Goodbye to hell

April 20, 2011

In the second half of the 2010-2011 Turkish football season Galatasaray moved to its new home ground in Istanbul, the Turk Telekom Arena, a 52,000-seat multi-purpose stadium replacing the Ali Sami Yen Stadium.

The fate of the legendary Ali Sami Yen Stadium is now sealed.

Ali Sami Yen stadium in Istanbul 2010. REUTERS/Sevim Sen

The demolition of Ali Sami Yen, one of the most iconic venues in Turkish football and the home to one of the three oldest Istanbul football clubs Galatsaray for 47 years, started last week. For almost half a century, the yellow-and-red lions hosted their rivals in this temple with the slogan “welcome to hell”. The stadium played host to victories against European giants FC Barcelona, A.Bilbao, AC Milan, Real Madrid, E.Frankfurt, and a historic victory against Neuchatel Xamax. Most notably it was the scene of Galatasaray’s triumphal UEFA Cup campaign in 2000.

Galatasaray soccer fans cheer during the Turkish Super league derby soccer match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce at Ali Sami Yen stadium in Istanbul March 28, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

The team played all its home group and qualification matches for the 2000 UEFA Cup at the stadium before winning the final against Arsenal in Copenhagen, the biggest success in the history of Turkish football.
World renowned Italian referee Pierluigi Collina even once admitted: “I love this Hell.” It was witness to unforgettable national and international football matches, hosting world class teams, players, coaches and referees. The stadium witnessed 14 of Galatasaray’s 17 Turkish league titles. Opened in 1964, Ali Sami Yen Stadium has always played a major part in the Turkish football scene, being home to Galatasaray’s heyday and many victories of the Turkish national football team.

But within two to three years it will be replaced by a vast residence and office project, rising above the memories where Ali Sami Yen Stadium used to stand.

Ali Sami Yen stadium in Istanbul April 18, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

While I was photographing the demolition of the stadium it took me on a journey through my childhood and my photojournalism career.

It was 30 years ago when I was standing in exactly this spot.

Ali Sami Yen stadium in Istanbul April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

My uncle, a football player and a Fenerbahce fan, took me to a friendly match between Fenerbahce and England’s Tottenham Hotspur. I only remember when Fenerbahce scored a goal how surprised I was. While my elders were cheering and jumping in the air to celebrate, I couldn’t see anything. It was the first football match in my life that I watched in a stadium. My memories are all in black and white. The stadium was Ali Sami Yen.

Ali Sami Yen stadium in Istanbul April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Years later, at the end of the 1980’s, my hobbies, football and photography, drove me to sports photography. I was a young and ambitious sports photographer working for the daily Tercuman as an intern. Galatasaray were facing Swiss team Neuchatel Xamax. At that time, It was not easy to find a place in a four-man team who covers the big matches for the newspaper. I was the fifth or sixth photographer for the match, not in the field but in the stand just behind the Galatasaray bench.

Ali Sami Yen stadium in Istanbul April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

In the final minutes of the game, taking advantage of the high tension, I sneaked onto the field. In the past, photographers were allowed to approach the bench to photograph last minute reactions. I remember Galatasaray coach Mustafa Denizli took off his jacket and started waving it to celebrate their 5-0 victory. I barely made a couple of pictures of his celebration and got lost in the joyful crowd.

It was the first professional football match that I photographed. This time my memories were in color. The stadium was Ali Sami Yen again.

Another milestone in my life: it was April 1, 2009, my first day at Reuters and my first assignment was Turkey versus Spain in a World Cup qualifying match in Istanbul. The memories are digital. The stadium was, of course, Ali Sami Yen.

Galatasaray fans display a giant banner during the Europa League soccer match between Galatasaray and Atletico Madrid at Ali Sami Yen stadium in Istanbul February 25, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

While witnessing bulldozers demolishing the historic Ali Sami Yen stadium, I remembered the famous Galatasaray slogan as a farewell: “now it was time to say goodbye to hell.”

Ali Sami Yen stadium in Istanbul April 18, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

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