During the 1980’s 12 Greek- Australians wore the Socceroos jersey. Names such as Theo Selemidis, Peter Katholos, Peter Raskopoulos, Jim Patikas, Chris Kalantzis and Charlie Yankos amassed a total of 118 A-international caps.
Since those halcyon days the numbers have fallen dramatically. The 90’s saw four Greek Australians play for the Socceroos with Stan Lazaridis’ 60 caps leading the way. The noughties saw an even bigger decline with four Hellenes picked for Australia and only eight caps in total.
But things are on the way up. With Dimi Petratos making his debut for the Socceroos against Norway last week, this decade has seen five Greek Australians including Chris Ikonomidis, Paul Giannou, Terry Antonis and Alex Gersbach bring the total number up to 17 caps.
The rest of this decade and the following one could see the number increase, especially as several Greek Australians in the A-League and overseas have the potential to take that next step.
In the A-League there are rising stars such as Christian Theoharous, Jonathan Aspro, Peter Skapetis, Tass Mourdoukoutas, Kosta Grozos, Kosta and Makis Petratos, Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, Nathan and Kristin Konstandopoulos.
Overseas Peter Makrillos, Theo Mezis, Panos Armenakas, Con Ouzounidis, Aristomenis Charalampopoulos and Yanni Barberoglou are all progressing.
So, is Australian football is on the cusp of having a Greek renaissance? Former Socceroos great Peter Katholos is optimistic.
“I’d love to see that,” he told Neos Kosmos. “With all those players that you have mentioned you could be right. There is a lot of talent there. It’s a wave that is building.”
Katholos who played 22 games for Australia revealed that he had a hand in coaching the latest Greek Australian Socceroo.
“When I was coach of St George Under 13’s Dimi Petratos used to come and train with my team and he was only a ten-year-old kid,” he says. “I did play a part in his development, especially with his technique and ball control which was a standout against Norway.”
Peter Raskopoulos played 35 times for the national team and also captained Australia and he says that although there is talent it’s not the same as his era.
“Back in the 80’s when we played we held our spot for five or six years,” he tells Neos Kosmos. “Chris Kalantzis was selected all the time, same as Jimmy Patikas and I was around for six or seven years as well.
“I agree that it’s possible that over the next decade there are more that may be coming through but recently there hasn’t been a Greek boy that has held their position in the Socceroos team consistently.”
Jim Patikas played 27 times for the national team and was the first Socceroos to play in the UEFA Champions League. He spent a decade with Greek powerhouse club AEK Athens winning three league championships. While he feels there are a number of young talented players he believes they aren’t getting the opportunities.
“I believe all the Greek boys are good enough,” he told Neos Kosmos. “I love seeing them get talked about, but I want to see them play, they don’t play consistently every week.”
For the past 20 years Patikas has been coaching youth teams for Sydney based club Inter Lions and during that period he has mentored a number of Greek Australians.
These include Western Sydney Wanderers trio Jonathan Aspropotamitis, Tass Mourdoukouta, Kostas Grozos and Europe based Panos Armenakas but the former Socceroo great isn’t satisfied with their advancement.
“If we are talking about quality Greek kids coming through and if am I happy about their progress. The answer is no,” he says.
“Why Kalantzis, Katholos and Raskopoulos, Mark Kousas and I made it was because we had better coaches. We had coaches that had the confidence to play the kids and give them a chance. I had Eddie Thompson, and there aren’t enough coaches like him.
“They are bringing too many foreign coaches who should stay in their own country especially if they are not going to help the young kids coming through.”
While he is proud of Dimi Petratos’ rise to the Socceroos, Patikas feels his younger sibling is also one to keep an eye on.
“Dimi’s improved out of sight but let me tell you something about Dimi Petratos, as good as he is, watch out for his younger brother Makis,” Patikas says.
“My team at Inter Lions used to play against his team and he is just as good as Dimi, if not even better. So, there are a lot of Greek-Australian young players in the pipeline but nothing is jumping out that says ‘I am star’ as yet. There could be another bunch coming through but as I said you need the coaches. Dimi was lucky because he got the chance from a local coach in John Aloisi at Brisbane and now Ernie Merrick at Newcastle who likes bringing young kids through.”
“Alex Gersbach is one that I also really rate, and again who put him through? An Australian coach, Graham Arnold.”
Patikas also believes the former National Soccer League allowed more Greek Australians to play for the national team but former Socceroos teammate Raskopoulos disputes that.
“I disagree with Jimmy there because the players of my era could’ve played for any A-League team or any NSL team all over Australia,” he says. “It was irrelevant if they were with a Greek club or not, they were Australian internationals and they would’ve played for anyone.”
Instead Raskopoulos feels other factors can be attributed to the decline of Hellenes in the national team.
“First of all, we weren’t paying customers,” he says. “There was none of this $3000 cost to play and all these academies. My opinion is that a lot of the Greek Australian parents are also getting wrong advice. I’m sure the talent is out there but it’s just not happening the way it used to.”
Raskopoulos also believes that the attributes that were sought after in the 80’s are not as valued in the modern game.
“If you go back to that era all the Greek Australian players were entertaining, exciting players. We weren’t boring,” he says. “We liked to be a little bit more flamboyant. We were good on the ball and skilful players. You have a look at the current skill acquisition programs and they can’t shoot unless they are five yards out. They are not allowed to be what we called “hogs” where you dribbled past three or four players and that’s been taken out of them.
“All these circumstances and bits and pieces that come together don’t allow not only the Greek Australian born players, but all the young players to express themselves and progress.”
Meanwhile with Petratos getting man of the match honours for the Socceroos in his debut national team appearance, Katholos and Raskopoulos would love to see the Newcastle Jets star play at the World Cup in Russia.
“That would be fantastic,” says Raskopoulos. “We are all proud of our heritage and having a Greek Australian boy at the World Cup would be fantastic for all of us.
Katholos added, “He would be the first Greek Australian to play at a World Cup and that would be huge. How good would that be? Wow! Go the Greeks.”