Note: This entry was written on little to no sleep while I was still in Istanbul. I’m just now posting it because I can.
It’s 4am on Saturday, and I’m surrounded by several people sleeping in painfully uncomfortable positions wearing the previous day’s clothes. No, I’m not in a holding cell in jail; I’m actually in Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, although with a roughly 17 hour layover and zero wifi, it might as well feel like it. At least the airport has a Starbucks, so I can pay about 8 bucks for the huge cup of coffee I’m going to need to get my ass on my 1:40 pm flight to Chicago.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been in the process of trying to end the searching phase of my soccer career, joining an agency for a series of friendlies with other aspiring professionals and out of contract players in Antalya, Turkey. As I had alluded to in previous posts, I have used this as my final hurrah in terms of that elusive professional contract, and if nothing comes to fruition from this trip, I have to try and assimilate back into the real world as a normal-but-still-devastatingly-handsome human being and work my way towards adult things like taxes and rent payments and investing my money in stocks instead of candy bars. It’s a fate I’d rather delay, but one that I’m not too afraid of should I fail.
The journey started a couple weeks ago with an extensive departing leg that consisted of a 6 hour layover in Los Angeles (and t-shirt weather) and a 12 hour, overnight layover in Istanbul (and fascinating people watching weather) before finally arriving in Antalya to be greeted by palm trees and absolutely no one. Due to my penny pinching for the trip, I had the least desirable flights and thus ended up doing lots of waiting, including the pickup to get to the resort which involved a taxi cab, two other players, and discovering that the name of the hotel on the itinerary is only the name of the chain, not the resort name since the company has 3 hotels in the area. We manage to pick correctly and make it to the resort.
The Atlantis resort (technically located in Belek about 25-30 min outside of Antalya, depending on how suicidal your bus driver is) sits along the Mediterranean coast with its own private beach, disco, all inclusive meals, pools, saunas, and variety of mannerless guests from all over Europe. During the offseason, the numerous resorts dotted along the coastline host clubs looking to get away from their normal digs, usually cold climates such as Russia and other former Soviet states, to train, play some new teams, and prepare for their upcoming seasons. For players in my position, it presents an opportunity to be seen and picked up by clubs whom I would otherwise have no clue existed. Of the 17 players the company brought on their last trip, 9 earned trials or contracts with teams.
On this occasion, there were not one but four teams that happened to be making the journey. A collection of players from South Africa, a team of players under 21, and the USL Pro team Wilmington Hammerheads joined our team of free agents in Turkey, making me worry a little bit about my prospects. On the positive, having a professional team looking for players accompany us on the trip would be a huge plus as several good performances could negate a bad half should the coach see me often enough (and considering he saw as many of our games as he could, it was very much possible). Over the 10 days or so, I practiced with the Hammerheads a couple of times and played in a half for them against Beijing IT, a team from China’s 2nd tier of professional football.
While the trip started fairly easily with a few days of training accompanied by a single game against the South African team, it quickly turned into a trip where rest was at a premium, with 4 games in the last 5 days of the trip completely obliterating my out of shape legs to the point that I may or may not have jello for quads and calves. With extremely limited subs at centerback, I ended up playing the lion’s share of the minutes as well as the bear’s, turtle’s, and every other animal in the animal kingdom. Getting lots of minutes was nice, but considering my last real match occurred roughly a year ago, it took some time to adjust to the pace of play and I’m sure my quality suffered a little bit from my lack of fitness.
Overall, I’d say that my performance in the five and a half matches I participated in was solid. There were some good moments, but there were also some moments that had me wanting to curb stomp a puppy for my screw ups. I have already learned that solid does not always mean you will get signed, especially when you consider that most of the teams we played were already done making transfers and shaping their squad for the upcoming season (some of which even started last weekend). Over the next week or so, I will get a feel of what my soccer career landscape looks like and figure out whether it’s the Amazon rainforest teeming with life or the Sahara teeming with death, sand, and shattered dreams littered with limbs and bits of my legs along the way.
I’ve decided to do a question and answer format for the rest of the blog to go into the gory details.
Q: Drew, what’s Turkey like?
A: If you look at Turkey on a map and imagine that the Bosporus (where Europe technically meets Asia and divides Istanbul in two) is the beak of the turkey, I was staying in the giblets of Turkey in a place called Antalya. For the most part, I didn’t get to see Antalya because the resort was about half an hour outside the city in a fairly agrarian part of Turkey. Anatolian Turkey has mountains, beaches, farmland, and lots of religious intolerance, so it’s kind of like a hybrid of Oregon and Texas but not really. I took a few pictures on our bus rides (which I saved for the end of the trip, because sadly people started stealing things on the first day and made me hesitant to bring anything valuable outside the room) which you can see here. We spent most of our time either at the fields (10-15 minutes away) or cooped up in the hotel, so photo opportunities were few and far between.
The Mediterranean coastline of Turkey is a unique blend of old world agriculture and new world resorts. All-inclusive resorts litter the coastline, as do several golf courses and well maintained soccer fields if you like bumpy, sand-based pitches. Between pockets of apartment complexes, you see plenty of mini farms or undeveloped land lying fallow or just abandoned. A good portion of the smaller crops were encased in plastic canopies that looked like mini greenhouses. I’m not exactly sure why they did this, but I’m having my team of agricultural analysts look into it. The houses look fairly ubiquitous in the sense that they are multistory agglomerations that range between untidy and borderline deserted. It’s honestly difficult to tell which buildings are inhabited, although a satellite dish is usually the best indicator of whether someone lives there or not. A lot of the businesses seem to be dimly lit and sleepy as well, leading me to believe that outside of working at the resort or farming, there’s not a lot to do there.
Q: Drew, how did you know you were in Turkey? Any signs of Islamic culture on your journey?
A: I had an idea that I was heading to the Middle East when the two gentlemen insisted on perpetuating the stereotype of Middle Eastern people as being loud, rude, and wearing inordinate amounts of cologne. Stereotypes aside, the airport in Istanbul is a unique blend of East and West much like its Silk Road roots indicate. As a gateway between west and east of sorts, the airport never really sleeps as people are arriving in fairly steady clips from the Far East, inland Asia, Europe, and North America. Along with each of these destinations comes the mix of cultures, although Islamic-influenced culture would be the most prevalent one by far. The airport includes multiple prayer rooms, the crescent and star emblem of Islam is all around Turkey, usually in the form of the Turkish flag, and during games and training we could hear the prayers (or calls to prayer) over the loud speaker from a nearby mosque.
People wise, there seems to be a fairly clear schism between young and old in terms of how much influence Islam has on their day to day lives. The older generation tends to stick to traditional Islamic garb (especially the women) whereas the younger crowd definitely has a Western influence on their style, most commonly executed by wearing clothes that are way too tight and aimlessly wandering around while screaming on their cell phones. They are a few million cases of diabetes and morbid obesity away from completely embracing the American dream, though (not to say that Turks are fit people, per se. There are plenty of fat people here; they just seem to become obese out of laziness instead of the American tradition of being obese out of laziness and terrible dietary choices). Occasionally, there will be a good blend of old and new meeting, as I witnessed a sect of forty or so Muslim men (assuming they were Muslim), wearing some sort of two piece terry cloth getup that showed a fair amount of their fat guts, chant together in prayer before they went through security only to have one guy step aside afterwards to make a quick phone call on his iPhone 5.
Around the resort, there were varying levels of hospitality that ranged from extremely friendly and flirtatious (customer service people and yoga instructors) to fairly disrespectful (some of the wait staff and cleaning crew). Meals were available in a dining hall over two hour periods, and after arriving later from a game and overstaying the dinner time by ten minutes to finish up our food, we had a member of the wait staff shoo us off like we were a diseased cat that had wandered into his yard. Members of the hotel staff also had a habit of just entering our room to try and clean around us, waiting approximately .000045 seconds before entering the room. Not sure if that’s a Turkish thing or European thing, but either way it struck me as a disregard for personal space. That and the guy who swept under my feet at the urinal in the airport makes me think that personal space is at a premium here.
