Greek game abandoned after 'armed' owner protests decision

PAOK owner, businessman Ivan Savvidis, second from left, approaches AEK Athens' Manager Operation Department Vassilis Dimitriadis, center, as his bodyguard and PAOK's players Fernando Varela, second from right, and Djalma Campos, right, try to stop him during a Greek League soccer match between PAOK and AEK Athens in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, March 11, 2018. A disputed goal at the end of the Greek league match led to a pitch invasion by Savvidis, who appeared to be carrying a gun. Savvidis came on the field twice. It's unclear this photos shows his first time or second. (InTime Sports via AP)

A disputed goal at the end of a Greek league match between leader AEK and title rival PAOK in the northern city of Thessaloniki led to a pitch invasion by one of the team owners, who appeared to be carrying a gun

ATHENS, Greece — A disputed goal at the end of a Greek league match on Sunday between leader AEK and title rival PAOK led to a pitch invasion by one of the team owners, who appeared to be carrying a gun.

Fernando Varela scored in the 90th minute, putting host PAOK ahead 1-0 in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The referee signaled a goal but then seemed to disallow it for offside.

PAOK's owner, businessman Ivan Savvidis, came on the field twice and was accompanied by bodyguards. On the second occasion, without the overcoat he was wearing before, Savvidis appeared to be carrying a pistol which was in its holder. Savvidis made no move to use the weapon at any time.

AEK officials claimed Savvidis threatened the referee during his first foray onto the pitch, before being pulled away. They claim he also threatened AEK's operations manager, Vassilis Dimitriadis. AEK said it will file a complaint with FIFA and UEFA, the world and European soccer governing bodies.

PAOK said in a statement: "After what happened today, PAOK chairman Ivan Savvidis is preparing all necessary procedures to protect the team and all his collaborators from the threats and attacks they have been subjected to. There will be relevant announcements on the issue soon."

The game was finally abandoned after more than two hours and the stadium emptied of fans. Adding to the widespread confusion, there were claims that the referee, Giorgos Kominis, had actually allowed the goal. The score at the time of abandonment remains uncertain — 0-0 or 1-0 to PAOK — with the referee's report still to come.

AEK claimed that the atmosphere had become too threatening for the game to resume, while the referee was reportedly in favor of resuming.

Earlier, AEK coach Manolo Jimenez had been sent to the stands, in the 83rd minute, for constantly complaining.

PAOK's previous home game — against another title rival, Olympiakos — never started after Olympiakos coach Oscar Garcia was hit in the face by a cash register paper roll.

The latest incident has thrown the outcome of the season into further disarray.

"Images of team owners invading the pitch armed are setting back soccer for years," Deputy Culture Minister for Sports Giorgos Vasileiadis said in a statement after the game. After claiming that the current season was the "cleanest and most exciting" because of the government's attempt to clean up the game, Vasileiadis said "we will not allow anyone to divert us from our task, even if we have to, in consultation with UEFA, to take difficult decisions." That has been widely interpreted as a threat to suspend the entire league.

After the non-starter against Olympiakos, PAOK was fined and deducted three points, the game was declared a 3-0 victory for Olympiakos and PAOK was due to have played its next two home games in front of empty stands. But an appeals panel decided early Sunday morning to void the points deduction and to allow PAOK to play inside a full stadium, although the result remained in Olympiakos' favor.

PAOK says it will appeal again, demanding that the game with Olympiakos takes place.

Olympiakos itself is appealing a decision that had deducted three points from the team for fan behavior in a Feb. 4 home game against AEK, which it lost 2-1. The appeal hearing has been delayed at least twice, and the current Greek league standings do not reflect any of the current sanctions.

If a PAOK official is judged to have threatened the referee as well as the AEK official, the team could potentially face relegation.

In soccer games which finished Sunday, Olympiakos won 4-0 at last-place Platanias, Xanthi beat Panetolikos 1-0 and Levadiakos drew 1-1 at Lamia.

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