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Sunday 22nd January 2017 ko 15.00

Greek Superleague

A.E.K. 2 (Pekhart 24 Mandalos 47)

ASTERAS TRIPOLIS 0

Att 5,025 at Spyros Louis Olympic Stadium, Athens

Entry €15

No Programme

It seems to be that if you’re anything resembling a sports fan and you’re in Athens you really ought to visit the Panathenaic Stadium. There’s been a stadium here since 330 BC, but this marble incarnation dates from 1896 when it was rebuilt to host the first modern-era Olympic games. It also served at the 2004 Olympics hosting the archery and the finish of the marathon. Traditionally, it is where the Olympic flame leaves Greece for the torch relay to the host city. It costs €5 to have a look round.

But with all due respect to the I.O.C. of 1896 they built the stadium far too narrow for football, so it was a simple case of catching the tram one stop back to its terminus at Syntagma Square then finessing the metro lines to get the train on the green M1 line north to Irini station. There of course is the old stadium’s modern, well 2004, equivalent.

The line, and station vastly predates the 2004 games, the stadium being named after Spyros Louis, the winner of the 1896 Olympic marathon. It was built in 1980-2 for the European Athletics championship but were extensively rebuilt for the 2004 games, but here’s the issue, the Olympic village ever since has slowly decayed, with virtually no use being found for the facilities here.

The Guardian did a fascinating piece on the former Olympic venues 3 years ago. Click here, and very little seems to have changed since then. It certainly gives an insight into the worries of the London games organisers as to how they could deal with an Olympic stadium when then circus left town. Looking at the what’s now the London Stadium home to West Ham United perhaps the compromise wasn’t so bad?

A.E.K. moved into the Olympic stadium after the Olympics, moving a few metro stops north from Nea Filadelfei (New Philadelphia). The club, like Panionios the day before has it’s roots in the Greek population in Turkey, AEK stands for Athlitiki Enosis Konstantinoupoleos, or Athletic Union of Constantinople – today’s Istanbul. The club was formed in 1924 by refugees uprooted from Turkey following Greece’s defeat in the Greco-Turkish war.

The club’s badge and colours reference those roots. The two-headed eagle represents the links back to Constantinople- it’s also the symbol of the Greek Orthodox Church based ironically in Istanbul, and yellow and black is a nod back to their lost homelands.

The club was based at the Nikos Goumas stadium from 1928 to 2003, and their move north was somewhat controversial. Then president Giannis Granitsas claimed the stadium was too old, and that it had been damaged too much by the 1999 Athens earthquake. On one hand the stadium’s capacity had been reduced to 24,000 by becoming all seater, on the low side for arguably Greece’s most famous club, but they swapped it for a 70,000 capacity athletics stadium, with sight lines to match!

There are plans to build a new stadium at the site of the demolished Goumas Stadium. The ideas look interesting. The 31,500 stadium will be named “Hagia Sophia” the name of the Greek Cathedral in Istanbul, and the design will be based on the Walls of Constantinople. The idea is that the edifice will look like a castle as you approach. The trouble is that the project will cost €65M and the finance for that in today’s Greece is unlikely to be easily obtained. 

It was an odd experience visiting the Olympic village. Just beyond the metro station a Portakabin serves as a ticket office, don’t forget your passport. I’d advise paying attention to the seating plan and remember that the long and triple jump runways are on the back straight. I’d observe that the €25 seats on the back straight were substantially further from the action than our supposedly inferior €15 ones adjacent to them. Other than hospitality, the €25 seats on the home straight look the best bet for the one-off visitor. Paying €5 to sit/stand with the ultras may be good in terms of atmosphere but the view is lousy.

But perhaps there is more to it than purely those sight lines. The fact is that this is one of the more spectacular places to watch a game with the twin roof supports akin to a double Wembley Arch. I found myself eyeing up trips to watch football at other Olympic stadia.

It wasn’t half cold through; those open ends do allow the wind to whistle through the place, and it has been Athens’ coldest winter in many a long year, and while it was warm enough outside, sitting in the seating bowl was hard work! The game followed the same pattern as the others on this stay, a lot of possession football with the spectators waiting for the killer pass. AEK found it twice, and deservedly won, but it was a listless game with 5,000 supporters dwarfed by a closed top tier and rows of empty seats below.

I’ve no regrets on our choice of game, even if we did take quite some time to warm up back at Metaxourgeio over a mountain of grilled delights at our favourite back street restaurant! We had after all experienced what with Hertha Berlin is the ultimate  European compromise between football and athletics; they really don’t mix easily.

We headed for home the next day, our metro tickets once again paid for but unchecked, the service to the airport excellent, but largely unused. We reached a modern airport and checked in efficient, but there was virtually no food on sale airside. It all seemed analogous for the previous 3 days.

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