Mrs Football Nerd and I consider ourselves to be seasoned football travellers having been to a significant number of the most iconic European football grounds, to the last two World Cups and a European Championships. Those trips are pre-planned in infinite detail to ensure that fixture dates and kick-off times have been confirmed, tickets secured and venues and surrounding areas thoroughly researched to ensure that nothing will get in the way of our planned match attendance. Last week’s five day trip to Istanbul was however planned as a holiday to exploit the British Airways sale and not a specifically football watching trip.
Even so a cursory scan of the fixture list revealed that while the most renowned Turkish team Galatasaray were away, their city and ‘intercontinental’ rivals Fenerbahçe were at home on the Sunday of our trip. Without any clue whatsoever as to the layout of a city that spans both Europe and Asia, we decided that this was the very match for us, with the anticipation that securing tickets would be a relatively straightforward process for such seasoned football tourists as ourselves, or so we thought!
For those not familiar with Turkish football there is an overly complex system: to actually even get the opportunity to purchase tickets you need to secure a Passolig membership card through an online application and the submission of a passport photo, which you can then arrange to have delivered or collect from the club of your choosing. So we submitted our applications, paid the equivalent of around £5 and arranged to collect our cards from the ticket office at Fenerbahçe, so far so good, or so we thought…
We arrived in Istanbul late on Friday night and with the game set for the Sunday we thought it would be best if we made the first order of operation the securing of our tickets for Sunday’s game. After a quick consultation with the guy on the reception desk, it seemed fairly straightforward to get over to the Asian side of the city via ferry and, with our map duly marked, we headed off to the pier. After a concentrated effort, we managed to purchase two return ferry tickets from the handy machine on the pier side and with some time to kill we treated ourselves to what turned out to be two surprisingly expensive Nescafe instant coffees in a riverfront café. Note to selves: stick to Turkish coffee from here on in!
Feeling fairly chuffed with our efforts so far, we boarded the ferry and off we went to Üsküdar. On arrival we followed the directions that we had been given at the hotel, content in the knowledge that the ground was apparently only a straightforward quarter of an hour walk away. After twenty minutes with no sign of a football ground or anything even resembling a football ground, Mrs Football Nerd used our twenty-first century abilities and fired up Google maps which seemingly showed that the ground wasn’t terribly far away.
After another half an hour of walking our blue dot on the map hadn’t seemed to move any closer to our target destination, or in fact moved at all, so we resorted to another first world solution to our first world problem and flagged down a cab. The duration of the cab drive brought with it the realisation that we had actually been miles away from the stadium and the reason we hadn’t moved on the map was because we were so far away!
As we arrived at the ground we made for the ticket office which was more like a converted shipping container with windows set at eye level for the attendant sitting on the inside but at waist level for anyone wishing to communicate with him. Rather unhelpfully our arrival was greeted by an exuberant ticket tout who offered us tickets for the match. Sensing that the membership system we knew about probably suggested that the tickets he had purportedly available were likely not to prove genuine, we continued with our efforts to do things correctly.
Our new mate handily stayed with us in the queue, the reason for which still remains unclear being as his sole contribution was to point us to one of the windows that was open for business. After what seemed liked an overly drawn out process, the two people in front of us finally chose their tickets and we were in, after showing our passports we were handed our shiny new Passolig cards.
With renewed confidence after the trials and tribulations of our morning so far, we asked for two tickets for the match the following day, only to be informed that we had to do this on the internet and the tickets would be charged to our cards. Once again our friendly neighbourhood ticket tout offered us tickets, but it remained unclear how exactly he was going to load these onto our cards, we politely declined and made our escape.
Having had enough of wandering around in uncertain surroundings (read lost!) we decided that the best option would be to take a cab back to the ferry terminal and get back onto the more familiar surroundings of the European side. To our amazement we managed to get on a ferry that seemed to be heading in the right direction, ie towards the other side of the Bosphorus, however to our alarm we headed straight past where we had got on and for a second or two we both had visions of sailing out to sea never to be heard from again.
Thankfully, the ferry was merely heading to the other side of the bridge and the main ferry port where you can catch a ferry to Kadıköy, the terminal which is in fact only a fifteen minute walk to Fenerbahçe’s ground! Oh well you live and learn!
After a late lunch in one of the plentiful restaurants under the bridge, we headed back to our hotel to try and secure our match tickets. After several attempts which resulted in the authorisation code required not being sent to my mobile phone, we eventually managed to get said code via the missus’ phone only to find that we needed to have pre-loaded our cards with sufficient money to pay for the tickets.
At this point common sense finally outweighed football obsession and we, albeit reluctantly, took the pragmatic decision that because of the faffing around over tickets as well as the very real danger that due to the last ferry (from the right place!) being at 9:20pm, we might well find ourselves stranded on the other side of the bay, we would be better served to watch it in a bar. As it was, the game the following day proved a fairly routine 2-0 victory for Fenerbahçe and we congratulated ourselves on having chosen the ‘sensible’ option.
After the match we managed to watch the remainder of the Manchester derby in the World’s smallest Irish bar, which was almost full once we joined an English couple, the male of which looked remarkably like Megan Markel’s better half, two French guys, the ubiquitous drunken Scotsman and an English fella who it turned out had just run the Istanbul marathon and to our immense delight was a Leyton Orient fan. It can’t be often that 60% of the clientele in any bar outside of the Leyton Star and Leyton Technical on a matchday, are O’s fans!
In recompense for missing out on a prized football experience on our final full day we treated ourselves to a tour of the Türk Telekom Stadium, Galatasaray’s home. While it was largely like any other stadium tour in covering: the museum, press room, dressing rooms, tunnel, dugouts etc. it did have the added element of being unadvertised and almost clandestine. For anyone wanting to follow in our footsteps it is merely a case of rocking up to the club shop outside the stadium and waiting for the shuttle bus to take you in via the players’ entrance. We can assure you that it really does exist contrary to popular rumour!
We had a brilliant time in the wonderful city of Istanbul, and while we were disappointed not to have seen a match while we were there, now that we are armed with our Passolig cards and we know how to use them we have a funny feeling we may well be back in March. I am determined to go and see Galatasaray but the missus quite liked the look of Beşiktaş after seeing it on TV, both of which are based handily on the European side, would it really be a surprise if we did both?