Around the stadium were spruikers selling sunflower seeds, Galatasaray merchandise, water, sandwiches and kofte (meatballs). In front of Galatasaray's shop I waited for Ajda and her friends to arrive. In total there were 9 of us.
I was finally about to attend my first ever professional Turkish soccer match. Despite working across the river from Mersin's main stadium I had never got around to attending a game. My dedication level to Mersin Idmanyurdu is not too high. At least I don't support one of the Istanbul teams like most other Mersinites!
Once everyone had arrived, we got our tickets and lined up to enter the stadium. Fans are not allowed to bring coins into the stadium so, prior to entry, I emptied my coins and bought a few mini eclairs.
Auditor Emre, one of Ajda's friends, was wearing a top with "GAUDI" written on it. I asked him if it stood for "Galatasaray Yahudi" (Galatasaray Jew). Obviously, not being sophisticated enough for Istanbul, I was wrong. Gaudi was a famous architect.
At the body search stage of entry, security asked about my balaclava. I took it off and jokingly told him it contained 5 kilograms of 'bomba' (bomb). In dangerous places like Australia and the US I would have been arrested for saying this.
The tickets cost 13 YTL each, including a 2 YTL service fee. Rather cheap, I reckon. Our section was 'Yeni Acik Ust', directly translated as: New Open Top, the left end of the pitch when watching on television.
The night was clear and cool ('cold' in Mersin language) but, unlike Ajda, I came prepared. As well as my balaclava (rolled up, of course), I wore two pairs of socks, inner and outer pants, 2 t-shirts, my Port Adelaide jumper, waterproof jacket, gloves and Port Adelaide scarf. It sounds like overkill but I was developing a cold and wanted to be ready for any kind of weather.
Most of our group were supporters of the current champions Galatasaray, although Ajda and I went for the underdogs and winless to that stage, Ankaragucu. As we were in the Galatasaray section we could not cheer too loudly for Ankaragucu lest we upset the locals.
Turkish soccer is very lopsided with only 4 teams having ever won the championship. All over Turkey most people support one of the 3 main Istanbul sides: Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas, even if their town has a team in the competition. The media coverage reflects this with each of the 'big' teams receiving dedicated pages (or two) in the newspapers with the remaining teams sharing one page together. I hope this lopsidedness in both success and support changes soon.
The stadium was over half full with an estimated crown of about 15,000 people in attendance. Prior to the game music and an MC pumped up the crowd. Two main groups of fans on opposing parts of the ground swapped chants with each other, one of them backed by booming drums. At the other end of the ground (right on the TV screen) a few hundred die-hard Ankaragucu supporters did their best to make a noise in the away team section.
The teams came onto the pitch and lined up for the national anthem (Istiklal Marsi, or Independence March). I assume the national anthem is played before every game. If so, isn't this overkill?
Ankaragucu did very well, taking the initiative up to Galatasaray from the start and very nearly scoring early on. However, Galatasaray scored first and seemed to have most of the play until Ankaragucu drew level against the run of play (to Ajda and my delight).
I thought Ankaragucu played better as a team than Galatasaray. Galatasaray had more talent and more chances but did not put it together.
Ankaragucu fought bravely in the second half and with some luck, fierce determination and several yellow cards (to both sides) held on to a well-deserved 1-1 draw.
Many times Ankaragucu's inspirational captain weaved past 3 or 4 Galatasaray players and I thought he was the man of the match. Unfortunately his support up front was lacking and Ankaragucu could not make the most of his runs. I don't know why he was substituted with only two minutes to go.
After the final whistle went, to show their disgust at a mediocre performance, a few of the Galatasaray's immature supporters threw objects, including water bottles onto the pitch. I really don't know why some Turkish supporters are so pathetic. To those guys: sucked in! On a slightly related issue: if we had to get rid of our coins prior to entering the stadium (so they could not be used as missiles) why was change given when buying food and drink when inside? On the surface this makes no sense at all.
Overall, it was a fun night in good company, despite a couple of negatives:
a) I was suffering from the outset of a cold
b) It was difficult to remain somewhat neutral and not to cheer Ankaragucu on openly. I would love to yelled and screamed positively towards Ankaragucu and against Galatasaray but this would have upset some of the locals. In real football ;-) back in Australia, the crowds are mixed with supporters of both teams sitting together.
Following the game we joined the thousands of other game attendees making our way home via public transport. There seemed to be a significant number of Galatasaray supporters making their way back to Kadikoy.
Back in Beyoglu we went to Ozsut for a delicious ice cream and cake concoction before making it back to Ajda's place and collapsing in bed.
Sabah Newspaper's comical English write-up is here whilst a much better account from the heart of Ankaragucu is at Ankara Football.