LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Omonia Nicosia

Champions of 2021 seek return of the golden era

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Historic rivals of usually dominant APOEL, Omonia had their glory days in the 1970s and 1980s – but financial constraints then saw the Greens also left behind by AEL Limassol and Anorthosis Famagusta.

Without a title win since 2010, Omonia privatised its football department, antagonising their radical, left-leaning fan base, Gate 9, who formed a breakaway club, PAC Omonia 29M. Three years later, in 2021, two unusual things happened: the People’s Athletic Club won the Cypriot Third Division. And Omonia won the league title for the first time in more than a decade.

Omonia sprang from the Greek Civil War of 1948. A breakaway group of APOEL members under Mattheos Papapetrou objected to a perceived pro-government attitude in the APOEL boardroom, and formed their own club.

Gate 9 fan shop/Alexis Nicolaides

For five years, Omonia played in the off-shoot league of a separate, amateur, football federation they had helped found. Returning to the fold of the main Cyprus FA in 1953, the Greens struggled initially, before gaining a first championship in 1961.

Title-winning coach Nako Tsaikmakov would be the first of nearly 20 subsequent managers from Bulgaria who would guide Omonia through their golden era of 15 titles over two decades from 1972 onwards.

For Omonia fans, though, there was only one figurehead: Sotiris Kaiafas. This legend made his debut as a teenager in 1967, shortly after their second title win. Teaming up with a veteran of that 1964-65 campaign, striker Andreas Stylianou, Kaiafas was unstoppable in front of goal.

Gate 9 fan shop/Alexis Nicolaides

Top scorer during the championship-winning season of 1971-72, Kaiafas really hit his stride later in the decade. Top league scorer in seven seasons from 1973-74, Kaiafas brought the title to Omonia nine times, winning the Golden Boot in 1976. Three years later he scored twice as Omonia beat a weakened Ajax 4-0 in the European Cup.

His 250-plus goals tally may have increased had Kaiafas not had to flee during the Turkish invasion of 1974. He retired in 1984. Omonia continued to win silverware until the early 1990s, when Kostas Kaiafas, son of the goalscorer, came through the club’s academy to man the midfield.

A permanent fixture until 2009, Kaiafas junior notched three league titles and four cups, aided by attacking midfielder Costas Malekkos, another key figure.

Green Boutique/Alexis Nicolaides

The man who replaced him as captain was Rainer Rauffmann. This journeyman German, who started at his Siemens works XI in Amberg, came to Omonia as unknown in 1997. Already 30, in his first season he all but bagged the Golden Boot, continuing to score hatfuls of goals until his late 30s. Rauffmann, a Greek Orthodox convert, then made his international debut at 36 – for Cyprus.

Having laid out a near fortune on big-name domestic stars Elias Charalambous, a young Georgios Efrem and all-time top Cypriot national scorer Michalis Konstantinou, Omonia won a 20th domestic title in 2010 – but had spent way beyond their means.

Efrem was joined by the equally talented Andreas Avraam, but Omonia sacked coaches willy-nilly as the financial crisis hit.

Gate 9 fan shop/Alexis Nicolaides

In March 2014, with Avraam gone and Efrem soon to follow, Kostas Kaiafas was made manager. Making fellow academy product Charalambos Kyriakou his young captain, Kostas then inspired the Greens to a heroic performance in the play-off round of the Europa League against Dynamo Moscow.

A goal from ex-Blackburn defender Chris Samba broke Omonia hearts in stoppage time at a packed GSP Stadium – preventing the Greens from a first-ever group-stage appearance in Europe. The following season, Omonia also came close, falling on away goals to Brøndby in the Third Qualifying Round despite a brace of penalties from Cillian Sheridan, an inspired hire from rivals APOEL.

Out of contention for five years, Omonia lost the goodwill of their most loyal fans, Gate 9, but gained a savvy investor for an owner, Stavros Papastavrou. Halving the club’s debt and pumping in enough money so as not to fall foul of UEFA criteria on European participation, the New York-based businessman made another smart move in 2019 by bringing in motivational coach Henning Berg.

Gate 9 fan shop/Alexis Nicolaides

The first player to win the Premier League with two clubs, the former Norwegian international defender had learned from playing under Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn and Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. Understanding the value of a solid foundation and nurturing local talent, Berg put his faith in exceptional talent such as teenage wide midfielder Marinos Tzionis and defensive midfielder Ioannis Kousoulos.

Omonia had been leading the table when the pandemic halted the 2019-20 campaign, Matt Derbyshire the veteran captain and top scorer. After the former Blackburn man left for Australia, Berg brought to the fore teenage striker Loizos Loizou, Nicosia-born and soon to be prolific. Balance was provided by old troupers, Brazilian keeper Fabiano, Slovak international Tomáš Hubočan and team captain Jordi Gómez, all well into their thirties. The veteran Spanish midfielder had last lifted silverware at Wigan, the FA Cup in 2013. 

Omonia lost three games and let in 17 goals all season. In Europe, Berg’s men also helped Papastavrou recoup some of his considerable investment by reaching a group stage for the first time, thanks to heroic wins over Legia Warsaw and Red Star Belgrade, the ties going to extra-time and penalties in the Champions League qualifying rounds.

Green Boutique/Alexis Nicolaides

Although going out to Olympiacos, Omonia then put up a reasonable fight in the Europa League, beating PAOK and giving PSV Eindhoven a terrible fright at the GSP Stadium. An outrageous attempt from 56 metres by Gómez gave the Cypriots the lead, only for the Dutch visitors to sneak a winner in stoppage time.

Berg made way for Neil Lennon, whose team edged out already relegated Ethnikos Achna to lift the Cypriot Cup. Lennon surprised many with feisty performances in the Europa League. After a 4-0 aggregate win over Gent to make the group stage, Omonia made Manchester United struggle for narrow wins in both games. 

With modest signings from Lennon’s rolodex – striker Gary Hooper plucked from obscurity in New Zealand, right-back Adam Matthews from Charlton, both ex-Celtic – Omonia suffered a string of defeats in the league but improved under incoming Belgian coach Yannick Ferrera. Young Cypriot striker Andronikos Kakoullis started scoring at club and national level, while Greek teenager Fotis Kitsos proved an inspired loan from Olympiacos.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Omonia share the national GSP Stadium with APOEL, just as the Makario had served both. Back then, at the height of the ultra fan movement, Omonia’s was the north end, accessed through Gate 9, the name of the supporters’ group.

At the GSP, Omonia occupy the south and east sectors of the stadium. For details of transport, see GSP Stadium.

what to buy

Buying tickets and club merchandise

Tickets and souvenirs are sold at the Green Boutique, Athalassas Avenue 18B, south of the city centre, halfway between the old city walls and the stadium. Tickets are also sold on the day at the stadium, fans in the south and east sectors, prices around €10-€15.

Also note that the hard-core Omonia fan group has its own outlet, Gate 9, on Archemou, just south-east of the old city walls, with its own little café. Don’t go in wearing orange under any circumstances…

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