Last week’s OTHER big game

By Mike Sweet

Instigated by the AFL’s head of Multicultural Development, Nick Hatzoglou, the first ever game of Australian Rules Football was played in Greece last Saturday. Two teams wearing the colours of the Kangaroos and the Brisbane Lions played under a blazing sun in Corfu, with the mercury hitting 35C in the late Ionian summer.

The teams were made up from members of the new Hellenic-Australian Cricket Federation’s first overseas tour, currently underway in Corfu. Local sportsmen keen to try their hand were also involved. “We did sessions in primary and high schools in the run-up to the game, showing the kids passing and kicking skills, and the response was promising” says Nick. The Auskick style sessions before the game ensured that many of the schoolchildren came to the ancient cricket square in Corfu Town on the big day. To get everyone in the mood the pre-game warm up included the town’s uniformed marching brass band and less traditional music, with cheerleaders gyrating to hard-core rap – the volume pumping out across the famous square. With such an introduction the crowd swelled to witness history being made.

As the hooter sounded for the game to begin (brought over with the kits, flags, and miniature posts which arrived in Greece by ship two weeks before) suddenly the ground where the Brits first played cricket in 1823, known locally as the ‘Liston’, was transformed into a piece of Australia. In colonial days when Corfu was governed by the British, access to the cricket pitch and the elegant arcades that surround the square was strictly controlled, and unless your name was ‘on the list’, you weren’t coming in mate.

On this Saturday morning, streams of tourists led by tour guides, some off the huge cruise ships docked in Corfu port, did a kind of double-take as they passed by, and then stopped to watch the game unfold. To see cricket would have been odd enough. In the shaded cafes that face onto the ground, the onlookers included a few Greek-Aussies living in Corfu, who couldn’t quite believe their eyes, but soon settled to watch the game with frappes in hand.

Asked a few days later how he felt the showcase game had gone, Nick Hatzoglou was adamant “The idea was to plant the seed and to begin to grow the game in Greece and it far exceeded what we set out to do. The local organisers were magnificent. They set up the carnival atmosphere, got the schools and politicians involved and ensured it all got local and national media coverage.” Nick, whose serious footy-playing days are in the past, of course ran out in the game too. How did it go? “I got through” he says ‘but I’m still paying”.

This article originally appeared in Neos Kosmos.

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