Turkish Delight – Not Bloody Likely!

Turkey holds some bad memories for me. In my one and only previous visit to the country in the early days of my relationship with the Current Mrs Fuller tm, I contracted a form of Dysentery on the 2nd day of a 10 day holiday, and saw nothing more of our “paradise” than the hotel room and the bathroom. With a 4 hour coach trip to the airport, followed by a 4 hour flight home, I made sure I packed a couple of spare pairs of trousers, just in case.

So it was with some surprise that I announced to CMF ™ that I was planning to go to Istanbul for a weekend. The reputation of Turkish football, both in terms of its international relations, and its domestic scene is characterised by violence on and off the pitch, and a recent documentary by Danny Dyer in his International Football Factories series did nothing to dispel any myths. The trip was expertly planned BY comrade Dennis who picked a weekend were we would almost certainly get to see two of the big three play at home.

Nothing really prepares you for Istanbul. It is a mix of Communist-style Soviet beauocracy and backwater Europe poverty, with some classic architecture thrown in for good measure. Everyone you meet is either so friendly that you will think they are trying to rip you off, or actually are ripping you off. Take a taxi from the airport on three separate occasions, on the same route, with the same traffic conditions and at the same time of day and you will get three very different prices. Try walking down the street and count how many times you have to say “no thank you” to carpet sales people and I guarantee you will hit double figures within 60 seconds.

I arrived into Istanbul at the smaller but more modern Sehci airport on the Asian side of the city. The flight is one of the worst experiences you could imagine in terms of air travel. Four hours on a budget airline, with no leg room and a set of passengers who simply do not understand concepts like “one bag for hand luggage”, “stay seated when seat belt sign is one” and the classic “no smoking at any time” is potentially part of my vision of hell. However, armed with a couple of films on the IPOD and some M & S sandwiches I managed to blot out most of the noise, and arrived at 8.30pm. Now the other issue with the Asian airport is the difficulty in reaching the “core” of Istanbul, the area of Sultanhamet. Buses seem to go everywhere, but whatever way you cut it you have to take at least two types of transport, or take your chances that you get a taxi driver who is only slightly intending to rip them off.

I chose the Havas bus to Taksim Square, the modern heart of the city and where any celebration or protest takes place. So, the process was to board the bus. Wait 20 minutes, driver gets on bus and drives 100 yards up the road, does a complicated three point turn which he manages in 17 attempts and then parks. The driver then gets off, a new driver gets on and we drive off towards the motorway. After 200 yards we go round a roundabout head back to the first terminal and stop where we started from, at which point the original driver gets back on and the new driver leaves. Completely and utterly pointless, but common to processes that take place in the city. An hour later I was disembarking in Taksim and decided to walk to the hotel, which on the map seemed like a mile or so. Taking off down the main pedestrianised street I was amazed to see so many people out and shopping so late. Crowds thinned out as I walked south, and the shops turned into bars and restaurants before the true Istanbul started to show. Broken paving stones, litter piled up on the side of the street, feral cats, beggars and a blatant disregard for rules of the road became more and more common as I walked down to the waters edge.

The one consoling factor was the view across the Bosphorus from the Gala bridge to the Mosques on the European side – absolutely stunning is a word I do not use frequently, but in this case I made an exception. I had decided to change my hotel on the day before travel – swapping my 3 star for a 4 star close to the station. I normally take little notice of travel review sites such as Tripadvisor, but in this case the vast number of 1 out of 5 stars set off warning sirens. The hotel was located adjacent to the railway line – overlooking it in fact, or overlooking a building site rebuilding the station. The first room I was shown (A superb spacious double room with a view over the Bosphorus) was in fact a room being redecorated, complete with paint, brushes and step ladder – perhaps that was the deal – I pay rock bottom rates but have to decorate the room to my own tastes. The second room was the smallest room on the floor, according to the fire escape map with a view over the fire escape and the back of the building. “This is not my room – where is the view and what is spacious about this?” I asked. My genial guide then informed me that the hotel was full and for €20 a night he could upgrade me to a suite. So I asked to see the room and found a room, which could never have been described as a suite, and a view over the Bosphorus – i.e the room I booked and paid for. After a haggle we settled on €10 per night for the room.

