If Washington DC has the White House so Thessaloniki has the White Tower.
Once a brutal prison the Tower has long since been a symbol of the Greek city and one of its most visited attractions.
Built in the fifteenth century after the fall of Thessaloniki to the Ottomans, it was thanks to the Turks that it got its name. In 1883, on orders of the Sultan, the Tower was painted white and given the name “White Tower”.
In this season’s Europa Conference League Aberdeen have not exactly been a tower of strength.
Granted they are playing teams with more recent experience in Group Stage football but even in the face of more illustrious opponents some might say they have been average.
In truth the Dons have punched above their weight at times in games but failed to capitalise on winning situations. That said by the time of the trip to Greece the white flag of surrender had not been hoisted – yet, which is credit to a side playing in its first UEFA competition Group stages since 2007.
Despite the terrible and calamitous collapse against the Greeks at Pittodrie Stadium the Dons knew a win in Greece would keep hopes of a UECL play-off place in 2024 alive.
2023-24 UEFA Europa Conference League, Group Stage
PAOK Salonika v Aberdeen
Thursday 9th November 2023
Many countries have a duopoly to deal with in the domestic league whether its Celtic and Rangers in Scotland or Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain. In Greece there is a big three namely the capital clubs of AEK, Panathinaikos and Olympiakos.
Between them these sides usually end up sharing the top three positions in the domestic league. A.E.K. have won 13 League titles (2023 was the last one); Olympiacos Pireous have a record 47 titles and Panathinaikos 20 wins.
The latter however last won the title in 2010 and into that gap have jumped another club from the city of Thessaloniki – PAOK.
In 2017 the Greek Cup was won and two years later the double was celebrated.
To celebrate on each occasion the players and fans congregated at the White Tower. Its symbolism being seen as the ideal location for an unforgettable and historic evening of celebration.
The Greek Cup in May 2021 was the last domestic success enjoyed by the side from Thessaloniki. The win over Olympiacos were met by muted celebrations and the game was played behind closed doors.
The resulting European campaign proved to be more than satisfactory. Wins in Denmark and in Belgium against Gent saw a quarter final against Olympique Marseille that would be lost.
Last season’s disappointing early departure in the qualifying rounds to Levski was met with aghast by the PAOK hierarchy. Likewise the early qualification round 0-0 draw with Beitar Jerusalem this season brought a sense of deja-vu. But the Greeks have never looked back sweeping aside Beitar, Hadjuk Split and then Hearts to reach the Conference League Groups.
The Toumba has its roots in 1958 when the Greek Ministry of Defence granted 7.5 acres to the club for the building of a stadium.
Its construction was completed in a record time of just one year. The inauguration match was a friendly encounter against AEK Athens.
The heyday for the Toumba came in the 1970’s when huge crowds were a regular occurrence. Despite Greece at that time being a country under a military dictatorship, huge crowds were common place at the Toumba Stadium.
After the Karaiskakis Stadium disaster of February 1981, increased safety measures were introduced in all Greek stadiums under the new socialist regime. Toumba’s capacity dropped to 41,000 seats and, after the installation of seats in all gated sections in 1998, it stands now at a modest 28,701 seats.
The Toumba has underwent considerable renovation work in recent years taking the club through to the modern era of success it enjoys in UEFA Competition. But it has also become known as one of European football’s most imposing stadiums thanks to the open sweeping uncovered terraces.
Internally, new dressing rooms, entrances, corporate offices, meeting rooms welcome many clubs from across Europe.
This is an arena dressed head to toe in the black and white colours of PAOK.
Outside the shabby appearance probably does Greek football little good. Especially so if the national association ever hope to impress UEFA and bring continental tournament football to Greece. The exteriors are though nothing different to anything else you might see in Greece.
Aberdeen have been to Greece before in European competition.
A 0-3 loss to a Dimitris Salpingidis inspired Panathinaikos was a disappointment but not as big a disaster as the home leg collapse against PAOK at Pittodrie Stadium during October; a game lost after it had been won.
The Scots went to Greece in hope rather than in expectation.
A Viaplay cup semi-final had been won not four days previous against Hibernian in Glasgow but the performance had been far from convincing. Still, similar tactics would be needed in northern Greece if anything was to be gained.
In the event this tie was to end in a draw and a point each.
Despite Jamie McGrath’s sensational free-kick equaliser and a fabulous finish from Duk in the opening period, a win for the Germans of Eintracht Frankfurt in Helsinki meant the Scottish side had no hope of progressing.
The Brazilian Taison and the Tanzanian Mbwanna Samatta scored for the Greeks. The Aberdeen defence enjoyed some hairy moments particularly in the closing stages but Aberdeen somehow survived what was never an onslaught but certainly severe pressure.
The memory of PAOK’s cruel comeback at Pittodrie remained with the players and fans alike in the final minutes. But the shape, resolve, fortitude and a robust attitude to the last did mean the Scottish side enjoyed a draw at the final whistle to take back to the north of Scotland.
The lottery of VAR was on Aberdeen side towards the end as a penalty award was overturned by the officials.
Somewhat ironic a decision you might say in a football theatre that has its roots in a 1958 lottery that had been conducted in an attempt to collect the necessary funds for construction.
Aberdeen: Roos, Devlin, Gartenmann, Rubezic, Jensen, MacKenzie, Duncan (Hayes), Barron, Shinnie (Polvara), McGrath (Miovski), Duk (Sokler)
PAOK: Kotarski, Vieira de Freitas, Troost-Ekong, Koulierakis, Baba, Tsingaras, Schwab, Despodov, Konstantelias, Taison, Thomas
Referee: Juxhin Xhaja (Kosovo)