By Tony Attwood
I have often written on the subject of Greek football, and the issue of Olympiakos (four of whose matches in the last year have been abandoned due to crowd violence – mostly from supporters of the team they are playing, over ludicrous refereeing decisions).
Now Greek football is back in the news, just a week after a member of the Greek refereeing committee – the KED, the equivalent of the PGMO’s management committee – Giorgos Tsachilidis, was threatened by two men at his holiday home the home of Giorgos Bikas, the head of its refereeing committee has been fire bombed. The referee and his family were not in the property at the time.
This is just the most awful of a whole range of issues facing Greek football – and it is an affair that has implications for Uefa along the way.
Part of the problem (although only the most recent part has arisen since Theodore Theodoridis was promoted to acting general secretary of the Greek league – the top official in Greek football and thus a man who now works closely with Uefa.
Questions have been raised about his involvement with Olympiakos, not only the eternal champions, but also the club regularly implicated in (but I must stress not found guilty of) match fixing. The president of Olympiakos is Vangelis Marinakis, who has himself been charged with match-fixing by Greek authorities (which he denies). Theodoris is the son of the Olympiakos vice-president. Always good to keep these things in the family.
Theodoris’ promotion occurred a day after the Greek government suspended the national cup after crowd violence in a match involving Olympiakos which caused the match to be abandoned.
The Greek sports minister Stavros Kondonis is quoted as saying, “It’s not possible to have completely discredited competitions, suspicions and everything blamed on
corruption. Society cannot stand it. We can’t have doubts every week which result in
“It’s impossible to have football officials from the ruling bodies charged
with serious crimes who are not suspended until those cases reach a final
He went on to talk about a new sports law that is proposed in which “we will have special provisions for that type of situation. People’s lives are at risk, as well as their health and safety. They become spectators not of a football match but of acts of violence and inhuman acts.
We must restore credibility and lawfulness in Greek football. The law gives me the power to stop the League…”
Greek league football is noted for being not particularly competitive given that Olympiakos have won 18 out of the last 20 league titles. Allegations have been made in the British press that Olympiakos owner Marinakis is the possible ring-leader of a “criminal organisation” charged with four felonies related to match-fixing. The former head of the Greek Football Federation and six other officials, all of whom are still working in football in Greece, are also charged.
Among 35 other people accused are the head of the committee of referees. However Uefa and Fifa rules state that the government cannot intervene in footballing affairs, and so this leaves all the accused still working in Greek football.
Uefa currently give Olympiakos £35m a year for their annual Champions League entry ticket as a result of annually winning the league. The problem is that this is more than the entire income from domestic TV rights in Greek football. Uefa specifically gave Olympiakos permission to play in this season’s Champions League on the day before Merinakis was charged.
What it could have done of course was to postpone the decision until after Marinakis was charged (something that was widely anticipated and reported) knowing that he was likely to be provisionally banned from all football-related activities pending the conclusion of the investigation.
However matters are now moving rather slowly because many of the lawyers who work in Greek courts are on strike.
Following the attack on referees a statement from Olympiakos said, “Olympiakos suffers more damage than most from this latest criminal and disgraceful act.”
The chief executive of Panathinaikos has demanded that the League be suspended until there is a complete investigation into organised criminal activities controlling Greek football. He is quoted as saying, “We simply cannot sit and watch houses of people being burned to the ground and talk about football. Even if the courts decide in 2020, let’s wait and start the championship again then,” he said.
But there is humanity in football, as Rochdale of League One have shown, after a five-year-old boy who has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour was named in the squad for a Checkatrade Trophy match against Hartlepool United.
The Checkatrade is the replacement for the Football League Trophy which used to be competed for by League One and League Two clubs – the prize being a final at Wembley. Now it includes the academy squads of some teams in Premier League although clubs such as Arsenal have opted out of this.
The main publicity for the trophy has been the very low crowds, but in a wonderful gesture Joshua McCormack (who has terminal brain cancer) was named by Rochdale as one of the clubs’ substitutes for the match and given the squad number 55.
Sadly Joshua is not well enough to attend the match but his shirt was hung in the dressing room before the game and had pride of place on the substitutes’ bench. His name was also on the teamsheet.
The team are visiting Joshua today in hospital and will present him with his matchday shirt and the teamsheet, and a second shirt signed by all of the players.
Rochdale manager Keith Hill said, “It is a real honour to name Joshua McCormack as a substitute for tonight’s game. He has touched the hearts of everyone at Rochdale Football Club since we met him for the first time back in February.
“No child should have to go through what Joshua is going through and we, as a club and a group of players will continue to do whatever we can to support him and his family. We hope this one small gesture can bring some light to his family during this difficult time.
But we can all hope that Joshua smiles a little this morning. The result was Hartlepool 1 Rochdale 2.
Thank you Rochdale. In such a corrupt and awful world, you have really given a moment of light.
From the Arsenal History Society
The Arsenal History Society publishes numerous series of articles exploring different aspects of Arsenal’s history. You can find an index to all the series to date on the Society’s web site.