackle in the 29th minute.

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) said in a statement it would take a decision on Wednesday over the outcome of the match. Media said options included awarding the match as a walkover or having it replayed behind closed doors.

Some three dozen people were detained by police after the incident, including the fan suspected of throwing the projectile, reports said.

“What we watched was not football, but animals,” said the columnist of Hurriyet, Mehmet Yilmaz.

The images also caused shock outside Turkey with the coach of Bayern Munich, Jupp Heynckes, whose side defeated Besiktas in the Champions League last 16, expressing horror.

“These are scenes that we never want to experience on a football pitch,” he said. “I want to send my best to Senol Gunes in Istanbul.” 

Turkey has in the last years taken major measures aimed at ending violence at football matches, to improve the image of the Turkish game abroad and encourage more people to attend matches.

The most notable innovation has been the introduction of a compulsory ID card system known as Passolig, which all fans must obtain in order to attend league matches.

The incident adds to tensions as the Turkish league season heads to its climax, with all four big Istanbul sides — Besiktas, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Basaksehir — in contention for the title.

Galatasaray put their rivalry with Besiktas aside to wish Gunes well in a message “in the spirit of gentlemanship” and noted that it had waged a major struggle against “hooliganism and violence” in recent years.

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