Mad fer it! UEFA Cup final fever hits Istanbul and it's just like a home from home
20 May 2009 03:30
There were pockets of Istanbul that you could mistake for Moss Side on the eve of the UEFA Cup final.
The easyjet flights were bringing in Manchester City fans, who had booked way in advance with the blind faith that Robinho would fire them to glory.
After three decades without much to shout about, they should have known better.
In the shadow of the Blue Mosque, one of this city's most famous landmarks, is a rather contrary pub called the North Shields.
It looks British, has antiquated Belhaven Beer mirrors on the walls, but plays weird Europop rather loudly.
And when I try to order a Becks to get in with the conspicuous Werder Bremen fans near the bar, I'm talked into trying Turkish beer by the rather cute barmaid.
You could be forgiven for thinking this was a Muslim country.
With a lack of Shakhtar Donetsk fans, barring a small huddle outside a nearby McDonald's, it would be easy to assume this was a final between City and Bremen.
But after a few pints of Efes I'm persuaded to try something a little more authentic by a hastily gained Turkish friend.
'Have you heard of Turkish Local?' He asks. 'It is very famous.'
I've no idea what he is on about but we go off to Taksim Square. I soon realise this is no more authentic, barring the rather strong aniseed spirit and the selection of weird nibbles that accompany it.
We are seated in front of a dancefloor where east European girls, wearing plenty of clothes I should add, dance and come over asking if we will buy them champagne.
Here at last we find the Shakthar fans. I'm trying to work out whether we are in Europe or Asia, but there are few clues.
Earlier I had landed in Asia before taking a taxi over the Bosphorus into my home continent.
But later I take a ferry to Asia, more specifically to Fenerbahce's stadium, where the final will be played.
I am told the walk from boat to stadium is about 15 minutes. But when you get off at the wrong port, have the directional sense of a lemming and are armed only with a map advertising shops, it is a struggle.
Lost in a backstreet, I'm befriended by a shopkeeper. At first I mistake this for Turkish hospitality.
He asks me where I'm from, tells me about learning English in Leeds, and gives me local tea before drawing all over my map and describing where the stadium is among a labyrinth of streets.
But this is a precursor to the hard sell.
After some time realising I'm really not into his carpets, he palms me off to his cousin upstairs.
Khadish tries to sell me a leather jacket for a price that starts at £550. It's not haggling, but soon we are at half price just by me insisting that I really must get to the stadium to hear Werder Bremen players say something of no interest to me.
As I edge to the door he insists that the jacket will last 15 years, will be an heirloom for my yet-to-be-born son and will pay for itself in my career by helping to get interviews with better players impressed by the classic Italian style.
I pass and go off to a press conference in a tent outside the stadium.
It's so windy that Torsten Frings can barely be heard over the flapping canvas and UEFA officials panicking and moving everyone away from the middle of the room in case the lights fall in.
Then it's some continent hopping, a few pints, a rendition of Blue Moon and a kebab.
This really could be Manchester.