There are significant events that happen from time to time and provoke exaggeration in their commentary, called unparalleled, incomparable, and other similar adjectives. However, beyond the commentary concerning the uniqueness of an event in eternity, there is also a simple objective admission. An event can be characterized as unprecedented. It is the breaking of the limits that History has allowed until that moment, in order for it to be enriched with something new, which is objectively unique because it breaks this imaginary historical horizon.
Strictly speaking in football terms, completely objectively, this year Greek football has offered or is about to offer unprecedented achievements. What has already been achieved is that for the first time a team started with a negative score and managed to be declared champion. Many other statistics were unprecedented for the Greek league and were achieved by the team of PAOK. Obviously, it wasn’t about the posts and the assists, if we were talking about the NBA, we might count those too. But the attacking polyphony of the champion team during its dream season was truly unprecedented. A purely football statistic because it translates into a football image, into the essence of the “beautiful game”. There are also some other unprecedented experiences for Greek standards, which remain (and hopefully will be) completed.
However, the greatness of an unprecedented moment is not in the statistics and strict athletic achievements. The greatness of an event is magnified when it is emotionally unprecedented. What happened a few days ago in Thessaloniki, which marked the seal of a dreamy journey for many thousands of people, was above all emotionally unprecedented. This is the subject I need to comment on. Greek sports clubs have occasionally – although very rarely – occupied the news and recording it, even beyond the country’s borders, with the pinnacle being the journey of the national football team in 2004. Nevertheless, never, ever has a domestic Greek sports event managed to become a topic outside the Greek borders, at least accompanied by a positive narrative.
What happened last Sunday in Thessaloniki was first and foremost the first time that the crowning of the Greek football champion in the generally acknowledged low-quality football championship became a subject from one end to the other throughout the football world. When we say it became a subject, we don’t mean that it was recorded by journalists, that would happen anyway, to a lesser or greater extent, for other reasons, for the same reason we may learn from a Greek media outlet about the conquest of the championship in Poland or Denmark. It became a subject for football fans who watched it, admired it, commented on it, and worried them about the overall course of football culture. Never, ever, has Greek football culture positively occupied or even more impressed anyone outside the country’s borders.
PAOK is not the most successful football team in Greece, neither abroad nor domestically, for many reasons that there is no reason to analyze here. We know this very well and it doesn’t concern us, nor has it ever concerned us, without implying defeat, as what is happening now in the Club’s organization shows that the future is here to give as much as a sports entity with such dynamism can achieve. However, what we knew well and perhaps, even if we said it, we kept a low profile, was that the people of PAOK, by far the most distinctive in Greece, are among the truly distinctive ones in the whole world. This last one, mainly due to the absence from major European distinctions, could not be demonstrated continuously and to a large audience of millions of people.
Last Sunday, the entire football planet put its stamp on what fans of any rival club do not want to accept, the competitiveness of the Panthessalonikeios Athletic Club of Constantinopolitans. It was a glaring confirmation that the mockery of this people in the miserable Greek reality is one of the most graphic and ridiculous characteristics of the hostility that characterizes “those who do not love us” and obviously do not want to learn what makes the connection between large masses and a football team so magnificent, with features almost of a romantic relationship.
The relationship is so unique because it concerns the only club that managed to maintain this healthy characteristic perhaps through a historical paradox: the fact that while it was always a great club, it was never a dynasty (in the negative sense), it was never a “POK” (term that designates the established dominance of the three clubs of the capital, Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, and AEK), what destroyed everything that existed from the football cultural DNA in the teams of the Athens Basin and other clubs that shortsightedly considered it right to follow them accepting the role of perpetually inferior. Thus, PAOK, after the conquest of Thessaloniki and its recognition throughout Greece decades ago, now, with last Sunday as a milestone, conquers Greece and begins the journey of a recognizable team throughout the football world.
The above statement is not at all exaggerated. The impact of these powerful scenes, which if accompanied by football successes in the near future will be repeated in an era where the image travels quickly to every corner of the planet, was much more than just headlines and sporadic international distinctions. This is easy for anyone to understand.
No matter how many titles Manchester City wins, Aston Villa and Leeds will always have greater respect from the world. No matter how many European titles Spanish teams win, there will always be room for fans around the world to know who Athletic Bilbao is or even the “elevator” team of Rayo Vallecano. No matter how many consecutive championships Juventus wins, no matter how long Chievo and SPAL stay in Serie A, there will always be a special recognition for Livorno. No matter how many stars the “new” Paris Saint-Germain brings, Lens will always be special in France, with zero European distinctions. No matter how many millions the new owners of Leipzig spend, St Pauli will always have more fans around the world, even from the 2nd and 3rd divisions. No matter how many Libertadores the team of Videla, River Plate, wins, the passion for Academia, Racing of Avellaneda, will conquer Hollywood and the Oscars. Of all these teams, none have the most fans and none stand out for their football achievements. However, these are clubs that if someone wanted to write the book of the World Football Culture, they would definitely have their own chapters. This cannot be bought, neither with money, nor with referees, nor with presidents in football associations.
For anyone who has been to Thessaloniki, anyone who has met a PAOK fan abroad, anyone who knows a player from their country who has played for PAOK at some point, what happens in this team is common knowledge. It is characteristic that the average Ajax fan was more pleased with PAOK’s championship, because they have a special memory of the golden talent that was lost, Diego Biseswar, than the fan of Aris, despite the fact that the championship title finally left the Thessaloniki region. More congratulations were sent by Germans, Argentinians, French, and Japanese, who know how to support teams that usually do not exceed the top half of the standings, than by Olympiakos fans who, in international discussions on social media, informed the planet that they had more assists. Unfortunately for them, the world knows the value of the number of assists in football, as ERT, the greek public radio and television, does not yet have a program of international broadcast.
So, last Sunday, an entire story was vindicated. A social phenomenon that remained unjustified because it couldn’t find the opportunity to appear in the world and present the emotional richness it bestows upon those who are part of it. It’s a vindication of history itself because what it has created can become a part of human culture, at least football culture, on both continents, Europe and South America (the others may play football, but they still don’t know about football culture, which is why they gather fans of PSG and Man City – the details are another big conversation).
Last Sunday, football fans around the world were vindicated, as they breathed in the aroma of such pure football moments, which are becoming rarer and rarer, especially in economically developed countries. Last Sunday, fans of San Lorenzo, Moreirense, Salzburg (who have rebuilt their team and now watch them in amateur championships so as not to be called Red Bull), Leeds, Reading, Twente, and Steaua, who are trying to regain their former glory, were vindicated. The celebrations at Toumba and the White Tower made the heart of the average German fan flutter, who fights for cheap tickets and standing places and fills the stadiums up to the third tier. They also brought the necessary emotion to fans of the big teams, Ajax, Liverpool, Napoli, and Marseille, who only wish they could experience the true brilliance of football, the one that illuminated Toumba in a ceremony where even the concrete was crying. Yet, Greek sports “justice” would never allow it to exist before all the lights of their lucrative product are turned off.
PAOK, the club of Lampis Kouiroukidis and Notis Tsintoglou, gave this vindication in football, recounting the story that was vindicated on Sunday in a truly unparalleled way (here the term unparalleled applies) in Nikos Triantafyllidis’ documentary. Football longs for the future and PAOK is here to provide it with the images it needs!
The photos were taken from a relevant article on the website “Arizona Daily Star,” which is published in Tucson and is one of the thousands of media outlets that reproduced the news.