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Trabzon (Turkey) (AFP) – Samet Kordali is “100% sure”: his club, Trabzonspor, will win the Turkish league this year. And on the night of the title, his city, Trabzon, “will be on fire”.

The student was not born when the Black Sea club in northeastern Turkey won their last championship in 1984, but he and his friends only have the word “şampiyon” (champion) on the palate: Trabzonspor is currently the undisputed leader of the Süper Lig after 17 days, outwitting the big clubs in Istanbul.

Unbeaten in the league since March, Trabzonspor conceded their first defeat of the season in early December in Antalya (south). But he corrected the situation on Saturday by beating third in the standings, Hatayspor, 2-0 in front of his hot crowd and keeping nine points ahead of second, Konyaspor.

Among punters, the Trabzon club, reinforced this summer by the arrival of Slovakian Marek Hamsik – who says he finds in Trabzon the same fervor as in Naples – is the big favorite and at the official store, the jerseys are selling like rolls.

“Every child here supports the club,” says Caliskan Hamdi, 57. The entrepreneur, who lives in Brussels but returns to Trabzon as soon as he can, sums up the pride of a city: “We are the first club to have broken the empire of Istanbul.”

In 1976, Trabzon was the first city in Anatolia to win the first division championship, until then the preserve of Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Besiktas.

Known for its fishing port and its nationalist fervor, the former Trebizond, which now has 300,000 inhabitants, has since been known for its team, sometimes nicknamed “the storm of the Black Sea”.

In the cafes of the old town, Trabzonspor is the subject of all discussions and its colors, blue and garnet, are displayed even on the rosaries of believers.

“I have been to Trabzon several times in my career. (In the street) the 80 year old granny turns around in your way because she knows you are the referee. On the plane, everyone is whispering it’s referee of the match “, summed up former Turkish referee Deniz Coban in 2019.

“In Turkey, the overwhelming majority of football fans support Istanbul’s three historic teams. Even in the cities of Anatolia. But Trabzon is apart because the majority of the inhabitants are for Trabzonspor,” said Can Kakisim, a Turkish academic. club specialist.

Anecdotes tell of the passion – sometimes hysteria – that surrounds him: in 2015, the then president of the club, furious at the result of a non-whistled penalty, had the referees locked up in their locker room for four hours. The incident will only end after an appeal from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the angry leader.

In early December, a man threatened to kill himself from the roof of a building in the city center. In a video that has gone viral, a voice rises: “My brother, do not go away before you have seen the victory in the league!”.

Among the older ones, however, some nostalgia for a bygone golden age, when Trabzonspor won six Turkish championships and six Super Cups between 1976 and 1984. “At the time, all the players came from here, today ‘ hui they are only two, the others are foreigners “, regrets Sebahattin Yilmaz, 62 years old, in the long black pea coat.

Since then, Trabzonspor has enjoyed the status of the best Anatolian team and “is a respected opponent” by the big clubs in Istanbul, says historian Mehmet Yüce.

“There is no fierce rivalry between Trabzonspor and Istanbul teams like there is between them. Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Besiktas are over a century old. They do not see Trabzonspor (born 1967 of the merger of several local clubs, Editor’s note) as a team of their caliber. Trabzonspor is for them a team from Anatolia “, he explains.

Nine times vice-champion of Turkey – the last time in 2020 – Trabzonspor had the advantage in the fall of not playing in the European Cup, unlike rivals in Istanbul, currently struggling. But twenty-one days from the end of the championship, the games are still far from being made.

For Can Kakisim, a new league title is however “necessary” to maintain the passion of the club among the youngest.

Gökhan Alparslan, 25, is one of them. A house painter during the week, he sells scarves for 30 liras (1.55 euros) on match days in the stadium parking lot. This year, he is watching the matches “on TV”. But if Trabzon wins the title, supporters will flock to his scarves, he believes. He smiles: “Maybe I can afford a season ticket to go to the stadium.”

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