A club as new as its stadium it plays in, Istanbul Basaksehir officially date to the start of the 2014-15 season.
During that time, Istanbul’s de facto fourth club have not only twice finished in fourth place in the Süper Lig but broken the stranglehold of the Big Three, taking runners-up and third spots in 2017 and 2018, and gaining impressive results against Bruges and Braga in Europe.
State ownership through the Ministry of Youth & Sports has allowed Istanbul Basaksehir to invest heavily in veterans with Premier League experience, top scorer Emmanuel Adebayor, captain Emre Belozoglu, left-back Gaël Clichy. The club has also kept faith in one-time Turkey manager Abdullah Avci, now in his second long spell at the club.
Avci’s replacement for the national job was Fatih Terim, the Galatasaray legend after whom Basaksehir’s ground is named. A new-build in the same distant north-west district of Istanbul as the Atatürk Olympic Stadium, the Fatih Terim Stadium usually only fills with around 5,000 spectators, its remote location beyond the city’s extensive metro network hardly encouraging the floating fan away from Galatasaray, Fenerbahce or Besiktas.
Not that the concept of the floating fan is a familiar one in Turkey these days, given the byzantine machinations of the contentious Passolig membership card system for buying match tickets.
It wasn’t always this way – nor was this always a club favoured by the powers that be. Though Basaksehir have only been in operation since 2014, they have a direct link to (deep breath) Istanbul Büyüksehir Belediyespor, aka Istanbul BB, who flitted between the Süper Lig and second flight from 1991 onwards.
Turkish Cup runners-up in 2011 – long-serving defender Metin Depe missed the vital penalty in the shoot-out against Besiktas – Istanbul BB attracted a modest but fun-seeking following who preferred to turn their back on the violent undercurrents in matches involving the Big Three.
It was always a strange arrangement. These few thousand would gather at the 76,000-capacity Atatürk Olympic Stadium – even, for the one last season of 2013-14, for second-flight football.
Istanbul BB having won promotion back to the Süper Lig, the stage was set for Istanbul Basaksehir – literally. That stage was the Fatih Terim Stadium, opened within weeks of the new club being created, and the Ciragan Palace Kempinski Hotel, where the announcement was made that this new entity would now represent the up-and-coming Istanbul district of Basaksehir, population 300,000-plus. Members of the ten-man board had links, in some way or other, to the government.
A new logo, centrepieced by a huge B, and colours of orange and dark blue, were also presented.
Despite poor average gates below 3,000, the new club lost only five games in its first season, Turkish national keeper Volkan Babacan keeping 16 clean sheets. A red card for Babacan early in the club’s subsequent European debut, at AZ Alkmaar, led to a 2-0 defeat.
A year later, Basaksehir overcame Rijeka on away goals to reach the Europa League play-off round against experienced Shakhtar Donetsk. Though former Newcastle star Emre Belozoglu converted a penalty, Basaksehir succumbed to a 2-1 home defeat and eventually went out 4-1 on aggregate.
In 2016-17, home wins over each of the Big Three, helped Basaksehir gain second place in the Süper Lig – for half the season, they even led it, going the first 17 games undefeated. Again Babacan, without a goal against him for 15 of 32 games, was the key figure in this domestic success. And still crowds hovered around the 3,000 mark.
Qualifying for the Champions League, Basaksehir relied on former Braga star Mossoró and incoming ex-Arsenal favourite Emmanuel Adebayor for the goals that saw off Bruges. One round from the group stage, the Istanbul side went down 2-1 to Sevilla at home, then failed to capitalise on scored an early away goal in Spain. A win over Braga wasn’t enough to lift Basaksehir beyond the group stage in the Europa League.
After another creditable season in the Süper Lig in 2017-18, leading the table for nearly two months, Adebayor scoring a hat-trick in the 5-1 mauling of Galatasaray, Istanbul Basaksehir get another chance in the Europa League, in 2018-19.
Neat, compact and all-seated 17,300 capacity, the Fatih Terim Stadium would be perfect for Basaksehir’s needs – would it not be at the northern reaches of this north-western Istanbul district, even further from town than the Olympic Stadium.
Attendances are invariably in the low thousands, calling into question the cost of 178 million Turkish lira ($34 million) and the need for 500 workers to labour every day for 16 months for the stadium to be ready in time for this new club, and the new season of 2014-15.
But as a government investment, with regular European football – in 2017, Basaksehir weren’t that far away from the group stage of the Champions League – the whole project has its own kind of logic. Certainly, Turkey’s prime minister Recep Erdogan seemed pleased when he cut the ribbon on opening day in the summer of 2014. (Fatih Terim himself was just as surprised as anyone when the name of the new stadium was announced – he had no connections to the previous or recently formed clubs.)
Stadium features include undersoil heating (yes, it does snow in Istanbul in winter), a smart drainage system and a long gap between the stands and the roof to allow for air circulation to ventilate the turf.
Done out in orange and blue, the two tiers of seating offer a prime view of the action. Away fans are allocated a two-tiered section between the main stand and the south goal.
The Fatih Terim Stadium is easily 20km/12.5 miles from the centre of Istanbul. Light-blue metro line M3 terminates at Basaksehir MetroKent. From there, take a taxi – the journey to the stadium is under 2km. Not only does Bus 78F run infrequently (every 40min weekdays, every 1hr 20min weekends) from the metro station to the stop by the stadium, Basaksehir 4.Etap, but it calls at 60 (!) stops.
It’s about an hour to reach Basaksehir MetroKent from town, taking green line M2 from Taksim, say, to its terminus at Yenikapi, then red line M1B all the way to Kirazli. From there, change onto the light-blue M3, taking it the whole way to Basaksehir MetroKent.
Obtaining tickets for any domestic game in Turkey is a logistical nightmare. No-one, local or tourist, can purchase admission with a Passolig Card, registered to one particular club. In order to do this, you are best advised to go the stadium – in the case of Istanbul Basaksehir, to the stadium nearly 25km from town – the day before, with your passport and TL40/£6. You will receive a Passolig pass – in fact, a MasterCard credit card – with the club logo printed on it. If you can persuade the official not to include the club logo on it, in theory you can use the Passolig Card for other clubs – but it’s a long shot.
There is online purchasing, but for Turkish nationals only.
Assuming you’ve done all the right things, you’ll pay about TL100-TL150 for admission, £15-£22.
Note that fans of foreign teams coming to Basaksehir for a European game must arrange tickets through their own clubs.
The Basaksehir Store is along the row of outlets lining the slip road to the stadium, beside the FLO shoe store, close to Burger King. It stock comprises replica shirts and standard orange-and-blue souvenirs.
The only outlet close to the stadium is the Spike Game & Sports Café (Ibni Sina cad 5) near Burger King, with a full bar menu, match action on TV and pool tables. Relaxation is provided by hubbly-bubbly pipes rather than alcohol.