So Saturday dawned and the first game on the agenda was a bottom of the table clash in the Turkcell Supaliga between Istanbul BBS and Rizaspor. Nothing remarkable about these two – the former are the municipal team of Istanbul created in the mid 1990’s from a merger of local sides, and Rizaspor, a team from the Black Sea port hundreds of miles from the capital, except that the game was being played at the 80,000 Ataturk Olympic Stadium – venue for Liverpool’s remarkable Champions League victory against AC Milan in May 2005. The stadium is located around 15 miles outside the city, in an area that could be described by optimists as a “redevelopment zone” and by the realists as a “barren wasteland charaterised by a white elephant of a stadium that is never used”. The journey to the stadium took in a train from Sirci, the final destination of the Orient Express four stops to Kenikapi where we had to change to bus 149T. Bus stops in Istanbul do not have signs, maps, timetables or anything really apart from a sign that gives you any indication it is a bus stop. Eventually a bus so dirty that dried mud forms a “tint” on all of the windows arrives and for a sum of less than 40p (YTL1.50) we get on and await the bus drivers call for the stadium. We pass through suburbs, housing estates, farms, markets and industrial estates, the bus loading with more and more people, bags and livestock as we go. Eventually the driver announces the stadium, although with just an hour to go to kick off and no other way to reach the stadium by public transport we are the only people to alight. At least we see a sign that a game is being played. Three police vans, lights flashing announce the arrival of the home team coach, and we follow the convoy up the hill in the direction of the stadium. After a 10 minute walk the futuristic arena comes into view and it is amazing. The main stand rises in the air, topped with what looks like a flying saucer. As we approached the stadium we say 5-6 coaches with supporters disembarking and setting up their stalls. One of the strange things was that all of these fans appeared to be away supporters who have made the long journey from Riza. And what is more strange is that there are at least 20 stalls set up selling identical hats and scarves, yet every fan seems to be decked out already. Apart from us – and on seeing us approaching with our hats that obviously shout out “hello I am English” we are mobbed.

Tickets for such a game are purchased from a small booth at the edge of the car park – YTL10 each for the home or away section (£4 in our language). Having seen the away fans being shepherded into the open seats behind the goal we decide to become home fans for the day and make our way around to the main stand entrance.

5 Minutes before kick off and we can count with some ease a crowd of no more than 800, of which the vast majority are in the away section. Around us are a few hundred more away fans, you have opted to try and avoid the worst of the foul weather by having a roof over their head. This would be good if only it wasn’t for the hundreds of riot police, who have turned up in full gear and two water cannons and then proceeded to wade into the crowd and extract all of those with away colours and march them around the pitch to the away end. However, only for those with colours. Some fans feeling lonely then decided they would rather be with their colleagues but as they do not have colours they are refused passage.

The game is as you would expect from two teams in such a lowly position, playing in an unfriendly stadium with no crowds. However, on such occasions the unimaginable can happen…and even more occasionally you get two. After 30 minutes the deadlock is broken. Istanbul BBS give away a silly free kick halfway inside the Rizaspor half. A very quick freekick is played through to the centre forward who is at least 20 yards offside, but the linesman has his back to play, arguing with the home bench about the validity of the kick and he misses the infringement, and with predictability in such controversial situations, the forward goes on to score. All hell breaks loose as the whole bench and all of the Istanbul team race over and surround the linesman, pushing and shoving him. This goes on for 3 or 4 minutes, during which time the referee is confused as to what went on and does not have the balls to book, let alone send anyone off. Halfway through the second half with the scores locked at 1-1 Istanbul get an offside decision halfway inside their half. The players move up to the edge of the Rizaspor box and with a hopeful punt upfield, the wind takes the ball over everyones head, including the goalkeeper and into the net for what turns out to be the winner.

The game petered out in and as soon as the final whistle went the fans began to troop out of the stadium. So much for these manic and volatile Turkish fans….or so we thought. As we walked round the stadium we saw a group of 15 away fans taunting 50 + riot police, armed with batons and shields. And they did nothing. The 15 strong army of middle age men then started to kick the shields and the police simply retreated….tea cup and storm come to mind as do white flag and raising it!

