Sir Alex Ferguson confidently set the tone before Manchester United’s first match against Turkish opposition, a Champions League second-round tie against Galatasaray in 1993.
“The Turks are lovely people,” said the United manager. “We’re looking forward to going over there.”
With a place in the lucrative group stage at stake, Ferguson also guarded against complacency and had warned one journalist on the flight home from Hungary after the previous round’s 3-2 victory over Kispest Honved: “If we’re not careful, we’ll be watching Coronation Street on Wednesday nights.”
Manchester United were back in Europe’s top competition for the first time in 24 years but the overconfidence of some fans came from United’s unbeaten home record in European competition. Galatasaray — European Cup semi-finalists four years earlier — were no minnows, yet Old Trafford was 5,000 short of its 44,000 capacity (reduced after the Taylor Report recommended stadiums be converted into all-seaters) for the first leg, despite the presence of 5,000 visiting supporters, many of whom had travelled north from London. They were very noisy.
Bryan Robson put United ahead after two minutes in Manchester. Galatasaray looked dreadful, especially in defence, and when Hakan Sukur turned a Gary Pallister header into his own goal, the game seemed like a procession — despite the handicap of Denis Irwin being left out because of UEFA’s three-foreigner rule. But Arif Erdem hit back quickly and suddenly, United went to pieces. Kubilay Turkyilmaz equalised in the 34th minute before putting Galatasaray 3-2 up in the second half.
The game was interrupted as a Kurdish protestor ran across the pitch waving a burning Turkish flag. Schmeichel was the first to accost him and angrily escorted him from the pitch. The United goalkeeper later said that he thought the intruder was a Turk burning a United flag.
Eric Cantona’s late equaliser salvaged a 3-3 draw for United.
“I’m in shock,” said Ferguson quietly. “We have a hell of a job on our hands now. A hell of a job.” The word hell would prove apt.
An English journalist asked Galatasaray’s German manager Reiner Hollmann afterwards whether there would be a hot welcome for United in Istanbul for the return leg.
“They’ll be waiting for you,” said Hollmann. “At the airport.”
Around 1,000 United fans travelled to the second leg, 239 of us independently of the official club trip for the second leg. It was better value for money, with more freedom. The chartered flight was due to depart at 6am. Some fans were still in the airport bar at 5.55am, but by 6.10am, the plane was moving. We landed at midday local time and the last thing the captain said was, “Keep out of trouble”. Some of our lads wore red hard hats from a construction site, more in jest.
We walked through arrivals and were hit by the noise of hundreds of Galatasaray fans brandishing “Welcome to Hell” banners. They’d greeted the players first, then us fans.
Manchester United arriving at Galatasaray in 1993. pic.twitter.com/WqRxkPdL0t
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) September 20, 2022
I was handed a newspaper by a Turkish lady who pointed to a headline in English stating, “Sort Yourselves Out”.
“To our British friends,” it began. “Before the first leg, you belittled Galatasaray and Turkish football as you do every time, but you were taught a lesson in your own backyard.” A diatribe against English football followed over the next 300 words.
We boarded a bus and were given a tour of Europe’s most populous city, treated like wealthy tourists and taken to see belly dancing. No problems. We arrived at our hotel, the Tansa. The area was a bit rough, the hotel at the end of a cul-de-sac surrounded by blocks of flats.
Thirty of us went to a bar that evening and watched Besiktas vs Ajax in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup on television. We got on well with the locals at first, but the atmosphere started to change towards the end of the game. Besiktas were losing and fans came out of nearby bars. The word had got around that we were there. The bar was soon surrounded and a glass was thrown into it. Some from our group wanted to react but didn’t.
Around 20 police arrived and suggested we go back to our hotel. We did as we were told and found ourselves escorted by a line of police. Behind them, a mob of maybe 150 followed, chanting songs as they went.
We carried on walking, followed by the police who were struggling to hold the crowd back. Objects started getting thrown at us. They came down from the flats above too. Locals were bellowing “Cim Bom Bom”, a Galatasaray song derived from the club’s nickname, a triumph of hope over expectation.
It was frightening. Our hotel was in sight and a big gang was waiting outside for us. It was like we were going to get pincered. “Manchester, we f*** you!”
I got a whack on the head and thought I’d been hit by a brick. I was a 19-year-old journalism student recording the sounds on an old dictaphone.
“I’ve been hit by a brick!” I shouted.
