Exploring the History of a Venerable Greek Soccer Club
George Yannoulatos, the maternal grandfather of Associate Professor of History Alex Kitroeff, didn’t like to talk much about his role as president of the venerable Greek soccer club Panathinaikos during the 1930s. However, he enjoyed recounting tales of the rivalry between his club and one named Olympiakos, a good-natured competition characterized by banter and the occasional throwing of rotten vegetables. “It was an era when ‘soccer hooliganism’ was yet unknown,” says Kitroeff.
His grandfather’s relationship with the soccer club inspired Kitroeff to write Greece, Europe, Panathinaikos! 100 Years of Greek History, which was recently released by Greekworks. Written entirely in Greek, the book is available at the publisher’s website.
The book provides a scholarly account of the club’s social history, and is based largely on the private papers of Apostolos Nikolaidis, a revered athlete and former club president as well as a friend and business associate of Kitroeff’s grandfather. Kitroeff also conducted extensive research in Athens’ newspaper and magazine archives, and interviewed past club presidents and players.
In the book, Kitroeff traces Panathinaikos’s evolution as Greece’s “European” team, reflecting Greek society’s aspirations to be part of modern Europe. In the early 20th century, the club’s founders admired the more sophisticated versions of soccer being played in England and central Europe, and brought in coaches from abroad to strengthen Greek players’ skills and work habits. “They also wanted Greece to learn from the European notion that soccer, and sports in general, were ways of educating the younger generation and teaching teamwork and fair play,” says Kitroeff.
In 1971, Panathinaikos became the first Greek club to reach the final round in the European Champions Cup tournament, a feat that has yet to be repeated by any other team. The club continued to be the most successful Greek club in European tournaments, and is considered Greece’s “soccer ambassador.”
Kitroeff may not have written this book were it not for the late Greg Kannerstein ’63, Haverford’s former Director of Athletics, with whom he co-taught a class called “Sports and Society.” “When I first entered Greg’s office in Ryan Gym, I saw that two sides of the room were lined with bookcases full of books on the study of sports,” says Kitroeff. “We both realized that we had read enough about the history of different sports—he on baseball and I on European soccer—that we could combine our interests.” In 2004, Kannerstein honored Kitroeff by writing a favorable review of the latter’s book, Wrestling With the Ancients: Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics, for Haverford Magazine.
“[The review] gave me the confidence to embark on the book that has just come out,” says Kitroeff.