Usual necessary disclaimer
This report was done in something more akin to a thematic order rather than reflecting the precise order of the events of the evening. Circumstances on the night made it much harder to take notes in my usual and only slightly more precise manner, as you will see.
Man, we're missin' the Death Blow!
Due to an unfortunate confluence of events, I missed the first 15 minutes or so of the 2016 South Melbourne Hellas AGM because of first, family duties and later, a disappearing tram. What took part during my absence was described as both a non-event, but also as the most contentious part of the evening, as matters of constitutional validity were apparently discussed in a heated manner. My arrival at the AGM coincided with the end of that discussion, where someone from the floor attempted in vain to put up a motion to demand president Leo Athanasakis' resignation. Unfortunately, having not been present for those exchanges, I can't report on them with any reliability.
With regards to the possible need for an election and its attendant bloodletting and turmoil, in the end there was no need for elections. One of the four alleged nominees for the board appears to have pulled out, and thus the other three have joined the board without issue or the need to force an election. How that was organised or played out behind the scenes, I don't know. What I do know is that I am glad that it did not need to come to an election at this point in time. We'll see how it all plays out in practice however.
Should the Democratic People's Republic of South Melbourne Hellas implement the policy of changing to rule by philosopher kings? Philosopher kings say 'yes', low income nobodies say 'no'.
That sequence of events therefore passed almost without issue. One member, towards the end of the night's proceedings, asked that in future we consider setting strict(er) criteria about who should be allowed to sit on the board of the club. While this was probably intended in the context of a strengthening of our board's overall corporate governance expertise and credentials, especially considering the range of sponsor, stakeholder and statutory bodies we deal with, it was taken by some (and not without good reason) as an attack on the status of the club as a member run club; one where any member is entitled to apply to join the board regardless of some esoteric notion of 'qualification'.
For his part, chairman Nick Galatas noted that there were already such provisions in place from the 1977 constitution, but more importantly that the club was looking to modernise the constitution in the future, something which I have been an advocate of for some time. The club that exists now, and the conditions that it exists in now, need to operate under a constitutional framework that reflects that reality. The reduction of the board from 21 to 11 earlier this year was one of those necessary changes.
Still, as a member run club we must be wary of unreasonably diluting the rights of members. Circumstances will seemingly always arise in such entities whereby people, either because of the effects of meritocracy or plutocracy, will come to dominate board positions, and in our late capitalist state of being that's to be expected. But this club is still at least nominally a collective, and it needs to reflect that fact - or at least until such time as the members willingly decide to forfeit their status as nominally equal members of that collective.
It's money that I love/social club progress
The financial report came towards the end of the evening, which was an unusual occurrence - usually it is among the first items dealt with. The consolidated accounts showed a profit of about $16k, up from about $7k from the previous financial year. The president, who as usual provided the report instead of the treasurer, noted that over the course of the past ten years, our turnover has gone from roughly $600k to about $1.4 million. With the operation of the social club, futsal court and the addition of the WNPL/Women's component, the club hopes (expects?) to double that turnover.
On the question of how the social club will operate in terms of management, a venue manager will be hired - and rather than reporting to a general manager (a role which at present does not exist at the club since the departure of Peter Kokotis a year or so back I think), the venue manager will report directly to the board. One of the goals of the board is to gradually delegate the day to day management of the club away from board members and towards paid staff. Apart from lessening the heavy workload currently undertaken by our board members, it would also allow them to focus more on strategy as opposed to the day to day implementation and operation of the club.
Whereas in the past the club had asserted that it would probably take out a loan of about $200k to finish the social club redevelopment, the actual figure that the club plans to take out is about $450k. The confidence in being able to take manage such a loan is based (at least from my understanding) on two separate but related criteria. The first is that an operational social club and futsal centre will bring in money to the club. The second relates to the paying off of the Wellington Investments debt
The paying off of the debenture loan debt is near completion - there are at most two payments left to make on that as of yesterday. Athanasakis sought to emphasise the burden of the paying off of that debt, which was incurred from the machinations of the club's attempt to stave off extinction back in 2004. Apart from managing to erase that debt once and for all, the end of this saga means a debt that added nothing to the club, finally allows the club to turn towards investment and expansion of its operations. On the related matter of whether the club had enough working capital to commence operation of the bistro and futsal centre, the answer was 'yes'.
