When we travel people always ask if we speak other languages. Although the answer is “no, just English,” really, that’s not completely true.

Today on the streets of Istanbul, my international language of ‘football’ helped me out, yet again. Ok it’s not a language per se, but it’s still an effective form of communication and any true football fan will tell you how the language of football unlocks social barriers wherever you go.

Breaking The Ice

It Is the second day of Eid here in Turkey, three days which mark the end of the Muslim observance of Ramadan, and it’s a public holiday. Sharon and I had made an early start only to find the Grand Bazaar closed for the holiday, so we were wandering the quiet little back streets, taking photos. The place seemed totally deserted.

Rounding a corner we were suddenly in a wide open space, paved with flattened looking cobblestones and empty except for a young boy, perhaps 9 or 10 years old, kicking a football about on his own.

He instantly became shy when I tried to take a picture and just stood to the side, unsure. Who was this weirdo with the camera?

International Street Football

Deciding I had to break the ice I took out my phone to try find pictures of Tottenham Hotspur to show him my team. I had hardly entered my pass-code when the ball rolled free and before I knew it we were gently knocking side-foot passes back and forth to each other.

Street football with Omer in Istanbul, Turkey.

Communicating on the streets of Istanbul using the international language of football.
My Monday morning game with Omer on the second day of Eid.


Not quite the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, home of Omer’s team, Besiktas, but we were happy with our little street stadium in Istanbul for our football game.


Street football with Omer in Istanbul, Turkey,

Street football in Istanbul, Turkey. We had the street to ourselves.

The young lad’s father came out from a nearby shop and him and Sharon struck up a conversation, watching us from the shady sidelines. Turns out I was playing football with Omer who was leaning toward following Besiktas – one of Turkey’s top football teams and 2017 league champions – rather than his dad’s preference of Galatasaray.

Omer knew no English, I knew no Turkish, but it didn’t matter. We understood each other perfectly with the ball and our game of street football shifted effortlessly from short to long passes, volleyed returns, headers and even a few rabonas! It was my first kick-a-bout for over a year since my left knee meniscus drama, but I will never forget this.

For about 15 minutes we covered the ground around that cobblestoned little square in Istanbul, testing each other out, showing off our control with some juggling every now and again, each of us enjoying the simple pleasure of football.

Omer was representing Turkey and Besiktas. Me, I felt like I was representing St Helena and Tottenham! Our own little international game. The language we share with millions of others, no words necessary.

Afterwards I did manage to find the Spurs page on my phone and showed my new friend the team I follow. We discussed our teams for a bit via Omer’s dad, who did speak English, before Sharon and I had to move on.

That’s football for you. If you speak the language it opens doors and links fans together for the most wonderful experiences.

Street football with Omer in Istanbul, Turkey.