Adventures of a simultaneous football interpreter

I wasn’t a qualified simultaneous interpreter when I was offered this job. I just rose to the opportunity which was exciting and enticing. The offer was to work as a simultaneous interpreter during the Emirates Cup to which my favourite team Galatasaray was invited, at the Emirates Stadium in London in 2013.

Bu there was one problem, I had never done simultaneous interpreting before which was a bit daunting when you think about it. The agency who offered the job also offered me a quick training session. From there it was up to me to practice it enough and become a simultaneous interpreter!

Simultaneous interpreting is a very delicate task that requires high focus, good knowledge of the subject matter, a meticulous ear, and continously precise output. I started reading the football news every day to bring myself up to speed with all the teams and managers involved. Reading news items about player transfers was helpful as I remember that during one interview with Arsen Wenger he was asked about the transfer of a particular player whom I just read about that morning so I already knew the name of the player and the progress which made my job a lot easier.

Another Turkish simultaneous interpreter colleague and I were responsible for interpreting all the pre-match and post-match press conferences during the 3-day event. There were three teams and around seven games. We were regarded as part of the media and given the same access privileges. This meant free access to the media lounge, filled with famous football personalities, journalists, and a delicious buffet food service three times a day.

My first ever simultaneous interpreting event was interpreting for Galatasaray’s legendry coach Fatih Terim’s pre-match conference before the first game. He is renowned for his long and unpredictable sentences which was a challenge but I soon got used to it and found it enjoyable to interpret for him. This was a great and enjoyable experience for me, it didn’t feel like a job. I got to watch my favourite team from the media stands play three times and in the end, win the cup! Everything went perfectly!

Later that year I was asked to interpret during a Champions League qualifier game between Fenerbahce Football Club and Arsenal this time. This was a bit more daunting for me as it had been a while since my last experience and the Champions League was much more serious than what I had done before. I nervously accepted the offer to add to my experience.

This experience was certainly much more different and I got to do something for the first time. Arsenal’s pre-match press conference was being held in their training ground in St Albans and I traveled there to interpret Arsen Wenger’s press conference. I then traveled to the stadium for the Turkish coach Ersun Yanal’s pre-match press conference that evening. I remember just interpreting for him while he just spoke non-stop for about half an hour and no English journalists asked any questions.

Before the game I met ITV’s famous football commentator Clive Tyldesley who asked me how to pronounce the names of the Turkish footballers. I was also asked to visit the lounge dedicated to Arsenal’s announcer to announce the Turkish starting line-up who were going to battle against the Arsenal team that night. There were around 60 thousand people in the stadium and I got to make a small health and safety announcement before announcing the names of the players and after each name the fans would go “Oley”!

That was the fun part. The game started. Fenerbahce was losing and at some point, I stopped watching the game as I didn’t think the result would change but I later regretted that decision. It was already late, I was quite exhausted and due to go back home to Portsmouth that night after being in London for two days. Arsenal won the game 2-0 and the press conference which was being broadcasted live all over the world was uneventful, most questions coming from the Turkish journalists. But when I thought that it was all over and time to go home, an English journalist decided to ask a question at which point the coach had already left the desk he was sitting at. The journalist very bluntly asked if Fenerbahce players had engaged with Jack Wilshere on the pitch that night in order to deliberately injure him. Well, I just froze and didn’t know how to interpret that question as it was so bluntly put and I had never experienced anything like that before. After I realised that the coach was expecting the question to be translated, I managed to mumble something to him and he just smiled in a way to dismiss the question, not finding it worthy to answer but he said something to deny the journalist’s theory. When it was my turn to interpret the coach’s response back to the journalist I had forgotten to switch my channel back to English which ensued panic among the journalists, who got up from their chairs, frantically waving their hands to signal that they had no sound! I then realised what happened and tried to re-interpret the coach’s words but I am not sure whether they took any notice of it by that point. I guess that they could read from the coach’s dismissive smile what his answer was! So the closing moments of that press conference became rather eventful suddenly and a bit embarrassing for me but it’s one of those things that happen so quickly. The fact that I just froze and didn’t know what to do resulted from my lack of experience with similar situations. Also, I let my guard down because I was tired and stopped watching the game as I didn’t think that the result was going to change – in hindsight, this was a wrong decision. If I carried on watching the game, I would have had a much better idea of what was going on when that question was asked.

This was a thrilling job that I would have liked to pursue but without proper training, job continuity, and proper remuneration I had to make a decision that I wouldn’t pursue it and turned down any consequent job offers.  I instead pursued my career as a translator. As far as I know, there is still a lack of simultaneous interpreters in this field.

About the author:

My name is Ali Yildirim. I originally studied Classical Archaeology at the University of Istanbul, before coming to the UK in 2001 and working as an archaeologist for 2 years.
I have worked in the language services industry in various roles including as a teacher of Turkish, interpreter and bilingual teaching assistant before setting out as a freelance Turkish translator in 2005. I obtained a diploma in translation in 2012 and became a member of the Institute of Chartered Linguists in the same year and obtained a Chartered Translator status in 2019. I am also a qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting and ISO 17100:2015 Qualified Translator.

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