Skip to content

Turkish-German community will bring unique fan culture to Euro 2024


DUSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Six years ago, Ilkay Gundogan's place on the German national team was in question over a photograph with Turkey's president. Now he's the team captain.

When Gundogan leads the German national team out against Scotland in the European Championship opener Friday, he will be its first captain of Turkish heritage at a major tournament.

To some in the large Turkish-German community, the Barcelona midfielder embodies a "hybrid identity" that is gaining ground even in the face of political gains for the anti-migration far right, said Caner Aver, researcher at the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research in the German city of Essen.

While Gundogan had to choose which country to represent on the field, fans can support both. As the tournament nears, Aver bought one German and one Turkish national team shirt for his 6-year-old son, cut them in half, and stitched the halves together to make his own hybrid kit.

"I think there will be a lot of people who support both national teams and who would probably be pleased if they were to meet at some point in the semifinals or final," Aver told The Associated Press.

One of those supporting both Germany and Turkey is Osman Eroglu, who is a goalkeeper and board member at Turkgucu Ratingen, a Turkish community soccer club on the outskirts of Euro 2024 host city Dusseldorf.

"For us, for people with a migration background in the third or the fourth generation by now, it's a European Championship in our own country too, after all," Eroglu told The AP. "It's double the joy because Turkey is represented this year too, so there are two teams straight away that you can support and cross your fingers for."

Others question whether players from minority groups might be scapegoats for German fans or the media if the team falls short. Some even see choosing Germany over Turkey as an act of betrayal. Gundogan was particularly targeted with booing by some fans of the Turkish national team in a friendly game against Germany in Berlin last year that Turkey won 3-2.

When Gundogan and teammate Mesut Ozil, another star Germany player of Turkish heritage, posed for photos with Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the run-up to the 2018 World Cup, they faced pointed criticism from the German soccer federation's president at the time, Reinhard Grindel, who said Erdogan didn't sufficiently share the organization's "values."

After the World Cup, Ozil quit the national team, citing a "feeling of racism and disrespect" following anti-Turkish comments from far-right politicians and fans. Ozil never played for Germany again and retired from soccer last year.

Younis Kamil is an academic and soccer coach of Sudanese and German heritage who is working with a major Turkish community organization in Germany and the national Olympic committee on a project around Euro 2024 and sports participation for people with a family history of migration.

Even with Gundogan as captain, there are few people of Turkish heritage and from other minority groups in coaching and authority roles in German soccer, Kamil said.

"There's still a gap between the possibility of identification with the German national team, and I think one of the main reasons is the lack of representation in the decision-making structures, and also experiences of discrimination young people make in their daily lives," Kamil told the AP.

The Turkish national team has five Germany-born players in its squad and is counting on enthusiastic support.

"In Germany we're going to be like a host country," Turkey defender Ozan Kabak, who was born in Turkey but plays his club soccer in Germany, said in a recent interview. "A lot of Turkish people live here, and I think whole stadiums (are) going to be full of Turkish people."

Fans of the Turkish team even outnumbered Germany's supporters at the friendly in Berlin last year. Unfortunately for Kabak, he won't be playing when Turkey starts its Euro 2024 campaign on June 18 after a pre-tournament knee injury.

Turkey plays its first two Euro 2024 games against Georgia and Portugal in Dortmund before facing the Czech Republic in Hamburg. Both cities have many residents of Turkish heritage.

Many people of Turkish origin in Germany are descended from "guest workers" who arrived during the Cold War. An economic boom after World War II meant West Germany had an acute shortage of labor.

A history of migration from places like Italy, Greece and Croatia — and more recently the arrival of refugees from Ukraine — mean those teams are also likely to get substantial local support.

This year also brings a significant legal change as longstanding restrictions on dual nationality are abolished, making it much easier for naturalized German citizens to keep Turkish passports too.

"It's not either-or, it's both-and," said Aver, the researcher who made his son a half-and-half shirt for Euro 2024. He's hoping the tournament can help to bring German society together.

"It's important, now in a time of rising right-wing populism ... to put diversity in the foreground," he said. "So I hope and I wish that the fans celebrate together, commiserate together and experience joy together."


AP soccer:

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox