PAOK Fans Defend Gun-Toting Soccer Boss Savvidis, in Hiding

PAOK chairman Ivan Savvidis invades the pitch on March 11, 2018. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Antonis Nikolopoulos)

He may be a wanted man in Greece, but fans of the Thessaloniki-based PAOK soccer team love its owner, Ivan Savvidis, who’s in hiding after taking a gun onto the field while protesting a goal waved off against rival AEK of Athens.

Savvidis, a business magnate who owns a share of the port of Thessaloniki – which was to be turned over March 26 to private companies – has praised Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who has tried to distance himself from the Greek-Russian tycoon since the gun incident.

The Greek government suspended the soccer league after the incident on March 11 and FIFA demanded immediate action from Greek authorities, with both PAOK and Savvidis facing stiff penalties. But he’s evaded arrest and despite being one of the most visible figures in the country, Greek police can’t find him as he faces heavy fines and prosecution.

In Thessaloniki, his fans said he has stood up to Athens sports and business interests and he’s their guy, someone who’s poured his money into the port city, Agence France Presse said in a feature about him.

“This man has poured out his soul, as well as his money,” said Filotas Pellios, head of PAOK’s veterans club.

Savvidis, who started as a tobacco worker in Russia, was a member of the Russian Duma, the lower House of Parliament, until 2011 and has an estimated fortune of 490 million euros ($600 million).

In just six years, he acquired PAOK – one of Greece’s four most popular clubs – state tobacco company SEKAP, leading bottling company Souroti, Thessaloniki’s top hotel and national newspaper Ethnos before just selling SEKAP to Japan Tobacco after he asked Tsipras’ help in erasing 44 million euros ($54.41 million) imposed before he bought the company.

“(Athenians) are bothered because someone dares to challenge the status quo,” Christos Nikolaidis, a local journalist told AFP.

“Savvidis is the only investor left in Greece with the strength to hit back at this rotten structure. The war is about him, not PAOK,” said Christos Dimitriadis, a shop employee.

“I don’t care what they say, because they don’t know how we feel about you,” former Real Madrid and PAOK defender Pablo Garcia, now a PAOK youth coach, posted on Instagram.

“All political parties should know that they cannot play with the people of PAOK. If they dare to hurt Ivan Savvidis we will be there like soldiers to give battle,” said Yiorgos Triantafyllidis, 31, who is unemployed.

PAOK is “at war” with Athens, the club’s technical director Lubos Michel, a Slovak former FIFA referee, told a Russian news website. No word from Savvidis though.