So we walked back up to the main road, and it real big stadium style, stood on the hard shoulder of the road, on a blind bend waiting for the bus with a handful of other fans. I can see this is the way forward for public transport access to new big stadiums! 30 minutes later the bus turned up and went then started our marathon journey to the other side of Europe (literally) via Bus, tram, Funicular, Metro and finally on foot where we emerged in Sisli, heart of the caldron known as Galatasaray.

I have to say that this was the one ground I was looking forward to the most. Its reputation as a place from “hell” goes before itself, and with a new stadium less than a year away from opening on the other side of the highway, the opportunities to experience the unique atmosphere was too good to miss.

Coming out of the metro we were met with the traditional Istanbul scene. Not Turkish Delight, Locals being called to prayer and minarets poking the sky but traffic and chaos. Fans were everywhere. People pushed and shuvved their way along the road and a sensible precaution of not opening our mouths to reveal we were English did not stop us losing a wallet and a digital camera outside the stadium. Fortunately our forward party the day before had secured tickets in the Tribune stand – absolutely vital as the thought of being in such a crowd trying to get a ticket does not bear thinking about.

Once we were inside we saw the basic stadium in all its glory. Despite its modest sub 25,000 attendance, the stadium was loud and atmospheric. The teams ran out but no fireworks – just syncronized chanting and scarf waving on a scale not seen for years. The game itself was one of those that passed like a dream. Nine goals, six of them to the home team do not tell the true story as the 3 scored by the away team were of the highest quality. Galatasaray are enjoying a magnificent season, topping the league with a single defeat after 20 games. After the game we opted for the long way round approach, crossing the main road to walk past the stadium and view the pirate and counterfeit traders selling fake Lacoste jumpers, fake Burberry scarves, fake Louis Vitton handbags and fake goldfish. So enough excitement for one day, I returned to the “suite” after a customary Donar Kebab and a pint of Efes in the pub around the corner from the hotel.

On Sunday the plan was to spend a few hours sightseeing before going to the football. Unfortunately the winter heat wave that England was experiencing had not made it a few thousand miles south east and instead Istanbul shivered and got very wet with temperatures close to freezing. I guessed as I got soaked as another taxi drove through a puddle that the monsoon like rain was also unseasonal, but it did bring out the hagglers in force to sell umbrellas and raincoats outside the holiest of mosques, the Blue Mosque. The destination so early on a Sunday morning was the stadium of Besiktas, a stadium once described by Pele as the most beautiful stadium in the world, thanks to its location on the banks of the Bosphorus. And with such a location it made a view inside without actually crossing the threshold. Out of all the stadiums in the city, it is also the easiest to reach. Simply hop on the central number 28 tram until its terminus at Kabaty and then continue to walk in the direction of travel. The stadium is less than 10 minutes away, and the club shop and ticket office are right in front of you as you cross the road. If you are coming from Taksim then head down the steep Inonu Cad which is in the top right hand corner of the square, and next to the posh hotel. The road is lined with Embassies, and you can judge the importance by the number of police officers on duty outside. Germany has half a dozen, Macedonia shares one fat old cop with the Chinese restaurant next door.

Unable to get any wetter I headed back to the hotel to rendezvous with the rest of the stadium team and we hopped on the 38 tram in the direction of the terminal beginning with a Z. Here we hoped across the tracks, not literally, although some simply did and got on the Light transit (why on earth they couldn’t continue the line I don’t know) in the direction of the airport for 3 stops, getting off a Yenibosna. Now, remember what I said about Istanbul being like Russia? Well exit the metro station and you are met with a huge car park, full of buses at least 30 years old, tower blocks as far as the eye can see, hagglers, husslers, beggars and all of the signs of communism. In the distance was a solitary stand, towering over the area – our destination for game number 3 – Istanbulspor versus Orduspor a 2nd division game of little or no importance. The visitors were coming from the Black Sea, hundreds of miles away and so we expected a small crowd. We crossed the main road, went pass B & Q, complete with the Turkish version of Neil Morrissey advertising patio furniture and walked up the hill. The stadium was located in a residential side street, stirring memories of some of the old UK lower league grounds.

