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Life, Death and Football: When fans are ready to sacrifice anything

Evangelos Sipsas


At 00:20am on February 1, 2022 in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Alkis Kampanos declared his support for local football team Aris. 

It was one of the last words he would ever utter, as a youth from a rival supporters group pulled a knife and stabbed the 19-year-old to death.

Grainy CCTV footage captured the killers fleeing the scene.

Almost two years later, George Liggeridis is also being filmed on camera as he faces up to rioting thugs outside a basketball game. A flare is thown, exploding next to the police officer. His colleagues are unable to staunch the resulting wound in time to save his live.

The two deaths illustrate a grim transformation that has overtaken Greek football as fan confrontations have become increasingly violent.

From fists to knives

"It used to exist. How can I explain? An unwritten, unacknowledged code. The fans might have fought, at the most they were fist fights. But that's about it."

Giannis Vastardis, known as Dokken, is a leader of one of Greece's biggest football fan clubs. A lifelong supporter of Athen's powerhouse Panathinaikos, he remembers the days when hooliganism was governed by a kind of code of honor.

"If they got wound up, let's say there might be some handbags. Once someone went down, it would stop. No one would pull out a knife to stab."

Dokken doesn't want to talk about his role in instigating fights, but he does recall an incident where he almost lost his own life. Returning from an away game, he had stepped down from the supporters' coach to relieve himself. 

"Then around 40 people ambushed us. We tried to defend ourselves with our hands. They pulled out knives." 

Dokken was stabbed, the blade narrowly missing his lungs.

Today he says he regrets not doing more to change the culture of aggression 

"In all the things I've said to Panathinaikos fans about avoiding violence, I failed. This impact that I wanted, unfortunately, didn't happen and lives were lost," he acknowledges.


The reasons behind the violence are multifaceted. Certainly organised crime plays a part. But there are other causes too.

Partly it's about identity, according to Anastasia Tsoukala, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Paris-Sud. 

"One identity is what we usually call youth subculture, adolescents who are in the process of seeking emancipation from both parental authority and society," she says.

"A second identity is gender identity: the stadiums are a battleground in which masculinity is manifested. A third identity is territorial; the defense of the stands as a place of sanctuary, I would say inviolable from any other intruder."

The media also play a part. Partisan commentators and bloggers feed the discourse of hate and generate likes and clicks by fuelling division between fans

"We journalists bear a very large share of responsibility for how the climate has been shaped... we often fuel these tensions through partisan fan journalists who speak in the first person about their club and that's a big problem," acknowledges broadcaster Stefanos Avramidis.

Implementing the cure is more difficult than diagnosing the symptoms, however.

The government has cracked down on fan clubs. Checks have been introduced among the crowds and opposition fans are often banned from stadiums. And yet the battles continue and the lives are lost.

Criminology professor Tsoukala says that politicians are unwilling to take long term measures that will reap rewards only well after they have left government.

But Aristidis Kampanos, father of murdered Alkis, believes there is a simpler alternative. He recalls his son's gentle nature and remembers his feelings of disbelief that a life, that life, could be ended so abruptly.

"Sometimes I can't breathe. I feel like I want to inhale but I sense that the air that envelops our society gives off a noxious smell. How can this be?," he asks.

"Because of PAOK, or Aris we have to take a life simply because they don't support the same team? Isn't it just crazy? I think it's crazy. Why haven't we started a revolt against fan violence?"

Life, Death and Football by Evangelos Sipsas and CGTN Europe is available on YouTube or on this article. 

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