Saturday, 31 January 2015

Notes from the 2014 AGM

Prior to the AGM, there was a letter signed by several people (I was not one of them) asking a detailed list of questions about the management of the club, with particular emphasis on the proposed amendments to the constitution put forward by the club, and particularities of the finances and internal governance of the club. Regardless of what the content of the letter was, I was intrigued by the fact that dissenters from within the club managed to get organised enough for once (which is a good thing), and expected some fireworks.

To that end, I was a little disappointed. The inability and lack of desire of some supporters to stick to the agenda reduced the level of conversation at times to a sort of brutish braying. Others, still, were interested in dredging up events that should have been (and in reality were) settled five or ten years ago. Despite this, most of the meeting was conducted under reasonably edifying circumstances, though in the end I didn't walk out of there with a bounce in my step, more a sense of a lot of hard work needing to be done.

Because of the failure of the board to properly put forward its proposed changes to the constitution - something about merging the management of the SMFC and SMH boards - that debate has been postponed until a future time.

Try as I might over many years, I don't get the way the financials work, but those who seemed to do so managed to get fairly worked up about certain things, like what were our legal costs and why were they so high? Which lead into a conversation about...

The Lease
While the ticker on the blog takes a few liberties with its counting of the days since we last had a social club - for example, there were some minor events held there after re-construction at Lakeside started, and it also doesn't take into account the time spent at Northcote - nevertheless it is still ticking. As yet it does not appear as if construction on the social club has started, despite the deal for the lease apparently being solved with the previous State Government, and the subsequent election of a Labor government which is not supposed to give us as many problems as their Liberal predecessors.

While pondering this question last year, someone on smfcboard came up with the altogether reasonable explanation that it may require a sitting of Parliament to put a stamp on all the details. Since then however, one source has suggested to me that this may not be the case, and that the delay may be due to an entirely different reason. My source indicated that it is because the club is seeking a certain amount of compensation for the time lost due to the Liberals delaying tactics while they were in government, and that local member Martin Foley is trying to help us in this front.

If that is the case, then the delays may not be taken so badly by a good proportion of the membership, some of whom have long sought and/or suggested that as a tactical option for the board to take. Others though, may not be so pleased with this course of action, and may just want the damn thing built already. With regards to the lease, there is also some talk that now that the Labor Party is in power, there may be a restructuring of the State Sports Centres Trust and/or Lakeside's position within that framework. What this kind of restructure or repositioning may mean, I'm not exactly clear on; I don't know what it's like for the other main tenants of the venue, but the relationship between the SSCT and ourselves - and that goes for both the board and ordinary fan - does not exactly seem to be a good one.

The recently joined board member Bill Papastergiadis took control of the lease discussions, talking about how his firm (prior to him joining the board) was responsible with the legal side of the issues, as well his personally rallying influential members of the Greek community to put pressure on the government, and absorbed a lot of the cost that would otherwise have been incurred by the club, which lead to a discussion of...

Need more Greeks
The discussion then turned towards our relationship with the local Greek community, which will be improved one would hope at least at an official/high level by our association with Papastergiadis, the Greek community's president. That there are relationships that can be repaired and utilised there is little doubt, though I'm wary of a full scale retreat to the past. There were enough chirps out there of 'we need to move forward' to hopefully not turn a well meaning sentiment into a reactionary movement. Those asking for the return to the broader usage of the name Hellas in official media unfortunately missed the point that we can't do that, and that the choice to refer to us as Hellas in the Greek press is not ours alone, but more dependent on the spiteful twit who runs the local Greek language sports press. That, and the club has invested a lot time and even money into getting the 'South Melbourne FC' and 'SMFC' names up and going.

I think also that some people have been spooked by the rhetoric which comes out from certain non-South sources, which sometimes don't have our best interests at heart, or which are filtered through their own world views. The idea that we should hold a stall at the Antipodes festival though had me running for the hills. Having said all of that though, there is nothing stopping people outside of the official channels using the word Hellas as much as they want, whether online or during a game day - and there was nothing with one gentleman's desire to be able to one day have a souvlaki with his grandson in a South Melbourne social club again.

Back to the lease
Some of the answers given in terms of we're at, is that the access to the playing area has been secured legislatively. The forty year term for the rest of the deal is likely to be backdated to 2012, not 2009 and not from the hypothetical future completion signing date. The new sports minister John Eren meets with his department in early February, and hopefully this stuff is at the front of the queue when he takes control of that ministerial portfolio. So where are we at? When will it be all sorted out? The vague answer was 'Christmas' - that is, we'd be in a social club by then - but I'm not sure which Christmas they meant. Meanwhile, the board once again thanked us for our patience, and the blog's ticker keeps going up and up. Next year in Jerusalem and all that.