Now, either the Turks have so little in their life that a match 300 miles away on a Sunday lunch time is so much of a pull that they all decide to attend, or the Istanbul chapter of the Orduspor fan club is thousands strong as unsurrisingly for this city, chaos reigned. The stadium, or should I say, stand had two gates, each of which with a small ticket window, where hundreds of away fans were crowding around waving their YTL20 at the face behind the grills. We decided that bravery was the best option and so we dived in, using or considerable bulk to reach the front and grab the tickets.

We then pushed our way to the turnstile where the steward took our ticket, let us in and then gave the ticket back to the man behind the grill to resell! At least this offered some kind of crowd control. Other fans simply ran into the stadium, climbed the steps to the top and then threw their ticket down to other fans in the crush below.

I got the feeling that the single stand stadium had not seen much action before as within 20 minutes the stand was full with 4,000 away fans, and at least 3 home fans! Bear in mind that less than 3 years ago Istanbulspor were in the UEFA cup and top division and we have a case for Moulder and Scully to find the missing fans. Fans unable to get in shinned up trees, hung on lamp posts and the 10 foot wire fences in scenes not seen since the 1970’s FA Cup. The game itself was average to say the least – Orduspor’s single goal halfway through the second half was enough to win the game. However, one would love to have been in the dressing room to listen to the Istanbulspor manager talk to the young Turkish centre-forward with the bad hair colour.

In the game he was caught offside 14 times (out of a total of 14 occasions for the home team), hit the post when clean through on goal, was booked for dissent in kicking the ball away when caught offside and finally, and certain to be included in the annual Turkish lower league “bloopers” DVD was a miss of epic proportions. From a free-kick swung in from the left, the Istanbulspor centre-back toward above the defense and headed the ball goalwards. Nothing could stop the ball, except blondie, standing on the line who managed to divert the ball over the bar from 2 yards out when if he would have left it would have been the opening goal.

After the game, and a walk through Soviet square we headed to the dock at Eminiou for our final type of transport of the weekend, and a chance to complete a unique double of two games, in one day in two continents.

A 45p fair saw us on the way across one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world to Asia, and the port of Katakoy. We traveled from mid-70’s Soviet Union to a classic 1950’s docks, with old porters lugging cases and packages around, and rows of buses and taxis awaiting their next fares. And people, hundreds and thousands of people, not going anywhere but bustling from place to place. We were here to visit Turkey’s wealthiest club – Fenerbahce and their newly redeveloped stadium, which will host the UEFA Cup final in May 2009.

Fenerbahce are the playboy club of the country, with Alex and Roberto Carlos providing the Brazilian flair, Kezman the goals up front and led by another Brazilian legend, Zico. Last season they took the title with ease, but Galatasaray have managed to turn draws in wins and apart from a controversial win at the Ali Yemi Sam stadium, cheer has been a bit thin on the ground in the Asian side of Istanbul.

The stadium is located at the top of the hill running up from the port – a street heavy on clothes shops, but very light on bars due the heavy Muslim community in this side of the capital. After 15 minutes the stadium came into view, rising above all surrounding buildings. Unfortunately I was not to actually experience the game as I had a prior date with Luton’s finest Orange monster, but I managed to sneak into the stadium to have a look. A 50,000+ all seated arena, with all four stands offering an identical two tier viewing pleasure was certainly impressive, and although I was to see the game on TV at the airport, my one regret of the trip was not getting to see the game.

