One of the selfish highlights of our recent trip to Istanbul was the opportunity to catch a Turkish Super League match between Galatasaray and Bursaspor at the state-of-the-art TurkCell Arena in northern Istanbul. The entire process of obtaining a match ticket was much more complicated than it would have been in most leagues around the world. The reason for this revolves around the Turkish government requiring all spectators to register in the “Passolig” system which requires personal information (and a passport for non-Turks) to be submitted in order to purchase match tickets. Passolig began in 2014 and has been responsible for plummeting stadium attendance figures over the last two seasons in Turkey. The government officially enacted this program to curb fan violence that has plagued the supporters (especially amongst the big 3 Istanbul clubs) by tracking and monitoring supporters via personal information. There are also those who believe that the government is collecting names in order to silence dissenting voices in a nation that has had its fair share of political turmoil lately. Regardless of the reasons behind this controversial new system, it meant that I needed to go to the ticket office the day before the match to register for my Passolig and then purchase my match ticket.
Getting to the TurkTell Arena was remarkably easy as there is a dedicated subway station attached to the stadium. From our hotel in Taksim it took about 35 minutes on the subway to reach the stadium each day to buy tickets, attend the match, and then return back to Taksim. Securing the tickets took a bit of time at the box office the day before the match as I had to wait in line. There were a few other groups in front of me buying match tickets and it took a full 20 minutes for them to process all of the orders as it seemed to take awhile to verify identity and select seats. Once my turn arrived I had to give my passport and mobile number to the ticketing agent, he then made copies of the passport and entered my information into the computer before printing out my Passolig MasterCard. This card has my information on it as well as my picture. I then added 125 Turkish Lira to the card in cash to pay for the match ticket. I decided to go with a category 5 ticket which turned out to be first row lower section about 15 yards behind off the center circle. All in all it cost 25 Lira for the Passolig card and then 125 TL for the ticket which was $51 at the time of purchase. Even with the cost of the Passolig Card this represents a tremendous value for a front row seat at a major European league. After getting the ticket and passolig I headed back to the subway and anticipated the return for the match.
On match day I again took the subway which was much more crowded on Friday at the tail-end of rush hour. I arrived at the stadium early to snap some pictures and walk around the grounds. I ended up getting there at 6:30 for an 8:00 pm kickoff. The stadium was very well secured and thorough with three separate lines of security with pat downs, bag x-rays, and Passolig ID stations in two separate places before you can enter the stadium proper. Part of this enhanced security is in light of last month’s Paris bombings during the French national match. After clearing the first two sections of security I made my way around to the team shop to pick up a jacket and hat since it was getting very cold. The shop was large and well-stocked with every type of merchandise imaginable. The prices were ridiculously low (Official Nike Warm-Up jacket for $25) thanks to the favorable exchange rate. After a visit to the shop I headed inside my section’s entrance to grab a sandwich and hot tea for 25 TL total ($8.50 USD). Its worth mentioning that alcohol is not sold at the stadium, and food/bevarge prices are very reasonable by American/Western European standards. The concourse outside the seating area was large, clean, and had plenty of bathrooms.
Heading down to my seat there were not many people in the stadium at the start of warm-up. I chatted with a few Turkish University students who were really surprised to hear English and even more surprised to learn that I was an American at a Galatasaray match. It is worth pointing out that this was the case at 100% of my interactions at the ground; apparently they don’t have many English speakers much less Americans attend all that often.We chatted about the new manager and about some of the struggles of the club as of late. After the players came out for warm up and headed back in the tunnel the stadium started to fill up but all in all it only looked to be about 60% full on the night.
As the match drew closer to kick off the Ultras began to lead the crowd in songs and chants (which of course were in Turkish and not decipherable to me) which made for a great atmosphere to start the night. The singing, drumming, and chanting continued through the first 5 minutes of the match. Galatasaray fielded a strong squad complete with Wesley Sneijder and Lucas Podolski alongside a strong lineup of mainly Turkish talent. The match was played at a high pace and Sneijder was definitely the focal point of the attack for Galatasaray. Both sides had a few dangerous opportunities in the first half but it went into half-time 0-0.
In the 67th minute Lucas Podolski opened the scoring with a great left-footed shot past the Bursaspor keeper. From this point on Galatasaray controlled the match and added a second goal from Yasin Oleskin in the 79th minute and Burak Yimaz added the third in the 88th minute to seal the victory. All in all it was an exciting match, and though the attendance was down it was still a good atmosphere. On the way home the subway was packed with supporters but it quickly dissipated the further we got from the stadium and closer we got to Taksim. The match ended around 10:00 pm and I was back at the hotel by 11:00 pm.
All in all it was a wonderful experience to take in a match in Turkey. The supporters and stadium staff were welcoming, accommodating, and happy to chat about America, Galatasaray, and the struggles of my beloved Chelsea. It was defintely worth the extra bit of leg work to secure a passolig and take in a match. If Galatasaray is not playing there are two other Istanbul clubs in the Super Leage. Besiktas is actually walking distance from Taksim and Fernebache is across the Bosphorus on the Asian side of the city just outside the neighborhood of Moda.