First Team Star
Dec 11, 2018, 9:10 PM
Team(s): Colchester United, Stocksbridge Park Steels, Borussia Dortmund & Essex CC
November Trip to Greece & Cyprus
My last international trip of 2018 took me to Greece and Cyprus for three Nations League qualifiers and a couple of top level KTFF Süper Lig games in Northern Cyprus. I flew with Easyjet from Manchester to my first destination, Athens. My hotel was located in the ‘lively’ bohemian Exarchia region in downtown Athens (more about this later). Having checked in to the hotel I took the Metro Line 1 in the direction of Kiffisia to Irini the nearest station to the Olympic Stadium. A short walk outside the station I found the ticket office and purchased a top price ticket for the next day’s international. I had hoped to be near the press area (we can’t all get press accreditation like Leo) on the lookout for programmes and/or team sheets but the only tickets on sale were on the opposite side of the stadium. Thursday was spent on the tourist trail taking in the Acropolis, the Panathenaic Stadium and Lycabettus Hill and then dining in an excellent taverna in Exarchia.
Thursday 15th November 21:45
UEFA Nations League Group C2
Olympiako Stadio Athinon ‘Spyros Louis’
Greece 1(1) Finland 0 (0)
Blue Shirts & Shorts White Shirts & Shorts
Admission €20 No Programmes
I arrived at the Olympic Stadium with plenty of time to spare for the late kick-off. I did a tour of the stadium looking for any signs of programmes but if there were any I missed out. Having eaten earlier in the evening I didn’t bother with any of the food on offer outside the Irini Metro station not that there was much on offer. The Olympic Stadium was built between 1980 and 1982 and was renovated between 2002 and 2004 for the 2004 Summer Olympics. With a capacity of just under 70,000 the stadium is currently home to AEK and Panathinaikos as well as the national team. The stadium is particularly noted for its roof. Designed by the world-known architect Santiago Calatrava the roof cost €130 million. The two giant arcs have a total span of 304m and a maximum height of 72m.
To have any chance of finishing top of Group C2 Greece had to beat Finland by three goals. That was never going to happen although they did secure the win. The only goal of the game came in the 25th minute when a Dimitris Pelkas header from a right wing cross was saved by Finnish keeper, Lukas Hradecky but the ball rebounded off defender Albin Granlund into the net for an own goal.
After the game I made a quick getaway as the Metro was supposed to stop running at midnight and the game didn’t finish until about 23:40. On my way back to my hotel I turned into Boumpoulinas where my Best Western hotel was located and was surprised to see ranks of riot police with shields and batons. I picked my way gingerly between them and entered the hotel reception. I enquired about the police and the night porter explained ‘the students are having a party’.
Now I’d read on the Greece pages on GOV.UK that ‘Demonstrations can be called at short notice, but there are certain dates on which demonstrations traditionally occur: 1 May, 17 November, and 6 December’. The coming Saturday, the 17th November was the anniversary of the Polytechnic uprising and the victims of the 1973 deadly crackdown by the police and the Army of a student uprising against the military dictatorship that ruled Greece between April 1967 and July 1974. The following two nights in Cyprus, on TV news, I witnessed running battles between police and students from the polytechnic just 250m from my Best western hotel. That was a close call!
On Friday morning I was up early and at Athens Airport by 08:00 to catch my Blue Air (no I had never heard of them either) flight to Larnaca. On arrival at Larnaca I caught the Kapnos Airport Shuttle to Nicosia (40 minutes / €8) and then a taxi to my hotel.
Friday 16th November 21:45
UEFA Nations League Group C3
Neo GSP, Nicosia
Cyprus 1(1) Bulgaria 1(0)
White Shirts & Shorts Red Shirts / Green Shorts
Admission €10 (pint at home ticket) Programmes (Double edition for Bulgaria & Norway games) Free
The GSP stadium is in Strovolos district south of Nicosia and was 12km from my hotel in the centre of the city. There is a bus route that goes out that way but they stop running quite early and the game was another 21:45 kick-off. Fortunately my hotel arranged for a friendly, APOEL supporting taxi driver to take me to the game and pick me up afterwards. The fare was €12 each way.
I had sorted out match tickets before my trip. This was not a straight forward exercise as first I needed get a fan card as others had mentioned on the forum earlier this season. I don’t think this was going to be an option on the day of the game so lengthy correspondence took place with the Safety & Security Officer at the Cyprus Football Association. I was eventually issued with an online fan card which allowed me to purchase and print at home tickets for the two internationals I would be going to. All I then had to do was collect my actual fan card, which was put aside for me at the ticket office at the GSP Stadium.
Inaugurated in 1999 the Neo (or new) GSP Stadium is the home ground of Cypriot league teams APOEL and Omonia as well as the national team. With a capacity of 22,859 it is the largest ground in Cyprus and the only one that satisfies UEFA’s stadium requirements. The stadium is part of larger complex that includes other sports facilities. Its most characteristic feature is its wave-shaped roof that covers (part of) the main stand as well as the main stand of the adjacent athletics stadium.
Programmes were free and available outside the stadium behind the main West Stand. There was a café serving limited snacks and hot drinks (no alcohol) in the West Stand and also concession stands inside serving similar fare.
Going into this game Cyprus had an outside chance of topping their group. They needed to win both their remaining games and hope that Norway dropped points away in Slovenia. My taxi driver had explained that the locals didn’t support their national team when they are struggling, added to which APOEL fans were boycotting all games in protest against the fan card scheme. The low attendance of just below four thousand was probably to be expected.
