The Night I Fell in Love with Olympiakos
Updated: Apr 9
Well, if you are reading this, welcome to the blog, and thank you for taking time out of your day to visit our site! This project has grown massively, and I know there is a piece coming out about the project and the blog, so I won't spend much time on this piece discussing that. Writing for this blog is an incredibly unique experience for me. I don't think I have written in the first person since High School, so stick with me if the piece goes sideways. I hope you enjoy the story, but don't expect a work of art! Please read the other articles coming out, as I promise our blogging team is fantastic and much better at this than I am!
With that short introduction out of the way, I wanted to touch on the topic at hand: The Night I Fell in Love with Olympiakos. Many of you will know me from the podcast and know that I currently study in Geneva, Switzerland. However, my story begins far from Europe and Greece. I was born in Seattle, Washington, USA and ultimately grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii. I kid you not. If you take a globe and put one finger on Greece and one finger on Hawaii, it is 180 degrees away. Traveling from Asia takes just as long as traveling through America. So how did I fall in love with this club in Piraeus? Well, it's complicated. I remember Greek sports being a part of my life when I was younger, but I never really got into it. I remember being incredibly young during those hot summer nights in Athens in 2004. Outside the window when Greece scored, you could hear people yelling and singing. It was magical. However, my language skills at that time were limited, and I really loved Greece for my grandmother’s food more than anything…
This journey really begins in the early 2010s. I watched terrible streams of derby games at 6 in the morning and watched European games at school in the library at 9 in the morning. One of my fondest memories to this day is jumping up down and yelling when a goal was scored in the school's library. Seeing this 13-year-old kid jump up and down in a red and white jersey with Greek letters on the back must have been a hilarious sight. I would do Kostas Mitroglou's celebration and point the guns to the other kids at the library yelling PISTOLEROOOO… And I wondered why I only had a few friends…
One time, a teacher at school asked me what the team the jersey I was wearing was. I said proudly, "it's Olympiakos, the biggest soccer team in Greece." The teacher responds, "interesting… And what language do they speak there? The letters on the jersey are strange." I facepalmed harder than you can imagine… Culturally speaking, there was no other Greeks in Hawaii, let alone another Olympiakos fan. I was one of a kind! I know many of our listeners can relate to that even now. Sometimes I wish a podcast or blog like this was available when I was growing up. Just somewhere where I could listen to people speak about Olympiakos in English. I know how isolating it can be when there is no one else you can talk to about something you love so much. We have had DM's and messages saying so much. So, I hope this can be a space where Olympiakos fans who have felt isolated can come feel a part of a community.
Now back to the story at hand! I told you all this would be a bit of a ramble!
After almost all of these games, there would be no one to speak with other than family in Greece. My dad had work and wouldn't watch unless it was a big game, so the only people I talked about Olympiakos with was with cousins and friends in Greece. I still remember this vividly: I would go on Viber messaging or calling at lunch break about how good Chori was or how Fetfatzidis was the next big thing. We would then send back photos or videos of our favorite players. Meanwhile, teachers would yell at me for being on my phone or giggling too loud to a meme!
However, by 2015 I had still never been to Karaiskaki. I know some of you have still not been, and I will repeat what Peter Philipakos said when he was on the podcast: when the pandemic ends, do whatever you can to get into Karaiskaki and enjoy this team. The place is magical, and you will never forget it. Even if it's a smaller game, singing the songs we love with 30 thousand people is a feeling I can't describe in words. I know I will probably be a season ticket holder sooner rather than later!
Going back to 2015, I began traveling to Greece more often. Not for a reason of wanting to (even though I loved going!) but more out of a necessity. My grandfather's health was deteriorating quick, and we wanted to be with him more and more. The brutal nearly 30 hours of travel killed my father and me every time, but coming down from the clouds to see that blue ocean we love picked me up every time, even given the travel circumstances. I remember just stopping and saying, "I'm here, wow." It always was surreal arriving even in the middle of the financial crisis. I remember vividly seeing storefronts destroyed and sadness in eyes that I had never seen before in Hawaii. Even my father, when we walked through the center of Athens, was visibly upset. Of course, things like this still exist, but at that time, it seemed like there was no hope at all. I'll remind you this was at the height of the recession. It was soul-crushing. However, when I went to Greece, I got to do one thing I loved: talk Olympiakos. I remember I would go to my cousin's house, and we would play Pro Evolution and talk about how amazing one player was and how another is a "Palto/Coat." It was the best part of my trips, given the situation. It was the one thing that brightened my days other than Paidakia and Keftedes at the Taverna next to our home!
By Spring of 2016, we needed to travel again back to Greece. It was one of the most challenging trips I had ever made. But I remember arriving in Frankfurt with a text from my cousin. It was a picture. In that picture, there was an Olympiakos fan card which said: "Λάμπρος Σύρμος" and a ticket to Olympiakos-Panathinaikos. I couldn't believe my eyes! I jumped up and showed my dad, who was dead asleep after a grueling 14-hour flight. I was so excited I texted all my friends back home and watched highlights of old derbies to get excited. Slowly but surely, the matchday came. It was a rainy March day in Athens, and I remember getting to the stadium super early. I took pictures of everything. The souvlaki stand, the beer stand, anything, and everything really! I went and bought a scarf and took my seat across from the Olympiakos bench. I chanted with the stadium against Panathinaikos. When the players came out, I sang the club's anthem until my lungs hurt. I teared up a bit, seeing the flares and TIFO too. I finally felt like I belonged. I wasn't the weird kid with the jersey at the library anymore. I was with my people! They got it. I got it. And we were all in this stadium together, sharing our love. That was when I fell in love with Olympiakos. I have been to hundreds of sports games. I have never felt what I felt in that stadium that night. The sense of belonging and love I felt. I remember the guy next to me learning I was from Hawaii, and he gave me a big hug, and he said, "Welcome to our church, my boy." It was one of the greatest feelings I've ever had in my life. We sang, yelled, whistled, and booed all game. When Manuel Da Costa scored his bullet header late into the game to win it, I never hugged so many people in my life. We sang and sang until we had no breath! My heart was whole. I remember not being able to sleep all night. That's what it was like. That is what Olympiakos meant and still means for me. I can't sleep before big games, and after a big game, I usually am so excited I need a tea to calm down!
Before that March night, I like to say I was a fan of Olympiakos. After that night, I loved Olympiakos. That stadium, along with those fans (my brothers and sisters), gave me a sense of belonging I had never experienced through sport. It was simply magic.
Since then, I have continued to follow the team; I have never missed a game. Europe, cup, league, preseason, I watch them all. I start every morning reading the newspaper getting a heads up on who is coming and who is leaving. During my summers in Greece, I always buy the Fos Ton Spor and head to the beach for coffee. I sit there all day talking Olympiakos and reading who will be our next hero.
Olympiakos has become part of my life, and through us here at Gate 7 International, I hope it can become part of yours as well. I hope you all enjoyed my short story, and hopefully, we can have more like it as soon as this pandemic is over.
With Red and White Love