The Anatomy of Greek Hate

Course #6 / Football Culture

Toumba Stadium

Hate. One of the purest and strongest feelings that a person can feel. Without it, it is impossible to imagine one of the most amazing social phenoms – football. This game has such strong roots that within the time it has attracted and mixed all the possible feelings and emotions. Pure love eternal hate creates a dangerous mix that sometimes pushes people into deadly sins. Every beauty has its dark side. It may sound trivial, but it is true. Provocations, fights, blood, and unnecessary casualties are an integral part of football that is brought up only at a time when the point of no return has been already crossed.

Greece is a country full of contrasts. Even though in the last decade the image of Hellada has been impacted by the financial crisis, it still remains a country with a great cultural heritage. No matter how you look at it – the country is still rich. At first sight, Greeks might seem too relaxed in their everyday life – typical Southerners, who love to spend a lot of time in cozy bars and enjoy their coffee. But when the conversation changes to the sport, and in particular, to football – then it wakes up the true passion of the ancestors of the great warriors, poets, and philosophers.

If you look at the Greek league, then in specific moments it surpasses the European TOP 5 leagues. Without any jokes. The level of football, of course, is not as high as the European elite, but some specifics aspects make Greek football truly great. Commerce still is not able to fully conquer the Greek league the same way how it happened with English Premier League, German Bundesliga and other competitions that lost some of their wildness and primitive state. They were turned into an attractive product that can be easily sold. There is great attention to detail and work on the image of those leagues is very professional and it has rapidly grown. It is all about the maximum profit.

All the other aspects are not really important anymore. That is why the true spirit of football that made this game so popular is fading. The battle of social classes, simple working-class heroes, who give away their last money to splash out all their emotions in the stadium at least a few times a month. Football is not a theater. It must have the part of the old school brutality and severity. The working-class, the common fans go to the stadium not to get a product. The local football club is a part of his life and identity. Traditions, loyalty to his hometown and region, respect towards the history, love to the club, hate and disputes with the neighbor who is a fan of the rival club – this is the real spirit of football. There is always someone to discuss with the football in the local pub and someone to tell: “F**k off!” in a fierce discussion. Everything is simple and easy to understand. Without all the artificial tolerance that is so popular to impose in Western Europe.

In all Greek rivalries, the hate plays the central role. As Greeks themselves agree, there is a lot of hate in Greek football and the sport overall. There exist some unwritten rules. In the cities of Hellada, there are neighborhoods with some dominant colors and local fans gonna do everything to prevent opponents from entering their area. But if someone will dare to enter, he must be prepared for the worse outcome. Greek fans are very loyal towards their colors and club. They are very passionate and many of them are aggressive as well. We present to you the perspective of the Greek hate from the point of view of the locals. Who else, if not the local Greek fans could explain and share the spirit of this topic. We talked with the fans from Athens, Thessaloniki, Piraeus, and Heraklion. With those fans, whose supported teams are a part of the main Greek football derbies.

Greek football fans

Derby of the Eternal enemies

Olympiacos – Panathinaikos

Political viewsApolitic – Ultraright

The classic of Greek football. The most popular and successful clubs in Hellada. Fine intelligence from Athens and the common working-class men from Piraeus. A common rivalry between two different social classes that was born in the early 20th-century. Nowadays these battles of the social classes are less visible, but meetings of these teams remain one of the fiercest and implacable on the European football map. Colorful performances, pyro and a lot of aggression that can be felt in the air and may lead to a lethal outcome after the clashes of fans.

Thanasis, Olympiacos fan

How did you become an Olympiacos fan and how often do you visit games?

I started to support Olympiacos thanks to my friends when I was 8 years old. What is curious – all my family are rooting for Panathinaikos.

I visit Olympiacos home games quite often. Especially, when we are playing against Panathinaikos and AEK. It is also interesting to watch games from the European competitions, there you can also enjoy a great atmosphere.

Panathinaikos, AEK and PAOK – which one from these teams is the biggest rival of Olympiacos and why?