So, my time in one of the craziest places on earth was coming to an end. With two hours to go before my Easyjet flight to heaven, I hailed a cab outside the stadium and asked to go to the airport – “Ataturk yes”, no – I tried to explain to the bemused taxi driver not Ataturk but he seemed hell bent on taking me back into Europe. With one option open to me apart from bailing out of a moving vehicle at 80 miles an hour I uttered the magic words – “Hakan Suker” and he screeched to a halt, turned to me and before he could swear in my face to trying to raise the anti-christ in the Fenerbahce area I thrust my boarding pass at him and pointed to the airport name. “Easyjet yes…We go now, chop chop” and that was it…With TUrkish Lira running a bit low I decided to haggle with him in terms of payment in Euro. With an exchange rate of 1.75 lira to the Euro, and the final meter reading of YTL46 I drew out €30 and he proceeded to open the negotiations at €80..”1 lira is €2″ went his argument in a fiscal policy move that would put the idiot Brown to shame. After 2 minutes I had enough and gave him my YTL50 note that I had reserved for my last few Efes and headed into the terminal, and apart from the usual idiots who have never flown before who decide to start queuing at the airplane door whilst we are still on the runway after landing, it was back to reality – although I would rather have that than the surreal environment I had experienced in the past 48 hours.

Turkish delight – you are having a laugh.

About the Atatürk Olympic Stadium
The Atatürk was constructed in between 1999 and 2002 as the centre piece of Istanbul’s Olympic games bid for the 2012. Whilst Istanbul has three big club teams in Besiktas, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, the stadium was constructed as a neutral venue in the hope of being granted some of the biggest games in Europe. They did not have to wait long as UEFA granted the stadium 5 star status in 2003, and two years later the stadium hosted one of the most memorable Champions League finals of all time as Liverpool overturned a 3-0 half-time deficit to beat AC Milan to penalties.

The stadium is unique in design – two covered side stands of two and three tiers respectively tower above the uncovered end stands. Despite the stadium having an athletics track – it hosts a number of top meetings – the sightlines are very good. The stadium is located in the outlying district of Ikitelli to the west of the city centre, although there is really absolutely nothing in the area close to the stadium. The main stand has a few basic facilities – two small snack bars brew strong Turkish tea, as well as shisk Kepabs, and there is a small club shop.

Who plays there?
Apart from the Champions League Final in 2005, the stadium has been used by a number of teams on an ad-hoc basis. Galatasaray used the stadium in 2003/04 season when their own stadium was being renovated, and in the 2004/05 season little known Sivasspor celebrated their first season in the Turkish Super League with a season at the stadium.

Last season Galatasaray returned to the stadium to host their Champions League although attendances were not too impressive – just 23,000 were in the stadium for the visit of Liverpool in November 2006. Amazingly, the stadium is rarely used by the national team – instead preferring the intimate atmosphere of some of the club grounds in the city centre. In 2007/08 the stadium became home to Supaliga new boys Istanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor and Kasimpaşa, both of whom were promoted from League A last season.

Both have found times tough in the top league, not helped by crowds of less than 1,000 for most of their home games. The former are a Municipally owned club, created from a number of small union and works teams such as the railways in the mid 1990’s. This is the first season they have ever played at this level.

Kasimpaşa are also playing at this level for the 1st time. They have had significant funding from the Government and this is believed to be behind the amazing climb up the league structure that has seen them promoted in the last three consecutive seasons.

How to get there
The stadium is located on the European side of Istanbul in the Olympic Park district called Ikitelli. It is easily accessible from the main roads running between the city centre and the airport.

If the stadium is hosting a big match then free shuttle buses run before the kick off from the airport as well as from Taksim Square in the city centre. The only other way to reach the stadium is by taxi – the fare from the city centre should not cost more than 50YTL (£20). Taxi’s wait on the west side of the stadium after the match to ferry you back to the city centre.

If you are in town to see one of the two club sides playing then do not expect an easy journey to the stadium. In fact the main reason why the crowds are so low at these games may be due to the extreme difficulties you have reaching the stadium. Bus route 149T runs from the main road that passes underneath the train station at Yenikapi which runs from the main Sirkeci train station on the Golden Horn. Tickets cost YTL1.30 for the train and YTL1.50 for the bus. The bus journey takes around 45 minutes, and you will be dropped off at the bottom of the access road. The walk from here is around 15 minutes through landscape that could be described at lunar. On the way back wait on the opposite side of the road for a return bus but be warned you are standing on a hard shoulder of a main road and cars and lorries pass close by!

