Football Murals – Thessaloniki

Just outside the Kaftanzoglio Stadium of Iraklis is a sea of blue and white across walls, stadium carparks and the adjacent stadium infrastructure. A small homage is paid to FSV Mainz and the Spanish club Hércules de Alicante two clubs with whom some fans have a friendship.

Iraklis had been well supported right from the start of its establishment. They pre-date both Aris and PAOK being founded in 1908 long before the inception of Thessaloniki’s current big guns PAOK came about in 1924.

In its early years the football section wasn’t the most popular among club founders. But football soon became more and more popular just as it has at the other two sides from this city.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Iraklis could easily attract crowds of around 10,000 fans to fixtures. But with Hatzipanagis’ retirement and the general fall in attendances in Greek football including issues of hooliganism and societal instability crowds in Kaftanzoglio have deteriorated to the current paltry number whom now attend.

Some older generations of fans have simply died whilst the younger elements of society are now mostly attracted to the glamour of PAOK or Aris.

The original name of this city was Thessaloníkē it being named after the princess Thessalonike of Macedon, the half sister of Alexander the Great.

In English, the city can be called Thessaloniki, Salonika, Thessalonica, Salonica, Thessalonika, Saloniki. The most common name and spelling until the early 20th century was Thessalonica, matching the Latin name; but by about 1985, the most common single name became Thessaloniki.

With evidence of Roman ruins as well as Byzantine and Ottoman history, unlike Athens, this is an city easy to navigate with horizontal streets and the beachfront making getting around a simple task.

Its most symbolic monument is The White Tower although these days it is a city more known for its gastronomic diversity by way of hundreds of cafes, bars, traditional tavernas and gourmet restaurants.

Like Athens, numerous internationally renowned archaeological sites are easily accessible from Thessaloniki.  The city is also known as being close to the fabled Mount Olympus which sits to the south.

With three football clubs all of whom have tasted success on the national stage at some point, football murals are not hard to come by here.

The most centrally located is Iraklis Football Club who play at the large Kaftanzoglio Stadium.  This is the club made famous by Vassilis Hatzipanagis, Greek football’s golden player and acquired by the club in 1975.

One of Greek football’s most traditional clubs Aris were founded in 1914 as a founder member of the Hellenic Football Federation.   The clubs’ colors are the distinctive golden yellow and black colors; the dominant color of Macedonian and Byzantine culture.

This vivid coloration of the club colors is dominant in and around the Kleanthis Vikelidis Stadium just south of the home of rivals PAOK.

The club is named after Ares the son of Zeus and one of the twelve ancient Greek Olympians.  His image is displayed on the club symbols and across numerous pieces of fan art located around the Kleanthis Vikelidis Stadium

While recent years has seen limited success for Aris (the club were relegated to the third division in 2014) it’s slightly different at cross-city rivals PAOK.

Both PAOK and Aris contest the heated Derby of Northern Greece, a fixture known for its extremely intense atmosphere.

Known as PAOK (Pan-Thessalonian Athletic Club of Constantinopolitans) PAOK are one of the top four teams in Greece alongside the three dominant Athens sides.

It is said they are now the third best supported club in Greece measured by the number of fans after Olympiakos and Panathinaikos.

Established on 20 April 1926 by Greek Constantinopolitans who had fled to Thessaloniki from the city of Constantinople, PAOK plays their home games at the intimidating Toumba Stadium. It is an open theatre of a stadium which has a capacity of 28,701 seats.

Outside here the art is a selection of images dedicated to the clubs symbols, gated entry points, pyrotechnic use and carefully worded ‘warnings’ to visitors.

Then there are the uncomplimentary references to the local Greek police.

‘Welcome to Hell’ says one piece at PAOK while another describes the Toumba as the home of ‘PAOK lunatics’.

Street art can be ever changing but where football murals are concerned there tends to be a long term permanence.

While the football murals here fall some way short of the best work at Panathinaikos in Athens the quality and diversity of messaging is worthy of a note of appreciation.

The different colors make this is a rich mix whether black and white, yellow and black or blue and white.

That said there is nothing particularly outstanding, and most dominant pieces are by way of dedication to the Gate that the fans enter by at each stadium. The best work seems to be at Aris where the compact backdrop of the stadia in the evening sun provides the best impactful visuals.

At PAOK much of the work looks and feels tired and with the club looking to move or redevelop its likely most if not all of the work at the Toumba will disappear over the next decade.

In all truth the brightest pieces are at Iraklis which is rather these days ironic given the severe decline in the fortunes of the club since the 1990’s.