Tsirion | The “Charming Old Motorcycle” of Cypriot Football

Inside Tsirion Stadium

Apollon Limassol 2-1 APOEL

📍 Tsirion | Limassol, CY
🏆 Cyta Protathlima
⚽ Cyprus (Tier 1)
📅 Sun 19 Sep 21 | 7.00pm
🎟️ €12 | Att: ?

In the last 6 years, I’ve seen some 40+ games at Tsirion. But my first visit, back in May 2015, was as false a start as you could wish to get; a dour end-of-season non-entity performed at walking pace in front of around 100 disinterested AEL fans.

As a result, my initial hopes weren’t high for this ground. But in February 2017, nearly two years later, I attended my second game here, a pulsating 2-0 victory for fellow tenants Apollon Limassol against perennial champions APOEL.

This game was everything I’d heard Cypriot fan culture could be; frantic, chaotic, colourful, and LOUD. The standard on the pitch was even good, too, and it’s the day that I became hooked on watching football in this ground.

Therefore, it’s apt that my first live game in just under two years should be a repeat of this fixture.

Welcome to Tsirion

Built in the 1970s, Tsirion doesn’t really lend itself to football. It’s an athletics-track ground, supported on either side by two symmetrical stands, one of which acts as a home end, and the other as an away end.

As a result, the three “home” teams that play here – Apollon, AEL, and Aris Limassol – can only ever have a maximum of around 6,500 fans in the ground, despite the total capacity equalling just over 13,000.

In games where away teams barely bring triple figures, this is a frustrating hindrance – arguably even a financial disadvantage. But for derbies, particularly against the likes of AEL, APOEL, and Anorthosis Famagusta, it creates a unique scenario whereby two numerically equal sets of fans can face off directly on opposing sides of the ground. This, in turn, can make for a more intense atmosphere, like a cup decider at a neutral venue.

Tsirion Stadium 2

A Summer of Change

This is important as, even at this early stage of the season, tonight’s game has a lot riding on it. APOEL – who won seven straight titles between 2013 and 2019 – are on something of a financial knife edge, with the club finishing in the relegation group* for the first time in their history last season. In an all or nothing bid to return to the summit of Cypriot football – and regain access to that crucial European money – the club’s board has invested heavily in the summer.

Apollon, meanwhile, have hit a reset button of their own. After several years of being the bridesmaid but never quite the bride, the club have appointed eccentric German coach Alexander Zorninger, with the former RB Leipzig, Stuttgart, and Brondby boss quickly overhauling an aging squad.

Having won their opening two games, it’s fair to say that the latter are adapting more quickly to these changes, with APOEL chained to the bottom of the table having lost both of theirs.

A Match of One Half

It’s a little surprising, then, when the Nicosia side open the scoring after just two minutes, ex-Apollonista Andreas Karo nodding home the rebound from Léo Natel’s fierce 25-yard free kick. The 4,000-strong Apollon crowd are suddenly silenced – a rarity in itself – with APOEL’s orange-laden support raucously celebrating their first goal of the season in the stand opposite.

Apollon don’t take long to level, though. On their first foray into APOEL’s defensive third, some neat interplay sees Amine Khammas freed on the left, and, although APOEL are able to clear the ball, Bassel Jradi meets it emphatically on the edge of the box to fire a pinpoint first time volley into the bottom corner. Out come the flares, the smoke bombs, and the wild, rabid screams of gamo to APOEL, and it’s 1-1 with only 8 minutes on the clock.

Giannis Pittas then misses a penalty for Apollon in the 19th minute, slipping at the crucial moment. The penalty itself is the first time I’ve been in a crowd while a VAR decision is being made; I’ve read criticism of this process within stadiums, but it seems obvious to me what is going on and the whole thing takes around 90 seconds to be resolved.

Despite the setback, Apollon do eventually take the lead in first half injury time, the towering, languid Rangelo Janga turning his marker, driving into the box, and forcing Lucas Souza to turn into his own net. It stays that way until the end, and the two teams leave Tsirion at polar ends of the league table.

Tsirion 3

This season is the last that Apollon will play at Tsirion, with the club set to move into the new, purpose-built Limassol Arena next year. A UEFA Category 4 stadium, it will mean no more late-night Thursday treks to Nicosia or Larnaca for European matches, and will give the club a state-of-the-art home right next to its existing training complex in Kolossi.

There’s a lot to like about Tsirion, though. It’s not well looked after, the stands are too far from the pitch, and the facilities are basic, but there is a sense of “anything goes” here, like a charming old motorcycle you’re not afraid to tinker with.

Fortunately, it’s not going anywhere, and will stay in use as an athletics stadium. There may even still be football played here in some capacity, too. But Apollon will be looking to leave this ground as champions, which would be a fitting parting gift to this imperfect but unique arena.

Tsirion 4

* = After each team has played everybody else home and away, the Cypriot top flight splits into two groups for the remainder of the season: the championship group, and the relegation group.

Postscript: Despite winning only two of their last 10 games, Apollon went on to claim their fourth league title (and first since 2005) in a closely fought playoff round. APOEL were pipped to the remaining Champions League spot, finishing third behind AEK Larnaca. As of September 2022, Apollon (and the other Limassol clubs) are still waiting to move into the new Limassol Arena.