Istanbul Başakşehir

Surprise champions of 2020 reap reward of influence

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

A club as new as its stadium it plays in, Istanbul Başakşehir officially date to the start of the 2014-15 season.

During that time, Istanbul’s de facto fourth wheel have not only finished several times in the top four but broken the stranglehold of the Big Three, winning the title in 2020.

State ownership through the Ministry of Youth & Sports has allowed Istanbul Başakşehir to invest heavily in veterans with Premier League experience, top scorer Emmanuel Adebayor, captain Emre Belözoğlu and left-back Gaël Clichy. Former Inter and Newcastle man Belözoğlu then returned here as manager in 2021.

Fatih Terim Stadium/Liam Dawber

A longer-established coach, Galatasaray legend Fatih Terim, lends his name to Başakşehir’s ground. 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 just beyond the city’s extensive metro network hardly encouraging the floating fan away from Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe or Beşiktaş.

Not that the concept of the floating fan is a familiar one in Turkey, 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 Başakşehir have only been in operation since 2014, they have a direct link to (deep breath) Istanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor, aka Istanbul BB, who flitted between the Süper Lig and second flight from 1991 onwards.

Fatih Terim Stadium/Semih Tekeli

Turkish Cup runners-up in 2011 – long-serving defender Metin Depe missed the vital penalty in the shoot-out against Beşiktaş – 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 Başakşehir – literally. That stage was the Fatih Terim Stadium, opened within weeks of the new club being created. The Çirağan Palace Kempinski Hotel was where the announcement was made that a new entity would now represent the up-and-coming Istanbul district of Başakşehir, population 300,000-plus. Members of the ten-man board had links, in some way or other, to the government.

Fatih Terim Stadium/Semih Tekeli

A new logo, centrepieced by a huge B, and colours of orange and dark blue, were also presented. Not coincidentally, the ruling AKP Party share the same and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wore an orange shirt when playing in an exhibition game to celebrate the foundation of the new, well-connected entity.

The club welcomed back Abdullah Avci for in his second long spell at the club, the first featuring that run to the Turkish cup final. In between, he had occupied the national job. 

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, Başakşehir overcame Rijeka on away goals to reach the Europa League play-off round against experienced Shakhtar Donetsk. Though former Newcastle star Emre Belozoğlu converted a penalty, Başakşehir succumbed to a 2-1 home defeat and eventually went out 4-1 on aggregate.

Fatih Terim Stadium/Semih Tekeli

In 2016-17, home wins over each of the Big Three, helped Başakşehir 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, Başakşehir 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 Başakşehir 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 Başakşehir qualified for the Europa League, and a narrow defeat to Burnley in 2018-19.

Replacing Avci, coach Okan Buruk proved an inspired hire. An illustrious midfielder who saw out his playing career at Istanbul BB, this member of Turkey’s 2002 World Cup team had led little Akhisarspor to the Turkish Cup in 2018. 

Fatih Terim Stadium/Semih Tekeli

In tandem with an impressive campaign in the Europa League, coming through their group to beat Sporting Lisbon 4-1 and FC Copenhagen 1-0, Başakşehir put together two long unbeaten spells in the league, their goal now defended by another veteran keeper, Mert Günök. In front of him, Premier League old boys Martin Škrtel, Robinho and Demba Ba used all their experience to belie their age.

Essential to the side was Bosnian stalwart Edin Višća, a key member of Istanbul BB’s promotion win of 2014. A near ever-present over the course of a decade, Višća was equal top scorer in this pandemic-hit campaign that ended on a dramatic night in empty stadiums. First Višća missed a penalty as Başakşehir struggled to build on a 1-0 lead over Kayserispor, while fellow title challengers Trabzonspor bizarrely let their 3-1 advantage slide when Konyaspor scored three late goals by the Black Sea.

Thanks to two floodlight failures, Buruk’s men already knew that the title was in the bag as they saw out time at the Fatih Terim Stadium. Given the perceived backing from the ruling AKP Party, this was by no means a popular victory across Turkey, and many enjoyed the club’s subsequent collapse the following season.

Old boy Emre Belözoğlu stepped into the vacant managerial position to turn around the 2021-22 campaign, and with no European distractions, qualified for the Conference League. Wins home and away over Fiorentina pushed Başakşehir into the Round of 16, Volker Babacan still the club’s regular No.1 after nine seasons of service. Crowd figures, however, remain pitifully low.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Neat, compact and with an all-seated 17,300 capacity, the Fatih Terim Stadium is perfect for Başakşehir’s needs, although located at the far reaches of this north-western Istanbul district, even beyond the Olympic Stadium.

Attendances are invariably in the low thousands, calling into question the cost of 178 million Turkish lira (then $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.

Fatih Terim Stadium/Semih Tekeli

But as a government investment, with regular European football, the whole project has its own kind of logic. Certainly, Turkey’s president Recep Erdoğan 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.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The Fatih Terim Stadium is easily 20km/12.5 miles from the centre of Istanbul. Light-blue metro line M3 terminates at Başakşehir MetroKent. From there, take a taxi – the journey to the stadium is under 2km. Not only does Bus 78F run infrequently (every 40mins weekdays, every 1hr 20mins weekends) from the metro station to the stop by the stadium, Başakşehir 4.Etap, but it calls at 60 (!) stops.

It’s about an hour to reach Başakşehir 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 Başakşehir MetroKent.

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.

Assuming you’ve done all the right things, you’ll pay about TL100-TL150 for admission, €5-€7. Fans of foreign teams coming to Başakşehir for a European game must arrange tickets through their own clubs.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Başakşehir Store is along the row of outlets lining the slip road to the stadium, beside the Spike Game & Sports Café. Its stock comprises replica shirts and standard orange-and-blue souvenirs. Away shirts are currently greyish white with blue-and-orange markings.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

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.