At a time when football divisions are once again making headlines in Greece, even splitting friends and families apart, the story of two Greek immigrants in Colombia serves as a lesson of what the nation can achieve when united.
Petros Gkrilis and George Sitaras come from Thessaloniki. They are fanatic supporters of the city’s eternal rivals PAOK and Aris respectively. They proudly wear their club’s jerseys in Colombia, speak with passion about their love for their idols back in Greece and they both claim their team is the jewel in Thessaloniki’s sports crown.
Yet they have managed to show to the entire world that football rivalries are nothing compared to all the other things in life which unite people and bring them together.
Gkrilis and Sitaras went to live in the nation of Colombia several years ago and amazingly enough, they both decided to work together to create what was destined to become Colombia’s most famous Greek restaurant.
Their business served the traditional Greek souvlaki, skewers of gyro meats wrapped in traditional pita bread and stuffed with Greek salad ingredients, French fries, and of course, the famed tzatziki dip.
Their restaurant, dubbed ‘Cafe Grecia y Souvlaki’ was located in Colombia’s favorite travel destination, Cartagena, and made souvlaki known to almost every Colombian or tourist who visited this Caribbean city.
A few years ago, the two friends sold their shop and decided to open their own businesses in different parts of the country.
They never stopped working together, however, since their friendship, nurtured through years of hard work in their restaurant, is much stronger than one might think.
What if Gkrilis is a die-hard supporter of PAOK and Siataras passionately supports Aris?
“Living abroad, I’ve learned to respect every (football) fan,” Gkrilis told Greek Reporter. “What matters is to be a good human being,” he maintains emphatically.
The example of the two Greeks is one of mutual respect, solidarity and understanding – unlike the tribal fanaticism among die-hard football fans in Greece.
Maybe the two Thessaloniki giants should take up Gkrilis’s suggestion that at their next football clash they should invite the two friends to open the game.
“My big dream is for Giorgos and myself to go together to either Toumba [PAOK’s football ground] or Charilaou [Aris’s football ground] and open the game. So fans would understand that this rivalry has to cease.”
“As Greeks, we can achieve so many things when there is no egoism, or toxic pride,” Sitaras says.
Their relationship is a shining example of how the Greek diaspora can put aside differences for the common good. It also shows what the nation can achieve if it stands united for a common purpose.