Top teams have responsibilities to soccer, society and history

Once again, unnecessary pre-match tension which broke out ahead of a major soccer clash – this time between this coming Saturday’s rivals Olympiakos and Panathinaikos – was not averted. This time, the trouble flared up because of the home team Olympiakos’s decision to overcharge visiting fans for their tickets at a rate more than double the amount expected from Olympiakos supporters. Moreover, ISAP, the operator of the Piraeus-Kifissia train line, declared it would not make its service available to the matchgoers unless EPAE, Greece’s association of professional soccer clubs, produced a letter of credit worth 100 million drachmas as insurance against potential damage. EPAE has since met the demand, a move which increases hopes of a crowded stadium for the match. For the well-being of domestic competition, it is important that stadiums are filled when perennial rivals such as Olympiakos and Panathinaikos meet. Empty sections in the stands that separate rival fans – a precautionary safety measure implemented by authorities in more recent years – are, of course, acceptable. These gaps for safety, however, signal how far behind we are in Greece. Once upon a time, you couldn’t drop a pin in the stands when major sides were still capable of packing in rival fans shoulder to shoulder. At most, the opposing supporters would ridicule each other with well-intended jokes. Nowadays, they prefer breaking heads instead. Considering the violence that has plagued Greek sports, particularly soccer, for over a decade now, it is hard to imagine the combined presence of rival fans. And, it’s hard to rid younger fans of fanaticism when bickering breaks out between clubs at administrative level, as was the case between this coming Saturday’s opposing teams over ticket prices. When, then, will top-ranked club officials wake up to their responsibilities, begin solving minor issues that end up snowballing into major conflicts, and comport themselves as composed, serious-minded authorities? Lending some spirit of yesteryear, Giorgos Andrianopoulos, one of five siblings who wore Olympiakos’s jerseys in the 1930s and later became a top-ranked club official, and Apostolos Nikolaidis, a long-serving president of Panathinaikos back in its amateur days, used to say that their sides were adversaries only during the 90 minutes of playing time. If there were any differences, they were worked out privately. These days, we are left to wonder whether the trains servicing the stadiums will be allowed to operate, whether violence will erupt, and, if so, what will be the extent of the subsequent damage, as well as who will be responsible for paying for it. Moreover, the necessary deployment of a considerable police force costs a fair amount of taxpayers’ money. Times have changed, people have changed – regardless of social and professional positions – and, moreover, this is a difficult era we’re living in. But annoying individuals, like this writer, will always be around to remind the aforementioned rivals, Greece’s two most powerful clubs, of their responsibilities to soccer, society, and history.

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