There have been delays in aspects of the social club rebuild, though the cause of the delays was not specified. It did seem to be confirmed in a circuitous fashion that these delays were the reason we will be playing our opening seven games of the season away from home. The club is optimistic however that the extended build period will allow the build team to complete the task er, completely, as opposed to I suppose having a functional operation that will still require further work even after its official opening.
The underused upstairs function space has had a redesign, decreasing the size of the function room space and adding some office space. The club is open to options in utilising that function space, while the newly added office space will apparently be used by the Sydney Swans as part of their Melbourne presence. This presents an opportunity for the Swans and ourselves to liaise - even if only limited to them hiring out or using our social club space - in a manner which has not happened for many years.
Winning is our business... and business is good... but also expensive
Following the end of the South Melbourne Hellas AGM, we went almost immediately into the SMFC AGM, which was very brief, and was more or less a procedural formality. I can't recall if it was during this meeting where the on field aspect was discussed, but I'll put that discussion here anyway. Apart from looking back at the year that was, senior football director Nick Maikousis outlined the signings we have made; the signings we are likely to make; the youth players we're looking to promote; the players who have left; and the remaining players whose status at the club remains up in the air.
Also, it was confirmed that one of our new signings, Ajdin Fetahagić, did his ACL during a training session, and will probably miss most of the 2017 season.
It was noted that the season was by and large a success - after all, we won the title - but that it was also a difficult season, and one perhaps salvaged by coming good at the right time of year. It was noted that, as we had run out of legs in 2015, so did Bentleigh in 2016, and that managing such a lengthy campaign with its increasingly congested schedule is difficult for semi-professional footballers to manage. While there is ongoing consternation among some of our fans for our failure to take advantage of the FFA Cup opportunity, the reality is that the FFA Cup is an unreliable means of getting national attention. One bad game, one difficult opponent, and it's over.
(I will note here as an aside, that despite some talk about the national NPL playoff series being scrapped, this appears to not be the case, and thus there is always the second chance raffle of qualifying for the FFA Cup via that route. Not us, of course, because we'd bugger it up, but I'm speaking from a theoretical point here).
It was noted also that winning in senior men's football in this competition is an expensive business, but since winning is our main business, it can be difficult to contain the costs of wages. Nevertheless, as the board has reiterated at previous AGMs, the club does not believe that it pays as much as some rival teams - especially in terms of signing on bonuses - and more importantly, it is trying to create a sustainable winning culture. Maikousis also noted, I believe in response to a question from the floor, that we wanted to and would continue to aim for winning every trophy that was available to us.
A word about the women
Mention was made of the on field success of the women's teams in 2016, and the reappointment of Socrates Nicolaides as the senior coach. There was also mention made of course about our successful bidding for a WNPL licence, and the preparation that took place in order to secure that licence - it's fair to say that there was some moderate boasting about the quality of the licence bid document that the club put together for that purpose. There was also much praise for the fact the women are now back in the fold.
There was no mention that I can recall of SMWFC and how it would function from 2017 onwards, nor anything about the relationship between SMFC and SMWFC. Also not very many women in attendance at the AGM either. Just saying.
And here come the procedural complaints, finally
Unusually for these effectively consolidated meetings - two separate groups, two separate boards, but basically one and the same - the whole thing was over in less than two hours. That meant that the agenda was largely adhered to by those in attendance, but it did feel like there could have been more time made for questions from the floor. While several board members did make the time after the meeting to discuss things one on one with members who had further questions - a gesture which I applaud - I felt that the official part of the meeting could have had more time for questions.
On a personal level, I think next year I will make a more concerted effort to get the club to provide membership breakdowns and attendances. These used to be provided in AGMs, but have gone missing over the past five years or so. I see no good reason for the members not to know what our membership and attendance figures are - though of course I could come up with reasons why the board or the club would not want to do so.
Now being armed with an annual list of questions, even in my late rush to compile a list this year (and thanks to 'anonymous' for adding some good ones to the comments at such late notice). it was disappointing not to be able to ask a few more questions. I don't expect to have them all answered, because otherwise we'd still be there now, but I feel like we - perhaps against the usual procedure - rushed through things a bit. Or maybe the absence of Tom Kalas and his 'legendary PowerPoint presentations' (which were noted in the 2015 AGM minutes) made things run much more smoothly.
