Why did Trabzonspor take a referee hostage? – In defence of Turkish referees

Chelsea's defender John Terry receives a red card from Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir

There is rarely a dull moment in Turkish football and last week was no exception Trabzonspor president Ibrahim Hacıosmanoğlu gave orders to keep Turkish referee Çağatay Şahan and his assistant officials hostage in the stadium until he arrived in the morning.

The incident kicked off after Şahan failed to award a penalty after Gaziantepspor defender Aroyoko handling the ball in the box just before the final whistle. The Trabzonspor players made their feelings abundantly clearly wildly protesting the decision.

The replays showed that the ball was handled but the referee either missed the incident or deemed it not to be intentional.


The game ended in a 2-2 draw but the real drama did not start until after the final whistle. Şahan and his team were locked inside the dressing room area by club officials and an angry mob gathered outside the stadium.

The referee’s were locked away until the president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally intervened and ordered their release.

But how did we get to this? it was just a few weeks ago that referee Deniz Çoban broke down live on air after making a mistake and apologised to Kasımpaşa and Rizespor.

Turkish referees are under extraordinary pressure facing intimidation and character defamation for the slightest mistakes on the countries countless football punditry programs. The lead up to a major Turkish game typically features hours of debate, analysis and conspiracy theories about the referee set to officiate a game. Take for example Hüseyin Göçek a picture surfaced of him wearing a Galatasaray basketball shirt from his youth which in the eyes of conspiracy loving folk immediately makes him a bias ref. The same referee was praised for his officiating in the Arsenal v Bayern Munich Champions League clash last week.

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In popular Turkish fan culture the team you support is rarely if ever wrong. If your club wins it is because they are the best thing since sliced toast but should they lose it is because the referees ‘stopped’ them winning. The club boards also have a similar approach. Responsibility is rarely taken for failure and instead blamed on outlandish conspiracy theories and of course referees. The media in general makes things worse with some of the most popular football shows pouring kerosene on an already raging fire.

There was recently the famous incident ‘crossing through pictures of referees’ incident by controversial football pundit Ahmet Çakar. The former referee decided to draw a big X across pictures of officials who had made mistakes as well as the refereeing chief at the time Zekeriya Alp – who he even wrote a poem about.

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Unsurprisingly Alp did not last long in his job and has since been replaced but the same problems remain.

Turkish referees are by no means perfect and the most recent incident did stem from a genuine mistake but officials the world over make errors. Take the Premier League. Mike Dean enraged Arsenal fans when he failed to send off Chelsea striker Diego Costa earlier in the season and while he was criticised you did not have the club CEO and directors claiming there was a conspiracy against the club.

The state of Turkish refereeing is actually the best it has ever been. UEFA deemed Cüneyt Çakır, Bahattin Duran, Tarık Ongun, Hüseyin Göçek and Barış Şimşek good enough to officiate the Champions League final last season. The problem is more one of perception. Clubs, fans and the media are all to blame for creating an environment where a Turkish Super League referee ended up being kept hostage like a prisoner of war after a football game. Unless all three parties grow more responsible these kind of incidents will only continue.