As with almost every other rivalry in football, in fact in any sport, there is a heady mixture of geographic, social, and sporting history that defines a fixture. Richard Pike talks about Olympiakos vs Panathinaikos.
It won’t instantly appear on the radar of most people’s top 5 most fierce rivalries in football but reading an in-depth description of Greek football’s “Derby of the Eternal Enemies” will make them reconsider.
The most fierce derby or rivalry in world football? A question that will forever provoke different opinions and debates amongst people for the answer. To attempt to find it some people will point at South Eastern Europe at the Balkan countries and Turkey and they would have good reason to do so. This region of Europe is full of many fierce derbies or club rivalries which could lay a legitimate claim to answer the aforementioned question. In Turkey’s biggest city Istanbul, you have the famous intercontinental rivalry between Fenerbache SK and Galatasaray SK based on the Asian and European side of the Bosporus respectively. Bulgaria’s capital Sofia has the famous capital rivalry between CSKA Sofia who were linked with the Army during the Communist era and Levski Sofia, formed by a group of students and named after the reported national hero of the country Vasil Levski. Romania’s capital Bucharest brings you the famous derby between Steaua Bucharest and Dinamo Bucharest who had links with the Romanian army and Romanian police during the Communist era. Croatia’s fierce rivalry is between Northern Croatia powerhouse Dinamo Zagreb and Southern Croatian giant Hajduk Split and perhaps the fiercest of all the above is Serbia and Belgrade’s derby between Partizan Belgrade and Red Star Belgrade. Compared with all the above derbies and rivalries, it is easy to overlook Greek football’s biggest game and most notorious rivalry, that between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, however, as you are about to discover, it deserves its place amongst the fiercest derbies around. After all, the aforementioned rivalries in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Serbia might all have the label “Eternal Derby” attached to them, however, we go a step further in the case of Olympiakos vs Panathinaikos, which is given the formidable and imposing name of “The Derby of the Eternal Enemies”.
The Origins of Both Clubs
Even though both clubs are fierce rivals, their respective formations were inspired by the formation and subsequent staging of the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. The first club out of the two to be formed were Panathinaikos, who were formed by footballer Giorgios Kalafatis in Feburary 1908. Kalafitis, who was a footballer at the time with Panellinios GS a current Greek sports club located in Athens that currently operates teams from many different sporting codes, including basketball, volleyball and handball, however in early 1908, the club decided to discontinue its football operations and as a result of this Kalafitis and 40 other athletes discontinued their association with the club in favour of founding Panathinaikos. Kalafitis was reportedly inspired to form Panathinaikos by watching as a teenager, the first and as it transpired only ever International Intercalated Games which were held in Athens in the summer of 1906 in which football was one of the sports. The Intercalated Games were an idea brought up after the closing of the second modern day Olympic Games in Paris in 1900 and could be described as an “Olympics Light”. The founder and first president of the International Olympic Committee, Mr Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman, rejected ideas after announcing the revival of the first modern games in 1896 to hold the games in Athens every 4 years and decided that the second showing would be held in Paris and in future different cities every 4 years thereafter. Mr Coubertin to remedy those who believed that Athens should hold the Olympics every 4 years also initiated the formation of the Intercalated Games which would be held every 4 years and would be in the second year in between the four-year Olympic cycle. The Intercalated Games would only see one edition in 1906, but it was enough to give Mr Kalafitis the idea to form Panathinaikos two years later. The name Panathinaikos translates into “Panathenaic” in English which means “All of Athens” and the club in its early existence solely intended to be a football club as Mr Kalafitis and the other founding members had originally moved from Panellinios GS to continue to practice football. The original name of the club upon foundation was Podosferikos before adopting its current name in March 1924.
