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Global Soccer, Global NYC

Soccer in NYC Reimagined Through the Rivalries, Identity, Migration, and Politics of the World's Game in the Preeminent Global City

Derby of Eternal Enemies. Olympiacos FC 2 - Panathinaikos FC 2

9 December 2012, 12:30 pm. Olympiacos FC Supporters Club NY, Astoria Queens

The incredibly heated Greek match pitting Olympiacos FC against Panathinaikos FC is also known as both the “Derby of the Eternal Enemies” or “The Mother of All Battles.” These descriptions are rather apt, especially considering some recent matches, and capture the enduring rivalry and the emotions wrapped up in it. The derby between the Red-Whites and the Greens is a social, cultural, and regional rivalry. Both of these teams are the two major clubs in Greece. Panathinaikos FC (PAO) was founded in 1908 and is located in the center of Athens. PAO is one of only two supporter-owned football clubs in Greece. They are considered the classic representative of the old upper class society of Athens.

Olympiacos FC, founded in 1925 and located in the port city of Piraeus, just outside central Athens, represents the working class citizens of the city. Olympiacos is the most successful club in Greek football history winning 39 league titles. Both fan bases hate each other whenever they meet regardless of if it is in Athens or in Astoria.

The Olympiacos FC Supporters club has been in New York for 16 years. Located on 30th Avenue in Astoria, Queens conveniently above the Acropolis Meat Market, the members only fan club has been central to the large community of Greek immigrants living in Astoria. It was filled on a recent Sunday afternoon for the Derby with Greek men drinking coffee and cheering on their team. The atmosphere was amazing and became even better after Olympiacos scored two first half goals after being one down to take a 2-1 lead before the break. Panathinaikos leveled in the 67th, but the draw didn’t dampen the mood too much among the Olympiacos fans as they sit comfortably at the top of the league and a massive 16 points ahead of their arch rival.   

At the Olympiacos supports club, after we assured them we were not undercover FBI agents, we even had the opportunity to sit in the VIP section that included a small office and one flat screen TV after being invited by George (the club’s main caretaker/one of the head honchos) and Alex (an avid supporter). A special thanks goes out to both of them for their gracious hospitality during the Derby of Eternal Enemies. 

"Panathinaikos (PAO to its friends, vasles— from Vaseline— to its foes) is not simply taken as the team of the city (a point of identification) but also as a point of distinction between bourgeois Athens and proletarian Piraeus and its team Olympiakos (Thrylos— legend— to its friends, gavroi— smelts— to its foes). This, of course, does not mean that there is a monolithic devotion of the citizens of the two cities to their respective teams. The devotion of an individual to a team many times is superseded by an alliance of a different order, always ad hoc and largely unclassifiable ."
- Neni Panourgia, Fragments of Death, Fables of Identity: An Athenian Anthropography
Colombian fans cheer on a Los Cafeteros corner kick at Metlife Stadium against Brazil. 

Colombian fans cheer on a Los Cafeteros corner kick at Metlife Stadium against Brazil. 

"In Argentina, football is divided along political lines: if you are a Boca Juniors fan, you are likely to be a working class Peronist; if you follow River Plate, you tend to be a middle-class radical, Argentina’s other main political grouping. The origins of this division are probably rooted in early twentieth-century differences in geography, wealth and nationality. Boca is the port area where the poor immigrant Italians first settled, while River Plate is in more affluent Liniers, in northern Buenos Aires, where the middle-class Spanish and Jewish tended to live."
- Leslie Ray, Argentina’s Left-Wingers

This yellow and blue-clad waiter was getting down to some Boca tunes before el Superclásico kicked off in Elmhurst, Queens at Boca Juniors Steakhouse on Queens Blvd.

