As the football season kicks off around Europe, the Greek Super League may fly under the radar for many fans of the game. We explore the history of Greece’s top teams and interview experts, fans, and writers to determine each side’s chances of success.
If you want passion, flairs, a rocking atmosphere, chanting from before to after a match and the occasional law informant intervention look no further than Greek football. The sport in Greece has suffered over the last decade or so, both financially and in its reputation. But one thing that cannot be denied is that the country holds some of the most vocal, passionate and football-crazy supporters in Europe.
Ultra groups and derbies have garnered a reputation for being some of the fiercest on the continent, for better or for worse, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone in Greece who doesn’t love football, whether they support one of the giants of the Greek game or dedicate every weekend watching their local village club play.
For this piece, I shall be focusing on what is considered to be the big five of Greek football and just what makes their supporters some of the biggest, best and loudest for any away fan who has the misfortune of trying to sing louder than a packed Greek football stadium.
The most successful club in Greece’s history, Olympiakos’ accolades alone proceed them. The reigning Greek champions in their 97-year history boast 47 league titles, 28 Greek Cups, four Greek Super Cups and the now defunct Balkans Cup totalling a whopping 75 trophies. This makes Thrylos, the nickname for the club meaning ‘legend’, not only the most successful club in Greece but the fourth most successful team for trophies in Europe with the 9th most trophies in club football.
On top of that Olympiakos have a long history in European competition having been consistent Champions League fixtures during their history with their best performance coming in the 1998/99 edition when they reached the quarter-finals under legendary coach Dušan Bajević. They are also the 23rd most successful club in Europe since UEFA continental football began in 1955/56.
It’s easy to understand why they are the best-supported club in Greece, with 30% of the population said to support them. Olympiakos was first founded in the Athenian port of Piraeus in 1925 with the supporters of the club being the poorer working class who lived there. This created the foundations for the feud with local rivals Panathinaikos as they were supported by the wealthy who lived in the centre of the capital. Over time the social and economic lines have been blurred, but the rivalry remains. It is now one of the most hotly contested games in Europe, known as The Derby of Eternal Enemies.
The biggest ultra group for Olympiakos are Gate 7. After the Gate 7 disaster in a game against AEK Athens on the 8th of February 1981, while rushing out of the stadium, 20 Olympiakos and one AEK supporter lost their lives in the commotion of fans falling over each other to exit the ground. In memory of that day and that the incident occurred in Gate 7 of the Giorgos Karaiskakis, the biggest and most supportive fans of the club named themselves Gate 7 and are the beating heart of the fans in the stadium.
To give some insight into the supporters of the Greek champions I have asked journalist and Olympiakos supporter, Kostas Lianos, for his thoughts.
Expectations – At Olympiacos the expectation every season is the domestic Double and an impressive campaign in Europe. The Greek champions have what it takes to win the Greek Superleague but have been struggling to complete the Double, and this coming season doesn’t seem hopeful. Their presence in Europe has been consistent ever since 2007, with only one small break in between, but they have been struggling to equal or set records.
It’s early days, but Olympiacos haven’t been convincing enough following their short pre-season and ongoing European qualifiers. There have been some important signings that have what it takes to elevate Pedro Martins’ men in the next few weeks. Nevertheless, wise money always backs Olympiacos to win the league – the cup is another story – whereas Europe will depend on many factors
Best Signing This Summer – Again, it’s too early in the season to determine that, no one really expected Aguibou Camara to break into the first team and attract interest from the Premier League – even manager Pedro Martins saw him as a B-team addition last season.
Olympiacos have made some promising signings in Sime Vrsaljko and Philip Zinckernagel.
There’s also Hwang In-beom, who comes highly recommended, and Doron Leidner, who is considered a promising young talent. They have a lot to prove, regardless of what they did beforehand, as Olympiacos have one of the most demanding fanbases in the world. The Piraeus outfit isn’t considered a big club worldwide, but this is a team that takes itself very seriously.
The Fan Culture – Short story: Every Greek football club needs to make A LOT of improvements to develop fan culture in Greece. Long story: Greek football authorities have been doing very little to combat fan violence. Every football club needs to adopt zero tolerance in that regard, which means that every fan who commits violent acts should be banned for life from every sporting event. There should also be more collaboration between football clubs and the police to arrest those responsible for fan trouble. The justice system needs to adopt a harder attitude with stricter sentences to create a deterrent. But in general, the fan culture in Greece also suffers due to the lack of patience.
When Olympiacos come up short, which is rare in Greece, there are often calls to sack the manager or drop a player. Sometimes there are also calls for the owner/president to step down. There is almost no patience and that is one of the main reasons behind the lack of youth development within the Greek academies. It is often that the country’s biggest clubs will turn to a “safe bet” from abroad rather than nurture a homegrown young talent
Longer Term Expectation – It’s not an expectation, it’s more of a prayer because I know there is very little chance of that happening. I pray football clubs get their act together because the way things are going, we will soon see the champion playing in the Europa Conference League’s second qualifying round every summer.
