Another year, another overdue AGM.
Held in the social club on Thursday night, this one kicked off to a poor-to-middling turnout, depending on your point of view of 30-40 attendees. But since our quorum is apparently a mere 20 members for a meeting to be valid, we were in no danger of not having it go ahead.
This was president Leo Athanasakis' last AGM as president. During the meeting, he officially handed over the reigns over to Nick Maikousis. Gabrielle Giuliano is the new vice-president, and there were some new board members who will join the board following the AGM.
Bill Papastergiadis is chairman now, and unlike previous board members holding that role in recent years, he attempted and largely succeeded in ruling the evening with an iron fist. More on that later.
Of the two AGMs to be held on the night. the South Melbourne Hellas AGM was first, as is customary; and is also custom for these AGM reports, I will not report on everything as it happened, but rather group the varying matters by theme.
Taking into account that the data presented is now seven months out of date, our financial position seemed reasonably steady, but keep in mind that I'm no accountant. The club had a turnover of over $2 million, up from $1.8 million from the previous financial year. It was the first time the club's financial turnover has gone over $2 million since the NSL.
The club made a small surplus of about $10,000. The club claims that its debts have been reduced, and that it is making an effort to eradicate those debts as quickly as possible. Although there was an overall reduction in our debt levels, there was an increase in director loans. When it was asked from the floor whether these director loans would attract interest, the answer was 'no'. When I asked, only half-jokingly, whether there were actual paper contracts to make sure of this - to avoid a repeat of the Toumbourou affair from a few years ago - the answer was 'yes'.
The club earned about $110,000 from the Sydney FC FFA Cup game from 2017. It was noted that our former major sponsor, Luvarc - whose current operating state seems a bit iffy to this observer - does owe us money, and that we are seeking to recoup the owed monies.
The club's ongoing enterprise as a provider of school programs is providing what seems like a steady stream of income; in effect, we are diversifying the business, functioning in part as an education and training provider.
There was little discussion that I can recall - or at any rate, discussion that ended up in my notes - about other sources of income, including the use of the social club and futsal court. This was a bit strange, considering the outsourcing of the social and futsal court to an outside operator who was there on the night, as well as the hiring of the futsal court to the taekwondo people who've been using it for their elite training purposes, and who were again there later in the evening. Perhaps this will count for more in the next AGM.
In terms of our ongoing government stipend, there are eleven years left of the current funding arrangement, with approximately $2.5 million due to us at the present rate - keep in mind though, that the stipend is attached to CPI, and thus it will increase over the remainder of that time. It is worth noting - as was clarified by the board in response to a question from the floor - that our Lakeside lease period is separate from our government income period. The stipend is counted as having begun before the lease agreement was put in place.
When the funding agreement comes to an end in eleven years, there will be the opportunity to renegotiate a new funding agreement, or to seek alternative pathways which were a little unclear to me in how they would operate - something about going to market. The fact that there was the possibility of this funding arrangement continuing was news to me, as I'd assumed that once the initial funding period was over, that would be it.
As noted earlier, this was Leo Athanasakis' last AGM as president before stepping down. There had been some suggestion among members of the hoi polloi that Athanasakis may have sought to remain on the board, but this is apparently not the case.
Tass Roufos and Peter Kokotis have joined the board. Roufos' company, Commercial and General, will be the club's major sponsor this season. It was also noted that Roufos' strength will be in networking and government liaison work. Peter Kokotis, a former general manager of the club, will be the (senior men's?) football director. In seeking clarification on an earlier press release on the matter, it was made clear that Kokotis is a director, and not an employee of the club.
Even if it was not explicitly stated on the night, much of what happened with regards to the relevant board changes seemed to be an attempt to show that an orderly transition of power had occurred between Leo and his successor. Even more subtly, there was an attempt to emphasise matters of culture and professionalism.
To that end, it was admitted that while on this occasion a late AGM was unavoidable - though why it was unavoidable was not explained - the board will be renewing efforts to hold AGMs in a more timely fashion. This was just one of a range of procedural matters of concern to some members; communication with members was another one, especially with regards to the lengths to which the club does (or doesn't) go in order to inform members of an AGM.
Now admittedly mass mail-outs are expensive, especially when you have ongoing issues with databases - another problem which is going to be solved, or so it has been claimed, again. And they are also problematic when long absent life members (of which we have many) have not updated their postal details, and thus much of the mail-out gets sent back return to sender".
