Steve Lomas relishing a return to hotspot for St Johnstone’s foray into Europe
TURKISH football fans relish their reputation for creating a hostile environment for teams on European forays.
And while the authorities have taken steps designed to snuff out the smoke bombs and lurid flares which have provided the backdrop for so many matches, St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas suspects his Perth players should still brace themselves for a warm reception when they face Eskisehirspor in the first leg of their Europa League qualifier on Thursday.
Lomas has been around the block as a player with Manchester City, West Ham and Northern Ireland, but his solitary experience of Turkish football and the fanaticism of the fans has left an indelible mark.
He recalled: “I’ve only played once in Turkey and that was a friendly for Man City. We played Fenerbahce, in the old stadium they shared with Galatasaray. It was just meant to be a nice little mid-season thing, but their fans weren’t taking it that way. It was pretty hostile.
“I remember Andy Dibble was our No.2 goalkeeper and Tony Coton was on the bench. Fans were throwing flares from the stand at Andy. He’d pulled a thigh muscle and wanted off. But I could see Tony going to the boss, Brian Horton, saying: ‘No, no, no chance!’
“He said Dibbs was probably bluffing. Dibbs was a big boy and the next day he had a bruise past his knees. It was black and blue. By continuing to kick the ball he must have done himself a right bit of damage, but TC wasn’t getting off that bench for love nor money. But it was a good atmosphere. The boys had been to the casino the night before so they were thinking it was a little kick-about, but their fans saw it different.
“It was September or October and it was hot even then. It’s something the lads are going to have to deal with, but we are looking forward to it. It’s a great experience for a lot of these boys who haven’t played in Europe and never had to factor in the heat. That can be seen as a negative, but it is positive for me because you get the chance to learn about your boys in a different environment.”
Lomas scoffed at the notion the Turks may fall victim to the Uefa rule book if they fail to pay money owed to ex-Ranger Kris Boyd.
“Would that mean we go through then?” he laughed. “It’s our first time in Europe in 13 years and it’s a tough draw, no two ways about it, but we are going to go and enjoy it, and the bigger picture is that it’s part of our preparations for the SPL. We will be seen as massive underdogs, but we are going over to give it a right good go.
“You only have to look through their squad to see the quality of players they have got. [Ex-Celt] Diomansy Kamara played at West Brom so we know quite a lot about him and they have various guys who are international players.
“They have got good pedigree, that is for certain, but even in the SPL we are all about punching above our weight and trying to prove people wrong, so we are happy to go with that philosophy.”
While it’s a managerial first for Lomas, striker Gregory Tade is also looking forward to a European debut, having signed from Inverness Caley Thistle.
“I had chances to go abroad with a Romanian club and also Metalurh Donetsk in Ukraine. But there was a lot of things going on with agents and things and it didn’t really float my boat,” said the Frenchman.
“The money on offer was bigger than in Scotland, but sometimes you need to see the bigger picture. I was making good progress here and wanted to stay because St Johnstone showed big interest and concluded the deal quickly. I love Scotland and it’s better when you know somewhere and being able to speak the English also helps.
“I wasn’t a big-time player who thought I’d be in the SPL just a few months. I knew it would be a long process, so I took it step by step and that helped me appreciate it more when I went full-time. It’s the first time for me playing in Europe and it was a big factor in my decision to join Saints so I’ll see if I can handle it. I’ve always had confidence in my own ability, ever since I came to Scotland to join Forfar right up until life in the SPL last season.
“The Europa League is just another step, another big moment, in my career and my life and I’ll try to rise to the occasion and make sure I’m going the right way.”
Origins: Founded in 1965, Eskisehirspor are based in the north-western Turkish city of Eskisehir which has a population of 650,000. Their Eskisehir Atatürk Stadium holds 13,520.
Pedigree: This is their sixth European campaign but first since 1975-76. They were promoted to the Turkish Super Lig in 2008 after 12 years and finished fifth last season.
Star men: Striker Diomansy Kamara, who was on loan at Celtic in 2010, was top scorer last season. They also have a Portuguese midfielder called Pele who was once at Inter Milan.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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