By Gerardo Lara – FLAF Americas
Spiros Kontoulis was a Greek football player from the 1930s. He represents another example where the consequences of conflict and the second world war led many to make the maximum possible sacrifice, from professionalism in this case as a footballer to the front line and combat, to defend a just cause in the face of invasion, interventionism and imperialism.
Kontoulis was born in Piraeus in 1915, due to the time and the absence of specific records is unknown exactly the day and month of his birth, he began playing football in 1931 for the local city club, Amyna Piraeus. Thanks to his game, style and great quality as a defender the historical club AEK of Athens signs him up in 1935, he became part of a club that represented tradition and triumph in Greek football.
Spiros Kontoulis lead his team to victory and became champion in different competitions: the league in 1939 and 1940, the league cup in 1939 and the Athens championship in 1940, his record with the club was 83 matches played as a standard and example of honor and courage. The future promised more victories and glories for Kontoulis and his unbeatable AEK of Athens but fate had a different plan in place.
The second world war breaks out, the Axis forces in this case Mussolini’s fascist Italy invades Greece in October 1940, hence also a representative date for the Greek people on October 28th of that year, before a ”No” in response to the ultimatum presented by Italian Ambassador Emanuele Grazzi in order to occupy strategic points of Greece or otherwise officially declared war.
All sporting competitions and not just football were suspended, athletes in general were sent to the ranks of the army in the face of the invasion. Thanks to the archives of old newspapers, there are different reports about these athletes, cases such as those of the footballers Kostas Valavanis (AEK of Athens) who was seriously wounded by a bomb on the Pogradts mountain of Albania, a track athlete (runner) Kapsokefalos, also severely wounded on the same mountain, the case of one of the great figures of the rival local club Olympiacos of Athens; the player Alekos Xatzistaurodis, who fought in the district of Tepelen, Albania, was also wounded in combat and later able to return to the pitch.
Spiros Kontoulis had joined the ranks of the resistance, and unlike the previously mentioned athletes he would not have the same luck, they could return home alive at the end of the war, he was wounded in combat on one of his feet and had the opportunity to recover but one of his decisions would precisely bring irremediable consequences.
The occupation in Greece continued and by April 1944 just months before the end of the war, Kontoulis returned home to visit his mother in a shelter located in the working-class suburb of Nikaia, Athens, in addition to his foot wound he wanted to recover from previous injuries caused by his activity as a profesional footballer. Somehow, Nazi intelligence located Kontoulis and he was immediately arrested, subsequently sent to a concentration camp in Chaidari, Athens.
In this place the bad news continued, he was able to reunite with his brother Vasilis Kontoulis, who would tragically later be executed, and to Spiros’ surprise a former AEK teammate, Kosta Christodoulou had also been captured, he would let him know about the terrible torture he was subjected to and how he survived.
Two months after his arrest in mid-June 1944, the Germans decided to remove Spiros from the camp, so they put him with other prisoners in a truck heading to the Kaisariani shooting range to be executed. On the way to their fatal destiny, Spiros saw an opportunity to try to escape. Close to the Mets neighborhood located in Athens, Spiros leaped from the truck to the road and attempted to run desperately seeking freedom, unfortunately his attempt had a dark end when he was shot by the Nazi soldiers.
The 29 year old legend of the pitch and resistance was dead, the idol of the dominant AEK Athens team that had achieved consecutive League and Cup titles in the 1930’s passed away. A player that stepped on what AEK supporters consider the promised Land, the home of AEK for generations, the Nikos Goumas Stadium in the District of Nea Filadelfia.
The majestic flight of the double-headed Eagle (symbol of his club) was cut short in those years by war, Spiros defended then the black and yellow colors of AEK, which have their origin in ancient Byzantine symbols thanks to the influence of its founders in 1924; Greek refugees who came to Athens from Istanbul in Turkey.
Let us remember and recognize these examples. They deserve to be shared and appreciated in more places around the world to enrich the encyclopedia of football and politics that are and will always be related.