Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Let's begin the seven days of bitterness

The following lengthy post was not written by me. Publishing does not equal endorsement. Archiving this material does not imply historical importance. Disclaimer does not equal dismissal. Appropriate comment will be made some time in the future. That comment may not necessarily fit into existing confrontational frameworks.
Well I am new to visiting this soccer sub-reddit, but I thought I would like to share the story of my club South Melbourne FC , its history and other similar clubs that have gone through a similar transition. I know its long but give it a read.
Avid A-League supporters, please hold your criticism and read the plight of a club like South Melbourne that has never done anything more than strive for excellence as a club and what they got in return for the success they created and how it feels for a die hard fan. First of all I will give an insight into the history of the sport. Football in Australia was fairly non existant until the late 1950s, when there was a massive influx of European immigrants into the country. It was far behind Australias traditional sports of Aussie Rules football, Rugby and cricket.
Therefor different immigrant communities started their own clubs. My club was started by the Greek community in South Melbourne and was called South Melbourne Hellas in 1959 (for those arent aware Hellas is the name for Greece in Greek). Most of the clubs were formed by different ethnic minorities and the top tier leagues in all the states (there was no nation wide league at this time) were all backed by ethnic communities.
In these times the general non-immigrant public in Australia didnt care for football, branding it 'Wogball' (wog is a derogeratory ethnic slur against European immigrants in Australia). Also evident of the attitude of Australians toward football is described in Johnny Warrens biography 'Wogs, Sheilas and poofters'. (Johnny Warren was a former Australian captain in football and spent most of his life trying to promote the sport in Australia, the award for best player in the A-League is named fter him). The name of his biography refers to what non-immigrant Australians said football was for (Sheilas is also slang for women). Even when I was in highschool 15 years ago I remember being taunted for liking football from families that were non-immigrant and wogball was a very common term at highschools.
So that is the sort of racism that existed in Australia towards people who liked football, it was a sport for the foreigners, not a traditional Aussie sport. 
Move onto 1995-2004 era of Australian club football. This would have to be the start of a new form of racism in football. But now it was coming from within, coming from football lovers in Australia that did not come from immigrant families. One name was David Hill, he brought in new rules to the sport that included things like: -No clubs are allowed to have a logo or name that has any reference to their ethnic roots. -No flags of any nation other than Australia are permitted at games.
The result of this is that my club South Melbourne Hellas had to change its name and drop Hellas out. How this is allowed I still do not understand. Imagine Hellas Verona in Serie B were told to drop Hellas out of their name or Boston Celtic were forced to drop the Celtic name and any Irish insignia or CD Chivas in the MLS had to change their name and drop their Mexican ties. It is utter and a complete xenophobic attitude to not allow others to deny the ethnic roots of their club and deny people to carry the flag of their country.
The reasoning behind this was said to be because of the ethnic violence at the football between immigrants of warring nations bringing their homeland disreputes and venting in Australia at the football. This was massively overhyped in the media and the general public believed it. Thinking going to a football game in Australia was a European warzone. A classic example is the rivarly between the two Melbourne clubs in the National League, South Melbourne Hellas and Melbourne Croatia. Every few years there would be some violence at the game, but this was always put down to ethnic and racial violence between Greek and Croatian immigrants in the media. Even though Greeks and Croatians do not have any resentment towards eachother and have never been at war with eachother, it was simply a heated Melbourne rivarly that had been brewing for 40 years over the biggest football clubs in Melbourne. Im not denying the fact that there had been instances of certain games when there was racial violence previously when there were other teams in the national league (e.g. South Melbourne Hellas vs Preston Makedonija, Melbourne Croatia vs Footscray J.U.S.T. a serbian club), but this was rare and these clubs were not even in the national league since the early 90s.
This overhyped media sensationalism was mainly due to a xenophobic attitude towards a foreign sport and the fear of football rising and gaining popularity and taking support from the traditional Australian football codes in Aussie Rules and Rugby. Big commercial stations were run by Australians who loved Aussie rules football or Rugby and any chance the news had to report on a fight that broke out in football they would jump all over it. Meanwhile I have been to cricket matches where I have seen massive brawls of up to 100 involved at an Australia vs India match get no media attention.
Lets move forward to 2004, the new era of football in Australia. The current national league pre 2004 (the National Soccer League) was a disaster in terms of management and advertising. A reform was definately needed. They were in debt and struggling to find sponsors and were terrible at marketing the sport. A new body was set up 'FFA' and a new national league was made 'A-League'. Football was no longer wogball, it was a cool sport to follow and as all things European became a kind of 'in' thing in Australia. (Just like when the USA was the 'in' thing in the mid 90s and basketball was all the rage in Australia, but now Australian basketball is in tatters). Now the people in control of the sport were dead set against any teams with an ethnic connection as they wanted to bring the sport to the general public. South Melbourne was and still is the most successful club in Australia and we had decent crowds that would compare with current A-League crowds. We represented Oceania in the 2000 world club championships and played against Man Utd, Corinthians and Necaxa. Lost all games but by no more than 2 goals, which is a great feat considering how big the other clubs were. After carrying the sport for 50 years without general support from the Australian public or even the Australian government, we were basically tossed aside as the FFA decided to only allow one club from the NSL to participate in the A-League. This was Perth Glory, the only club that didnt have an ethnic connection. The reasons why any of the immigrant formed clubs were not permitted was simply due to the fact we did not meet their requirements. The policy was one team per city in an 8 team league that will have no promotion or relegation. 7 brand new clubs in a bran new league, sorry not clubs, franchises.
So this is the thanks the old clubs were given for carrying the sport for 50 years when basically the whole nation was against the sport. The thanks the clubs got for producing players that got Australia into the 1974, 2006 and half of the 2010 world cup. So there it was, South Melbourne, Melbourne Knights (formely Melbourne Croatia) were now relegated to their state leagues with no chance at being in the A-League. But it didnt stop there, there were still a few fans sticking to their old clubs (75% had left, but the Football Federation Victoria) was determined to ruin our clubs even more as they had a stake in Melbourne Victory and wanted all Melbournians to drop their club and support Melbourne Victory. There is some evidence of this.
The World Game (Australias premier weekly football program) went out of its way to not give any attention to clubs like South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights, even though we were still somewhat significant in Australian football as being some of the biggest clubs outside the top tier. The footballing bodies and the media were all against the old clubs.
In 1990 and 1991 the great Ferenc Puskas became the coach of South Melbourne and led the club to an Australian Championship. Upon his death in 2006 The World Game did a half our special on the life of Ferenc Puskas. Not once in the whole segment did the World Game ever refer to the fact that Ferenc Puskas had been involved in Australian football and that he managed a club in Australia or even that he had won a championship in Australia as coach. How an Australian football program can fail to mention this in a 30 minute segment of Ferenc Puskas is absurd. I watched this program religiously and was in shock that my club didnt even rate a mention on an Australian made program. This caused alot of negative feedback and the program had offered an on air apology the week after. A few years later one of my friends who works in the media was able to get a hold onto one of the World Game reporters David Basheer and asked how this happened. Basheer told my friend that word had come down from the station management that South Melbourne should not be mentioned on their program as the channel was trying to win the rights for A-League matches and mentioning any of the old clubs would hurt their chances.
The national TV station of SBS was purposely trying to not mention our clubs name on their station. At this stage our average attendance was a fiscal 1000 supporters. Were were so insignificant yet still they were kicking us whilst we were down.
