• Language family: Turkic
  • Interesting facts: Has agglutinations, changed from Arabic to Latin script in 1928 in Turkish language reforms

Reflecting its national team, the language of football in Turkey is vibrant, stylish, and not shy of being all up in your face.

What Turkish is like

In Europe, Turkish stands nearly alone. It’s part of the Turkic language family, so it’s closer to the likes of Azerbaijani, Kazakh and Turkmen. It’s an agglutinative language, meaning they add suffixes to a root word, which can then convey on its own what English would take most of a sentence to get across. So, for example “he did not score a goal” is hiç gol atamadı, with the final word doing most of the work.

Turkish and English

Nowadays, most football terms have a Turkish equivalent but are used interchangeably alongside their English original. This tends to cause a few pronunciation problems aiong the way:

“Football” becomes “futbol”, “foul” becomes something like “fool”, “free kick” becomes “frikik” (pronounced “fee-ree-kik.”) and  “offside” becomes “ofsayt” with a sharp finish on the “t.”

Choice phrases

Not that English seems needed – the Turkish language has a highly enterprising way with a football phrase. There are some that are found elsewhere in Europe, such as a “banana cross” (muz orta) and “to dust the cobweb” (Örümcek ağını almak – meaning to get the ball into the top corner of the goal), but there are also plenty with a uniquely Turkish flavour.

  • To kill an astronaut (Astronotu öldürmek): to launch the ball skywards
  • To feed a donkey from its backside (Eşeği götünden yemlemek): to send a bad pass
  • To spit on the number plate (Plakasına tükürmek): to beat the away team

Our personal favourite, perhaps because it feels familiar after watching England for many years, is Balsız arı (a bee without honey), describing a player or team who wastes their energy with no productivity.

Who speaks what

The most significant talking point in terms of accents in the Turkish team is the way in which third or fourth generation migrants use the language.

Some, like Kerim Frei (born in Austria), are reluctant to give interviews at all, while there are many who come in for stick for mixing the Turkish of wherever there family are from with the German/Dutch/English accent they grew up with. Of these, the German-Turkish get the most grief for their inability to pronounce the ‘R’ correctly, and their apparent lack of refinement.

One German-born player who gets away with it, though, is the affable Olcay Şahan. Once, when asked about a particularly fine goal he had scored, Olcay dusted off his jumbotron analysis screen and picked his effort apart as follows: “I slapped it hard with my awesome left foot.” (Müthiş sol ayağımla yapıştırdım). Hard not to love, really.

Commentator chat

Commentator Rıdvan Dilmen is famous for his love of former Fenerbahçe midfielder Alexsandro de Souza. Dilmen coined the term Bi’ Alex değil meaning literally “He/she/it is no Alex.” Nowadays, whenever someone wants to say that something is good but not the best, they say “it’s no Alex.”

İlker Yasin is famous for the line Şimdi onlar düşünsün which translates literally as “Now, let them think about it”, but means something closer to “Now, it’s their problem”. He would use this whenever the national team scored, meaning “it’s the opposition’s problem now” and it’s another one that has taken up lodgings in everyday parlance.


Controversial left-at-homer Volkan Demirel is known as Caveman (mağara adamı) for obvious reasons, Mehmet Topal is The Spider (örümcek) thanks to his tackling ability, and Arda Turan went from being Big Head (koca kafa) at Galatasaray to a phenomenon (un fenomeno) at Barcelona. Absolute total stone-cold Turkish legend Hakan Şükür is the King (Kral), while current manager Fatih Terim is The Emporer (İmparator).

Frankly, though, Turkish doesn’t need nicknames. Feast your eyes on these literal translations of players’ names:

  • Hakan Balta: Axe King,
  • Mehmet Topal: Mehmet the Lame
  • Burak Yilmaz: Dauntless Burak
  • Volkan Demirel: Volcano Ironhands

Songs they sing

At national team games you’ll hear a number of nationalist marches learned in school, along with the chant “Red, white, Turkey is the greatest”  (Kırmızı, beyaz, en büyük Türkiye). More noteworthy are the songs at club level, which are usually adapted from folk standards and employ themes of fervent, arabesque love…

“You, the melancholy of my every night, the tears in my eyes, the smoke from my cigarette. You, the blood in my veins, my destiny, my glorious Beşiktaş.”

Sen benim her gece efkârım, gözümdeki yaşım, sigara dumanım. Sen benim damardaki kanım, alnımdaki yazım, Şanlı Beşiktaşım

…nestling alongside some quite monumental potty-mouthing.*

With thanks to Yagmur Nuhrat, Emine Cakir, Mesut Erzurumluoglu and the team at Turkish-Football.com.

 *Seriously, it’s eye-watering stuff.