People On The Pitch #8: Greece vs USSR, European Championships 1980 Qualifier, 12/09/1979

In our last People On The Pitch we took at look at some FA Cup semi-finals, involving the contrast between the venues involved and the consequences. We now switch to the other side of Europe and – for the first time on the site – to one of the most classic supporter culture nations in the world (as well as classic culture of any kind for that matter).

Background:

The late 70s/early 80s was a time when English hooligans abroad were increasingly making their presence felt in many of continental Europe’s great cities, both at club and international level. The English national team’s travels to Switzerland, Luxembourg, Norway, Finland and Denmark to name a few, as well as international tournaments during the period, saw trouble both inside and out of the stadium. But in the middle of all this, there was one country where a reduced and meek English traveling support would cower in the face of an intimidating and rabid home crowd: Greece.

That particular game in 1982 we will come back to later (and may well use the exact same intro). But going back before then to the 70s, Greece had yet to  really make any sort of an impact on international football. The expansion of the European Championships from 4 to 8 teams for the 1980 edition gave the Mediterraneans their first real chance at a finals appearance of any sort, as they were drawn in a winnable qualification group with Finland, Hungary and a waning USSR.

Things did not start promisingly and indeed all hope may have already seemed lost after the first two games, as a 3-0 loss away to Finland in May 1978 – themselves on Europe’s lower tier of footballing nations – was followed by a 2-0 defeat away to the Soviets in September. But Greece’s first and second home games of the group in October saw a resounding turn around as the Finns were smashed 8-1 in Athens, with a 4-1 victory over Hungary in Thessaloniki a few weeks later. While the passion and colour of Greek supporters at domestic level proceeds itself, this fanaticism of course also translated to the national team of this proud people.



Greek supporters celebrate the reemerging hope of European qualification in Thessaloniki, Greece vs Hungary, Euro 80 qualifier, October 1978.

By the following year, the old Greek flag of a white cross on a blue background had been retired for good, as the country transitioned from the age of monarchies and dictatorships to democracy. The football team too continued its hopeful march of progression as an important point was taken from a 0-0 draw away to Hungary in May 79. This result provided a great chance for qualification going into the last group game in September, with their Soviet opponents – who hadn’t qualified for anything since their Euro 72 runner-up performance – only managing a loss and two draws since the sides had last met in Moscow.

 
Flags of Greece: 1822–1969/1975–78


Flags of Greece: 1970-1975/1978-present

The Match:

Even a win for the hosts would not guarantee qualification – as Finland’s surprisingly good form (apart form the 8-1) meant that they could still clinch top spot in the unlikely event they earned four points or more from their two remaining games-in-hand, both away in October – but the last time the USSR had come to Greek soil for a 1977 World Cup qualifier, the home side had won 1-0.

With that in mind, more than 25,000 hopeful Hellenics fill the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium (more commonly known as the Leoforos Alexandras Stadium) to capacity in downtown Athens on a sunny Wednesday, September 12th, creating an awe-inspiring scene:

The ground was home to Panathinaikos, who were participants along with Bayern Munich in a 1967 Cup Winners Cup game when the official highest attendance of nearly 30,000 was recorded. Even more than that would have been in attendance here if facilities had allowed, for what was the biggest match in Greek international football to date.

Appropriately quintessential ubran Greek architecture leers over each side of the ground, within which a caged orgy of flags, confetti, ticker-tape, smoke and general compressed mayhem surrounds the dry pitch as the teams emerge:

Some vivid late 70s hoardings run along-side the pitch and a nicely-hung Greek flag:

Behind this side stand is another huge, interesting building with two giant legs at the front, as a blurred mass concentrates hard on the game below:

At the other end, the proximity of what appears at a glance to be an ancient aqueduct (but is probably a much more modern structure) shows how entwined the stadium really is in the dense city-scape:

After only 8 minutes, Takis Nikoloudis barges into the Soviet box and scores to send the mostly-white shirted Greek fans in the terraces into deliriums:

As the celebrations begin, the first “person on the pitch” can be seen: a figure in black (oddly enough) who is just about visible sprinting past the right-side of the goalposts, before more jubilation on other sides of the ground is shown:

Both versions of the Greek national flag can be seen flying side by side amid the sea of squashed supporters:

