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Vaughan Coveny: How the NSL bred elite players, coaches, and administrators – Part 2

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.”

Football Queensland welcomes election funding for clubs

At least seven Queensland football clubs are going to benefit from a share in over $1.5 million in fresh infrastructure funding as a result of commitments made prior to the recent Queensland state election.

At least seven Queensland football clubs are going to benefit from a share in over $1.5 million in fresh infrastructure funding as a result of commitments made prior to the recent Queensland state election.

Projects including updated female change rooms and lighting improvements are now poised to proceed after the Governor of Queensland officially invited Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to form government last week.

“Football Queensland welcomes the return of the government alongside this important funding boost for our clubs. We look forward to seeing much needed infrastructure delivered for football across Queensland,” Football Queensland President Ben Richardson said.

“Football is Queensland’s most popular organised sport. We have a broad and growing participation base, particularly with women and girls joining the game in great numbers. It’s only fair that federal, state and local government funding reflects the size of the game and its critical infrastructure needs.

“There is more to be accomplished moving forward as the major infrastructure priorities outlined in FQ’s Strategic Infrastructure Plan still need government support as we head towards preparing for the FIFA Womens World Cup in 2023.

“In the meantime, I would like to warmly congratulate Stirling Hinchliffe on his appointment as Minister for Sport, and thank Mick de Brenni for his work in the role and the conversations we have recently held in relation to unlocking the opportunity of the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup.”

There has been seven clubs identified for funding, with the potential for more to be included.

Three clubs are from North Queensland: Estates FC, MA Olympic FC and Saints Eagles Souths FC.

The four others are based in Brisbane: Grange Thistle FC, Mt Gravatt Hawks FC, Newmarket SFC and Tarragindi Tigers FC.

An eighth club, Wide Bay’s Bingera FC, stands to receive $200,000 for a new playing surface and lights if Queensland Labor candidate Tom Smith wins election in Bundaberg following a recount.

Chelsea the first EPL club to partner with Chinese social media giant Weibo

Chelsea F.C have announced a strategic partnership with Weibo, a Chinese social media platform which records more than 520 million active users per month.

The West London club already have more than eight-million followers and will produce content specifically designed for the Chinese audience. This includes employing a Chinese fan reporter at their Cobham training ground.

To add to the ventures into the Chinese market, Chelsea has also launched Chelsea FC China TV, a regular weekday series that features interviews, discussion, highlights and other football related content.

Chelsea Chief Executive Guy Lawrence was delighted to announce the news, citing the strategic partnership will help the club to build a stronger relationship with its Chinese audience.

“Delivering high quality, quick-to-market content and bringing our Chinese fans closer to the club are two key aims of Chelsea’s China strategy,” he said.

“Through this strategic partnership with Weibo, we will be able to grow our offering of original and China-specific content across the country.”

Chelsea were the fastest-growing European soccer team on Weibo last season, according to an official release. As of the end of August, they were the fourth most followed club on the platform, behind only Barcelona, Manchester City and Manchester United, who boast more than ten million followers.

Zhan Sheng, General Manager of Sina Sports, the company which owns Weibo, echoed Lawrence’s sentiment.

“Having already successfully worked with Chelsea on a number of projects, Weibo and Chelsea FC will continue to collaborate further. The key areas of our focus moving forward will be on delivering bespoke multimedia content formats, operating fan communities, as well as new and upgraded commercialisation models.”

“Weibo has continued to increase its investment and support in the sports industry since the inception of its vertical sports platform. With an increased impact in the sports industry in recent years, Weibo has now formed a comprehensive ecosystem linking event organisations, clubs, athletes, media, and KOLs. It’s a unique style of social media communication on Weibo which will provide Chelsea FC with the platform to increase fan participation and commercial monetisation.”

Caroline Springs George Cross FC: A historic club reborn and revitalised

Relocating from a traditional home will usually mark the start of a new era for a football club. Modern facilities provide dramatic improvements for players, fans and other stakeholders to enjoy, and a new environment can often create an uplift of atmosphere.

For Caroline Springs George Cross FC, the mid-2019 move to the state-of-the-art City Vista Pavilion and Sports Field has done all of the above – but also far, far more.

