Trouble in Thessaloniki

Trouble in Thessaloniki

AGONAsport’s PAOK contributor, Athan Stylos, gives insight into what was supposed to be a clash between Greece’s current top two teams but resulted in being a shameful and dark night for Greek football.

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The wheels began falling off for PAOK last week when the club’s players and officials lost their cool after falling to Asteras Tripolis as they conceded a 98th-minute goal to fall 3:2 to the Arkades. However, Sunday night’s developments may have been some of the lowest and darkest scenes that we have seen in Greek Football history.

It looked as if PAOK’s title hopes were fading away until a remarkable turn of events saw an appeal go PAOK’s way less than 20 hours before the crucial PAOK-AEK derby. After PAOK had their appeal overturned, they had three crucial points awarded back to them and were allowed to play their title clash in front of their passionate home fans at the Toumba stadium. It was a second chance for PAOK to get themselves back on top of the Greek SuperLeague which would have put them in pole position to possibly win their first league title since 1985.

The Dikefalos tou Vorra thought they had earned the victory and reclaimed top spot after a headed effort from Fernando Varela in the last minute of normal time found the back of the net. However, referee Georgios Kominis had a long discussion with his linesman which then led to the goal being disallowed and from then on, the chaos began.

Ivan Savvidis’ actions resulted in the indefinite suspension of the Greek SuperLeague, a decision that not only is a result of Sunday’s incidents but of the hectic scenes seen throughout this season’s SuperLeague. Sunday’s developments was the icing on the cake. The incident of Savvidis storming onto the pitch attracted media attention across the world for all the wrong reasons once again. We already know that the SuperLeague has a reputation for trouble and violence, but Sunday night’s incident was a whole other level, even for Greece.

The match started off very cagey with neither team unable to find any rhythm in their play as five yellow cards were shown in the opening 45 minutes. There were some crunching tackles with players putting their bodies on the line as you would expect in a top of the table clash. PAOK controlled possession while AEK looked dangerous playing on the counter-attack, only leaving at times two or three players in their attacking half when they were on the offensive. PAOK striker, Aleksandar Prijović, came closest for PAOK with two attempts in the space of three minutes with one of his shots flashing over the crossbar. AEK also had a brilliant chance to take the lead with Greek international Tasos Bakasetas narrowly missing the target.

In the 90th minute, it looked as if Varela had given PAOK the valuable three points and first place in the league, however, what developed scarred an already troubling SuperLegaue season. With the controversial goal, which was originally awarded, the AEK players were the first who started storming up to both the referee and linesman. The two men had a long discussion with one another (troubled by the AEK players) before deciding to overturn their original decision and rule the goal offsides. Once the goal was ruled offsides by the referee, it was always going to be a recipe for disaster. 

Both the PAOK and AEK players would then not allow the referees to come together to have a proper conversation as they argued with and completely surrounded the referees. Then, PAOK’s officials entered the pitch. 

According to the official match report by referee Georgios Kominis, he was going to re-award the goal (after disallowing it), but could not do so due to Savvides’ pitch invasion. “In the 89th minute of the match, after the goal scored by the home team, I first raised my hand indicating an offside offense, and after consulting my assistant to confirm if the goal was valid or not (i.e. offside or not) I decided to award it. Before I announced my decision, Mr. Ivan Savidis came in on the pitch in an aggressive and violent manner with his personal security escort and asked his players to leave the pitch.” 

However, when the ball hit the back of the net and neither referee ruled the goal as offsides, there is no question it should have been ruled a goal - regardless if Mauricio was interfering or not interfering in the play (a controversial topic in of itself). If the AEK players didn’t react in the way they did, the call would have never been overturned and Varela’s header would have remained a goal. The changing of the decision was always going to lead to controversy.

To the credit of all the PAOK supporters at the game, they behaved well in circumstances when it could have got really ugly once the referee disallowed the goal. This time, the blame is entirely on the club’s officials who have gained the attention of the world for all the wrong reasons. 

PAOK now have to sit and wait for the outcome of their punishment, which looks to be a severe one, and will all but end their chances of breaking their 33-year league drought. For the loyal PAOK fans who are arguably the most passionate in Greek Football, Sunday’s events would have been heartbreaking.

The PAOK playing group remain behind Savvidis with forward Djalma Campos taking to Instagram which said “They are trying hard against our president, supporters, and team. It will not happen. We will remain together as one. We are PAOK”. Dimitris Pelkas also posted on his Instagram about Savvidis saying “A man who always has priority of the footballer and never threatened anyone. He stood by us all in difficult times, failures, and we’re next to him because he deserves it”. Club captain Vieirinha and goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis also made a post showing their unity behind Savvidis.

This was supposed to be one of the best finishes to the SuperLeague season that we have seen in years as PAOK, AEK, and Olympiakos are all fighting for the league title. Instead, in the space of three weeks, it has been ruined by two incidents at the Toumba Stadium, both against Olympiakos and AEK, where one game failed to start and the other failed to finish.

Enough is now enough. It is now time for the Greek Football Federation (EPO) to finally stand up and clear out the minority of troublemakers who have ruined the closing stages of the Super League season, which have further dented the reputation of the sport. They must now harshly penalize those involved and send a bold statement to everyone else that these actions will no longer be tolerated in Greek Football.

by Athan Stylos
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