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Partizan-AEK, a friendly match against the war

On April 7, AEK celebrates the memory of one of the club’s historic achievements, one that goes beyond the world of sports. The club brings to mind a trip of peace and solidarity to our suffering blood brothers.
In the spring of 1999, AEK announced a friendly against Partizan Belgrade on Holy Wednesday, April 7, during the NATO bombing that had started on March 24, 1999 with a decision by the US President Bill Clinton, because Serbia refused to sign the agreement on the future of Kosovo! The bombing lasted for 78 days and claimed the lives of 500 civilians according to objective sources, while Belgrade raised this number up to 5000!
The mastermind behind this initiative was Dimitris Melissanidis and with the agreement of the football department and, particularly, the team’s captain, Demis Nikolaidis, AEK took a decision that made history. It was a dangerous trip, since the so-called smart bombs dropped by NATO forces on Serbian territory were responsible for lots of tragic mistakes that claimed innocent lives. The Greek delegation’s five bus-convoy carrying outstanding figures not related to football, such as Manolis Glezos, could be found at risk!
On the day before the match, AEK’s delegation traveled to Budapest, where it spent the night, and on Holy Wednesday morning, it traveled to Belgrade on a bus, amid continuous cheers by Serbians. Arrival at the country’s capital was one of the most fascinating moments, with locals offering bread and salt, a symbol of Serbian hospitality. A short stop at the Presidential Mansion, where AEK conveyed a message of solidarity on behalf of all Greek people and then, arrival at the Partizan stadium, where the management, companions and ultras of AEK, mostly coming from “Original 21”, once again received an amazing welcome.
The two teams entered the field together holding up a banner saying: “NATO stop the war, stop the bombing”. The game never ended. Better yet, it ended early when the fans of both teams invaded the field.
It was the most beautiful interruption to a game in the history of football, since the fans of both teams only waited for 68 minutes before running into the field: the Serbians from the curva and AEK ultras from the centre, hugging each other.
All together, footballers and coaches from both teams became one. It was a staggering moment. A historical, unique and once-in-a-lifetime moment. It was the moment that put AEK in the hearts of an entire people. It was one more proof of how different, proud, and gracious you feel as an AEK fan.
Afterwards, however, everybody had to run: the Greeks were to leave Serbian territory before dark and the Serbians had to hide in shelters for yet another night of bombing.