Ni­cosia derby - more than just a game

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

NI­COSIA:

The Ni­cosia derby be­tween AC Omo­nia and APOEL FC is the big­gest event on Cyprus’s sport­ing cal­en­dar but it’s more than just a foot­ball game on an is­land di­vided by pol­i­tics. Pas­sions run high when the is­land’s two most dec­o­rated teams come up against each other as they did this week when APOEL won 4-1 in a match that deep­ened the feud be­tween clubs rep­re­sent­ing op­pos­ing po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies. Omo­nia sees it­self as the ‘team of the peo­ple’ whose sup­port­ers are as­so­ci­ated with the left, es­pe­cially the com­mu­nist party.

On the other side of town fans of APOEL are linked to the right and the rul­ing con­ser­va­tives DISY, as well as ex­trem­ist fac­tions who as­so­ci­ate them­selves with the club. For good or ill, foot­ball in Cyprus is in­ter­twined with the pol­i­tics of an is­land’s 42-year divi­sion into a Turk­ish-held north and Greek Cypriot south. “In Cyprus when it comes to the big teams-they have their own (po­lit­i­cal) colour, they are ei­ther left or right, you can know some­one’s pol­i­tics from the team they sup­port,” psy­chol­o­gist and so­ci­ol­o­gist An­to­nis Raftis said.

The derby used to be ‘the fix­ture’ that usu­ally de­cided who would be crowned cham­pi­ons of Cyprus, but Omo­nia is not the power it once was while APOEL have been se­rial win­ners for more than a decade. “As a player you saw it as the big­gest game be­cause it was al­ways the game where you could win or lose the ti­tle,” for­mer APOEL for­ward Ara Pet­rosian, 49 said. “In those days Omo­nia had the big­gest fan base, but APOEL have caught up be­cause they are win­ning.” In the 1970s and 1980s, Omo­nia were the undis­puted num­ber one club se­cur­ing 20 league ti­tles and 14 cups in all. But they last won the cham­pi­onship in 2010.

Bad feel­ing

APOEL are now the most dec­o­rated Cypriot team win­ning 25 league ti­tles and 21 cups. Bad feel­ing lingers be­tween the two clubs since Omo­nia mem­bers and play­ers split from APOEL in 1948 over pol­i­tics. “In my day APOEL play­ers never went to Omo­nia or an Omo­nia player went to APOEL. It still doesn’t hap­pen that of­ten,” said Pet­rosian who played over a 100 times for APOEL from 1985-1992. The lat­est derby trig­gered a war of words be­tween the two sides af­ter Om­nia re­duced to 10 men fol­low­ing a send­ing off-ac­cused match of­fi­cials of siding with their ri­vals. Fol­low­ing Satur­day’s clash APOEL are third in the cham­pi­onship with Om­nia fourth.

As Omo­nia’s for­tunes waned over the years APOEL cre­ated his­tory by be­com­ing the first Cypriot team to reach the quar­ter­fi­nals of the Cham­pion League (2012). They are the only lo­cal team to reach the group stage three times. APOEL’s Euro­pean ex­ploits have gen­er­ated mil­lions in revenue while Omo­nia have strug­gled fi­nan­cially, even ap­peal­ing to fans to make con­tri­bu­tions. Sport­ing glory apart, so­ci­ol­o­gist Ni­cos Peris­tia­nis says the ri­vals rep­re­sent two ‘his­tor­i­cal blocks’ in Cyprus so­ci­ety-na­tion­al­ists (APOEL) and anti-na­tion­al­ists (Omo­nia). “APOEL is Hel­lon­cen­tric and es­pouses Greek iden­tity and ideas while Omo­nia fo­cuses on Cyprus and its peo­ple in­clud­ing Turk­ish Cypri­ots,” Peris­tia­nis said. “To­day you will see fans wav­ing dif­fer­ent flags in the sta­dium, Omo­nia fans with their Cyprus flags and Che Gue­vara t-shirts and APOEL fans with their Greek flags,” he added.

Omo­nia won their last league ti­tle when the com­mu­nist party was in power, sup­ported by then pres­i­dent and un­abashed Omo­nia fan Demetris Christofias. A for­mer friend and Omo­nia chair­man told a court re­cently that Christofias en­cour­aged him to go on a spend­ing spree that helped win the ti­tle in 2009-10 but crip­pled the club fi­nan­cially. Omo­nia’s success came at a time when the right was dis­cred­ited as they were blamed for the 1974 Turk­ish in­va­sion which was trig­gered by a Greek-en­gi­neered coup to unite the is­land with Greece. And some might ar­gue that APOEL has risen to the top as the right gained fa­vor in Cyprus pol­i­tics. “There are two parallel con­tests go­ing on, a po­lit­i­cal con­test and a foot­ball con­test and peo­ple want to be win­ners in both,” said Peris­tia­nis. — AFP

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