All about AEK Athens

A brief history of one of Greece's most successful clubs and our first opponents in Europe.

By Richie Mills • 20 September 2023

By AEK Athens
Agia Sophia Stadium has been home to AEK since it opened in 2022.

AEK Athens have carved out a unique place in footballing history.

Established in 1924 by Greek refugees from Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the wake of the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922), AEK have earned their place in Greece's 'Big Three', alongside Olympiacos and Panathinaikos.

They were the only Greek side to reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) and held Real Madrid's Galácticos - Ronaldo, Zidane, and all - to six and four-goal thrillers respectively in the Champions League in 2002.  

Relegated from the Greek top-flight in 2013 to winning the title ten years later - completing their first domestic double since 1978 - AEK have made it back to the top of the pile in impressive fashion.

By AEK Athens
AEK won a play-offs and cup double last season.

Now, AEK, which is an abbreviation of Athlitikí Énosis Konstantinoupόleos and translates as Athletic Union of Constantinople, will seek to make more history in this year's Europa League campaign.

First up for the Yellow-Blacks - whose emblem is a double-headed eagle, a symbol of the Palaiologos dynasty (1261-1453), the last Byzantine emperors - is Roberto De Zerbi's Brighton.

Despite their contrasting histories, there are some similarities between the two teams.

Both clubs had their home stadiums ripped from their clutches; with Albion's Goldstone Ground being sold to property developers - much to the horror of the fans - and AEK's ground of 73 years, Nikos Goumas Stadium, was demolished, leaving the Athens outfit homeless in 2003.

The stadium was hit by an earthquake in 1999 and four years later, then-president Giannis Granitsas decided to knock it down, claiming it was too old and not fit for purpose.

Moreover, the Seagulls used Withdean as their temporary home in the late 1990s and 2000s before finally moving into the Amex in 2011, and AEK played at Athens Olympics Stadium from 2004-22, before taking up residence in its new, purpose-built Agia Sophia Stadium a year ago.

This has, perhaps, heralded a new era for AEK, who were managed by former Brighton boss Gus Poyet between 2015/16 and are owned by shopping magnate and oil tycoon Dimitris Melissanidis.

By AEK Athens
AEK have won the top-tier of Greek football on 13 occasions, including last season.

As Greece's third most successful club, with fellow Athens-based teams Olympiacos and Panathinaikos sharing a total of 80 out of 87 Greek Football Championships, AEK have sat in their bitter rivals' shadow for a long time.

A total of 13 league titles have come their way, but that is dwarfed by Panathinaikos' 20, and Olympiacos' 47.

And yet, their league and Greek Football Cup double in 2023 under manager and ex-Argentina international Matias Almeyda may have signalled a new dawn in the club's history. 

Despite being knocked out in the final Champions League qualifying round to Belgian champions Royal Antwerp earlier this summer, there is renewed hope amongst fans that they can have success on the European stage. 

By AEK Athens
AEK is short for Athlitiki Enosis Konstantinoupoleos.

History, however, has not been kind to them in these arenas of late. The last time they reached the knockout stages of this competition was back in 2017/18, when they went unbeaten in a group with AC Milan, HNJ Rijeka, and Austrian Wien - before falling to Dynamo Kiev in the round of 32 on away goals. 

They fell in the Champions League group stages the following season and then at the same stage in the Europa League in 2020/21 - but they are in a better place now. 

AEK, who play with a high-pressing, energetic, and attack-minded approach, will look to spoil Brighton's European debut party under the lights at the Amex on Thursday night and create more history of their own.