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Vaughan Coveny: How the NSL bred elite players, coaches, and administrators

Recently, George Vasilopoulos and Peter Abraam spoke with Soccerscene to explore how the NSL’s community-driven model became a production-line for elite sporting administrators and commercially thriving clubs.

With the prospect of a future National Second Division gaining traction, the revival of the community model in Australia’s topflight may once again become a reality.

To continue the conversation, South Melbourne legend Vaughan Coveny joined the returning Vasilopoulos to share his experiences from a player’s perspective and provide his insights into the club’s culture of success, both on and off the park.

“I was playing at Wollongong and Frank Arok was manager at the time. South Melbourne was one of the biggest clubs in the country at the time and everybody wanted to go there. I was honoured to get the call,” Coveny recalls.

“What made the club so successful was the high expectations and standards set by everybody. It wasn’t just one factor or one superstar player, but the whole club. That drive for success and high level of standards filters down. It’s how these big clubs create that aura about them.”

The Kiwi would go on to make almost 300 senior appearances for South Melbourne over three stints, scoring more than 100 goals.

“Initially, Frank (Arok) was there with Ange (Postecoglou) as his assistant. We had a young squad. Frank was a bit older and experienced, he had coached Australia and just oozed enthusiasm and love for the game which rubbed off on the players,” Coveny said.

The forward scored more than 100 goals for South Melbourne FC.

“He got a lot out of that younger group and was responsible for developing a lot of those players to eventually play for the Socceroos.”

Coveny himself would go onto become the record goal scorer for the New Zealand national team, while many others forged successful careers domestically and abroad.

Although Arok inspired and nurtured the young playing group, he departed in 1996, leading to the appointment of his assistant – at the time untried head coach, Ange Postecoglou.

For George Vasilopoulos, Former South Melbourne FC President (1989-2002), there was plenty of pressure to make the correct decision but ultimately, he decided the best approach was to promote from within rather than seek an external candidate.

“It was risky, as he was seen as a very young man for the job. There was a lot of resistance from board level but at the time I was happy to take the risk given his character and knowledge,” Vasilopoulos said.

“I remember that we lost a number of games to start the season and people were convinced it was the wrong choice. Many people wanted to sack him, but I was there in 1979 when the club finished last and the reason for that is that we sacked three coaches. I learned a lot of lessons from that period, good and bad. I knew we needed to stick by him.”

“In those days I would attend every training session and spend every weekend with the players, travelling to games and in the dressing rooms. I had an extremely close relationship with the group. They would tell me that he was the right man for the job, and it was them, not the coach causing the poor results.”

Coveny experienced this period first-hand and was part of the squad that ultimately went onto achieve great success under Ange Postecoglou.

After a disappointing 1996 season where South finished 8th, the club would make a preliminary final before winning back-to-back championships in 1998 and 1999.

“When Ange took over, he brought his own style. A different style and philosophy to Frank. He had a great team to work with and because he (Postecoglou) was a previous player, he knew exactly what it meant to win championships,” Coveny said.

The club’s talented group drove the team’s on-field success and this further built the strong relationship the players and coaches shared with the fans.

Like many other football clubs throughout Australia, South Melbourne’s fanbase was, and continues to be, entrenched in the city’s migrant community.

This is something Vasilopoulos believes contributed to the tightknit atmosphere which promoted inclusion and ultimately led to a large supporter base made up of people willing to invest time and money back into the club.

“Football promotes diversity. When I started following the club in the 1960s it was vital for bringing people together. A lot of people who arrived in Australia at the time not knowing the language or customs had a common interest to focus on,” Vasilopoulos recalled fondly.

“This wasn’t just for Greek people but for all of the people in the area who supported the club. It was a place for people to get away from politics and work and come together for the love of football.”

For the players, this commercial success during the 1990s led to many benefits. From elite training facilities to world class infrastructure, the lucrative sponsorship dollars were heavily reinvested into the club and its personnel.