Getting a ticket
With very few matches being held at the stadium, and those that do being club sides, it is best to first check with the individual teams on ticket availability. In 2006/07 when Galatasaray held their Champions League matches here, tickets were available from the Ali Sami Yen Stadium in the city centre. Depending on the opposition, tickets may be available on the day of the game. In 2006, tickets were available for the PSV Eindhoven game but not for the Liverpool game due to security and segregation concerns.

For club matches now held at the stadium tickets can be purchased from the small booth at the south end of the stadium for 10YTL. One window will sell home tickets – located in the main stand lower tier, and the other will be for the open away stand. Entry to the main stand is gained by walking clockwise round the stadium to Gate E.

About Galatasaray’s Ali Sami Yen Stadium
The Ali Sami Yen will always be associated with the awful images of the abuse given to Manchester United fans and players for their matches in the Champions League during the 1990’s when they were “Welcomed to Hell”. The stadium is actually very basic. It has two large stands – both with small lower tiers and shallow roofs, with the two ends behind the goals being set back in a curve and open aired.

The view from behind the goals is not good, and facilities are very basic. The view from the upper tiers of the side stands is much better, although the stadium does lack some atmosphere due to the distance from the pitch. It is certainly a lot less atmospheric in real life than you would have seen or perceived on TV.

However, there is some good news on the horizon for the club as work is due to commence soon on a new 50,000 Arena, inspired by the Amsterdam ArenA – and should be ready for the start of the 2008/09 season. The new stadium is located across the main road from the existing stadium.

Who plays there?
The Ali Sami Yen Stadium is home to Turkey’s most traditional club, Galatasaray SK. Originally formed as a Sporting Club, rather than a football club due to the restriction of the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the 20th century.

The club has actually won 16 Championships in their history – including the 2005/06 season under the leadership of Belgian Eric Gerets. In fact, the club has always had the ability of attracting top European coaches including Faith Terim, George Hagi and of course Graeme Souness. Their golden period came in the late 1990’s under Terim when the club won four successive titles from 1996, two Turkish cups and in 2000 they won the UEFA Cup by beating Arsenal on penalties in Copenhagen.

The club has had a number of famous players pull on the Red and Yellow striped shirts in the past few years, including legendary Souness- journey men Dean Saunders and Barry Venison, Turkish legend Hakan Şükür and the Romanian trio of Georgie Hagi, Georgie Popescu and Iolian Filipescu. This season they have led the way for most of the campaign, with the inspirational forward Hakan Suker still scoring freely for the team. As of the end of January they sat at the top of the league, with only a single defeat to arch rivals Fenerbahce spoiling their unbeaten record.

How to get there
The stadium is relatively easy to get to, as it enjoys a city centre location. From Taksim Square catch any bus in the direction of Mecidiyeköy. The stadium is a 5 minute walk away from the bus station. Alternatively, use the metro system to the stop at Şişli which is two stops from Taksim. Exit the station in the direction of travel and simply follow the crowds. If you are on the far side of the stadium, it is a good idea to cross the road to avoid the crush, pickpockets and potentially being run over.

Getting a ticket
Galatasaray have some of the most fanatical supporters in Europe, and despite the small capacity, sell outs are rare, especially if the visitors are local. The club has around 10,000 season ticket holders, leaving around 14,000 seats available to purchase on a game by game basis. Tickets for the main covered stands start from YTL40, with a place in the curved ends YTL30. Tickets for most games can be purchased via Biletix (http://www.biletix.com) which is a Ticketmaster company from three weeks before the game. Tickets can be posted to the UK should time permit – otherwise you will need to pick them up from the ticket office at the stadium – you just need to remember to bring some ID with you or purchase them from any Billetix outlet in the city centre – including the one in the shopping centre next to the metro exit.

In the past few seasons, due to the poor condition of the stadium and pitch, Champions League games have been played at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium.

About Fenerbahce’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium
There has been a stadium on this site since 1908 when the government built a small stand here for Union Club, a team made up of English students. The stadium grew over the next few years to be the most important in Istanbul until the Taksim stadium opened in 1923.

In 1929 Fenerbahçe moved in and immediately began the task of renovating the ground – in fact in 1944 the stadium was the largest in Turkey with a capacity of 25,000. Further expansion to 40,000 took place over the next few decades, although a decision to move to all seater in 1995 reduced this to 25,000.

