Chester, PA – It was a historic day for the Greeks of Philadelphia. A day that will be marked by the visit of the Greek National Soccer team and a day that recorded generations of Greeks from across the Delaware Valley celebrating their ethnicity.
On Tuesday, June 3rd, the soccer world, Greece, and all it’s diaspora communities around the world focused on Philadelphia, a city whose mere mention says it all – the city of brotherly love. Soccer fever reached the outskirts of Philadelphia at Chesters PPL Park parking lot early that Tuesday morning.
Some dedicated fans took the tailgating theme to heart, showing up at 9:30 in the morning to begin cooking lamb in parking lot B, just next to the main entrance gate. By three thirty in the afternoon, friends had piled in to help get the party going. Souvlakia and lamb were accompanied by beer under a series of tents that sat just off the entrance on the southwest side of the stadium.
A large group of Hellenes gathered there. while others began to drive in to park next to the tents. As smoke covered the air, many of them were friends and family members of the Greek owned Pat’s Pizza chain that is well known around the Delaware Valley. What followed for the next two and half hours, was an unofficial Greek takeover of PPL parking on this side of the stadium. Greeks wearing blue and white shirts carrying flags began to mingle at the parking entrance in front of the tent.
Attendees driving in had to show a parking lot pass to get in to the section and had to speak Greek to get by. Some poked out a flag or began singing in Greek which contributed to building the fever this community has been waiting for. It was a lifetime for most of them and a near miracle that the game actually happened in Philadelphia.
The MLS had cut a deal to bring many of the World Cup teams via FIFA to the USA to play friendly matches before continuing on to the biggest global sports event (World Cup). Most of us don’t realize, that each team scheduled to play in the World Cup, is only playing one game in North America. The Greeks are playing two. On Friday the Greeks play in North Jersey at Red Bull Park, where, by the way, sales are slow at the moment.
With the economy hitting Greece so hard, the Greeks decided to make a few extra bucks by playing an extra game. So there you have it, global economics that affected Greece brought us an opportunity we would not have had. We Philly Greeks, with open arms welcomed the once in a life time opportunity, just like our name says, with “brotherly love”.
Of course, we Philly Greeks also had to turn it up a notch, by adding a concert-Kalomira. The Greek-American singer appeared sharp, feisty and full of spirit. Her youthful energy captivated the crowd both inside and outside the stadium. With a pre concert and post concert, along with singing the Greek national anthem, Kalomira proved why her charisma won us over. She hugged, kissed and danced with fans of all ages. Many that attended the match up admitted that they were only there because of Kalomira fever, which was promoted along with the match between Greece and Nigeria.
Inside the stadium, a mini Olympic ceremony took place where Greek and Nigerian children were escorted across the field , by each nations team. Parents beamed and clicked photos for their albums and to share on facebook. The national anthems of Nigeria, Greece and the United States were played and sung. Following Kalomira’s singing of the Greek national anthem, she made sure the cameras focused on team Greece, by jumping in to a photo opp. with the National team on their bench, just before the start of the game.
When the whistle blew, two of the worlds best put on a show that had both sides cheering for a goal that never came. Both teams had opportunities to score and lead their team out with a big victory and boost to the World Cup.
Greece is ranked number 10 in the world and we Greeks should be more than proud. Astonished is more fitting for warriors that play for some of the best teams in the world. For a small nation of ten million it’s a significant position Greece has never been in. For the first time in recent history, Greece is a serious contender and has the respect of teams and countries around the world.
Many Greeks inside the stadium though, remained poised and merely hoping for a goal. Our love of game and Greek pride, assured us we would be victorious. We were confident and continued to wait for the goal that never would come. By halftime, the stands were quiet. Both teams continued to play hard and with great patience. Greece appeared to have more opportunities to score, especially in the second half, but did not capitalize.
When the game concluded, players waved to the crowd as they exited for the locker room. Many of the attendees were off to the post concert with Kalomira, which was taking place. She was joined by Diamantis, where the music and dancing went on till after midnight.
Back on the other side of the stadium, the Greek national team was outside signing autographs for the dedicated fans, as they ate pizza. T-shirts flew over the fence and names of players were yelled, as fans pleaded for signatures. Men, women and children of all ages lined the chain linked fence, while some climbed on to the top.
As I looked on, I thought these are the dedicated fans and this was a historic moment. It is a time where we Greeks in Philadelphia got a chance to stand close to some of the best athletes in the world today, and they happened to be Greek. Like great soldiers going off to battle, we celebrated, shared a moment and waved them on, as they crossed our path on the Road to Brazil. Let’s Go Greece!