The gaping holes in Australia’s football history – Interview with football writer and researcher Greg Werner

When I asked Greg Werner why he was interested in researching and recording the grassroots clubs of each and every Socceroo and Matilda, his answer was simple.

“It was born out of frustration, frustration that the largest sector of the game in this country was being ignored.”

In 2014, the Sutherland Shire based writer set about righting that ship and his journey continues to this very day. Over the last five years, Werner has ventured to all points of the domestic compass in an attempt to shed light on the origins of Australia’s representative footballers and in an effort to flesh out Australia’s footballing story.

His travels led to an unexpected publication, yet his passion to create a more in depth and detailed narrative of the Australian game has always been the most powerful driver behind what is a bold and broad reaching vision.

The trigger for the time consuming and often frustrating quest was an SBS piece on the Matilda, Servet Uzunlar. Werner recalls it vividly.

“I discovered during the segment that Unzular grew up playing in the same association in which I had spent 10 years playing & coaching. I asked myself why. If I was unaware of such a wonderful local players’ presence, how much else had escaped me?”

By extension, the key question for Werner became, “How many clubs were going completely unacknowledged for their contribution to our national teams.”

Such are the holes in the Australian footballing narrative and oft is the point made that the game existed on the national sporting landscape well before the heroics of the Socceroos at the 1974 World Cup. Equally emblematic of a poorly recorded history is the fact that many young A-League fans appear somewhat ignorant of the glory days of the NSL and the contributions made by community clubs during that period.

Greg Werner chats with former Socceroo Manager Ange Postecoglou in 2018.

Werner’s ambition focusses specifically on the individual players who have worn national colours; those whose early years of development are often overlooked and unrecorded at the expense of the contemporary concerns of the team they represented.

I put Werner’s claim that “If you are to go to just about any player’s Wikipedia entry you would think that they did not start playing until the age of 15,” to the test and in most cases, it proved correct.

Appearing as something of an enormous task, I asked Werner where he began.

“I started with what I knew from conversations on the side lines of the Shire and personal experience. The Griffiths brothers (Joel, Adam and Ryan) played at Menai, Graham ‘Arnie’ Arnold played at Gwawley Bay, Murray Barnes began at Kissing Point & my best mate Richie Bell started with Cronulla RSL.”

“Beginning with those bare bones, I realised there were only 800 more players to research,” recounted Werner with something of a tired chuckle.

“The search for answers began with Facebook, and was continued on the side lines of international training sessions, after A & W-League games, at NPL matches and even at FFA Cup and Champion of Champions finals. It also, beyond everything else, involved thousands of hours trawling through programs, magazines and newspapers going back to whenever.”

Werner has seen every major Socceroos game in Sydney since 1969, bar the disaster of 1981 and every home Matildas game since 2015.

It was the insistence of Fox Sports commentator Andy Harper that Werner’s mission would only be taken seriously with a supporting website to present the material. Now overflowing with history and memory, http://www.grassrootsfootballproject.com/ presents the accumulated research in a written and visual form.

The Grassroots Football Project logo.

Perhaps both the intention behind and the potential impact of the Grassroots Football Project is best encapsulated in Werner’s own words, “I have had the absolute honour of meeting men who were my footballing heroes and men whom I had never even heard of before the GFP.”

Such a sentiment now extends to the women’s game and no doubt the next generation of female players currently competing in junior play will be advantaged by the opportunity to read about the pioneering Matildas; those women who paved the untrodden and difficult path towards support and acceptance of the women’s game.

Werner with former Matildas Renaye Iserief, Janine McPhee, Sunni Hughes and Julie Murray.

The collated facts and data proved too enticing for renowned publisher of football books Fairplay Publishing to ignore. Werner became a co-author of the Encyclopaedia of Matildas; a visually stunning text that journeys through the history of the team and the women at the core of its success.

“It was an honour to have been given the opportunity to co-author the text and also beyond my wildest dreams. Now my dreams have shifted and I already have another book in the works and the one after that is already in the planning.”

Research has sent Werner to hundreds of gatherings in recent years.

“When Brazil toured here in 2017, I took the day off work to go to Newcastle to the first Matildas Reunion, a gathering of 60 players from all over the country. That night I added almost 20 entries to my list and had the best night of my footballing life apart from November 16th 2005. I left there at 1am to drive home to Cronulla, dealing with 40kph speed zones all the way down the freeway.

