YAKUP HUSEYIN AND THE BIRTH OF LONDON'S TURKISH COMMUNITY FOOTBALL FEDERATION
This article, originally published in Issue 19, is in memory of Yakup Huseyin. Yakup, the subject of this piece regarding the formation of the Turkish Community Football Federation in London, was born in a small village in the south east of Cyprus called Pyla in 1944. Yakup was a caring, honest, funny, dignified man who gave us three days of his and his family's time in September 2019—and MUNDIAL and James were incredibly saddened to hear of his death in late February 2020. This is Yakup's story.
WORDS & IMAGES: James Bird
ARCHIVE IMAGERY: Murat Huseyin
“Oh, you want to know that as well? Oh, wow. Well... So, you want to know my name? My birthday? Where I came from? Ha! Well, I suppose... Nothing to lose and nothing to gain. Okay, then, our aim is to find out how the Turkish Community Football Federation started…”
I’m sat with Yakup Huseyin and his son Murat in the back garden of a house in Highams Park, North East London.
It’s morning at the end of summer—that time of year where nobody knows what to wear. Hot to cold, shiver to sweat, it goes. I’ve got trackies and a T-shirt on, Murat is in shorts, and Yakup’s wearing smart trousers, a vest, a shirt, a gilet, and a hat. We’re all cradling coffees in our hands, and Yakup is tapping the red gem of a ring against his wide-brimmed glass mug. He’s telling us about the summer of 1976. In a building just off Wardour Street in Soho, there’s a group of men talking about feeling invisible.
“Ha! Okay, so you ask me how it started, and I can tell you that it basically started because of politics.”
That building on D’Arblay Street, opened in 1951 with funds provided by the Turkish government, was the home of the Kıbrıs Türk Cemiyeti, the Cyprus Turkish Association. It was a community hub: a place where people who had moved to the UK from Cyprus could meet, eat, and talk.
“We’d talk about what’s happening here, what’s happening there, like meetings. Not official meetings,” Yakup is telling me. “But like in a cafe. Once someone went there, they’d tell their families, and then they would tell their families and so on. You have to understand that we didn’t have mobiles or computers or televisions. Or even a newspaper. Well, we had one called Hürriyet, and that was very hard to find anyway. Telephones—how many people had them in the 70s? Not many, and not us. So: meetings. We started meetings. It would have to be the same place, same time. Every Monday at the beginning of the month—that was our communication. So we'd know exactly: that day, that first Monday—it was our meeting.”
It was during these meetings that Yakup met the people that would start the Turkish Community Football Federation. It was here that they decided they needed a voice. And that that voice would be through football.
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Yakup was born on the 22nd May 1944 in Pyla, one of the oldest villages in Cyprus. It sits on the southeast corner of the island, one of only four villages located in what is now the United Nations Buffer Zone that separates the north—officially the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and the south—officially the Republic of Cyprus. Essentially, this means that both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots live there.
Yakup’s family moved to the village of Kouklia near Paphos when he was six. It’s where he finished junior school, and it’s there, on dusty streets, that he remembers starting to play football and playing whenever, and wherever, he could.
Pointing at the slabs close to his house in the garden, he starts to move his legs about. One foot edges in front of the other then goes back, then the other slides to the side. A little give and go. A pass and move.
“We’d find a place like this,” he says pointing to the patio, “we’d make goals, and then we’d start to play. And like always with football, everyone would want to play. Honestly? We didn’t have a football either.” Now he moves his hands, clasping them inside one another. He’s making a ball. His rings scrape and chime like bells.
“We used to get the newspapers, strap them up and play with those. The first football I had was when I was about 11, and that was a plastic ball, and how did I get that?” he asks me. “They used to have sweets with pictures in the packaging. You collected them, took them to the shop, and they used to give you a football. I remember it. That was my first.”
Yakup loves to organise things. Loves to manage things. You can tell by the way he talks about football at any level, in any place. Even back then, in Pyla, with a bundle of newspapers tied up to make a ball, it was him orchestrating it all. Usually, when you’re a kid, organisation’s not your thing. Rulers are there to hit people with, not construct tables and lines. Rubbers are to be thrown, not to erase mistakes. But for Yakup, even way back then at school, he’d be the one making sure that football happened wherever it could happen, and that it would happen properly. He organised the school team in the village, and organised games for afterwards, too. The Greek school had a nice pitch, so he made sure the kids in the village were friends so that they could play together on that. When he talks of these games, it's not of the goals or the passes, but the rules, the pitches, the numbers on each team.
