Having opened a new stadium on the site of one described by Pelé as the world’s most beautiful, Besiktas went and won two titles in a row, a first since the early 1990s. The fact that the naming of the Vodafone Park after its sponsors has antagonised many fans has been put to one side for now.
The transitional stage certainly hasn’t been smooth. In September 2013, at the end of a derby match with Galatasaray staged at the Olympic Stadium, Besiktas fans rioted, causing the game to be called off before the final whistle could be blown. No Gala fans had been allowed to buy tickets for the game – this was pure frustration. After the Vodafone Arena opened in 2016, a bombing after a home game with Bursaspor killed nearly 50 police officers and supporters.
In terms of football, for the first time in decades, the ‘Black Eagles’ are no longer Istanbul’s third club in a field of three – as proven by the 2016 and 2017 title wins, leaving behind Galatasaray and Fenerbahce.
Besiktas hold the distinction of being the oldest Istanbul club still in existence, founded in 1903. They also have the compensation of having the best located ground, new or old, the Inönü overlooking the Dolmabahce Palace and shoreline beyond. It is also an easy hop from the main square of Taksim. Location, location, location – but the league duopoly of Fenerbahce and Galatasaray remains (mainly) unbroken.
The club’s early history is tied in with the Ottoman politics of the turn of the last century. Regular winners of the burgeoning Istanbul league, particularly after the war, Besiktas were soon taking a back seat to Fenerbahce and Galatasaray until a short spell in the mid-1960s when the Black Eagles picked up a couple of surprise titles.
Pioneering Besiktas then began hiring foreign coaches, particularly Gordon Milne, who steered the club to three titles and instigated the tradition of signing big, burly foreign centre-forwards, most notably Les Ferdinand. German Christoph Daum and Welshman John Toshack then went to coach Besiktas teams with Nigerian Daniel Amokachi and German Stefan Kuntz leading the line.
With centenary year approaching, club president Serdar Bilgili plumped for the guile and experience of ex-Galatasaray coach Mircea Lucescu to galvanise a mainly Turkish line-up into a championship-winning outfit – which he did, partly thanks to captain Tayfur Havutcu and spearhead Ilhan Mansiz.
The last championship win at the Inönü was in 2009, a double under Mustafa Denizli, the only coach to have won the title with all of the big three. Thereafter, focus fell on the project to rebuild the venerable stadium.
Opened in 2016, the Vodafone Park is an eco-friendly stadium holding 41,200, up to 6,000 fêted in 200 luxury lodges. Architect Bünyamin Derman had to work around the heritage features of the club’s legendarily picturesque Inönü Stadium, its famous Eski Acik Stand and towers.
In the 1940s, Italian Neo-Classical architect Paolo Vietti-Violi, responsible for beautiful stadia all round Italy, the Balkans, even Addis Ababa, took full advantage of the stadium’s surroundings, a steep slope overlooking the Dolmabahce Palace. The site was, in fact, the former palace stables.
The stadium was named after Ismet Inönü, ardent BJK fan and president of Turkey after Atatürk.
Home fans still gather in the Eski Acik, the Güney (South) Stand, nearest the waterfront – as well as the North (Kuzey), the former Yeni Acik. Away fans are allocated three sectors, 404-406, in the corner of the North Stand and main West (Bati) Stand where VIPs are accommodated. On the opposite sideline is the Dogu, East, Stand.
The Vodafone Park is a pleasant if steep descent from focal Taksim Square, past the Marmara Hotel and down Inönü cad. A taxi should cost TL10-15. From Sultanahmet, take the tram seven stops to Kabatas on the waterfront. The stadium will be in full view up the hill as you look inland.
For all games in Turkey, you need a Passolig card before you can be admitted. Here’s an English-language guide on how to do this. Once you’ve done this, you can buy a ticket for specific matches on a week by week basis online through Passo.
The days of turning up before kick-off and hoping to get in are sadly no longer with us.
The two shops around the stadium stayed open during the construction progress. The two-floor store stocks the latest BJK home and away kits as well as branded bathrobes, towels, flip-flops and sunglasses.
Look out too for the computer mice, watches and ominous Black Eagle statuettes. You can try on the suits in the changing rooms. The smaller outlet offers long sleeved T-shirts and swimming gear. Each shop opens 9am-6pm daily.
Formerly halfway up the slope on Dolmabahce Gazhane cad, the BJK Müzesi has been relocated at the Vodafone Park. Now reopened, the museum still greets visitors with flags of every European team BJK have faced in European competition. Cups, trophies and the famous Black Eagle statue complement commemorative silver platters engraved for international matches.
The prime artefacts of the collection are the shirts worn by 2003 title winners Tayfur and Nihat, key members of the Turkey side that took third place in the World Cup of 2002.
In the general vicinity of the stadium, your first port of call should be the wonderful Kazan restaurant beside a pedestrian footbridge near Besiktas market, a ten-minute walk from the ground on Besiktas cad, a continuation of Dolmabahce cad. Vintage murals of Besiktas line-ups of the late 1950s complement images of Turkish stars from the same era, most notably the great forward Lefter. Sports channels on flat-screen TVs provide visual entertainment as regulars tuck into salads and shish kebabs.
Nearby, fish restaurants abound.
Closer to the ground, Sampiyon Kokorec, beside one of the club’s stores, is one of many such branches specialising in lambs’ intestines and mussels.
Tucked away at 33 Sehim Asim Caddesi in Besiktas, the Forza Pub is run by the Carsi supporters’ club and attracts a younger clientele. You should reserve a table on a big-match night.
Right by the ground, on a grassy slope, the Dolmabahce Café is a great place to plot up, order a tea or a softie (it’s a dry ship), maybe a plate of inexpensive Turkish food, and look out past the zooming traffic to the water beyond. At the stadium itself, just past the corner where Kadirgalar Cad meets Meclis-i Mebusi Cad, the Black Cup Coffee is also booze-free but does superior coffee, top cheesecake and is completely decked out in Besiktas scarves and shirts. Seats outside, too.