Unfancied Trabzonspor take Turkish football by storm

The club rebounded from their first loss of the season with a 2-0 home win against third-place Hatayspor

Trabzonspor are the runaway Turkish league leaders after 17 matches and on course to win their first title since 1984 Creator: Ozan KOSE

Trabzonspor supporter Samet Kordali is "100 percent sure" that his unfancied club from Turkey's Black Sea coast will finally lift the first title of his lifetime.

And when that day comes at the end of the season in May, the northeastern city of Trabzon "will be on fire", Kordali says with a dreamy glint in his eye.

Trabzonspor are the uncontested leaders of the Super Lig after 17 matches, on course to lift their first championship trophy since 1984.

Although they suffered their first loss earlier this month, they rebounded with a 2-0 win against third-place Hatayspor in front of a feverish crowd last weekend.

Boosted by the arrival of Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamsik, they are nine points clear of second-place Konyaspor and the bookies' favourites to win the league.

"Here, every child supports the club," Hamdi Caliskan, 57, says outside the team's official store, where the club's burgundy-and-blue shirts are flying off the shelf.

"We are the first club to have broken Istanbul's reign."

In 1976, Trabzon became the first city outside Istanbul to win the title, which until then was the preserve of the three Turkish giants: Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas.

The city of 300,000 is mainly known among Turks for its fishing port, nationalist fervour and the football club, which some affectionately call the "storm of the Black Sea".

In the old city's cafes, the team dominate every conversation and their colours even decorate some locals' Muslim prayer beads.

"I went to Trabzon several times during my career as a referee," retired match official Deniz Coban recalled in 2019.

"People's relationship to football is very different there. An 80-year-old grandmother would turn around on the street because she knows you."

This passion for the local club is rare in Turkey's regions, where many still support the famous Istanbul side, says Can Kakisim, an associate professor and expert on football.

"Trabzon is a city apart because the majority support Trabzonspor," he said.

Several anecdotes reveal the passion -- some say hysteria -- surrounding the club.

In 2015, the team's president, angry at an unawarded penalty, locked the referees in the locker room for four hours.

The drama only ended after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan placed a soothing phone call to the fuming football boss.

Earlier this month, a man threatened to commit suicide by jumping off the rooftop of an apartment building in the city centre.

In a video that went viral, one person down bellow shouted: "Brother, don't go until you see the championship victory!"

Among the older citizens, some still revel in the nostalgia of a bygone era when Trabzonspor grabbed six championships and six Turkish Super Cups between 1976 and 1984.

Since then, Trabzonspor have gained a reputation for being "respected opponents" who can put up a decent fight against the Istanbul sides, says historian Mehmet Yuce.

But Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas do not really treat Trabzonspor as an equal, focusing instead on their intense internal rivalry.

"Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas have existed for more than a century and so they don't see Trabzonspor (formed in 1967) as a team of their calibre," Yuce says.

The club, which has finished second on nine occasions, has the added advantage of not playing in the European leagues.

For Kakisim, a new championship title is "necessary" for keeping alive the passion among younger fans.

Gokhan Alparslan is one of them.

Painting houses during the week, the 25-year-old sells team scarves for 30 liras ($1.70) on match days in the stadium's parking lot.

This year, he watches games on the television but if Trabzonspor clinches the title, he thinks selling team scarves could make him rich.

"Maybe then I'll be able to buy a season ticket to go inside the stadium," he laughs.

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