Funding was secured in 1999 to increase the capacity to over 50,000, as well as renaming the stadium to The Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium. In 2002 as part of the failed bid by Greece and Turkey to host Euro 2008, the stadium was granted a 5 star status by UEFA, thus enabling it to host major finals – a feat it will fulfil by hosting the 2009 UEFA Cup Final.

The stadium is very impressive – a two tier bowl of a stadium with yellow and blue seats throughout. It is a very British style stadium – similar to a bigger version of St Mary’s in Southampton. Sight lines are excellent, and in keeping with the fanatical support of the Turks, the intimate surroundings make the matchday experience awesome. The stadium is also the preferred choice for the national team, and all bar one of the qualifying games for the 2006 World Cup were played here, as too was the infamous play off game versus Switzerland where trouble on and off the pitch led to a stadium ban for the country.

Who plays there?
Fenerbahçe, or the Yellow Canaries are today the biggest club in Turkey. They are managed by Brazilian legend, Zico, who has taken the club to the top of the Super Lig after last seasons disappointing 2nd place.

The club can trace their history back to 1899 when a team was formed as a sports club – at the time football was banned within the Ottoman Empire. It was a further 10 years before football was allowed, and the club entered the regional leagues.

In 1959 the first Turkish National League was formed, and the club went on to win this inaugural title, as well as further titles in 1961, 1964, 1965 and 1968. The club also won a number of Turkish Cups. In the 1970’s the club finished in the top 2 on all bar one occasion – taking another four titles.

The club has continued its excellent domestic form since – with a total of 16 Titles and 4 Cups to date. However, despite the recruitment of such world class coaches as Guus Hiddink, Jozef Venglos, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Christoph Daum, European success has been very thin on the ground. The highlight of 30 years of European football was a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford in 2003 in the Champions League qualifying although a year later the teams met again in the Group Stages with Manchester United running out 6-2 winners. The Turks did gain some revenge in the return leg with a 3-0 victory which took them into the UEFA Cup. Last season the priority was to re-win the title they last won in 2005, and despite a brave challenge from Besiktas amongst others, the championship was secured in late May.

How to get there
The stadium is located in the Asian side of the Bosphorus and so a trip on the river is almost a necessity. Take a boat from landing number 2 at Eminönü to Kadiköy harbour (tickets cost YTL1.30 and journey time is either 35 mins if it stops at Hyderpassa or 25mins direct and ferries run every 20 minutes or so until midnight) then take Bus 4 to the Dere Agzi bus stop on the canal or alternatively simply walk up the main shopping street and then bear around to the right when the road forks. Based on the normal chaos than reigns around the port it is often the best option to walk 15 minutes or so to the stadium. From here the stadium is a short 5 minute walk away. The nearest railway station is at Söğütlüçeşme train station around a 5 minute walk away from the stadium but this only links stations on the Asian side.

Getting a ticket
Tickets for most games can be purchased via Biletix (http://www.biletix.com) which is a Ticketmaster company from three weeks before the game. Tickets range in price from YTL45 in the Tribunes, to YTL180 in the main stand upper tier. A good seat for the neutral is the Fenerium stand which start from YTL60. Tickets can be posted to the UK should time permit – otherwise you will need to pick them up from the ticket office at the stadium – you just need to remember to bring some ID with you or purchase them from any Billetix outlet in the city centre.

The club averages less than 40,000 – some 10,000 less than capacity. The derby games against Besiktas and Galatasaray normally attract close to capacity – although tickets can still be purchased in advance using the above method. On a matchday tickets are sold from kiosks on each corner of the stadium. Gates open up to 7 hours before derby matches to allow the fans to come in and set up the stadium.

Getting around
Istanbul is a transport dream – it has all forms of transit known to man, ranging from ferries to a smart new underground metro system. The metro stretches up to the Atatürk airport from the city centre at Aksaray Square.

The ferry boats make regular trips across the Bosphorus from Eminonu dock 2. The traditional means of travelling around the city is by Dolumus – taxi minibuses – where you simply need in the street before squeezing in.

