Philosophers become cultured barbarians in city of protest

Ally Clow reports on one of Philosophy Football FC's most extraordinary events yet.


Friday 13 September 2013

The three of us arrived early in the morning after a long but untroubled journey from London via Kiev. The first thing to do was to have a proper breakfast, not having been satisfied by the meagre cheese and mayonnaise roll given us on the Ukrainian Airlines flight. We then had time to visit a few sights and retire for a siesta before assembling with the rest of our touring party and then meeting our hosts and the other two teams who would be playing in first ever 3sided football match to be held in Turkey. The Grand Bazaar was close to our apartment, so we began there.

Within about 50 metres, we had been offered carpets, trinkets, shined shoes (more of which to follow) and dozens of other products we would never need. We left in a daze and walked to the apartments on Kadirga Limani Cad in the south of the city close to the Sea of Marmara. After a series of labyrinthine streets that seemed not to bear any relation to the map Ally was navigating with, we found ourselves at the apartment, got issued some keys and went in. After much deliberation (about 2 minutes) the gaffer decided to revert to type and checked in to a Hotel Des Gaffers round the corner. After a champagne reception and a cucumber facemask, he returned to meet Ally and Amanda and wait for the rest of our party.

Tour T-shirtHenry arrived first having travelled from Dubai, a country whose repressive nature he has been uneasily growing accustomed to since moving there at the start of last season. It was great to see him again and it was clear he wanted another win in a red shirt. We moved to the Imran Lokantasi tavern, on the same street as the apartments, for lunch and chose some fabulous dishes from a hot selection of vegetables, meats and rices, all served with no accompanying alcohol. After separating for siestas or sightseeing, we reunited later in the afternoon to meet Matt and Mark, founder of the Deptford 3 Sided Football League who has played 3sided football on and off for 20 years, making his debut for Philosophy Football.

In the evening we headed out to dinner to meet our hosts, Thomas Büsch, Sabine Küper-Büsch and Asena Heyal of InEnArt, and one of our opponents, Dynamo Windrad from Germany. We stopped off in a café on the way, which turned out to be a Galatasaray supporters' bar which contained an incredible trophy cabinet and proudly displayed hundreds of photographs on the walls: a perfect base for the weekend. Owing to an administrative error, we arrived at dinner late – a psychological advantage according to the gaffer – and sat down.

The restaurant was in a marvellous setting overlooking the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus which splits the city in two. We ordered some whitebait and our hosts ordered us some raki. The Germans had built up a head of steam powered by this Turkish spirit, always an encouraging sign the day before a tour match. We ate, drank and got to know our opponents, a very interesting team who shared many of our interests and values and seem to be involved in a great many activities other than football in Germany. They will be holding an alternative World Cup in Germany next year, and have invited us to take part.

While enjoying the evening, we were also very conscious that two of our squad were missing. Matteo was the first to arrive, from Rome. We found out when he arrived that he is now making contemporary art programmes for Rai but will be writing a piece for Il Manifesto on the Bienniale and the 3sided match. A little later, Joe arrived from Cardiff a tad flustered as he had left his phone in the taxi from the airport. As with the famous incident in Sicily where Clarkey arrived with the shirt on his back and not much more, Joe didn't let this mishap dampen his spirits and he joined the rest, ate some fishy leftovers and drank some raki before half the squad returned to their accommodation. Henry, Matt and Mark decided to try and stay with the Germans into the early hours, taking three for the team. The night would clearly not be over without a second phone left in a taxi and Ally duly obliged, firmly establishing Geoff and Amanda as the communications go-betweens for the rest of the tour.

Saturday 14 September – before the match

The wildly varying bed times of the respective squad members meant that people were left to their own devices in the morning. Geoff and Joe went to the Grand Bazaar while Amanda, Ally and Matteo went for something to eat before the match. It later transpired that when in the Grand Bazaar, Joe saw a man drop his shoeshine brush and with true British politeness, shouted 'sir, sir you've dropped your brush' and ran after him. After this, the man followed Joe offering to shine Joe's shoes and then tried to charge 30 Turkish lira (£10 pounds) for the privilege. Realising that he had been had, Joe settled out of court for an undisclosed fee; reports that the gaffer was seen receiving a similar polish later on have not been confirmed. Ally and Amanda pursued an unorthodox breakfast of kebab while Matteo refused to have anything to do with this bizarre morning meal and went off to find a coffee and pastry alternative. Mark validated this meaty choice however as he walked past the carnivores by chance and ordered exactly the same meal, declaring that it was 'exactly what I needed'. Mr Wenger take note.

