A former Heidelberg defender that played with ambition and true devotion for his club, going above and beyond when his teammates needed him the most. These are the characteristics of Eric Vassiliadis, who was a key cog of Heidelberg United for six years as a defender.
After coming through the ranks at youth level, he played for the ‘Bergers in the National Soccer League during the 90s and was a premiership player in the 2001 grand final against Port Melbourne.
A proud Greek born in Melbourne, Vassiliadis reflected on the build up during the week leading towards facing the Berger’s biggest rivals in South Melbourne, going back in his playing days.
“It was exciting, full of anxiety, full of opportunity and you could see the difference in the intensity in the training sessions from the boys,” he said.
“Everybody was looking forward to it and l think it would dawn on you that it’s a massive stage and you’re just hoping that as a player for the black and yellow you could make a positive contribution.”
Whether it was as a player, a coach or even a fan, he described the emotions running through his head before kick-off every time he was in the stands, on the pitch or on the sidelines going up against their rivals and how he learnt to control those emotions as he got older.
“It was reflecting on what the game meant to me as a young Heidelberg supporter going with my parents to watch the games. Understanding the passion, joy and the happiness when we won versus the sadness and despair had Heidelberg lost,” he said.
“Being anxious with the things you couldn’t control such as upsetting your family and friends was hard but l think as l got older l learnt to control those emotions and harness them.
“l wanted to make sure that l understood if you don’t get many opportunities to play a big rivalry, you want to be certain that you make the most out of it.”
Ironically, Vassiliadis made his debut for the Heidelberg senior team in front of 13,000 people against South Melbourne at Middle Park which was the last game to have been played at the stadium. Despite losing 4-1, it was experience he will always cherish.
His fondest memory and most enjoyable by far was when the Warriors beat Hellas in the semi-final of the VPL, but every time he stepped onto the pitch against South Melbourne there was that little bit extra to give and hopes everyone participating on Thursday (February 17) takes advantage of it as it doesn’t come around too often.
Vassiliadis had gone to Greek school for 12 years and was also a ball boy for Heidelberg. To play in the Greek derby games was a lifelong dream for him, wearing the black and yellow shirt with pride. Considering the amount of Greek-associated clubs there are in the league and the passion that they bring, he noted the special feeling when playing against clubs with the same cultural background.
“l was always overwhelmed by the amount of joy l could bring to our supporters, l knew that as Greeks we are passionate people and there are so many Greek clubs, every time you play a Greek club you know that you want to beat them as much as they want to beat you,” he said.
“The Greek community has got so much to be proud of and we are together when we have to be but when it comes to football we come from different places and winning is all that counts.”
Vassiliadis described the emotions behind winning his one championship with Heidelberg, having played 20 years of junior football for the ‘Bergers, as well as being on the pitch to win the coveted prize in front of the fans he once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with in the grandstand. It was a special feeling he will hold close to his heart.
“To play senior football in front of so many supporters that l was in the grandstands with over the journey, then to be out there bringing that sort of joy to the Heidelberg community was one of the proudest moments of my football career,” he said.
Having been relegated the season after winning the championship, Vassiliadis talked about the mood in the following days for him and everyone else, mentioning a significant lesson he was taught. For modern day players, it gives a valuable insight into the highs and lows.
“Someone pulled me a aside and saw that we were all distraught, and told me ‘the sun will come up, there’s always tomorrow’ – simple words but till today l still remember them, you’ve got to have the time to mourn and reflect on disappointment,” he said.
“It’s how you react and after that moment, as a group of players we got together and we knew we had to fix it. The feeling was so bad that we harnessed it and got the club back to where it belongs.”
Eric Vassiliadis features in Heidelberg United’s club history documentary. You can view his interview snippet here.