Other ways were new laws put in by the national governing body Football Federation of Australia regarding player transfers. They put a cap on the transfer limit any A-League club could by a player from our club for. It was $3000. We could not make any more than $3000 off any player who was wanted in the a-league. Even though within the Victoria league clubs were spending up to $10 000 on transfer fees, the biggest clubs in the country only had to pay $3000 for any player they wanted.
The last thing that the old clubs still had was player development. When the A-League and all the new clubs were formed, they never set up any junior systems as this is costly, so instead they let the old clubs produce the players and if they did produce anyone they could rape the club and take that player for $3000. This backfired as clubs realised they could make more money creating affiliations with European clubs and sending their youth straight to Europe. The old clubs still had significant power in terms of football in Australia and that was they were the only ones producing young players and had that power. So Football Federation in Victoria set out to destroy the junior systems and try take away the best players from the old clubs. The junior system in Melbourne consisted of a Super League at every age group where there was a league where all the best junior clubs participated in. So all the best 16 year olds were playing eachother for clubs like South Melbourne, Melbourne Knights and other local clubs since Melbourne Victory and any A-League team had no junior set up whatsover. So the FFV scrapped the Super League and reformed all the competition at each age into zonal leagues. So South Melbourne Juniors were zoned into a league with our junior clubs in the direct vicinity of South Melbourne. Kids now had to play against clubs that were previously 4 or 5 divisions below them. Then Football Federation Victoria created a new elite league for juniors full of new clubs that represent each zone of Victoria. Thus making it far less attractive and less emphasis for kids to flock to teams like South Melbourne as they were no longer in the Elite Junior Leagues. To my knowledge this system has failed. So the story continues of the media, Football Federation Victoria and Football Federation Australia all trying to destroy whats left of my club.
Currently they are trying to set up new leagues in every state, that have strict guidelines and are purely based on player development in an attempt to make clubs like South Melbourne direct feeder clubs into the A-League and clubs who do not wish to participate will then be in the second tier of state football. The clubs will have a points system where you have a certain amount of points dependant on the age of a player making it hard to sign older players. Although I am big on clubs developing players and producing players rather than signing old players, no club should be forced to do it. And if you dont like this system you then have to play in an even lower league.
I still hold onto the hope that one day South Melbourne will return to its former glory, although I know its very unlikely and the chances of that deminishes every year as slowly year by year my club loses support. Still I buy my membership every year, chant at every game with another 10 guys (Clarendon Corner) in crowds ranging between 500 to 1000.
Overall it was my dream that football in Australia would reach more people, but it didnt need to be done by destroying clubs that have nothing but love for the sport. I think its great that more people are watching football in Australia just apalled at the way the game is run. Especially how now every club is a franchise in a league that has complete control of how everything is run with a strong basis of the game being run by corporates rather than the fans. No a-league teams are clubs, they are franchises. The term club means there is a membership base that the board answer to. A-league teams simply answer to the owners not the fans. This is one thing that I am proud of how my club South Melbourne in run and something that I have over any A-league fan. As a member I have a say in my team and my team answers to its fans, your team answers to their owner.
To anybody who has read this far thankyou and I hope you realise the injustices that have occured to Australian immigrant formed clubs starting from the racism from the general Australian public, to the xenophobic actions shown from the football governing bodies and media over the last 10 years.
I know many people have a sad story about their club going down and if it was a genuine failure on South Melbournes behalf i could accept that, but South Melbourne were nothing but successful and were simply brought down by the powers of the FFA and FFV. 
Here is a clip my friend made on our clubs 50 year anniversary in 2009. Its a run down of great goals scored and very important goals in our clubs 50 year history that was captured on TV. At the end you notice the low crowds of when our team was put into the state league.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Eight years of wielding my integrity like a chainsaw

