Last Thursday whilst Scotland were doing the business in Prague I was at the Georgis Karaiskakis stadium in Piraeus,Athens to see Greece beat Montenegro 2-1 in another friendly international. It was all to do with having a son who is more interested in Minotaurs and Gorgons than the likes of Scott Brown and Robert Snodgrass.
Anyway, time for some comparisons with Scotland. Greece were of course European Champions as recently as 2004 and at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil they reached the last 16 where they lost on penalties to Costa Rica. The Euro 2016 qualifying campaign was an out and out disaster however for the Sons of Zeus [and St. Andrew]. Greece finished bottom of Group F [that was won by Northern Ireland] and lost both home and away to the Faroe Islands with the first defeat resulting in the sacking of Head Coach Claudio Ranieri. Apparently the thoroughly embarrassed Greeks wanted Ranieri sent to Coventry but he ended up at Leicester instead. Boom! Boom!
Greek supporters [unlike Scotland supporters] don’t appear to be very good at dealing with failure with crowds disappearing faster than Golden Fleeces at the Barras so for the friendly against Montenegro tickets were priced at 5 and 10 Euros. In order to purchase a ticket I had to produce photographic ID before a bespoke ticket was printed with my name on it. There were no programmes on sale but then again what would have been the point as it would have been all Greek [and Montenegran] to me. Sorry….
Despite the low priced tickets the attendance appeared to be less than 10,000. Only two sides of the 33,000 capacity stadium were open with the stands behind the goals closed-off. I do seem to recall however that certain Scotland games at Hampden have seen stands closed due to expected low crowds eg versus Lithuania in an October 1999 Euro qualifier when the official attendance was 22,059. Scotland won 3-0 and then went on to meet England in the play-offs.
Back to Piraeus and I managed to get a beer [well, Amstel Lager] inside the stadium which although 5-starred in UEFA’s eyes is only middle-sized in terms of capacity. Ironically, it is the kind of middle-sized stadium that Scotland is short of.
The game was like most friendlies – played at a tempo just above ‘training ground level’ but it was entertaining as were the two rival drummers who did their best to encourage some chanting and singing from the small crowd. One drummer was also able to call upon the ‘assistance’ of a trumpeter. Louis Armstrong, he wasn’t!
Scotland last played Greece in August 1995 in a Euro qualifier at Hampden which we won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Ally McCoist. Gary McAllister of Leeds United was the skipper that day whilst Celtic’s Tosh McKinlay made his debut.
Scotland have yet to meet the former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro [aka The Brave Falcons] who play in those most revered of colours – red and yellow. Full membership of UEFA was only granted in January 2007 following the independence of Montenegro from Serbia & Montenegro. Independence? Now I wonder what that feels like.