Panathinaikos unveils centenary celebration plans that will delve into worlds of music and art, not just soccer

Successful soccer clubs and their supporters have many opportunities to celebrate but the chance to acknowledge 100 years of existence only comes around once and Panathinaikos plans to make the most of it. According to plans unveiled in Athens yesterday, the club intends to use its centenary year in 2008 to give something back to its fans and the city that has been its home since 1908. «Throughout the course of the celebrations, we will remember the club’s history,» said communications manager Christos Athanassopoulos. «The presence of Panathinaikos is very significant for the sporting, social and musical life of Athens.» Plenty of questions remain about the details of some of the events that are being organized, but the club wanted to show yesterday that it has the right intentions, at least. As one might expect, there will be a special logo, the usual series of friendly soccer games with high-profile teams from abroad and the sale of commemorative shirts, CDs, DVDs and books but the club is aiming to reach out to city residents who are not fans of the game by staging an art exhibition and a music concert as well. Panathinaikos will take on three European teams in a two-day tournament in the summer but they will also play a charity game against a top European side before Christmas next year. The team will also travel abroad to play an exhibition game to thank Greeks living abroad for their support. The youth team has been invited to Ethiopia to take on the national team in an exhibition match. The identities of the teams that Panathinaikos will face were not revealed yesterday but they will be made public over the course of next year. The foreign city that the club plans to visit was not specified either but it is likely to be in a country that has a large ethnic Greek population. «We are the largest club in Greece and I am happy that the centenary is coinciding with me being an active member of the team,» Panathinaikos Captain Yiannis Goumas told Kathimerini English Edition. Unusually for a modern-day soccer player, Goumas has not played for any club other than Panathinaikos. The 32-year-old has spent 15 years with the team in green and wants to end his career there. «I grew up being part of this team and Panathinaikos is my life.» «There have been good and bad times during the last 15 years but I prefer to remember the good and hope that I have contributed the team’s history in some small way.» Panathinaikos has enlisted the help of the same agency that advised Spanish and European soccer giant Real Madrid on its centenary celebrations five years ago. «We promise to give you one of the best planned and organized programs for a unique and unforgettable centenary,» said Christophe Serres of Carat Sport, which will be working with Greek company Solid Communications Group to coordinate the events that will take place throughout next year. However, for a team that is inextricably linked with Athens and the city center in particular, Panathianikos’s celebrations would not be complete without events that are aimed at the city’s residents who are not so enamored with soccer. One of these events will be a six-month art and photography exhibition that will also feature a sculpture that will later be relocated to Panathinaikos’s new stadium in Votanikos. The exhibition is likely to be held in cooperation with the City of Athens but the two sides are in talks at the moment and the precise location has not been decided. From the outside, Panathinaikos’s Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium on busy Alexandras Avenue has the ramshackle look of an abandoned ground in a former communist country but that belies the musical, as well as sporting, history that has occurred inside its gray concrete walls. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, David Bowie and James Brown are some of the names that have appeared on stage at the stadium in Ambelokipi. In a bid to revive these memories that are part of the musical heritage of Athenians of various ages, the club is planning to stage a concert that will get the city buzzing again by inviting a band that has never before appeared in Greece to take the stage at the stadium. The identity of the band cannot be made public until its tour dates for next year have been finalized, centenary celebrations consultant Theodoris Manikas said. The club will also release a CD with recordings from some of the concerts that have been held at the stadium over the years. Perhaps for someone dubbed «the Austrian David Beckham,» it is not surprising that Panathinaikos left-winger and captain of the Austrian national team, Andreas Ivanschitz, is happy to take his place in the limelight with the other players. «It is very exciting,» said the 24-year-old. «It is not only a special year for the club but for us players as well.» Austria is one of the hosts of the European soccer championships next year so it promises to be a busy year for Ivanschitz. «The next year will be a very special year for me,» he said, adding that a final between Austria and Greece at Euro 2008 would be the ultimate highlight of the year. The issue of the stadium, however, is a sore point with Panathinaikos because after years of negotiations, construction on a new arena in Votanikos is not set to begin in earnest until March of next year. The stadium will not be ready to welcome the soccer teams and fans until the 2009/10 season. As a result, it has been completely left out of the centenary events, which is clearly something that hurts the club, as questions about the future of the stadium were evaded with the nimbleness of a striker dodging a lunging tackle from a burly defender. Nevertheless, the feeling that the completion of the stadium will be the best way for the club to mark the start of its second centenary is evident among fans, officials and players. «We are looking for a place to call home and which the fans can turn into a hard place for other teams to come to,» said Goumas. «I will be 33 this summer and my aim is to play at the new stadium for a year and then end my career there. I just want to be able to step on that turf.» The Panathinaikos captain will have plenty to celebrate if he achieves his goal but before that, the club wants as many people as possible to take part in its own party.