Football legend Kucukandonyadis' legacy lives on
"The Professor" was more than a great player scoring 832 career goals, in subtle ways he also helped build bridges between the Turks and Greeks.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 19/01/12
With tens of thousands of fans from Greece to Italy and the Middle East to South Africa, Turkish-Greek football player and legendary coach Lefter Kucukandonyadis – or "the Professor" as he was known to his followers — was considered the greatest player of his generation.
While "The Professor" spent most of his career with Fenerbahce, he was respected by most football fans in Turkey. [Reuters]
The 86-year-old Fenerbahce icon died from heart failure on January 13th in Istanbul. His death brought together thousands of fans to the funeral ceremony, including supporters of rival clubs Galatasaray and Besiktas.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is a big fan of Fenerbahce, was among the attendees, accompanied by cabinet ministers.
"Turkey embraced Kucukandonyadis and carried him on his last farewell with a decent, well-done [funeral] ceremony in his honor," Hasan Kemal Yardimci, who for many years served as a member of the Fenerbahce Club Congress and is now deputy-minister of National Defense, told SES Türkiye.
He said the country lost "one of its strongest individuals and football wealth".
Born in 1925 in Istanbul to a fisherman father from Turkey's minority Greek community, Kucukandonyadis was the first to be awarded a "Golden Honour", and was captain of the Turkish national team, making 50 appearances and scoring 21 goals for his team.
He scored 423 goals in 615 games for Fenerbahce.
Kucukandonyadis, the first football player to be transferred from Turkey abroad, played for Italy's Fiorentina in 1951. After his retirement from being an active footballer in 1966, Kucukandonyadis coached popular clubs in Greece, South Africa and Turkey, such as Egaleo FC, Johannesburg, and Samsunspor, among others.
Alp Dacioglu, 61, Fenerbahce’s historian and director of the club's museum, says that back in the 1960s many football fans, including him, chose Fenerbahce "because of Lefter".
"[Kucukandonyadis] was a great player… We were all very impressed by him," Dacioglu told SES Türkiye.
Being of Orthodox origin, Kucukandonyadis' football fame did not insure him from racism though.
When Turkey won 1-3 against Greece in Athens on April 23rd 1948, with the decisive goal from Kucukandonyadis, some fanatic Greek fans attacked the player, calling him "a traitor of its origin".
In the meantime, football may have saved Kucukandonyadis's life in 1955, when Turkish mobs -- angered by the fake news reports that the house where Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was born in Greece, had been bombed -- rioted against the Greek minorities in Istanbul, causing vast damage to their property from which the community never fully recovered.
When the demonstrators approached Kucukandonyadis's house, Dacioglu remembers, "Hundreds of Fener's fans surrounded the player's property and rescued his family."
"This was a black page in our history and now, at Kucukandonyadis's funeral ceremony, Turkey again faced its history," Umut Ozkirimli, professor of politics and the director of Turkish-Greek Studies at Bilgi University in Istanbul, told SES Türkiye.
Although some analysts believe that Kucukandonyadis's career after the 1955 incidents "was influenced by fear", Dacioglu says "he [Kucukandonyadis] never considered leaving Turkey permanently".
Today, one of the streets on Buyukada Island (Princes' Islands) outside Istanbul is named after Kucukandonyadis, where he resided among the 40 other Greeks for many years.
Hakki Ulku, a former CHP MP and current member of the Turkey-Greece Friendship Group in Izmir, describes Kucukandonyadis as not only a popular football player, but "a symbol of Turkey-Greek common values".
Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, director of the Center for International and European Studies at Kadir Has University, says, however, that sports never became "a part of rapprochement diplomacy" between Greece and Turkey, although there have been a number of popular players who had thousands of followers in both countries.
Ulku said the politicians of both countries are against the involvement of "common intellectuals, sports players and other individuals" to the rapprochement policy "because of their political interest".
"Today, we have several Turkish players in the Greek clubs, such as Tumer Metin who played for Krkyra and Larissa in Greece, also Erol Bulut and Kendal Ucar in OFI club, but the Turkish media never covers them," he told SES Türkiye.