The Turkish club president who attacked a referee - who is Ankaragucu chief Faruk Koca?

Controversial politician facing punishment for punching match official after game against Rizespor

Turkish referee attacked after last-minute equaliser in Super Lig game

Turkish referee attacked after last-minute equaliser in Super Lig game
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Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca can claim to be one of the most politically connected figures in Turkish football, having been one of the founders of the party that has ruled the country for more than 20 years.

After helping establish the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in 2001, Koca went on to become an Ankara MP for the party between 2002 and 2011.

Following his arrest for attacking referee Halil Umut Meler, however, it seems his political ties will not be enough to save him. In fact, Koca was expelled from the AKP during a meeting of the party’s executive committee on Tuesday.

In a phone call to Meler in hospital, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had been “seriously disturbed” by the incident, adding: “We must quickly do whatever is necessary.” Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya described it as a “disgusting attack”.

Born in the village of Derekisla, some 70 kilometres south of Ankara, the 59-year-old Koca focused on overseas trade before launching his political career.

In the early years of the AKP, he is said to have been a member of Erdogan’s close circle, even renting a house in Ankara’s Subayevleri neighbourhood to the then prime minister.

He came to public attention in 2006 when he helped rescue Erdogan, who had fallen ill in a car that was locked from the inside. Finding a nearby sledgehammer, Koca is said to have smashed the car’s bulletproof window so the prime minister could be taken to hospital.

Another incident during his parliamentary term, however, indicated Koca’s volatile temper.

In 2009, Turkish media reported that he and another AKP MP were delayed at the Turkey-Syria border while returning by car from Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah.

Although no legal action was brought, the two MPs were reported to have become involved in a confrontation with Turkish border officials, during which at least one officer was slapped.

In his first foray into football, Koca, a father of four, was elected Ankaragucu president in 2021 with 802 out of 1058 members’ votes.

Despite receiving a fair play award in October 2022, his short time with the club has also been marked by questions over his temperament.

Following Monday night’s attack, a former Ankaragucu coach came forward to claim he had been assaulted by Koca.

“Faruk Koca punched me when I was coaching at Ankaragucu,” broadcaster A Spor quoted Hikmet Karaman as saying. “We tolerated it at the time but now I can tell it.”

Earlier this year, Koca indicated his growing anger at Turkey’s referees.

In a TV interview following Ankaragucu’s 3-1 defeat against Adana Demirspor in January, he warned that match officials “will face great reactions that have never been seen in their history” if what he described as substandard refereeing were to carry on.

“If the referees who manage the match for 90 minutes continue to manage football like this – I say it clearly – this is my last response. How I will react to anything that may happen from now on is up to me,” he added.

According to football journalist Mert Aydin, Koca is typical of some senior figures in Turkish football who believe their behaviour is irreproachable.

“His previous comments about referees showed us he was capable of this kind of thing,” Aydin said.

“When the laws and rules are applied then you don’t see these kind of things, but Mr Koca probably thought he would be saved by his political connections and get away with a small fine or something.”

Updated: December 12, 2023, 2:28 PM