NEWS

Like-minded soccer fans form alliances with foreign counterparts against local rivals

Affiliations between supporters and leagues of Greek clubs are nothing new. In 1995, Panathinaikos supporters formalized their connection with a group of Real Madrid supporters known as Orgullo Vikingo. Since then, each side has supported the other at matches with hated rivals. Banners with insulting slogans, flags and scarves of the affiliates have made their appearance at games with other Greek and Spanish teams. «In the final of the European basketball championship, they supported us against their hated enemy Barcelona, and we rewarded them by winning the cup and also by trashing a coach that was carrying Barcelona fans,» says a Panathinaikos supporters’ club website. Since then there have been other affiliations with the fan clubs of Rapid Bucharest, Swedish Hamarbi and Hungarian Ferencvaros. Similar initiatives have been taken by supporters of Olympiakos and AEK, who have found like-minded counterparts in Barcelona, CSKA Moscow and Red Star in Belgrade. The club members claim that these informal links are not associated with violent episodes but are simply public relations initiatives concerning the exchange of ideas and slogans. In fact, a few years ago it was rumored that some Real supporters who had come to Athens for the showdown with Panathinaikos asked their players not to beat their opponents so as not to impede their advance to the next stage of the European Cup. «It’s nothing to do with the episodes. Most of the innovations you see at soccer grounds, such as big flags and huge banners, have been brought in from abroad,» explains Dimitris, 35, the head of one of Panathinaikos’s fan clubs. «Hungarian fans accompanied us on a recent trip to Udine in Italy, while Greeks often travel to Milan and other European cities to watch matches. Part of the cost of the trip is paid for by the host,» he said. Eleven years after the first alliance of Greek and foreign fans, the innocent, sport-loving character of such links is in doubt. In mid-January, nine Russian supporters of CSKA Moscow engaged in armed combat with Panathinaikos supporters in Pangrati. They left Greece, but only after after being hospitalized in Athens with serious injuries. The Russians, who filmed their turbulent holidays in Athens, came to Greece on the eve of the Olympiakos-Panathinaikos derby at the invitation of a group of Olympiakos fans who seem to have covered a large part of their travel expenses. So a young Olympiakos supporter who wished to remain anonymous told Kathimerini: «As affiliates of CSKA Moscow, we invited them to the derby with Panathinaikos. We told them to come a few days earlier so they could get involved in the fracas. The club paid their hotel expenses,» he said. In the video the Russians made and which is now in the hands of the Greek police, the young hooligans can be seen trying out weapons and selecting ones to suit the occasion. Police sources say they have identified the nine Russians and that Interpol is helping find them after an urgent request by the Greek police. There will be concerted efforts to track them down and prevent them from traveling to Germany during the World Cup this summer. Police around Europe have expressed fears that extremists from Eastern European countries are preparing similar trips, following in the footsteps of British soccer hooligans in the 1970s. As Michael, a 35-year-old supporter of CSKA Moscow, told a British paper: «Last year we invited fans of the English team Millwall as ‘advisers’ on hooliganism. They taught us a few tricks. For example, when you spot the enemy, you raise your hands to show that you are clean then you attack. Knives are banned, and so are hard heavy boots, so that heads don’t get broken.» Dimitris told Kathimerini about the protocol for the fights and the rules of hosting foreign hooligans: «You don’t send foreign fans to the front line. You invite them to a minor match where there is no danger of extensive episodes, because they wouldn’t know what to do, where to hide. As happened in the case of the Russians. «We knew a week in advance that they would be waiting for us at that specific place. The same day we sent girls ahead on motorbikes to spy on them and we saw how many of them there were and what weapons they had. «Of course, if you do the right thing you don’t attack with clubs and knives. You set up the meeting point and fight with bare hands.» The Panathinaikos fans responded to the raid by the Olympiakos fans with Molotov cocktails and pistol flares.