When the current European football champion, Greece, comes to play the Socceroos in Melbourne in May in a warm-up game for the World Cup in Germany it will cement links between the football playing cultures of the two countries. Greece and Australia are linked by chains of migration and the match is guaranteed to be huge popular spectacle as well as a football occasion.
Greek national teams toured Australia in 1969 and 1978, while Australia played Greece in return matches in Athens in 1970 and 1980. In 1969 three games were played in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, with Australia winning the first by one–nil thanks to an Atti Abonyi goal, drawing the second two–all, with goals by Billy Vojtek and Ray Baartz, and losing the third two–nil. On 17 November 1970 Australia won three–one in Athens with Adrian Alston, Jimmy Mackay and George Blues on target. The 1978 Greek tour had matches in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney, resulting in two losses and a draw for the home team. In Athens in November 1980 Australia managed a three-all draw.
Australian teams have often had a complement of players of Greek extraction, including Charlie Yankos, who captained the Socceroos with distinction under coach Frank Arok in the second half of the 1980s, and Steve Georgakis, Steve Refenes, George Slifkas, Eric Hristodoulou and Mike Michalakopoulos, who helped the Australian Olympic team, the Olyroos, qualify for Barcelona in 1992. In 1996 in Atlanta it was the turn of Peter Tsekenis (Kosta Salapasidis played in lead-up games), while in Sydney in 2000 Con Blatsis and Stan Lazaridis were in the squad. At the Athens games in 2004 Australia’s women’s team, the Matildas, played their Greek counterparts in the group stages of the competition.
Many Australian players born in Greece or with Greek backgrounds went on to have more or less significant careers with Greek clubs, including Chris Kalantzis, Jim Patikas and Tony Spyridakos. Kyriakos Tohouroglou, though born in Sydney, later played for Greece as a full international.
Soccer administrators, sponsors, writers and coaches, as well as players, have been highly influential in the game in Australia. Theo Marmaras, first President of the Victorian Soccer Federation, Sir Arthur George, President of the ASF from 1969 to 1988, John Constantine, Chairman of the ASF from 1990 to 1995, Sam Papasavas, Nick Politis and Nick Theodorakopoulos are well known. Angelo Postecoglou coached South Melbourne to back-to-back national championships in 1998–99, the second of which resulted in the club taking part in the FIFA World Club Championship in Brazil where it played Manchester United. Postecoglou went on to become coach of the Australian Under-17 team, the Joeys, and the Under-20 team, the Young Socceroos. Postecoglou remembers: “It wasn’t cool to be Greek when I was at school. It wasn’t cool to play soccer either. In fact, I didn’t want to be Greek at the time; I wanted to be an ‘Aussie’. I realise now that I was being an Aussie. We all were.”
Greek clubs in Australia have been pacesetters in state and national competitions since the Second World War. Outstanding Greek-Australian–backed clubs included Pan-Hellenic, Sydney Olympic, South Melbourne Hellas, Heidelberg United Alexander and West Adelaide Hellas. South Melbourne was National Soccer League champion in 1984, 1990–91 and again in 1997–98 and 1998–99. Sydney Olympic won the title for the first time in 1989–90 and then again in 2001–02.
So when Greek meets Australian in Melbourne in May they will be adding another chapter to a significant football history.
(This article is derived from Bill Murray and Roy Hay, ‘Australia, Greece and Olympic Soccer’, in Steve Georgakis, ed., Back to Olympia, Joba Press, Sydney, 2005, with the permission of Steve Georgakis. Edited versions appeared in the Geelong Advertiser, Friday 10 February 2006, p. 35, Australian and British Soccer Weekly, Tuesday 14 February 2006, p. 18, and on the Football Federation of Victoria website at www.footballfedvic.com.au)