Greek giants AEK face relegation
ATHENS – Agence France-Presse
Greek riot police use tear gas to try and disperse supporters of AEK Athens who invaded the pitch during a Greek league soccer game against Panthrakikos in Athens' Olympic Stadium, Sunday, April 14, 2013. AP PhotoGreek giants AEK look almost certain to be relegated from the country’s top flight for the first time in their history, after hooliganism marred their penultimate game of the season.
Hundreds of AEK supporters clashed with police both on and off the pitch at Athens’ Olympic Stadium on April 14, leading to the match with second-bottom Panthrakikos to be called off.
Play was initially halted in the 87th minute, shortly after the visitors took a 1-0 lead via an own-goal and the pitch was invaded by angry home fans.
For more than an hour, club officials tried to convince referee Stavros Tritsonis to restart the match as the stadium emptied of fans but to no avail.
“Hundreds of AEK fans invaded the pitch with planks, stones, iron bars and destroyed everything they found in front of them and they chased us,” Tritsonis wrote in his match report.
“Players, coaches and others who were on the pitch ran below to escape. They caught up with us and beat us and a player from Panthrakikos and a representative of the team were injured.” Tritsonis wrote that there were also unsuccessful attempts by angry fans to enter the team changing rooms to attack players, coaches and officials.
“After 20 minutes I visited the pitch and realised that there was still chaos and that corner flags were missing as well as the team benches were destroyed,” he added. “It was a battle scene and so I decided to suspend the match.” Had the match been restarted and the scoreline remained the same until full-time, AEK -- 12th in the 16-team league going into the tie but with only a point separating them from 15th spot -- could still have avoided relegation by winning at Atromitos next Sunday.
But the Greek league now look likely to dock the capital club three points and impose a heavy fine, consigning the team to relegation for the first time in their 89-year history.
AEK have been summoned to defend themselves at a Super League disciplinary committee meeting on April 18, with a decision expected the same day.
The violence came as games across Europe were marred by hooliganism, including at the English FA Cup semi-final between Millwall and Wigan and after the Newcastle-Sunderland Premier League derby.
Supporters and police clashed in Munich before German champions Bayern Munich played Nuremberg.
The AEK-Panthrakikos match was the first in charge for former Greece international defender Traianos Dellas, who was only appointed last week after Ewald Lienen was fired.
“These are very difficult days for AEK,” Dellas, who was a member of Greece’s Euro 2004-winning squad, said after the match. “What we saw... was unprecedented. The only thing I ask from true fans of AEK is to remain calm, to keep their pride in their team and whatever happens this team will rise again.”.
Serious debt problems last year led AEK being banned from European competition and forced to hire a raft of local youngsters.
Unable to pay many of their players, AEK was forced to offload key personnel before the start of the season.
AEK, formed in 1924 by refugees from Istanbul, is one of the oldest clubs in Greece and have a long history of success.
Their honors include 28 national league titles and 14 Greek Cups.
But in recent years the finances of the team have been mismanaged and the club are 35 million euros ($46 million, 30 million) in debt.