OK, that's probably a bit far fetched, but the imagery is interesting.

Thanks to the following people.

Kiss of Death for another heavily truncated season.

Savvas Tzionis, for his article on re-finding South, and his many thoughtful comments.

Manny for contributing his bit on polygamy.

Peter Filopoulos for his look at being South Melbourne general manager in the 1990s.

Chris Egan for his article looking at the six years that passed since his last article.

Joe Gorman for his piece on the NCIP.

Our resident realist crowd estimator.

Cuddles for a certain photoshopped effort, and unsolicited intercession on my behalf.

Steve from Broady for the witch's hat artefact, but also for being a really good sport.

Brogan Renshaw for interviewing me on the Behind the Game podcast.

All those people whose photos I used this year, including Cindy Nitsos, Skip Fulton and Kevin Juggins.

Anyone who helped spread the word, tweeted, re-tweeted, and especially those who left comments. Special mentions to the irrepressible MelbCro and the always interesting Savvas Tzionis.

As per usual, anyone who gave me and Gains a lift to some place.

The good people at Football Today, who I should have thanked last year for their support.

Lastly, Ian Syson and Gains, the latter doubly so for pinch hitting with a match report when I couldn't make it.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

My accidental career path in sports - Peter Filopoulos

Peter Filopoulos, current CEO of Perth Glory, and former general manager of South Melbourne, originally posted the following piece on his own blog. Because of its unique insights into what it was like to be at South Melbourne during the 1990s - an era of rapid transformation for the club both on and off the field, but also an important period for the concept of sports administration in Australia - I asked Peter if it would be OK to republish his piece here, and I'm glad that he's given his permission for me to do so. 

With the exception of one or two things (such as the final score of the first game at Bob Jane Stadium), I have left everything as Peter has written it.

A memoir of my accidental entry into the world of sports administration
Over the years, I am regularly asked by bright eyed young people, how did you get into sports administration? A career in sports has become a major career option progressively over the last fifteen years or so, but this career path wasn't so prevalent when I graduated from university in 1991.

My first job in sports came in December 1993 in a totally unplanned and unexpected manner. Prior to this and as a Bachelor of Business graduate with a major in Accountancy, in 1991, I embarked on my career in this field, firstly with a construction company and then a marketing/licensing business.

Around the same time, a close friend, Peter Abraam, invited me to join a sub-committee at the National Soccer League Club, South Melbourne Soccer Club. Peter was a former player and now on the Board of Directors of this historic club and at the time, working as a Project Manager with the City of Melbourne. South Melbourne Soccer Club was making a conscious effort to attract a younger profile onto their Board, which was at the time predominantly made up of first generation Greek businessmen. Around this time the famous Hungarian, world renown ex player and coach Ferenc Puskas was coaching the Club and had coached the Club to its first national Championship in 1991 since 1984 with Ange Postecoglou as captain.

The 1990/91 South Melbourne Squad with Ferenc Puskas as Coach, Ange Postecoglou, captain. Also in the pic is President, George Vasilopoulos and Major Sponsor, Jack Dardalis from Marathon Foods, a generous benefactor and philanthropist.
My initial involvement was as a Social Club sub-committee member where our charter was to raise much needed revenue and funds to support the Club’s quest in the National Soccer League. Over the course of 1991 and 1992, we managed to initiate a number of successful activities and initiatives resulting in a secondment onto the Board of Directors in 1992. I recall the Annual Presentation Night Balls we used to hold where I worked with fellow Directors such as Peter Abraam (ex head of the Victorian Major Events Corporation), Emmanuel Kotis, Jim Karakoussis, John Dimitropoulos and Peter Cartsidimas. They were amazing nights well renowned within the South Melbourne Soccer Club and Greek communities of Melbourne held in the most prestigious functions rooms around Melbourne.

As a volunteer on this sub-committee, I was able to bring to the table some strong administration skills and one of my first initiatives was to request a computer for the Club. I still recall the looks on people’s faces when I made this request, explaining that I wanted to digitalise a lot of our processes. Peter Abraam was delighted at the time as he had been asking the same for some time. The main reason I had requested a computer is that I wanted to migrate the Club’s Membership database from a manual database to a computerised database. Direct Mail under the old manual system was simply a nightmare. Quite quickly, once we acquired the computer, we managed to migrate the entire database onto a D-Base system at the time and we embarked on a data acquisition campaign so that we could begin a more aggressive membership program. Marketing material would be generated from the computer and Direct Mail became more prevalent. On the back of these campaigns, we had immediate impact. Each week at the Board meeting, I would present hundreds of new membership applications with enclosed cheques and our Treasurer at the time was one happy gentleman. It’s hard to imagine that the Club functioned with only a committee of management in place at the time who met for hours each Thursday evening which often went well into the morning hours. Thankfully we had a great social club where we would gather to have dinner after we had watched the first team training and before the meetings would commence at 7:30pm. The mixed grills prepared by Jimmy and Filio were something to look forward to. Having met Cameron Schwab, then CEO of Richmond AFL team, their management team wasn't very big at all either at the time in comparison. Full time administrative set-ups and careers in sports administration in 1993 were not very prevalent.

