A correspondent of the British newspaper, was at Leoforos for the Greek derby Panathinaikos-Olympiakos, which was called off because of riots, and talks about his experience.
The newspaper also mentions the case of the criminal organization and the alleged involvement of Olympiakos president Evangelos Marinakis.
What is football without hope? It’s what drives all of us, however big or small the club we support. There’s always next week – another game, another chance. It’s why so many of us spend much of deadline day glued to the TV and refreshing rolling news feeds. That one extra player might just be the one we need, the one that makes all the difference, even if we hadn’t thought of him or even heard of him at this time yesterday.
We came perilously close to finding out the answer to that initial question when we were filming in Greece. At a packed Leoforos – the locals’ name for the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, the home of Panathinaikos – an announcement came over the tannoy that the Athens derby between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos would not now take place, after visiting player Alfred Finnbogason was hit by a flare in the pre-match pitch walk. It was over half an hour after the scheduled kick-off time.
The tension around the fixture, which had been palpable in the hours and days leading up to it, spilled over. Fans from the Gate 13 section behind the goal chucked flares at the riot police. The police advanced. Some fans broke through the barriers, moving towards the police and wielding projectiles, including more flares, broken-off seats and any other debris available. The police charged with batons, and tear gas was released. It took some 40 minutes for some semblance of order to be restored.
There’s no excuse for the violence – the moment when a father who was sitting in front of me led his 12-year-old son out of the stand after a flare shot narrowly past the boy’s head remains etched on my brain – but there was a feeling that so many fans just couldn’t take any more. Wherever we went at the weekend, and whoever we spoke to, people were just unable to stop themselves blurting out the hopelessness of it all. Olympiakos, they said, were protected from on high.
The champions’ owner, Evangelos Marinakis, is currently being investigated (again) in a fixing scandal, having already been cleared once this year in a case which had its roots as far back as 2011. Yet what was almost as bad was that even those who didn’t reference the criminal element of this feel that the cards are stacked.
Olympiacos have won 17 of the last 19 Super League titles. It is difficult to see anything changing in a hurry, with their position gaining strength every year as they bank another season’s worth of Champions League money. Whether Panathinaikos’ fan-funded model can bridge that gap is open to question, particularly in a country where people have problems of daily subsistence far more important than funding football. In the north, Aris have begun to move away from that.
There are glimmers of improvement. PSAP (players union) representative Stamatis Syrigos explained to us how players are more protected than before, which is a big step, with unpaid wages having been a huge problem. What needs to happen next is for some of that hope to filter down to the fans – because hope is important.