Until 2017-18, Olympiacos were beyond anyone in the Greek game – and way beyond great rivals Panathinaikos. The club from the port of Piraeus had just won seven titles in a row, to make a record haul of 44 in total.
But the cracks were beginning to show. Besieged by scandal and also occupied with his new role as majority shareholder in Nottingham Forest, club owner and shipping magnate Evangelos Marinakis began sacking managers for fun, six (!) times during the 2017-18 campaign alone.
Not only did Olympiacos fail to defend their league crown, they didn’t even finish second, trailing a revived AEK by 13 points to limp into third and Europa League qualification. In 2019, it was PAOK of Salonika who lifted the title.
Olympiacos are nicknamed ‘Thrylos’ or Legend, after the classic side of the 1930s that featured a forward line of the five Adrianopoulos brothers. In 2004, the last surviving member, 94-year-old Leonidas, lit the flame for the Olympic torch relay at Piraeus.
Initially businessmen, the brothers moved into local and national politics, their influence helping promote the club and organise its funding. Thrylos dominated the Greek game again in the 1950s (six straight title wins), the early 1980s (four straight title wins) and, quite incredibly, the 12 titles between 2005 and 2017. Only three titles since 1997 have not ended up in Piraeus.
Until December 2010, the man behind all this success was mobile-phone millionaire Sokratis Kokkalis. The money at his disposal has brought the likes of Rivaldo, Zlatko Zahovič and Giovanni to Piraeus – though coaches have come and gone in rapid succession. Scandal, surrounding both Kokkalis and, later, Marinakis, has dogged the club in equal measure as success.
On the positive side, their fortunes funded the complete rebuilding of the Karaiskakis stadium, the kind of contemporary, all-purpose venue most Greek clubs can only dream of.
In Europe, their best recent effort was a 3-2 aggregate defeat to Manchester United in the last 16 of the Champions League in 2014 – a tie that could easily have gone their way. Brought down to earth by a shock defeat at the hands of Hapoel Be’er Sheva, the Israelis barring the way to the Champions League group stage, the Piraeus club made it through in 2017-18 only to come up against Juventus and Barcelona.
In both its former and current guise, the Karaiskakis has an atmosphere like no other, noise and fireworks exploding into the night over the port of Piraeus.
Built as a velodrome for the 1896 Olympics, the 32,000-capacity Karaiskakis was completely rebuilt within weeks of the Games of 2004.
Converted for football in 1936, the Karaiskakis was first refurbished in the 1960s.
Before its 2004 renovation, it was known as the venue where Chelsea won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1971 – and the one ten years later at which 21 fans died at gate 7 when Olympiacos were playing AEK. Signs and banners relating to Gate 7 are still erected at every match to honour those who lost their lives.
Today it attracts by far the highest average attendances in Greece, given the passionate support for the country’s most successful club of the modern era, Olympiacos.
A top-notch club museum, store and bar/restaurant are only part of the equation – you’ll also find a gym, a travel agents and, outside, automatic ticket machines.
The stadium has 34 gates that give access to sectors 118-127 behind and around the south goal as you approach from Neo Faliro metro station, 101-110 behind and around the north goal, including legendary gate 7. The West Stand (128-135) houses the press and VIPs, with the East Stand (110-117) facing it. Away fans are allocated sectors 123-126 in the south end.
The Karaiskakis is right beside Neo Faliro metro station on green line 1. On the other side, across the wide stretch of main roads that link coast and city, is the terminus of the T3 and T4 tramlines, T4 with a direct link to Syntagma Square.
The club’s online ticket service is for Greek speakers only – foreigners are recommended to phone ahead (+30 210 480 9000). For non-derby games, admission prices are reasonable: €10 for gates 23 and 24, €15-€20 for gates 8, 18 and 28, €25-€30 for gates 30 and 34. Prices rise considerably for derby matches. Home supporters use gates 3-7 and 21-23, away fans gate 27 and, if required, 26.
The RED store by gate 9 is a large, spic-and-span boutique with shirt printing, a kids’ corner, retro Olympiacos shirts and, for the beach, branded batballs. The Olympiacos store on the other side of the stadium on Dimitrou is for the basketball team. There’s also a tourist-friendly outlet in downtown Plaka by the flea market, on the corner of Nisou and Iristou.
Museum & tour
By gates 10/11, to the left of the RED store, the Olympiacos Museum (Tue-Fri 11am-5pm, Sat-Sun 11am-3pm) is well worth the modest €2 entrance fee even though all documentation is in Greek. Starting with the club’s original founding letter, an original ‘Imnos Olympiakos’ 78 and an old gramophone, this colourful collection runs through a century of club history.
There’s an area dedicated to the old Karaiskakis stadium and its fan culture, another dedicated to the stadium tragedy of 1981 and another, upstairs, to star players through the ages. Club anthems blast over the speakers as you walk round. Ground tours (Saturdays only) including a museum visit are €5.
At the stadium, there’s a row of outlets sharing terraces as you arrive over the walkway from Neo Faliro metro station. Of them, the red cafe is a tastefully themed café-restaurant with TV screens on the walls and facing terraces at the back of the room. Images of Lajos Détari and other past Olympiacos stars look down on an expansive, red-and-white space containing a table-football table, backgammon sets and row of Amstel taps on the bar counter.
Alongside, Coffee Time and Goody’s are mainstream chains, Goody’s suitably themed with framed shirts and Olympiacos images.
Head round to the club offices for the Pure Red Café, accessed through the lobby to the second floor via the lift. Here a panoramic terrace overlooking the pitch is complemented by a tasteful, glossy interior of house plants and understated Olympiacos iconography.
Outside the ground, the little hub over the main road from the RED store sadly no longer contains the age-old Olympiacos bar on the corner of Dimitriou and Diamanti – now a sandwich shop.
Just along Dimitriou by the club’s basketball boutique, the Creperie 7 Secrets beneath an Alfa beer sign serves sandwiches, ice-creams and little cans of Amstel. Note the Olympiacos lion and incongruous photo of a No.38 London bus.