Inönü Stadium, Istanbul, Turkey: Beşiktaş JK-Maccabi Tel Aviv UEFA Europa League (5-1) Matchday


This is the Beşiktaş Inönü Stadium (capacity 32,145), a stadium Pele reportedly called “the best place in the world to watch a game”. One cant fault him for his praise–where else can one watch a European football game while enjoying a view of the Bosphorus and Asia at the same time? The Inönü Stadium is truly a unique spot, both in footballing and historical terms. Currently it is closed, part of an ambitious project to build a new stadium in the same location–a ten minute walk from Taksim Square and the heart of modern Istanbul.

These pictures were taken from a tense Europa League encounter between Beşiktaş and Maccabi Tel Aviv back in 2011. The match was played in the shadows of a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey following the Mavi Marmara incident, when Israeli soldiers shot and killed Turkish activists aiming to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip. As with many political crises, the tension spread to the football pitch. There were a large amount of police and private security guards on hand, ensuring that no violence took place. In the end they were successful in preventing extra-curriculars, and the fact that only ten Israeli fans made the trip to see their side go down 5-1 also helped in keeping tensions low in my opinion. Part of me felt like Maccabi didn’t really go all out on the field so as not to stoke the fires, as Maccabi were not as poor as the scoreline suggested. As for Besiktas, the (in)famous Çarşı fan group did their team proud, chanting nationalist slogans of “Türkiye! Türkiye! Türkiye!” and “Şehitler Ölmez Vatan Bölünmez” (The Martyrs will never die, the country will never be divided). All in all, it was a good european win for Beşiktaş at the time. As for now, we can all hope that the new Inönü will do the old one justice, and that Çarşı carry on the activism born in Gezi park by continuing to stand up for what they believe in.


The views from the cheap seats (!)

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Some fans decided to write some unconventional messages on their shirtsDSCN4450

Luckily, Private Security didn’t have much to do

Mestsky Fotbalovy Stadion Srbska, Brno, Czech Republic – FC Zbrojovka Brno

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Much to the dismay of my friends I decided to veer of the European E65 motorway in Brno while en route from Prague to Bratislava. My friends should have known better before putting me behind the wheel of our Opel Astra, but I guess they secretly wanted to enable my soccer hobby. After hitting the exit for Brno at the last minute I plugged the coordinates for the Mestsky Fotbalovy Stadion Srbska into the GPS and navigated through the back roads of Brno to the gates of the stadium.

The stadium looked great in the summer sun, having replaced the aging Stadion Za Luzankami as FC Brno‘s home stadium in 2001. Currently the stadium, which is up to FIFA standards, has a capacity of 12,550. It a fairly modest number, considering that Brno is the Czech Republic’s second city, and compared with FC Brno’s previous home–the aforementioned Stadion Za Luzankami–which was the old Czechoslovakia’s biggest stadium with a capacity of 50,000.

Without wasting too much time on the road to Bratislava I was able to get a nice Umbro shirt from FC Brno’s secretary, which can be seen here. As for the stadium pictures, they are below:



A Pristine Pitch Beneath Blue Skies:


The Seats Spell Out My Location Precisely:


Visiting Fans Won’t Expect a Red Carpet Welcome:

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Who Knew One Could Drive–Literally–Into the Stadium?

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The Author and His Shirt (And a Baseball):



Dolicek Stadium, Prague, Czech Republic – Bohemians 1905

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It was a warm summer day in 2010 when I visited the Dolicek, my head heavy with a vodka-induced hangover from the previous night. Bohemians are by no means on the same level as their more illustrious Prague cousins Sparta or Slavia–their main rival, whose stadium lies just 1 Kilometer away–but they still have an interesting story. The Kangaroo on their shirt, which serves as the team’s logo, was garnered from a 1927 tour of Australia. Fitting, I suppose, until you think of the absurdity of a Czech football team touring down under more than 80 years ago.

The Dolicek itself is a small ground which opened in 1932 and that now has a capacity of 7,500 (its been reduced over the course of several downsizings as the team have decreased in stature). Most recently it was Bohemians’ “B” team that played here–the “A” team played their Gambrinus Liga games at Slavia’s ground, the Synot Tip Arena, before being relegated to the second division after the 2012 season. Here is to hoping that the Dolicek survives to see 100 years, since it is indeed a quintessential neighborhood European ground:



The oddities of World Football’s interconnectedness:


Bad shots will end up in the trees, like Izmir’s Alsancak Stadium closer to home:


I wonder how much one of those flats would sell for…:

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A Pristine Pitch at the Dolicek:


Or these flats–an even better view:


Generali Arena/Stadion Letna, Prague, Czech Republic – AC Sparta Prague


As I’m sure most visitors to this blog already know, Sparta Prague are the most successful club from the Czech Republic. I visited their Stadion Letna–I use the colloquial name since sponsorships are ever-changing in the age of industrial football–in the summer of 2010. The club’s history is rich, having been formed over 120 years ago in 1893, and as such a visit to the Letna takes the traveling fan off the beaten path.

