Podcast: Heroes & Humans of Football
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Episode 8: Uncancelling Hakan Sukur

During the 90s and 2000s, Sukur is a Turkish superstar and Gulen is allied with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan

May 9, 2024
Heroes & Humans of Football (Podcast)
May 2, 2024

Episode 8: Uncancelling Hakan Sukur

Hakan Sukur is Turkey’s greatest ever footballer, highest goalscorer, and still the man who holds the record for scoring the fastest goal in a World Cup after just 11 seconds in 2002. 

But for the last nine years he’s been living in self-imposed exile in the US, moonlighting as an Uber driver, and having his legacy wiped from the records of Turkish footballing history. Turkey’s ruling AKP party has branded him a “terrorist”, and even saying his name on TV can get you the sack, as one commentator found out during the Qatar World Cup. 

This is the story of a footballing hero who has suffered a humbling fall caused by politics, upheaval and a failed coup in Turkey. Sukur, whose father was born in Bosnia and his mother in North Macedonia, helped Turkey finish third in the 2002 World Cup and led his Galatasaray team to a UEFA Cup triumph in 2000 – the first European trophy won by a Turkish domestic side and the high watermark of Turkish football this century. 

Known as the “Bull of the Bosphorus” for his goal-scoring instincts, Sukur combined his football career with membership of Turkey’s Hizmet movement, a religious organisation led by Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen, which has been dubbed as part of Turkey’s “deep state”. The movement recruited lawyers, civil servants, politicians and footballers – and were active in the Galatasaray changing room in the 2000s, says author and anthropologist John McManus. 

During the 90s and 2000s, Sukur is a Turkish superstar and Gulen is allied with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the conservative AKP party, who became prime minister in 2003 and the country’s current president. After retiring from football in 2007, Sukur became a member of parliament for Erdogan’s party while retaining his Gulen affiliations, but claims he was always a reluctant politician. 

In 2013, Gulen and Erdogan have a spectacular fall-out and Sukur, a national hero, is caught in the middle of an internecine struggle for power and influence in Turkey. In 2015, he flees to the US after being prosecuted over a tweet which “insults the president”. Sukur would never return to his homeland. 

The episode charts the spectacular cancellation of a footballing icon whose political allegiances put him on the wrong side of an increasingly authoritarian government. In telling his story, Simon and Mehreen attempt to uncancel Hakan Sukur.