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Graeme Souness’ Galatasaray flag incident: Manager’s infamous insult to Fenerbahce fans

5:00 PM GMT+8 28/09/2019
Graeme Souness Galatasaray flag
How do you write yourself into the history of a football club? The Scottish coach became a legend in Galatasaray for his defiant flag plant

To a younger audience nowadays, Graeme Souness might well be known as little more than the pundit who can't help but take swipes at Paul Pogba.

However, the former Scotland midfielder is fondly remembered as the tough-tackling engine room of Liverpool's dominant side of the late 1970s into the early 1980s and is considered a legend at Rangers, where he won three league titles as manager, ending a nine-year drought in 1987.

He is understandably held in high regard at both Anfield and Ibrox, but his biggest fan base arguably exists in Turkey, with Galatasaray supporters revering him and affectionately naming him after an iconic Turkish warrior.

The reason for that adulation involves a 1990s Turkish cup final and a flag... Goal brings you all you need to know.

Graeme Souness Galatasaray flag incident: What happened?

Souness wrote his name into the annals of Galatasaray's history and Turkish football at large in 1996 when he planted a flag in the centre-circle of Fenerbahce's Sukru Saracoglu Stadium.

Then manager of Gala, he had just guided his team to victory over Istanbul rivals Fener in the final of the Turkish Cup, with a Dean Saunders goal in extra-time granting him his first piece of silverware with the club.

Known as The Eternal Rivalry, games between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce were notoriously heated affairs to begin with, so the act of planting a flag in the middle of the pitch was incredibly provocative.

So why did Souness do it? He claimed in a 2016 interview with the BBC that it was an act of defiance as he sought to rub the nose of an unnamed Fenerbahce director in the defeat.

"It was extremely hostile, to say the least, because the supporters - dress it up whatever way you want - don't like each other very much," the former midfielder said.

"One of the vice-presidents of Fenerbahce had said, 'what are Galatasaray doing signing a cripple as a coach?'

"He was referring to surgery I had a couple of years before, which was an open-heart surgery, and I thought that was a pretty unkind thing to say.

"So, nine months later we won the cup in their stadium. A great big Galatasaray flag was handed over the barbed wire fence and the players all took a turn in waving it, then it was handed to me.

"I waved it, then turned round to hand it to someone, but by that time all the players had run up to the half-way line to get the cup.

"So I jog up to the half-way line with this great big flag, looking into the emptying stands and in the directors' box I can see the chap who, nine months previous, had said some pretty unkind things.

"In a moment of madness, I thought, 'I'll show you who's a cripple' and I went to the centre circle, tried to get [the flag] into the centre circle.

"It wouldn't go in - the ground was so hard - but I managed to get it in at the second or third attempt."

Of course, the act of provocation had the desired effect, with Fenerbahce supporters, already reeling from their side's loss to their rivals, left seething with rage.

Indeed, Souness was quickly made to regret his actions as he became entangled with an opposition fan on his way to the dressing room.

"I lifted my head and realised it wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done. A lot of Fenerbahce supporters were now trying to climb the fence and get onto the pitch," recalled the Edinburgh native.

"I managed to get under the police shield and there was lots of stuff bouncing off it, but I got into the tunnel and thought I'd gotten away with it.

"But just as I got into the tunnel I got a thump on the side of the head. A supporter had gotten into the tunnel. So I had a bit of a tussle with him and eventually got back to the safety of the dressing rooms."

Having nearly prompted a riot, Souness began to worry that his actions with the flag would be his last as manager of Galatasaray, but, to his surprise, club officials were actually impressed.

"Once I got into the dressing room I thought, 'once the directors come down, that's it. I'm going to be sacked on the spot and on the first plane out of here tomorrow'," he said.

"But it was the exact opposite. Some of them had tears in their eyes and I've never been hugged and kissed by so many men in such a short period of time.

"They were absolutely delighted, obviously, that we'd won the cup, but they seemed even more delighted that I'd planted the flag in the Fenerbahce stadium.

"And I get it. Turkish society is quite a macho society and I think they could relate to that," added the former Rangers boss.

"I think the Turkish people and the Scottish people are not quite so different. I think we're quite similar! Slightly mad, emotional and capable of crazy things."

Graeme Souness Galatasaray flag incident: The aftermath

As far as supporters of Galatasaray are concerned, the flag incident was a pivotal symbolic moment in the history of the rivalry between the clubs, serving to intensify relations.

Raising a flag on 'enemy territory' was subsequently likened to the actions of Ulubatli Hasan, a legendary Ottoman hero who raised the flag of victory at the Siege of Constantinople in 1453, and Souness is now fondly referred to as 'Ulubatli Souness'.

"I'm not quite sure I'm at that level," says Souness. "But I'm extremely proud and pleased that people remember me for doing that."

Gala fans continue to pay tribute to 'Ulubatli Souness' during Eternal Rivalry matches, recently unveiling a massive tribute to the Scot in the form of a banner.

As you can imagine, however, the planting of the flag unsurprisingly left a sour taste in the mouths of Fenerbahce fans, which lingered for a long time afterwards.

Indeed, a number of years after the Souness flag incident, a Fener fan, nicknamed Rambo, broke into Galatasaray's stadium on the eve of a derby and planted a flag of his own, toting a knife to ward off anyone who tried to remove it.