Michael (Michalis) Spanos, Contributor
The history of soccer is full of remarkable accomplishments, outstanding performances, moments of glory, well-renowned players, and long-standing records. The last two most often are linked together. On most occasions.
There have been times in soccer’s history that players who never made it to the world stage had their own glimpses of fame. As a reminder of their own unfulfilled soccer dreams and their potential that never lived to up to expectations. The examples are quite a few. Unfancied midfielder Mauricio Baldivieso was the youngest player ever to feature in a first division match debuting in the Bolivian league at the age of 12, Egyptian Ezzeldin Bahader the oldest to feature in a soccer game at the age of 74, while Serbian teenager Vuk Bakić holds the world record for the fastest goal in history and the list goes on. And by saying that it becomes clear that certain records are not only limited to the very best players in the game.
What would you say though, if the youngest soccer player to ever score a hat-trick in a senor game has not been a Brazilian like Pele and Ronaldo Lima or an Argentinian like Messi and Maradona? But a relatively unknown Greek? And what about if the highest ever goal-scorer in a single game has been a Greek player too? I know, it sounds unreal.
Ntinos Pontikas and Giotis Pontikos, two Greek ex-soccer players with almost perfectly identical surnames (that means a mouse!) have achieved those incredible feats during their rather mediocre careers. In the former’s case, he didn’t even have the chance to really start a career. Here are the amazing stories you need to know about and their incredible records set a few decades ago.
Pelé, arguably one of the best players of all time (possibly the greatest of all) scored 96 hat-tricks during his illustrious career. More than any other player ever did. The wonderkid from Bauru played senor soccer for the first time in 1956 with Santos in the Sao Paulo league at the age of 16 and two years later, on 24 June 1958 –already a Brazil international- scored a hat-trick against France (5-2), at 17 years, 8 months and 2 days. And that performance set another hat-trick record, the one of the youngest play ever to hit three goals for a national team.
Ntinos (full name Konstantinos) Pontikas’ first senior match was 38 years later, in 1996, at the tender age of 14. It was not in the first but in the fifth division of the Greek championship. It sounds like a lowly league but he was just a kid of 14 years old playing among older and more experienced players. Greek soccer was rising at the time and the Federation could boast that they were organizing the 8th best league (then known as A’ Ethniki) in Europe, according to the UEFA coefficient. And that good work methodically done in the ‘90s was capitalized a few years later when the national team reached the pinnacle of European soccer in 2004 by winning the European Championship in Portugal against the hosts who featured star-players like Luis Figo, Rui Costa, and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Undoubtedly, Ntinos belonged to a generation that produced numerous talented players who would attract even the interest of European clubs and they would thrive in the UEFA club competitions (like the Champions League) signing big-money contracts. And that generation included players like Angelos Charisteas (the sole scorer in the Euro Final), Giourkas Seitaridis, Sotiris Kyrgiakos, Kostas Katsouranis, Fanis Gekas, Dimitris Salpingidis, Vangelis Moras, Loukas Vyntra, and others.
The future for the young forward looked more than bright when he was called up in the first squad and featured in his first-ever competitive game on 21 September 1996 for his club Haravgi in an away match against promotion favorites Ampelokipoi, in the Greek fifth tier. His team would lose that match by 4-3, but the youngster would score all 3 goals in his senior soccer debut! Ntinos Pontikas debuted in Greek soccer and scored an all-around hat-trick (including a header and a nutmeg), at the age of 14 years, 6 months, and 18 days. An insane performance for a teenager of that age. Better than Pelé? This is practically impossible. But his 1996 record still stands.
His club Haravgi had already produced a couple of players who were transferred to the Greek first division while future international defender Vangelis Moras, 15 at the time, was part of Ampelokipoi’s roster during that historic match. Just a year earlier, Ntinos had scored 13 goals during a friendly youth game at the age of 13 (a feat that reminds of the Freddy Adu story). But, despite his scoring ability and great velocity, he would never play on a professional level. He had started his career from the youth section of another local club called Toxotis Larissa, where another future international Fanis Gekas (currently the third all-time scorer of the Greece national team) was also playing, before joining Haravgi. A serious injury inevitably meant the end of his soccer career at a quite young age, but prior to that a first division club, Athinaikos, had showed firm interest in signing him (Athinaikos were Cup finalists in 1991 losing to then almighty Panathinaikos). Would he have the chance to be part of the 2004 Euro winning squad, otherwise? Under different circumstances, that would have been rather feasible for a talented forward full of first-team soccer at the age of 22 (with his dob on 02/27/82). A few years after his early retirement he returned to action playing briefly for an amateur club, but his glory days were long gone.
German-Polish legendary striker Ernest Willimowski scored at least 1,011 goals during his career with a goal ratio above 1 goal per game and he is one of the few goal-scorers alongside Josef Bican, Gerd Muller, Ferenc Puskas, Pelé and Lajos Tichy to have surpassed a millennium of goals in the history of soccer. In 1939, he also became the first player to score 10 goals in a single game, during Ruch Chorzów’s 12-1 thrashing of Union Touring-Lodz, in the Polish first division. Three years later, in 1942, French striker Stefan Dembicki broke that record scoring 16 goals for Racing Lens in their…comfortable 32–0 win over Auby-Asturies, in the first round of the 1942-43 French Cup (which meant that he scored half of the goals of his team)
But that haunted record would be equaled 65 years later and bettered ‘’on points’’ (to use martial arts terminology) by another striker if we take into consideration the percentage of the team’s goals a player scored. On 7 May 2007, another Greek, this time a Greek from Cyprus, Giotis Pontikos wrote soccer history by scoring 16 goals in a match that ended in a 24-3 score, in the Cypriot third division, taking up the 2/3 of his team’s total tally. He scored 4 goals in the first half and he tripled that number in the next 45 minutes hitting the net 12 times!
It was the last matchday of the season and Giotis’s team, Olympos Xylofagou with that emphatic win against the bottom of the table SEK Ayios Athanasios sealed promotion to the second division for the first time in their history. Olympos followed champions Ermis Aradippou and runners-up Atromitos Gerokipou to the second tier of the Cypriot soccer, and it comes as no surprise that the prolific striker won the top-scorer award that season.
Giotis (full name Panagiotis) Pontikos who was born in Larnaca and was 27 at the time of his record (dob 12/06/79) had great dreams of becoming an international soccer player following the footsteps of other Greek-Cypriots like Michalis Konstantinou (Greek league’s record signing costing 8 million euros to Panathinaikos in 2001), Kostas Malekkos, Giannis Okkas, Marios Chistodoulou, Stathis Aloneftis, Giorgos Savvidis, Marios Agathokleous or Costas Charalambidis who had enjoyed successful careers in the Greek first division in the 90s and 00s. He had played all his career for Olympos until 2007 when he attracted the attention of other clubs after his 16-goal record. He subsequently played for 7 clubs, mainly in the second and third division in Cyprus, and received more recognition ever since. Giotis played for Omonia Aradippou, Ormideia, Spartakos Kitiou, Elpida Xylofagou, Xylotymbou, Livadiakos/Salamina, and he retired in 2018 as a Troulloi club player.
He may never hit new career heights after the historic game of 2007 but by scoring 16 goals for his team Olympus, he climbed high enough, up to the summit of the world soccer records.