Paul Mavroudis tuned in to Soccer Stoppage Time recently and heard some interesting things: some floated his boat while others boiled his piss. This caused him to reflect on a number of things including one issue close to my heart -- the origins and continuity of South Melbourne (association) Football Club. The following is excerpted from his excellent South of the Border blog.
Soccer Stoppage Time is some sort of Sydney radio program. First time listener, and I was impressed. If they were a Melbourne-based show and I was a fan of an A-League team, I'd listen in again. But neither of those things are true, so it ain't going to happen. More's the pity.
Anyway, the magic of the internet alerted us to the impending appearance of one Tom Kalas on this show. But first we had to wade through some Joe Didulica stuff and how the Heart have signed three 35-year-olds or something. "Yoof!" as Victory fans would say. Interestingly, Didulica claimed that Heart aren't for sale. Also talk about Heart making a profit, which seems to be news to some of the presenters, even though I figured that everyone knew about that news. Next to no mention that I can recall of how they made that profit - selling a truckload of players for some decent coin.
Then Ray Gatt.
Then news or rumours or something. Patrick Kisnorbo asking for too much money apparently. Ah, here we are.
Tom Kalas 'the' director of South Melbourne? First up he starts by disagreeing with Didulica's assertion that Heart aren't for sale, pointing out how Scott Munn had been talking about Heart's meeting with overseas investors. Maybe investing means not for sale? Buy in, not buy out?
Then the questions about South's A-League ambitions. Where's the money coming from for a South A-League bid? Kalas replies that we have guarantees from a 'Big 4' bank, but it's all down to firstly doing your due diligence and such. What a relief.
Are we ready? Kalas replies with talk about our now four year old transformation program. Third largest broadcaster of football in Australia (pretty easy when no one else outside Fox and SBS does it), mention of our Youtube stats, with no mention of it being it watched by Russian gamblers. But Youtube stats have always been a rubbery concept to me.
Sustainability seems to be the main selling point. We can do the job of being Melbourne's second team better, and more efficiently. Mention of Heart's alleged $75k cost per home match at AAMI Park. But what about South's facilities? Surely they're not up to scratch? Kalas and one of the hosts make the point that the lighting and corporate facilities are what need improving, and those can be done fairly quickly, with government support.
The questioning moves on to what form a South team would take in the national league. Kalas makes the very interesting assertion that 'The South Melbourne Football Club brand will always be a state league based club'. It's the FFA who will have the final say on what would happen in that situation, what we could call ourselves etc. The follow up questions are obvious - if all of that is the case, could a South Melbourne takeover bid take over the entire Heart licence and remain as Melbourne Heart? Well yes, that's an option.
Now, a brief break from me. Kalas is seriously having a laugh here, and more or less repeating the same routine that our erstwhile friend Jim Mellas performed so many years ago - a whole five of them, my how time flies - during the Southern Cross bid era. Remember this stuff? Will it, won't it be South Melbourne? Is it a Trojan horse bid? Broadbased and compelling? Kalas tried to make the point that 'a broadbased club in the A-League' is what we hope to get, as well as a member run (owned?) club in the top flight (who's members?) and that we are football club, not an ethnic club.
So, under the model that Kalas was discussing, South as South would stay in the Victorian system, and whatever this new thing is would be 'our' national league representative. Who would support such a thing? And without my trying to second guess what our fans would do this in situation, Kalas seemed hopeful that enough Heart fans would come over to make it a genuine combination of efforts. You must be kidding. Regardless of how pitiful and inconsequential I think Heart's raison d'etre is, and by extension the feelings that their season ticket holders have for that organisation, in their fantasy world that feeling of belonging to something important is very real.
And before anyone jumps on that sentence, let it be clear that I consider that fantastical sense of attachment as scarcely more ludicrous than the fantasy we South fans have about our club being the biggest, best, demanding of excellence etc. Because that fantasy is real, the idea that they could easily switch allegiances to this supposed mulatto entity is just absurd. Maybe some could, but most wouldn't. And to do so would require a certain amount of magnanimity and humility from our end, traits which South has seldom if ever possessed.
