On March 5, 2022, the New York Greek American Soccer Club held its 76 Year Anniversary Dinner Dance at Laterna Estiatorio. I was fortunate enough to attend this event with my family as my pappou, Andreas Kaliabakos, along with his friend Dimos Roubas, were being honored for their commitment to the success of Greek American. Growing up, I have always been in awe of the athletic prowess of my pappou. He has talked for many years about his involvement in the Greek American soccer club and being able to see pictures of him in his soccer prime within the pages of the Dinner Dance journal was surreal. I have always been interested in the history of Greek American since it has been a peripheral part of my life for so long; therefore, I set out to relay the history of this significant Greek organization so that a modern audience may grasp how large an effect Greek American has had on the lives of New York City Greeks for generations.
The Greek American athletic association was the first and oldest athletic society in the United States It is uncertain when the group was actually founded, but it is believed that it was towards the beginning of the 20th century. Initially, those involved engaged in track and field, weight lifting, and wrestling. Since there was no specific facility to practice in, the athletes would exercise in the basements of various Greek churches in New York. Additionally, another Greek athletic club called ‘Hermes’ was popular at the same time. Three of the Hermes athletes actually participated in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles: Ioannis Moralis, Ioannis Farmakidis, and Nikolaos Mastoridis. In 1935, the clubs joined forces so as to have one joint soccer team, known as ‘Greek American Hermes’. Unfortunately, all of the fun and games were put to a halt with the advent of the Second World War. A poignant story related by historian Christopher Soukas describes December 7, 1941, when the team of Greek American Hermes learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Their soccer game was interrupted and the athletes departed from the site, knowing that the next day they would have to enlist for the army. This marks the moment when the society was temporarily dissolved.
After the end of the war, the club re-appeared in 1946 as ‘Greek American’ only. At the beginning of 1946, there was an expatriate association known as S.E.N. (Sindesmos Ellinon Neofermenon) or the ‘Joining of Greek Newcomers’. The S.E.N. organized events for young Greek men and women, including gatherings at Central Park to play soccer. It is said that Thomas Laris, a huge lover of soccer from Smyrna and a part of S.E.N, put together what we know now as Greek American. He, along with Antony Antoniadis and Panos Kolimbaris, sought to bring Greek American to new heights and to find a place among the Greek community of New York.
Kolimbaris suggested getting help from Ethnikos Kirikas – which was, back then located on 26th street between 6th and 7th Avenue in Manhattan – and its publisher at the time, Vaso Vlaviano. The meeting at the Kirikas office took place during the summer of 1946 and was a success. The paper agreed to report on the activities of the Greek American soccer team and, in doing so, made Greek American an official aspect of Greek New York culture.
Thomas Laris became the first coach in the history of Greek American and Panos Kolimbaris was the first president. Matches were regularly scheduled at both Central Park and Van Cortlandt Park. The first championship matches started right away in the fall of 1946 to the enjoyment of players and Greek-American onlookers. Since then, Greek American has won four U.S. Open Championships in 1967, 1968, 1969, and 1974. The club is one of only two teams to have ever won this tournament in three consecutive years. They have also won many other kinds of championships over the years. To this day, Greek American remains one of the most successful and longest continually operating teams in American soccer history.
According to the Greek American website, “The team currently plays in the 5th tier of the American soccer pyramid, under the USASA in the Cosmopolitan Soccer League. The club plays out of the Metropolitan Oval in Maspeth, Queens and has been a perennial contender in the league, winning five of the last eleven Eastern New York Championships.”
Greek American is tremendously active to this day and has spearheaded the attempt to get young Greek-American boys involved in the community through soccer. It is important for clubs like Greek American to thrive, as they are what helps us, as Greek-Americans, stay connected with one another through a passion for sports and our Greek heritage.
I am beyond grateful to Mr. Nicholas Notaridis, a journalist and soccer historian, who so graciously helped me find all the information needed to write this article. I am so fortunate to be in a position where I can relay the history of such a monumental organization for Greeks in America to modern viewers who may not have heard the whole story before. If you are interested in becoming involved in N.Y Greek American S.C, visit their website at https://greekamericansoccerny.com/.