I have had the honour of spending time with some of the legends of the Australian game.”

Not seeking personal gain, Werner’s simple ambition is to “change the way the powers that be regard the most important clubs in the country,” and in turn “to make the history of our game relevant”.

It is an admirable and bold endeavour and one destined to continue.

“The GFP was never designed to be completed, for as long as internationals were being played, new players would be picked. My only aim was that their stories would be told, something which is now starting to be done. The end game would be that a plaque would be placed at the home ground of each of these clubs to make tangible their contribution.”

Something tells me that Greg Werner’s passion and energy may well make those plaques a reality. What a fitting tribute they would be to the grassroots clubs that have provided the Socceroos and Matildas with such wonderful players and people throughout Australia’s footballing history.

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Will Melbourne City eventually move all of their games to the south east?

Melbourne City were the benchmark in the A-League last season, lifting the Premiers Plate in May and eventually the Championship in late June.

It was their first taste of A-League success after years of hard work on and off the pitch.

The club has invested heavily since City Football Group (CFG) took over the Melbourne Heart in 2014, initially building a $15 million City Football Academy in Bundoora, in the city’s north, which has housed the club for the past few years.

In what seems like a strategic investment however, the club revealed late last year that they will move from their Bundoora headquarters and relocate to Casey Fields in Melbourne’s south east.

Earlier this month, the club announced construction had begun on the new elite City Football Academy facility within the 84-hectare Casey Fields Sporting Precinct.

“The first stage of construction includes the central elite training pitch, with its 115m x 115m hybrid grass surface, and is due for completion by the end of 2021. The new pitch is adjacent to the site’s existing four full-sized pitches – one grass and three synthetic – which will be primarily used by the Club’s Academy teams and for City in the Community programs, as well as for City of Casey school and club programs.

“The next stage of construction will see the development of Melbourne City’s new two-storey administration and high-performance building at Casey Fields, currently in detailed design phase. Construction on that phase of the facility is due to commence in the coming months, with completion estimated for mid-2022,” a Melbourne City FC statement read.

Stage three of construction will look to implement a 4000-capacity mini stadium in a significant space in the precinct.

With the club’s A-League players to officially begin training in the facility in August, recent developments in regards to the possibility of a 15,000-capacity stadium in Dandenong may see the end of the team playing all of their games at AAMI Park, in the years to come.

The Victorian Government has already pledged $100,000 in funding for a feasibility review and development of a business case to build the 15,000-seat boutique stadium, with the City of Greater Dandenong also set to match that contribution.

According to Cranbourne Star News, The Greater Dandenong Council is lobbying for $110 million to build the stadium, which will also host festivals, concerts, rugby matches, alongside hosting future Melbourne City games.

While of course at this stage there is no guarantee the stadium will be built, Melbourne City head honchos may have to grapple with the idea of permanently leaving AAMI Park behind, the stadium they have hosted games at since their inception.

With Victory ditching their deal with Marvel Stadium to move all their games back to AAMI Park next season and Western United set to play the majority of their games at AAMI for at least the next two seasons, the 30,000-capacity rectangular stadium is not short of regular football content.

If the proposed stadium does get the go-ahead, City may look to move all of their home matches to Dandenong, and alongside their new academy location, this can prove to be beneficial in establishing a clear geographic identity.

They will have a stronger presence in the local areas and will have the chance to better connect with the local football community and grow their membership base.

City should also still have a reasonable chunk of members who live in the south and south eastern suburbs of Melbourne, with a report from 2018 stating 28% of their members came from those areas.

Adversely, a move away from AAMI Park has the possibility to alienate members and fans who may not want to travel to the proposed stadium for reasons such as proximity.

Sharing the home games between the stadiums could be a viable option, but also brings on the challenge of not having a singular home ground, as well as match scheduling conflicts.

A big call from City administrators may need to be made in the end and not all members and fans will be pleased.

Hosken Reserve Master Plan released for final feedback

Moreland City Council has released an initial Hosken Reserve Master Plan to the community, in preparation for a final round of feedback before a green light towards the upgrade.

Hosken Reserve serves as the primary ground of Victorian National Premier League team Pascoe Vale FC.

The plan features an upgrade to the two pitches at Hosken Reserve, as well as the development of a hybrid grass-synthetic soccer pitch to be used by Pascoe Vale FC. In addition the clubrooms, lighting and car park are being upgraded. 

