A few years ago, in an effort to find myself, I quit my job and decided to work for myself; so that I could travel the world. Leaving potential clients hanging in the wind, skipping town in the beginning of a relationship (that ultimately failed), and avoiding general responsibilities wasn’t the best idea, but I was youngish and stupid!
My travels took me to Istanbul, Turkey and as a huge soccer fan, I had to go to a couple of games. My goal was to watch a game at the famed Ali Sami Yen stadium, where Galatasaray play. I had read stories and seen pictures of manic fans wielding cutlasses with fires a blazing behind them, and I wanted to see this for myself. Sadly, the only game they were scheduled to play during my time there, was a Champions League game against Bordeaux at the Olympic Stadium (where Liverpool won in 05 in a thriller against AC Milan), as Ali Sami Yen was deemed too small to host a Champions League match.
Below are my experiences at a Super Lig game and at the Champions League group game.
Fenerbache vs Antalyaspor
Around 6pm, I proceeded to buy a ticket to Kadikoy which is on the Asian side of Istanbul. I still can’t get over the fact that I went from Europe to Asia in 20 minutes to watch a football game, but there you are. According to the website the game was supposed to start at 8pm, so I wanted to get there early and take some pics of the more fanatical fans. I expected the boat to be full of Fenerbache fans in their blue and yellow striped jerseys, but surprisingly they weren’t…more on that in a bit.
I did see a couple of fans, and was intending to follow them to the stadium, which I was told was about 2 kilometers from the dock. I disembarked just in time for a rather spectacular sunset over the European side of Istanbul so I stopped to take some pics.
This turned out not to be the best idea as I had lost the Fenerbache fans. It was also beginning to worry me that I didn’t see any fans out at all. I set out in the general direction of where I thought the stadium was, and after a couple of wrong turns and some friendly advice from a kebab vendor, I was back on the right course. About half a km away, I started hearing chanting so I followed the noise. At about this time I saw a TV inside a restaurant which was showing the game. I looked at my ticket and all of a sudden I saw 7pm…CRAP…website said 8pm. So I started running. That’s why there were no fans out; instead of getting their 40 minutes early, I was 20 minutes late.
Got to my gate, went through the whole song and dance of explaining what was in my bag etc.. and then the security guys asked me where I was from. They almost fell on the floor when I said San Francisco. They couldn’t believe that someone would travel so far to see a game. I didn’t have the heart to say that I didn’t really care who won, and I was just there for the experience, and plus they seemed so amused that A) I was 20 minutes late and B) I was from California, that I got a special escort to the entrance of my section.
I’m not sure if any of you have been to a European soccer game let alone a Turkish one, but 60,000 plus fans screaming, banging on drums, and whistling is a pretty intense situation. These people were nuts. Now I had a ticket for a specific seat, but there was no way in hell I was going to get there. I couldn’t even get through the tunnel into my section. People were standing on the seats, in between the seats, in the aisles, on top of bars and on the guard rail and the fans and the stadium was bouncing.
Remembering my days in the mosh pit, I pogo-sticked my way to a place where I could see. It’s really hard to describe 60, 000 plus people chanting in unison and gesticulating wildly whenever the referee, a Fenerbache player or an opposing player did anything, but lets just say it was bedlam. The first half of play was pretty much dominated by Fenerbache, but they failed to put away some easy opportunities. There was quite a bit of theatrical diving which is always amusing. At halftime the score was 0-0 and I got myself in a position along the guard rail over looking the lower sections. Great view, but I couldn’t help thinking that a large push from the fella’s behind me would easily send me over the edge.
At half time the crowd, with the action stopped, turned their attention to taunting the 50 or so Antalyspor fans, who had their own special section that was surrounded by iron fences and what looked like barbed wire.
Second half started where the first left off. Sloppy play all around. Then in the 65th minute Fenerbache scored. As you can imagine the place E!-rrupted.
People screamed and whistled. There was hugging and kissing all around. I barely had time to disengage myself from one of the fans behind me (the sort of guy I might just cross the street if I saw him at night time) when Antalyaspor equalized. Dead silence.
