Fenerbahce's Djiku: We feared for lives during pitch violence

Fenerbahce defender Alex Djiku says he and his team-mates feared for their lives as Trabzonspor fans attacked them after Sunday’s 3-2 Super Lig victory.

In shocking scenes on the pitch at the final whistle, the Fenerbahce goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was punched, while Michy Batshuayi and Bright Osayi-Samuel were also involved in altercations with home supporters.

The rivalry with Trabzonspor has intensified since 2011, when Fenerbache won the league on goal difference at the expense of their opponents.

Fenerbahce were celebrating a late victory that kept them two points behind title rivals Galatasaray – but things quickly turned sour.

Trabzonspor fans invade the pitch after Fenerbahce's win
Trabzonspor fans invaded the pitch after Fenerbahce’s win

There was a feeling of fear for our lives, because when a supporter is ready to do battle you never know what might happen,” Djiku exclusively told Sky Sports News.

“The start of the game went very well, both on and off the pitch, with us winning 2-0. In the second half, the fans started throwing water bottles, coins and smoke bombs.

“The referee, the stadium announcer and the Trabzonspor players repeatedly asked the fans to calm down to avoid stopping the match.

“At the final whistle, we celebrated the victory in the middle of the pitch – as we do at every match – given that we were playing against the third-placed team and that Galatasaray had won against Kasimpasa.

“We saw one fan enter the pitch and within seconds several more, until the stewards were completely overwhelmed. Hundreds of people were coming towards us and the pitch was completely invaded.

“We all went in at the same time on the recommendation of the stewards and with the help of the Trabzonspor players. It all happened very quickly. Some of my team-mates had no choice but to defend themselves to save their lives.

“Personally, I was lucky not to have been hit, unlike my team-mate Livakovic and some others.”

Fenerbahce's players clash with Trabzonspor supporters at the end of Turkish Super Lig soccer match between Trabzonspor and Fenerbahce at the Senol Gunes stadium in Trabzon, Turkey, Sunday, March 17, 2024. Clashes erupted between Trabzonspor fans and Fenerbahce players after local supporters stormed in the pitch at the end of the Turkish Super Lig match. (Huseyin Yavuz/Dia Images via AP)
Fenerbahce players ‘feared for their lives’, said Djiku

The actions of the supporters were condemned by Turkey’s interior minister Ali Yerlikaya and FIFA president Gianni Infantino. An investigation has now been opened.

“When we arrived in the dressing room we were still in shock and dismay at what had just happened,” said Djiku. “We didn’t think that celebrating a victory could lead to so much happening.

“The safety of footballers should be the sole responsibility of clubs. We felt that it was extremely sad for both teams and for Turkish football in terms of the images that were sent back.”

The Ghana international has unfortunately witnessed several unacceptable incidents over the course of his career in France and Turkey – but says it’s not limited to those countries.

“I was part of a pitch invasion at Bastia against Lyon in 2017, where Memphis Depay and Anthony Lopes were confronted by supporters. We also saw a Nantes supporter stabbed on the outskirts of La Beaujoire against Nice.

“I remember this year’s Lyon bus clash in Marseille, not to mention the scenes of racism that we see in Italy with [Mike] Maignan or in Spain with Vinicius [Junior].

“So I think the problem is more global, with an increase in verbal and physical violence that is simply a reflection of a society that is becoming less and less sanitised.”

A Trabzonspor supporter, right, confronts Fenerbahce's players during clashes at the end of Turkish Super Lig soccer match between Trabzonspor and Fenerbahce at the Senol Gunes stadium in Trabzon, Turkey, Sunday, March 17, 2024. Clashes erupted between Trabzonspor fans and Fenerbahce players after local supporters stormed in the pitch at the end of the Turkish Super Lig match. (Huseyin Yavuz/Dia Images via AP)
Fenerbahce staff and players clash with a Trabzonspor supporter

As far as Djiku is concerned, most of his time in Turkish football has been a positive experience.

“I live my life perfectly well in Turkey with my wife and two children. It’s a very safe country with an exceptional living environment,” he said.

“The people are open-minded and very welcoming, which for me makes it one of the best European capitals – on a par with London. There are more than 10 Istanbul teams playing in the first or second division, which creates a lot of excitement and lots of rivalry.

“Any player will tell you that it’s exceptional to play in an atmosphere like that in Turkey. It galvanises you and pushes teams and players to excel. It’s just a matter of ensuring that this kind of outburst doesn’t happen again in the future.

“Suspensions are necessary for all concerned – not just the clubs, who are doing their utmost. Spectators need to be reasonable and not get carried away by verbal abuse or physical violence.”

Djiku, who has played 27 times for Ghana, joined Fenerbahce after leaving Strasbourg in the summer and is a major part of the squad that is pushing to win multiple trophies.

Alex Djiku at AFCON with Ghana
Alex Djiku played three times for Ghana at AFCON earlier this year

The head-to-head with Galatasaray is taking shape, with an away league meeting scheduled for the penultimate game of the season on May 19.

Fenerbahce are also in the Turkish Cup final against the same opposition and will face Olympiakos in the Europa Conference League quarter-final. Djiku is one of many experienced internationals in the side.

“For me, it was the right time to go abroad after having played more than 200 matches in Ligue 1. I needed to challenge myself and test my limits,” he explained.

“When I look at what we’ve achieved in Europe and the ultra-competitive team we’ve built up with [Edin] Dzeko, [Dusan] Tadic, Fred, Batshuayi, [Cengiz] Under… it reinforces my decision.

“It’s been a quick adjustment, because playing with top players helps you mature and develop positively. It’s true that I’m lucky enough to be a first-team regular but with players like [Leonardo] Bonucci and [Caglar] Soyuncu, a place is never guaranteed.

“We’re going into the double-header against Olympiakos feeling confident but not over-confident.”

Djiku was understandably impressed with what he saw from the Greek side when they overturned a 4-1 first-leg defeat to beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv 6-1 in the return game and reach the last eight.

“We’ve seen that this is a team that doesn’t give up so it’s going to be a tight encounter where the fans will have their part to play – positively, I hope.

“After that we hope to meet Aston Villa in the semi-final, who play some of the best football in England.”

ISTANBUL - Ryan Kent of Fenerbahce SK during the UEFA Conference League Group H match between SK Fenerbahce v PFC Ludogorets at Ulker Stadium on October 26, 2023 in Istanbul, Turkey. ANP | Hollandse Hoogte | GERRIT VAN COLOGNE (Photo by ANP via Getty Images)
Ryan Kent has started one Super Lig game for Fenerbahce

There were also words of encouragement for former Rangers winger Ryan Kent, who has struggled to make an impact since joining Fenerbahce in the summer but was praised by coach Ismail Kartal recently.

“Ryan is a great player who just needs confidence,” said Djiku. “We’re realising that we’re an ultra-competitive team. The training sessions are sometimes harder than the matches!

“That’s why we have so many points with Galatasaray, and are so far ahead of Besiktas and Trabzonspor. And yet the league is competitive, with recognisable players in every team in the league.”

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