ISTANBUL - It may always be overshadowed by the colossal presence of the Galatasaray-Fenerbahçe rivalry, but relying on previous experiences, the ’Bird Derby’ is likely to offer a great deal of excitement come Saturday night, when Beşiktaş visits Fenerbahçe in the Turkcell Super League.
It may only be second best when it comes to the biggest rivalries in Turkish football, but the Fenerbahçe-Beşiktaş derbies always offer a great deal of thrills and competitive spirit. The chances that Saturday’s Turkcell Super League derby is going to be worth watching are very good indeed.
The Fenerbahçe-Galatasaray rivalry is always the first that comes to a Turkish football fans mind, when it comes to enmities, but with the number of remarkable games, Fener-Beşiktaş clashes have taken on a different meaning.
Dubbed as the "Bird Derby," thanks to the nicknames of the teams, the games between the Yellow Canaries and the Black Eagles have heated up over the last decade. When Beşiktaş ended Fenerbahçe’s yearlong record of unbeaten league games at home with a 2-1 victory in 2001, the rivalry gained a new edge.
Three years on, Fenerbahçe avenged that loss when it won the Turkcell Super League title over Beşiktaş. What made that victory so unforgettable was that Fenerbahçe closed a deficit of 11 points to deny Beşiktaş’s title defense. A breaking point in that comeback was the Black Eagles’ 4-0 frustration at the hands of Samsunspor in January 2004, which was a loss that came after five Beşiktaş players were sent off. Putting the blame on the referee, Cem Papila, the Turkish Football Federation and indirectly Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş never got over that loss and eventually lost the title.
However, revenge was again sweet for Beşiktaş. In a derby game played at Fenerbahçe’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in April 2005, Beşiktaş staged a dramatic 4-3 victory. While 3-2 up, Beşiktaş was forced to put midfielder Daniel Pancu in the goal after goalkeeper Oscar Cordoba was sent off in the last fifteen minutes but a 10-men and a highly-motivated Beşiktaş team managed to win the game anyway. Nobody could believe it when the last minute shot by Koray Avcı won it for the Black Eagles, who were playing without a proper goalkeeper. That game easily took its deserved place among the most thrilling games in Turkish football history, and sharpened the already-edgy relations between the clubs.
It would be unfair to expect another legendary game like that from Saturday’s clash, but it is poised to be a tough clash regardless. Second-placed behind Turkcell Super League leader Trabzonspor, Beşiktaş will look to keep its position and, of course, it will keep in mind that Fener’s title hopes will suffer another blow.
In an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review, coach Mustafa Denizli admitted the game would be hugely important.
"Fenerbahçe will be slightly out of the race if we win," said the coach, adding that it would not be a title-decider. "But of course the title race actually starts in the 26th week of the season."
The only name to have coached the big three of the Turkish football, Denizli is someone who knows all about Istanbul derbies, as he has "worked on every front," as he put it. And apparently, he feels that it will be important for him to step on Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium, a ground on which he enjoyed the Turkish title in 2001.
"Everyone knows that playing in Kadıköy is tough," said Denizli in a news conference this week. "It is thrilling but it is a joy. I know it because I have lived on both ends of it." That is why Denizli believes that he will be welcome at that Stadium. "I am always proud when I coach my team on one of my former clubs’ pitches," he added. With Fenerbahçe low on morale after a 2-1 loss to Porto in the Champions League, Beşiktaş may look like the slight favorite for the game, but not for Denizli.
"Many derbies, including the last Fenerbahçe-Galatasaray game [which ended 4-1 to Fener], had proved assumptions mistaken," said Denizli. "We all know that there are no favorites in derbies. I have lived that all of my life."