This was followed by what I can only imagine were the worst sort of insults directed at the referee and the Antalyaspor players. 5 minutes later Fenerbache scored again. More hugging from scary men. This was the second most dubious of goals behind Maradona’s hand of god that I’ve ever seen. The forward basically caught the ball and placed it on his foot and shot – though apparently myself, the 50 opposing fans and the Antalyaspor players were the only people who saw it.
3 minutes later they scored for a third time. Another 5 minutes and Antalyaspor scored again making the last 10 minutes of the game very tense. With 3 minutes left, Fenerbache scored again making 4-2. The stadium went crazy. I had resorted to high-fiving at this point (my body was little achy from the passionate hugging) and slapped everyone’s hand around me. The whistle blew to end the game and we all poured out of the stadium and headed toward the docks. The ferry ride back was one large sing song and thumping fest, and I was seriously worried that they would sink the boat.
Galatasaray vs Bordeaux – 3 days later
I took a much needed nap and woke up at 5 and got ready for the game. This basically consisted of me putting on my newly purchased Galatasaray shirt. The plan was that Matthew from Winnipeg and I would go to the Ali Sami Yen stadium to meet Emily and Suzie from Seattle and we would take a Galatasary sponsored shuttle to Atatirk Olympic stadium about 30 minutes away to see the game. Galatasaray typically play at Ali Sami Yen, but its considered too small (only 30,000 or so capacity) for a Champions League game.
The bus ride was intense. Every few minutes songs were being sung and everyone was clapping and banging on anything they could touch. Parts of the roof were crumbling on my head, but it didn’t matter, the atmosphere was amazing. Oddly one of the songs was sung to the same tune as Karma Chameleon by Culture Club. We didn’t know the Galatasaray version so we just sung the version we knew. After awhile we noticed that we were barely moving. This lasted for 2 hours. The only time the bus would get into second gear was when we came to an exit on the highway and the bus would pretend to go off the exit so that he could pick up speed and in the last second swerve back on the highway. This always produced huge cheers from the crowd in the bus. We were by far the largest vehicle on the road so we made it back each time but there were some close calls. Remember the ride should have only taken 30 minutes.
We were probably the only people on the bus who had no concept where we were in relation to the stadium. We were moving about .5 miles per hour. We checked the time and to our amazement it was 9:25. We had been on the bus for 2 and a half hours. At this point Matthew inadvertently pushed a button and the door in front of us swung open. Thinking that the driver was letting us all out due to the bus being in stopped traffic, we rushed out and with a couple of others. We looked behind us and realized that 99% of the other passengers had stayed on the bus and the doors had shut, but that’s also when we saw the stadium. A futuristic structure on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. It looked like a convertible spaceship.
From where we were it looked about a kilometer away and the traffic wasn’t moving so we decided to follow the increasing number of fans who were running in the direction of the stadium. We broke out in a jog.
Sweaty and glowing we got to our gates and split up (my section was different then theirs). The atmosphere was electric, but because this was an Olympic stadium with a track and other necessities for field events, the crowd was a ways away from the pitch. Unfortunately this meant one didn’t get the same intense “party/riot” feeling as at the Fenerbache game. I actually was standing in my designated row, though my seat was a few away.
The game itself was kind of boring. The French were super defensive, getting 11 people behind the ball and no one could control the midfield which inevitably leads to sloppy, boring play, and it takes a very disciplined team (which Galatasaray are not) to score in such conditions. The crowd was constantly screaming, chanting and lighting flares which made things very exciting, but as the game plodded on and Galatasaray’s attacks were either thwarted or they gave it away, the crowd grew restless and disinterested. The game ended 0-0 and the fans were disappointed.
Finding the others we then tried to figure out the best way to get home. The parking lot was an absolute mess. Istanbul doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with 6 million people and their cars. cars were parked in every direction, there were no traffic controllers and it was free for all. It was chaos defined. We finally got a cab (bus was so packed that it sagged) and got home at 1am. Exhausted I went straight to bed.