In December 2020, a report was tabled at the Moreland City Council meeting recommending a new master plan developed through an in-depth community engagement process. Since then, several rounds of development and community consultation have occured.

Pascoe Vale FC President Lou Tonna explains that the plan is a result of years of consultation and it should satisfy all constituents. 

“There was a master plan in 2009, and unfortunately a lot of it hasn’t been activated. There was some community pushback in regards to that plan, and it went to community consultation. There were a few things adopted by the council and it went to a refresh group, who aimed to get a reasonable outcome for the entire community,” Tonna said.

“This being the school, the Tennis club, the football club, and also the residents. I believe this master plan has hit the mark.”

In May Moreland Mayor Cr Annalivia Carli Hannan believed the plan would satisfy members of the local community.

“Our community health and well-being is strengthened by sport participation as well as by general community use of open space. Inner metropolitan councils have increasing demands on our limited open space, with competing needs and uses. I want to thank community members, including sports clubs and local residents, for their feedback and contribution,” she said.

Tonna says that the development should be finished within three years and that the outcome is a positive one for the community.

“It’s going out to community consultation, and we are hoping it will be finished in the next one to three years,” he said.

“We’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the refresh group. We are very happy with the outcome of the master plan, and believe it’s great for everyone involved. This isn’t just about Pascoe Vale, it’s about the whole community.”

You can read more about the development of the Hosken Reserve plans, or find out how to make a community contribution, here.

Manningham United Blues FC boosted by $300,000 grant for LED lighting upgrades

Manningham United Blues FC have received a $300,000 funding grant which will be used for lighting upgrades at the club’s home at Timber Ridge Reserve.

The funding has been provided through a partnership between the local Manningham Council and the Victorian Government, through their World Game Facilities Fund.

The upgrades will see a new 50 LUX LED floodlight system installed at the ground in the coming months, consisting of 4 new LED lighting towers which will light up two full size pitches and a small side pitch at the reserve.

President of Manningham United Blues FC, Mark Giuliani, believes the new upgrades will have a positive impact on the local community.

“Looking at the wider community, the new system will have a significant effect in reducing the lighting-up of neighbouring backyards,” he told Soccerscene.

“Obviously, the lighting system we have now is pretty old and it just sprays light everywhere, whereas LED lighting is very accurate and precise.

“So, in terms of the local residents, that will be the number one benefit for them as they won’t have their backyards impacted.”

The club will also benefit significantly from the improved lighting system in the years to come.

“In terms of us, there’s numerous things I think we are going to benefit from,” Giuliani said.

“One main benefit is definitely the financial aspect, the system we have now is pretty old and each year we spend at least $1000 on globe replacements.

“The running costs will also be better off now that the lights are LED and this will be an important financial gain for us.

“On top of that, we will definitely get a much more even spread and better lighting on that facility now, rather than what we’ve got in the past.”

Giuliani explained that under the new lights, night games will soon be allowed to be hosted at the club’s home ground, which hasn’t been permitted in the past.

This, however, will only apply up to a certain competition grade and will depend on the LUX it will provide.

“We were offered the option to chip in some extra funding to bring it up to a certain LUX for NPL games, but at the moment the club is not in a financial position to make that extra investment,” he said.

“It is however NPL ready, so all the wirings and powering, the lighting towers, the fixtures up in the towers, they will all be ready if we want to upgrade to host NPL games.”

The senior male team currently competes in NPL2 after securing promotion to the NPL system in recent years.

Manningham itself, has a strong, yet relatively recent history. After humble beginnings in 1999 with only a few junior teams initially, the club merged with Fawkner Blues SC in recent years and now has 39 teams and around 2000 members.

The club has now become the biggest community club in Manningham through factors such as their female program, which continues to expand across the board.

Facilities have been key to their growth and alongside the announcement of the new lighting setup, the club has received recent clubroom upgrades at Timber Ridge Reserve, through funding from the local council.

“We have also just had a recent upgrade to our Timber Ridge Reserve, in terms of our clubrooms – it was a $300,000 upgrade which was funded through Manningham Council, which we are extremely thankful for,” Giuliani said.

Since 2018, the World Game Facilities Fund has invested $13.2 million in 48 game-changing infrastructure projects with a total value of more than $41 million. The next round of the World Game Facilities Fund will open for applications in August 2021.

For more information visit: sport.vic.gov.au/grants-and-funding/our-grants/world-game-facilities-fund

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