"Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.” JG Ballard, High Rise (1975)
While we may like to deplore Gated Communities, there is something in the idea of a perfect suburban retreat – safe, friendly and clean – that attracts many. Settlements like Ankara's ParkOran, with its guards, security cameras, convenient mall and private gym, are popular in Turkey and globally. Built on the site of the housing estate for parliamentarians (which may have been Turkey's first, certainly premier, Gated Community), ParkOran reflects the way this mode of living has spread. Once only the elite elected representatives of the people could expect (or need?) to sleep behind walls of protection. Now, the Gated Community experience is available to wider and wider sections of the middle classes.
PassoWorld, it seemed to me after three and a half beers at the Beer Bus on Saturday afternoon, represents a land-grab on behalf of those who value safety and security over life and its inevitable vicissitudes. It is a new system that regulates and commercialises Turkish football supporters in ways you can read about elsewhere on this blog. On another level, PassoWorld is the answer to the following question: "If we can sleep, bathe, holiday, exercise and stroll in regulated security and comfort with no alarms and no surprises, why should we be anxious when we step outside our Gated Communities and into our national culture?"
The questions that will be posed in a few years, of course, will be: "Why does my national culture seem to run from me, receding off into nastier, more dangerous places? And why do those places seem so fascinating?"
“No longer will it be Orwell’s vision of a boot stamping on a human face. We’ll have something highly subservient and ingratiating, where the tyranny is imposed for our own good . . . The New Totalitarians come forward, smiling obsequiously like head-waiters in third-rate Indian restaurants, and assuring us that everything is for our benefit . . . So one gets this smiling tyranny, which is something my characters rebel against.” JG Ballard, interview with Independent on Sunday, 2003
The process of entering PassoWorld begins many weeks and miles from the match. Turks who have visited Europe understand immediately: this is a footballing Schengen visa and the canny traveler will assemble forms and identification months before kick-off. Applying for a UK visa involves sending money to a faceless bureaucracy that won't answer your phonecalls and won't promise to get back to you on time, if at all. So it is with PassoWorld. They take your money smoothly enough. Everything else is hassle.
On matchday the less-than-canny supporters were immediately obvious. The five banks of PassoWorld booths were ten-deep with queues of the naïve, the confused and the increasingly annoyed. Many people thought they could still buy a ticket for a football game from a booth at the gate on matchday. Such innocence in an era of internet-enabled ease and comfort!
Flying Dutchman Kanka made a new German friend as he waited to load a ticket onto his card. PassoWorld says the electronic process “enables a more speedy entrance to games, without waiting in queues”. When he finally joined us in the stand in the 34th minute, I forgot to ask the Dutchman if he could confirm this. He mumbled something about useless Windows-based systems on crappy laptops.
But with a season ticket and a few beers already pre-loaded, I can say that my own experience of entering PassoWorld was a delight. I'm probably the kind of person it was made for. There don't seem to be many of us though. Even with five minutes to kick off, there was no one, and no lines for anything. Security was so feather-soft I even got a lighter into the game for the first time in years. There's a quick frisk at the main gate by police before you walk the concourse to the stadium.
In this empty and silent zone there are guys with handheld Motorola card readers who will sidle up to you and ask to see your card. They check it against their machines, but for what I am not sure. If anyone is wondering about the future transferability of PassoCards, I don't think these guys looked closely enough to check the picture ID.
Then it's on to the newly expanded turnstiles, painted a garish yellow. At the turnstile, the carddude has gone. It used to be that ordinary punters couldn't be trusted to swipe and push, because the gate would jam. The guy who knew the foibles of the system is out of a job now, thanks to smoothly revolving new gates.
Show your barcode to the laser, and you're in. Again, no photo ID check that I saw. A message pops up saying “Iyi Seyirler” (Enjoy the Match).
Yes, I've obscured my seat number. I didn't use it anyway. Also, if I had more mental energy, here I would insert a section on the way this popup phrase stresses nonparticipation, spectacle, and passivity, but it's Sunday morning and none of you are reading this far anyway. So. We're in the stadium, and here's what we saw:
“I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that's my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again... the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul.” JG Ballard
One way to explain PassoWorld brings is to list what is missing.
People. I'm told Gencler have sold about eight hundred season tickets this year, compared to about five thousand last year. And I reckon the crowd was indeed about a fifth of what it was last season. Sparse is the word.
Police. The weight of policing at Gencler matches has been steadily dropping over the years, as the orange-bibbed stewards took over. Calling them stewards is probably wrong. These aren't supporters who have taken on roles given out by the club. They're members of the army of professional security guards that has grown so fast in Turkey in the last decade. Still, there were far fewer police. And my eyes may have deceived me, but I'm pretty sure the 20 or so cops sitting by the away team dugout on the far side were women.
Constable handheld Camera. Has gone. There were no policemen on the touchline filming the crowd to record their misbehaviour. I guess PassoWorld doesn't have misbehaviour. In fact, the cameras have reversed direction. For the first time I saw LigTV cameras on the Maraton touchline, facing the match, not the crowd. Was this a LigTV attempt to show the match with a full crowd in the background? If so, it failed because the protocol area looked pretty sparse too. Or was it that LigTV feels safe enough in PassoWorld to put their cameras near the public?
Hipster beards and dreadlocks. The absence of Karakizil and Alkaralar deprives the stands of many things, not least of which is a kind of sartorial diversity. The crowd was older, more soberly dressed, and generally more sedate. Where were the carefully-sourced shirts from obscure community-run Ugandan football clubs? Where were the new group T-Shirts or scarves this year? Who was giving out slightly ranty fliers campaigning about something or other important? Had no one thought to locate and bring an Ivory Coast flag to make Jean-Jacques Grousseau feel at home? Nope, those kind of people have gone. Their influence lives on in odd ways. The half-time music is still The Clash and Ais Ezhel, for now.
Drums and shouty people. Yes, those slightly unruly-looking young men have gone. Your mobile phone is safe, people! (Not that I've ever had anything lifted at a Gencler match, but you do wonder sometimes.) Those guys used to love to sing and jump and take off their tops and hug each other. Sometimes they'd run around the whole of Maraton doing peculiar moves in response to the crowd behind the goal, singing all the while. They'll have to do that elsewhere now. Oh, and tubby male cheerleader Nedim, who loves the club so much he'd spend the game with his back to the match, yelling at the crowd, he's gone too. His perch is a climbing frame for kids.
In short, Gencler matches under the Passo system are less colourful, less weird, less noisy and less fun. My first impression of the 2014 team was similarly underwhelming. But Kaloo Kalay the ref now uses shaving foam to mark free kicks!
....is easily done. Very quickly I was back in the OtherWorld, and soon I was in Kizilay. I saw a car crash, and a beggar with no arms on the pedestrian bridge. I saw leftist students folding up red flags on their stalls as they wrapped up a campaign for something or other.
Within minutes I was in a bar where a bearded hipster in a carefully-sourced St. Pauli top came up to me and said: “Hello, Passolig.”
I smiled, and replied with as much certainty as I could muster: “My name is Spine.”
“The twentieth century ended with its dreams in ruins. The notion of the community as a voluntary association of enlightened citizens has died forever. We realize how suffocatingly humane we've become, dedicated to moderation and the middle way. The suburbanization of the soul has overrun our planet like the plague.” ― J.G. Ballard, SuperCannes (2000)