By Angelos Anastasiou
Some 700 organised fans of Omonia football club staged a protest outside AKEL’s central offices on Monday night, demanding that the party loosens the stranglehold it has on the club, though the party categorically denied any involvement in the club’s affairs.
During the protest, fans shouted slogans in favour of the disentanglement of club and party, and set up a desk to enroll members.
Among the placards held by the protesters was one reading “Freedom to Omonia”, while another said “Down with the party junta”.
Starting outside the fan club’s office at Pallouriotissa, the march ended at AKEL’s headquarters, where fans sang Omonia’s anthem and read out their demands. The protesters disbanded after about half an hour.
The ‘Gate 9’ fans – so named because of their traditional regular spot in the old Makarion Stadium during Omonia’s home games back in the 1980s – blame the communist party for the football team’s poor record and financial woes, as they believe AKEL uses the team as a proxy to attract voters, and that the club’s management are but the party’s strawmen.
“Do not spread your rage thin at random; do not make ineffectual efforts to magically change the tragic predicament our team finds itself in,” an announcement by the organised fans, posted on their website after yet another league loss late Sunday night, read.
“The path to FREEDOM is long, and it requires sacrifice and patience.”
The fans argued that the focus of every Omonia supporter should be on the upcoming elections for the club’s management.
“Why do you put up with those who have destroyed our dreams, and more importantly, why do you put up with those who manage our team being APPOINTED behind closed party doors?”
This was a clear barb against AKEL, which has a notoriously strong grip on Omonia – so much so that the fortunes of one generally seem to mirror those of the other.
“We call on you to stand on our side in a march OUTSIDE AKEL’S OFFICES, on Monday,” the fans’ announcement said.
“Our protest’s main demands are the FREEDOM of the club from the party’s yoke; the mass registration of members to vote in the upcoming elections; and, holding the elections before the next political election in the country.”
The next political election is scheduled for May 2016.
“We will not tolerate a bunch of tie-wearing [party officials] usurping our ideology so they can control our team,” the fans warned, referring to AKEL officials.
The decision to hold a protest outside the party’s headquarters is both “unacceptable” and “deplorable”, AKEL said in a statement of response.
“This is an action that offends the historic club and its supporters,” it claimed.
“The recent repeated efforts by the leadership of ‘Gate 9’ to target and damage AKEL for issues it has no connection or involvement in, is not but the result of actions orchestrated by known circles with ulterior, self-serving, and nefarious motives.”
Predictably, the fans hit back with a scornful announcement of their own, in which they said they have no plans to back down.
“The connection between AKEL and OMONIA has been a topic in the newspapers, websites, and even the butt of many a satirical TV show,” they said.
“We have no interest in proving it, nor in demonstrating its extent. In any case, anyone who has lived through a single political election needs no further input to draw conclusions.”
But what the fans truly took offense with, they added, was AKEL’s reference to “ulterior motives”.
“The reaction stems from the miserable image projected by the greatest club in Cyprus, not from dark forces,” they mocked.