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. 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 that Galatasaray was the love of his life. 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 and also scored 17 times for the Turkish national team. Metin also won the championship once with Izmirspor and three times with Galatasaray.
Metin's stats were pretty impressive however, perhaps the most loved aspect of the Uncrowned King 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, especially when compared 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. In the film Taçsız Kral - a 60's version of Goal - the newly wed Metin was asked to return to Izmir. His wife gave him an ultimatum; “Which is it, me or Galatasaray,” and in what has gone down in club folklore Metin replied, “Galatasaray! for Galatasaray has always been more faithful to me."
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 was pardoned after 45 days and served the remainder of his millitary service in the Izmir barracks.
Metin was the darling of the Galatasaray faithful, however, the respect and admiration felt towards him transcended 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 but in stark contrast to the scenes resembling a tribal war in today’s Intercontinental derbies, his final game was a lesson in sportsmanship.
The score was 1-1 going into the last 10 minutes of the game 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 that both sets of fans 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 shots 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.
Metin holds a special place in Turkish sporting history and 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 on 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 criticisms over the loyalty of footballers that we are paying our respects to a man who defied the uglier aspects of the modern game.