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Sam Papasavas (1941–1993)

by Christos N. Fifis

This article was published:

Sam Papasavas (1941–1993), solicitor, soccer administrator, and community leader, was born Savvas Lazarou on 20 March 1941 at Larnaca, Cyprus, second of three children of Lazaros Papasavas, labourer, and his wife Loukia, née Saveriades. He migrated to Australia with his mother and sisters in 1954, arriving in Melbourne on 3 October. His father was already in Melbourne. In Australia he adopted the Christian name Sam and abandoned the patronymic Lazarou in favour of his father’s surname. The family settled at Footscray, where Sam assisted with singing the liturgy at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. Educated at North Fitzroy Central (1955–56) and University High (1957–60) schools, he studied at the University of Melbourne (LLB, 1965) and opened his own law firm in Lonsdale Street in 1967. He registered as an Australian citizen in 1968, served on the city councils of Footscray (1966–69) and Melbourne (1980), and at the 1976 State election he stood unsuccessfully as the Labor candidate for the seat of Oakleigh. On 26 August 1973 in Cyprus he had married Elly Antoniou, a hairdresser and Cypriot migrant. They made their home at Elwood and later at Toorak.

Papasavas was the driving force in Victorian soccer for more than two decades. He was president (1972–82) of the South Melbourne (Hellas) Soccer Club during a period when it became one of the most successful clubs in Australia, on and off the field. He later explained: ‘I get a kick out of seeing 10,000 people at a Hellas match genuinely enjoying themselves. … Win or lose, your senses come alive’ (Schwab 1993, 29). In 1977 the club was a foundation member of the National Soccer League. As chairman (1981–91) of the NSL, Papasavas helped to ease early tensions between the new league and the Australian Soccer Federation, subsequently serving as a commissioner of the ASF. Under his leadership the NSL briefly split into two conferences (1984–86) and in 1989 the playing season moved to summer to avoid competition with the more established football codes.

In 1979 Papasavas had been elected to the board of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria. As president (1983–88) he was a popular figure, who tried to avoid polarisation and to obtain agreements by consensus. He played a leading role in the creation of the Federation of Greek Communities of Melbourne and Victoria and was its first president (1985–88). In 1987, with the former South Australian premier Don Dunstan, he founded the annual Greek community cultural festival, Antipodes. The celebrations in Lonsdale and Russell streets on 25 March were attended by huge crowds, including Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who in a letter to Papasavas described the festival as ‘a splendid example of what can be achieved by our ethnic communities when they make creative and independent efforts on their own behalf’ (Hawke 1987). In August 1987 Papasavas and the board of the GOCMV negotiated the purchase of the Parade College campus at Alphington, which eventually became Alphington Grammar School, the Greek Orthodox community’s school. He lost the presidency of the GOCMV at the community elections the next year.

Papasavas was awarded an OAM in 1983. He was a life governor of Prince Henry’s Hospital, a member of the governor-general’s bravery awards advisory committee, and from 1985 he was chairman of the interim Greek language program consultative committee for the Special Broadcasting Service. Summing up his involvement in public affairs, he remarked: ‘What appeals to me are pursuits that affect people’s lives directly for the better’ (Schwab 1993, 29). Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, he died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Melbourne on 26 September 1993. Following a funeral at St Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Prahran, he was buried in Cheltenham cemetery. His contribution to soccer was recognised by the introduction of a medal for the best and fairest under-21 player in the NSL, and he was an inaugural inductee of the Football Federation Australia Hall of Fame in 1999. The Sam Papasavas Building in Melbourne’s Greek precinct on Lonsdale Street commemorates his contribution to the city’s Greek community.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Ellinikos Kosmos (Melbourne). 29 September 1993, 1, 6, 38
  • Fifis, Christos. ‘Navigating through the Generations: A History of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, 1897–2008.’ PhD thesis, La Trobe University, 2009
  • Hawke, Robert J. Letter to Sam Papasavas, 2 April 1987. Private collection. Copy held on ADB file
  • Herald-Sun (Melbourne). ‘Soccer Chief.’ 28 September 1993, 57
  • Neos Kosmos (Melbourne). 27 September 1993, 1
  • 30 September 1993, 4, 23
  • Papasavas, Lazarus. Personal communication
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Schwab, Laurie. ‘Hellas’ 6–2 Cup Win a Tribute to Papasavas.’ Age (Melbourne), 27 September 1993, 29.

Citation details

Christos N. Fifis, 'Papasavas, Sam (1941–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Lazarou, Savvas

20 March, 1941
Larnaca, Cyprus


26 September, 1993 (aged 52)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (lymphoma)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations
Political Activism