When Yakup graduated from secondary school, like many of us, he wanted to move away. Smell new things. Taste new things. Organise new things. Those games he’d sorted out as a kid—the sweets and the Turks and the Greeks and the dust—were about to graduate too.
“I think it was my first time to a restaurant, the thing with the fish.”
We’re all laughing because of all the things that happened during Yakup’s five day journey from Limassol by boat to Italy then another boat to Marseille and then a train to Paris then another from Paris to Calais and then a boat from Calais to Dover and then a train from Dover to Victoria, the thing that makes him happiest is a fish he ate in Italy.
“One pound, I paid. There was about six of us young ones from the boat all there. We said ‘let’s have a fish because in Italy they have nice fish’. It was a nice fish!” So they ate a fish. Yakup was 19 and heading to big old dirty 1963 London on his own. With twenty quid. Arriving at Victoria, he paid ten shillings to get to Camberwell Green where some of his family lived. “My life, really, it started from there,” he tells me and nods and taps his mug with the green-faced sovereign ring on his right hand, “From the village to one of the world’s biggest cities. You can imagine.”
That twenty quid lasted until he found a job washing up dishes at a Wimpy two months later.
“The dishes were the only thing I could do at first—no language, no nothing,” Yakup says. We’re still in the garden. Still going hot to cold. Still cradling mugs.
“And then when I was promoted to coffee boy, chef used to sit down on his break, and I’d make him his coffee. He’d sit there, and I’d nip into the kitchen and start cooking whatever orders came in. At that time, I used to get 15p an hour, and chef used to get 30p, and so I said to myself: I want to get me some of that.”
He did get some of that, heading over and getting a job as a chef at another Wimpy in Palmers Green. In the meantime, his family moved over to London. First, his sister and father in 1964, then two of his brothers at the start of 1965, then finally his mother and youngest brother. Fighting had begun in Cyprus around the Christmas of 1963 between the Greeks and the Turks. An isolated incident on the 20th December descended into island-wide violence and civil war. Over 25,000 Turks and thousands of Greeks fled their villages, and hundreds died on both sides. Paphos, where Yakup’s family was living, was hit hard, and they lost their houses, jobs, and businesses because of it.
“I’m not going to blame anybody,” says Yakup. “I don’t blame the people living their lives, the population, the Greeks or the Turks. It’s the people who are above us. The ones that only do things for finance, who only do things for their own benefit. It doesn’t matter who is going to get killed or destroyed as long as they get the benefit they want to get. That’s another side of things. But still now, the same things happen. You see? The same things happen. Always.”
“Dad,” Murat says while looking for an iPhone cable in his bag, “tell him about the founding fathers of the Turkish Community Football Federation.”
“Yes, yes, okay,” Yakup looks up from his hands and his old eyes look young. “I’m going to start.”
“I’m 75. To memorise things, it’s not very easy,” Yakup tells me while remembering absolutely everything about everything. “Definitely, and naturally, I will forget some things. It’s not a computer, but as I go along, I can remember different things. It comes back. It’s like I’m opening the pages. So: four teams. But more important, it’s not four teams. It’s the four people who were conducting the organisation—that was very important.”
The second time I go to his house, Yakup tells me he has cancer. I’m not really sure what to say or where to look or what to do. We know how mortal older people are, but there’s also something mega sturdy about them. When they’re telling you things that happened in a different century in a different country in a different world, old people are the only things that can move time. Off you go with them, back to a place they were. The future seems amazing and terrifying and good and bad, but it’s also just guesswork. We don’t really know what’s going to happen. The past is the only thing that’s concrete, there are things that definitely happened, and when a chunk of that looks like dissolving, it feels like a bit of you dissolves too.
We’re sitting in the lounge and Elvan, his wife, has brought us coffee and his grandchildren are running around. Murat is in a full black Hummel tracksuit. He looks sharp. Yakup is dressed to the nines in a full three piece suit with all the trimmings: scarf, badges, rings. I’ve gone for a sweater, this time. We’re going to watch a game later and, again, none of us knows what temperature it is.
By 1974, Yakup had his own restaurant in Clapham Common called The Golden Egg, a chain that was part of the Wimpy group. Vads, an online resource for visual arts, describes The Golden Egg restaurants as having ‘The most controversial use of colour in British restaurants... where riotous colour schemes and brilliant opaline lights have brought a jazzy mood to eating in low-price popular restaurants.’ It looks fun. From washer boy to coffee boy to chef boy, Yakup had saved money and bought the place with his parents. He had kids now, too, and was working so hard, putting in hours all day and all night, that his youngest son often didn’t recognise him when he came home.