After months of this activity and other influences the younger generation had on the Club via seats on the Board, the Board turned their focus to the possible requirement for a full-time General Manager, given that they could see the great outcomes generated from some organised activity. The Club already had what they titled a ‘Marketing Manager’ in a gentleman I remain very good friends with today, Barry Horsfall. The fact is, Barry was a self-funded employee as he was only earning a commission on new sponsorship and adverting deals he would generate. He did a great job in selling signage packages at the old ground, which was demolished in 1994 to make way for the Australian Grand Prix track. He would bring a cheque in for $X and he would immediately be remunerated with his pre-agreed commission of 30%, a formula that worked for some time. This was a win-win and successful arrangement.

Fellow South Melbourne Soccer Club Directors, Peter Cartsidimas and Emmanuel Kotis around 1994 at the South Melbourne Soccer Club Annual Ball and Presentation night.

The discussion of a full-time General Manager occurred whilst I was on vacation and on my return I received a phone call from fellow Director, John Dimitropoulos, then an associate solicitor with a former President’s and Chairman and co-founder of the NSL, the late Sam Papasavas OAM, to advise that the Board was now actively looking for a full-time General Manager and that several people had nominated me as the ideal candidate. The conversation went as follows:
Pete, while you were away, we spoke at the Board Meeting about the need to appoint a full-time General Manager at the Club to oversee the day to day activities of the Club, some of us thought that you may be the ideal candidate. If you are interested, this would require you to step off the board and become our inaugural General Manager. This could change your life for ever.
At the time, I was returning from vacation to accept a job with a national architectural firm as their State Accountant, a great job with an attractive package and consistent with my qualifications. This and subsequent conversations with John, the President, George Vasilopoulos and fellow Director, Peter Abraam, threw a spanner in the works. In speaking to my family, they thought it was a crazy idea. I recall clearly my father asking me if I had lost my mind at the prospect of deviating from my chosen vocation to take up a post with the Club.

A career in sports in 1993, was not a well known or accepted career path, not the way it is today. So much so, the most asked questions at barbecues was, “so what do you do in the off-season?”

Against all advice, my instincts told me otherwise and at the age of 25, I accepted to become the inaugural General Manager of the South Melbourne Soccer Club in December 1993 and commenced immediately. I clearly recall waking up on the first day of my new job bouncing out of bed with a spring something I still do over 22 years later. At such a young age, I had so much to learn and was wide-eyed and full of energy as General Manager of the biggest and most successful football club in Australia.

What I didn't know at the time was that I had embarked on a career in sports something I look back on today. This was the platform from which created my opportunities from thereon. John Dimitropoulos was right, this decision was about to change my life forever in a way I couldn't possibly imagine.

The beginnings
From my appointment as General Manager of South Melbourne Soccer Club, it was a baptism of fire. So much to learn, however, it was great to have such good mentors and people that supported me. Peter Abraam in particular, would be on the phone multiple times during the day, steering, mentoring and inspiring me. He still inspires me to this day. We all became such close friends and every one at that time had an influence to my induction into the new role. Many of these friendships remain in place even today, with both players and board members.

Our offices were underneath a grandstand at the stadium which accommodated a board room and a small office where I think I banged my head on the ceiling on several occasions. It was in this office that one day in 1994 I received a phone call from the Head of Sport at Melbourne Grammar School who were searching for a Head Football Coach.  I recommended that they speak to our recently retired star player in Ange Postecoglou who was by this time Assistant Coach with the Club. Ange took on the role and I remember him coming back and telling me it was fantastic and that the school was paying him more for a part-time role than what the club was to be Assistant Coach. Ange delivered that message in a way only Ange can and we often joked about it.