Olympiacos have adopted a healthier stance that reminds us a little of Bayern Munich in Germany. Olympiacos are nothing like Bayern on the pitch, but what Bayern are in the Bundesliga Olympiacos are in the Superleague – a world of their own. The Greek giants need to build on that to push themselves in Europe.
There is enough quality, money and character that could help them make the Champions League Last 16, or the Europa League quarter-finals almost every season. The Europa Conference League should be considered a failure, but if worse comes to worst then this club should be aiming to win this instead of just impressing. The Greek champions have a long way to go but the tools are there – it’s just that the necessary product is not coming together
Taking Olympiakos to the Next Level – Pedro Martins is a wonderful manager but reminds me a lot of Arsene Wenger during his final years at Arsenal. Someone very talented is at the helm but it really feels like it’s the end of an era with the need for change becoming increasingly evident. Martins has a lot to do to take Olympiacos to the next level, especially in Europe. He basically needs to rediscover his old spark.
First off, he needs to find an identity. What kind of formation works with Olympiacos? We’ve seen all sorts of systems, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 3-4-3 etc…The Portuguese tactician also needs to bring some character to the dressing room. I don’t see any personality or a player that will speak up and inspire his teammates after a rough result. It also doesn’t seem like the manager inspires his players.
Finally, he needs to find a way to restore entertaining football on the pitch. That’s something we haven’t seen since the 2019-2020 season that saw Olympiacos almost reaching the Europa League quarter-finals after practically sealing the Double. Back then, you would look at the team and you felt they could get a result against anyone. Right now, that’s not the case.
But like I said, it’s early days and no team is ready for the coming season – there’s no such thing as a finished product at this time of the year…So Olympiacos have plenty of time to turn things around.
The oldest club of the big five, having been formed in 1905, Panathinaikos are the second most successful club in Greece. The Prasini, meaning the greens, have 20 league titles, 19 Greek Cups – where they are the current holders – three Greek Super Cups and the Balkans Cup in 1977 with their accolades totalling 33 major titles.
PAO also has a rich history in European competition, being the only Greek side to reach the 1971 European Cup final where they lost 2-0 to Ajax at Wembley.
Panathinaikos are the second most supported club in Greece with the origin of their support coming from the wealthy and upper-classes of central Athens. Over time, however, Panathinaikos supporters have lost their class identity. This however is made up for the fact that they have a wealth of fans worldwide who are just as passionate and dedicated to their club as any Greek football fan. The leading ultra group for the Prasini is Gate 13 which was formed in 1966; still to this day they are the fighting spirit of the club’s fanbase and the loudest part of their home, the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, also known as the Leoforos Alexandras Stadium.
For the coming season, I have asked avid Panathinaikos supporter and Greek football blogger Antonis….to give his thoughts and hopes for PAO.
Expectations – I would say my expectations for Panathinaikos this year in the league would be to finish top three, (preferably win the league but I need to be realistic too) and to qualify for the group stages of the Conference League. Last season showed me that this team is very capable of playing disciplined football with a set identity for the first time in a long while.
That is why I want them to challenge for top three this year, while also fighting for some wins in Europe to reclaim some of the European honour the Panathinaikos name has been synonymous with in the past.
Best Signing – I would say that our best signing so far would arguably be Magnusson who we got on a free transfer. He has been brought in to replace an integral piece of our team last season, Fran Velez, who moved to the Middle East earlier this summer.
Magnusson, if healthy, can really help bring the team’s defensive shape to another level. So far in preseason, the team has yet to concede a goal and I feel that with time, Magnusson will be able to assimilate to his new backline partnership with Bart Schenkeveld.
The Fan Culture – As a Panathinaikos fan living abroad, one thing I have noticed by talking to fans living outside of Greece is they would like to see the club’s social media accounts incorporate the English language into its posts for those who do not understand the Greek language.
I am fortunate in that I can read Greek and I remain connected with the club and my Hellenic roots that way. However, there are many Panathinaikos fans who are not Greek and have voiced their frustrations in the past about not fully being able to understand what the club is posting about on social media. Adding this element will help Panathinaikos connect with its fanbase living outside of Greece and also welcome fans who come from different backgrounds and join the Panathinaikos family.
Long Term Expectations – For the long term, I would like to see Panathinaikos in Europe on a more consistent basis. I want to see them in European competition year in year out and not go through long periods of no European showings as we, unfortunately, had to endure the last five years or so. I believe that this will help to reestablish Panathinaikos as a household name again and also make the team a lot more competitive on the domestic front.
