I was in Athens in 2004 during the time of the football European Championships. The Greek team was in the finals,
but the pundits had written them off. It was a Friday evening when they played France in the quarter finals.
In the UK, national football team games are watched in the local pub with your mates and a few drinks. With this
thought in mind I headed out early, hoping to find a restaurant with a TV and an empty table within sight of
the TV. I headed straight for one of my favourite restaurants. The streets were empty, few bars even had customers
- or TVs - it seemed that the Greeks were not as passionate about football as I thought.
The Hermion restaurant had only a smattering of customers. I ate watching the first half, and sat back with a few
beers for the second. Sometime in that second half Greece scored what turned out to be the winning goal.
As it went in I did the standard clenched fist 'yes' celebration, making more noise than anyone else in
the place, including the four waiters - the only other people, it seemed, with any interest in the game.
So it ended. It was late, around 11pm and I set off back for my hotel, the Amalia. Still no-one in the streets,
strangely, not even tourists. In my bedroom half an hour later I had the TV on, tuned into the news channel in
hope of seeing the football hi-lights. Of course it was all in Greek, but the scenes of jubilation in the
streets needed no translation. Hah, at least someone is celebrating the victory I thought. On the TV people
were gathering, car horns were sounding. But wait, that was Omonia Square, a few hundred yards from where
I was sitting. Hold on, those horns aren't on TV, they're live, they're coming from outside my room.
Sure enough, a glance out the window showed that the celebrations had indeed come to me, and I was going
to get no sleep in the near future. So I went down to the hotel reception, got a beer, lit up a nice King
Edward's, and stood on the pavement to watch the crowds go by. The Amalia hotel is almost opposite the
parliament building - and so was [a] on the route for many thousands making their way to Omonia,
and [b] on the circuit on which the fans were driving continuously, horns sounding, all vehicles
were bedecked in flags, streamers, even flares. I couldn't help but be pleased for them all, even
though England had been knocked out of the competition the day before.
The street party fizzled out around 2am. I can only image what it was like a week later when the
Greek team won the competition.