Sunday 26 July 2020

It's happened before: After Başakşehir's Süper Lig Triumph Last Weekend How About the Last Time Someone Toppled Turkey's Big Three?

When the full-time whistle blew in Trabzon last Sunday night defeat for the home side had secured İstanbul Başakşehir their first ever Süper Lig title. Still out on the pitch playing in their own match, delayed due to a power cut, Başakşehir had become only the second side from outside Istanbul's big three to win the Süper Lig since 1984. In the 36 years between Trabzonspor's 1983-84 triumph and Başakşehir's 2019-20 win, only Bursaspor in 2009-10 have managed to stop all three of Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray from winning the league championship. Some ten years before newly crowned champions Başakşehir lifted their trophy this club based due south of Istanbul defied all the odds to also knock the big three off their perch. It was Sunday 16 May 2010, the day that the unthinkable became reality.

Now just a two hour journey from Istanbul by car if you head south west and across the Osman Gazi Bridge, which opened in 2016 is the sixth longest suspension bridge in the world, the city of Bursa is also accessible via a ferry ride across the Sea of Marmara. Nicknamed the Green crocodiles, Bursa's football club Bursaspor currently play at the Bursa Büyükşehir Belediye Stadyumu otherwise known as the Timsah Arena which literally means Crocodile Arena. The scene of their climactic final day title win in 2010, however, took place at their former Bursa Atatürk Stadyumu home with a full house of over 25,000 present.

Although for Bursaspor a sixth placed finish in 2008-09 was a clear improvement on the previous season's 13th place it gave no indication of any sort of a title challenge as the following 2009-10 season got underway. Another sixth place finish for a side who only four years earlier had been in the second tier would have by them been gladly accepted, after all, this was not a big name club. Formed in 1963, although they'd spent more seasons in the Süper Lig than out of it one lone fourth placed finish in 1979-80 was the highest Bursaspor had ever managed with their only major success being a singleTürkiye Kupası (Turkish Cup) triumph in 1986.

A poor start to the season was very soon overcome and although Bursapsor lost four times in the first-half of the season they lost only once in the second and went into the final day just one point behind league leaders Fenerbahçe with one of the two set to be crowned champions. For Bursaspor, they needed Fenerbahçe to drop points. A better goal difference meant even just a draw could guarantee them the championship if Fenerbahçe lost but a draw for the Istanbul giants meant Bursaspor would need a win. If the unthinkable happened, however, and Fener took all three points from their match then it was they who would be champions no matter what Bursaspor did.

Fenerbahçe, at home to Trabzonspor, took the lead after 14 minutes and helpless Bursaspor, still level at 0-0 in their match, could see the title slipping away from them. It was early days, however, so all was not completely lost yet. Bursaspor had come from 2-0 down to win 3-2 away at Fenerbahçe in February but now almost three months on they needed Trabzonspor to come from behind away at that same side, albeit from only one down. Luckily for Bursaspor that is exactly what happened. Trabzonspor drew level on 23 minutes. Game on and it would soon get even better for Bursaspor this time thanks to a goal of their own making. 

On 32 minutes goalkeeper Rüştü Reçber ran out to the edge of the box but was too late to grab the ball and it was hit across to Pablo Batalla who with an open goal did not miss. Argentinian Batalla had been signed the previous summer by head coach Ertuğrul Sağlam who was enjoying his first full season in charge. Ivan Ergić and Hüseyin Çimşir, both also signed the previous summer, played alongside Batalla in the centre of midfield as part of a 4-5-1 formation favoured by their manager. All three had played a key role in this season's unexpected rise and now one of them was scoring what could to turn out be the clubs most important goal in the club's history. 

Just before half-time İbrahim Toraman of Beşiktaş put the ball through his own net to help Bursaspor to a two goal lead. As it stood Bursaspor were champions but there was still 45 minutes to go. A cagey second-half saw few chances but centre forward Turgay Bahadir almost put the hosts 3-0 up with a free-kick that sailed just over. That could have been Bahadir's eighth league goal of the season and would have surprisingly put him joint top of the club's goalscoring charts alongside left winger Ozan İpek. A third never came though. Bursa held on to a 2-0 lead until four minutes from time when Beşiktaş pulled one back. Could Bursa hold on for the win? It was a tense finish but hold on they did. Now over to Istanbul...

As Fenerbahçe's match drew to a close with the match still tied at 1-1 news filtered through of what had happened in Bursa. Problem was, though, the story told to those in Istanbul was different from reality. With just minutes left to play it was incorrectly announced that Beşiktaş had equalised cue wild scenes in the stands and fans running onto the pitch as soon as the full-time whilst blew. Fenerbahçe had managed only a point but everyone in their Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadyumu had been lead to believe it was enough. Fans going berserk, however, soon turned to tears and despair and some cases violence as the Fenerbahçe faithful realised what had actually happened. It was Bursaspor who had won the title.

Defender and team captain Ömer Erdoğan lifted the Süper Lig trophy for Bursaspor and the celebrations lasted long into the night. Bursaspor had become the first club outside of Istanbul's big three to win the title since 1984 and prior to last weekend when, of course, İstanbul Başakşehir lifted the trophy they were the only team to do so. But with Başakşehir, like the country's traditional big three, hailing from Turkey's biggest metropolis Bursaspor still remain the only club from outside Istanbul to have won the title in the last 36 years.

Bursaspor's triumph, however, was, unfortunately, a flash in the pan. The club now play in the second tier after relegation just over a year ago. The season after their league triumph they finished third, some 21 behind champions Fenerbahçe who pipped Trabzonspor to the title on goal difference, whilst a season later they ended up in eighth. Playing in the Champions League the season after their league triumph they finished rock bottom of their group with just one solitary point to their name after suffering defeats of 4-0 and 6-1 against Valencia, and 3-0 to Manchester United.  

Yes, like Busraspor in 2009-10, İstanbul Başakşehir may have this season broken the dominance of the Istanbul big three but will we see a team from outside Turkey's largest city win the title again any time soon? Possibly not.

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