Bazaars, bartering and Turkish delight
FOOTBALL: To 'Hell' and back proved more of a stroll. Glenn Moore reflects on a momentous few days for the English champions
United arrive just after midday to find their flight is delayed. They sign autographs, conduct interviews and finally fly out about 3pm. Champagne, courtesy we think of Martin Edwards, is dispensed to the press. Your correspondent, keenly aware of The Independent's policy on freebies, refuses.
Actually, I'm just as aware of United's cut of the near pounds 1,000 price of this trip to subsidise their costs and decide the champers is hardly free. Cheers Martin.
The much-heralded chanting mob appear to have taken the night off. Instead we have curious German tourists asking for autographs and eager Turkish TV crews seeking interviews. The keenest, having tried and failed with Eric Cantona, attempts to interview his "minder'', Ned Kelly, who is said to be a former SAS soldier.
A man of few words, Kelly is famous for replying to one question: "I could answer that, but then I would have to kill you.'' It is not clear if he was joking. The television reporter does not get her interview.
When United last came to the land of John Gorman lookalikes, they stayed in a magnificent former Sultan's palace, which had been converted into a vast luxury hotel. That is booked, so they move to the Conrad. The press are thus bumped down the chain to the Hilton.
Obviously, it is still pretty good although the fitness-conscious media are dismayed to find the gym closed for refurbishment. The outdoor pool is open but, as The Daily Telegraph correspondent discovers in the morning, it is not as warm as the sunshine suggests.
A perusal of the television channels discovers goal highlights of that night's Sunderland-Middlesbrough game.
The covered bazaar
Said to be the largest covered market in Europe, the bazaar is full of Fenerbahce supporters. Last time they were Galatasaray. Amazing what traders will say to strike up conversation with a possible buyer. A few wallets and boxes of Turkish delight are bartered for. Mark Lawrenson, here for BBC Radio Five, is not tempted by a line of natty waistcoats - despite the knowledge that his luggage is still en route. British Airways managed to lose it between Heathrow and Manchester.
The Turkish Sportswriters' Association and Sports Club
Afternoon press conference at the local press club. Expecting a dingy bar, like most English equivalents, we are staggered to discover a complex containing swimming pool, restaurant, ballroom, gym, tennis and basketball courts. All funded by government money, including the "last chance saloon''. Except a journalist failing a last chance here is likely to result in jail. And we've all seen Midnight Express...
Journalistic ethics are prominent in a long press conference involving multiple translations. Both managers say predictable things then Jes Hogh, Fenerbahce's Danish defender, criticises an English Sunday tabloid reporter who interviewed him last week. "I'm pissed off, he set me up," says Hogh, who claims his comments on the security and subsequent safety of Turkish grounds have been "twirled'' into a "death threats'' piece. Credit to Hogh for still being prepared to talk to the English press who, knowing the culprit, react with a mixture of sadness and hilarity. As usual, Ferguson is Manchester United's only representative.
The "city of hate'' stories which you may have read elsewhere become increasingly ludicrous. After turning down a restaurateur who begs "If you don't eat here, I'll shave my moustache off", we find ourselves in one run by dedicated football fans. They treat us royally. The manager, a Galatasaray fanatic, shows us a photograph of Graeme Souness eating there and gives us a bottle of wine to take back to him.
More shopping, more mosques. That's for the press, the players see nothing of this. Lawrenson (whose clothes have still not arrived) says players are criticised for sitting in their hotel rooms and playing cards but that they have little choice. They are here to play football and sightseeing, amid crowds, is not good preparation.
A vibrant atmosphere, stoked by a renegade public address system, fails to intimidate United. The written press are equally pleased, the story's good, the facilities - once the telephones have been installed - excellent.
Even a stone thrown through the window of their coach has not spoiled United's night, though mutual exhaustion means the flight home is a quiet one for both players and press. We collect our bags at about 4am (6am Turkish time) and head wearily for home or hotel.
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