Thursday, 24 March 2016

Notes from the 2015 AGM

Necessary preamble and summary
The following account of the 2015 South Melbourne Hellas and South Melbourne FC AGMs will not be presented in strictly linear fashion, because some points made later in the evening related to earlier presentations - also, I didn't keep a good record of what was said when. As usual, not every question that I would have liked to have seen asked managed to get through. At least some of those questions will be applicable to the next AGM though. Perhaps I should have taken the advice of the person who said I should have submitted them to the club, in order to compel them to deal with them. Food for thought. Apologies for there being no pictures or links to off-site hilarity.

Overall this was an orderly and worthwhile meeting, with good debate and questioning from the members, and what I felt was mostly clear and open information provided by the committee. However, it was in those moments where the board either did not answer queries related to governance or sought to push aside those concerns, that I believe the concerns of many members will remain for the foreseeable future - unless the board somehow drastically improves on that front.

Why the AGM was so late - and the myriad problems that caused
Before the AGM had even officially begun (approval of previous AGM's minutes, etc), committee member Bill Papastergiadis sought to speak to the members in attendance in order to inform them that the agreements related to the Lakeside lease had finally been resolved - making the point that terms had been agreed upon only as late as 2:00PM yesterday. From this fact one could imply - as many have suspected - that this was the primary reason why the AGM had been held so late.

Whether that was the case or not, it still does not excuse the committee for holding the AGM at such a late date, during the first quarter of the next season, on a weeknight, in the week after the grand prix, all of which made attendance of the broadest possible eligible audience far more difficult than it should have been. The question, too, of whether the board had sought permission from ASIC for an extension to the AGM date remained without a definitive answer. Nick Galatas, on behalf of the board, claimed that the club did not need to apply for an extension, while some on the floor contended that Galatas was wrong.

That lack of a definitive answer or explanation was perhaps the most troubling of the night, speaking as it did to the apparent problems of governance and compliance. The contemporary effectiveness of the members to act beyond an annual three hour meeting may be easy to deal with for the current board, seeing as how we have had no alternative tickets front up to add additional pressure on the current board since the end of the NSL - but compliance issues which fall under the jurisdiction of the state and similar third parties will be much harder to deal with.

Apart from the legal issues involved, the delay of an AGM means that much of the information presented was not only long out of date, but that so many more issues piled up (along with the resentment of the members) that more questions and queries than usual failed to get the attention they deserved.

Bill Papastergiadis resolves the Lakeside lease saga, to our apparent satisfaction
Regarding the apparent resolution of the Lakeside lease issue, Papastergiadis elaborated on the process needed to successfully negotiate an agreement as close as possible to the terms of the memorandum of understanding the club's members agreed to in 2009, the mechanisms by which those agreements will be enacted, and the strain of the effort required.

All three extant agreements needing to be signed - the funding agreement, the exclusive lease with regards to our areas (social club and affiliated areas), and non-exclusive areas (playing arena) - have been signed by South Melbourne, and are now simply awaiting for the government to execute their part of the contracts, which Papastergiadis expects to happen this week. We then wait for the funds to released for the reconstruction of the social club, which will be a 90 day build - with the construction of the office spaces to be the first order of business. Should things proceed well from here - and I put forward that hope cautiously, because we have been through such an ordeal already - then it is feasible that the social club will be ready by the end of this season.

Having sealed the deal, Papastergiadis seemed to feel freer to elaborate on the difficulties of attaining the deal to our satisfaction. He was now unafraid to point the finger directly at the State Sports Centres Trust, including their previous management group, who sought to delay us through lengthy legal battles, by providing self-serving and incorrect information to the relevant ministers, and finding any way possible to make our tenure at Lakeside as difficult as possible. This included incurring large legal expenses of their own. We will probably never know whether or not this ended up adding up to such an amount as to prevent the various tenants at Lakeside getting renumeration above their mandated minimum annual stipend.

Even the change in government from Liberal to Labor saw the SSCT attempt to go back and start from scratch, despite the then Liberal government having agreed to terms we would be satisfied with. Making the point that ministers are dependent on the advice of the public service, Papastergiadis noted that the way to tackle the problem was not in legal terms - though that would play a part - but rather through political connections. And thus Papastergiadis emphasised the weight that came to bear on both the Liberal and Labor governments via influential members of the Greek community, and the notion of the Greek community as a whole.

The manifestation of the agreements will both please and annoy our supporters. The pleasing aspect is in terms of the duration of the lease, in that the five years we have already spent at Lakeside since our return from John Cain Memorial Park, will not be counted - so we get 40 years from the signing of the lease starting this year, applicable to the social club and the playing arena. Crown law being what it is though, it will not be a single 40 year term - that while the social club is a single 40 year term, the playing arena will be 21 years, with an option of 19 after that, with Papastergiadis emphasising that the only possible way the 19 year option will not be honoured is if we are in serious breach of the conditions of the lease, a situation which he does not believe the club will find itself in (using words to the effect of burning the joint down to the ground).

Less pleasing, but perhaps inevitable news, is that in all likelihood the club will need to borrow money in order to finance the completion of the social club reconstruction. This is despite the fact that at previous AGMs the board had claimed that this would not be the case. Later in the evening, president Leo Athanasakis updated and/or clarified the plans for the social club, including the providing of a floor plan. As has been noted on previous occasions, the club plans to use the social club and futsal spaces both as a way of creating a sustainable revenue stream from its members and other users of Lakeside Stadium, but also as a means of attracting more people to our spaces from the local area.

Having seemingly completed the herculean task of securing the lease arrangement on terms that we were comfortable with, my mind turned to whether Papastergiadis would continue as a board member after this year. It was not a question that I was able to get to ask, but since this was the main reason he was brought on to the board, it will be interesting to see if he will continue.

Emphasis was made, as has been the case at many such meetings, that Papastergaidis has offered the services of his law firm at a comparatively low cost, as well as having a dedicated member of his staff working on this project. One hopes that with the end of this legal affair, that whatever legal costs we did incur will see at least some savings made in future budgets. Longer term, the financial and working tolls taken by our numerous legal battles over the past few years - against the FFV for the Heidelberg tribunal matter, the Toumbourou affair, the NPL, etc - has been a burden the club could have done without.

Finances
For the 2014/2015 financial year, the club made a small profit of about $7,000. Turnover was over a million - with the ambition to get up to two million - and sponsorship at a very healthy level. The club still has to pay off the loan it took out to pay the Toumbourou loan, but Athanasakis reported that this debt would be settled by October 2016. One expects then, with the onset of the operation of the social club, the lack of this bank loan (albeit the possible addition of another), and the increased efficiencies based on economies of scale from the unification with the women's side of things, that the bottom line will improve significantly.

There was an attempt by some members to ask if the club was running insolvent - based on the overdrafts being made during the course of the year - but that line of inquiry was shut down quickly by a Business 101 explanation of why overdrafts exist and how they work, an explanation that came not only from the board, but also from other businessmen within the membership.

There was, too, a question asked about the football budget, with some confusion based on the figures being provided being different for the members and those being presented. The explanation that one was consolidated, and the other not, didn't wash with some people. Nevertheless, most seemed to be satisfied with the spend on the football department, which had not changed markedly over the past three seasons, and was necessarily elevated in the second half of 2014 due to the continuing success of the club on the field.

Of more concern for me - and judging by the questions submitted here, to others, too - was whether the level of sponsorship we had achieved was sustainable, and what we were doing to make it so. One part of that which got a good reception from the floor was the business and sponsor networking the club is setting up. My concern on whether much of this sponsorship success was dependent on qualification to the FFA Cup (and what would happen if we missed qualification, say, in consecutive years) was not quite answered to my satisfaction, despite the claims that we were not like other clubs who were playing what Shaun Mooney has dubbed the 'crap-shoot' of FFA Cup qualification. Again, time will tell.

