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Saturday 21st January 2016 ko 11.00

Greek Superleague K20

PANIONIOS 2 (66,68)

PANETOLIKOS 2 (48 50)

Att c70 at Dimotiko Stadio, Glyfada, Athens

Entry FREE

No Programme

It had been almost exactly 2 years since my last visit to Athens, thank you Facebook for reminding me, and part of the interest in returning was seeing what had changed. Last time out I’d certainly picked my time, it was a week before the election that saw Alexis Tsipras become Prime Minister, and Greece’s problems were manifest.

As was the case we flew to Athens airport, and caught the metro into central Athens, paying what amounts to a tourist tax, €10 to do so. By means of a comparison €9 buys you a 5 day ticket for the rest of Athens’ metro, buses, trams, and trolleys. Back in 2015 it seemed easy to not bother paying, you are meant to validate your ticket via a machine, but with no barriers many didn’t and with no inspectors, there seemed little incentive to pay. The system hasn’t changed yet, but very gradually the stations are sprouting barriers, and a contactless “Oyster” card system is coming.

Greece’s problems are still there for all to see, austerity has hit the country hard, far far deeper than in the UK, and worse even the likes of Spain. Expect to see damaged pavements, people begging on the train, and do try and understand the reasons why. Travel is nothing without empathy.

On the face of it doesn’t seem logical that the metro’s red M2 line ends at Elliniko. You can’t even claim it served the derelict Ellinikon International Airport, the line was extended here in 2013 but the airport closed in 2001. Nevertheless the old airport ended up having a massive impact on the game we were watching.

We took the 122 bus to Glyfada seafront, an adventure in itself. The issue was that whilst Athens’ metro and train services are written in both Greek and Latin alphabets, the buses use only Greek, to do use an online mapping service and learn to count off the stops!

Glyfada is Athens’ main area for beaches, but with the migrant crisis has also been a landing point for refugees on makeshift craft from Turkey. They’ve been mostly housed at the old airport and at the previously derelict Olympic venues in the area. The 2004 Olympic baseball and hockey tournaments were held in Glyfada, and the former hockey stadium, rebadged the Elliniko Stadium was taken on by third tier, Football League 2 outfit FC Glyfadas after the games.

But with the Elliniko Stadium being used to house refugees, the club has located to the end of the old runway, to the Dimotiko Stadium. It’s a fascinating place, even if it does seem to be a buffer between the golf course and the rubbish tip, with the airport to the left of every single photo here.

What you can’t see though, but do have a look on a mapping service, is the dumping ground for migrants’ boats at the end of the runaway, a sad metaphor for the refugee crisis. Be careful when trying to get here, some maps refer to here as Glyfada Number 1 Municipal Stadium, follow instructions for that and you’ll end up about 5 km too far north!

The stadium seems a lot older than than it’s contents. The stone surround, and bowl suggest antiquity, even if the 3G pitch is very much of modern times. There is only one side available side for viewing, split by the clubhouse to create home and away ends along the lines of stadia you’ll see in Malta. It’s a shame the far side wasn’t open although with archery practice taking place there you could see why!

Even if you ignore all of the interesting features, this proved to be the best of several youth games to have watched that morning. Close by is a golf course and gated community, and there are plans in place to expand this massively, which would swallow up the stadium. That is subject to finance, which in Greece is a massive caveat, and one were were to see again during our stay.

The game was an under-20’s precursor to the same sides meeting in Nea Smyrnia later that day, and in some ways aped what the adults did later on. Clearly the fashion here and elsewhere is to play a cagey passing game, retaining possession at all costs. When the likes of Arsenal play it, it looks wonderful, but when the talent level drops, for long periods it’s tedious in the extreme.

The first half was worth precisely what we paid to get in, but once Agrinio-based Panetolikos took the lead the passing became more adventurous and the goals flowed. In the end the game became well worth the effort in getting there, and even more so given the story of what’s happpening here. We retraced our steps and went for a Souvlaki; there was an evening out to be planned….

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