Crete is year round holiday destination with coastlines on both the Mediterranean Sea and the Libyan Sea. With wild natural beauty and thousands of years of culture, the island of Crete may not be the first name on anyone’s lips where football is concerned but the main club OFI Crete has long played a role at the top table of Greek Football.
The history of Crete is long and rich and according to archaeologists, it started in the Neolithic period with Crete being the birthplace of the first European civilization, the Minoan, which flourished between 3000 BC and 1200 BC mainly in Central and Eastern Crete.
Appearing in Homer’s Odyssey the name Crete plays a forefront role in the modern Greek economy thanks to its thriving tourism scene. But it was not until December 1st, 1913 that Crete officially united with Greece. One of the key figures was Eleftherios Venizelos from Chania in Crete; a man who was later to become the Prime Minister of Greece.
The struggles of Cretans did not end in 1913 since many Cretans had to fight in the Battle of Crete in 1941 which was one of the most important strategically important conflicts of World War II. Today, there are memorials and monuments scattered all over the island reminding of the horror and devastation of war with the German military.
With its distinctive elongated shape straddling two climatic zones, Crete spans 260km from its eastern tip to the west yet is only 60 km at its widest point. Surrounded to the south by the Libyan Sea; the Sea of Crete and the Carpathian Sea, Crete lies approximately 160km south of the Greek mainland with a boat trip between Heraklion and Piraeus taking 9 hours.
This is an island spanning thousands of years of rules spread across the Minoan civilisation, Ancient Greece, modern Greece, the Roman Empire, Arabs and the Byzantine period. Yet for all its ancient remains and rich history, its greatest football treasure remains the main football team OFI Crete and its inner city home – the compact Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium.
Omilos Filathion Irakielou 1925 or Club of Fans of Heraklion 1925 are based in the Cretan capital of Heraklion. They remain the one Cretan club with the most appearances in the Greek first division last winning the Greek cup as recently as 1987.
Given the large population of the island (600,000 inhabitants), OFI is not the only football club from Crete. The club retains a strong if not as fierce rivalry with cross-town Heraklion rivals Ergotalis; a rivalry that has existed since 1929 when the first Cretan derby game between the two was abandoned due to violence.
Ergotalis currently play a level below OFI at the Pankritio Stadium a stadium created for the 2004 Olympics which sits across the street from the home stadium of OFI. Despite playing at a modern home the footballing decline of Ergotalis has its roots in the ‘one city/one club’ rule of the Greek military junta period that existed from 1967-74.
The traditional home ground of Ergotalis is the Nikos Kazantzakis Stadium also known locally as the Martinengo Stadium. The stadium is located on top of Venetian era fortifications that surrounding the ancient inner city of Heraklion.
Other prominent clubs on Crete include Platanias FC who play at the Perivolia Municipal Stadium near Chania on the east of the island. FC Platanias had competed in the Greek Superleague during the 2017-18 season but were relegated at the end of the campaign.