The women (mostly) return to the fold; plus constitutional changes
There was a motion at this AGM to make changes to the constitution. Two of these changes were fairly straightforward, seeking to update rules and terms from a bygone era. One of these moves was to change the term 'committee' to 'board'. The second was to change the make up of the board from 11-21 members to a minimum of seven and a maximum of eleven.

The biggest change though, was to ratify the board's motion that there be a minimum of one female board member at all times. Apart from those resistant to quotas in principle (or perhaps using that as a front for being dismissive of women involved in football at all? I wouldn't want to rule that out entirely), there was concern among some that the club, by virtue of not having eleven board members for much of its recent history, had not been abiding by its own constitution, a claim brushed aside all too readily by the board. Then again, without anyone having a copy of the constitution at hand, how were we going to resolve the matter then and there?

Of greater validity though was the complaint that all three motions were bundled up in a single vote. Now this may have been a ploy to head off the expected resistance to the quota motion - sometimes even my thought processes can go off on strange, conspiracy laden tangents - but if that was the case, then I don't think it was worth the ploy, and that the members should have had more trust put in them to pass each motion individually. As it was, the motion passed with overwhelming support.

Recently added board member, and former(?) president of South Melbourne Womens FC, Gabrielle Giuliano, was introduced to the overwhelmingly male audience, and made what I felt was a passionate and non-condescending presentation to the members. Giuliano made the point that the women were not here to take over the club, but that they mostly wanted to maintain the level of facilities and access that had prior to the reunification, which was a part of the agreement they'd signed last year. Giuliano thus made the subtle point that it wasn't only the men who had something to fear from reunification, but that the hard work of the women to develop their own club, on far fewer resources, was something they valued dearly, and were thus protective of.

Solid arguments were made about the inherent improvements in the economies of scale, but also to what the inclusion of the women - as players, as a network of people, and also as a hitherto untapped demographic for South Melbourne - would do for the club. The term 'super-club' was thrown about, as were notions of trying to be ahead of the curve. It's often hard to tell whether the club is being genuine about modernising itself, or whether it thinks that the appearance of doing so is more important than the objective reality of making those changes - on this matter though, I think it was sincere. It will also be interesting to see how the overwhelmingly male dynamic of such things as AGMs changes when more women begin attending.

As to plans for the future, this is where it got interesting as far as I'm concerned. SMWFC was still seeking answers as to the reason its WNPL application (made separately from SMFC) was rejected. To that end, SMFC will be seeking to apply to enter the WNPL in 2017. Should the club be successful in achieving that aim, then those female teams will come under the auspices of SMFC. The community/participatory aspect of SMWFC will continue as a community club, maintaining those community connections developed by SMWFC over the past decade. Of course with any community club 'offshoot' of an NPL club (mens or womens) is how do you control them, considering the fact that you cannot have the same board? SMFC's answer seemed to be via control of the facilities, a solution which will be interesting to see applied in practice.

Chairman Nick Galatas did note that in time the constitution would need to be given a more rigorous overhaul, and while this was not quite the time for that, these changes were as good a place as any to start.

Lots of success, but also disappointment - football report
As noted earlier, the wage bill of the club in terms of player payments has remained steady. Nicholas Maikoussis (representing the board on the senior aspect of the club) outlined the successes of the past season or so, while noting with clear exasperation the club's failure to win the grand final, progress further in the FFA Cup, and especially the devastating loss to Hobart Olympia. Maikoussis made the point that more resources had been deployed to football (fitness, conditioning - even for juniors -, and opposition analysis), and that overall the change room culture was good. When I made the point about my (and perhaps others') being uneasy about player agents being in the change rooms after games, I was rebuffed with a response of obvious irritation. So it goes.

