In a Different Country No. 3 Turkey. Part 2 - Besiktas

Discussion in 'The Beautiful Game' started by RichardL, Mar 25, 2007.

  1. RichardL

    RichardL BigSoccer Supporter

    May 2, 2001
    Reading FC
    Nat'l Team:
    I don’t think too many Turks would argue that Istanbul isn’t the most attractive city in the world. Certainly Prague isn’t going to worry too much about tourists being lured off into the charming streets of Beyoğlu, where a string of greying underpants drying on a washing line tied to a tower block apartment’s balcony could often actually add aesthetic value. It wasn’t all bad. The main street through the district, İstiklal Caddesi, is more scrubbed up than most places, with more than enough bars and eye-catchingly dressed women to hammer home that despite this being a Muslim country, it’s certainly no Iran.

    Without doubt though, it’s the Muslim influence that gives the city its most stunning buildings. Four huge mosques, one of which is now a museum, dominate the southern skyline and give it an air of the exotic unequalled anywhere in the western world, even if they do occupy the last few hundred yards of land that could be described as such with Asia starting just half a mile away across the Bosphorus. The Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque square up to each other across the park of Sultanahmet like two giant sumo wrestlers ready to battle it out to be declared best in the city, while the mosque of Süleyman the magnificent watches from a distance. All are magnificent, even if a penchant for blue on white decorative tiles made them at times curiously reminiscent of fantastically grandiose Victorian public lavatories.

    And the first time you hear the call to prayer, the transportation to a different world is complete, although the grounding in the western world somehow conjures up images of an atmospheric sequence from a Bond movie than genuine eastern experience. The fact that it’s blasted out of a PA system rather than being chanted from a minaret makes it rather louder than you expect, and I can vouch from personal experience, after being moved to a normal, less sound-proofed room after two days in the suite, that the 5am call to prayer can be quite a startling experience. The other problem is there are mosques everywhere, and you hear it time and time again. After a while it just end up sounding like someone singing a slow Sting B-Side track while have a rubik’s cube pulled out of their arse. To be fair, I think having three small mosques near my hotel clouded my thinking. After all, being woken at 5am by the two quieter calls, only to be waiting for the window-shatteringly loud one to crank up like an air-raid siren isn’t the best way to recover from a slight hangover.

    Despite that, I was actually quite pleased that one of the features of the Besiktas stadium, apart from overlooking the Bosphorus with views to the Asian shore, was that it had a mosque behind the away end, with minarets and a domed roof peeking over the stands. I deliberately chose my ticket with a view in that direction.

    Tickets for both game were purchased from the same ticket shop on İstiklal Caddesi, found on the second day of trying after assistance from the Galatasaray club shop, at the top end of the street. It wasn’t the easiest exchange of communication, with neither of us having much fluency in languages other than our own, but although an actual address couldn’t be offered, I was given a slip of paper bearing the name “Ada Misik”. It was either the name of the shop that sold tickets, or my partially understood requests had been misinterpreted as a request for a geriatric hooker. Thankfully, after a very slow walk down the street, I was faced by Ada, a record shop, which sold tickets from the basement. Judging by the look of surprise on the face of the guy working there, he didn’t appear to know he sold football tickets there either.

    Besiktas was a lot less hassle than Galatasary. For a start I could stroll to the game from my hotel, just 10 minutes away. I found a decent souvenir stand en route and the surrounding area, with it Bosphorus view, lack of flyover or murky tower blocks, and the mini-mosque on the corner made it seem a rather more genteel and orderly place. Even the Muezzin’s call to prayer over the mosque’s PA system, which cranked up as I stood outside the ground, avoided the usual Spinal Tap style urge to turn the volume to 11, for which I was very grateful. It also gave the impression of sounding like a beckoning to the Besiktas faithful to come to their altar, which they did in their thousands.

    I again had a ticket for an end that was unreserved, in both senses, and made my way to a decent vantage point on the middle tier. The ground was somewhat tidier than Galatasaray, but while this can sometimes have a quietening effect on the crowd, the Besiktas more than made up for the earthiness that it lacks in comparison to the Ali Sami Yen with some very enthusiastic fans. As at Galatasaray, there was the familiar exchange of chants from different sections of the stadium, delivered with a forcefulness that made you feel they were having an argument rather than combining support. Perhaps about whether being at the side or end is better, or at the front or back of the side, all delivered in the same curiously awkward sounding tune, like an overblown bad angry line from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

    If there was one thing everyone could agree on, it would be that getting in late is a very bad idea as although every seat in the end was probably sold, many towards the sides, next to the stands, offered views that could be described as challenging. Ideal for those who like to stare at a sliver of grass as an accompaniment to an afternoon of staring at a large white wall, but not much else.

    It was all looking very promising, but then the game started. On my way up to the middle tier seats, I’d passed a fan kneeling on his prayer mat in the corridor, and it was a day when divine intervention was required. If there is only one god whose name is Allah, then it’s a shame as Besiktas needed the help of all the deities they could muster to find a way of scoring that afternoon. I’m sure they can play better, as the faces on the crowd showed the familiar look of fans not exactly regarding it as the best performance of the season. To be fair Sakaryaspor did play in a fashion which made you suspect they’d sack Sven Goran Eriksson for being wildly cavalier tactically, but as times it felt like Besiktas were collectively filming a training video for the Turkish FA and would be filming the “now, how you should be doing it” scenes the following week.

