Sunday, October 18, 2015


Turkish Football Experience

Those with long memories, or who are aware that they used to play football in England before the Premier League came along, may recall dear old Maggie and her cack handed efforts to introduce a membership scheme for anyone who wanted to go to see football. One club, Luton Town, took her up on the idea and 1986/87 saw them roll it out.

I hated the idea. I also hated the idea of missing an Arsenal away  game so I spent many a phone call trying to convince the Luton box office that although I lived many miles away I had in fact been a keen fan for many years, which was bullshit, and had been to many games, which was nearly true. They weren't falling for it though and my bid was futile though others I knew were more successful.

Fast forward almost 30 years and in a bid to curb terrace violence Turkey has something similar. I had tried to enrol on line but without success so my first few hours in Istanbul were spent not at the Blue Mosque or hanging out with the ot he rubbernecking tourists in Sultanahmet but milling round Galatasaray's Turk Telkom Arena looking dumb, acting dumb and trying to blag a ticket for their game against Genclerbirligi the following day.

It worked. I signed up for the membership scheme, was given an ATM type card and a print out of my seat details and Bob is your uncle.

Come match day and after a few cold ones in a bar which I had found after getting lost I jumped in a taxi and made my way to the stadium. And seriously why the hell do I bother going to games in UAE or Bahrain?! Turkey as you would expect has a proper football culture, one that was evident on the short walk to the stadium from the station with vendors selling scarves, shirts, hats, and the odd beer!

In the forecourt there was a group of Galatasaray fans singing and dancing with some flares, not the trousered sort, but here the fun started. I was going from the game to the airport so had all my worldly belongings tied up in a hankie and the security guys were not impressed. 'Problem' said one as he looked with horror at a toy tram I had bought for my son. I played the dumb Englishman, said I was going to the airport and his superior let me go.

Next up was a body search and they were not impressed with the coins I had in my pocket., thinking I may throw them at the ref. I know, if I wanted to do something like that I would have used brown envelopes like everywhere else around the world but these security guys were adamant, no coins. I had to throw then into one of them collection boxes you see at airports and say goodbye. What the fuck? I wasn't going to throw good money away like that so I popped into the near buy food place and bought a kebab. And very nice it was to.

My worries were far from over though. I finally found my block and entered the stadium only to be searched again and this time they took offence to my camera. In echoes of Dubai the security guard said 'no, cannot take this. It's professional camera.' Look pal, I didn't say, I don't tell you your baton is a cheap fake from a market, don't try and tell me my camera is the real deal. Sod him I thought and just carried on walking and took a seat in the stand, leaving  him to search the next guy.

I was in the seats to the right of the main body of Gala fans and as you might expect they were making a right old racket. The stadium was less than half full, put it this way there are more security guys on duty today in Jakarta for the President Cup Final between Persib and Sriwijaya than there were fans in the stadium in Istanbul.

I was wondering where the away fans were and then the visitors surprisingly took the lead and the silence was deafening; there were no away fans!

Gala fought back second half and won the game convincingly 4 -1 to go top of the Super League and the fans went home happy. And after watching games recently in Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait and Nepal for me I went to the airport happy. It was good to catch a big team playing in a big stadium in front of a passionate support. In fact why the bloody hell am I going to games in the Middle East full stop when Istanbul can be reached for the same price if flights are booked early enough and they have a proper football culture to watch and enjoy?

The one down side regards my membership card. It says Galatasaray on it and I don't think I would be to welcome if I go to Fenerbehce or Besiktas with it. Something to think about...

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