With the 2017-2018 Turkish football season winding down, there are a few political stories which could develop in the coming weeks. By virtue of a hard-fought victory over Alanyaspor, Galatasaray returned to the top one point clear of Istanbul Basaksehirspor. Below the leaders shit traditional powerhouses Besiktas (third place) and Fenerbahce (fourth place). In terms of upcoming fixtures, next weekend proves to be the most exciting. While leaders Galatasaray will face off against fellow title challengers Besiktas (who will be either second, third, or fourth, depending on their result against Yeni Malatyaspor on Sunday 22 April), Istanbul Basaksehirspor will be facing strugglers Osmanlispor (who are currently 15th in the table).

 

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The Turkish Super League Table Going Into 22 April 2018. Image Courtesy of Mackolik.com

 

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Upcoming Fixtures For Galatasaray (Top) and Istanbul Basaksehirspor (Bottom). On Paper, Istanbul Basaksehirspor Have the Advantage. Image Courtesy of Google Search.

 

In effect, this means that the weekend will be defined by the results of the Istanbul derby on the one hand, and the derby between invented teams on the other. Indeed, considering the final four matches of the season, Basaksehirspor have an undoubted advantage on paper. The ultimate answer, however, might have as much to do with on the pitch results as it will to do with off the pitch politics. While the two established Istanbul powers face off in the Istanbul derby, Basaksehirspor will be facing fellow invented team Osmanlispor. While Osmanli won their latest match against fellow strugglers Genclerbirligi Sk, it will be interesting to see what the powers at be in Turkish football make with next weekend’s match. A win for Istanbul Basaksehirspor might well mean a shot at the championship; a loss for Osmanlispor might mean relegation for the neo-Ottoman sports club.

Essentially, the question can be rephrased: Will Osmanlispor be sacrificed for Istanbul Basaksehirspor to have a shot at the championship? My hunch is that they will be; Istanbul Basaksehirspor have come to close to their first championship to be abandoned now and—given that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is such a big fan—the team have friends in high places. The team on the other side of this affair, Osmanlispor, are in the opposite situation. While they were founded in order to project a neo-Ottoman image on the football pitch, their main supporter—former Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek (whose son is chairman of the team)—had a falling out with President Erdogan and, as such, the team may not have the backing it needs to survive another year in Turkey’s top flight; indeed I foresaw Osmanlispor’s struggles back in October of 2017.

Another reason that Osmanlispor might be sacrificed is that there is a contingent of new “project” teams in the TFF First League (the second tier of Turkish football) vying for promotion to the Turkish Super League. Among them are Umraniyespor, who currently sit in second place, and Ankaragucu, who currently sit in fourth place. Umraniyespor, from a conservative suburb of Istanbul’s Asian side, were just a decade ago an obscure team floundering in the amateur leagues; they now have modeled themselves as “the Basaksehirspor of Istanbul’s Asian side”.

 

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The Table in the TFF First Division (Turkey’s Second Tier) Going into 22 April 2018. Image Courtesy Of Mackolik.com

 

Ankaragucu, one of Turkish football’s oldest teams, had been ignored for much of the AKP years while teams like Hacettepe SK and Osmanlispor’s previous incarnation Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor flew the flag of the Turkish capital in the Turkish top flight. However, since former Mayor Melih Gokcek began supporting the team again in late 2017 (please see here and here, the team has risen back to prominence (this, of course, despite Mr. Gokcek’s 2011 Tweet calling for Ankaragucu to “disappear”; perhaps this was why his attempt to take over the team was rejected by Ankaragucu president Mehmet Yiginer).

It has not, however, stopped Mr. Gokcek from supporting the team unofficially. Indeed, Osmanlispor and Ankaragucu have a unique relationship: On 7 September 2017 Mr. Gokcek was overjoyed announcing Ankaragucu’s acquisition of four Osmanlispor players—valued at over 10 million Turkish Liras—free of charge! Mr. Gokcek’s Tweet claimed that Osmanlispor gave the players free so that “Ankaragucu could be champions”. Perhaps Mr. Gokcek, recognizing that Osmanlispor’s days were numbered at the outset of the 2017-2018 season—began to throw his support behind Ankaragucu whole-sale.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/sporarena/osmanlispor-4-futbolcusunu-ucretsiz-verdi-melih-gokcek-40571855

 

Given the situation, it will be interesting to see what happens between Istanbul Basaksehirspor and Osmanlispor next weekend; even if the latter lose to Basaksehirspor it is likely that the powers that be in Turkish football would rather see Genclerbirligi—a team founded in the same year of the Turkish Republic and with a strong republican and left-leaning fan-base—relegated than Osmanlispor. Given that both teams are essentially fighting for survival against one another, Osmanlispor might have some help on the other end of the table. At that point, what will matter is if Osmanlispor is seen as a good investment by those with influence off the pitch. After all, the team have few fans and—if they are not successful—that money could likely be used to support Ankaragucu instead, especially if they are able to get themselves promoted. Regardless of the motives of individual actors in this scenario, it is clear that the final weeks of the Turkish football season will see some real political wrangling both on and off the field. It will be an interesting final few weeks for observers to keep an eye on.

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