Coveny remains New Zealand’s record goal scorer.

“I played my first game when Bob Jane Stadium opened. I remember we lost against West Adelaide, but there were 16,000 people at the ground.”

“That’s why the players want to go to the best clubs. We had great fans, but also the best facilities and the best of everything. As a player, it encourages you to develop and excel.”

“Club sponsors are so valuable to clubs. At the time, our sponsors and supporters were very generous. If players or staff were producing on the field, we got the best of everything. This translated to contract negotiations, where players at most of the clubs were well looked after. Without the sponsors and the fans, that revenue simply wouldn’t have been there,” Coveny said.

The success of the club during this period, commercially and on-field, was founded on a community model where passionate fans and administrators contributed their time and money. Although this led to the club becoming a powerhouse of Australian sport during the 1990s and early 2000s, the sporting landscape has largely changed. Today, many argue whether this will governance style would translate to the modern era where privatisation rules and clubs rely on the investment and influence of their owners.

Coveny, who now works as Head of Football at Essendon Royals, is hopeful but somewhat pessimistic that at the community-driven model can translate to today’s elite sporting environment.

“I think it’s a lot harder these days. It could work but now you need the resources and facilities. In football, we always struggle for grounds and funding and often have to share facilities with other sports,” he said.

“It may be achievable, but it would need a lot of work and people and clubs would have to work extremely hard to make it happen.”

A new year brings optimism for Australian football

Stadiums have been forced to adapt during the pandemic, introducing new procedures and innovations allowing fans to attend matches safely.

As always in Australian football, 2021 is set to be a big year.

After a year which was continually disrupted by a global pandemic, the game’s future seems to be much brighter in 2021. Here are some of the reasons why:

An Independent A-League and W-League

After years of infighting, the A-League and W-League were finally unbundled from Football Australia on the last day of 2020.

A new organisation of A-League club owners, under the moniker of Australian Professional Leagues (APL), will now take over the operational, commercial and marketing control of both leagues.

Essentially, the league’s power brokers will now have more incentive to invest and market the leagues as they now have the impetus to attract and organise their own business dealings.

Chair of APL and co-owner of the Western Sydney Wanderers, Paul Lederer, spoke of the importance of the deal: “This is an historic moment for the future of football in Australia – for the fan, for the player, for the whole game.

“It’s now time to earn and deliver the future our game deserves. The handbrake on the game is off; owners can finally invest in what they own and create value for the entire footballing ecosystem.

“Players can plan their careers in Australian football, fans can reconnect with the game that they love, and clubs can create meaningful moments for the whole Australian football family.”

Domestic Transfer System

One of Football Australia’s ‘XI Principles’ outlined the need to stimulate and grow the Australian football economy, with the establishment of a new and modern domestic transfer system mooted as a proposed measure.

Last week Football Australia released a Domestic Transfer System White Paper, which will set the wheels in motion to revamp the current model into one which falls in-line with the rest of the global game.

It’s an area where Australian football is falling behind, with FIFA reporting in 2019 that Australian clubs only received US$1.9 million in international transfer fees, compared to other Asian nations like Japan who garnered US$29.4 million.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson has placed significant importance on the issue and the implementation of a proper domestic transfer system will finally reward a broad range of clubs across the Australian football pyramid.

“The establishment of a modern Domestic Transfer System in 2021 by Football Australia will seek to remedy the ‘gap’ that has been created in the Australian football ecosystem by providing opportunities to progressive clubs at all levels of the sport to generate new revenue streams which can be deployed into the ongoing training and development of players, and the clubs themselves,” he said.

“We believe that the implementation of a fit-for-purpose system will have transformational benefits for football in Australia and particularly our professional and grassroots clubs by reconnecting the game and stimulating growth,” Johnson concluded.

National Second Division

The Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) is set to release a report on the progress of their plans for a national second division in the coming days, in a move which should enthuse the Australian football public.