Kalas tried to talk about the soccer demographics that only go to Melbourne A-League derby games. What makes him think that those people could be relied upon to commit to a full length season? The next question is why aren't South attracting more people if we have so many people on our database, and watching our TV show? A truly daft question, but it gave Kalas a free hit. It's because we play in winter, in a state league competition, with no marketing from the FFV and no mainstream media attention. Could the Heart or Victory do any better? Kalas reckons it's apples and oranges, and he's surely right on this point. It's why even Collingwood can only get a couple of hundred to VFL games at Victoria Park.
SMFC: A history
So how did Kalas go about talking about our history? By deliberately goading me with references to 1884. Now I'll preface this part of the discussion by not claiming divine authority for the accuracy of this history, only for where my understanding currently lies of the limited details we have at present. Any corrections, new info, send it our way.
For those not up to speed on 1884, here's the deal. The original South Melbourne soccer club began playing way back then. That club went through a number of changes and periods where they (and soccer in Melbourne in general) didn't exist. At some point in the 1930s - 1936 according to this article - they amalgamated with South Melbourne Juniors (a separate club previously called Middle Park Schoolboys).
South Melbourne United would of course become one of three clubs to merge to form the South Melbourne Hellas we know and mostly love. It is my strong opinion however that when Kalas makes these claims about claiming that history - and I've warned him about this - he makes serious factual and cultural errors. Factual, because we aren't even sure what and who the original South Melbourne were for large periods of time. Factual, because even the article mentioned above which claims South Melbourne United involved a merger of South Melbourne with another entity in 1936, is clearly missing some important detail, as both the South Melbourne and South Melbourne United clubs are listed as being in existence after that year.
In 1937, South Melbourne was in Division 1, South Melbourne United in Division 2. The same goes for 1938 as you can see here and here. In 1939 they finished first and second in Division 2. In 1940 both teams played in Division 1. South Melbourne ceases to exist after this season. South Melbourne United struggle during the war years, but re-emerge after them.
When looking at the 1959 foundation date for South Melbourne Hellas, this is a bit of misnomer. 1959 is when Hellenic and Yarra Park merged. The merger of that new entity with South Melbourne United happened in early 1960. The Greeks needed a ground, and United took a chance that the Greeks would respect their identity and history. That lasted just a few years, and the most visible part of United's contribution to the new club - outside of the venue itself - the red 'V', was ditched, and little to no pretense seems to have been made that this was in any way a local club. Callous perhaps, but at least eventually honest. I reckon it was an awful thing to do, but it was done and most people never gave it a second thought.
On rare occasions the official wing of the club has dug out the 'heritage' shirt, but not often. Again, if that's the way the majority of the club's support feels about South Melbourne United, that's OK. But having overwhelmingly rejected the history of the clubs that preceded South Melbourne Hellas (and this includes the complicated Greek club history), and focusing only on what was created in 1959, I find claiming that 1884 date is unconscionable, and a ruse designed to get away from the real problem.
At best, we can claim that we are a living representative of the soccer tradition that has existed in the South Melbourne/Albert Park/Middle Park area - perhaps the original heartland of soccer in Melbourne - since 1884. That also includes teams like Hakoah, Park Rangers, Middle Park, Albert Park, St Kilda, and both defunct and new teams with those names.
Some more temperate minds may try to claim the 'custodian' tag, but I consider that an illegitimate attempt to monopolise a history and local tradition that is not completely ours to claim, especially considering the over 50 year rejection of that tradition and history mentioned earlier. To even begin to be able to start claiming that history as our own, we have to show a humility that is not in keeping with the traditions of this club, and for better and worse I have seldom seen here.
Which leads us to the real problem. Who are we? When we talk among ourselves, we are pretty sure of who we are. While some still hang on to an older style Greek nationalist or patriotic identity - as is their right - most younger supporters I think are able to easily claim the identity of being a club with a mostly Greek past and heritage, with an Australian future. These two ideas do not have to be mutually exclusive. We can be both, and I would argue that we actually exist in that manner right now.
So why can't we take that to the outside world? Why do we have to lie about who we were and who we are? In some deranged way, I can understand why we tried to do it back in the Southern Cross days - because we knew (even those who argued otherwise) the FFA and general public was utterly against us. But these days we go out there with the claim that the FFA is encouraging us to make a push for the A-League, a claim which was reinforced by one of the radio show hosts.