The Hellenic Cup Football Tournament is being resurrected as a tournament which could provide an important stepping stone for the development and progress of talented youth into the elite ranks. Such are the hopes of the organisers who have revived the tournament after it has lain dormant for six years.
First staged in 1983, the tournament became an annual event on the preseason calendar for almost the next 30 years, (its last appearance was in 2013) before being disbanded in 2014. Coincidentally, that was the year in which the FFA introduced its much maligned National Club Identity Policy (NCIP) banning clubs from using names, colours or symbols of ethnic or national significance. Earlier this year, the FFA lifted restrictions on clubs expressing their identity.
The tournament is now set to resurface beginning this coming January and extending into early February, at Jack Edwards Reserve in Oakleigh.
Tournament spokesperson and one of the organisers, Peter Nikolakopoulos, feels the time is right to revive the tournament.
Speaking to Neos Kosmos, Nikolakopoulos points to an alarming dearth of Greek footballers playing at the elite levels of the game in Australia. He believes that an annual tournament such as the Hellenic Cup has the potential to help change that situation.
He explains, “If you look at the minimal amount of Greek kids that are playing A-League or within the national system, you’d be very, very alarmed at how few Greek players are up there at the top level, compared to the past. I just believe it’s important that we have the Hellenic Cup, which hopefully will identify some talented kids that are playing within these clubs and hopefully be given some opportunities to fulfil their dreams. I think we need to do something to help and assist. And I believe a good platform, a starting point, will be the Hellenic Cup and then growing from there.”
With the emphasis on youth development, the forthcoming tournament will feature U20s male teams, and in what will be a first, U14 and U16 girls teams, as well as U13 and U15 boys teams. Nikolakopoulos says, “The plan is to start with youth, and at a later date look at introducing senior teams as well, and potentially Masters teams.”
Nikolakopoulos wants to stage a professionally organised tournament which will be “a great experience for those involved.”
According to him, the plan is to film and Live-stream matches “ so that people that can’t be there will have the opportunity to watch. But also it will provide great footage for the teams and players as well, from a personal and a talent identification perspective as well.”
Another planned initiative, is to select a team of players, based on their performances throughout the tournament, which will represent Greece at the annual All Nations Tournament staged annually in Melbourne. Nikolakopoulos remembers with pride, representing Greece in that tournament many years ago. “It was a real honour… I was notified that this year’s Greek team had no Greek players. So we have put an application for the next year’s All Nations Cup, to have a Greek team. We would like to look at the 20s competition through the forthcoming Hellenic Cup, pick the best kids, not linked to any club, but selected purely on talent, and they can represent Greece in the next All Nations Cup. So that’s going to be part of our process. And then moving forward, looking at how we can have some talented kids even go to Greece with opportunities to grow from there.
So small steps, but the plan and obviously the passion’s coming through the lack of Greek kids making it in football. The lack of Greek kids in the national set up, in the A-League, and I think we need to do something about it. So we’ve taken a bit of an initiative to make that happen. I’m very passionate about development. Been doing it my whole life.”
“What we need now is for the word to get out, for the clubs to embrace it and join it. I know clubs don’t necessarily see eye to eye because they’re very competitive. But this is a neutral event. It’s a great way to bring in the pre-season, but also a great way to celebrate the Hellenic Community. I strongly believe that we should be proud of what we’ve got, but really haven’t got too much to show for it. I just think the Hellenic Cup is going to be a stepping stone to get that right and to unite. This is about all of us coming together and something we can celebrate and have for a long time. I think we’ve got a lot to offer. But we do need all the clubs to jump on board and be a part of it. Our aim is to grow and make sure this becomes part of an ongoing process. And kids can look forward to playing in the Hellenic Cup for years to come.”