Following their heroics in Belgrade, Shamrock Rovers have been drawn in Group A of the Europa League group stages along with Tottenham, Rubin Kazan and PAOK.
The Irish media has been awash with articles salivating at the thought of Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham team coming to Dublin. We’ve seen Rubin Kazan famously beat Barcelona 2-1 in the Camp Nou back in 2009, as well as draw 1-1 with the Spanish giants last season in Russia. PAOK are more of an unknown quantity to Irish football fans.
To learn more about the Greek side I contacted Stavros Sountoulidis, PAOK FC’s Press and Communications manager, with a couple of questions which he kindly took the time to answer.
For the benefit of the travelling Shamrock Rovers fans, what lies in store for them on their visit to Toumba Stadium?
PAOK fans and the atmosphere in Toumba stadium are famous all over the world. Our fans are the “12th player” and follow the team all over the world. Some people travelled around 3,500 kilometres by bus for a game against Valerenga this summer. A few years ago (during the 1988-89 UEFA Cup) we played against Diego Maradona’s Napoli, and the Italian daily sports newspaper “Gazzetta dello Sport” likened the atmosphere of the Toumba stadium with “Dante’s Inferno!”. Last season our hospitality was excellent for the supporters of Ajax, Fenerbahce, Villarreal and CSKA Moscow.
What are the must see tourist attractions in Thessalonika?
The most famous attractions are White Tower in the heart of the city, Aristotelous square, Arc Galleriou Kamara, Rotonda-Byzantine church and St. Demetrios church.
Has the financial crisis in Greece had a detrimental impact on the Superleague Greece?
Yes it has had a detrimental impact. For example our team has a lower revenue of 20% in sponsors deals from last season. Second example: 2010-2011 season tickets sales were 19,500 and dropped to 15,500 this season.
Do you expect many PAOK fans to travel to Dublin for the away match against Rovers?
It depends from the total number of tickets that we will take from Shamrock Rovers. I think around 300-400 PAOK fans will be in Dublin for the game.
How is new manager László Bölöni settling in?
He is a successful coach with several stints with many great European teams such us Sporting Lisbon, Standard Liege and Rennes. The PAOK management wanted him from last season.
Are PAOK fans happy about his appointment?
Until now yes! The team managed and achieved the first big goal, that was the qualification to groups stage of Europa League and winning the first game in Superleague. After 5 officials games we have 13-1 goals. That’s a great achievement.
What players in particular should Rovers fans be cautious of when the two sides meet?
First of all Andre Vieirinha. A Portuguese superstar with powerful skills, our top player. Also Pablo Garcia (a famous Uruguayan ex-player of Real Madrid), Pablo Contreras (a member of the Chilean national team) and Dimitris Salpingidis (an international forward with Greece).
Have PAOK sent scouts over to Dublin to assess Shamrock Rovers?
Until this moment, no.
I’d like to thank Stavros for answering my questions and I wish PAOK the best of luck in their games against Tottenham and Rubin Kazan.
Shamrock Rovers are scheduled to play PAOK in Greece on October 20th. The corresponding fixture in Dublin is due to be played on November 3rd.
I will be conducting a similar piece with a Spurs blogger soon enough, so if there are any questions you feel should be asked then please feel free to suggest them in the comments section below.