    The game dragged out like lingering chest infection to its inevitable 0-0 conclusion. The crowd, the best performers on the night by a mile, sarcastically applauded Sakaryaspor off the pitch to show their displeasure with the home side’s performance. The crowd drifted away into the night, no doubt with the Turkish for “well at least we didn’t lose” being said by those determined to salvage something from the evening.

    Taksim, just up the road, was again packed with people, but this time they were gathered for free concert in the square as part of the Republic Day celebrations. That or I misjudged, with a 0-0 home draw with Sakaryaspor being a really massive achievement. I had other plans for much of the evening, but dipped back into the square later when I imagined the acts would be better and be demonstrating why they are so popular in Turkey as opposed to why they aren’t elsewhere. There was a good sense of occasion, and I got as near as I could (which was still a long way off) even though I couldn’t quite see why I wanted to be able to see performers I wouldn’t recognise anyway. Sadly I seemed to arrive for the finale – they finished their song and it all abruptly ended. No encore or anything. Kind of a let down, but still rather better than the match earlier.

    I did have the option of going to a Trabzonspor match the following day, despite the lure of a “day trip” to Asia, but I saw some of it on TV, and an evening in the pub was a better option. Actually, an evening stuck in a lift with a time-share salesman looked a better option that the football I saw from that one, but I clearly wasn’t in luck as far as football was concerned. I could have got lucky if I followed those kind people offering to take me to bars full of pretty girls, or maybe just followed my good fortune that I was in Istanbul when they were having a sale on in the shops I was invited in to, but I let it pass. So two games, only one goal, and not much else in them to cheer about, but I could probably have got a very good deal on a belly dancing costume in the Grand Bazaar, had I wanted one, so it all balances out I suppose.

    The very large Blue Mosque


    ..and the little one at Besiktas


    On the banks of the Bosphorus, with Asia just a few goal kicks away. And a few flags, just in case anyone forgets what country they are in for a second.

  2. RichardL

    RichardL BigSoccer Supporter

    May 2, 2001
    Reading FC
    Nat'l Team:
    Smoke over the north stand, albeit from flares rather than cigarettes


    Taksim Square, with a stage replacing the bus station, and crowds celebrating Republic Day.


    And in the Grand Bazaar, as one stall-holder bids for the Guinness Book of Records title for the world’s most overloaded extension lead.

  3. zeusbrowne

    zeusbrowne New Member

    Dec 12, 2006
    West Orange, NJ
    I must spread reuptation around.

    Thanks for the great writing, but I think I'm now going to associate Rubik's cubes with Islam in a very odd way.
  4. seahawkdad

    seahawkdad Spoon!!!

    Jun 2, 2000
    Lincoln, VA
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Ah, Richard, you've done it again. Thanks for your Istanbul adventures.

    Victorian rest-rooms indeed...

    I remember the wonder of Istanbul was that I could see layers of civilizations built on one another just by looking at the foundation and walls of an older building.

    Turkey is a fine country for a vacation. Wasn't too bad to live in either. There is a commitment to democracy and elected governments there that has been threatened and protected since Mustafa Kemal Attaturk founded the Republic after WWI. He is, I believe, one of the giants of the last century, turning the country toward modernity and Europe. I just hope the European Union recognizes what Western civilization gains by acceptance of Turkey and loses with any rejection.

    But, the vacation part. I remember a bus trip we took to the southern coast in the Tarsus vicinity. We stopped for half a day at a crescent shaped beach of white sand. The Mediterranean quietly sent six inch breakers to the shore. Behind us, on the other side of the road, was a Roman aqueduct. On the left end of the beach was an old Roman fortress. On a small island, one that I rowed out to to explore, was an Ottoman fortress. All just there. No admissions. No vendors. Just the quiet scene and us.

    Turkey has had civilization after civilization leave their marks. And it's all there to experience.

    The other attractive factor you mentioned, Richard, are the women. My impression of Turkey was that there was a greater percentage of beautiful women there than in many, many other countries. And that's not just because I fell in love with one of them.

    Interesting thing here. Lale and I could not hold hands in public. Just not done. Men and women did not do that sort of thing in public at that time (and maybe still). However, it was quite acceptable for my male Turkish friends to hold my hand in public. Which, as you might guess, was quite surprising to me the first time it happened. Which also helped me understand the hand holding between Bush and the Saudi leader, unlike most of my countrymen and women.

    Thanks again for bringing up old memories. One of the soccer jerseys I own is the Turkish national team's.
  5. BanglaBlue

    BanglaBlue Member

    Jan 3, 2004
    Ipswich Town FC
    Very enjoyable and insightful. I have one factual quibble.

