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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 07 July 2018
28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 7 JULY 2018 SPORT DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ISSN 1321-1676 9 771321 167062 Why South Melbourne’s A-League bid is beyond football Neos Kosmos investigates why South Melbourne joining the A-League is about more than just the game, but the people CON STAMOCOSTAS In 2005, the inaugural CEO of the A-League John O'Neill, called the fledgling competition 'new football' and referred to the axed National Soccer League as 'old soccer'. In doing so, he caused a division between football fans in Australia. On the one side stood the supporters of the newly formed A-League clubs, many of whom were new converts to the round ball game. On the opposite end, many of the NSL diehards became marginalised. Not only were their clubs axed from the top tier of Australian football, but as fans, they were discarded and viewed as a footnote in history. It's a history that dated back to the 1950s when the migrant boom from Europe saw a number of clubs come into existence that would go on to form Australia's first national football competition. That was the NSL, which was formed in 1977. It's hard to believe that was 41 years ago, and just 14 since its demise in 2004. When FFA expands the competition by two teams in the 2019/20 season, former clubs such as South Melbourne hope it will be just one more year before they are back amongst football's elite. Last week, the governing body confirmed South as one of 10 bidders who were successful in making the shortlist for expansion with the announcement of the new licences planned to be made by 31 October 2018. Former A-League chief Archie Fraser told Neos Kosmos that the former NSL powerhouse has one of the most compelling cases for inclusion into the A-League. "They have the football pedigree and history and a magnificent bid document with detailed content," he says. "They also have existing playing and training facilities in place on a viable long-term lease, a social club, football structure, existing fans, government relationships, and their own football curriculum which they teach in China." South Melbourne bid chairman Bill Papastergiadis is confident South Melbourne will be successful and revealed that Fraser wasn't the only one who had supported the club's push. "I want to thank Archie Fraser for those comments," he says. "South Melbourne is a club that has worked hard on and off the field for the last 10 years to be in the position to be able to make a viable bid for the A-League. "Everyone in the football industry acknowledges that our bid is the most comprehensive of all of the bids. Many commentators have expressed the same opinion such as former Socceroo Mark Bosnich. Many others have said that we have a very, very good bid and we are excited about the next process." Western Sydney Wanderers CEO John Tsatsimas knows what it's like having a club accepted into the A-League. He was part of Newcastle Jets when they entered the new competition, and was also the founding CEO when the Wanderers joined. He told Neos Kosmos that when Western Sydney was formed it was more than just about a sporting team. "I don't want to speak about the other bidders as they are running their own race," he says. "But what you have got to understand is, this was a place - it's beyond football. "It was a region that was neglected and ignored. It was a collective of people who were the next generation of migrants who had been living here for years and were never represented. "There was an unfair narrative here and it's no more exemplified in the fact that when the A-League started there wasn't a team for west- ern Sydney, for the people of this region." Papastergiadis sees parallels between South's bid and the Wanderers’ inclusion into the A-League. "Absolutely," he says. "It's about passion, intrigue, engagement and history and the shirt that you play for. It will mean everything to our supporters who have stuck with the club through the lean times and to be able to enjoy their club being part of the ALeague. "It's about giving opportunities to our young players coming through the system for them to dream and aspire to play at the highest level. So yes, it's more than just putting a team on the park, it's everything that goes with it and that is the story of South Melbourne." Out of the 10 short-listed bidders, South Melbourne, Brisbane City and Wollongong Wolves are the only clubs to have played in the former NSL. Wolves CEO Chris Papakosmas told Neos Kosmos that the club's history was their biggest selling point, adding that John O'Neill's words in 2005 were now irrelevant. "To me there is no 'old soccer', there is no 'new football', there is just football," he says. "Wollongong Wolves’ suc- cess factors are that we've been in the National League before and we have experienced significant success with two Grand Finals. Our big strengths, and the cornerstone of our bid, is that we are an existing entity with existing history. We have an existing very strong and very, very proud supporter base locally, nationally and, just as importantly, internationally." Papastergiadis also views South Melbourne's history as a major selling point and is confident the governing body will see it that way as well. "I don't believe it's a choice between new and old clubs. It's a choice as to who is the most appropriate to help drive the A-League to an even higher level," he says. "You can't buy history, you can't buy culture, and you can't buy tradition or the championships that South Melbourne have won. That is a massive head start for any club that wants to pitch to the A-League. "The criteria we addressed in our bid document has taken us the last 10 years to put in place. That's the big difference between us and most of the other bidders." Many view Melbourne and Sydney as the locations where the two expansion teams will come from. Standing in the way of South Melbourne be- coming the third Victorian team are two rival bidders known as Team 11 and the Western Melbourne Group. Papastergiadis welcomed the competition and says it has made South more vigilant in their pursuit. "We support and celebrate the other bids because that would bring out the best in all of us and at the same time it will hopefully allow the cream to rise to the top," he says. "We welcome the fact that there are other bids from Melbourne because it means we need to work just that little bit harder to ensure that we are the most competitive and we are the best bid in Australia, let alone Melbourne." With the A-League having a downturn in attendances and TV viewing figures, Papastergiadis is confident that South's inclusion in the top tier would lift the competition as a whole. "It will galvanise the support for football in this country, connecting disenfranchised former NSL supporters with the current A-League, and it will generate passion and interest," he says. "We will provide bums on seats and eyes on the screen and I think the FFA and the other A-League clubs will be happy with the outcome of South Melbourne being back in their rightful place."
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14 July 2018