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Down Memory Lane: The heat was cranked up in Istanbul furnace

If you want to witness tension, partisanship, intimidation, volatility then attend a World Cup or European championship game or a Turkish club derby at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, Istanbul.

It is something different. Even hours before kick-off the stadium can be a vibrant cauldron. Just ask Barcelona, Real Madrid, Milan, Manchester United and others who have faced the firing squad there.

Northern Ireland teams know all about it too, having met Turkey on 10 occasions since 1968 — five of the matches at Windsor Park, the others at Istanbul, Ankara, the capital, and Izmir.

What a contrast it will be to-night in the comparative tranquillity of the Veterans Stadium, New Britain, USA, where Turkey, currently on a rebuilding global tour, oppose an inexperienced youthful Northern Ireland squad depleted after virtually the entire senior panel informed manager Nigel Worthington of their unavailability for the game and that with Chile in Chillan, near Concepcion on Sunday. Pre-arranged family vacations and end-of-season surgery following a hectic domestic season ruled them out.

I covered all these Turkish away matches which were explosive with a capital E. Top billing, however, goes to Ali Sami Yen on the night of September 15, 1998, when Northern Ireland lost 3-0; in a European championship qualifier watched by 30,000 football fanatical fans. Iain Dowie captained the side reaching the half century mark in a 59-cap career.

Shield-carrying police, solemn, stern-looking and, without the trace of a smile, were strategically placed around the ground packed with 30,000 fans. Northern Ireland players on a pitch inspection were pelted by missiles including plastic bottles — a traditional welcome! Keith Gillespie and George O’Boyle received direct hits with coins as it all turned ugly. IFA secretary David Bowen summoned the UEFA match commissioner to assess the situation which resulted in the authorities eventually imposing a fine on the Turkish FA.

Worse was to follow. Returning to the dressing rooms at half-time players discovered they had been burgled. Missing were items of jewellery and money; Gillespie (pictured) had a £3,000 watch stolen, Neil Lennon lost cash, and others found sentimental valuables gone. Apparently the culprits had gained entrance through a window but nobody had noticed the break-in. The comprehensive 3-0 defeat completed the misery.

A new Sami Ali Yen Stadium is under construction but fans reckon gone will be the unique atmosphere of the old one, renowned home of Galatasaray whose supporters nicknamed it Hell because of its intimidating setting and the “enthusiasm” of fans who use torches, smoke, drums, flags and giant posters to create visual grandeur and apply psychological pressure on visiting teams.

The club is now building an ultra-modern multi-purpose stadium in a district whose name has been changed to Lion Hill which is Galatasaray’s logo. To be completed in October, it has a 52,695 capacity, largest private stadium owned by a Turkish club with a mobile pitch, a retractable roof, 15,500 seated sports hall, arena centre for shopping, entertainment, international business centre and its own metro station.

I wonder will they still call it Hell!

Northern Ireland: Fettis (Blackburn Rovers), A Hughes (Newcastle United), Horlock (Manchester City), Hill (Northampton Town), Morrow (QPR), Gillespie (Newcastle United), Lennon (Leicester City), Mulryne (Manchester United), Rowland (QPR), M Hughes (Wimbledon), Dowie (QPR). Substitutes: Whitley (Manchester City), James Quinn (WBA), Taylor (Birmingham), O’Boyle (St Johnstone), Kennedy (Watford), McCarthy (Birmingham).

Belfast Telegraph