With apologies for the very large delay in getting this post out.
Last week's meeting had much to recommend it. The club explained its plans for the social club, elaborated its approach to the FFV's establishment of the National Competitions Review recommendations and sought to explain how our academy system would fit into those plans.
The presentations mollified a lot of the hostility that had been building up with regards to our engagement with the NCR process in particular. Yet there are still questions which remain unanswered, and troubling questions about the conduct of certain board members and their affiliates.
The social club plans were the first point of discussion. The lack of a social club facility was a bone of contention among many supporters, for two reasons. Firstly because maintaining control of that space was meant to provide the club with susbtantial income independent of football, and secondly because it would provide the club with a sense of place and ownership over at least part of Lakeside Stadium. Quite a few supporters have made the observation that the venue does not feel like it is 'ours', and the line that it was better to do things right rather than quickly were beginning to wear thin.
Previous presentations on the matter had suggested that a privately operated restaurant/bistro would be accompanied by corporate suites and offices. The plans presented last night were substantially different. While maintaining the bistro element of the original plans, the corporate suite option was excised in favour of a futsal court. I must admit, I was not the only one with significant concerns about this change.
The questions from the audience were obvious. What benefit would we have in operating a futsal court in a precinct which already had five futsal courts? Why go from the corporate suites to the futsal court option? The answers were illuminating, and satisfactory to me at least, though not without concerns about how we go about our day to day business with regards to our presence in the venue.
According to the board, our lease stipulates that we must use our exclusive areas for football purposes. Thus, the option of renting out our revamped facilities to entities such as medical centres etc would be prohibited. A futsal court, which would not only be useful for our juniors, would also be able to exploit the apparently bursting at the seams situation down at the pit lane facilities.
Not everyone was satisfied with this plan, even after the explanation. One time board member George Koukoulas was particularly vocal in his opposition, both to the futsal court itself, and the rationale behind, arguing that the restrictions that the board claimed somewhat forced them towards their direction were not true. He seemed to lose the public battle on that front, for the time being at least, his approach falling flat with much of the membership.
The club is looking to run the futsal and bistro operations itself. One older gentleman objected to this arrangement, claiming that the club had tried taking this route before and it hadn't worked. It didn't seem to wash with most of the attendees. The club is also apparently not looking to borrow any funds beyond the government grant to fund the redevelopment, which raised a few eyebrows. The board believes its revenue estimates are relatively conservative - opinion on that matter differed within the audience.
Being dependent on a government grant, the plans had to be audited by the relevant authorities. The board stated that contracts have been signed, work is ready to go within two weeks, and they are hoping for a March completion date. I asked if the basic plans/drawings could be put up online, they said yes, but we'll see ow it goes I suppose.
National Competition Review
There has been much exasperation about the board's apparently full steam ahead approach with the NCR. The board reiterated that they would prefer to work inside the tent and assist the FFV is creating a workable reform process. In addition, the board claimed they would not sign anything unless changes were introduced which were in line with our expectations of the future working of this new era.
They claimed that 4-5 other clubs were also taking up discussions with the FFV, though they did not specify which clubs were doing so. I had also heard this rumour before, with several names being bandied about, but with no way of actually confirming the validity of that rumour. If it is true, it seems to be that one club from state league 1, and four or so clubs from the VPL are trying to engage with the FFV. Considering that there have been meetings between the other 11 VPL clubs and an apparent unanimity in opposing the FFV's NCR reforms, that bloc of 11 may not be so united.
We'll have to wait until December/January for the next stage to be clearer about what form this new competition will take, and whether the club will support it.
Within what I considered the mostly good news being delivered, I was concerned about several issues. Firstly, that the issue of integrating women's football into the academy system, a key component of the 'Elite' program requirements, was not broached at all. In fact, women's football and our attempts to try and build a bridge with South Melbourne Women's Football Club did not rate a mention. Hopefully there are some significant updates on this matter by the time the AGM comes around. This saga has been going on too long.
The academy system will favour the wealthy. It is hard to know how we will attract the best talent with costs of around $3000, regardless of the possibility of two or three scholarship positions. The board made the reasonable comment that the costs were influenced by the lack of money coming from the top. In Australia, this kind of system of four days a week training, with all the trimmings, is a new concept. The hope was that once the club renovation took place, and surplus money started flowing in, that costs could be lowered. That sounds great, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for costs to fall.
If the club chooses to head down this path, it needs to commit to it for a good five years at the absolute minimum. It's likely that we won't get to see the fruit of this labour for some time, until players that have come through the system in its entirety are being produced. Only then can we really ascertain the program's success. In an industry and in a club culture of very short term goal setting, it'll take some holding of their nerve to make it that far.
The attempt to if not shut down debate, then at least try and insinuate that negative or critical comments made on internet forums, did not sit well with me. The club does not and should not control the opinions of its membership. Yes, often times the discussion from the supporters can get out of hand, misrepresent an issue, or paint the club in a negative light - but that's the modern age. If the club seeks to fight back on foreign media soil, it would be best to do that openly, and not hiding behind aliases especially while threatening to reveal the identities of your average supporter. Unfortunately, this subject was also not covered to my liking.
Flattery Will Get You Everywhere Department
Lastly, I was very surprised to see Tom Kalas use a portion of a blog post of mine - from the infamous Kubler Ross Model spectacular - as part of his presentation. It kinda made my head spin for a little bit, not for the fact the he reads this blog, which I was already aware of, but that he saw fit to use it for the purposes of selling our reincarnation, re-interpreting the depressing missive into a justification for change. When Gil Scott Heron said that the revolution would not be televised, some forty odd years ago now, I doubt that he had in mind that it would be blogged instead.
Jerry's Final Thought
I expected a much more hostile and heated meeting. It got tense at times, there was shouting, people talking over one another, but that's not unusual for something like this. To my surprise, most of the attendees seemed open minded about the proposed changes, even if they weren't necessarily convinced by all of them. If that's the least that comes of out of this process, maybe this club does have a worthwhile future.