Georgios Karaiskakis | The Cleanest Toilets in the Hellenic World

Olympiacos 2-1 Volos

📍 Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium | Athens, GR
🏆 Super League Interwetten
⚽ Greece (Tier 1)
📅 Sun 28 Nov 21 | 3.00pm
🎟️ €40 | Att: 14,001

Although kick-off isn’t until 3pm, I push through the touts and tourists of Monastiraki, and take the Metro south to Piraeus at around lunchtime. This isn’t caution on my part, per se, but rather curiosity; as one of Europe’s most notorious footballing arenas, I’m keen to paint a fuller picture of the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium.

I also need a ticket, and although I don’t expect anything approaching a sellout for today’s game, I venture that it’s better safe than sorry. The opportunistic booth attendant recommends that I sit in gate 14 for an optimal viewing experience, before charging me €40 for the resulting ticket – the most expensive one I’ve bought so far this season.

Within that bigger picture, though, I’m not disappointed; after all, today is my first taste of Greek football in the flesh, and I’m raring to go.

Exterior of Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, Athens.

A Very Greek Adventure

Rightly or wrongly, the UK’s narrative exposure to Greek football is often delivered – much like the country’s politics – through the lens of extremity.

Whether its organised crowd violence, match fixing allegations, or an armed club president taking to the pitch, the domestic game here is regularly portrayed as, at best, unstable, and at worst, farcical. Even in Cyprus (where pretty much anything goes), the Super League is viewed as the crazy Hellenic cousin; a dysfunctional footballing version of The Jeremy Kyle Show where audiences are frequently privy to the ridiculous, the tragic, and the downright bizarre.

For those that subscribe to the idea that football stadiums are a microcosm of societal mood, this perhaps makes sense. Greece’s financial issues have been well documented for the better part of a decade now, and the country is still suffering enormously from the disastrous effects of its economic woes.

But even in the best of times, football in this part of the world is volatile – and few clubs are as famous across the globe for noise, passion, and colour as Olympiacos Piraeus.

Welcome to Georgios Karaiskakis

This is clear to see as soon as I get off the Metro at Neo Faliro. Even with some 90 minutes left until kick-off, the area outside the ground is abuzz with activity. Queues form outside the club shop, and “unofficial” merchandisers patrol the surrounding streets, spying out potential marks. Several caterers also set up shop, peddling gyros, souvla, and hotdogs at €5 to €6 a pop, and the street opposite the ground quickly fills with mopeds carrying two to three people at a time.

Having partaken in one of the hotdogs (washed down with Alpha – a particularly mediocre Greek beer), I head into the ground. The seat and row numbers on my ticket suggest that I should head to the third row from the front, but I don’t fancy an afternoon of covering my eyes from the deceptively warm Autumn sun. Between my broken Greek and a nearby steward’s self-professed kala Anglika, I determine that the seating etiquette is – like Cyprus – very much first come, first serve, and so I head right to the back of the stand instead.

Business As Usual

Olympiacos are, of course, Greece’s most successful ever club, having won an impressive 46 league titles. Regulars in both the Champions League and Europa League, they wield a strong financial advantage domestically, thanks in no small part to their shrewd recruitment and selling policy; for example, Yaya Touré, Daniel Podence, and – most recently – José Sá have all made their names on the big stage here.

As a result, I’m expecting an easy victory for the home side today (something that I generally try to avoid when groundhopping). I’ve also tapered my expectations in regard to atmosphere; after all, there’s a world of difference between, say, an Athens derby under lights, and an afternoon stroll against mid-table opposition.

Except, it’s not a stroll. Volos start brightly and are denied a lead in the 11th minute when Tomas Vaclik saves Tom van Weert’s weak penalty, and although the home side do eventually wake up (resulting in Volos goalkeeper Boris Klaiman getting comically booked for time wasting in the 29th minute), it remains goalless at the break.

As is often the case with teams that win every week, I assume that the 17,000 or so supporters in the ground will voice their displeasure at the lack of a breakthrough, but to my pleasant surprise the half-time whistle is actually met with a cacophony of applause and encouragement. This is refreshing to see, although as the second half gets underway, little seems to have changed in the way of performance. Volos again threaten on the counter-attack, and despite making five attacking substitutions, Olympiacos coach Pedro Martins looks fresh out of ideas.

Although I’m completely neutral, I’m actually willing on Volos’ resistance, purely because I feel that the longer the game remains competitive, the more interesting a watch it will be. This is certainly the case right up until I leave in the 82nd minute, with the evening’s upcoming commitments meaning that an early exit is necessary.

As I head out of the ground I realise that this is going to be my first goalless bore draw of the season (indeed, my first for a good few years). It’s inevitable then, that as I check the final result back in Monastiraki, I see that the game has ended 2-1 in Olympiacos’ favour. I’ve managed to miss three goals in the last five minutes, including a dramatic injury-time winner for the home side.

A disappointing end personally, then, but this is no reflection on what is a fantastic stadium. As expected, the atmosphere is slightly blunted by the level of opposition and the timing of the game, but you can certainly get an idea of what makes this such an intimidating place on big nights. Certainly I would put the Karaiskakis Stadium in the “would return” category in this context, but in the meantime, I have an appointment with Athens’ other bastion of infamy…

A Note on Buying Tickets in Greece

Given the aforementioned history of crowd disorder, it can be a tricky process to purchase tickets for Greek domestic matches. In most cases, tickets go on sale just three to four days prior to the game (even for low-risk encounters like this one), and you also need to possess a “friends” fan card (a one-time €10 “donation” that the club in question uses to support its other sporting departments).

To add an extra level of confusion, non-Greek citizens may also encounter issues trying to buy online, as the ticketing system requires a Greek social security number. In the case of Panathinaikos, I was able to use my UK passport number, but this didn’t work for Olympiacos and I had to buy a ticket at the ground.

Postscript: As expected, Olympiacos ran out comfortable champions, finishing 20 points ahead of second-placed PAOK. Volos, meanwhile, were never in serious relegation trouble, finishing in 10th place.