Friday, 20 January 2012

A plea for patriotism from the unpatriotic

In last Thursday's Neos Kosmos, tucked away in the sports pages, there was an editorial cum letter from a Melbourne Heart fan, Dimitris Konteleon. In this piece, he lists the reasons for his supporting the Heart - their colours match his first love Olympiakos, and he wanted to belong to a club here in some fashion.

Calling himself a Heart member since their founding, he goes on to lambaste Neos Kosmos' main rival, Ta Nea, for ignoring Heart entirely, and focusing exclusively on the Victory. The insinuation is clear - that Ta Nea's owner, the Greek Media Group, in turn owned and controlled by Harry Stamoulis, who also happens be a Melbourne Victory shareholder/owner, is deliberately starving the Heart of coverage.

Kontoleon goes on to talk about how discussions he had with one of Heart's admin personnel, a Mr Kentel, which included measures designed to attract members of the Greek community. He came out of these discussions slightly disappointed, as there was no follow up, though he was glad that his idea of regional games was taken up, as well the handing out of free tickets to youngsters.

He finishes up by talking about the quality that Heart has on the field, hopes they finish in the top six and that their coach is in the top five coaches in the league, if not the top one, (with a probably unintentional nod to Brian Clough). Somehow, when you have only ten teams, finishing in the top six is still considered a significant achievement.

To some of his other points - Heart played a game in Morwell because every club had to play at least one game in regional areas. Despite Morwell's soccer past, Heart still managed to get less than what most South games in the area would get back in the day. As for calling himself a member, it just goes to show how far this new notion of membership has carried - there are no members at A-League teams - only season ticket holders. Still, that lie will persist, another victory of marketing over reality.

What really grinds my gears with his letter was what was all too predictably absent. Where was South Melbourne? Where was Heidelberg? Where were all the other tinpot Greek community clubs?

As a reluctant nationalist as the very best of times, I'm uncomfortable with making appeals to patriotism in the name of South Melbourne, or indeed, Heidelberg or other once high profile Greek backed clubs across Australia. So I seek to turn the focus away from peasant nationalism to the sense of community. After all, there are many opportunities to be Greek outside of soccer clubs in Melbourne.

What I, and I imagine that many other South fans would have liked to have seen happen, is to have been proven wrong. That when the club was in its greatest hour of need, that people wouldn't abandon what they perceived to be a sinking ship. That a sense of belonging, of community, even of duty would have prevailed instead of the bandwagon cliche that has attached itself to the Greek-Australian nationalism of convenience.

So many people put so much money into this club, so many hours, to build it up from nothing to something remarkable, in spite of its many faults. And these people that have turned away from the club are ignoring that sacrifice, one that was made by people that they likely know.

Also confusing is Kontoleon's assertion about the need to attract more people from the Greek community. As a mainstream franchise, why should Heart seek to isolate ethnic groups like that? As much of a furphy as Heart targeting Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs was their apparent targeting of fans of the former NSL clubs. Every man and hos dog knows that those left at those teams are few and far between on all but the most special occasions.

It's a fair bet to say that most of the Heart's support is made up of Victory bitters. People who for whatever reason supported the Victory or went to their games, until such time as there was an alternative that was even remotely more pleasing to them. Sure, they may have picked up a few odds and ends of people from a club like South, who were able to convince themselves that the Heart are an entirely different ideological beast to the Victory, but there's no real benefit in targeting such a small spectrum of soccer supporters.

I've often wondered about the notion of club ownership and belonging - not in the sense of being a financial member, but that 'sense' that the club belongs to you and vice versa - and I've always been flummoxed by the notion that there is more scope for that sense of ownership to exist at something like an A-League franchise. While arguments have been made as to why people can't or couldn't support one of the ethnic teams - some of them quite sensible - I have not been able to understand this new found sense of increased ownership when there are heightened significant barriers to the club's management structure, less history to attach oneself to.

That lack of history, politics and specificity may just be the lure though. A clean start, and less responsibility for a club's success or failure. No clubhouse, no trophy room. And the illusion that you're at the forefront of something new and exciting. But we're now in the era where even the local Greek press, whose priority should be local Greeks and their institutions, are more worried about, in a sporting sense at least, those entities established to eclipse the social place of our community organisations.

Twenty years ago it was a fight between South and Heidelberg for press coverage. Now it's a fight between tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum franchises on our back pages. Says something about the Greek community and its sense of loyalty and kinship in this matter.


  1. Excellent response.
    I hope u send this to NK to publish as a reply to that moron.

  2. Great piece. I can defintely relate to this, parallels that can be drawn with what is happening in my community. Problem is that the sense of community in our little ethnic enclaves is sadly all but dead.

  3. Yeah but at least our papers don't promote the Victory or Heart to the extent the Greek media does...


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