Games and Sports

There are two very popular games amongst the Greeks, both in Astoria and back in Greece. Two forms of entertainment that are not taken lightly at all; so much so, that the term game might not apply to it anymore. For the Greeks, these are both more than games, they are a passion. They are: soccer and backgammon.



All 16 team logos of Superleauge (bottom center logo). Image courtesy of

Greek National Team logo

Greek National Team logo. Image courtesy of Greek National Team Facebook Page

As is the case in most European countries, soccer (or futbol) plays a large part in peoples lives. There is a professional league called the Greek Superleauge, but the main focus is on the country’s national team. This is what most people pledge their hearts to the most. While there are 16 different teams people throughout the country support in the Superleauge, every single person in Greece supports the same team in one regard, and that is the national soccer team.



Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Greece’s soccer team is run by the Hellenic Football Federation, which was founded in 1926.1 It took a while for the team to have success, not making their first World Cup appearance until 1994. They then failed to qualify again for the next 3 World Cups before making the next two in 2010 and 2014. Sadly, though, the farthest they ever made it was the one step out of group stages and that was, most recently, in 2014.



Image courtesy of


For all the failures the national club has had since it’s inception, in the summer of 2004 they put together one of the most impressive and shocking performances by any country in any tournament, ever. I am talking, of course, about the Greece team winning the championship at the 2004 Euro Cup, a tournament in which the odds of them winning it all was set at 100-1. For the people of Greece and the Greeks in Astoria (and all around the world) this was an unbelievable moment, something they will never forget.

The lone goal that won the championship match for Greece

The lone goal that won the championship match for Greece. Image courtesy of

After the final seconds of the championship match ticked away the streets of Astoria were flooded with people celebrating. All different types of people took to the streets to take part in the happiness of that day. Regardless of how old you were or how interested in soccer you were this victory meant something to you. As Dora Chitziaentoniou, a 40-year-old woman, said: “I feel more Greek at this particular time… Even though I don’t know anything about soccer, I’m excited. Even old grandmas, everybody is so excited.”And that quote was from before the game even started. The Euro Cup win was more than just a soccer team winning a tournament, it meant a lot to the Greek people, as evident from things people told the Times during the madness in Astoria following the match.

(For a different, longer, video of celebrations in Astoria click on this). Video courtesy of YouTube.

One Greek man told a reporter that ”It goes beyond soccer, for sure. In the last 20 years there’s been an effort to build bridges between the Greek-American community and the motherland. People are connecting this victory with the effort to preserve the Greek culture, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Greek language.” The Greece team pulling off this miracle was something the people attached to on a deeper level, something they took as a sense of pride and used to bring attention to their people and most importantly their country. The fact that the Summer Olympics were being held in Greece that summer did nothing but add to the immense impact this championship brought with it. ”This is the best advertisement for the Olympics,” said Theodore Menis, ”The pride is something we really need in Greece right now.” Another Astoria resident said, ‘This is our summer, with the Olympics coming up, this is the Greek summer. The gods love us.”2 While it was just a group of 11 men on a soccer field managing to put the ball in the opponent’s net more than the other team, this went far beyond that. The 2004 Euro Cup Championship team brought something to Greece and the Greek people that went further than a soccer pitch, as you can see from just a few comments from the people who celebrated the victory so wildly in Astoria.


Image courtesy of (iTunes store)

Another passion of the Greeks, more specifically retired Greek men, is backgammon or as it is known in Greece: tavli. It is rooted deep in Greek history. Plato mentions the game and comments on its popularity, Sophocles attributed its invention to Palamedes, Homer mentioned the Greek game in the Odyssey3. On our trip to Astoria, we went to a couple of different hangouts for older Greek men. A common denominator in every place we went to was a backgammon board, and like Soccer, these men are passionate about this game of dice and skill.

Me playing a Greek man in backgammon

Me playing a Greek man in backgammon. Image courtesy of Jared Cox

I actually sat down to play one of them and not even a minute in he was criticizing the way I rolled the dice, accusing me of cheating. A couple of minutes later he told me he was a professional and that there was absolutely no way I was going to beat him. The passion and intensity of this game travels farther than just Astoria, so much so that a player on an online site in Greece threatened the administrator of that site because he thought the games were fixed.4


Whether it’s soccer or backgammon, or many other things in their lives, the Greeks do not take it lightly. The passion poured in goes beyond that of just mere interest in it. If you know your soccer and can play backgammon, you can go into any retirement club in Astoria and spend the day there just hanging with the boys (knowing Greek would also benefit you).

Author: Steven Zaslowsky