Istanbul was Bosphorus reds in 2005 but how will I fare in 2020?

With that awful but irresistible pun out of the way, we begin our journey into Turkish football which starts and all but ends in Istanbul.

The “big 3” of Istanbul

No offence to any of the other sides, but finding out much or anything about the majority of you is an exercise in futility with few exceptions.

When you have three teams in one city that have won no less than 56 of the 62 titles available since 1957, they have earned the right to be called “the big 3”.  

The outliers? Trabzonspor, a team from Trabzon who have won 6 Super Lig titles and Bursaspor who won their solitary title in 2010.

The only teams to have won the league outside of Istanbul

As if to laden the point further as to how dominant the “big 3 plus Trabzonspor” have been, only four other teams in the whole of Turkey have ever finished as runners up. That’s 4 teams out of a possible 68 making it to second.


Located on the European side of the Bosphorus are the “working man’s club”, Besiktas.

Besiktas or Besiktas J.K (Jimnastik Kulubu) started as you may have guessed as a sports club and as it shows on their badge, they were founded in 1903 as a multi sport organisation but only became a football club in 1909.

Besiktas celebrate their 14th title – the season after they would make it 15

The Black Eagles have won 15 league titles, 9 Turkish cups and once made it to the quarter finals of the European Cup in 1987 and twice made it to the same stage in the UEFA Cup/Europa League in 2003 and 2017 respectively. 

Besiktas circa 1957 – the first recognised champions of the nation of Turkey and winners of 3 of the first four in 1957, 1958 and 1960

Super Lig (previously Mili Lig) is the first professional nationwide league established in Turkey and was officially recognised in 1959. Despite this, Besikas requested that their 2 league titles in the previous seasons of 1956-57 and 1957-1958 be counted towards their nationwide trophy haul. As Besiktas represented Turkey in those seasons in Europe and only a “national champion” was afforded that honour, this request was granted.


Also located on the European side of Istanbul, are the current champions of Super Lig, Galatasaray. The biggest club in Turkey, it is estimated that 1 in every 3 Turkish fans is a Galatasaray fan.

Galatasaray (seen as the “academics club” historically at least) are so named after “Galatasaray High School”.

The team formed in 1905 and was made up entirely of students. You may have heard of their old stadium, the Ali Sami Yen – or “Hell” as it was also affectionately known due to its intimidating atmosphere – which was named after the first president of the club.

Ali Sami Yen stadium – without doubt one of the most intimidating sights and atmospheres in European football

Galatasaray are not only the biggest club in Turkey, they are also the most successful with 22 league titles to date.

20 years ago Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup after beating Arsenal on penalties 4-1

They also have a record 18 Turkish Cups and are the only team in Turkey to win a trophy in European competition, the UEFA Cup in 2000.


Which brings us to the final side in the Istanbul “Big 3”, the only side of these located on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, Fenerbahce.

Fenerbahce is a name taken from a neighbourhood of Istanbul meaning “lighthouse garden” which I’m sure you’ll agree is quite nice and a million miles away from the animosity that roots itself in their rivalry with their greatest foes, Galatasaray.

The picture-esque area of the eastern entrance to the Bosphorus that features the lighthouse that lends its name to Fenerbahce

Fenerbahce were founded in 1907 in secret to avoid persecution from the Ottoman authorities and their strict rules. It was not until 1908 when they registered afte a law was passed forcing all clubs to do so.

Fenerbahce are known as “the rich club” despite their formation being shrouded in financial problems. They are not shy of spending money, but I don’t see a huge difference between them and Galatasaray in terms of income or expenditure over sustained periods to be honest.

Fenerbahce won the inaugural league back in 1959

Fenerbache have won 19 league titles, 6 Turkish cups and made it to the quarter final of the European Cup in 2007/2008 where they were knocked out by Chelsea ins the semi final of the Europa League, where they were beaten by Benfica.

So there you have it. The three biggest clubs in Turkey are all in Istanbul. Galatasaray hate Fenerbahce, Fenerbahce likewise hate Galatasaray and Besiktas hate Fenerbahce.

Stadium, Kits, Fans, City.

It’s at this time that I have to use my tried and trusted formula:

So, let’s get to it.


The stadiums in Turkey are a thing of beauty. In my time of searching for teams outside of the top four league in Europe (England, Spain, Germany, Italy), I think they are my favourite.

