Victorian clubs vow to ‘Save Clifton Park’

Clifton Park

On Wednesday August 31, a ‘Save Our Park’ barbeque will be held to raise awareness for what a community’s future holds.

Located in Brunswick, Clifton Park is one of the most used facilities for the locals in the metropolitan Melbourne suburb. Part of the appeal is the current playing surface, which is made up of pure synthetic material and will not suffer major damage from wear and tear.

However, a complication has arisen, with the contrary view from councillors of their plan to rip up the trusty synthetic and replace it – prompting fear from clubs who believe the playing surface is not one that should make way.

The main sticking point is where to spend a budgeted $650,000 in 2023-24. Instead of resurfacing Clifton Park with general maintenance, the money is intended to go towards getting rid of the synthetic and replacing it with natural turf.

Two of the clubs involved in the campaign – Pascoe Vale FC and Brunswick Zebras – are united in the view that eradicating the synthetic is not the solution, and that councillors need to listen to valuable opinions of those at the heart of the facility and know the ins and outs of its value.

It is hoped that the upcoming get together on Wednesday night will be a turning point in what would work towards an ideal outcome, where Pascoe Vale FC Chairman Lou Tona is one of the supporters.

“We’d love it if the entire football community could come down and support the Clifton Park pitch,” he said to Soccerscene.

“It’s an important piece of infrastructure that we want to keep – we’re not asking for another playing surface, it’s just to maintain the one we’ve got.

“We desperately need it because normal grounds cannot cope and leads to cancellations of training, across all codes.

“The synthetic pitch is required and we can’t afford for it to be taken away.”

Part of the argument for the proposed synthetic pitch removal is concerns surrounding the harm that it may cause, related to health and the environment.

This was outlined by Cr Angelica Panopoulos of the Greens:

“By June 2023, Council will develop a report concerning the damaging effects that synthetic materials like fake grass have on human health and the environment, such as urban heat, excess water usage and plastic waste,” Panopoulos said in a statement.

While the statement covers genuine issues, it does not factor in community and sporting needs that Clifton Park best serves.

Essentially, there needs to be a more widespread view on what contributes to health and environment problems, rather than signalling out the synthetic pitch as a problem.

In a statement by Brunswick Zebras – another club backing the campaign – it is all about doing further research on the pros and cons of synthetic before deciding on a knee-jerk reaction.

“Clifton Park synthetic has become a valuable shared facility due to both wet weather and past droughts. This year our club’s ability to cater for the growing demand of natural playing fields has been tested, compounded by the poor maintenance and repair of our three natural turf fields at Balfe, Sumner and Ryder Parks,” they said.

“It has been claimed that the $650,000 for the upgrade could instead be used to demolish the Clifton Park synthetic and replace it with a natural turf. The claim is that this new pitch would have between 40 and 60 hours of carrying capacity – currently our grounds are considered to have a carrying capacity of 20 to 25 hours per week.

“As a Club we would like this claim tested on an upgraded existing football field, not used as an excuse to demolish the synthetic.”

Pascoe Vale and Brunswick Zebras are just two of a multitude of clubs set to come together on Wednesday night.

They encourage anyone who opposes the synthetic pitch removal to head down to Clifton Park for a BBQ from 6pm, with the meeting a sign of solidarity for an important cause.

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Liam Watson is the Co-Founder & Publisher of Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy, industry matters and technology.

Angel City FC: Uplifting women and strengthening communities

Los Angeles is a city that produces pioneers and cultural influencers across various industries, including entertainment, technology, and sports. The Angel City FC epitomises LA’s ambition and innovative essence more than any other organisation.

Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of Reddit, Initialised Capital and Seven Seven Six, is the largest shareholder as an individual investor for the club, however, he does not hold a majority of the equity or control of the board, instead sharing authority with co-owners Julie Uhrman, entrepreneur with a talent for community building and ranks among the most influential figures in the sports business industry as well as being President of the club. Joining in the ranks as founders are Kara Nortman, a visionary venture capitalist and , the acclaimed Academy Award winning actress and passionate advocate for women’s rights.

