Former Ireland midfielder Liam Lawrence has told of how he and his PAOK Salonika teammates had to hide at a petrol station in a remote mountain village after Olympiakos supporters planned to ambush their bus.
The 32-year-old, who recently joined Championship strugglers Barnsley after leaving the Greek side, was speaking to media after his new team beat Airtricity League side Dundalk 4-1 at Oriel Park on Friday night. The ex Stoke City and Sunderland man recalled some of the nightmare scenarios that soured his time on the continent during his eighteen month spell with the Champions League contenders.
“Where do I start?” he began, which in itself pointed to the level of farce endured both on and off the pitch by the former Republic of Ireland cap.
“Any time we’d lose a game, there was all this talk of referees being influenced. That was bad enough but as soon as we’d get to the players’ carpark, we’d be praying no one had damaged our cars because fans would be waiting outside the stadium wrecking the place. I was one of the lucky ones. My motor never took a hit.
“Things were so lax at times. We’d be pelted with stones regularly. There were occasions when fans were waiting outside the ground to fill us in. The police would stand to one side and allow the vandals do what they want.
That applied solely to matches on home ground, and Lawrence found that when on the road, things were liable to get altogether more hairy.
“Away games were worse again, ” he said. “We were coming back from a game in Athens on one occasion – and all of a sudden we were diverted by police up to a remote mountain village because they had been tipped off that a number of Olympiacos fans had shut a motorway off, waiting to ambush our bus.
“So we parked in at this petrol station, where the police ordered our bus driver to switch the lights off and told the owner of the petrol station to do the same. Two and a half hours we waited there, until the Olympiacos fans got bored and cleared off home.
“We had four policemen protecting us. Four! Had the fans spotted us, we were in trouble. But the police were not that bothered
“Anywhere else in the world, those things would be condemned because they are not football, but in Greece, Turkey, they get away with it. FIFA and UEFA just don’t seem to give a toss. Anything could have happened to us.”
Lawrence hopes to have left any chance of more similar skirmishes back in Thessaloniki alongside the injury woes of his season thus far that left him unable to build on a positive first season in the Super League. In the 2012/13 campaign he scored four times and was twice named the league’s gameweek MVP. However, due to a niggling calf injury, the midfielder only made two starts this season.
He joined Barnsley earlier this month after being released by PAOK and although Lawrence enjoyed some memorable nights in Greece, he won’t miss the prospect of visiting some of the league’s lesser known stadia.
“The football was a decent standard. You have Panathanaikos, ourselves, Olympiakos and a couple of other half-decent teams. But some of the sides near the bottom have shitholes for stadiums. Really bad.”
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