"Barcelona has historically been seen as the most popular team and ‘idol of Ecuador.’ Founded in Guayaquil in 1925 by immigrants, especially Catalans, it was always a team that is associated with the commoners and lower classes of the port. While Emelec, also founded in 1929 by an immigrant and utility officials represent the “aniñados” (childish, spoiled) of Guayaquil with what is called ‘the team of millionaires’ or the ‘Ballet Blue.’ Both teams compete for the shipyard classic that dates back to the time where Ecuadorian amateur soccer incubated rivalries between the local teams."

Jacques Paul Ramírez Gallegos, Identities and local and regional rivalries in Ecuador: a view from football

El Clásico del Astillero. Barcelona SC 1 - CS Emelec 1 

10 October 2012, 8 pm. Red Bull Arena, Harrison NJ

On October 10th, the two Ecuadorian club teams, Barcelona and Emelec met one another on the Red Bulls pitch to play in their decades long “El Clásico del Astillero” (The Shipyard Derby). A rivalry dating back to the 1940s, its fan-base is from Guayaquil, but has clearly transcended city and region. Emelec was founded by a US electrical entrepreneur and Barca was founded by a Catalan immigrant, whom named the club after his own Spanish club, Barcelona.

Approaching Red Bulls Arena, we had the sensation that we had arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The chants were loud and from our broken Spanish, they were just as profane as we had expected. The yellow Barca kit dominated the crowd and upon entering the stadium and finding our seats we were completely deaf from the cheers, chants, and songs. The north end goal was occupied by Barca and the opposite side was the domain of Emelec. The Emelec side was significantly smaller in numbers, however their banner was far superior. The game proceeded to be a stalemate for the majority of the 90 minutes, until Emelec knocked one in and took the lead. We had grown used to my new Barca neighbors and was wishing for their victory, but at this stage of the game our hopes were quickly draining.

Of course, as in most soccer matches, it isn’t over until the 90 are played through. Nearing the 90th minute a foul was committed by Emelec just outside the box. The Barca forward set the ball down as the Emelec defense lined up a wall to protect the goal. Then, it happened as quick as they often do, when you check your phone, take a sip of beer, or turn to say something to a friend. The ball was struck quickly and efficiently. So much so, that the Emelec goalie just stood there, un-moved as he watched the ball fall into the upper right hand corner. The Barca fans went berserk with joy, toilet paper was hurdled on to the pitch, and thunder sticks seem to break sound barriers. The game ended in a draw, but it felt like a win as both teams and their fans left satisfied and ecstatic to have seen their idols up close. 

There simply is not any other city in the US that could host a match like the Emelec and Barcelona derby. The Ecuadorian diaspora is finding its niche in the US and growing in NYC in particularly, and, like most other cultures, its beloved sport is held on to tightly in order to preserve identity and maintain a connection with home.

A mix of the 1973 film El Derecho De Los Pobres and the Ecuadorian club teams Barcelona Sporting Club v Sport Club Emelec during el clásico del astillero on October 10th 2012 at Red Bulls Arena. This short film seeks to portray the enduring rivalry as it has transcended borders and continues on through generations, whether at home in Ecuador or home in the US. It also seeks to portray the strong undercurrent of transnational soccer fandom in NYC. 

Emelec fans against a sea of Barcelona yellow at Red Bulls Arena on October 10th 2012 for el clásico del astillero.

Emelec fans against a sea of Barcelona yellow at Red Bulls Arena on October 10th 2012 for el clásico del astillero.

"Throughout the twentieth century this football rivalry has been constantly imbued with political and athletic motifs. During the Franco Regime, there were constant allegations by Barça that the regime favored Real Madrid because it represented the government within Spain and abroad. …But regardless of which team wins La Liga or the political relations between the two cities, what Real Madrid and Barça have in common now, at the beginning of the twenty first century, is their media power and multimillion dollar revenues. In that sense, …Barça and Real Madrid have more similarities than differences, and thus their rivalry may be understood as a struggle between two economic superpowers."
- Elga Castro-Ramos, Loyalties, Commodity and Fandom: Real Madrid, Barça and Athletic fans versus “La Furia Roja” during the World Cup