Olympiacos fans celebrate first European trophy for a Greek team on Danforth

May 30, 2024 | Sports

In the middle of Toronto’s Greektown on Pape Avenue, members of the Toronto Olympiacos fan club exploded in joy when the final whistle was blown Wednesday afternoon.

The overtime game ended with Olympiacos FC, from Piraeus, just southwest of Athens, beating ACF Fiorentina of Italy in the Conference League championship game.

About 50 Toronto-based fans packed into the Olympiacos Fan Club on Pape, just south of Danforth. It doesn’t look like the centre of a passionate fan club from outside. Or at least it doesn’t appear in the usual passionate and colourful Greek manner.

White curtains cover the storefront and opaque white glass in the main entrance door. There is a simple but hard-to-see sign with the name of the ball club above the door that offers a clue about who frequents the premises. Everything seems so plain and quiet at first glance.

But inside, the humble club features nothing but a baroque sanctuary of Olympiacos of the Super Greek League squad. Almost every square inch of the walls is covered with pictures of teams and players from different eras.

Olympiacos fans suffered watching the Conference League final until their team scored the winning goal.

Olympiacos fans suffered watching the Conference League final until their team scored the winning goal. Photo credit: Antoni Canyameras Rojas

The Olympiacos faithful couldn’t keep their eyes off the TV while begging for their team to score in the overtime against Fiorentina in the Conference League final, the third-level soccer European competition behind the Europe League and Champions League tournaments.

With the penalties shootout and its inherent distress for fans just four minutes away, Ayoub El Kaabi scored the winning goal for the Piraeus side.

Everyone burst into delirium in emotional Greek fashion, with some fans pulling up chairs and others dropping to their knees.

But Terry Panagiotopoulos, the president of the fan club and one of the oldest members in the place, remained almost unfazed, engrossed with glassy eyes, trying to assimilate everything happening.

“Yes, it’s true, I’m almost crying,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for a moment like this many, many years. I’m just happy just like everybody,” Panagiotopoulos said. “What can I say?”

Olympiacos made history by lifting the first European title for a Greek soccer club after defeating Fiorentina in a very close final at the Agia Sophia Stadium in Athens.

A big picture on the wall next to the bar where the president was standing was a reminder of the last time Greeks went through a feeling like that.

Next to a string of religious stamps that feature Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, like one more stamp, a poster shows the contemporaneous Greek gods, the players of the Greek national team that won the European Championship in 2004 in the biggest miracle in soccer ever after stunning the host Portugal in the final.

Terry Panagiotopoulos is the president of the Olympiacos club fan.

Terry Panagiotopoulos is the president of the Olympiacos club fan. Photo credit: Antoni Canyameras Rojas

“I was in Lisbon, and a lot of people from Toronto were there,” Panagiotopoulos said.

“The national team is the national team. I was happy back then. But even I’m a little happier with my team now than then,” said the club’s president of the fan club founded 35 years ago.

In the year that marks the 20th anniversary of the Euro 2004, the Greek national team couldn’t return to a major tournament by qualifying for the upcoming Euro 2024, but Olympiacos could commemorate that milestone by lifting the first European trophy ever for a team from Greece.

Nicoleta Natsis, among the several fans at the OIympiacos fan club, said that her team was playing a European final just 20 years later and in Athens was a premonition.

“That was a sign of fate, today was meant to be the day. I feel the same joy as in 2004, close to the heart,” she said.

Next to her was Chris Kara, one of the many fans attired with the Olympiacos jersey. He also said he was as excited as 20 years ago.

“We’ve not seen something like this in two decades in our lifetimes. We don’t contend for European titles since 1963 with the Balkans Cup and it doesn’t even exist anymore,” Kara said.

Matthew Papadakos commanded the Olympiacos fans parade.

Matthew Papadakos commanded the Olympiacos fans parade. Photo credit: Antoni Canyameras Rojas

Although Olympiacos won the Balkans Cup in 1963, that competition was not played by clubs from across Europe but only from Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Turkey and the former Yugoslavia.

If a Greek team had been close to raising a European trophy, that was in a black-and-white era, in 1971. Panathinaikos, the Olympiaco’s eternal rival, lost the Champions League final against the Ajax team commanded by Johan Cruyff by 2-0.

“Where are the Panathinaikos fans?” young aficionado Matthew Papadakos screamed, while marching in the streets waving an Olympiacos flag.

Supporters like Natsis and Kara, Papadakos rallied around Danforth right after the final.

Like in 2004 but on a smaller scale, the district was one of the boisterous Greek communities around the world that made themselves heard.

Toronto’s Greektown wasn’t igniting as Athens did with hundreds of thousands of fans taking to the streets and setting off flares. Rather, they celebrated and showed their euphoria by marching and chanting.

As night fell, some honking cars kept breaking the silence while others disrupted the darkness amidst the traffic by throwing firecrackers onto the road.

Although the night wasn’t endless like in Athens, Olympiacos fans honoured the passion and the loudness of the fans in Greece.

Emotions among Olympiacos fans run high with the goal and the final whistle.

Emotions among Olympiacos fans run high with the goal and the final whistle. Photo credit: Antoni Canyameras Rojas

“We are Greek-Canadians, and celebrating it in Canada makes it feel special,” said Papadakos, who said he was going to chant in front of the Panathinaikos fan club.

Aficionados like Natsis, Kara and Papadakos continued with their parade down the streets, Panagiotopoulos tried to calm down the ecstatic supporters who jumped and chanted aloud inside the club.

One of them, Vassilis Lambros, showed his forearm with tattoos of the Canadian and the Greek flags.

“This is even better than in 2004. Olympiacos logo will be next tattoo,” he said.

Next to him, Panagiotopoulos was silent and thoughtful.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. Who knows, the Champions League is waiting for us too,” the president said.