Angel City FC’s journey started following the US Women’s National Team’s 2019 World Cup victory. The triumph, which garnered record viewership, alongside movements for gender and pay equity, propelled the creation of the club has obtained attention since it was awarded expansion license for the 2022 season back in 2020.

Capitalising on the World Cup momentum and data indicating strong fan interest in women’s sports, the group established Angel City FC, confident in the increasing value and growth potential.

Angel City FC’s business strategy in sports is truly pioneering. By implementing creative revenue models, including distinctive sponsorship arrangements and a dedication to community investment, the club has shown that supporting women’s sports holds significant, untapped commercial potential. It is important to highlight that the club’s sponsorship model, which allocates 10% of sponsorship dollars back into the community.

Rocky Rodriguez headers the ball
Image credit: NWSL website

This approach has redirected over $4.5 million into the community, forging partnerships with Hollywood A-listers and influential activists like Uzo Aduba, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Garner, and Eva Longoria, are amongst an ownership group over 100 strong, most of whom are women.

Through a new partnership with HubSpot, Angel City FC will support women athletes via a fund dedicated to post-retirement education and entrepreneurship endeavours. Emphasising revenue sharing and community reinvestment, Angel City FC persistently adopts a groundbreaking approach to achieve commercial success while advancing its broader mission.

Central to Angel City’s mission is the community it serves and builds. In its brief existence, the club has successfully cultivated a diverse and inclusive fan base, resulting in unprecedented support and engagement.

Angel City’s impressive 90% season ticket holder retention rate and strategic, values-aligned sponsorships further attest to the club’s success in community building. “How do we leave the community better than when we started?” Uhrman emphasises as a key question the club seriously contemplates with each partnership opportunity.

Consider the partnership with Sprouts Farmers Market. Through this collaboration, the club focuses on nutrition and education, partnering with two local schools to create gardens and host free monthly farmers markets benefiting the community. Additionally, an education program teaches children about nutrition and the importance of developing strong bodies, further enhancing the impact of the Sprouts partnership.

While Sportico reported that for the clubs first season in 2022, the new entity had already been valued at more than $150m approximately, Angel City’s average crowd attendance for the 2022 and 2023 seasons at BMO stadium had surpassed Sydney FC’s attendance during the 2022/23 A-League Men season by approximately 3000, which led the competition.

With at least four more expansion franchises planned in the coming years, perhaps the question is why the A-Leagues can’t strive to establish their own Angel City FC, or at the very least, embrace the concept of standalone women’s teams in the A-League Women?

However, Uhrman, on her end, recognises that the Angel City model isn’t universally applicable and cannot simply be replicated everywhere around the world.

The NWSL was established in 2012, the following year was when matches were played, ever since then NWSL is being praised for reaching a stage where there is ongoing work needed to address sustainability and player safety concerns (the league has faced a series of abuse scandals in recent years).

With new investments and ambitions, such as relocating its headquarters from Chicago to New York, aligning with the MLS and America’s major sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL – the league is poised to strengthen its foundations and sustainability as it enters a new phase of existence.

In this phase, the NWSL not only aims to solidify its position in the American sports hierarchy but also seeks to distinguish itself within the rapidly expanding women’s football ecosystem worldwide.

The club’s website has a dedicated category for their six unique supporter groups, with each of them having social media platform and a website, with a brief description about each group. Looking at this from an Australian footballing perspective, it all sounds too good to be true, how Angel City FC has excelled the marketing area for its club efficiently in a short period of time, whereas compared to the clubs here in the country, it needs to take learnings from America on how they implement the marketing strategies in different area of a football club and apply it for their respected clubs.

George Katsakis: Back in his element

George Katsakis’ 38-year coaching resume places him as one of NPL Victoria’s all-time greats.

From his playing career into the early stages of his coaching where he worked up the ranks at many clubs, there was always a passion for coaching at the highest level.

