Saturday 17th January 2016 ko 17.15
PANIONIOS GSS 2 (Risvanis 25 Katharious 54)
Sat at a cafe in Monasteraki I had a dilemna. Two years ago I’d visited Athens and watched Panionios and Olympiacos, and those were our only two options on this Saturday evening. I knew that Olympiacos would have the “Wow” factor of a modern ground, but I wanted my girlfriend Robyn to get something authentically Greek so I plumped for Panionios, but even afterwards I wasn’t sure whether I made the correct decision.
In purely groundhopping terms you’d go for Panionios every time. The club has a fascinating history, formed in 1890 from the Greek population in Smyrna, now Ismir, Turkey. When the Greco-Turkish war 1919-22 ended a massive population exchange saw the club uprooted in 1922 to southern Athens to the district now known as Nea Smyrni (New Smyrna).
They’ve played at the Nea Smyrni Stadium ever since, although a brush with bankruptcy in 1992 saw the stadium revert to council ownership. It’s a three-sided vision of crumbling concrete, stunning views and a main stand roof that glows white under the floodlights.
We could have traded that for the Karaiskakis Stadium, with the rigmarole of their membership and paid more for a ticket, heck we’d have even got a programme! It was a lot easier simply presenting your passport at the ticket booth in the corner. The staff were friendly, I didn’t know that the Panionios Ultras are friendly with Crystal Palace’s fans!
But put yourself in my position when your girlfriend needs the loo, and there’s lonly one ladies’ cubicle for the stand. That cubicle is accessed via the gents, the loo is filthy and it doesn’t flush. On one hand you could be anywhere at Olympiacos but it would have had clean and plentiful facilities; what price convenience?
We were close to making the comparison, Olympiacos kicked off 15 minutes after this, to keep television happy, just long enough to make a mad dash to Piraeus pointless, and the rematch of the morning’s game seemed like the footballing squaring of the circle for us, even if away fans are still banned here.
It did take a little time to come to that conclusion though! Just like the morning game the game took an age to warm up in the cold wind. It needed a goal, Spyros Risvanis did the honours and after that the hosts did all they needed to do to finish off a Panetolikos team that offered little or nothing in attack.
The crowd was notably low, yes tickets were available for as little as €10 but when wages are around a third of the UK level and there’s mass unemployment, football has suffered along with Greece in general. We grabbed a souvlaki from a street vendor for €5 which warmed us before taking the tram back to Nea Kosmos then the metro north back to our hotel.