Tuesday, April 7, 2015

MC Sports Report - Excitement in Cyprus

Beautiful day for local derby in Nicosia, Cyprus
The last match I attended was a 2nd Division match in Italy. Then things went dry for a few weeks. Our travel schedule did not sync-up with football fixtures while we were in Greece and Turkey so I was happy to find out that I could attend a match when we got to Nicosia, Cyprus. Here's a quick "scene set" to catch you up on the country Cyprus.
  • Small island in the Mediterranean just 150 miles west of Syria and 175 miles south of Turkey.
  • Divided into two parts since the Turkish Invasion of 1974.
  • The Republic of Cyprus is in the south - a member of UN, European Union; uses the Euro; speak Greek.
  • Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Not recognized as a country by anyone in the world except Turkey; use the Turkish Lire; speak Turkish.
  • The capital city of Nicosia is in the center of the island and is also divided with the two sides separated by the "Green Line" and monitored by UN Peacekeeping forces since 1974. Actual razor wire, guards with guns along a 124 mile dividing line running east to west.
With that said, when a person talks about football in Cyprus, they mean the Republic of Cyprus with a population of little over a million people, ranked 155th of the193 countries in the United Nations. The Cypriot national team is currently ranked 96th in the FIFA World Rankings. Pretty good for a country its size. The 1st Division has 12 teams.

We landed on a Saturday at noon in the Northern part of Cyprus because we flew in from Turkey. We quickly crossed the border to the Republic of Cyprus and found the house we had rented in the Old Town of Nicosia. I knew there was a match that afternoon at 4 pm and our Airbnb host offered to drive me to the match and drop me off. Just 4 km away he said so I figured I could easily walk home.

My Greek is close to zero but this says Apoel vs. Apollon
So, off we went in his car but before long I realized that we had driven way more than 4 km. In fact we were on a freeway headed out of town. Ten minutes later the stadium came into view next to the freeway and traffic slowed to a crawl. At that point we were at least 10 km from town but there was no turning back. Paolo dropped me off by the side of the road and just for a second I wondered if I had become a little too cavalier about my ability to find my way home from these matches. In this case, matters were worse because I hadn't had time to get a Cypriot SIM card and my Turkish SIM card was not working so no Internet access, hence no Google Map app which meant I was pretty much flying blind. Nothing like a little challenge :)

Mind you I didn't have a ticket yet and didn't know anything about the match except that it started at 4 pm. It was now 3:30 and I blended into a crowd of fans making their way towards the stadium. I quickly realized I was on the "wrong" side of the highway from the stadium in a run-down, dirt parking lot where all the away supporters (in this case Apollon fans) were dropped off. There were cops all around, many in balaclavas, knee pads and full riot gear where the police work the crowd of 200 hundred or so like cowboys driving cattle.

After speaking to one of the cops and asking where to buy a ticket, I found myself among a group of fans walking under the highway, stepping over and around a stream on our way to the stadium. It reminded me of pictures you see on the news of illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into America.

I followed the away supporters from a dirt parking lot under the highway to the stadium
As we approached the stadium I found some nice young kids who spoke English. They were all Apollon fans and their section was sold-out. They didn't know anything about tickets for the home team. Mild panic set in but the stadium looked pretty big so I remained optimistic.

I kept walking and before long I was in line for tickets for Apoel, the home team. Good news. I could buy a ticket. I made friends with Marios, the guy behind me in line who spoke English. By the time we got to the ticket window I found out that tickets were the equivalent of $9. More good news. It turns out that he and his buddies were supporters of Appolon. They had not bought tickets back home in Limassol in time to sit in the away supporters section so their plan was to buy tickets on the Apoel side and then sit on their hands the whole match so as not to give away their loyalties. They had jackets that covered their team colors in order to blend in.

Supporters for Apollon from Limassol in the away section. Note yellow-vested security surrounding them.
By the time we both had our tickets, we were joined by 3 of his friends and were making our way into the stands where we found our seats near the top of the section.

Apoel supporters (home) at the other end with pre-match "card stunt" felt like a college game in America
By now I had the story line down for the match. This was a huge derby. Going into the match, Apollon (in blue/away) was at the top of the table by 1 point. They had not won in the stadium since 2000. Apoel (in yellow/home) was 2nd in the table. An Apoel win would put them top of the table above their arch-rival. The sun was out. The place was packed. The noise was intoxicating and I was ready for a match that lived-up to the billing. Apoel struck early and scored just 9 minutes into the match and of course the fans went crazy.


The air went out of their balloon win the 29th minute when Apoel was called for a foul in their own penalty area. Drama. Penalty kick. Apollon scored! Match tied 1-1. The whistles from the home town fans were deafening.

Normally I cheer for the home team. Why not? I usually don't have loyalties one way or the other but in this case since I was sitting with Marios and his friends so decided to become a closet Apollon supporter for the day. Remember, "we" were in first place wanting to defend our position top of the table AND "we" had not won here in 15 years which made it fun to root for Apollon.