Without questions, it is Panathinaikos. This rivalry started a long time ago when I was not yet born. I cannot tell you an exact date, but this rivalry between clubs is very fierce. For example, you cannot walk in Athens wearing the jersey of your club. If the fans of the rival club gonna see you, they might beat you up and take it away. Just like that, without questions. Of course, not all fans are like that but some of them are very aggressive. I’ve seen something like that when I was in Crete. Same goes in Piraeus – you better do not walk there in a jersey of Panathinaikos or AEK. That might be seen as a provocation. Also, every neighborhood in Athens is “owned” by fans of a particular club. Kypseli is a Panathinaikos neighborhood, Nea Filadelfeia is a neighborhood of AEK and so on.

What can you tell about hate, aggression, and the atmosphere in derbies?

Greek derbies are held until the chants and songs of the home fans. The opposing fans are banned from attending away games. All these are preventive terms to avoid the conflicts between the fans that were common back in the day. Now the situation has changed a bit, there are fewer fights.

The atmosphere is hard to describe in words. This is something like madness. When you are in Sector 7, it is not about football anymore. Fans are non stop shouting various chants in support of our team and insults towards the opponents. Over your head, you can see pyro flying and all around there is smoke. And it does not matter what is the score – fans never go silent throughout the whole match. You cannot really watch football, but you still get a lot of emotions.

Derby of Thessaloniki

Aris – PAOK

Political views – Ultraleft – Ultraleft

The Black Hell. That is the nickname of the Toumba stadion that hosts the PAOK home games. And this nickname is fair enough. When PAOK is hosting their biggest rival Aris, stadium turns into one huge bonfire and truly it reminds the underworld of the dead. Even this fact is enough to understand that the meetings of these two teams from Thessaloniki are more than just football matches. This is war, a never-ending thirst for blood. Especially, considering the fact that Aris is named after the Greek God of War – Ares. All these aspects are made to create eternal hate and rivalry between the clubs. The fans of both clubs are hot-tempered and they often are ready to play the “third half” after the game and in their own way defend the honor of their beloved club. Provocations and football-related violence are the norms in Thessaloniki.

PAOK Fans

Giorgos, Aris fan

Is there a lot of hate between the Aris and PAOK fans? Conflicts occur often?

Yes, there is a lot of hate, because both clubs are from the same city. This is a classic derby, similar to the Panathinaikos – Olympiacos. Conflicts are common. If Aris fans are heading towards the stadium and they see fans in PAOK jerseys and scarfs, they might take away all the attributes. The same might happen if PAOK fans would see our fans. However, more common are the clashes between the ultra groups that are organizing fights.

Are there conflicts between football fans that end up with a lethal outcome?

There were cases when fans met on neutral ground and got involved in a fight. One of the PAOK fans got stab wounds. There was a fight near the port of Thessaloniki. I also remember a time, when two drunk Aris fans started to loudly sing near the PAOK club and they were beaten up so hard that one of them had to spend a month in a coma.

How could you describe the atmosphere in the city on the day of the derby?

Derby day is a special day, everyone has the attention on the upcoming game. The stadium is always full, but unfortunately, Aris has seen a lot of struggle in the last decade. The team had financial problems and at one point was relegated to the third division.

When in Europe there was the refugee crisis, Polish ultras stood against it and there was a protest. What attitude had the Greek ultras?

It was the opposite. Fans, including the Aris ones, were putting the banners in stands: “Welcome refugees”. There were charitable actions to collect food and clothes for refugees. Even the PAOK fans, who were more nationalistically minded, took the part in this.

Derby of Greece

Olympiacos – PAOK

Political views – Apolitical – Ultraleft

If there is a place where Olympiacos footballers had the most struggle, it is more likely the PAOK’s Toumba stadium. For many years, the team from Piraeus faced loss after loss on away games. It was very difficult for Olympiacos players to perform well under the fire and loud chants of PAOK fans. Stadium truly turns into hell, but there is a reason behind that. Macedonians (Thessaloniki is the capital city of the Macedonia region) historically feel left out because of the attitude of politicians, compared to the government’s attitude to Athens or Piraeus. Nobody likes “favorites”.

