My Greatest Love, Olympiacos!
Before beginning this piece, I would like to thank Lambros Syrmos, Stephen Kountourou, and the rest of the team at Gate 7 International for welcoming me into their family! Writing about my favorite club is something that I highly enjoy and through this joint effort, hopefully, we can give the team the recognition it deserves.
So, just to begin I would like to introduce myself to everyone by saying that my name is Alex, I'm a Greek-Australian currently living in Sydney and I consider myself a huge Olympiacos fan. When did I begin following the team, one might ask. And that is a very interesting story...
When I was very young, at the age when my first memories began to take shape, I remember my late father would take me out to the old Karaiskakis stadium every once and again. One of the first games I recall was against Ethnikos, which we won 3-0 with goals scored by Alekos Alexandris and Ilija Ivic. I remember my father saying hello to many people inside the stadium and out, while we also sat with a few that I didn't even recognize.
He -my father- was of the working class and he was always down at the port of Piraeus since he used to sail on the boats, so it makes perfect sense that he would support the team.
Yet I must confess that the entire atmosphere felt a little alienating at first. Me, a young child inside an arena of (mostly) men that appeared angry and were all shouting for some reason, it didn't make me feel comfortable or safe. It wouldn't be until a few months later that I would begin to see why my father felt such a strong attachment to the red-and-white jersey.
This was during the 1998-1999 season, where Olympiacos would go on to reach the Champions League quarter-finals. I remember living every single game with such intensity. The only two games which I didn't see were the opening match against FC Porto (2-2) and the fourth round match vs Ajax (0-2), both away games.
But I saw all of our home games since my father had bought a big TV to watch them on and I would join him. Initially, it was out of curiosity or to strengthen our father-son bond, but as the team went on to win more and more matches, it became a lot more than that.
I remember that after the quarter-final draw was made and we learned the name of our opponent (Juventus), I had already started to get quite invested into the world of football, to the point that within a few months time, I knew all of their starting and substitute players and who we needed to look out for. Eventually though, as is usually the case in football, the damage was done by someone you least expect and Antonio Conte kept us from reaching the semi-finals or even further.
That night, I didn't get a blink of sleep. If I could describe what I felt, I think a good analogy would be like finding a girl that you really like only for her to shoot you down. It was something like that. But as they say, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger and such was the case for my bond with the team, which kept getting stronger through time.
I went to the Olympic Stadium of Athens for the first time at the 1999-2000 game against Real Madrid and it was there that I became one with the over 70,000 people that filled out the stands. I think that I truly understood what it means to be a fan on that night, singing, chanting, supporting, yelling, and overall having a great time as we pushed the team towards a great result against a truly strong opponent.
Since then, as is the case for most Olympiacos fans, there have been many highs and lows, but if I had had to pick one it would surely be last season's win inside the Emirates against Arsenal. I would choose that for two reasons: one because it was a come-from-behind victory and elimination of one of England's biggest names (not to mention the finalist of the Europa League the season before that!) and two, because it was achieved against a club from the Premier League, a competition that simply by spending a lot of money considers itself superior to the rest of Europe. It was the ideal victory against the ideal opponent.
With the team having been crowned champions for the 46th time in their history after their 3-1 win against Panathinaikos, they once again face an uphill battle if they hope to enter into the group stage of the Champions League -or any European competition for that matter. Many of the team's top players will be looking to make the jump to a league of higher stature while it'll be more challenging than ever to attract quality players. But we'll have plenty of time to go into all of that in the coming weeks, as we analyze what worked and what didn't for the club this season and what changes need to be made for an even greater next one!
Till then, stay safe everyone!