Last Game at Middle Park in 1994 after 34 years of memories
My initiation into the new role went into a spin. Within weeks of commencing, we had received a phone call from the Premier’s office to arrange a meeting with the Club. Upon attending the meeting, we were advised in absolute confidence that Victoria had almost acquired the Australian Grand Prix from Adelaide and that the race track would be in Albert Park Lake. We then learned that as part of this grand plan, the pit straight was going to run right through our then home ground, Middle Park Stadium, home to the Club since 1960 and which we had just signed a 21 year lease for and had plans to re-develop with a new grand stand. Our world had momentarily turned upside down.

An NSL game at new home, Bob Jane Stadium in
December 1995 and the beginning of a new era.
Negotiations commenced immediately for appropriate compensation which resulted in the Club receiving a 21 year lease on Lakeside Oval (now known as Lakeside Stadium), once home to South Melbourne Football Club who was years earlier relocated to Sydney as the Sydney Swans. The lease also incorporated a two-storey dwelling which housed a function centre upstairs and a social club and office space downstairs. It was perfect!

With significant additional funding also provided by the government as part of the relocation package, we raised another $3.5M to build the purpose built football ground and after selling the naming rights, soon to be known as Bob Jane Stadium, which opened in December 2005. It was a facility admired by all in football and this legacy remains today.

This process took a lot of hard and dedicated work and we were fortunate to have so many good people on our Board, lawyers such as Peter Mitrakas and John Dimitropoulos, Architects and Project Managers such as Peter Abraam, strong accountants such as Jim Karakoussis, a PR specialist in Jim Stiliadis and a politically savvy President in George Vasilopoulos at the time who forged a close relationship with the Premier Jeff Kennett, someone who also became our number one ticket holder in 1994.

Then Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett with our President, George Vasilopoulos, farewelling our old home ground at Middle Park in 1994 and announcing our new home ground development at Lakeside Oval.  Also in the picture was Managing Director of major sponsor at the time, Marathon Foods, Jack Dardalis

In July 1994, we had appointed the longest ever serving Socceroos Coach, Frank Arok as our coach after lacklustre 1992/93 (after finishing first) and 1993/94 (after finishing second) NSL seasons where we would reach the finals and bomb out at the Preliminary Final.

Frank was crucial in the identification and recruitment of a raft of upcoming young talent which formed a nucleus for the successes we enjoyed long after Frank’s tenure. Names like Billy Damianos, Tansel Baser, Steve Panopoulos, Con Anthopoulos, Con Blatsis to name a few. Frank brought in a renewed belief in our junior development and plucked these players from our juniors to add to the big names like Paul Trimboli, Con Boutsianis, Ange Goutzioulis, Socceroo captain, Paul Wade, Mike Petersen, Steve Tasios, Francis Awaritife, Mehmet Durakovic to name a few….

With Frank Arok at one of his recent visits to Australia along
with friend Manny Gelagotis who Frank also coached at Gippsland Falcons.
For 1994/95 season, under new coach Frank Arok and his recently retired South player, assistant coach – Ange Postecoglou, we played out of the old Olympic Park in Melbourne, as our new stadium at Lakeside Oval was being constructed, where we again bombed out at the Preliminary Final against Melbourne Knights with a memorable 3-goal performance by the V-Bomber, Mark Viduka.  I still remember the hurt on everyone’s faces after this game and there was even a little scuffle in the dressing rooms involving a couple of players that day which reinforced how much we were all hurting. We had drawn the line in the sand – we wanted and demanded success. This came several years later under a new coach, a young Ange Postecoglou, who picked up the baton from Frank and continued the journey in his own style. Ange was magnificent in instilling a sense of ambition and desire for success.

