ASTORIA – The Greek soccer team Olympiakos, based in Piraeus, is renowned in the soccer world and has fans throughout Greece and the Hellenic Diaspora. On January 3 its owner and president, Greek shipowner Evangelos Marinakis, visited the team’s clubhouse in Astoria, thanking its fans and sketching the team’s plans for the future.
Dozens of fans waited excitedly in the second floor clubhouse that overlooks 30th Avenue, one of Astoria’s main streets – the Greek and American flags flanking the team’s banner with the distinctive red color – the slogan “Red Believers” crowning the ensemble.
Word spreading that Marinakis was climbing the stairs prompted shout and whistles. He was serenaded with the team song when the large but approachable tycoon finally appeared.
After brief remarks and a Q&A open to all, he chatted with his team’s devotees in the club and as he walked through the streets of Astoria.
The guests were first welcomed by fan club President Theodore Menis, who is from Syros and has been president of the chapter for 18 years. He said it is the biggest chapter in the Diaspora, but he thanked Marinakis and Olympiakos for the cooperation that enables it to thrive, and he said the members’ “hearts beat for Olympiakos here as in Piraeus.”
In response, Marinakis he said was overwhelmed by the love he experiences when he visits clubs like that in Astoria.
As devoted to winning as any Steinbrenner and has the championships to prove it, Marinakis is also proud of the organization’s youth and philanthropic dimensions. The team’s soccer academy benefits Greek youth in general and has provided the team with players through the years. Proceeds from his teams, as is the case with his shipping companies, are donated to charity, especially those helping Greek children during the economic crisis.
Marinakis was proud to say the team’s course is good, and he emphasized that his company, which owns other entities, including basketball teams, also goes against the current by fighting against corruption and behaviors “that have ruined teams.”
He chose not to comment when he was asked by the media about his competitors, noting simply “who is a crook and who is involved in illegal business practices those people know themselves, but the state must pay attention because he live in a society that is being tested every day, and it is wrong for certain people not to obey the law and for the law not to be enforced for them. All of us must pay our taxes and other charges.”
He used the English word “fair” to express the need for level legal and economic playing fields in Greece.
“In America you understand that a community moves forward when people work hard and when they see a man or a company progress, they consider it an example to be followed and we must do the same this in Greece so that things can get better,” he said.
He wished everyone a happy and healthy New Year and said the team is ready for the seasons 2nd round and is hopeful regarding the European championships, saying “everything is possible with hard work and faith…when you work hard for what you want you have nothing to fear.”
He said the core of his mission will be to attract great Greek players, but is also proud of the team’s ability to attract talent from all over the world.
More and more Greek-Americans and their children are playing soccer and Marinakis reached out to them, urging them to develop their appreciation of soccer by following Olympiakos. They can be seen on cable through Antenna TV.
The owner agreed with TNH that Olympiakos is “The Yankees of Greece – they own a record 40 Greek League titles and 26 Greek Cups .
The club’s pleasant space is filled with tables where fans can enjoy coffee, drinks, and food from the kitchen in the rear just about every day. Volunteers like soccer lovers Maria Toubatzi and Maria Iliopoulos from Nafpaktos, along with Haralambos Adamides, a native of Kavalla, make sure the members enjoy themselves.
Panagiotis Georgiou from Athens in New York for the holidays visiting his daughter Dionysia, who is studying ballet, attended. Pavlos Malonoukos, a biology major at Hofstra University who wants to be a dentist and whose family is from Rhodes, is a big fan. Inspired and encouraged by his father, Tsambikos, who is a member of the Club’s Board of Directors, also joined the board. “The president wants more young people and our main focus is to bring people together. If you are an Olympiakos fan, you are part of our family,” he said.
John Kriaras, past president of the Cretans Association Omonia, told TNH he was overjoyed by Marinakis’ presence not only because he is a fan but because they are both from Heraklion, Crete.
Fr. George Anstasiou, the pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration in Corona and a big Olympiakos fan, presided over the prayers for the blessing of the Vasilopita New Year’s cake, which was donated by the famous Lefkos Pirgos pastry and coffee shop.