The Background to my adventure backpacking in Turkey to Adana
This is probably my first ever backpacking adventure that led me by chance to watching my beloved Northern Ireland football team. It was just amazing. Having made my return to Northern Ireland matches after more than four (count them, four) years at the 2-0 defeat in Baku, Azerbaijan, I continued my backpacking through the Middle East and Caucaus region. We planned to backpack the place hard and eyed up Iran, Iraq, Qatar and the UAE but first we ended up in Georgia, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Little did I know that an international football friendly was being arranged in Turkey, just for me 😉
As luck, fate and life would have it, I was actually getting to watch two Northern Ireland matches within a month, and both were a return to the way it had been when I first started supporting – a hardcore bunch of GAWA. And also two “nothing games” (OK you know what I mean – we were already out, and the other was a pre-Xmas friendly).
But the odd thing is – we actually didn’t plan to head to Turkey at the start – we planned the Armenia to Iran route initially. Then came the visa issue. Getting a visa for Iran on a brand new passport would look a bit suspicious right? I mean, how did you get into Turkey?! Imagine applying for an Iran visa in Trabzon, Turkey without ANY stamps on your passport (both myself and my girlfriend always travel with 2 passports – we couldn’t live our current lifestyle if we didn’t).
Agreed so to avoid suspicion, we realised we had to fly into Turkey so that my girlfriend would have an air arrival passport stamp, leaving the impression she had flown straight from Hong Kong into Istanbul – much more believable than a land border crossing from Georgia with the absence of an exit stamp. So we booked the flights from Tbilisi to Istanbul, although we also looked at a flight to Bodrum, however it was a bit out of the way and our plans involved meeting up with my mates in Istanbul and backpacking through Ankara, before overlanding it into Iran.
Then I was reading Our Wee Country (Northern Ireland fans site) when the news came in – Northern Ireland are playing Turkey in Adana on the Friday night!! Are you serious?? We had only just booked our flight to arrive into Istanbul on the Saturday morning before that, so the overland route would be a hectic schedule, but Panny my girlfriend, God love her knew we were going to have to breeze through the Bul, spend a quick day in Ankara and then head to Goreme. The route to Adana from our landing in Istanbul involved, 3 night buses, 7 day buses, a metro and a taxi. We did have 3 nights in hostels and 2 in cave villas as well. I ended up liking Ankara a lot, so we headed back there for 5 more days after Adana anyway.
Arrival in Adana
We arrived in Adana by bus from Nevsehir in the end and we arrived at 11am on matchday. We got a local bus in Adana straight to the team Hotel to collect our match tickets from David Currie. I was the first person there! I was astounded to discover that there were only about 16 Northern Ireland fans there, but then again it would have been a double flight at least and with Christmas round the corner, not the cheapest trip. Incidentally my bus ride to Adana cost me 40 Turkish Lira.
After getting the tickets, two of the players rock up – Jonny Evans and Daniel Lafferty so I get my photos with them.
I later chat to Steve Davis and Ryan McGivern. I meet up with top NI lads Moby and Garreth Todd who have been with me on manys an away trip dating back 10 years now. I also met Gary Rogers who was in Azerbaijan as well and I knew of through Our Wee Country. Two other lads John and Paul turned up and there was Andy the Linfield fan who was in the bar in Baku, Azerbaijan too.
Checking into the Otel Senbayrak
Through my travel writing I had managed to get Panny and I a really decent 4 star hotel (Otel Senbayrak – awesome hotel!) with wi-fi and a posh room. Yes, I was still the backpacker but in a city of zero recogniseable hostels, the luxury was excellent and we needed it. I was escorted up to the room – it’s a delight to have you Mr. Blair. Turkish delight?
A quick shower, bit of online travel work and I arranged to meet Moby and Toddy back in the team hotel (the Seyhan). In the meantime I met Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, for the second time that day and talked at length to him both times, first time he asked me: what way did you fly in? So I says till him: Well we flew from Georgia to Istanbul last week, then we backpacked through the Bul and Ankara on night buses before staying in a cave for 2 nights in Goreme and then got 3 buses via a place called Nevsehir to get here, Michael!! It made him laugh!
Pre match drinks and police escorts
While looking for a bar other than the posh hotel one (bit over budget for a backpacker beer these days), we were invited by a Galatasaray fan to a bar round the corner. While all this was happening we spread the word that we were heading to the wee bar round the corner call the AYNI YER bar, coincidentical title that one! During this a member of the Turkish FA tells me we are getting a “police escort bus” to the stadium!
