As stated in the previous article, a few new clubs make their debuts in the Champions League: Zilina (Slovakia), Tottenham Hotspur (England), SC Braga (Portugal), FC Twente (Netherlands), Hapoel Tel-Aviv (Israel), Bursaspor (Turkey) never before appeared in the group stage of the prestigeous tournament. Especially those two latter clubs get my attention since, due to my fascination for the Middle East, Israeli and Turkish football are of big interest to me. Let’s put the limelight on Bursaspor to begin with.
Bursaspor won last year’s Turkish championship crown. This fact is quite impressive and unique. After expats brought football to Turkey and the sport quickly became an obsession for many Turks, football in Turkey was initially organised on regional basis with cities such as Ankara and Istanbul having their own leagues. In 1959 the nationwide Turkish football division (currently named Süper Lig) was formed. That means : 51 years ago. In that time, only 5 (!!) different clubs managed to win the Turkish championship. This is due to the domination of the "giant three" from Istanbul: Galatasaray SK, Beşiktaş JK, and Fenerbahçe SK. These three clubs had a semi-monopoly on the Turkish league crown, dividing almost all titles amongst each other. They have always been massively supported across the country, not only in Istanbul itself but even into the furthest south or east of the country people generally support one of the three Istanbul giants. Even those who do follow a local club as well, will usually support one of the three Istanbul clubs in addition. Fanclubs of Galatasaray, Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe are everywhere in the country, and the large number of Turks living abroad in general also support one of the three Istanbul clubs. For all those years, only one club from outside of Istanbul managed to win the Turkish league: Trabzonspor managed to win the league 6 times between 1976 and 1984 (that said, Trabzon is an exception because in that city most people support Trabzonspor instead of an Istanbul-based club). However, their last triumph was in 1984 and since then it was always one of the three Istanbul giants who won the Turkish championship. So far Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe each won 17 Turkish titles, Beşiktaş won 11.
Teams from outside Istanbul generally have not too many fans (Trabzonspor and Eskişehirspor being notable exceptions) and even other Istanbul based clubs such as Kaşimpaşa and Istanbul Büyüksehir Belediyespor (the team owned by the city council playing in the 82000 capacity national stadium but having not even a 100 fans) usually have a small set of fans (the latter two are in the Süperlig mainly because Istanbul BB is financed by the city council and Kaşimpaşa has not too many fans but if the prime minister is one of them money generally isn’t exactly a problem neither). With the total dominance of the trio Galatasaray-Beşiktaş-Fenerbahçe it became less and less likely that a non-Istanbul club would claim the title. So Bursaspor’s epic performance last season was sensational.
The last few seasons, clubs from the Asian (aka Anatolian) part of Turkey started to become a bit more succesful. Two years ago, Sivasspor almost won the league and only narrowly finished 2nd behind Beşiktaş. It was a sign that Anatolian teams started to again play a role of importance, Trabzonspor strengthening its squad hoping to again compete for the trophies is yet another sign. However, Sivasspor in the end failed to claim the championship title and become the second non-Istanbul club to win the league. Selling some vital players in the transfer window did them no good and saw them get hammered in the Champions League qualifiers by Anderlecht, then to get humiliated once more by Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League qualifiers.
However, in the 2009-2010 season another Anatolian team made a remarkable campaign: Bursaspor. Again an Anatolian team was in the title race, and tensions about weither they’d lose the crown in the last instant just like Sivasspor did or if they could hold on were keeping the country in a football trance. It appeared that in the end it would be again "just not yet" as Fenerbahçe went into the final day of the season with 1 point ahead of Bursaspor. Fener needed to beat Trabzonspor in the final day and the title was theirs. David Guïza brought them 1-0 up but an equaliser from Trabzon proved fatal. The game finished in 1-1 while meanwhile Bursaspor managed to beat Beşiktaş 2-1 that final day and leapfrog to the championship at the very last moment. Drama again at the end, but this time it were the Anatolians who were the celebrating side: with 75 points and 1 point ahead of Fenerbahçe, Bursaspor claimed their first championship. Moreover, they became only the 5th club to win the Süper Lig in its 51 years old history, and finally Trabzonspor was no longer the only non-Istanbul team to win the league. The exceptionalness of a team from outside the big metropolis winning the league shows how massive the stunt of Bursaspor was. The reward was direct qualification for the Champions League on top, as the Turkish nr 1 did not have to play qualifiers.
Bursaspor were formed 1st June 1963. Their green-white coloures earned them the nickname "Yeşil Timsahlar" which translates as Green Crocodiles. A way of celebrating goals is that players form a row and crawl forward on their hands and knees, just like a crocodile walking on the pitch. The first honours won by the club were the Prime Minister Cup (which they won 3x), and the Turkish Cup which they won in 1986 (they lost three finals in addition). None of those trophies comes close to the sensational winning of the Turkish league in 2010 though.
Bursaspor winning the league and being in the Champions League means that clubs will now have to travel to the Asian part of the country for the first time (well, strictly speaking this is incorrect as Fenerbahçe have their ground in Kadiköy on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, but their stadium is so close to the Bosphorus that it’s not exactly like you feel you’re in the Asian side of the country).
Bursa is in the northwest of Turkey, surrounded by mountains and woods (hence the nickname "Yeşil Bursa" which translates as Green Bursa) on one side and the Sea of Marmara on the other side. With roughly 2500000 citizens it is the 4th city of Turkey (after Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir) and it is a very industrialised city. It is Turkey’s core of the automotive industry and also some other multinationals including Coca-Cola have a site in the city. Textile is another famous industry in Bursa. With mountains on one side that are excellent for skiing and thermal baths that are widely known since Roman times, tourism is also important to the city. Termal baths are a must-experience for those visiting the city. There are of course several mosques as well of which the Ulu Cami (Great Mosque) is the most important one due to it being a landmark of early Ottoman architecture. The mosque has only 2 minarets but has no less than 20 domes (apparently replacing the idea of 20 separate mosques promised by Sultan Bayezid I after winning the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396).
Bursaspor’s stadium is called the Bursa Atatürk Stadium and is one of the many cities where a stadium is named after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the present-day Turkish state. The stadium opened in 1979 and got renovated this year. It has a capacity of just over 25000 spectators. The stadium has quite a nice entrance, living up to the word "green" in the nicknames of both the club and the city:
This stadium will now be visited, thanks to Bursaspor’s Champions League participation, by Manchester United, Rangers (Glasgow Rangers that is), and Valencia CF. Not exactly an easy group with easy opponents, and I personally think for Bursaspor it will be a success if they can claim the 3rd spot that leads to Europa League football. However, you never know, and the fact that they won that Turkish league and now participate in the Champions League is a huge success by itself. I am not a fan of Bursaspor, they are not my favourite Turkish club, but nevertheless in Europe I wish all Turkish clubs well so I hope that Bursaspor can once more surprise the football world just like they did when winning the Süper Lig last year.