Piraeus-based Olympiacos, the most successful club in Greek football history, boast a simple but magnificent nickname, redolent with tradition, history and mythical associations. The club is simply known as Τhrylos, The Legend, reflecting a glorious record of success and achievement, as a glance at the club’s near 90-year history quickly reveals.
Birth of an institution
Olympiacos FC was founded on 10 March 1925 in the port city of Piraeus by a group of nine businessmen and leading citizens. The name of the new club was chosen to represent power, athletic strength, noble rivalry, dominance and ultimately the Olympic ideal. The club crest, which has undergone only minor changes in its long history, depicts a young athlete wearing the laurel crown of an Olympic champion.
In the early years, one family spearheaded Olympiacos’ transformation from new kids on the block to heavyweights of the Greek game. Affluent merchant Andreas Andrianopoulos was a founder member of the club, but it was his sons who would deliver a sustained golden age of sporting success. Giannis, Dinos, Giorgos and Vassilis initially formed four of the five-man forward line, and the attacking department would eventually become an Andrianopoulos lockout when they were joined by another son, Leonidas. A sixth brother Stelios also played for a short time, but he was never blessed with the same talent as his other siblings.
Dinos, Vassilis and Giorgos led Olympiacos to their maiden triumph in the nascent Pan-Hellenic Championship in 1930/31. Earlier, on 7 April 1929, the trio had represented their country in the first official international ever contested by Greece.
This era also brought the first long-lasting record in the young club’s history, as the men in red and white stripes remained undefeated against Greek opposition from March 1926 until February 1929, winning 30 and drawing six of their matches, with 129 goals scored and 42 conceded.
The making of a legend
Five further championship triumphs were to follow in the next seven years, supported by a steadily growing and increasingly passionate fan base, who loyally turned out to cheer on their heroes both home and away and created a hitherto unknown atmosphere at the stadiums. The strongest rivalry emerged between the Red and Whites and Athens side Panathinaikos, a fixture which soon took on the title Derby of the Eternal Enemies.
The club anthem, Fleet from Front, was intended to strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams prior to kick-off. Sung by players and fans alike with great gusto and with fists clenched, the anthem concludes with the rallying cry: “One, two, three goals, panic everywhere! Triumph victory - Olympiacos!”
World War II and the ensuing Greek civil war put a temporary halt to the club’s progress, but once regular fixtures recommenced, the men from Piraeus returned to their dominant position in the domestic game. The club assumed the nickname The Legend during this trophy-laden era. Indeed by 1960, Olympiacos had won the championship 15 times in a total of 23 completed seasons, and had added the knockout cup on nine occasions, completing a domestic clean sweep six times.
The fame of this founder member of the European Club Association (ECA) soon spread beyond the Hellenic peninsula. In the 1960s, the Piraeus outfit made the last sixteen in the European Cup Winners’ Cup three times, and would later reach the same stage in the European Cup, the predecessor to today’s UEFA Champions League, in 1975, 1983 and 1984.
The men in red and white played a number of high-profile friendlies against the greats from all over the world, including Barcelona, Porto Alegre and Istanbul giants Galatasaray. A match from 1960/61 which is still mentioned in hushed tones today was a 2-1 triumph against a Santos side containing the great Pele.
The trophies have continued to flow in the last 20 years. Olympiacos won the Greek title seven times on the bounce from 1997 to 2003, relinquishing their grip for a single season before triumphing another five times in a row between 2005 and 2009.
Fans of The Legend still look back with pride to the 1998/99 campaign and the club’s first appearance in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, an adventure which ended in a narrow 3-2 aggregate defeat to Juventus. Since 1996, Olympiacos have contested Europe’s elite club competition 13 times, underlining their pre-eminent position within the Greek game.
Naturally, the club’s roll-call of former players includes not only a host of Greece internationals but also a number of famous names from abroad. Chief among this group are former FIFA World Player of the Year Rivaldo, Denmark hitman Dennis Rommedahl, Brazil schemer Giovanni and FIFA World Cup™ winner Christian Karembeu, all of whom became instant crowd favourites in Piraeus.
"The Greeks are mad about football and are fanatics in the purest sense of the word. They love football and shout loud and hard, sometimes maybe a little too much,” Karembeu exclusively told FIFA.com as he reminisced on his time in the port city. According to the official club website, surveys suggest some 40 percent of Greek fans at home and abroad describe themselves as supporters of the men in red and white.
The list of famous names associated with the club in recent times is not confined to the playing staff, as the likes of Zico and Oleg Blokhin have sat in the Olympiacos dugout in the past. "Don't believe those people who say that Greece is not a football country. Those people are mistaken. I have the fondest memories of my time in Greece,” Blokhin informed FIFA.com earlier this year, recalling his spell on the Aegean coast with great pleasure.
There can be little doubt that Olympiacos’ nickname is both deserved and appropriate, with their utter domination of the Greek domestic scene beyond dispute. The club’s total of 38 national championships in the period up to and including 2011 is one greater than the combined total achieved by all the nation’s other clubs.
The 33,334-capacity Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, named after a national hero of the Greek War of Independence who was killed near the site in 1821, was originally constructed in 1895 as the velodrome for the 1896 summer Olympics. Football was not played at the stadium until 1920. Fully 40 years passed before a renovation and the adoption of the current name in 1964. Almost four decades later, the Karaiskakis Stadium had fallen into disrepair, but Olympiacos undertook the construction of a new football-only ground in its place, to be used for the 2004 Olympic Football Tournament. The new state-of-the-art arena was completed on 30 June 2004. The club set up a museum at the stadium in 2006.