Greek football club owner banned for 3 years over pitch invasion with gun

by Lou ECONOMOPOULOS

Athens (AFP) - The owner of Greek club PAOK has been banned for three years after storming onto the pitch with a holstered gun on his belt, league organisers said.

PAOK were also docked three points and fined for Ivan Savvidis' actions at the end of a match against AEK Athens, meaning they drop to third place in a tight championship race with AEK and Olympiakos.

The ruling also includes a 100,000-euro ($123,000) fine for Greek-Russian businessman Savvidis and a separate 63,000-euro fine for PAOK.

PAOK, based in the northern port of Thessaloniki, said they will appeal.

Also Thursday, the monitoring committee of global football body FIFA recommended the immediate suspension of Greece's football federation, according to a letter leaked to Greek media.

The Greek league will resume on Saturday after being suspended on March 12 in the wake of the Savvidis incident. Athens-based AEK now have a commanding lead at the top with 57 points followed by Olympiakos with 50 and PAOK with 49 points.

The clubs have agreed to a list of government demands, including point deductions and automatic relegation for clubs responsible for violence.

Savvidis, a 58-year-old tobacco industrialist and a former lawmaker with the party of Russian president Vladimir Putin, stormed onto the pitch to confront the referee in protest at a 90th-minute disallowed goal in what was then a top-of-the-table clash against AEK Athens.

His club said: "The penalty is harsh and (was made) under the pressure of a targeted communication storm against PAOK. We are appealing and expect to be judged on the basis of actual facts."

It said Savvidis had the support of "the entire family of PAOK, stronger and more determined than ever".

The Greek Super League docked PAOK three points from this season and two from next season, and ordered them to play the next three home matches without spectators.

The league banned the club's football director Lubos Michel for three months and fined him 15,000 euros for threatening the referee in the AEK match.

There was little sympathy for PAOK from their Athens-based rivals.

"We expected PAOK to be punished and that we would be on the top. I think we deserve to be at the top as we have played the best football," AEK forward Tasos Bakasetas told Nova TV.

Greek football has perennially been plagued by violence and match-fixing.

The head of a FIFA committee set up last July to monitor the Greek football federation, Herbert Hubel, recommended in his report to FIFA's leadership that Greece, the 2004 European champions, be excluded from international competition.

Hubel mentioned the pitch invasion by Savvidis, as well as the suspension of the league, the suspension of PAOK from the European Club Association and continuous delays in court decisions about match outcomes.