One hopes that this will be the final time the Presidents Room will ever be used as an AGM venue. Despite the poor delivery of the notice of an AGM and the lousy timing of the meetings, the AGM was very well attended. Indeed, there were so many members in attendance that about a dozen people, including your correspondent, had to stand at the back of the room for the near two hour duration of the meetings - a fact which was made less pleasant by the smell of paint or plaster or some such at the back of the room.
(Arriving late and standing at the back as opposed to sitting also served to direct more attention to myself, which was not entirely a desired outcome. I expected to not have very much to say at this meeting, what with all the apparent discontent among some of the masses; in the end I also ended up proposing and occasionally seconding several of the procedural motions - adopting minutes, approval of the auditor, etc - because it seemed that no one else would, which also became a sort of weird joke. There was also some notable absentees last night, such as George Karantonis.)
Next year one hopes that the redeveloped social club will play host to the AGM, which one also hopes will be held at a more reasonable time of year, and on a more reasonable day. While acknowledging also that scheduling conflicts can occur, one would also like to see the full complement of board members at next year's meeting; on that front the absence yesterday of Bill Papastergiadis and Andrew Mesorouni was unfortunate. While Mesorouni's absence was adequately covered by Nick Maikousis, who shares football director duties with him, Papastergiadis' absence (for legitimate personal reasons) meant that the A-League bid discussion did not have its main figurehead present to discuss strategy and detail with the members.
Overall the club seems to be continuing on a steady journey of consolidating its on and field positions as a leading soccer club in this state. Its members seem to be as engaged as I've ever seen them with the operation of the club, if last night's attendance is anything to go by; that in itself is cause for quiet celebration. Nevertheless the challenges the club faces in this restrictive operational environment will persist, continuing to make it difficult to realise the club's full potential, whatever that may be. One hesitates to fall back on the notion of being too big for this competition, but too small for the next one, for fear of coming across as arrogant, but there is a measure of truth to that.
You didn't think we'd forgotten about this issue?
And so we come in a very roundabout way to the matter of the A-League bid. The club noted last night that it was the lack of a likely creation of a second division that saw the club head towards the direction of formulating a bid. For those hoping for a curbing of the club's, shall we say, 'extroverted' approach to publicity, you're out of luck. For those who are interested in how Lakeside as an A-League venue may look in terms of added (temporary) seating capacity, the Usain Bolt/Nitro athletics series in early February 2017 will provide some guide.
The nature of the bid also, and whether it will be a private/public partnership, has also been thrown up into the air somewhat. Despite previous comments by Papastergiadis that the bid will involve 'several investors' - a claim which the board representative answering my question seemed to deny existed - the board retreated under cover of the line that the club will wait for the bid criteria to be released next year before making further comment on the structure of a South Melbourne aligned A-League licence bid. Because the release of the bid criteria by FFA has apparently been pushed back to some vague point mid next year, be prepared for a lot more idle speculation.
Although there was some discussion, and I may be reading too much into this, that it may be a possibility that South would still be keen an a W-League place regardless of its success/failure to win an A-League licence.
A little bit of offhand theory about future directions
Apart from its A-League ambitions, the club is aiming to take on what some have seen as a risky venture in the operation of a social club/bistro/futsal centre that is as much targeted outwards into the public as much as satisfying the needs of its own members. It is, I think, a risk that must be taken - the last thing the club needs to do is revert to a safe and comfortable introversion. That does not mean that things will necessarily go smoothly, or as well as hoped for. How an organisation deals with failure or obstacles is arguably a far better measure of its resilience than how it deals with success - and within the bounds of our circumstances, this club has had a lot of success recently.
Some of the subjects that I don't remember being broached
Why the AGM mail out was done so poorly - though that may have been covered before I got there.
Likewise why the AGM was being held so late in the year.
Anything other than the most cursory mention of our social media efforts.
Real Madrid 'relationship' and stuff to do with GISS.
BLK fiasco - admittedly not in the club's control for the most part.
Match day experience at Lakeside, in terms of being harassed by security/SSCT employees.