Today marks the 39th anniversary of Greek football’s most horrific story.
On Sunday 8 February 1981, 21 people lost their lives at the Karaiskaki Stadium, getting squashed and stamped on by thousands in their attempt to leave the stands in a hurry to celebrate Olympiacos’ 6-0 triumph over AEK.
Fans were awaiting this game in high anticipation, as this was the season that the club from Piraeus were searching for their second consecutive championship title and 22nd in total.
At the same time however, the battle between the two teams at the top of the table had flared, with AEK putting the pressure on the red-and-whites as they remained at a two-point distance in second place.
It was all set to be decided at this huge game, as a win for Olympiacos would give them a four point advantage with only a few rounds remaining, while an upset by the visitors would allow them to go back on top and reclaim their hopes for winning the trophy.
The game was set to start at 3:15 pm in the afternoon and the fans had already begun to take their places in the stands almost an hour before kick-off, shaking the ground with their chants and cheers.
It’s worth mentioning that the old Karaiskakis stadium was much larger then, fitting over 35,000 people. And on that fine Sunday afternoon, the game was sold out.
The game ended in an overwhelming victory for Olympiacos, who turned a thrilling match into a walk in the park by annihilating their opponents 6-0.
A hat-trick by Mike Galakos and further goals by Vangelis Kousoulakis, Nikos Vamvakoulas and Kostas Orfanos were enough to secure the win for the home side.
Fans were going wild in the stands during the game and the final whistle was welcomed with cheers. Yet what was meant to be a time of excitement soon turned into one of the greatest tragedies of world football.
The most vibrant part of the Olympiacos supporters, who were sitting in the seventh gate of the stadium as always, attempted to rush into the first gate that provided access into the pitch so that they could congratulate and meet their idols from up close.
Yet the door that lead out of the seventh gate was neglectfully left locked by security. With people constantly flocking in and pushing those in front of them, the situation soon got out of control.
Fans fell to the ground and got stomped on while others were left unable to breathe. Eventually the authorities intervened and broke open a pathway for people to escape, but sadly it was already too late.
Several people were brought to Tzaneio hospital in Piraeus, while friends and relatives who have seen the news on TV or through the radio rush to find out if their loved ones are alright.
Even the then-prime minister Georgios Rallis is shocked by the events and asked to be brought up to speed regarding the situation.
News of the first casualties were soon brought to light, with news that a total of 21 people had lost their lives and more than 50 were injured in the incident.
Following these tragic events, the entire nation mourned the loss of the young fans, while the people who neglected to open the gate after the end of the game were brought to justice and were sentenced to ten years in prison.
Ever since then, every year the Olympiacos and AEK teams mourn the loss of these 21 innocent souls who simply wanted to watch their favourite teams play a game and paid for it with their own lives in what is known as the greatest tragedy of Greek football.