Monday, December 17, 2007

Former top scorer worried by football violence, fanaticism

Saturday, December 15, 2007
ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News
Vercihan Ziflioğlu

Minas Asa managed to lead a noble football career, playing alongside the best of his time, and faced no problems due to his Armenian origins. That is why, he is bothered by the changing profile and hostile habits of current football supporters

If the subject is the changing face of football in recent years, either in the industrial sense or in the changing profile of fans, Minas Asa is among the ones with a thing or two to say.

A former striker who played in several top and second division clubs, Asa recalls that he was never targeted because of his Armenian origins.

“Nowadays there are 6-year-olds in the stadiums, all filled with nationalism and violence,” said Asa to the Turkish Daily News. “In the ‘80s, identities did not matter as they do today. I never kept the fact that I was an Armenian a secret.”

Today he doesn't go to the stadiums because of fanaticism.

“Fans came to the games wearing ties and top hats then. They stood up and applauded both teams at the end of the match.”

Pre-industrial football :

Another big difference he pointed to is the big money in the football business. The fact that he is a bus driver for Esayan Armenian High School in Taksim, Istanbul sounds odd now, considering the dizzying sums today's players earn.

“We earned as much as a worker did, but we just did not care,” said Asa, adding that his generation's only interest was the game itself.

After starting to play football at Şişli and Taksim Sports Clubs, which are the Armenian community's clubs in Istanbul, Asa was approached by Division Two side Karabükspor. However, the striker's father intervened, who was not positive to the idea of his son having a professional career. After a while the offers became more serious, one of them from Beşiktaş. He had to reject the offer and what he now calls “a big mistake that affected his whole life,” and opted for an Anatolian club that was more off the radar, instead of Istanbul's title contender. He moved to Bursaspor in 1980, and plied his trade for a while in Boluspor, where he played alongside Rıdvan Dilmen, one of the most prolific strikers of Turkish football history.

Life without football:

But his peak was when he was loaned out to Adana Demirspor in 1986. Asa still remembers the day he was welcomed by 500 fans and carried to the club on shoulders. He compensated for this love by scoring 17 goals to take the club to the First Division.

Nevertheless, his story on the pitch ended sadly, as he had to retire two years later, due to an ankle injury. Maybe it wouldn't have been a career-ending injury, but in the Turkey of the ‘80s there was no solution and he would have had to be treated abroad.

“For me, this was death,” said Asa. “I could not think a life without football.”

And he did not let go of the game although he started his second life. He trains the High School's football team and proudly states that one of his players has just become a pro in Sarıyer. As a licensed coach, Asa is considering a coaching job at Armenia's renowned Ararat club.

Expecting a draw:

Asa is also among those that sees the forthcoming World Cup qualifying fixture between Armenia and Turkey as a big chance to reduce tensions. He predicts that the games will end in a draw, as Armenia will take the games too seriously.

“The World Cup is so important in terms of economy, and Armenia needs development,” said Asa, adding that players will perform at their best in order to help the promotion of the country.

If he was to play for Turkey against Armenia, he claims he would not lose any sleep over it. He calls himself a professional and that is why he sees sports as separate from politics. Asa believes that the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would think that way as well. A former footballer at Kasımpaşa Erok Spor, Erdoğan played against Asa.

“No doubt he will say, the better team will deserve the win in the Turkey-Armenia game,” said Asa. “Because he is a professional that would separate football from politics.”

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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