At Greek Soccer Fan Club, Talk Drifts to Economy


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Outside the Olympiakos Fan Club of New York’s red window frames in Astoria hang three flags: one Greek, one American, and the third a red-and-white flag depicting a statuesque man crowned with laurels, the insignia of Greece’s beloved soccer team, Olympiakos. 

The flags, fluttering gently in the wind on the last weekend in February, represent the three worlds that the men inside the memorabilia-draped clubhouse on 30th Avenue inhabit: Greece, America, and European soccer fandom. The men smoke, drink coffee, and play cards in their red-walled clubhouse, which sits above the butchered goats hanging in the windows of the Akropolis Meat Market below.

Their conversation flows from Greek to English and back to Greek again. And when it’s not about soccer, it generally drifts to glum talk of the ongoing economic crisis in Greece. On this particular Saturday, the men had no Greek soccer to distract them from the economic news. The Greek football league had suspended all games for the weekend in protest of a law that expands the powers of the country’s government-controlled sports oversight committee.

“Today, we’re watching the international games,” said 51-year-old Steve Koufalis, an area restaurant supplier who left Greece for the U.S. in 1974, looking for for better economic opportunities.

Koufalis did not draw a direct connection between the collapse of the Greek economy and the cancellation of the games, but he was quick to express concern about his homeland’s economic woes. The latest austerity agreement Greece has reached with the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank stipulates more pension and minimum wage reductions for the country.

“The way they’re going, I think very soon, there’s going to be a revolution,” Koufalis predicted.

Koufalis bought two condominium buildings in Athens in 1990, which his sister manages for him. He has tried to sell them in recent years, but has had no luck, a problem he blames on Greece’s prolonged and deepening economic crisis. He managed to rent out one condo after it sat vacant for nine months, but only after slashing the rent nearly in half.

“Almost every two months, they’re increasing property taxes,” Koufalis said.

Theodoros Kalaitzidis, 52, sat next to Koufalis, smoking a cigar.  Kalaitzidis, a car mechanic who immigrated to the United States in 1981, has a 23-year-old son living in Greece. Like Koufalis, he left because he could not find work in his home country.  His son, who was born in America and moved to Greece five years ago, owns a cafe in Athens.

“If it gets really bad,” Kalaitzidis said his son has often told him, “I’ll come back.”

It’s a story familiar to everyone at Astoria’s Olympiakos club, where many of the members emigrated from Greece in the 70s and 80s, and still have strong ties to the country, and to the soccer teams they adore.

“Greece is like a mother,” said 49-year-old Theodore Bourazanis, who once boxed for the Greek Olympic team, and now trains boxers in New York. “My roots are there.”

Bourazanis moved to the U.S. in 1986, and has two sisters living in Greece. He offered his perspective on the Greek crisis — one that would provide little comfort to his fellow expats.

“Some people are calling Greece bad,” he said. “But it’s bad here too.”

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  1. Pingback: Finding Solace In Soccer « Rachel Sapin

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