Despite being surrounded by illustrious Champions League names like AEK, Panathiniakos and Olympiakos another Athens club Apollon - who are officially known as GS Apollon Smyrnis - are one of the oldest Greek sports clubs. The clubs has its foundations in 1890 when it was founded by immigrants from the Asia Minor area of Smyrna.
Today the club continue to play in blue and white - a feature that pays homage to the blue and white colours of the Greek national flag - and the Greek ancient god Apollo features in the club badge hence the Apollon club name.
Unlike the large neighbouring clubs whom they live in the show of Apollon as lowly lodged in the 3rd tier of Greek football but currently sit top of the division. As if being this far down the ladder was not enough the lower reaches of Greek football finds itself in the midst of one of its worst ever crisis periods. Matches in Greece's cash-strapped second and third tier leagues are teetering on the brink of suspension weekly due to the continuous threat of industrial action by the players Union PSAP.
Many of the problems stem from clubs in Football League 1 and 2 clubs having no money to pay insurance contributions for players. Amongst the economic constraints are funds from high profile sponsors being withheld or running dry. The most telling has been money from the state run betting company OPAP drying up.
Apollon Smyrnis v Ilsiakos
PSAP have as a chief spokesman Stelios Giannakopoulos the former Bolton Wanderers and Greece International midfielder who was part of the Greece side that won the 2004 European Championship. He has repeated stated that players will be ordered not to play if insurances for the full duration of games cannot be paid by clubs. Some unity has been expressed with some senior top division games being postponed in apparent unity with players from lower leagues. But in the complex world of TV deals and media rights the 'one player out all out' standpoint has been hard to enforce legally. Instead all out sympathy has largely came through statements of unity rather than universal actions.
The background to this game itself actually happening was confusing to say the least and it seemed clarification as to whether the game was actually going ahead never emerged clearly. On Thursday after the Olympiakos against Rubin Kazan Europa League tie the common conception was that no Greek football games would take place due to the earlier reasons mentioned i.e. players from lower league teams not being paid and insurances not being paid by clubs.
Then on the Friday post Europa League tie after a trip to the vicinity of the Apollon ground, billposters started appearing on lamp-posts near the ground advertising the game with a kick off time of 3pm and an entrance fee of 5 euros. At that moment a further bit of research was done and it was clear that the game between AEK Athens and OFI Crete the very next day would also go ahead at the Spiros Louis Olympic Stadium. Within the space of three days the whole spectrum of what football was going ahead and what was not had changed.
The ground of Apollon is located in Athens in a suburb very close to where AEK Athens formally played. The neighbourhood is called Rizoupoli and the stadium of the club often goes by that recognised name. When visitors to the former Nikos Goumas home of AEK Athens arrived at the metro they would depart the station and turn left. With Apollon they also arrive at the same metro station 'Perissos' metro stop but turn right from the station. The stadium actually sits right next to the train tracks and is little more than 5 minutes from the metro stop. Olympiakos formally used the ground for matches and an important league decider as played against Panathiniakos.
Outside the ground pre game the atmosphere is hardly what you would call bubbling but its not as small scale as some may think. There are souvenir sellers with flags and scarves to sell and multiple concession stands. Fans stand and drink beers in anticipation of kick off and from the outside the beat of a fans drum can be heard inside.
The ground itself is very unusually shaped largely due to the appearance at one end of the ground of basketball court gymnasium creation. From an elevated point above on the road overlooking the ground it is a ground with a distinctive horseshoe shape but the stands have generally all been constructed at different periods in time. The main stand was constructed in 1948 with the south stand following in 1961. Another stand (east) followed in 1972.
Some of the more recent development of the ground stem from the fact that Olympiakos decided to temporarily use the ground for domestic and European matches whilst their stadium was being redeveloped in prospect of the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Although they now languish in the third tier it was not that long ago that the club lurked in the top division. A UEFA Cup tie against Ljubjana was played at the AEK ground in 1995 and they won 1-0. A run followed to the Greek Cup final in 1996 but they lost 7-1 to AEK.
The years from 2000 have seen steady decline with relegation to Beta Ethniki (second division) and then in 2005 further dropping down into the then Gamma Ethniki now the 2nd Division (South).
The confusing and often complex nature of football administration and affairs in Greece can be seen further in the case of the opponents for Apollon. Ilisiakos are another one of the seemingly numerous sides that play in Athens and its environs but the fact that they exist and are playing as part of the league set up is a surprise in itself.
Ilisiakos are located in the eastern Zografou part of Athens in an area about 5km from downtown Athens. Although the club have spent the majority of its history in the Greek second division the footballing arm of the club disappeared in 2009 and they merged with Egaleo to create a new club called Egaleo A.O.
However in 2011 after some legal investigations the merger was cancelled and declared null, void and illegal by the Greek courts and the football arm of the sporting club of Ilisiakos re-emerged.
Given the traumatic background to the club its is unsurprising that the fans of Ilisiakos who congregated behind the railway end goal looked simply happy to have a team to support. Numerous yellow and balck flags clung to the fence around the stand they were located and at various stages of the game Fire crackers were lit and thrown.
Ilisiakos are though struggling whilst Apollon are flying high at the top of the division. Whilst the fans of the visitors do not seem to have lost spirit the players in yellow and black look downcast and incapable of fluent passages of play. At full time the goals from Apollon players Diamantis and Karademitros - which came either side of half time - were worthy of giving the home side victory.
Despite being a third tier game the match offered good fan interaction and passion. Much of the noise came from the home fans who threw streamers onto the field as the teams emerged with the rythamic beat of a huge drum being noticably audible thoughout the game.
Given the decent sized ground Apollon play in and the historical place they have in Greek football it would seem that promotion to the second tier of Greek Football would suit a club like Apollon. In an age when players operate weekly with big wages those playing at the lower reaches of Greek football often struggle to get paid regularly yet continue to play. That the lower division Greek clubs and players can continue to operate weekly despite the chaos in Greece serves notice of brighter hopes for the future.
Greek Football League 2
26th February 2012
Kick Off 3pm
Full Time 2-0
Goals: Diamantis (31) Karademitros (75)