Monday, March 23, 2009

Panathinaikos deserve some lines as well. True, they were nobodies in 1971 and Greek football as a whole was considered lowly. But the ascent of Greek football started with this team and this final. It took years, not always wildly noticeable, but nobody takes Greek football to be a joke today. And Panathinaikos is hardly no-name today. In a sense, 1971 is a key year for Greek football.
Panathinaikos reached the final after eliminating Jeunesse (Luxembourg) 2-1 and 5-0 in the 1/16 finals; Czechoslovakian champion Slovan (Bratislava) 3-0 and 1-2 in the 1/8 finals; Everton (Liverpool) after away goal – 1-1 and 0-0 – in the ¼ finals; and Crvena zvezda (Belgrade) in the ½ finals. The Greeks lost 1-4 in Belgrade and were considered gone, but they won the second leg 3-0 in Athens. A miracle? Looked like one in 1971. Looked like typical Balkan plummeting too – the Jugoslavians were the stronger team and not for nothing consider themselves ‘the Brazilians of Europe’, but also they had (and have) the reputation to be shaky, often underperforming, and quickly losing confidence. It was not unusual a great match to be followed by disaster. Therefore, the defeat was not seen as very strange. Recently different story is told – largely coming from the wife of the Socialist Greek politician from the 70s Andreas Papayoanou – the semifinal with Crvena zvezda was bought. A deal, involving club officials and politicians from Greece and Jugoslavia propelled Panathinaikos to the final. True or false? I am inclined to believe the deal story.

Yet, Panathinaikos eliminated Everton without any deal and was not a bad team. Rather unknown than bad, hence, judged with bias. The only famous name was their coach – Ferenc Puskas. The former great player was not so great as a coach, though: practically the final in 1971 is the highlight of his coaching career. But it was strong aura for the Greek club, the moral was boosted, and no matter what, years of playing in Spain taught Puskas many a trick and the philosophy that only winning counts. Quality, or the lack of it, of players and football counted not if you win. Never mind how you win, as long as you win. Puskas improved the game of his team, but this was not so important as winning by hook or crook in Europe. Even his cynical approach helped – the Greek players got confidence, improved their game, and achieved notice, if not fame, in Europe. After 1971 half of the team were the solid backbone of the Greek national team, becoming tougher and tougher opponents to European squads, and eventually, motivating other Greek players as well. Just like Ajax, my first Panathinaikos photo was misleading – it was a reserve kit too.
Front, left to right: Filakouris, Antoniadis, Domazos, Grammos, Kapsis
Back: Tomaras, Ikonomopoulos, Kamaras, Athanasopoulos, Eleftherakis, Sourpis
This squad differs very little from the one meeting Ajax in London: Vlahos played instead of Athanasopoulos. And Panathinaikos played in their usual green:
It was clear at first glance who the winner will be: the long haired Dutch. Short haircuts signified losers.