A national second division (eventually with promotion and relegation) will bring a range of benefits to the football system here and will be a unique identifier which separates the game from a range of other sports played on our shores.

There does seem to be some hesitance from A-League clubs however, to immediately green-light a national second division.

Chair of the APL, Paul Lederer, recently stated that a national second division wouldn’t eventuate within the next two years, claiming that expanding the A-League to 16 teams was a more urgent priority.

Speaking with Box2Box, AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas responded to Lederer’s comments. “It doesn’t really bother us much because I don’t think the issue will come down to Paul in the end. It’s not really about him”, he said.

“I was surprised to hear the comments, I’ve got to say, but equally had he said the opposite, it wouldn’t have mattered much either.

Ultimately, the decision will come down to Football Australia as the APL does not have the appropriate regulatory functions.

The current FA administration is much more willing than previous administrations to introduce a second tier, previously listing the need to continue the development of a framework for a national second division, in their ‘XI Principles’ document last year.

New Broadcast Deal

Fox Sports re-negotiated their TV deal with the A-League and other Australian football properties when the competition went into shutdown during the COVID pandemic.

The deal was reduced in both dollars and length, with Fox Sports paying just over $30 million for a one-year agreement which runs out in July of this year.

There is a possibility that Fox may pass on extending that deal, but that does present the game with opportunities to seek out a new broadcast partner or to take things into their own hands and build up their own streaming service.

The game’s TV deal with the ABC is also set to expire this year, with the need to find the right balance between free-to-air exposure and broadcast revenue becoming increasingly important.

New potential broadcasters that may be interested in striking an agreement include:

Optus Sport: Currently have the rights to competitions such as the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, J-League and K-League,

Stan Sport: Recently entered the market by signing a deal with Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition and are reportedly interested in securing the NBL rights in the future.

DAZN: Have started to dip their toes into the Australian landscape through other sports, after broadcasting football in multiple countries across the world.

Whatever the case, Australian football does seem to have options outside of Fox Sports, who have broadcasted the A-League for the past 16 seasons.

With many exciting possibilities to look forward to, the game should be in a stronger place by the end of 2021.

George Stamboulidis: Young Socceroos’ journey from Melbourne to Madrid

In just a few short years, George Stamboulidis has transitioned from playing in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs to one of football’s global meccas.

In a recent interview with Football Victoria, Stamboulidis shed light on his journey to Madrid-based Rayo Vallecano, his professional development, and ambitions for the future.

The following was published as Young Socceroos’ Spanish Incentive | Football Victoria.

Stamboulidis signed with the Spanish club shortly after his call up to the Young Socceroos under 20 identification camp in Holland back in February. The young, gifted midfielder however was quickly forced to return home to Melbourne shortly however, as Covid-19 swept through Spain.

Upon his return, no time was wasted when a program was swiftly produced for him by mentor and former South Melbourne FC and Brighton Albion legend David Clarkson with the help of Football Victoria Technical Director Boris Seroshtan, strength and conditioning coach Piero Sarchetta, and his personal UEFA Pro Licence football coach Greek Super League veteran Goulis Karaisaridis.

Adhering to strict government restrictions to combat the pandemic, Stamboulidis was lucky to train with his brother Haris (a graduate of Columbia University and current professional footballer with Segunda División B side Unión Popular de Langreo), who also returned from Spain. Both brothers fondly recalling their younger years and how their backyard was converted to a gym where they would spend a lot of time working out or “jamming” together on the guitar or piano.

Stamboulidis played for a number of clubs in Melbourne, including Heidelberg United under-20s.

