In 2009, Anorthosis Famagusta made the group stages of the Champions League. At the time it was the greatest achievement in Cypriot football. Another Cypriot club, Apoel Nicosia, has gone even further, making it through the group stages then on to beat French team Olympique Lyonnais for the right to face Real Madrid in the quarter finals.
Australia also has a football connection with Cyprus. Former Socceroo great Paul Okon spent the latter stages of his career at Apoel and recently young Aussie Costa Andricopoulos, a former Apoel player, is currently playing with Anorthosis Famagusta.
I spent some time with Costa to find out about football and life in Cyprus.
The first question I asked was how he got started in football.
“Growing up, I was always in the backyard and at the park kicking a football around with my dad, who also played in the NSL in the 1980s, I started playing local park football at the age of seven for Kingsgrove All Stars.
“I played local association football up until the age of ten until Division 1. My junior years were with St George until U16’s in the NSW Premier Youth League. U18’s and U20’s were with Apia Leichhardt Tigers were we won the U18’s NSW Premier Youth League final and then I signed for West Sydney Berries U20’s were I made my 1st grade debut.”
I asked Andricopoulos about the Paul Okon connection and about the legacy he left in Cyprus.
“Yes Paul Okon played here in Cyprus for Apoel Nicosia for about one season in 2005. He is well known and rated very highly here in Cyprus. When he was coaching at Apia Leichardt Tigers three years ago in the NSW Premier League I was in the U20’s squad and was training up with the 1st grade team under him and played a few preseason matches with them. It was during that time Paul Okon invited me to be part of the train on squad of the U18’s Australian National Team for the Australian Youth Olympic Festival that was held in Sydney.”
I contacted Paul Okon and asked him what it was like playing in Cyprus: “Cyprus was a very different experience, but one I’m grateful to have had. Apoel is a big club with great supporters”.
When asked about his thoughts on Andricopoulos, Okon was complimentary to the youngster:
“Costa is a good kid with a great attitude who is more than capable on the ball.”
With limited opportunities in the A-League, Andricopoulos thought a move overseas was the way forward for him.
“I have not been approached by any A-League clubs as yet, I have been to a few sessions over the last few years with a few clubs like Sydney FC for two months and the Newcastle Jets when I was 17.
“After my season finished with the West Sydney Berries in 2010 I sent my football DVD and resume to Cyprus to a contact through the AESFA and got a few trials.”
As is the case with many Aussies abroad, it wasn’t smooth sailing at the beginning with loan moves and relegation. When Andricopoulos first moved to Cyprus he signed for Apoel FC reserves (1st division) then towards the end of that first season he got loaned out to their feeder team, Ethnikos Latsion FC for two months. Then when the season finished with Ethnikos he went for a three week trial at Doxa Katokopias. That deal didn’t eventuate, with the manager who took him on trial being let go when the club were relegated to the 2nd division.
Luckily Costa got a call from the coach at Anorthosis asking if he wanted to sign.
Now settled, Costa got to play some first team football and he also got a taste of European football. His European experience included playing friendly matches against Lokomotive Moscow and getting an assist, Dynamo Kiev, FC Tuggen (Switzerland) and FC Luch Energia Vladivostok (Russia).
When I asked the youngster about his future he hinted at the A-League but also wanted to prove himself in Europe before he returned to Australia:
“I would love to play in the A-League someday, but for now I have to keep focused and keep working and progressing here in Europe.
“I’ve signed a one year contract with Anorthosis FC from last August. I would like to stay in Europe another couple of years and keep progressing and getting more 1st grade experience and then would like to try my luck in the A-League or in Asia. I got a taste of the U18’s Australian national team set up a couple of years back so I would like to represent the national team at some international level.”