“It was a watermelon, you knob,” replied a mate. It still hurt.
We got into the hotel and madness started to take over. Other fans were returning and running the gauntlet. Some were getting punched. Then bricks and bottles started to be thrown into the hotel lobby at us. We were surrounded.
The hotel was soon a mess, with glass everywhere. Fans were hyper, fearing the hotel was going to be overrun. Some United fans burst out of the hotel and piled straight into the locals. There was a lot of fighting, with some of the United hooligans buzzing like it was the 1970s or ’80s again. I saw one lad wade into the Turkish fans wielding a chair, another return to the hotel covered in blood, his girlfriend screaming that he was dead. Fans managed to get him out and into a police car. Then things calmed. The police pushed the Turks back from the hotel.
At 2am, I went to bed, brushing glass off the bed from where the window shattered after a brick (and it was a brick this time) was thrown through it. It was cold, but I fell asleep.
I was woken 90 minutes later by someone kicking my feet.
“New hotel!” said the policeman, prodding me with a baton from the end of my bed. It made sense, since our hotel was badly damaged.
They loaded 164 of us into police vans but instead of taking us to a new hotel, we were headed to police stations around Istanbul. I was put into a cell with six others and breathalysed. I looked up through the cell window, saw the crack of dawn and said to myself: “This is going to be a long day.”
More fans were brought in from our hotel. At 10am, police produced sheets of paper saying: “You sign the statement; you see the game.” I didn’t want to sign anything I didn’t understand, but some did. They wanted to watch the match.
It was getting crowded in the cell and we hadn’t had any food, water or access to any official who spoke English. Our passports had been confiscated too. The police said they would move us to another station. One by one, we had to walk towards a police van parked 20 metres away. Local media formed a line along the way and we walked past them so they could see us and make judgments — doubtless that we were English hooligans.
The cells were bigger in the next station but we were packed in. Still no food or drink throughout the long afternoon. We became resigned to not seeing the match. At the stadium, those United supporters who arrived up to three hours before kick-off were not let in as the turnstiles had been closed. Fans who did get in had coins and camera batteries taken off them — meanwhile, the home fans managed to sneak a full-size coffin into their end. They — and almost every United player — said they’d never played in such a hostile and loud atmosphere. Gary Neville maintains that to this day.
I was hugely impressed by the noise the Ali Sami Yen Stadium made when I saw the footage days later, yet the players encountered major problems and images of Cantona fighting with Turkish police filled the back pages.
At 7pm, the police holding us announced: “We take you to the airport.” What this meant was putting us on coaches in the street and leaving us for an hour while a big crowd of curious onlookers formed around us, intimidating us. At the airport, the police lined up and we had to walk through one by one, getting jostled and laughed at because by now the news had come in about the result, a 0-0 draw. United were out on away goals.
The pilot of our plane told us we were not taking off until all our passports had been returned. An official walked onto the plane holding a black biner liner and emptied our passports onto the floor. All had a “Deportee” stamp within their pages. Six fans were missing — they had been detained in Istanbul and would stay for a month. An appeal fund was set up, to which Ferguson and the players contributed.
TV crews were waiting when we got back to Manchester Airport. They, too, assumed we were thugs. I was put forward to speak “to the telly” and explained what happened. The media could see we weren’t thugs, but drawn from all ages. One lady in her fifties was deaf and there were a couple of pensioners. The Football Supporters’ Association and two UK MPs, Tom Pendry and David Mellor, fought for us. United did too and our deported status was revoked.
I went home and slept for a day. The following morning, I opened the mail to find a bar of Turkish Delight, sent by “The Bolton Wanderers Supporters’ Club”. City fans threw them across the divide in the Manchester derby a few days later and sang: “Two-nil up and you f***** it up, Galatasaray.”
“You missed your shorthand class last week,” said my teacher. “But I saw you on television and I’m glad you stuck up for yourselves.”
You never forget your first, but I’ve been to Turkey many times since. I respect the country and the people, and admire the football culture. I’ve visited graveyards full of young Mancunians who died in the futility of Gallipoli, the First World War battle that killed and wounded hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
United didn’t have to wait long to return — the team were drawn with Galatasaray the following season. Only a few of us travelled to that one and, unlike in 1993, we managed to get to see the game… for another 0-0 draw.
(Top photo: Ross Kinnaird – PA Images via Getty Images)
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