Saturday, May 25, 2019

A season in the Turkish Capital with Ankaragücü!

It’s exactly 10 years since I started following Ankaragücü after deciding one night to make my casual interest in Turkish football more interesting by choosing a team to follow. Most people would have opted for one of the Istanbul or holiday resort teams but when I came across this blog and saw the reports from a fellow Scot and Brit I decided to get in touch, and that was that. 

Since then I have been over to Ankara 6 times, and I’m planning my next trip in September when the new Super Lig season starts. As a Rangers season ticket holder, I’ve like many of my fellow fans had to endure some tough times, with the club being demoted to the bottom tier of Scottish football, ripped apart by corrupt criminals and kicked from pillar to post by politicians and our enemies. 

Thankfully Rangers are back on the ascendence and things are starting to look  ore optimistic for the future. The same unfortunately can’t be said for Ankaragücü. The club has suffered a similar fate to Rangers, dropping down the leagues, the victims of corrupt and criminal activity that almost put the club out of business 6 years ago. Every player left the club, there was no electricity or water for the youth players who lived at the complex and had to sleep with 2 blankets just to keep warm.

After a spell of 5 years in the lower leagues, Ankaragücü finally made it back to the big League, clinching promotion from Lig 1 last season. For most clubs, the extra revenue would be a welcome opportunity for progression and signal the start of the end of some financial problems. This is Ankaragücü however, and we take a look at the 2018/19 season and the remarkable achievements of Mustafa Kaplan considering the adversity he faced on a daily basis.

İsmail Kartal guided the club to the Super Lig having finished 2nd in Lig 1 the following season. His preparations for the return to the Super Lig were what you would expect for an amateur club. Having played at the 19 Mayis Stadium for a large part of their history, it was announced that it was being knocked down and the club would move to a new stadium. The issue was that the new stadium still hadn’t been built which left the club homeless.

Ankaragücü also had a transfer ban which meant they couldn’t sign any new players until that was lifted. The club only played 2 pre season games due to not having enough players to compete in competitive matches. With only days remaining until the new season began, Ankaragücü announced that they lifted the transfer ban and would be playing at Yenikent Stadium which is in the outskirts of Ankara with dreadful public transport facilities. 

New signings such as Mustapha El Kabir, Youness Mokhtar, Thiago Pinto, Thievy Bifouma, Alessio Cerci, Ricardo Faty, Bakary Kone, Thomas Heurtaux, Yalcin Ayhan and Thievy Bifouma all signed on but their were major concerns with the club having no pre season and the first game of the season was against champions Galatasaray at home.

Ankaragücü put up a brave fight against Galatasaray in front of a sold out Yenikent Stadium. They took the lead through El Kabir but Galatasaray came back to win 3-1 after the home side ran out of steam and the match fitness started to show.

The following week Ankaragücü won their first Super Lig game since relegation 6 years previous with a fantastic 2-0 win at Alanyaspor. They followed that up with a 2-2 draw at home against a good Trabzonspor side, before losing 2-0 at Kasimpasa. The team would then go on a run winning 4 out of their next 7 games taking them up into the Top 5 and even had some fans dreaming of Europe.  
The run included a fantastic 3-1 win at Fenerbahce with İsmail Kartal receiving  standing ovation from the Fenerbahce fans having previously managed the Istanbul side.

Sadly, that would be the end of the run for the club, as in typical Ankaragücü fashion, when the good times come, the bad times are just around the corner.

Yenikent Stadium is owner by Ankara municipal and it’s their responsibility to keep the stadium and pitch maintained. The pitch was neglected and they refused to fix it which meant the TFF decided it wasn’t acceptable to play on and Ankaragücü would have to play their home games somewhere else. Those locations were decided a couple of days before each game and were in Kayseri and Afyon which are 4-5 hours outside of Ankara.

On top of being homeless as the clubs new stadium wouldn’t be ready till January, players were starting to terminate their contracts due to unpaid wages. The club would go on to lose their next 9 league games and were kicked out of the Turkish Cup by Lig 3 side Bordumspor.

Expensive signings such as Alessio Cerci who was a former Italian International and Atletico Madrid winger didn’t work out, and then there was the fall out between the management team and Ismail Kartal.

After another Ankaragücü defeat, Ismail Kartal had a go publicly at the Ankaragücü board, saying if they can’t  pay the players then go. Kartal was held in high regard by the clubs fans as he refused to take a house paid by the club and instead stayed at the club facility to save money. He also guided the club back to the Super Lig in his first season in charge. Sadly that was to be the end of Kartal as he was fired and replaced by Mustafa Kaplan who was back for his 3rd spell as manager.