Q: What do the people look like here?
A: Turkish people are generally decent looking. If you’re looking for an older woman with good looks, move along because the cultural gap means that the whole notion of being “fit and ideologically independent” does not exist for Turkish people over 35 as far as I know. A weird trend for Turkish people is to bleach their hair blonde. With extremely dark hair as a whole, it looks a little bit strange to see black caterpillar eyebrows and dog piss blonde hair on the same face, although by far the best hair I’ve seen here belonged to a Chinese woman with a phenomenal bowl cut. It’s like she looked at the 90s, said “hey you, where do you think you’re going?”, and snapped it up like a model ship in a wine bottle to be preserved forever.
Having said all of that, I could absolutely take a Turkish flight attendant home to my parents. Cream of the crop seems to work for the airlines.
Q: Would you visit Turkey again? Any advice for those travelling to Turkey?
A: I would go to Istanbul because I didn’t really leave the airport, but as far as the Mediterranean goes, I thoroughly enjoyed Andalusia (southern Spain) much more for a variety of reasons. The biggest downside was the fact that there wasn’t much to do or see outside of the resort, meaning if you’re traveling there to do anything besides golf or veg out, bring lots of board games.
Q: What was the most absurd thing that happened to you or that you did during your trip?
A: Off the top of my head, it’s currently a tie between the following: taking a leak at 4am in the Istanbul airport and having a guy follow me in there to have him stand in the urinal next to me, stare at my dick and start wanking it, with me having too much stuff and too little energy to beat the crap out of him on the spot; trying to buy a visa to get into Turkey using liras (Turkish currency) but the visa office only takes dollars and euros; and having an elevator door open, turn to say something to someone, walking into the door, having it close on my head, and 30 seconds later getting a hardboiled egg sized lump on my forehead; a guy from a team in Kazakhstan flopping after I bump him and me screaming “how big of a f****** p***** do you have!?” instead of making a Borat joke (biggest trash talking misstep of the trip); having a Russian player keep stepping on my Achillies and after a few curse words being exchanged, me saying “don’t make me go Rocky IV on you and knock you the f*** out” (one of my best trash talking moments ever. In my hall of fame, really); playing primarily teams of Soviet descent, seeing how soft a lot of them were, and wondering why the hell the Cold War lasted so long; the most attractive woman I saw on the trip was from bleeping Winnipeg, Manitoba; a Turkish revolutionary party hacked my company’s website using my login info (sorry, work).
Q: What was your downtime like at the hotel?
A: After my roommate’s Xbox blew nearly every fuse in the room and basically required too much power to run, leisure time consisted of cards, sleeping, watching highlights of the champions league matches about 100 times, and eating in that order. The schedule was constantly changing, so we were rarely sitting still for really long periods of time.
Q: Thing you enjoyed the most about the trip
A: Playing soccer at a relatively high level again.
Q: Thing you enjoyed least about the trip
A: Tie between the rampant rudeness some cultures seem to display (such as waiting in line, among other things) and the fact that 90% of the people at the resort were male.
Q: Best innovation that you saw which the USA should adopt immediately
A: Counting down the time remaining on the green lights and bringing back hot flight attendants
Q: Thing done in Turkey that the USA should completely stay away from
A: Not being allowed to flush toilet paper down the toilet with your excrement (I did it anyway). The thought of piling that up in a garbage can next to the toilet is completely repulsive
Q: Thing that surprised you the most about Turkey
A: How many Germans and Russians were around. Almost everything at the resort was in Turkish, English, German, and Russian.
Q: Thing that surprised you the least about Turkey
A: How legit their mustaches were (including some of the women)
Q: One thing you missed most about America
A: Turkish government not blocking my Internet access to certain websites for no valid reason
Q: If you had to do the trip over again, would you do it?
A: Honestly, I’m not sure. Had I known more about the realities of the trip instead of what I had been told, I would have thought long and hard about the trip even with no other soccer options at my disposal. The trip provided me with some great opportunities, but at the same time I feel like it came nowhere near its potential as a tool for placing players.