While the friends I visited Prague with decided to while away their afternoon in the city center with the beautiful girls, I decided to go on my own adventure to the Letna. Rest assured, it is a valuable trip for the intrepid football fan because it takes one off the beaten tourist path of the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle (although both are essential spots to visit).

High above the Vltava river is a large park with inviting beer gardens, and after a few pints and a relaxing stroll through the park’s pathways one will find themselves squarely in an Eastern European scene. After overcoming the shock of the drab communist-era tenements, which are in stark contrast to the tourist-centric Old Town Center, one will come across Sparta’s ground, the Letna. Despite being built in 1969, its renovations have made it undeniably modern with a capacity of 19,784, and–I’m sure–would make a great place to take in a match. Hopefully, i’ll make it back for the Sparta-Slavia fixture in order to get a shirt from both sides–for my Sparta shirt, a vintage piece picked up from the internet, please see this page. In the meantime, my pictures from a summer’s day will have to suffice:

Communist-era Tenements Are In Stark Contrast to the Old Town’s Old World Charms:


I’ve made it to the Generali Arena:


What would Ultra Graffiti be without the obligatory “ACAB”?:


I don’t know what it means, but I like it:

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Generali Arena or Toyota Arena? I prefer the pre-industrial football name–Letna:

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The Old Town Is in the background, but at least I know I’m still in Eastern Europe:


Asim Ferhatovic Hase/Kosevo Stadium/Olympic Stadium – Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina – FK Sarajevo

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The walk to the Asim Ferhatovic stadium is one that truly gives the casual visitor a chance to understand the magnitude of the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s. Although I was a young child at that point, I can still remember summer nights in Turkey listening to my father explaining to me the details of the war, taken from the black and white pages of the International Herald Tribune. On the way to the stadium you are surrounded by the alabaster white graves of thousands who lost their lives in a civil conflict so gruesome that Europe is still unable to come to terms with it.

The open areas leading to the stadium made me wary of unexploded land mines, even though I knew that this stadium has seen many visitors before me. It was the paranoia of a young college student, exacerbated by the pages of his Lonely Planet. At the time I visited I had already acquired my FK Sarajevo shirt from the Nike shop in town, but I’m still glad I visited. The graffiti on the walls of the stadium serves as this blog’s header, as well as the background on my computer.

The stadium, named after Bosnian footballer Asim Ferhatovic Hase, has a fairly large capacity of 37,500. It was built in 1947 but renovated in 1984 for the Winter Olympics, a time that Sarajevo was the centerpiece of a cosmopolitan Yugoslavia. For a more detailed account of my visit please see this travel writing piece, an excerpt of which is below:

Killing Fields and Playing Fields

In the morning Sarajevo looks different, less intimidating and more of the intimate provincial city that it is. Surrounded by hills from which Serbian artillery rained terror during the 1992-1993 siege, the city is a cozy enclave of Ottoman culture in the middle of the Balkans. At night it had felt different, more menacing and impersonal. On arrival, across from the bus station, I had been met with a bombed out building, its stones crumbling. It evoked the warning from my guide book-“Stay away from war-damaged buildings!”

I set out early, before the repressive mid-summer heat descended over the city, walking down the central boulevard Marshal Tito, named after the man who had held a fragile country together by a combination of romanticism and brute force—more of the latter than the former. The apartment blocks lining the street were scarred by bullet holes, a reminder of the hell that was the city in the early 1990s. On the ground were infamous “Sarajevo Roses”, scars left in the concrete from Serbian shells that are now filled with red paint as monuments to the civilians who fell, unwilling, into a conflict they had no control over. They were only pawns of greater powers, as those before them had been. Bosnia was involved in great power tug-of-wars since its early history; first it was a tug of war between the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires, later it was the Russian and Austrian empires, and most recently it was the destructive nationalisms of Croatia and Serbia.

