It’s all Greek to Georgie- A weekend in Rhodes

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The Greek holiday island of Rhodes has thrown up another stunner. Apparently it is sunny here 300 days of the year.

Greece rugby league head coach Steve Georgallis is sitting at the officials table at Karakonero Stadium while the Rhodes 8s tournament is being contested. Teams involved are from Athens, Patra, Rhodes, Turkey and Australia. The team of Greek Australians will eventually win the final against Turkey.

‘Georgie’ has taken on the role of timekeeper, scoreboard attendant, results scribe and any other vacant job that needs to be managed on the sidelines at a rugby league tournament.

His Dad Leo, who emigrated to Sydney from the island of Tilos in 1959, is at the back of the grandstand taking it all in. More than once he brings his son a cup of coffee to keep him going.

In between games a number of people stroll over to say yasou and chat to the affable coach.

“This is what I love,” says Georgallis with a broad grin. “This is rugby league in its purest form. It not about money and status. Just camaraderie and a shared love for the game.

“When I came into first grade in the late 1980s in Sydney everyone was a part-time professional and had other jobs. Georgallis was a PE teacher and it is clear he looks back on those times with fondness and nostalgia.

“In those days all the players knew each other and you would play it tough on the field but then have a beer with the opposition after the game. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

While on official duties, the astute coach is also identifying players with his assistant Jim Pizanias for the squad of nineteen to play an international match against Turkey the following night.

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Georgallis has been coach of the Greek team since 2002.

Starting out playing with teams of all heritage players selected mainly from competitions in Australia, rugby league in Greece evolved to having its own domestic competition in 2013.

While there has been a recent split with two leagues operating, there is strong optimism for this competition. It is overseen by the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) who have been assisting with coaching and officials development

“I can see a real improvement in the local players since I was here a couple of years ago and that is a credit to the work of the volunteers in this country.

“No one gets paid a cent here. The Australians came over on the back of fundraising nights and the local Greek players paid their own airfares to Rhodes.

“This weekend is only possible due to the generosity of the local municipal council here who are providing accommodation and transport.”

When the squad of 19 is chosen on Saturday morning 12 players from the Greek domestic competition are in the side.

“If a couple of these kids here in Greece were transported to Australia and placed in junior development systems I know they would become top line players.

“Our team is a balance of Australian players who have been playing the game all their life and can provide some direction and leadership to local players who have talent and passion but have only being playing the game for a short time.

“We picked a kid from an Athens club, the Attica Rhinos who has been playing the game for less than 6 months and now he is playing for his country!”

The theme of the pre-game dressing room speech from the coach was pride in your country. The chests of the players visibly swell as the words cut through the nervous silence.

The first half of the game is full of niggle and aggression as you would expect with the history of these two proud countries. A brawl breaks out and a Turkish player is sent from the field leaving Turkey to battle it out with 12 men on the pitch.

At halftime up 26-0 the usually laid back and friendly Georgallis becomes stern and agitated. Discipline, don’t get involved with niggling tactics and respect the referee was the gist of his tirade.

The team responds by focussing on playing good entertaining rugby league and runs out winners 86-0.

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Turkey coach Julien Treu is surprisingly philosophical post game. “This is our first international. We have only been official for 4 months. We will learn from the result and we will learn from the send off. It is a starting point.”

The only Australian based Turkish player is dummy half Effem Coskun who plays with the Bankstown Giants in the police competition. “I was in Turkey for a 2 week holiday and they contacted me about going to Rhodes. I thought this sounds fun but when I was out there and I heard the anthems it really hit me that I was playing for my country.”

The weekend of rugby league finishes on Sunday with the first game of the 2016-17 Greek domestic season between the Rhodes Knights and Patras Panthers who have switched from rugby union this season. Patras are decked out in Panthers playing gear that Georgallis was able to secure for them as Penrith’s 2016 NSW Cup coach.

Patras go down 56-0 to last years premiers Rhodes but Georgie says they have plenty of potential. “With the right leadership and guidance they can be a strong team.”

At the end of the weekend Georgallis who is staying on a bit longer comes out to the airport to have a final drink and say goodbye. Not because it is his duty. It is obvious he just loves being around the players.

“My dad came out to Australia from Greece when he was 18 and made a life there. I am doing this to pay him back, pay Greece back and to pay rugby league back.

“See that young kid there from Attica Rhinos? He hasn’t had the Greek team polo shirt off his back since we gave it to him. That’s what I love about rugby league!”

Twitter @Discomclennan

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Three days of castles, towers and clear blue Mediterranean Sea

IMG_0562.JPG(Village of Limeni)

Recently we jumped in to the car and headed out of Athens for a lazy few days in the Peloppenese region.

