Wednesday, 20 January 2010

North of the Border - The Sydney Olympic REVOLUTION

I've never been to Sydney. From the self-imposed seclusion of my study room, pretty much anything east of the West Gate Bridge and on the wrong side of Laverton Market's hot jam donut truck seems just plain weird, and the further out I go, the weirder it gets. Mildura; Morwell; Canberra; the Gold Coast, and every Forbes, Warwick, Narrandera and West Wyalong that you stop at along in the way. All bonkers.

Which brings us to Sydney Olympic. Before you say, 'well, who gives a toss', a little patience. They were not a nothing club. Sure, they were always pretty much in our shadow, but they had their successes, and like us, have found themselves out of the national league limelight and dealing with the fickleness of Greekdom, and hell, anyone else that may have been attached and now isn't, for all the excuses which have been done to death.

So while we've been going about our business of trying to find a sustainable direction, one that isn't dependent on the severely waning generosity of the local Greek community (who, to give them their due credit, bailed us out numerous times over the years), and it seems the brains trust have fixed their mast to carry the combined winds of the government placating us for 40 odd years and the youth cloning programme designed by Tom Kalas, other former clubs, too, have had to deal with the reality of what it's like to be just one step down from the top, with next to no prospect of return.

As stated in a previous edition, the Melbourne Knights have decided to build a Bob Dole like path to yesteryear - as is their right - but what of Olympic? Well apparently, they're having a REVOLUTION. It seems quite important for Olympic's fans, those publicising this REVOLUTION, to herald the REVOLUTION in capital letters (mostly in FourFourTwo's forums, the most stridently pro A-League forums I know of) to emphasise the (in a Jack Black voice) sheer awesomeness of the REVOLUTION, man!

Springer security > Kosta security
What exactly the revolution (with apologies to those who love upper case, bit there is only so much I can bear) entails, is a trickier beast. Now, I'm both lazy and a lousy researcher, a pretty winning combination for failing eight subjects in a row and dooming yourself to sitting in your pyjamas watching Ricki Lake for about 2 years in a row, a ritual broken only by the fact the they didn't show it and Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! Hey you, yeah the tranny, give Steve a kiss, and Steve running away, and the crowd going Steve! Steve! Steve!, on weekends - where was I? Kinda lost my train of thought there - oh yeah, but there doesn't seem to be much more to it than some kind of bizarre and quite sudden burst of enthusiasm. So what is there?

Firstly. there's talk about sweeping changes in the board room. Now at South, if you asked, I could kinda tell you what that means, but nothing has emerged to tell me what it means at Olympic. Then you have the birth of their new ultras group (website not working at time of writing) which according to the group's Facebook page (where your admission is subject to approval) is simultaneously a new group and in their words 'the most dominant supporters group in the entire NSW Premier League'. Bravo lads. They, or he, also go on about how 'true passion can not be defined' but have a stab at it anyway.

Harder than Olympic's ultras? Probably.
But honestly, unless they're seeking to destroy your club by getting you docked points for brawling and fined for misuse of emergency flares, ultras groups are just another part of the income stream, albeit one that likes to oversell its importance more than others. And most of the crowd, in this country anyway, won't ever be ultras. So that means you have to find a way to get the plebs to your games. Or at least get them to buy season tickets which makes it less important for them to turn up every week because you have their cash already. In Victoria, South, Preston, the Knights, even the Bergers and the Georgies, make a pretty big deal about membership. The attention to detail varies, but it's a central platform of the revenue stream. In New South Wales, as far as I can gather by a quick perusal of several NSWPL sites, it's not so important. In fact, it's difficult to find any club that seems to give a toss about membership at all.

I suppose when you've got revenue streams from the pokies, it makes things different. Still, membership can help you see how many people are interested. And by that of course, I'm referring to real world interest, not 'look at me, I clicked on a Facebook button and now I'm all like, a soccer fan and stuff' kind of thing, of which there has recently a bit of internet brinkmanship between us and Olympic. So where's Olympic's membership drive located? Oh it's on their front page - but you have to call the office for more details. Why should they have to do that? Maybe because their membership forms are tucked away in a sub section on the far right of their web page, and which should probably be ignored, because they're from last year and all.

What I found most interesting about the new members form in particular, was that it required two already existing Olympic members to back a new member up, basically agreeing that the prospective member is suitable for the task. Since there were apparently, and this is probably way off but let's go with the only number I have been given, only 250 season pass holders/members last year, if they're using the same system, it really a very limited network of people to be giving out endorsements. Still, one bright spark from up Belmore way reckons they've already got 150 people signed up in one week, and thus (again, their words) crowds of 4,000 will become a regular sight at Olympic's home matches this season.
And let us not get started on this whole Stelios Giannakopoulos, $100k for 5 games nonsense, which now Oakleigh is either trying to emulate or steal. I'm not against the idea outright, because there are always extenuating circumstances. One of these is that Olympic itself won't pay for it, it'll come solely from sponsorships, and it'll be sponsorship money that, rightly or wrongly, wouldn't be made available for other purposes. If he came for a whole season, thereby boosting attendances at grounds year round, as well as being an actual part of the team; or to a lesser extent if it was a guest appearance attached to some sort of broader promotional programme, I'd be more sympathetic. But again, from an outsider's point of view, this isn't revolutionary, this is reactionary. This is the stuff that Australian soccer has been doing for years, and is still doing, because for some reason the game and the clubs on their own terms are not enough to consistently bring in the punters.
The whole operation seems desperate and strange. If it comes off, especially long term, all the naysayers, including me, will have egg on their face. But for the moment it seems to be, in the words of noted scholar Chopper Read, a case of no food in the fridge, so let's repaint the house.

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