Nick Papalambropoulos’s life consisted mainly of two things while he was growing up: food and soccer.
Most of his early years were spent either in his dad’s restaurant or on a soccer pitch. His love for the food-service industry led him to open Legends Sports Lounge on the Danforth in 2011. He was 24.
Now, as Legends nears its sixth year anniversary on Christmas Eve, Papalambropoulos is focusing on his other passion.
“I’ve been involved in soccer pretty much my whole life,” he said.
“When I opened the bar, I kind of took a step away from the game. I’m at the point where the bar is established, and I thought I’d go back into doing what I really love.”
Next month, Papalambropoulos is hosting a free skills camp for kids aged 5 to 21 who are interested in developing their soccer skills in East York for his new soccer academy, Hellas FC. The three-month development camp will give kids a chance to learn the sport and maybe take it further.
“It’s a free opportunity to not only get into the academy program, but also get into the development part of our program, which we’re trying to get out there, as well,” he said.
Hellas FC’s academy program is in its early stages. The development stage could lead to training with Hellas FC or even playing with the academy, which plans to take two teams – under-12 and under-14 – to play in Greece this summer. At least 16 teams from across Europe will be participating.
Suiting up for the academy will give kids a real taste of what playing professional soccer is like, Papalambropoulos said.
“It’s just going to show kids that it’s a lot of hard work and nothing comes easy. When they go down, they’ll see how real European soccer is played, and that’s what we’re trying to teach here.”
Papalambropoulos credits the Toronto FC with the growth of the sport in the province. Even though they’ve just started seeing success in the past two years, they’ve helped bring attention to something that didn’t get much love when Toronto was awarded an expansion team in 2005.
TFC has also seen tremendous success with its own academy team. Six graduates – Sergio Camargo, Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton, Ashtone Morgan, Jonathan Osorio and Raheem Edwards – were on the roster for the MLS Cup final.
“I remember TFC started when I was finishing my youth soccer,” he said. “There wasn’t much available at the time for kids, and now they’ve actually become a staple in an academy program.”
Papalambropoulos thinks the success, plus the influx of club teams (including his own), will start to put the country on a bigger stage.
“There’s talent here,” he said. “We just don’t have the right systems in place to display that talent. I think you’ll see a bigger increase nationally, not just the city of Toronto. Hopefully on the world stage, too.”
He wants the Hellas FC academy to grow and, at the very least, give East York kids a chance to see where this sport could take them.
“Doesn’t matter who they are, we have to teach every kid to reach their potential,” he said. “We’re not promising to make anybody a professional soccer player, but we’re promising to bring the best ability out of each kid, and if they are good enough to take it to the next level, we have the tools to push them in the right directions.”
Outside of sport, Papalambropoulos is eager to use this opportunity to help his community. A Danforth resident his entire life, he remembers his time playing at both high levels — for traveling teams — and low levels – the beer-league recreational ones. The one constant is that he still has many friends from his days of suiting up. He hopes to help a new wave of players experience the same thing.
“I think the best thing is to keep community strong, and any time there’s kids involved, you have the opportunity to keep them busy and out of trouble,” he said.
“Some of my best friends are guys I’ve been to tournaments with around the world. We’re still great friends to this day. You become your own little family, your soccer family.”
Free registration for the development camp is at http://www.hellasfc.ca/register.html