Olympiakos were founded much later than their Athenian rivals, in March 1925 and are based in Piraeus, a port city in the Greater Athens area. Their formation like Panathinaikos had an element of the modern Olympics about it as the key family in the foundation of the club, the Adrianopolous family decided to get in touch with other influential figures in the city of Piraeus to create a sports and athletic club which would participate in a variety of sports in accordance with the Olympic spirit that began to foster with the revival of the modern Olympic games. The establishment of the club was set by the merger of two Piraeus-based clubs Piraikos Podosfairikos Omilos FC (Sport and Football Club of Piraeus) and Piraeus Fans Club FC. The other influential figure in the foundation of the club was a Greek Naval officer, Mr Notis Kamperos who was influential in establishing the name “Olympiakos” for the newly merged entity believing that it was a name which perfectly fitted in with the Olympic spirits and ideals emphasised by the Adrianopoulos family and the other club founders.
Origins of the Rivalry
The two major origins of the rivalry stem from the two different cities where the two clubs are based and the social class of the founders and supporters of both clubs upon their foundation. Panathinaikos are based in Athens, which was upon their formation and still in the modern day is the capital of Greece, whereas Olympiakos are based in Piraeus, a port city since the time of the Ancient Greeks which now possesses the largest port in the country and is the main city in Greece for the country’s shipping industry. Because of the proximity of the two cities, a rivalry has developed between them similar as to how rivalries emerged in Britain’s at the height of the industrial revolution in the 19th Century. Athens, like most capital cities in the world tends to possess a majority of Greece’s wealthy elite and middle class and historically, the supporters of Panathinaikos came from this background. On the other hand, owing to its status as a port city with a large shipping industry, Olympiakos’ fans historically came from a poorer and more working class background. However, in modern times, both clubs have supporters groups all over the country amongst people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, according to this article from Greek football website Sentragoal.gr, 36 per cent of correspondents for an interview on who they supported stated Olympiakos with 30.2 per cent stating Panathinaikos.
Dafnostefanomenos Domestic Domination
“Dafnostefanomenos” is the Greek word for “The Laurel-Crowned”, with a laurel being the circular wreath placed on medal-winning athletes’ heads at the ancient Olympic games. It is one of Olympiakos’ nicknames and the laurel features in the club’s badge. The boys in red have been the dominant force domestically in the Derby of the Eternal Enemies, having won 43 Greek league titles in comparison to Panathinaikos’ 20 league titles. In the cup competitions, once again Olympiakos have the edge over their fierce rivals with 27 Greek Cups compared to Panathinaikos’ 18. Exactly 20 seasons ago in at the start of the 1996-97 season, Panathinaikos had won 18 titles and Olympiakos 25 titles, which emphasises the scale of the Piraeus-based club’s domination of Greek football in the modern Champions League era of football. Olympiakos’ title triumph of 1996-97 was the first of 17 titles won by the club in the next 19 seasons with Panathinaikos being the only other club to win the Greek title in that time, occurring twice in 2003-04 and 2009-10. The scale of Olympiakos’ dominance is unlike anything seen in Greek football before and it emphasises the problem that many countries with only one/two entrants with only one directly qualifying for the Champions League face. Because Olympiakos continue to win the Greek league and with it gain either direct access to the Champions League group stages or qualification to the so-called “easier” Champions qualification route, it means that most seasons they qualify for the Champions League group stages, sometimes even reaching the last-16 of the competition and the money that this gives them means they have a huge financial advantage over the other Greek clubs and thus dominate domestically. Compare and contrast Olympiakos’ aforementioned “golden-era” domination in Greece to Panathinaikos’ “golden-era” between 1959-1974, in the fifteen seasons in this era, Panathinaikos won 8 Greek titles, compared to Olympiakos’ 4 and fellow Athenian club and fellow Panathinaikos rival AEK Athens’ 3 titles.
