“I had the fear of my life”: at the heart of the earthquake in Turkey, footballer Stéphane Bahoken testifies

He speaks on the phone, this Tuesday, from Istanbul where he put his luggage in the summer of 2022. The former Angevin striker, Stéphane Bahoken, was Sunday at the Yeni Hatay stadium in Antioch with his club Kasimpasa for a match of championship against Hatayspor. At the end of the encounter, he had to remain on site due to weather conditions (snow, high winds) incompatible with a night flight. He was sleeping, therefore, at the Museum hotel at the time of the earthquake which devastated the region at 4:17 am Monday morning.

The establishment’s anti-seismic foundations saved him from the worst and he was then able to return home, with his partners, in the private plane of its president. Reassured about the state of health of Christian Atsu, author of the only goal of Hatayspor (1-0), he testifies to these tragic events with a mixture of amazement and sadness in the verb. The Cameroonian international still has in mind shocking images of collapsed buildings and these landscapes of knockouts and desolation.

A little more than 24 hours after the earthquake, do you feel like you have been miraculously rescued?

STEPHANE BAHOKEN. I will not use the word miraculous. This applies more to people found alive after spending long hours under the rubble, like Christian (Atsu). Considering the power of the earthquake, I consider myself very lucky. The earthquake-resistant foundations of our hotel most certainly prevented its collapse. There was damage disproportionate to the damage caused to many other homes and buildings. I even saw one in front of the hotel collapse before my eyes.

What happened Sunday to Monday night at your hotel?

I woke up shortly after 4 a.m. when I felt my bed, then the whole room move. Cupboards collapsed, windows broke. I then committed the stupidity of remaining standing. I have, to tell the truth, not had time to apply the safety instructions by taking shelter. We’re just looking for something to hold on to. I got a lot of stuff on it. But, in the end, I was not injured. I waited for the end of the tremor to take my things and quickly leave to find my teammates and the staff in front of the hotel. The whole delegation was accommodated on the 3rd floor. Outside, we gathered before boarding the club bus. There was a second aftershock. We all went back downstairs and waited another half hour, until things calmed down. When day broke, we took the road to reach an airport 2h30 away.

Have you had time to be afraid?

When it happens, you think it’s going to stop. You’re reacting and you don’t really have time to think. Fear comes next, a posteriori. Do you think what would have happened in another hotel? The ceiling might have fallen on my head. You understand, afterwards, that you missed death. I got the fright of my life.

Stéphane Bahoken in the jersey of his Kasimpasa club (Photo Icon sport) Seskim / Icon Sport

Did you immediately measure the magnitude of the drama that was unfolding?

It was enough to look around us to understand. There were haggard, half-naked people in the street in the rain and the cold. You are not in a movie. You have the sad reality in front of you. All around is desolation, apocalyptic images. You see rubble, you imagine the people trapped under this rubble….

Has your club made a psychological unit available to players and staff?

Not for the moment. It has just been decided to cancel training for this Tuesday. We had free time. We will see tomorrow if arrangements are made.

Are you planning to use it?

Quite honestly, I have a strong character. I’ll take it on myself. We are big people. I speak for myself, because everyone then reacts with their own sensitivity. I repeat, we are lucky to still be there, unscathed. I would like, on the other hand, to be able to help in one way or another the families of victims, to get involved with my teammates in various actions. We will most certainly get together and talk about it among ourselves.



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