The probably very bad arguments contained here could have been refined, but writing this has already taken up too much of my time as it is. Destroy it as you see fit.
I thought about the hours wasted
Watching TV, drinking beer
I thought about the things I thought about
Until immobilized with fear
And all the great ideas I had
And how we just made fun
Of those who had the guts to try and fail
Ben Folds Five - RegretsLet us be clear on one thing first: any post about a South Melbourne Hellas A-League bid must be read with the proviso - even if we must suspend all disbelief - that such a bid has any chance at success. If you don't believe that South has any chance whatsoever of becoming an A-League participant, I hold nothing against you. Truth be told, 99% of the time, I'm one of you in that regard.
So having put forward that disclaimer, as well having interspersed disclaimers throughout this piece, here are several thousand unreferenced words of no value to anyone except Joe Gorman (and he's already submitted his manuscript, so it's too late for even that) which sum up some of what I've been thinking over this past week and several years.
In the depths of forum hearts
I have been scouring the forums, Facebook and Twitter trying to gauge the reaction to this latest announcement. All of this is anecdotal, mind you (not that any of that matters), but most of the discussion seems reasonably reasonable. Indeed, the discussions on this particular matter have become more reasonable over time from the part of current A-League fans. Whether that is because of the security they feel in having had their competition last this long (as well as the attendant success of FFA, national teams, etc), or because they are becoming bored with a stale and stable league, or just the passage of time taking the edge of these discussions, the tone of the conversations nowadays tend to be very different to what they used to be.
There is one notable exception to this: Facebook. Because very few South Melbourne fans use forums or Twitter these days, much commentary by South Melbourne fans on this matter is done on Facebook, and because the debates there haven't developed in the way that forums/Twitter have done (because unlike a forum or Twitter community where different posters get to know each other over time, there is often little continuity in Facebook discussions) we still see the 'overly-exuberant' type of South fan, who is often passionate, and often arrogant. These people are often matched up against the most hostile of A-League fans. Rather than one group emerging because of the other's existence, these groups have existed from the start of this long running old soccer/new football debate; in effect, their existence is symbiotic, as they egg each other on to greater heights of passion and hatred.
[As an aside, what is remarkable about this trend is that just about everyone attaches their names to those comments. We have been told repeatedly that the anonymity afforded by social media has allowed people to become more hateful and spiteful, and yet on this issue I have found that, in general, by far the least civil discussions are being conducted by people who have chosen to waive their right to anonymity.]
Anyway, over the course of many years of observation, I have become aware that of those who oppose a South Melbourne Hellas aligned bid being awarded an A-League licence, that they are not of a uniform mindset. Indeed, they run the full gamut of both the sensible and the ridiculous. Here are some of the different types out there:
The Racist: No explanation needed.
The Assimilationist: whether openly assimilationist or hiding beneath the guise of multiculturalism, the assimilationist can't handle a pluralistic form of multiculturalism. The openly assimilationist person's emphasis tends to be on exclusion - if there are people who do not wish to conform to the largely Anglo-Celtic norms of behaviour and forms of cultural expression (this goes for soccer as much as other parts of the public sphere), they should be ostracised and vilified for choosing to actively pursue their own culture; this is especially the case if the assimilationist believes that the practice of said culture is in direct opposition with the dominant mainstream culture.
Those who support the proxy form of assimilation that is multiculturalism tend to emphasise the point of inclusion - that because of the obvious mainstreaming efforts of FFA, more people than ever before are now included as equals in the current arrangement - even if, again, by doing so they are conforming to the imagined notion of a shared cultural centre. Still, in terms of raw numbers, they've won the argument. Pluralism as a whole has been rejected by the Australian public, and that includes its application to top flight soccer.
Let's be clear - I don't like either of these approaches. In this matter I like to think that I am a pluralist - but I'm not so stubborn as to think that it is not a minority point of view.