However, the Men in Green reign supreme on the continent
Whilst the red corner might rule domestically, without question, the men in the green corner have performed better in European competitions. Olympiakos’ best performances in European competition have been reaching the Quarter Finals of the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners Cup in the 1992-93 season and the Quarter Finals of the 1998-99 UEFA Champions League where they agonisingly lost late-on to Italian giants Juventus. Panathinaikos, however, have performed much better, they have reached the Quarter Finals of both the UEFA Cup/Europa League (1987-88 and 2002-03) and the European Cup/Champions League (1991-92 and 2001-02) twice. On top of this, Panathinaikos reached two European Cup/UEFA Champions League semi-finals, in 1984-85 where they lost to the then European Champions Liverpool and 1995-96 where they lost 3-1 on aggregate to eventual runners-up, Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam. The most impressive achievement however, was reaching the 1970-71 European Cup final at Wembley Stadium in London where Panathinaikos, coached by the late Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas were beaten 2-0 once again by Ajax and their then star-man, the late, great Johan Cryuff. The latter of these aforementioned achievements is the first and so far only appearance by a Greek club in the final of a European competition administered by UEFA. However, the thing that is the most impressive about that aforementioned Panathinaikos team and their achievement was that it occurred prior to the establishment of professionalism in Greek football which eventually took place in the late 1970’s.
A strong rivalry turns into pure hatred
The rivalry between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos has always been really strong throughout the years owing to the rivalry between Piraeus and Athens as cities and that over two-thirds of Greek football fans support one of the two clubs. However, since the turn of the millennium, the relationship between both clubs has gone beyond just a historically fierce rivalry and has turned into pure hatred. I believe that this transformation is down to two incidents in recent years.
The first incident involved a man who is renowned in Greek football for being part of its greatest ever triumph, the triumphant goalkeeper from Greece’s Euro 2004 winning squad, Antonios Nikopolidis. Nikopolidis started his career at small Greek club Anagennisi Artas in 1987 before then in 1989 at the age of 18, transferring to Panathinaikos. After many years as the club’s number two goalkeeper, the second part of the 1990’s saw Nikopolidis finally become Panathinaikos’ and the Greek national team’s number one goalkeeper. However, as Panathinaikos’ triumphant 2003-04 season dawned, the club had a problem, Nikopolidis was in the last year of his contract at the club and had turned down a new contract offered by the club worth a reported EUR 400,000 a season. Reportedly, Nikopolidis turned down Panathinaikos’ offer because he was looking for a contract valued at EUR 600,000 per season. With just months remaining on his contract and the opportunity to get a good goalkeeper like Nikopolidis on a free transfer, Olympiakos swooped and signed Nikopolidis on a free transfer for the 2004-05 season offering him wages of EUR 600,000 a season. Like Barcelona’s fans upon hearing the news that their former idol Luis Figo had transferred directly from the club to fierce arch-rivals Real Madrid, Panathinaikos fans saw Nikopolidis as a traitor for transferring to their fierce rivals and never forgave him. When Panathinaikos won the Greek title in 2003-04 and their players went up to collect their medals and lift the trophy in a home game in front of the Panathinaikos fans, Nikopolidis was reportedly jeered and whistled throughout. Nikopolidis then subsequently went on to win 6 Greek league titles at Olympiakos in 7 seasons before announcing his retirement from professional football at the end of the 2010-11 season.
However, Nikopolidis’ defection from Panathinaikos to Olympiakos was just a precursor to another recent event which has really transformed the rivalry and lit the touch paper. The transformation from rivalry to hatred has occurred due to the aftermath of Greek football’s investigation into reported bribery and match-fixing in 2011. The allegations, known as Koriopolis in Greek football came to light in 2011 and numerous individuals including agents, officials, retired referees and the chairman and owner of Olympiakos, Mr Evangelos Marinakis were reportedly implicated. Throughout the investigation Mr Marinakis denied all the alleged charges and maintained his innocence throughout. The investigations into the allegations lasted for a four year period, until April 2015 when Mr Marinakis was cleared and acquitted of all charges by the prosecutor. However, no sooner had Marinakis been cleared, new allegations in the same month surfaced which resulted in new investigations into reported match-fixing in Greek football. In June 2015, two months after the outbreak of the new allegations, Marinakis was released on bail, however, as part of his bail conditions, he has been ordered to report to a police station every 15 days whilst the investigations are ongoing. Marinakis has also been banned from acting as Olympiakos president as a result of his bail conditions, however, he remains the club’s majority shareholder.