Back to the financials
As far as I can tell, things are pretty steady. Small profits affected by the outlays of the seemingly never ending legal situations we find ourselves in, and the fact that we have to pay the loan we took out to pay for the resolution of the Toumbourou affair. The club anticipates that the latter at least will be paid off in a couple of years time. Some doubt whether the reaming 600-700k left in the social club renovation yet to be handed over to us by the State Sports Centre Trust will be enough for a new social club, or whether social club revenue will be as lucrative as has been speculated. That's an extra step or two into the future though. Gotta sort out that lease first.

Much praise was heaped upon the media crew for the work that they do across all facets of the club's media output. While I have been and will continue to be displeased with the fact that the club is moving off Channel 31 and onto Aurora, the explanation provided went a little way to at least providing a reasonable explanation. The fact is, according to the board, that we were actually invited by Foxtel/Aurora to be on their network, so there's a long term plan of some sort being developed there. The argument that now we'll have national reach is less convincing to me, because we are a Victorian (and mostly Melburnian) club, and being out of reach of the 60-75% of the population that doesn't have pay TV in this state doesn't really make much sense to me. We'll see how it turns out.

Here's an interesting and rare occurrence. A current player was actually in attendance at one of these things, one Leigh Minopoulos. He left the room though by the time this section had started.

While the club was happy in general with the performance of the team in 2014, the fact that we only took out one of the four trophies on offer (out of NPL Victoria, NPL Nationals, Dockerty Cup and FFA Cup, though the last was of course more about commercial reasons than winning it) was deemed as being not good enough. While I disagree with the gentleman who said that we should focus primarily into getting into the FFA Cup, the fact is that the club did lose out by not being there, because unlike a lot of other clubs, we had already a put a lot of preparation in the event that we made it.

The goalkeeper situation was also discussed, with the possible signing of Peter Gavalas a hot topic among some at the meeting. The board's position has been that Gavalas' apology back when the flipping the bird incident happened is enough for them, and that like all playing decisions Chris Taylor is the main person responsible.

The club claimed it was keeping spending on player wages steady, and that it was also not spending as much as some other clubs. It claimed that the additional service it provided to players - the quality of the experience if you will - was also another way to attract and retain talent at the club. The specific example mentioned was the club's fitness program, which tracks fitness different attributes of the players across the season, including via electronic swipe card to accurately measure how much each player was making use of our fitness and recovery programs,

To that end, the club also stated the decision to play most of our home games on Fridays - though some of our games will be moved to Sundays - was in part motivated by the coaching staff's desire to optimise the recovery and training schedules of the players. This is despite 60% (a sketchily provided number) of our supporters responding in an online survey that their preference was for Sunday games. The hope that we would better attract corporate sponsors to attend on Friday nights was also expressed. Overall there was a lot of doubt in the room about the decision, but we'll see how it goes. In this writer's opinion, without the social club Friday nights just won't be a success, but they may as well try something different. Hopefully the games don't clash with Melbourne based Friday night AFL matches.

Finally, on the question of importing Greek players from overseas for guest appearances, a flat out 'no', and thank goodness for that

At times this discussion devolved into personal issues that some people had with their and their sons' experience of the South Melbourne junior program. While there were no doubt valid concerns to be raised on these matters, the nature of the discussion excluded the great majority of people in attendance. It's difficult for people without direct knowledge of the situation to get properly involved. This discussion also included people who countered the negative appraisal of the junior system with how the program is viewed by others both within and outside of the program - that it's actually very highly regarded.

More broadly, considering the upheaval and constant change that's been attached to the junior program - and the administrative framework they exist in - I wanted to know what kind of KPIs (arrgghh, corporate buzzwords) and benchmarks were being used to measure the success or failure of the program. Andrew Mesorouni, whose portfolio this is, more or less admitted that it was very difficult to quantify success or failure on a macro (my word) level, and that the focus was mostly on the individual player's experience. Have we made them better players? Better people? How can you measure the success of the program, when our emphasis with regards to seniors has always been championships first, development second? Is the fact that our five best youth players have been picked up the Victory and Heart NPL programs a measure of (backhanded) success?

And this is a complication that was always going to come up once those two franchises were allowed to have teams in the NPL, that they would collectively suck up 80 players from the rest of the system. The best you can hope for in that situation is that eventually those players will make a big money move overseas (good for the player), and something filters back down to clubs like ours (good for keeping up incentive to care about juniors). The long or medium term hope is that eventually players who will be prospective recruits for the Victory and Heart programs will realise that they're better off training with grown men, and likewise fighting for a first eleven spot against men rather than their peers.

How we end up converting people involved with the junior program - parents and children - into being fans of the club, is something that's going to be much harder to accomplish. Maybe the local coaching efforts in the schools will start seeing us make some headway there. Finally for this section, it's hoped that by aligning the juniors training schedule with Friday night games, it'll make it more attractive for them to turn up to games.