One innovation in Istanbul is the Akbil which is the country’s equivalent to an Oyster card – although it takes the form of a small metal button. The system allows you to transfer between different transport methods, as well as being charged 10% less than normal tickets. These tokens are available from small white kiosks around the city centre. Alternatively purchase single ride tokens from all stations for YTL1.30 each. However, you cannot use the same tokens on Trains or Ferries – you will need to swap them at the ticket booths.

Local Hotels & Bars
Istanbul is slowly joining the rest of Europe in terms of weekend visitors as more and more airlines are starting to fly here. This has meant a real overhaul of hotels, with a number of 5 star hotels opening their doors recently. If you need any help in finding a room when you arrive then head to the Tourist Information Office at Meydani Sokak in Sultanahmet – or call them on +90 212 518 1802.

The website http://www.istanbul.com also gives some good advice on hotels and places to visit. The following hotels are highly recommended.

Bebek – Cevdetpasa Caddesi 34
Tel: +90 212 358 2000 http://www.babekhotel.com.tr
Sarnic – Kuçuk Ayasofya Caddei 26
Tel: +90 212 518 2323 http://www.sarnichotel.com
Yeşil Ev – Kabasakal Caddesi 5
Tel: +90 212 517 6785 http://www.istanbulyesilv.com

One of the real joys of Istanbul is the fusion of European and Arabian food – you could almost lose yourself in some of the fabulous markets here, and with food prices still not in the same league as those of other “hip” cities then you can often eat out for less than £20 a head in a top restaurant, such as the following.

Safran Restaurant – Asker Ocagi St (Tel: +90 212 368 44 44)
Olive Bar – Yaşmak Sultan Ebu (Tel: +90 212 528 13 43)
Tuğra Restaurant – Çirağan St 32 (Tel: +90 212 326 46 46)

The renaissance of the city has been characterised by the number of cool rooftop bars that have opened up along the banks of the Bosphorus. The following are all hugely popular.

The Orient Express Wagon Bar – Hudavendigar
Konak Bar – Cumhuriyet Cad
Riddim – Siraselviler Street 69 (Taksim)

Finally, if you need a pint of the black stuff, or just somewhere for a bit of home comfort then head for one of the following where you will also find big screen Premiership football.

The English Pub – Tiyatro Caddesi 25 (Beyazit)
The James Joyce Bar – Zambak Sokak 6
The Irish Centre – Istiklal Cad (Beyoflu)

Nearest Airport – Ataturk International (IST)
Telephone: +90 212 465 5555
Website: http://www.ataturkairport.com

The modern Ataturk airport is the busiest airport in Turkey – handling over 21million passengers in 2006. It is located around 9 miles south west of the city centre. The airport is served by a number of airlines from the UK. Atlasjet fly from London Stansted and Manchester, British Airways from London Heathrow, Turkish Airlines from Manchester and Heathrow. There are a number of public transport options to and from the city centre. The easiest is the Metro link called Hafif Metro. A journey to the city centre should take around an hour and cost €2. Alternatively you can catch one of the Havas Airport Buses that run to Taksim Square, taking around 45 minutes. Finally a taxi to Taksim will take around 35 minutes and should not cost more than €20.

Alternative Airport – Sabiha Gökçen (SAW)
Telephone: +90 216 585 5000
Website: http://www.sgairport.com

Istanbul’s second airport is located in the Asian side of the city, some 30 km from the city centre. The airport is expanding in terms of airlines using it as space at the main Atatürk airport is now at a premium. Last year the airport handled over 3million passengers. Easyjet became the first UK-based airline to start flying here from London Luton.

To reach the city centre from the airport use the Havas buses which run every 30 minutes to Taksim, Levant Metro or the docks on the Asian side at Karikoy where you can get the regular ferry to Besiktas or Eminoiu. Journey time to Taksim and Levant is around an hour and costs YTL10 each way. To Karikoy it is around 30 minutes and YTL6. A taxi will cost YTL75 or around €45 from Taksim.

One thought on “Turkish Delight – Not Bloody Likely!

  1. Pingback: World Series » Turkish Delight - Not Bloody Likely!

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