I am . . .

I am a member of the Greek soccer team.
I was there, in the Luz Stadium (the Stadium of Light) in Lisbon on Sunday, for the championship game of Euro 2004 against Portugal. I was there, in front of millions on television, singing along as the Greek national anthem played.
I was there, to shake hands with Greece’s captain, Theodoros Zagorakis, and wish him luck.
I was there, sitting next to the head coach Otto Rehhagel, as he looked nervously over his line up card, to give him a faint smile, a gentle pat on the back, and told him to try not to worry (he nervously smiled back).
I was there, to whisper into Angelos Basinas’ ear to find his teammate Angelos Charisteas with the corner kick. I was there, to help lift Charisteas into the air as he leaped higher than the sun god Apollo to head the ball across the goal line in the 57th minute of the match.
I was there, running towards Zagorakis, after the final whistle had been blown and after the greatest upset in soccer history had been achieved.
I was there, waiting to receive the victor’s medal as I stood in line behind my teammates. I was there, to lift the Euro Cup trophy over my head and give it a gentle kiss like a father does to his newborn child.
I was there, with tears streaming from my eyes and pride oozing from my over-inflated heart as I ran to the corner of the stadium—where the Greek fans were—to give a final bow.
My friends, I was there.
I was there, at the Omonia Square in Athens, laughing as I ran down the street with a Greek flag serving as my only layer of clothing, jumping into a fountain and watching the Acropolis and Parthenon light up as they were draped by the bright glow from fireworks.
I was there, working as a bartender at Café Effivos in Marathona, handing a drink to anyone with a free hand and telling them, when they reached for their wallet, “Don’t worry, it’s on the house.”
I was there, in the small town of Leontito with the Evangelou and Triferis family, drinking moonshine, cooking lamb, singing with Fr. Kanata, and dancing in front of the town’s tree.
I was there, in Toronto and Melbourne and New York, as millions of Greeks around the world became one huge family—brought together by an event in which they were a 100-1 long shot to win.
I was there, at Yianni’s Taverna in Edmonton, smashing plates to the floor while held in the air on my friends’ shoulders as we sang along to “Rosa.”
My friends, I was there.
I was there, to give a pink slip to UEFA’s top expert Carlos Queiroz, who stated before the tournament, “I think that Greece are far from being favourites and I do not think they are going to do much, if anything, in Portugal.”
I was there, to ask player-of-the-tournament, Zagorakis, what he was experiencing. “I have no words to describe what I’m feeling right now,” he tells me. “We just proved once more that the Greek soul has always been there, it is the greatest thing that God gave us.”
I was there, in the UEFA office, to help pick out the all-star team for the tournament, which included keeper Antonios Nikopolidis, defenders Traianos Dellas and Georgios Seitaridis, midfielder Zagorakis, and forward Charisteas.
My friends, I was there.
I was there, in 1994 for the World Cup and the last international tournament Greece was in, as I watched in my uncle’s café in Harma to see the Greeks fail to score even one goal in three matches and watch grown men cry in the process.
I was there, in August, 2001, to watch Greek soccer take its first step towards success when German-born Otto Rehhagel, now known as King Otto, signed on as the head coach.
I was there, only three years later, to see his defensive-minded strategy work against Portugal in Game 1, then in Porto against Spain, in Lisbon for the quarter-finals against defending champion France, and again in Porto for the semi-finals against the Czech Republic.
I was there, to watch the statistician, as he recorded for all to see, that the Greeks did not allow a goal in their final 343 minutes of the tournament.
My friends, I was there. I have always been there. Since I was born and until I die, I will be there.
On that beautiful Sunday you couldn’t differentiate between one Greek from another. A Greek in Toronto was the same as one in Melbourne. A Greek in New York was the same as one in Athens.
We were there and will always be there—to watch, to listen, to cry, to scream, to complain, to criticize, to praise, to preach, to instruct, to referee, to institute, to drink, to hate, to grieve, to eat, to pray, to scold, to dance, to break, to fix, to smile, to lecture, to argue, to play, to hate, to discover, and most of all, to love.
And I welcome you to my big, fat Greek family. We are close to 15 million strong and we invite you to celebrate with us. This is who we are and this, and many other things, is what we do.
So here I am. Like it or hate it. Take it or trash it. Read it or glance by it. This is I—and I am Greek.
Comments? Suggestions? In need of Greek dance lessons? Please e-mail me at emoutsatsos@fortfrances.com

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