LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Beșiktaș

The Black Eagles reside by the sultan’s palace

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Having opened a new stadium on the site of one described by Pelé as the world’s most beautiful, Beșiktaș went and won two titles in a row, a first since the early 1990s. The naming of the Vodafone Park after its sponsors still antagonised many fans but was quickly forgotten with the drama of another title win, on goal difference after a knife-edge last day, in the pandemic season of 2020-21. 

Beșiktaș 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 Dolmabahçe Palace and shoreline beyond. It is also an easy hop from the main square of Taksim. Location, location, location, as they say.

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, Beșiktaș were soon taking a back seat to Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray until a short spell in the mid-1960s when the Black Eagles picked up a couple of surprise titles.

Beşiktaş Shop/Andrei Lazar

Pioneering Beșiktaș 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 Beșiktaș 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 Havutçu and spearhead Ilhan Mansiz.

The last championship win at the Inönü was in 2009, a double under Mustafa Denizli, the only coach to have lifted the title with all of the Big Three. Focus then fell on the project to rebuild the venerable stadium as Beșiktaș relocated to the Olympic Stadium, attracting large attendances for big games. 

Atatürk Olympic Stadium/Semih Tekeli

The transitional stage after leaving the revered Inönü wasn’t smooth. In 2013, at the end of a derby with Galatasaray at the Olympic Stadium, Beșiktaș fans invaded the pitch, 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. 

Croatian coach Slaven Bilić had hardly calmed the atmosphere when he was sent off during the match, played before a 77,500 crowd. The following season, floodlight failure marred the game with Tottenham, a narrow win that put Beșiktaș top of their Europa League group, lining up a classic knock-out tie with Liverpool.

After holding the Reds to a late 1-0 win at Anfield, Beșiktaș levelled the aggregate with a superb strike from Tolgay Arslan, the former Germany U-21 international converting the penultimate penalty of the subsequent shoot-out. After his compatriot Dejan Lovren skied the last spot-kick, Bilić and the 63,000 crowd went beserk, the Turkish TV commentator barking “Goodbye Liverpool” to viewers at home.

Atatürk Olympic Stadium/Semih Tekeli

For another big night at the Olympic Stadium, Beșiktaș went ahead in the subsequent tie against Bruges, then switched off in defence to let the Belgians hit three. Bilić duly left to manage West Ham, his key signing, striker Demba Ba headed to China and Beșiktaș prepared to unveil their new stadium. 

Şenol Güneş, best known for taking Turkey to the World Cup semi-finals in 2002, and striker Mario Gómez, on loan from Fiorentina, were more than adequate replacements as Beșiktaș raced to the top of the Super Lig and stayed there in 2015-16. Fittingly, it was the German international who scored the first goal at the Vodafone Park in April 2016, his final haul of 28 in all competitions beating Demba Ba’s one-season record for a foreign player.

Güneş stayed on, but the title-winning 2016-17 campaign is most remembering for the terrorist bombing outside the Vodafone Park in December, security services the target when nearly 50 were killed. The club recovered to concentrate on defending their league crown, but the highlight of the season was the 4-1 win over Olympiacos in the Europa League Round of 16.

Vodafone Park/Andrei Lazar

Within touching distance of the semi-final, Beșiktaș blew the penalty shoot-out with Lyon front of a record crowd at the Vodafone Park. Level at 3-3, then 6-6 on spot kicks, the Black Eagles were denied victory by Franco-Portuguese keeper Anthony Lopes who then saved two shots in the sudden-death stage. 

Goals from Dutch winger Ryan Babel helped Beșiktaș coast through the subsequent Champions League group stage but an early red card for new signing, Croatian defender Domagoj Vida, in the knock-out game with Bayern Munich killed the tie. 

Güneş was lured back to his old post as national manager, Beșiktaș eventually hiring one of the club’s finest ever players as manager, Sergen Yalçin. A midfield genius who missed out on the 2002 World Cup through injury and the 2000 UEFA Cup Final through ineligibility, Yalçin had started his career impressing an awe-struck Gordon Milne at Beșiktaș. He went on to win five Super Lig titles, two of them with Galatasaray.

Now back at Beșiktaș, after a slow start Yalçin kept his trust in two key Canadians, Atiba Hutchinson and Cyle Larin, both later to play in all Canada’s group games at the 2022 World Cup. Larin would become the club’s top scorer during this remarkable season, while Hutchinson played 40 games in midfield at the age of 38. 

Vodafone Park/Andrei Lazar

Neck and neck with Galatasaray on the last day, with games between them tied on points and goals, Beșiktaș needed a safe margin of victory at Göztepe in Izmir and hope their rivals would not roll over Yeni Malatyaspor. If both lost and Fenerbahçe won, the title would cross the Bosporus. Leading thanks to an early goal from Domagoj Vida, Beșiktaș were pegged level 20 minutes later. Gala, who had beaten Beșiktaș 3-1 the week before, then came from behind to lead Malatyaspor 2-1. 

For eight minutes, the league crown was slipping from the Black Eagles’ grip until Algerian Rachid Ghezzal converted a crucial penalty. It proved just enough for Beșiktaș to lift the title by one goal at the Gürsel Aksel Stadium, completely empty during this pandemic-era showdown.

A poor start to 2021-22 led to Yalçin’s departure halfway through, the stage set for Şenol Güneş to step in a year later. The inspirational Atiba Hutchinson, meanwhile, signed a one-year contract extension before the 2022-23 campaign at the age of 39.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

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 Açik Stand and towers.

Back 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 Dolmabahçe Palace. The site was, in fact, the former palace stables.

Old Inönü Stadium/Jens Raitanen

The stadium was named after Ismet Inönü, ardent BJK fan and president of Turkey after Atatürk.

Now at Vodafone Park, home fans still gather in the Eski Açik, the Güney (South) Stand, nearest the waterfront – as well as the North (Kuzey), the former Yeni Açik. Away supporters 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 Doğu, East, Stand.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The Vodafone Park is a pleasant if steep descent from focal Taksim Square, past the Marmara Hotel and down Inönü cad. If you’re coming from Sultanahmet, take tram T1 seven stops to Kabataș on the waterfront. The stadium will be in full view up the hill as you look inland. To do the same journey by taxi should cost about TL40/€2. 

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

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.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The club has many outlets around the Beșiktaș area, including two at the stadium: Vodafone Park Eagles Nest (daily 10am-9pm) on the nearest side to the waterfront, and a smaller one round the corner on Kadirgalar Cad (daily 10am-8pm).

The main 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. 

club Museum

Explore the club inside and out

Formerly halfway up the slope on Dolmabahçe Gazhane cad, the BJK Müzesi (Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, not match days) has been relocated at 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.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

In the general vicinity of the stadium, your first port of call should be the wonderful Kazan restaurant beside a pedestrian footbridge near Beșiktaș market, a ten-minute walk from the ground on Beșiktaș cad, a continuation of Dolmabahçe cad. Vintage murals of Beșiktaș 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, Șampiyon Kokoreç, beside one of the club’s stores, is one of many such branches specialising in lambs’ intestines and mussels.

Tucked away at 33 Șehim Asim Caddesi in Beșiktaș, the Forza Pub is run by the Çarși 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 Mebusan Cad, the Black Cup Coffee is also booze-free but does superior coffee, top cheesecake and is completely decked out in Beșiktaș scarves and shirts. Seats outside, too.

Within the stadium, upscale White Pepper is a glitzy multi-venue dining destination welcoming top-dollar guests who reserve on match nights.

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