First stop was Nafplio, a seaport town that was actually the capital of the first Hellenic Republic and Kingdom of Greece between 1821 and 1834.

Nafplio has the look and feel of old Europe and is a nice place to stroll along the cobbled streets.

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We stayed in a very comfortable and guest friendly hotel( Hotel Perivoli) in a village just outside of Nafplio.

Set on a hill amongst the orange orchards, the hotel boasted a very nice pool which Scamper and I appreciated.

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Nafplio is overlooked by the fortress of Palamadi. We drove most of the way rather then climb the rumoured 999 steps to reach it.

As expected some very nice views.

img_0523From Nafplio it was on to Limeni in the Mani region ( by the way the word maniac originates from the people of Mani) so it was a place of interest for someone like me.

Limeni is a beautiful seaside village surround by rocky mountainous terrain.

The sea has the sparkling blue appeal that makes villages such as this so attractive.

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We stayed in an apartment overlooking the village called the Vasilios Apartments Hotel. Another winner with cracking breakfasts and a great view from our room.

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We spent a day touring the Mani region and exploring the towers the region is famous for.

The towers first appearing in the 13th century are an expression of the “fighting spirit” the area is famous for and  a result of segregation of the population in to clans or families.

Sitting by the water in the sunset with a cool drink I could have stayed for days, months, years even.

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They don’t understand me at the local cafe

 

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Unfortunately I don’t speak Greek, a situation I hope to remedy over the next 3 years.

When I take the dog for a walk and the obligatory  espresso freddo  we communicate via the English language. Much appreciated by me!

What confuses shop keepers and cafe owners is what the hell am I doing hanging around  in Athens during the summer  holiday period.

Conversations usually go this way:

What are you doing here in Athens?

My wife has a job here and we will be here for at least 3 years.

But why would you do that?

Because it is exciting and a new experience for us to live here.

Ok. When are you going to an island?

I am not sure. We have just arrived in Athens and  my wife has just started and it is the busiest time of year for her?

Are you going tomorrow?  Which island will you go to?

You get the gist. There was a two week period in August when I think we were  close to the only people left in this city.

We haven’t been to an island yet. (Last time we were in Greece we did have a weekend break in Santorini – brilliant!).

We will do it soon. I am confident. In the meantime we have been exploring the coast on the mainland close to Athens.

Here are some highlights.

IMG_0311.JPGLake  Vouliagmeni  (sunken lake) in the heart of the Athenian Riviera, 20km south of the city, is a warm water lake and a therapeutic spa. It has a load of seats with umbrellas around the edge and boasts food and drink table service. Small fish bite at your feet while  you are swimming removing the dead skin cells. An interesting experience.

img_0423On a recent weekend we  hired a car and ventured further. This time to Cape Sounion, 69km south-southeast of Athens.Weirdly we didn’t end up swimming this time, just couldn’t find a beach that suited, but we came across some stunning scenery , views of the Aegean and the Temple of Poseidon ruins pictured.

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I have left the best for last as far as the perfect Sunday outing. Last weekend we went to Porto Germeno, 48km northwest of Athens, a coastal settlement surrounded by forested mountains.

A relaxing swim in the strikingly blue sea and a pleasant Greek seafood lunch at a beachside taverna. Hard to beat.

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img_0425We have just purchased a car. More day trips are on the cards and island holidays in the planning. I promise!

Cheers and Yiassas

 

A trip to the barber made my mind up.

image.jpeg(Photo courtesy Lord of the Blades Facebook page)

The return of the old school barber has been bubbling for the last few years. First it was hipsters with Ned Kelly style beards. Now males everywhere are ditching the unisex hairdresser for an environment where men can be blokes and still receive a quality service.

The shop where you can crack jokes that push political correctness boundaries, talk sport, politics and anything else that comes to mind has become fashionable again worldwide.

I am a fan of the old school barber and I am glad that Athens has embraced the revival.  It is a place where men can get some intense care for their beards and hair and pretend that they are not bothered about appearance.

Curiously 60s to 80s rock is the soundtrack of choice for these establishments both here  in Athens and back in Australia. I have heard everything from the Doors to Bon Jovi as the number 2 razor buzzes around my head.

The  scene is set for a good half hour or so of laughs and music except for one slightly important issue. In Athens I can’t understand what the barbers or the customers are  saying or for that matter are chuckling about.

Is it me they are poking fun at? Probably not but you never know.

I am pretty sure this is not the case as the Greeks I have met have been friendly and respectful.

I am desperate to know what they are saying  though so now the Greek language lessons are an immediate priority.

I want to genuinely laugh along with the rest of the guys!

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(Photo courtesy of the Lord of the Blades -my local barber – Facebook page)

Cheers and Giassas

Stu

Five things I have learned living in Athens

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1. It is all about the people

Despite the much reported financial crisis and high unemployment in Greece the people of Athens really do  care about each other.

