Guns and Goals – More Chaos in Greek Soccer
Greek soccer is in chaos once again after a team owner marched onto the field during a game.. with a gun.
Greek soccer has never had the best reputation, with corruption, hooliganism and match fixing all plaguing the Greek Super League in recent years. But things got taken to a new level recently when the owner of one of the top teams in the country marched onto the field during a game to argue with a referee.. carrying a gun.
It was a top of the table clash between PAOK and AEK Athens, and it appeared that a tense, yet uneventful match was heading for a 0-0 draw, until the final moments, when PAOK thought they had scored a late winner against the league leading AEK. The players celebrated, the crowd went wild and club officials on the sidelines embraced each other, only for the referee to disallow the goal for offside.
It was a close decision that could have gone either way, but it absolutely shattered the home team’s euphoria, and sparked many protests from the players and fans. Then, like a scene out of an action film, PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis and some of his personal security team stormed onto the pitch, yelling at the referee and anyone else who would listen. Savvidis was heard saying “you’re finished as a referee”, and the match came to an abrupt end due to these chaotic scenes.
Although there was a only a minute of play remaining, the teams did not return for the final moments of the match. The below video has to be seen to be believed, and reveals the PAOK owner carrying a gun in his hip holster.
The Goal that was Awarded Two Hours After the Game
The result was initially declared a 0-0 draw, but two hours after full time, the officials declared that the decision to rule out the goal for offside had now been overturned, and hence PAOK would win the match 1-0. Goals being awarded after the game has finished simply does not happen in soccer, and we can’t help but assume that Savvidis and his over-sized goons threatened the referee and other officials behind closed doors, possibly with his gun.
AEK Athens Spanish coach Manolo Jimenez summed up the mood of all involved stating "I'm stunned; I don't understand it. It's the type of thing you expect to see in a Clint Eastwood movie."
However, after the dust had finally settled, some common sense prevailed and the shocking decision to award PAOK the late goal was once again overturned, resulting in the initial 0-0 draw. But unlike the past, this incident was too extreme to not take action, and the Greek Super League has now been suspended indefinitely.
No one knows exactly when, or if the season will resume, but the game between PAOK and AEK Athens had bizarre circumstances surrounding it before a ball was even kicked.
The Strange Build up to the Game
On February 25th, PAOK were set to host rivals Olympiakos, but the game was abandoned minutes before kick off when the away side’s coach Oscar Garcia Junyent was struck with an object thrown by a PAOK fan, inuring his lip.
As a result, Olympiakos were automatically handed a 3-0 win, and PAOK were punished by having to play their next home game (against AEK Athens) in front of an empty stadium.
Unsurprisingly, owner Ivan Savvidis fought the decision as if his life depended on it, and in a bizarrely late ruling on the morning of the game, the ban was overturned, and fans would now be allowed into PAOK’s stadium. Despite having only 10 hours notice, the game sold out with a passionate crowd of 30,000 people in attendance.
While we will never know if the same events would have unfolded without a ferocious crowd watching on, the fact of the matter is that the home team, along with their owner were lucky to play the game in front of their fans in the first place.
Who Is Ivan Savvidis?
Of course, the man who has caused all of this chaos, Ivan Savvidis - the gun-carrying owner of PAOK - has a very interesting, and questionable backstory. Originally from Russia but with Greek heritage, Savvidis has close ties to Vladimir Putin, as he was a former member of the Russian Parliament, and is also on friendly terms with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
He is a tobacco and media tycoon (a rather strange combination) owning tobacco companies, media networks and newspapers in Greece and Russia. Some of the companies which he owns (or part owns) are major sponsors of the Greek Super League, which is surely a conflict of interest. A club owner whose companies help fund the league with sponsorship money would not be allowed in many other professional competitions.
Four days after the unsavoury incident, Savvidis finally issued an apology, but still appeared to try and justify his actions:
"All of this created a degraded situation on the pitch and my only goal was to protect tens of thousands of PAOK fans from provocations, complications, human casualties. Believe me, I had no intention of interfering with the opposing team or the referees. And I certainly did not threaten anyone. Unfortunately, both me and my family, as well as my colleagues, have been hostages of the totally ill soccer establishment.”
After claiming he was only trying to do what’s right by his club and their fans, he ended by saying “Once again, I apologise”.
Should we be Surprised?
Apart from their national team’s shock European Championship win in 2004, Greek soccer has been in trouble for a very long time. Crowd violence inside and outside the stadium, match fixing scandals and organised crime continue to be a blight on the country’s favourite sport.
Unfortunately, this is the second time in just two years that the league has been suspended, with the 2016 season halted after a referee’s holiday home was set on fire, along with other referees being threatened outside their own homes.
What’s Next for Greek Soccer?
As with most European nations, soccer means so much to the fans (sometimes too much), and the season will most likely resume at some point in the near future. But unless the ongoing issues are properly addressed and not swept under the rug like in the past, Greek soccer will soon lose the little credibility it has left.
Regardless of what has transpired, the PAOK fans will pack out their home ground as soon as their team is back in action, with hundreds of flares ready to ignite. Let’s just hope the owners put down their guns.
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