Of course, it’s his 18 years at Heidelberg United that cemented his legacy as one of the greats, where he won the 2017 NPL Victoria Men’s Coach of the Year award and spearheaded Heidelberg United’s golden era.

The golden era involved winning a coveted NPL Australian championship, a National Premier League title, a Charity Shield, a Dockerty Cup triumph in 2017 and securing a treble of NPL Victoria Premierships in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

In 2015, he led Heidelberg United to the FFA Cup Quarter Finals stage after a fairy tale run and managed to reach that same point two more times in 2017 and 2018. One of the most special cup moments for the Bergers was the 2017 FFA Cup run and the famous 1-0 win against Perth Glory at Olympic Village in the Round of 32.

In an interview with Soccerscene, Katsakis discusses his fantastic start at Bentleigh Greens, his philosophy on player development, the future of coaching in Australia and the attributes he had to become such a successful coach.

You joined Bentleigh Greens in March – it was a shaky start, but you have settled the ship. What brought you back to coaching through Bentleigh Greens?

Katsakis: This is my 38th year in coaching at all levels so first and foremost, I was missing it. I know it was only a short break, but I suppose what really inspired me to get back into it was the chain of events and the way I was released from Heidelberg that really made me think about where I am in football and where I need to be.

Obviously, I’m always aspiring to be at the top level but with Bentleigh Greens, I know the history of the club, I know their achievements over the last decade if not more and had some great teams, some great coaches.

After their phone call, they were convincing to me that they were looking to get promoted and back to the top flight, and I thought it was a no brainer. It inspired me to take a team that was struggling and hopefully steer the ship to a promotion or to a lot of improvement.

At the moment all we can say is that we’ve improved dramatically. Myself, the experience has come in and settled things that were not previously addressed earlier on and now obviously the results are flowing. It’s been a great transition for me.

In terms of player development, how do you go about that as a head coach? 

Katsakis: I think this is a great topic at the moment in Australian football. A lot of my emphasis at Heidelberg over the last 18 or so seasons was to try and introduce a pathway to players through the senior team but also paying a lot of attention to our u18 and u23 programs.

It was important to blend what I could foresee being the future of the club with the senior players, try and bring them in through that avenue and make sure they’re steered one by myself and my assistants and two and very importantly, by the senior players.

One of the fundamentals of kids developing is their environment and the people around them. If you have got the right group, as I did at Heidelberg for many years, there will be success.

I had a group who bought into our culture and accepted the fact that young kids were going to come through and help them through that development. There’s quite a few that I can possibly name that have taken the next level and next step.

Looking at the current coaching ecosystem, do you see players transitioning well into coaching and do you see coaching improving in the future?

Katsakis: It’s exciting because I now know of maybe 10 or more young aspiring coaches that are coming through. A classic example is certainly Andrew Cartanos, but I also have to mention the likes of Nick Marinos who’s taken the reigns at Port Melbourne, Luke Byles who’s become my assistant, Steven Pace is at Eltham Redbacks. So there’s quite a few coming through.

It’s great because they’re just added value, away from their coaching they can actually relive their football through those youngsters, and it makes them understand what it takes to make it at the top level.

After all the success at Heidelberg United, for any aspiring coaches, what were the attributes you had that made you so successful as a coach?

Katsakis: When I first got into coaching a very experienced coach from England said a couple of things to me that I took on board. The most important thing for me is to be humble and to understand that at any point in your coaching career, whether you’re a 20, 40 or 70 year old, you’ve got to be able to accept the fact that you’re going to learn every day.

Every day there is something new that you’re challenged with as a coach and accepting the fact that you keep learning until the day you retire, I think is very important.

We all learn from each other and generally in life as well as in football, we’re not born to know it all. Accepting that your philosophy, or someone else’s philosophy, or their techniques, or the way they coach, or their persona, whatever they bring to the table. If you can take a little bit from everyone’s leaf and add it to your booklet, it’s probably the most important part of coaching.

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