For Greek Football in General – This leads me to the bigger picture of Greek football as a whole, having multiple clubs in European competition will only be beneficial for the overall quality of the league. We saw that in the late 90s and early to mid-2000’s that the Greek league was quite competitive and had some big names playing for some of the best teams when they were in Europe consistently.
Competing for the Title Again – I think if Panathinaikos want to compete for the title, they will need to continue to trust the manager and bring in players who will actually make a difference. I feel that too many times in the past the biggest mistake the club has made is tearing down its core and rebuilding nearly every summer.
This time the formula seems to be steering in the right direction, the manager is building his team the way he envisions and the club is retaining the core players who contributed to the positive play of last season, while also strengthening areas which were slightly weaker, such as lack of depth in certain positions. If the club can continue to follow a steady model, I can only see things taking a positive turn eventually.
The third and final Athenian club of the big five is AEK, which was founded in 1924. Enosis, which means ‘Union,’ is also the third most successful Greek club with 12 league titles, 15 Greek Cups, two Greek Super Cups and the only holders of the Greek League Cup, which was only held during the 1989–90 season. This means that AEK has accumulated 30 major honours.
AEK Athens’s best performance in Europe came in the 1976/77 season, reaching the UEFA Cup semi-final where they finally bowed out to Italian giants Juventus.
Being from the capital, AEK shares rivalries with Olympiakos and Panathinaikos and Thessaloniki side PAOK in the Double Headed Eagles derby.
Enosis boasts a huge fanbase in Greece and all around the world. According to a Sky Sports poll, AEK supporters make up around 15% of all Greek football fans. The beginning of their fanbase came after the founding of AEK for the purpose of providing athletic and cultural connections to the refugees of Constantinople and Anatolia, who were uprooted from their homes in Asia Minor. AEK became the most popular club of all the refugee-based clubs in Athens with their ultras being known as Original 21 and having around 60 different sister associations across the globe.
For a better understanding of what this season could hold for AEK, I have asked football writer and AEK supporter Greg Gavalas to give his insight.
Expectations – Similar to last season (5th), unless we purchase two centre-backs and a left-back. If we expect anything with the same back line it’s not going to happen, no matter how much we improve our midfield, so 5th-4th at the moment.
Best Signing – Has to be the Mexican Orbelin Pineda who can play a variety of positions in attack. If we are letting Karim Ansarifard go we will need another player to add more variety to our attack and bring some speed to the CAM position.
Fan Culture – I think we have done what’s best of all, a new modern stadium in our spiritual hole where the old stadium was. The club does many fan initiatives most match days and it’s great because you see many kids at the stadium. We don’t see the scenes we used to see. Our organised fans need to be totally supportive and help in tough times and look after the new stadium.
Long-term Expectations – For AEK it’s pretty simple: get competitive and start winning derbies like we used to. It’s been pretty devastating the last few years losing or drawing derbies. Our defence, I can’t stress enough, is not good enough for the Super League.
For Greek Football in general – I think we need to ensure our infrastructure is better. We have made some good moves with the national team. The big one is getting more Greeks playing in the Super League. We saw many games last season where 1-3 Greeks were on the field. The B team initiative was good but having other clubs with 80-90% foreigners playing can’t be good and can’t be good financially. I would also like to see the playoffs dropped and a regular season played out. Would love to see a Super Cup game played in Australia or America.
New Stadium – I’m very excited the new stadium looks impressive, to see the team play there will be very special I just hope we can improve on last season.
The first team from the Northern city of Thessaloniki and the biggest club outside of Athens, PAOK was formed in 1926 and is the 4th most successful club in Greece. The Asprómavri, the white and blacks, have three league titles and eight Greek Cups, which totals to 11 major honours.
PAOK in Europe have not found as much success as the Athenian clubs but their best performances include finishing in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1973/74 and most recently in the newly formed Europa Conference League when the club made the last eight in the 2021/22 season.
PAOKs biggest rivals are fellow Thessaloniki side Aris whose original supporters were primarily the upper class of Thessaloniki, as PAOK fans tended to be working class refugees who were originally from Asian Minor, Pontus and Constantinople. They also have multiple rivalries with Athenian clubs, particularly Olympiakos, as the Piraeus side is seen as to be the symbol of the country’s bias towards the south and the capital Athens, in comparison to Greece’s second city Thessaloniki.
The Aspromavri also consider the other Athenian clubs, AEK and Panathinaikos, as major rivals. As said before the Double Headed Eagle Derby against AEK is prominent as both sets of fans were originally refugees from Asian Minor. Despite also sharing a rivalry both Panathinaikos and PAOK supporters apparently share the most mutual respect for one another, when compared to their other rivals.
In the modern era, PAOK is regarded as the most supported club in Northern Greece with the 3rd largest fanbase in the country. PAOK’s biggest ultra group is Gate 4, named after the Gate where the most vocal supporters are seated at the Toumba Stadium. It is known as one of the most intimidating atmospheres in Europe, even being known by some as The Black Hell. Gate 4 has since been estimated to have 120 subgroups all over the globe.
