Sport has taken a back seat at Türkiyemspor. Berlin’s most iconic immigrant based football club finds itself in the most severe financial straits since its conception in 1978, and is fighting for its very survival. Even after a surprising four points from their first two games in the Berlin Liga, talk of anything but a relegation fight is out of the question.
“With the men’s team particularly, it’s about staying in the league,” says Media Officer and Board Member Robert Claus, “we’ve managed to assemble a team over the summer, but the preparations have been difficult, because we can’t compete financially. Maybe next year when the insolvency proceedings have come to a close, we’ll be able to talk about competing in football terms.”
Separating the club from its financial trouble, though, is harder than it sounds. Relegation, a dwindling fanbase and some questionable leadership have combined to lead the club from the fringes of the 2. Liga into near oblivion in the last two decades. A one year sponsorship deal with Betfair eventually fell through last season, and the club is now attempting to raise 60.000 Euros from private donations alone.
“Immigrant clubs have structural problems by nature,” says Claus, “any club that’s only been around since the 70s is going to struggle to set itself up as solidly as traditional clubs. It’s true of every immigrant club, but it affects us more severely, because we play at such a high level.”
This is the club’s first game for four years in the Katzbachstadion, the scene of their greatest successes in the late 1980’s. The band of several hundred or so supporters who remain loyal are delighted to be back on home turf. The board members greet nearly every fan personally. The legend of Türkiyemspor, to some extent at least, still holds true.
That, after all, is what the club lives on: its reputation as an invaluable social force for good - a rallying point for immigrants and a bastion of involvement and integration. The latter word, though, poses difficulties.
“The word has a lot of history, and we tend to avoid it. We prefer to use terms like ‘emancipation’ or ‘participation’. In an area like this, where there’s a lot of unemployment, and the education system perhaps isn’t the best, a club like us, which caters for over 300 youth players is unbelievably important.”
It is a spiel he is obviously accustomed to delivering at a time when the club is constantly forced to ask for financial support, but this is not mere salesmanship. Türkiyemspor inspires a genuine passion in the people who look after it, in a manner which is all too much of a rarity in modern football.
Nearly twenty minutes of the game are gone, when Türkiyem string a few passes together and build a counter attack. A low cross is sent in from the right, and Baris Demircan pokes the ball past the stranded goalkeeper and into the net. Next to me, Claus goes crazy. He doesn’t stop smiling until half time.
An hour later, it gets even better. Fatih Aslan lines up a free kick from twenty yards out. “He’s got a belly on him, Fatih, but boy can he score free kicks,” says Claus. Sure enough, the ball sails into the top left hand corner. The little arena explodes.
As full time approaches, the cigarette smoke becomes noticeably thicker in all areas. Mahlsdorf scrape a goal back, and have an equaliser ruled out for offside in injury time, but Türkiyemspor escape with victory. Claus can barely speak for ecstasy.
The sport may have taken a back seat, but it is not incidental to today. Seven points from three games is an unprecedented start to the season. And despite all the black clouds hanging over the club, Türkiyem are determined to enjoy it.