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.