It seems kinda sad that - so far - the club's 60th anniversary has gone by without too much fanfare, but that the back-to-back championships and the Oceania triumph have also slipped by. Maybe there's something in the works to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the club's peak, but we'll see I suppose.
2019 marks twenty years since South won the Oceania Club Championships, although this post also missed the boat by a good month. Closer to the mark - in fact, being celebrated right now - is 3XY Radio Hellas' 25th anniversary, the Greek-Australian radio station which has been both friend and foe to the club, depending on who (and when) you ask.
On September 26th, 1999, after a gruelling run in which the team played four games in about eight days, South Melbourne Hellas was crowned the inaugural club champions of Oceania; an honour which saw the club win the right to represent the Oceania confederation at the first World Club Championships in Brazil the following January.
South had qualified for the tournament by virtue of winning the 1999 National Soccer League grand final against minor premier Sydney United. The fact that the minor premier didn't qualify for this tournament probably sticks in United's craw to this day, but doing these things via grand final winner is the Australian way. Still, an administrative bungle by Soccer Australia could - in theory at least - have seen United go to Fiji in South's place, as seen in this August 1999 article by Michael Cockerill in the Sydney Morning Herald.
South must win the Oceania club title before confirming their passage to Brazil, but that seems a formality, despite an amazing administrative blunder by Soccer Australia.
A fax bearing the signature of NSL general manager Stefan Kamasz and sent to the Oceania Football Confederation in Auckland on July 27 nominated minor premiers Sydney United as Australia's representatives, instead. Kamasz is in Greece on holiday and unavailable for comment.Anyway, the Oceania Club Championships were played in Fiji, in tumultuous weather, difficult pitch conditions and occasionally, as in the final, in front of large, boisterous, crowds. The tournament also seems to have been marred by an overly physical style from some of the Pacific Island teams, the occurrence of which took its toll in particular on the team that South Melbourne would have expected to play in the final, New Zealand's Central United. United were so beaten up by the schedule, that not only did they lose their semi-final, but the third place playoff was called off because of their injury toll.
So South went on to play Nadi of Fiji in the final at Prince Charles Park, in front of 10.000 locals
The South Melbourne squad on the day was:
Milan Udvaracz, Steve Iosifidis, Fausto De Amicis, Robert Liparoti, Con Blatsis, David Clarkson (George Goutzioulis 67'), Steve Panopoulos, Vaughan Coveny, Paul Trimboli, Michael Curcija (Jim Tsekinis 55'), Goran Lozanovski (Anthony Magnacca 46').(One of the heroes of the previous two grand final wins, John Anastasiadis, missed the final because of injury.)
There were apparently only about 70 South fans present for the final. The rest of us probably had to make do with either waiting for reports to be published in the print media, or if they were too impatient for that, listen to the 3XY Radio Hellas broadcast of the game. I was never a big fan of listening to the 3XY broadcasts of our NSL matches. I mean, if you didn't have a choice in the matter, you tuned in regardless, but the signal quality was often crap, and as for the quality of the commentary... let's just say that it could be ages before the commentators would update the score.
But at least I understood enough of the Greek that was the predominant language of these broadcasts! It must've been much worse for fans of ours with a sketchier or non-existent knowledge of the Greek language. During the NSL, there were sporadic updates provided in a heavily accented English, but this was years before livescore apps. And what else could you do, if you weren't at the game or didn't have subscription television? I suppose if you were ahead of the technological curve at the time, you could've used a mobile to call a mate a the game. But that was probably not an option for this game, what with it being in Fiji and all.
Anyway, when I was cleaning out the old social club back in the day, one item I took with me rather than allow to be packed into storage was an audio cassette with the label:
OCEANIA CUP FINAL
Sunday 26 September 1999
PRINCE CHARLES PARK, FIJI
NADI (FIJI) 1
STH MELB (AUST) 5
Back in the day I was dabbling with transferring some JJJ Live at the Wireless tapes (The Strokes, Something For Kate, Pollyanna) onto my computer, ending up with huge WAV files and not much knowledge about what to do with the material after that. And that's kinda what happened with this tape, albeit a few years later. A couple of chunky WAV files, converted into appalling quality MP3 files, and then no real idea about how to get them to the stage where they could be uploaded to the internet, especially in an era when YouTube still restricted you to very short videos of a maximum duration of ten minutes.
The recording begins about four or five minutes into the game. The chief commentator is Kostas Paterakis, a long time contributor to both 3XY and its sports content, who while commentating on the game, also liaises with "Aleko" back in the Melbourne studio.
Apart from calling the game, Paterakis also makes observations about the weather (heavy rains the previous two days); the state of the pitch (muddy and soft, but at least no longer the rock hard version of earlier in the tournament); the nature of the local crowd (a party atmosphere, ala Brazilian football); the attempts by someone to steal the match ball as a souvenir during an early part of the second half; an observation that Fiji is first a rugby nation, and then a soccer one; and that the Fijians are a very devout Christian people, with many of the crowd leaving the game early to attend evening church services..
The audio quality isn't the best, but is mostly clear enough to understand what's going on.
The recording on the tape is also incomplete. Apart from missing the first few minutes, signal problems mean that the first two minutes of the second half are missing, and of course there's also a small amount of time missed when the tape is flipped over to "Side B".
There's a very brief English language summary midway through the second half, but the overwhelming majority of the game is broadcast in Greek. At the end of the game, Paterakis corrects an early mistake he made, where he credited Steve Iosifidis with a goal that belonged to Fausto De Amicis. It would've been Iosifidis' first goal for the club - I'm not sure Steve actually ended up scoring any goals for South.
Post-match there's a summary of the game and its meaning; speeches and the trophy presentation in the background; a brief chat with Steve Iosifidis; relaying the congratulations of then Victorian state Liberal MP (and later WA state Liberal) Peter Katsambanis; a chat with "Eleni" and her husband "Vasili" - Eleni had assisted Paterakis during the week; and a chat with some random from Greece named "Dimitri" before the tape ends.
So, while not nearly as good as video footage, for those with the language skills and patience to listen to its lo-fi entirety, it's a worthy artefact in its own right.