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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 12 May 2018
26 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 12 MAY 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Valkanis resumes coaching career in Holland GEORGE STOGIANNOU All of Greece is AEK now We’ve asked the proudest AEK supporter among us to share their sentiments GEORGIOS HATZIMANOLIS Last weekend was a reward As a lifelong supporter of AEK Athens, this past weekend was without a doubt the most amazing of my life. Champions of Greece in football on Saturday, then champions of Europe in basketball on Sunday. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined such a spectacular celebration. There was a moment late in the game on Sunday when it was almost certain that AEK would defeat French club AS Monaco to win the European 2017-18 Basketball Champions League (BCL), that I took a moment to soak it all in. I looked around the packed stadium, and saw what this meant on everyone's faces. Fathers embraced their sons, grandfathers were crying, young girls covered head to toe in the club's colours danced in their seats, and together they all sung in unison, calling for AEK to lift the trophy. Euphoria swept through the Athens Olympic Indoor Arena, a reward to the loyal supporters of this club, including myself. AEK is not just a team to me. It's in my blood, it's my family, my family's history, the history of all Greeks whose ancestors, refugees from Asia Minor, came to this country with nothing and built themselves up. AEK's story is the same. Just five years ago, AEK's football and basketball teams were playing in the third division. Many of us, myself included, never missed a game. Even then, we believed and never gave up; we followed her to every shitty little pitch and court across the country. for all that, and much more. For me it was a celebration of an entire life following this club. My first memory of AEK is as a five-year-old taken by my dad to watch AEK play Panathinaikos at OAKA. At the end of the game, with PAO having won 3-2, I saw people get up out of their seats and start making their way to the exit. I asked my dad why everyone was leaving, he said the game was over. I instantly started crying and begged everyone, including the players to come back, the game could not be over, we were losing, we must play until we win, I said. My father explained that losing was a part of the game, a lesson I would come to understand much better as I grew up. Six years later, living back in Melbourne, my dad and I stayed up to listen to the radio broadcast of AEK against Olympiakos, with our team needing a win to take the Greek championship away from the Reds of Piraeus. Unfortunately I fell asleep before the match started. When I woke up to get ready for school dad had already left for work but he left a note for me on the kitchen bench. It read: Olympiakos 0 AEK 1. I knew what it meant, we were champions. I wore my AEK shirt to Doncaster Primary School that day. Most of my classmates thought it was a weird Richmond Tigers jumper. By the end of the day they all knew it was the shirt of AEKARA! Five years down the track, I was in Athens visiting family at the beginning of 1994 and used the opportunity to catch some games at AEK's Nikos Goumas Stadium in Nea Filadelfeia. On the last weekend before we were set to return to Melbourne, my brother John and I convinced our parents to let us go to watch AEK once again take on Panathinaikos. So we left Goudi, an area where most residents are Panathinaikos supporters, and quietly and discreetly travelled by foot, bus, and train to AEK's stadium. We wore no AEK colours and we kept to ourselves at a time when supporters of both sides went to the games, and rivalry between us and PAO was intense, on and off the pitch. For two kids from Melbourne who rarely used public transport back home, the journey seemed to take forever. When we finally got off the train, with hundreds of other AEK fans, we made our way towards the stadium. We heard thousands singing; a wall of noise, and instantly we were hooked. We bought two tickets to the legendary skepasti stand, where the most vocal of AEK supporters, the famous Original crew congregated. What followed was one of the most amazing experiences of my young life. A 2-0 win, five hours of singing, a championship all but secured on that night, and the whole time I had my little brother by my side. Each year after that John and I would make our dad buy us every AEK shirt when he travelled to Greece on business. No-one in Melbourne had as many AEK shirts as we had collected together, and still have. John, Dad, and I would wake up at all hours of the night to watch AEK on ANT1 Pacific, and although we cel- ebrated some victories over rivals and found a new hero in Demis Nikolaidis, a long sought after championship never arrived. Fast forward to 2009 when I