Pitchside Europe

Gala-Juve games and their strange history of postponements

How long does it take Hell to freeze over? Eight minutes apparently. That’s the time it took a snowstorm in Istanbul to make Tuesday night’s decisive Champions League group stage match between Galatasaray and Juventus at the Türk Telecom arena unplayable. Between the 22nd and 31st minute, an orange ball had to be introduced as the pitch went from green to white. Soon afterwards its lines were no longer visible.

So referee Pedro Proenca brought a stop to play. He consulted captains Selcuk Inan and Gigi Buffon before temporarily suspending proceedings. Groundstaff began to drive the snow, yet there was nothing doing. It kept falling. “This was the game,” Felipe Melo tweeted, “Galatasaray with the ball, penguin passing to penguin.”

To those not present it didn’t look so bad. Other games had been completed in worse conditions. For instance, Juventus supporters recalled watching their side play a Champions League tie against Steaua Bucharest in thick snow in 1995. Then there was a Europa League group stage game at Lech Poznan in 2010 when a blizzard whited over the playing surface.

Oh, and ask Buffon about the time he made his debut for Italy under the snow in Moscow. Incidentally, he was wearing short sleeves last night. This was more than just powder, however. The hail bouncing up and down off the grass had settled and started to freeze, making things slippery. Rather than a football stadium the TT was beginning to resemble ice rink. “A sheet this thick had formed,” Galatasaray coach Roberto Mancini indicated, measuring a distance of a couple of CMs with his thumb and index finger. “We couldn’t have continued.”

Chaos ensued as delegations from both clubs and UEFA sought to establish when the match could be resumed. There was a lot of back and forth. No sooner had they announced it would re-start this afternoon at 12pm UK time than the local police asked that it instead be scheduled for 1pm. What about the weather forecast, though? Conditions were expected to deteriorate further.

Juventus meanwhile had to find a new hotel. The Edition where they had been staying was fully booked. So they checked into the Renaissance. Stuck in traffic for ages, the team only got there after midnight. When the players woke up this morning, they opened their curtains to see snow on the tops of Istanbul’s buildings. Over at the TT blocks of it were falling from the roof. It was a health and safety issue.

Another meeting was called to make a definitive decision on whether the game could be played or not. With the draw for the knock out stages due to take place on Monday it was in their interests that it would. This isn’t the first time we’ve been waiting on a Juventus game. Their group stage match against Bayer Leverkusen in 2001 had been postponed twice because of fog before eventually going ahead. Their history with Galatasaray didn’t bode well either.

Drawn in the same group in 1998, the match in Istanbul was moved from October 25 to December 2 amid anti-Italian sentiment provoked by Italy’s refusal to extradite the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan to Turkey. Juventus flew in on the day of the game and left immediately after a 1-1 draw. Tensions were high. There were 5,000 soldiers at the old Ali Sami Yen and snipers were positioned on rooftops to protect Juventus’ bus as they came and went. In 2003, the game was also postponed amid security concerns following the Istanbul bombings. They instead played in Dortmund where Galatasaray won 2-0.

Something always seems to come up when these teams play. To put last night’s events into some kind of perspective a cup game hadn’t been suspended in Istanbul because of snow for 26 years. “It’s becoming a destiny,” wrote Luigi Garlando in this morning’s La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Perhaps it will become a proverb,” ‘As uncertain as a Galatasaray - Juventus match in Istanbul’.” It makes you wonder whether there might be a few more surprises yet.

James Horncastle - @JamesHorncastle