The day Galatasary lifted Turkish football to a new level and put Manchester United in their place

Galatasaray supporters celebrate after the football club was crowned champion of Turkey's top division for a record 22nd time on May 19, 2019 in Istanbul. - Galatasaray sealed their 22nd Turkish league title with a dramatic 2-1 win over nearest challengers Istanbul Basaksehir in a capital-city derby marred by violence. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP) (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)

The day Galatasary lifted Turkish football to a new level and put Manchester United in their place

By John Silk

On the eve of Basaksehir’s visit to Old Trafford, we recall the first ever Champions League clash between a Turkish side and the legendary English club. In an extract from the recently released book Even the Defeats – How Sir Alex Ferguson Used Setbacks to inspire Manchester United’s Greatest Triumphs the landmark tie between Galatasaray and Manchester United in 1993 would have a lasting effect on both Turkish football and the Red Devils.

Galatasaray 3-3, 0-0 (United went out on away goals)

Having comfortably seen off the challenge posed by Kispest Honvéd of Hungary in the first round, Alex Ferguson had to pit his wits against German Reiner Hollmann, who was the manager of United’s next opponents, Galatasaray.

United dominated the opening exchanges of the first leg at Old Trafford and surged into a 2-0 lead in the opening 15 minutes.

However, Ferguson described what followed as a ‘nightmare’ as the team ‘self-destructed, replacing controlled aggression with self-indulgence’. A two-goal advantage soon became a one-goal deficit before Eric Cantona spared the team’s blushes with a late equaliser. But a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford made the away leg particularly difficult. Almost certainly only victory would suffice in Istanbul, given the concession of three away goals.

The complacency United showed in that first leg was also the narrative in Turkey prior to the game. Galatasaray were angered by suggestions they would just roll over for their more esteemed opponents. The Turkish club certainly proved they were anything but a pushover. If they were stylish as well as stubborn opposition in Manchester, they were an even more daunting proposition in their own back yard. Indeed, it was this perceived arrogance from the English champions that prompted the unsavoury welcome the United players received upon arrival in Istanbul.

During the foray into the city that straddles Europe and Asia, United were ‘exposed to as much harassment and hostility as I have ever known on a football expedition’, Ferguson recalled.

The feisty trip began with Turkish fans greeting the English champions at the airport in Istanbul with banners saying ‘Welcome to Hell’ and Paul Parker having ‘You will die!’ screamed in his face.

Gary Pallister said it made a trip to Anfield seem ‘like a tea party’. The defender said in his autobiography, ‘It was a terrifying business which had nothing to do with sport and can be categorised objectively as an absolute disgrace.’

Several United players were assaulted by police; Steve Bruce was almost maimed by a flying brick while he sat on the team bus and the game ended with Eric Cantona being struck by a police officer as United crashed out of Europe, drawing the away leg 0-0 and exiting the competition on away goals.

At the final whistle, after informing Swiss referee Kurt Röthlisberger of what he thought of his performance, Cantona was given a red card. Some say the enigmatic forward didn’t say a word to Röthlisberger, who was a French teacher, although his gestures probably made things clear enough.

Other reports suggested Cantona accused Röthlisberger of being corrupt. The Swiss official was banned from refereeing for life in 1997 after being found guilty of bribery and though there have been subsequent allegations about this game, nothing has ever been proved.

But the reality is that the Turkish champions were the better side throughout in Istanbul, dominating proceedings with only impressive goalkeeping from Peter Schmeichel keeping them at bay.

In the United dressing room after the game, it was eerily silent. ‘Sometimes if you don’t talk at all it has more of an impact. It was one of these nights. We were all sick [to go out of the competition],’ Ferguson said.

If the United players were numb, the reaction from Galatasaray was one of euphoria. Players were held aloft by the hordes of home supporters as if they had won the European Cup, the World Cup and the Eurovision Song Contest, all at once.

Their reaction was understandable. Until this match, the Turkish national team and its clubs were relative minnows in world football. England had beaten Turkey 8-0 less than six years previously as they continued to toil on the international stage, not qualifying for a major tournament since 1954.

Furthermore, the country’s club sides rarely threatened European football’s elite. Nobody had given Galatasaray a chance against United and to shed further light into the Turkish footballing soul, there was a much-used phrase at the time to describe a narrow loss as an honour, ‘at least we weren’t humiliated’ being the mantra.

Now, however, it was exhilaration the fans were feeling, not humiliation. If losing narrowly was seen as a success, you can imagine what going through to the last eight of the Champions League meant to everyone associated with the club.

A commentator on the pitch reacted to the victory as though he had just seen a UFO and was telling a disbelieving audience to come quick. He screamed his questions excitedly in the direction of Galatasaray vice-president Adnan Polat just after the final whistle, and the club official responded, ‘This victory is for Turkey, not just Galatasaray.’ With pandemonium around him, Polat calmly reiterated, ‘It was for the whole nation.’

Legendary Galatasary defender Bülent Korkmaz echoed these sentiments when he said, ‘We delivered this victory to the nation. What can I say? I’m just so happy for the whole country.’ The centre-back’s surname translates as fearless, an attribute that could hardly be said of their opponents.

Midfielder Suat Kaya was seen holding his head in disbelief as fans jubilantly greeted him. He was almost on the verge of fainting as he told the reporter, ‘I just want to be with my family.’ He was looking forward to celebrating with his loved ones, but you sensed it could also have been rooted in wanting a safe haven from the hysterical fans.

Tugay Kerimoğlu, who would go on to play for Blackburn Rovers, was in tears as he sat on the shoulders of supporters.

They were tears of happiness, though, as he said, ‘Galatasaray are the biggest, Galatasaray are the best. But we love Beşiktaş fans. We love Fenerbahçe fans. We love Trabzonspor as well.’

These are incredible words given the animosity between the country’s most successful clubs. And with that, the reporter kissed him on the head while United went away to lick their wounds.

To put even more perspective on the dire performance of United in that season’s competition, Galatasaray had peaked.

They went out limply in the next round, a group stage that involved six matches, with the Turkish side winning none of them.

For Manchester United, the journey was just beginning towards their inexorable rise to the top of European football –peaking with Champions League glory in 1999.

But it must not be forgotten where it all began – on the banks of the Bosphorus when it was United who lost their honour and Galatasaray were able to bask in the glory of humiliating their much-vaunted opponents.