I was in Ankara on May 2, 1994, playing five-a-side football on AstroTurf, having convinced a few teachers from our school to forget their age for that one night, dust off their trainers – which were probably still in a suitcase on top of a wardrobe – and join me in having a free night’s fitness work-out. I knew that they had already bought their team’s colours from the local market where good quality, but cheap, ‘genuine fakes’ could be purchased at a snip, alongside, of course, a compulsory tea and chat with the friendly vendors.
This type of match was, in fact, a regular contest that I usually arranged between local Turkish restaurant workers – all skilful players who were never put off by having worked a twelve-hour shift that day – and just about any member of a motley crew that I could muster from among our teaching staff. Age made no difference and never played a role in my selection, as it was usually a case of ‘needs must’. So, on that evening, I had gathered together a combined Anglo-Iranian team consisting of an ageing Terry (Arsenal), Craig (Manchester United), Steve (Persepolis) and me (Southampton). As we were one short, we had agreed that a Turkish ‘guest’ player, young Metin (Galatasaray) – a gentle lad – small in stature, rock solid at the back and great moving forward with the ball – could be included on our side to make the numbers even and reduce the average age, somewhat considerably. There was, of course, never any need for a referee as the word ‘cheat’, nor its equivalent in Turkish street slang (üç kaĝıtçı) was ever heard or shouted in any of our games. The losers had already agreed in advance to pay the somewhat expensive hourly fee for use of the pitch. The floodlights were not cheap, however, as this was a private facility, not municipal. So, we teachers knew that for us, a session’s money was at stake; for the Turks, however, it was the equivalent of a full day’s pay. I assured our team, though, that it was a ‘free night, tonight, lads!’, as I started the match by kicking the ball, left-footed, sky high into the air! Yenilen öder – Losers pay! (Full story available for 99p using PayPal)