Named after George Karaiskakis, a hero in the 19th century Greek War of Independence, the Karaiskakis Stadium was the velodrome at the inaugural 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens. This venerable venue became the home of soccer outfit Olympiacos FC, the most successful club in Greece.
However, two other great teams in the Greek capital – Panathinaikos and AEK Athens – are also constantly vying for supremacy. Derby matches between Olympiacos and its big-city rivals are eagerly anticipated by supporters, and so it was in February 1981 when two sets of passionate fans packed into the Karaiskakis Stadium for the big game between Olympiacos and AEK Athens.
In the event, the home side enjoyed a mighty triumph, beating arch rivals AEK 6-0. This was a cause for ecstatic celebration among the home contingent, but euphoria soon evaporated when disaster struck. After the final whistle, excited Olympiacos fans made a rush for the exits to continue their victory party outside the ground. At Gate 7 a partially closed exit was the cause of the biggest tragedy in Greek football history. Fans on the bottom steps hesitated and were pushed over by the solid mass pressing from behind. Dozens went down and were engulfed as the crowd continued to surge forward. When the melee was finally sorted out, 19 supporters had lost their lives and many more were injured. Most were young adults or teenagers.
The passion that Greek football fans bring to the game was matched by the intense sorrow with which they have mourned its victims since 1981. Every year on the anniversary of the catastrophic crush, thousands gather inside Karaiskakis Stadium for a memorial service, at which the massed fans sing the moving refrain ‘Brothers, you still live and you are the ones who guide us’.
When was the Karaiskakis Stadium Disaster: February 8 1981
Where was the Karaiskakis Stadium Disaster: Neo Faliro, Piraeus, Greece
What was the Karaiskakis Stadium Disaster death toll: 21 (including two victims who subsequently died in hospital). Over 50 were seriously injured.
You should know: The Karaiskakis Stadium was rebuilt as a state-of-the-art venue to host the football competition at the 2004 Summer Olympics. But the Gate 7 tribute area has black seats among the standard red of Olympiacos, forming a giant figure 7, and there is a monument on the eastern side of the ground bearing the names of all 21 victims – gone but not forgotten.