First Division. Well, in few words: 6 teams fought for survival at the bottom. At the top there was no Panathinaikos and Olympiakos – the only season both teams dropped bellow 4th position. One team had slight advantage over two rivals and eventually won the championship, but not without a great Greek drama. It started on March 16, 1988 and lasted five days before the government intervened. Consequently, Greece ended with new champion, which made history and still remains unique. The drama started when a player of AEL Larissa was tested positive for doping and sports court ruled a penalty for the club of 4 points. That infuriated the whole city of Larissa, people not just went out on the streets to protest, but blocked the intercity highways and erected barricades and mock border check-points on them. Why doping test provoked such wild response? The guilty player – the rarely used Bulgarian striker Georgi Tzingov – first of all was a reserve,who did not play in the match for which he was tested. Second, the prohibited substance was Codeine, a drug widely used in flu medicines and not at all increasing the performance of football players, rather, the opposite. Tzingov claimed he had a flu and took the pills for that, not knowing they were made with some Codeine. Many supporters of AEL believed that the whole thing was rigged by powerful opposition, because they had a chance to win the title. And blocked the highways, and, somewhat ironically, placed banners at the barricades that all incoming traffic if about to enter Bulgaria and needs a visa. Thus, the whole scandal became a national crisis, for the country was effectively cut in two and commercial traffic was blocked. The stand off with rebelius city ended only when the Minister of sports voided the court decision and changed the rule for doping. From March 28 on, clubs were no longer responsible for doped players. The deducted points were restored, but the scandal boosted local support for AEL and on the wings of enthusiasm and fanatical support the team kept top position to the end and won the title. When the dust settled, this was the final picture:
Panachaiki – last with 20 points and relegated. They had 1 point deducted for some crime committed, but even if this point was restored they were going to be last.
Panserraikos – 15th with 21 points and relegated.
Veria – 14th with 23 points. Worse goal-difference relegated them.
Levadiakos – 13th with 23 points. Survived on better goal-difference.
Diagoras (Rodos) – 12th with 23 points and lucky to survive on goal-difference.
May be a picture of this season of Apollon Kalamarias (Thessaloniki) – they left little certain pictorial evidence this time, but luckily escaped relegation: 11th with 24 points.
Panionios – 10th with 26 points.
Aris (Thessaloniki) – 9th with 27 points.
Olympiakos (Piraeus) – 8th with 31 points. Terrible season for them, even ending with negative goal-difference of -2.
Ethnikos (Piraeus) – 7th with 32 points. Ahead of their mighty neighbours was a triumph. Standing from left: Vassilis Xanthi, Michael Gerothodoros, ?, Daniel Batista, D. Doxakis, Takis Kampolis.
First row: Dimitris Chortsas, Panagiotis Kotidis, Yiannis Antonopoulos, Claus Papachristou, ? – Sofianos maybe.
Iraklis (Thessaloniki) – 6th with 34 points.
Panathinaikos – 5th with 36 points. Poor season, which is surprising, for PAO seemingly had the best squad in the country.
OFI (Crete, Iraklion) – 4th with 37 points.
OFI deserves a second look not only because of their great ascent and good performance in Europe, but also for a counterpoint to the big clubs: having largely domestic second stringers, OFI managed very well, even playing better than the big clubs, which had squads studded with national team players and foreigners.
PAOK (Thessaloniki) – 3rd with 39 points. Strong season, a title contenders – at least to some late point of championship. They scored most goals in the league – 60 – and finished with the best goal-difference of +33.
AEK (Athens) – 2nd with 40 points. The best playing team from Athens, but it is hard to judge them – perhaps, major disappointment and frustration, for Larissa’s punishment put them on top. But the ruling was voided and they finished second. Then again… the drama happened well before the last rounds of the championship and after it Larissa played with even bigger enthusiasm. Purely on records, AEK ended 3 points behind the champions – hard to make a case of victimization.
AEL (Larissa), most often written just Larissa, made history. They were champions with 43 points from18 wins, 7 ties, 5 losses, and 51-22 goal-difference.
The title was massively celebrated and there was too many reasons for wild joy – not just the drama and the revolt of the city. Not just that Larissa won its first – and only – title. It was great victory of David vs Goliath: for the first time provincial club broke the monopoly of Athens-Piraeus-Thessaloniki. It is also the only time small provincials won the Greek championship. It was more than football victory – it was a victory of provincials against mighty big cities, and end of yoke and dominance, a matter of social justice, a triumph of the underprivileged, a people’s power and revolt. More than just football. Yet, it was football. And still against the odds in sporting terms.
Such rare winners really deserve more than one picture. The new champions standing from left: Christos Mikhail, Kostas Kolomitrousis, Jiannis Gkalitsios, Ioannis Alexoulis, Michalis Ziogas, Jiorgos Mitsibonas.
Crouching: Lazaros Kyrilidis, Thodoros Voutiritsas, Vassilis Karapialis, Jiannis Valaoras, Sakis Tsiolis.
Looking at the regulars… rather modest squad, even by Greek measures. True, AEL was doing very well recently, even winning the Cup, but at the beginning of the season only lunatic dreamers would see them as champions – the team lost more than gained: their Polish imports of the previous seasons were already gone. One of their best players in the previous seasons – Plitsis – was snatched by Olympiakos. Two other regulars did not sign new contracts. Their replacements were rather inferior: The Bulgarian winger Georgi Tzingov was not a big name in his home country and, worse, did not adjust to the team and played rarely. Not a starter at all, only becoming known because of the doping scandal. The other new import – the Zairian midfielder Caniemba – was even more anonymous and also not a starter. The Greek new recruits came from smallish clubs and were only reserves – it suffice to say that of all newcomers ill-famed Tzingov played most games: 11 in which scored 4 goals. AEL depended on the team established in the previous years and the great coach they had – the Polish well known Jacek Gmoch. He replaced another Polish coach before this season and continued the good job started by his predecessor. Doing more with less – a testimony of great coaching. If anything, the team was stable and already experienced, even tasting success by winning the Greek Cup. True, the big clubs were in shaky situation, but that was not AEL’s fault and they took full advantage of weakened opposition. Moral was further boosted by the city’s revolt in their support – the boys would not fail a city standing up for them to the effect of creating a national crisis.
To a point AEL (Larissa) overperformed and surely had not the making of a team to establish a dynasty, but they won the title and firmly placed themselves in history as the first and so far the only regional club to win the Greek title.