When recent conversations about how to finish football leagues with fixtures incomplete were going on, there was a lot of suggestions about what might be the best way to go about things. There was not, however, much discussion about what might be the worst. Possibly, that is because there is a level already set for that and no league was likely to reach quite so low.
To see it in force, you have to think back to the summer of 2011 and to the problems that beset one of Europe’s less glamourous leagues; one full of shady characters and indecisive authorities.
Greek domestic football has never been held in the highest esteem, but the events that rocked its Super League between 2010 and 2012 could have left a legacy that would last a lifetime. As it was, it was more like poking the bottom of a river with a stone.
Everything suddenly became uncertain and unclear and then, almost as soon as it happened, it all cleared up again.
Intertwined in so many ways since ancient history, Italy and Greece have much in common. When the former’s Serie A was plunged into controversy and outrage over its Calciopoli scandal in the mid-2000s, it was almost inevitable that Greece would follow.
Sure enough, in 2011, the Greeks fell foul of their own match-fixing scandal. In ‘tribute’ to the Italian case, they named it Koriopolis and while it was a dramatic saga in and of itself, the havoc it wreaked on the league and football within Greece is almost impossible to comprehend.
This is an attempt to document the fall-out in purely footballing terms of the various decisions and counter-decisions taken by governing bodies and courts during a period of time that stretches from the beginning of the summer of 2011 right through to late that year.
One of the big players in Koriopolis was mayor of Volos, Achilleas Beos During July 2011, Olympiakos Volou had played in the Europa League qualifying rounds. In Round 2, they eliminated Serbian side Rad, before going on to face Luxembourg’s Differdange 03 in the 3rd stage.
Recording a 6-0 victory over the relative minnows was their last act in the competition, as Koriopolis charges brought against the club ensured that UEFA would eliminate them, and their place in the playoff round was taken by the side they had just beaten. As a result, Differdange went from a 6-0 aggregate defeat to Volou to a 6-0 aggregate defeat by Paris Saint-Germain.
The first leg of the Differdange tie took place on July 28th, and while the Greek side was in Luxembourg, their league took the opportunity to relegate them to the third tier for their part in Koriopolis. The club launched an appeal, which was successful as early as August 2nd, and they were reinstated into the Super League with a 10-point penalty.
Olympiakos were not the only team affected by Koriopolis; their judgements were always issued alongside Kavala, who were similarly relegated then reinstated although with only an eight-point deficit.
When the Greek Professional Sports Committee came to issued their verdict in late August, both they and Kavala were demoted further still, to the fourth tier (Delta Ethniki) and stripped of their professional status.
While Kavala began their season in that lowly league, and ended it by finishing fourth, Olympiakos Volou retained the fire in their bellies that was demonstrated by the rioting fans that greeted their enforced relegation.
Refusing to take part in the Delta Ethniki, the club played only friendly matches that season and saw most of its players leave the club while the behind-the-scenes issues were sorted out.
Alongside this drama, Iraklis were also refused entry to the Super League for the 2011/12 season, but while they were not implicated in Koriopolis, allegations of forgery during the previous winter. The Thessaloniki side won an early appeal, but lost their next, meaning that they were demoted and Asteras Tripoli, who had finished 14th of 16 teams kept their place.
All that meant that when the Super League was due to kick-off, five of the 2010/11 sides had been relegated and only two teams had come up to claim their spots.
Water that was already murky was about to get a lot less clear.
The two promoted sides from the Football League, confirmed at the end of the season on 15th May, were Panaitolikos and PAS Giannina. In what was a memorable title race, PAS Giannina had led the league since a handful of games in but were unable to shake off Panaitolikos.
The two broke away from their competitors and were unable to be separated until the last day of the season, with just two points separating the sides. With PAS looking like they would go into the break in the lead in Heraklion courtesy of a wonderfully worked Christos Patsatzoglou goal, the title looked secure.
However, a last-gasp penalty allowed OFI to draw level on the stroke of half-time, and the visitors crumbled in the second period to a 4-1 defeat. Rarely will a mistake have been so howling, nor costly than Ilias Kostios’ failed pass just before the hour mark. Collected just beyond the centre circle by Leonidas Kampantais, the goal was inevitable from that moment.
There was more defensive catastrophe preceding the third goal, and it was a broken PAS side that allowed the rabona through pass for Anastasios Agritis’ clincher.
Panaitolikos were relatively safe of drama in their game, leading 2-1 until the closing stages before both sides traded late goals to ensure the championship went to Agrinio, ending an absence in the top flight of 34 years.
Despite the drama, both sides finished well clear of the playoff sides; their automatic promotion was smooth and went by unquestioned.
Below them was a different story, though as the campaign drew to a close in mid-May, four teams qualified for the playoffs. OFI might count themselves unlucky to miss out on an automatic spot after a stellar second half of the season, but had to settle for third place.
The islanders finished their campaign with that 4-1 win over PAS Giannina and had the campaign begun at the halfway stage, would have won the title.
