Friday, 21 September 2007

Anorthosis Famagusta: a footballing miracle

Anorthosis Famagusta was in London last night to play Tottenham Hotspur in the first round of the UEFA cup, one of European football’s top club competitions.

Anorthosis is one of the smallest clubs in the tournament, while Tottenham is one of England’s most illustrious teams and a favourite to win the competition outright. Anorthosis got thrashed 6-1 in the first leg, an irretrievable scoreline, rendering the return tie in Cyprus a formality. Never mind.

When Tottenham does go to Cyprus in two weeks, the match will be played at the Antonis Papadopoulos stadium in Larnaca and not at the GSE stadium in Famagusta because, of course, Famagusta – including the GSE – has been under Turkish occupation for the last 33 years.

This means that not only is Anorthosis a club in exile, but that the majority of its supporters – who come from the city of Famagusta, its satellite towns and villages and the Karpas peninsula – are refugees, which, naturally enough, encourages an even more intense relationship between the fans and their club, whose stories since the Turkish invasion of survival, renewal and determination to return, coincide.

Anorthosis was founded in 1911 and its greatest achievement occurred in 2005 when it knocked out Turkish champions Trabzonspor in a second round UEFA Champions League qualifying match (see video above).

When the two teams were drawn, Anorthosis was given no chance against one of Turkey’s biggest and richest clubs, but somehow Anorthosis did it, beating Trabzonspor 3-1 in Cyprus, losing 1-0 in Turkey, and going through 3-2 on aggregate.

The symbolism of the tie and Anorthosis’ victory was not lost on anyone. It was the sweetest and proudest moment in the club’s history. And what made it even sweeter – and more symbolic – was that the team they defeated was from another Turkish-occupied Greek coastal city, Trabezounta.

Trabezounta, until the Pontian genocide (1915-23), was a bastion of Black Sea Hellenism from which it was able to exert a wide influence on Greek cultural and political life for over 2,700 years. The city played a particularly important role during the Komnenian restoration (1081-1180), which halted the decline of the Byzantine empire, and, later, after the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders in 1204, as the capital of the Empire of Trapezounta, in partially restoring Greek fortunes and resisting continuing Crusader and Turkish aggression.

For centuries, Pontic Hellenism’s most important religious shrine was the Monastery of the Panagia Soumela, founded in the fourth century and situated on Mt. Mela, 50km outside Trabezounta.

The monastery was destroyed in 1922 by Kemalist troops and the last remaining monks fled in 1923, though not before hiding the miracle-working icon of the Panagia – after which the monastery is named – said to have been painted by Saint Luke – among rocks in the mountains, from where it was retrieved in 1930 and taken to exile in Greece, to the newly-built, by Pontian refugees, Panagia of Soumela monastery in Kastania, Macedonia.

And it is to the intercession of the miracle-working icon of the Panagia Soumela that the Cypriot commentators in the video clip above attribute Anorthosis’ victory over Trabzonspor, suspecting divine intervention when a Turkish goal in the last seconds of the game – which would have seen Trabzonspor win 2-0 and eliminate Anorthosis (on away goals) – is ruled out.

It must have been the Panagia Soumela who illuminated the eyes of the linesman to make him see the offside and the Panagia who put strength in his arm to make him raise his flag and disallow the goal.


Stavros said...


I'm not quite convinced that the Panagia is as big a soceer fan as you are but if that's what it takes to get you praying who can argue with success?

Best wishes for continued victories to Anorthosis.

john akritas said...

You're not trying to make out the Panagia's a baseball fan, are you?

I think Anorthosis' win over Trapzonspor was such a miracle that not only was the Panagia involved, but Ayios Nektarios too.