Legend - The Pride of Greece
Olympiakos sealed an incredible 13th title in the last 15 years with a crushing 6-0 victory over City-rivals AEK Athens at the weekend, making it their 38th title in their illustrious history. We wanted to find out a little more about the fans of Greece's most followed, and most successful club, whilst at the same time delving into the mindset of some of the most passionate fans in world football.
Nik Storey a follower of the Greek club and Manchester United, took some time out to interview ‘Goal News’ reporter, and Olympiakos fanatic, George Nikokiris...
George, great to meet you, thanks for taking the time to be interviewed; what a great job you have, following the club you have adored since a child and reporting on them at the same time?! Yes I am lucky to have such a job, I love my profession and I love Olympiakos of course. But I am a professional first and foremost, and despite having the passion for the club like a genuine fan, it would be wrong of me to put this before my job.
Absolutely. So, we have to ask, how does it feel to retain the title in such an emphatic manner (6-0 at home to AEK)? For the fans it was the best, simply marvellous. To mathematically secure the title so early, making it impossible for Panathinaikos (PAO) to catch us is such a good feeling. The win, or ‘siesta’ as we call it in Greece, was great – beating AEK 6-0 for the third time!
Very nice indeed! And fans were quite nervous going into the game after losing to PAOK the week before, and suffering from the media backlash that ensued after the victory at home to PAO? True, but I always felt confident with our home record being what it is this year; we are trying to stay on course for a Greek record: a 100% win record here at the Karaiskaki! In Greece, we always try to find reason to denigrate the best, no matter what the subject matter; This record speaks for itself though, no matter what the detractors say about us getting all the decisions in the league – it evens out in the end, doesn’t it – and well our football has been quite fantastic.
The club’s 38th title? Tell us a little more….Well it is incredible [the 38th] really; out of all the other Championship winners, the combined total is 37!! For example PAO have 20 and AEK, 11.
Do the Olympiakos fans have a name, aside from the ‘Red and Whites’? ‘Thrylos’ or Legend. This name was created in the 1950’s after we achieved 6 titles in a row. We have managed 7 in a row more recently of course, and we really proud of the fact that we are strong in all sports: Basketball, Volleyball, Polo etc. [Olympiakos is a club name, representing many different sports not just football].
Tell us about the fans then, the Ultras? The Greek fans are the most passionate in my opinion, and Olympiakos fans are no different. We have a special ‘Gate’ in the stadium, ‘Gate 7’ where the Ultras sit and which is dedicated to a tragic event which occurred in early February of 1981; ironically it was game in which we beat AEK 6-0 – at the final whistle the fans went to celebrate outside of the stadium and the doors at this gate were not fully open; in fact they were virtually closed and there was pandemonium. Tragically, 20 of our fans and 1 from AEK died from the crush that ensued. Every year Olympiakos fans pay their respects at a memorial for all 21 people, and in Gate 7, 21 seats are painted black (the rest being red) depicting the number 7.
A dreadful tragedy indeed, very sad. Could you tell us a little more about the passion of the Olympiakos fans? Whilst we do have a select group of ‘die-hards’, much like the Kop and Stretford End say in England, the majority of the stadiums here are enthusiastic and passionate throughout the game. And of course, I would say we have the best atmosphere here at the Karaiskaki, we create a carnival atmosphere and our home is our ‘Castle’. For a recent away game with Lazio for example, we took 9000 fans to Olympic stadium in Rome, which is more than other teams from Greece.
Nice. Presumably that is also down to the fact that you have the most supporters in Greece? Ha yes, of course we have more fans – and this is largely down to the success of the club; when a team wins more titles, it gains more followers as you can appreciate - ask Manchester United! The 1950’s success was probably the start of this, but it is also because Olympiakos originated from the port Piraeus and football being the working-class sport it is, the working class modus operandi of the area undoubtedly made the club popular.
How does the fan split work in Athens with so many clubs, including the likes of bitter rivals Panathinaikos and AEK Athens? And how important is the social class issue you allude to? PAO fans for example are theoretically from the more affluent Northern suburbs of Athens, near Filothei and Kifissia; AEK fans closer to the centre. Olympiakos fans originate from the Port but we have support from everyday common people in the likes Crete, Corfu, Patra, Northern Greece, everywhere!
Tell us about the camaraderie amongst fans, the songs they sing? I remember sitting with the Olympiakos fans at Old Trafford in 2001 and the noise was simply incredible, the loudest ever heard at the ground! We have a great cohesion and unity. Since the tragedy Olympiakos is like one big family, a ‘religion’ if you like. You are right about the atmosphere we create, regardless of the fixture and the result, the fans sing until the final whistle. We like to jump in unison, use our arms to salute the players as one, everything!
And your favourite chant/song? Ah my favourite song was from the Juve quarter finals. We had scored a 90th penalty to keep us in it to take back to the OAKA in Athens, and out came: ‘There in the high, high Delle Alpi, we left it red, to remind them (Juve fans) of the 90th minute. In the Delle Alpi thousands of us went, and lived unique moments as we showed our passion; to Torino for you Olympiake! My God do me a favour and let our crazy dream come true, for our ‘dead’ to see us in the Final!!’ Also our singing to Saja the AEK keeper Saja, at 6-0 during the recent game; in a previous 6-0 with AEK the fans asked the goalkeeper to ‘use the scoreboard to count the goals’ – last weekend we asked Saja to do the same. Ha, so funny.
