Away Trip Review: Antalya, Turkey, March 2018
When I saw the announcement that we were playing Turkey in Antalya, although I heard of it I had to look up where it was. Found out it was Turkey’s fifth largest city and on the Mediterranean (I heard later that George Hamilton reckoned it was on the Black Sea!). Anyway after previous Turkish trips to Istanbul (1991) and Bursa (1999), this was a new venue.
After the Gary Breen event in The Claddagh the previous night, it was a struggle starting early but met up with Bernard O’Reilly, Gerry Reardon and Jim Barr, (RISSC Derry) for the journey to Gatwick and a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul then onward to Antalya. Without doubt, the longest walk I’ve ever done in an airport was between the Istanbul International and Domestic terminals, along what seemed to be a never ending corridor.
Arrived in Antalya and met by our driver who we followed to the car park, expecting a normal car but certainly not the luxury limo this guy showed us into. Disco, TV, bar, leather armchairs, we could get used to this! Half an hour later we checked in to the Dream Time Hotel, a new or recently modernised small hotel, ideally situated 2 minutes from the main drag and the Old Town.
Bags dropped, a quick bite to eat washed down by a few scoops of the local wallop (Efes Beer) in the Big Yellow Taxi Benzin Café then into the Old Town to the Dubh Linn, the designated meeting spot.
Definitely a trip for the hard core, meeting up with the usual suspects and RISSC London die hards including Terry Murnane, Pete McGarry, Tommy Feely, Paul Boyle and Mark McCoy.
As is the usual drill on pre match nights, stayed until asked to leave then moved on to a real late house, where we met up with the Ballybrack Seagulls.
Next morning, got up for breakfast, then back to the pit for a snooze before having a stroll around the town and down the seafront. No need for a map just follow the tram line which eventually brought us to Republic Square and the Old Harbour and Marina, a popular area for locals and tourists alike.
Euro 2024 Venue
It was here it became evident why the game was being played in Antalya. Turkey are bidding for the 2024 Euros and this was one of their venues.
We bumped into Noel McNevin and Shane Kilcrann and to the amusement of some locals we draped the club flag over their Euro bid sign.
Strolled down to the old harbour and a quick pitstop turned into a late lunch mini session when we met up again with the Ballybrack boys.
Back to the hotel, gather our match stuff and head off for the stadium. We were out there early and immediately had to run the gauntlet of the most comprehensive security arrangements I’ve ever seen at a football game. Ticket checks, searches, more ticket checks, more searches. Then out of the blue, a new one for me. If you were carrying a flag, it had to be opened up, photographed, and emailed to someone who gave clearance for it to be brought in. In a politically unstable country I am sure the authorities wanted this showcase game to go ahead without incident or political protest. Not sure what political protest they were expecting from Irish fans, they must have heard Tommy Feely was in town!
The club flag passed the check so in we went, to the designated away fans section of the Antalya Stadium. The 32500 seater stadium opened in October 2015 and is home to Antalyaspor, a Turkish Super League team. What we weren’t prepared for was being penned in what can only be described as a glass cage, where we sat behind plate glass and meshing, completely isolated from the rest of the stadium.
The Irish supporters numbered around 200 with the usual good humour and banter. Before kick-off we were amused by several ingenious and mainly successful efforts by a few fans to get their flags flying outside the glass. Under the strict instructions of the club secretary not to lose the club flag, we settled for taping it to a back wall in our section.
Impressive Debut by Declan Rice
The game itself wasn’t a classic and although we lost 0-1 the Irish performance in the first half was reasonable and had Scott Hogan taken the chance to open the scoring it could have been a different outcome. The major talking point among Irish fans was the impressive debut by West Ham’s Declan Rice. It was also pleasing to see Seamus Coleman back in action and other emerging players Sean Maguire, Alan Browne, Conor Hourihane, Alan Judge, Matt Doherty and Daryl Horgan all being given an opportunity at this level.
After the customary 20 minutes hold for away fans, we drifted off into the night and jumped a taxi back to the Big Yellow Taxi Benzin Café to be fed and watered. With Gerry and Jim B on a early flight we settled on a few quite beers before calling it a night.
The journey back to Heathrow via Istanbul saw us go through what seemed like endless passport and luggage checks and luggage searched, some being done yards from the previous one. Airport security is essential but this was overkill on a grand scale. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable couple of days among friendly hosts, so different from Istanbul and Bursa in the 1990s.