Despite adversities, Westvale Olympic FC continues to unite multicultural communities and celebrate diversity in football.

It was preseason-friendly, but it was with friends in every sense of the word. That was my experience last Friday on a warm, balmy night in Melbourne’s west. Westvale Olympic FC, proudly Hellenic but with a distinctly multicultural flavour, was hosting Malvern FC in a preseason-friendly match.

I first visited this ground in Melbourne’s west last year. It was for football but not for the immediate reason one might think. Westvale Olympic was not playing that day, nor was my son (Lee) involved in a match, so I visited the other night. But more on that shortly

Last year, I visited this great club to present a trophy as Commissioner of the Victorian Multicultural Commission to the winner of the Nepalese football tournament. Living in the east of Melbourne was a journey of discovery for me.

On arrival last year, I met Westvale president George Loulakis. George was pale and looked tired. The reason for this, as I later found out, was because only weeks earlier, he had suffered a major heart attack. Nevertheless, George worked tirelessly at the club that day as he hosted this tournament.

He had opened the club’s doors to support other communities at no cost.

The Nepalese loved George. He was generous and avoided the limelight. He was genuinely interested in assisting this community and many others, as he understood the significance of how sport unites us and provides a safe home.

Covid has been tough on Westvale Olympic. It had lost a lot of players and teams, but George was ambitious about rebuilding it. Its social club proudly displayed its Hellenic history, its trophies, and many achievements.

Last week, my son (undertaking VCE) played for Malvern FC’s reserves in a friendly match against the Westvale Olympics.

As I entered the Cub last week, I could smell the Greek food and hear the Greek language spoken in different pockets of the ground by various elderly gentlemen. As I walked to the sidelines of the pitch, I heard a gentleman say to me, “Ela Vasili, welcome back”. I didn’t recognise him. The gentleman continued and said, “It’s me, George”.

I looked at him and said, “President, is that you? You are a different person. You look amazingly fit and well. You’ve had a great recovery from last year”.

And so we restarted our conversation from last year. George spoke about the 50-year celebrations of the club. George proudly pointed to the trophies and the fact that this club was one large family. He said, “We look after one another, and I have a board of 14 hardworking people helping me”.

I told George, “You have some great players, particularly some of the African lads.”

George replied, “They are all local people and feel at home here. For the first time, I have a women’s team. We are happy with what we have, and I am confident about our success.”

George introduced me to Spiros, who said, “My son, too, plays at Westvale Olympic but for the wheelchair team”.

I thought South Melbourne Hellas had the only wheelchair team in Victoria. Spiros proudly said, “I hope my son plays for Australia. He scored a great goal in Westvale the other day.”

My son’s game ended in a draw. We finished equals with Westvale Olympic, which ironically was the message inherent in George’s ethos about the club. We are all equals, and the Hellenic spirit of philoxenia was ever-present.