Scenes from the GSP stadium as Papastavrou era starts with a win
AGONAsport’s Andreas Mantzas talks about Omonoia’s season opener in the Cypriot First Division from inside the GSP stadium and discusses the season ahead for the Nicosia club.
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The GSP Stadium in Nicosia, conveniently located off the highway at the southern edge of the city. Home of Omonoia and APOEL, the two giants of the Cypriot capital, as well as the Cypriot national team since 1999. I was there last Saturday night, not representing AGONAsport, but simply as an Omonoia fan attending my first ever regular season match, Omonoia’s 2018-2019 season opener at home to Alki Oroklini. I thought back to my first time there, 15 years ago in the summer of 2003. I was 14 years old as Omonoia were playing a UEFA Champions League qualifier against FC Irtysh Pavlodar, a side from Kazakhstan. The match ended in a scoreless draw, but I sat among Omonoia’s vaunted supporters group, Thyra 9 (Gate 9). Tonight, in the very same stadium, which has aged a bit since then, even though it’s still less than 20 years old, the vibe was unmistakably different.
Over the summer, since the end of Omonoia’s miserable campaign of last season, their 6th place finish representing their worst season in over 60 years, a new President, a new manager, several new players, but no change more significant than a new owner, Stavros Papastavrou, ending Omonoia’s longtime status as a fan-owned club. This change angered Thyra 9, to the point that the group cut ties with the club and formed their own club, which they have named Omonoia 1948. They felt as though the club no longer belonged to the people without fan ownership, and therefore went against the club’s traditional left wing ideals. Their absence was felt, as the GSP was quieter than usual without them.
Another sign of the times, was the Cypriot government’s implementation of a new law requiring all fans to register for a Fan ID card. The process was not difficult, and I was able to get one in just minutes at the GSP Stadium earlier in the day, however many in Cyprus, myself included, dislike this new law, and question how effective it will be. I attended the match in a group of four people. We arrived a half hour before scheduled kickoff, and even with a 15 minute delay(related to the ID card), the match had already started as we were racing to our seats. It took our group more than 45 minutes from getting in line to buy our tickets to reaching our seats.
I looked to the north stand, where Thyra 9 would normally be sitting, and it was mostly a sea of empty white seats. A small group of fans attempted to sing the songs and lead the chants that they normally would be leading, but despite a decent crowd, there was far less noise than usual. Omonoia dominated the first half, but they had trouble making it count. The stadium did erupt when Franjo Prce finally scored the first goal of the season just before halftime. The second half played out similarly, with the new roster clearly still getting used to each other, and many a fan checking their phones to have a roster handy. Omonoia hung on for the 1:0 win, and that was only second of two times the stadium was legitimately loud as the final whistle blew.
Omonoia fans happily walked out of the GSP Stadium tonight, delighted with the 3 points, and cautiously optimistic about the team’s chances in this young season. Clearly, there are more than enough Omonoia fans on the island, and the club will go on without its lead supporters group. As it was on the pitch, the fans will figure it out, and the atmosphere for Omonoia home games like this one will improve. However, also like the team on the pitch, the Omonoia fans got the job done tonight. “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”