Aaron Lennon’s move to Burnley in January may not have been the highest-profile transfer of 2018, but it meant the Clarets could ship at least one more replica shirt overseas.
“It’s quite hard to watch all of Burnley’s matches on television in Turkey, but I’ve always found ways to see Aaron Lennon,” 20-year-old Istanbul native Ferhat Utfurak tells FourFourTwo. “I have to, as I’m his biggest fan.”
Forget Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Neymar, all of whom enjoy the unusual honour of their own dedicated fan bases (look at the ‘Man Like Cristiano’ and ‘Messiology’ Twitter pages if you don’t believe us) – Ferhat is the ultimate Aaron Lennon superfan. But how did a young lad from Turkey come to worship at the Temple of Lennon?
It all began when the wideman was tearing it up for Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham. While the club’s prosperous 2010/11 Champions League campaign embedded Gareth Bale’s name into football fans’ consciousness across Europe, for one 12-year-old in Turkey, it was the pocket rocket on Spurs’ opposite flank who really caught the eye.
On a Wednesday evening with no standout Champions League tie to watch, a young Ferhat, having heard of their impressive 3-1 victory over holders Inter a few weeks before, settled down to see the London side’s next European encounter.
“I first saw Lennon play for Tottenham in the Champions League in November 2010,” explains Utfurak. “Straight away, I was excited by his speed and the way he’d run at defenders so directly.
“It was the match against Werder Bremen at White Hart Lane,” he continues. “I was so excited by what Lennon could do, I spent the full 90 minutes focusing on him and his performance. He had an amazing game and got two assists. That night, I realised I had a new hero.”
Spurs won that group stage game 3-0 – with Lennon setting up both Younes Kaboul and Peter Crouch – to book their berth in the knockout phase. Four days later, Lennon scored a dramatic injury-time winner in a Premier League clash against Liverpool, and his season peaked in February when a mazy run set up Crouch to sink Milan at San Siro.
By now, Tottenham were heading for the last eight of the Champions League, and Ferhat was following his idol every step of the way.
“Lennon isn’t that well-known in Turkey,” says Utfurak. “Most people know the name from games like FIFA and PES, where he always stood out because he was so fast. I pick the team he plays for whenever I’m taking on my mates, and I tried to copy his playing style on the pitch, too. After a while, friends, family and even some of my teachers were calling me Lennon.”
Ferhat became a Spurs fan by proxy as a means to continue watching his favourite player every week.
“It felt like I supported the team, but really it was only Lennon who interested me,” he says. “I didn’t know much about the other players when I was younger – I just loved watching Lennon.”
Keen to let the world know of his newfound passion, Ferhat bought a shirt adorned with the ex-Leeds man’s name and squad number. It was the start of an obsession that would set him back a small fortune.
“The first shirt I bought was the Spurs home one from the 2013/14 season,” he tells FFT. “It was shipped from Thailand and cost £30.”
Soon he snapped up that season’s away jersey and third shirt – both with ‘Lennon 7’ printed on the back. But that wasn’t enough. He had to quench his thirst for Lennon merch, so delved deep into the internet and began his quest to buy every shirt the Yorkshire-born winger had sported in his professional career, be that for Leeds, Spurs or England.
“Mostly I’d buy them from online sellers in England, but a few came from different countries,” he says. “The most expensive was the Spurs away shirt from 2005/06, which cost £65. It took a long time to track one down, but eventually I found it in Germany.
“My favourite is probably Spurs’ home shirt from 2006/07,” he adds. “In total I’ve probably spent more than £2,000 on Aaron Lennon shirts. It wasn’t always easy, as some are quite rare.”
Rarer still were tops with Lennon’s name on the back, not to mention in the official competition fonts.
“It was especially difficult to find some of the shirts with the correct name and number font, so I decided the best thing to do was buy the printing press machine to stamp names and numbers on myself,” he reveals. “The machine cost me about £450, and at first I found it very hard to use properly.
“Thankfully, I found a guy in China who could recreate some of the old fonts and sleeve badges, otherwise I wouldn’t ever have been able to do it. I’d send him an image of Lennon playing in the kit, and he’d send me back a replica of the nameset within a few days.