Whilst Marinakis has been cleared of any wrongdoing in Koriopolis and no decision has yet been taken over the new reported allegations that have emerged, the events have really ratcheted up the intense dislike of Olympiakos by Panathinaikos and the rivalry has seen a violent side to it emerge in recent seasons. Upon the outbreak of the new reported allegations in April 2015, both Panathinaikos and fellow Greek club PAOK launched an ultimately unsuccessful challenge against Olympiakos being able to compete in the 2015-16 Champions League. The first derby match of the 2015-16 season between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos at Panathinaikos’ stadium was abandoned before kick-off by the referee after a flare thrown by home fans hit Olympiakos’ Icelandic striker Alfred Finnbogasson. Upon the abandonment of the game, Panathinaikos fans then subsequently invaded the pitch in protest at the abandonment which led to violent clashes with the police. Olympiakos were subsequently awarded a 3-0 walkover win after the abandonment and Panathinaikos were docked 3 points and ordered to play four home matches behind closed doors as punishment for the abandonment and subsequent crowd trouble. The rivalry has reached such a tense stage that Panathinaikos once threatened to withdraw from Greek competitions over the abandonment of the derby with Olympiakos last season and whilst they eventually backed down on those proposals, they did encourage their fans to continue to protest the abandonment of the fixture by the referee.
Antonios Nikopolidis – As referred above, Nikopolidis is one of the few figures throughout the history of the rivalry to cross the divide. Signed for Panathinaikos as an 18 year-old in 1989, however only became first choice for the club at the age of 26 at the start of the 1997-98 season. Controversially signed for Olympiakos in the summer of 2004 on a free transfer after helping Panathinaikos to a league and cup double in the 2003-04 season. Immediately after signing for the Piraeus-based club, Nikopolidis subsequently won two consecutive league and cup doubles with Olympiakos which makes him the only player to win a league and cup double with both Panathinaikos and Olympiakos. Upon his retirement at the end of the 2010-11 season at the age of 40, Nikopolidis remained at Olympiakos, briefly serving as the assistant manager at the club both in the 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons. Eventually left Olympiakos in the summer of 2015 to take the Greek Under 21 national team job.
Vasilis Torosidis – A hero to all those of a red and white perspective and a villain to all those dressed in green and white, Vasilis Torosidis will go down as an Olympiakos legend. After starting his career as a teenager at his hometown club Skoda Xanthi, Torosidis moved to Olympiakos at the age of 21 in the January transfer window of the 2006-07 season. In 7 seasons at Olympiakos, Torosidis made a total of 134 league appearances for the club and eventually became the club’s captain. His status amongst Olympiakos fans was elevated after he turned down reported interest in him from abroad from numerous clubs throughout the period when Torosidis was in his mid-20’s and entering into his peak years. His status as a villain amongst Panathinaikos fans was cemented after an incident during the 2010-11 season where during Olympiakos’ 2-1 victory in the derby against Panathinaikos at Olympiakos’ stadium, Torosidis as Olympiakos captain was sent off and subsequently banned for five matches after headbutting Panathinaikos player Sebastian Leto. The aftermath of the match saw a post-match pitch invasion by Olympiakos fans which resulted in scuffles with the police and a subsequent one match behind-closed-doors stadium ban for Olympiakos. Eventually left the club in the summer of 2013 seeking a desire to play in a stronger foreign league and signed for Italian heavyweights AS Roma spending 3 seasons at the club before signing for fellow Italian club Bologna in this summer.
Krzysztof Warzycha – A Panathinaikos legend and one of the very best players to play for Panathinaikos in its modern history, Polish striker Warzycha is an icon for fans in the green corner of this famous rivalry. Signed for Panathinaikos from Polish club Ruch Chorzow in the summer of 1989 after he had finished as top scorer in the Polish league the previous season, Warzycha played out the remainder of his career with the Athenian club before retiring in 2004 at the age of 39. Scored a total of 288 goals in 503 games over 15 seasons at Panathinaikos and famously scored the final goal at Ajax’s former home ground, the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium before it was demolished and replaced by the Amsterdam Arena in the first leg of Panathinaikos’ aggregate semi-final loss to the Dutch club in the 1995-96 Champions League. Won 59 caps for the Polish national team between 1988 and 1997 but never appeared in a major international tournament for his country. Became a naturalised Greek citizen in 1998, has served as an assistant manager at Panathinaikos post-playing career alongside short stints managing other smaller Greek clubs and ran unsuccessfully twice as a candidate in both local and national Greek legislative elections.