I turned off the main street at the Gazi Husrevbey Mosque towards the outskirts of the city looking for the Asim Ferhatovic Olympic stadium, part of the Olympic complex built for the 1984 Winter Games. That was a time when Sarajevo was the multi-cultural centerpiece of Yugoslavia, a time when Yugoslavia received a much needed economic boost from hosting a global sporting event. The small football pitches around the main stadium were now mass graves, a silent yet startling reminder of the brutality of human beings. For as far as the eye could see alabaster white graves stood shining in the summer sun, each telling a separate story. Shaking off the morbid feelings, I hesitantly walked across an abandoned lot towards the stadium gates (again, heeding the mine warnings of my guide book). No one was present around the stadium, but I took pictures of the graffiti on the stadium walls—here I saw “Never forget-Srebrenica”, a reference to the mining town in Eastern Bosnia once known for its salt mines, and now synonymous with the massacre of thousands of Bosnian muslims masterminded by Radovan Karadzic and his cohorts. It was a telling reminder of the scars that still lay below the surface of modern Bosnia’s calm culture, a history with which the country is still struggling to reconcile itself.

After a few minutes of photography I headed back towards the city center to rest at the Sarajevo brewery, whose underground lake had provided water to the city during the siege by Serbian forces.

The next day I went to the Sarajevo Football Club’s offices and was directed by a friendly lady to a Nike shop in order to find my coveted soccer jersey. Everyone was friendly in Sarajevo, exceptionally so—I guess living through a civil war teaches you, in a strange way, to be a more civil person. The Nike shop itself was a testament to how far the city—and country—had come; Sarajevo was once a symbol of the extremes of human brutality, now it had successfully joined the world economy and—it seemed—could finally start to heal the wounds of the past.

Sitting at the Sarajevo train station that night, with jersey acquired, I waited for the nine o’clock train to Banja Luka, capital of the Republika Srpska. Apparently, I would have to get off at a town named Doboj and transfer. At least I understood as such—the ticket office knew no English, just German (a relic from the days of the Eastern Bloc). Sitting on a bench in the station I drank some beers, purchased with the last of my Bosnian Convertible Marks. All around the cavernous station backpackers lay on the cold floor of the station, some young couples, others groups. Everyone seemed tired, and eager to get on with their journeys. As I sat, a homeless man sat down at the bench next to me. His clothes were worn and dirty, and he was wearing a winter coat not fit for the summer. I assumed it was all he owned.

“Know Tito?” he asked.

“Of course, Marshal Tito,” I responded. How could I not know the man who kept this fragile place together?

“Tito,” he said, and continued speaking in Serbo-Croat, gesticulation at times explaining the glories of Tito. He knew no more English, just enough to explain the history of his hero. I wondered how many others would agree with his views. He pointed, as if to ask where I had come from.


“America good,” he responded.

“Bosnia is also good,” I told him. He didn’t seem to agree, but was happy I liked his country. I pointed at him.

“Sarajevo,” he said, indicating where he was from. When I left for the train he sat and waved, resigned to sitting on that cold hard bench in his city. For him the border was demarcated at the train station—it was as far as he could go, yet I knew he had miles to go before he’d sleep.

The bullet marks on surrounding apartment blocks remind the visitor of a recent past not easily forgotten:


The downtown building home to the offices of FK Sarajevo:


Sports play a secondary role to the monuments of those who lost their lives too early:


The small football pitches around the main stadium were now mass graves, a silent yet startling reminder of the brutality of human beings. For as far as the eye could see alabaster white graves stood shining in the summer sun, each telling a separate story:


My paranoia of unexploded land mines:


One of the best pieces of stadium graffiti I’ve ever seen:


The beauty of Sarajevo in the backdrop:


The stands as green as the hills surrounding the city:


Turkish football makes its mark at the restaurants in the city center. After all, the first match at the Asim Ferhatovic took place in 1954 between Yugoslavia and Turkey:


Obladinski Stadium, Belgrade, Serbia – OFK Beograd

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OFK are a side I would like to have learned more about on my visit, due in part to their nickname–”Romanticari”, or “The Romantics”. They are the oldest Serbian club, formed in 1911 a healthy 102 years ago. I got a cab ride to the 19,100 capacity Obladinski on a lazy summer day before heading on to Bosnia-Herzegovina and found no one there to provide me with a shirt–perhaps I should have been a little more persistent. Hopefully I will be able to return to Belgrade and get a chance to attend an OFK match since their youth system is one of the best in Serbia–certainly their staying power in the face of more illustrious Belgrade rivals like Red Star and Partizan attests to this. The photos of the stadium were current Chelsea star Branislav Ivanonovic honed his skills are below:



