No love lost as Ankaragücü's young guns fall short
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Ankaragücü’s defeat at Kardemir Karabükspor on Saturday only sealed what has been expected for too long.Ankaragücü fell awfully short in its bid to write a good underdog story and was relegated from the top-flight with still six weeks left in the season. But few people are feeling sorry for the club that once avoided relagation with the order of a junta leader.
One of the oldest teams in the country, Ankaragücü lost to Kardemir Karabük 3-2 and lost all hopes of survival in the Spor Toto Super League. The team will spend its 103rd year in a lower league for the first time in three decades.
In fact, Ankaragücü’s defeat only sealed what has been expected for too long. It was the team’s ninth defeat in a row, only this time fought back twice and was downed by only a late goal. Probably the team fought harder against a fellow relegation-battler and the fact that this was that deciding game boosted their will to battle as well.
The average age of the 14 players Ankaragücü used against Karabük was 21.3 (and it was 20.7 if veteran defender Mehmet Çoğum was left out). It was no surprise since the team has been playing with footballers from reserve and youth teams in the last part of the season. Around 10 players left the squad due to unpaid wages in January’s mid-season transfer window, and added with summer’s departures to offload wage budgets left cash-strapped Ankaragücü to delve deep in their back-up squads.
With a 2-1 win at Mersin İdman Yurdu and a hard-fought 0-0 draw against title contender Beşiktaş in January, Ankaragücü signaled it could manage the impossible: With no money and a group of young players, it could have made even the most outrageously optimistic feel-good story of a Hollywood sports movie look modest. But the dream came to an end soon: After those two consecutive games, it was a pitch black period for the team with nine matches in a row.
Promoted by dictator
If not for their famously, or infamously, rowdy fans, not many people felt sorry for Ankaragücü – even through their bitter story – because the team’s recent history has been marred by politics.
In May 1981, Ankaragücü was awarded promotion after an order by then Chief of General Staff Kenan Evren, who took power through the Sept. 12, 1980, coup. Evren said a team from the republic’s capital city, Ankara, should play in the top-flight, and Ankaragücü was promoted with a sleight of hand – a rule change that a lower-tier side should be promoted to the first division if it wins the domestic cup was enough.
The team’s recent years saw a political power struggle as well, when Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek took over the club in gradual fashion. The former chairman of Ankaraspor, the team funded by the municipality, Gökçek stepped down from duty after a rule change that mayors could not actively work at football clubs and was voted the “honorary president.”
Ankaraspor was a developing club but it was rootless and without a fan base. In 2009, Gökçek’s plans to take over the club took a stride when his son, Ahmet Gökçek, was voted the president of Ankaragücü. The following season saw Ankaraspor “donate” several players to Ankaragücü, prompting a Turkish Football Federation (TFF) decision to relegate Ankaraspor.
Former Ankaragücü Chairman Cemal Aydın’s camp, meanwhile, applied to court for the cancelation of the general congress which Ahmet Gökçek won, and eventually was successful. Wealthy Gökçek eventually got his hands off the club, leaving the club in a dire and cash-strapped position, which left it as it is now.
Right now, Ankaragücü is not an attraction for potential presidential candidates and might bounce back when it is relegated. But be warned, there might be even more drama coming this way: The newly-elected TFF Chairman Yıldırım Demirören mulls a plan to cancel the relegation for this year as the daily Hürriyet reported yesterday, and Ankaraspor is returning to the league as a result of a court ruling which decided the TFF did a wrongdoing in demoting the team.
If things turn out that way, the Ankaragücü followers will be all the more lonely in their cause.