Saturday, December 10, 2011

Greeks were not to be outdone by some Turks and they had more intricate story in 1976: not a single trophy went to Athens. Thessaloniki ruled Greek football this season and layers of rivalries, hatreds, and meanings played a role. Difficult to entangle too – if Trabzonspor enjoyed unconditional support at home and probably some sympathy among provincials hating Istanbul, the Greek scenario was immensely complicated. PAOK won the championship, leaving AEK (Athens) 5 points behind. The champions had everything: most wins (21 out of 30 games); least losses (only 2); best attack (60 goals); best defense (17 goals received). The season was entirely theirs. Meantime Iraklis won the Cup, so the season entirely belonged to Thessaloniki. Pride, revenge, rivalry, envy… a whole mixed bag, slowly stewing for years: Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece, having old clubs traditionally belonging to the ‘big five Greek clubs’, yet, so far they played second fiddle at best. Too many ‘firsts’ happened for comfort…
PAOK won their first title. By mid-70s it was the most popular club in Thessaloniki and pretty much the strongest one, but… it was the youngest club of the city and not entirely local. To a point, it was ‘exiled club’, founded in 1926 by refugees expelled from Turkey. Hence the name: ‘Panthessalonikian Athletic Club of Constantinopolitans’. It was also a mirror of the similar club established in Athens – AEK – but, given time, the clubs of the exiles were not to be great friends. PAOK had its roots back in Istanbul (always Constantinople for the Greeks), going back to 1875 when Hermes Sports Club was formed – ancient pride, yet not a local one… although militant nationalism sees in such club an opportunity to claim – or mourn – lost belongings, ‘rightfully ours’ ( Constantinople). With time PAOK became popular and gained strength, this time adding a new appeal: the all too familiar provincial hatred of the capital city. PAOK performed well, yet never able to win a trophy – the ‘corrupt’ Athenian clubs got everything, boo them! During the 1960s PAOK supporters became known for their anti-junta feelings, so the myth of resisting the military dictatorship was built – the myth of oppressed club by the state. Ironically, in the later years PAOK fans evolved into hooliganism and violence, so may be the junta has been right to suppress them… but never mind, at least at home PAOK claims 38% of the total fans pool. This guys want trophies, mere whining and myths of oppression are not sufficient. And here it came: the very first title! What a boost! Revenge on Athens, revenge on local rivals, revenge on the Turks even, prove of another sensitive issue – ‘Macedonia is Greek’… long suffering in the shades ended.

Black and white pride. Champions at last, although the team was not exactly full of stars.
Two intriguing foreigners – the goalkeeper Bladen Fortula came from Yugoslavia. Curiously anonymous player with strange name: most likely a Kosovar, which may have been (or not) the reason of his virtual anonymity. Whatever is known about him is that he came to Greece from Partizan (Belgrade). Most likely deep reserve there. He joined smaller club at first and eventually moved to PAOK and a title. The other foreigner was equally obscure:
Guerino Neto (the Greeks almost always write him in reverse – Neto Guerino) was one of the many South Americans playing in Greece during the 1970s. The striker came from Brazil with no name at all – even the PAOK official website is unable to give information where he played before joining PAOK. Well, he played in Brazil (naturally) for Nacional (Manaus).

Nacional (Manaus) 1973: top, left to right: Procopio, Flavio, Souza, Tiao, Toninho Cerezo, Pompeu.
Bottom: GUERINO NETO, Serginho, China, Angelo, Reis.
No wonder Guerino Neto’s past is difficult to unearth: Manaus may be a big city, having the first opera house in South America, but is midget in football. And if Nacional had somebody to be proud of, it was not Guerino Neto, but Toninho Cerezo (Brazil’82, AS Roma, Sampdoria). However, fame was years away from either player in 1973. Eventually Guerino Neto left the jungles to themselves, Teatro Amazonas to Werner Herzog (to use it in ‘Fitzcarraldo’), and world fame to Toninho Cerezo. He became a Greek hero – one of the little known South Americans who settled well in Greece, played successfully for years, helping the development of Greek football, and beloved by the fans. Unlike Fortula, Guerino Neto was revered as a real star and contributed a lot. He was a central figure of the winning PAOK along with

Giorgos Koudas, a fast left winger and Greek national team player. Perhaps the biggest star PAOK ever had, a real club legend, and the picture shows amply why. The only thing casting doubt was the depth of the winning squad – Fortula, Guerino Neto, and Koudas were hardly enough for consistent success. But who cares when title is won? First ever! Next year – the second!

Koudas celebrating flamboyantly with the fans the title. The cop is happy too… all Thessaloniki happy. May be…