Saturday, 19 June 2010

PAOK FC (Greece)

There's a good reason behind why a number of Greek teams prefer to be known by their initials. PAOK being a case in point. Well, would you want to be the bloke who began the good old "Give us a P...!" chant when the team you support is called Panthessaloníkeios Athlētikós Ómilos Kōnstantinoupolitōn?

Actually it makes a bit more sense when translated into English. The All-Thessaloniki Constantinopolitans' Sports Club is a multi-sports organisation based in the Northern city of Thessaloniki, that was founded in 1926. Alongside the wrestling, basketball, water polo and half a dozen other popular sports, the club's football wing soon became one of the most rabidly supported teams in an already lively nation of hardcore ultras.

The club's official crest led to them becoming known as the Two- Headed Eagle of the North, a throwback to the region's connections to the Byzantine Empire, and they are considered the best supported team in the North of the country. They were formed out of the first wave of Greek refugees fleeing from Constantinople, during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922. Indeed, the team's black and white colours indicate a mourning for the expulsion from their homeland.

PAOK have spent their entire history in their nation's top flight, winning two league titles - in 1976 and 1985) and four national cups (in 1972, 1974, 2001 and 2003), although they hold a record that perhaps they are not so happy about, as the team who has lost the most Greek Cup finals - a massive twelve defeats in the year's biggest game under their belts.

They play in the grand old Toumba stadium, a 28,701 capacity ground that was used as one of the offical training facilities for the Athens Olympics in 2004, situated in a leafy suburb in the south of the coastal city.

The team have had an up and down history in the Greek league, but their first true golden period came in the 1970s and mid 1980s, when they won their two titles and played some of the most attractive football to have graced their nation's pitches up to that point. But with that came the birth of the hooliganism that has blighted them for many years since, and saw them expelled for European competition for five years after a particularly nasty set to with PSG fans in the UEFA Cup in 1992 - which in turn nearly led to their demise a few years later.

In the early years of the 20th Century, the unpopular club president Giannis Goumenos - accused by many of embezzlement, corruption and dodgy deals - was ousted after fans occupied his offices at the Toumba. The club's new management was appointed under order of the District Court of Thessaloniki, as the club was now pretty much under state observation, because of their huge debt to the state - at that point well over €30 million.

Thankfully though, under the stewardship of eventual new chairman Theodoros Zagorakis the club has started to pay of its debts and start looking like contenders again - finishing a decent second and third in their last two seasons, qualifying for the Champions League once more. So let's hope hat with a firm hand on the finances and some decent performances on the pitch we could see yet another team representing the stripes in the later stages of the world's greatest club competition.

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