Record Cypriot champions blaze a trail in Europe

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

Competing in the Champions League group stage four times in a decade, APOEL FC have taken Cypriot football to a different level.

Record title-winners and cup winners, APOEL also enabled Cyprus to an unprecedented two automatic entries for the Champions League of 2014-15, on a par with Holland, Russia and… Greece.

When they helped set up APOEL in 1926, basing themselves at the Athenian Club in Nicosia, Diomidis Symeonidis and Giorgios Poulias saw Greece as their guiding light: the Football Club of the Greeks of Nicosia, POEL. The A – Athletic – was added soon afterwards.

APOEL fan shop/Alexis Nicolaides

Symeonidis was also a player for POEL, then Panathinaikos in Greece, for whom he was capped, before returning in 1936. That year APOEL won their first title, one of five in a row under Hungarian coach József Künstler, earning the club the nickname of Thrylos (‘The Legend’)

Poulias remained club president right up to 1958, eventful years of conflict and division that included the break away in 1948 of left-leaning APOEL members to form rival club Omonia.

The stand-out player of the period was striker Georgios Savva. As George Jayyus, he was also the first foreigner to play for an Israeli club, Maccabi Haifa. As George Savva, he was on Bristol City’s books in 1952-53.

Orange Shop/Alexis Nicolaides

With Cypriot independence in 1960, APOEL became the island’s first representatives in Europe, with a debut victory over now defunct Gyøvik-Lyn of Norway in the Cup Winners Cup of 1963-64. Eventual winners Sporting Lisbon then proved too strong.

The domestic game became dominated by teams from Limassol and Famagusta – and local rivals Omonia. APOEL had to wait until the 1990s to re-establish consistent, title-winning form.

With prolific striker Yiannos Ioannou, APOEL gave Bayern Munich, AEK Athens and Paris Saint-Germain stiff challenges in Europe, going on to draw with Deportivo La Coruña and Espanyol in later campaigns.

Orange Shop/Alexis Nicolaides

In 1995, teenager defensive midfielder Marinos Satsias made his debut, the season culminating in the double win of 1995-96. His career would culminate with the treble of 2013-14, and include eight titles, six cups and the most successful European ventures in the club’s history.

Most of this success came under Serb coach Ivan Jovanović, whose two spells brought a winning mentality in Europe. His second term, from 2008, saw a dramatic, away-goals victory over Red Star Belgrade, the late, extra-time equaliser coming from ex-Partizan striker Nenad Mirosavljević.

The Serb also scored vital goals for APOEL in their first Champions League campaign of 2009-10, including an opener against Atlético Madrid and a late equaliser at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

APOEL fan shop/Alexis Nicolaides

This creditable performance was bettered by the historic events of 2011-12. With 2009 veterans Dionisis Chiotis in goal and Constantinos Charalambidis on the flank, as well as Portuguese mainstays Paulo Jorge and Nuno Morais, APOEL surprised everyone by topping their group.

In the first knock-out round, Chiotis saved two penalties in a shoot-out against Lyon, a dramatic night at the GSP followed by another: the visit of Real Madrid.

Holding Ronaldo and co to 0-0 until the 74th minute, APOEL succumbed to a Benzema strike to fold to an eventual 3-0. A late penalty at the Bernabéu from top scorer Esteban Solari bookended a memorable achievement.

Orange Shop/Alexis Nicolaides

Just missing out on the Champions League in 2013-14, APOEL made the group stage of the Europa League, beating Bordeaux. With the attacking play of Tomás De Vincenti and Irishman Cillian Sheridan, APOEL practically sailed through the qualifying rounds to set up more memorable Champions League nights in 2014-15, against Barcelona, Ajax and Paris Saint-Germain.

Narrowly falling at the last hurdle before the group stage two seasons running, APOEL shocked Greek giants Olympiacos and Swiss favourites Young Boys by topping their Europa League group in 2016-17. Even better was to follow in February when the Cypriots hit a late goal at Atlético Bilbao to set up a second-leg win at the GSP Stadium. A thumping volley by Cyprus international Pieros Sotiriou earned him a Player of the Season award on the island and a €2.5 million transfer to FC Copenhagen.

In between, nearly 20,000 packed into the GSP Stadium for the visit of Anderlecht in the Round of 16, but APOEL were to lose by single-goal defeats in Nicosia and Brussels.

Orange Shop/Alexis Nicolaides

Losing heavily to Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Harry Kane’s Tottenham in the subsequent Champions League group stage cost APOEL dear, goal difference preventing further progress in Europe. All the while, the club dominated the domestic league, winning seven titles on the bounce between 2013 and 2019. Managers included Giorgios Donis, the first Greek to play in the Premier League, an international midfielder through the 1990s.

Though the run ended, APOEL continued to pull up trees in Europe, drawing with Ajax in a tight play-off game for the Champions League group stage in 2019, then beating Europa League specialists Sevilla and international regulars Qarabag to earn a knock-out tie with Basel. A heavy defeat at the GSP signalled the end of a golden era, emphasised by a dreadful stint under Mick McCarthy the following season.

Now facing the likes of Kaiser and Kyzylzhar of Kazakhstan in Europe, APOEL finished eighth in the league in 2021, their poorest showing for half a century. Worse, Omonia waltzed off with a rare title, their eternal rivals unable to prevent it after being condemned to the end-of-season relegation round.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

APOEL have been based at the national GSP Stadium since they opened in 1999 with a friendly against Omonia. The same two teams had also shared it predecessor, the Makario, and also provided the curtain-raising fixture two decades previous to that.

Traditionally, APOEL fans occupy the North and West Stands of the near 23,000-capacity ground.

For transport details, see GSP Stadium.

what to buy

Buying tickets and club merchandise

The Orange Shops at 4 Michalakopoulou and 39 Dimofontos both downtown near John Kennedy Avenue, are the hub of all things APOEL in downtown Nicosia.

Replica trophies festooned in yellow-and-blue scarves, framed signed shirts and the usual souvenirs brighten the two-storey space at 4 Michalakopoulou – note the large fan mural and badge as you head upstairs.

Tickets are sold here, or at the GSP Stadium on the day itself. The average price is around €15. APOEL fans have their own outlet, at the corner of Limassol and Kennedy, a somewhat rough-and-ready place near the Hilton Cyprus Hotel.