First Division. Two teams fought for the title and 3 teams fought for one safe position at the bottom of the table. In a nut shell – nothing really unusual or dramatic.
Apollon Kalamarias (Thessaloniki) was the outsider this season – last with 17 points, but they managed to get themselves together in the promotion/relegation tournament and survived.
Diagoras (Crete) was unlucky – they finished 15th with 20 points, but failed miserably in the promotion/relegation tournament and were relegated.
Ethnikos (Piareus) was unlucky in its fight for safety in the regular season – they finished 14th with 23 points, but worse goal-difference denied them the safe 15th place. However, they made no mistake in the promotion/relegation tournament and remained in the top league.
Apollon (Athens) was greatly relieved at the end of the season – they clinched 13th place with 23 points, thanks to having better goal-difference than Ethnikos.
Levadiakos was 12th with 25 points.
Olympiakos (Volos) – 11th with 26 points.
Panionios – 10th with 27 points. The had good season overall.
Doxa (Drama) – 9th with 28 points.
PAOK – 8th with 32 points. Bellow their city rivals, but what can you do… Standing from left: MAVREAS, FERNANDO, GITSIOUDIS, MITOGLOU, SMOLL. First row: KARAGEORGIOU, BORBOKIS, SKARTADOS, ALEXANDRIS, MALIOUFAS, LAGONIDIS.
Aris – 7th with 33 points. A place ahead of PAOK – at least something to be satisfied with.
Larissa – 6th with 34 points. It was expected that the champions in the previous season would not be able to stay on top for long – a typical story of smallish provincial club. Jacek Gmoch left them after leading them to triumph to coach giant Olympiakos. So did some of their best players and the club had no means to replace them, let alone reinforce the squad with more classy players.
OFI (Crete) – 5th with 34 points. They continued to play strong and maintained a position among the best Greek teams, but had no squad capable of going higher.
Iraklis (Thessaloniki) – 4th with 36 points. The 1980s were wonderful decade for them even if they never had a team capable of competing for the title. Yet, it was great to be the best team of Thessaloniki, leaving rivals PAOK and Aris, bigger clubs than them, far behind. If anything, Iraklis got a UEFA Cup spot.
Panathinaikos – 3rd with 37 points. As far as the championship went, it was disappointing season – near the end of the season they lost their hopes for a title and finished behind their arch-rivals Olympiakos.
If Panathinaikos was disappointed, perhaps Olympiakos was even more disappointed. They ended 2nd with 41 points – ahead of the arch-rivals, but no title. Winning the championship was their aim, clearly declared in the summer of 1988: they signed Jacek Gmoch, who just coached Larisa to the title in 1987-88 and bought Lajos Detari for world-record transfer fee from Eintracht (Frankfurt). Records are records, but they alone do not win trophies… Olympiakos had a strong squad, but… they had only one foreigner – too little, compared to what their rivals had. Perhaps they spent way too much for Detari and no money were left for other classy imports. Perhaps ambition blinded their president – Detari was good, no doubt, but he was no magician. Worse, he failed to fulfill the expectations and eventually left Olympiakos with a scandal. But that happened later – this season Olympiakos failed to win the title, although they tried.
AEK (Athens) came on top with 44 points. 19 wins, 6 ties, 5 losses, 45-20 goal-difference. Solid, steady season gave them their first title in 10 years and 8th altogether. Judging by their final record, rather cautious performance was the secret: the team did not score much – Olympiakos outscored them by about 10 goals – but their defense was impenetrable: AEK permitted only 20 goals this season, the best defensive record in the league by far. Based on that, they were able to win by a small margin more games than anybody else and thus to clinch the title. Unlike Olympiakos, AEK depended heavily on foreign talent: Henrik Nielsen (Denmark), Georgios Savvidis (Cyprus), and Jimmy Patikas (Australia) were already in the team and in the summer of 1988 more were added, beginning with Yugoslav coach Dusan Bajevic – 10 years ago he was instrumental for the 7th title won by AEK as a center-forward. He was a AEK legend already In the recent years he turned into rapidly rising coach in his native Yugoslavia and was brought back to coach AEK, a great decision, as it turned out, for he was familiar with the club, the fans loved him, and the players were easily inspired by a club legend too. Along with his arrival, 3 new players joined the team – Miroslav Okonski (Poland), Toni Savevski (Yugoslavia), and Frank Klopas (USA). All current national team players and as a whole classier than the foreigners already in the team. Of course, rules prohibited fielding that many foreigners, but Patikas and Klopas were considered domestic because of their roots, perhaps Savvidis too, so the problem was solved easily and AEK really had the best squad in Greece at the moment. Bajevic proved his worth as well and the title was theirs after waiting so many years. In a nut shell… get Bajevic, either playing or coaching, and you are champion.
One more look at the new Greek champions – their regular squad shows that Patikas at least was technically native, possibly Savvidis too, and whether 2 or 3 foreigners were permitted was no problem. Formidable striking line – by current Greek standards: Savevski, Okonski, Savvidis. And reliable in every line behind. In case somebody was underperforming, Klopas and Nielsen were ready to step in.