|Beautiful day for local derby in Nicosia, Cyprus|
- Small island in the Mediterranean just 150 miles west of Syria and 175 miles south of Turkey.
- Divided into two parts since the Turkish Invasion of 1974.
- The Republic of Cyprus is in the south - a member of UN, European Union; uses the Euro; speak Greek.
- Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Not recognized as a country by anyone in the world except Turkey; use the Turkish Lire; speak Turkish.
- The capital city of Nicosia is in the center of the island and is also divided with the two sides separated by the "Green Line" and monitored by UN Peacekeeping forces since 1974. Actual razor wire, guards with guns along a 124 mile dividing line running east to west.
We landed on a Saturday at noon in the Northern part of Cyprus because we flew in from Turkey. We quickly crossed the border to the Republic of Cyprus and found the house we had rented in the Old Town of Nicosia. I knew there was a match that afternoon at 4 pm and our Airbnb host offered to drive me to the match and drop me off. Just 4 km away he said so I figured I could easily walk home.
|My Greek is close to zero but this says Apoel vs. Apollon|
Mind you I didn't have a ticket yet and didn't know anything about the match except that it started at 4 pm. It was now 3:30 and I blended into a crowd of fans making their way towards the stadium. I quickly realized I was on the "wrong" side of the highway from the stadium in a run-down, dirt parking lot where all the away supporters (in this case Apollon fans) were dropped off. There were cops all around, many in balaclavas, knee pads and full riot gear where the police work the crowd of 200 hundred or so like cowboys driving cattle.
After speaking to one of the cops and asking where to buy a ticket, I found myself among a group of fans walking under the highway, stepping over and around a stream on our way to the stadium. It reminded me of pictures you see on the news of illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into America.
|I followed the away supporters from a dirt parking lot under the highway to the stadium|
I kept walking and before long I was in line for tickets for Apoel, the home team. Good news. I could buy a ticket. I made friends with Marios, the guy behind me in line who spoke English. By the time we got to the ticket window I found out that tickets were the equivalent of $9. More good news. It turns out that he and his buddies were supporters of Appolon. They had not bought tickets back home in Limassol in time to sit in the away supporters section so their plan was to buy tickets on the Apoel side and then sit on their hands the whole match so as not to give away their loyalties. They had jackets that covered their team colors in order to blend in.
|Supporters for Apollon from Limassol in the away section. Note yellow-vested security surrounding them.|
|Apoel supporters (home) at the other end with pre-match "card stunt" felt like a college game in America|
The air went out of their balloon win the 29th minute when Apoel was called for a foul in their own penalty area. Drama. Penalty kick. Apollon scored! Match tied 1-1. The whistles from the home town fans were deafening.
Normally I cheer for the home team. Why not? I usually don't have loyalties one way or the other but in this case since I was sitting with Marios and his friends so decided to become a closet Apollon supporter for the day. Remember, "we" were in first place wanting to defend our position top of the table AND "we" had not won here in 15 years which made it fun to root for Apollon.
A few minutes later, Apoel seized the day and scored again in the 34th minute with a beautiful shot on goal to go up 2-1. Minutes later Apollon went on the offense. The Apoel keeper left the goal box to try and block a shot. Then the ball ricochet off his foot and what seemed like slow-motion the ball keeps rolling slowly towards the goal. Both teams start chasing the ball but no one gets there before the ball dribbles across the line and the score is tied 2-2. More whistles.
At halftime, I started focusing on how I was going to get "home" to Nicosia. I told Marios the story of the cop I met before the game who pointed out where I might catch a bus a mile or so from the stadium. I was hoping that they might have more information but since they were from Limassol they didn't know Nicosia that well. Just before I left for the match I grabbed a map which fortunately had a red "x" indicating where our house was in the Old City. Marios and his friends studied the map and before long said "not to worry". They would give me a ride to town and then I could catch a bus, taxi or walk. Whew!
Time for the second half. The first half had been thrilling. Maybe the best I had seen in a dozen matches I'd been to in Europe as a Senior Nomad. Knowing I had a plan on getting home, I relaxed and got ready for another exciting 45 minutes of soccer....and wow, was it ever!
Up and down the field. Back and forth. As time went on both teams started pressing harder and harder. Yellow cards starting popping up like dandelions. Both teams really wanted the 3 points. At one point I thought both teams would start throwing punches but the referee got the match under control.
|Referee Vasilis Demetriou earning his wages keeping the teams apart late in the match|
The home fans were the picture of dejection.
|Discussing the merits of the offside call|
After the match, I follow Marios and his friends back under the freeway to the parking lot, over some fences and across a farmer's field headed for his car. While we were walking, they took off their jackets to show their colors now that we were lost in a sea of Apollon supporters.
|A great day of football + a ride home. Who could ask for more?|
I looked up and like an airplane descending from low clouds and seeing the runway just before landing, I recognized the mini-mart in front of us. We had shopped earlier in the day for groceries and I knew I was going to get home. I jumped out. Thanked Marios and told him that because of his kindness to a stranger he was going to heaven for sure. I still was not sure exactly where our house was because they all looked the same in the dark. I headed down the first narrow road hoping to recognize the house. After walking for a few minutes I thought I found it. I got out my key and tentatively put it in the lock hoping that I was opening the door to the our courtyard. The key went it. I gave it a turn and "voila" it opened. Yay!
Prayers answered. Great day out. Confidence back and before I was in the house I was already thinking about the next match when we will be in Larnaca. The home team is AEK Larnaca. They are currently in 3rd place and will host Apoel. If I'm able to get a ticket to see the match I'll let you know. I'll take a map!