“I think the first shirt I managed to print myself was Leeds’s home kit from 2003/04 – the season in which Lennon made his first-team debut aged 16, away at Tottenham.”
Once a Claret...
The diminutive speedster may not have been on Ferhat’s radar as a rising star at Elland Road – after all, the Turk was seven when Lennon sealed a £1 million switch to White Hart Lane in the summer of 2005 – but his more recent transfer activity did leave the superfan with a bit of a dilemma. Or did it?
“I just support whichever team Lennon is playing for,” says Utfurak. “Whoever that may be isn’t particularly important, to be honest. When Lennon signed for Everton [initially on loan in February 2015], I immediately became an Everton fan without hesitation.
“I researched the club’s history online, looked through some of their recent records and statistics, read up on his new team-mates, his new manager, the stadium and so on. It was a simple decision, as I knew I had to keep following Aaron Lennon.”
He kept adding to his collection of Lennon jerseys, delving into the player’s past to add home, away and third shirts from each season of the Yorkshireman’s career, much to the bewilderment of his peers.
“Some of my friends have big collections of shirts from a mixture of players and clubs, but when they see what I’ve done, they think it’s very strange,” admits Utfurak.
But the 20-year-old has genuine affection for his idol – so much so that when it was revealed that Lennon had been battling depression in 2017, it hit the Turkish youngster hard.
“When I heard about that, I was really worried about him,” he says. “Every day I’d try to follow his situation through the media in England, to find out what was going on and whether he was OK.”
Fortunately, his move to Turf Moor has helped to put the winger on the road to recovery.
Now, of course, Ferhat is a big Burnley fan, watching each and every Clarets game online from the comfort of his bedroom and hoping his favourite player can deliver the goods.
“People in Turkey don’t know much about Burnley, so their matches aren’t really shown in bars like other clubs,” he says. “I have to watch them alone, but that’s OK. My dream’s always been to go to England one day and see Lennon play live.”
In the flesh
Fortunately, fate – and the Europa League Third Qualifying Round draw – ensured Lennon would visit Ferhat, rather than the other way around. Having finished 7th in the Premier League last term to book a first European tour for more than half a century, Sean Dyche’s side were paired with Istanbul Basaksehir.
On August 9, Aaron Lennon would play in Ferhat’s hometown. After failing to land a ticket for his hero’s last visit – when Tottenham lost to Besiktas in 2014 – he knew he couldn’t miss his chance this time.
“I cried when I didn’t get a ticket for the Besiktas-Spurs match,” he says. “When Burnley were drawn against Basaksehir, I was so happy I had another chance to make my dream come true. The second the draw was made, my friends and family were messaging me about it.
“I posted a comment explaining my story on Basaksehir’s Facebook page, and a local journalist saw it. He spoke to someone at the club and got them to invite me to the match. They contacted me and said, ‘We want make your dream come true.’”
The club gave Ferhat a seat behind the away dugout, giving him the perfect view to see Lennon come on as a 78th-minute substitute – and get booked – as Burnley earned a 0-0 draw before winning the return leg 1-0 after extra time.
“Of course, during the game I was just supporting Lennon, but I was so grateful for everything Basaksehir did,” beams Utfurak. “I was very emotional. I was actually watching Aaron Lennon play!”
Even better than that, he then met his star man face-to-face. After connecting with the winger via Twitter, Ferhat was ecstatic when the Burnley man ‘slid into his DMs’ with an intriguing offer.
“Days before the game he messaged me saying, ‘Find me after the match – I have a present for you’,” Utfurak recalls with glee.
“When I first saw him I was so excited, and he seemed happy to see me too. He handed me the shirt he’d worn in the game, which was an incredible gift. He signed a few of my other shirts as well.”
Overall, Ferhat has 65 personalised Aaron Lennon tops, but the big question is: what will he do when the 31-year-old eventually hangs up his boots? Will he switch his attentions, affections and expendable income to a new player?
“Definitely not!” he insists. “When he retires, I’ll finish my collection. I have no ambitions to start another collection for another player. But if Lennon was to become a coach, I would want a tracksuit with ‘A.L’ printed on it – that would be great.”
He’ll just have to hope his hero doesn’t opt for a designer suit in the dugout – now that would get expensive...
This feature originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!
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