“I used to work under pressure all the time, but it made me good,” Yakup says while sat on the sofa opposite. His rings tap on that glass mug again. “I appreciate things—what I have and what I do, I appreciate it all. I like to work under pressure, you understand?” There were fifteen Wimpys in London, each one of them had a football team, and a Mr Green who was the head of the company asked Yakup to organise a team to join the international league. Yakup’s team won it the first year. Of course, they did.
There were more troubles back home in Cyprus, and the Kıbrıs Türk Cemiyeti in Soho was a place where people could talk about that, and ultimately talk about whether their friends and family back home were ok. But here, in London, Yakup felt that people didn’t know that Cypriot Turks existed. That people didn’t know that they were there. That they were invisible.
“And how do we have to get people or the government to find out about us? Mainly, you have to find out a way to get into public eye. What is the best thing to do? It is sports. And most of all? Football. And that’s how we started. When I say it started politically, it’s this reason: we wanted to have a voice. We wanted to say: we are existing. Because when I used to go somewhere and I say I’m Turkish Cypriot people would say Turkish Cypriot? What is that?
“We wanted to exist.”
It’s June 1976. Faik Muftazide is an ex-Army General. Yasar Ismailoglu is a poet. Mustafa Gencsoy is a Turkish Cypriot embassy representative. Faruk Zabci works at a newspaper. And Yakup works in a restaurant. They want to show that they exist. They decide that it should all be without party politics being involved. "What we are doing now,” Yakup says, “all of this talking... it’s politics. But not party politics. We didn’t want any of that.”
What they did want was to start a football federation. And, by the end of July, they’d formed four teams. Yakup's team was Ulku Yurdu, and with Mehmet Hasan's Cetinkaya, Kerem Mezo's Turk Gucu, and Ertay Kemal's Genclerbirligi—there were founding teams and eight founding fathers. Initially, the suggestion was that the federation would be known as the Cypriot Turkish Football Federation, but they decided this wasn’t quite right. It was too discriminative over mainland Turks or any others from around the world. And so, the Turkish Community Football Federation was formed.
The first tournament was called the Peace and Freedom Cup, a four-team tournament with two-legged semis followed by a final. Yakup, taking the kick-off in the inaugural game at Market Road in Islington, was the first person to ever kick a ball as part of the Turkish Community Football Federation. His team lost 10–0.
“And then,” he says, “in the second leg, we lost 11–1! These things happen. The team that beat us didn’t even win the final. But, what was most important was that the ball had been kicked.” Just two months after that first tournament, and with lots of hard work from Yakup and the other founders, the Turkish Community Football Federation had twelve teams. Twelve teams in two months. The founders were beginning to show that they existed.
The president of the LFA at the time was a man called Mr Munger, and when it came to registering the Turkish Community Football Federation, Munger was having some difficulty with all of the Turkish names. He told the federation that all team names must be in English, which was difficult because a lot of the teams were named after the villages that the founder of that team came from. Yakup’s team was registered as The Golden Boys.
“Pah!” Yakup is pointing at me. “It was the poet who did that. He didn’t even ask me what I wanted us to be called. After he got back from the registration place, I asked him why and he said: ‘When you lost those games 10–0 and 11–1, you still all behaved very nicely and just kept playing the game.’ So, The Golden Boys we were.”
Without sponsors or funding, every team in the league was responsible for their own finances. Back then, Yakup says there was no funding for any of it and that he now keeps a close eye on people who receive fundings in football to make sure that they are using it properly because he knows what it was like to have a hard time without any of it. What with working three jobs, having no funding, and an LFA that kept changing the team’s names, Yakup definitely does know. After the first season of the Turkish Community Football Federation, there were 24 teams and two leagues playing across London. The federation had thirty teams by 1980, and then split into two (Yakup tells me this was because of an ‘interior problem’ and that he wouldn’t want it written down, anywhere), but in 1985 it reformed with 28 again across two divisions.
The pages in Yakup’s mind flick to a chapter that begins with Malcolm Allison working in Istanbul as the Galatasaray manager in 1976 and he asks me if I’ve heard of Malcolm Allison or Galatasaray. I have.
