Everyone remembers Savvidis. The chairman of PAOK went crazy last season when the referee disallowed a goal in extra time. Offside was the excuse. Angry as he was he invaded the pitch packed with a pistol. AEK “stole” the league title that season, as they were lucky with the refs decision. This season must be the revenge of PAOK as they are league leaders with nine points ahead. Will they finally get the trophy again after 33 years? Will they finally beat the capital? Ingredients for a great Thessaloniki Derby.
Aris is having a great season as well. They returned in to the Super League this season after relegation in 2014 and are in fifth position. They will do anything in their power to destroy the PAOK celebrations. A rivalry going back to the twenties. The black and yellow represent the middle class, while the black and white got support from the Greek refugees coming back from Asia and Turkey. The antagonism between those social groups was expressed in many ways, one of them being football after the establishment of PAOK in 1926.
Fights on the streets
What this rivalry means for both sets of ultras was clearly presented by Gate 4, the hardcore fanbase of PAOK. Lots of concurred scarfs, flags and sweaters were displayed as trophies. Love for the club goes deep, maybe a bit to deep sometimes when it comes to a neighborly rivalry. The stadiums are very close to each other, which means that a confrontation with your rival is always possible. Especially when derby day is coming.
The fact that away fans are not allowed at the derby makes it even more important to beat your rival on the streets. An other important factor is the influence of the economic crisis in Greece. Impoverishment can be found everywhere, which gets a different character with all the graffiti and street art. No doubt the love for football is the only thing they have for a lot of them. The pride, the passion and also the hate against their arch rivals.
What the passion of PAOK is, becomes very clear to me when I enter Toumba Stadium. The main stand has a net hanging in front of it from the roof until the pitch. It is ment as pitch protection. Where do you find such thing as well? With the remarkable reputation of the Savvidis family I am sure you will find some more well-off fanatics at the main stand. Moreover, there were a lot of older fanatics. Former Gate 4 lads who are now in a more “relaxed” spot.
The stadium is far from relaxed. Dikefalos Aetos supporters are full of passion which is presented loudly. Singing, but also a lot of anger and cursing. Even when the passion is a bit less than usual, it is still madness on the stands. The love for PAOK goes deep. Despite the fact PAOK last league title dates of 1985, their fans are demanding. They have to beat the capital and their rivals.
The passion on the stands is completed with great pyro by Gate 4. You would expect the atmosphere would give the players a boost. On the contrary. Very poor football. Even Aris was slightly better. No major chances could be noted, but if a team deserved a goal it would be the guys from a couple of miles down the road, the black and yellow or Kitriomavroi.
A law in football states that if you doesn’t score, the opposite side will do so. Captain Vieirinha finds the before his feet and fires from far outside the box. A screamer! It hits the target in the left corner. The stadium explodes, everyone is getting crazy. Unreal scenes. Again massive pyro is lit by Gate 4. Will the match finally get some energy in it?
No unfortunately not. The second half is even worse. Even the hardcore fans are quiet once in while out of frustration. This is Super League unworthy. This not the football of a Champion. And just when you think the match will die slowly, Aris equalizes out of nothing. Fran Velez heads it in out of a free kick. A goal which will raise a lot of discussion afterwards no doubt as it turned out to be offside.
Between hope and fear
A frustrated crowd is leaving Toumba Stadium. I am frozen by that time. In the Netherlands is beautiful spring weather, but in Greece they have a short cold winter period. Palm trees with a bit of snow on top. Strange sight. Maybe the cold was the reason we saw some poor football.
But one thing is for sure. The Macedonians of Northern Greece finally want to win the league title. They want to get rid of the second city syndrome. The craving is huge. They have been close numerous times over the last years, but every time Olympiacos and last season AEK became league winners at the end. Despite the fact PAOK is on top undefeated, we have seen crazier things in corrupt Greece. Still aight rounds to go. PAOK deserves that Championship!