By Andrew Warshaw
November 23 – One of Cyprus’ most iconic and celebrated players, Sevim Ebeoglu, who perhaps more than anyone epitomised what it would have meant for football on both sides of the divided island to be re-integrated, has died at the age of 87.
When, a few years ago, Greek and Turkish officials were deep in talks to try and re-unite the sport, Ebeoglu, who played for Limassol side AEL and the national team before partition, followed the discussions intently – and with good reason.
During a trip to Cyprus to report on those attempts at footballing re-unification, I met Ebeoglu who welcomed me into his home in Nicosia where he lived since the island was partitioned two generations ago. It was full of trophies, medals and fading black and white photos, all of which filled him with pride.
Just as significantly, they represented a time when Greek and Turkish Cypriots mixed freely both at club at national level, when prejudice and division was non-existent.
To both sides of the footballing divide, he was something of a hero. Back in the 1950s he was leading goalscorer on no fewer than three occasions for AEL, these days very much a Greek Cypriot team but unified back then.
Sevim was the last Turkish Cypriot to play for Limassol and also won three Cypriot international caps during the period when the national team was split almost 50-50 between the two communities.
He recalled a story about the AEL Limassol president going to the UK on an equipment-buying visit. Limassol traditionally wore blue and white but Sevim had a passion for Fenerbahce, one of Turkey’s biggest clubs, and suggested Limassol switch to Fenerbahce’s blue and yellow colours. So it was – and has been ever since.
“I know it’s hard to believe now but Greek and Turkish Cypriots always played together,” Sevim recalled as his wife offered me tea and a home-made walnut delicacy. “In my day, the national team was five Greek Cypriots, five Turkish and one Armenian. I’d love to see mixed teams on the island again. It’s my biggest wish before I die.”
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