Pete Kotsiakis, born in Philadelphia and raised in Upper Darby, the city’s old Greek neighborhood, has had a life-long interest in playing soccer and passionately following Panathinaikos, his favorite Greek soccer club. His devotion to Panathinaikos was rewarded with his election as president of its newly formed fan club, PanathaUSA Philadelphia. The friends of Panathinaikos in the Greater Philadelphia area met in December and decided to move ahead with the formal establishment of a fan club, and on January 22nd the made it official by adopting a constitution and electing a five-person board of directors. The Philadelphia-based club is affiliated with PanathaUSA in New York City, which is officially recognized by Panathinaikos Football Club in Greece. The fan club’s goals include fostering ties among friends of Panathinaikos in the greater Philadelphia area and promoting the team’s values. Panathinaikos, established in Athens in 1908 is one of Greece’s oldest sports club and throughout its long history it has been associated with supporting fair-paly on and off the sports field, cultivating all sports not only soccer, and through its successes in European soccer and basketball tournaments it has assumed the mantle of Greece’s ambassador in Europe. Recently the soccer team has fallen on hard times, a reflection of the economic crisis that plagues Greece.
A rich investor has traditionally bailed out Greek soccer teams, but with no such savior on the horizon, its president Alafouzos is inviting supporters to join a group, the Panathinaikos Alliance, that owns 58% of the cub’s shares and he has also reached out to the hard-core fan base. There are parallel trends in other Greek clubs, most notably AEK Athens, while the PAOK Thessaloniki fans have traditionally held sway over the club’s affairs. It is this new participatory climate that Philadelphia’s Panathinaikos fans are responding to by mobilizing their energies. The membership reflects a cross-section of the city’s Greek community and includes a doctor, a College professor and a number of persons who work in the food industry. Most notably it also includes a woman, Aggeliki Thua, who was elected as the fan club’s secretary.
President Pete Kotsiakis is one of those associated in the food industry, he is the manager of Astra Foods, the well known food manufacturing and distribution company that is based in Upper Darby. And at 40 years-old Kotsiakis is still very active in sports, he is the player-manager of the “Sixers” a team that plays in the Philly Greek Basketball League. He has great hopes for both Panathinaikos – he remembers well the glory days of the late 1980s – early 1990s when the team dominated thanks to stars such as Krisztof Warzycha (pronounced “Vahecha” in Greek) and Dimitris Saravakos – and for PanathaUSA Philadelphia whose membership, currently at fifteen, he believes can increase to fifty persons by the summer. In the meantime, the fan club’s activities include another meeting in a month’s time, a trip up to Astoria for a joint celebration with PanathaUSA New York.
Alexander Kitroeff teaches European history as well as a course on “Sport & Society” at Haverford College, and among his many publications is a book on the history of Panathinaikos Football Club: Ελλάς, Ευρώπη, Παναθηναϊκός! 100 χρόνια Ελληνικής Ιστορίας