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PAOK is not so much a football club as an institution in Greek life. The biggest club in the north of the country, PAOK also field basketball, volleyball, water polo, handball, boxing, cycling, athletics, taekwondo, ice hockey, swimming and chess teams – and that's in just the sports you've heard of.

The history of Hearts opponents' in the Conference League play-off this evening is rich in colour. The initials PAOK, which stand for Pan-Thessaloniki Athletic Club of Constantinopolitans, give away the club's origins. Formed in 1926 by Greek refugees fleeing the Greco-Turkish War, their name and their badge – of a two-headed eagle with closed wings – indicate the grief and loss suffered in the flight from Constantinople. The theme continues into the club colours of black and white, which are a further nod to their roots: black for the mourning related to the numerous Greeks who had to flee other countries and white for the new hope that settling in Thessaloniki – situated in the Macedonian part of Greece – brought.

War has played a big part in shaping PAOK's history. Two of the clubs' players Georgios Vatikis, who was awarded the Silver Cross for Valour, and Nikolaos Sotiriadis died during the Second World War, the latter of whom was shot in the chest in 1941 as he attempted to capture an Italian outpost on the Greek-Albanian border. Following the war, PAOK played its football in the Macedonia Championship, where they won the title four years running, between 1954 and 1957. During their time in that league, the club lost its captain Thasyvoulos Panidis, who was killed in fighting during the Greek Civil War. The Civil War also had a part to play in the club's move to its current home the Toumba Stadium, on land owned by the Ministry of Defence, involved the club helping with the rehousing of peoples displaced by the war and the 1953 Ionian earthquake. Today the Toumba has a formidable reputation as one of the most hostile venues in European football. Dubbed the 'Black Hell,' Hearts will likely experience its full, unique 'charms' when they walk out of the tunnel into the near 29,000 capacity arena with AC/DC's Hells Bells blaring out from the public address system.

The Herald:

As for the challenge that awaits the Tynecastle outfit on the park both tonight and in next week's return game, they will find a smattering of 'names' playing for PAOK, who finished fourth in the Greek Super League last season. There's Baba Rahman, who played 15 games for Chelsea under Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink, and spent last season on loan at Reading before making a permanent move to the PAOK last month, after eight on but mostly off years at Stamford Bridge. Another new name in the backline will be instantly recognisable to followers of English football and that's the former Watford and Tottenham defender William Troost-Ekong, who has won 64 caps for Nigeria and captained the Super Eagles at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. He spent the latter part of last season on loan at Serie A club Salernitana and while the Italians opted not to exercise their buy clause in his deal, the 29-year-old will still prove to be a formidable obstacle for Hearts to find a way around this evening.

Brazilian winger Taison, once a target for Premier League clubs during his time as a Champions League regular at Shakhtar Donetsk, arrived last summer and while he is now 35 he retains the flair you would expect of a player who was named in Brazil's World Cup squad for the 2018 World Cup.

The trio are ably backed up by another smattering of 'names' such as club captain Vierinha and Thomas Murg, who was in the Rapid Vienna side that took on Rangers in the Europa League group stage five years ago, and while Hearts may not be up against the same task that faced city rivals Hibernian against Aston Villa last night, they will have their work cut out against the three-time Greek title winners.