A comment on this aspect I found interesting was posted on 442's forums, in particular regarding the 'opening the floodgates' line of thinking should South somehow be allowed in. Trying (I suppose) to allay the fears of those who worry about an open slather approach to ethnicity, 'Benjamin' argued that rather than opening the floodgates to other, especially more overtly ethnic teams than South, the inclusion of South would actually make it harder for those other ethnic teams to join.
I'd argue the contrary - South wouldn't be getting in because of the ethnicity, they would be getting in because of the strength of their bid. This in turn would demonstrate to ALL older clubs that ethnicity isn't the issue, and force them to put-up-or-shut-up - improve facilities, finances, etc., and put a serious bid together. South coming in = proof of no prejudice.South Melbourne getting into the A-League would change that competition's ethnic/mainstream dynamic, turning it away from the very rigid ideas of 'inclusiveness' that we have now. But it would not be the complete victory that the pluralists would want. A successful South Melbourne A-League bid would occur in no small part because South has shed (whether naturally or otherwise) its rougher edges (and for some within the club as well outside of it, a measure of its authenticity), therefore emphasising that it is South which has had to change more than the A-League/FFA have had to change.
Now my preference has always been for South to get in and lock the gate behind us. But one interesting development of a successful South for A-League bid would be to see how other disgruntled entities would respond to the challenge. For those who care about the give and take in such matters, and the consequences of that process even outside the scheme of Australian soccer, there's a really good sociological thesis to be written about this.
The Apostate is of course the former South fan, who has abandoned us for 'the future'. They have used many reasons for doing so, and formulated many rationalisations. Without going into those reasons, we should note that some of them are even valid reasons! However, there are some apostates who rather then move on gracefully having left the few hundred regulars left to fight the good fight, have instead decided instead that they need to demonise the club and those who still follow it.
Thus we have probably the most passionate anti-South for A-League push coming from those who were once of us. They display the need to, as a convert, prove their worth above and beyond what others more naturally born into supporting new football would be asked to do; they often end up pushing themselves into a crescendo of hate. The most extreme example of this is of course the ex-South supporter of Greek descent - thus you tend to see these people emerge especially on the Neos Kosmos Facebook page.
The most frustrating part is that these hostile apostates often claim an agency that is not their own, not admitting that they began following the A-League/Melbourne Victory because it was the 'in' thing, and a choice made possible to them only or mostly because of the exclusion/omission/absence of South Melbourne Hellas from the top-flight.
They may also claim the team they support now is what they always wanted South Melbourne/Australian soccer to be. Thus the apostate may also retrospectively claim that they were never really South fans, and that they only went to South Melbourne matches to support soccer (it is strange that their support of soccer didn't extend to going to watch other Melbourne based clubs play, not that any of that matters). And all the things which allegedly plagued South or the NSL back then seem to matter so much more now to them than they did back then. Which, to be fair, is not a crime in itself - people and their values can and do change over time. But it is the dishonesty in their motivations that really sets these people apart.
To be fair, some apostates are more open about their own position, admitting that should South somehow get back in, that they would be faced with a moral quandary over who to support. They have left us (or in some cases remained with us) and joined an A-League team because the very idea of South being let into the A-League under the conditions it exists is absurd. I don't agree with that decision, but I understand.
The Not Yet Theorist
Whether because of the ethnic factor (let's wait until absolutely everyone's moved on), or because they want to see a second division up and running first, this person is not against South Melbourne joining the A-League per se; they only ask that it be done under extremely precise circumstances - circumstances which never seem to arrive.
The Sacrificial Lamb Theorist
This person does not necessarily hold an abject antipathy to South. Rather they believe that of all the ethnic, metropolitan NSL clubs, South was the best placed to make the transition to new football. The unfortunate thing is, according to them, that to allow South into the A-League would be impossible on two fronts (keep in mind that these two ideas are not necessarily held in tandem). First, they adhere to the idea that admitting South (or any ethnic club) would jeopardise the 'clean break' with the past, and that the proof of that approach (however unpalatable) is in the pudding. Second, that to let South in would be to potentially open the floodgates, giving hope to 'worse' ethnic clubs than ourselves. I'm not at all sure who they could possibly mean....
