Monday, 10 September 2012

Billy Mehmet

2010 - 11 : Gençlerbirliği (Turkey)
2011 : Samsunspor (Turkey)
2011 - 12 : Perth Glory (Australia)
2013 : Bangkok Glass (Thailand)
2013 - present : Dempo (India)

Born in London to an English mother and a Turkish-Cypriot father, Mehmet may seem like an unusual inclusion in the Wild Geese. But, this talented striker has a solitary cap, for the Irish Under-21s.  Qualifying for the Republic through his Irish grandfather, Mehmet played against Poland in 2004.

Born in 1984, he began his career with East London club West Ham United at just 8 years of age. Rising through the club's minor ranks, he became captain of the Academy side in his teens, and made club history as the youngest ever footballer to play for West Ham, when he participated in a testimonial game in 1998.

In 2003, he was sold by his boyhood club and moved north to Scotland and Dunfermline Athletic. Spending two years with the Pars, he would help insire them to an unprecendented 4th place finish in the 2003-04 Scottish Premier League. It was during his time with Dunfermline that he earned his call-up to the Republic of Ireland Under-21s. In 2005 he moved to St. Mirren, where he scored over 50 goals for the Saints in a 5 year period. Then, in May 2010 he moved to Turkey after being signed by Gençlerbirliği on a Bosman free-transfer. Other English speakers in the squad were Scotland international Michael Stewart, and Shane Smeltz from New Zealand.
Signing for Genclerbirligi

He was the first Irishman to ply his trade in Turkish football, since Jim Donnelly 73 years earlier.

Gençlerbirliği, also known as Ankara Rüzgârı (The Wind of Ankara), were founded in 1923. Based in the Turkish capital of Ankara, they have two Turkish Championships to their name, in 1941 and 1946, while two Turkish Cup crowns have also been won in 1987 and 2001. They play their home matches as the 19,000 capacity 19 Mayis Stadium, which also hosts two other local clubs.

When Mehmet signed, the club were being coached by former Germany international Thomas Doll and had just achieved a mid-table, 10th place finish the previous year. Faced with financial uncertainty, the club attempted to alleviate the problem by spending more money, on players like Mehmet and Stewart.

On October 21st, Doll was sacked and replaced by compatriot Ralf Zumdick. On November 12th, Mehmet started as Rüzgârı famously beat giants Galatasaray 0-2 in Istanbul.

Mehmet (right) celebrates with team-mates

By December, the club's weak financial situation was becoming more and more serious. In January, this precarious situation led to Mehmet mutually terminating his deal with Rüzgârı as his wages could not be garunteed for the next few months. Mehmet had made 14 appearances for the club, netting 2 goals. Michael Stewart, meanwhile, left the club too, having not made a single appearance due to injuries. Gençlerbirliği finished the season in 14th place, a poor result. 

Unfortunately for the Irishman, his contract with Gençlerbirliği had featured a clause that didn't allow him to play for another Super Lig club within a year of leaving. Therefore, in February Mehmet signed for First Division club Samsunspor. 

This was a brave move, as the striker had been offered deals back in Scotland and the English Championship. He stated at the time, "I'm very happy to be here, and am enjoying playing in Turkey". If only the likes of Robbie Keane could have felt the same about Italy.

Mehmet with Samsunspor
Samsunspor hail from the city of Samsun, on Turkey's Northern coast. Founded in 1965, they also play matches at a 19,000 capacity stadium called 19 Mayis, albeit a different one. After yo-yoing between division for 30 years, the club have found themselves in the Super League for most of the past 20 years. Although by the the time of Mehmet's arrival they were well-and-truly placed in Turkey's second tier. 

He was signed by manager Huseyin Kalpar, and slotted straight into the side, playing up front beside Nigerian Simon Zenke. With the exception of a brief injury in March, Mehmet was able to play in most of Samsunspor's remaining matched that season. When he signed, they were lying 4th in thr table; Mehmet put in 9 games for the club, scoring twice to help them finish in 2nd place and qualify for the Super Lig. However, Mehmet would not reappear in the top tier, as on September 7th, 2011 he moved to the Southern Hemisphere to sign for Western Australian side Perth Glory. 

Fully professional, Perth ply their trade in the Hyundai A-League, Australia's top division and their Perth Oval stadium holds 20,500 spectators. Founded in 1996, the club won two National Soccer League titles in 2003 and 2004. Since the creation of the A-League in 2005, the club has failed to land a major trophy. The club's current Head Coach is Scotsman Ian Ferguson, who signed the Irishman on a free transfer. 

At Perth, he would join former team-mate Shane Smeltz, as well as fellow Irishman Liam Miller. He played 22 matches in his first year with Glory, scoring 6 goals in the process.  Glory reached the final of the 2011-12 A-League, only to lose to Brisbane 2-1.
Mehmet with Perth Manager Ian Ferguson
Despite signing a new contract in February 2012, Mehmet became increasingly forced to the bench that year as club manager Ian Ferguson preferred playing Shane Smeltz as a lone striker. Less than a year later, in January 2013 the Irishman terminated his deal with Perth and signed a contract with Thai outfit Bangkok Glass. He had scored 10 goals in 42 appearances for Perth.

A new(ish) club, Bangkok Glass were founded in 2006, and in 2009 bought a franchis place in order to compete in the Thai Premier League. Since then, success has become common with a Thai Super Cup, a Queen's Cup (the Thai FA Cup) and a Singapore Cup having been won. Playing at the new 13,000 capacity Leo Stadium, the club has become one of the biggest teams in a growing Thai Premier League.

Mehmet playing for Bangkok

On the books for the 2013 season were a number of foreigners, with Mehmet one of only two Europeans. He was signed by English coach Phil Stubbins, a journeyman player and coach who's career has sent him to Japan, Australia and Thailand. However in March, less than two months after Mehmet's arrival, Stubbs resigned, leaving midfielder Anurak Srikerd as player-manager.

Mehmet scored on his club debut during a pre-season test against the Thai Armed Forces, and made his competitive debut on March 3rd against Songkhla United, a game which Bangkok lost 1-0. His time in Thailand would be short, and after only 3 matches and 1 goal, he left the club citing personal reasons. It is probably safe to assume that the early departure of Stubbs had a negative effect on Mehmet's adaption to club life in Bangkok.

Within weeks of leaving Thailand, the Irishman found another club in Asia by signing with the Indian Premier League's Dempo SC.

Hailing from Goa, a city of over a million people on the Indian Ocean coast, Dempo were founded in 1968. They play home games at the Fatorda Stadium; a ground that holds 27000 fans which they share with three other I-league clubs. Nicknamed the whites, Dempo are the holders of five league titles, including three I-league crowns (India's top flight went professional, changing from the National League to the I-league in 2007).

Mehmet was signed by Dempo's Asutralian coach Arthur Papas who had knowledge of the Irishman from his time in Perth. Not the only foreigner in the team, he would be joined by Australian international Simon Colosimo as well as a number of Japanese and Brazilian players. A number of his Indian team-mates are also internationals for their country. Dempo had finished the previous season in 5th and therefore were not eligible to play in the 2013-14 AFC Champions League.

Mehmet's time at Dempo has just begun, let's hope it proves fruitful, but certainly from a Republic of Ireland perspective, we definitely won't be seeing this trailblazer in a green shirt again.

Good luck!

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