The mystery of the Peter Skapetis training compensation money
Of some serious concern is the case of Peter Skapetis. First off, we should mention that late last year Peter did his knee, and will be out for nine months. My concern here is not with that injury - get well soon, Peter - but the status of the training compensation we're due from his signing by Stoke. While Skapetis was at QPR in their academy, we weren't entitled to anything, but having (I assume) signed a professional contract with Stoke, we should be getting a good sum of training compensation money at some point. Unfortunately it appears we have cocked this up, something which even lower league clubs here know something about. I will give the benefit of the doubt to the board on one detail - my question was one that was asked without notice - but I expect some sort of positive resolution to this by the time of the next AGM. It is inexcusable that we would lose this chance of obtaining rightful income for a player that was in all likelihood always going to be offered an overseas professional contract. I hope for a good outcome, but I think we've fucked it up, judging by the confusing and made up on the spot kind of answer that was provided.

State of the NPL - onward to the future
Next it was Tom Kalas' turn to discuss the NPL and its further development. Kalas - whether because it's in his nature or because it's part of the role - is both an optimist and someone who's attuned to the sales pitch. Where others prefer to wallow in doubt and cynicism, he sees an opportunity. In past years, accompanied by one of his legendary Powerpoint presentations, he would have managed to give hope to the huddled masses yearning to be free. But things have changed a little bit, as one can see from the following comment.
Kalas brought up the changes taking place this year, including the already mentioned introduction of the Victory and Heart to the NPL. In addition to that, the player points allowed per squad has been reduced, but with the alleviation of some of the more onerous penalties that would normally have been applied. The FFV will also soon release a a spreadsheet allowing for an easy to use method for clubs to find out how many points they have, based upon FFA player identification numbers.

Kalas also tried to put a positive spin on the FFA's reform process, particularly their consultations during the Whole of Football talks from last year. Second divisions, promotion/relegation, AFC pressure, Frank Lowy's own words, the progress made under David Gallop - all these were things that Kalas hinted towards as evidence of the opportunities our club must be ready to embrace, in the manner that we met the challenge of the NPL Victoria saga by being seen as a collaborative force rather than as a disruptive one.

In that sense, he's probably right. Being rigidly idealistic might give you street cred, but where does it get you in the real world? Then again, cynicism has its place too. In a private discussion with a certain colourful local soccer identity from another club, I pondered that:
There may not even be a right approach under this regime. Maybe all approaches are doomed from the outset.
And if that's the case, let other clubs do what they will to make sense of the circumstances, while we'll do ours. It's not ideal, but what else can we do?

Not discussed
There was no discussion of the issues with the women's team. This was extremely disappointing, because in the past few years we were able to get at least a token discussion going. But not on Thursday night, so who knows where we're at with that. Just what is the situation with SMWFC? Who is negotiating with them on our behalf? What's holding the possibility of reunification? Is it even realistic, considering that on field at least, SMWFC have had their most successful years since officially breaking from us (though a late 2014 season exodus may change that)? If there is to be no reconciliation, how do we go about reclaiming our trademarks and intellectual property, especially our logo?

No discussion either of some other elements of our future Lakeside tenure. When are we going to get some sort of South Melbourne branding on the place? Are the lights up to scratch for a possible FFA Cup broadcast? (one board member afterwards said yes, and I'd like to believe them, but it's so hard to do). I did get to ask after the meeting whether there were crowd benchmarks that we needed to reach as part of lease - as some outsiders have suggested - and the answer was a categorical 'no'. There was however almost zero discussion of the exact figures of the crowd we've been getting, only vague reference to the fact they've been pretty much the same for the past two years. I think next year I should be asking for that detail to be included (with relevant breakdowns) in advance of the AGM.

Jerry's Final Thought
In discussing the issues with several different people last night, it struck me that much of the dissent, or disagreement or posturing or whatever you want to call it, all comes down to a matter of perspective. The accountants obsess about sums and details those of us without that training and an anally fixated patience for detail couldn't care less for. The lawyers in the room are both trying to get to the detail and bluff their way through, and see how much they can get away with without revealing their whole hand. I don't know what the chemical engineers are doing, but the those of us in the literary field - me - have been conditioned to think in grand narratives, broad sweeps of history.At least, that's the effect of my tutelage and influences.

So while it's always tempting to use AGMs as means of seeing where the clubs is at - and yes I realise that's exactly what they're for - at some fundamental level the perception of where the club is actually is dependent on who you ask. I know that whatever point of view I put across, it will be skewed to my particular way of viewing things. Thinking back to when I first started attending these things in 2006 to where we're at now, there obvious differences. More people ask questions, and more people expect there to be proper answers. The club has moved on. But we can always improve; we must improve. Those on the board must provide better information, must not becomes hostile to ordinary questioning. Those asking the questions and seeking reforms need to not let their emotions get in the way, regardless of how much they love the club.

I don't know. Things could be worse. How's that for optimism?


  1. Also, Dr George Triantos, who is now officially and once and for all no longer on the board, was thanked for his long contribution. He was not present at this AGM. Neither was recently departed general manager Peter Kokotis. John Kyrou was announced as having joined the paid staff of the club.

  2. Can't believe how c0cked up this Social Club process is. I appreciate that you're sharing the frustration, SotB.


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