I had never had that before as a Northern Ireland and this was a friendly for both teams – however as a backpacker, who’s to turn down a free ride to the stadium complete with GAWA singing on board.
First up a few pints of Efes Turkish beer in the pub who were very welcoming to us, and put our photos on their Facebook group. Bet you thought Bakebook and Drinking would be banned this close to Turkey’s largest Mosque?
In AyNi YER bar I meet a Ballymena man. As he starts talking it dawns on me who it is – it’s Big Rab. Having been commenting online on the Northern Ireland fans forum for years and years I had often had banter with Big Rab on the web.
To put a name, a handshake and have a beer with the Mann himself was even cooler. And bear in mind – we’re in Adana. This is no football capital of the world. This is no backpacker capital of the world. Cheers it was with Big Rab, name-checked now as Robert Mann.
Also in the AyNI YER bar, Gary Rogers had a number of extra spare free tickets. Northern Ireland fans, are of course some of the best in the world and Gary pulls the tickets out and invites all the bar staff to the match for free. Yes, the IFA gave us all complimentary tickets for this match (their free allocation) as it was arranged at short notice. A nice gesture from David Currie and even moreso by Gary Rogers. We’d be next to the Turks in the stadium too!
Beers down the neck with complimentary carrot (yes really) and we got into the peeler bus (Turkish Police Minivan) and headed to the Adana 5 Ocak Stadium ready for the big match.
A few Turkish fans came outside to pose with us for photos which was good craic, before we were ushered through the turnstiles. I got the travelling Northern Ireland flag out for a few welcome airings and photos.
Odd turnstiles and a quick ticket check before we were inside the stadium.
Then the national anthems were blasted out.
It had reminders of watching Northern Ireland in Gillingham 2007 for me, as I sat beside Shaun Schofield for this match, as I had done back at the ladies 4-0 defeat to England in 2007, the time Shaun and I planned Belarus, but I turned up in Bobruisk alone to witness a 5-0 drubbing. I later wrote an article for Shaun’s book Albania to America on my trip to Belarus. Shaun is a Northern Ireland legend – he hasn’t missed a match in almost 20 years, home and away!!!
It was good to enjoy the banter with Shaun and all 16 of us were in a small corner, view obscured by some steel fencing – we were in amongst the Turkish fans who were all very cool and welcoming. Here’s a few snaps of the fans and the match.
The match – Turkey 1-0 Northern Ireland
I should really mention the match as it’s the main event and the reason we were there!!! But, it was NOT a memorable match. We lost 1-0 to a defensive error on the stroke of half time. We had a young makeshift squad out. Turkey dominated possession. We chased shadows. In all honesty, I don’t really think any of us thought we would score. The highlight for me was just being there. Being in the stand singing loudly supporting my wee country. When the 90th minute came round, and we had 4 minutes of stoppage time, Moby and I started singing Michael O’Neill’s Green and White Army in the hope of that late equaliser. Even with debutant Jonny Steele now on the pitch, we couldn’t muster a decent effort on goal.
07 Gönül (Camdal – 72′ )
08 Ozyakup (Yilmaz – 45′ )
21 Büyük (Ucan – 67′ )
19 Erding (Töre – 77′ )
05 Kisa (Sahan – 83′ )
14 Turan (Dogan – 89′ )
01 Carroll (Mannus – 45′ )
03 Lafferty (McGivern – 76′ )
16 Norwood Booked
10 Clingan (McKay – 75′ )
07 McGinn (Steele – 67′ )
After the match we waited and applauded at the team bus, then got the free police escort back to the team hotel. In the team Hotel we met Jonny Steele, from the New York Bulls who had just made his NI debut that night. A really top lad – hope there are more caps to come from him!
We also chatted away to Northern Ireland captain Steve Davis. A few of the lads headed out for a beer, but I had a quiet one in the awesome hotel room with Panny and had an Adana kebab. As a budget backpacker, you got to enjoy luxury when you have it. Fast wifi too and the repeat of the NI match on Turkish TV!
Despite the result, this was actually a great trip. I just love supporting Northern Ireland. I’m a proud Northern Irishman and I guess a 1-0 defeat in Turkey isn’t the worst result ever. We hung around in Adana a few more days ticking off the sights before heading to Trabzon and Ankara on route to our adventure in Iran.
Safe travels fellow GAWA.
Here are some videos from Adana, watching Northern Ireland lose 1-0 to Turkey and pre match etc: