It’s fair to say that Newcastle Olympic has been a massive part of Con Gounis’ life.
He played in their first ever game against South Wallsend in 1976. He even met his future wife through the club, a cousin of one of his teammates. That former teammate, Nick, is also still part of the organisation, marking the lines and working in the canteen at their spiritual home Darling Street Oval.
And Gounis has been the club secretary since 1982.
Such is his love of Newcastle Olympic, if Gounis were to drive past a ground anywhere in Newcastle on a Saturday morning and glimpse a team wearing their colours, he would be forced to stop.
“I get a buzz seeing especially the little ones playing in the Olympic shirt,” Gounis said.
“It’s just how I feel. Maybe it’s a bit cliched. But if I’m driving past a ground and see a team is playing in blue and white, I’ll think ‘is that Olympic? I’ll stop and have a look if it is.”
Northern NSW Football is thanking its 8,000 dedicated, hard-working volunteers that make playing football in our region possible this week as part of National Volunteer Week 2020.
National Volunteer Week, from 18 to 24 May, is an annual celebration which acknowledges the generous contribution of our nation’s volunteers. This year the theme is “Changing Communities. Changing Lives.”
Gounis started his association with Newcastle Olympic as part of a group of mates, Australians of Greek origin, who got together to play football. They eventually started a club but, sadly for Gounis, he was to suffer a knee injury that ended his playing career.
A knee reconstruction and his first teaching appointment in Sydney saw him spend a couple of years away from the club. But upon his return in 1982, with Newcastle Olympic in the fourth division, Gounis took on the role of club secretary.
He has been in the role ever since.
Gounis has also seen the highs and the lows on the pitch, including three successive titles that saw them promoted to the top division in 1992.
“The people at the club become part of your family, your football family,” Gounis said.
“A lot of times too it crosses over between the two. We’ve been fortunate also that guys who have been successful playing at the club are bringing their kids back to play at the club and even take up club coaching positions. That makes it pretty special when you see ‘old boys’ bring their kids back.
“Everyone has got their own little story. For me, when the club started, I was there playing with my brother. As the years went by, both my boys played at the club and my wife worked in the canteen.
“It’s not only me, we’ve have committee people who are third generation at the club. Sometimes it takes up too much of your time which can be to the annoyance of your better half but it’s just what it is, I suppose. It’s just your club and it’s special.”
Gounis has selflessly dedicated countless hours to Newcastle Olympic.
While his official title has been secretary, the role has seen Gounis wear many hats over the years.
“Secretary might be your role but there is so much more to it. Especially in the 80s. You’d collect the balls, pump up the balls, clean the sheds, put the nets up. Sometimes you didn’t have official referees or [assistant referees] so I took the whistle on the odd occasion. I didn’t enjoy that too much in a few derby games with some rough and ready teams,” he says with a laugh.
“The last 10 years has seen the biggest changes. Clubs have had understandably increased responsibilities, such as child protection and OHS responsibilities, implementing Youth NPL and SAP programs as well. Then there are added expectations around ground facilities and organisational matters.
“That’s all necessary for the clubs and the game in our area but it puts a lot more onus on volunteers. At the end of the day most of us have a job as well. I’m lucky, I’ve been retired the last few years after working for 36 years as a school teacher. Often, it’s difficult balancing all that as a volunteer.
“You’ve got your own job and essentially a second job with no pay. It is a lot of pressure and expectation. Sometimes it can get too much for a lot of volunteers and they drop out. And that is a big challenge for clubs to keep moving forward and keep supporting their volunteers.”
Olympic are a proud club and unique in that they have teams from juniors in under-6s to seniors in the elite NNSW National Premier League and Herald Women’s Premier League competitions all under the one umbrella.
That has offered Gounis and the club’s other volunteers plenty of challenges. But Gounis wouldn’t change a thing.
“I still go down on a Saturday morning to watch the little guys. I know the names of practically all the juniors, Youth and WPL players too. You want them to feel that they’re not just playing for the club but part of it, however long their journey is with us,” Gounis said.
“The origin of the club, for people who are second generation like myself, who felt a little bit isolated. We had mates who grew up with the same ethnicity. It’s obviously broadened in the last 20 years and people just get to know and love the club. It becomes like your second home.
“We have a lot of good social functions. I like to think we’re a happy kind of club. That makes it all worthwhile. When people go away and come back 10 or 15 years later with their own kids you like to think they’ve enjoyed their time with us. That’s great to see. When someone you haven’t seen in 10 years comes back and enrolls their kid in the under-6s. It’s always a good feeling watching them reconnect with the club.
“Our club, obviously like all clubs, wouldn’t be here without volunteers. And it becomes a part of your life, an extension of your own family.”