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Monday, March 01, 2010

Crete

October 1999: Cretan Stadiums and Bull-Leaping at Knossos

Knossos

I can’t remember which TV programme it was featured on but the Palace of Knossos, on the Greek Island of Crete, has a central court which, apparently, was or is the world’s first sports arena. This was not a fact shared with us by the official guide book as myself and Family ExtremeGroundhopping made our way around the Minoan ruin in October, 1999 as I would possibly have paid it far more attention.

The court area measures approximately 27 x 57 yards (which is 24 x 52 meters or about one-fifth the area of an average football pitch) and can be likened to the plazas that the Romans built for gladiatorial combat. It is in this and similar court yards at the Palaces of Malia and Phaistos that ‘bull-leaping’ is thought to have taken place.

On display at the nearby Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is this famous fresco – originally on one of the walls at Knossos – that depicts an acrobat flinging himself at and over a charging bull. So bonkers is the concept that many learned historians believe that not only is it the stuff of myth but physically impossible too.

But not so as anyone who watched the entirely unrelated Episode 6 of Paul Merton in Europe (Monday night February 15th) will tell you. Paul Merton completed his slightly bizarre tour of the continent visiting various people and points of interest on the Iberian peninsular. The ‘Have I Got News For You’ panelist was taken to a bull rink but not to see a traditional Spanish Bullfight but a blood, gore – and largely – cruelty free Recortes. In Recortes the bullfighter dodges around and, importantly, leeps over the bull without the use of a cape or sword as can be seen in the clip from YouTube (above). That’s the Minoan myth theory kicked in to touch.

Pancretan Stadium

Heraklion is Crete’s major population center and has the island’s principal airport so it is here that we and most visitors land (two million last year) before dispersing to the many hotels, apartments and campsites that are spread across the island. The Palace of Knossos is a twenty bus ride from the city centre and a visit is an absolute must.

Brit Sir Arthur Evans spent much of his life, and his inherited fortune restoring the sprawling Minoan Palace in the early 20th century. In the city itself is the Archaeological Museum. Housed in a converted power station it contains a massive and fascinating collection of Minoan, Hellenic and Roman artifacts. The Venetian Fortress by the harbour is worth a wander around as is the city centre, but watch out for the crazed moped riders.

Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium

Since the relegation of their main island rivals OFI Crete from the Greek Superleague in 2009 the islands only top flight side are PAE Diethnis Enosis Ergotelis or Ergotelis for short. Both sides are based in Heraklion. Ergotelis (rather worryingly nicknamed the Canaries) play at the Pancretan Stadium 3 km’s west of the city centre, while OFI play at the Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium in the district of Kaminia on the main road out of the city, which by happy coincidence, takes you past the aforementioned Archaeological Museum.

Although the Pancretan Stadium was built since our visit eleven years ago its design is based on one originally put forward in the 1980’s but only became reality when Greece successfully bid to host the 2004 Olympics games and the Organising Committee in Athens named it as one of the venues of the football tournament. Built at a cost of €50 million the 26,240 all-seater ground hosted it’s first game in March 2004 (a friendly between Greece and Switzerland) followed by a number of group games plus the Iraq v Australia quarter-final in that summers men’s football tournament.

My offspring look out over the Aegean Sea

The Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium, more commonly known by its nickname Yedi Kule, was originally built in 1951, although numerous changes and modernizations have taken place since, including its conversion to a 9,000 all-seater in the summer of 2000.

The land on which the ground is built was, until the end of WWII, an abandoned Christian, Jewish and Armenian cemetery. One night fan’s and officials of OFI (who up until that point had presumably been playing elsewhere) cordoned off the area with fencing and returned later with a bulldozer to flatten out the land and turn it into a football pitch. Part of the old cemetery remains behind one of the stands.

Pavlos I. Vardinoyannis Stadium

Less than an hour bus ride to the west of Heraklion is Rethymno where we were based during our weeks stay. There’s not much NOT to like about this picturesque town. A great sandy beech and waterfront with a huge array of restaurants, bars and shops set against a back drop of a well maintained old Venetian town, a Venetian fortress and landmark lighthouse.

