Greek football rivalries kick into high gear in Toronto’s Greektown

Zissis Katsoulis is a diehard soccer fan. He had no choice.

“When I was at home … I could hear when they scored,” he said. Back in Greece, Katsoulis grew up near the Panathinaikos stadium. “When we would go to the games, you could feel it.”

Now living in Canada, Katsoulis follows his favourite time in the Panathinaikos fan club location at Pape and Floyd, in East York.

“This … is the heart of Panathinaikos in Toronto,” he said, “17 years we’ve been in this place.”

Among the greatest rivalries in sports, is that between Panathinaikos F.C. and Olympiakos F.C. The latter’s fan club is active in East York too, at Pape and Danforth. Jim Gallos is Olympiakos fan club president.

“I became a bigger fan because when I moved here I thought I would never see a game until I went back to Greece,” he said.

Gallos has supported the team for 67 years and the Toronto fan club has operated since 1992.

On Sunday afternoon the Greek soccer rivalry was renewed as Panathinaikos and Olympiakos met at Karaiskakis Stadium in Greece.

The treasurer of the Panathinaikos fan club, Nickolas Momratidis, grew up in Piraeus, Greece, home of Olympiakos F.C.

“My brother took me to my first game at seven years old. Olympiakos vs Panathinaikos,” Momratidis said. “I went to the game an Olympiakos fan. In the first minute, Panathinaikos (scored a) goal, that was it, I am a Panathinaikos. … It’s in my blood.”

Momratidis enjoyed early excitement during the game on Sunday. Panathinaikos scored first. But by halftime Olympiakos had tied it up.

This rivalry doesn’t end with the two fan clubs. It affects the entire community. Owner of sports café El Greco, Dimitrios Logothetis, supports a different club, but sees the neighbourhood change when a Panathinaikos-versus-Olympiakos game approaches.

“It’s a rivalry for the neighbourhood,” he said. “When it comes to football, people will follow their teams to space.”

Terry Panagiotopoulos founded and now operates the Olympiakos fan club in Toronto.

“We do it for our love for the team,” he said. “Year by year we see new faces … so when we’re gone someone will be here. It’s good for the Greek community.”

Panagiotopoulos runs the day-to-day club activities, getting things prepared for events. Kostas Kaperonis helps out.

“As long as blood flows through my veins I support Olympiakos,” Kaperonis said. “When I left Greece, I left my brothers. When I came here, I gained new ones.”

In Greece, matches between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos can become dangerous when rival fan clubs get into brawls and games end up cancelled. Both fan clubs had similar messages about each other.

“We don’t want to see anything ruin the game,” Momratidis said. “We just want to watch good football … and win, of course.”

Sunday’s match between the two archrivals ends with an Olympiakos 3-1 victory.

“After the games, we have fun, make jokes,” Panagiotopoulos said. “It’s good.”

—Video by Kirk Budden and Evangelo Sipsas