Hell for Galatasaray

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Next up from football writer Iain Pearce’s 2012 Eastern European football travels is a visit to the Turk Telekom Arena….

Galatasaray 0 v 2 SC Braga (02.10.2012)

The trip was intended as a mostly eastern European one, seeing the teams from the ex-Soviet states and experiencing the region’s differing take on football, but Turkey was so close and it proved just a little too irresistible.

In more youthful times, I went on a family beach holiday to Turkey and on a more cultural day excursion visited an Armish-type community who lived in mud huts and eschewed the running water and electric conveniences of modern life, except for one thing: the village elder had a widescreen TV set up in his hut because there was no way the menfolk were going to miss the football. That and Graeme Souness planting a flag in the centre circle when managing Galatasaray, that’s what Turkish football is in my head.

But the problem with weighty expectations is that it is tough for them to be lived up to. Any fears I had on that front evaporated as soon as I arrived in Istanbul though. That evening Galatasaray were due to entertain FC Braga in what was already looking to be a crunch Champions League game, and despite it being an otherwise normal Tuesday and kick off not until close to ten, the streets were already flowing red and yellow.

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‘Bird Fucker!’….one overweight Galatasaray fan (far right) outlines his preference for the feathered kind!!!…..

As a spectacle this was everything I had dreamed of, but as a ticketless gate-crasher it suggested that the chances getting in didn’t look nearly as rosy as the shirts.

In fact, I’m willing to admit that having asked a few loiterers or dodgy looking locals and being repeatedly laughed at, I had all but given up hope of making my Turkish bow in the Champions League, not that it stopped me from making a ridiculously early jaunt over to the Turk Telecom Arena (another Arena you’ll note).

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I popped over to the tellingly-quiet ticket office to be told that only the super VIP tickets were still to be had, available at a mere £175 each- only about £150 out of my price range then. I stooped knowingly towards the club shop only to be followed by three blokes who fitted the Turkish ticket tout mould perfectly. They started launching high numbers at me, waved away by a glum punter already accepting of defeat. I wish I had been paying more attention to my demeanour because within three minutes and fifty yards they had come down to an amount of money I actually had (thirty quid if you’re wondering).

My new best friend trusted me even less than I trusted him, but using the age-old trick of ‘borrowing’ an unwanted season ticket he hurriedly pushed me through a turnstile and I was up into the stadium with only two small problems: kick off was still two hours away and I had no idea where my seat was.

After a couple of hours of being pushed from one seat and poked to the next the main event started, the ultras showed up. Both ends had cards to hold aloft, a giant banner of a knight on horseback was winched in front of us as we promised the (conveniently in English) ‘Re-conquest of Europe’. It was incredible, but the displays and ear-splitting noise also seemed a little out of place. Normally when good old-fashioned teams move to swankier climes they leave the atmosphere with them. The verocifous old school Galatasaray fans in their glimmering megadome felt like seeing your grandma with an iPad.

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The Ultras’ show before the match, very impressive, and more than a little loud too!…

The noise was, put simply, indescribably loud. The Arena boasts that the loudest ever recorded football roar took place here last season and it doesn’t seem the tallest of tales. The surging volume of the crowd was unstoppable, well until the half hour when Braga broke away to score, turning the roar into a ear-piercing whistle instead. The whistle didn’t let up as the hosts were left utterly floundered by their well-drilled Portuguese guests. The chance to re-engage with the more satisfying bellows never returned and Braga even cruelly rubbed it in by grabbing a late second.

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Regardless of the result, I still woke up the next morning with a dull ringing in my ears.

I saw Galatasaray again on the Saturday evening, earning an only slightly atoning point against Eskişehirspor, after gifting the visitors a last-minute equaliser.

The weekend was supposed to finish in fine style with a titanic clash between Istanbul’s other two giants: Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş.

Over on the Asian side the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium was sold out, but that was not what got in the way of my plans. It was the Fenerbahçe fans themselves, with a delayed punishment for crowd violence at the end of the last campaign meaning that this game could only be attended by women and children. In England this would threaten to ghostify a stadium, but not in Turkey. The place was still packed and the inhabitants gave their side an odd and almost unnervingly high-pitched vocal backing as they romped to a convincing 3-0 win, while us blokes could only watch on TV in the city’s packed drinking holes.

Other things I have learnt whilst here in Turkey is that Real Madrid’s number ten is considered home-grown enough to be universally called Mesut, in any situation bringing up football endears you to all, and, most shockingly, when watching big matches on TV in a bar here you’ll be charged an extra £1.50 a pint as some sort of football tax. Scandalous!

Getting tickets:

GAL3Galatasaray’s Turk Telecom Arena is pretty huge and you’ll be able to get in quite easily for most games, big derbies and European ties aside. There is a big ticket office just outside the metro station where you can buy match tickets before the game, but a better idea is probably to go to http://www.biletix.com, which is the Turkish Ticketmaster.

They sell tickets for all sorts of things, including all Galatasaray’s matches. They have small outlets all over Istanbul and once found you can buy tickets from them quite easily (take some ID though as you may need it to purchase). You can be on the safe side and buy tickets online and then pick them up at a Biltex outlet when you arrive, or go there in person and save yourself the online fee.

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