THE Greek footballer who celebrated a goal with what appeared to be a Nazi salute told a disciplinary hearing: "I am not a Nazi or fascist."
Giorgos Katidis made the the offending gesture after scoring his side's winning goal in a 2-1 win against Veria earlier this month. The 20-year-old was quickly banned from all levels of international football for life and banned by his club AEK Athens for the rest of the season.
At the time, the Greek Football Federation (EPO) called the celebration "a severe provocation" that insulted "all the victims of Nazi bestiality".
But yesterday Katidis told an EPO disciplinary committee: “I am not a Nazi or fascist. I did not know what I was doing. I thought that my celebration means respect.
“Do you know any footballer at the age of 20 who would knowingly want to put an end to his career?”
The incident has added significance because of the rise of the country's neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, which now has 18 seats in Greece's 300-seat parliament. They have also been blamed for rising anti-immigrant violence across the country.
AEK's influential fan group Original have lambasted the highly-rated midfielder and called for the Greek side to terminate his contract.
In a statement, the club said: "Whether the player will remain at the club beyond this season will be judged in the summer after which time he will, firstly, have been given the opportunity to demonstrate in practice his behaviour was the result of immaturity and, secondly, whether or not his possible reinstatement to the squad does not cause any negative effects within the club."
Katidis has called the act "totally unacceptable," saying: "I feel terrible for those I upset with the stupidity of my act.
"I also understand fully the reasons for the decision made by the Greek Football Federation to which I owe a huge apology as it has helped me to get where I am in the professional game."
Katidis, who has been capped for Greece at Under-17, U19 and U21 level, had a trial at Premier League side Everton in February last year.