As the Greek debt crisis continues to be played out to high drama involving international leaders one question is the impact the crisis has had on football. Just a decade ago Greek football was on a high; The national side surprised many to triumph at the European Championships in 2004 while in the domestic game attendances at matches were on an upward trajectory, helped, in part, by the formation of the Super League in 2006.
The financial crisis however, appears to have erased all traces of this progress. Unofficial figures from the website European Football Statistics show that, on average, Super League attendances have plummeted from a recent peak of around 7,600 in 2008-09 to around 3,100 for the season just completed.
One big reason for the decline is the fall from grace of one of Greece’s top sides, AEK Athens. In a parallel to the nations’ economic situation AEK were brought low by some questionable financial management, reportedly owing some 170 million Euros in taxes. Forced to sell off a large part of their first-team just to gain a licence to compete in the top flight at the start of the 2012-13 season the stay of execution was only a temporary one and AEK finished the season in second to last position.
Declaring bankruptcy the club elected to start afresh in the third tier. AEK have since rallied and, claiming the second-tier title, have just achieved promotion back to the Super League. Off-the-field the club are also advancing with plans for a new 32–34,000 capacity ground the Agia Sophia.
While the re-appearance of the well-supported AEK in the top flight is likely to prove a boost to the Super League’s attendance stats the deeper structural problems afflicting Greek clubs seem unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. This season alone has seen one club, Niki Volou, relegated from the Super League by the league’s disciplinary committee when, failing to pay its players, the club were unable to complete their final five matches while another Super League club, OFI Crete, who reportedly lost a total of 21 players due to the clubs failure to pay them, clung on to survival – at least in the short-term – by using youth players to shore up their side.
The fortunes of the national team are similarly looking bleak. The side are currently ranked 25th in the World by FIFA, having slid from 11th in 2012, and are currently lying bottom of their Euro 2016 qualifying group. With just two points from six games Greece sit two places below the Faroe Islands to whom they suffered a humiliating 1-0 home defeat in November.
Both the national side and club sides will be hoping that a resolution to the country’s economic problems can be reached, as it is only then that Greek football can begin the process of attempting to return to the heights of just a few years ago.