The one-club man holds a certain prestige in the world of football which is not easily attained. There have been some truly great one-club men throughout the history of the game, the likes of Sir Tom Finney, Paolo Maldini and Lev Yashin are just a few names among some equally distinguished peers; however, there is one man who reigns supreme even among these undeniable legends. That man is Turkish defender Sait Altınordu. Having made his club debut aged 14, Altınordu did not hang up his boots until he had reached the ripe old age of 41, amassing 847 club appearances and having spent 27 years at a single club, three years longer than his nearest competitor, Ryan Giggs.
Born in the Üsküdar district of Istanbul, Altınordu moved to Izmir as a youngster and soon joined local side Altınordu S.K. Showing a footballing maturity beyond his years, Altınordu debuted at just 14, making him one of the youngest first team footballers in the history of the game. He almost immediately became a permanent fixture in the club’s side, wearing the number 8 shirt and largely playing in the centre and on the right side of the defence, as well as being capable of playing as a holding midfielder.
Although he was born into the Ottoman Empire, the empire was being defeated in the Balkan Wars in the year of Altınordu’s birth, 1912, and had been dissolved 10 years later after the Turkish national movement won the war of independence. The country officially became Turkey in 1923. The victorious leader of the new nation and Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal, introduced a series of reforms which became known as ‘Atatürk’s Reforms’. Among these, the president introduced the ‘Surname Law’ of 1934, which required all the nation’s inhabitants to have a surname. Traditionally, Christian and Jewish people had surnames, and Muslims did not, and those without were allowed, within reason, to decide upon their own new surname. Aged 22, and having played for the club for 8 years, Altınordu took the name of the club he played for, and thus became known as Sait Altınordu.
Two years later, Altınordu was asked to join the Turkish national team to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Called up by Irishman and former Accrington Stanley defender James Donnelly, Altınordu made his first and only appearance for the national team at the competition, aged 24. Turkey were drawn against Norway in the first round of the games, and were roundly defeated by 4 goals to 0 at Berlin’s Mommsenstadion, in front of 8,000 people, as Altınordu played the full game at the heart of the countries defence. Altınordu’s lack of future international opportunities is largely accredited to the heavy weighting towards Istanbul-based players in the days before Turkey had a national league.
Prior to 1959, when the Süper Lig was founded, football in Turkey was divided regionally, with leagues in Istanbul, Adana, Ankara, Eskişehir and Izmir. Altınordu S.K. were the second most successful team in Izmir, winning 6 league titles between 1926 and 1945, of which Sait Altınordu featured in every single league championship victory. Before the Süper Lig came into being, there was one competition which over-arched the entire nation, known as the ‘Milli Küme Şampiyonası’, or ‘Turkish National Division Championships’, which took the best teams from Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Altınordu S.K. never won the competition, which ran from 1936 until 1950, but Sait Altınordu was the top scorer in the 1936/37 season, scoring 13 goals, despite being largely deployed as a defender.
Altınordu was subject to interest from a number of clubs over the course of his career, including Turkish giants Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, who made offers which the club described as ‘astronomical’, but Altınordu’s head was never turned. The 27 years in which he spent at the club is a truly remarkable achievement and one that may never be surpassed. Away from the game, Altınordu is said to be a man who enjoyed a drink, with his wife once stating that he had a particular weakness for rakı, the countries most popular alcoholic beverage.
Sait Altınordu lived out the rest of his life, after retiring aged 41, in Alsancak, Izmir. Like so many players of his era, Altınordu’s footballing abilities were not particularly richly rewarded, and he lived a modest life until his death in 1978, aged 66. Following his retirement from the game he managed a small buffet in the Alsancak neighborhood. His post-football life may have been markedly modest, but his legacy in Izmir, particularly at Altınordu S.K., is great.
There are three monuments to him in the city, one of which was opened to a considerable crowd in December 2014. There is one at Izmir Alsancak Railway Station, one which is a bust of his head and, the most recent, pictured above, which can be found on the square which is named after him, ‘Sait Altınordu Meydani’. He also has a grand grave in Izmir which is regularly visited. Former Galatasaray and Turkey legend Metin Oktay, who is the most successful player in the history of Turkish football with 6 league titles, idolised Altınordu. He once said, “I wore number 8 on my shirt. Why number 8? Because the number 8 jersey was worn by Sait Altınordu. He was the hero of my childhood. When I grew up, I wanted to be like him.”