As much as I love Greece and admire its people for a variety of reasons, a week never goes by when a stark reminder is provided about its Jekyll and Hyde character. For the famous Greek hospitality – which is very real and can be truly awe-inspiring – read notorious Greek hostility – which can be equally terror-inducing.
The nation’s penchant for short tempers, vendettas and violence are always lurking in the background (and often laid bare in broad daylight to the watching world for that matter) and sadly for me are to blame for many things which are the minus points in the cultural fabric of the country. Anyway, I’ll get to the point. While many of you will have been impressed with our former defensive rock Nick ‘The Greek’ Dabizas’ display in Steve Harper’s testimonial last week, you might not have heard about a little incident a week earlier when Nikos was set-upon by four cowardly Panathinaikos ‘supporters’ at the end of a youth team match, an incident which has soured the start of the domestic season for me. These days Dabizas is in a similar role that JFK has at United at Panathinaikos (yes he was attacked by his ‘own’ fans) with the difference that he is very active in the transfer market and is doing his best to help the Greens – one of Greece’s most successful clubs – get back on the road to success after financial meltdown and a woeful season last year which saw them miss out of Europe for the first time since 1997. If only a woeful season for United meant just missing out on Europe.
Dabizas was on a receiving end of a nasty beatdown basically because he used to play for their sworn enemies, Olympiakos, and a few hardcore fans haven’t taken to the idea of him having such an influential role. At first I thought the fact he signed Mehdi Abeid on loan could have been the reason but I am assured it wasn’t. Joking aside, Nikos showed his class in the way he dealt with the matter, refusing to press charges and saying that it only made him more motivated to succeed. “I know a lot of people were worried by I don’t want to talk too much about it. It was an isolated incident. I don’t expect universal acceptance. What I want to do is to help Panathinaikos my way. Panathinaikos has no room for such problems,” were his comments. A lot of weaker individuals would have packed up and left but not Dabizas.
I’ve always had a lot of time for him, probably since he was one of the first one-on-one interviews I did when working for the Press Association as a spotty young reporter back in the 90s. While he was not the most gifted, he always gave 100% for the shirt. Anyway, I digress. What got me about the whole episode was the total lack of significant interest in the local media about it. It was quickly brushed under the carpet, as too often these things are. It’s almost as if some token violence is accepted to a certain point. I’m always wincing before a big Greek derby match, whatever sport it is. In my eight years here I’ve since countless cup finals in various sports stopped and abandoned due to crowd violence, with football stadiums and basketball courts in particular resembling war zones rather than sporting arenas. In 2007 a fan was stabbed to death before a volleyball match. A bloody volleyball match! These days due to the high security at big footy and basketball matches, the hooligans are even targeting women’s and youth events. It’s mental but has got so common that even I have started to give a shrug of the shoulders at images of fans fighting running battles at a women’s Under-21 handball match. A case of here we go again.
For the country’s football leagues, which are fast becoming an arena for the hooligan element and nutcases from the crackpot fascist party Golden Dawn to cause as much trouble as possible, I only hope the authorities can get as tough as they have been with the bloody austerity measures. Somehow I doubt it. Until they do, attendances will continue to wilt as quickly as a mackem’s intelligence post birth.
Almost every week there is something on the news about the mentalists who attach themselves to Golden Dawn. Not content with dishing out beatings to anyone who isn’t Greek, 30 of them turned on their own earlier this month, putting 9 members of Greece’s Communist party KKE in hospital with the use of metal clubs and poles because they did not seem to like them putting up campaign posters in the street. Athens is fast becoming an alien city to the one I was introduced to in 2004.
On to jollier subjects and what a win at Vile. 2-1, even Gouffran scored, was my immediate reaction after the match, with the erratic Frenchman finding the goal at last. All of a sudden things are looking positive. Time to let the optimism flow then? I saw a lot of crazies posting on social networks that we could finish in the top four and had to laugh. Steady on lads. If Hatem gets injured and Remy gets put away, where will that leave us? Anyway, our recent form and return to 4-3-3 is welcome and long may it continue.
International week is usually drab but I managed to take in Greece v Latvia and Fernando Santos’ team were comfortable despite winning only 1-0 through a Dimitris Salpigidis goal. The Greeks are level with Bosnia and with two home games are perhaps now favourites to pinch the automatic place. Whatever happens, having watched their whole campaign I can say they deserve a place in Rio and will be a tough nut to crack as always, as well as carrying a threat on the counter attack with the likes of Samaras, Ninis, Fetfatzidis and Mitroglou, who Arsenal are apparently keeping tabs on.
I must admit I had mixed feelings seeing Haris Mavrias sign for the mackems from Panathinaikos. Delighted to see that English clubs are paying attention to the Greek league when it’s worth it and chuffed that Harry he will get the chance to play in the Premier League. I’ve seen him a number of times and his work-rate, vision and shooting skills should see him succeed. Just wish it was at another club! A lot of Greek players find it tough abroad but if this guy settles he will be an excellent player for the Albanians.
The Champions League is back this week and I must admit it kills me that we are not in this competition. Moments like Andy Griffin’s screamer against Juventus, Shearer in Milan, Bellamy at Feyenoord seem eons ago now. I am lucky enough to get to Olympiakos’ home matches which I cover for uefa.com and despite the fact I am not their No.1 fan, their supporters and stadium are a sight and sound to behold on European nights. PSG’s millionaires are coming to town or Matchday 1 so the atmosphere should be beautifully hostile. Shame Becks will not be here, I always had hopes of grabbing him for a quick interview in the mixed zone and asking if wor lass does really take it up the @rse!