«I consider it a privilege to be coaching these footballers, these men. I am proud that we justified the sacrifices and the love of our fans and can offer them this Cup”. Les Shannon’s words after the Greek Cup triumph of 1972 evidenced his great bond with PAOK.
The English tactician came to Toumba after a conversation between correspondent in England Lampis Tsirigotakis and PAOK president Giorgos Pantelakis in January 1971. Shannon had just parted ways with Blackpool FC rather abruptly and Tsirigotakis told Pantelakis that he would be a great option. PAOK lacked the means to offer him a lucrative contract, but Shannon agreed to take over anyway. No member of PAOK administration had to travel to London to sit through negotiations with the English coach –the ambassador of Greece in the United Kingdom signed the contract on behalf of the Thessaloniki club.
Shannon sat on PAOK’s bench for the first time on 13 February 1971 –the “Double-Headed Eagle” played a 1-1 draw away at Proodeftiki on that day. Nobody could imagine back then that he would eventually become the longest-serving coach of PAOK and that he would lead them to four consecutive Greek Cup finals and two trophies in the competition.
His career at PAOK started in winter 1963 and was temporarily put on hold in 1965, when Koulis Apostolidis opted to accept the scholarship to San Francisco University and chose studies in Computer Science and Business Management over football. His return from the United States coincided with PAOK’s first ever title.
In the summer of 1971, the “American” presented Les Shannon with a reliable option and he didn’t need any particular prepping either, as he had been competing at high level with the All-America team, a selection of college soccer stars. Many years later, Apostolidis would look back to that first title with a cooler head and acknowledge what that Cup meant for the club and the city of Thessaloniki: “The Greek Cup of 1972 was the first title in PAOK’s history and signaled the start of its progress.
That win had a huge repercussion in Northern Greece, as it marked the first time that a club from the North would break the Athenian status quo. I remember that we celebrated our win in a night club where Stratos Dionysiou was singing. He was a huge PAOK fan and I remember him saying: “This is a PAOK night!”. When we returned to Thessaloniki, everybody was on the streets. It took us three hours to go from the airport to the club headquarters!”
He made a name for himself in Romania and, after spells at CFR Cluj and SK Rapid Wien, he moved to PAOK at the age of 21. He joined the team in the summer of 1970. He was in the starting eleven in the Greek Cup final of 1971 and was substituted off. The inverse situation happened a year later, when he came off the bench in the 76th minute to take Aslanidis’ place.
Just three minutes after his entrance on the pitch, Mantzourakis collected Koudas’ pass in the box and dispatched the ball home with an overhead scissor kick, which left Takis Ikonomopoulos with no chance. However referee Michas disallowed the goal for a foul by Mantzourakis, although there wasn’t any opponent around for foul play to be even a possibility.
“I still can’t understand why the referee disallowed the goal. I believe that we would claim victory anyway. The Greek Cup was our gift to our fans”. In the following season (1972-73), he didn’t feature in Les Shannon’s regular picks, made just seven appearances and moved to newly promoted Larissa in the summer of 1973.
In July 1972, Giorgos Koudas participated in his third Greek Cup final with PAOK. In his maiden one, in 1970, he missed a spot kick and Aris ended up winning 1-0. Not to underestimate of course the merit of Aris’ goalkeeper Nikos Christidis, who hadn’t been beaten that season in any encounter against the “Double-Headed Eagle”. Both league encounters between the two Thessaloniki clubs ended in goalless draw. In the Charilaou match, Afentoulidis’ spot kick was denied by the woodwork.
By the time the final of 1972 came, Koudas knew how to handle the big occasion and showed his determination right from kick off. From the first kick, Aslanidis ran down the right flank towards Panathinaikos’ box and the defenders cleared the ball out of the goalline. Aslanidis took the corner kick and receiving Koudas opted for a sudden shot that took Ikonomopoulos by surprise to get the opener after just two minutes of play.
Panathinaikos applied pressure to answer that early goal while PAOK remained dangerous from their counterattacks. After Mantzourakis’ goal from his assist was disallowed in the 79th minute, Koudas completed his brace ten minutes later with a direct free kick. Papadimitriou reduced distances shortly afterwards, but the tide would not turn. Koudas was playing with a shoulder blade problem. On the following day, he travelled to London and underwent surgery that kept him out of action for two months.
He was just 19 years old when he joined PAOK from Vrionia Serres, but quickly found a spot among Les Shannon’s regulars. Kostas Iosifidis had already showcased his talents in Greece’s national youth sides. He wrapped up his maiden season at PAOK missing just two league encounters and one Cup match. He was in the starting eleven in all his 37 appearances.
He combined his first season at PAOK with the first title in their history and completed his football career with the league triumph of 1985. Having collected two Greek Cups and two league trophies with the “Double-Headed Eagle”, he is the player with most titles won at PAOK. He was among the youngest in the starting line-up of the Greek Cup final of 1972 and, after the final whistle, all he could say was: “I can’t describe my joy. Everybody should admit we are a great team. We offer the Greek Cup to our beloved fans”.
Kostas Iosifidis remained at PAOK for 14 years and retired there in 1985. He is second in the all-time league appearances’ list with 397 games to his name. He was called to Greece’s senior national team at the age of 22 and went on to collect 51 caps.