Wednesday, October 14, 2009

By far, the most foreigners in Greece were Cypriots – but were they foreigners? The question is tricky, and quite political. The military dictators of Greece were heavily responsible for the conflict in Cyprus, which divided the island and keep it divided today. In terms of football the Greek ultra-nationalism not only recognized Cypriots as Greeks, but also included the champions of Cyprus in Greek First Division. Thus, Cyrpus was similar to Second Division championship between 1967 and 1974 – the champion of the league was promoted to the Greek First for the next season. And ultimately relegated at the end of the season… so big was the difference between the lowly Greek football and the even lowlier Cypriot football at the time. Ironically, the only Cypriot club to avoid relegation was in the last season of this weird practice – in 1974 APOEL finished 13th in the 18-club league, but was ‘relegated’ anyway, for Cypriot clubs were no longer to play in the Greek championship.

But during those years Cyprus had independent federation; the national team played in the international tournaments; and the Cypriot champions – in the European Champions Cup and the other club tournaments. And it stands to reason that Cypriot rules may have been different from Greek rules – which included surprise foreigner in the Greek league in 1972, when Omonia (Nicosia) had obscure Romanian player in its squad – one Constantin Fratila. Yet, even by the end of the 70s various foreign players had to take Greek names if wanting to play in Greece, a recognized nightmare for football statisticians, unable to establish who is who.

Constantin Fratila may not be known to football fans around the world, but he played 221 league games, scoring 95 goals for Dinamo (Bucharest) before joining Omonia (Nicosia). He also played 7 matches for the Romanian national team, scoring 7 goals. A legend of Dinamo, he is a part of another little known story: Romania, by the early 1970s, was contemplating following the Polish model – quiet export of aging players. Fratila is one of the very early Romanian exports, as well as one of the very early Cypriot imports. An unique case in every aspect.