Anorthosis Famagusta is a club many football-fans will never have heard of before this season.
To be fair, all I knew was that the team originates from Cyprus. I was quite surprised to learn that the team has beaten Rapid Wien and Olympiakos Piraeus in the Champions League qualifiers to progress to the main tournament.
This made them the first Cypriot club ever to join the ranks of the European football aristocracy, and reach the group stages of the Champions League.
At first, I considered their results to be a fluke. A smaller side got lucky and eliminated arrogant opponents, who underestimated them. Anything can happen in the knock-out stages of the qualifiers, right?
Once again, Anorthosis proved me wrong by keeping Werder Bremen to a 0-0 draw in the Weserstadium in Germany, and by beating Panathinaikos 3-1 in Cyprus. This was reason enough for me to look into the history of this fairly unknown club.
After some searching, I uncovered a spectacular and intriguing story. Anorthosis Famagusta uses a phoenix in its crest. For those that aren’t into mythology, the phoenix is a mythical sacred firebird, with a tail of beautiful gold and red plumage.
It has a 1,000 year life-cycle, and near the end the phoenix builds itself a nest of cinnamon twigs that it then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again.
The Anorthosis phoenix, taken from their crest.
The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. In some stories, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egypt city of Heliopolis (sun city in Greek). The bird was also said to regenerate when hurt or wounded by a foe, thus being almost immortal and invincible—it is also said that it can heal a person with a tear from its eyes and make them temporarily immune to death; a symbol of fire and divinity.
The choice to include a phoenix in the crest has been a fitting one. Anorthosis is a club of refugees, rising up to rebuild, so it’s only logical these people have adopted the mythical phoenix as their emblem.
The club was originally founded in the town of Famagusta, around 1911. The original goal of the club was to spread Christian virtues amongst the youngsters and spread Greek nationalism. The club doesn’t limit itself to football, there is also a volleyball branch and there are philosophy and music classes being taught by club members as well.
In 1974 however, Anorthosis were forced to re-locate due to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. This was a Turkish military operation against a coup which had been staged by the Cypriot National Guard against President Makarios III, with the intention of having the island annexed by Greece.
The invasion ended up with Turkey occupying a considerable area on the north-eastern part of Cyprus and establishing a government on it that only Turkey recognizes. Famagusta, however, is located in this Turkish zone and as many inhabitants (around 200,000) fled, they took their clubs and traditions with them.
In the red square, Anorthosis’ current base, Larnaca. Their original base at Famagusta is located a mere 40 miles to the north.
Anorthosis became a club for the refugees from Famagusta. The club re-located to Larnaca, but was without a stadium at first. It wasn’t until 1986 that Anorthosis was able to build their own stadium, the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium.
The stadium was named after a former member, teacher and war-hero who had helped the club in various ways since 1974. The stadium is still considered a temporary stadium by the fans, as their true stadium still stands in Famagusta.
Ever since their exodus, Anorthosis have built up a massive fanbase. Supporters of Anorthosis are known as MAXHTEC (fighters in Greek). The idea is that through fighting, they'll get to the top and return back to their beloved town of Famagusta. Anorthosis' fans are spread all over the island due to the Turkish invasion. There are supporter associations all over the island and in other countries as well (mainly Greece and the UK).
The majority of the Anorthosis fans live in Larnaca however, as the temporary stadium is based there. There are also large numbers of fans in Limassol and Nicosia. MAXHTEC, the ultras, are usually seated at the North tier of stadium. MAXHTEC are considered right-wing, although that's not always the case. They put up Greek Flags but they put up Republic of Cyprus flags as well.
Over the past years, Anorthosis has been fairly successful in Greece. The current squad is an international mixture of various nationalities, being lead by former Georgian international Temuri Ketsbaia.
Famous players at Anorthosis include former Greece captain and Euro 2004 winner Traianos Dellas and former Real Madrid winger and Brazilian international Savio. The squad includes various other nationalities as well, for example players from France, Montenegro, Albania, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Egypt, and of course Greece.
Quite fitting in a way, an emigré club with such an international squad.
It’s this squad and its tenacious Georgian manager that has caused the entire island of Cyprus to go ecstatic with joy when they reached the group stages of the Champions League. In an ironic twist of fate, Anorthosis reached its success over the back of a Greek side. Their win could only have been more memorable if they had beaten a Turkish side to get this far. The rivalry between Cyprus and both Greece and Turkey runs deep.
To be fair, I never expected them to get this far and I was surprised by the results they have achieved so far. An away draw against Bremen and a home win over Panathinaikos are impressive results. Four points out of two games, that’s four points more then I reckoned they would get.
Not a bad achievement, considering the team shouldn’t even exist after the exodus from Famagusta back in ’74…