The Melbourne Croatia fan
Like all other South Melbourne Hellas news, Knights fans are attracted to South Melbourne Hellas A-League bids like (insert your favourite cosmic law of attraction). They follow our progress on AGMs (or lack thereof), on the social club (or lack thereof), and apparent delusions of grandeur (or lack... no wait, we have that in abundance). One wonders what Knights fans would talk about if South didn't exist.
Many people who have spent years reading the comments section on this blog, or who have observed the points of view of Knights fans online should by now be very familiar with their view of themselves, of us, and Australian soccer more generally (and while South of the Border has good reason to suspect that their discussions away from the public eye are much more diverse, their collective online ideology is quite uniform).
The reasons they oppose a South Melbourne bid come down to two broad ideas, presented in no particular oder of preference: first, they believe that it is traitorous to the greater cause of promotion and relegation and a second division; second, that we are selling out our traditions, a claim which extends to our club's evolution in general.
All of these things are perfectly understandable if you agree with some of those claims, or more to the point, if you agree with their view of what an ethnically aligned Australian soccer club is, and how it should conduct its business. To be fair, when reading the revisionist claims of some South fans about how our club was founded and the purpose thereof, one can sympathise with this point of view. To be blunt: South was founded as an ethnic club, for the Greek community of Melbourne, run by the Greek community of Melbourne, and it became a club which discarded the Anglo elements of the merger at the earliest possible opportunity.
On the other hand, that founding was almost 60 years ago. Those who made those decisions, who set the course of the club's cultural direction, are mostly no longer with us - either because they are dead, or because they are no longer at the club in any capacity. In addition to that, those who now look after the club (and I include here not only the board, but also those who have volunteered their time for the club) and who have done so over the past 15 years or so - have increasingly come from younger demographics better integrated with Australian society. Now knowing many of these people, I know that they genuinely respect the traditions and culture of South Melbourne Hellas, but I say that as someone who sees the potential of culture to evolve; indeed, that to stay still leads almost inevitably to atrophy no matter how noble the intention.
The ultimate point I'm trying to make though is that we are not the Melbourne Knights. They have their way of doing things, and we have our own. This insistence (whether from them or some of our own) that we run our club the way they do theirs is at times mind boggling, not for any personal problem I have with the way Knights are run, but because we are two different clubs. Our members decide which cultural direction the club wants to head towards. It may not please everyone at South, but there is more or less a consensus that the cultural direction South Melbourne Hellas is moving towards is one supported by most of its fans. At times it seems as if Knights fans are more upset about South becoming (or at least trying to become) more mainstream than South fans are.
Now if you are dedicated to maintaining the ethos of the 'founding fathers' as closely as possible (whichever club you're aligned to), you're more than entitled to do so. But as far as I'm concerned soccer clubs are for the living. I have no interest in tending to a soccer cemetery. I am on record as having written posts that in the soccer environment we live in, there is no correct approach and that indeed there may not be any correct approach for ethnic clubs/old soccer to somehow become part of the mainstream revolution. To each their own, and good luck to both (not that any of that matters).
The person (usually a resident on 442's forums) who sees Lakeside as being too close to Docklands and the Bubbledome, and therefore unable to meet some bizarre condition of the laws of space and time which only seem to apply when discussing Australian soccer. See the 'People who don't know Melbourne' section below for further elaboration.
The Far and Wide advocate
Sort of like the Geographer, but usually more measured, their argument is not usually against South Melbourne, but rather geared towards reaching areas not already represented in the A-League. So, that means more regional teams, Canberra and Tasmania, etc.
The Other Places Need Derbies First theorist
These people believe that before further sides get added to Sydney and Melbourne, second teams should be added to Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth to create derbies. It's an idea which tends to ignore the difficulties in getting people to stump up the cash for markets where the available number of A-League fans has pretty much been tapped out.
