Turkey's progress down the years provides a heartening example for the rest of European football. In recent times, the Turkish game has emerged as a key player on the continental and global stage: a third-place finish at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, followed by a run to the UEFA EURO 2008 semi-finals, attests to the sterling work undertaken in a long and eventful history.
The first recorded match was between Englishmen in Salonika in 1875 when the Greek city belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Football became instantly popular, attracting new participants in major cities such as Istanbul and Izmir. Initially, though, the English and Greeks in Istanbul had their own exclusive league. The process of integration and acceptance by these established teams was prompted at the turn of the 20th century when the first Turkish side – Black Stockings – was formed to play friendlies.
Galatasaray AŞ, founded in 1905, were the first Turkish club to join the Istanbul Football League, being followed by Fenerbahçe SK and Beşiktaş JK, the latter having been created in 1903 as a gymnastics club. Soon the Turkish teams started to dominate, and in 1907/08 Galatasaray became the first such outfit to win the title. The same side would also author the biggest Turkish success story in European football by lifting the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup in 2000.
Football continued throughout the First World War and the military occupation of Istanbul. Matches were held against opposition forces, and any victory helped to keep the country's pride and morale high. In 1923 Turkey became a republic. The same year was notable too for the birth of the Turkish Football Federation (Türkiye Futbol Federasyönü or TFF), which immediately gained FIFA membership. A busy 12 months also witnessed the Turkish national team's debut in a 2-2 draw with Romania in Istanbul. It was only from 1949, however, that Turkey entered a team for World Cup qualification. Although Turkey clinched a place in the 1950 finals in Brazil, they were unable to travel because financial difficulties made the journey to South America impossible. They would have to wait until the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland to make their debut appearance.
The introduction of professionalism in 1951 was another important milestone in Turkish football. After trials in Istanbul and Ankara, the nationwide professional league was introduced by the TFF in 1959. Taking advantage of their pioneering role and financial resources, the three major Istanbul teams, Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş, have enjoyed great domestic success, with their dominance only being broken by Trabzonspor AŞ (six times) and Bursaspor (once) in the history of the league, which would be rebranded as 'Super League' for the 2002/03 campaign.
The TFF's membership of UEFA in 1962 enabled Turkish teams to take part in European club competitions, and a new era got underway. A win in Europe carried considerable significance for Turkish fans. However, they had to find comfort with sporadic victories at club and international level for some time. The era of 'honourable defeats', as they were known in Turkey, ended in the mid-1990s.
Perhaps the most significant date was 27 May 1988, when Turkey's national assembly granted full autonomy to the TFF. This move heralded the beginning of a football boom. Clubs now had better financial resources, and attached importance to training facilities and the grassroots. This greater emphasis laid the foundations for Turkey's recent achievements.
In 1992, Turkey won what was then the European Under-18 Championship, and followed with the Under-16 crown two years later. Coach Fatih Terim led the senior side to their first-ever EURO finals in 1996, using this generation of players as the basis of the team.
The summer of 2000 saw Turkish participation in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals, and the senior team, led by Mustafa Denizli, reached the UEFA EURO 2000 quarter-finals. Then, in 2002, 48 years on from their previous World Cup appearance, Turkey came third in Japan/Korea under the guidance of coach Şenol Günes.
Having failed to qualify for UEFA EURO 2004 and the 2006 World Cup, Turkey bounced back in style at UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. With Terim at the helm, they reached the semi-finals, and captured hearts and minds beyond Turkey after an Alpine adventure spiced with dramatic last-minute goals and victories. Although they missed out on the EURO in 2012, the Turks made it through to the finals again in 2016.
The importance of grassroots and youth development has become a major priority. The TFF has put educational programmes in place for coaches, players and officials. The establishment of development leagues covering the U14-U19 age categories fostered the growth of elite players of the future. Support has also been given to the development of areas such as women's football and football for the disabled.
Facilities have also been upgraded, with a new national team centre, named after former TFF president Hasan Doǧan and built with UEFA's assistance, was inaugurated in July 2014.
Turkey proved its passion for football by hosting the 2005 UEFA Champions League and 2009 UEFA Europa League finals in Istanbul. A major stadium project is being undertaken through the ministry of youth and sports, including 25 stadiums in 23 different cities, and some have already been completed.
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