Download the FREE SBS Radio App for a better listening experience
Composed of people from more than a dozen nationalities, Kosmos FC brings its players and the local community together with a common passion for the beautiful game.
It was a cancer diagnosis that changed Giorgos Patlakas’ life and took him back to his roots on the island of Lesbos.
As Lesbos is the heart of Greece’s refugee crisis, Patlakas wanted to help others as best he could, and decided football would be the vehicle to do so.
As an ex-football player himself, Patlakas knew what the ‘beautiful game’ could bring to those living in the infamous camp: camaraderie, purpose, fun.
He established a football team in the Moria refugee camp, which later became the Kosmos Lesbos Football Club, with a squad made entirely of international refugees and asylum seekers.
The team is comprised of around 15 different nationalities, depending on its roster, including Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Congolese and Moroccans. They all play together, regardless of politics, religion or ethnicity.
The club is also an effort to bridge the social gap between refugees and Lesbos locals, with tournaments and friendly matches between local clubs also taking place.
Since the establishment of Kosmos FC over 300 men have played for the club, with some 30 to 50 players actively involved at any one time. The make-up of the team ebbs and flows, as new refugees arrive and existing players make successful applications to move on to mainland Greece.
Patlakas says he doesn’t feel that he has done anything more than what any other person would do.
"I think I did the obvious thing,” he tells SBS Greek. “Anyone in my position would do the same. When I saw those men who really suffered in Moria refugee camp, I realised that they were footballers and decided to establish this team.
"I believe that Lesbos is the island of solidarity. There were no strong reactions [against this project]. It was immediately accepted and embraced, mainly by the soccer society of the island.”
The club strives to play at professional levels. Most of the players had previously played in their home country, sometimes national championships.
One of the Kosmos players, a young Congolese fellow named Francis Colombo, has now joined Eolikos FC, becoming the first refugee to play for a professional club in Greece. It is a rare story of success and acceptance in a world where refugees’ skills can go unrecognised.
“Starting with Greece, more and more countries are adopting the legal framework that gives refugees the right to play sports, paving the way for many of them to ‘chase’ the dream for a professional career without having the necessary documents,” Patlakas says. “This is what happened in the case of the 15-year-old Francis Colombo from Congo, who became the first refugee to receive a football card for a Greek team.”
Patlakas is confident that Kosmos FC is having an effect, not just on the Lesbos community overall, but on the individual lives of those taking to the pitch.
"Football has tremendous strength. This is unquestionable. Up to now, Kosmos FC has over 300 footballers. Currently, the team has about 40 people in the roster with lots of talent, of whom 15 are minors and unaccompanied refugees. All these men share the same nightmare, the trip from their country to Greece, but also the dream of being able to get into a club and play professional football again.”