Who better to give his thoughts on the Thessaloniki side for the upcoming season than journalist and PAOK supporter Alain Anastasakis?
Expectations – First of all, avoid the humiliation of getting kicked out by Levski Sofia!
If PAOK can survive this, I expect to reach the group stage and then do their best to qualify for the knockout stage. (PAOK has since been eliminated from the Conference League.)
Best Signing – By far, the best signing for me is Dantas. A real central midfielder. He’s young and will need time to adapt, but his performances with Tondela have been really good and he’s also a regular starter in Portugal U21s. I really believe in his potential.
Fan Culture – Personally, I just expect the [new stadium] Nea Toumba to be built as soon as possible.
Longer Term Expectation – The long-term expectation I have for my club is to build a team that could maintain a constant level and play to win the title every year and also have regular good campaigns in Europe.
Greek Football in General – For Greek football, I expect nothing but the Ethniki to qualify for the next Euro and World Cup. There’s great potential in this team and I’m confident.
PAOK Challenging for the Title – I would say the squad we built is a young team that is designed for the long term. If Lucescu is able to use and develop young guns’ potential, I believe we can compete for the title. That would require 2 or 3 experienced players and PAOK should be able to show again what we expect
The final team of the big five is probably the most unique and yet the least well-known to football fans outside of Greece: Aris. Founded in 1914 and named after the Greek god of war, Aris has three league titles and was also the first ever champion during the maiden Greek League season back in 1927/28. They also have one Greek Cup taking their major trophy total to four.
Their best European run was during the 2010/11 edition of the Europa League going from the third qualifying round, all the way to the Round of 32 where they were knocked out by Premier League side Manchester City.
As stated previously, the Kitrinomavroi’s (yellow and blacks) biggest rivals are fellow Thessaloniki side PAOK due to the fan bases forming from the city’s upper class and the refugees and working class, respectively. They also share another local rivalry with Iraklis FC, due to Iraklis being named after the mythical demigod hero Hercules, with whom Aris, the god of war, had a rivalry within mythology.
Despite not winning a league title 1945/46, Aris has still maintained a relatively big following in Greece as well as internationally. Their biggest supporters group known as Super 3, which was formed in 1988 has built a reputation for being some of the most vocal and passionate of any football fans. Polls estimate that Aris currently have over one million supporters and is recognised as the 5th most popular club in Greece.
After financial struggles, relegation and a return to the Super League which include some impressive finishes the past few seasons, Greek football expert and encyclopaedia Michael Vissini gave his thoughts on how Aris can build on their recent rise.
Expectations – There is a big promise. German Burgos has had a full summer to prepare the team and so far, at the very least, Aris has struck great deals and it seems as though they have unfinished business in the transfer market. The club’s expectations are high for the upcoming season, with the aim of finishing higher than 3rd and going further in European competition. It is realistic for Aris to qualify for the Group Stages and advance to the Conference League knockouts.
Best Signing – Andre Grey. He is the killer forward the club has been missing for the past two years. So far in two competitive appearances, he has bagged four goals in the 2nd qualifying rounds against FC Gomel and expects his season goal tally to rise even more. His predecessors Mitroglou, Lopez and Manos struggled to hit double digits, although the latter would be the perfect backup option to the English-born Jamaican striker.
Long Term Exceptions – The club should try having the utmost patience with the coaching staff. Aris has a long history of being easily hesitant to firing their head coaches after 2-4 months in charge and for several years there hasn’t been a coach that has served the club for an entire campaign. At the moment, Burgos is doing all the right things so far and given his nine years as Diego Simeone’s right-hand man at Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, his football knowledge can propel Aris to go on to bigger and better things.
Right now it is only small steps, almost how Simeone first started at Atletico Madrid and the rest is history. In addition, the club is almost like the breeding ground for Spanish and Brazilian-speaking coaches and players past and present, but it would be nice to have the homegrown talent be provided with more opportunities in the first team.
How Aris can get to the next level – The last time Aris won the Greek championship was 76 years, back in the 1945/46 season, then called the Pan-Hellenic Championship. The last time Aris finished runners-up was 42 years ago, back in the 1979/80 season. It would be an emotional day when Aris are crowned the Champions of Greece again. The most important thing for Aris right now is to focus on the season ahead.
As previously mentioned, expectations are high and Aris does have the potential to finish higher than 3rd and progress further in the Conference League with the squad they have currently built. It is possible for Aris to challenge for the title again, but only if the club can hold back from firing their coaches and believe in German Burgos and the project he is currently building. The one problem not only for Aris but for the whole of Greek Football is that Greek clubs generally set short-term goals rather than long-term. So hopefully this does change.