Olympiakos vs Panathinaikos: The Mother of All Battles Between Greece’s Biggest Clubs

The Derby of the Eternal Enemies is part 90min’s 50 Biggest Derbies in the World Series

​Flares, firecrackers and fights. 

It doesn’t exactly transport you back to the days of Homer or Plato when Athens was the centre of the universe and Greece was at the forefront of innovation – well, maybe the fighting does a bit. 

But this, sadly, is what characterises the Athens derby between Greece’s biggest clubs. 

When Olympiakos was formed in the port city of Piraeus, on the outskirts of Athens in 1925, they were seen as the working class club in opposition to the elite Panathinaikos from the city centre, who were founded 17 before. 

Ioannis Maniatis

But over the following 95 years, these two sides have become the most successful sides in the country, garnering support from all regions and walks of life.

The two clubs can boast more than three-quarters of all the league titles awarded in Greece since the first round-robin championship was formed in 1927. Yet, it is the red-and-white striped Olympiakos who are unquestionably more successful, with their 44 titles dwarfing the green-clad Panathinaikos’ 20 – something which is never far from the lips of fans when the two sides meet. 

Eight miles separates these bitter enemies, and their hatred of each other is such that it spills over from merely football, across to basketball, volleyball and water polo. But, as too often has been the case over the years, this enmity has escalated beyond pyrotechnics in the stands to truly nightmarish scenes of violence. 

In 2007, when the two sets of supporters met in an Athens suburb for what appeared to be a meticulously planned fight, the 25-year-old Panathinaikos supporter Michalis Filopoulos sadly died. Dozens were injured, including passers-by but this combat isn’t always kept off the pitch. 

When Olympiakos took to the field at the home of their greatest rivals in 2015, fans of Panathinaikos greeted the visitors by bombarding them with flares, seats ripped out (from their own stadium) and other debris. The match was delayed for 15 minutes before Panathinaikos emerged 2-1 victors against the unsurprisingly shaken Olympiakos.

After a brawl between club officials in a league meeting (as the fighting was taken from the stands, to the pitch, to the boardroom), the government suspended the top three tiers of Greek football for two weeks and Panathinaikos were deducted three points. 

These disgraceful sights are not a modern development and the ‘Derby of the Eternal Enemies’ was considered so volatile that when the sides met in the Greek Cup, which invariably happened in the latter stages, a foreign referee was brought in to oversee proceedings between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s. 

When a game of football is allowed to break out, Olympiakos may be the clear dominant force in the domestic arena, but on the European stage, Panathinaikos have the greater pedigree – reaching the 1971 European Cup final under the guidance of the legendary ​Ferenc Puskás. 

These two giants of the Greek game unquestionably dominate the landscape of the nation’s football and between 1994 and 2017, 23 consecutive league titles were claimed by one of the two clubs. 

Yet, in the last two years their stranglehold of the Greek top flight has ever so slightly slipped, as fellow capital club AEK Athens and Thessaloniki’s PAOK nipped in ahead of them. 

In absence of domestic invincibility, the unsavoury incidents in the stands come into focus even more. Despite the fact that away fans have been banned from the derby for several years, trouble somehow seems to arise regardless. 

And with no opposition fans to turn their ire on, the home crowd often turns its unwanted attention to the players and management. 

A late Olympiakos winner for former Blackburn forward Matt Derbyshire in 2010 prompted Panathinaikos fans to try to set fire to visitors’ team coach. And, as recently as 2019, the same supporters invaded the pitch during a derby to attack the players on their opponent’s bench before the game was eventually abandoned. 

It’s a shame that the match between Greek footballing royalty is so widely known for what happens off the pitch (and sometimes spills onto it) rather than for what happens when a ball is involved. 

Panathinaikos’ anthem speaks of their team’s stars as ‘brave men with heart’ while that of their red-and-white stripped counterparts is more explicit in the role supporters play, “your power is your fiery fans, who never let you down”. 

It seems, to their detriment, both clubs have stuck to that philosophy too loyally.