Thursday, 28 August 2008
Anorthosis wins Champions League
Anorthosis – the refugee team from Famagusta – has won the Champions League. It beat Olympiakos 3-1 on aggregate (3-0 in Larnaca two weeks ago, 0-1 in Piraeus last night – see videos above) and qualified for the group stages of the tournament, which, according to Anorthosis’ Georgian coach Timuri Ketsbaia, is an achievement so massive for the small Cypriot club that it is the equivalent of winning European football’s premier club competition.
Of course, qualifying for the Champions League group stages is only half the story. The other half is that Anorthosis beat Olympiakos – the champions of Greece, the biggest club in Greece – to get there. The hubristic kalamarades thought Anorthosis would be a pushover, but the Greeks from Cyprus, from occupied Cyprus, showed the Greeks from Piraeus that you have to earn your victories and not take them for granted.
Olympiakos’ supporters disgraced themselves by attacking the Anorthosis’ fans and team in Athens, prompting the Anorthosis president Andreas Panteli to say Anorthosis’ reception in Athens was worse than that faced in Turkey three years ago when Anorthosis beat Trapzonspor in second round Champions League qualifying.
But worse than the mindless hooliganism of Olympiakos’ fans was the patronising and ignorant tone of some Greek journalists who insisted on distinguishing Olympiakos as a Greek (Elliniki) and Anorthosis as a Cypriot (Kypriaki) team, as if Anorthosis weren’t a Greek team, as if Anorthosis play in blue and white for the hell of it and as if the fact that the Greek flag is everywhere at Anorthosis’ matches is coincidence. Let’s be clear: Anorthosis was formed in 1911 as a cultural and political organisation aimed at promoting and mobilising Hellenism in the Famagusta region of Cyprus and took its name from Eleftherios Venizelos’ rallying cry of Anorthosis (Regeneration) as he prepared Greece for the realisation of the Great Idea.
Anorthosis collected funds and sent volunteers to the Balkan and Asia Minor wars and, naturally, during the EOKA period 1955-59, the club played a leading role. EOKA stalwarts Kyriakos Matsis, Grigoris Afxentiou, Antonis Papadopoulous, Pavlos Pavlakis and Panagiotis Toumazos were all members of Anorthosis; and in 1958 the English blew up Anorthosis headquarters in Famagusta as punishment for the club’s EOKA connections.
All in all, you cannot get a more Greek club than Anorthosis, and the fact that the kalamarades failed to acknowledge this by referring only to Olympiakos as an Elliniki omada (Greek team) is insulting. Both Anorthosis and Olympiakos are Greek teams and the correct distinction is between a Cypriot and a Helladic team.
Anyway, I’d like to think that Anorthosis' victory against Olympiakos is not just a sporting victory, but also a sign that Hellenism at the periphery is capable and can surpass Hellenism at the centre. Hellenism at the centre, as we all know, is failing. I even heard a report on British radio recently – which I have not been able to verify – that in Kerkyra (Corfu) locals are demanding more autonomy for their island, more control over the way their taxes are spent, tired of misgovernment from Athens. I’ve also seen two reports on Greek TV – on ERT and Alpha – regarding the reconstruction in the Peloponnese after last year’s fires. Both reports pointed out that while reconstruction in those areas under Greek government supervision were mired in bureaucracy and going slowly, renewal of the village the Cypriot government is taking care of – Artemida – has seen rapid progress.