A Two-Headed Eagle flying high in Greece: Vassiliki Papantonopoulou gives UEFA.com the lowdown on PAOK FC, revealing the myths, history and heroes behind the club.
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With PAOK FC flying in the Greek Super League, having won their last six fixtures, there is a genuine possibility the club could end Olympiacos FC's four years of dominance. Given they sit three points above the champions, there is hope this season may be the one in which the Salonika side lift their first league championship since 1985.
With that in mind, UEFA.com asked Greek correspondent Vassiliki Papantonopoulou to fill us in on the team dubbed the 'Two-Headed Eagle of the North'.
• The thankfully shortened version PAOK is actually an acronym. The club's full title is Pan-Thessaloniki Athletic Club of Constantinopolitans and is spelled out in full around the top of the stands of the Stadio Toumba. PAOK have their roots in the Hermes sports and cultural club, founded by Greek residents of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) in 1875.
• PAOK's first emblem was a four-leaf clover and horseshoe, but that was updated to the more imposing two-headed eagle in 1929. The eagle represents the Byzantine roots of the refugees from Constantinople who established the club in Salonika back in 1926, with the distinctive black and white standing for mourning and hope respectively.
• The club are one of just three in Greece – alongside heavyweights Olympiacos and Panathinaikos FC – who have never been relegated from the top tier of the country's football pyramid.
• PAOK have two league titles to their name, the first coming in 1975/76, inspired by the leadership of Gyula Lóránt. One of the 'Magical Magyars', the Hungarian coach took over for a second spell five years later but suffered a heart attack while watching the team play Olympiacos and passed away on the bench.
• Stavros Sarafis remains PAOK's all-time leading scorer in the league with 136 goals. 'Caesar', as he became known because of his curly blond hair, retired aged 31 in 1981 and later confessed: "I was shocked by Lóránt's death. I just did not feel like playing football any more." His links to the side have stayed strong, however, and he is now is general manager of the Under-20 and U17 teams.
• Giorgos Koudas spent all his career at Stadio Toumba, featuring in a club-record 504 games. Olympiacos's attempt to sign him in 1966 led to a long feud between the clubs, with relations frosty even to this day.
• Coach Angelos Anastasiadis is keen on discipline and wants players to follow his orders to the letter. His attitude to authority has not always been thus; in his playing days with PAOK he was once taken off the pitch by Lóránt after only 15 minutes for not following the manager's instructions.
• The club's first home ground was in an area called Syntrivani (fountain) and was inaugurated in 1930. Urban legend has it that supporters of Aris Thessaloniki FC and Iraklis FC tried their best to disrupt the construction process, with bodyguards brought in to protect workers' safety.
• Toumba is the district of Salonika where PAOK have resided since 1959. The name is used in northern Greece to describe small man-made hills where you find relics of antiquity. The hill of Toumba is natural, but there is indeed an archaeological site. As for the alternative theory to the name: some believe it derives from the word 'tymvos', meaning burial mound, and is thus deployed to instil fear into rivals.
• The reputation of Toumba as a fortress was forged in the 1970s. Olympiacos lifted successive titles from 1973 to 1975 and suffered just one defeat in each of those three championships. Every time it came at PAOK, who even prevented the seemingly unstoppable Red and Whites finding the net across those seasons.