Economic strife, social meltdown, far-right neo-Nazi parties dishing out beatings to immigrants on a weekly basis, and that's before we get to the truly mental world of the local football scene in Greece. There's never been a more interesting and testing time to live in the self-styled cradle of civilization (I know I was equally surprised it wasn't our fair and noble city) but I'm in it for the long haul.
Greece. The final frontier, of Europe that is before the madness of Africa begins. Living in perhaps the most misunderstood and discussed country currently resembles a combination of sun-kissed paradise versus Escape from LA. The country is on its knees and being royally arse-raped by the Troika and that fat, loathsome bint Merkel and her strap-on. Unemployment is at a whopping 25% and predicted to reach 34% by end of 2013, while Golden Dawn - the crackpot extremist party - continue to make immigrants lives a living hell as well as spouting off bollocks about ex-pats, while ordinary citizens face a daily battle simply to make ends meet. That is what makes up the fabric of the urban landscape in Athens these days.
You may be asking what in Zeus' name am I doing dossing around the Greek capital then. The simple fact is I love the place and I am determined to stick it out to the bitter end.
For anyone who hasn't been or has only had a brief visit, I suggest you explore a bit and give it a chance. Athens usually prompts the love it or hate it type of reaction but trust me, there is much beauty to be found (as girly and guidebooky as that sounds). From day one the place seduced me like a vulnerable lass who's had one too many down the Quayside. It ticks all the boxes in terms of climate, lifestyle (still, even with a limited budget), food and of course crackin' night life.
In fact my only real gripe with Greece is the country's sports hacks, who insist on nicknaming us the 'coalminers' instead of 'Magpies'. I've ran a personal campaign threatening GBH to most of them and slowly but surely the reference is disappearing!
Before moving on to more pleasant matters of the footy and feeling every beat of United's season from thousands of miles away, just a bit about myself to give you an idea of where I'm coming from. Born and bred in Horden, County Durham (that's the next village after Steve Harps' Easington) I've been following United since watching Mirandinha equalise against Everton at SJP in 1987. I know the area is largely Mackem country but I was lucky enough that me fatha was Black & White, along with 5 of his 6 brothers. Only one of the old man's siblings is a Mackem and unfortunately sackless uncle Tony is quite rightly the outcast and the butt of all our jokes.
A former season-ticket holder in the East Stand, I moved to what was a very different Athens in 2004 to be with wor girlfriend, who had as Pulp might say, came from Greece and had a thirst for knowledge. Initially working as a freelance journo at the Olympics, I later bagged a gig working for Reuters and uefa.com, as well as the weekly paper Athens News. You can read my drivel in the sports pages here: http://www.athensnews.gr/category/4
I keep up with the Toon matches via tf, nufc.com and Greek sat TV Nova, which is grand as it usually has more games than SKY and ESPN put together. Happy days! Must admit it's been a mixed start to the season (another shite transfer window) though, the highlight of which has been seeing the lads in the flesh at the Atromitos match over here and Hatem's exocet missile against Aston Vile. Hoping the injuries don't pile up and Ba's knee stands up to so many games.
So what about the local footy scene? Well let's just say there's never a dull moment, whether it is match-fixing scandals, crowd bother (which happens almost every week), dodgy refs and great derby atmospheres. Reigning champions Olympiakos are favourites to win their 40th league title as the other two-thirds of the Athens' 'Big Three', Panathinaikos and AEK Athens, have seen better days financially.
Generally all of the top flight clubs are skint except for Olympiakos, who have chairman Vangelis Marinakis and his bottomless pockets of shipping cash behind them. The start of the season was almost postponed because 8 of the 16 teams weren't granted a licence from the state-run professional sports commission but in true get-out-of-jail Greek style they were given an extension until the end of September at the last minute. Olympiakos are predictably leading the way after two games, but there is plenty to suggest the Greens of Panatha will be able to put up a decent fight. It will be a season of struggle for my beloved AEK, who have had to sell off virtually their entire first team squad due to massive debts. Keep up to date here: http://www.superleaguegreece.net
All eyes are on the national team as World Cup qualifiers begin this week. The jammy Greeks were drawn against Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovakia and Liechtenstein in Group G. Roll on Rio! Credit where it's due the Greek national team, who made it to the quarters at Euro 2012, are a decent side these days, with plenty of players thriving abroad and the future looks good if the Under-19's making it to the final of the European Championships over the summer is anything to go by. They lost to Spain 1-0 but a host of young talent is waiting in the wings for the senior side. Graham Carr, get yersel ower to Athens man! Seriously though, I would have taken Vasilis Torosidis at right back from Olympiakos this summer as it became clear the Debauchery deal ended in Debuchy (or have I mixed summut up there?). Torosidis, available for around 5m euros, is a player of real quality with a great technique and at 27 is at the peak of his powers. Anyway, I'm sure wor lad Carr is keeping tabs on him and the likes of Schalke's Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a stocky centre-back with an eye for goal, as well as the rest of the frappe-drinking contingent.
That's your lot for now, so as the Greeks like to say: Kali bala paidia! (good footy lads!)