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A DERBY LIKE NO OTHER: THE FIERCE RIVALRY BETWEEN GALATASARAY AND FENERBAHÇE


Passion, pride, and hatred – we should expect them all this weekend, as Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe meet at the Türk Telecom Arena for the first Intercontinental Derby of the season.

Like the El Clásico in Spain or the Superclásico in Argentina, this is the biggest game in Turkish football. Regardless of which club fans in Turkey support, interest in this derby runs high throughout the country, and temperatures even higher.

These matches are renowned for their explosive atmosphere. They are stages for the supporters as much as the football. Both sets of supporters show the utmost passion for their respective clubs, and equal hatred towards their rivals. This is the realm of chants, pyros, and hand-crafted banners.

As always, derby days between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe are filled with tension and excitement throughout the streets of Istanbul. Often, they bring out the best in Turkish football culture. The two sides have played each other more than 260 times in competitive matches, with Fenerbahçe claiming the majority of victories.

Galatasaray go into the weekend’s encounter top of the Süper Lig table having won seven of their first eight matches, while their rivals lie eight points behind them in fifth. But as always, positions in the table are irrelevant when these sides meet.

Photo Credit: l3o_ / Flickr

As with any major derby, all that matters on the day is getting one over on your fiercest rival. To understand the significance of this particular derby, however, we have to look back at the history between these clubs.

Geographical and Social Class Differences

The root of the rivalry is geographic. The two teams are from opposite sides of the Bosphorus river in Istanbul; the red and gold of Galatasaray are situated in Europe, and the yellow and blue of Fenerbahçe in Asia.

The former were founded in 1905 by Ali Sami Yen and other students of Galatasaray High School, a 400-year-old institution built for the elites of the Ottoman Empire. In the early years its footballers consisted entirely of students from the school, and the club came to represent the high-class society in Istanbul.

Fenerbahçe were founded in 1907 by locals in the district of Kadiköy. In contrast to their rivals, Fener became known as the club of the people, and were considered representatives of the blue-collar workers. Thanks largely to this outlook, Fenerbahçe attracted support from all over the country. Galatasaray meanwhile found much of their fan base among the aristocrats of Turkey.

The rivalry was initially rooted in these class differences, but that has faded over the years. Both clubs now count supporters among all the social classes in Turkey.

Photo Credit: l3o_ / Flickr

Gala (20 league titles) and Fener (19 league titles) both boast the highest number of domestic trophies since football turned professional in Turkey, nearly 60 years ago. However, when it comes to silverware and history, Galatasaray have won a significantly higher number of domestic cups.

Notably, they remain the only Turkish club to have won a European trophy. In 2000 they beat Arsenal on penalties to claim the UEFA Cup, before triumphing over Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup later that year.

Galatasaray had been the dominant force of Turkish football for most of the 1990s, claiming six league titles and eight domestic cups between 1993 and 2000. But since the turn of the millennium, Fenerbahçe have closed the gap in league titles and in the derbies, thus making sure they remained as one of the ‘big two’ in the country.

The growing competition for domestic honours each season has intensified the rivalry between the two clubs. As a result, derbies have become fiercer -- and at times violent.

Violence and Disruption

In the 1996 domestic cup final, Galatasaray manager Graeme Souness created one of the most iconic moments in Turkish football history. Souness’s side had endured a difficult campaign having finished fourth in the Süper Lig, and a full 16 points behind champions Fenerbahçe.

But despite their poor form in the league, they managed to beat their bitter rivals 2-1 over two legs. With the atmosphere on the verge of blowing over at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium after the final whistle, Souness made matters worse when he was handed a Galatasaray flag by a fan.

A former club captain at Liverpool, Souness had always combined his reputation for flair with a no-nonsense attitude. Seizing the opportunity to leave his mark on Turkish football, he sprinted into the middle of the pitch, before planting the flag firmly into the centre circle.

The home crowd were predictably outraged. As several supporters attempted to invade the pitch, Souness immediately sought cover, and was forced to run to safety.

Photo Credit: l3o_ / Flickr

Violence is not unknown to this derby. There have been occasions in the past when passion and hatred in the stands have spilled over, and created ugly scenes. In the 2006-2007 season, both derby matches were marred by violence when Fenerbahçe triumphed twice over Galatasaray.

Having already secured the title before the final match of the season, Fener took a 2-0 half-time lead at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, sparking outrage in the home stands.

Seats and broken bottles were thrown onto the pitch, and both sets of players had to be escorted off and on with a heavy police presence. The match was temporarily abandoned midway through the second half, until the situation had calmed itself down.

Photo Credit: l3o_ / Flickr

Play eventually resumed, with Fener winning 2-1. But the supporters had long since lost interest in the football, and had instead opted to create chaos. By the time the final whistle was blown, the stadium was in ruins. The match was later deemed ‘Black Saturday’ by the Turkish press, a label more frequently associated with massacres than football matches.

Passion, Pride, and Hatred

These incidents show how easily matches can be ruined by feelings of rage and hatred. Hooliganism certainly has no place in football. And although violence has occasionally taken centre stage in this rivalry, the Intercontinental Derby should certainly not be remembered for these incidents, sporadic footnotes in a lengthy history.

It is tempting to characterise Turkish football through these kinds of matches – feisty, tempestuous occasions in rocking stadia, football with fire and brimstone. But the clashes between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe have produced spectacular matches too, with greater regularity, and some of the most memorable derby moments in world football.

Instead of remembering the worst, we should focus on the positives, and embrace this derby for what it really stands for – passion, pride and even hatred. Because let’s face it: it wouldn’t be one of the best derbies in the world without them.

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