Sunday 18th January 2015 ko 19.30
OLYMPIACOS 2 (Dosseni 69 Maniatis 90)
Season’s membership €10
It only took around half an hour for the metro train on the M1 line to travel from Apollon to Faliro station in Piraeus, but in all honesty it felt like a different world. The Georgios Kamaras stadium was a friendly, homely place, but the Karaiskakis Stadium was a corporate vision of concrete and steel, with the inevitable procedures to go with it.
I joined the end of the queue for one of the ticket offices, got to the front, and was told I needed club membership to buy a maximum of 2 tickets. That involved visiting the office opposite Gate 19, showing my passport and giving them my mobile phone number. I got a card, a receipt, and so far I haven’t received any text messages in Greek! I went back to the ticket office, and after showing my passport again finally was able to buy a ticket that was towards the upper end of the price range on offer. That proved to be a good move, security was noticeably more lax there, which meant the camera got in without hindrance; after the rigmarole of memberships and tickets, I didn’t want another run-in with officialdom.
It wasn’t always like this. The ground is named after Georgios Karaikakis, a hero of the Greek war of independence, dying in battle near to Piraeus in 1827. The original stadium, built in 1895, was used a year later for the cycling competition in the Olympics. It was rebuilt completely for the 2004 Athens Olympics for use in the football competition, and Olympiacos have called it home since 1925. They current hold a 49 year lease that ends in 2052, and pay 15% of all revenues to the stadium’s owners, the Hellenic Olympic Committee.
There’s no doubt that the place is of great quality, its holds UEFA’s 5 star rating allowing major finals to be held here. The capacity is 33,296, it cost €60million to build, and you know what’s coming don’t you? I found the place sterile in the extreme. Its becoming a common theme for me, the likes of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium serve a purpose, anyone with the cash to so can watch a game, but these places lack the atmosphere and passion of their predecessors, and yes that was despite the herculean efforts of the home ultras. It can’t be easy doing what they do, in a stadium bowl, with away fans banned, in fact credit to them for even trying!
When you’re the biggest club in your country, you’re expected to win all the time but for the first hour Olympiacos seemed to be labouring under the weight of that expectation. Eventually Mathieu Dossini broke the deadlock, and captain Giannis Maniatis got the second with virtually the last kick of the game, but it felt like all they were doing was meeting expectations. That is the peril of being at the top, I suppose.
I headed to a restaurant on Monastirion Square, and over a plate of grilled sardines and salad enjoyed the dexterity of a bouzouki player. It was typically Greek, and finally the penny dropped. What I’d witnessed earlier could have been almost anywhere, just the team sheet in Greek gave you the clue as to where you were. I’ve no regrets about visiting the Karaikakis Stadium, the title of this blog is, “Football wherever it may be,” after all, but give me the personality of Panionios or Apollon Smirnis every time.