Now I know where I am:


The Practice Fields where Branislav Ivanovic Learned His Trade:


The Obladinski:


Since 1911:


Good Bye Serbia, and on to Bosnia:


Stadion Crevna Zvezda/Red Star Stadium, Belgrade, Serbia – Red Star Belgrade


The Red Star Stadium is as intimidating as the name sounds. Unfortunately, this post is not about a match, but I hope to attend one here soon, since the Belgrade derby between Red Star and Partizan is one of European football’s most storied derbies. It was being renovated during my visit in 2008, and it now boasts a capacity of 55,538. One can only imagine what the atmosphere would be during a sell out. The stadium was completed in 1963, and from 1964 to 1998 the capacity was an amazing 110,000. Now, with under soil heating and a new pitch, it is slowly entering the category of a truly modern stadium.

It is a fitting stadium for the most successful Serbian club, as Red Star remain the only Eastern European side to lift the European Cup (It happened in 1991). Below is a write up of my visit to the stadium when I acquired the team’s shirt, an excerpt from a larger piece of travel writing. As you read the write up and peruse the pictures, feel free to take in Serbian folk Singer Boban Zdrakovic’s “Marakano”, a cult song amongst Red Star fans.

Bombed Out in Beograd:

My father had been right—Belgrade is not a pretty city. The grey façades of communist era architecture were drab as ever, even in the gentle light of dawn. Their paint was pealing, neglected after communism’s unceremonious fall. The streets were empty, as I wandered looking for lodging. After doing a loop around the city—and having found all hotels full—I ended up back near the train station settling on the drab Hotel Astoria—I wasn’t about to shell out for the luxuries of Hotel Moskva. After leaving my passport at the reception desk so that it could be registered with Serbian police—old habits die hard apparently—I headed up to my small room. It seemed that whoever had given the hotel three stars must have been here at least twenty years ago. The rotary telephone in the dreary little room, which had the stupendous view of the backside of an apartment block, was proof of it.

I fell onto the bed for a little rest since it was only eight in the morning and I had already been walking for a few hours. Lying on my pillow, I had a vague feeling that something wasn’t right—I just couldn’t relax and drift away into dreams. After a few minutes I sat up to look around and confirm that everything was alright. Obviously, it wasn’t. On my pillow, next to where my head had been lying, there was a small worm. I don’t know how it got there, but I jumped up and ran my fingers through my hair madly, making sure that there was no insect infestation. Luckily, there were no more worms but this was too much for me this early into my stay in Beograd. I decided to leave the bed and go outside on a search for the Red Star Belgrade stadium, the Marakana. After receiving directions from the lobby I set out, ignoring the receptionist’s warning that it was a forty-minute walk. After all, walking is healthy!

In the streets the signs were not transliterated from Cyrllic. I conjured up all my memories from previous jersey hunting experiences in Macedonia, where Cyrillic is also the official alphabet. Walking uphill from the hotel the bombed out remnants of the former Yugoslav interior ministry, destroyed by NATO in the bombing campaigns 0f 1999, met my eyes. I assumed that it had been kept in its half-destroyed state as a reminder of America’s aggressions against civilian Belgraders. As I took pictures, I wondered what would happen if someone should find out I was an American? Later, in a café by the train station before leaving, I read that the building would soon be built into a luxury hotel by an Israeli company—another move to erase the memories of Yugoslavia and inch toward the EU.

Walking away from the destroyed building I followed the road up to the Slavija square, home of the first McDonald’s in Eastern Europe as well as mass protests after the United State’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February of 2008. I headed up a typically communist tree lined boulevard—like so many, it was beautiful in its own special way. I opted against riding one of the ubiquitous trams, deciding that walking was a better way to take in the city. Soon I was on the side of a highway, the only pedestrian in sight. The loneliness was strangely nerve-wracking, with the fresh memories of bombed out buildings in my head.

Continuing up the road for another ten minutes, cars buzzing by me at high speeds under the summer sun, I found a clearing in the development, and across it was the gigantic Marakana stadium. I headed to the walls of the stadium. All over the walls graffiti was scribbled, imparting a number of different things—some I couldn’t understand, and others I understood immediately. “North Storm” and “Chemical Boys RS” were cryptic at best, while graffiti scrawled in blood red paint read “Kosovo Srbija”. A reminder to all that Red Star Belgrade fans—and I’m sure many others—will not forgive the loss of their cultural homeland of Kosovo, ripped away by a West led by the United States.