“Well, that’s good then. Because Galatasaray came here to have a preseason game with some Second or Third division English teams. Anyway, the founder of the newspaper knew Mr Allison, and we organised a game between Galatasaray and the best players from the Turkish Community Football Federation.” I laugh and say what, actual Galatasaray? and Yakup and Murat both laugh and say yes. “It wasn’t their starting eleven, but yes. We played that game at Finchley Football Ground, where Wingate & Finchley play. I remember at half-time, it was one–nil for us. In the end, we lost 5–1, but there was a big crowd. And food after. What a day. A Sunday in the August of 1976.”
The pages flick forward to a Sunday in the September of 2019, and we’ve got a game to go to.
The three of us are in the car to Walthamstow, where Bogazici Dogan Spor are playing Pasha Koy. Murat, Yakup's son, used to go to the games as a young boy when four brothers would all be playing in the same team, and essentially became the club’s mascot. And then at around sixteen or seventeen he started playing for his dad’s team—getting kicked to bits as the youngest—all the way up until 2002 when he became the General Secretary of the Federation, a position he still holds today. Yakup is still involved in the federation too, his team is the only one that has remained in the league for the last 43 years, and he’s listed as an Honorary Member. Honorary member makes it sound like he doesn’t do much of the working part anymore.
“Look, my dad is still going today,” Murat tells me. “He had me at a restaurant last night with one of the managers trying to find pitches for one of the teams. Honestly.” Today, the Federation has two divisions alongside both a 35+ and a 45+ league. It’s as healthy as it ever was.
Down at the pitch, the lads are warming up. There’s a decent amount of people for a preseason friendly.
Erdogan Baca’s got a big dad shirt on and arms flecked with tattoos. They call him Badger. He’s the chairman of Bogazici and has been involved in the league for 26 years. Across that team, he’s done the lot. All the jobs. When he took over this team twelve years ago, it was just an adult team, but they’ve now got U14s, U16s, two veteran teams, and the adult team that is playing today. Bogazici, like many teams in the league, is named after the village he’s from in Cyprus. One of his kids is playing, another is reffing, and he kisses Yakup on both cheeks and tells me, with his wife Yasmine translating, that he works five days a week for the team alongside his job as a musician doing gigs at parties and weddings.
“I arrived in the UK in 1984, and straight away, I started playing for this team. I met Mr Yakup at one of the cafes and he told me to register as a player in the league” he tells us, beaming, his hand resting on Yakup’s shoulder. “So many of the teams are named after villages back home, so it feels like a piece of us in London. We knew before we’d even arrived that the team was here.”
Yasemin, who is officially the club secretary but does everything for the team from organising the new kits to paying off the finances for the buckets of yellow and red cards, tells me about her brother, Ossie Bayram, who was the first Turkish Cypriot boy in London to get a professional contract.
“Yeah, Ossie used to play for this team with his two brothers, and then he got scouted and played for Millwall. He was so good that when the team from the village back in Cyprus were struggling at the bottom of the table, they used to phone us, pay for a plane ticket, get him back to Cyprus and he’d go and score the goals to save the team from going down.”
It’s these connections and communications that are the voice that the four lads at that building in Soho 46 years ago wanted to create. A physical and mental line that connects the Turkish here, with those back home. A voice that can prove their existence. A voice that can stick the ball in the back of the net.
H has a sweatband around his head and a diamond stud in his ear. He’s just come off the pitch, is sweating all over, and says that there’s more of an atmosphere in the Turkish League. “You know how Turks are about football, you’ve seen us. The passion. It’s mad. The adrenaline of the people watching translates when you’re on the pitch. It’s just different, a different level. You might get five fans watching in other leagues, but you come here often, and you’ll see the difference. Trust me.”
Bogazici are battering Pasha Koy. It’s preseason and legs and feed and minds are still heavy. Halil is their manager and this is his first season in the Turkish League. He manages on Saturdays, too, and tells me this league is important because it means that he gets to see people from his youth. It shows him they all still exist.
As the goals fly in, Murat and Yakup need to get going. It’s pretty cold now, and with his illness, Yakup needs to keep warm.
“James,” Murat says with his warm hand on my cold arm, “My dad has essentially committed his time trying to make people’s lives less ordinary. People should know.”
The lads on the pitch are shouting at each other about a stray pass. The Golden Boys’ voices, the ones that stretch and echo from a man who got on a boat in Limassol with twenty quid, are everywhere.
In memory of Yakup Huseyin, 1944-2020.