In 2009 I spent six months studying in Istanbul as part of my degree course. There were many reasons as to why I chose Istanbul over the other cities available, one of which being the chance to experience what many view as the most infamous football derby in the world. Ignoring the obvious safety concerns, I’d read enough on the Istanbul derby to want to go. The existence of Besiktas does indeed complicate matters from time-to-time, but the real antagonism lies in The Kitalar Arasi Derbi (Intercontinental Derby) between Galatasaray and Fernerbache.
Galatasaray verses Fernerbache is in many ways the perfect storm. A cocktail of geographical, political and financial contrasts making it one of the few derbies that is—at least to the fans of the two sides—truly more than just a game. Like all world renowned football derbies, the Istanbul derby had a political edge. Whilst Galatasaray is located in the European side of the city, Fernerbache is situated across the Bosphorous in Asia. Traditionally the latter represented the workers of the city, with Galatasaray being the elite club holding the wealth of Istanbul.
Times change however, and Fernerbache was now the dominant team, particularly in the transfer market. Able to offer colossal wages to former Spanish manager Luis Aragones as well as providing the likes of Roberto Carlos one final pay day meant they were rightly viewed as pre-season title favorites. However, three quarters into the season both teams were struggling, making the upcoming game between the two of vital importance, not just with regards to the title race—a draw would effectively end both sides chances to become champions—but also for pride should neither win the title.
The drama behind merely acquiring tickets proved tasking. It began five days before the actual game, April 7th (one day before my 21st birthday). My Galatasaray supporting friend, Gökhun and I had planned the ticket hunt for a good fortnight beforehand. We arranged to meet around midnight, and in contact with his friends determined the least populated ticket office and queued overnight with the other fans. The club sold tickets in numerous Migros supermarket kiosks scattered across the European side of the city. This gave us scope to move to another ticket office should our Migros of choice prove unsafe.
It was close to midnight as I met up for a beer with Gökhun before heading to the European side. The Ultras at the first kiosk clearly took exception to us being there, so Gökhun, myself, and five of his other friends squeezed into the car and headed to the next kiosk. En-route to the next Migros, we were stopped at a police point, while the officer ignored the blatant breach in car safety and waved us on.
The next Migros we visited ended up as our home for the night. As well as being friendlier than the previous kiosk, it also had the kind of lively ambiance I needed to get through the night. Supplied with plenty of Efes Beers we began to wait for the sun to rise and the ticket kiosk to open. The more alcohol consumed the chants inevitably became louder, and as fans mingled, people clocked on to the rather obvious fact that I was not a local. This was initially a somewhat private concern for me, but it turned out to be the beginning of something incredibly amusing, as well as entirely unexpected.