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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 1 October 2016
26 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 OCTOBER 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM PHOTO: KOSTAS DEVES South wins record 10th State League title as good times keep rolling along While A-League expansion doesn’t appear to be likely any time soon, the SMFC president believes the club is ready, as of now, to go straight into the A-League GEORGE STOGIANNOU South Melbourne's 3-2 grand final win over Oakleigh Cannons a fortnight ago was a proud moment for many at the club from Lakeside. It gave the club its 10th State League title, which makes it the outright leader in Victorian football in terms of State Championships won. It has now surpassed the tally of Green Gully. It's often been said that a sign of a good team is that it is able to win even when it's not playing well. In South Melbourne FC's case, season 2016 has probably not been its finest, certainly of the three that coach Chris Taylor has been in charge of the team. The team had to wait till the very last day of the season to win a trophy after losing out to Bentleigh Greens in the Community Shield, the Dockerty Cup and the Premiers' Plate. It finished third at the end of the home and away season, conceding more goals than any of the other five teams to make the finals. Yet it somehow found a way to win when it mattered most, winning three finals matches in a row to march to its 10th state title, and end the season on a high note. Speaking to Neos Kosmos, SMFC club president Leo Athanasakis said: " Last year we lost the grand final and we didn't get the success or accolades that we deserved. It was very satisfying from the club's point of view because it did atone for the grand final loss last season to Bentleigh. We'd overcome every hurdle last year and then bowed out at the grand final − there was a lot of unfinished business. "It's a credit to the leadership group of the club and coach and the football staff to have kept things on an even keel and steady despite having some hurdles during the year. Sometimes it's easy to make the easy decisions and cut people, but we stood by our group and in the end they delivered in spades, so we're really excited. "Now we have the most Australian championships, but we also stand alone in Victoria as the most successful state league club in the history of Victorian football. It's fantastic that we continue on with the proud history of winning titles. And that's what we're about as a club, about breeding success and being successful on and off the park." SMFC has enjoyed good times in the last three seasons, its most successful era since its days in the NSL. It follows a barren period of about six or seven tough years in the VPL until 2013, when things started to turn around financially and with the announcement of the redevelopment of Lakeside Stadium. "So a lot of the work that has been done and sowed in those years is starting to come into fruition now. It's been a long time in the making," says Athanasakis. "One of my proudest things in my time is that I've been involved throughout those tough periods. I've got a real sense of enjoyment and pride that, having gone through those tough times, we're really enjoying a rich vein of success." Athanasakis credits senior coach Chris Taylor with putting the finishing touches on the football field that was lacking in those tough years when success eluded the club. "His professionalism, football knowledge is exactly what the doctor ordered." Taylor has been able to succeed where many others have tried, bringing mutual success for club and coach. His threeand-a-half-year tenure at the club has added numerous trophies and made him the most successful NPL coach. Athanasakis believes Taylor's ability to thrive in a high-pressure environment is a major factor in his success as a coach at South. "There's an element of pressure when it comes to coaching SMFC as you know. There's pressure to succeed. "Doesn't matter where you are financially, or where the club's history was − the fans expect success. Some coaches haven't been able to cope with that pressure. Chris has really coped and thrived in that pressure environment. So it's been a great period of success for him as a coach. It's been very satisfying for him, as he's always wanted to coach the club as well. He's told me on many occasions, he had a lot of admiration for the club and he had a desire to coach the club for many years. So when he got the opportunity, he really grabbed it with both hands, and you can see he's a very good fit for the club." Despite their success over the last three seasons, one of the lessons the coach and club have learnt is how difficult it is for semi-professional NPL footballers at the higher end to cope with the fixture overload and remain competitive in all the competitions. South found that out last year when it played around 40 matches in all competitions, and Bentleigh Greens also suffered a similar fate this season. "We're fully aware of that now," Athanasakis says, "and we're more focused on building a bigger, stronger squad that can handle the pressures of winning all those games, because our ambition is to win these titles, the NPL Premiers Plate, NPL Australian title plus the grand final in any given year." As well as on the park, the president says the club has very ambitious plans for off the park developments. It is about to commence work on a million dollar refurbishment of the social club facilities at Lakeside Stadium, which will include a social club bar, a futsal stadium and a pro shop football store which will sell football merchandise and apparel. The club has also secured a 40 year lease at Lakeside. "Our aim in the short term is to fill that stadium on a weekto-week basis, which we almost did for the grand final," says Athanasakis. "And if we do eventually have the A-League in our grasp, we'd like to make it a 20,000-seater boutique stadium; that would be the envy of Australian football, I would think." While A-League expansion doesn't appear to be likely anytime soon, the SMFC president believes the club is ready, as of now, to go straight into the A-League, and has an even straighter message to the powers that govern Australian football. "We believe we're a better resourced, organised infrastructure. Every box is ticked by South Melbourne. And the only thing that's missing for us is an A-League licence. It's a shame, unfortunately, that the people who control football in Australia are very short-sighted and aren't giving clubs like SMFC, which has done everything possible and everything at its disposal, but is not given the opportunity to play in the highest competition. And in effect, subsidising through our registration fees, through our money that we pay the state federations, we are subsidising mediocre clubs in the A-League. "It's very frustrating at the moment that we're not given the opportunity either through promotion or relegation, or they're not issuing any licences to clubs." SMFC coach Chris Taylor celebrates another trophy with his young supporters. PHOTO: KEV JUGGINS.
24 September 2016
8 October 2016