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United’s Greek Tragedy

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The Dundee United squad that travelled to Athens today have yet to receive confirmation of where their Europa League game, scheduled for tomorrow night, will take place. The Olympic Stadium, home of AEK Athens, had been deemed unsuitable due to water-logging and the Greek side were almost confronted with an exit from the competition. The game was then supposed to be taking place at the Nea Smyrni stadium, home of bitter rivals, Panionios.

With the United bodies already angered at the lack of organisation, the story was thrown into fresh controversy last night. It has been reported that the Panionios fans stormed into the ground and dug up their own turf with spades and such in an attempt to get the game called off. “There has been serious damage to the playing surface”Panionios official, Panos Tselentis, told Greek radio station Novasport FM.

UEFA is now considering staging the game at even-more-bitter-rivals Olympiakos’ ground. However the AEK fans have said that they will not attend if the match is played there.

United chairman, Stephen Thompson, is furious with the debacle and he feels that his team and fans have been treated unsatisfactorily by UEFA and the SFA throughout this ordeal. He believes that AEK should have been ejected from the tournament in the first place. The club were told on Monday that they would not be playing at AEK’s home ground and since then a shambolic array of events has taken place. Dundee United intend to put in a formal complaint after the game about the handling of the situation. The club are especially aggrieved since they complied with the UEFA rules by spending a vast some of money to upgrade their own stadium in order to avoid similar disruption.

The club were anxious about the safety of the travelling supporters, thought to range to around 700, since most of them have probably booked hotels near the Olympic Stadium as advised. Violence in Greek football has a long history and AEK are one of the worst offenders. AEK’s coach, Dusan Bajevic, was recently attacked by a group of his club’s own supporters after a pre-season friendly match.

Providing the game goes ahead United will face an uphill battle to come back from a 1-0 deficit in their second leg in Athens tomorrow evening. Athens took the lead in the 11th minute at Tannadice thanks a Rafik Djebbour’s strike.

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BA (Hons) Philosophy. Contributed to the Times Online Sport website 2009; one week work experience. Contributed to The Guardian newspaper (sports pages) 2010; one week work experience. Am currently in Uganda for six weeks working for New Vision Newspaper, Uganda's leading paper. Going to training sessions, interviewing the manager, writing match reports and on the panel of a 2 hour sports radio talk show every weekend.