It is 11 years since Tugay played his last game for Rovers. Rich Sharpe looks back on the career of the Ewood Park legend...

Tugay was a master of many things, not least the slow walk-off when tactically substituted late in games.

But he was holding back the tears during a 60-second amble towards the touchline for one final time 11 years ago today.

Rovers fans donned Tugay masks, and they may well have hid tears for many as they said goodbye to their Turkish Delight as he brought down the curtain on his career, the final eight years of which had been spent in East Lancashire.

A master of orchestrating the crowd, Tugay did just that during a lap of honour as Rovers signed off their 2008/09 season against West Bromwich Albion, a game that will forever be remembered as his farewell appearance.

All four sides of the ground, and every one of the 28,389 fans inside the ground, were on their feet as he made his way off the pitch for the final time.

But his standing within the game transcended further than Ewood Park,

West Ham midfielder Mark Noble once said of Tugay: “I was young and arrogant and I thought, ‘oh he’s got grey hair, I’m going to get in and around him’, and he had me on a bit of string for 90 minutes.”

His appearance and demeanour made him all the more endearing and added to the intrigue surrounding him. He was approaching 31 when he arrived from Rangers for £1.3m, and close to 39 by the time he retired.

Asked during his tenure whether he wished Tugay was 10 years younger, former Rovers boss Mark Hughes said: “No, because if he was, he’d be playing in a Barcelona shirt.”

Interviews weren’t really his thing, but he was clearly touched by the reception he received on May 24 2009, something he recalled with the Lancashire Telegraph on his return to Ewood Park in September 2014.

“It was an unbelievable reception,” he said.

“The atmosphere was always great but that last game was just unbelievable.

“You always have to have good relationships with the fans.

“But it’s what you do on the pitch that matters. If you have good times, then you will bond with them.”

For those fans not old enough to remember the Premier League title win, or the heroes of yesteryear, Tugay will be the boyhood favourite for many.

Even those able to recall the club being top of the pile in 1994/95, Tugay’s aura, as well as his ability, was cherished.

Ian Herbert, host of the popular BRFCS podcast, said: “He operated on a different level. He was very often two steps ahead of the rest of our team, and mostly one step ahead of the opposition.

“It was a case of minimum input, maximum output. He made the difficult look straight-forward.

“His vision set him apart from other players. He saw angles and opportunities that others didn’t and was capable of doing things with sublime elegance.”

Added to the list of players effusing praise on Tugay was one-time midfield partner Robbie Savage.

The Welshman spent three years at Rovers and said in his book: “Tugay was an unbelievable player. He could receive the ball in any area of the pitch and do something with it.”

Though Savage’s role was key to allowing Tugay to flourish.

“One of the unsung heroes was Savage,” Herbert added.

“He was like the bodyguard that gave Tugay the freedom to play.

“If teams were targeting Tugay then he was the workhorse able to dish things out and the two of them complemented each other very well.

“They knew their limitations and brought the best out of each other.”

The nearest player Herbert can liken Tugay to was Dave Wagstaffe, a Rovers player between 1976 and 1978.  He arrived in his late 30s but had similar vision and expertise in possession.

While the likes of Ronnie Clayton, Bryan Douglas and Alan Shearer were inducted in to the club’s inaugural Hall of Fame earlier this year, rightly take their place in the top echelon of ‘Rovers legends’, Tugay wouldn’t be far behind.  And he might well have cracked that top bracket had he arrived at Ewood Park just a few years earlier.

Of the day itself, Herbert added: “It was a hugely emotional day.

“There were a lot of home-made banners and it’s not every player that will get fans to tear up bedsheets and get the emulsion out.

“That was the affection in which he was held.

“For a player with such elegance, and the stories of him chain-smoking 40 a day, his fitness levels weren’t too bad, he was still getting about the pitch.

“It was a real privilege to have seen him play.

“In terms of pure ability, he’s got to be up there and considered among the best of the best in my opinion”

Tugay wasn’t a great goalscorer, but a scorer of a great goals, the 94-times capped Turkey international managing 13 in in 294 appearances. There was a goal on his league debut, in a 7-1 win over West Ham, memorable strikes against Arsenal and Birmingham away, an FA Cup strike against Burnley and stunners against Fulham and Tottenham.

A huge disappointment for Tugay was being suspended for the 2002 Worthington Cup final.

Brad Friedel put in a man-of-the-match display in that win over Tottenham, and was one of the ‘magnificent seven’ to be inducted in to the inaugural Hall of Fame.

And the giant American was in no doubt that Tugay will receive the honour before too long.

“Without a doubt, I played with a lot of tremendous players over the years,” he said.

“Tugay is definitely one that comes to mind.”

The game itself, a drab end of season 0-0 draw, also contained other farewells.

Andre Ooijer was in the starting line-up, making his 96th and final Rovers appearance while Aaron Mokoena was a second half substitute as the South African brought to an end his four-and-a-half year stay.

But with Tugay masks, Turkish flags, Tugay shirts and Galatasaray scarves dotted around Ewood it was clear whose day this was.

Then Rovers chairman John Williams focused on the value for money provided by Tugay, given his quality and years’ service, but he was about so much more than that, giving memories to supporters they will cherish forever.

He rightly pointed out: “Tugay will definitely have a place in our hearts forever.”

While today marks 10 years since his farewell, Tugay provided memories that will last a lifetime.

  • Lesser known about that game was the fact it was Tony Mowbray’s final game as West Bromwich Albion manager.

Albion had already been relegated, with Mowbray’s departure to Celtic having already been confirmed, 12 months after leading the club to the Championship title.

Keen to show their gratitude for Mowbray’s work, the Albion fans adorned masks of their own, in tribute of their manager.

Mowbray didn’t think he was worthy, but by the same token was hugely touched by the gesture of the fans, as recalled by then West Bromwich Albion writer Chris Lepkowski.

“I remember it very well,” he said.

“The West Brom fans had taken very well to Mowbray. He had brought attractive football to the club and the previous year got them promoted.

“He kept with that same philosophy in the Premier League but what really cost him was the loss of Kevin Phillips who left on a free at the start of the summer.

“Zoltan Gera had also left for Fulham and with it went their best chance of staying up.

“Maybe Mowbray stuck to his principles a little bit too much.”

Mowbray took over at Celtic that summer after then Burnley manager Owen Coyle had decided to stay at Turf Moor.

“Tony brought with him a popular style of football and it was such an amazing season the year before,” he added.

“The fans were very disappointed that he left but there was also a feeling that he may well have been sacked that summer anyway.”