The four-title man
He still calls himself a village boy. He acknowledges that PAOK provided him with the opportunity to live the life he dreamt of. To play alongside legendary footballers like Koudas and Sarafis and to bond with this club, as the only player who won all four first titles of PAOK. This is Kostas Iosifidis.
They always say that the first title is the sweetest. If I were to choose the most special of the four titles I won with PAOK, I would pick the first one. The Greek Cup. It was my first season at the club. From amateur football for Elpida Toumbas, I found myself at PAOK playing alongside huge players I was in awe of. And we ended up winning the Greek Cup.
The best teammate ever was Giorgos Koudas. I may not do justice to so many great players in that team, but I have to single out Koudas. He had all the qualities of a modern footballer: pace, flexibility, dribbling, vertical pass. There was also Sarafis, a midfielder who scored non-stop, and Terzanidis who combined pace and technical skills. There was also Paridis, my favourite teammate. He was the soul of the team, keeping us together with his stories and jokes.
That PAOK would do well even now. They may say that football back then lacked in pace, but the PAOK of my era were quick in midfield and attack, with Aslanidis, Paridis, Koudas, Terzanidis and Sarafis. We got lucky – had the transition to the professional era happened sooner, our team wouldn’t have lasted that long, maybe many of the players would have left, even played abroad.
I have no regrets. I thank God for my life in football. I was a village boy that came to Thessaloniki at the age of 15. I was working in the mornings, went to mud grounds to train in the afternoons and then attended night school.
I never expected to enter Toumba Stadium. I was playing in the mud grounds across the stadium, I would see the players coming and daydream about joining them one day. Only Koudas and Sarafis had a car back then. The rest would use the bus. When I managed to enter Toumba, I told myself that my dream had come true. But even then, I never expected that Shannon would use me in the first friendly tournament against Panathinaikos, Inter Católica and Nacional Montevideo. I started, played against Luis Cubilla and went on to play for 14 years.
In 1985, when I lifted the league trophy as the team captain, I still could continue my career, but I wanted to end it knowing that I served only PAOK. When I retired, I started… collecting the benefits of my trajectory, the fans’ love to me. Feeling loved by fans is so rewarding.
At Toumba one gets to live the greatness of PAOK. The sentiment linking you with the black-and-white shirt, these four letters… PAOK is so special for us, for all refugees, poor, expatriate people. PAOK reflect all that.
When PAOK celebrate their 100th anniversary, I wish that they will have a league title to go with that celebration as well. I also wish to be there and rejoice along with the players.
The toughest task in football is the coach’s job. Their work depends on minds and legs of other people. The second toughest job is being an administrator. Footballer comes last, because this is a choice, a job, a hobby.
I have often thought that without football I would be a village boy. A poor farmer who would have inherited a few acres of fields in Beles and would fight for survival just like my parents, with limited means in our disposal.
If I were to associate PAOK with one person, I would choose one per era. When I started my career, that person was Sergianidis, who brought new methodology in football. I would then pick Pantelakis who led PAOK to their first league title and was one of the best administrators ever in Greek football. Nowadays, that person is Ivan Savvidis, who saved the club from disaster and is trying to build a great team again. I believe that he will achieve that and PAOK will become great and mighty.
- Kostas Iosifidis’s interview was published in the first issue of Toumba Magazine. You can find the collector’s issue for the 90th anniversary of PAOK at store.paokfc.gr, purchase it and get it at home free of shipping cost in all Greece.