moved to Athina permanently. My other brother Dimitris and I start going to every game together, rain, hail or shine. Tuesday night cup games against teams I'd never heard of, we were there. Midsummer friendly games when everyone else was on holiday, we were there. We didn't miss a beat. Even the year our team got relegated, we were there at every game. Then Dimitris moved back to Australia, and I was left in Greece alone, to fly the flag, with AEK having to play in Division 3. The disappointing and humiliating drop only made me love the club more, and through my new AEK friends Nikos, Antonis, Teo and Tsop, who I now consider brothers, I also started to follow AEK in basketball, handball and volleyball. We travelled up and down the country to watch AEK play, and stayed loyal to the club, determined to see AEK back at the top of Greek sport. This past weekend, we got one step closer to that dream, and as I looked around at the packed stadium to see everyone singing, I raised my voice a little louder, to sing as loud as I can, for my two brothers in Australia, for my dad that made me an AEK fan, for my nephew Sotiri and my niece Irini who I helped make AEK fans, for my friend Simos in Canada who recently lost his dad, and for the boys of Original Melbourne, who wake up each and every time AEK plays to get together and watch the team we love, AEKARA! Having finally returned to Melbourne in 2016 after an absence of 20 years, former Melbourne City coach Michael Valkanis will once again leave the city of his birth in pursuit of his football dream. The first time he left to pursue a playing career. Now, Valkanis has answered the call of his predecessor at Melbourne City John Van’t Schip and accepted an offer to further his coaching career in the Dutch Eridivisie as Van’t Schip’s assistant at current club PEC Zwolle. Speaking to Neos Kosmos about the move to the top Dutch League, Valkanis said, “We know some of the great clubs that exist there. We know the Dutch have always been the most inventive, the most innovative in football in the past. They play a brand of attacking football which suits my philosophy alot.” “They’re also a development league. What I mean by that is, you see the [number] of players they develop and feed the whole Europe, if not the world. With players they develop, they do a very good job at a very young age.” “The Dutch League is a very entertaining league. I spent a little bit of time there recently. You see a very open game, a very attacking game. The culture there is, people like to be entertained. They want to see good football. “I’m very excited going there because this suits totally the way I see the game and the philosophy I believe in, with what I’ve learnt. Yeh, very excited to go to one of the top leagues in Europe and work with someone like John Van’t Schip.” The move to Holland will reunite Valkanis and Van’t Schip who teamed together as assistant and senior coach at Melbourne City in 2016-17. Valkanis has accepted the Dutch club’s offer of a one-year deal with a one-year option. The Melbourne-born Valkanis described the move on Twitter, as the realisation of a dream to coach in one of Europe’s top leagues. It will be the second time Valkanis ventures to Europe in pursuit of his football dreams. In 1996 his playing career took him from South Melbourne to Greece where he spent several seasons as a professional footballer before returning home in 2002 to eventually captain ALeague club Adelaide United. Upon retirement in 2009, he began his coaching career at Adelaide United youth, before taking on caretaker and assistant senior coaching roles at the Reds. He returned to his home state to join Melbourne City as Van’t Schip’s assistant coach in 2016. Following Van’t Schip’s resignation in early 2017 to return to Holland, Valkanis took over the reins as head coach for the remainder of the season before being replaced by current City boss Warren Joyce under whom he continued to work as an assistant coach before parting with the club by mutual consent. Valkanis later indicated differences in playing philosophy. Valkanis says he and his family are excited by the move to Europe. He told Neo Kosmos, “I’ve got four boys, and three out of the four play football. They’re very excited. I don’t think they realise as young kids, how lucky they are in going to a nation like this and how they can develop their own game in a country like Holland. They’re young and adventurous and they’re looking forward to Europe knowing they’re going to be able to watch som much football over there. And my wife, has always been very supportive. She’s very excited and looking forward to this adventure for us. It will be a great experience.” PEC Zwolle finished ninth last season in the Eredivisie and two of the more famous players who have played for the club are former Dutch internationals Jaap Stam and Johnny Rep.
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