Our first stadium visit in Greece. And a wonderful one it is. We didn't expect much but we were pretty much blown away by the Diagoras Stadium and its peculiar and unexpected history. Join us in our ride below...
Every groundhopper knows how it goes. The family vacation is supposed to be just for the family. So whenever bookings are being made, the wife trying to make sure there's nothing interesting football related in the neighbourhood. But we wouldn't be passionate if we didn't explore everything to the smallest details. This is how we got to visiting the Diagoras Stadium on the Greek island of Rhodes a couple of weeks ago.
And what a beauty it is. This in 1932 by the Italians built stadium was originally named Arena del Sole and was built to reach the highest leagues. When the Italians were driven off the island the Greek inhabitants took back what was theirs and renamed the stadium into Diagoras Stadium. Diagoras was an ancient Greek boxer and one of the legends of the island. Officially the stadium is named the Municipal Stadium of Rhodes, but we like the Diagoras link more.
The stadium was not only built for football. Across the years it hosted many sports, but these days it's mainly being used for football and cycling. In fact, a cycling training was going on when we visited the stadium. They share the stadium with two football teams in fact; Diagoras FC and AS Rhodes. And these two have a deep connection with each other.
Diagoras FC was created in 1905 already and can be considered one of the oldest teams of Greece, although at that time the island was part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. In 1912 the island became independent from the Ottoman Empire, but the team didn't play football during the Balkan war. After that they mainly played local games. In 1929 however (by then the island was ruled by the Italians) these Italians dissolved the team due to its patriotic activities. It wasn't until 1945 and the end of WWII when the team was reconstituted, just before they joined the Greek leagues and the island was unified with the rest of Greece.
Across the decades they have won 17 Dodecanese (local) championships and 12 Dodecanese cups. Especially during the 50s and 60s the team was definitely the best team of the islands and they were knocking on the door of first division several times. Unfortunately the military dictatorship forced the team to merge with other teams (Rhodes Athletic Club - founded in 1960 and during these eight years one of the better teams in the region as well - and DANS Dorives - founded in 1924 but always an amateur team) to become AS Rhodes. All three teams were immediately refounded but only the new Diagoras FC managed to get back where it was just before 1968 (and even exceed that).
After 1968 AS Rhodes continued where the original Diagoras FC left them, second division. Ten years later they managed to finally reach first division. After a one year relegation AS Rhodes came back to first division in 1981, only to relegate again in 1983. In the meantime the new Diagoras FC managed to return to second division in 1974 after having to start all over again in 1968. A remarkable result. It was only for one year though, but in 1980 they returned and the glorious days for the island of Rhodes began.
In 1982 Diagoras FC reached the quarter finals in the Greek cup and in 1986 the team replaced AS Rhodes in first division. One year later the team even reached the semi finals of the Greek cup, but by the end of the 80s it seemed over. In 1989 Diagoras FC relegated to second division. AS Rhodes played third division between 1985 and 1988 so as of 1989 there were two teams of Rhodes in second division. This lasted until 1994 when again the two teams merged. The new team name became Rhodes-Diagoras Union. The marriage didn't prove to be a success however and in 1998 the two teams went separate ways again.
Diagoras FC had to start all over again (in the lowest leagues), but yet again they managed to return to second division fairly quickly. Between 2008 and 2012 Diagoras FC played their beloved second division, but due to financial problems they had to pull back in 2012. They went to fourth division the year after and relegated to the regional leagues. AS Rhodes on the other hand merged with SA Panogiannion in 1999. AS Rhodes started in the top regional league and quickly returned to the national divisions. In 2009 they too returned to second division, but only for one year. They too suffered financial problems and by 2012 they had to go back to the regional leagues as well.
In 2016 AS Rhodes did manage to go back to third division and apart from one year they still are right up there. Due to a restructured competition in 2019 AS Rhodes is now playing the fourth national league. Diagoras FC on the other hand managed to promote back to the national leagues (third division) in 2017 where they still play today, even after the restructured competition.