I took a trip over to Ankara just before all the unrest and met with the club who gave me some insite into the financial problems they have. Ankaragücü weren’t receiving any of their prize money for winning and drawing matches as it wasn’t withheld by the TFF who were paying off old debts left by Melih Gokcek the clubs former president and main culprit for all the financial issues at the club.

Things would get bad to worse as another rift, this time between start player and top scorer Mustapha El Kabir and management took place after one of the games, where it was claimed El Kabir punched one of the staff members and refused to play for the club. El Kabir has all the talent in the world, but his attitude will see him move from club to club and see him in trouble more often than not.

The January transfer window summed up Ankaragücü, 12 players in with 12 moving out and all new signings were made on the last day of the transfer window.

Mustafa Kaplan wasn’t faced with the impossible task of bringing a full new team together fighting relegation and make them a team who were up for the fight for survival. Tyler Boyd, Michal Pazdan, Stelios Kitsiou, Hadi Sacko, Dever Orgill, Ante Kulusic, Tito Canteros, Moke and Zaur Sadaev were some of the players the club signed and they made an impact right from the start. 

The club finally moved into the new Eryaman Stadium which holds just over 20,000 and is very close to the pitch which makes for an excellent atmosphere.

A brilliant 3-0 win over Kasimpasa on the opening night where both Orgill and Sacko opened their account saw the club go on a 5 match unbeaten run and move clear of the danger zone. Tyler Boyd and Orgill in particular formed a fantastic partnership scoring and creating in each match. Boyd a 24 year old winger with an end product, and Orgill a quick and powerful striker who led the line well fighting for every ball.

Important draws against Fenerbahce and Rizespor and a brilliant 2-0 win at Kayserispor took Ankaragücü closer to safety and the team was playing and exciting brand of football along the way. 

The problem for Ankaragücü, was that other teams at the bottom such a season Goztepe, Bursaspor and Erzerumspor were all winning too which meant the team weren’t out of danger from the drop. Some of the results and performances had started to drop and again the team suffered some bad news when key duo Thiago Pinto and Djedje terminated their contracts due to unpaid wages. Both players were big assists for the club with Besiktas and Trabzonspor both interested in signing them. Both players left and Ankaragücü weren’t entitled to anything.

Ankaragücü would face Sivasspor a time home with 2 games remaining knowing a point would guarantee survival. A defeat however would send the team closer to the drop zone and with Djedje and Pinto both leaving it meant others would need to step up.

In came Cebrail for his first start and Moke came back into the starting line up too. The fans created the usual intimidating atmosphere for the last home game of the season and kept their undefeated record at the stadium with a 3-1 victory thanks to goals from Sacko, Boyd and Canteros.

It was an emotional ending to the season for Ankaragücü manager Mustafa Kaplan who had tears in his eyes. After the game he spoke of the sacrifices he and his team had made in the most difficult conditions. The players hadn’t been paid their wages in the last 3-6 months but still fought for the jersey and gave their all. They sacrificed getting injured and having no contract at the end of the season, and no income for their families. All for Ankaragücü, and they were thanked by the fans who saw their heroes clinch their place in the Super Lig for next season.

It wasn’t all positive at the Sivasspor match. One of the clubs fan groups chanted for the resignation of the clubs President due to a fall out. The club should fan groups are funded by the club and apparently they asked for more money that was turned down.

The club today also confirmed they have paid the outstanding wages to the players and will now look to strength for next season. The clubs main Sponsor MKE failed to pay their sponsorship money and the Municipal also failed to support the club. As usual, Ankaragücü are a club supported by the fans from the slums and will be on their own again.

Finally, Altay Bayindir who came through the clubs youth academy, became the youngest ever captain in the Super Lig at the age of 20. He look s to have played his last game for the club as Galatasaray and Trabzonspor are set to fight it out for the Turkish U21 International.


  1. Well done, Nady!
    Fab report 💙💛

  2. Well said Vkng Harun. A great report of the season and a useful historical record for footie fanatics to look back on in years to come.

    Let's hope we can finish this season with a victory in Izmir tonight against effin Goztepe. It might also help Bursa to avoid relegation if they can do the biz in Malatya.

  3. Wow,and I thought we had it bad mate.Great read that.

  4. Great report Nadeem. Simply great