With five games remaining, unfashionable Bursaspor look set to usurp Sivasspor's achievements from the last two campaigns and become only the second club outside Istanbul's 'big three' to lift the Super League title.
Trabzonspor – in 1983/84 – were the last team other than Beşiktaş JK, Fenerbahçe SK and Galatasaray AŞ to be crowned champions, although Sivasspor, in finishing second last term and fourth in 2007/08, came close. Ertuğrul Sağlam's squad are, however, on the verge of rewriting the history books having held top spot for more than a month thanks to seven wins in their last eight matches.
Hailing from the fourth biggest city in Turkey, whose economy is underpinned by textiles and the car industry, Bursaspor were established in 1963 by the merger of five amateur clubs, and were soon plying their trade in the top flight after winning the second division in 1966/67. A run to the last eight of the 1974/75 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup raised their profile, though it was a Turkish Cup triumph in 1985/86 which really put the club on the map.
Having spent two campaigns outside the Super League following relegation in 2003/04, the Crocs served notice of what was to come last term when, following Sağlam's appointment mid-season, they finished fifth, three points shy of UEFA Europa League qualification. The upward curve continued into 2009/10 with noteable victories against Galatasaray (1-0), Beşiktaş (3-2) and Fenerbahçe (3-2), scalps which have left Sağlam in bullish mood.
"I condemn all the people who say our rise is just coincidence," said the former Beşiktaş coach, whose team are the top scorers in the league. "It's disrespectful to our efforts and the players, who have perfect character. Although they are not as high profile as our opponents, my players are very determined for the title run-in. That's what makes the difference between us and them."
Boasting a mix of youth and experience – Ali Tandoğan, Ömer Erdoğan, Mustafa Keçeli, Hüseyin Çimşir have all played for one of Turkey's big clubs – Sağlam's attack-minded outlook has earned a three-point lead over Fenerbahçe. Recognition of such form also earned pacy wingers Ozan İpek and Volkan Şen first call-ups to the Turkey squad. With a trip to Galatasaray and a visit from Beşiktaş making up two of their last four matches, Bursaspor and their fiercely devoted fans are in for an exciting, if nail-biting, finale to what has so far been a season beyond their wildest expectations.
"Our success should be appreciated but it will mean nothing if we can't lift the trophy," added Sağlam, who has promised an 'Anatolian revolution' if his side hold their nerve. "We'll shoulder every responsibility and play with sacrifice to introduce another champion from Anatolia."
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