Home & Away

Cypriot football's story is more complicated then you could ever imagine. With the first of a two-parter, here's Ryan Hubbard.

Almost 37 years have passed since Cypriot club Anorthosis Famagusta last set foot in their home ground, the Gymnastic Club Evagoras (G.S.E.) Stadium.

Though now you'd never know it, tensions between the Greek and Turkish communites have always been strained on the island of Cyprus. The in-fighting finally reached its peak in the mid 70's. On July 20 1974, Turkish forces invaded the tiny Republic after a failed coup d’état from the Greek capital of Athens. In the following months after the invasion, Turkey eventually occupied the northern 37 percent of the tiny Mediterranean peninsula.

Thousands of Greek Cypriots were forced from their homes, and fled south to the Greek-controlled areas. Businesses were abandoned, families torn apart, and football clubs uprooted.

Four Greek Cypriot clubs located in the newly founded Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus became homeless. These clubs - Doxa Katokopia, PAEEK, Nea Salamis and Anorthosis - were eventually made to settle into new homes in the south. Doxa settled in nearby Peristerona, PAEEK moved to the south of the divided capital city Nicosia, and both Salamis and Anorthosis (who shared the G.S.E. in Famagusta) finally set-up shop in the coastal town of Larnaca.

However it wasn't just a case of moving to a new stadium for these clubs, especially in the case of the two teams from Famagusta. The clubs were forced from their stadium in hugely popular tourist resort Varosha, only to see it cordoned off by the Turkish forces along with the rest of the town.

On the resumption of the Cypriot Football League, the clubs were forced to wander around Cyprus for many years, with Anorthosis even playing games on the other side of the island in Limassol. They became refugees in their own country, vagabonds with no home. The lack of a ground wasn't their only problem. After the Turkish attack, the thousands of supporters were dispersed around the country. This almost forced Nea Salamis out of business.

Anorthosis -–the biggest of the teams in-exile - finally got their new home in 1986. The multi-purpose Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium has a capacity of over 13,000, and the Cypriot National Team achieved their greatest ever result at the ground, with a 3-2 win over Spain.

Former players recognisable to English fans include former Brazilian international Mario Jardel, French midfielder Bruno Cheyrou, Latvian striker Marian Pahars, ex-Manchester City striker Georgi Kinkladze, and his fellow Georgian Temuri Ketsbaia.

Folically-challenged Ketsbaia went on to become manager of the club in 2004, and just over a year later, wrote his name in club folklore by securing the team's first Cypriot Championship since the partition of the island. In the summer that followed the title-winning season, the club were paired with Turkish side Trabzonspor in the Second Qualifying Round of the Champions League. This was the first time since the 1974 invasion that any Cypriot side had been pitted against a Turkish team. A 3-1 win in Cyprus followed by a 1-0 loss in Turkey gave Anorthosis their greatest (or at least most significant) result in the club's history. However sweet the victory, the pain of 1974 was not (and will never be) erased.

Another league title in 2008 gave the club a second chance to reach the Champions League group stage, and this time they achieved that goal, becoming the first Cypriot side to do so. They eventually finished bottom of their group, however they gained memorable draws against Internazionale and Werder Bremen as well as a win at Greek outfit Panathinaikos.

Despite their recent success, many fans don't want to stay in Larnaca. They will emphasize on how the UEFA-graded Papadopoulos Stadium is their temporary home.

In stark contrast, their true home, which sits just 23 miles away, has remained untouched in the ghost-suburb of Famagusta since that fateful day in 1974, the stadium only accessible to United Nations Personnel. It lies dilapidated and in disrepair, along with the rest of the town, waiting for its former inhabitants to return. But even with their shiny, purpose-built and recently renovated ground in, they would give it all away to play again in a Cypriot-controlled Famagusta.

Ryan can be found on twitter here & his own blog can be viewed here.