Book Review: The Passion by Patrick Keddie
“The Passion” by Patrick Keddie. 314 pp. I.B. Tauris £16.99
Big match days in Turkey are occasions that transcend sport. A tension settles over the city where the match is played, slowly mounting to wild enthusiasm as fans take their places at the stadiums, and in bars, taverns and streets all over town ahead of kick off. Battle plans are drawn up by ultras as they prepare to invade their rivals’ territory or defend their own. Whole neighbourhoods fall to a hush at the kick off until the silence is broken by roars of anguish, outrage or sheer joy throughout the match. And, after the final whistle, the night is punctuated by car horns, chants, even celebratory gunfire from victorious fans.
Whether you care about football or not, it is difficult not to find compelling the sound and fury of match day, or the earnest passion for the sport that unifies a deeply polarised society like Turkey.
Such an allure drew journalist Patrick Keddie to relocate from Cairo to Istanbul in 2015 and begin work on The Passion. “The more I learned, the more I discovered that Turkish football was full of drama, struggles and insights that went way beyond sport. I realised I could tell a story about modern Turkey through football.”
To do so, Keddie frequently shifts focus to explore some part or other of Turkey’s history, ranging from the late Ottoman period when non-Muslim teams were the first to regularly play the sport in the ailing empire, to the coup plots, corruption and terrorism that have rocked the football-mad nation in recent years. For a non-specialist book, this historical detail covers comprehensive ground, and the links drawn between the sport and so many of the country’s significant episodes validate Keddie’s hypothesis - that “the energy and tensions shaping Turkish politics, identity and society are manifest in football.”
The Passion’s ten chapters take us through broad themes exploring that premise, ranging from match fixing and political conspiracy theories to LGBT rights in Turkey. Keddie’s examination of these themes leads on to digressions on anything from Turkish nationalism to urban planning to military service, guiding the reader through institutions and dynamics that are crucial for understanding the country.
There is little space to expand on such a breadth of topics at much depth, and the frequent jumps from one subject to another at times leads to a fragmentary narrative. Keddie has fit in plenty of fascinating detail – stretching way back to millennia-old Central Asian sport – but to a degree this comes at a cost: description of Turgut Özal, one of Turkey’s most popular and colourful prime ministers, is limited to “a squat man with a moustache,” for example.
However, Keddie has set out to provide an overview of Turkey through the lens of football, and he does so, in under 300 pages, with remarkable clarity. Leaving the football aside, The Passion easily holds its own as a quick and readable introduction to Turkey for any new inductee into the maddeningly complex, obsession-inducing modern state of the country.
All this is besides the element that is a strong contender to be the book’s most valuable player: the wide and varied interviews with subjects ranging from ultras and cheerleaders, to referees, anthropologists, politicians, and female footballers in regions where their love of the sport is viewed as a transgression. As well as adding depth to the exploration of Turkey’s history and culture, their words animate the primary focus of the book: football.
Some of these wonderfully illustrate the absurdly raw emotion of the hardcore fan, such as the ultra who declares that he is teaching the new generation “to hate Fenerbahçe more,” and bring up their own children to hate Fenerbahçe, as a way of fostering passion for Galatasaray.
Others are moving – the Syrian refugee footballer weighing up whether the revolution had been worth it, or the gay referee describing the ordeal he went through when he was prevented from refereeing due to his sexuality, which was then exposed to masses of heedlessly homophobic football fans by the media.
The writing throughout is clear and engaging, and Keddie keeps up the momentum throughout all the shifts in focus with injections of humour. There is also some wonderfully descriptive language from the writer – his description of Fenerbahçe president Aziz Yıldırm “(looking) like an over-aerated bank manager about to properly lose his rag” a particularly satisfying example.
Patrick Keddie weaves together the drama of Turkish football with the even more dramatic story of modern Turkey in The Passion; the writer’s own passion for his subject is obvious throughout a highly readable and impressively far-reaching work that deserves attention from followers of football and Turkey alike.