Olympiakos 1 Liverpool 0 – Oh ye Gods…

Posted by Farman on October 5, 2004, 06:59:06 PM

“I was so happy when I saw Liverpool will play Olympiakos, because I know you will come to Athens again. This time, don’t stay in a hotel, come and stay with me and my family. We’ll have some fun”. Yahoo indeed!

It was with such a message that I started to plan my trip to Athens, a trip I hadn’t seriously considered taking to that point. The kindly Costas, a friend I met at a summer camp I worked in some ten years ago, had changed all that. Athens is a long way to go, but the idea of having a laugh with a local who is on my wavelength, saving money on accommodation and watching the Reds on this leg of their Champion’s League odyssey was too good to dismiss. And hence, this report. I feel I have to warn you I have a weakness for dodgy literary allusions on the few occasions I write such pieces, and I can feel a few coming up here, for which I can but apologise. You could call it my Achilles Heel.

Flights were promptly booked with Hellas Jet in and out of London (a trek in itself), for the fairly decent price of 190 Euros all-in. I could only presume this was a Greek version of easyjet, with the associated minimalist approach to customers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As I was handed the first of many servings of the local brew, Mythos, by the pleasant but sadly overdressed stewardess, it slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t about to be charged the same as the cost of the flight to be allowed to drink it.

So in the finest traditions of the Euro away traveller I thought on my feet, asked for a couple more (as well as some wine with my meal of course), and I was well on my way. And it didn’t stop there, I could go on for ages about the wonders of Hellas Jet; the legroom, service, food, timing etc seemed to me to put many national flag carriers to shame. I’ll certainly be calling upon them again later in the season, when we draw AEK Athens in the UEFA Cup. But more of the brutal cynicism later.

Athens, as you all know, has just come off the back of hosting the Olympics, and in fact the Paralympics were in their final stages at this time. The city seems to have improved immensely in the past few years, with a new airport, metro and a general upgrading of popular city squares and parks. Not long ago the fine Acropolis was just about the only thing worth seeing, and even that was barely worthwhile due to the smog, noise and traffic involved in getting there. Now, the city has plenty of things to do and see, and lots of pleasant places to spend time in. The hosting of the Olympics has been used really well as a catalyst for getting this historical city sorted. It comes across as being a huge source of national pride … getting the hosting right was probably more important to Greece than to any recent host of the games, and the legacy for the city is excellent.

Another big issue seems to be the Elgin marbles. They’re currently housed in the British Museum (along with many other international historic artefacts begged, borrowed or stolen from ancient Empires powerless to stop the British), and whilst you’ll struggle to find many Brits too bothered about it, it seems to be a very real hot topic for Greeks.

Anyway, having arrived safely on the marble floors of Athens International Airport it was a hop, skip and jump to the metro, and off to the city centre where Costas’ carriage awaited. Costas’ house, which he shares with his parents, is a nice n’ tidy apartment, fairly central in the city. He also has a large dog, which doesn’t seem to ever eat, drink, piss or shit. It also woke me up from my sleep every night I was there by licking my face. This action tended to coincide with a dream I would be having and would leave me very disappointed when I actually woke up. His parents too were great, as hospitable and friendly as one would expect from people in a country famed for it. His non-English speaking mother caused Costas great amusement by never quite getting my name right. At various stages I was Fatman, Fartman and Batman. Bless. Just like the piss-taking back at school.

The first night was oddly quiet. We went for a meal locally (the food over there is invariably excellent, and healthy too) then on to a few bars. Dead it was, much to my surprise, so it was an early night in readiness for match day.

That day started with a random trip up to Kiffisia, a posh suburb in the North, because he promised his girlfriend he’d take her out there. After a while doing girlie things around expensive shops we went to TGI Fridays, where they have the best cocktails I’ve ever seen (yes, I know, but I was in girlie mode by this time too), and I got served a ridiculous two-inch thick burger. Then it was back down to the centre, where he dropped me off in good time for the pre-match traditionals.

There, I found Roddysul in tremendous form, grinning and giggling about some secret or other. He had been sat waiting for me drinking himself silly when he was approached by a few members of the Slovakian paralympic team, who politely asked if they could join him. He then proceeded to tell them that he was aiming to get ‘absolutely legless’. Woops. Those interested should have a look at the photographic evidence in the ‘The Office’ thread for our version of the denouement of that particular story.

