Among the many things that A.E.K. represents; migration, a lost homeland, and the tireless spirit of belonging, it all seems to have a lasting residue on today’s A.E.K. teams that up until recently were in search of their own home. Being true to form and keeping with the tradition that is A.E.K., her teams have had to endure so much without a home ‘field’ or ‘court’ of their own. And yet, the last several years, without a genuine home field in football, homecourt in basketball not to mention handball and volleyball, A.E.K. still raised to championship glory. In the same token, football and basketball experienced dreadful years of relegation over the last ten years.
Yes… accusations of team mismanagement were well-grounded, the rules of engagement in both football and basketball leagues were anything but ‘fair’ over the last two decades and fans, not just A.E.K.’s, had their loyalties tested while watching their respective sport being muscled behind the scenes by private ownership interests or by the whims of political operatives and cronies.
One would think that playing at the Olympic complex in Athens the last several years for both teams would mean a major home-field advantage. It is not. A stadium that holds close to 70,000 fans requires at least half of that amount to create a vociferous advantage and although A.E.K. fans have raised hell and high water with even less than 30,000 fans in the stands, this has been done so on occasion and by no means is it the norm. The basketball arena at the Olympic complex is no different. Full seating capacity is capped at 17,000 and yet only when the basketball team won the European Champions League in 2018 did the arena sell out and the team witnessed a true AEK styled home-court advantage.
The issue is not just about the number of fans who show up for a game. It has to do with the atmosphere and the full fan experience. AEK F.C. isn’t expected to sellout 70,000 seats every home game during domestic play or even in European competition at O.A.K.A. Football matches with an intense pulse require football purpose-built stadiums for the full football experience. Only stadiums that meet realistic fan turnout capacities are destined to lift teams to another level. For example, AEK B.C. averaged five thousand fans this last season. AEK B.C. ARENA seats nine thousand plus fans. The proximity of the stands to the basketball court and the more compact atmosphere will not only turn out more AEK fans but it will easily create the elusive 6th player AEK wishes it had at every home game.
In such difficult economic times, fans need to get more out of a Sunday game besides the sentiment of a win or lose. This experience has to go beyond the boundaries of the pitch or court. From shops to dining on and or off stadium premises, from stadium galleries or museums such as the case with Agia Sophia’s museum, the only museum in the country that will be dedicated to the plight of the Pontian Greeks to simply strolling before or after a game in the stadium’s green park vicinity, fans will be recipients of an experience adding to the euphoria of a win or comforted by the letdown of a loss. If one believes that we do indeed become products of our environment, then AEK fans can only expect to feel better appreciated.
Both A.E.K. F.C. and B.C. currently have management teams that understand not only the financial merits of having one’s own stadium or arena but also understand that fans come closer when they simply have a home of their own. If A.E.K. teams were able to hoist championships in the air without having a genuine home arena, just imagine what is expected when the doors of Agia Sophia and AEK B.C. Arena open. AEK’s rivals are all too aware of this and have taken notice. AEKTZIDES have their home!