Andrew Mesourouni (representing the board on the junior aspect of the club) made note that the club will seek to have 80% of the under 20 team made up of South juniors, and that three members of the senior squad every year should come from that under 20 side. I raised the question of the affiliation of Genova International School of Soccer, and whether we had any formal arrangements (apart from sponsorship) with them, to which the answer was 'no'. Unfortunately I was not able to dig further into my list of questions on the matter, and while I appreciated the candour of Mesourouni's answer - including the fact that GISS is just one of a network of organisations South Melbourne liaise with - I feel that there is still much to discuss on that front.

On the matter of whether we are interested in joining a cut down/split division National Youth League, the club seemed to indicate that there had been no confirmation that the NYL would take that path just yet, but that the club has been approached to gauge its interest, and that should the opportunity present itself, then the club would certainly be interested in taking up that opportunity. With regards to renewing its NPL licence, the club believes it is well on track to do so.

The Epifano affair finally got its time in the AGM spotlight. The board explained and defended its position, mostly reiterating things that they have already said, but also admitting that they had unintentionally mislead when making one response to a particular member during a conversation. Those members who have been the most obviously critical of Epifano and the board's handling of the affair got to have their say, even making some good points about the double standards with regards to spectator and player codes of conduct, but it was almost inevitable that this was going to end up in a stalemate, and that in that eventuality, the board's way would prevail.

Now that players are mostly(?) on professional contracts instead of 'amateur' ones, several codes of conduct have been introduced or updated, including for social media and sports betting. Next AGM of course will see womens reports also be tabled, for the first time in a very long time. Hopefully they will be treated in a more kindly fashion than they were way back in the early VPL days.

Protecting the brand (security and related matters)
Interspersed somewhere during the two meetings was a discussion on security. It began, I believe, by discussing the problems that with more people coming to games, that the possibility of a return to an older flare lighting culture - which costs the club money, and possible further sanctions - is of concern. This is less of a problem at Lakeside, what with the plethora of security cameras available making it easier to identify culprits, but that the behaviour of some alleged South fans at away games where the lighting and security situation is less than ideal means that the fans themselves will have to be vigilant.

Of course this is not to everyone's cup of tea, due to a wide range of factors and ideologies, but president Athanasakis made what I felt was the valid point that now that we had secured Lakeside as our home, we had an obligation as members to protect it (and by extension the club) from those who choose to damage us via their antics. Equally though, a good point was made from the floor that the services provided by Blue Thunder security could sometimes leave a lot to be desired, and that relying only or mostly on supporters to do the policing was not the way to go about things.

Farewell to Tom Kalas
The last presentation of the night fell to Tom Kalas, doubling up as his farewell from the board. So that meant one last legendary Powerpoint presentation, complete with technical hiccups, but also a useful reminder that while we can get lost in the imperceptible nature of incremental progress - and I say this as a card carrying incrementalist - taking the time to step back and see the bigger picture is a necessary step in reminding us of how far we've come. In South Melbourne's case there were the practical issues of survival - lease, finances, on field competitiveness; the issues of consolidation - reuniting with the women, reforming the juniors; - but also the less tangible issue of resurrecting our reputation.

In that sense, Kalas was right - we have come a long way - but that's all the more reason for the members to continue to apply whatever pressure they can on the board to live up to its own hype as a progressive and professional outfit. For the sake of the future prosperity of the club, it can't just be words - it needs to be backed up by action the whole way through, and not only when it suits this or any other board which may one day represent us. In a near future that will see us operating not just a much larger soccer club, but also a restaurant/bistro and futsal centre, one hopes that such disregard for proper procedure will get us into trouble very quickly. Still, it was nice to leave off on Kalas' unadulterated and unaffected sense of optimism.

Other notes
It was good that some refreshments, in the form of soft drinks, were provided to the attendees.

After suffering from some sort of parasite and being in poor condition for round one, the Lakeside surface is looking both lush and verdant.

There was a mini-infestation of some sort of insect in the President's Room. Very irritating at times.

