A Greek American World Cup Coach

I always think of Alketas Panagoulias when the soccer World Cup comes around. Since 1994 that is, when he coached the Greek national team at the World Cup finals that took place in the United States. The Greek team did not do well in what was its first appearance at what is considered the pinnacle of soccer tournaments globally. Greece lost all three of its qualifying games and did not manage to score a single goal. Yet merely getting to the finals that year was considered a big success, as was its appearance in the European-wide soccer tournament in 1980 again with Alketas as its coach.

The first time I saw Alketas in person I was too shy to speak to him. At the time he was coaching his hometown team Aris Thessaloniki, for which he had also played in the 1950s. When his playing career ended, he came to the United States to study and ever since divided his time and career between Greece and America. We were both going to take our seats at a mid-week pre-season game involving Panathinaikos. Nonetheless, thought it was better not to bother him. I said to myself, “the man is a soccer coach, with an impressive record, having coached the national teams of both Greece and the United States. He is here not only as a spectator, but he is working, figuring out strategies or maybe looking for a young talent in the visiting minor league team.”

The next time I saw Alketas in person was when we were both invited to speak at an event organized by The Hellenic Society Prometheas, a Greek American social and cultural organization in the Washington, DC area. The event was held a few weeks after the conclusion of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Alketas had retired by then and had settled in Vienna, VA to be close to his two children Debbie and John. He came out of retirement briefly to take charge of coordinating the soccer games at the Athens Olympics, however.

The former coach was in great spirits, not least because he had done a good job in Athens and because Greece had shown the world how capable it was of successfully hosting the Games.

I was there because I had published a book on Greek identity and the Olympic Games six months before the Athens Games opened in August, 2004. Prometheas had hosted a book signing event earlier that year. At a time when many Greek-Americans were very concerned about whether Greece could manage the Games at all, let alone do that smoothly and effectively, I argued that Greek identity is tied up with its ancient heritage and the Olympics and it would pull all stops for the event to turn out more than well. My optimism, I remember, was taken seriously by the attentive Prometheas audience.

This time round however, with Alketas at my side, I am not sure how many people were really listening to what I had to say. The former coach was effusive, full of reflections based on his rich experiences, telling stories delivered with humor, all of this speaking in Greek. As I sat next to him, I imagined his half-time talks in locker rooms in Greece and the United States which must have been equally effective bearing in mind his achievements in both countries.

I wonder what Alketas would be thinking about this year’s World Cup tournament in Qatar if he were still around – he passed ten years ago, and his death was recorded in a Washington Post obituary. I cannot think he would have had nice things to say this time around. His attitude in 1994 was that the Greek team should enjoy being at the World Cup. Unfortunately, that was taken too literally by the Greek soccer authorities who allowed Greek-American fans too much access to the team and that proved a big distraction.

But this year’s World Cup in Qatar is taking place under a cloud of discontent. There are valid suspicions of bribery that led to FIFA, the international soccer body, of overlooking other countries in order to award the honor of hosting the World Cup finals to a tiny nation without a record of achievements and contributions to the sport. Worst of all, its climate meant the games could not be played in the summer as they are traditionally. They are being held in November and December, causing a major disruption in the calendar of domestic and international leagues.

The host country’s dismal record over working conditions in the hasty construction of the soccer stadiums the tournament needed and its negative stance over public expressions of LGBTQ identities have raised protests. Qatar’s prohibition of beer consumption in the stadiums has also deprived spectators of what is an integral part of soccer fandom. No fun in soccer? Alketas would have surely disapproved.


The recent tragicomic events at the church of the All-Holy Taxiarhes in the area of Megalo Revma of Constantinople, specifically, the assault by Archimandrite Chrysanthos on Metropolitan Athenagoras of Kydonion which involved the slapping of the archpriest's cheeks while he was venerating the icon of the Virgin Mary, are not only lamentable but also pitiful for the Patriarchate itself.

Top Stories


A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.


9 Are Facing Charges in What Police in Canada Say is the Biggest Gold Theft in the Country’s History

TORONTO (AP) — Police said nine people are facing charges in what authorities are calling the biggest gold theft in Canadian history from Toronto’s Pearson International airport a year ago.

INSTABUL - Olympiacos FC outlasted Fenerbahçe in Istanbul to qualify for the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League tournament, pulling away 3-2 in a penalty shootout (3-3 aggregate score).

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Greek-American Maria Passalaris, 25, was tragically killed in a car accident on April 12 on Highway 1 near Princeton, NJ.

NEW YORK — A jury of 12 people was seated Thursday in former President Donald Trump’s history-making hush money trial, propelling the proceedings closer to opening statements and the start of weeks of dramatic testimony.

NEW YORK – Fans of the Greek drama series Maestro in Blue, created by and starring Christopher Papakaliatis, will only have to wait until May 16 for the second season to launch on Netflix and Greek broadcaster Mega TV, Deadline reported.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.