Feeling Greek

Some people in Australia think that I am Greek. (Ted Egan thinks I am George Megalogenis…I wish) And now that I have a son called Theo they really think I’m Greek.

I look Greek.

In Greece, when people asked me (more than once), “Where are you from?” I would say, “Australia.”

They would say, “When did you get back?”

I’m not Greek. But I have always wanted to be Greek.

And today, I feel Greek.

I have been in a bit of a Greek mood ever since the AFL decreed that weekend to be multicultural round. And also because a book has just arrived in my letterbox: Inspirations and Memories – 50 Years of the International Olympic Academy. I have written a chapter in it.

In 1994 I spent a couple of months at the IOA which is a sort of Olympic think-tank and university. It is the conscience of the Olympic Movement. It is one of the great places on the planet, a bit like an academic and cultural resort, across the road from the ancient stadium at Olympia in the north-west of the Peloponnese. Here, among the citrus groves and orchards I was taught the history of the ancient Olympic Games by some of the finest professors in the world. I was exposed to de Coubertin’s eclectic thought-gathering by philosophy lecturers intent on demystifying Olympism. I met other young lecturers and PhD students from around the world – Azgan, the Albanian triple jump champion was there; Stepan, the Russian journalism lecturer who told me, “In Moscow only zee lazy people work”; and Joanna the classics lecturer who had her own aerobics show on Greek TV.

I also learnt to be Greek. I learnt to stay up all night drinking retsina in grape-vine-covered tavernas. I learnt to talk and talk and talk. I learnt about felt truth. I learnt that the Olympic understanding is a key element of Greek identity. I learnt how to sit on plastic chairs in villages, and to catastrophise the most minor upsets and disappointments.

Andrew Demetriou is no Marcos Baghdatis but he is a Greek Cypriot. He oversees a football business which virtually runs itself, but there is clearly something to be learnt from keeping a fish and chip shop afloat. (I worked for the wonderful Florentzos family, Greek Cypriots as well, at the Cecil Café in Oakey).

The CEO of the AFL is in the Greek Team of the Century. He’s on the wing in the famous centre line Christou, Koutoufides, Demetriou which is the souvlaki version of Bourke, Barrot, Clay. Peter Daicos is at full forward. Athas Hyrousolakis is the centre half forward. The team includes a two Spiros: Kourkoumelis and Malakellis.

It was a surprise to me that Lou Richards is the skipper of the Greek Team of the Century. He is the grandson of the Pies champion, Charlie Pannam. Charlie’s family anglicised their name by abbreviating it. When they arrived from Greece in the 1890s they where the Pannamopoulos family.

Of course other national teams have been picked. Tony ‘The Beast’ De Bolfo, the historian at Carlton, was behind the Italian Team of the Century and says the dinner at which it was named was one of the most emotional occasions he’s attended. Identity runs deep. It is of the heart.

Writer and mathematician Tom Petsinis, a cousin of Peter Daicos, has a collection of poems called Four Quarters. These beautiful pieces convey the deepest sense of complex identity and the place of football in the lives of young immigrant boys.

Canberra was home to an immigrant boy who grew to be the skipper of the Ukrainian Team of the Century: Alex Jesaulenko. I love that he was born in Salzburg.

When I look at that old Jezza footage I think of the ancient Olympics.

Blokes still jumping. Blue-ing. Running. Living.

 

 

 

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie9. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Richard Naco says

    My dad – a Ukrainian – always thought that the shing star of the seventies was a Ukrainian. My dad was real big on clinging tightly to those raw Ukrainians who made a name for themselves (Danny Kay was another).

    Learning here that Jezza was born in Salzburg is almost as funny as learning (after his death) that my father was actually born & bred in a Ukrainian village in southern Poland & that he never even visited the ‘real’ Ukraine (he did end up in a German slave labout camp near Koln, but that’s a whole ‘nother story).

  2. Skip of Skipton says

    Richard, I’m pretty sure that all surnames ending in ‘enko’ are Ukranian. Jezza’s name was really Esaulenko. The J was a clerical error at the time of their immigration which they never bothered correcting. As for your father’s village, the borders of Poland, courtesy of being sandwiched between Germany and Russia, have contracted and expanded continually throughout history. Read James A. Michener’s ‘Poland’. My wife’s grandfather was a Hungarian from a border town in Croatia. It’s now a town in Serbia. Lines on a map.

  3. Skip of Skipton says

    John, I googled the Greek Team of the Century primarily to see where Tony Malakellis lined up and am now perplexed, disappointed. From there I took links to the Italian and Indigenous TOTC and found Peter Matera in both! Now I know he was quick (and still suffer a mild dose of PTSD resultant from the ’92 grand final) but being in two places at once defies the laws of physics, no?

  4. Skip – The Krakouers would be in the Polish (Dad’s side) and Indigenous (Mum’s side) teams of the century. It takes two to tango – same with the Matera’s.

  5. Skip of Skipton says

    Thanks PeterB, I was just being cheeky. Did wonder where the name Krakouer originated. Cheers.

  6. Dave Nadel says

    The Krakouers would be in the Jewish team of the century, rather than the Polish. The original immigrant Krakouer was a Polish Jew from Cracow (via England) – see Sean Gorman’s book, Brotherboys. Mind you that would make the Krakouer family about 1/32nd Jewish but they would almost be as much Jewish as Jason Gillespie is indigenous.

