2004 was a magic year for sports in Greece. The Greek national football team won the European Championships and the Olympic Games returned to their birth place Athens. While few Athenians were bothered to stay in town to see the Olympics, the unexpected football victory sparked a seemingly endless chain of celebrations across the country.
Never had the Greece national team won any big competition, and nobody anticipated it to happen in 2004. Stathys (24, photo) thinks it was a one-time event: `No similar achievements should be expected in the coming years. We won because the system worked well, because we had a good defense and because we had a lot of luck. Maybe our players were not as exhausted as the others who probably played many more matches throughout the preceding season.` Vangelis (23) is not very confident in the success to be repeated either: `Miracles only happen once, not twice. And by the way, our strategy was not very similar to what football is supposed to be like. It was all about defense. Ugly football if you ask me.`
..does not think that Greece will win the European Championship again this year
If football victories are to be celebrated in Athens, it`s usually one team cheering at the expense of two others crying. With the exception of PAOK Saloniki, all major Greek teams are from the capital. Olympiakos is from harbour-town Piraeus, Panathinaikos is from the city centre of Athens. AEK was founded by Greek refugees from Istanbul, hence the abbreviation AEK which stands for Athletic Union Constantinople. Football supporters across Greece tend support one of the Athens teams over their local teams, which makes Greek football supportership quite different from for example Italy and Ireland.
Some supporters may selectively cheer for a rivaling team. Those people are most likely not to be from Athens and the match is required to be an international and/or Champions` League one. In all other cases, football fans have a clear preference for one team. And they are usually very well aware of their friends` preferences as well.
Thanos (26) explains that many supporters from Athens choose their favourite team based on their fathers` preferences: `When I was young, my dad used to take me to Olympiakos matches and it would be impossible for me support another team.` Thanos also tells me that each team, and therefore every supporter, can be very easily recognised: `Olympiakos are red and white, Panathinaikos has green shirts while AEK play in yellow and black.`
According to Gregoris (30), the shirts do not serve as a replacement for people`s personal identity in the way I saw that happen in Glasgow. Hooliganism also exists in Greece, so I am told, but at a much smaller scale. `I don`t know of any pub or bar in Athens that would refuse customers who are wearing football shirts. You rarely see them in the streets anyway, only during matches. Only young children wear them on other days.`
Girls about football
Georgia (26) tells me that football is not as important to girls as it is to guys: `I sometimes do go along with my boyfriend to the stadium, but first of all we support different teams, and secondly, I prefer to go shopping with friends. Despite her claimed disinterest, Georgia does however express her strong preference for the PAOK Salonik football team.
Melina (27) tells me that girls usually wine when their boyfriends go and watch football. `They prefer to go out`, she says, while listing basketball and volleyball as more sports that can count on more sympathy among women. `The 2004 Euro Championships were obviously an exception. That is something everybody will remember - forever.`
Despite some female resistance, hardly anybody in Greece would argue about football being the first sport or not. Basketball comes second, at a distance, while volleyball may be third. It is also these two sports who attracted the biggest Greek audiences during the 2004 Summer Olympics. Piros (31), was one of out of not so many Greek people to stay behind in Athens. He attended the men`s basketball matches and the female volleyball competition.
The organisation of the 2004 Summer Olympics certainly filled Greece with a sense of pride, but they soon found out that it`s not all gold that shines. Indeed, the long awaited metro line would maybe still not have been finished by now if the Olympics didn`t push it up the agenda. Train stations might not have been modernised as a result either. But the Games hardly provided an injection in the local economy.
According to Giorgos (22), the Olympics did not bring about any structural improvements anywhere outside Athens. He explains: `Instead, prices went up because local entrepreneurs decided they could make good money in a short time. Services remained at the exact same level, but prices never went back down. Families who do not own a house on the island are now having more and more difficulty to go on summer holidays in Greece, just because of that. The situation quite clearly illustrates an aspect of the Greek mentality. Don`t take the risk of maybe getting something in the near future if you are sure you can have it today. Maybe nobody will come to Greece in ten years because the prices got too high. The more money they make now, the better prepared they are for such a shock ? they think.`
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