Peter Parthimos has a vision for Futsal Oz that extends beyond Australian borders, writes Bilal Ali.
When it started out in 2006, Futsal Oz was just another Futsal stadium in Melbourne.
Located in Brunswick, the stadium attracted attention for its devotedness to Futsal, in comparison to other stadiums that utilised multi-purpose courts.
Now ten years later, Parthimos owns two more stadiums, located in Thomastown and Mount Evelyn.
But the objective has not changed; Futsal Oz continues to serve that sole purpose: creating an atmosphere that aims to make every player feel like a Futsal superstar.
Speaking to Parthimos before finals week for the social leagues in Thomastown, I ask him how he and his staff have gone about creating that atmosphere.
“What we’ve tried to do is make it real for everyone. Everyone dreams about having their own club… scoring that marvellous goal, defending or goal keeping or saving that great save, or managing your team to victory.
“We have packaged that up so well and we continue to improve on it so everyone can have that dream.”
We’re sitting in the new commentary box on the side of the main arena, opposite the grand stand that has just been built to accommodate the overflowing number of fans that come to watch every night; a perfect portrait of just how far Parthimos and Futsal Oz have come.
Parthimos has always been optimistic, he says “I believed if I could like something so much, I can’t be alone.
“I loved it so much; I thought I can’t be the only one that loves Futsal… I thought if it was packaged up correctly, if it was put into a great package and it was delivered well, it would succeed without a doubt.”
But Parthimos admits that not many people shared his ambition.
“No one would have believed me,” he says when I ask him how many people would have believed him when he was starting out that in 2016 he would be the owner of three Futsal stadiums.
His ambition was not fuelled by heavy unwavering support; it was fuelled by passion and driven by a dream.
That is what Futsal Oz is to Parthimos, a dream come true.
Growing up in Melbourne in the 80’s and 90’s, Parthimos initially played the much more popular cricket and AFL until he was ten years old, but his dad had other ideas.
“My father thought it was too rough, he thought you’re not playing that and after nagging him and nagging him he took me down to Brunswick City, a local club, he signed me up and loving sport I immediately loved football, soccer.
“Up until like nine, ten years old I didn’t even know what soccer was to be honest, I knew what it was but I didn’t think it was exciting.”
Parthimos recalls his introduction to Futsal at the age of 15 when he went to a venue in Coburg and trained with the Victorian Buffalos.
However, Parthimos admits it wasn’t love at first sight when he and Futsal first met.
“I loved everything about it… But there was only one big problem, the ball was atrocious, the ball was as hard as a rock.
“It was a size smaller than what we play [with] now, and when you kicked it your whole leg vibrated.
“So I didn’t have a really good introduction to Futsal. It wasn’t until later on when I was over 25… I thought I’d take on a sport, thought Futsal might be okay. A friend of mine who I work with, Evan Robotis, invited me to come and play at the Albert Park Pits and I said ‘oh Futsal? No that ball’s terrible; I’m not going to come.’
“And he said ‘no the ball’s fantastic, the ball’s changed, it’s not like you remember it’, so I went there and played and funny enough, I absolutely loved the game. That was the start of the journey… that’s where the dream began.”
And Parthimos is not done dreaming.
As a product of Futsal Oz, Parthimos has created Series Futsal, the highest level of Futsal that Futsal Oz has to offer for men, women and youth.
I ask Parthimos to describe the Series Futsal Brand to an outsider.
“Series Futsal is the elite level, and that’s the brand that we want to take to the rest of the world. Series Futsal is the brand of style of play we do, at a high, elite level.
“You’d best describe it as, going out of football, like the UFC style or the WWE brand.”
As an outsider, the first thing many people notice is that the speed of the game is very fast.
The Series Futsal Youth League and Women’s League run on Wednesday nights at the Thomastown stadium, while the Men’s V League runs on Sunday nights at the same venue.
These competitions are streamed live on YouTube and attract thousands of views every week.
They include commentary, analysis, post-match interviews and pre-game and half-time entertainment.
All of these factors help contribute to making every player feel like a superstar, Futsal Oz’s main objective.
Another factor that contributes to the superstar feel is playing alongside international superstars, something that Parthimos and Futsal Oz are now able to offer.
On the 2nd of July, Futsal Oz celebrated a decade of existence by holding Futsal Oz Live.
This was an event where Futsal World Cup winner and four-time Best Futsal Player in the World winner Falcao came up against Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa as they represented Series Futsal powerhouses Pascoe Vale and Fitzroy.
Now, Parthimos has helped in acquiring another international superstar, but on a more permanent basis.
Rico Zulkarnain, the first Welsh professional Futsal player, signed with Fitzroy until the end of the season, and Parthimos says he will not be the last international arrival.
“I’ll lead you into a bit of a secret; he’s only one of many big names that will be coming into the league this season and seasons coming up.”
Parthimos sees himself as a family man; he has been with his wife for 17 years and says she is his biggest supporter and the first to tell him to: “Pull [his] head in.”
He continues to develop Futsal Oz with the hope of his kids one day inheriting his passion.
When I ask him to describe himself in one word, that word is devoted.
It is that devotion that made Futsal Oz stand out ten years ago, and it is that same devotion that is propelling it into becoming a global brand.