Ali Sami Yen Stadium
Name: Ali Sami Yen Stadium
Address: Ali Sami Yen Stadium,
Hasnun Galip Sokak 7-11, Istanbul
Last renovation: August 2007
No, of seats: 26,750
% of stadium covered: 60%
Home teams: Galatasaray, Turkish national teams
Ali Sami Yen – The Gate Of Hell
Many a myth has been spun around the time-honoured Ali Sami Yen Stadium, which has gained a reputation for inducing fear and trembling in visiting teams. Paolo Maldini himself commented after AC Milan’s 3-2 defeat to Galatasaray in 2000, “There must have been far more than only 20,000 fans in that stadium tonight.” Several elite clubs have been taught a lesson or two in the stadium where the 15-time winners of the Turkish league championship play. Teams such as Barcelona, Juventus, Lazio, Monaco, Deportivo La Coruna, Rangers, Real Madrid and, of course, AC Milan have all suffered humiliating defeat in the Ali Sami Yen. “We have won countless football battles on this ground. The atmosphere, the rapturous fans — they fire us up. The spark from the stands electrifies the players even before kick-off,” is how Hakan Sukur, Galatasaray and Turkey legendary striker, explains the special qualities of his home ground.
The stadium has a capacity for only 26,750 fans and is better known as the “Bosporus Hell”. “This stadium is just as deafening as the Camp Nou in Barcelona,” claims Romania’s Gheorghe Hagi. He ought to know as he has played for both Galatasaray and Barcelona. The only difference is that the Camp Nou can accommodate all of 98,770 fans.
Officially opened in December 1964, Ali Sami Yen is a “spring chicken”, to quote Galatasaray President Ozhan Canaydin, compared to other fine stadiums around the world. Although the club had been founded in 1905, it was still playing its matches on other clubs’ grounds 35 years later, when, in 1940, Ali Sami Yen, a pupil at the former Galatasaray High School, launched an initiative to build a stadium that the club could call home. But World War II put a spanner in the works, and differences of opinion with the building authorities in Istanbul delayed construction until 1964. Only one year later, floodlights were installed in the ground.
A monumental ceremony, featuring a friendly between Turkey and Bulgaria, was planned for the stadium’s inauguration on 20 December 1964 but it turned out to be a monument to tragedy. Capacity at that time was for 35,000, but far more fans craved to be allowed into the stadium. Tragedy struck even before kick-off when the safety fence on the second tier collapsed under the weight of the crowd and hundreds plunged onto the first floor. In the event, one person died and 81 were seriously injured. Despite the disaster, Austrian referee Anton Haberfeiner signalled for the match to begin. A lacklustre goalless draw was the result, as everyone, including the journalists and spectators, was in a state of shock and a ghostly silence hung over the Ali Sami Yen Stadium.
Many onlookers interpreted the tragedy as an omen for the future but Galatasaray clung to their stadium and celebrated one famous victory after another – all in all, 15 league championships and 14 cup wins. Fans witnessed their first notable international success on 9 November 1988 when the then revered Swiss club, NeuchatelXamax, were almost buried alive in the Bosporus Hell despite having won the first leg of the European Cup 3-0. The “red and yellows”, as Galatasaray are dubbed in allusion to their team’s colours, subjected Xamax to a 5-0 thrashing. “I have never experienced anything like it in my entire footballing career. It’s just as well I play for Galatasaray. Even I found the ear-splitting noise shattering. I wonder how the Swiss must have felt?” mused midfielder Cevad Prekazi (who played for the Istanbul club from 1985 to 1991) after the sensational game. The oval arena soon became the bane of all domestic and international opponents. “In fact, there were always fewer fans in our stadium than in our local rivals’ — Fenerbahce and Besiktas – because security regulations restricted admission to no more than 22,000 spectators. But our fans always made up for the difference in numbers with their frenetic cheering,” enthuses former Galatasaray striker Tanju Colak, who began his brilliant career for Turkey in Ali Sami Yen and still sings the praises of the tiny football temple.
But the stadiums limited capacity is a serious handicap to Galatasaray’s consolidation at the top of the international football ladder, despite having won the UEFA Cup and the European Super Cup in 2000. However, playing in another ground such as the 81,700-capaciry Ataturk Olympic Stadium, while their own was being renovated for security reasons, was not the right solution for Galatasaray. “The cheering diminished for our home games. It was as though we were playing away from home,” explains striker Sukur.
Galatasaray are now planning to build a multi-purpose arena based on the football stadiums in Amsterdam (ArenA) and Munich (Allianz Arena). The site of the new Ali Sami Yen Stadium, which will accommodate close on 55,000 fans, is “Lion Hill” (Aslantepe). “Hell will be even hotter there,” forecasts President Canaydin.
If all goes well and there are no financial hiccups, the stadium should be completed by December 2009. The new arena could indeed lead Galatasaray into a fresh era of rubbing shoulders with the international crerne de la creme.