The Lakeside Stadium hater
The one for whom the current Lakeside Stadium, with its athletics track, should be an automatic deal breaker.
The Current South Melbourne fan
Hard as it may be to believe for people outside the club, there are current South fans who would be or are against an attempt to join the A-League. Many (if not most) of these people hold what I would consider conditional opposition to South participating in the A-League. These conditions include:
- member ownership and control of any such entity
- continuance of name, colours, history
- control of intellectual property
- concerns about continuities should any possible investor bail out, or should the club itself no longer be able to continue as a partner in a public/private partnership.
While all those people still exist, and are deserving of various degrees of repulsion, we should take stock of the fact that the amount of people who outrightly deny us the right to even try are far fewer than they used to be. More importantly, most people involved in the A-League as spectators do not waste their time on forums and the like commenting about the A-League, let alone expansion. These are niche discussions.
This is an important point I feel needs to be made again and again. The discussions around the future of Australian soccer which take place online are very niche discussions. Within those discussions there even more niche discussions, which while promoted with quantifiable passion, make no ripple whatsoever on the greater whole of Australian soccer. Promotion/relegation, second division, NCIP, the NYL - like those people who keep making petitions to bring back Toobs or the KFC tower burger - their enthusiasm and its attendant clamour more often than not obscure the fact that there are not actually very many of them: it's just that they're louder.
I'm not saying that these discussions need to stop, nor the anger or ideas - what would this blog be without that as a driving factor? - but they are discussions that one needs to view in their proper context.
All that carefully applied PR of Bill Papastergiadis got thrown into the bin somewhat when people started acting like pork chops on social media. And while the antics of SMFCMike are such that there is no one who takes him seriously as a representative of the South Melbourne Hellas cause (treating it as all a bit of a laugh), it is a bit of a concern when officials start weighing with their ill-conceived two cents (not that any of that matters).
So we had our lovable larrikin president trash not just the Geelong bid on Twitter, but by extension the Central Coast Mariners, too, as part of the perceived ill-conceived regional A-League experiment. Now whether Leo was right or wrong (not that any of that matters), it's just a bad look for the president of our fine organisation - especially an organisation that is not part of the competition that they want to be in - to be trashing an actual member of that organisation; in particular an organisation that is run as a cartel.
I mean, on the one hand, I admire the
Take my word on these matters, because I know about PR. I once did an undergrad unit called Writing for Public Relations and Advertising, which I passed (not that any of that matters), and never mind that I spent most of that semester arguing about the lack of discussion about ethics.
People who don't know Melbourne
Let's cut to the chase - most discussions on A-League expansion (this one included) are not based on anything resembling reality. These are discussions undertaken by people with no business knowledge; no meaningful background in sports administration; no meaningful background in advertising, media, public relations; people with warped views of ethnicity (are there any other kind?); basically no one of any use to the people making the decisions whatsoever.
|Stock photo of 442 forum member vetting future Melbourne A-League teams.|
Thus because of the success of Western Sydney Wanderers, we now have people (who are not from here) perpetually looking for the Victorian 'Wanderers'. In part they do this because Heart have been an incoherent mess in terms of creating any sense of deliberate difference from Victory. They also do this because if Melbourne sporting associations do not work on geography, then maybe that means South Melbourne becomes a more viable option in people's heads, which is not something everyone is comfortable with.
So we have people spewing forth nonsense about south-eastern corridors, dumping a team out somewhere in the western suburbs 'for the west', and even contorting themselves into saying that if South Melbourne were to get an A-League licence, that it could/would/should focus on Melbourne's south-eastern sprawl - as if that was South Melbourne's natural constituency, as if there is such a thing as an untapped market of soccer fans waiting to be won over and which somehow haven't been won over yet, and as if South Melbourne could possibly be the franchise that makes it happen out in the far south-eastern reaches.
We've reached the bizarre stage where even the South Melbourne bid advisory group have started pointing at things like that. The reality is, that except during the years when South Melbourne was filled with Greeks, South Melbourne has barely ever even represented South Melbourne the suburb, let alone an imagined geographic area. Some of that is down to South's own negligence in nurturing or even caring about its local area, some of it is because of the hostility of the Anglo-Celtic locals, but so much of it is because what happened to South Melbourne Hellas is what happened to a lot of the VFL clubs - in that what may have started as a local gathering eventually became a conceptual existence.
So just as footy fans of most clubs made their pilgrimages from all corners of Melbourne and beyond, first towards the inner suburban stadiums, and later towards the two rationalised stadiums, so too did South fans make the journey from the outer north, the inner west and the sprawl of the south-east towards Middle Park and later Lakeside Stadium. For those outside of Melbourne, especially Sydneysiders (who have a fear of leaving their enclaves and journeying over the hill to the next village, let alone the one after that), this may be hard to understand, but it is second nature to Melburnians.
I'll finish this section with an anecdote based on someone's interpretation of actual evidence. Once, sometime during the days of the Melbourne Heart/Southern Cross/second Melbourne licence nonsense, or maybe sometime after that (not that any of that matters) I asked someone who had been intimately involved with Melbourne Victory in its early days whether there was any geographic bias in Melbourne Victory's
If nothing else, it points to people wanting to set up an A-League shop in Melbourne needing to think differently from how such a thing would be done in Sydney. The team itself needs to mean something different beyond geography, because geography is still a secondary concern for Melbourne sports fans.
Unless that's somehow changed in the south-east of course. I'm not from there, so it's possible I don't know about them as well as I'd like to think I do.
People who don't know South Melbourne Hellas
It is incredibly frustrating to be talked about without ever being spoken to, let alone be heard (see, I did learn something from the compulsory post-grad ethics unit I had to take).
One of the things that has bothered me mightily have been those people who talk about South Melbourne as if they know the club intimately, when they clearly have no idea what they're talking about.
They know nothing about us because they're:The absolute best bit of any @smfc for A-League discussion is having people who have never been to a South game make comment on our culture.— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) November 15, 2016
- Not from here.
- Have never been to one of our games.
- Last went to one of our games circa 2004/1999/1995/1991.
- Rely on and take as gospel hostile media reports from media organisations they only now consider to be hostile towards soccer in Australia, and even then only because they themselves have something on the line now.
- They get their view of the club from SMFCMike.
And to be clear, I don't have an issue with our fans or our enemies calling us Hellas. Whether for good or ill, it is who we are (not that any of that matters).
This kind of rhetoric is linked to the general phobia of the NSL or the continuing fad of trashing the NSL because it is what is expected by the whole old soccer/new football dichotomy.
As I noted on Twitter earlier during the week, there were indeed violent incidents in the NSL. Some of those are well known, whereas other (sometimes worse) incidents and examples of poor behaviour are far less well known. None of that matters however when the people discussing the ethnic and/or violence angles are only able to bring up or argue against the same 2-3 incidents.
(And yes, a very similar argument could be made for the A-League, where violent incidents happen with a frequency they are not usually given credit for; but because these incidents tend to happen outside of and away from the stadium, they are not as well known. Likewise, the discussion around the use of modern stadia being a contributing factor to reduced occurrence of bad behaviour within the stadia, especially the way any such incidents are now largely contained to one portion of the ground, is an angle rarely remarked upon. Quite a different thing having a whole group leave one of end of AAMI Park (for example) and migrate incognito to the other side of the ground, to being able to run around (or walk casually) to the other side of a ground made up three quarters of terracing or a grass hill. Just as pertinent is the attitude of those who, like their NSL counterparts, want to downplay the frequency and severity of incidents.)
