When Nathan Redmond moved to Istanbul in search of adventure and a fresh perspective on his football, he could not have dared to imagine the extremes of emotion coming his way.
Among them, the carnage of a match-day terror attack in the streets near the Besiktas stadium and the horror of Turkey’s deadliest earthquake in almost 1,500 years. And the uplifting spirit of a proud nation uniting in response to the human tragedy.
‘You really did see the strength of the culture of the Turkish people,’ Redmond tells Mail Sport. ‘You saw them come together and do everything necessary to help one another.’
There have been moments, too, when the tribal elements of Istanbul football were clearer, especially after a spectacular solo goal inspired 10-man Besiktas to a 4-2 win at Fenerbahce in April.
‘That changed things slightly,’ understates Redmond. ‘The hospitality was amazing from day one, but it went up a bit after that. A lot of players in the team had never won at Fenerbahce.
Nathan Redmond (right) has revealed the difficulties he’s faced off the pitch at Besiktas
Besiktas fans recently displayed a banner in tribute to Redmond after his spectacular solo goal inspired 10-man Besiktas to a 4-2 win at Fenerbahce in April (credit: ARETÉ)
‘Out in Istanbul’s cafes and restaurants, people would wait politely until we had finished eating to shake my hand and say, “thank you for the win” or, “thank you for playing for us”. It made me realise what football means to people in this country.’
By the next match against Giresunspor, fans had a new banner in his honour. It came complete with an image of a bull and hailed Redmond as the slayer of the Kadikoy bull, a reference to a famous bronze sculpture in the district where Fenerbahce play, a symbol of the Asian side of the city.
Redmond scored again, his third goal in as many games, and this sparkling form continued as Besiktas charged up the Super Lig under Senol Gunes and into the top three.
‘There’s no hiding place when you play for Besiktas, Fenerbahce or Galatasaray,’ he says. ‘You’re in the spotlight constantly but if you perform well they want to show you love and appreciation.’
Displays of affection include welcome committees when they step off flights to away games. ‘We’ll come out to thousands of fans, singing and giving flowers to the manager and the players.’
Before home games, crowds gather near the training centre, bringing traffic to a standstill on a busy highway as they voice support for the players who stay in the club’s residential quarters on the eve of a game.
‘We’ll be getting ready in our rooms or having team meetings and we can hear them outside,’ says Redmond. ‘Thousands with flares, singing for about an hour. The build-up is insane.
‘You get to the stadium and go for a look at the pitch and it’s half full. You go to take a corner and lighter or a coin might fly past your ear. Or hit you on the back or in the head. All these things I knew existed but to be there and experience it is really something.’
Redmond scored five goals and recorded five assists from his 25 Super Lig appearances
Since his arrival, Redmond has been impressed by the passion shown by Besiktas supporters
Redmond and his team-mates were at the training ground before a home game when Kurdish rebels detonated a bomb in a busy shopping street near Taksim Square in November, killing six and injuring 81.
‘By the time we got to the stadium they said the game couldn’t happen,’ he says. ‘It wasn’t the first time something stopped football and put life into perspective.’ There were chilling echoes of an attack in 2016, when a car bomb targeted a police bus after a Besiktas game at Vodafone Park. It was coordinated with a suicide explosion nearby. Two club employees were among the 53 killed and many injured.
‘There are stories of great sorrow and stories of great joy passed through the generations, it’s as though it’s in their blood,’ says Redmond. ‘When I talk to someone like Atiba Hutchinson (a Canadian international in his 10th season at the club), he tells me stories like I never thought I would hear.’
The earthquake struck eastern Turkey and Syria at 4.17am on February 6 at a magnitude of 7.8, one of the strongest recorded in the region. The death toll climbed towards 60,000, most in Turkey.
More than 50,000 were killed due to the continued destruction as the worst earthquake in 80 years rocked the country in February
Footballers from Besiktas, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray were among those who set out through heavy snow to join fans sourcing urgent supplies, packing them into boxes and loading the trucks bound for the disaster zone.
‘In training you could tell the Turkish players were finding it hard to really focus,’ Redmond says. ‘Everybody knew someone connected with the regions hit.
‘You don’t realise the impact it has until you’re in it. Every team in the league bound together to donate. We paid for flights to get people out and bring them to Istanbul. Everyone was doing their bit to bring in ideas of ways to help. It helped me realise the stature of the big clubs across Turkey and what they represent.’
When the Super Lig resumed three weeks later, Besiktas invited fans to bring soft toys to the game against Antalyaspor and throw them down from the stands. All donations, they promised, would go to children in the earthquake regions. Thousands of teddy bears rained down and piled up. Players were in tears as they cleared them from the pitch.
‘I saw the first few thrown and players paused to applaud the fans,’ recalls Redmond. ‘Then it kept going and going. We were trying to keep the teddies off the white lines but it was non-stop.
‘It was one of those “wow” moments. You felt proud to be a part of the club. It showed the family atmosphere they have.’
Redmond signed a one-year deal. After six years at Southampton he hoped it would recharge him, and the rhythm of regular action in a vibrant environment has restored his sharpness and competitive edge.
All with the extra value of a new lifestyle experience for the 29-year-old, his partner Blaise and their two children. They have a third child due next month.
In the wake of the disaster, the club invited fans to donate toys and Redmond claims he was ‘proud’ to have been part of the moment
The winger spent seven years at Southampton before making the switch to Turkey in 2022
Redmond has a decision to make as the Turkish season comes to a belated close. Besiktas are keen to keep him but there is interest from more than one club in the Premier League.
‘I feel mentally sharp, hungry and physically good,’ he says. ‘I’m only 29, I still feel I have something to give at the highest level. I look at my family with another kid on the way and it pushes me more to be the best I can be.
‘I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I came for the challenge but it’s exceeded what I thought was the reality of football here.
‘If staying is a possibility then we’ll sit down and discuss it, but you never know what’s going to happen. I just want to finish the season strong, welcome my new baby and rest.’