Launching the 3Sided Football Federation

In the coach on the way to the game, we experienced that special moment which occurs on all tours: the moment when everyone looks around and realises that they are about to play football in another country, and smiles and proclaims almost simultaneously how lucky they are. For anyone unsure about the merits of touring with the club, it's an absolute privilege and a pleasure to do so. We arrived at a university's five-a-side venue in a spectacular location overlooking the Golden Horn from its south side. The pitch was, however, very small, and we were unsure how to make a game of 3sided football work on it, as marking out a hexagonal pitch would almost halve its area. Various conversations about how this could be overcome ensued. One suggestion was to use the full pitch, using the goals at either end and adding a third goal on the touchline at the halfway line. This was far from perfect, however. If, however, we played on a hexagon of equal sizes, we could play no more than 3-a-side. We decided to give the hexagon a go and Mark began laying out the shape on the pitch.

The match hexagonAs it was taking shape, Joe and Ally wondered if two of the sides of the hexagon could be lengthened, changing the regular hex to an irregular 'lozenge' shape and maximising the playing area. They suggested this to Mark, and he changed the dimensions accordingly. This turned out to be a reasonable compromise, meaning we could play a 4-a-side match, keeping the integrity of the hexagon while allowing for a competitive game. This summed up the spirit of the day, which was all about the exchange of ideas and spontaneity. We now had our pitch and it was time to change into the famous red and black.

Filippo thought it was vital we had a special commemorative shirt for this tour. We took to the field in shirts reading 'Mom, am I barbarian because I played 3sided football?' on a green hexagon and 'Istanbul 13' on the back; 'Mom, Am I Barbarian?' being the theme of the Bienniale. Before the match began, we took part in a slogans workshop in which the teams were asked to come up with a subversive slogan for the city's football clubs. This was as a result of their preferred phrase, 'Taksim Everywhere', being banned by the police. Geoff also launched the new 3Sided Football Federation (pic below), the charter of which had been drawn up by Ally and others in the run-up to this tour.

We met the third team playing in the match, Ayazma FC, another very interesting team who are currently trying to challenge the male-dominated culture in Turkish football – although the only woman playing in the match was in Dynamo Windrad. Before the match, the 'rules' for the match were discussed among the teams and agreed with our referee, Halil İbrahim Dinçdağ, a former professional referee who got fired by the Turkish Football Federation in 2009 simply for being gay. There are some interesting articles about him in Der Spiegel and the Hurriyet Daily News.

The match

The match kicked off with Dynamo Windrad's distinctive pink ball being kicked by them to their opponents, a ritual they observe in every match they play. The only difference being that they now had to choose which of their opponents to kick to, an apt quandary in 3sided football. The match began with a great pace – although the pitch had been enlarged as much as it could, there still was not a lot of space to exploit. The goals were tiny, about a metre and a half wide and a metre high and we all wondered if it would be possible to score many goals through them. The Reds' tactics were to play in a 1-2-1 formation with one man defending the goal (although the use of the hands was prohibited), men covering the left and right middle of their third respectively and one up front at all times, stretching the play. Matteo and Ally went in from of goal for the majority of the match, with Mark and Joe covering the middle and Henry and Matt rotating up front. It was a fluid formation and proved to be spot on.

Team photo

During the first third, the experience of the men in red showed as they scored in both their opponents' goals while only letting one in themselves. While the other two teams took a little time to adjust to the notion of forming alliances on a football field, the Thinkers let them tire each other out until Windrad (playing in white) realised they could expend less energy by using their opponents in red to help them form attacks against Ayazma (playing in black). With the German and Turkish teams starting to find their feet, the first half finished Philosophy Football 1, Dynamo Windrad 3, Ayazma FC 3.