Neither are those discussions helped by trying to downplay the seriousness of the Bonnyrigg-Sydney United and South Melbourne-Preston incidents in the intermediate period between the end of the NSL and the beginning of the A-League, which were absolutely perfect examples to everyone who was arguing for the A-League and against the NSL on these terms.
|FFA's David Gallop interrupts bi-hourly meeting of typical suburban|
Australian soccer club. This meeting centred on whether Aldi tomato sauce
was an acceptable canteen condiment instead of name brand tomato sauce.
There have been some people - including South people and
To which I say: phooey! That's right! Phooey!
Phooey, because a board is elected or at least in our case performs a self-perpetuating existence because no one dares to challenge them (not that any of that matters) to do board things. If and when the time comes for the club to enact a plan so major that it changes the course of club's history (whether that is constitutional change, approval of an MOU with the government, or a decision on what kind of taps we want for the toilets), then the club will consult with the membership accordingly.
Without in any way measuring it scientifically, there is broad consensus from the current members of this club that they want their team to be in the A-League. Certainly the question of A-League aspirations seems to come up often at AGMs. Therefore, the board has the right to explore all options available to it in order to make that desire a reality. That mandate doesn't extend to proceeding without the approval of the members, but the board does have a mandate to put in place procedures which will ultimately give the members the chance to vote on plans that actually exist, and not on figurative, pie in the sky propositions.
If we're being honest with ourselves the reality is, and I'm going off gut feeling anecdotal observation here (not that any of that matters), the vast majority of our supporters would give up their firstborn (or even more significantly for some, collection of vintage Iron Maiden t-shirts) for the club to get into the A-League.
Seeing as that is the unadulterated truth, surely the thing to do is to be bold! Strike while the iron is hot! Not wait until it is absolutely too late! If it isn't too late already for course, which it almost certainly is (not that any of that matters).
OK, let's speculate just a little
So far we've only been given a little bit of information about what a South Melbourne A-League team would look like and how it would function. As noted earlier this week, the team would play in blue and white, with the red vee heritage strip as an away kit option; it would play most games out of Lakeside, which has a purported break even point of 1500; it would start a W-League team; and there is also the claim that the bid has the financial backing required to get going as early as the start of the next A-League season.
(though that aim of being ready for next season seems unrealistic to me, and even by extension FFA, who have said that they'll release the expansion criteria - whatever the hell that means, and won't it be fun to see regardless - some time early next year. That seems to suggest a 2017/18 season expansion, which makes eminently more sense, not that any of that matters)
The exact nature of that financial backing has not been expanded upon very much. We have a member of the bid advisory committee, Luisa Chen, with no known connection (so far as I can tell after having done absolutely no research) being touted as an investor, with no detail however as to what the arrangement would entail. In a more recent Michael Lynch article however, we have a little bit more information of the sort which may not appeal to the desire for some (many?) South Melbourne Hellas members to maintain control of such an entity in our own right,
"We have large amounts of capital to support this bid," Papastergiadis says, citing investors who will all pump in a minimum of $500,000 each.
The club is confident that it will raise capital of some $7 million for the start-up phase and then prove an attractive proposition to potential sponsorsSo, almost certainly a sort of public-private partnership rather than people willing to stump up the necessary cash as part of the push to join a reformatted South Melbourne Hellas board. Fair enough - under these circumstances, the reasoning would be (and I doubt it would be far wrong) that there is no way any member owned club has the cash to stump up for an A-League bid, operating under the conditions that exist in the A-League now (and not some imagined future where there is no salary floor, playing out of stadia that don't meet the high standard and high costs of those FFA seems to demand and which the public expects). The costs are, for too many reasons, too high for member run clubs to withstand.
The usually erudite 'DoubleKreas' on smfcboard summed up what may be the best case scenario for South Melbourne Hellas in terms of ownership of an A-League franchise licence,
Can we have South Melbourne Hellas Ltd own 50+1% of the A-League entity and the other 49% owned by private investors fronting up cash for an equity stake.