The pyrotechnic element - How do fans get the flares into the stadium?! In England there are strict security procedures before entering. The police are simply unable to stop this so they don’t bother. It has always been a staple feature of the Greek game; It can be dangerous, but more often than not it is a bit of fun, and the key is to deal with it in the stadium.
It wasn’t always a happy story for the red and whites though was it? No you are right, the fanaticism also stems from a lot of angst we suffered as a club in the years between 1988 – 1997, the ‘stone years’ as we call them; we didn’t (and couldn’t) win a title, but more than that we were living with great economic problems here in Greece. Nobody was willing to take hold of the club and take it forward – until of course Mr Kokkalis came along! His investment (he owns a telecommunications empire and other businesses) started in 1993, and he brought in top coach Dusan Bajevic shortly after. The money meant lots of new signings, and the fans were awarded for their patience with a 1st title 10 years, and more recently a brand new Karaiskaki Stadium, which meant no longer sharing the Olympic Stadium with Panathinaikos.
Which fellow Greek fans do you secretly admire? Whisper it (laughs) PAOK fans; along with us, they have the most songs! I’m not overly bothered about supporting the other Greek teams in Europe if I’m honest; though of course the Greek National team is different, we all come together to support our country and there is rarely an issue between fans of different clubs.
Describe to me a typical derby day, starting with pre-match festivities? The derby days are very important to Olympiakos fans and Greek fans in general. The outcome of the game goes way beyond the actual result of the game! Up to 4 hours before the game. Many fans will come together to sing songs, mainly in cafeterias. Whilst we may have one or two beers in a café, there is certainly not the same pub culture you have there in England (and relationship with alcohol). We will drink café frappe instead and talk about the upcoming game with great passion and insight.
Occasionally there may be arranged fighting in the centre of Athens – this is not good but a symptom of the passion and rivalry that exists; but this isn’t just Olympiakos, or football even – this is a problem we have in general in Greece, across all sports. Perhaps similar to the hooliganism culture in England in the 70’s and 80’s; though again, I must stress this is the minority, and gladly this type of behaviour is seen less and less.
How has the advent of the new law preventing automatic travel for Super League fans impacted on the famous Greek match-day atmosphere? For the last 7-8 years, the away fans are forbidden to travel to games unless it is a Cup Final. The system has failed the Greek fans, as it will not stop the violence. The real issue is the apathy! If I hit a player for example, the police will not come to my house to arrest me, its crazy!
Ah, are you talking about the incident this season where the AEK Athens fans came onto the pitch and surrounded Dusan Bajevic, a couple of whom actually punching the Serbian manager? Yes that is one example. Can you believe that they hit him because he left them for Olympiakos years ago? It is a revenge for them as they think he is a traitor to this day. Mad! There was no punishment for the fans who did this! The political system just does not want to get involved. It’s the system, the corruption, everything!
All-time favourite player and why? Ah, need you ask?! Pedrag Djordjevic! Simply an amazing player who could do everything with his trusty left-foot! He won 12 Championships in 13 seasons with the club! AEK only have 11 titles in their history!
Pedrag Djordjevic - a symbol of Olympiakos' "Golden Age" of 12 championship trophies in 13 years
Aha I agree! Like the Greek Ryan Giggs then? Indeed, very similar in some respects!
And what would be your all-time favourite season and why? The 1998-99 double season! We also reached the last 8 of ECL, it was a great season!
If EFW travelled over for a match, would we/they be made welcome and are there any bars we can meet with local fans near to the stadium on match days? Of course! Red-store café at the stadium would be a nice atmosphere, and there are also many places to eat or drink at the stadium in general - it’s like a small shopping centre! Tickets are relatively cheap too, depending on the game (£18 or so).
As an aspiring referee myself, the officiating in Greece isn’t great is it? It isn’t but we are seeing a small improvement year on year. Kakos is a very decent referee, and there is more money being pumped into refereeing at Grass roots. We have hope.
Is it just that a culture of bribery and corruption has polluted the very epicenter of the Greek FA and thus the refereeing standards? That ‘offside goal’ for Panathinaikos springs to mind? The system is not the best for sure. But although many say that the referees are bribed by the top clubs, I’m not so sure. There is no proof of this for me. Of course the referee was terrible in that moment but what can we do? It wasn’t right but these things even out over a season. I saw a penalty decision that went for United recently [Liverpool game in the FA Cup], and nobody in England says that Gill and Ferguson are paying the English referees!
And the pitch invasion after the victory? Look, they went to celebrate because it was a vital victory, and only a handful of people were idiots; hey you get them at games don’t you? Before the AEK game, our President told the fans not to go onto the pitch if we were to win the title and they obeyed this. Simple. Our fans are very respectful and we celebrated the title from the stands with the team.
So, we are coming to the end of this interview now - If you could sum up why Olympiakos fans are the best in the world in one sentence what would you say? Because we are the most crazy, football is our religion!
Finally, having regained the title from arch-rivals Panathinaikos, what are the club’s ambitions for next season? Doing better in Europe presumably after a disastrous start to this particular season? Yes, we must complete the team with a few more signings, and importantly, to trust Valverde. He is a great coach and I think we will do better next season in the Champions League.
Many many thanks Georgo! My pleasure.
Nik's day job is as a tactics guru. He's written recently on: Barcleona, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick and Chelsea v Man Utd.
Like this? You might like the EFW article with fans of Aris Thessaloniki
- Feel free to comment below -