Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid. AC Milan vs Inter Milan, Benfica vs Sporting. Homefans offers some big derbies across Europe, so why did we choose PAOK vs Olympiacos this season? An easy choice. A new city to visit. A ‘foodie capital’ and to experience La Toumba’s famous atmosphere.
Thessaloniki – the ‘New Berlin’
Given its multicultural inhabitants, large student population and abundance of aspiring local artists, Thessaloniki has been dubbed the ‘New Berlin’ and our first morning was spent in the Ano Poli district where colourful houses cling to the hillside and a maze of stone-paved alleys give fantastic vistas over the city, the Aegean Sea and Mount Olympus. At its peak lies the Eptapygio, a Byzantine fortress which offered picture-postcard views. We walked down towards the seafront and to the base of the ‘White Tower of Thessaloniki’ where stadium enthusiasts like myself can climb to gain great views of the stadiums of the city’s 3 football clubs.
If history and walking isn’t your thing, then the city also offers some fantastic bars and restaurants from hip (and more pricy) hangouts like The Kitchen Bar or Le Cercle De Satonique to well-priced, traditional Greek cooking at La Rouga or Mamaloukas, where we sat by the ex-Spurs and Chelsea player and current Greek National coach, Gus Poyet who thought PAOK would edge the contest, whilst injured PAOK defender Giannis Michalidis sat at a table nearby.
Stadium tour of La Toumba
Saturday afternoon was spent in the company of PAOK Director Michael who provided us a private tour of La Toumba stadium, providing great insight into the Greek Super League, PAOK and its history. He also answered my 1,012 questions about what we could expect from the fans at tomorrow’s game.
The club was the only one that I’ve come across were everybody we spoke to didn’t once mention the team (despite their great form) but of the noise made by the home support.
Built in 1959 and resembling a cross between Belgrade’s Partizan stadium and Galatasaray’s old Ali Sami Yen, La Toumba was an old-fashioned bowl of a stadium with no frills. It’s often been said that “it’s people that make places” and tomorrow we’d find out but only after private use of the club shop where we loaded up on replica shirts, key rings and coffee mugs.
Matchday: PAOK v Olympiacos
Matchday was bedlam. Chaotic. Atmospheric. The “Black Hell”. It was still 2 hours before kick-off and the Gate 4 block behind the goal was already two-thirds full and chanting anti-Olympiacos ditties (Thanks to Michael for translating). Then with just minutes to kick-off came the PAOK supporter’s party pieces.
First an ultra with a drum took to the centre-circle and with every hit everyone shouted “PAOK!” and clapped their hands simultaneously and just as the teams entered the pitch to AC/DC’s Hells Bells, every stand lit flares to create the famous ‘Ring Of Fire’. Absolutely Brilliant.
As for the game itself. The standard isn’t that of the Premier League or La Liga and it inevitably finished 0-0. If you want glamorous football, then head to Milan. If you are looking for a state-of-the-art stadium, then maybe Madrid but if you want an authentic, raw football fan experience in a city that punches way above its weight, then PAOK’s the trip for you.
This guest blog has been written by Duncan Q who travelled with Homefans to PAOK v Olympiacos.