I sat my exams in Australian embassies all around the world

Carol Saffer

Over a glass of red at Classico Greco, his St Kilda Rd restaurant, hospitality entrepreneur George Christopoulos regaled me with stories of University High, playing soccer for Australia, living and renovating in Carlton and his stint on the Queen Victoria Market board.

He remembers being part of a cohort of Greek kids at University High chosen to form a school rowing team.

“We went down to the Yarra [River] with the school’s coach who was expecting a gun team,” he said.

“We were not supervised very well. We stole the coach’s bike, the megaphone, and we rowed beyond Princes Bridge.”

“The river was getting choppy, and we were heading out to sea, so we turned the boat around, like a bunch of Greek fishermen, and scurried to get back. Consequently, the rowing team didn’t last long.”

Mr Christopolous, aged 17 in his HSC year at University High, was chosen to play soccer for Australia.

 

It was a big deal when a newspaper photographer and journalist turned up at the school.

 

In 1981, while enrolled in a Real Estate Valuation course at RMIT and working with his father in his real estate business, he was offered a scholarship at the newly opened Australian Institute of Sports (AIS) in Canberra.

With his father’s blessing, he left RMIT and real estate, moving to Canberra to study sports marketing and business while training at the AIS.

“I was thrilled, as soccer wasn’t considered a game of any importance,” he said.

At that time, he was playing soccer professionally for South Melbourne and playing for the Australian team.

“I was studying and still playing internationally, so each time I had exams and was overseas, the university organised for me to sit for them in that city’s embassy.”

A career in professional sport followed, playing in European football leagues and representing Australia as a member of the national Socceroos team. 

“I went to Paraguay, Brazil and played in England and Greece and was gone until around 1984.”

On his return, he entered the hospitality industry, owning and operating some of Melbourne’s well-known cafes, bars and restaurants.

He is responsible for creating Beer Deluxe, the Belgian Beer Café, Ormond Hall, and French Fantasies and others over the past 30 years.

“Hospitality and sport are my two loves,” he said.

He opened and ran Depot de Pain in Rathdowne St from 2012 to 2018.

“It was an instant hit, a great breakfast place. State and federal MP Barry Jones was a regular; it was terrific entertainment having a conversation with him, and we became good mates.”

Mr Christopoulos sat on the Queen Victoria Market board of directors from 2010 to 2018. He was involved in the creation of the Draft Strategic Brief for the Queen Victoria Market Precinct Renewal in 2015.

The brief’s foreword states, “The board and management of the market hold the view that most people throughout Victoria believe they own the Queen Victoria Market ... and that is something that we embrace every day” – a sentiment he still stands by.

He and his wife Elizabeth bought a house in Grattan St in 2018 and sold it during renovations in 2019. “We will be back because we are fans of Carlton and its surrounds.” •

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