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Besiktas 0 United 1

I always remember watching reaction to the 1995 Champions League draws where United were matches with Galatassaray for the second year running. Fergie looked straight down the camera and said “We’re going back to hell!”. 14 years on and there I was deciding whether to book flights to Istanbul at great expense, which ultimately I did. The Besiktas fans don’t have the same psychotic reputation as their close neighbours from the Ali Sami Yen, but we knew it would not all be fun whilst there, especially when United’s advice to travelling supporters read: “The seats allocated to United fans are in a corner of the stadium and many of the seats suffer severe sight-line restrictions due to Perspex sheeting running from the top to the bottom of the sector. It is also fair to say that the seats themselves are not what United fans are used to. There is one male and one female toilet at the top corner of the sector. The toilets are clean but the WCs do not contain a porcelain bowl and are more of a traditional Turkish style.”

In any case, we flew out to Istanbul on the morning of the game and finally arrived at our hotel at around 5pm, just under 5  hours before kick off. The hotel overlooked the stadium and from the rooftop bar you could probably even have watched the match with binoculars! We wondered out to take in a few sights, and even picked up two Canadian tourists on the way who had no idea there was a match being played nor who United were, but ended up buying two of our spares! Dolmabache Palace was closed, perhaps even because of the match as it was literally next door to the ground, so we had a wander around Taksim Square and noticed the crowds and Besiktas fans starting to fill up the streets. It was all pretty friendly and no sign of trouble at all, contrary to the myths most Turkish fans are fiercely patriotic and just want people to have a good impression of their country. Every time we stopped to open a map people rushed over to offer assistance and show us where to go.

After some food in a traditional kebab house we headed back to the hotel briefly and sat in the lobby for a while with Bryan Robson and Paddy Crerand, who told us Rio would be out (and was playing tennis!). We went into the ground just over an hour before kick off, heading the advice to get in early and avoid the potential problems by there only being one turnstile. In fact it was all rather simple- we entered a cordoned area reserved for Reds, passed through a search point (where they confiscated all our coins), passed through a ticket check point, then another search point, up a very narrow stairway, then another search point (where they confiscated the rest of thE coins I hid from them previously), before finally entering the United section. This was pretty empty as we had beaten the day trip coaches, and the view was not exactly spectacular. Both sides of our section were surrounded by high fences blocking part of the view, with big metal fencing at the front and netting above us also restricting the view. It was not too terrible in the end as we found a spot where almost the whole pitch was in sight, but if 1,400 Reds had actually turned up around half would have missed seeing most of the game.

The atmosphere in the stadium was amazing. The noise they generated was awesome and the best I have ever heard. The coordinated arm waving, bouncing etc looked spectacular too and full credit to their supporters who really showed how passionate football can be without the need for violence. United controlled the play and tried to keep the crowd quiet, but it was impossible to silence them. Well, until we scored that is.

At half time I had to explain to our new Canadian friends that football was not always this boring! But the real entertainment came at half time when two Reds came to blows and one ended up cascading down 5 rows of seats and broke his nose. Luckily it was all resolved and the Turkish authorities did well not to steam in and make it all much worse.

Scholes’ goal epitomises the class of the man, and it hit the back of the net right in front of the United section. For the first time, and only for a few minutes, the home fans were quiet.  The final whilstle came to end a pretty poor game, remembered more for the atmosphere and the substitution of Rooney than the match itself. We were held in for around 40 minutes and then walked back to the hotel without any trouble at all, unfortunately to find Andy Gray and Geoff Shreeves there too.

On Wednesday morning we got up early to be tourists and saw some of Istanbul’s main sights before heading back to the airport to find our flight delayed. The Blue Mosque and underground cisterns were especially impressive, but the world famous spice market was tacky and actually had more fake football shirts than spices!

All in all a great trip. Istanbul is a great city, the sun was shining, we were treated very well by the home team and most importantly came away with three points.  

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