Eternal Enemies – Football in Athens

fft11_mf1184194[1]

The Mother of All Battles. The Derby of the Eternal Enemies. It’s very rare for reality to match the hyperbolic rhetoric that’s bandied around by the sporting press, TV pundits and social media zealots in this day and age. Athens provides the setting for one of the exceptions and fittingly so. The ancient greek metropolis; realm of gods and heroes, legends and tragedies; is the stage for an epic rivalry that’s almost as fabled as the great works of Sophocles and Aeschylus. No, it’s not the cosy scouse love-in that is Liverpool against Everton, nor is it the slightly more contentious Team Edward versus Team Jacob. This one is the real deal. Panathinaikos versus Olympiakos.

Panathinaikos – Oi Prasinoi (the Greens) or To Trifylli (the Shamrock) – based in central Athens is the older of the two clubs having formed in 1908. Their traditional assosciation with Athenian high society – in contrast to Olympiakos’ reputation as the working class team from the docks of Piraeus – is often quoted as the basis for this most tempestuous antagonsim between Greece’s biggest and most successful clubs. However the class-divide between the supporters and their locales is somewhat exaggrated by the fans themselves (particlulary those of the red & white persuasion) in an attempt to distance themselves from their enemy. In truth, Olympiakos – the Erythrolefkoi (the Red &Whites) or the Thrylos (the Legend) – were founded by similarly distinguished members of society in 1925. Today, these supposed differences are almost obsolete. Supporters of both clubs come from all classes of the social spectrum and can be found mixed throughout the greater Athens area as well as Greece as a whole. As with most great football rivalries, it’s not about rich versus poor , it’s about green versus red.

A quick visit to the clubs’ websites or a scroll through Wikipedia will tell you almost all there is to know about the head-to-head record and respective achievements of these clubs, but statistics only serve to embellish the significance of this encounter. In truth, it’s the hatred that exists between the hardcore fans that justifies the moniker: The Mother of All Battles. Whereas a prawn sandwich being thrown from the stands at Old Trafford would be considered newsworthy in the UK, incidents of flares and bottles being launched at players, coaches and officials are considered the norm on derby day in the greek capital. The threat inside and outside the stadium is genuine. In 2007 a 22 year old Panathinaikos fan was stabbed to death during a clash with Olympiakos supporters. In 2012, the derby was abandoned due to large-scale brawls (and a pretty big fire) in the stands between Panathaniakos ultras and police. Very recently, in 2013, a bomb exploded at a fan club run by Gate 13 – the historical ultras group of Panathinaikos. Thankfully no one was harmed but the counterpart Gate 7 group of Olympiakos were the prime suspects. It should be noted that both sets of supporters produce brilliant visual displays and rousing vocal expressions of their passion and loyalty, and the majority of fans stay away from trouble, but it’s the aforementioned events that have led to a ban on away supporters at greek football matches for what are considered high risk games. Panathinaikos-Olympiakos is of course the riskiest of all.

There are many that like to distance themselves from such events. Those that condemn the incidents as being “disgraceful” or “abhorrent” are right, but there’s no denying that the danger surrounding this rivalry is what makes it not only notorious, but exciting, intriguing and vital to many. After all, it’s only human nature to be seduced by elements of menace and tragedy. Some prefer to be voyeurs, sitting comfortably and watching from a safe distance, while others succumb to wanton acts of destruction at first hand. Either way, sports fans are captivated by the most intense rivalries. So while the sanctimonious among us are right to say that the more unwholesome aspects of sport “are not part of the game”,  they are failing to understand that the game is a part of us, just as the temptation to seek danger and controversy is also part of us. That temptation appears to be eternal, particularly in Athens.

 

Athens is home to many football clubs. What follows is a roll call of the city’s main teams.

