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 Thessalonika 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 Association (Türkiye Futbol Federasyonu 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.
The TFF experienced highs and lows like any organisation. One important milestone was the introduction of professionalism in 1951. Turkey also appeared at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, yet perhaps the most significant date was 27 May 1988 when the Turkish National Assembly granted full autonomy to the TFF. This move signalled the beginning of a football boom. Clubs now had better financial resources and, for the first time, attached importance to training facilities as well as to the grassroots. A greater emphasis on developing young talent to help the nation qualify for international tournaments laid the foundations for Turkey's recent achievements.
In 1992 Turkey won the UEFA European Under-18 Championship and two years later the U16 crown. The summer of 2000 saw their participation at the UEFA European U21 Championship finals, and then the exploits of the senior team in getting to the UEFA EURO 2000 quarter-finals. Next, in 2002, 48 years on from their previous World Cup appearance, Turkey came third in Korea/Japan. Their splendid campaign spotlighted players such as Hakan Sükür and Hasan Şaş.
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. Losing semi-finalists, they arguably captured the hearts and minds of a global audience after an Alpine adventure spiced with dramatic last-minute goals and victories. Now the focus is UEFA EURO 2012 and the 2014 World Cup.
Where Turkey also proved its footballing passion by hosting the 2005 UEFA Champions League final and the 2009 UEFA Cup final in Istanbul, the country seeks to further underline its organisational ability by announcing its candidature for UEFA EURO 2016.
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