That is how things stay as the scoreline of 1977 is repeated and the Soviets are once again defeated in Greece, which would ultimately doom them to the embarrassment of bottom of the group (a low-point which may have galvanised their future recovery and qualification for World Cup 82). For the home fans it means that the opposite is likely true, as people stream from the main grandstand in celebration at what appears to be qualification secured:

As groups of Youths run victory parades around the pitch, a row of police can be seen standing along the perimeter of the more “raucous” end terrace in the stadium to make sure that this particular element does not encroach:

The celebrations continues in the stand nevertheless as more confetti clouds (there must have been many tons of the stuff in the ground that day) fill the air. Riot police stand to the bottom left, content to tolerate the innocent expression of joy taking place on the grass:

And so the scene ends, and despite what our opening gambit alluded to earlier, no trouble – only passion. The following month the Greeks could finally rest easy and officially celebrate qualification, as Hungary defeated Finland 3-1. Although they ended up finishing bottom of their group at the tournament, a generation of young Greeks would have been inspired by the impressive achievement of reaching the finals to at all, planting the seeds to continue the nations over-achieving continental tradition with the unexpected European Championship victory 24 years later.

Panathinaikos only remained in the Leoforos for another five years when they  would move the 70,000 capacity Olympic Stadium in 1984, along with AEK Athens and Olympiakos for a time, which would also be the new main host of national team games. But happily, for various reasons the old, small ground was resurrected for several periods in the future.

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Youtube Link 1
Youtube Link 2

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What Football Is Supposed To Look Like #5 (Gallery)

We are back with another visually delicious gallery of the interesting sights and general old school greatness, that that at one point made football magic.

Classic post-communist/pre-modern ground with fence, Lithuania vs Italy, European Championships Qualifier, 1995:

Random mid-match pyro, Italy vs Portugal, World Cup Qualifier, 1993:

Plethora of reporters and other individuals at pitchside, Chile vs Uruguay, Copa America, 1983:

Classic graphics and sparsely covered terraces, Norway vs Denmark, friendly, 1986:

“…anyhow have a Winfield” and running track, Australia vs Israel, World Cup Qualifier, 1985:

“DAILY POST”, Wales vs Czechoslovakia, World Cup Qualifier, 1977:

“FALK”. Classic graphics, hoardings and stadium, Austria vs Brazil, friendly, 1973:

Communist-era athletics bowl, classic “R” graphic, sparsely covered terraces and seemingly recorded through a spy camera, Poland vs Greece, friendly, 1978:

Pyro On The Pitch #6: Sweden vs Italy, European Championships Qualifier, 03/06/1987 (with Bonus)

The game featured in this edition of Pyro On The Pitch is noteworthy for the fact that this writer completed his very first full orbit around Earth’s sun on the day the match was played. I.e., it was our first birthday. But this entry might have been more appropriate last week on Halloween, as this is somewhat of a ghost pyro on the pitch.

Here we have a very similar situation to that featured in Pyro On The Pitch #4, when Denmark showed their supporter pedigree against the highly feared English in 1982. This time it’s their Scandinavian brothers in Sweden welcoming another of Europe’s premier supporting class, Italy. The pyro for both games revolved around a possible foul by a goalkeeper on an attacker and whether it should have been a penalty.

Just over 40,000 were in attendance at the Råsunda Stadium, Stockholm, which was the home of the Swedish national team until it’s demolition in 2012. Anticipation was high for the high profile game with the crowd perhaps particularly buoyed on by the reputation of the visitors in the football supporting world and smoke can be seen rising from the terraces before kick off in pictures.

Early in the first half, Roberto Tricella breaks free down the left for Italy and into the Swedish box. Famous Swdeish goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli comes out to challenge and his outstretched right leg appears to take down Tricella:

Immediately after the foul we can just about see a dangerous/exciting crowd heave (or avalanche) in the terrace behind the incident, typical of the time:

The penalty is given much to chagrin of the home supporters triggering a wave of protests in the form of projectiles on the pitch (Note to self: Possible future series “Projectiles On The Pitch”), and of course booing and jeering. Initially ticker tape/til roll is thrown into the box:

As paper rains down from the surly Swedish supporters, referee Dieter Pauly notices and picks up an altogether more serious foreign object:

Pauly, in nice Ermia ref shirt it must be said, sternly displays a golf ball which has just come from the packed terrace behind the goal. Now, either the golf ball was brought preemptively with a view for malicious activity at such an occasion in the match, or one supporter had simply come straight from the golf course and had merely let one of his/her balls slip from his/her pocket on to the pitch.