Cyprus took the lead in the 24th minute when Chambos Kyriakou played the ball over the top to Panagiotis Zachariou who ran on and beat the Bulgarian keeper, Georgi Petkov. After the break Bulgaria completely dominated the game but chance after chance went begging. Just when it looked like the hosts would hang on and at that time Norway were obligingly losing in Slovenia, Bulgaria were awarded an 88th minute penalty. Sub Nikolay Dimitrov stepped up and made no mistake. The game ended one all leaving Cyprus needing a win from their last game against Norway to avoid relegation to Nations League Group D.
Saturday morning I crossed the Green Line into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus at the Ledra Street crossing and after a morning sightseeing (Selimiye Mosque, Buyuk Han and Whirling Dervishes) I took a taxi to the Nicosia Atatkurk Stadium
Saturday 17th November 14:00
KTFF Super Lig
Lefkosa Atatürk Stadi
Yenicami AK 1(1) Baf Ulku Yurdu 1(0)
Black & White Striped Shirts / White Shorts Green & Red Striped Shirts / Green Shorts
Attendance c250 H/C
Admission TL20 (£3) No Programmes
The Ataturk Stadi is south of the city centre. The taxi fare was TL40 (£6). Opened in 1990 the stadium has a capacity of 28,000. It has two seated stands with the rest of the stadium uncovered terracing. The pitch is surrounded by a tartan running track. There was a small concession stand selling turkish coffee, cold drinks and snacks. From the main stand you can see the large TRNC flag image cut into the side of Beþparmaklar Mountain in the Kyrenia Mountains in the distance.
On paper this should have been a one sided affair as Yenicami went into this game with a one hundred percent record. They took the lead in the 1st minute when Mehmet Altin took advantage of defensive mix-up to fire in right footed. The hosts continued to dominate but after the break Baf Ulku started to create chances and threatened to cause an upset. In the 89th minute Lawal Murtadah Oladipupo rose highest in crowded box to head in to set off wild celebrations. They held on in stoppage time and Yenicami dropped their first points of the season.
The was little chance of finding a taxi so far out of town but I was kindly offered a lift by two helpful locals. Unfortunately their beat up car barely made it out of the car park. Attempts to restart it proved futile and I walked the 5.2km back to the centre in about an hour.
I made an early start on Sunday morning to cross the Green Line again and catch a combo (shared taxi) the 24km to Girne AKA Kyrenia. At TL10 (£1.50) that’s a bargain. After lunch by the harbour it was a 20 minute walk to the stadium.
Sunday 18th November 14:00
KTFF Super Lig
Girne 20 Temmuz Mete Adanir Stadi
Doðan Türk Birliði SK 2(1) Lefke TSK 1(1)
Yellow & Grey Hooped Shirts / Yellow Shorts Purple Shirts / White Shorts
Attendance c400 Estimate
Admission TL25 (£3.75) No Programmes Team Sheet Free
On entering the stadium a statue of Mete Adanir greets you. The player who was born in Limassol played youth football for Doðan Türk Birliði before moving to England to pursue higher education. While there he joined Leyton Orient’s youth side and later signed for their senior side but his registration was later cancelled when Orient were unable to get clearance from the Cyprus FA. He later played for Altay and Samsuspor in the Turkish Super Lig. It was while he was at Samsunspor that he was tragically killed along with four colleagues when their team bus was involved in a traffic accident on the way to a game in Malatya. On the same side of the stadium sits a decent sized stand. At the end to the right of the stand is a small curving terrace. The backdrop to the tree lined stadium is the stunning Kyrenia mountain range.
There were no programmes again but a team sheet was a surprise bonus. Coffee, cold drinks and snacks on offer as at Yenicami the previous afternoon. The game proved to be excellent entertainment. Dogon went in front in the 16th minute through a Sercan Demirman header from left side corner. Two minutes later Candy Agbane equalised for Lefke with a shot from right of box that Dogon’s keeper Serhan Onet let it throigh his legs! The winner came in the 63rd minute from Ahmet Komurcu who headed a cross from right over the Lefke keeper.
Monday 19th November 21:45
UEFA Nations League Group C3
Neo GSP, Nicosia
Cyprus 0(0) Norway 2(1)
Blue Shirts & Shorts White Shirts w Red & Blue Trim / White Shorts
Admission €10 Programmes (Double edition for Bulgaria & Norway games) Free
My dependable taxi driver got me to the GSP again in good time for the last game of my trip. There was a very poor turnout from the Cypriot fans with only a relegation place to try to avoid. The locals were supplemented by a small travelling contingent of Norweigns. The visitors took the lead in the 36th minute when a long ball into box was headed down by Omar Elabdellaoui for Ola Kamara to tap in. In the 58th minute they doubled their lead when a right side corner evaded everyone in the box and Kamara fired in at back post. Any lingering hopes for the home side vanished in the 80th minute when Valentinos Sielis was sent off. The result left Cyprus with the worst Group C third place finish and so they were releagted to Group D for the next Nations League tournament.
The next day I flew back to Manchester from Pahos. I took the Kapnos Airport Shuttle to Paphos Airport (90 minutes / €15). My trip back from Manchester to Sheffield was eventful with an overnight closure of the Woodhead Pass and snow settling on top of the Snake. It’s good to be home!
(This post was edited by sheffgeoff on Dec 11, 2018, 9:20 PM)