SM Hellas - The Professional Soccer Club?
From Peter Kartsidimas
(To be published in SU29 - Feb 1998)
Over the next couple of pages I will attempt to tell you a story that, if told in full, would fill at lest five editions of the World Book Encyclopaedia. I am a founding member of the South Melbourne Supporters Group (SMSG), a group that started with a few friends after we witnessed what some of our fellow SM supporters did on the bus trip back from last season's Preliminary Final at Parramatta. (Ed note: See SU24, it's a gem!)
We'd had enough of George Vasilopoulos' pussy-footing around, seemingly doing nothing about these thugs and most importantly doing sweet diddly about promoting our club to mainstream Australia. So we went off to see SM's then general manager, Peter Filopoulos, with a list of grievances ten miles long. After a lengthy conversation, Filop suggested we do something about it and create OUR OWN Supporters Group. Despite being hesitant about it in the beginning, we quickly got into action by organisising a meeting, with all SM members being invited.
This meeting showed the first signs of how certain people on SM's board felt threatened by us. A now past boardmember had agreed to come and open the social club for us, yet he somehow changed his mind and never came until numerous phone calls tracked him down on the day and he begrudgingly let us use the room, even though he was about an hour late. This meeting was a complete success with about fifty, mostly young, SM fans turning up and it was obvious that we weren't the only ones wanting the club to open its doors to all.
Some members of the Supporters Group (SG) also became club volunteers, helping the club with endless amount of things. One of the first things we did was to do a letter drop of the local area, where 5,000 letters were dropped off informing residents about SM and inviting them to the Tynan-Eyre Cup game against Carlton and to the club's family day.
Somehow this family day turned into a Athens 2004 day, with Greek flags and music becoming the theme. Luckily, it was a wet and miserable day and not too many local families turned up, but those that did quickly walked back to their cars, and so they should.
Despite this we continued helping with things like manning a stand at the Royal Melbourne Show (even though we had to pay to get in!), endless administrative work, club mail outs and out biggest success has been producing the new SM matchday programme 'Inside Lakeside'. On match days we man turnstiles, do the ground announcing, sell raffle tickets and sell 'Inside Lakeside' amongst other things. In order to do these tasks some of us were given ground steward passes, even though we never asked for them, but we were simply told that they were to prevent any hassle in getting into restricted areas, nothing else. More on that later.
Despite all this work we somehow found some enemies, some of the club's old Hellas boys. These people were hellbent on making sure the SMSG was eradicated by feeding people lies, especially the Greek media. We hardly knew these guys, yet they came up to two of us and told us "watch your backs". They seemed to be angry about us removing the 'Club Hellas' sign from the social club, a sign a club official asked us to take down (a sign that is still to go back up, thank God!)
Before much longer a Greek newspaper started writing some false allegations about us, saying that we had banned Greek flags and symbols from the ground and they plaguarised our page on the SM Lakers internet site. The next thing we knew these Hellas old boys were on this newspaper's radio station absolutely slagging the hell out of us, implying we were anti-Greek and calling us "monkeys" amongst other things. The funny thing is these guys hardly knew us or spoke to us, so you can imagine the amount of ies used to vindicate their story. And some of the ridiculous things they were saying aren't even worth repeating.
I rang the station demanding a word of reply, and after much persistence they finally let me on. This resulted in some of us being invited to air our views on the same show a few days later. We accepted this invitiation and everything seemed to go quite well, they even promised us a new story in their newspaper telling the true story, funny how it never appeared. I guess they felt they had given us the bad name and they wanted to keep it that way.
Our continued volunteer work seemed to keep us away from what we initialy intended to be, the progressive fan's voice, and other than conducting a second meeting - attended by about 15-20 people, we had neglected our fellow SMSG members. So it was time to make our first newsletter, appropriately titled 'The Maverick'.
'The Maverick' was a newsletter letting every SMSG member know exactly what had been going on since our initial meeting, there were no lies and was written in a satirical manner, much like a fanzine. Despite this somehow the @#*% hit the fan due to the article titled "Fatman, Moustaka and 3AB', which was an in-depth description of the situation described above. The SM board were very unhappy, as they felt we offended one of their sponsors, 3AB. Mind you, the owner of 3AB once went on radio slagging SM and saying that SM helped sink Heidelberg United. The only thing we did that may have offended them, other than tell the truth, was to call them Radio Heidelberg, and when you consider all the above information, you could think of worse names. Of course people rightly or wrongly thought they were one of the characters in the article, some of whom we had never seen in our lives let alone know who they were. For them to think they were the characters they must have done something, where there's smoke there is always a large fire at SM, and the smoke isn't from grilling souvlakia.
