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Wednesday, September 03 2014 @ 02:07 AM CST

Greeks bringing AFL experience to title defence

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At the end of the 2005 Multicultural Cup, it was Team Greece holding the cup, having defeated Turkey in the final. In the 2010 Harmony Cup, they're back to defend their title, featuring no less than 5 ex-AFL players in a squad who will certainly be going into the tournament red-hot favourites.

Angelo Lekkas, Ang Christou, Anthony Koutoufides and Peter Daicos - four members of the Greek AFL/VFL Team of the Century chosen in 2004 - are coming out of retirement for the Harmony Cup, as is former Fitzroy, Port Adelaide and Richmond player John Rombotis.

With the support of Melbourne's huge Greek community and the proud history of Greek involvement in Australian rules football dating back over 100 years, the team will be very tough to beat when they run onto the Whitten Oval on March 21st.

Team Manager Peter Kalla spoke to WFN about the team's preparations.

As Kallas explains, the Greek community in Melbourne is very proud of their history in the sport of Australian rules. "Richmond's first coach upon entering the VFL in 1908 was Charlie Pannam, a first-generation Greek migrant whose surname was originally Pannamopoulos. Before that he'd captained Collingwood, and the move to Richmond was obviously big news in those days. His son Alby Pannam, and grandsons Lou and Ron Richards then all went on to be stars both at Richmond and Collingwood."

"The Greek influence was always very strong in that area, the working-class suburbs of Richmond and Collingwood."

During the 20th century, the Melbourne Greek community grew to the point where it is estimated to be the second largest Greek city in the world, after Athens. Greek names have been common among the champions to play the game, with current CEO of the AFL Andrew Demetriou also a member of the Greek Team of the Century.

Regarding the high-profile members of the team, Kalla says the ex-AFL stars were more than happy to be a part of the event when he contacted them. "They're all very proud Greek-Australian boys. They're maybe a little longer in the tooth than in their heyday, but they're still looking pretty fit and they can all still play... Even Peter Daicos, at 48 or 49 years of age, put the ball near him in the goal square and he'll still produce some magic."

Lekkas, Christou and Rombotis have taken on the coaching duties for the side, as well as being part of the selection panel who have the mammoth task of picking a squad of only 25 players, plus 5 emergencies, from the 60 or 70 who've come to training so far. The players and members of the organising committee are from clubs right across Melbourne, including around eight or nine who represented Greece in their 2005 championship side.

Despite the huge turn out to date, Kalla says they're happy to see more players put their hands up to be considered for selection. "Any Greek Aussies out there who want to play, by all means, they can come on down."

Kalla is right to the point when asked about the team's aspirations, saying "mate, we only play to win - we're Greek!"

However, he adds that the squad is right behind the concept of the day. "The spirit of the event is the important thing. We're all migrants in this country, and we've got to show some solidarity. Everyone in this country except the Aborigines, at some point we were all migrants, but we are all proud Aussies as well and you can't forget that."

Supporting Team Greece are sponsors Pacman Package Supplies, the Chaser Nightclub, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Degani Catering, CYD Concrete Constructions and the Men’s Gallery.

Anyone interested in getting involved with Greece at the Harmony Cup can contact the team via their Facebook group.

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