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Greek soccer chief laments ‘death of soccer city’ as another club folds

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The crisis engulfing Greek soccer claimed another victim as a second-tier club went into administration, mirroring wider financial troubles and leaving a hotbed of the domestic game without a professional team for the first time.

Based in Iraklio, the country's fourth largest city and Crete’s capital, Ergotelis joined local rival OFI in financial meltdown – two small cogs in an economic machine that has misfired badly since a national debt crisis erupted in 2009.

"Soccer acts as a mirror of society," Hellenic Football Federation president Giorgos Girtzikis told Reuters.

"Certainly the economic crisis continues to affect all clubs, and some have managed to struggle through it, some not."

Since Ergotelis declared insolvency on January 20, local newspapers and broadcasters have lamented the "death of a soccer city".

They accuse both it and former top division side OFI, relegated to the amateur leagues last March with unmanageable debts, of excessive ambition in striving to compete financially with bigger clubs.

Girtzikis said he could not comment on how they handled their affairs, but noted all clubs were obliged to adhere to new financial fair play regulations that came into effect across Europe last season.

"It’s tragic because Iraklio is a city that loves its soccer," he said.

Greek soccer has been beset by problems, particularly since the start of the financial crisis, with frequent violence in and around stadiums and corruption investigations casting a huge shadow.

The top-tier Super League was suspended three times last season due to violence and rioting at matches, and more than 80 coaches, players and officials were charged in a match-fixing scandal in 2011.

Part of history

Ergotelis, which has yet to announce if it will reform in a lower league, was once a mainstay of the top division.

They ruffled nationalist feathers in 1966 by hosting a concert by songwriter and composer Mikis Theodorakis, a leading critic of the right-wing military junta of 1967–1974.

Neighbors OFI, more successful on the pitch in recent years, were relegated after failing to pay players and losing their high-profile coach, Italian World Cup winner Gennaro Gattuso.

A repeat of that scenario became less likely this week when the Super League said an emergency relief fund for players owed wages by struggling clubs would be activated in coming weeks.

Greece's champions will contribute 25,000 euros per season to the fund, clubs finishing in the European places 15,000 euros each and other top tier sides 10,000 euros.

[Reuters]