Now featuring 18 top-tier teams, Superleague Greece is the highest echelon of all Greek professional football leagues. Its season runs from August through May, with each team playing 34 games. At the close of the 2012-13 season, Superleague Greece ranked number twelve among all UEFA leagues, as determined by performance in European competitions over the last five years. The tier just below this league is called the “Football League, to which the bottom three clubs are relegated and from which the top three teams are promoted each year.
The Origins of Greek Football
The Hellenic Association of Amateur Athletics (SEGAS) was founded in 1897, and during 1906–16 they conducted an annual football tournament among local clubs from Athens and the port of Piraeus. It was called the SEGAS Panhellenic Championship, and its first winner was Ethnikos Athens, a sports club created in 1893. Following the Balkan Wars and World War One, the first football club associations were formed in Greece, including the Athens-Piraeus FCA in 1919, which became the Greece FCA in 1921, and the Macedonia FCA in 1923.
The year 1923 also marked the inauguration of a new format to decide the Panhellenic Champion. It involved holding a play-off game between the league champions of Athens-Piraeus and Thessaloniki, which was won by Piraikos of Piraeus, a club in existence since 1894. However, when a dispute divided the Greece FCA into two separate leagues, Athens FCA and Piraeus FCA, the championship match-up was discontinued.
It required the founding of the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) in 1926 to heal the rift and arrange for the first official Panhellenic Championship to be held at the close of the 1927-28 season, contested by the best teams of the Athens, Piraeus and Macedonia FCAs. The winner of that showdown was Aris FC, founded in Thessaloniki in 1914, and they became the first club ever to bring a championship trophy to Macedonia.
In 1931, the Greek Cup began. Entry was optional and no draw took place. Instead, teams were paired against each other by the football associations, and AEK Athens defeated Aris at Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium to claim their first Cup. The victory was particularly auspicious in that AEK Athens was formed in 1924 by Greek refugees from Constantinople in the wake of the Greco-Turkish War. They would go on to become one of the most successful clubs in Greek football with 29 national titles, including 11 Championships and 14 Greek Cups, plus a League Cup and three Super Cups.
The Professional Era
In 1959, a new Greek premier league debuted called “Alpha Ethniki.” It was the country’s first proper national league, and it was joined in 1962 by a second tier called “Beta Ethniki.” Professional status was conferred in 1979, and in 2006 Alpha Ethniki was replaced by the current Superleague Greece. Beta Ethniki followed suit in 2010, replaced by the present Football League.
A trio of clubs from Attica (Greater Athens) have dominated football in Greece for more than eight decades. One is AEK Athens, and the other two are Olympiacos of Piraeus, who have amassed 40 Championships and 26 Greek Cups since 1931, and Panathinaikos of Athens, with 20 Championships and 17 Greek Cups since 1930. The latter two also won four Super Cups each during the 11 times it was organised between 1970 and 2007.
Going into the 2013-14 season, Olympiacos are the reigning Superleague Greece champions as well as the defenders of the Greek Cup. Because the league is expanding from 16 to 18 teams for the season ahead, only two teams were relegated—AEK Athens and Kerkyra—while four teams have been promoted, namely Football League champions Apollon Smyrni, runners-up Ergotelis, third-placed Kalloni and Panetolikos, who won a four-team play-off round. The other 13 Superleague Greece competitors are Aris, Asteras Tripoli, Atromitos, Levadiakos, OFI, Panathinaikos, Panionios, Panthrakikos, P.A.O.K., PAS Giannina, Platanias, Skoda Xanthi and Veria.