5 September ~ When the Greek Super League kicked off on the weekend of August 28, only five out of eight scheduled games were played. The postponed games were Panaitolikos v Asteras Tripolis, Olympiakos v TBD (to be decided) and AEK v TBD. Asteras Tripolis should have been relegated at the end of last season, but were reprieved when Iraklis were sent down. Originally this was for unpaid debts, but later they were placed last in the 2010-11 table after being found guilty of supplying forged documents during the January transfer window. They appealed to the civil courts, and so while Asteras Tripolis are still officially in the Super League, they can't start playing until Iraklis's case is finally resolved.
The two "TBDs" relate to a massive match-fixing, bribery and betting scandal that blew up late in June and resulted in scores of arrests. It involved in particular two clubs, Olimpiakos Volos and Kavala, whose presidents, Achilleas Beos and Stavros Psomiadis, are currently in jail. They are accused of betting on and fixing their own clubs' matches. Volos had qualified for the Europa League and got through two preliminary rounds before UEFA threw them out.
At the end of July both clubs were relegated to the second tier. They appealed, and two weeks later were reinstated, with Volos given a ten-point penalty and Kavala to start on minus eight. There was public outrage at this decision and a few days before the start of the season, both clubs were stripped of their professional licence, ostensibly for failing to distance themselves from their jailed presidents. They were relegated to the fourth tier of Greek football, where the standard of football is on a par with the feeder leagues in the English pyramid – it is like going from playing at Old Trafford in April to playing in the Combined Counties League in September.
They appealed again, this time to the courts. Until their appeal is heard, the make-up of the Super League for 2011-12 will remain incomplete. Obviously this will also have repercussions on the lower divisions, so that one begins to wonder when the season will actually be able to start. One reason why these clubs, and Iraklis, are being so tenacious could be the involvement in the scandal of Vangelis Marinakis, a shipping magnate who is also the president of both the Super League (and so one of their "judges") and Greece's top club, Olympiakos Piraeus (a conflict of interests of Berlusconian proportions which no sports governing body should ever allow). He is alleged, among other things, to have organised a "raid" by Olympiakos ultras on the third-tier match between Korinthos and Panachaiki in order to create problems for Alexis Kougias, a controversial lawyer and the Panachaiki president, who is seen as something of a whistle-blower.
Apparently most of the clubs that did play on the opening weekend did so reluctantly, and it is possible that the results may be annulled. Amazing as it may seem, the reason why the games were played appears to be that it allowed people to bet on them and so bring in much needed revenue to the government.
From this sorry tale we can draw some conclusions. The first is that the heady days of 2004 when Greece won the European Championship are now a distant dream, and did not usher in a new era. The second is that the mess Greek football is in is an uncanny reflection of the general state of the country. And if the threats of violence revealed by some of the tapped telephone calls are to be believed, it would appear that Greek football is to a large extent in the hands of gangsters. Finally, on August 31 it was announced that second tier Diagoras, from Rhodes, have been accused of fixing ten matches. Compared to Greece, Italian football seems almost clean. Richard Mason