AEK boss takes new initiative for a hooliganism-free club

Appearing determined to wipe out hooliganism at his club following an outbreak of fan violence in the opening round of this season’s soccer league, AEK boss Demis Nikolaidis took yet another initiative yesterday aimed at keeping his club trouble-free. Nikolaidis, who enraged the club’s biggest group of organized fans, which calls itself Original, by submitting video footage of last week’s fan violence to police authorities, yesterday announced a weekly open-house meeting for fans wishing to discuss issues of concern. His decision, last week, to submit video footage led to police authorities’ arrests of approximately 15 rival fans of the AEK and Atromitos clubs. A sports tribunal handed AEK a one-game fan ban for the trouble. Prior to the verdict, a furious Nikolaidis, who spearheaded a group of investors a little over a year ago in a takeover that saved the historic club from looming bankruptcy and consequent relegation to amateur-level competition, said holders of season tickets would be compensated for the one-game ban. Nikolaidis has sought a meeting with the Original fan club to discuss their grievances, but it has refused to meet with him, and furthermore, called him a traitor. The club boss, a recently retired star striker at AEK, was adored by fans for his devotion during his playing years. As a show of solidarity, Nikolaidis, who sports an AEK tattoo on his arm, has occasionally joined the Original fan club in the stands. Since assuming the club’s top administrative job, Nikolaidis has expressed unbending support for trouble-free soccer that, ultimately, will be open to all interested spectators, including families. Attendance figures in Greek soccer have fallen drastically over the past decade or so, mostly due to heightened violence. Shortly after his takeover of the beleaguered club, Nikolaidis negotiated with state authorities to nullify a significant part of the club’s debt owed to the state. Poor and corrupt management by a series of club bosses over the years generated deep financial and administrative trouble at the club. The initiative to hold weekly open-house meetings, as part of a wider strategy at the club to bring the administration and fans closer, is be held every Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the club announced yesterday. Last season, to prove the point that he would not tolerate any misbehavior from AEK fans, Nikolaidis confiscated a season ticket from a club fan who tossed a bottle at Olympiakos’s Brazilian star Rivaldo during an AEK-Olympiakos encounter.