Metin Oktay - Taçsız Kral (The Uncrowned King)
Metin Oktay the Uncrowned King of Turkish football was born, 2 February 1936 into a working class family in the Çiftefırınlar neighbourhood, Karşıyaka, Izmir. His father was a factory worker, his mother a housewife, Metin was the Oktay households ninth child, however, five of his sisters lost their lives at a young age.
Metin was first introduced to football during his school years, playing for the Mithatpaşa schoolboy team. He then went on to join local side, Izmirspor as a youth but it was clear that from a young age the love of his life was Galatasaray. Metin famously said, “I loved the red and yellow's as a kid, when Galatasaray would come to Izmir I would bunk off school to watch them.
"Galatasaray is like a religion, it’s a deep rooted passion and belief, this is why I choose Galatasaray.”
In 1955, aged just 19 Galatasaray signed Metin on a five-year contract in exchange for Chevrolet car. Metin went onto become one of Turkish football’s most successful players, a legend in his own right and one of the league’s highest scorers of all time.
The prolific striker scored 350 career goals, winning the Golden Boot award 6 times. Metin also won the Championship once with Izmirspor and three times with his beloved Galatasaray. Metin scored four goals in a single game against Fenerbahçe in 1960, a club record which earned him the admiration of the fans. With 40 International caps, Metin also scored 17 times for the Turkish national team.
Metin's stats are pretty impressive however, perhaps the most loved aspect of the Uncrowned King besides him being a great player was his humble, down to Earth character. We are going back to a period of football romanticism looked back upon with a sense of nostalgia by Turkish football lovers when making comparisons with the heavily commercialised, money driven game of today where at times it seems everybody has a price.
Apart from spending a season at Palermo, Metin was a one club man, Galatasaray was the love of his life. Metin was famously asked by his newly wed wife Oya Sarı to move back to Izmirspor.
The famous conversation, popularised in the film Taçsız Kral - a 60's version of Goal! with a biographical touch, depicts Oya's plea for Metin to return to Izmir. Oya according to the film gave him an ultimatum; “Which is it, me of Galatasaray” and in what has gone down in club folklore he was said to have told her, “Galatasaray! for Galatasaray has always been more faithful to me.
Then there is the famous club over money story. In 1957, two years after joining Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe vice-president Müslüm Bağcılar allegendly offered Metin a blank cheque and told Metin to write any figure he wanted. Metin’s response will forever be repeated in coffeehouses across Turkey, “Let us not upset those who love us, let us not betray them” and subsequently turned down the offer.
Metin had started gaining a reputation as the peoples champion and when he was arrested and taken to Toptaşı prison in 1960 on charges of not fulfilling his National Military Service in full the public turned out en-masse to campaign for his release.
In what turned out to be a bureaucratic mishap, Metin's, day's of leave slips were not correctly processed and as a result he was charged with missing eight days of his military service for which he subsequently imprisoned. However, following public and legal pressure he was pardoned after 45 days and served the eight days remaining in the Izmir barracks.
Metin was the darling of the Galatasaray faithful, however, the respect and admiration felt towards him transcends team loyalties; even the Lions biggest rivals, Fenerbahçe have a soft spot for the Uncrowned King.
The events which unfolded on, 23 August 1969 will forever be remembered in Turkey. Metin was gearing up for his final career game, a testimonial match between city rivals Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe. In stark contrast to the scenes resembling a tribal war in today’s Intercontinental derbies, Metin’s final game was a lesson in sportsmanship, professionalism and how to be a true gentleman.
The score was 1-1 going into the last ten minutes of the match when something truly unthinkable occurred, Metin Oktay swapped shirts with Fenerbahçe legend Can Bartu and remarkably played the remainder of the game for the Yellow Canaries. After the final whistle, Metin walked over to the crowd who by this time were so overwhelmed by what had just been witnessed that they were on their feet in tears, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray fans alike all applauded their hero.
Metin was able to bring old foes together, supporters from both sides chanted Metin's name in unison and left the stadium side by side.
Fenerbahçe captain at the time Şükrü Birant, was moved so much by the occasion that he named his son Metin in his honour. Later, a statue of Metin Oktay was unveiled in Kadıköy Kalamış Park in the heart of Fener territory.
Metin broke scoring records, playing records and even ripped the net with his Turkish league final goal against Fenerbahçe in 1959. In what was one of most memorable shot in Turkish footballing history, the kind of goal that you normally only see in films and comic books, Metin managed to tear the ball through the net.
The final between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe took place in the Dolmabahçe stadium, which is now known as the İnönü. Metin described his 37th minute wonder goal by saying, "To be honest I didn't realize what had happened, after the shot my teammates lifted me onto their shoulders, the crowd were chanting, 'Cim Bom Bom'. "The referee's at first thought the ball went out however, after inspecting the goal the officials realized my shot had ripped the net."
Metin wasn't a bad actor either and was the first Turkish footballer to star in a biographical film, the title of which coined the moniker Taçiz Kral (Uncrowned King), he starred alongside Turkish diva Ajda Pekkan. One of the leading sporting personalities of his era, he had songs written in his honour as well as schools named after him.
Metin holds a special place in Turkish sporting history and will never be forgotten, each year Galatasaray officials as well as supporters from clubs all across Turkey pay their respects at his grave on the anniversary of his tragic death, 13 September 1991.
The Uncrowned King was not only a role model player; he possessed human qualities which most people can empathise with. It seems fitting that in today’s world of astronomic wages, players leaving for the highest bidder and criticism by fans of the loyalty of footballers that we are paying our respects to a man who defied the uglier aspects of the modern game.