Wednesday, January 18, 2006
The biggest derby in Greece was played at the Olympiakos stadium in Piraeus on sunday 15th january & in terms of drama , intensity & passion it did not disappoint.
My long weekend in Athens started on the Friday prior to the big game and during that day and the Saturday morning I sampled the ancient (and some more modern) Greek history & culture at the National Archaeological Museum (fine) , the Byzantine & War Museums (smaller but ok) together with a tour of the Acropolis and surrounding area (cold wind but generally free of many tourists)
In the evening I attended AEK vs Atromitos played at the newish Olympic Stadium, to the north of Athens (metro station Irini) The surroundings and the stadium are architecturally attractive although the 10,000 or so fans were rather lost in the large arena. Despite that the AEK ultras certainly make some noise.
On the Sunday after spending the morning at the Piraeus and Athens flea markets (crowded)
I watched Ionikos vs Levadiakos in the afternoon (their ground is in the Nikea area of Piraeus, on Gr. Lambraki street, either bus or taxi from downtown) before a small attendance of under 1000. A fairly low key aperitif before the main course.
I arrived nearly two hours before the 7pm kick off and the Olympiakos Karaiskakis stadium and surrounding area was already noisy and crowded.
But only with home fans as no opposition fans (with the exception of three Panathinaikos directors ?) were allowed into the stadium.
For me the lack of away fans does detract from the overall derby game experience, however it is clear that the intensity of the animosity generated between the supporters has inevitably meant home fans only is the way it will be for the forseeable future.
So over 30,000 passionate greeks dressed in red is how it was. And the most intense are those representing Gate 7 (see picture) - the ultras of Olympiakos. Imagine being a Panathinaikos player warming up some few yards in front of these guys , as they did , to prove they are not afraid. But not too close in order to avoid the missiles being thrown.
As the players appear for the kick-off the taunts to the Panathinaikos players are 'pastmasters' , 'has-beens' and rabbits (because they run) the noise is deafening and the flares copious.
It takes maybe 4/5 minutes before the smoke clears and the game can start.
You could contrast the occasion as between extreme noise and mayhem whenever Olympiakos went close or scored (as they did three times) versus total silence when Panathinaikos scored (twice). Neither defence looked that secure & the difference really was the two well taken goals by Rivaldo who can still strut his stuff , although a little more slowly than in the past.
I assume Olympiakos will be called to account for the missiles & flares thrown during the game - often Panathinaikos players were unable to take corners without being bombarded by dvd's or whatever (given as handouts to the fans) .When the away team were awarded a penalty (brave refereeing) flares were thrown onto the pitch and it would not be an exaggeration to say that they (mainly Gate 7) must have lit over 100 flares before and during the game.
Overall an intense experience of a greek derby played out in a very atmospheric stadium where the Olympiakos ultras express their passion writ large.