Adana Demirspor: the club that’s suffered nine playoff losses in 14 years

Adana Demirspor: the club that’s suffered nine playoff losses in 14 years

“I realised that Adana is actually left behind, denied of support. We wanted to return to better days, we tried to shine a light, but it turned out that Demirspor was already deeply buried in the dark. Thank you everyone … maybe for the last time.”

Not long after this speech, Bekir Çinar was dead.

A local businessman and ardent Adana Demirspor supporter, he was determined to bring the club he loved back to Süper Lig. Becoming president in 2009, he obtained a series of loans in an attempt to push for promotion. Unfortunately, Çinar was unable to get the support he had envisaged and, under personal debts of ₺4m, he committed suicide on 16 August 2010.

These last words continue to resonate with the fans to this day. Famed for their working-class roots, Demirspor’s main supporter group, Mavi Şimşekler (Blue Lightning), have a left-wing ideology and enjoy a strong relationship with the similarly political fans of Livorno and St. Pauli. Meanwhile, legendary striker Selami Tekkazancı, known as “Missile”, spoke out during the 1960s on how players needed to stop being economically disadvantaged by matches away from Adana.

Despite not playing in the top division for over a quarter of a century, Demirspor still average a higher attendance than many Süper Lig sides. In sales of Passolig cards, a credit system used by Turkish clubs to sell tickets, Demirspor currently rank in the top ten. The supporters’ devotion to their club cannot be overestimated.

Turning the clock back to 1940, Demirspor were founded by TCDD, the Turkish state railway company. There are 37 other railway clubs across the country, however Adana are by far the most successful. Based in the Mediterranean city of over two million famous for its kebabs, Demirspor are one of the two major football clubs. The other, bitter rivals Adanaspor, were formed by middle-class merchants who broke away in 1954 over political differences. 

In 1960, Demirspor became the first club from outside the main three cities of Ankara, Istanbul and İzmir to play in the national league. This stay only lasted one season – a good barometer for their tumultuous future.

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Demirspor re-reached 1. Lig in 1973, going on to enjoy some success during the second half of this decade. In 1978 they played in the final of the Türkiye Kupası, losing 3-0 to a Trabzonspor team enjoying their own golden age. In 1981/82, Demirspor finished in a record high of sixth – above Galatasaray – but two years later were relegated. Things would never be the same again.

To summarise, in 1987 they were promoted to 1. Lig; in 1990 they were relegated, in a season featuring a 10-0 loss to Beşiktaş; in 1991 they were promoted, but in 1992 they were relegated. In 1994 Demirspor went up again, only to go back down once again in 1995. You get the idea.

This final relegation, with no wins coming after September, sealed the end of their last top-flight campaign to date.

Adana mayor Aytaç Durak, who contributed greatly to the expansion of the city in the early 1990s, became president in 1995. Under his stewardship, Demirspor were relegated to the third tier, the lowest point in their history. Nevertheless, until last year, the club’s training ground was named in his honour.

With Durak gone, by 2006 Demirspor were back pushing for promotion to 1. Lig. It is here where the curse begins. They reached the playoff final but lost 5-1 to Giresunspor. The 2007/08 season was even more agonising. Demirspor sat one game from promotion again, only to lose to Hakan Arslan’s late goal for Güngören Belediyespor.

In 2009/10 and 2010/11, on the back of Çinar’s death, Demirspor reached the playoffs again. Both occasions brought the familiar feeling of defeat. Demirspor finally managed to ascend to 1. Lig at the fifth attempt in 2012, beating Fethiyespor 2-1 – not that promotion stemmed the club’s association with heartache.

Demirspor took 1. Lig by storm, reaching the playoffs in their first season back. Here they lost 3-1 to Manisaspor in the semi-final. Second season syndrome struck as they ended only five points clear of relegation in 2014, but the next year the demons were back knocking at the door.

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In 2014/15, Demirspor were second for much of the season, and it finally seemed the curse would be broken. But then came a dreadful run-in which yielded two points from a possible 18. In the playoffs once more, Demirspor lost 3-2 to Antalyaspor in the semi-final. Not that I needed to fill in the rest of that story, by now you can probably work it out.

The next season saw Demirspor actually reach the final of the playoffs. Elazığspor were beaten across the two legs of the semis, before Alanyaspor stood in the way of ending 21 years outside Süper Lig. Benin international Mickaël Poté put Demirspor into the lead after just eight minutes, and it appeared the impossible was going to happen. It did, only in the sense of further déjà-vu. An equaliser from Emre Akbaba was followed by a penalty shootout, which Demirspor lost 4-2.

Two seasons of narrowly avoiding relegation followed. Under the presidency of Mehmet Gökoğlu, debts mounted once again. A ₺30m hole in the accounts emerged, meaning players went much of the season on late wages. This situation changed for the better in the summer of 2018 when current president Murat Sancak took over.

Finances improved so much to the point that Demirspor were in the position to sign players of international standing. The first of these was former Manchester United midfielder Anderson, who arrived in Adana that same summer. Into January 2019 and the club were close to bringing in another Champions League winner in Wesley Sneijder.

Not that this calibre of player abated Demirspor’s problems. This time a run of form at the end of the season fired them into the playoffs, where Hatayspor lay waiting. After a goalless first leg, a 93rd-minute away goal from Adil Demirbağ looked to put Demirspor into the final. Then, with effectively the last kick, Hatayspor scored the winner. The curse persisted.

In a direct and rather bizarre response, former Celtic striker Anthony Stokes was recruited. He ended up scoring one goal and was released after just four months. With Anderson also having gone by the end of September 2019, Demirspor ploughed on with the slightly less renowned remainder of their squad.

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In a season featuring three different managers, they again recovered from an indifferent start to finish third. A 4-1 win over Bursaspor in the semi-finals saw Demirspor head into the playoff final against Fatih Karagümrük as favourites. In reality, though, the result was already decided before kick-off.

A 1-1 draw after extra time meant, yet again, penalties would be required if Demirspor were to break their playoff hoodoo. Fortune favoured Karagümrük goalkeeper Aykut Özer, who saved Mehmet Uslu’s penalty to secure their first promotion into the top-flight.

Afterwards, Demirspor president Sancak cut a reflective figure: “Those who cannot score are the ones to be eliminated, there is nothing else beyond that. I feel sorry for our fans the most. Although they should not worry too much as this is not the end of the world. Hopefully we will return to Süper Lig next season”.

Unfortunately, for fans, it is not that simple. As Bora Ulutürk tells me, “It really is painful. Not just the fact that we have lost [in the playoffs] so many times but the way in which it was done. It almost feels as if we are cursed or something. We definitely deserve to be a Süper Lig team with our history and following, but the fact that we have come so close so many times and still fallen short makes it sting even more”.

This summer Demirspor bolstered their squad with Aurélien Chedjou and Gökhan Inler, both former Süper Lig champions, in an attempt to finally get over the line. Alongside such winning mentality is a move to a new 36,000 seater stadium, planned for next January.

Despite things appearing promising, Bora remains cautious: “I have mixed feelings. We have not started off too badly, but it could have been much better. Looking forward, I think a mid-table finish is most likely. If we do get into a promotion playoff sport, I think that we will most likely bow out before promoting yet again, but we are certainly a team that is good enough to get promoted. We just need to stay consistent”.

Such sentiment will be echoed across Adana. After six matches, Demirspor occupy a now-familiar position – not that their record of nine playoff losses in the past 14 seasons is encouraging. However, after how unpredictable 2020 has proved, surely lightning cannot strike Demirspor and their anti-establishment fans a tenth time?

By James Kelly @jkell403

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