A few minutes later, Apoel seized the day and scored again in the 34th minute with a beautiful shot on goal to go up 2-1. Minutes later Apollon went on the offense. The Apoel keeper left the goal box to try and block a shot. Then the ball ricochet off his foot and what seemed like slow-motion the ball keeps rolling slowly towards the goal. Both teams start chasing the ball but no one gets there before the ball dribbles across the line and the score is tied 2-2. More whistles.

At halftime, I started focusing on how I was going to get "home" to Nicosia. I told Marios the story of the cop I met before the game who pointed out where I might catch a bus a mile or so from the stadium. I was hoping that they might have more information but since they were from Limassol they didn't know Nicosia that well. Just before I left for the match I grabbed a map which fortunately had a  red "x" indicating where our house was in the Old City. Marios and his friends studied the map and before long said "not to worry". They would give me a ride to town and then I could catch a bus, taxi or walk. Whew!

Time for the second half. The first half had been thrilling. Maybe the best I had seen in a dozen matches I'd been to in Europe as a Senior Nomad. Knowing I had a plan on getting home, I relaxed and got ready for another exciting 45 minutes of soccer....and wow, was it ever!

Up and down the field. Back and forth. As time went on both teams started pressing harder and harder. Yellow cards starting popping up like dandelions. Both teams really wanted the 3 points. At one point I thought both teams would start throwing punches but the referee got the match under control.

Referee Vasilis Demetriou earning his wages keeping the teams apart late in the match
The clock kept ticking and the intensity grew along with more yellow cards until the 76th minute when Apoel put the ball in the net to go ahead 3-2 but then everyone looked to the linesman (actually a young woman, the only female Assistant Referee in the Cypriot 1st Division) and her flag was up.

Offside!!

No goal!!

The home fans were the picture of dejection.

Discussing the merits of the offside call
End of regulation. 4 minutes of extra time. Apoel almost scores then commits a foul at the other end. Penalty Kick for Apollon from 30 yards out. Just misses. Whistle blows. Match Over. Both teams take away 1 point and Apollon remains top of the table. Home town fans walked out of the stadium with heads down in despair. Their team, of course, was robbed by the bad offside call. The away fans were elated and happy to get out of town with another draw (their 5th draw in the stadium since 2000).

After the match, I follow Marios and his friends back under the freeway to the parking lot, over some fences and across a farmer's field headed for his car. While we were walking, they took off their jackets to show their colors now that we were lost in a sea of Apollon supporters.

A great day of football + a ride home. Who could ask for more?
We jumped in his Skoda and off we went headed (I hoped) to Nicosia. After dropping off two of his friends, Marios suggested I jump I the front seat and away we went. Again, I was hoping that we were heading somewhere near home. It seemed like we drove for a long, long time. It was dark by now and I didn't see any businesses open, a single bus or a taxi. My bravado about walking home was starting to feel a little misplaced when Marios said something like, "I think where you are staying should be somewhere around here."

I looked up and like an airplane descending from low clouds and seeing the runway just before landing, I recognized the mini-mart in front of us. We had shopped earlier in the day for groceries and I knew I was going to get home. I jumped out. Thanked Marios and told him that because of his kindness to a stranger he was going to heaven for sure. I still was not sure exactly where our house was because they all looked the same in the dark. I headed down the first narrow road hoping to recognize the house. After walking for a few minutes I thought I found it. I got out my key and tentatively put it in the lock hoping that I was opening the door to the our courtyard. The key went it. I gave it a turn and "voila" it opened. Yay!

Prayers answered. Great day out. Confidence back and before I was in the house I was already thinking about the next match when we will be in Larnaca. The home team is AEK Larnaca. They are currently in 3rd place and will host Apoel.  If I'm able to get a ticket to see the match I'll let you know. I'll take a map!

Until then,

Michael


4 comments :

  1. Thanks to both of you for the blog which I have been following for some months now, even before the NY TIMES article. We have been to many of the spots you visit, not with the same depth, but it is interesting to revisit via your experiences. I was wondering if you have thought of being Senior Nomads in Latin America after doing Europe? Not only does it cost less, but can be every bit as interesting and often times more exotic than Europe. I retired to Mexico in 2008 so it is easier to explore this part of the world. Could you please tell me how to use the google translator for your posts. My Mexican wife speaks little English, but would enjoy the content you present if it were in Spanish.
    Finally, we thought of activating with Air BNB to make available our condo in ACAPULCO and possibly our rental place near Cuernavaca, Morelos. Please comment on this if you have time.

    We will be following your continued journey appreciatively. Muchas Gracias,
    Jake and Nancy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I use Google translate all the time from Google Mail. There is a square block on the RHS of the mail page, which is where the Apps are.
      Click on the Translate App.
      Select English as the language on RHS and Spanish on the LHS,
      Then copy the link for the Blogspot page and paste it into the RHS box of Translate.
      Click on the 'Translate' button on LHS and Voila you have the relevant page in Spanish,
      Btw I use the Translate App on my iphone too, It's brilliant, You can type, write, or even speak, into it and have the translation shown written. or audibley . Regards

      Delete
  2. If I was your wife, I would have been hysterical. No way to contact you and you home after dark. Wow!

    ReplyDelete