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History of the Istanbul Derby - Fenerbahce vs Galatasaray

A history of the fiercely competitive Istanbul Derby between Fenerbahce and Galatasaray

Sights like these aren’t uncommon in this fiery derby

Football is an extremely passionate game, which has given rise to rivalries between major clubs all over the world, the most famous ones being the Manchester Derby – between Manchester United and Manchester City, the El Clasico – between Barcelona and Read Madrid, the North London Derby – between Arsenal and Tottenham and of course the rivalry between two of the historically most prominent English clubs Liverpool and Manchester United to name a few. 

However, an equally intriguing derby has got to be the one contested between Turkish powerhouses Fenerbahce and Galatasaray, which is popularly known as the Intercontinental Derby or the Istanbul Derby.

The making Of A Rivalry

Fenerbahce fans flares rivalry
The use of flares during the derby has become a common sight

The intense derby, first contested on 17th January 1909, has some pretty unique origins and has often been marred by acts of bloody violence and hooliganism, making it one of the fiercest derbies in the world. Fenerbahce have mainly dominated the fixture with 144 wins, compared to Galatasaray’s 122. With that in mind, let’s go through a history of the Istanbul Derby.

Peaceful Beginnings

The history of the Istanbul Derby cannot be complete without tracing its origins, which is quite interesting. Galatasaray was founded by the prestigious Galatasaray High School, whose students consisted of the children of Istanbul’s wealthy, making Galatasaray a club of the elite in stark contrast to Fernerbahce, which was founded by locals and prided itself on being the club of the people.

Galatasaray fans derby fenerbahce display
Turkish fans often put up large banners, create mosaics and displays ahead of big clashes

Fenerbahce won the common man's love due to them winning the first non-domestic competition in Turkish football history, which attracted fans from all over the country. Galatasaray on the other hand, expanded its fanbase by bringing more of Turkey’s elite into the fold. Thus, the rivalry was formed on the basis of class. However, as times changed the class divide rapidly vanished, and now both clubs boast of fanbases from all walks of life.

Initial Years

The first-ever game between the two clubs was held on 17 January 1909 at the Papazin Cayiri, where Fenerbahce’s home stadium - Şükrü Saraçoğlu Stadium currently stands. The game finished 2-0 in favour of Galatasaray, who continued to dominate the fixtures until Fenerbahce finally got the upper hand over them five years later on 4th January 1914. A rather remarkable point to be noted is that although Galatasaray bested Fernerbahce many times in the early 20th Century, an actual rivalry hadn’t really been developed. It was only in the 1930’s that an animosity between the teams developed and evolved into the cutthroat rivalry we all know today.

A Rivalry Starts

Turkish Riot Police Galatasaray fenerbahce
In 2003, the riot police had to escort the referee off the pitch during the Istanbul Derby

Things had initially remained peaceful during the derbies contested between the teams over the years, but that all changed forever on 23rd February 1934. Both teams went into the game with a burning desire to win, which showed in their gameplay as the match had to be stopped on many occasions due to rash fouls from both sides. The hostility on the pitch made its way to the stands and before anyone knew it a fight broke out between the players of both teams.

The referee had no option except to abandon the match before any further damage was caused. A tragedy had certainly been averted that day, but the word ‘friendly’ was never used to describe derbies contested between the two teams ever again.

The rivalry between the teams has gotten so intense that incidents of fireworks, hostile chanting, destroying stadium equipment, fist fights and rioting became commonplace. In fact, trouble is anticipated before and after every game contested between the teams.

2013 Stabbing Incident

The Istanbul Derby witnessed its darkest hour on 12 May 2013 when Fenerbahce overcame their rivals in a 2-1 victory. The match atmosphere was already extremely hostile, with several reports of racist chants made by Fenerbahce fans toward Galatasaray’s African players.

However, it was after the match that things got really ugly and ended in the stabbing of 19-year-old Fenerbahce fan Burak Yildirim by a Galatasaray supporter. The tragic snuffing of a young life over a football rivalry shocked the world and continues to be a big blot on the Intercontinental Derby.

Fenerbahce supporters clash with law enforcement derby galatasaray
Fenerbahce fans clashed with the police in 2012 after the Turkish Super League finals

The Rivalry Extends

The rivalry has also extended to the recruitment of players, with both clubs attempting to sign some of football’s reputable names. Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneijder, Durk Kuyt, Lukas Podolski, Nani, Raul Meireles and more recently Robin Van Persie are some prestigious names to put on a shirt for either club.

Other interesting facts to note about the derby is the player who made the most appearances – Turgay Seren, who played as a goalkeeper for Galatasaray between 1947-1967 as well as its top scorer – Zeki Riza Sporel who scored 27 goals for Fenerbahce against their rivals and is often considered as one of Turkey’s greatest strikers.

A history of the Istanbul Derby is indeed an intriguing one and the events leading up to it as well as the ones causing it to continue raging, easily puts it on par with some of the greatest rivalries in world football. And although the rivalry can be mouthwatering, one always hopes that the supporters give peace a chance.

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