The passing of Collingwood great Lou Richards last week, and his state funeral service on Wednesday, attended by people from all walks of life, including politicians, sporting identities past and present, business and media people, evoked many memories of a long and successful life often lived in the public eye.
Among those in attendance was George Georgiou who was very proud to be there and felt special pride when Collingwood President Eddie McGuire made mention of Lou’s place in the Greek AFL Team of the Century.
A co-founder of the Hellenic Australian Sports Foundation, Georgiou told Neos Kosmos after the service that “While Lou acknowledged his Greek background, it wasn’t something he went around and trumpeted. Having said that, his daughters and family acknowledged it. It was acknowledged by Eddie McGuire today. We’re very proud of that.”
For Georgiou, Lou’s passing brought back memories of his departed mate, and former Carlton player Chris Pavlou who first conceived of the idea of a Greek AFL Team of the Century. When it was announced in September 2004, it was one of the earliest public acknowledgements of Lou’s Greek heritage. Lou was named captain, brother Ron Richards was named coach, two uncles Charlie and Alby Pannam (shortened from Pannamopoulos), as well as grandfather Charlie Pannnam Snr were also named in the team: a tribute to a unique family dynasty of footballers stretching back to the origins of the Collingwood Football club in the late 19th century.
The process of establishing the Greek AFL Team of the Century helped uncover other Greek connections in Australian sport and soon led to the creation of the Hellenic Australian Sports Foundation to honour Greek Australian sports people and provide scholarship and funds for upcoming sports people.
Georgiou said that one of the good things about the Hellenic Australian sports Foundation and the Greek AFL Team of the Century was that it gave us, “the impetus, the momentum to acknowledge other great Aussie sportspeople, like Socceroo Stan Lazaridis and administrator Sir Arthur George. Because we had momentum, we had a Greek Legends dinner honouring Mark Philipousis and Ange Postecoglou. We helped to raise funds, gave out a dozen scholarships to up and coming kids. We’re proud we assisted people like Olympic gold medallist skier Lydia Lassila on her way up.”
As Georgiou explains, in its early days, the foundation enjoyed a lot of patronage and support from the media, buoyed by the Athens Olympics and the profile of people like Andrew Demetriou who was appointed as CEO of the AFL and was also a member of the AFL Greek Team of the Century. After the initial impetus, Georgiou says the foundation ran out of puff and has been lying dormant.
He told Neos Kosmos, “It’s just a pity that it’s currently sitting dormant. That’s one reason I wanted to use the opportunity with the passing of Lou Richards to promote Greek Australians in sports and to get the message out there that there’s an opportunity to relaunch the sports foundation.
“There might be another up and coming sports person we could sponsor. There could be another Mark Philipoussis, Lydia Lassila, or Anthony Koutoufidis out there that we could support to take to another level. Not every Greek Australian family is well-funded or knows their way around the Australian sports industry. Whereas, we’re very well connected through business, through sports, through the whole community.
“The structure’s there. All it needs is some new spirit, some new blood, and it can be fired up again. I’d be happy to take calls if anybody wants to pick up the baton and run with it from an organisational point of view. Also there might be a good teenage sports person out there that needs some advice, encouragement and support.”
George Georgiou can be contacted on 0418 362 058