Among the special guests on the day Beşiktaş Park first opened its doors was a smartly dressed septuagenarian who had come a long way. From his home in the village of Burbage near Leicester, in a literal sense. And from his start as an amateur footballer with Morecambe to become the most successful coach in the history of Beşiktaş. Past, present and future combined in April 2016 as Gordon Milne surveyed the Istanbul side’s cutting-edge new stadium.
“It’s beautiful,” he told the club’s YouTube channel, the 41,903-seater arena resplendent alongside Dolmabahçe Palace on the banks of the Bosporus. “Future Beşiktaş generations will feel very proud of this stadium.”
They will feel proud, too, of Milne’s achievements. Beşiktaş are Turkey’s oldest surviving sports team, first set up as a gymnastics club in 1903 before a football section was added in 1911. Since then, their greatest triumphs have tended to come in short-lived bursts, but for three glorious years in the early 1990s, a Liverpool veteran lifted them to new heights. Milne was best known for his Anfield exploits before his move to Turkey, having been one of Bill Shankly’s first signings in 1960.
The midfielder won two English titles on Merseyside, renowned for his interceptions and reliable passing. He was also known as one of football’s most affable characters, and exuded humility and calmness during his seven-year Beşiktaş stay, following managerial stints with the likes of Coventry and Leicester.
The club Milne joined in 1987 were Turkish trailblazers. Not just the oldest in the land but the first to reach the first round of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup in 1958/59, when they drew 1-1 at home against Real Madrid en route to an aggregate defeat. Their trophy cabinet did not do justice to that history, however. Beşiktaş had claimed their first league crowns in 1956/57 and 1957/58 – and again won successive titles in the 1960s under Yugoslav coach Ljubiša Spajić – but they had fallen behind local rivals Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe. The club’s fans had been forced to cultivate a defiant underdog spirit, until Milne briefly changed everything.
“It was a family,” explained the Englishman, succeeded later by fellow Liverpool alumnus John Toshack. “As a foreigner, I felt I belonged there.” Results no doubt helped to warm his welcome, with Milne masterminding a league and cup double in 1989/90 before adding championship titles in the next two seasons, the third coming without a single defeat.
No team before or since has gone through a Süper Lig campaign unbeaten, but this was no ordinary side. It was a line-up featuring iconic forwards Metin Tekin, Ali Gültiken and Feyyaz Uçar, known collectively as ‘MAF’. They were beloved by the fans, whose songs in their honour included a chant that began, “One, two, three goals are not enough.” Famously, all three struck hat-tricks, with Gültiken scoring four, in a record 10-0 defeat of Adana Demirspor in October 1989.
The supporters still sing the trio’s praises. Indeed, the fans themselves have always been a valuable asset, and legend has it that one of their number coined the club’s nickname during a game against Süleymaniye in 1941. As the players surged forward in a 6-0 win, a voice in the crowd – reputedly belonging to fisherman Mehmet Galin – began to scream: “Come on, Black Eagles! Attack, Black Eagles!” The moniker quickly stuck. The fans also enjoy a reputation as the noisiest in Turkey, if not Europe, despite being outnumbered by their city counterparts. Milne’s old side Liverpool discovered that to their detriment during a 2-1 UEFA Champions League reverse in October 2007, when sound equipment recorded a cheer of 132 decibels, the equivalent of a military jet taking off.
That deafening din was produced at the club’s former ground, İnönü Stadium. The switch to Beşiktaş Park, built on the same spectacular location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, has done nothing to diminish the impact. If anything, the acoustic design has made the eco-friendly new stadium even more daunting, as Leipzig found on a UEFA Champions League trip in September 2017. “We couldn’t handle it,” lamented the German club’s coach Ralph Hasenhüttl, his side beaten 2-0. “It provokes stress. How can you prepare the lads for that?”
The hosts have reaped the benefits of their intimidating new fortress, winning their first consecutive titles since Milne in 2016 and 2017, when Şenol Güneş took their tally to 15 and became the club’s first Turkish coach to oversee back-to-back triumphs. The following season the Black Eagles made history again, as the only Turkish side to win a UEFA Champions League group. At the club where a loyal Liverpool servant had become an enduring local hero, it was another pioneering moment – and another source of pride as Beşiktaş look to the future in their stunning new home.