After the previous nights VIP treatment at Fenerbahçe and in the interests of keeping things real, the next evening we travelled by public transport and stood behind the goal with the hardcore home support for the Beşiktaş v Gaziantepspor encounter.
The match didn't kick off until 21:45 so beforehand we set out on a ten hour pre-match of sight seeing, eating and drinking. Istanbul is a food-lover's paradise and the best place we found to eat and drink were the plethora of Meyhane bars branching off the side streets from the main road between Taksim and Tunel. These establishments serve up Turkish tapas to die for and all washed down with some very agreeable local beer.
Beşiktaş İnönü Stadium really is located in an idyllic spot. Set on the European side of the Bosphorus, opposite the imposing Dolmabahce Palace, clock tower and mosque, it's the only stadium in the world from which you can view two continents (Europe and Asia). Pele once famously described it as the most beautiful in the world. It was renovated in 2004 and it's quite passable on the inside. However, it doesn't look as though anything has changed on the exterior since the year dot.
Initially, there wasn't too much noise in the stadium. Then the two teams trotted out, the Turkish national anthem was played - as it is before every league match in Turkey - and then all hell broke loose in the stands. It was a breathtaking show of support. They engaged in choreographed singing from stand to stand, side to side and top to bottom. It was almost impossible to keep your eyes on the match. I'm happy to declare the competition for Europe's best fans officially closed.
The Istanbullus football fans are the loud and raucous yin to the often quiet and impassive Premiership fans yang. Beşiktaş fans must afford themselves a chuckle when they hear the English media declaring Newcastle fans to be 'the best in the world' or that Fratton Park can be 'a bit intimidating'. Not even the Kop on 'another famous European night' can come close to Beşiktaş and this remember was just a run of the mill league match with only 50 or so away fans for competition.
Beşiktaş won the match at a canter. Gaziantepspor were crawling on the very bottom of the ocean of bad. They could have been awarded a penalty shortly after half time but the referee took one look around the ground and sensibly - fearing for his own personal safety - pulled out a red card and sent the opposition striker off for diving - a very wise move.
Despite the lack of away fans, roughly half the population of Turkey had turned out to steward and police the match both inside and outside the stadium. At one point, I nipped to the loo and returned, looked across the stand and thought 'I can't believe my wife is alone in the middle of that lot'. At no point did either of us feel threatened though, indeed she enjoyed the whole experience immensely.
I had been a trifle concerned with being met with a cordial response at these matches, what with being English and all. I needn't have worried, we were met with warmth and smiles all round. In fact 100% of the Turkish people we met during the week were friendly.
After the football we had four days to investigate Istanbul. We must have explored every nook and cranny, every mosque, palace, Grand Bazar, Spice Bazar and the weird and wonderfully bazar (sic).
Thank your lucky stars you don't have to drive there. The number one sound you'll hear is the chorus of car horns being sounded by frustrated drivers. The traffic situation in Sultanahmet appears to have been organised by the Trotters Independent Security. Thankfully the public transport system is excellent. You can also expect to see a serious amount of cats. There are at least two sitting on every street corner and the Istanbullus appear to cherish them.
If you like a beer then make sure your taste buds are up for sampling a drop of Efes Pilsen. Weighing in at 5% abv it's pretty much the only beer you'll be able to lay your hands on.
The Turks are a very proud nation. Everywhere you look, the Turkish flag flies proudly and prominently. Providing you don't insult them, respect their culture and keep your wits about you then it's as safe as houses. Welcome to hell!? Welcome to paradise more like.
On our last night in Istanbul, news filtered through of the Albion's win over Manchester City in the Carling Cup. I believe that beating the richest club in the world technically means Brighton are now the best team in the world. A strange old week then but what a cracker - cheers Turkey!