Nikolaos, Olympiacos fan

Most of the Greek football fans of other clubs stand by the opinion that against Olympiacos plays the fact that club has a great influence on the referees. What do you think about this?

What can I say? I think that in every sport and every country there exists and will exist a corruption. Here you can recall the scandals related to FIFA. That is a global level. That is why I do not exclude the possibility that there have been or still is corruption around Olympiacos.

Can you feel the hate on a derby day? Fights between the fans are more common or the atmosphere is calmer now?

There is plenty of hate. People love their teams and every club has its own ultras movement. They are always very loud and aggressive. This leads to fights with the rival ultras groups. Police also often have to get involved in these fights. But to be fair, I cannot say that the situation has become worse. Back in the day, there was more aggression. Now Greece is still recovering from the crisis. Many fans cannot afford to be at every home game and attendance has decreased.

Double-headed Eagles Derby

AEK – PAOK

Political views – Ultraleft – Ultraleft

This derby symbolizes the fight of Athens and Thessaloniki – two of the biggest cities in Greece. Interestingly, both clubs have a lot of common and their histories are closely related. The symbol on the crest, black color and even the story of foundation. Both clubs were founded by the refugees from the Constantinopole, who returned to Greece at the time of the Greco-Turkish War in the 1920s. Despite that, this is a very principal derby. There are constant clashes between the fans and police have to be involved to stop the violence and prevent a bloody clash.

Dimitris, PAOK fan

How did you become a PAOK fan and how often do you visit games?

My father played a big role in this. He is a PAOK fan since he was young and I inherited his passion. About games – I visit the most important ones. The most interesting ones are derbies and it is great to enjoy the atmosphere of derby.

Olympiacos, Aris, and AEK – which one is the biggest rival of PAOK and why?

Historically – Aris. The reason is simple, both clubs are from the same city. At times when Aris and AEK were relegated, the main rival was Olympiacos, even though between us there have been no real changes, they still continue to win most of the trophies. AEK could be called the “cousin of PAOK” because both our clubs have their roots in Istanbul. That’s why we always compete to find out which one is the best “eagle”.

Can you tell about the atmosphere of the Greek derbies? Is there a lot of hate in Greek football?

There is a lot of hate and it is eternal. Various incidents are a common thing and derbies can be dangerous for fans, especially when the police come in. Clashes with police are also a common thing. Despite that, the atmosphere itself is amazing, especially when the game starts. If we talk about the PAOK home games then for a fan it is an unforgettable experience. Amazing sight.

Derby of Attica

Olympiacos – AEK

Political views – Apolitical – Ultraleft

Both clubs represent the same region – Attica and historically, these teams have always been the leading ones in Greek football. Derby always is a great journey for the fans, who can enjoy a very energic football with a lot of goals. Sometimes fans are losing their cool and they get so excited that the referee has to stop the game. They might throw a flare at someone or invade the pitch. There have been cases when AEK fans invaded the pitch at the 90th minute of the match and did not allow to end the match. However, you will surprise no one in Greece with such incidents.

Giannis, AEK fan

How did you become an AEK fan and how often do you visit games?

My uncle is the main reason, why I became an AEK fan. 10-15 years ago I visited our stadium quite often, about 6-8 times per season. Now I attend games way less, just once a season.

Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, and PAOK – which one is the biggest rival of AEK and why? Share some background of these rivalries.

Hmm, I think that Olympiacos is our biggest rival for many years. They have the most titles in Greek football history and many fans have a bitter taste because of Olympiacos ability to have all the cards in their hands.

With Panathinaikos, there is a bit different story. The rivalry between the fans was always intense, but in terms of football, it saw its peak in the first half of the 90s, when both teams were dominant in the Greek league and competed for the title.

Of course, there is also a historical rivalry with PAOK. Both teams have the same symbol (a two-headed eagle), but I think that the main reason for this rivalry hides in the fact that we are from Athens, but they are from Thessaloniki. A similar situation is with PAOK – Olympiacos, and Panathinaikos – Olympiacos. All three hates Olympiacos more than others.