Things were going well for the Reds and there was a philosophical discussion during the break as to what to do next. In two-sided football, when you are in the lead at the interval, your sole objective is to stay in the lead for the duration. In 3sided football, however, the team in the lead becomes the target of the other two teams and cannot usually stand the pressure of combined attacks. Indeed, Mark had never been involved in a match in which the team entering the final third in the lead had had won it. Should we then deliberately concede some goals and let one of the other teams go in front? We felt that would be a dangerous tactic and were confident we could hold our nerve and our fitness to withstand the pressure that would ultimately come. We decided to attack both goals equally but watch to see if our opponents would align as we expected.

3sided football matchIndeed we were the focus of attack, but not in the way we had imagined. Both teams were attacking us but on their own, rather than forming an alliance. When finally we did concede, the pressure on us dissipated slightly and Henry began to control the match. He was a constant threat up front and we were only in danger when he came back to support the defence, which resulted in Ayazma and Windrad having an easy choice in who to attack. Once Henry was as far away from his own goal as he could be, it meant he was available to help either of our opponents in an attack, easing the pressure in front of our goal. This tactic continued to work, as did the fitness of the red men in general, and everyone in the squad got on the score sheet. While the whites and blacks were scoring goals too, we felt that if there was a draw at the end of the match we would surely win through the 'Basque rule', in which, out of those teams which conceded fewest goals, the team which has scored the most goals is declared winner. We ended the second third still in the lead: Philosophy Football FC 3, Dynamo Windrad 4, Ayazma FC 5.

Ally being interviewedWhile recovering his breath, Ally had a mic shoved in front of him by a German television crew, and was asked why the team had wanted to be part of the match and in particular what the team's role in the protests was. An easy question after running around for 40 minutes, then! He said that the team's role was to support and show solidarity to the Turkish people and that we would show solidarity to anyone whose human rights were being threatened. Ally's press officer Geoff nodded in agreement and Ally could return safe in the knowledge he hadn't ballsed up on camera.

We kicked off the final third Matteo in goal, Joe and Mark in the protecting midfield positions and Henry up front. Matt and Ally were ready to come on and finish the job, knowing the match could come down to a battle of resilience if both Windrad and Ayazma could combine and finally attack the Reds with combined waves of pressure. Philosophy held firm initially, however, and Henry took even more charge of the match by supporting all three teams whilst attacking both white and black goals with whomever would play with him. It was in this third that Ayazma fell away as both the Reds and Windrad scored against them. However, things were far tighter between Philosophy and Windrad, and it seemed that every time the Reds created a two-goal cushion, Windrad or Ayazma would manage to pull us back in. The scoreline with 5 minutes to go was Philosophy Football FC 5, Windrad 6, Ayazma FC 8, but Matteo and Henry were to score two fabulous goals against the Turks to finish them off.

The first of these came when Matteo chipped the ball to Henry, who leaped like the proverbial salmon and produced a sideways scissor-kick that flew into the top corner of Ayazma's tiny black goal. The sizeable crowd went wild and everyone applauded what may be the best 3sided goal ever scored. Moments later, Matteo decided to take centre stage by dribbling the ball out of his goal and producing a beautiful curling shot with the outside of his right boot (the only way he knows how to kick the ball, say his Roman teammates) into the same top corner. Ayazma's spirit was broken now but the Germans could still produce a famous finish if they could convince the Turks to help them score against the men in red. A frantic final 5 minutes ensued with Philosophy using their tired legs as desperate blockades to stop the ball entering their goal. We just managed to hold out for a final score of Philosophy Football FC 5, Dynamo Windrad 6, Ayazma FC 10.

After the match

The post-match celebrations were relatively muted because, although the sweltering heat of the previous day hadn't carried over, it was still very warm and everyone wearing a red shirt was thoroughly exhausted. After some photos, a lot of handshakes and some press and television interviews, Turkish artist Genco Gülan who presented the teams with their medals: bananas with the words "Golden Horn" written on their skins, a suitably Dadaist touch to remind everyone that they were, after all, here as part if the Istanbul Bienniale. From the pitch, we travelled to a nearby tavern and indulged in a large feast, watching as the locals ordered a yard of meat on a skewer and baked roasted lamb cooked inside a salt crust that had to be opened with a crowbar. Our hosts Thomas and Sabine invited the three teams back to their apartment near Taksim Square and Gezi Park, the root of the initial protests in June when the government revealed they were going to build a shopping mall on the park.

