The Türkgücü Conundrum

Türkgücü München are unique. After three successive promotions that saw them climb from the Bayernliga, the fifth tier, up to the fully-professional 3. Liga, they are the first club founded by immigrants to feature in the upper echelons of German football. Predictably, their rapid rise to fame has stirred up quite a bit of controversy and they certainly divide opinion.

Some have already dubbed them the next RB Leipzig, while others are completely opposed to the idea of an immigrant club playing in Germany – “they should play in the Süper Lig”, is an argument frequently hurled at Türkgücü with clearly racist connotations.

As the name suggests, Türkgücü was founded by Turkish immigrants, Germany’s largest ethnic minority. But unlike RB Leipzig, they have actually been around for quite some time; the original club, SV Türk Gücu, was founded in 1972 and officially recognized as a team three years later. In 2001, they filed for bankruptcy, and that same year, the modern iteration of Türkgücü was founded as Türkische SV München. After merging with SV Ataspor München to form SV Türkgücü-Ataspor, they shortened their name to just Türgkücü München last year.

So where do the comparisons to the energy drink conglomerate come from? Besides the obvious and somewhat justified suspicion that arises when a team rockets through the divisions in such an expeditious manner, there is also the small matter of Türgkücü bypassing the sacrosanct 50+1 rule. The man behind the Red-Whites’ rapid rise to prominence is Hasan Kivran, a former player and owner of wealth management company HK Erste Vermögensverwaltungs & Beratung GmbH. Besides being the chief financial benefactor, Kivran is also the president and, by all accounts, a very hands-on one at that. Former coach Reiner Maurer, who currently finds himself embroiled in a legal battle with the club over unpaid promotion bonuses, claimed in an interview with Sport Inside that Kivran was perpetually scheming to increase his influence and he even wanted to have a say in coaching affairs.

“There was always the challenge that our president wanted to be involved in everything”, Maurer said. “He sent WhatsApp messages with tactical demands and even (tried to influence) starting line-ups for future games, and he rearranged friendlies when we were in a training camp. Of course, you have to work together, but that is taking it too far.”

It is all a tad reminiscent of their crosstown rivals and occasional roommates (well, stadium mates) 1860 München and their investor Hasan Ismaik, who notoriously became increasingly entangled in the everyday running of the club, which ultimately led to its demise.

Despite the existence of the 50+1 rule, which is designed to prevent financial backers from acquiring a ruling majority in a club, Kivran is essentially the chief decision-maker at Türkgücü; through his firm, he owns 89% of the club, with one of his business partners holding 10%, according to Sport Inside.

However, Kivran isn’t the most affluent businessman and his company, which is apparently ‘only’ worth around €19m can’t cover all the club’s expenses, but he does have the requisite contacts to funnel money into his project. AON, noted associate of Manchester United, was the main sponsor on last season’s kits, while Yayla, a German-Turkish supermarket chain, was brought on board for their maiden 3. Liga campaign.

Sercan Sararer in action for the promoted club (Thomas Bachun/DeFodi Images/Getty Images)

Kivran’s ambition of making his club profitable by turning it into a (future) powerhouse of German football has entailed unparalleled levels of personnel turnover. The exact numbers vary depending on the sources and given that they were playing in the lower reaches of the footballing pyramid fairly recently, some signings may have gone under the radar, but using the information provided by Sport Inside and Transfermarkt, we can calculate that Türgkücü have signed some 78 players since the beginning of 17/18: 19 this summer, 25 last season, 13 the season before, and 21 in 17/18. That’s a lot!

There are even murmurs that once they reach the 2. Bundesliga, they might become an affiliate or feeder club of one of the Turkish giants – in the mold of the relationships between Boavista and Lille or Vitesse and Chelsea – but, at this point, it is still just wild speculation. Whether they would even be able to get their hands on a 2. Bundesliga license is a different question altogether because of their lack of a permanent home.

In lieu of their (non-existent) own stadium, the Red-Whites will be using two and, if necessary, even three different grounds this season. After some lengthy negotiations, Munich’s iconic Olympiastadion has been made available for eight games to curb fixture congestion and to ease the wear and tear on the playing field at the Stadion an der Grünwalder Straße, their principal home ground this season, which they share with Bayern II and 1860. The Olympiastadion hasn’t hosted professional football games since Bayern moved into the Allianz Arena some 15 years ago. The Flyeralarm Arena, home of newly-promoted 2. Bundesliga side Würzburger Kickers, was initially registered as Türkgücü’s home ground and will also be available if need be.

What’s more, their current training facilities aren’t up to scratch. In fact, they aren’t even Türkgücü’s own facilities, they have to share them with three amateur clubs and even a couple of school teams. It’s all still very non-league, very bare-bones, and inadequate, which is somewhat understandable given their swift rise through the ranks, but locating (or building) a suitable, permanent training ground should be one of the club’s main priorities.

It is Türkgücü’s stated ambition to become the team of choice for Turkish communities in Germany and elsewhere and their badge perfectly illustrates exactly that intention; it neatly combines the flag of Turkey with the famous blue and white Bavarian lozenge pattern. Unfortunately and, frankly, predictably, Türkgücü and its fans have to deal with constant barrages of racism and xenophobia. It has escalated to the point that Neo-Nazi party Der Dritte Weg has begun actively rallying people to “fight back” against Türkgücü.

“Be it left-wing extremist infiltration, immigrant clubs, or corrupt federations: our football has become a battlefield”, the fascists wrote on their website. “We have to fight to preserve our traditional rules in football. For too long, left extremists have been able to infiltrate the stands. Continuous repression has turned our stands into a cage.”

They then cry about how “multicultural clubs have become the norm” and proceed to call Türkgücü’s promotion to the 3. Liga “over-diversification”, before having the audacity to list gripes that every fan, regardless of political affiliation, has with modern football (merch prices, banning of flares, etc) in a cheap attempt to win over more people.

This victim mentality perfectly encapsulates the right and its fascist adherents. They claim to be oppressed while their entire ideology is built on oppression. I guess the Chemnitzer FC supporters who drove a fan out of the stadium never to return again because the person dared to hang up a pride flag were really the oppressed ones, huh? Or when a considerable amount of Chemnitz fans held up a player’s shirt number in solidarity after he was sacked for being friends with Nazis? Or when that same club hired a professional in an attempt to curb the racism problem in the stands, but not even he could fix it and he eventually left his job, looking like a broken, defeated man? (this is not hyperbole, Sport Inside made a documentary about it earlier this year)

For too long, politicians, officials, and the DFB/DFL have stood idly by, failing to eradicate the festering racism and covert fascism in football, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. The far-right is becoming increasingly violent and mainstream(!) and an organization like Türkgücü makes for an easy target and a scapegoat, so that even casual fans – people who swear that they are not racist – are becoming wary of the club’s presence.

The latest high-profile incident involving Türkgücü occurred just a few days ago, at their freakish 4-4 draw with Waldhof Mannheim. Fans of the home side were racially abusing Park Yi-young and the referee had to stop the match in the first half; Park was subbed off at half time and later took to social media to speak up about the incident:

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Ich habe heute beim Spiel von einigen Zuschauern Rassismus erfahren. Ich finde es sehr bedauernswert, dass einige Menschen es immer noch als nötig ansehen jemanden so zu verletzen und die Fußballkultur zu beschädigen. Aber leider könnt ihr Rassisten meine Situation nicht zu 100 Prozent verstehen. Nein, ihr könnt es einfach nicht verstehen. Ihr kennt nicht das Gefühl rassistisch beleidigt zu werden. Die allermeisten von euch werden wahrscheinlich in ihrem Leben noch nicht Rassismus erfahren haben und deswegen auch nicht einschätzen können, welche Auswirkungen und Folgen es für Betroffene hat. Ich erwarte nicht euer Mitgefühl und lasse mich auch nicht unterkriegen. Ich hoffe nur, dass durch meine Stimme das Problem des Rassismus etwas besser werden kann und, dass ihr euch vielleicht auch einmal darüber Gedanken machen könnt. Yiyoung Park ———————————————————————— Today I experienced racism from some spectators during the match. I find it very unfortunate that some people still consider hurting someone like that and damage the football culture. But unfortunately you cannot understand my situation 100 percent. No, you just can't understand it. You don't know the feeling of being racially insulted. The vast majority of you will not have experienced racism in your life and can’t estimate the bad impact on those affected. I do not expect your sympathy. I just hope that through my voice the problem of racism can get a little better and that maybe you can also think about it some more. Yiyoung Park

A post shared by 박이영 – YiYoung Park (@yiyoung_park) on

On the pitch, things have looked a lot better for Türkgücü, who have been playing some scintillating football. Unbeaten and with five points from their first three games in professional football, the Munich outfit seems to have acclimated well to life in Germany’s third tier. Captain Sercan Sararer has been in inspired form; the experienced former Stuttgart man has already recorded two goals and five (yes, five) assists. New signing Petar Sliskovic, meanwhile, has four goals and an assist to his name after three games.

Türkgücü are treading in uncharted waters. In many ways, they are trailblazers, an intriguing project that has caused quite a stir in German football. While they absolutely deserve criticism for their flaunting of 50+1, it doesn’t excuse nor justify the racism that players and fans regularly encounter. Whether they can fulfill their ambition of getting to the 2. Bundesliga remains to be seen, but they are certainly holding their own in the third tier right now.

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