November 2, 2006

Galatasaray, football match Turkish style

Thomas Kieller

Photos – Copyright Galatasaray Official Magazine

Sasa Iliç runs after scoring a goal.

Arriving in Istanbul, the visitor can only be astounded by the extraordinarily rich culture of this big city. This city is without a doubt a turning point of civilization. A simple walk in old Istanbul and you will see the tremendous architectural accomplishments of the Turkish people. Just think about the superb church of Byzantium, Saint Sophia built in 537, and the magnificent Blue Mosque which is enchanting as much by night as by day. The sensation of well-being is at a climax when one stands between the two buildings because, yes, they were built one in front of the other! Most certainly, the Sultanahmet Camii place offers striking scenery.

On August 13, 2006, I was not in Istanbul to see the architectural wealth but to cover a Turkish football match. I left the legacy of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires for the next few days. Leaving the hotel which is a few minutes away from Sultanahmet Camii place, I passed quickly through the area to take the route of Ali Sami Yen stadium. Galatasaray, 16 times champion of the Turkish league, is a well known team in the world. Year by year, the team is full of good players that no one can take lightly. As for the supporters of the club, they are proud of their team, their stadium and its reputation. For many adversaries, a match at Ali Sami Yen stadium has transformed itself into a visit in hell.

That night, there was a touch of magic for Galatasaray which was facing in an opening match the respectable Kayserispor which finished in 5th place in the 2005-2006 Turkish league. The players of Kayseri did not know the situation they were in. Galatasaray, last year league champion, was celebrating their great victory.

After the introduction of the 2006-2007 line-up of the Istanbul team, the players regrouped themselves to lift the championship cup. The organization planned a big happening. For many minutes, nearly 300 firecrackers exploded in the black sky! The crowd was jubilant. The frenzy was at the highest when the players did a lap of honour with the cup and waved to the fans for their unconditional support.

In this stadium where the maximum capacity is only 23,700 spectators, the feeling of proximity and warmth create an effect that grasp you by the guts. For the person who attends that kind of match, you must know that the Galatasaray’s supporters pour their heart out. The Turkish songs and the movement of the crowd will mark you. A memory that you can’t forget for a long time.

During the training session, it was easy to see that the players and the supporters of Galatasaray were in the game. One after the other, a player went in the corner of the field and waved to the crowd by giving three punches from the bottom up. At every punch, the crowd hurled an "Eh!" For ten minutes, the players replaced themselves. Than, before the kick off, the announcer introduced the injured players of which you could have seen the renowned striker Umit Karan, number 99. Before taking their place in the reserved section which is just nearby the press gallery, they took the time to salute their close relatives.

The crowd in the central section of the stadium gave the rhythm to the match with some songs of the club. On the field, it was Gokhan Unal, Kayserispor’s star striker, who imposed the style of playing. At the 23rd minute, Unal, best goalscorer of the league in 2005-2006 with 25 goals, burst into the center which was thwarted by the fighting Cameroonian Rigobert Song. Sixteen minutes later, Unal came back to the charge. As usual, he used his speed and his ball control to try to outflank the defender on the left wing. The Galatasaray defence resisted to all the offensive charges launched by the Cappadocian team. The players of Galatasaray who were a little bit sluggish replied at the end of the half. The quick Arda Turan, from Istanbul, tried to make his way into the penalty area, but one of the defence players of Kayseri rushed him. The referee called right away a fault and a penalty. Turan who took the kick took advantage of this questionable decision to convert the penalty in a goal. Galatasaray gave itself a lead of 1 to 0.

Arda Turan salutes the crowd after his goal.

Turan’s goal lifted up all the players of the team who came back on the field to finish the Kayserispor. At the 53rd minute, the midfielder with the longest hair of the Istanbul club, Ayhan Akman, made a counterattack on the left side. By stopping suddenly, he gave himself enough space to make a cross. The ball veered off the head of captain Hakan Sukur. The one who is nicknamed the Bull of Bosphorus, amongst others for his great stature, did not succeed to send the ball in the top corner of the net. Well positioned, Sasa Iliç finished the job of his teammates by taking a tremendous shot at seven meters from the goal. The Kayserispor’s goalkeeper could not do anything. Two to zero for Galatasaray.

Thirteen minutes later, another golden chance presented itself to Iliç. After receiving a pass in the penalty area from one of his teammates, he lobbed the ball over the goalkeeper to push the lead to 3 to 0. The Galatasaray’s announcer immediately yelled the first name of the scorer: "Sasa". The supporters replied by chanting three times the surname of the Serbian: "Iliç. Iliç. Iliç." In the honorary stand, the injured players were delighted of the turn of events. Completely fired up by the events, the Galatasaray’s players gave a football lesson to the Kayserispor’s players by beating them finally by the score of 4 to 0.

The numerous spectators came simply to amuse themselves by seeing a champion team at work. During the whole match, the supporters of Galatasaray sang and swayed in the stands. They followed every footstep of their favourite players. The result of the evening was obvious at the exit of the stadium. The fans were delighted of the match. At midnight, everybody forced his way through the bus and cars to return to their home. In my case, I returned to old Istanbul. I took the opportunity to walk one more time near the Blue Mosque and the Saint Sophia church while recalling the beautiful atmosphere at the match, particularly when the supporters chanted in Turkish the songs of the team. Unforgettable!