1 – Olympiakos 3-4 Panathinaikos – 25/02/1990 – The highest scoring “Derby of the Eternal Enemies” of all time and a match which takes the saying “an incident packed afternoon” to a whole new level. Pre-game there were scuffles in the stands between rival supporters, the match was mainly memorable for the action on the pitch up until a shot from Panathinaikos hit the bar and clearly crossed the line with the scores at 1-1. After protestations from both sets of players and even an invasion of the pitch by officials from both sides, the referee consulted with his linesman and correctly awarded Panathinaikos the goal. Olympiakos’ players then continued their protest and the whole atmosphere of the match changed. Moments later in the game, Panathinaikos’ goalkeeper, the aforementioned Nikopolidis who was just 19 at the time and was making his Panathinaikos debut was struck by an object thrown by Olympiakos fans and fell to the ground. After more pitch invasions and protests, the referees temporarily walked off the field and stopped the game. Immediately further fights broke out in the stands between rival supporters before the referee eventually restarted the game. Thankfully after the restart, the match was then remembered for the incidents on the pitch as both sides traded a further 4 goals between them and Panathinaikos emerged victorious.
2 – Panathinaikos 0-2 Olympiakos – 06/04/1997 – Like the aforementioned match above in 1990, where Panathinaikos won at the home of their hated rivals and eventually ended up winning the title, the polar opposite occurred during the second half of the 1996/97 season. A comfortable victory for Olympiakos, which saw them do the double over their fierce rivals and eventually the club emerged as the Greek champions for that season. More importantly however, this victory and subsequent title for Olympiakos was the catalyst for the start of their domination of Greek football over the last 20 seasons which has lasted until the modern day.
3 – Panathinaikos 3-1 Olympiakos – 08/05/2004, 2003-04 Greek Cup Final – This match was played in the aftermath of Panathinaikos claiming their 17th Greek title just weeks earlier and with fans on both sides of the divide stunned after Nikopolidis confirmed that he would be swapping Panathinaikos for Olympiakos from the 2004-05 season onwards on a Bosman free transfer. News of Nikopolidis’ defection seemingly impacted Panathinaikos’ team selection with Nikopolidis dropped from the squad completely and not even on the substitutes bench as his long term deputy Kostas Chalkias started for Panathinaikos who completely dominated this Greek Cup final against an Olympiakos side who had 1998 French World Cup winner Christian Karembeu in their starting line-up. After just 3 minutes, former Burnley striker Dimitris Papadopoulos put Panathinaikos ahead, which is how the game stayed until the 65th minute when former Barcelona and Hull City star Geovanni equalised for Olympiakos. However, Olympiakos’ joy was shortlived when Cypriot striker Michalis Konstantinou, another who like Nikopolidis crossed the divide and ended up playing for both clubs put Panathinaikos back in front in the 68th minute before then sealing the cup win and a domestic double for Panathinaikos in the 80th minute.
Greek football is currently going through some choppy waters, the aftermath of the financial crisis which has really hit Greece hard has spread to its football clubs, many of whom since 2010 have had to make severe cuts to their budgets and the Greek national team after 10 years of impressively over-achieving on the international stage between 2004 and 2014 are in a restructuring phase after failing to qualify for Euro 2016 after dismal performances in qualifying, the nadir of which were embarrassing losses both away and at home to the Faroe Islands. It all seems a far cry from the period between the summer of 2004 and 2009 when Greece stunned Europe and won Euro 2004 and Olympiakos and Panathinaikos could attract players like Rivaldo, Djibril Cisse and Gilberto Silva to Greek football. Yet despite the times being either good or bad for Greek football, the Derby of the Eternal Enemies between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos always firmly grasps the attention of the nation’s football fans and it rightfully is placed up alongside the most passionate and fiercest of rivalries in world football.
Read all other articles from our Rivals series here
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