There were a few other Reds about, proudly displaying banners, but not really as many as I’d been expecting. Perhaps this was because there was no natural gathering point for all Reds. People seemed to have been getting pissed right across the city. I later noticed that I would guess around one fifth of all our support in the ground was made up of local Greek Reds. Perhaps they’d got tickets through mates of people who’d got tickets for the loyalty credit for later rounds.

The metro, handily, stopped right outside the brand new home of Olympiakos. It looks fairly standard inside and out, but the police were being much nicer than last time (if you can call NOT getting pummelled with a baton for no reason as being nice), and the facilities were much better, even if it did take a few minutes to figure out that the toilets were unisex …or at least I hope they were. My Forever In Our Shadow banner was proudly hung at the back, and I took it all in.

I have to say, I was expecting a fantastic atmosphere, and that is exactly what we got. The noise, colour and banners were magnificent (though one banner, stating simply ‘Byron Fanatics’ had me more than a bit puzzled until my friend told me that Byron was in fact a region in Athens, and that the banner was not in fact a bizarre tribute to a long-dead writer). Both home ends (for there were definitely two) were in top form. Those fans, in a full stadium with stands close to the pitch and with the team playing well, are a match for any in Europe, and proved to me at least that a characterless modern stadium should not necessarily lead to a characterless modern support. As for ourselves, following a decent YNWA we faded, though to be fair we were hardly encouraged by what was happening on the pitch.

Other than a decent opening few minutes the performance really was Medusa-ugly (apologies, the Pandora’s Box is open now). As our own Titan leader Benitez said after the game, Olympiakos just seemed to want it more. The Greeks fought like…err…Trojans with the Midas touch, whilst the Redmen played as if they’d been busy pre-game making their own mighty tribute to Dionysus, the god of getting pissed and playing like shite (well okay, of wine, but this allusion lark is harder than it looks). Would it be too much to say that the Greeks were Herculean? That their dogs of war fought like Cerberus himself? That Liverpool were thoroughly (Golden) Fleeced? Taxi!

Anyway, much has been written since then, and I’ll leave the technical analysis to those more capable, but the one point I will make is that what worried me in this game, and subsequently against Chelsea, was not the result (Olympiakos are a better team than they’re given credit for), nor even that we were basically outplayed. Rather that our own moves were not breaking down with the final touch, nor even deep in the opposition half, but very early on, often in our own half when we’d be harried into a bad pass. There just wasn’t any promise on this showing. Of course we all need to step back and see the bigger picture, but even bearing that in mind, and the fact that time is needed by players and manager, this was a very poor performance indeed.

Mention must be made of the 96+21 banner by Olympiakos fans brought to us at the end, in memory of the two clubs’ respective tragedies. Many fans made clear to us the similarities between the clubs – the success, the colour, the port, the working class. Remarkably, the two tragedies themselves have chilling similarities. Innocent football supporters should never simply go to watch a match and never come back. Somebody somewhere has to be responsible, and it’s not them. Their own fight for justice never did reach a fair conclusion, and the memory of their 21 lives as strongly with them in spirit as does our 96 with us. May that ever be so.

A number of Reds flew directly home after the match, leaving those left in the city to be getting on with their own plans. Costas and I went out to the Plaka district, which was surprisingly lively, and got ourselves a few beers and a couple of souvlakis. Basically, you can’t go to Greece and not have a souvlaki. They are simply superb kebab-type snacks, and are amongst the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten. As the night wound down we may or may not have ended up in a strip joint where dances cost five Euros and your hands can wander wherever they want. I honestly can’t remember. But I do remember being woken up by a dog and wishing it was someone else.

And so a late wake up nursing a heavy head, and a light lunch involving eating these little fried fish whole (surprisingly tasty) and back on my beloved Hellas Jet for the flight home. A good trip and terrific fun (especially bits I’ve not really written about). As for the team, its early days for Rafa, but even at this stage the performance should be better than this. Still, after a few more sacrifices at the altar of Athena, I’m very hopeful he will with his wisdom lead us to many great victories. I just hope they’re not Pyrrhic ones.

© Farman 2004

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