Ian ‘Moose’ Abrahams chats to London-based Greek Cypriot football journalist Michael Yiakoumi ahead of Thursday's visit of AEK Larnaca to London Stadium...
There are some fantastic journalists in the Press Box when you go to the game, there are some brilliant characters, and some are just the most friendly and helpful people with some terrific stories to tell.
One of those is a man I’ve known for well over a decade. He is not, by any stretch of the imagination, one of the most famous journalists in this country, but among the Cypriot community in London he is certainly a well-known and much respected figure.
With London being such a diverse and multicultural capital of the world, there are many news outlets for the various diaspora who live in our great city.
Among them is the Greek Cypriot weekly newspaper Parikiaki. My good friend Michael Yiakoumi writes for this publication, which was first printed in 1974 and is based at the Cypriot Community Centre in Wood Green, North London.
With an estimated 300,000 people with Greek and Greek Cypriot heritage living in the UK, the newspaper and its website have grown in the last 50 years and are now available in Greek and English.
Michael oversees the football content and, to his colleagues in the Press Box, is a recognisable, knowledgeable, and extremely friendly character.
“I was born here and I’ve always been a football fan and, as I was living round the corner from Arsenal, obviously they were my team, but when I started doing sports journalism, I actually became more of a neutral actually, because I started following all the clubs,” he told me.
Working as he does for a Greek Cypriot newspaper, I asked Michael how he has enjoyed following players from Cyprus and Greece when they have played in the Premier League and EFL down the years.
“I’m always looking out for the Cypriot players and I always go and watch them play, meet them and speak to them and that’s good for our newspaper because it’s a Cypriot newspaper,” he confirmed.
This makes Michael a very well-connected man.
For example, when Euro 2004 winner and Greece midfielder Giorgos Karagounis was at Fulham between 2012-14, Michael got to know him, and when Sokratis played for Arsenal from 2018-21 it was clear to see their friendship was both professional and also personal.
West Ham of course won the first leg 2-0 in Cyprus last Thursday, but AEK Larnaca pushed them hard, winning over a dozen corners and forcing Alphonse Areola into a number of saves.
Michael was impressed, and says the Cypriot First Division title-chasers will be well-supported by fans from both countries this evening.
“West Ham were obviously the better team but, in the latter stages of the game, AEK had some chances, so it wasn’t a comfortable win for West Ham really,” he observed. “I felt AEK could’ve pulled a goal back.
“I will be there in London Stadium and it will be an interesting game because I look at AEK and they will be cheered on by about 500 supporters or maybe more. I expect 300 supporters to come over from Cyprus and you’ll probably see the same amount, if not more, in terms of Cypriot fans from London who will come to the game, so I’m looking forward to it and it should be a really good atmosphere.”
I suspect many of us who are at the game on Thursday probably only really know Cyprus as being a holiday destination, but it is also a football-obsessed country.
I asked Michael about Cypriot football - how good is it and how does it compare to football in England?
“I’ll give you an example, there’s only been one Cypriot team recently who had reached the last 16 of a major European competition, that was APOEL, so AEK are the second team to have achieved that,” he told me.
“AEK have a connection with London too, because in fact the midfielder Jason Demetriou was born in Newham and played for Leyton Orient before joining AEK and going on to captain the Cyprus national team!”
Michael’s son Dimitri is also closely linked to our visitors, as he coaches two age-groups at AEK’s Academy. As such, it is also a family affair this evening!
“I’m really excited about the game”, Michael told me. “It is a big night for AEK and for the whole of Cypriot football, to play West Ham.
“Earlier this season in the Europa League, Omonia [Nicosia] played Man Utd, so all of a sudden there is there is great interest in Cyprus for that too.
“AEK were top of the table for quite a while, they ended up second, and the way it is run in Cyprus, they could still win the championship. In the last eight years AEK have been second in the championship five times, so they’re a good team and now they can compete with teams in the Premier League.
“I don’t think it’ll be an easy game for West Ham again. I mean obviously they’ll be more confident because they’re 2-0 up, but AEK have nothing to lose, so I expect them to go all out for it.”
From the pictures I saw and the stories I’ve been told from West Ham fans who went to Cyprus last week for the first leg, AEK have certainly played their part in making West Ham‘s European adventure this season a colourful one, and hopefully there are still a few more trips to come…