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Galatasaray and the legend of 'Ulubatli'

Souness Tifo (via Ultras-tifo.net)Anyone who followed Graeme Souness's fairly recent spat with Paul Pogba might consider that small beer upon closer inspection of the drama he'd find himself in over the course of just one season (1995-6) in Turkey, with Galatasaray, after a year out of work. Although it could be argued that before leaving he'd helped usher in the success the club would enjoy in the early Noughties, remaining the only Süper Lig side to taste European success following a penalty shoot-out win over Arsenal in 2000's UEFA Cup final. But almost as soon as he'd signed on to take over in what their own fans dubbed “hell”, in honour of the often intimidating din of the Ali Sami Yen stadium, trouble was afoot.

 

 

As British managers abroad often then saw fit to do, Souey had gone homegrown in player recruitment. Answering the call to join him were Mike Marsh & Barry Venison from Coventry & Newcastle respectively. Early communication issues with their new Turkish team-mates were not properly addressed & contributed to the departures of both, after just two & a half months in Marsh's case with Venison following him within five, just eleven games played between them before opting to flit back to England.

 

Welshman Dean Saunders was something of a marquee signing at £2.35 million from Aston Villa, in comparison to the relatively paltry £750,000 spent on Venison & £500,000 handed over for Marsh. He at least managed to see out the season under the auspices of his old Liverpool gaffer & departed for Nottingham Forest with 21 goals in all competitions- the first two scored in a 3-1 home win over Altay in the second game of the new Lig season as the Aslanlar (Lions) won their first six matches under the man who would be dubbed Ulubatli.

 

A first big setback arrived on October 1, 1995 with a 4-1 defeat at Trabzonspor, & within two weeks a derby loss at Fenerbahçe was already threatening a premature end to the honeymoon period for Souness on the European side of Istanbul, results deemed not good enough for the country's most successful club.

 

The local press were on his case as players they saw as underperforming foreigners were making it into the team ahead of Turks, though by the end of the month the wins started coming once more. A 5-0 home thrashing of Ankaragücü on November 19 finished off with a double from Hakan Şükür either side of Saffat Sancakli's own brace & a single goal from Tugay Kerimoğlu, the icing on the cake of a run of no defeats from 28 October through to December 17.

 

When the loss to Beşiktaş came that day, the fallout was immediate. Fourth in the league represented the club's worst mid-season placing in the last five years, & once again those not of Turkish birth were to take the flak for it!

 

Rumours flew that the manager & Saunders were off amid tensions with the rest of the team, and with Fenerbahçe & Trabzonspor way ahead in the Süper Lig. Introducing four more local lads- Bulent & Mert Korkmaz brought in alongside Feti Okuroğlu & Hakan Ünsal- focus switched to the Türkiye Kupasi (Turkish Cup), the road to the final taking some of the pressure off amidst another league slump. A tight aggregate win over two legs against Samsunspor in the semi-final setting up another meeting with Fener, who they had beaten 2-0 at home in the league towards the end of March '96.

 

It's here that we come to perhaps the best- remembered incident of Souness's time as Gala boss, rubbing it in after winning the Cup by planting a club flag into the pitch at the Şükrü Saracoğlu - Fener territory!

 

Having celebrated with the away fans he sprinted half the length of the pitch to stick the flag in plum position in the centre circle & in so doing went from object of derision to absolute hero. His actions motivated by a desire to show the president of their city rivals that he was no cripple- the decision to give him the job following open heart surgery was openly mocked, using that exact word by those on the Asian side of their shared home city.

 

Speaking on Sky Sports News, he would later remember that 'When I first went there nine months earlier, one of their [Fenerbahçe's] vice-presidents questioned Galatasaray's wisdom in signing a "cripple", referring to me with the heart operation I'd had.

 

A year later, we won the trophy in their stadium and we go over to where our supporters are and a big flag is handed over the wire fence.

 

All the players take a few waves of the flag, it's handed to me and I have a few waves and look to hand it to someone. But there was no one to hand it on to as all the players had gone back to the halfway line to get the cup.

 

So I'm jogging to the halfway line with this great big flag in my hand. I thought, 'I'll show you who's a cripple", which was not the smartest thing I've ever done in my life. I managed to get the flag in after about the third attempt into the centre circle and turned around to see supporters now climbing the fences to get onto the pitch.

 

So I found a bit of pace from somewhere, sprinted into the tunnel and got away with it. “

 

Yet it would seem that far from hastening his departure it actually added to his legend, though his contract wasn't extended beyond that season.

 

'Our board came in 10 minutes later with tears in their eyes, saying "this is the greatest thing that's ever happened to the football club." I've never kissed so many moustachioed men in my life.”

 

Fittingly enough, given the status the whole affair still enjoys, Graeme became ‘Ulubatli’ after Ottoman general Ulubatli Hasan, who'd raised a flag in triumph following the 1453 Siege of Constantinople!

 

Such acclaim wasn't, though, enough to stop him booking a return flight to England, the relative failure in finishing fourth in the league by Gala's high standards & rumours of legal action against the club over money he claimed they owed him possibly speeding up the end of his Turkish sojourn. Though as recently as 2014 (18 years on) a tifo marking the moment was seen in the stands during a 2-1 win for his old team over their cross- capital rivals. Proof that time really is a great healer?

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