There was some movement in terms of staff, with some old faces back in media and/or merchandise. The club has also hired a new full-time administrative kind of person. Technical director Strati Xynas is also moving on soon, so we will need to find someone for that role as well.
The next AGM will coincide with elections. As usual, it will be interesting to see if anything happens on this front; it usually doesn't.
Gabrielle Giuliano once again presented the women's report. Giuliano noted that while overall the women's wing of the club had done well in producing talent both for external sources and internally, the results of the various teams could've been better, and she set the very lofty ambition of wanting to win everything available in 2019. Giuliano also noted that the 'one club' process was still ongoing, as matters such as assets and such still had to be dealt with.
Perhaps most curiously, after a couple of years of taking a backseat during AGMs, Gabby put forward an unusually frank and forthright statement asking for respect for board members (and vice-versa), and that there needed to be a raising of behavioural standards across the board at the club; again, hinting towards the broader cultural change the board is seeking to implement. This statement was also coupled with a call-out for more volunteers from the members.
Andrew Mesourouni gave this presentation, which was just about his only contribution to the night's proceedings. This was unusual, as Andrew usually has a bit more to say on a variety of matters at an AGM.
The news that Mike Valkanis was working with us from overseas was a bit of a surprise when it was announced last year; at Thursday's meeting it was revealed that Valkanis approached us about working with him. There was some discussion about potentially facilitating the move of talented boys through Valkanis' Dutch connections. I wait to see what this will look like.
As usual, there was a reiteration of the standard desire and/or aim of having players coming through from our juniors to our the seniors, which we have historically not been good at.
Senior men's team
The board was upfront with the fact that it had chased John Anastasiadis hard for the senior men's coaching gig, and that Con Tangalakis was a gentleman in how he conducted himself during that time. Tangalakis will be on a three year deal with bonuses and renewal of his contract to be judged annually, based on predetermined KPIs.
Player wage costs will come down, but apparently that was not a priority when making our signings for 2019. Wage creep and bonuses had meant that the cost of the former squad crept up over a number of years; in some ways, this new squad is an attempt (again) at a refresh - new, younger talent, but also ridding ourselves of a player culture that had suffered significant deterioration. To emphasise again the attempt at a cultural change off field and on, it was noted that part of our recruitment was on players "of good character with good habits".
Another key word with regards to the senior squad was that it was going to be 'competitive'. When asked for a more explicit expectation - specifically whether the aim was to make finals - the answer was 'yes'.
The two meetings went for about an hour and a half in total. The first meeting started only a little late, and the second meeting started before its listed start time of 8:00pm. We were more or less done by 7:45pm. I can't remember the last time that South Melbourne AGMs were over so quickly - there often even used to be an intermission for a smoke break, and the combined SMH and SMFC meetings could take three or more hours to complete.
Much of this was down to the control exerted over the meeting by chairman Bill Papastergiadis. Where in the past questions, comments, and comments posing as questions would fly freely from the floor, this time much of this phenomenon was nipped in the bud. This was done via calls to adhere to due process - in this case, there being no formal "other business of which due notice shall have been given".
While the chairman did acquiesce to a degree to allow some questioning, it's a signal to members of the club that they will need to be more organised and prepared to deal with a board that, at least on face-value, will seek to adhere more closely to "the rules". While woefully unprepared myself for such a shift in approach from the board, I was a bit surprised that members who were involved in off-site supporter meetings last year didn't have anything prepared for these AGMs.
That lack of preparation was reflective of a sort of defeated, lacklustre mood in the room on Thursday night. While some of the usual suspects did their thing, asking some good questions about governance, financials, and member communications, the feeling in the room was a largely subdued one. A disinterested and disillusioned membership is a not a good thing, and one of the key tasks for the revamped board will be to find ways to energise the membership base.
Things left largely unsaid
There was very little said about the A-League bid, except for two things. First, that the club would maintain a commitment to participation in a summer competition, whatever that means. Second, that Ross Pelligra - the would be major private investor of a South Melbourne A-League bid - had misspoken when he said in a recent interview that the club would be re-branded for acceptance into the A-League.
There was no discussion about plans for celebrating the club's 60th anniversary. There was little discussion about last year's issues with the senior men's team, apart from subtle references about culture. A question about what the difference was between a "director" and a "board member" - apparently everyone on the board is a director, when in the past that wasn't always the case - highlighted that even very basic elements of the club's organisation need to be clarified, especially if it has legal and regulatory ramifications.