What’s That Smell? Oh, It’s Greek Soccer

With no fixed pro wrestling to watch, Greeks instead have to rely on the charade of soccer, an alleged sport so crooked and convoluted in the country that you’d be better off trying to figure out the plot of The Big Sleep than keep track of which owner, player, referee or backstage small-time hoodlum is fixing matches and making money while laughing at the fans who support the game.

Now keep track sports fans, because this sad saga has more twists and turns and shady characters than an American soap opera.

The hooligans and halfwits who turn out to watch Greek soccer (not counting the few blessed innocent souls who believe in their teams) actually believe the players care about winning or them, when all anyone else connected to the team financially cares about is money.

Without a contract with the TV dish network Nova, which pumps in two million euros a year, Greek soccer would go under faster than the Titanic.

Not content with using the phony sport – in which flopping is considered manly – as a revenue source, it’s now alleged that feuding owners are setting thugs after referees to intimidate and beat them.

That’s what happened to Christoforos Zogragfos, who not only referees but is Vice-Chairman of the Hellenic Football Federation’s (EPO) refereeing committee. Hellenic Foosball Federation is more like it except that there’s more action in the stands and on the streets with fans slugging it out and refs getting assaulted than on the field.

Every so often, EPO – which is so absent in overseeing the sport it should be called UFO – issues some phony outrage, along with the Greek Sports Ministry which could care less about ethics, and there are noises about cleaning up the game which is beyond saving between corruption and hooliganism.

A fan on Crete died last month after being beaten after one game and thrashings are more common than goals. The owners wouldn’t care if everyone in the stands got killed as long as they get their money in one way or another, even if it means fixing the results, paying off refs and players or other nefarious means.

The beating of Zografos came just before a retired Scottish referee, Hugh Dallas, who was brought in to try to bring some sanity and decency to the game, said he too was being threatened and would no longer assign refs to games but take lesser duties.

Zografos was set upon in the street by assailants with iron bars and is lucky to be alive. If he hadn’t survived, EPO and the Sports Ministry would have been so upset they might have had a moment of silence before him at the next fixed game.

But to pretend it cares, EPO suspended all soccer games in the professional leagues, upsetting the fans who were left to spend even more time drinking in bars and trying to read a newspaper without looking at it like the DaVinci Code.

EPO’s head, Giorgos Sarris, said that the owners wouldn’t respond to calls to prevent more violence.  “The Super League has sent us nothing, nor has it issued a statement, as we had asked it to. It appears that this entity is in disarray,” Sarris said, the first truthful words attached to Greek soccer.

It didn’t stop there. The President of the Stupor League, uh, Super League, Takis Agrafiotis, said he was quitting too, accusing Panathinaikos, the co-super power along with Olympiakos, of failing to support him. The team said he was a hypocrite, a word too difficult for the fans to understand.

The departure of soccer from TV and the sports pages left no void for anyone who can read a book without moving his lips but sure led to the owners duking it out verbally. If only their players were that aggressive the games would be more interesting.

Billionaire Dimitris Melissanidis, the owner of AEK, a once-proud franchise now broke and relegated to a bottom-dwelling division, said that Olympiakos owner Vangelis Marinakis was the head of a criminal organization running the game.

This is a heavyweight fight. Melissanidis, 63, nicknamed “The Tiger,” owns Aegean Marine Petroleum, called the biggest supplier of fuel oil in the world. He took over AEK last year when it went bankrupt but someone a new stadium is in the works. In 1996 he was sentenced to prison for fuel smuggling but the charges somehow vanished, and he’s been charged with threatening reporters.

Marinakis, also one of those greedy shipping magnates who do virtually nothing for their country except bleed it, has been charged with match fixing and inciting violence before but, of course, nothing came of it because powerful men in Greece are like those in Mexico: untouchable.

He said it was Melissanidis who sicced the thugs on Zografos. The AEK strongman said he wanted to bring down his foe. “There is no dictatorship on the planet that has not fallen. This one will fall too, regardless of how powerful it is,” Melissanidis told a press conference.

Hollow words because Zografos is reported to have testified that a person who claimed to be Melissanidis had threatened him 10 days before the attack, saying to him, “I will throw you to the sea, I know where you live.” Sounds like a soap opera after all, and more entertaining than Greek soccer.