OLYMPIAKOS

th20YF7GSL

Piraeus

Red & White

Founded: 1925

Stadium: Karaiskakis Stadium (32,115)

41 League Championships & 26 Greek Cups

Rivals: Panathinaikos, PAOK, AEK Athens, Aris

 

PANATHINAIKOS

th8ONGLASL

Central Athens

Green

Founded: 1908

Stadium: Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium (16,003)

20 League Championships & 18 Greek Cups

Rivals: Olympiakos, AEK Athens, PAOK, Aris, Panionios

 

AEK ATHENS

thQOWQD4Y1

Central Athens

Yellow & Black

Founded: 1924

Stadium: Olympic Stadium (69,638)

11 Greek Championships & 11 Greek Cups

Rivals: Panathinaikos, Olympiakos, PAOK, Panionios

 

PANIONIOS

th3FKLFGM4

Nea Smyrni, southern Athens

Red & Blue Founded: 1890

Stadium: Nea Smyrni Stadium (11,700)

2 Greek Cups

Rivals: Apollon Smyrni, Panathinaikos, Atromitos Athens, AEK Athens

 

ATROMITOS ATHENS

thN7MLKF52

Peristeri, northwest Athens

Blue

Founded: 1923

Stadium: Peristeri Stadium (9,050)

No major honours

Rivals: Panionios, Egaleo

 

APOLLON SMYRNI

Apollon-Athens[1]

Central Athens

Blue & White

Founded: 1891

Stadium: Rizoupoli Stadium (14,856)

No major honours

Rivals: Panionios

 

KALLITHEA

Kallithéa_FC_Logo[1]

Southern Athens

Blue & White

Founded: 1966

Stadium: Gregoris Lambakis Stadium (4,200)

No major honours

Rivals: Egaleo, Panachaiki

Advertisements

Manuel Neuer – The Third Wheel

Golden Glove Award 2014 Fifa worldcup Best Goalkeeper[1]

It’s almost the new year which means FIFA’s equivalent of the Oscars (or the Miss World pageant if we have to witness yet more footage of Ronaldo whipping his shirt off) is almost upon us. With the shortlist for the Balon D’Or whittled down to the final three, the tension would be palpable if it was anything other than business as usual. Messi, check! Ronaldo, check! Nothing new there. They should probably get together to co-ordinate their outfits for the next few years. But what about the third candidate? The third candidate typically being an honourable mention or depending on your level of cynicism, an obligatory throw-in, will be recognized with the utmost brevity for having had a good World Cup or a strong Champions League showing. But ultimately, everyone and their pet hamster knows that Jamie Redknapp has a better chance of winning the Best TV Presenter award ahead of Ant and Dec than the likes of Franck Ribery and Xavi have of breaking the Messi-Ronaldo dominion over football’s most coveted individual prize.

This year’s challenger is Germany and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. An outstanding goalkeeper, certainly, but can his contribution to his teams really compare with the 50 goals and 20 assists that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi give their clubs every season? Can a great goalkeeper possibly be as vital to a team’s success as a record-breaking goalscorer or a creative genius? No. Never. A quick visit to Youtube allows anyone to view the numerous highlight reels showing Messi and Ronaldo winning matches with awe-inspiring moments of brilliance beyond the capabilities of all but a handful of the most legendary players. A similar search for Neuer’s greatest moments will produce some fine footage but how many of those saves were crucial? How many could not be performed by plenty of top-level ‘keepers across the globe? A few perhaps, but not enough to warrant an award proclaiming the German as the best footballer in the world. In fact, my most vivid memory of Neuer in 2014 is seeing him claim his gaudy, oversized and slightly creepy Golden Glove prize after the World Cup final with Mark Lawrenson sarcastically (and hilariously) stating that it “looks like the hand from the Addams Family”.

The World Cup is undoubtedly FIFA’s showcase event. Being the platform upon which the sport is projected to it’s largest worldwide audience, it comes as no surprise that FIFA ensure that at least one player from the winning team is on the final shortlist for the Balon D’Or following a World Cup year. Maybe the team-oriented German approach and lack of a stand-out player in attack (the winning goal in the final was of course scored by substitute Mario Goetze who struggled throughout the tournament) paved the way for a goalkeeper to add novelty to the three-man shortlist. I mean why bother listing midfielders like Pirlo or Robben if they’ve got no chance of winning anyway? So while Manuel Neuer deserves to be recognised as the world’s best ‘keeper in 2014, his inclusion as a finalist for the Balon D’Or proves yet again that FIFA, and everyone else for that matter, cannot see past Ronaldo and Messi as the only players truly worthy of the award. Nonetheless, Neuer should enjoy the occasion. After all, it’s unlikely that he will be joing football’s favourite couple at next year’s Balon D’Or ceremony.

 


%d bloggers like this: