Panathinaikos president attacks hooligans, journalists

Six days after some of its fans chased the coach off the field following a UEFA Cup draw against Ukraine’s Metalurh Zaporizhya, soccer club Panathinaikos yesterday warned the team’s fan clubs that if they fail to control their members and isolate the few troublemakers, any formal relations will be severed. Club President Yiannis Vardinoyiannis, who himself became the target of fan abuse and threats following Panathinaikos’s poor performance last Thursday, which resulted in a 1-1 draw, and had to be escorted out of the stadium, accused journalists of inciting trouble. «A certain newspaper encouraged our fans to do what they actually did in case we did not play well,» Vardinoyiannis said, adding that he had received a letter from the Sports Journalists’ Union (PSAT) a letter unjustly accusing him of inciting hooligans to attack journalists. «A lot of (hooligan-related) incidents are being reported as ‘protests’ (at the state of Greek soccer) when they are pure incidents of vandalism. How can you call destroying a stadium a protest? You should report the truth and call things by their proper names.» Referring to the creation of the Super League, a new body created by club owners to run the Greek soccer championship, he said: «Football club owners took matters into their hands and decided to create something new. A lot of you are sneering at our effort. You expect us to reach the level (of organization) of, say, English soccer right away. This can’t be done. It takes time. We would welcome your suggestions, too.» A day after the Metalurh match, Vardinoyiannis fired the team’s Swedish coach, Hans Backe, less than two months into the new soccer season. The decision was criticized by many as yet another example of a Greek team finding an easy scapegoat. Changing coaches often is the norm; Panathinaikos has gone through over a dozen in the past 10 seasons. Vardinoyiannis did not directly criticize Backe, saying many are to blame for the team’s uninspired performance. He did say, however, that coaches wishing to work in the Greek league must have a special «understanding» of the conditions. «Terminating a coach’s contract is a serious matter. We do not want this to happen, but it happens in many other clubs, not just ours. Working conditions in Greece are unique. Choosing a coach must be done with care. A CV tells you nothing. We need to hire a coach who can acclimatize quickly and live up to the special requirements of the Greek championship,» he said, indirectly indicating that he would prefer Serbia’s Dusan Bajevic, who has won seven Greek championships and now works for Red Star Belgrade.