There were fond memories for the South Melbourne faithful of Olympic Park where we had one our latest Championship during the 1990/91 season in spectacular fashion against cross-town rivals Melbourne Knights in the most amazing penalty shoot-out one could ever imagine.

For the 1995/96 season, construction at our new stadium, Bob Jane Stadium, was completed and we played our first home game on Round 9 on 26 November 1995 against West Adelaide where we lost 3-2. The stadium was a major feature for the National Soccer League and the Club continue to prosper with record membership, crowds and sponsorship.

As we approached the end of the 1995/96 season, we saw the end of the Frank Arok era with three games to spare as it became evident that the Club would miss out on the finals for the first time since 1989 and Assistant Coach, Ange Postecoglou was put in charge as interim coach for the last three games winning all three at which point the search for our new coach commenced immediately and I will touch upon in a later blog as to this journey and the emergence of Ange Postecoglou and the successes of that time in more detail. Ange’s path to where he is today as Socceroos coach is a fascinating tale of passion, commitment, ambition and hard work – I will share my insights into this wonderful story of Ange Postecoglou and his journey from retiring National Soccer League player through to back-to-back championship winning Head Coach of South Melbourne Soccer Club.

I do vividly recall prior to Frank’s removal as coach, after a game where we had lost to Marconi 3-0 at Marconi and a spray Ange gave the players on the long bus trip to the airport which has left its mark on me even today. To be fair the players were misbehaving on the bus and carrying on somewhat and Ange felt it was time he reminded them in the strongest possible way about the badge that they represented and “how they had disgraced it that day”. Little did I know at the time that the Socceroos Coach was born that day. A word was not spoken amongst the traveling party for the remainder of the trip and even remember the players shuffling boarding passes so no one would sit next to Ange on the plane. I don’t think Frank said a word for the entire trip slumped in a chair on the bus reflecting on the performance. I also remember telling my President the following day of Ange’s exceptional display of leadership and how he would one day be our Head Coach.

After a whirlwind meeting at the Board meeting the following week, I recall having to call in Frank Arok the following day and arrange a meeting to advise him that the Board had unanimously decided to terminate his coaching tenure with the Club effective immediately. I couldn't believe that I had just sacked the longest serving ex-Socceroos Coach and a man I admired and learned so much from. He was a friend and still remains a friend to this day. Many will tell you that Frank’s impact at the Club was effective and long lasting. He began a process where he had set the foundations for our successes in the subsequent next few years. Unfortunately the Board and Fans had run out of patience and as a Club we succumbed to the the need for immediate success. Clubs like South Melbourne and its strong fan base, demanded success.

Since taking on the role as General Manager a few years earlier, the Club was achieving record membership, sponsorship, match day attendances and had built a formidable team which was in desperate need of a coach to help reach their potential.   South Melbourne was widely acclaimed as the leading and most professional club in the National Soccer League.  So many worked tirelessly to reach this stage and as a young administrator learning the caper, I rarely was home before 8pm every night.  By 1997 we had an office which consisted of a General Manager, Sales & Marketing Manager, Office Manager, full-time Social Club Manager and a team of Chefs and casual staff.  It was only recently when some one tweeted a match day programme, “In Blue and White”, from the 1998/99 season where we had announced a major sponsor worth $1M over two years which would have rivaled most of the AFL clubs at the time. Having a look at the list of sponsors we had fantastic corporate support.  My entry into the world of sports administration was a whirl wind experience and by the end of the 1998/99 season where we had one back to back Championships under young Coach, Ange Postecoglou, I was beginning to contemplate where this journey would take me next. I had completed six (6) wonderful years but I knew that if I would master this new career path, I needed to expand upon my experience maybe outside of football.

It was in early 1999 that I had meet President, Ian Dicker and CEO, Michael Brown from Hawthorn Football Club via our mutual sponsors Puma.  My next opportunity was about to take shape, which I will also elaborate in a later blog.

