Flashback to five years ago in Surfers Paradise, when a young 21-year-old Brisbane Roar footballer, George Lambadaridis, was a guest of honour at a Hellenic Cup final involving Brisbane Olympic and a visiting interstate side Heidelberg United.
The Bergers won the final and after the match Lambadaridis presented the then 30-year-old Bergers skipper Luke Byles with the Cup trophy.
Flash forward back to the present, and those two players will meet once again at Olympic Village in a keenly contested NPL Greek derby between Heidelberg and Lambadaridis’s new club, Bentleigh Greens currently sitting second and third on the NPL ladder respectively.
Byles will once again lead the Bergers out on to the park, as he has over the last two seasons, including the last two when the Bergers have been the NPL’s most successful team. Lambadaridis left the Roar after an injury led to his not being re-signed and returned to the Victorian NPL in 2016 for two seasons at Green Gully before signing with Bentleigh this season, where he has featured in all eight league matches this season, in the midfield.
Speaking to Neos Kosmos in the lead up to the game, Lambadaridis says he expects a totally different match to the first time the two sides met earlier this year, when they contested the season curtain raiser, the Community Shield, which the Greens won easily 2-0.
“Our pre-season, since I’ve come to the club, I noticed there’s a huge emphasis on being fit, from JA (coach John Anastasiadis) and the team. I felt in the first game, from a fitness level, we were miles ahead of them. But obviously since then, teams have been training hard. It’s the league now. And obviously playing away at their ground, it’s always an extremely tough derby game.”
Unlike the Greens, Lambadaridis believes that the Bergers aren’t a very possession-based team. “I feel if I was to predict the game, we would dominate (the ball) like we do most weeks, but I feel that they’re the type of team that have quality players, and they’ve been together as a group for a long time. You give them a sniff and they’re going to punish you. That’s how they’ve been successful over the last couple of seasons. Sometimes you walk out there going, ‘gee, how did we even give them a chance?’ And they just punish you and get the result. So I think that’s probably what we’ve sort of lacked. That bit of conviction, that bit of mongrel to grind out results. If we’re not on our game, I think that’s going to be really evident in this match.”
Along with a handful of new arrivals, Lambadaridis says he has enjoyed coming into a group that’s been together for a long time, and he is confident that the team will continue to do well even after current senior coach John Anastasiadis departs in mid season for the A-League. ” It’s a very strong group. I feel like the boys drive a lot of it. I know obviously we’re going to miss JA after he leaves mid-year. But even then I’m still confident that with whoever ends up taking over, that the group itself would drive it very well because of the identity and the way we play.”
Speaking about the way the team plays, Lambadaridis says its been really positive for him. “The league itself is really physical. So I’m personally more suited to a ball playing team where, it’s not a lot of long balls. We’re actually keeping possession, moving the ball around, moving teams. We’re mobile and that suits my game. The players you just mentioned (Holmes, Baressi, Mitrovic) they all sort of fit that criteria so I think the club sort of nailed it in terms of the types of people and style of players that they’ve gone after. Not only good footballers, but also work extremely hard. And then that’s why I go back to culture as well.. You mix those two things together and its normally pretty successful.”
Having experienced football as a professional at Brisbane Roar, Lambadaridis maintains a professional attitude to his football as he approaches the peak years of his football career (he’ll be 27 later this month), playing in a semi-professional league. “From a football perspective I still take it very seriously as well. I still treat myself like a professional and if the opportunities come out of that, great…I’ll always look at it. But my main focus is really to make sure I perform every week.”
Apart from football, Lambadaridis has built himself a good business off the park as well. A Monash University graduate with a Bachelor degree in Business, he combines his work as a mortgage broker, with a passion for educating others and in collaboration with the PFA (Professional Footballers Association) he is active in helping to educate professional footballers about managing their finances.
As he explains, ” When I was playing with Brisbane, I noticed there was a real lack around education, of financial Literacy. Yes, I’m a mortgage broker. That’s sort of my bread and butter. But I’ve also had a really big emphasis on Education. So I go around the A-League and present to players. I mentor a lot of the players on just basic stuff. For example , understanding the process of buying a house, how banks will look at them, bad things on credit cards, when they go for car loans, living expenses, budgeting, basic things that you need that you don’t learn at school and that you don’t really learn as a footballer. So that they can make some of their own decisions as well.”
“I’ve been really lucky to be endorsed a little bit by the PFA and they’ve basically given me a base. Because, obviously my story as well. I went through some tough years with injury, which was one of the reasons I didn’t end up getting re-signed (at Roar). So yeah, when I’m sitting down with players, they really understand it. And I’m a living example for them. So I love it, because it mixes what I’m passionate about, finance and football as well.”