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'Armed' PAOK owner invades pitch, confronts referee after late confusion

PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis, center, entered the pitch with what appeared to be a gun in a holster.

ATHENS, Greece -- A disputed goal at the end of a Greek Super League match on Sunday between leader AEK and title rivals PAOK led to a pitch invasion by one of the team owners, who appeared to be carrying a gun.

Fernando Varela scored from a header in the 90th minute, putting host PAOK ahead 1-0 in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The referee signaled a goal but then seemed to disallow it for offside.

PAOK's owner, businessman Ivan Savvidis, came on the field twice and was accompanied by bodyguards. On the second occasion, without the overcoat he was wearing before, Savvidis appeared to be carrying a pistol which was in its holder.

AEK officials claimed Savvidis threatened the referee during his first foray onto the pitch before being pulled away.

"We suddenly saw a man on the pitch with bodyguards and everyone started saying it was the PAOK president and he went first to the referee and then to our bench and started threatening everyone," AEK Athens coach Manolo Jimenez told Radio Marca.

"We didn't fear for our lives initially but then, when I saw the photographs of the gun, you think to yourself, 'What if he does something crazy and pulls it out?' It's true that initially we didn't know that he had a gun on his belt, but that could be a small thing as he could have authorization to carry one, but what isn't normal is that a president jumps onto the pitch to protest and threatens a referee.

"The referee wanted us to come out and play the remaining five minutes but our president told him that his players were not going out to play, more so because they had been threatened by people that had invaded the pitch. The referee in the end suspended the game at 0-0 and I don't know what will happen."

The game was suspended and the stadium was emptied of fans, but the goal was eventually allowed to stand and PAOK was awarded a 1-0 win.

Georgios Vassiliadis, Greece's Deputy Culture and Sports Minister, expressed disappointment with the scenes at the Toumba stadium.

"The scenes we have seen today will hurt first of all the supporters of PAOK and the entire sporting community," Vassiliadis said in a statement, as reported by Agona Sport. "Images of major protagonists walking onto the field of play with weapons visible is something which threatens to take the sport back many years.

"Such extreme phenomena require courageous and difficult decisions. We have begun a huge effort to try and clean up football against some powerful opponents and incumbents, and this year, for the first time in many years, we have seen a really exciting and fair championship. We will not allow anyone to divert us from our goal, even if we need to make difficult decisions in consultation with UEFA."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.

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