A rhetorical question by Andy Brassell

An interesting article about the crisis of Greek clubs was published earlier today at The Guardian. Mr. Andy Brassell wrote about his experience in the cancelled rivalry battle, Panathinaikos vs. Olympiacos. I must say, most of the things he wrote depict what we (Greeks) see over the last years. As a soccer fan, I have a rhetorical question of my own but you first have to read the article carefully:

Is Greek Football in crisis?

The Athens derby between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos was called off last month after a player was struck by a flare from the crowd. Have the violence, alleged corruption, unpaid wages and economic troubles left the sport in crisis?

By Andy Brassell for Copa90, part of the Guardian Sport Network

What is football without hope? It’s what drives all of us, however big or small the club we support. There’s always next week – another game, another chance. It’s why so many of us spend much of deadline day glued to the TV and refreshing rolling news feeds. That one extra player might just be the one we need, the one that makes all the difference, even if we hadn’t thought of him or even heard of him at this time yesterday.

We came perilously close to finding out the answer to that initial question when we were filming in Greece. At a packed Leoforos – the locals’ name for the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, the home of Panathinaikos – an announcement came over the tannoy that the Athens derby between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos would not now take place, after visiting player Alfred Finnbogason was hit by a flare in the pre-match pitch walk. It was over half an hour after the scheduled kick-off time.

The tension around the fixture, which had been palpable in the hours and days leading up to it, spilled over. Fans from the Gate 13 section behind the goal chucked flares at the riot police. The police advanced. Some fans broke through the barriers, moving towards the police and wielding projectiles, including more flares, broken-off seats and any other debris available. The police charged with batons, and tear gas was released. It took some 40 minutes for some semblance of order to be restored.

There’s no excuse for the violence – the moment when a father who was sitting in front of me led his 12-year-old son out of the stand after a flare shot narrowly past the boy’s head remains etched on my brain – but there was a feeling that so many fans just couldn’t take any more. Wherever we went at the weekend, and whoever we spoke to, people were just unable to stop themselves blurting out the hopelessness of it all. Olympiakos, they said, were protected from on high.

The champions’ owner, Evangelos Marinakis, is currently being investigated (again) in a fixing scandal, having already been cleared once this year in a case which had its roots as far back as 2011. Yet what was almost as bad was that even those who didn’t reference the criminal element of this feel that the cards are stacked.

Olympiacos have won 17 of the last 19 Super League titles. It is difficult to see anything changing in a hurry, with their position gaining strength every year as they bank another season’s worth of Champions League money. Whether Panathinaikos’ fan-funded model can bridge that gap is open to question, particularly in a country where people have problems of daily subsistence far more important than funding football. In the north, Aris have begun to move away from that.

There are glimmers of improvement. PSAP (players union) representative Stamatis Syrigos explained to us how players are more protected than before, which is a big step, with unpaid wages having been a huge problem. What needs to happen next is for some of that hope to filter down to the fans – because hope is important.

My question

Is Olympiacos’ or Marinakis’ strength the problem of Greek Soccer?

No. The main problem of Greek soccer is the word Greek in it. You see Greece is a very special country. Capable of the best and the worst at the same time. We got rid of the Ottoman Empire after 400 years but we imprisoned General Kolokotronis (the leader of our Independence) for treason. We said a glorious NO to Adolf Hitler on 28/10/1940 and inspired the world with our Resistance Movement. And then we fell into Civil War… By the way, approximately 400.000 Greeks were killed in World War II but we have a party that embraces Neo Nazis in our Parliament…

This country has become the perfect example of self-destruction. It seems our long and respected history made most Greeks (not all) live and act like they are above the law and/or anyone else. Today, the majority of Greeks work their @ss off 10-12 hours a day in the private sector for €500 to €800 a month. In, return they see their low income reduced by more and more taxes. The governments of the last 3-4 decades do their best to protect the overpopulated private sector just to be re-elected. There are actually people around 40-50 years old who have spent all their working years into a public bubble which has nothing to do with the working environment of a private company. You know, the kind that will fire you the minute you are not productive enough…

I could go on for days but neither you nor I have the time for it. Soccer in Greece is just like everywhere else; a mirror image of the society. In our case, Greece is a highly problematic society that embraces self-interest and anomy. Aren’t you curious how Panathinaikos, AEK, Aris and so many others (who now complain for Olympiacos’ domination) ended up with so many debts? Where did their money go? Did they sue the people who took it to get it back?

Millions of euros were lost but these teams are still there accusing Marinakis for the poor competition in Super League. I wonder if his few years as a chairman/owner of Olympiacos are enough to explain everything. After all he has not been convicted of anything so far. I am a bit curious though. Do the people who want Marinakis out of the picture want a new fresh start or are they just interested in taking his place?

The sad thing is there are laws which could prevent everything. The only problem is that Greek Law is bonded with the public sector… But the public sector does not answer to anyone… Which leads us back to politics… Who must keep their voters happy… And the circle starts again…

Will this end at some point? Hopefully yes. You see, there is another circle, the one of life. Nothing lasts forever my friends. No matter how good or bad it might be. I just hope a day will come in my lifetime where I will be able to watch a Greek game without so many negative thoughts on my mind.

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