Memories of Pontus and Asia Minor dominated the spectacular opening of the new football station of Greek soccer club AEK on Friday in Athens.
More than thirty thousand fans gathered at OPAP Arena in the Athenian suburb of Nea Philadelphia to watch a dazzling display of song and dance that brought back memories of Hellenism that was uprooted one hundred years ago by the Turks.
AEK Athens was established in Athens in 1924 by Greek refugees from Constantinople, Smyrna, and Pontus. OPAP Arena was also given the symbolic name of Hagia Sophia in honor of the great Orthodox cathedral in Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, that was turned into a mosque.
A Pontian war dance called Pyrrhichios was one of the highlights of the evening. A dancing group performed the best-known war dance of the Greeks. It was probably of Dorian origin and practiced at first solely as training for war. According to ancient sources, it was a weapon dance.
Groups from Pontus and Asia Minor parade in AEK’s new stadium
Groups representing the Greeks of Asia Minor, Cappadocia, Constantinople, Pontus, and Thrace wearing traditional costumes paraded in the new stadium holding banners while presenters of the show named each and every city in the region dominated by Greeks that were uprooted in 1922 to 1923.
The refugees’ journey from Asia Minor and Pontus to Greece was symbolically reenacted in a spectacular show by hundreds of artists on the football field.
AEK without a home ground for 19 years
Construction on an all-new purpose-built stadium began on July 28, 2017 at the site of the old Nikos Goumas stadium. It has a capacity of approximately thirty thousand and features a unique underground road system that the teams can use to enter the stadium.
The previous soccer ground Nikos Goumas Stadium served as AEK’s home ground since 1930. The stadium suffered severe damages from the 1999 earthquake and was demolished in 2003 with the prospect of building a new stadium for AEK FC. Prolonged obstruction, legal issues, and tight deadlines contributed to the postponement of the new stadium opening.
For nineteen years, the historic club was forced to play its home games at various soccer grounds in Athens and mainly in the seventy thousand-capacity “Spyros Louis” (Athens Olympic Stadium).
AEK is one of the three most successful teams in Greek football (including Olympiacos and Panathinaikos), winning thirty national titles and the only one to have won all the competitions organized by the Hellenic Football Federation (twelve Championships, fifteen Greek Cups, one League Cup, and two Super Cups).