Galatasaray AŞ bade farewell to their beloved Ali Sami Yen home with a 3-1 win against second division side Beypazarı Şekerspor in the Turkish Cup – the last match played at the stadium once nicknamed 'Hell' by European media.
Although the opposition may not have been the most glamorous in the arena's history, thousands of fans packed in to pay their tribute to the stadium which carries the name of the founder of Galatasaray. They were here to witness the final memorable moments before their team depart for their new 52,650-seater TT Arena. They went out on a high, Kazım Kazım scoring the old stadium's final goal just before the end of his competitive debut following a cross-town move from Fenerbahçe SK.
The Ali Sami Yen Stadium was officially opened with a friendly match between Turkey and Bulgaria on 20 December 1964 but Galatasaray provided the most memorable moments in its history. On 7 June 1987, Galatasaray beat Eskişehirspor 2-1 to end a 14-year title wait in front of a 35,845 crowd that stands as the club's stadium record.
Just over a year later, Galatasaray defeated Neuchâtel Xamax FC of Switzerland 5-0 in the second round of the European Champion Clubs' Cup to overturn a three-goal first-leg deficit and herald the start of more UEFA competition success for the Istanbul side. That included a 0-0 draw with Manchester United FC in 1993/94 which, following a 3-3 result at Old Trafford, took Galatasaray into the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time. The following season FC Barcelona lost 2-1 at the Ali Sami Yen.
Even better was to follow when Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup in 2000, while home wins against Bologna FC, RCD Mallorca and Leeds United AFC live on in fans' memories. As, of couse, does the 3-2 comeback against Real Madrid CF in the 2000/01 UEFA Champions League and the equally remarkable 4-3 defeat of FC Girondins de Bordeaux in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup.
Although in the modern era the Ali Sami Yen had a capacity of only 22,800, the passionate fans made it one of the most atmospheric stadiums in the world. When Galatasaray beat AC Milan 3-2 in the 1999/00 UEFA Champions League to earn a UEFA Cup berth, visiting captain Paolo Maldini was quoted as saying: "Nobody can make me believe that there are only 25,000 people in this stadium." Even Pierluigi Collina once said of the stadium: "I love this Hell."
Ryan Giggs experienced the arena at its most ferocious in United's memorable visits. "I like the intense atmosphere where we are not just playing the team, we are playing their fans as well," he said. "I've never experienced anything like Galatasaray.
Two hours before kick-off, we went out to have a look at the pitch and the stadium was packed! The chanting was brilliant: one side starts, then the other, then quiet, then all of them chanting! The players really enjoyed it. Before it was good, after it wasn't!"
Turkey's national team also benefitted from the atmosphere, notably in the 5-0 defeat of Austria on 14 November 2001 that sent them to their first FIFA World Cup finals since 1954. The stadium was also the venue for the Turkish Super League's record win, though it was not Galatasaray but Beşiktaş JK who beat Adana Demirspor 10-0 on 15 October 1989.
But that is all history now and next month demolition will begin ahead of the construction of a new shopping centre, while the €160m replacement, the third biggest stadium in Turkey, prepares to open its doors for a friendly against AFC Ajax on Saturday. A new era has began but the old one will remain in the memory.
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