The footballing scene in Istanbul – and indeed the whole of Turkey – has been dominated by rival giants Fenerbahçe SK and Galatasaray SK, with their more modest local rivals Beşiktaş JK also enjoying their share of success.
With 17 national league titles each, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe – whose Şukrü Saraçoglu Stadium will host the UEFA Cup final – are the big Istanbul rivals. Fenerbahçe have the biggest support, but their rivals have continental kudos as winners of the 1999/00 UEFA Cup and 2000 UEFA Super Cup, the only major international titles to be won by a Turkish club.
The story of football in Istanbul begins in the days of the Ottoman Empire, when English and Greek residents first played the game in the city, establishing the pioneering Cadikeuy Football Club in 1902. Despite general disapproval from the political authorities, other clubs were formed, with the city starting its first four-club domestic league in 1903.
Two years later, a group of students from the Mekteb-i Sultani – or Lycée Galatasaray – led by Ali Sami Yen founded Galatasaray, with their stated aim being "to play football together like the English, to have an exclusive name and colours and to beat non-Turkish teams". In 1907, youngsters from the Kadikoy district founded their own rival club, Fenerbahçe.
Galatasaray triumphed in the first season in which both clubs competed, 1907/08, and things became more interesting in 1910 when Beşiktaş – founded in 1903 as a gymnastics club – launched a footballing division. The Black Eagles have now won ten titles, and along with Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Trabzonspor, are one of only four clubs to have won a Turkish title.
All three Istanbul sides grew in stature during the Second World War, playing games against military sides from the Allied forces, and in the 1950s some of the city's top players began getting recognition abroad. Şükrü Gülesin played for US Città di Palermo and S.S. Lazio while fellow striker Lefter Küçükandonyadis represented ACF Fiorentina and OGC Nice.
The introduction of a national league in 1959 enshrined the primacy of the big three, though Trabzonspor won six titles in the 1970s and 1980s to break the Istanbul monopoly. With the league came European football, with Fenerbahçe the first Istanbul side to win a European tie, beating Csepel SC of Hungary in the 1959/60 European Champion Clubs' Cup qualifying round.
Neck and neck
Since then there has been little to choose between the top clubs. Galatasaray reached the 1988/89 European Cup semi-finals, losing to FC Steaua Bucureşti, and then won the UEFA Cup to raise the stakes, but Fenerbahçe are a rising power in continental competition, having reached the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.