Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Greek Gods Lose Their Golden Glow

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Greek Gods Lose Their Golden Glow

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Gilder

This has been a year like no other for Greek football. But, as Newcastle prepare to make their debut on Hellenic soil, Paul Gilder found the national game still plagued with problems.

When Otto Rehhagel shocked the football world by steering Greece to the final of this summer's European Championships, one of the country's leading entrepreneurs, the easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou, gave the players an additional incentive to overcome the host nation.

"Dear Fellow Greeks," he wrote in an open letter to Rehhagel's squad. "If you should beat Portugal, I will give you each a free week's cruise for two in the Mediteranean in the summer of 2005."

That the rank outsiders subsequently completed one of the greatest upsets in international football history to lift their first piece of silverware was met with a tidal wave of emotion in Athens.

But it seems that maintaining the feel-good factor which is currently coursing through the Greek game may not all be plain sailing.

"Most experts are pessimistic," admitted Antonis Panoutsos, a commentator with the state television network NET. "Our football is in such a mess and is so rotten that, without Government intervention, nothing good will come out of the national team's success.

"We will just think back on it as something good which happened a long time ago."

The much-heralded arrival of Rivaldo in Athens this summer went a long way to increasing the pulling power of the domestic game in a country which, until July, had little football heritage of which to boast.

A contract worth an estimated pounds 1.2m a year proved enough to lure the Brazilian to Olympiakos. But although thousands of supporters of the Piraeus club gathered at the airport to salute the 32-year-old's arrival, attendances in the Greek top-flight are often pitifully small.

A deep-seated hooliganism problem is one of the root causes. That fans of Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Arsenal were all converging in the capital last night for their teams' respective European encounters with Panionios, Egaleo and Panathinaikos caused a major headache to a police force which annually deploys around 350,000 officers in an attempt to curb football-related violence . …

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