Thomas and Sabine were incredible hosts: nothing was too much trouble for them and they showed genuine warmth toward us and seemed to think the day was a great success. Their apartment was a wonder and overlooked the Bosphorous that separates the European side of Istanbul from the Asian side and it was a wonderful evening. Some of the Turks wanted to know where 'Wayne Rooney' (ie Henry) was and joked that he had something against their country because he only seemed to score into their goal. Later on at around 11.30pm the cartoonist and animator Tan Cemal Genc, who had created the wonderful animated 'trailer' for the match, enquired if anyone wanted to go out to a bar. We all said yes and after many long farewells to our hosts, we left. Tan took us to Taksim Square. Even setting foot on the square was a powerful experience, knowing that part of the reason for our visit was the events that had unfolded there over the last few months. It was also intriguing because the idea of playing our match on the square itself had been mooted at several points in recent weeks, but the general consensus was that it would have been too dangerous because the police were watching the square for any subversive activity. The likelihood was the match would be stopped very quickly and further action may be taken. We stepped foot on the square and walked up to a central section slightly higher than its borders, lamenting that, although the match had been fantastic, it would have been an incredible experience to hold the match here. I don't know who it was who asked if anyone had a ball, but Henry produced the match ball and we started to kick the it around between us.

Playing 3sided football in Taksim Square at nightWatching this, Mark moved some of our kit bags around to create six goalposts, roughly equidistant from each other – and we all knew what was about to happen. There was an undeniable excitement running through us all, a true shared experience that was exhilarating; could we get away with playing a 3sided football match on the site of the recent Turkish protests? We played for 5 minutes or so, attracting some bemused looks from the locals, but eventually some asked to join in. To start with, two men in their early twenties, then two boys of about 11 or 12, and all were clearly loving being part of something so spontaneous and unexpected. They also soon realised they could pass to another team and one of the young boys realised that it would be fun to receive a pass from someone then directly attack their goal. This was 3sided football as pure as it gets, spontaneous and peaceful yet retaining the concepts of collaboration and deviance in the pursuit of victory. Mark called for the end of the first rotation, the structure of a complete game had been created and while scores were kept, no one really cared about the result.

For about 40 minutes that night, football's most powerful force was spontaneously recreated: the power to bring pure joy to people. It was joyful for us because we were playing in the most symbolically potent area connected to the popular protests in Istanbul, and we were also gaining pleasure from seeing how happy it was making the locals who were taking part and watching. After the match, we gave the local men the remaining red 'Barbarian' shirts, one of them demanding Ally's match shirt, sweat and all. It was awesome and inspiring. While we were playing, an old man walked across the 'pitch', smelled the air and said 'I smell freedom here'.

Sunday 15 September

Bienniale signEarly in the morning, the squad split, some visting the Bienniale and others opting to look around the royal palaces. Joe and Matteo, the first to leave, reportedly had quite different opinions as to the quality of art on offer. Ally, Amanda and Henry visited the Topkapi palace and had the best çay (pronounced chai) and cream cake of the trip from one of the palace cafés. Matt visited Asia and Mark met the remaining squad members for an Anatolian lunch (including a very rich corn, butter and cheese fondue) before visiting the Bienniale in the early evening.

Man of the match Henry left in the evening but texted to say that his plane had two aborted attempts to take off. The others went to seek out their final meal of the trip from a selection of fish restaurants in front of a fish market. We ignored the best efforts of the barkers to persuade (harangue) us to go into their establishments and entered the one that had left us alone the most. There we were treated to a sumptuously fresh, whole sea bream and flying fish. Finally we enjoyed some alcohol with our meal, a stipulation made by us all at that point.

After that, the tour was over but what a trip. According to the gaffer, this was one of the very best tours there has ever been – a number which has now reached twenty. The story of 3sided football grows and our position at its forefront strengthens. Where next for the 3sided red men?