The Gazzetta Weekend Journal talks with fans of Omonoia, who decided to create their own football revolution, commencing from the amateur league and continuing their team’s tradition in Cyprus.
Editor: Thanos Sarris
It is September 8, 2018. The Cypriot Championship (on an amateur level) has not yet begun, but in the Lakatamia area of Nicosia, a real party is underway. Smoke grenades and slogans from hundreds of people and a huge banner, illuminated by pyro. “History is made by those who resist,” read the banner. The fans wear jerseys with clovers. On the pitch there is no game, only the first training session of a newly established club. People’s Athletic Club Omonoia 1948 is the fans own response to modern football, to their recent alienation through the sale of their once beloved club- AC Omonoia. Reason for which has pushed them in deciding to rebuild a club, from its beginnings, on foundations that had been planted since a long time. Omonoia, which is an athletic club, among other sports had a football division, which was overwhelmingly popular. Suddenly, however, the division was passed onto a company and the club was left with debts, and only its other sport departments. The fans then decided to bring the club back to its basic principles, by setting up a new club with a new football team!
But let’s take things from the beginning. The relationship between politics and football in Cyprus is quite peculiar and differs significantly from Greece. Omonoia, for many years, is the stronghold of the Left. Its foundation was at a time when working class struggle had reached its climax. Cyprus experienced “Bloody January” in its own way and the island’s working class rose up against colonialism. Omonoia was born in 1948 and was the result of the civil war in Greece when the right-wing clubs called on the athletes to sign in favour of the King. Several of them voluntarily left or were expelled and in 1948 the “clover” of Cyprus was born. Omonoia evolved into the most popular leftist club in the island and one of the most popular in general. They dominated the football pitch and won several championships and cups, while pioneering in several areas of the sport.
For example, it was the first club to travel abroad for pre-season training, the first that signed on International players (mainly from former Soviet bloc countries) and so on. With the fall of the Soviet Union, however, its relationship with AKEL, the political party which evolved from the Cyprus Communist Party, had begun to be problematic. In the football division, the decision making process, and bureaucracy, that stemmed from party actions was hindering the club. The club lost access to players from the former Eastern Bloc, and centralized leadership did not allow for modernization. Omonoia remained a club of a closed group of people who dictated the club’s fate. These problems also had an impact on the pitch, with the club’s dominance weakening and expectations diminishing. It is characteristic that the “People’s Team” finished fourth for the first time since 1958. In 2008, club President Doros Seraphim resigned and the team was taken over by Miltiades Neophytou, who was a choice of the political party AKEL, as the party continued to always have the first say. His arrival was accompanied by hype, but his administration resulted in sky-rocketing the club’s debt.
Omonoia achieved to win the 2010 championship and two consecutive Cups, but announced a debt of 31 million euros! On his way out, the club president “wrote off” over 13 million and the club said that the actual debt was now 18 million. At that point things started stirring in the background. Several fans reacted, requesting people have more say and be able to run for seat at the Board, opening up the club to register more members from the huge fan base. However, AKEL always had its way of retaining 15 people in the council, although it never admitted interventions. Beyond having traditionally seen Omonoia as a voter pool, now there was something else that influenced AKEL to maintain an even tighter grip of control. It was the possibility of the reasons that led Omonoia to huge debts and administrative decay might come to light, which would certainly have a political impact. A few months ago, tensions between Miltiadis Neophytou and former Secretary General and President of the Republic of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, were also recorded in courtrooms and press. Many fans, blamed former president Christofias for his error in appointing Neophytou as the club president back in 2008. A board member of People’s Athletic Club Omonoia 1948 notes: “We had been shouting against Neophytou since 2010. In October 2010, the first election of Gate 9 was held and Party lost its control of our Ultras group. We abstained from the 2011 final cup, a year before the debt was announced, due to the high ticket price and the fact that Gate 9 was anticipating the oncoming financial disaster of our club. In fact, on the day, the slogan was “We won’t be your accomplice to murder”
Eventually, AKEL’s “chosen ones” continued to run the club. They gave out promises to democratize the club, open up to more members and reorganize the debt. After six years, however, nothing changed. In fact, debts have exceeded 20 million. Everything pointed out that Omonoia was being driven off the cliff by bad management and outdated practices. UEFA debt criteria and penalties where looming and shortly before being excluded from UEFA competitions, the club management presented a “saviour” to Omonoia supporters. Mr.Stavros Papastavrou, a Cypriot investor living permanently in America. The fans were furious. The reason, as mentioned to gazzetta.gr, by one of the fans who supports the new club venture, was: “My grandfather was an Omonoia supporter, my father the same and then me. When you love your team and try to become a club member so as to have a say and vote but constantly find the doors firmly shut. When they tell you “we can’t make new members cause the club may fill up with right-wingers!!”. This is frustrating and went on for years. Then, they (political party and club administration) went and sold 100% of the club to a man, who is in fact a right winger! How can you refuse to operate practically but end up applying the most extreme form of modern football?”
Papastavrou created Omonia Football Club Limited and the control of the football division of Omonoia was transferred to it. After a three-year period, 40% of its majority stake may be granted, but it has yet to be clarified whether this will be done through Share Capital Increase or existing share allocation. If there is public interest in buying shares, the sports club will have priority if it submits an equal offer to the offer request. If, of course, there is a club by then. A member of the Omonoia 1948 Board stressed to gazzetta.gr. “The club’s future will be bleak, because that is the deal that is as if Omonoia has been divided into a good bank and a bad bank. Similar to austerity policies implemented in various countries. Right now the company has received all the good debts. Debts currently in the hands of UEFA, that are under final settlement. Therefore, the club itself has been left with all the bad debts. The club also holds a bond, to which the club house itself is mortgaged! During the sell-out, they initially told us that the remaining debt stood at three million and eventually they announced that the debts where in fact five and a half. Therefore we believe that carrying these debts, and having lost its main money maker (football), the club will not be able to survive with annual 10% revenue coming from football company- as are the terms of the sell-out agreement.”
