Old foes with contrasting fortunes revive Istanbul footballing rivalry

Old foes with contrasting fortunes revive Istanbul footballing rivalry

Stefan MARTENS ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Old foes with contrasting fortunes revive Istanbul footballing rivalry

Karagümrük players celebrate their second goal against Kasımpaşa. DAILY NEWS photo, Stefan MARTENS

With just moments left before kickoff, the crowd pressed ever harder to squeeze through the rusty turnstiles and into the ground. Faced with the disorganized onslaught, the club official beseeched the supporters. 

“Come on, buy a ticket and make a contribution to the club. Just look at the ground,” he said, gesturing at the peeling paint and chipped concrete of the main gate at the Vefa Stadium in Istanbul’s Fatih district.

The supporters, many of them students playing hooky from class alongside workers doing the same from their jobs – naturally supplemented by Turkey’s perennial ranks of the unemployed who were depriving the country’s ubiquitous kıraathanes (coffeehouses) of custom for at least two hours – were filling into the ramshackle ground for one of Istanbul’s most fiery derbies: Fatih Karagümrük vs. Kasımpaşa in the Turkish Ziraat Cup second round.

The matchup is proof that familiarity is not necessary to breed contempt. The two clubs, separated by around 10 bus stops and Istanbul’s Golden Horn, have a healthy distaste for each other stretching back decades, when they would often meet in the Turkish football setup’s lower leagues. 

Karagümrük and Kasımpaşa met frequently in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but apart from one season in 2005-06 when they met three times, the bitter rivals had not taken the pitch since 1992, until today.

The lack of matchups, however, has less to do with sporting prowess and more to do with Turkey’s political scene in the last 11 years. While Karagümrük has retained its status as one of Turkey’s most famous “neighborhood teams” – a slightly patronizing term that celebrates a team’s local roots over its frequent on-field failures – Kasımpaşa has steadily climbed the footballing pyramid and appears set to become a fixture in Turkey’s Spor Toto Super League.


Vefa Stadium in Istanbul’s Fatih district, once a
sanctuary of Turkey's football elite, was built in 
1926, but the tribunes are now falling apart due to
a lack of investment. Photo: DAILY NEWS 

A trip to the two grounds is instructive enough of the change in fortunes. While Karagümrük’s stadium appears ready to fall apart at the seams, Kasımpaşa’s stadium (named after a certain favorite son and former amateur defender named Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) in the bosom of Taksim received a massive facelift in 2005, concomitant with the club’s rise up the Turkish football period.

The contrasting contemporary fortunes of the two clubs are not lost on the supporters of Karagümrük. “We’re an amateur team, and they’re the prime minister’s team,” one fan told the Hürriyet Daily News.

A look over the clubs’ rosters is testament to the gulf that now separates the erstwhile lower-division rivals. Karagümrük’s players ply their trade in relative obscurity, while Kasımpaşa can boast the likes of Swedish international goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, as well as former Liverpool midfielder Ryan Babbel.

Karagümrük dares to dream

Against his fourth-tier opposition, however, Kasımpaşa bench boss Shota Arveladze elected to deploy a second-string side that was largely devoid of his bigger-name foreigners. 

The decision meant that the football was short on quality, even if high on nostalgia for the sides’ former lower-level encounters, as Kasımpaşa’s B-team played down to their fourth-tier opponent’s level.

As it is, Karagümrük could dream of scoring a famous result against their rivals after forging ahead 2-0, only to lose concentration in allowing Kasımpaşa to peg them back to 2-2 before the interval. With the difference in quality becoming increasingly evident in the second half with Arveladze’s injection of fresh legs, it was only a matter of time before the visitors from Beyoğlu snatched a winner that dumped Karagümrük out of the cup.

On the surface, the result was a victory for industrial football over more romantic notions of the game that are rooted in the close links between neighborhood and club.

In all, though, the gulf in present quality might just be down to the lottery of birth: If a former amateur defender nicknamed “Kasımpaşalı Beckenbauer” – who went onto a successful post-football career in politics as the prime minister of Turkey – had born across the Golden Horn in Karagümrük, Kasımpaşa supporters might have been bemoaning the nouveau riche stylings of a former neighborhood team in Fatih.

A decades-old rivalry on the shores of the Golden Horn

Kasımpaşa and Karagümrük, founded in 1921 and 1926, respectively, are among the historic neighborhood clubs of Istanbul. 


Karagümrük is one of the
local Istanbul clubs with the most loyal supporter base. Photo: DAILY NEWS

Located on either side of the Golden Horn, Karagümrük – on the historic peninsula, inside the ancient walls – was by far the most successful side until the mid-1990s. The red-and-blacks enjoyed a four-year run in the first division after Turkey launched a professional league in 1959 before dropping into relative lower-tier obscurity – apart from a single-season cameo in the top flight in 1983-84. 

Karagümrük fell into the amateur divisions for the first time in 1997, before being promoted in 2009. The club has been in the fourth tier since last year. 

Kasımpaşa, the club from the Beyoğlu side of the Golden Horn, lasted in the initial top flight until 1964 – one more year than Karagümrük – before largely disappearing from view. The blue-and-whites spent six years in the amateur division between 1978 and 1984 – at the same time when Karagümrük was making a comeback among the Turkish football elite.

The team hovered between the second and third tiers during the 1990s until gaining promotion back to the Super League in 2007. The club then proceeded to bounce back and forth between the first and second tiers, but the club received a massive influx of cash after winning promotion to the Super League again to start the 2012-13 season, during which they finished sixth, suggesting the side might now be able to challenge for a European place.