With significant representations in both European tournaments since 2009, the Cypriot capital of Nicosia can hold its head high on the international stage. The city’s most successful club, APOEL are now five-time consecutive league champions since their lifting of the title in 2017.
Fierce rivals Omonia got a rare look-in back in 2010, and narrowly missed out on the group stages of the Europa League in 2014. Nicosia’s third club, equally cash-strapped Olympiakos, haven’t been in the hunt for a while, though won three league titles before Nicosia was divided in 1974.
All three clubs are usually based at the GSP, the national stadium, though recently lower-flight Olympiakos have moved back to its smaller predecessor, the Makario.
Before the Makario, there was the original city-centre GSP, opened in 1902, a few years after British soldiers and sailors brought the game to Cyprus. All three Nicosia clubs also played there, as well as Trast AC, founded in 1924 and winners of the inaugural Cypriot championship and cup in 1935.
The club was wound up three years later, though by then APOEL had already assumed Trast’s mantle. Gaining the nickname ‘Thyrlos’ (‘Legend’) after five straight titles from 1936, APOEL saw a rift in their membership at the time of the Greek Civil War in 1948. Founded by Greek patriots in 1926, APOEL had always looked towards Athens for inspiration. When certain club officials seemed to express a political opinion about the conflict in Greece, other, more left-leaning members took umbrage and broke away to form Omonia.
Since then, the two clubs have been bitter rivals, moneyed, successful APOEL perceived as the club of the establishment, Omonia the left-wing rebels. Both have had periods of success, Omonia winning six, then five, league titles on the trot after 1974, their monopoly stopped both times by currently dominant APOEL.
Only one other club from Nicosia has won the Cypriot championship – in fact, both Cypriot championships. Cetinkaya Türk were the only Turkish team to compete in the original Cypriot league in 1935. In 1951, the red-and-yellows won the title, then the cup in 1952 and 1954. A year later, Cetinkaya joined the inaugural Birinci Lig for the island’s Turkish community.
Cetinkaya have gone on to win the Birinci Lig more times than fellow Turkish clubs from Famagusta, Kyrenia and Güzelyurt (Morphou to Greeks). They are based at the 28,000-capacity Lefkosa Atatürk Stadi, the de facto national stadium for the national team of Northern Cyprus – the Turkish half of the island unrecognised as a separate state by everyone except Turkey.
It is located in North Nicosia, the Turkish half of the city across the Green Line, the buffer zone that cuts through the Old City, created after the Turkish invasion of 1974.
Cetinkaya are by no means the only team from North Nicosia, the de facto Northern Cypriot capital of 50,000 people. 2014 champions Yenicami Agdelen, Kücük Kaymakli Türk and Gönyeli are all recent winners of the Birinci Lig.
Back on the Greek side, the Makario Stadium, near the Cyprus Expo towards the airport south-west of town, was inaugurated in August 1978 with a match between APOEL and Omonia.
With a running track, this all-purpose venue was the home of the big three until a new GSP was opened in 1999. Also inaugurated with a friendly between APOEL and Omonia, it stands by the A1 motorway on the southern edge of the city.
Both exiled to Nicosia after 1974, Digenis Akritas Morphou, a top club once based in Morphou, and Ethnikos Assia, once based in Famagusta, use the Makario Stadium for their third division fixtures.
Nicosia’ airport is abandoned. The nearest major terminal to Nicosia is 51km (32 miles) away, 4km (2.5 miles) south-west of Larnaca.
A Kapnos Aiport Shuttle bus (€8, journey time 40min) www.kapnosairportshuttle.com runs about every hour to Nicosia, by the junction of Kyrenias and Lemesou Avenues behind the Melkonian Institute south of town. A taxi (+357 24 656 195/+357 99 654 886) to Nicosia should cost around €45-50, slightly more after 8.30pm.
Within Nicosia itself, Pallas Taxi (+357 22 316 400) is as good as any.
Right in the stadium complex, the Allegra GSP Sport Center offers renovated, contemporary accommodation within the training centre. There’s a restaurant, too.
On the same south side of the city but much closer to town, the Almond Business Suites adds boutique to business, 32 suites in all, plus a gym. Also in the business quarter is the spiffy Europa Plaza Hotel, right by Murphy’s pub.
Centrally located, a short walk of the main bus station, are the Castelli, a friendly, convenient, mid-range option, and the Royiatiko, a new, business-friendly hotel with an outdoor pool, heated in winter.
Finally, the Holiday Inn Nicosia City Centre is reliably comfortable, with a pool, gym and sauna, even Roman baths, all a short stroll from the Old Town.
Downtown Nicosia is full of pubs and bars, where local KEO, Carlsberg and Leon beers are served along with the usual foreign-brewed brands. Nightlife starts late.
Of the many football-friendly venues, pride of place should go to the rocking Moondog’s, where sport, food and music are given equal priority, with special focus on hulking burgers and quality European beers on draught and by the bottle. TV screens line the back bar.
The Corner Pub is the headquarters of Nicosia’s Manchester United fan club, at 48 Dimostheni Severi, halfway between the Almond Business Suites and Europa Plaza hotels. Another sport-focused spot, Murphys, is right by the Europa Plaza. Food, served from noon to midnight, is an essential part of the operation, as are party nights at weekends.
Finbarr’s at 52B Archbishop Makarios Avenue is another convivial destination where TV football can be combined with a decent pint and pub grub.
City Pride (Dimostheni Severi/Aiantos) is a similar post-work, catch-the-match concept, if less expatty in feel.
More American in style, the Nicosia branch of the Cyprus-wide Bennigans chain, where food takes priority but sport is projected on big screens and tables placed for maximum viewing pleasure. The Monaco Café (8 Kennedy Avenue) also appeals to a Cypriot clientele, with sport on two dozen TV screens, decent coffee and local food.