The first double of its historyTake a step back and think for a minute. Is what you're doing and experiencing now valuable? Are you able to enjoy it as much as you should? Do you realize that this joy is unadulterated, effortless and infinite? A league title and cup together? A domestic double with an undefeated record. Nights filled with magic. And a feeling of justification for a wait that seemed endless? You experienced it exactly as it should, then, in the end. Is it possible that you thought - albeit fleetingly - that tomorrow may bring pitfalls and dangers, mud and inertia, stress and… new, life-threatening viruses? No way. Life can surely not be so creative!
But that was exactly what 2019 was like. So far from what has followed since. And that’s perhaps what made it all so memorable and so intensely charged. The year of the double for PAOK, the year of The Invincibles, the season when the Double-headed Eagle played great football, with maturity and organization. The team was both solid and attractive to watch, and the success completely justified. It is these feelings that you are often afraid to experience, perhaps because you may be afraid that they will be over too soon, or that they will be stolen away from you at the last minute. Just unbridled joy.
An intensely emotional journey
What we experienced from August 25 2018 and that 1-0 against Asteras Tripolis at the Toumba, up until April 21, 2019 under the bright lights of the Toumba Stadium was a hedonistic, «tortuous» journey. To get to the final destination, the club had to stay on a route that included faith in the plan, together with the hordes of fans who covered hundreds of kilometers and heartbeat for some heartstopping draws, and a few victories that needed to be grinded out. Most of all, however, it was a journey, one which was endured methodically and in passionate silence, by a team so united and determined that, as history has shown, it could only succeed.
PAOK won the Greek championship after a wait of 34 years, undefeated, and as the records show, formally on April 21, 2019, after beating Levadiakos 5-0 amid a delirious crowd at the Toumba who were eager for a party. Shakhov scored two goals, while Biseswar, Varela and Swiderski all scored one goal apiece. The incapacitated Vierinia came off the bench just for a few seconds to earn the ovation he deserved. Pelkas was unable to hold back his tears. The young players of the PAOK Academy gazed in wonder, drinking in every moment. George Koudas and Costas Iosisfidis came onto the pitch to bring the trophy onto the stage. The lights flicker just before they Thessaloniki night sky is filled with a brilliant display of light and noise.
Such heady words are made for moments like this. Moments that no matter how many years pass, no matter how difficult things get afterwards, will always be a milestone. Even without a lot of details. They are moments that are forever etched in the minds of those who experienced them. Just like the doubles over Olympiacos (3-1 at the Toumba and 0-1 at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium), and Panathinaikos (2-0 both home and away), the 2-0 win over AEK at the Toumba, as well as the end of the road on May 5 in Ioannina with the 2-0 victory over PAS. Everything was complete, in a magical way, just as it should have been. With full dedication to the lofty goal, step-by-step, with the required stubbornness and a seal that bears many names on it, but most of all with composure, a quality which characterizes the coach who guided the team to it, Razvan Lucescu.
PAOK won the title in the 2018-19 season with 26 wins, four draws, and zero defeats. It became the first team since 1964 to win the championship undefeated. The club rejoiced and celebrated this achievement exactly as it should. And PAOK had the necessary quality to enrich it even further, adding the Greek Cup as the icing on the cake. A double, then. The first in the long, rich history of this team.
The third consecutive Greek Cup
From a 6-0 win against Aittitos Spata until the final of May 11, 2019, and adding another Greek Cup to the trophy cabinet, the road did not seem long. However, there were a few “bumps” and «potholes» along the way (Panachaiki – PAOK 2-1 and Panionios – PAOK 2-1), but they were two-legged ties that turned out to be smooth and easy to manage in the end. A 5-0 win over Panachaiki at the Toumba in the Round of 16, followed by a 4-2 home win over Panionios in the quarter-finals. A 2-0 win over Asteras Tripolis in Thessaloniki in the semi-finals and we were on our way to the final. Even the expected and traditional moaning and groaning did not find suitable ground this time. Lucescu’s team knew how to dismantle it.
On May 11, 2019, the Greek Cup final was held at an empty OAKA, behind closed doors. It was the third consecutive such final between AEK and PAOK, and the second consecutive one in Athens. And it was to become the third consecutive winning final for the Double-headed Eagle, the one that completed the dream year of the double. One goal was enough to take the trophy home. Chuba Akpom scored with a stunning scissor-kick strike, following an assist from Dimitris Pelkas.
The party started at the OAKA, continued at the «Eleftherios Venizelos» airport in Athens, and ended at the «Macedonia» airport in Thessaloniki, and then reached its climax at the White Tower. Unforgettable moments of a season which was more than generous in providing joy and emotions, as well as rich images that simply do not fade. The best ever, until the next one…