Whether it is money problems, poor health or other stresses people are willing to give a coin, lend a hand or offer sage advice when called upon.

Athenians love spending  time with each other and their enthusiasm for socialising doesn’t seem to have been dampened by the weak economy.

Revellers head out to eat and party at about the same time I am thinking about bed.

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2. Athens has gone to the dogs

Dogs are very much loved and respected in Athens. Street dogs are fat, happy and well cared for.

The local government here regularly rounds them up, tags them and provides free vet services.

Pets have free access to a a lot of venues and my dog Scamper has never been fussed over as much as she has in Athens

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3. Football fans have real passion

Athens has three major football teams, Olympiacos, AEK and Panathinaikos. The rivalry between the clubs is fierce. So heated that games have been played in empty stadiums with fans locked out due what has been deemed to unruly behaviour.

Graffiti for Panithanaikos FC and their supporter group Gate 13 is visible on walls everywhere I look.

I am genuinely intrigued about the match atmosphere and supporter passion. Hope to be at a game soon.

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4. Cold coffee is the best

After visiting Athens last year in April I was determined not to join the entire population of Athens and become a frappe fanatic.

After a few unsatisfying hot coffees in 36 degree heat I gave an “Espresso Freddo” a go and haven’t  looked back.

Definitely the go in summer I am now not sure if I will return to ordering a macchiato or cappuccino at least until the weather gets cold.

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5. Get out of Athens in August

Athens  literally dies in August which can be great for a newcomer getting around what is normally a busy city.

Problem is everything closes down. Shopkeepers, service providers and anyone else that you can think of all head to the islands to escape the heat and questions about ” why you are still in Athens.”

Next August even if I don’t get to an island  I will make sure I am cooling off in water somewhere outside of this city.

Cheers and Giassas

Stu

 

 

Stumbling through Gate 13

As I walk along the streets in the northern suburbs of Athens there is graffiti calling to me and drawing me in.

image.jpegThe 13 in this picture refers to Gate 13 the Panithanaikos supporters union founded in 1966. Gate 13 is also where hardcore fans met  outside the stadium for games and is the entry point for the “cheap seats” when watching a Panathinaikos FC game.

image.jpegSport for me is the emotion of  supporting your team through the highs and lows. Generally more lows than highs in the case of the teams I follow.

Before I came to Athens I looked at the football clubs I could  support.

Olympiacos – the most successful club in Greek football but over on the other side of Athens in Pireaus so that counted against them. Also as mentioned I  don’t  support teams because they are consistently successful. I have to feel an affinity.

AEK – had a lot of appeal because their colours are black and gold (also the colours of the mighty Balmain Tigers) and they were founded by immigrants from Turkey.

Panithanaikos – my local team, the stadium is in walking distance, founded in 1908 (as were the Tigers) their ground is run down, lots of atmosphere with supporters almost on top of players (sounds like Leichhardt Oval).

In the end I think the artists of Athens made the choice for me.

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image.jpegThe passion of fans  at Panathinaikos FC games particularly when it is a local derby has led to bans and games being played in empty stadiums with fans  “locked out.”

I haven’t been to a game yet but I am looking forward to a wild and exciting experience with lots of noise, colour  and quality Greek football.  “Take a crash helmet” is advice I have been given.

image.jpegCheers and Giassas

Stu

My big fat Olympic decision.

image.jpegWhile debate rages over whether Russian athletes should be competing in Rio, the state of the Olympic village facilities and the risks of the Zika virus I have a big decision to make. Where in Athens, the home of the modern Olympics, am I going to watch all the action?

After appointing myself Chef de Mission for this decision I went to where it all started in 1896, the Panathenaic Stadium.

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On a hot day I did a circuit of the track.

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Then finally settled for bronze.

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Having worked for the organisation that funds and supports Australia’s Olympic athletes for the last 6 years I am keen to see how it all plays out in Rio.

So where will I watch? With my still limited knowledge of the bars of Athens I narrowed it down to 3 venues:

The Wee Dram – a Scottish pub close to where Iive but unfortunately closed for August. ( August in Athens is like January in CanberrA – everything shuts down and residents go to the coast or in this case the islands.)

The James Joyce- a friendly Irish pub where I watched the last Origin game.

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The Athens Sports Bar – owned by Aussies from Perth for that green and gold hospitality.

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On balance I think I will hop between the 2 venues.

Greece finished 75th in London and is sending 95  athletes to Rio.

Australia was eventually placed 8th in the 2012 games after race walker Jared Tallent was awarded Gold retrospectively. The Aussies have selected a large squad of 419 competitors.

I will be following both countries with great interest.

So let’s get the viewing started!

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Cheers and Giassas

Stu