Any AGM that has a Bouboulina reference can't be a complete waste of time. Equally so when you hear a board member utter such an archaic phrase as 'γαμώ το στανιό σου' (fuck your compulsion). I thought it was just me and my mum that still said things like that.

14 comments:

  1. Apologies to Ian Syson for not working on my thesis instead.

    Apologies to everyone else for some long and clunk sentences.

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    1. My heartfelt appreciation also goes to anyone that manages to trudge through the full 3700 words or so.

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  2. Paul - fantastic write up and great to hear many good questions were put to the Board.

    I think its important that members focus on the corporate governance issues as well, as it can be just as equally important as the on-field success. A well functioning executive that follows process and protocols can only be a good thing. That type of culture permeates throughout the organisation.

    Hopefully the AGM is held within 6 months of the end of fiancial year. There is no need to wait over 9 months from the end of the previous financial year.

    A possible question for the following AGM could be so with the level of progress/success/failings of the SMFC in Business initiative. If the Club is to sustain a strong budget to support its expenses, it will require a growing level of sponsorship revenue.

    PS - was 3 hours adequate time to dissect the main club issues?

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    1. Yes, the corporate governance issues need to be resolved. The reasons provided for why the board had not met those standards were mostly poor or less than satisfactory, that is when they did bother to answer them.

      An AGM in November 2015 was entirely possible. Should there have been the need to thereafter have another meeting to pass the motions we were asked to pass during this AGM, along with being informed of the apparent success in the Lakeside lease negotiations, then that is what should have happened.

      Based upon other conversations I've had with people in the know, the SMFC in Business initiative has gotten off to a good start, and sponsorship is at very healthy levels - but these are details which we will only know for sure at the time of the next AGM. Hopefully that will be this year, rather than next.

      In that sense, three hours was mostly well spent, but we also spent a considerable amount of time discussing issues that were not even a part of the AGM's agenda proper. But for the most part, with the necessary caveats regarding corporate governance, most people came out of the meeting feeling reasonably positive.

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  3. Thanks for the summary Paul. Good for fans who can't attend such things as the AGM to get an hindsight from the night.

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    1. Thanks Macky. The ridiculous scheduling was an added incentive to do this write up.

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  4. Hi Paul, ( I couldn't make it to AGM) was there any discussion of how the Club will broaden its appeal? Eg. Move from a predominantly monoculture club to a muliticultural diverse entity. Thx, Thanas

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    1. The use of the term 'monocultural' in this case annoys me, because its use tends to be highly limited. There is also a piece I've had in mind on this issue which I will get around to writing eventually.

      However, with regards to the usual use of the term when applied to Australian soccer, there were no direct references to that issue. Indirectly, the reunification with the women, the business networking, the social media, SMFCTV (and attempts to work with the International Students Association I believe, or somethinhg akin to that)are all ways the club is attempting to broaden its supporter and sponsor networks.

      Of course, as I've noted before, the scope for any club in the second tier in any spprt to attract new supporters and sponsors is inherently very difficult. I think this is one of the things that South does better than most. One would think (and hope) that the social club and futsal court will aid in the aim of attracting new and diverse support.

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    2. That anonymous lad is trolling you Paul, no way that question could be even serious. No point giving such a remark legitimacy.

      On the use of the term 'monocultural', it is purely a deceitful tactic by people who have an axe to grind against ethnic clubs. The term is completely being misused, its just a way of insulting and smearing clubs by creating a bullshit narrative to fit a specific agenda.