About two km’s south-west of the town centre is the Pavlos I. Vardinoyannis Stadium, with a capacity of 1,300. Consisting of a single stand this is a far more modest affair than its two Heraklion’s counterparts. Built in 1992 it no longer hosts professionals football following the demise of former tenant EAR (Enosi Atromitrou Rethimniakou) in 1999 but still sees regular use as an athletics arena.

Hania Stadium

And last but not least and a short bus ride even further west is the city of Hania. Built in 1936 the Hania Stadium is just a ten minute stroll from the city centre just out side the walls of the old Venetian town. Head south east and look out for its four floodlight pylons which are visible from most of the city.

At one time the ground had a capacity of 5,000 but of the original stands only the one on the western touchline remains. The original construction costs were covered by the wife of five times Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos who was born in Hafnia, while plans for an € 11 million facelift are in the offing.

Minoan graves outside Rethymno

There are other smaller stadia dotted around the island (there’s one in the shadow of the Ventian fort in Rethymno) that I will not attempt to cover here. But I hope, nonetheless, that my post has given you something of a taste for the island and its grounds. Facts and figures on Greek football are incredibly hard to verify as most info on the net is mostly, and unsurprisingly, in Greek, so if I’ve made any obvious mistakes please let me know - Efharisto.

Sepia pictures by Mrs ExtremeGroundhopping. Pictures of the Pancretan Stadium, Hania Stadium and Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium from Flickr. Picture of the Pavlos I. Vardinoyannis Stadium from EAP Athletics.

posted by chevblue at 5:32 pm






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Boston United
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Derby County
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Eastleigh
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Ely City
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Everton
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FC Clacton
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Felixstowe & Walton United
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Fulham
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Gorleston
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Gosport Borough
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Great Yarmouth Town
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Hadleigh United
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Hamble ASSC
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Harwich & Parkeston
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Heybridge Swifts
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Histon
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VT FC
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Wivenhoe Town
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Woking
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Woodbrige Town
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Worcester City
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SCOTLAND

Aberdeen
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Heart of Midlothian
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Northern Spirit
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AUSTRIA

SW Wacker Innsbruck
(Tivoli Stadion)

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RSC Anderlect
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FC Brugge
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SV Zulte-Waregem
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Borussia Dortmund
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AZ Alkmaar
(Alkmaarder Hout)

AZ Alkmaar
(Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam)

FC Dordrecht
(GN Bouw Stadion)

FC Groningen
(Euroborg)

FC Utrecht
(Galgenwaard Stadion)

Feyenoord
(De Kuip)

NEC Nijmegen
(Goffert Stadium)

PEC Zwolle
(Oosterenkstadion)

PSV Eindhoven
(Philips Stadion)

SC Heerenveen
(Abe Lenstra Stadium)

Twente Enschede
(Arke Stadion)

Twente Enschede
(Diekman Stadion)

Vitesse Arnhem
(Gelredome)

Willem II
(Willem II Stadion)

IRELAND

Bray Wanderers
(Carlisle Grounds)

Dublin City
(Tolka Park)

ITALY

Inter Milan
(San Siro)

LUXEMBOURG

Avenir Beggen
(Stade Josy-Barthel)

NORWAY

Skeid Oslo
(Ulevall)

POLAND

Widzew Lodz
(Stadion LKS)

SPAIN

Barcelona
(Nou Camp)

Real Madrid
(San Bernabeu)

Valencia
(Luis Casanova)

SWEDEN

Orgryte IS
(Gamla Ullevi (Old))

Helsingborgs IF
(Olympia Stadium)

Landskrona Bois
(Idrottspark)

Malmo FF
(Malmo Stadion)

Mjallby AIF
(Strandvallen)

Trelleborgs FF
(Vangavallen)

IFK Goteborg
(Ullevi)

USA

Chicago Sting
(Comiskey Park I)

Chicago Sting
(Wrigley Field)

Chicago Sting
(Chicago Stadium)

Chicago Sting
(Rosemont Horizon)

Chicago Sting
(Rockford MetroCenter)

Chicago Vultures
(Odeum)

Milwaukee Bavarians
(Bavarian Center)

Schwaben AC
(Schwaben Center)

Tampa Bay Rowdies
(Tampa Bay Stadium)