The club has used the transition to revitalise its football program and open an industry-leading hospitality precinct, increasing opportunities for income diversification and the creation of an intimate sense of community.

“Prior to the move we utilised three different venues. It has been enlightening for the club to amalgamate all of our teams and for the first time in a while, the club has been united from a participation point of view. We are now all at one venue where teams and families interact and watch each other play and train. It also means we can have community and NPL Juniors all at the one club,” said Mark Sultana, Caroline Springs George Cross FC President.

Formerly Sunshine George Cross, the club has a rich 74-year history and a deep connection to Melbourne’s western suburbs.

“We are a very old, but very progressive football club. In 2019 we had a change of name to match our new home. We have created a really special culture and are highly united across all areas,” Sultana added.

From a business standpoint, the hospitality precinct, dubbed Georgies on Vista, has allowed the club to build a sustainable income stream which is not solely reliant on traditional methods like sponsorship.

“It’s a full hospitality precinct including a bar, function room and restaurant. It’s a fully functional business but we also use it to give back to our community. We offer specials for members and players, while kids eat free,” added Liza Djuric, General Manager of Caroline Springs George Cross FC.

“Parents have a comfortable space when they are waiting for their kids and it really unites people during training and on matchdays.”

The precinct features two synthetic pitches and two grass pitches. Credit: Dorian Mifsud.

As well as the hospitality facilities, the City Vista complex features cutting-edge amenities for players and coaches. The $13 million reserve boasts two synthetic pitches and two grass pitches, with space for 4000 fans.

Although project was heavily funded by the Melton City Council, the Georgies also made a significant contribution of approximately $1 million.

While securing funding was an enormous achievement, the relationship the club shares with its council is very much a two-way street. The club has approached its relations with the broader community much the same as it has with its members, promoting inclusion and engagement to great effect.

“It’s a testament to our venue that Western United FC chose us to base themselves out of. They use our facilities six days per week to train, but we also support the local community,” Sultana said.

“The school across the road uses our facilities for their P.E classes and we support other local schools by hiring out our grounds. The public can also use our grounds when we aren’t using them and there’s times over summer where the grounds are booked out for tournaments.”

The club has a 20-year lease on the complex, with an option to extend another 20 years beyond that.

With the deal undoubtedly a huge win for the club, Sultana and Djuric emphasise that it was a result of hard-work and dedication from many past and present administrators.

“A lot of people over a number of years have sacrificed a lot to have this facility granted to us. People like Eddie Gauci, who was integral to our conversations with council. He has sadly passed away, but his legacy will not be forgotten. Countless other people including committee members, coaches, presidents and volunteers sacrificed a lot for our club to be where it is today,” Sultana said.

Importantly, in addition to supporting its members and the surrounding areas, the reserve was also designed in a gender-neutral manner, something which is increasingly important in the modern football ecosystem.

This has allowed George Cross to heavily promote female participation in the area and offer genuine career development pathways for women who are eager to pursue coaching or administrative positions.

Georgies on Vista has created a sustainable revenue stream. Credit: Dorian Mifsud.

“We have female-friendly change rooms and access and gender-neutral facilities. The club is committed to drawing female participation across the board. We have girls from all age groups and ensure our women’s teams train and play on our main pitch,” Djuric said.

“We are committed to this even across the board and committee. We have female coaches and self-nominated to the Change Maker Project, a Football Victoria and Vic Uni led program which is all about driving football clubs to achieve 50/50 participation.”

With a state-of-the-art facility now in place to complement the club’s passionate fanbase, the President believes Caroline Springs George Cross FC is in a prime position to compete in the highly anticipated National Second Division.

‘We have taken this club from being mainly comprised of part-timers into a professionally run organisation. When the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) put out the expression of interest for the working group, we took it upon ourselves to contribute,” Sultana said.

“We are an old NSL club with a strong brand and supporter base. We have one of the best facilities and believe we are in a good position to be issued a license when the time comes. The licenses need to be given on a criteria base and from a capability standpoint, we will have all of the components ticked-off.”

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