Friday, 26 September 2008


Fenerbahçe 3-0 Gençlerbirliği (20-09-08)

When I explained to my work colleagues that I intended taking my wife to Istanbul for a feast of football and culture, I was met with blank expressions, upturned noses and I rather got the feeling they thought I was a bit of a mentalist. Three words kept on being repeated back to me 'Welcome to hell'. Well, if spending our 3rd wedding anniversary watching two games of football, in two different continents in one of the world's great cities is an act of madness, then lock me up and throw away the key.

We flew to Istanbul's
Sabiha Gökçen from Luton Airport very early (6am) on Saturday morning. I have an annoying inability to sleep on planes. The only moment of brief excitement on the near 4 hour flight occurred when a member of the cabin crew woke up all the remaining passengers to ask them if they fancied purchasing either a scratchcard or an Easy Jet teddy bear.

Now then, I'd better explain how we ended up getting picked up by a chauffeur from the airport who took us to our hotel. A friend of mine suggested that as we were going to see
Fenerbahçe, I should try and contact Turkish international and ex-Brighton player Colin Kazim-Richards and let him know we were coming.

I made contact with Colin's Dad through the Albion fans forum 'North Stand Chat' a few weeks prior to our trip. He turned out to be one of the nicest chaps one could hope to meet and could not have done more to make our trip a memorable one.

In an age when footballers often receive adverse publicity for their off the field activities, I'm only too pleased to report the following tale. Between them, Colin and his Dad Rod arranged for the aforementioned chauffeur to pick us up and take us into Sultanahmet to where we where staying. After a few hours of sight seeing, our friendly driver returned to take us to th
e Fenerbahçe v Gençlerbirliğie match.

Our chauffeur spoke only in Turkish and when he explained something to us en route to the game we both smiled and nodded in agreement. What he was in fact telling us was that he had to stop on our way at Colin's house to feed his dog. So, in a surreal moment, an hour before kick off, there we jolly well were, standing outside a gorgeous house on the banks of the Bosphorus with a bowl of Pedigree Chum, scratching Colin Kazim-Richards dog behind the ear.

My wife and I are not used to being treated like royalty, indeed this was our very first time. We parked up beneath the main stand, out came two literally golden passes - which appeared to open every door we wanted - and before you could say 'best seats in the house' we were being ushered into that very place.

Fenerbahçe are Turkey's biggest and richest club with an estimated fan base of 30 million. Their recently renovated Saracoğlu Stadium
is - unusually for a Turkish ground - very modern. It's located on the Asian side of Istanbul in the Kadikoy district. The teams president Aziz Yildirim has injected pots of cash into the club. He dug deep to sign Roberto Carlos, pleasing the locals and they have their own TV channel as well which rivals the BBC for ratings.

For me, these trips are as much about watching the fans as well as the football and at 'Fener' there is lots to take in. They have five different singing sections, one behind each goal, one each on the upper tier of the half way line and just for luck, another in one corner of the ground. This resulted in an ear-splitting crescendo of noise that reverberated around the stadium for the full 90 minutes. The fans motto is "Hep Destek Tam Destek" (continual unwavering support), never has a motto been so apt.

After a scrappy first half in which Fener were leading 1-0, I managed to grab a word with Colin (who was on the bench). He told me that he would come over at the end of the match.

Fener upped their game in the second half, after going 2-0 up in the 64th minute Luis Aragonés - fresh from winning Euro 2008 with Spain and now coach with Fener - brought on our man. Just before taking the pitch to a huge ovation, CKR looked up to our seats, I gave him a bit of encouragement courtesy of a wave of the arm and he returned with a nod a wink. It was showtime.

As it happened, he did not put a foot wrong. It was as if the ball was tied to his boot with string. The Fener crowd were soon singing his name and as it echoed around us, up he popped with a near post header in the last minute to make it 3-0. Despite the excitement all around, Colin kept his word and at the final whistle he headed straight over to find me in stands. Without further ado he took off his shirt and handed it over to me in front of around 33,000 fans. I had a grin the size of the Bosphorus - what a moment! We had another chat and again he arranged for the driver to take us back afterwards.

That may sound like a fanciable version of the story but that's what happened. It felt like I was on Jim'll Fix It. It had proved to be a wonderful introduction to Turkish football and a fascinating insight into the city's psyche.

That night we returned to our hotel and sat and considered all that happened over a nice cold beer on our roof top terrace overlooking the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofa - good old life

With the dog happy with his food we arrive at the stadium.

We appear to be in the best seats in the house - happy days!

I find a new 'arty' feature on my camera.

That'll be Roberto Carlos then.

Right then Colin, if you can just entertain the crowd with your box of tricks, score a last minute goal and then run over and give your shirt to Dan then that'll do nicely thanks mate.

CKR hands his shirt over to me. Grin the size of the Bosphorus ensues.

Fenerbahce make new 12 million pound signing.

My wife Ana and I popped back the next day to take in the clubs museum and have a less vociferous look around the place.

And returned on the ferry back to Sultanahmet afterwards at sunset. Happy anniversary indeed!

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