Pauly is not impressed at all and tosses the golf ball to a Swedish official with somewhat of a disgusted sneer, but with form as to suggest that this is not the first golf ball that he has had to remove from a field of play that wasn’t a golf course.

What happens next is extremely unfortunate for the interests of this website as another replay of the foul/maybe dive is played in slow motion and when we retrun to live time it is clear we have JUST missed some pyro being thrown on the pitch. What remains is a plume of smoke from a flare which has just gone out, or else the smoke is from it’s own weak smoke bomb:

A large cloud can be see coming from more pyro out of view to the left of the goal and a steward removes objects from the grass which may or may not have once been the flares. Unfortunately this is as close as we come to seeing any real pyro, but a bit of smoke, eh? Not bad. Or is it a cop out to include this?

All this combined to create quite a beautifully chaotic scene to be fair. But wait, that’s not all! Just when it seemed order is restored, more projectiles come hailing down including a possible coin which is a direct shot on the hear of poor, young 27 year old Ravelli. Other Swedish players can be seen removing more objects as Ravelli reels in shock at this apparent betrayal by his countrymen, although he also comically puts out his hand in a sort of “is it raining here or what guys, eh??” gesture:

Although more than a bit miffed, Ravelli is fine and returns to his goal ready for the penalty. But the supporters have one last laugh as one more roll is thrown into the box delaying things slightly longer:

Pauly makes a hilariously slow and deliberate walk over which just screams “…sigh” and takes so long to remove the paper that it has to be divided in to two gifs:

After all this, Ravelli saves the penalty with a nice one handed save to the left onto the post and the rebound is driven over the bar. Cue ecstatic jubilation from the terraces as the entire previous five minutes is forgotten:

Sweden would go on to win 1-0 for a famous victory, but Italy would ultimate pip the Swedes for top spot and qualification (not that that part is relevant but just thought I’d throw it in there to sound professional).

Youtube Link

Bonus: Greece vs Cyprus, European Championships Qualifier, 14/01/1987:

Even though I think the incidents covered above are a stellar example of a classic 80’s atmosphere, I do hold my head out for the chopping block for not being able to produce any physical pyro on the pitch in this edition. So for this sin, here is a special extra bonus…where unfortunately once again we cannot actually see pyro on the pitch. I am sorry about this.

Unlike with Sweden-Italy though, here we actually do see some flames. As Greece go 1-0 up en route to a 3-1 win against their Mediterranean rivals Cyrpus, what some would call an orgy of joy can be seen erupting in the crowd. Among this nearly cinematic scene of gay abandon, we catch a flare ignition, which is no sooner let off before the handler is launching it picth-ward. It is nearly in his/her blood to do so:

Unfortunately, in an inverse to the Sweden incident, the director cuts off to a replay just before we get to see if the flare actually reaches the picth or just lands on the running track. I would like to say I will make it my mission for the next several years to gain a categorical confirmation of this. But instead, I will just say that yes, it did reach the pitch.

Youtube Link

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What Football Is Supposed To Look Like (Gallery) #1

Some classic grounds, shirts and general aesthetics of what football used to be.

Sand dunes, a car park, unorthodox ground sectioning, other random stuff laying around (handy for a riot) and a beautifully filthy pitch at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea vs West Ham, Division 1, 1986:

Away shirt of vintage post-Cold War side Representation of Czechs and Slovaks vs Wales, World Cup Qualifier, 1993:

Ireland away to Northern Ireland, World Cup Qualifier, 1988:

Classic advertisements, Brazil vs Chile, Friendly, 1985:

Brentford FC vs Blackburn Rovers, FA Cup, 1989:

Malta score away to Hungary, World Cup Qualifier, 1989:

“English Supporters Please Remain In This Stand”, England away to Luxembourg, European Championships Qualifier, 1983:


(Taken from Pyro On The Pitch #4)

Dutch flags, Netherlands vs Greece, European Championships Qualifier, 1987:

“HOOLIGANS”, Italy vs Scotland, Friendly, 1988:

Armed guards behind the goal, Ecuador vs Romania, Friendly, 1984: