From controversy to coronation
In the summer of 1984, PAOK were turning page in their history, crossing the threshold of a new era. Nobody could imagine that the new cycle would get inaugurated with a league title. Giorgos Koudas had decided to retire at the age of 38 and talks about his successor had already begun since the 1983-84 season. PAOK coach Pál Csernai had experimented with Giorgos Kostikos in a playmaking position in some encounters. However, with the Hungarian gone, it was up to newly-appointed Walter Skocik to encounter the solution. The Austrian tactician had joined AE Larissa in the previous summer and led them to the Greek Cup final. The “burgundy” club finished 6th in the standings, just behind PAOK.
Apart from encountering the successor of Giorgos Koudas on the pitch, PAOK had to deal with their absence from European competitions for the first time after three seasons and also respond to the remarkable transferring activity of most rivals. Panathinaikos had acquired Velimir Zajec and Dimitris Saravakos, AEK had signed Håkan Sandberg and Olympiacos stole the show by hiring Georg Kessler as their coach. PAOK set out to implement their plan. They signed Aristidis Karasavvidis, top scorer of Greece’s U19 squad in the European Championship finals at Leningrad, and also landed defender Ivan Jurišić and striker Rade Paprica from the Yugoslavia market.
A summer of doubt was succeeded by an ideal start to the season. PAOK recorded four victories in as many consecutive matches and got on the driver’s seat early on. After their three-pointers over Apollon Smyrni at Nea Filadelfia, over Aris at Toumba and Ethnikos at “Karaiskakis”, the “Double-Headed Eagle” played host to Olympiacos in Thessaloniki. Giorgos Kostikos’ strike in the 88th minute sealed their 1-0 win and meant they were left alone at the top of the standings. At Nea Filadelfia, they secured the draw point (2-2) in the closing stages of the encounter against AEK courtesy of Siggas (89’). On matchday 7, after thrashing AE Larissa 4-1 at Toumba and the Olympiacos-Panathinaikos derby ending in goalless draw, PAOK extended their lead to three points over AEK, Olympiacos and Panionios, all level in second place of the table.
The distance was reduced to two points by Olympiacos after PAOK conceded a 1-1 home draw to Iraklis. Consecutive victories over Panachaiki, Pierikos and Doxa Dramas helped PAOK build a healthy distance of five points over Panathinaikos and AEK. Panathinaikos drew closer after the Thessaloniki outfit lost to OFI in Crete on matchday 13. The “Greens” were eagerly anticipating the “Double-Headed Eagle’s” visit at OAKA on matchday 15 wishing to cut down the gap to just one point. However Rade Paprica handed PAOK victory in the 80th minute, restoring their 5-point advantage. Walter Skocik did his best to keep players’ and fans’ feet on the ground: “Our win just proves we deserve to lead the standings. The league isn’t over yet. We are five points ahead of our rivals, but that means nothing”.
The goalless draw with Apollon Smyrni at Toumba seemed harmless, as Panathinaikos produced the same result against OFI. However the Austrian coach made sure to alert his players: “We certainly didn’t deserve to win today. Getting a champions’ reception after defeating Panathinaikos was not good for us. Greeks tend to get arrogant”.
The match against Aris was eventful, the referee handing ten yellow and three red cards. PAOK saw Alavantas and Iosifidis get their marching orders, while Skocik spoke about the dismissals but pointed out that despite the derby loss, their team was still leading the standings. The “Double-Headed Eagle” let off some steam trouncing Ethnikos 5-1 at Toumba, but then conceded points. Their 2-1 defeat by Olympiacos at “Karaiskakis” and the 1-1 at home with AEK allowed Panathinaikos to catch up with PAOK at the top of the standings after matchday 20.
Panathinaikos’ charge forward didn’t last but a week. Their 1-0 loss to Panionios at Nea Smyrni restored the order, as PAOK prevailed 3-1 over Apollon Kalamaria on the same day to take back the league reins.
The “Double-Headed Eagle” sealed the league title with their 2-1 win over AE Larissa at “Alkazar”, extending their lead to three points, as Panathinaikos and Olympiacos played a 1-1 draw. PAOK continued their winning ways and another draw (AEK-Panathinaikos 1-1) allowed Iraklis to climb in second place, three points behind Skocik’s troops, while Panathinaikos and Olympiacos were at a 4-point distance from top spot.
The venue of the encounter between Iraklis and PAOK on matchday 24 became an issue of controversy, but nevertheless a goal by Giorgos Skartados in the opening minute put the match to rest. The “Double-Headed Eagle” built a five-point distance from Panathinaikos and AEK. Consecutive away draws against Pierikos and Doxa Drama added some spice to the league and “reminded” Panathinaikos to file a complaint regarding the venue of their loss to Ethnikos back on matchday 21. However PAOK were on a roll. They defeated OFI 3-0 for the league and then handed Panathinaikos a 4-0 beating in the Greek Cup quarter-finals. On 9 June 1985, PAOK mathematically secured the league title with a goalless draw at Nea Smyrni against Panionios, as Panathinaikos were held to a 2-2 draw by Pierikos. It was the only away point the outfit of Katerini earned that season.
As the Greek League authorities had yet to reach a final verdict on Panathinaikos’ complaint for their match against Ethnikos, there was no decision yet on the time and place of the trophy ceremony. Finally, two days before their home match against Panathinaikos corresponding to the last matchday, PAOK were given the green light. They were presented with the league trophy and had their celebratory lap, Kostas Iosifidis holding the much-coveted silverware.