Standing at approximately six foot, Stamboulidis considers himself very fortunate to be able to draw on the advice he received from Young Socceroos Coach Gary Van Egmond regarding his strength and conditioning while upkeeping his silky football skills on a daily basis even with the absence of matches being played. Football was also complimented by Stamboulidis enrolling online at the University of Melbourne after graduating from the prestigious Carey Baptist Grammar School on scholarship, with an ATAR score of 92.4

Stamboulidis credits Football Victoria Technical Director Boris Seroshtan and Melbourne City’s Rado Vidosic for assisting him to breakthrough. The pair chose him to take part in the inaugural Elite Late Development Program, which provided him the platform to launch his career.

Fast forwarding 10 months and Stamboulidis has now settled back at Rayo Vallecano and is pushing for an opportunity in the Rayo Vallecano B team, his aim, whilst at the same time playing valuable minutes in the under 23 side in a men’s competition. Stamboulidis’ proficiency in French, Greek and Spanish has seen him named vice-captain in a diverse team, which helps him communicate effectively on and off the field.

Despite the excitement of playing in one of Europe’s top leagues, the midfielder is taking a patient approach, adopting a personal motto of “work hard and then harder, then only I may get an opportunity I could take”.

“The difference I see between Australia and Europe is the time spent training and the myriad of opportunities that exist for players to play many more matches than what is provided for elite young footballers back home in Australia,” Stamboulidis said.

“I spent a bit of time in Greece playing and the football culture was another level to what we footballers are used to in Australia. However people in Spain and in particular Madrid, has football so entrenched in people’s lives and the culture that there isn’t a moment when you do not hear, watch or play football in all its forms. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to develop, learn, play and enjoy the game I have loved since I was four years old,” he said.

FCA’s Belinda Wilson scores new role with FIFA

Football Coaches Australia (FCA) is pleased to congratulate Executive Member Belinda Wilson on her appointment as Senior Technical Development Manager at FIFA.

Wilson will be working with the Women’s Football Division based in Zurich and will commence her role on 28 December 2020.

“The FIFA was not a role that I was expecting and to be asked to join the team in Zurich is a great honour and privilege, one that I do not take for granted,” Wilson said.

“I have worked both on the technical and on the administration side of our game and it’s not always been easy. I am now in a position where I have an opportunity to create more access and opportunities to better pathways for players and coaches in the women’s game and this is something I truly care about as I have seen many players and coaches who have had the pathway develop into amazing people and amazing players and/or coaches. We need to always look at developing better pathways for people in our game.”

Wilson will be responsible for developing and executing football development programs linked to the objectives of the FIFA Women’s Football Strategy. Additionally, she will monitor the implementation and impact of the FIFA funded Women’s Football projects at Member Associations.

Raised in Byron Bay, Wilson became a coach at a very young age, earning her first coaching badge at sixteen. She has gone on to coach professionally in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, and Guam.

Wilson has also worked for the Asian Football Confederation and attended the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007 in China. She has been an Executive Member of FCA since August 2019 and has since Chaired FCA’s Women’s Football Committee/

“The work that the FCA has done so far for coaches in Australia is amazing, and I am privileged to have been a member of their team. They share similar principals on developing better access to, and increasing the opportunities, to develop and coach. FCA is a small team but one which works tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure we as coaches are gaining the right support and pathways to develop our potential in the game,” Wilson said.

“I am proud of the work the Women’s Sub-Committee has done so far. The support around coaches working in the women’s game and for female coaches is growing as we continue to develop relationships and partnerships with different stakeholders around Australia and internationally.”

FCA Vice President Heather Garriock was keen to congratulate Wilson on behalf of the organisation, stating that she was an enormous asset to FCA during her time tenure.

“it is a testament to Belinda’s professionalism, work ethic and desire to want to take Women’s Football to the next level. We have been lucky at FCA to have Belinda contribute to many projects, in particular our Women’s Football PD webinars in 2020 and our female mentor program that will be established in 2021 in partnership with Football Australia. We wish Belinda the best of luck at FIFA joining one of our founder’s, James Kitching, in Zurich- we are so proud of her achievements so far, with plenty more to come. ”

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