My first game was V Olympiakos in 2018. Scotland had beaten England the night before in the 6 nations which we watched in a nice wee rugby pub (I'm not joking) called Rehab in Thessaloniki. I celebrated far too hard that night and we didn't get to bed until about 7am on the Sunday! As we were running late and and still a bit drunk, we got a taxi to the ground and my first sight was a procession of people (the only orderly queue and peaceful scene that day) scaling the wall of the church, praying, then jumping back out lighting flares and cracking open the Malamatina while running into the pandemonium that was taking place 100 meters away. I knew then I was witnessing something special, something that only a few cultures and fixtures round the world can produce. This was about 6 hours before KO.
Fast forward to being inside and I went with my then 'wife to be' and stood in Gate 4. The 2 or 3 hours before KO in G4 was ridiculous.. it felt like a religious experience but at the same time as if we were about to go to war. So much so that i was genuinely taken by surprise when the players emerged from the tunnel as i had forgotten we were there for football.
Well, as you know the rest is history and we stood in the rain for what must have been at least an hour (maybe two hours?) after KO before everyone decided enough was enough and there was no way the game was going ahead. A group near by were on phones and arranging people to go to the airport to presumably stop the Olympiakos team from leaving and also trying to find out which hospital Garcia had been taken to.
Next thing i know is we're leaving and i was absolutely devastated..i Remember heading down towards Gate 1 to get a better look of the commotion before getting close enough to realise that it was about to explode at any moment. I managed to put my sensible head on and thought it was best to get her out of there and so started walking away when the flares et were being thrown.
Without a word of a lie, Maria turns to me and say's "come on, if your not going to get a Greek game, you will get to see a Greek riot" I had to pinch myself as i turned round to see here tying her t-shirt around her face! she told me to do the same before skipping off into the smoke towards the bother. I decided that covering my face was not necessary as it was dark, and didn't imagine the CCTV was like what we have in the UK (if there was any at all). As we passed a man smashing up the pavement handing out rocks ( think 2001 a space odyssey monolith monkey scene 😂) i thought "what the hell is going on here? this is mental!". Then the shouting seemed to stop and these things started whistling over head and hitting the ground with a clink. i thought it was strange PAOK fans were throwing stuff at our own until Everyone started shouting "Πάμε! Πάμε!" then metal canisters started to explode and it was apparent that they were stun grenades and tear gas being launched by the police. Haha boy did it immediately regret not covering my face as it started burning and i couldn't breath or see
Anyway, to conclude, we managed to escape in one piece although we were barricaded in a bar on the main road for a an hour or so where the police tried (unsuccessfully) to force there way in to batter anyone they could. They even had tear gas at the door in some sort or weird attempt to smoke people out. Luckily we had enough people to keep the door from being forced open and they ended up being occupied by the main trouble up the street. which drew their attention away.
One of the most incredible things i saw that night was 3 or 4 really old woman hunched over out sweeping their patch of street to get rid of the gas canisters, rocks an broken bottles... and all this time the police and fans were exchanging turns in charging and throwing stuff at one another over their heads. bins the streets were on fire all around and yet these woman were so cool about the chaos unfolding and not phased by anything.
Eventually we walked back into the center and fell through the door of our friends apartment around 2am.. i was absolute burst by this point and slept like a baby.
I was so angry with the game being abandoned and it was one of the most disappointing things to happen but wow what a buzz and a surreal experience that i will never forget.
We made up for it the following year though
What a Baptism! I saw the best and the worst of Greek league football that night but i was hooked and couldn't wait to book flights to come back.