The thought of Omonia 1948 was born throught the organised supporters of Gate 9. They planned it out, and everyone followed. To rescue their favorite team, the fans decided to start a new club from scratch, investing all their time and love into it, while turning their backs on the “company” that simply bears their club’s emblem. The decision was not easy and the schism was inevitable. There were many who disagreed with the initiative, talking about “betrayal.” There were quarrels between families and friends, while many who agreed with the idea for the new club and supported it, also found it hard to turn their backs on the old club. “Whoever says that they didn’t experience heartfelt pain, is a liar. What we are saying is that this new company is not our team, even though it still carries the team’s insignia. Because some people sold off our emblem to a company of the worst form, a wholly owned company. The stadium terrace, where we sang five months ago is now empty. Feels like we got kicked out of our home. At the same time, there is joy for this new start, hope, we gave our fans a footballing home, because many of us felt “homeless” after the sell-out. So the feelings are strange, from the one hand, heartfelt pain, and on the other, joy and excitement. ” says the Omonoia 1948 Board Member while one of the new club’s supporters adds:” We believe we haven’t split. In fact it’s the football division that has been split from the rest of the club. Therefore, because our greatest love is football, we continue the football history of Omonia through the creation of our new club. Of course, we continue to support all departments belonging to the Omonoia sports club, but we do not have a football team to support and that’s why we founded our own. Our main slogan is <<we are not commencing, we’re continuing>>, cause for us, the new club carries the values of the founders of 1948.”
The People’s Athletic Club Omonoia 1948, held its Founding Assembly on July 23, 2018. In its announcement it called for supporters to take part and stressed that: “We are a new Club but with very old roots, a Club that arose through a need of those who were left without a football club, a club whose football team will not have fans but the fans will have a football team. We are the ” People’s Athletic Club Omonoia 1948″ and we come to stir up the stagnant waters of Cypriot society.” From the very beginning, the new club had over 550 members overnight! Together with the junior members it exceeds 600. Each member has one vote and the Board consists of 11 people, without a chairman. Administration is horizontal. Every individual of the Council, depending on his or her area of responsibility, has a committee under their control, in which club members can become freely involved.
But how was the whole startup process? A member of the Council that was involved from the first moment explains: “First of all, there was huge stress, but we are a stubborn bunch! I don’t believe you know the situation in Cyprus, but things are controlled by the parties. To get approval from the District Governor we needed our daily presence at his office and constant questions as to why they were late in answering our application. When we got the final approval everything was still uncertain because there are 12 Federations in “amateur football” in Cyprus. The four belong essentially to AKEL, the other four are controlled by “Sinagermos” (right wing ruling party), so four independent ones were left. Of these, as you may assume, some clubs, are connected to AKEL, and some to Sinagermos. So we continued looking. As in 1948, football was split into right and left federations, right-wing and left-wing clubs. No federation accepted us and when one finally did, nobody wanted to give us a pitch to play in! To their credit, Orpheas of Nicosia, who is a left-wing club, gave us their pitch for our training and we managed to find a pitch to play our home games at Thoi in the Lakatamia area of Nicosia”.
The “new” Omonoia – a name that isn’t embraced by its founders, who argue that New is the name of the Football company and not them, starts from the lowest division of amateur football. Its first target is to find itself within the four teams that will progress to the fourth division. Being a new club and despite not having a major budget, the club has managed to attract professional or semi-professional footballers. Their goal is to remain faithful to their values and at the same time run as a professional club, but without selling their soul to what modern football entails. To avoid anyone being alienated and at the same time continue their social action. They have already participated in the nationwide teachers’ strikes, organized a fundraiser for those affected by the fires in Attica and more action is to follow. At the same time, they took care to organize cleaning groups and left the stadium spotless after the first training session. For its footballers, it’s an amazing feeling to turn their heads round and see masses of support, at this amateur club level. Thousands of supporters that are somewhat a guarantee of the club’s future.
In Conclusion, the board member who agreed to talk to us by maintaining his anonymity, stressed that there would soon be more “Omonoias’”: “I think the popular club model is the only model that can be applied correctly to football. And the reason I believe this, especially in Cyprus, is that in the coming years we will see all the football clubs in Cyprus facing problems. We are already seeing AEL, which is a football company, ready to take back its football team to the club, as the company has failed. We are seeing an APOEL receiving 140 million in revenue from its recent European successes having problems with the company, and increased debt! The reason is simple, according to our opinion. A club cannot be sustainable with budgets beyond its needs. A club cannot take risks, it cannot believe that because someone invests money today, that somone will stay forever. And when you budget on the basis of someone else’s money, what do you do when they get up and leave? Without a fan base? What will you do when there are no club members to pay member subscriptions? Omonoia currently has much less season tickets than last year. Until two years ago, I was buying for myself, my wife and my children, although, only I attended the games. The reason I did it was to help my club. We felt that the club was ours and we needed to support it. Right now why give your money to a company belonging to someone else? You understand that even for those who will continue to go, their relationship with Omonia has become like that of a client. Willing to pay only as far as the product they’re receiving.”
The dream, of course, continues through People’s Athletic Club Omonoia 1948. With plans for better organization, official merchandise, football academies, and constant progression through division football.
What is of utmost importance though is that the Omonoia Fans are living their own thing, without political party involvement and without the need of foreign help.
The above article has been translated from Greek. The original article source is: