Turkey’s most decorated club and only Euro winners

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

Record title-winners Galatasaray were back-to-back champions in 2018 and 2019, the last one a double, bolstering their status as Turkey’s most successful side in league and cup. Yet 2021-22 proved to be the worst year for Aslanlar (‘The Lions’) since the Super Lig was created in 1959. 

A first-ever mid-table position even led to the sacking of the most revered coach in the domestic game, Fatih Terim, the man whose name is forever linked with the only European trophy won by a Turkish club, Galatasaray’s UEFA Cup triumph of 2000. Now, in his fourth stint at Gala, fifth including a decade or more as a player, Terim posted his resignation signature on social media as evidence that he would never put his name on Galatasaray-headed paper ever again.

Without the distractions of Europe, Okan Buruk, whose midfield presence alongside Gheorghe Hagi led Galatasaray to that UEFA Cup win of 2000, has since revived the Red-and-Yellows, losing only two league games going into 2023. The man who took Istanbul Başakşehir to a shock title in 2020 now seems set to add another notch to his resumé as coach.

Nef Stadium/Semih Tekeli

Based at the all-purpose Nef Stadium, until 2021 known as the Türk Telekom Arena, way north in Șișli, the club was formed at the Galatasaray Lycée in Beyoğlu. For most of the modern era, they played at the north-east district of Mecidiyeköy, until the move to Șișli in 2011. The Ali Sami Yen stadium had been the stage for many a memorable European night, teams arriving to cacophony of noise and riot of colour, as drums beat the rhythm to the communal mantra of ‘Cim Bom Bom’.

Galatasaray became known as ‘Cim Bom Bom’ after a song devised during an early tour to Switzerland. Other tours were not so idyllic. Formed in 1905, Galatasaray courageously played early matches in towns touched by the Balkan wars. 

At home, Istanbul’s most popular club found its first star in Metin Oktay, who notched more than 300 goals in the 1960s – his death in a car crash made him the fans’ icon. His mantle was taken by Tanju Çolak, prolific in the 1980s, and then by Hakan Șükür in the 1990s.

Galatasaray GSStore/Jens Raitanen

By then, regular title wins were bringing European riches, attracting big name stars such as Romanians Gică Popescu and Gheorghe Hagi. It just needed the tactical guile of former Gala defender Fatih Terim as coach for the club to go places. The UEFA Cup run of 1999-2000 saw wins over Borussia Dortmund, Real Mallorca and Leeds United – a tie marred by the death of two Leeds fans in Istanbul.

The final, a tense, scoreless draw with Arsenal, was decided on penalties after Hagi was sent off. The UEFA Cup was part of a treble that may never be repeated. Terim and Hakan Șükür left for Italy, and Galatasaray spent the rest of the decade planning and building their new arena.

Terim’s second term finished disappointingly but his third, the title win of 2011-12 was memorable for the performances of Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and young attacking midfielder Emre Çolak. Both were outstanding as Terim’s team strode out in the new-build Türk Telekom Arena to crowds around 50,000 for the showcase fixtures. The set-up, and €5 million, persuaded runaway top league scorer that season, Burak Yilmaz, to leave Trabzonspor for Galatasaray.

Joined by Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder halfway through the campaign, Yilmaz was unstoppable in the Super Lig in 2012-13, scoring 32 goals in 39 games in all competitions, one each home and away in a tight Round of 16 game with Schalke in the Champions League. 

Nef Stadiuma/Semih Tekeli

The quarter-final with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid was one of the great nights at Galatasaray, Terim’s team pegging back a 4-0 deficit aggregate, including an early away goal from you-know-who, to hit three in 15 minutes. A classy backheel from Drogba brought the tie within Gala’s reach and the crowd to the boil, in front of his old manager, José Mourinho. The touchline hugs between the Real coach and Terim on final whistle showed just how close the Turkish team had come to one of the all-time European turnarounds. The 52,000 crowd set a stadium record.

Drogba then faced his former team-mates Chelsea, and Mourinho again, in the last 16 of the following Champions League season. Terim had been replaced by Roberto Mancini after a 6-1 defeat by Real Madrid in the group stage, the Italian leading his team to a draw at Juve then a last-gap win at home thanks to a dramatic Sneijder decider to knock out the Italian visitors. While Gala couldn’t then repeat the heroics at Stamford Bridge, Drogba had impressed Mourinho enough to go back to Chelsea – at 36. 

Mancini made way for Cesare Prandelli but he failed to repeat the Champions League heroics of 2013. Halfway through 2014-15, Hamza Hamzaoğlu replaced him. The goals of Burak Yilmaz and industry of Wesley Sneijder duly pushed Aslanlar back into the driving seat – and onto a 20th title and historic double.

Nef Stadium/Semih Tekeli

The club set out on the 2015-16 campaign with an extra star on their famous red-and-yellow shirts.  To little avail, as a mediocre campaign was only alleviated by the goals of Lukas Podolski. In early 2016, Galatasaray were ruled out of European football for the two seasons due to financial irregularities, and Burak Yilmaz left for China.

The return of prodigal son Fatih Terim just before Christmas 2017 saw a sea change in Șișli. Six straight wins in the spring allowed Gala to pip Fenerbahçe to the title, French striker Bafétimbi Gomis scoring almost as many goals as games played. It was Drogba who had persuaded the former Swansea man to revive his career with a one-season move to Galatasaray.

With Terim now in his element and the respected Mustafa Cengiz established as club president, Galatasaray seemed set for a golden era similar to the late 1990s two decades before. Accepting a hefty sum for Saudi-bound Gomis, the Turkish champions could still put together a 19-game unbeaten run from early December to mid May and retain their crown. 

Keeper Muslera was again outstanding, although serious injuries to the Galatasaray legend in 2020 and 2021 coincided with the long-term illness of club president Cengiz, overshadowing subsequent campaigns. Terim left under a cloud during a string of league defeats as 2022 beckoned but the choice of former Gala U-21 manager Burak Elmas as president proved a wise one – as was his choice of coach, Okan Buruk.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

The Nef Stadium, until 2021 the Türk Telekom Arena, is located in Șișli, in the far north of Istanbul. Opened in 2011, it took over from the legendary but significantly smaller Ali Sami Yen Stadium further south in Mecidiyeköy.

The 52,600-capacity arena is set beside the Istanbul Çevre Yolu motorway that leads to the airport and bridges leading to different parts of the country. The second largest club stadium in Turkey, also used for national games, comprises a main West Stand (Bati Tribün) and East Stand (Doğu Tribün) along each sideline. Behind the goals are the North (Güney Tribün) and South (Pegasus Tribün) Stands.

Away fans are placed in Rakip Category 6, a pie-slice of stadium split across blocks 419-421 of the Güney Tribün and block 418 of the Doğu Tribün.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The venue is served by Seyrantepe metro station, on the other side of the Istanbul Çevre Yolu motorway, connected to the stadium by an underground tunnel. Depending on which line you are using from town, from Șișhane or Haciosman, you must alight at Sanayi Mahallesi. From there, the match-day M2 shuttle runs one stop to Seyrantepe. On non-match days, the service serves homecoming workers 5pm-7pm daily.

When arriving at Seyrantepe metro station, head upstairs, out of the station and into a car park. Follow the sign marked ‘Stadyum’. A taxi from central Istanbul should cost around TL100/€5 – leave plenty of time for traffic.

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.

Those here to see their country play an international fixture should source tickets through their own FA.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Galatasaray shop, the GSStore (daily 10am-7pm, match days until final whistle), is by Gate D5. Amid the wealth of red and yellow, you’ll find tracksuits, jeans, slippers and jackets, as well as Turkish national team shirts, home and away.

Of the many other outlets around Istanbul, you’ll find other GSStores at Sabiha Gökçen airport and near Sirkeci station at Büyük Postane Cd/Hamidiye Türbesi Sok. The most central is along the showcase avenue of Istiklal Caddesi, opposite McDonald’s at No.32.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

There are no real bars or restaurants in and around the arena. Beside one of the ticket office areas and by the Seyrantepe metro exit to the stadium there are a couple of outlets: Simit Sarayi for sandwiches with traditional Turkish bread, simit; and the Yüzevler kebab stall. Inside the stadium are snacks, hot drinks and juices, but no alcohol.

Back in town, on bar-lined Nevizade, close to the Çiçek Passage, Galatasaray fans meet at the late-opening Aslanim Bar at No.14, which packs with drinkers inside and out on match nights.