    "Four huge mosques, one of which is now a museum, dominate the southern skyline and give it an air of the exotic unequalled anywhere in the western world, even if they do occupy the last few hundred yards of land that could be described as such with Asia starting just half a mile away across the Bosphorus. The Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque square up to each other across the park of Sultanahmet like two giant sumo wrestlers ready to battle it out to be declared best in the city, while the mosque of Süleyman the magnificent watches from a distance."

    The Haghia Sophia was a church for nearly a 1,000 years and only became a mosque arter the Ottomans took over in 1453.
  6. eric_appleby

    eric_appleby Member+

    Jun 11, 1999
    Down East
    New England Revolution
    Nat'l Team:
    United States

    Hagia Sophia was built during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

    Otherwise, thank you for your posts.
  7. ToMhIlL

    ToMhIlL Member+

    Feb 18, 1999
    Boxborough, MA
    New England Revolution
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Some absolutely striking women in Turkey. Turkey is probably the only place in the world where you would see two local women waiting for a bus, one wearing a scarf over her head and her body mostly covered, and another in a mini-skirt, both coexisting in the same culture.

    I thought it was a little unusual the first time I saw two soldiers walking down the street holding hands, and their guns strapped over the opposite shoulder. In the context of their culture, it means nothing more than a "man-hug" or a slap on the back for a good friend.
  8. ami-berliner

    ami-berliner Member

    Mar 21, 2004
    Hertha BSC Berlin
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I've lived in Istanbul with my wife for about 7 months now (both of us are American), and it has changed since you were here Seahawkdad. Girls kiss boys, boys kiss girls, girls kiss girls, and sometimes you see boys kissing boys (but that's mostly when one of them is dressed up like a woman). It's a crazy place to live, and the most interesting place I've ever lived.

    Ataturk was a great man, and is hailed as a hero here. He made a great many changes, some of which were good, and many of which came at the expense of others. As they say, you have to break some eggs to make an omelette. The mention of the country moving further to the religious right is accurate, but one could say the same of the U.S. There are elections coming up here soon, at it will be interesting to see if the current P.M. is elected to be President, what will happen.

    I agree that the E.U. should be a bit more proactive about Turkey joining, but many of my Turkish friends don't want to join the E.U. They fear that the E.U. will just profit off the cheap labor, etc. One thing to note, though is that with the number of Turks living in W. European countries, some argue that the E.U. needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the E.U. With population rates plummeting in most W. European countries, Europeans might have to let Turkey in if they want to continue with all the benefits of living in "social states." You need a large base of young people to support the old, and right now W. Europe is looking a bit like an inverted pyramid with respects to that.

    RichardL, glad you had a good time here. It's a bit daunting at first, but when you get to know the lay of the land, like in most places, it becomes very "user-friendly." If anyone else is planning a trip, drop me a PM and we can meet up to drink some good beer (I know a few places, and for the love of God don't drink the Tuborg beer they sell here).
  9. JoeW

    JoeW New Member

    Apr 19, 2001
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Nice travelogue and great experiences. I'd pick just a few bones though:
    --the part of Istanbul that Besiktas is located in is actually quite nice. Sure, there's the usual Euro City mixture of cars/motor bikes and ongoing noise with resulting pollution. But if you go up the hill from the stadium you're on the site of a former royal palace (and now partially a park) plus some very upscale hotels. You're also pretty close to the banking district.
    --and Besiktas stadium was quite nice in my experience. Small and not so special on the outside but on the inside I quite liked it. I saw a Euro qualifier match there (Turkey v. Latvia) and was also extremely impressed by the security (3 levels of body scan or individual search PLUS getting my ticket scanned). Also, from a couple of the hotels up the hill (the former royal vacation home I mentioned), you can look down into the stadium and watch practices or matches.
    --and finally, the Turkish fans are everything they're put out to be and more. About 40 minutes into the match I saw, I looked up over the stadium and saw a cloud of cigarette smoke covering the entire stadium. And the opposing sideline, on the fans had locked arms and were either jumping or swaying--at first you think you're hallucinating b/c the other side of the stadium looks to be moving as if in an earthquake. Really impressive stuff.
  10. roxbury

    roxbury Member+

    Apr 27, 2004
    Thanks for the classy comment

    later on,I will add my comment about it;)

  11. BJKCDN

    BJKCDN New Member

    Mar 28, 2007
    Big props to you RichardL, you are a true soccer fan and this is a very good read. Beautiful pictures as well, brings back many memories of Turkey. I haven't been there a long time, will be back soon. Although I haven't been to Istanbul (yea I know but I was young) I have been to many parts of Western Turkey. Aegean Sea, beaches are beautiful and so are the chicks as TomH mentioned.

    This isn't about Turkish women now, it is about soccer so at this point, I would like to let you know that I envy you. I am a pretty fanatic Besiktas fan and you've been to the Inonu Stadium before me :eek: . It is one of my wishes to see them play in the Inonu and be cheering amongst my Turkish brothers and sisters.

    This truelly was written very well, I found myself chuckling many times while reading. Most observations you made were correct and amusing.

    Now, I got a question for you, amongst the games you went to Turkey, which game did you enjoy the most? (the crowd, the atmosphere, people, the game)

    Thank you for this Richard and everyone who has replied with kind comments.

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