During my six years at South Melbourne, I can now say, I was thrown in the deep end and in front of buses, however, I recall these days with fondness and have taken so many learnings from this experience and remain friends with so many wonderful people from that era. It was a ‘sink or swim’ environment and I am proud to say I swum and I swum well.

South Melbourne still exists today and participates in the NPL Victoria based at Lakeside Stadium which has gone through another major transformation and most likely the best facility in the National Premier League.

I am proud to remain a life member of the Club today and I am grateful for the opportunity given to me back in 1993 to take on the reigns as General Manager / CEO which has paved my career to where it is today.  So many fond memories and close bonds that I will never forget.

In my current role as CEO of Perth Glory, I draw upon my experiences and learnings from South Melbourne often and I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received since returning to the game I love, all because I was once involved with South Melbourne which has helped get instant respect.

Peter Filopoulos

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Two pre-Christmas friendlies

An early start for our pre-season hit-outs for next season. First up is an outing against Box Hill United at Lakeside this coming Wednesday at Lakeside (16/12), followed up by a visit to the Veneto Club against Bulleen on Monday (21/12).

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Book Review - Patrick Mangan's Offsider

I really should have got around to reviewing this years ago, when I first read it, but having re-read it on the bus back from Canberra recently, it seems like as good as time as any to finally get a post up about it.

Mangan was a soccer journalist back in the 1990s (at this point in, while he's still in the writing/editing/publishing game, I don't think he's in soccer any longer), but this book is mostly about everything that happened before that. While Mangan does detail some of his experiences as a soccer journo, mostly working on the old Soccer Australia magazine, most of this book is centred on Mangan's childhood and adolescence as an English immigrant Arsenal fan shunted to rural Victoria.

Think about that for a minute - you're a kid who's just got the taste for football and the Arsenal in the early 1970s, living just minutes from Highbury, and all of a sudden you're in Swan Hill. Much of the book's charm then is in how Mangan and his brother John concoct ways of keeping in touch with Arsenal and soccer more generally, from Swan Hill to Horsham to Ballarat.

From week old screenings of English football on television to three month old copies of Shoot! magazine, Patrick and John are nothing if not resourceful and determined to keep up with football. The most interesting part of these efforts were the attempts to create little handmade zines, which were even used to spread the love of soccer to classmates. Mangan's family and close circle become evangelists for the game, even (re-)introducing a soccer club to Horsham

Offsider is an usual book not just for its setting, but because of its source. It's not about a famous player, it's not about an official or backroom shenanigans and political turmoil - it's the story of what it was like to follow soccer in rural Victoria, in the pre-digital age. Calling Offsider an outback Fever Pitch does neither book any favours. While part of the narrative core is the same - the travails of following a largely mediocre Arsenal in the 1970s and 80s - the tone of Offsider is entirely different. The style is genial and charming. There is angst there, sure, of adjusting to a new country, a new culture, and leaving everything familiar behind, but nothing too severe. Though the book occasionally digresses into the 1990s and early 2000s, it does something unusual for an Australian soccer book published post-2005 (it was published in 2010) - it doesn't go into any detail on the post-NSL era of the game. To be fair, while this is an entirely within its thematic remit, it's reassuring that the book doesn't feel it needs to go there at all.

I feel (with likely little supporting evidence, but that's the thing about feelings as opposed to evidence) that there is perhaps a tendency in Australian soccer writing and historiography to go for the big picture at the expense of the particular and individual, when the experience of the game is too fractured for those takes. Where we should be going then I think, is in focusing on smaller, more targeted works like this - the net effect then would be to create a mosaic of experiences and interpretations. More works like Offsider, which are aware of their distance from the centre of power, and that the game is not just about close proximity to power and influence, are an important part of Australian soccer's story.

For South Melbourne Hellas fans, the book contains a couple of neat moments - a section dedicated to the day Malcolm MacDonald played against St George at Middle Park, and a photograph of British comedian Frank Skinner with a Lakers scarf. Otherwise, this is recommended reading for material for any Australian soccer fan, and especially those who support Arsenal.