Turkey’s Big Three Football Club

“They European, we Asia people,” said our driver as our taxi crossed over the Bosporus from the Asian side towards the European side of Istanbul.

We were talking about football, and the Turks are a powerful footballing nation.

They stunned the world in 2002 when the unfancied Turkish national team finished third in the FIFA World Cup in Japan & Korea. Turning national players such as Rustu Recber, Hakan Sukur and Hasan Sas into household names and maming young stars out of Emre Belözoğlu and Yıldıray Baştürk.

and did so again in 2008 in the UEFA European Championships jointly held in Austria and Switzerland, where Mehmet Topal and Arda Turan announced their arrival on the big stage.


Three clubs played an outsized role in all these national teams – Galatasaray, Beskitas and Fernabache.

A passion that is taken outside of Istanbul, as far as Berlin.

All located in Istanbul these three clubs represent the big three in Turkish football and have shared the championship title in the national league 61 out of 68 editions of the competition.

These three clubs have a dominance over their league the way Barcelona-Real Madrid dominate Spanish football, or how Celtic-Rangers dominate Scottish football, with everyone in the country (even those outside Istanbul) having a favourite. The passion between these clubs is so strong that it can unfortunately can boil over into violence and sometime death.

How do you describe these three clubs? Galatasary (formed in 1905) is the club of Europe located in the fancy part of town, Fernabache (Established in 1907) the club of Asia and Besiktas (started in 1903) he workers club located on the European side of the city. By far the msot successful club is Galatasary as it has not just won the most national championships (22) but is the only club to win a European tournament. Fernabache trails Galatasary with 19 national championships.

Besiktas’ BJK Vodafone Park, not really a poor workers club anymore

As you would imagine, a derby between any combination of these three is a heated affair. The intercontinental derbby between Fernabache and Galatasary is arguably the more violent one by any measure, simply because both sides represent the two most successful sides in Turkish football and each represent one side of the continent – Asia and Europe respectively.

Sports and politics should not mix, but they sometimes do. And much has to do with the fact that Turkey’s powerful Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a football fanatic (another football fan is China’s President Xi Jinping). Football in Turkey, has become a massive sport with a passionate and increasingly polarised following, as this video from Tifo Football explains.

Now my knowledge of Turkish football is not deep, but if the name of the stadium tells you about the club (Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium/Fenerbahce; Türk Telekom Arena/Galatasaray; BJK Vodafone Park/Beşiktaş) then I find myself attracted to the one club without a corporate sponsor on its Stadium.

Not that my support for either is strong, unshakable or matter – I’m a Leeds fan, and just curious about football around the world.

Speaking of which, time to reload Football Manager, heheh…

Cover Image Source

ON THE MAP (Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium/Fenerbahce)

ON THE MAP (Türk Telekom Arena/Galatasaray)

ON THE MAP (BJK Vodafone Park/Beşiktaş)

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