Istanbul

Any­body who knows me well will know if there’s one thing I don’t under­stand above all else, it’s sport. Except, of course, for crick­et, which isn’t actu­al­ly a sport, is it? More of a real­ly big board game. And so it was in undi­lut­ed igno­rance I board­ed a bus for Istan­bul dur­ing the week of the Euro­pean foot­ball finals.

How pop­u­lar could it be?

I have always had ideas about Istan­bul, Not Con­stan­tino­ple (all togeth­er now!), most­ly thanks to From Rus­sia With Love. For­mer seat of the East­ern Roman and Ottoman Empires, enfant d’amour of the illic­it love affair between East and West, den of spies and intrigue. The Grand Bazaar! The Blue Mosque! The mighty Bospho­rus! Curi­ous­ly, amongst such heady images, the thought of red faced, red jer­seyed, Liv­er­pool fans belch-throng­ing in the streets, belch-butcher­ing Bea­t­les’ songs and belch-vom­it­ing beer on my bed­room floor had nev­er occurred… Which was not very pre­scient of me, because, arriv­ing in Istan­bul on the eve of the foot­ball final, one was struck by the fact the city was inhab­it­ed, not by Turks, but by foot­ball fans from Lennon­grad.

By unfor­tu­nate coin­ci­dence, not only were we stay­ing in the same street as the entire Liv­er­pool cohort, but on arrival we were told that (because we had not paid a deposit) our rooms – like the soul of the city – had been giv­en to foot­ball fans. We could, appar­ent­ly, sleep in a cage on the roof … or I could, added the smil­ing hos­tel pro­pri­etor, and Jess could sleep with him. To add injury to insult, it had been pour­ing all night, and I was get­ting slight­ly annoyed.

But our kind­ly host took pity, and pre­fer­ring Aus­tralians to Liv­er­pudlians (if only ide­o­log­i­cal­ly), led us down the street to his mate’s hos­tel… After pay­ing a ridicu­lous­ly inflat­ed price for the room, we were led to the beds in which sleep would for days elude us, as for 48 hours with­out break, and again in the 24 hours after Liv­er­pool’s vic­to­ry, the piss-fuelled pan­de­mo­ni­um did not cease, draw­ing inter­na­tion­al media cov­er­age day and night, and weary stares form the long-suf­fer­ing locals who just want­ed to put their babies to bed.

But what a game! they said.

For­tu­nate­ly, most of the foot­ball fans were too drunk to remem­ber they had paid good mon­ey to fly to one of the world’s most won­der­ful cities, and the crowds at the Aya Sofia and Top­kapi Palace were as nor­mal. And won­der­ful they were. Con­found­ing­ly large, and unceas­ing­ly busy, Istanbul’s mon­u­ments met the infin­i­ty of my imag­i­na­tion, not to men­tion the infin­i­ty of delights for sale in the Grand Bazaar, to be eat­en, or tak­en home as gifts, or more often gifts to be tak­en home but soon eat­en.

In Istan­bul, every­body want­ed to be our friend … espe­cial­ly if we had time for tea, and per­haps a car­pet too.

In any case, the foot­ball fans were soon for­giv­en. They found their Istan­bul, we found ours.

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