Saturday 17th January 2015 ko 19.30
PANIONIOS GSS 1 (Boumale 34) Kolovos missed penalty 86
PANATHINIAKOS 1 (Berg 78)
Entry €25 (Main Stand)
Here’s a tip for you. When you take the €8 metro trip from Athens airport into the capital, the metro platforms are the two in the middle, it is very easy to jump on a suburban train headed to…. !
After you’ve reached Athens itself it costs further €10 for a 5 day mass transit pass for the metro, buses and trams. That is easy enough to buy, the machines have an “English” button, but you do need to validate the ticket via one of the machines by virtually every escalator. There are plenty of warnings about failure to pay or validate, but I’m bound to say I saw no ticket checks during my 4 days here, and there are no barriers either!
Greece’s financial problems were manifest, and not just from the political posters and campaigners for the imminent general election. There seems to be a general attitude of make do and mend, but in no way shape or form has the Greek welcome I’d remembered from childhood holidays been diluted.
The beauty of Athens is that its compact enough to easily combine sightseeing and football. You really cannot visit Athens and not visit the Acropolis, and given that most of the historical sites can be visited on one €12, 4-day ticket, it’s a real bargain too!
Its easy enough to find the Stadio Néas Smírnis, just take the metro to Nea Kosmos, then a T4, or T5 tram 4 stops. The Smirnis suffix gives a clue as to the club’s background, being formed by the Greek community in Smyrna, Turkey in 1890. Greece’s 1922 defeat in the Greco-Turkish war (known in Greece as “The disaster of 1922) saw the Greek population leave Smyrna, many settling in Athens, the district becoming known as Nea Smyrni.
This tour was very much the brainchild of Stephen Carpenter of The Chicken Balti Chronicles, and we were fortunate to be able to meet Nassos, a Panionios fan and his help was invaluable, including explaining to security exactly why I wanted to take my camera into the ground! Curiously he and I had watched the same game previously- an Oxford United vs Panionios friendly at the Manor Ground in 2000. It is a small world!!
There was another link from home in the form of Panathinaikos keeper Luke Steele, best known for his stint at Barnsley. Greek football has two professional tiers, the top division is the Superleague, and below are the Northern and Southern sections of the Football League with below that Football League 2 split into 6 sections. Reflecting national problems there have been reports of clubs being unable to pay their players, as an official from another club put it,
“There’s only enough money for one professional division”
I enjoyed the whole culture of the Greek game. From the souvlaki sizzling on the mobile grills outside, to the ultras’ pyro display even though there were no away fans, due to an extensive ban across the Superleague. It was loud, passionate and vibrant, and Panionios could and probably should have won the game.
They scored the best goal of my weekend, a thumping shot from Olivier Boumade from just outside the box, being worthy of winning any game. But Panionios are fourth from bottom, a relegation spot so Swede Marcus Berg’s equaliser was a real sickener, made worse when Dimitrios Kolovos missed a late penalty for the hosts. The quiet, yet packed tram travelling back spoke volumes.
We found somewhere that served grilled meat and a beer, not a tough task in Greece, and watched the highlights on the television. It really had been a most rewarding evening.