The credits rolled, the lights came up and I slowly got out of my seat, knees creaking like old wood. I shuffled towards the exit, wondering if we had conceded more goals than the two I’d left the game at.
Climbing the stairs towards the main entrance of the cinema and just as I was about to take in some much needed fresh air, a friend of mine lightly touched my shoulder, attracting my attention. I was still kind of zoned out when he smiled broadly and said “You turned it around huh?”. I stared blankly at him for a few seconds, willing my brain into motion and as it spluttered into active life I blurted out a “Whuh?” trying desperately to stall for time, until I actually latched on to what he was talking about.
“AEK, they won,” he said, this time with an even bigger smile.
The words hit me like a fish in the face, all pungent and just painful enough to sting for a few seconds. AEK Athens, the team that I have spent the best years of my life supporting (that is, if we can agree that there have ACTUALLY been any years I could tentatively class as ‘my best’), had won their match against current champions Olympiakos.
Let me just explain the setting. ANY, I mean ANY AEK Athens – Olympiakos game is a HUGE footballing event in Greece. They are two of the biggest footballing forces in the land (along with Panathinaikos and PAOK of course), so any time they meet, especially in a footballing context, a large part of the nation grinds to a halt, with everyone tuning in to television sets, radios, or actually watching it live, be it at the Karaiskakis or the Olympic Stadium.
This time round, on a rather easy, laid-back Sunday night, on the 24th of September, AEK Athens were on a roll, hosting an Olympiakos side that were hurting, after a stumbing start to their season, which is of course highly unusual for a team so used to hitting the ground running year after year. No, this time, things were different. The betting shops were giving AEK the role of the grand favourite, with the current champions the stark outsiders. The team wearing their yellow and black jerseys had been purring on and off the field thanks to some fine coaching by Manolo Jimenez, whereas the Piraeus side, were looking to give their beleaguered coach Besnik Hasi one last chance before he faced the firing squad.
For anyone even remotely aware of what a setting like this usually does to AEK Athens, allow me to explain: we USUALLY freeze. As a lifelong fan, I can tell you, hand on my heart that whenever we are classed as ‘the favourite’, we can and WILL find a way to mess things up. We will go to sleep in defence, we will roam around the field, not connected to the football ‘current’ for the best part of 70-80 minutes, we will do something, OTHER than play to our strengths.
So, that Sunday night, I was excited, but that implosive nightmare scenario was already playing at that dank and horrible screening room in the back of my head, where all the bad things get played out.
True to form, AEK conceded first, with Marko Marin scoring a goal of such lobbed brilliance, that you couldn’t help but clap. Damn, I thought. Damn, damn, and triple damn. It’s happenning again.
Half time blew and I just stood there, outside a cafe near the Monastiraki station just biting my nails all the way down to my wrist. Surely, this cannot be happening again. Surely not. Before I had managed to push the negative thoughts aside, the whistle had blown for the second half and Odjidja-Ofoe had made it 2-0 for Olympiakos with another gorgeous strike. It was over, it was. It just was. We were probably going to concede another one, maybe two even. I couldn’t stand it. My friends watching the match with me were in a similar mood. “It’s done,” one of them mumbled, kicking an empty can away from his feet, “we might as well go home.”
I felt my desperation giving in to anger. No, I wasn’t going home. I wasn’t going to let a prefectly good Sunday night get ruined by a football game, even if it DID include my team. No, dang it, I was going to turn a loss into a win. Spectacularly so. I was going to head to the cinema, turn off my mobile phone and watch a horror film. Or a horror-comedy, whatever the heck it was. It turned out to be an inspired choice. Double Date was a fun, brainless ride, I laughed a whole lot and by golly, I wasn’t thinking about AEK or Olympiakos when the film ended.
One phrase was all it took, to bring my uneasily balanced glass house crashing down around my ears.
We hadn’t lost. We hadn’t salvaged a draw. We had completed a most glorious comeback, scoring twice through the moustachioed, hunchbacked GOD that is Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (with his equaliser especially being a goal of complete and utter heat-seeking-missile wonderment) and then grabbing all three points at the death, with Petros Mandalos bundling the ball home from close range, after an excellent assist from the ever-improving Marko Livaja. Three goals, some rather brilliant football and one of the best performances ever served up by an AEK side taking on Olympiakos.
And I had missed it. Watching a horror film. With my phone off.
As my phone came back on, a million notifications and messages flooded in.
My friends asking where I was, if I was watching, how I was feeling, if I could remember seeing anything like this. In a cinema, no I wasn’t, not great, no I couldn’t.
So remember kids. Next time ANYONE tells you to leave a football match early to go catch a horror film, hand over the printed version of this horrendously depressing story and tell them to NEVER, EVER lose hope.
I did. And I had to watch the highlights.