Million euro drop

wsc301 Nassos Stylianou on how football, like every other sector of Greek society, has been demaged by the financial, political and social crisis

After a chaotic summer for Greek football, the Super League filled its last two places seven games into the season. The delay was caused by an investigation in match-fixing, which resulted in Olympiakos Volou and Kavala being demoted to the fourth tier. The investigation, which concluded in June, lasted ten months and looked into 41 games from the 2009-10 season.

The Greek authorities identified 68 people who were believed to be involved, including club owners, presidents, managers, players, referees and even a chief of police. Charges related to a variety of offences, including illegal gambling, bribery, fraud, extortion and money laundering. Corrupt team officials appeared to be deciding match results, with physical threats being used to ensure they got their way. Due to the ensuing turmoil, the second tier, where most of the investigations took place, did not kick off until late October. The third tier started on November 27, with both leagues having fewer than the usual 16 teams.

A combination of the current financial predicament and an attempt to be seen as taking a serious stance against corruption following the scandal has brought things to a head this season. “It was impossible that Greek football remain unaffected. The ill effects of a sick society are felt on a daily basis on the most exposed sport in the country,” said an editorial in the sports pages of the daily newspaper Kathimerini.

In the past, clubs have often managed to work their way around their debt problems thanks to the state’s lax approach to football finances. But after huge overspending and unsustainable shortfalls, the existence of many clubs now appears to be under genuine threat. According to deputy finance minister Filippos Sachinidis, club debts to the state alone stand at more than €120 million (£100m). Teams have been forced to slash budgets considerably this season. Before quitting as Larissa coach to take the Wales job, Chris Coleman said: “The president has had to cut the budget by almost half, so a lot of our players and staff haven’t been paid for months and months.”

Greek clubs are usually busy in the January transfer window but traffic this year has been distinctly one-way. Clubs have looked to release players on compensation deals that cost less than retaining them for the year. This is not just affecting the country’s small clubs. Panathinaikos and AEK Athens, two of Greece’s big three, are in grave financial trouble, with AEK months behind on their payments of players’ wages. Both are anxiously looking for investors.

Earlier this year, PAOK Salonika were fined and threatened with a ban from European competition due to their current debts breaching UEFA’s regulations. There is a distinct possibility that a number of Greek clubs will fail to receive a licence from UEFA to play in Europe next season.

The impact of the economic crisis on Greek football has also been apparent in the stands. Anger towards the government has made its way into grounds in recent months, with political slogans and anti-government chants becoming commonplace during matches. In the first half of the game between Panathinaikos and Ergotelis in October, the referee stopped the game for nine minutes, demanding the home fans removed a banner that read: “Fraudulent politicians – parliament of the accommodated: You will be drowned by the fury of the revolted.”

The home fans did not oblige and the referee gave up. The game was restarted with the banner in place, something that cost Panathinaikos a €14,000 fine, a decision treated with derision by the club and its supporters. The same weekend, anti-government slogans and songs were noted at three other grounds. A chant urging the burning down of the Greek parliament has been part of the repertoire of PAOK fans this season, even on their European travels.

While optimists hold on to the unlikely hope that the national team can give the country a lift with their performances at Euro 2012, one thing is certain given all that has come to light in the last year – there can be no quick fix for Greek football.

From WSC 301 March 2012