Hellas equity in the license deriving from its lease on the stadium, junior team set up, womens etcFor those that would reject this scenario out of hand, it must be remembered that by and large top flight clubs worldwide - including those that many Australians support overseas, even if mostly from the comfort of their lounge rooms - are not owned by their fans, nor is their success funded by the fans except via the gate, merchandise and (indirectly) via pay television subscriptions. When there has been (say in England) a recent trend of supporters trusts come in to take control of either the entirety or a portion of a club, it is usually because all other means of finding someone to bankroll their club as a hobby have been exhausted.
A 50+1% ownership (along the lines of what the Germans do) may be the best scenario for those Hellas fans who desire an A-League side with some measure of membership rights and ownership. If someone were to vote against that on principle however, one should not hold it against them. Neither should it be held against those who would find such an arrangement acceptable - after all, as a member owned club, ultimately it would be (at least I really hope it would be) the decision of the members as a collective that will decide the future of the club one way or another on this issue.
Of course at such time apart from the matter of the proposed licence ownership structure, there will be concerns about control of our intellectual property; the prospect of the club eventually buying those investors out or being able to have some role in vetting who invests; and what safeguards are put in place should things go pear-shaped for the A-League bid, in order that South Melbourne Hellas is still protected, and related matters (not that any of that matters).
Second division and promotion/relegation
As far as I'm concerned a second division with promotion and relegation is simultaneously the noblest of sentiments (provided that it is not actually some sort of fifth column attempt to derail Australian soccer) and the filthiest, stupidest idea that I can think of. If that sounds like an argument for promotion and relegation in Australian soccer - at least from the point of view of the sheer anarchy that it would cause, and I will admit from that angle it does have an apocalyptic charm about it - then so be it.
But let's be realistic - it would require an overhaul of the A-League of such radical proportions that it is hard to imagine any of it happening. Apart from likely dismantling the salary cap and salary floor, it would need a drastic reconfiguration of the apparently imminent new broadcast deal and the Australian sporting business notion that markets across the country need to be covered (not for nothing do 442s geographers keep looking for supposed untapped and suitable markets). It would also need a drastic renegotiation with the current licence holders, which FFA would be loathe to do because whether you agree with how things have been run or not, those people are the ones who have kept the competition going.
The A-League also runs on and in some respects is successful in part because of the illusion of prestige that it puts out to the public. Even if the quality of the play is not up to scratch, the presentation around the game - the use of modern stadia, marketing, broadcast arrangements - lends to it in the minds of the general public a measure of credibility. While this projection of prestige does not come cheap, and is also the cause in large part (especially regarding the stadia) of the financial difficulties many of the teams are facing or have faced, it is not something that can be dispensed with for the sake of a romantic suburban terrace.
That kind of approach may work in small doses in the FFA Cup, but over the long haul people attending sporting events in the Australian top flight want their creature comforts - comfortable seating, easy access to venues by car or public transport, etc.
(The exception to this is the NRL, whose public is split between those who go to games - and who are happy to put up with suburban grounds at least some of the time - and those who watch on TV. Either way, they are often funded not only by television rights but massive leagues clubs, giving them a measure of independence from the controlling body.)
Whatever other faults the A-League has, it has had a stability that has put its predecessor to shame. It has maintained and increased its broadcast appeal. It has maintained most of its teams, even if luck was sometimes more involved than good governance. If the apparently soon to be signed broadcast deal is a good one, it is conceivable that even the struggling licensees will be better off than they have ever been.
Don't get me wrong - I understand the appeal of promotion and relegation, both from the 'romance' aspect but also the 'merit' one. It is a problem that exists in Australian soccer because in recent years despite the existence of salary caps and salary floors, the same teams end up near the bottom, with no obvious negative consequences for poor performance (apart from economic ones, I suppose). But stability has been one of the things the game has craved for years, and it is has by and large achieved that. I can't see FFA or any members of its cartel being willing to dispense with that after the obstacles they've had to overcome, especially if it is to please a loud but very small minority of clubs and their supporters.
