Greek soccer has taken on some dark undertones in recent years.

Greece’s historic run to become the 2004 European Cup champion with 80-1 odds is no longer a fresh thought in people’s minds. Rather, the joy that manifested itself in the heroic performances of Theodoros Zagorakis, the team’s captain, and Angelos Charisteas, who scored the deciding goal in the final, has long been forgotten. Now, a once proud footballing nation has been completely stripped of its identity because of the rampant dysfunction throughout Superleague Greece, the top division of soccer in Greece, that distracts from the games.

Most significantly, the chaos in Superleague has distracted from the stellar season of first-place AEK Athens, a team chasing its first championship since 1993-94. They sit first in the league table with 60 points, eight points clear of second-placed PAOK Salonika.

In a league normally dominated by Olympiakos Piraeus and PAOK, AEK’s run to the top has been a revelation. They haven’t lost a league match in 2018, with their last loss coming on Oct. 23, 2017. Although their attack has been decent, it is their defense that has really shined. They have only conceded 12 goals in 26 matches, averaging .46 goals given up per game. This stout defense has enabled them to shoot up to the top of the table.

On March 11, Superleague Greece finally reached its boiling point after an incident during a match between AEK Athens and PAOK. Late in the match, it appeared PAOK closed the gap in the title race as they scored in the 89th minute to make it 1-0. However, after numerous protests by AEK defenders, the goal was disallowed and ruled offside.

PAOK players were instantly furious and crowded around the referee pleading their case. PAOK’s owner and president, Ivan Savvidis, entered the pitch carrying a gun in a holster with his group of bodyguards and approached the referee. Before Savvidis could cause any more trouble, he was restrained and eventually escorted off the pitch.

The AEK players immediately left the pitch and refused to come back. The game was abandoned and will only be resumed at a later date. Immediately after the match, an arrest warrant was issued for Savvidis because he invaded the pitch.

Following the match, Greece’s sports minister, Giorgos Vasileiadis, announced Superleague Greece would be suspended indefinitely until “a new, clear framework [is] agreed to by all so we can move forward with conditions and regulations.”

Vasileiadis’s response is not the first time the league has been suspended recently.

In 2015, the league was suspended on three different occasions following violence amongst fans that led to one person being killed and multiple others, including the assistant director of the refereeing committee, being injured.

PAOK has also faced uproar in the past. Just two weeks before the Savvidis incident, the disciplinary board announced PAOK would be docked three points and would have to play their next two home matches without any fans. The decision followed an incident involving fan violence during a match between PAOK and Olympiakos Piraeus. During this match, Olympiakos’ manager was hit with an object thrown from the stands by PAOK supporters.

This year’s suspension of Superleague Greece ended after two weeks on March 27 after each club in the league accepted new changes to both reform the league’s disciplinary code and to enact other changes to further improve the quality of the league.

Immediately after announcing the resumption of the league, the disciplinary board also announced the punishment for the parties involved. PAOK and Savvidis were both fined. Savvidis was also banned from entering stadiums for three years while PAOK were docked three points in the table. All of these punishments were subject to appeal.

Despite being 20-time champions of Greece, PAOK have recently dealt with a difficult financial situation. Earlier this season, PAOK were docked three points for failing to pay out the full contract of a former defender, Jens Wemmer, who is owed over €498,322 ($615,981).

However, this incident involving Savvidis only highlights the underlying issues in Superleague Greece. Recently, PAOK players went on strike and failed to show up to training because of unpaid wages. They have not been paid their wages since October and have said they will not show up to training until they are paid at least through December.

In another incident at the end of February 2018, a Greek court finally ruled on a match-fixing incident dating back to 2011. People with ownership shares or administrative positions in four clubs, Olympiakos Volou, Levadiakos, Asteras Tripolis and Ilioupoli, were found guilty of various charges involving match-fixing and bribery. In addition, various players and managers for the clubs were also found guilty of illegal betting. The fact that match-fixing is commonplace is one of Greece’s worse kept secrets.

Yet, these incidents overshadow one of the most interesting seasons in Greek domestic football in recent memory. Olympiakos Piraeus, the team who has won the past seven Superleague Greece championships, sits third in the table. AEK Athens currently sit first in the table, five points clear of PAOK. PAOK would be even closer to the top if they had not been docked points as a result of disciplinary actions. But alas, AEK’s potential run to win their first league championship since the 1993-94 season has been greatly overshadowed by the issues plaguing Greek soccer as a whole.

One Comment

  1. Andy Sotiropoulos says:

    You need to learn facts.

    AEKs players did not leave the field and refuse to return,

    If that was the case then AEK would have faced disciplinary measures.

    The referee, on his own, temporarily suspended the match after Savvidis entry, and then after a two hour delay decided to officially abandon it, citing PAOK as the culprit.

    The decision to abandon the match is SOLELY onefor the referee, not the team(s).

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