The Giant who Never Woke

Neos Kosmos takes at look at author Vasilis Vasilas’ latest book on the history of the Pan-Hellenic Soccer Club – from its successful rise in 1957 to its eventual demise in 1976

For a number of years Sydney school teacher, Vasilis Vasilas, has been researching and gathering photographs and anecdotal stories on the history of Pan-Hellenic Soccer Club (Sydney) and, as a result, is about to publish the book, The Giant Who Never Awoke: History and Oral Stories of Pan-Hellenic SC (1957-76).

Australian-born and of Greek parents, Mr Vasilas has published two books depicting the journey to Australia of Greek migrants from the island of Lesvos, Journeys of Uncertainty and Hope (2010) and Our Homeland: Lesvos (2011). In his third book, Mr Vasilas focuses on a broader subject matter – that of the establishment, progress and eventual demise of a Sydney sporting icon at the time, Pan-Hellenic Soccer Club.
Within Sydney’s growing Greek community at the time, Pan-Hellenic SC was a unifying social force, as the team’s home-ground, Jubilee Oval and later Wentworth Park, became important meeting points for Greek migrants to express pride for their Greek homeland and identity within an Australian context.

It was a flagship of the Greek community as it attempted to integrate in its adopted homeland.
“One aspect I love about Australian football (soccer) at the time was how unashamedly and positively ‘ethnic’ it was and depicted in the press; it was a time when Australian journalists could print that Greek milk bar and Italian fruit shop owners would shut their shops to go watch an APIA-Pan-Hellenic derby. There was nothing wrong for Pan-Hellenic, and I imagine it would have been the same for Melbourne Hellas, to be referred as the Greek team in the Australian press yet, for all our progress in multiculturalism, we are encouraged not to so today,” points out Mr Vasilas.

Despite having the second biggest following in Sydney, after APIA, and having all the potential to become one of the successful teams in the Sydney competition, Pan-Hellenic unfortunately did not live up to expectations and did not win any trophy in its sixteen years in First Division (1961-76). Hence, the apt title of the book, The Giant Who Never Awoke, which metaphorically suggests years of disappointment and unfulfilment of the Club’s hopes.

“Although the hundred or so photographs and many of the anecdotal stories will generate a lot of nostalgia for readers, the book also looks at the Club’s arising problems that contributed to its tumultuous history,” explains the author.

“While there are very funny events in the book that have become part of the Club’s folklore, like Peter Varvaressos, his bride and the bridal party hurriedly leaving the church and arriving at Jubilee Oval to watch the remainder of the match (1960) and Father Karteris blessing the team’s dressing room before a match for the team to win and avoid relegation (1965), there are also many controversies to counter-balance any sentimentality.
“For instance, one of the controversial events covered in the book is the breakaway of some Pan-Hellenic supporters who bought half a share in Canterbury SC to create a second Greek team (1964).

This created a bitter division within Sydney’s Greek sporting community, and can be regarded as the first “big” break within Sydney’s Greek community, as it even pre-dates the break between the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and Greek Orthodox Community of NSW.

“As a story, Pan-Hellenic SC’s history has it all: the supporters’ pitch invasions of 1965 and 1971- after the latter, the team was deducted eight points; Panathinaikos superstar Takis Loukanidis guest spot (1968 and 1969), heart-stopping relegation battles, an endless revolving door of players, coaches, presidents and committees, poor management and the consequential financial strife and its inevitable bankruptcy (1976).”

The Giant Who Never Awoke will be launched on Tuesday 24 April at the Hellenic Club, 251 Elizabeth St Sydney NSW at 6:30 pm. The main speaker will be Sydney solicitor and Chairman of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Nicholas G Pappas, and the Master of Ceremonies will be television newsreader and journalist, John Mangos.