A bit different given the dominance of Istanbul, I will include all three of their teams and then I will suggest others if they really stand out. As always, thank you to TFC on YouTube. 

All beautiful stadiums in their own way but the Istanbul contest? I’m giving it to Besiktas.

While I’m not a fan of the sponsorship on the outside, the shape of the stadium just lends itself to what I believe would be an amazing place to watch a game of football. Of course, this is purely based on aesthetics and there is the surrounding area.

Does it win overall though or do one of our two challengers take the first round against the odds? 

No. The sponsorship is enough for it to just miss out to a more boldly designed stadium, namely the Medical Park stadium of Trabzonspor.

Despite being officially called Medical Park Stadium, the stadium is also known as the Senol Gunes complex. While being sponsored in name, they have resisted the urge to plaster it all over the building like in Besiktas and that coupled with its austentacious design, location and overall “feel” of the stadium makes it my winner.


In the battle of Istanbul, I have to give it to Fenerbahce’s brave new home top.

Why brave? Fenerbahce are synonymous with their classic yellow and blue stripe design and this was a modern take which some loved an some hated.

Galatasaray’s strong home effort is enough to grab them second while once again it’s bad news for Loris.

Nothing personal, I like a lot of the old Besiktas kits but this lineup doesn’t do it for me so it takes the bronze

Can anyone beat Istanbul, particularly Fenerbahce for kits?

That’s a resounding yes from me.

The away kit for Sivasspor definitely deserves its props but our winner is a team that has done something I’ve never experienced in that they’ve made four kits in the same season which I absolutely love!

Antalyaspor with the most dominant victory in the kit stakes I’ve ever seen. If that’s all that matters to you, this surely has to be your team?


They’re all mental. I’m not touching this one other than to post these videos and let you decide:

Our entrant from outside Istanbul? That has to be these guys:


An incredible view of Turkey from the Bosphorus

This one isn’t too hard is it? There’s nothing that Istanbul does not have. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to and I am gutted I only got to spend a day there but travelling over to it on the Bosphorus is something I will never forget. I mean would you forget that view? 

Trabzon is a lesser known beauty in the North East of Turkey

Outside of Istanbul? There is Trabzon which is insanely beautiful in a more natural way. It looks more like something you’d find in the Swiss Alps, but I assure you it is very much found in the North East of Turkey. 

There is no winner or loser in this battle. These two places are far too awe inspiring to pit against each other. I’m just going to admire them both.

Erdogan and the new team in Istanbul

I didn’t want to, but you simply can not talk about Turkish football without mentioning him and Istanbul Baseksehir.

Because I personally don’t want to, I will simply enclose this excellent YouTube video for you to watch, if you wish.

The Decision

I will definitely be taking more of an interest in Turkish football from now on. While the passion can overspill, it is passion which I miss most about our game.

Football without fans may not be “nothing” but it’s pretty close.

In terms of overall, I get a feeling for two clubs, namely Besiktas and Trabzonspor.

Trabzonspor is beautiful, it has a resurgent football team that are finally being ran properly and is supplementing “big name” signings like Daniel Sturridge and Jose Sosa with home grown talent like Ugurcan Cakir and Abdulkadir Omur, both of whom have been linked with a host of European admirers and rightly so from what I’ve seen.

I would love to support them – especially as relative underdogs, but in the end I am choosing not to and the reason is politics. I’m not saying I’m heavily into Turkish politics but I know a little about world politics and any region that votes overwhelmingly in favour of Erdogan’s party? That’s just too much for me to overcome.

Let me make sure I’m being understood here. I don’t blame the people of Trabzon, I couldn’t possibly begin to know or scratch the surface on who they are or why they vote as they do, I am just saying that I feel that another club is more inline with my own political beliefs.

So for the reason that Besiktas fans are known for their conscience, their dissension, their atmosphere, their wit and humour. For their history, the club and the many examples of what I liked about them as stated above, I will henceforth be a fan of Besiktas.

I don’t even have to say “if they will accept me”, they are one of the most welcoming clubs, if not the most welcoming in Turkey for people like me.

It is important to note that Istanbul is in the majority against Erdogan and this obviously includes fans from all of the clubs in the city, just none more so than Besiktas.

I can’t wait to get back to Istanbul in the future, once again my trip will be primarily based around football but this time, it will be to hopefully see a game in the home of the Black Eagles.

Yakında görüşürüz İstanbul ve özellikle BeşiktaşTeşekkür ederim ve güvende ol.

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