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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 28 September 2019
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 2019 27 SPORTS FEATURE Michalis Mandalis (bottom right) and the rest of the South Melbourne team in the 60’s. They went on to win five Victorian Soccer Leagues. Michalis Mandalis had the fortune to play alongside some great players, including Greek legend Kostas Nestoridis. The story behind Michalis Mandalis The Greek footballer, recently inducted into the Hall Of Fame of Victoria, talks about the people who helped him on his road to success, and shares his hopes for the game’s future ALEX ANYFANTIS Walking into the cafe for our arranged meeting, I didn't know what to expect. When someone carries the heavy title of Hall Of Fame-er, you can't help but think you may be dealing with someone uptight; how will they respond to the questions you have planned to ask them? And yet, that couldn't be further from the truth when it comes to Michalis Mandalis. The South Melbourne legend welcomed me with open arms as I joined him and his friends for a coffee, before finding ourselves a quiet spot to do our interview. fortable responding to anything, taking me on a trip down memory lane to a time when football stadiums were packed with crowds and every weekend was highly anticipated by fans who rushed to support their favourite team. "I was only 16 years old and I was standing next to a bunch of 24 year old's," Mandalis recalled, thinking back to when he started out in the game. "They taught me a lot and I would like to thank all of them. Because without them, I wouldn't be here right now. I was the youngest player to play in the league and the youngest at the time to win the award for the top scorer in the league in 1964." He recalls that time as the "truly great days for football". "It seemed like no-one could stop us back then, we had the keys to success," he says. Delving deeper into his past career, Mandalis reflects on all the great players and people he had a chance to meet along the way, of which two names stand out: one is that of his former coach Ferenc Puskas and the other, his idol-turnedteammate, Kostas Nestoridis. "I met Ferenc in Athens during the Wembley-era of Panathinaikos (early 70's). We became fast friends. He was a magnificent player, but he never showed off. When he came to South, he worked with Dimitris Pyrgolios, a former Panathinaikos player. He was also a great player. I remember watching South play and after the game Ferenc turns around and says to Dimitri in broken Greek 'you know your football!'," he recalls. "From then on, he let Pyrgolios make all the decisions in the team. Puskas brought out the manager from within him." He said one of the best things about Ferenc as a coach was that when he saw a talented player, he always gave them room to grow. "He never held them back. He He seemed relaxed and com- would tell them to do what they've set their mind on until they've accomplished it. Puskas would give the players the faith that they needed and Pyrgolios would provide When it comes to his former teammate, Nestoridis, the former South Melbourne player has nothing but praise. "I first saw him when I was We need to work together to bring the team (South Melbourne) back to where it belongs. It’s sink or swim at this point, if it doesn’t happen now, it’ll never happen. “ the team with the strategy to accomplish it. If you had both these things, you could go on to win the World Cup," Mandalis remembers. a little boy in Egypt during a friendly game with Greece and I was awe-struck. But the biggest shock came when I grew up and I had the chance to play beside him and win two championships. That was huge, nothing short of a miracle for someone like me. I felt blessed to be able to play next to a player of his quality. To watch him walk the pitch and avoid his opponents like it was another day at the beach was incredible," he says. "And it wasn't just him. A lot of the players from back in those days carried a lot of weight on their shoulders, yet it all seemed to vanish the minute they walked on the pitch." When the conversation turns back to the present however, the former midfielder appears to drop the nostalgic and fond sentiment, replacing it with the necessary seriousness. "We need to work together to bring the team (South Melbourne) back to where it belongs. It's sink or swim at this point, if it doesn't happen now, it'll never happen. My purpose is to speak to the younger people in the team and educate them about what the club represents and its ideals. There is a lot of talent at the team that is currently going to waste." As the discussion turns to the Victorian Federation, Mandalis is full of nothing but praise and hope for the new people at the helm. "Peter Filopoulos is a great man and you can see he's very passionate about football. The same goes for Nick Hatzoglou. And I've told them that for whatever they need, I'm at their service. As for Kimon Taliadoros, I played with him at Hellas during the Puskas-Pyrgolios era, he's fantastic. They've all started doing great work at the Federation and we'll soon be able to tell our own individual position within the football community. If we have people like them and others, such as Nick Galatas and Tom Kalas in those positions, we're going to do very well in the future," he enthuses. As our discussion comes to a close, the Hellas legend shares a short message with the entire Greek community. "It's about time that we came together. We're very nice people, full of philotimo. We have to forget about positions and put the good of our community as our priority." It's easy to see that Michalis Mandalis is grateful for the people he met and the places he had the chance to visit on his journey playing his favourite game. Michalis Mandalis was one of the youngest players to come out of the Victorian Soccer League. Mandalis played against many great teams during his time. At the same time, the fire inside him to improve upon the conditions in which it is played, and to see it come back to the position that it used to be within the Australian community during his era still burns brightly.
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