Behind OFI, Trikala and Levadiakos battled out for fourth and fifth, the former winning out on goal difference. Making up the quartet was Doxa Dramas, grateful that Trikala had beaten Diagoras Rodos on the last day of the season to ensure their one-point advantage remained.
At this stage, the Koriopolis case was rumbling on, so the playoffs were held back until decisions were made, namely over how many teams would need to be promoted to fill the spots left vacant in Super League.
However, by the time July came round and fixtures were due to be played, more troubles had bubbled to the surface. Most crucially for the competition, Trikala had been expelled from the league for forgery of documents in the winter of 2010. Their place was taken by Diogaras.
There was a time that OFI were also disqualified from the playoffs as their ground was deemed not to be suitable for Super League play, but after taking the matter to the court, the Heraklion team won their battle and were able to resume hostilities, such as they were.
The playoff competition, which eventually took place in July was held over a fortnight in neutral venues around Athens, as a swift resolution was required. This posed its own problems, with players having to be recalled from holidays, and squads severely depleted as they went into the quickfire rounds of games.
With their four-point start, awarded because of their regular-season points tally, OFI were able to negotiate the competition with ease. The Cretans avoided defeat in their five games and finished three points ahead of Levadiakos in the four-team table.
Even during the fortnight of the playoffs, there was off-field ramifications – OFI’s five-game tally being added to by one walkover, after Doxa Drama were unable to field a side for their last two games, meaning the top two sides gained three points without taking the field.
Those enforced defeats weren’t enough to completely defeat Doxa, who finished third above a Diagoras side who were lucky to be there. OFI were promoted, but with a caveat.
The playoff table became a factor of interest again while the cases against Olympiakos Volou and Kavala were being heard, with Levadiakos and Doxa held in limbo between the divisions until a resolution was reached.
The happenings at the upper part of the second tier were at least matched by those at the bottom. At the end of the regular season, Kalithea occupied bottom spot having won just three games all season, fourteen points behind the next worst team, Anagennisi Karditsa.
By the time everything had been resolved, five teams were forcibly relegated or expelled, meaning that Kalithea were granted a reprieve; one they used to decent effect, reaching the playoffs the following season, though that campaign began a gradual decline that ended in an eventual 2018 relegation.
Things were even more bizarre in Football League 2, especially in the Southern Group. Of the 16 teams in that division, only four remained for the 2011/12 campaign. A combination of financial and moral issues meant that while four the top five were promoted, clubs as high as Rodos in fourth were relegated.
The 2011/12 campaign began, as noted earlier, with the European campaigns of those who had to endure qualification.
Under considerable cloud, including further accusations, this time levelled at Asteras Tripolis, and new boys PAS Giannina and OFI Crete, the new season began to take shape.
Super League began its fixtures in late August, but champions Olympiakos did not begin their season until a fortnight later. That was because there were only thirteen teams were confirmed, though Iraklis’ relegation and Asteras Tripoli’s survival were resolved after the first week of games had seen just five fixtures.
It took until November before the resolution of the dispute with Olympiakos Volou and Kavala, and ruled that the second and third-placed sides from the Football League playoffs should take their place.
Both Levadiakos and Doxa Drama drew their first games, and while Levadiakos were able to stabilise and ended up just outside the European spots, Doxa were unable to cope with the flurry of fixtures they had to play (this was a team who had forfeited two playoff games because they could not raise a squad, of course) and fell back to the Football League after just one season.
Somewhat cruelly, it took until January for Doxa to record their first win of the season. The side was playing at the Kaftanzoglio Stadium in Thessaloniki, in a peculiar coincidence the same venue that Iraklis had used the previous campaign.
The distance of some 150km from their actual home made for some low crowds, which ‘peaked’ with a figure of just 18 supporters watching that first victory, against Asteras Tripolis.
The knock-on of the enforced relegations was that the Football League was also delayed getting underway, as it was unsure exactly which teams would prove themselves innocent enough to avoid the drop from the previous campaign.
The opening weekend of the Football League season was 28th October, though a tranche of games were held back until November. Even when the football was underway, there was still time for a 19-day break in February over an insurance dispute with players.
A tier further down, the wait was further extended, the season getting underway on November 27th, though the smaller divisions meant that only a maximum of 22 games needed to be squeezed in before the end of May.
Things calmed down somewhat in the seasons after 2011/12, though the Koriopolis scandal was not fully resolved until as recently as 2019, and even then the decisions made by the courts were described as ‘farcical’ by a number of the press.
The 2011/12 season in Greece might have looked fairly routine on the surface. Olympiakos won Super League, with Panathinaikos also qualifying for the Champions League. The Erythrolefki won the cup, as well, beating Atromitos with a 119th-minute goal in the final.
However, under the surface, away from the sunlight, everything was muddy, confused and difficult. Today, Koriopolis barely raises a ripple of acknowledgement from football supporters, perhaps because the effects it had were on more minor players than the Calciopoli from which it took its name.
For some teams, it was a Greek Tragedy. From the outside, it looked like a Comedy of Errors. Perhaps, in that context, it is appropriate that one of the teams who were most affected by the scandal were Doxa Drama.