I took a deep breath and continued along the curved outer wall of the stadium. It was a continuous curve, and as such I couldn’t see more than three feet ahead of me at any time. My paranoia was such that I expected someone to jump out at anytime and ask me what I was doing snooping around a stadium in the middle of July, with no games being played. I played out the scenario—I would be asked why I was there, and where I was from, and somehow they would learn that I was American and then . . . well, it wasn’t worth thinking about because it wasn’t going to happen! Finally, I made it around to the front of the stadium. Ahead of me was graffiti depicting a knife wedged in something. I couldn’t understand it, but I took it as a warning of some sort all the same.

Walking through the gates, I looked down into the stadium, where the word “Delije” was written into the seats behind the goal, white seats making out the letters among the sea of red seats. This was the name of the hard-core group of supporters who, in this stadium, were recruited as a paramilitary group to terrorize the minorities of Yugoslavia during its bloody downfall[1]. In the end though, as the final chapters of Yugoslavia were being written, it was Red Star supporters who led the “revolution” against the fanatical Serb president Slobodan Milosevic and took the initiative to attempt and steer Serbia away from its isolation[2].

Finding the fan shop and, after asking the lady at the counter who their best player was, I purchased a number thirteen Tutoric shirt. When I arrived back in Turkey I learned that he had followed me back, transferred to a mid-level side in the Turkish Super League.

That night I wandered the streets of Belgrade, looking for an underground bar written up in my guidebook. Apparently, it had been a place for dissidents during the Milosevic years. While getting lost in the Belgrade night I stumbled upon Shaharazad Hookah café, off of a main street in a dark alley. It seemed inviting and I decided to take a chance and recreate the feel of Istanbul. I walked in and was immediately bombarded by the Middle Eastern décor and advertisements for Efes Pilsen—Turkey’s famous brew.

I took a seat and ordered a hookah—mint as usual, smoking it as the lights dimmed and Serbian girls dressed in belly dancing outfits came out. As the girls moved their hips seductively—looking customers in the eyes and encouraging them to buy more drinks—the irony of Serbian girls dressed in Turkish dress didn’t escape me. After a while, I caught a glimpse of the men one seat over drinking arak, the Arab version of the anise-flavored Turkish Raki. I think one of them realized I had been looking at him, so he initiated conversation

“So, where are you from,” started the heavy-set Arab man next to me.

“Istanbul,” I answered, not wanting to let off the whole truth in a sensitive part of the world, figuring that here there would be no ill feelings towards Turks in this “Oriental” establishment.

“Ahh, Istanbul is a beautiful city,” He told me in thick accented English, looking into the distance, playing the movie reel of his past in his head.

“You’ve been there?” I asked, and he nodded in affirmation.

“Many times.” He ordered me some Arak and I asked him what he was doing here. He explained that his son owned the place, and that he came here with his Arab friends. I asked him where he was from, expecting to hear Cairo.

“I am from Baghdad,” he said. I was surprised, to say the least.

He could read my emotions and continued, “I was the ambassador to this country, but after the Americans invaded my country . . .” he trailed off, assuming that I got the picture, not wanting to go into too much more detail.

I sat back, dumb-founded, as a beautiful Serbian girl in front of me motioned with her hands at a bald Englishmen to our left, dancing. I was relieved to have dodged a bullet—who knows how he would have reacted to me as an American. The fact that he was drinking alcohol proved that he was of Saddam’s mold, that is to say secular, and a far cry from the Islamists vying for the tattered country’s heart. We continued watching the girls belly dance over another glass of the firewater—we got great service once the waiters saw whom I was talking to. After finishing my drink, I shook hands with the former ambassador and stumbled out into the warm Belgrade night, with both head and heart heavy. My guidebook told me that there were good clubs on the shores of the Danube, where the vodka flowed.

[1] Foer, Franklin. How Soccer Explains The World. Harper Perennial, New York: 2005, 21.

[2] Ibid., 29.

The Bombed Buildings of Belgrade Bring the Past to Life:


The Modern is Destroyed, but the Past Remains Alive and Well:


And the Modern Side of Beograd:


Approaching the Marakana:


I Don’t Need a Dictionary For This–Perhaps a History Book Instead:


The Ultras Have Left Their Mark(s):


Belgrade Sprawled Out In The Distance:


I can Understand “Serbia” and “Kosovo”:


The New Pitch Being Installed:


The “Delije” Section:


Now, One of These Shirts Hangs In My Closet:


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