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    3. Thanks Paul for your sensible reply. I acknowledge being in the second tier of football attracting new fans can be challenging. However there are ways to engage the local community through schools, local soccer clubs and of course through media such as The Port Phillip Leader. We are not an insular Club (like the Knights are) and though we do miss so many opportunities to engage beyond the 'traditional' support base. In an impassioned plea one of the great past Presidents of SMFC - Leo Anezakis urged the Club to look beyond and widen its support base. This was visionary stuff - yet we are still talking about it today. I spoke to Nick Maikouisis a while ago and there was talk about a local campaign with letter drop and information pack along the lines of "SMFC - Your neighbour for over 50 years". This could tie in well with encouraging local community groups to get involved with use of new social club. We cannot be only "South Melbourne" by name. We should be engaging the immediate bayside community. I mean look at Sandringham SC as an example. They are embedded in their local community sponsoring events, school fetes. It is not luck alone they have approx. 1500 juniors - a staggering number. We should be forming strategic partnerships with clubs like that. Finally as for MelbCro - ah my friend please NEVER speak on behalf of Clubs like ours. While yours is still stuck in the ethnic ghetto and not wanting to be part of Australian society we are trying to forge a future for our fans so we are relevant for the next 100 years and so on. That is the greatest way to honour your past. We are a Football Club - not a political statement for some chip on your shoulder. Thx, Thanas

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    4. Hold on buddy you are the one that described your own club as monocultural, so you are the shitting on your own club. I didn't make a single mention of your club in the above post, which makes your response come off as really bizarre.

      I don't think your club is monocultural at all, no ethnic club in Victoria can be described in that way. Its an absurd assertion. Do you even know what the word monocultural means? I don't think you do. That's a word which began being used in an Australian football context specifically by people who hold an anti-ethnic club agenda as a way to demean and slander ethnic clubs. I think its says a hell of a lot that you would use that very specific word. I actually have a sneaking suspicion you might be George Negus lol

      Btw your use of the term ethnic ghetto (sorry Paul do use your blog but I have to say it) that is some extremely dim-witted shit right there. Anonymous you are actually psychotic, seriously messed up shit.

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    5. Thanas, I appreciate the sentiment and I agree that there needs to be more done to engage the local community, but there are a number of problems with some of the examples you've used.

      While clubs like Brighton, Ashburton and Sandringham have a lot of juniors, they also have no meaningful senior men's football presence. The idea that a large junior base by itself will guarantee or be some sort of reliable indicator for senior crowds or success has not yet become an actuality in Victorian soccer.

      Besides which, with the NPL restricting us to a limited amount of junior sides (many of which will be made up of players from outside the local area, because the FFVs attempt to enforce a district system was beaten), there is only so much support you can get from that source.

      The idea that we should work then with local clubs is fair enough, but there are two more problems with that. First is resourcing - it takes money and employees or volunteers to make those efforts. Secondly, if people are already attending matches of their local club (usually though only those games with a direct relevance to them), Scott Munn's point about attendance not being about value for money but rather value for time comes into effect.

      If this sounds like too much nay-saying, it's not to meant to come across like that - but rather I hope comes across as realistic assessment of the practical and obstacles that exist when trying to tap into a local area. Considering that we've historically been very poor at liaising with the local community, there is also I think a lack of trust that would need a much more long lasting and sincere attempt than what we've done before.

      Of course, we get hurt by missing the chance to host more early season games by the grand prix, during the better weather and when junior and lower level senior soccer hasn't started.

      PS.
      Do you by chance live in the South Melbourne area, Thanas? You bring up the Port Philip Leader, which intrigues me as a one-time affionado of local suburban papers. When I was still in the Hobsons Bay area, we used to get up to three papers a week (which later fell down to probably one), but which had collectively decent local sports coverage (cricket, footy - local and VFL -, netball, basketball, soccer, etc), but since moving to Brimbank, we've barely seen a single free paper delivered. Seems like those newspapers have succumbed to the print news media crisis.

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  5. Imagine the AGM occurred AFTER last nights game! )

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  6. Now that I think about it, something comical about David Clarkson being one of those player agents in the rooms during this era, now he's fronting the Tasmanian A-League bid and all that.

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While I like people commenting on the blog, it would be useful if different posters could at least leave some sort of nickname to make it easier to sort through all the different 'anonymous' posters. If your post doesn't get approved straight away, it's probably because I haven't seen it yet. Lastly, just because I approve a comment for publication does not mean that I endorse its content.