Gallipoli, Guiza & Galatasaray

A decade ago, on a Manchester United pre-season tour of Australia and the Far East, I walked through Sydney’s Hyde Park past the Anzac Memorial.

I was on my way to interview “lifelong United fan” and chief executive Peter Kenyon at United’s team hotel. In interviews with players for my next book, I’d find how that hotel had been the scene of considerable shenanigans as Sir Alex Ferguson left Steve McClaren in charge for the first part of the tour.

I staggered by the size of the Anzac memorial and went to investigate. I soon felt angry and slightly ashamed to be British after reading about the ill-fated Allied campaign to take the Dardanelles Straight from the Ottoman Empire in what is now Turkey.

The landings are better known as ‘Gallipoli’ after the peninsula which straddles the straight.

The battle was one of the bloodiest in the First World War. Over 200,000 Allies and 98,000 Turkish soldiers lost their lives in eight months of battle before the Allies retreated.

The British officers, including First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill (he devised the grand plan to outflank Germany), made some horrendous errors, sending men into battle against lines of machine guns. Many didn’t get off the beach.

Nearly 12,000 Australian and New Zealand Army corps (ANZAC) under their orders perished. The memorial day is still a huge event in those countries and thousands of Aussies and Kiwis of all ages make the pilgrimage every year for the April 25 ANZAC day.

Guiza: Struggling to set Turkey alight 

They take some comfort from the words of Turkey’s founder, Ataturk: “Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now living in the soil of a friendly country therefore rest in peace.

"There is no difference between the Johnnies (Allies) and the Mehmets (Turks) to us whether they live side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

I went to Gallipoli for the memorial day. Woke up at 4.30am and watched the sun rise over the peninsula, the floodlights go out on the giant war memorials.

Visited the immaculately maintained war graves of the commonwealth forces. In the British cemetery, 26 of the first 40 graves were lads from the Manchester Regiment.

Many of the others were Lancashire Fusiliers, most aged 18, 19 and 20. Of 1,100 who fought from one regiment, 11 survived. 94 years after the battle, I picked up three rusting bullets, which is no surprise when you consider that 6,000 were spent for every square metre.

A game of football had been organised between Australia’s U16 side and their Turkish counterparts in Canakkale, the nearest city to Gallipoli.

Football is huge in Turkey and a day later I watched Fenerbahce in Istanbul. Managed by former Spain coach Luis Aragones, they are not having a good season despite featuring Roberto Carlos and last season’s Primera Liga top scorer David Guiza.

Fenerbahce’s stadium, which has been completely rebuilt to hold 52,000, will stage the UEFA Cup final next month. I was going to review it for Manchester City fans ahead of a possible appearance, but there was no need.

The Sukru Saracoglu: Setting for UEFA Cup showpiece 

20 British pounds bought a ticket among the ultras behind the goal, young lads the same age of those who had perished at Gallipoli. They sang and jumped around, despite their team losing to lowly Ankaraspor.

The Turkish league title looks like it's going outside of Istanbul for the first time since 1985, with Sivasspor the current leaders.

I visited the home of second placed Besiktas, which occupies a wondrous position overlooking the Bosporus and Asia. A guard said told me to ‘go away’ in English as I took a picture.

“What?” I asked.

“Go away.”

Ignoring his charm offensive, I considered watching Galatasaray play at home to Ankaraspor in one of the final games at the Ali Sami Yen stadium before they move to a new Fenerbache style home in October.

I’ve still yet to visit a stadium as noisy as Galatasaray’s, but there was little chance of a repetition when I discovered that the game was to be played behind closed doors.

My source, a man selling roasted conkers in the street, was not good, but he seemed right as I watched the game on television in front of thousands of empty seats.

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