In many parts of Europe, football (soccer) is the primary national ideology. While John Lennon may have claimed the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, European history shows that, in fact, it’s football that has the power to overcome religious, ethnic, and national boundaries and bring disparate populations together in constructive, non-violent competition. In fact, the most turmoil a country is experiencing, the more tightly it seems to cling to the continental sport of Europe; little surprise, then, that Greece is one of Europe’s most fanatical football destinations. After their Cinderella story European Cup win in 2004, the country’s football tourism industry has been booming.
If you really want to see authentic Greek football, then you your first stop has to be far from the biggest tourist attractions. Sure, there are stadiums and historical sites, but the real magic of Euro football mania is in the community aspect. Head out of your hotel and just wander the outskirts of Rhodes, or Athens; you’ll see a seemingly endless array of small football pitches, and almost every one of them will be swarming with locals. Keep a special eye out for the ones with kids playing – these are the places that World Cup legends are born.
However, as with so many things, the humble “real” version will eventually give way to the shiny, large-scale attractions. Once a touring football fanatic has had his or her fill of cruising past authentic local games, it’s on to the classics.
Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens is the official home stadium of the Greece National Football Team, and has hosted most of the country’s host historic national games. Built just before the turn of the twentieth century, this is not only one of the oldest football stadiums still in use in Europe, but also one of the best; Karaiskakis Stadium is one of only a few dozen stadiums in the world to receive a 5-star rating from the Union of European Football Associations.
Drive north for about four hours from Athens to reach Sani Resort, a popular Greek destination with a unique program: Football Academy. Aimed at children and families, this innovative program incorporates fun and exorcise into the resort lifestyle. In the shadow of Mount Olympus, Sani’s football academy makes it clear just how fundamental football is to any stay in Greece. Tailor-made football packages and tours are becoming increasingly common in Greece.
Every Sunday, most stadiums open for fan or amateur use. If you’re willing to arrive early, you too could kick the ball around on the pitch that hosted some of football’s most historic games, or you could see a top-notch football match for rock-bottom prices, since Sunday is often used to host games between amateur teams – though in Greece, even the amateur teams are incredibly dedicated.
No football trip would be complete without seeing a game from an actual professional club, of course, and a number of tour packages offer discounted or included tickets to see a heart-pounding game of football, surrounded by some of the world’s most rabid and dedicated fans. This is one activity no football fan could miss – just be sure you’re seen cheering for the right side.