Special report: Olympic Stadium-hopping
PUBLISHED: 10:00 06 October 2018
From Carabao Cup to Champions League, via a step into the past
Three Olympic Stadiums in a week.
It all started with a trip to the home of the London 2012 Games, when West Ham United welcomed Macclesfield Town for a third round tie in the Carabao Cup.
And that ended in an 8-0 win for the Hammers in impressive style with braces from Robert Snodgrass and youngster Grady Diangana and goals from Angelo Ogbonna, Lucas Perez, Ryan Fredericks and Michail Antonio helping them breeze through to the next round and a home meeting with Tottenham.
As if that wasn’t enough entertainment, I opted to spend a few days off from work at the start of this week and, like any other sports reporter would (I hope), took in more sporting events and sites, with a trip to the home of the Olympics in Athens.
My trip to Greece started on Monday morning, after my midweek trip to the London Stadium had been followed by a visit to Dagenham & Redbridge on Saturday afternoon to cover their 3-1 defeat to Ebbsfleet United, as I boarded a flight first thing to Athens.
After landing in Athens, I jumped on a shuttle bus to an airbnb apartment near the Acropolis, before dinner and a few jars of Mythos overlooking the iconic statue that was built in the fifth century BC.
The next morning it was off to the 2004 Athens Olympic Stadium to grab some tickets for the Champions League match between AEK Athens and Benfica that evening.
On the way back from the ground, my dad and I stopped off at the Panathenaic Stadium, the home of the 1896 Olympic Games, and what a site to see that is!
The marble stadium was one of the most impressive places I’ve seen and I’d imagine if you were an athlete you would only dream that it would host a retro Olympic games to get to be able to make an appearance there.
An audio tour was provided as you wandered around the stadium, with facts and fun stats about its history over the years, including that they finished the 2004 Olympic marathon at the iconic venue.
The views from the top of the stands were spectacular as you could see over Athens, the Acropolis, and the temple of Zeus from afar.
After that we took in some more sights and traditional food, and of course some beer, before bumping into a Benfica fan who asked for a picture with us as we revealed we were also big fans of the Portuguese side.
The chap then offered to take us on the away fans bus that was going to the ground later that night.
We met the Benfica fans, but in the end opted to walk to the nearest train station after hearing the buses would be police escorted to the game straight to away stands and we ended up buying home tickets that morning.
Once off the train, there were stalls everywhere with cheap Athens shirts and scarves, as well as food stalls.
It was pitch black due to the match starting at 10pm local time but we took our seats to embrace the calm before the storm.
The Champions League music began booming out over the sound system before the Athens fans poured into the stadium to create a rowdy atmosphere, singing throughout the entire 90 minutes, despite going 2-0 down in the opening quarter of an hour of the match.
With their team completely on the back foot, the home fans continued to let off flares and sing their hearts out, until their luck turned when Benfica had defender Ruben Dias sent off on the stroke of half-time.
Athens came out all guns blazing in the second half and found themselves back on level terms by the 63rd minute thanks to a brace from Viktor Klonaridis.
They dominated the second half until substitute Alfa Semedo broke up the pitch and smashed the ball into the back of the net to seal a 3-2 win for the visitors.
Despite deserving at least a point from the match, what amazed me most was how the Athens fans applauded their side off the pitch, and that was that – no booing or criticism.
Leaving the ground, there were motorbikes everywhere and more stalls, where I did pick up an Athens shirt for just 10 euros as a souvenir.
The next day concluded my trip with a walk up to Acropolis, before jetting back to London and returning to my desk, with a view of London Stadium in the distance.