These old Hellas boys kicked up a horrendous stink, Moustaka even threatened to hit me in front of George Vasilopoulos, SM's fence sitter (ah, sorry, president). We told some committee members that we would discuss the situation on the night of the next SMSG executive committee meeting which coincided with the club's board meeting. We all turned up, with even some support from Flying Start's Andrew Neophitou, yet we were told that we were not required. Despite this we offered our services for 'Inside Lakeside' and for nothing else, but this request was denied. We were not wanted to do the programme anymore.
The board went ahead with the main topic being 'The Maverick', a decision was made without hearing our side of the story. Even Martin Bryant got a fair hearing! This is what was sent to me by our new general manager, Peter George, about nine days later.
Dear Peter Due to the circumstances pertaining to the newsletter sent out, headed 'The Maverick', we South Melbourne Soccer Club hereby would like you to hand in you off-field passes immediately, thus relinquishing your duties as an official of the club for season 1997/98 However, this does not mean that your role in the supporters group is jeopardised in any way. We still believe that the supporters group is a big part of our club and wish it to be for a long time coming.
What's actually laughable is the fact that he feels he can control who is part of and who is not part of the SMSG, like he is the SMSG president of something. The club has no say whatsoever over what we decide to do or not to do. It is the Supporters Group, not Peter George's or Vasilopoulos' Group.
What I like about this letter is the part that states "due to the circumstances". What are the circumstances? Did we slag the club? No. Did we lie? No. Then what is the problem? We even had a disclaimer saying it was not the views of SMSC.
It seems the problem is that we at one point advised people to call the club if they wanted to be FORWARDED on to one of us and that we used the club's P O Box as a forwarding address. Well, we had asked for our own separate P O Box, to be paid from our own funds raised and it was denied. Another problem it seems is that Peter George was upset that we didn't tell him what was in the newsletter and that we somehow deceived him.
Well Peter, I photocopied the newsletter right in front of you, did I hide it from you? I think not, it's not my problem if you kept your face glued to your photo in Neos Kosmos, any anyway, why should we tell you what's in OUR newsletter anyway?
He also complained about using the club's facilities to do the newsletter. How nice, that after all the manhours we put into the club that he should see this as an issue. It seems he is clutching at straws.
Despite all this and the fact we were told we were no longer wanted for 'Inside Lakeside', he still had the nerve of calling one SMSG member the day beofre the programme was due at the printers, to ask him if we could do the articles!
SMSC is a great club, one with much prestige and history. It has produced some exciting players in the past and this year may well bring a third national title. Most SM fans are pasionate and loyal, that is exactly what the SMSG members are, we do not want to see our club bcome anything less than the best soccer club in this country, that is why we got together. Despite this it has been painfully obvious SM is one of the least professional clubs in Australia. Which other club would make such an issue over a newsletter made by the fans, for the fans? Especially when there was NOTHING in it that slags any individual or official of the club, just other fans. They feel that because they made us officials ofthe club, that we shouldn't say waht we want to say, that's why they took away our passes. As I stated earlier, we were not asked if we wanted to be officials, it was simply pushed upon some of us and we were never told that we couldn't express our views.
At this present time many SMSG members have withdrawn their services from the club, the circumstances surrounding The Maverick was the final straw for many. The club has made it very obvious that they see us as club volunteers and nothing else, in other words, free labour. They suddenly showed great concern when they realised we were no longer their slaves, but what were they doing to keep us happy? Very little.
The club is simply heading in a different direction to that which we were initially told it was. We were also initially told that we will be consulted with any major issues. That definitely didn't occur. We read about the Hellas issue in the paper like anybody else. I would call that a major issue. Our vision for the club seems to be well off the club's visions and it is difficult to work with people who can't see the big picture. In fairness to some people on the board, they're not all that bad, the problem is there are 22 (twenty-two!!) board members (an issue in itself) and most of them are old Greek migrants who mix with the old Hellas boys.
In hindsight, something like this was always going to happen, but it shouldn't have happened over somethin as insignificant as this. It seems the club has bowed again to the pressures of the old Hellas boys. The club always talks about a lost generation of SM fans. I now know why we do have a lost generation, it's because they look to please the older generation.