Hellenism and the Ethniki
It was tough to start this post for many reasons. Questions kept running through my head the more I thought about what to write. Questions like:
“Olympiakos is in such a good place right now, why bring up the Ethniki?”
“Where do I even begin with the Ethiniki?”
“How do I introduce myself?”
I guess I’ll answer these questions with the same mindset the Ethniki’s captain uses while looking to make a pass: let’s work backwards, shall we?
A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? A part of me wishes I could tell you I’m one of the other kids in the photo, but alas, that little lunatic dead-center is me. If I remember correctly, I had experienced 2 rushes for the first time: winning a tournament with my club team, and having unlimited access to a soft-serve ice cream machine at a buffet. That kid already had a love for the sport itself, but 2 years would pass before that love would focus and tether itself to a team. The Team.
July 4th, 2004.
While the rest of my family was spending Independence Day in typical American fashion on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland, my father and I are scrambling. The sports bar near the hotel we’re staying at doesn’t have the game. Why should they? It’s not a global event like The WORLD Series, or the Superbowl, where the victors are crowned “WORLD Champions” and then ceremoniously sent with their families to Disney WORLD. This is just the Euro Cup. It’s not on network television, or even a sports network such as ESPN: The WORLDwide Leader of Sports.
I’m not sure how we did it without the internet at our fingertips, but somehow we found our way to the only place in Ocean City that had the game, a Greek restaurant packed to the brim with fellow Greeks about to witness the present day personification of what had been instilled in all of us from birth: Hellenism.
Growing up my parents, Yiayiades and my Pappou/Namesake had raised me with the stories that define Hellenism: the 300 Spartans taking on tens of thousands of Persian Soldiers, the conquest of Alexander the Great, the fight for Greek Independence, our role in WWII that started with “Oxi” and ended with Greek victory over Italy, Allied victory over the Axis, and quotes like Churchill’s “Heroes fight like Greeks.”
Though the stories all lived in my head, it wasn’t until this American holiday that I witnessed with my young eyes, and feel with my soccer-crazed heart, what Hellenism still means to me: A team, an army, a nation of Hellenes coming together and achieving the impossible.
Which brings me back to my first question: “Why bring up the Ethniki Omada when Olympiakos is in such a good place?” Of course, the easy answer is “I’ve been brought onto the team here at Gate7Intl to cover the Ethniki and I can’t introduce myself without mentioning it”, but it’s not the real answer.
Like the Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae, the Olympiakos we’ve witnessed over the past 3 years under Martins and Marinakis has, for the most part, lived up to the mythos of Hellenism: A club with finances which pale in comparison to its European competition and a governing body in disaster (welcome Zagorakis, please save EPO from itself!) playing wonderfully attractive and methodical football and defying the odds (THE win vs. Arsenal and its near-repeat, putting the soon-to-be CL Champions Bayern on their heels for 90 minutes, and an honorable showing in the first post-Covid group stage without overlapping fullbacks).
But being one of many Greek club teams, the burden of Hellenism does not rest on their shoulders; it rests on the shoulders of the Ethniki. The players understood that in 2004, and lived up to it in the manner worthy of the mythos. Even the Santos teams, and their inability to score vs.10-man Costa Rica (we’ll get back to this on a future post) defended and played with the same spirit.
These teams punched way above their weight and demanded nothing less of themselves, whereas “Mykono FC” and the JVS era have done the opposite: demanding nothing of themselves and ignoring the weight of the jersey and the symbol sewn upon it. Hellenism isn’t losing to the Faroe Islands, it’s not declaring victory/success after failure in Nations League C. And though I don’t have the athleticism, talent, luck, or citizenship required to show it on the pitch, I’m here on the Gate 7 International blog to voice my love for the Ethniki and my anger/frustration/ideas when we don’t live up to the Hellenism sewn into the jersey on July 4th, 2004.