A Scot, a flag, and the most brazen act in Turkish football history
Back in early November, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was seen on television taunting and goading Juventus fans inside the Allianz Stadium in Turin after his team came back to beat the Italian giant 2-1. The Portuguese provocateur rushed onto the pitch after the final whistle blew with one hand up to his ear like a little Hulk Hogan and the other one patting Juventus players on the back of the head.
One person who was not terribly impressed with the gaffer was Scottish legend Graeme Souness. The former Liverpool and Rangers midfielder said on "Virgin Media Sport" that Mourinho could have "caused a riot" with his charade.
Now I'm not here to doubt the validity of that statement, we've seen fights started by much less in the past, but it is frankly hilarious to hear that Graeme Souness of all people was one of the leading detractors to Mourinho's behavior.
That's because if you were to take a look at Mr. Souness's own career as a manager, you'd quickly find that not only is he guilty of similar actions in the past, but in one instance he almost started a civil war in Istanbul for doing something a little more inflammatory.
April 24, 1996 was a massively important day for Graeme Souness. This was because it was on that day that he would lead his club, Galatasaray S.K., to the second leg of the 1996 Turkish Cup final, in which they were gunning for the chance to win the nation's leading professional football tournament.
Souness's boys were heading into the clash up one goal up after Dean Saunders scored during the first leg of the final which took place less than two weeks prior. They were intent on winning their first domestic cup since 1993, and that fervor was intensified after they had lost the opportunity to catch up and win the League Cup. Yet, the only thing standing in their way was Fenerbahce, one of Turkey's greatest powers as well as Galatasaray's arch-rival for much of their existence.
Galatasaray and Fenerbahce have historically made up two thirds of one of the biggest three-way rivalries in European sports. Along with fellow team Besiktas, these three Turkish giants were responsible for some of the nation's most famous, and infamous, moments. They were also the three most successful clubs in the country's history.
On top of all of that, Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, and Besiktas have forever played inside the city limits of Istanbul. If you were a citizen of the intercontinental city, or merely a traveler to the former seat of the Byzantine Empire, you could not escape the rivalry even if you tried.
Hallmarks of the derby included riots in the streets, smoke bombs, bright flares, beautiful fan artwork known as "tifos", and pure devotion to his or her club. Players have been attacked by fans, fans have been injured or even killed, and lives have been irrevocably changed within the city that spans both Europe and Asia.
Today's story, while already known as an exciting chapter inside the history book of Turkish football, is simply put one of the most brazen actions that any fan of the world's game has ever witnessed.
With that all being said, let's get right into it.
Sprits were running high inside Galatasaray's camp heading into this contest. Not only were they up one goal, but they also hadn't surrendered an away goal during the first match. That meant that if Fenerbahce scored during this match, they could still secure victory with another goal of their own. A 1-1 tie was just as good as a 1-0 victory.
33 minutes into the contest, Fenerbahce's Aykut Kocaman was able to find some space and score in order to tie the match on aggregate. While this was not the best position for Souness and company, matters didn't get worse for them before the final whistle blew. Once 90 minutes were up, the game went into an extra time, which was made up of two halves of 15 minutes a piece. If neither team could score in the allotted time, the final would be decided in a penalty shootout.
Luckily for Souness, the game didn't need to reach that stressful stage thanks again to Welshman Dean Saunders, who sent in a wonderful ball past the Fenerbahce goalkeeper and into the back of the net in the 116th minute. A few minutes later, Galatasaray won the Turkish Cup, and they did so in their arch-rival's stadium.
Now while this was obviously a jubilant moment for all the away fans in attendance, it was a hellish result for the tens of thousands of Fenerbahce supporters, who almost instantly started rioting in the seats. While this would have normally concerned any other fan base, no one on Gala's side seemed to worry about it that much.
In fact, when a fan handed over a massive red and orange flag to one of the players, everyone on the team took their turn to wave it like they had successfully stormed the castle and taken it as their own.
The jubilance went into a whole new gear once the mad Scot Souness took his turn with the colors. In a scene that would fit right in with myths from Antiquity, coach Souness took this fabric pennant and ran all the way to the half field circle. There, in a move that cannot be adequately described with any human language, he planted the flag in the ground all the while a chorus of boos rang out into the Istanbul sky.
Once he did so, he ran off into the tunnel, all the while dodging debris and opposing fans who had ran onto the pitch. If memory serves me right, he wouldn't leave the locker room for the duration of this joyful and stressful night.
Now here's a question, why exactly did Souness decide that it was a wise decision to become the biggest target in Eastern Europe for the night? Well, the former manager was all too willing to give his reason many years later.
Souness said, "When I went there, one of their (Fenerbahce) Vice Presidents had asked in the papers "what are Galatasaray doing by signing a cripple? He was talking about me because about 18 months earlier I had open-heart surgery."
He continued on to express that after his team had won the cup, he saw the very same official in the Fenerbahce VIP seats. "I thought "I'll show you who's a cripple.""
The beauty of sports is that it helps bring out our most inner emotions. There are thousands, if not millions, of stories just like this that leave our collective consciousness and become one with the cosmos. Luckily for all of us, this is not one of those stories.
Coach Souness and the flag has become one of the club's most enduring images. Not only has his likeness been used as the subject of one of Galatasaray's most famous tifos, but Souness himself became a legend in Turkey where they call him "Ulubatli Souness", named after a famous Turkish martyr who planted the Ottoman Flag on the walls of Constantinople back in 1453 before he died. And while Souness is still with us to this day, he was not long for Galatasaray.
Souness would leave the club soon after, only one year in his tenure at the club. He moved back to England, where he initially found fame, and after bouncing around clubs in Western and Central Europe, he would retire in the mid-2000s to become a sports commentator.
To me, Souness's brief time at Gala only intensifies his legendary status. He could have continued on and eventually flame out into obscurity, but instead, he left Turkey before the flares were all snuffed out. What an absolute legend.
At some point, I would love to tell you all about the time a Fenerbahce fan known simply as Rambo hid inside Galatasaray's stadium and then rushed onto the pitch before another derby day match in 1998 brandishing both a Fenerbahce flag and a kabab knife.
But for the time being, I feel that we should simply leave it here, with a crazed Scot who decided to pull the most brazen act in Turkish football history because another guy called him a cripple. Sports truly are amazing.
Photo Credits - Twitter.com and The Daily Mail
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