It turns out Dundee United were a decade ahead of their time when they played a ghostly game in Athens.
The date was August 26, 2010, the opponents were AEK Athens and the venue – eventually – was the Georgious Karaiskakis Stadium.
The Tangerines had recently lifted the Scottish Cup and were in the Greek capital representing Scotland in the second leg of their Europa League third qualifying round tie.
Peter Houston’s men trailed 1-0 from the first match at Tannadice but they certainly gave AEK a scare inside the eerily-empty venue.
Whereas it is the coronavirus that will prevent fans attending games 10 years on, back then the reason for the vacant seats was that AEK fans had been banned because of crowd trouble concerns.
That was only part of the story, however.
When United’s players landed in Athens the previous day, incredibly they still didn’t know where the match would be played.
AEK’s own pitch was out of use because of trouble with the sprinklers and that saw Uefa attempt to switch the fixture to the home of local rivals Panionious.
Just before United were due to fly out, however, news filtered through that the Panionious supporters were so incensed at the thought of an AEK match being played on their park that some broke into the ground, ripped up the goalposts and destroyed large chunks of their own team’s turf.
That set off a mad scramble to find a suitable venue, with Uefa finally deciding on the 32,000-capacity Karaiskakis, home of another of AEK’s rivals – Olympiakos.
The 600 or so United travelling supporters were left in the dark although it didn’t stop them painting the city’s bars tangerine. They would eventually be bussed to the match by the Greek authorities.
Even the Scottish media were caught up in the mayhem, with reporters including yours truly bundled into a mini-bus and given an armed police escort from their hotel to the ground amid worries about trouble outside the venue.
Thankfully, the United players managed to avoid much of the chaos, as explained by defender Sean Dillon.
“Looking back, Housty and the backroom team were absolutely brilliant at shielding us from what was going on,” said the Irishman.
“It was all about the actual football for us – not about where we would be playing.
“We kind of knew there was a problem when we landed in Greece but we were told not to worry about it.
“As a player, that’s what you want to hear.
“You just get on with it and that’s what we did.”
However, Dillon admitted that it was a strange experience walking out to a sea of empty red seats, painted in the colours of Olympiakos.
Only the United fans were allowed inside to watch the tie and they were all bunched together in one section.
“I’m still not sure if the lack of AEK fans helped us or not,” added the now Montrose player-coach.
“On the one hand, you would imagine their supporters would have made a lot of noise and gotten right behind them.
“But we also would have tried to get the home fans to turn on them by frustrating the crowd.
“You also always fancy playing in big games with huge crowds and great atmospheres so I suppose it was a shame that we missed out on that.
“At least we could hear the United fans that night. They were tucked away in a wee corner but we heard them all right and they were brilliant.
“It will be even quieter for the players when the Premiership games do get started behind closed doors and it will take some getting used to.”
United, who were captained by central defender Garry Kenneth, lined up: Dusan Pernis, Dillon, Paul Dixon, Kenneth, Keith Watson, Craig Conway, Scott Robertson, David Robertson (Danny Swanson 59), Prince Buaben, Morgaro Gomis (Jon Daly 62), Danny Cadamarteri (David Goodwillie 48).
Dillon and is teammates were a goal behind on the night and two adrift in the tie after 23 minutes when Papa Babou Diop found the back of the net with a close-range strike off a knockdown but United gradually clawed their way back into the game.
Much of their good play came from cup final hero Conway, while manager Houston helped with three attack-minded substitutions in the second half, with Goodwillie, Swanson and Daly all coming on.
Dillon recalled: “Their goal came from a corner and it was a scrappy one to concede.
“We were all disappointed about it and it took us a bit of time to settle but we did start to get some joy and began to open them up.”
Indeed, the Scots delighted their merry band of fans with an equaliser on 78 minutes.
Dixon played a forward ball into the AEK box and sub Daly managed to take a touch before stabbing his shot under the body of goalkeeper Sebastian Saja.
That put United within one away goal of qualification for the group stages and they came mightily close to making it 2-1 just four minutes later.
The ball was headed back out of the box by an AEK defender to the unmarked Swanson. He controlled it on his chest before blasting a shot just inches past Saja’s right-hand post.
Dillon said: “That would have gotten us through and we knew it was a great opportunity.
“The thing is, had we been able to pick one player for the ball to fall to like that then it would have been Swanny.
“He had scored a few from similar positions but that one just missed.
“I’ll tell you what: the AEK lads got a fright that night.
“At the end of the game the ones who could speak English were very complimentary about us.
“They were saying things like ‘you played well’ and ‘unlucky.’
“Of course, we were still knocked out but I have to say, looking back, the trip was a great experience even without the big crowd.”
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