Australian sporting supporters are also not accustomed to relegation. Even Australian soccer supporters, especially those who follow overseas teams and competitions, are not accustomed to relegation. In part this is because 95% of them follow clubs in the major leagues of Europe who will never get relegated. The charm and romance of promotion and relegation is for them at best an abstract notion. Comparisons with Leicester are bollocks. Whatever other deficiencies Leicester faced against its more affluent rivals, Leicester still had ten of thousands of people supporting them in a cornered market. In other words, they still had far more than the bare minimum to create at least the possibility of doing what they did.
The notion that 'they do it everywhere else' (or at least in places that count, however you quantify that) is a misleading line of argument. One could easily argue that they (whoever they are) only do that because it's what they always done; had they started again, today, from scratch, would they definitely do it in the same way? Are not many of the leading clubs (who many people in Australia follow) that play in those leagues interested in leaving that system?
Despite many false dawns on this issue, people can still be made to believe that the construction of a second tier based on a combination of untested, remote markets and teams that began their terminal decline 20 years ago, is not only imminent, but also eminently desirable. Even this week we went from a story about positive noises coming from FFA on promotion and relegation, to the idea being (forever) delayed again within the space of about three days.
Even if a second division were to be created that would/could one day lead to promotion to the A-League, it would not necessarily bring forth the bounteous harvest of support and sponsorships some people think would happen. I get the appeal of the romantic storylines; I get that there are clubs and people who believe that not enough is being done to make the most of soccer's talent and resources that exist below the top-tier, and that the lower tiers are ignored by FFA; but I am yet to be convinced that the economics stack up, that there is a genuine desire beyond the limited sphere of #sokkahtwitter and similar outlets for such a competition or arrangement.
Now we all know that being stuck here in this state league cesspit (all of us with real and genetically inherited memories of happier times in higher places, not just South people) is not ideal, to put it politely. But waiting for the FFA to make something happen on this from, or hoping that FIFA or the AFC will make something happen, is the height of naivety.
If that is the case, start making the case, and do it properly. Having proposals pop up here and there from various bloggers and others associated with quote/unquote ambitious clubs is fine, but these ideas need to be machine tooled to within an inch of their life into a proper proposal; not only that, such a proposal needs to be one that is understood in the terms of those who will have to give it approval to go ahead.
Whatever other issues the A-League has had with financing, the path to getting there didn't happen only because the government of the day decided to step in and make things happen. The PFA, disgruntled at the mess that was Australian soccer and the NSL, put up serious amounts of cash to do research and draw up plans.
Now with South constantly trying to go it alone, clearly we're not much help to this cause on this front either. But if a second division and promotion/relegation are such good ideas, then they don't need South to make them work - every other consortium clamouring for a second division and/or promotion relegation should be able to come together and start the process of nutting out an economically responsible/feasible plan.
This is one of the reasons why South Melbourne keeps making A-League bids. Yes, it is borne of ego, of delusions of grandeur, an insufferable bout of arrogance almost inherent to the way the club operates. But surely part of the club's reasoning is waiting for something to happen means nothing will ever happen. You have to make your own destiny. If that means trying to join a cartel league, and putting the behind the scenes work over the past decade to make that happen, that's what they'll do.
The belief (or at least the rhetoric from the bid advisory committee) that South Melbourne in the A-League would not cannibalise support from the other Melbourne teams.
The two funniest things that could happen
1. FFA accepts a South Melbourne aligned bid for the A-League, and South Melbourne Hellas members approve.
2. FFA accepts a South Melbourne aligned bid for the A-League, and South Melbourne Hellas members reject it.
I make no apologies for referring to ourselves as South Melbourne Hellas (not that any of that matters). It is the name of the SMFC parent company anyway (not that any of that matters).
The other final thought
The construction of our new social club is kicking along nicely. Not that any of that matters one little bit.