    I don’t think that you can actually get 22 Jewish AFL/VFL/WAFL/SANFL players even if you include all four Krakouers who have played at the top level. The fact that Todd Goldstein is probably the second best Jewish player of all time this early in his career (if you don’t count the Krakouers) suggests that a Jewish team of the century is probably not going to challenge the Italian or Greek teams.

    For younger readers, the greatest Jewish AFL/VFL footballer so far is Ian Synman who played at Centre Half Back in the Saints only Premiership team

  7. You were talking Greek late on Saturday night.

  8. JTH – “the souvlaki version of Bourke, Barrot, Clay”. Magnificent. Made me feel hungry.

  9. Andrew Starkie says

    Jezza is from Salzburg?! Superb. I did the ‘Sound of Music’ tour through Salzburg and the surrounding countryside in the Summer of ’96. Sat on the bus singing songs from the soundtrack, while visiting scene locations. Followed that evening by a performance from the Berlin string quartet in Salzburg Castle. SUn setting behind the Alps. Even a Warrnambool boy could appreciate that.

  10. Adam Muyt says

    Great piece JTH, full of whimsy.

    Dave, you reckon there’s a struggle to find 22 to fill a Jewish TotC. Try a Netherlands TotC – not many! Roos would be captain / coach, maybe Voss as VC (though Voss can be Germanic in origin too – I’m not sure of his bloodlines). Never much call for clogs on the field these days.

    (BTW, moving to Tassie, I’ve discovered the biggest post-war non-UK immigrant group to Tas are the Dutch. Many brought here as part of the Dutch Reform Church, the same mob that gave South Africa it’s horrid apartied regime. At least a few people here know how to prounce my name!)

  11. Andrew

    I’m just going to try and pretend you didn’t write about singing songs from the Sound of Music on a bus.

    … and that’s from someone who appeared in High School musicals.

  12. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Harmsy,

    it’s appropriate that you describe Greekness as a feeling. Tis the sense of having the time and energy to converse about everything and nothing. It is about enjoying being Dionysus while yearning for the purity of Apollo…and so much more!

    A few verses from Pindar the ancient Olympian poet might be of interest in terms of the possibilities that lie within sport:

    “And if, my heart, you wish to tell
    Of prizes won in trials of strength,
    Seek no radiant start whose beams
    Have keener power to warm, in all the wastes of upper air, than the sun’s beams

    Nor let us sing a place of games to surpass the Olympian.
    It is from there that the song of praise, plaited of so many voices,
    Is woven into a crown by the subtle thoughts of poets” (Olympian Odes, 488 BC approx)

  13. Dave Nadel says

    Adam, you can add Paul Van Der Haar and Robbert Klomp to your Netherlands team. Van Der Haar was a genuine star of the game. Klomp was mistaken for a star by Lou Richards when he awarded him best on the ground (and a television set) after a game in which Klomp had five touches.

  14. My grandfather was half-Irish and half-drunk… now there’s a football team!

  15. Is that a tautology Craig?

  16. Yep, Phantom, it probably is…

  17. Mulcaster says

    as Jimmy Durante once said

    “When I first met ya…ya loked like a Greek God… now ya just looks like a Greek”

  18. JTH,

    my email has gremlins. The answer to your recent question is “Peter”

  19. Rick Kane says

    “I learnt how to sit on plastic chairs in villages, and to catastrophise the most minor upsets and disappointments.” Nicely captured JTH. I married into a Greek family and the experience has been beautiful to say the least. It did take a while to understand at family gatherings when there was a lot of commotion (in Greek) that the argument was about how much food to put on my plate. Now, at Easter I joke with the family, after they cook up enough lamb to feed the neighborhood, that for a people who invented mathematics they certainly could hone up on that skill around Easter.

  20. johnharms says

    Rick, as you know Susan and I lived in the Greek suburb in Brisbane: the Highgate Hill/West End area just across the river from the city. A truly wonderful spot. We’d walk along Dornoch Terrace in the beaut summer evenings to Lefkas and sit and eat skordalia and lanb and chicken and stuffed capsicums and tomatoes with Greek salad. A beer and a bottle of red shared between us. No wonder I am writing pieces about the hectic nature of recent weekends.

    My barber (still) is Phil the Greek. When we moved to Melbourne and I was still on the two haircuts a year program I’d get Phil to do it while I was up there (“How do you want it?” “Just like yours Phil” The No 4 for $14). He’d always talk family, sport and Labor politics. When Offisders started here in Melbourne I was looking unusually scruffy so I had a haircut at some salon in Clifton Hill ($70 – you are kidding) As I came off set and turned my phone on it rang. “Who cut your hair?” he asked.

  21. David Downer says

    JTH,

    No doubt you’ll keep a close eye on Theo Doropoulos’ wielding of blade form over the Summer.

    DD

  22. Went to school with the Malakellis brothers. Spiro was as cheeky as they come. He was not intereseted in the family business but his family have been making the best fish and chipsfor decades.

    The Jewish team of the century are probably a bit like Richmond now. Pretty good in the centre square but a few gaps elsewhere around the ground.

  23. Rick Kane says

    Great story about the barber Harmsy. Pissed myself. Got Vicki to read the story and she fell about. Have passed it on to other Greek friends as they absolutely get it. And by the way, what were you thinking, not going to Phil to get your hair cut! :)

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