Any European soccer fan covets a place among the giants of the game in the Champions League, but some are prepared to go that extra mile to help their team achieve it.
The supporters of Turkish side Fenerbahce are willing to go to rather extreme measures to help their club gain an advantage.
A large group of Fenerbahce fans congregated in the street outside the Arsenal team hotel on Tuesday night, letting off flares, fireworks and chanting loudly in an attempt to disrupt the visitors' sleeping patterns before Wednesday's contest in Istanbul. The ruckus had little effect on the Premier League team.
Arsenal got goals from Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud to win 3-0 at Sukru Saracoglu Stadium in the first leg of a home-and-home playoff. The Gunners now just need to safely negotiate the return leg in London next Tuesday to clinch a spot among this season's Champions League elite. Barring an extraordinary comeback, Fenerbahce will have to settle for a place in the second-tier Europa League competition.
Tales of Fenerbahce's passionate fans have circled around Europe for years and the Arsenal players seemed more amused than distracted by the commotion outside their windows. The English side had visited the venue previously, winning a Champions League group game 5-2 in 2008.
"Getting ready for tonight," tweeted midfielder Jack Wilshire, along with a photo of the fiery scenes on the street beneath him. "Had some visitors outside our hotel last night. Atmosphere tonight will be amazing."
The extent to which Fenerbahce fans are emotionally invested in their team seems to know no bounds. On every game day, supporters – unlike most European soccer fans – turn up at the stadium well before kickoff. It is common for the stands to be packed a full four or five hours before kickoff – a kind of in-stadium tailgate party – with drums, whistles and horns being played and colorful banners waved.
Such an atmosphere is intimidating for many visiting teams, but Arsenal simply had too much class on Wednesday. Despite a miserable start to the Premier League season with a home defeat to Aston Villa last weekend, under-fire manager Arsene Wenger's team rose to the occasion impressively.
Wenger has been criticized for not investing in any world-class signings over the summer, despite reports that he has been allocated close to $100 million to spend.His personnel issues were not helped by injuries on the night. Defender Laurent Koscielny was taken off after suffering a horrific cut next to his eye, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny's face and neck were bruised in another collision and goal scorer Gibbs accidentally opened stitches on his eyebrow sustained last weekend.
With the transfer window less than two weeks away from closing, Wenger has little time to open his checkbook and silence his critics. But at least his trip to one of European soccer's scariest venues has been handled without concern.