The last time I was in Greece, a popular Brentford manager got us into the play-offs, then left the moment we were knocked out. That was 2006 and I watched the first leg against Swansea City before flying out to Greece. There was no option of smart phones, or tablets with wifi and all that back then, so I relied on friends sending text messages. I received two: “f*ck” and “f*ck again”. It was pretty obvious what had happened. I had missed Martin Allen’s farewell game in charge of Brentford.
This year, pretty much the same thing happened. I saw the first leg, flew out to Greece and followed the second leg on a combination of BeesPlayer, Besotted’s Twitter feed and texts – as the wifi kept dropping and mates were pretty much texting the same as they did nine years previously.
Coincidence, yes, but I’m staying in Volos in Greece and their team is in the play offs attempting to get into the Super League. They play in red and white stripes. They have a 12,000 capacity stadium. Brentford in disguise. So, in an attempt to vicariously gain some semblance of success I thought I’d go along and support them in their endeavours.
So, Olympiakos Volos v Apollon of Athens it was. A 6pm kick off in a concrete bowl with no cover at all and a running track around the pitch. There are plastic bucket seats – the kind you used to get in MacDonalds – bolted to some of the concrete steps that make the stadium but it’s mostly just bare. The enterprising sell and the sensible purchase a square of polystyrene to sit on. They also make nice frisbees to flick at the lino when he makes a bad decision.
It was 10 € to get in but you could bypass that by walking up the big hill behind the stadium, find a clearing in the pine forest and watch from there, which some did. The official attendance was 2,061, mainly I guess because it was live on TV, that away fans were banned from attending, that Greeks are pretty skint at the moment – you may have heard something on the news about that – that it’s a group play off rather than knockout but mostly because there is a good chance that the Super League will be suspended next season anyway.
It looks like Greece and Greek clubs will be suspended from all European and international competition next season and with money being tight there are strong calls to just not bother with the league at all.
We entered via Gate 1. GATE 1! The whole of Volos is full of graffiti and the most prevalent is “Volos -1-” which means the area on the terrace by gate 1 where the Austrian Boys (long story but basically their ultras) congregate. We moved along a bit once in the ground to get a better view but boy were they loud! Probably no more than 50 of them but they really got an atmosphere going and supported the team throughout.
A few people in the rest of the crowd also sung but the abuse the lino, ref and opposition players got was incredible. I haven’t heard such swearing in Greek since my dad passed away and his swearing capabilities were legendary! If the sweary fans are to be believed it appears that most of the opposition players are descended from “ladies of the night” if I can put it in a polite way – which they definitely didn’t! Oh and the ref and the lino are prone to onanism.
My heart sank when the opposition entered the field wearing black and had a good few massive units in their side. My companion told me they were a very experienced side while Volos were a very young team. It was beginning to sound like Bees v Boro again. And hand on heart, as the game progressed the similarities were endless. Volos played the better football, always building from the back, keeping possession, some nice interplay when they got into the opposition half and had a particularly good left-winger. They hit the bar when the goal was gaping, then hit the post with a rasping drive. Meanwhile, Apollon are breaking things up and have the best midfielder on the pitch and look dangerous on the break.
From dead balls they have good delivery and the height advantage. On 45 minutes a defender fluff lets Apollon in to squeeze the ball over the line at the near post. Nil – one. A minute later Apollon break one on one with the keeper but he manages a Buttonesque save to keep Volos in the game.
The second half is all rotation fouling from Apollon with about 8 bookings and one for the keeper for incessant time wasting. Volos’s best chance was identical to Dougie’s header that was saved by Dimi Konstantopoulos in the first leg. Greek keepers must practice those in training.
Volos huffed and puffed for an equaliser but Apollon were far too experienced to let them back in. Game over.
Even my companion was struggling to explain the play off system in Greece to me so I’ve no idea what chance Volos have of making it but like Brentford they didn’t look quite good enough. The midfield was weak and needs a Dougie or Toums to make it work. The defence is very comfortable on the ball and the forward-looking midfielders look good and tricky but they need some experience and bite.
So my plan for glory hunting failed miserably.