There’s More to Athens Kallithea FC Than Just Nice Kits

If you haven’t heard of Athens Kallithea FC by now, shame on you.

The kits, in deep navy and crisp white, harken back to classic nineties looks: wide through the chest, big sweat-wicking collars, and elbow-length sleeves. The accompanying editorials are Greek summer meets luxury athleisure shot street-photography style; the film grain is evident, the colors are desaturated, and the stories are truly organic.

A nod of approval the likes of which have never been seen before in football too, as each kit features the ΕΜΣΤ wordmark of the National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens on its chest, a first-of-its-kind partnership between a professional club and an arts and culture institution.

It all started with the arrival of Ted Philipakos who led the acquisition of Kallithea (Kali-thay-ah), in 2021. The team, at the time, was under-appreciated, but Philipakos saw the potential. The club’s stadium, small but as Philipakos puts it, distinctive, at the heart of Athens was key, both as an aesthetic touchstone and a cultural one. Two years later the second division Greek team is fast-becoming known as one of football’s most stylish clubs.

“It’s the art direction, mainly. But that doesn’t tell the whole story,” says Dan Sandison, Head of Brand of MUNDIAL Magazine. “I think it [the club] needs Athens, I think when you hear Athens as the first word of a football club’s name, you sit up and take notice. Especially if you haven’t heard of them before. It’s an iconic city, then you look at the imagery and it all starts to make sense.”

Philipakos was one of the brains behind Venezia FC, the now-famous club based out of Venice that became known for its stylish kits and aesthetically pleasing editorials. Following his departure from the Italian side earlier this year to take up a full-time position in Athens, the 42-year-old is ready to go one step further with Kallithea.

“Everything I’m doing can be traced back to my childhood relationship to football,” says Philipakos. “I was coming of age in the ‘90s, a golden age of football in many respects — the dawn of the Premier League, the dominance of Serie A, the styles of the period. That era is foundational in my view of the game; the way it should feel, the way it should look.”

And while aesthetics are gravely important to Philipakos and his long-term goals, he’s aware that on the pitch there have to be improvements too.

And there have been. Since leading a group acquisition of the Athens-based club in August 2021, the team has gone from mid-table obscurity to finishing second in the league — their highest since they were a top-flight team seventeen years ago.

Philipakos is strategic in his ambitions for the team. Rather than promotion to the Super League Greece, to joining the likes of Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK Athens, and PAOK, he’s aiming for UEFA Competitions within the next five years. Ambitious? Yes. Achievable? Absolutely.

Why Athens Kallithea FC?

Philipakos: The location was important. The club has a small but distinctive stadium right in the heart of Athens, in the shadow of the Acropolis and just off Syngrou Avenue, the main road that connects the city center to the Athens Riviera, and Kallithea is a traditional Athenian neighborhood with the right kind of social values, which you can start to understand from the anti-fascist, anti-racist graffiti around the stadium.

As for the club itself, it had a modest but respectable history for us to build upon, and I was attracted to the club’s blue and white being the national colors, because there’s a symbolism for what we want to do here.

What are your goals with the club on the pitch?

On the field, it’s ambitious, but we want to reach the top five in the first division and qualify for UEFA competitions within five years. It’s not realistic or our intention to challenge the traditional top four clubs [Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK Athens, PAOK], we’re just not going to have the same resources, but we want to find creative ways to compete and establish ourselves as a respected team at the higher end of the league that could emerge in Europe.

And off it?

Off the field, our highest goal is to contribute to a repositioning of football in Greece. There’s a rich football heritage here. It’s a country that has won a European championship, with several historic clubs who have been competitive in Europe, and some of the most passionate supporters in the world. It just needs a fresh perspective and a few adjustments to get back to its best and beyond, and we want to have a hand in that. Greece is one of the most visited countries in the world, so there is a global relevance if football is going well here.

On a smaller scale, I just felt like Athens was too absent in the landscape of football culture and media, and this project was partly motivated to push for representation.

Storytelling is clearly key to the club. Where is your inspiration coming from?

This is something that started at Venezia FC. When I took on that project, the club was coming out of bankruptcy and the fourth division, hardly anyone in Venice cared about the team, and hardly anyone outside of Venice knew it existed. But I thought it was really cool and beautiful, and I wanted to develop and express that. At the same time, there was a sort of defiance to the approach, because the way modern football has been organized, and the way modern media relates to the game, basically you’re Man City and the like or you’re worthless. And I don’t want to be Man City. So, I wanted to help a small club make a statement, to have its pride and punch above its weight. I think we did that.

In Athens, it’s a somewhat similar idea, but even more personal. I’ve been leading this project with my brother Peter, who was a professional player in Greece. We’re enthusiasts like anyone else, and that’s the spirit in the storytelling. I wish we had the resources to do more, but we do what we can for the moment.

What was your relationship to football growing up? Where does the drive to take on a project like this come from?

I grew up in New York but in a Greek household, and I discovered European football at large on family trips to Greece, which opened a whole new world for me. I would rush to the newsstands in Athens that were importing When Saturday Comes, FourFourTwo, and other magazines from England and just devour them. I couldn’t find those in New York, and obviously this was pre-internet.

Slowly, the game started coming onto American television more and more as well. So, I gained a taste for English football, as well as Italian football, because they were at their height and my mom’s side is Italian. At the same time, my father introduced me to Panathinaikos, at a time when the club was seriously competitive in Europe. I watched them reach a European semi-final and two European quarter-finals from my teen years into my university years. Watching those teams, I had never felt more emotionally connected to my heritage. So, in these formative years, the idea of football as a sociocultural phenomenon really hit me, and that’s been at the center of my work.

From an outsider’s perspective, the beauty of a club like Athens Kallithea FC will be in the kits, the well-shot IG reels, and the campaigns around it. But when you dive a little deeper, the ambition, love, and desire to succeed is just as astounding. The story of Athens Kallithea FC may only just be beginning, but believe me when I say it’s going to be a good one.

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