Gulum adds: “To be fair the other students had been trialling for a couple of months and I rocked up to the last session and yeah, I think I worked that day and the coach put me on the last 10 minutes and I scored and assisted a goal.
“It wasn’t fair, but maybe back then the system was a bit different and the coach saw something and selected me. I was shocked, I wasn’t prepared.”
International teenager of mystery (and missed flights)
Gulum eventually made the Australian schoolboys representative side which toured the UK. Hikmet knew then-coach of Turkish Super Lig side Manisaspor (current Fernabache SK coach Ersun Yanal) and secured Gulum a trial. Gulum was to fly from London to Istanbul after the tour to meet Hikmet.
“Ersan missed his flight, in typical Ersan style. I waited at the airport for 15 hours, we had no idea where he was. I’m trying to find this kid is who his parents trusted me with and he’s nowhere to be seen. He eventually rocked up, middle of winter, with his beanie like nothing was even wrong and said ‘hey, how are ya?’
“I said ‘good mate, where the f— have you been?! … his carefree attitude has been key to dealing with setbacks in his career.”
Gulum sat on the Manisaspor bench learning his trade and was transferred to second division side Adanaspor, making the second division team of the season in 2008-09. Istanbul giants Besiktas, the team he and his father supported, signed Gulum on loan in 2010 and permanently in 2011.
Gulum thought Besiktas’ interest was a joke, yet he thrived once settled. He ruptured his ACL in 2011, and then again in the 2012 pre-season. The press declared him done, and he was “on a downer”, but his parents and sister moved to Istanbul to “pick me up and get me back on track”.
Financial woes almost crippled the giant European club in 2012. Gulum pledged to forgo half his pay and the rest of the squad followed. Fans followed Gulum’s lead too, donating money to the club.
“I thought well the club stuck by me in tough times through two knee reconstructions and they could have easily said goodbye. Best way to repay the favour was to take a pay cut and help the club out,” he says.
“We didn’t know how the fans would react and they basically loved how I thought about the club first … to this day I can always go to Besiktas and have everyone greet me with open arms for a chat or a coffee with whoever is there at the time which is very hard to do in Turkey. My family always wanted to leave on good terms with Besiktas and we have.”
Europa League to Victorian Fourth Tier
Gulum signed for Hebei China Fortune in 2016. But in 2018 the Chinese government passed foreign player rules that restricted clubs playing internationals. It put his future under a cloud.
Back in Melbourne suburb Epping, Hikmet took Gulum to watch a local Turkish Derby – Hume United vs Whittlesea United. Whittlesea lost 7-4. Gulum decided to join as player coach to help steady Whittlesea’s bid for promotion.
“Ersan saw his mates struggling, beaten convincingly and he said ‘I want to help my mates out’,” Hikmet remembers.
Gulum, with a laugh, remembers it a little differently: “Ezel [Hikmet] lured me in. It was his plan from day one.
“I tried to implement my knowledge from over the years to that team and help them get promoted and they got promoted from State League Two to State League One which was good.” Western United soon came knocking.
Turkish international, not Australian
Gulum played for the Olyroos but missed 2008 Olympics selection, despite formidable Adanaspor form.
He’d always told FFA he wanted to play for Australia, but he wasn’t selected because the Turkish second division was deemed poor quality by then-Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek.
Australia were interested again once he moved to Besiktas, yet Turkey had shown greater interest.
“Once you’re at a big club like Besiktas and you’re Turkish playing week in, week out and Turkey come knocking you can’t say no. I’m eating their bread and butter. Nowadays it’s okay but then it could have been different.
“The media could’ve crucified me, it could have looked bad to the fans and then they feed off that. It could have backfired on me.”
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.