On 27 May, Australia will be the first country in the world to screen “King Otto”, the film that tells the story of the unlikely victories by one of the most unfancied of football teams, Greece, at the Euro 2004 finals.
The maker of the film, Greek-American director Chris Andre Marks told Neos Kosmos that the staggered release of the film was because of COVID-19 restrictions around the world.
“The pandemic is changing the distribution model for the release of the film. Australia is doing well as far as COVID-19 goes, so it will be the first to release ‘King Otto’ and the film will then roll out to other parts of the world as they open up,” he said.
Whether you like football or not “King Otto” is a story that transcends sport and is a beacon for the underdog. It tells the story of the 2001 appointment of German coach Otto Rehhagel to lead a Greek national team that was low and morale and achievement to the pinnacle of European success just three years later.
Rehhagel was one of the most successful coaches of the German Bundesliga who in his later years there was reviled for the “naιve” defensive tactics of his teams. His appointment to manage the Greek team was unexpected but was soon to bring about the changes needed to make the team competitive.
At Euro 2004 Greece confounded every single expectation that it would be the “whipping boy” of the competition beating the highly fancied Portugal in the opening game and in the final.
Teams featuring top stars such as Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henri, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Paolo Medved fell to a team of players who no one knew about, let alone pronounce their names.
On 4 July, 2004 when most people in the US was celebrating their Independence Day, the Greek communities of that country along with Greeks around the world were glued to their TV sets to watch the final in Lisbon.
Greek-American filmmaker Chris Andre Marks was 17 when he watched that great drama unfold.
“Every Greek community in the US watched that final, as it did many non-Greeks. I thought at the time ‘how is this not going to be made into a movie?’” Mr Marks told Neos Kosmos.
When no movie did come from that event, he took it on himself to bring the story to film.
Mr Marks who had produced sports films for HBO Sport and ESPN began work on “King Otto” three years ago. It is a film that not only brings to light the glories of 2004 but also explores the union between the disciplined, high-achieving German coach and his team of passionate Greek players.
It looks at how he moulded the team with the help of his assistant coach Ioannis Topalidis.
“Otto Rehhagel (now aged 83) re is one of a kind. He is personable and also very direct and he is also very emotional. What endeared him to the Greek players was that he did not sugar coat a situation but he also treated them with respect.
“Topalidis is the unsung hero of the story. He was a Greek who had grown up and played in Germany and who acted as an interpreter of language and culture. He was a filter who understood Rehhagel and presented what he said to the players in ways that they could understand.”
“It was also good to work with the former players who were so generous with their time. It was great fun and a thrill for me to meet these heroes.
“They were great guys, very down to earth, who were aware of the magnitude of what they achieved but were humble,” said Mr Marks.
The filming was a complex affair the editing took place in Germany, with the producers based in Britain and the filming being carried by out by a Greek film crew.
“I hope that this story will not be viewed as purely a story for Greeks and about Greeks. It is one of the greatest underdog sports stories of all time,” said Mr Marks.
♦ “King Otto” premiers in Australia on Thursday, 27 May.