It’s winter, Sunday afternoon to early evening. A sunny day, with this kind of cold that bites in Saloniki and the sun has already taken its way to set. The heart of the city, days like this, is deplaced, its symbols too. The center of the city is defined in the area south of Lampraki Str., down from Agia Varvara, with Kleanthous Str. to be transformed into a pedestrian way, in front of the 27th school. On one side, voices, chants of those who are gathering, either in companies or in large numbers, on the other side the smell of the cantines. A large number of cantines with their phones playing loudly the songs that can be characterized even as emotional ones “…PAOK in one night became cup winner and came back from Athens glorious trophy holder…”. However, the strongest feeling is the hard heartbeat, not because of emotion, but of stress. There is no PAOK game without stress.
You pass the Gate, you get into the stadium, you take your place on the concrete stands. Even the smell of grass is stressful. Sun sets gradually and the lights go on, both teams are in the pitch for warming up and everything contributes to the increasing stress. You feel a huge insecurity for the outcome of the match and you start thinking what it can be, what can go wrong, you’re getting sick of it. There is only one way out: start chanting! It’s that time when the stands start to get filled with crowd, more and more are still coming, until the last moment. The chants, the songs, are the only which can keep your insecurity and fortunately many others do the only thing that keeps you on your feet “…great PAOK, your power is us, your thousands of fans…”.
If you don’t know the sound of this insecurity you should just wait for the ritual, just before the kick off. The drum enters the stadium, at the center, hands are put up high and with an increasing rhythm, in every hit, you listen to this stentorian: “PAOK … pause … pause … PAOK … pause … PAOK”. The stress, the insecurity is heard during these pauses, between the cries. Everyone has the same worry, as they’re going to play themselves. It’s a sickness with no medication.
This is the moment for the teams to enter the pitch and thousands of souls who would kill to be in it start to fight against the opponent, by singing an anthem which unites the unanimous need to show the will of being there, near the protagonists. Them, they have to carry the demand of all these thousands. The game begins, kick off and then some moments of silence and then whistles, the opponents have the ball. This is the moment that you want to die, you feel unable to live anymore. First recognizing minutes, in order to see “how the team is standing”. These are the equivalents of the hell. If things go well, everything gets better, warmer, if not, the sickness begins. In any case, the only salvation is the moment that you’ll hear this “goooaaaaal”. Any other scenario is disastrous. This goal is the only choice, that’s why you got there, to the stadium, that’s why you like this cold, this insecurity, the tightness in the stomach, the cries that create a tremendous acoustic effect in the oval shape of Toumpa stadium.
Every contact with the notion of PAOK is characterized by taking part into a fight. It’s not really you who fight, but this is how you feel it, as your own responsibility for what is going to happen. You’re getting sick if things go wrong. Even when everything is good, you’re going to get sick for everything that may be wrong. But this sickness isn’t like others. This one, instead of getting you worse, is the way out, makes your days exciting. It gives you this great feeling of serving an idea and ideas cannot get you sick, but they get you stronger, they give you experience, memories, many times indelible, emotional. Someone who can’t feel this tightness, this insecurity, this stress, this sickness, can never enjoy the victory, at least as a PAOK fan can enjoy.
Because PAOK was such a fight and madness from the beginning. It appeared in a city in order to reflect greatly the fight of a part of its population for the survival. Thessaloniki, the greek city with the longest continuous history, the most various cultural traditions, the distinguished and groundbreaking legacy, as a port which linked the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean with the inner land of Balkans and part of Eastern Europe for centuries, was the best home to receive the entrance of hundreds of thousands, people who had lost any notion of home, their homeland and in many occasions their families.
Thessaloniki had to be their home and as it is just simple for a city with such a history, given that it was the over-eternal co-royal city, having the way to integrate every refugee, there were these “Greeks”, those who believed that this home should be only of their own, who “decided” that the new element who came to shine with its characteristics in this magical city had not the right not even in life itself.
The answer to this inhuman idea, to the pervert understanding of history, was PAOK itself, the Panthessalonian Athletic Club of Constantinopolitans, which in these 4 words, shaping its name, one can describe in the best way the true character of this city, city of martyrs and city of lords in the mean time.
The first ever PAOK stadium was a fight. The refugees themselves protected the construction site with guards in order to accomplish its building. The survival of the club, as well. Already, since the mid-1920s, there was in the city some kind of establishment, incarnated mainly by the team of Aris, which represented and will represent, even as a stamp, the inhuman ideas against the hospitality of the refugees, the incomers to their new home. Even today, about 100 years later, these fans characterize PAOK as “the visitor of the city”, hoisting the colors of their inhuman ideological flag.
PAOK built its home in order to become “the glory and the joy” of all those who were looking to build their new homes and new lives. In a city which passed from a population of 200.000 to about 800.000 due to the “Minor Asia Disaster”, this new and dynamic part of population, of mostly poor people, was gathering from one side to the other around 4 lines, in order to see the hope on a black and white jersey. They came on foot, making many kilometers, with only one loaf of bread as food for the whole day, which got stale, in order to leave the historical motto “PAOK and stale bread”. Then, the insecurity wasn’t for winning the match, but for winning in life… and this fight is won in triumph!!!
Since the foundation of PAOK, this club was condemned to face an establishment. An establishment which didn’t appear to fight PAOK, but to fight all those who find a meaning of the life in the ideals of this club. Initially the establishment of a rich caste of Thessaloniki, which needed about 50 years to be defeated and then, of course, since the 1960s, the establishment of the capital, Athens, and the true capital of the greek state, the cavern of its owners, Piraeus.
PAOK hasn’t the most fans in Greece, something quite normal in an era when sport, in a professional level, has gone far from the notion of the confrontation of clubs with their own distinguish social characteristics. However, the miracle is that still today this club achieves to have the most devoted fans, by creating the strongest feelings, incomparable with others.
There are many sports clubs in Greece with notable success. However, all people around them, apart of the emotions that any kind of affection “to the team” can have, they cannot have the same “sickness” as it happens with PAOK, because it doesn’t derive from its history, but it borns every day new reasons in order to create legends around the relationship of a supporter with the club. This is the difference of PAOK and if one day, hypothetically speaking, the team disappears, then the black and white organization will continue to exist and the double headed eagle will create again under his wings the life-giving substance. This is something that doesn’t happen to any other sport organization in Greece, at least in such a great level that it can affect a great part of the population of a large geographic region, as well as big part of Greeks abroad.
PAOK can have supporters who have never seen the team playing, but they feel proud to carry its emblem, mainly thousands of kilometers far from Toumpa. They are the supporters who no matter where they are in the world, from Easter Islands to Everest, even in space, they will carry the black and white flag. They are those crazy people who find tribes in Africa and they teach them the chants which are heard these cold winter evenings in Toumpa.
Those who don’t love PAOK and see what is happening and concerns the club in a very superficial way, they can understand only a fanatisme, the transformation of its supporters into religious believers. However, PAOK is not a religion, because never anyone had a supernatural relation with it, it is a sickness, because it literally generates physical reactions to those who care for the club. PAOK is above all an idea, which had not been born in the head of one person, nor somebody create it in order to take advantage of others. PAOK is an idea born by life itself, the life of those who needed to see the longing of every day, as in another art form, to be painted in a jersey and danced within the 4 lines of the pitch.
“You’re the glory of our North, our pride and our joy…”
(Lyrics of PAOK anthem – in the video below)