The Greek club Panathinaikos surprised Europe back in 1971 by progressing all the way to the European Cup Final and, as it prepared for the occasion, an unusual case of Mediterranean sex, seduction and scandal was unfolding in polite Athens society.
It’s hard to overstate just how unlikely a situation a Greek team being just 90 minutes from becoming champions of Europe seemed back then. Had UEFA produced coefficients then Greek clubs would have been ranked among the minnows of the continent, barely ahead of Malta, Albania and Luxembourg. Greece’s champion clubs had won just three European Cup ties between them in the previous decade and yet now, somehow, Panathinaikos had won four in a single season to reach the final against Ajax.
The Ferenc Puskás coached team had not even benefitted from favourable draws to get them as far as they did, having to navigate a way past the champions of Czechoslovakia (Slovan Bratislava), England (Everton) and Yugoslavia (Red Star Belgrade) en route to their Wembley destiny against the Dutch champions.
The semi-final against Red Star in particular was Pana’s greatest hour with a 3-0 home win overturning a 4-1 first-leg defeat in Belgrade to see them through on away goals. More than 20,000 of the club’s supporters had travelled to the Yugoslav capital for the first-leg and now the entire country was going European Cup crazy as the final loomed.
The military government’s Minister of Sport, Constantinos Aslanidis, described the victory over Red Star as a national event and strict protocol was breached when every player was embraced by Despina Papadopoulos, the wife of the Head of State, at a reception in their honour.
With bonuses on offer that would raise the eyebrows of even the best paid Serie A superstar, everyone associated with the club had plenty of financial motivation to win the final – Puskas himself would almost double his salary with the £10,000 in bonuses he earned from this campaign.
As well as earning great prestige and hard cash, if the Pana players could just find a way to beat Ajax they would also be the recipients of some intriguing, extra-curricular bonuses on offer. These ‘indecent proposals’ came from a trio of famous female Greek celebrities who were all too happy to jump, metaphorically, on the Pana publicity bandwagon.
Zeta Apostolou was statuesque, blonde and acted – in the broadest sense of the word – in Greek films and television. She appeared in over 40 films of mostly dubious quality and it’s rumoured that she even kept her clothes on in some of them.
Zeta announced in the Greek media that she was offering to ‘spend a weekend in Crete with Takis Economopoulos (the Pana ‘keeper and hero of the quarter-final win over Everton) if he didn’t concede a goal at Wembley’.
Following in Zeta’s footsteps was Zoe Laskari, a former Miss Greece now turned diva and provocative film star. Zoe was a bit more coy and offered up merely the promise ‘to kiss the players forever’. The third in our trio of Mediterranean temptresses was Zozo Sapountraki, a raven-haired chanteuse who cordially invited the entire team to ‘an unforgettable weekend at her home’.
Granted, it’s all fairly tame stuff when compared to modern norms, but in a religious and deeply conservative country like Greece in 1971, it offered up quite the whiff of scandal. Perhaps these publicity-hungry ladies were much smarter than people gave them credit for.
Just as Larissa Riquelme made a bold promise to run naked through the streets of Asunción if Paraguay won the 2010 World Cup, so Zeta, Zoe and Zozo similarly offered up the promise of much, aware that the chance of them having to deliver on it being negligible.
Panathinaikos’s stature meant they were one of the least-fancied outsiders in European Cup Final history and were easily beaten 2-0 at Wembley by a Johan Cruyff-inspired Ajax. Zeta, Zoe and Zozo’s collective virtue remained intact to fight another day.