"You get down here," the taxi driver growled, in his best English.
My co-occupant and I looked at each other mysteriously. Was this a weird Turkish joke specially designed to wind up all football fans on this special day or was the serious look on the driver's face, a valid clue to our predicament?
As we grudgingly exited the taxi, my cultural instincts kicked in. The co-occupant I refer to is slightly older than myself and also had the special status of having been my senior at both secondary school and university levels. As in we went to the same educational institutions. It was only courteous I suppressed my rising irritation, do the Nigerian thing and give way to his 'superior' knowledge.
"Baba Barry, can you believe this toe rag," I asked, my emotions betraying my intent.
"It's okay Kanmi, just let's get to the game without any hassle," he replied justifying my belief that he had to be in charge of all decision-making on this trip.
My nerves had clearly been frayed by the preparation for this football match. As we stood listening to a group of Liverpool fans, who had been equally dumped at the hurriedly assembled roadblock, the economic ramifications of the trip had finally caught up with me. I reached for the comfort of my Marlboro Lights and commenced to puff my nervousness away.
Barry, noticing my Tyson-like head movements, winked at me. I nodded back reassuringly, wincing as the cigarette alerted me to the fact I had held on to it for too long. A sudden burst of noise diverted me from the pain.
"We are Liverpool," bellowed the now self-chosen leader. His ruby face, full of Scouse pride broke into a big grin as he ushered us forward - flags in hand and scarves on shoulders - into what can only be described as a march. We stomped the freshly laid tar proudly and seemed to be literally walking through a valley of hope, bordered by newly created mounds of sand, enforced, to pave way for the road to the brand spanking stadium.
Twenty minutes into the walk and with several blacked-out Mercedes whizzing past us, it slowly began to dawn on us. We had not only drawn the short straws, but there was now the distinct possibility we may need them to aid our liquid consumption, on what was turning out to be more of an endurance event. And by that I mean endurance test of our adoration for our football club and worse still, a lack of endurance in the physical stamina department.
To make things worse, we had begun to attract spectators, as the local people had walked up the mounds and used them as a vantage point, to view what must have looked like the Great Red Walk. Of course, in typical friendly Liverpool style, we waved at our audience and soaked in their reciprocal applause, but for most of the time, their bemusement was overwhelmingly evident.
Another fifteen minutes down the never-ending trail, and we had started to ignore the gathering lines of the crowd. There was only a finite amount of time one's niceness could last in such searing heat and besides, we had started to notice small groups of the Rossoneri. That special nervous energy, driven by sports rivalry, had taken over the air as the evening began to give way to the dark. Everyone in our group had a different reaction. Most let out odd noises, whilst others increased their pace for what we now knew was the last leg. Barry cracked his knuckles noisily, as I reached into my pocket and bizarrely stroked my ticket for comfort.
Now hot, clearly bothered and after what seemed like an age, a few bottles of water began to surface. As it turned out, the weather was not the only thing we had to douse.....in what could only be described as an accident waiting to happen, we had somehow ended up in the entrance for the Milan fans! Of course, like with most of these things, it never just rains. In fact, in this particular case, it was pouring Ultras.
All bedecked in Brigate black t-shirts and menacing stares, ensuring the wisdom of this Turkish journey began to immediately drain from some of our faces. A few expletives and a coordinated gingerly U-turn through the tiny path they had now created for us, we found our way past the drama with a cacophony of aggravated Italian ringing in our ears.
An awkward silence enveloped us for the next few minutes, as we wearily found the Liverpool entrance. A warm and frenzied embrace of the Scouse Army was waiting for us, with Chorus after chorus of 'You Will Never Walk Alone' ringing into the sweaty night.
Finally, we sighted the bowl of the stadium.
Emerging out of the dark, and emitting a radiant blue light towards the sky (just like the UEFA pre-match ad), it felt as if we had finally arrived at a long-lost spaceship. A spaceship designed just to take us
home. Simultaneously, the much-loved UEFA Champions League anthem launched triumphantly and welcomed us to the arena.
Our group, now bonded by an hour of sweat, aches and fears, huddled and bounced in anticipation. It was on......
This piece is to commemorate the 10th year anniversary of Liverpool's UEFA Champions League victory in Istanbul. WATCH OUT FOR PART 2.