A friend of someone I met on an internet message board. It sounded dodgy. This was Ergin, a very random contact in Trabzon for my game in Turkey. We messaged each other before I arrived. His English was minimal. My Turkish is mainly limited to menu items.
Trabzon is hemmed in on a narrow sliver of land between the mountains and the Black Sea. It is a port city without pretensions. I strolled the local streets with friendly smiles following me around. The main square was strung with maroon and blue banners. People in Trabzon support Trabzonspor not the big Istanbul clubs. Trabzonspor were formed in 1967 from four local clubs and chose to play in Aston Villa colours. Or slightly faded Barcelona as one fan pointed out.
Trabzonspor recently moved from an inner suburb ground to the modern Medical Park Arena. It is more atmospheric than its name suggests, built on reclaimed land and cleverly designed to represent the waves of the Black Sea. Ergin met me there the day before their match against Alanyaspor. His thinning hair and sunken eyes reminded me of many football fans. His sinewy build reflected someone who smoked more than he ate. We took photographs of one another – the new art of conversation – outside the impressive new stadium.
I was baking on the exposed concrete. Ergin could see I needed a cup of tea. Turkey runs on tea. We took a dolmuş to his town of Akçaabat, six miles further west along the urban coastal strip. Ergin runs a tea shop with a chintzy pink theme in a quiet courtyard and cute cave system. I sat on garish furniture as he brought me lots of tea. It was rather surreal. We tried to talk football. Ergin was a leader of his local fan group and had seen his team play across Turkey. He hated Fenerbahçe more than any of the other Istanbul teams. I was unsurprised. The match fixing affair of 2010/11 denied Trabzonspor the championship title. A large and well-loved Trabzonspor flag appeared and Ergin presented me with an Akçaabat scarf. I was touched. You don’t become rich selling 30p cups of tea.
We met outside the stadium before the match. Its surrounds buzzed with excited fans and traders well over an hour before kick off. Ergin introduced me to a local journalist. I explained through an interpreter that I felt that Trabzonspor were like Brann Bergen. The shipping, the separate identity, the fervent fans, the sweeping mountains and rainy climate all reminded me of my Norwegian hosts. Although Trabzon was a hot and humid place in September.
Ergin accompanied me through four security lines into the stadium. He hid my pen down his trousers and cigarette lighters in his shoes. He got me some tea. There are no seating restrictions in the south stand and we settled on the fourth row. Ergin knew a lot of people at the stadium, many of them familiar from my visit to Akçaabat. Five men stood with their back to the game building the crowd into a caffeine-fuelled frenzy. The crowd waved, banged the seats that no one sat in, whistled, crouched and jumped up on the count of ten and bounced songs off the north stand. Trabzonspor raced into a three goal lead but Alanyaspor scored a soft goal on the stroke of half-time. Veteran Brazil striker Vágner Love bumbled forwards from the half-way line without a challenge in sight and shot through the goalkeeper’s legs.
Everyone sat down for a rest at half-time. Ergin passed packets of water and another steaming tea to me. He still predicted 4-1. I had predicted 3-1. More goals were inevitable. Ergin showed deft balance and a good choice of trainers to stand on the top of the two seats in front of me for the second half. He saw a team and crowd retreat into its shell. Alanyaspor scored three without reply. Love converted two confident penalties to complete his hat-trick. 4-3 to Alanyaspor.
This was a crushing defeat. Ire, insults and items were thrown towards the coach, the scapegoat after some mysterious substitutions. Ergin kept his calm. He shepherded me through the simmering crowd. It was important that I was safe. Making sure I had a good time was more crucial than Trabzonspor. At least for this game.