Regarding Olympiacos, there are few stories from the past that only fueled the hate towards them. It was 1996. Dušan Bajevic leaves AEK and becomes the head coach of Olympiacos. As I said before, we and Panathinaikos were the leaders of the Greek football at that time. Our fans loved the coach until the moment when he started to openly lie. Bajevic told fans that he gonna stay with the team for another season, but he left us in the summer. What is even more important is the fact that after Olympiacos won the title after a 10-year drought, their owner and president Sokratis Kokkalis got full control over the referees. Later there were found recordings that confirmed facts about the Olympiacos full control on everything.

Another unpleasant situation with Olympiacos happened in the 2007/08 season when they won the title in a cabinet, not on the pitch. In one of the last games of the season, Olympiacos played against Apollon and lost in the final minutes of that match. Later it was found out that in Apollon’s squad played Austrian striker Roman Wallner. Olympiakos appealed against Wallner’s appearance in the match because he already played for two other teams in that season. In the end, Apollon got the loss, Olympiacos won the title leading the table with runners-up AEK trailing by only two points. Of course, AEK fans were furious about this decision and this case is still well-remembered in Greece.

Do you feel the hate in the air when the derby day comes? Were there the clashes between fans in recent years?

There is less hate nowadays, in my own feelings. When I was younger, there was way more hate towards these teams. Of course, even now I will not cheer for them on the European stage. Clashes are less common now. But it is probably because of the fact that for more than a decade fans do not attend the away games. They visit only home games.

Derby of Athens

AEK – Panathinaikos

Political views – Ultraleft – Ultraright

This rivalry has some similarities with Olympiacos – Panathinaikos rivalry because of the historical fight of the social classes. The refugees from Turkey versus the natives of Athens. Because of its history, AEK has some of the most unpleasant nicknames in Greece – gypsies, and Turks. Insulting words for every Greek. Panathinaikos fans often love to use those insults as a reminder to AEK fans about their roots. This drives the already passionate fans into a wave of great anger and adds fire to this rivalry. Add to this the fact that the political views of both club fan bases are completely opposite and you got another fierce Greek derby.

Giorgos, Panathinaikos fan

In your opinion, is there a lot of hate and aggression in Greek football?

Yes, without a doubt. Every important game becomes a reason to declare a war for a rival club. In recent years, our government made a few steps to battle the violence at the football games. Now there are more strict bans and laws. If fans invade the pitch, teams can face very serious fines. Nevertheless, some fans cannot be stopped even by strict laws. There is a category of fans that don’t give a f**k about anything and they will look for any reason just to start a clash with the opposing fans.

Derby day can be dangerous to a simple football fan, who is not related to ultras movement?

I think, yes. There is always a possibility to get under a “hot hand” of the radical fans or get nearby the place where the clashes against police occur. However, the atmosphere now is less aggressive. There are fewer incidents than before.

Derby of Crete

OFI – Ergotelis

Political views – Ultraright – Ultraleft

Two implacable teams from the island of Crete. The rivalry between the two teams from Heraklion. Historically, OFI became the biggest team on the island. Largely because of the situation at the end of the 60s and beginning of the 70s when there was a military dictatorship in Greece. There was a rule that allowed only one team per city in a professional league and in Heraklion it was OFI that took this spot. Ergotelis was forced to give up most of their leading players to their rivals and live with the amateur status. For decades, Ergotelis were fighting their way up in the lower tiers of the Greek football, while OFI enjoyed a solid run in the Greek football elite.

Landi, OFI fan

How did you become an OFI fan and how often do you visit games?

I’m from Crete and OFI is the biggest team on the island so there were really no other options. Of course, I began to root for the team from my home region. I live 100 kilometers away from Heraklion and I have no opportunity to visit every OFI home game, but I try to visit all the most important games when the most principal rivals visit the island.

What can you tell about the rivalry with Ergotelis? Were there any clashes between the fans in recent years?

Both teams are from the same town. Logically, because of this, there is a rivalry. There have been clashes, but Ergotelis has fewer fans and they do not have as strong supporters base as we do. I remember another clash when in 2011 fans of Panathinaikos and OFI clashed near Pankritio stadium. We had a tense relationship with their fans. In that fight, one Panathinaikos fan died and two others got seriously wounded by knives.

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