Stadium had been full of fans moments before terror blasts

Turkish policemen at the site of the attack receiving treatment last Saturday night. Thirty-eight people were killed in two explosions outside the Vodafone Arena stadium in what appeared to be a coordinated attack on police after a match between two
Turkish policemen at the site of the attack receiving treatment last Saturday night. Thirty-eight people were killed in two explosions outside the Vodafone Arena stadium in what appeared to be a coordinated attack on police after a match between two football teams.PHOTO: REUTERS

Venue had just been inaugurated by Erdogan in April; team's fans known to oppose the authorities

ISTANBUL • The Besiktas football club of Istanbul is one of Turkey's oldest sports organisations, with an impassioned fan base known for their opposition to the authorities.

Thirty-eight people, mainly police officers, were killed last Saturday in double attacks outside its stadium that followed the club's home Super Lig match against Bursaspor in the new Vodafone Arena opened earlier this year. Besiktas won the match 2-1, boosting its title hopes to make the club joint leaders with local rivals Basaksehir.

The club said that among those killed were senior police officer Vefa Karakurdu - who was in charge of security at games and a member of its congress - and Mr Tunc Uncu, who worked at its official merchandise shop.

The attacks took place around the perimeter of the gleaming new stadium that is the pride and joy of the club's fans, who call their beloved side Kara Kartal, or Black Eagle.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had in April inaugurated the waterfront stadium on the Bosphorus and the team has played to packed stands ever since.

Besiktas in 2013 played for the last time at their old stadium in the same historic location on the shores of the Bosphorus just above the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace.

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That stadium - which was named after the second president of modern Turkey, Ismet Inonu - was knocked down and the over 40,000-capacity Vodafone Arena built in its place.

The club was founded as a gymnastics club under the Ottoman Empire in 1903 and its full name is still Besiktas Gymnastics Club. Its focus rapidly became football but, like most Turkish clubs, it proudly remains a multi-sports club.

The club's famously leftist and anti-establishment fan club, Carsi, is seen as a natural foe of Mr Erdogan, and its members like to chant slogans against his rule.

Carsi members played a key role in 2013 protests against Mr Erdogan over the development of an Istanbul park that represented one of the biggest challenges to the Turkish strongman.

Thirty-five members of the group were put on trial on widely ridiculed charges of trying to stage a coup, but all were acquitted in December last year.

To the amusement of the fans, the April 4 opening of the stadium did not take place at a game, but at a ceremony in front of almost empty stands.

Some said this was due to fears that Mr Erdogan would be booed by fans at a match.

The Besiktas club won the Super Lig title last season with its star player - Mario Gomez of Germany - who was the top scorer in the Super Lig.

In a stellar period from 1987 to 1994, the club won consecutive titles, in 1990, 1991 and 1992.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2016, with the headline 'Stadium had been full of fans moments before terror blasts'. Print Edition | Subscribe