ATHENS A brothel and a funeral home have become the newest benefactors of two cash-strapped Greek soccer clubs struggling to survive the country's economic crisis.
As Greece endures its worst slump since World War Two, thousands of businesses have closed, one in four is jobless and government funding for anything from health to sports is hard to come by.
So Yiannis Batziolas, chairman of the Voukefalas club that competes in the A1 amateur league, decided to turn to the local brothel owner for help.
"We had a very serious financial problem so I thought, why not?" Batziolas, who has managed the club since 2010, told Reuters from the team's home city of Larissa in central Greece.
Their new sponsor Soula Alevridou, a stocky 67-year-old woman who owns three luxury brothels, agreed to cover all costs and the players now flaunt pink shorts and T-shirts emblazoned with her brothels' logos, including "Villa Erotica".
"The players couldn't believe it at first but now they're happy about it," Batziolas said, estimating the club needs about 10,000 euros a year to survive.
"The first thing they said to me - half-joking, half-serious - was 'What kind of bonuses will we get?'" he added, laughing.
Voukefalas, named after the horse of Alexander the Great, is not the only ailing club to sign a deal with unconventional sponsors.
On Saturday Voukefalas, which is fighting a ban by local league organizers to wear the jerseys at matches, played against Hercules, a team sponsored by the All Day Bar, an escorts bar.
Further north in the city of Trikala, the Palaiopyrgos club - many of whose players still attend school - have signed a deal with a funeral home.
"For us it was a matter of survival," manager Lefteris Vassiliou told Greek radio, saying the team had not been able to secure any sponsorship since Europe's debt crisis erupted here three years ago.
Despite the macabre attire - black jerseys with the undertaker's logo and a large white cross down the middle - Vassiliou said the players had taken it well, and it had even given them an advantage over their opponents.
Recounting a recent match, he said: "The goalkeeper kept crossing himself, our competitors lost every play. It seems they were too scared to come near us."
(Editing by Rosalind Russell)