Thursday, 30 October 2003 12:00 AM
“Fans urged to support club or miss out on new league”
The winds of major soccer reform in Australia threaten the existence of foundation NSL club South Melbourne. This is the stark message taken away by the club’s two most senior officials after they returned from an NSL meeting in Sydney yesterday.
Club President Peter Mitrakas and Chief Executive Mark Patterson returned from Sydney with this open and honest warning to the club’s supporters. “ There is a strong view in soccer that reform must be radical and teams will need to prove that it has the business and marketing ability to take the game forward” said Patterson.
“While we are very supportive of the reforms and excited about South’s potential involvement we have some major challenges to address. We must be clear there will be trade-offs for South Melbourne. The performance bar will be raised higher than ever and as a club we must raise the bar in ever area of our operation, if we are to be serious contenders” Patterson said. Crowd levels and the contribution that the fans make to the club will no doubt be a key consideration for the NSL task force.
A critical area of performance will be the ability of the club to attract its fans to games. The objective is to get back to the crowd levels of 10,000 and more that were a feature of South’s matches in the past.
Unfortunately many fans are under the misapprehension this season means little to soccer because of the reform however that could not be further from reality in particular because the winner of the championship this year will most likely participate in the FIFA World Club Championships in 2005.
South Melbourne is a foundation member of the National League, however it is clear to South’s top men that this alone will not assure the club entry into the new competition, and the it will be the fans of South who also need to understand the influence they will have as to whether the club will continue in the country’s top competition or not. “Our ability to attract crowds over the next few weeks will send a very clear message to the powers that be as to whether South Melbourne are serious contenders or not and we need to attract sustainable fans and membership support“ said Mitrakis.
So far this season South has attracted only average support, which is worrying to the club as it is very keen to push for participation at the top level.
The NSL task force will report its findings to the Australian Soccer Association Board on 1st December.
The new league will be a new and totally different competition and probably unrecognisable to the existing NSL. “We are not talking about modifications to the old competition, we are talking about major and wholesale changes to the face of national soccer in this country” Patterson said.
South Melbourne’s fans must now show strength in numbers at home games or be prepared for its club to simply accept that it is not good enough to participate at the highest level. There are no guarantees of a reform league membership for any of the existing clubs and South Melbourne is no exception.
Sunday evenings clash with one of the leading teams Marconi has been the talking point in soccer for different reasons this week after an incident packed match last week in Sydney. A poor crowd will not be a good sign for South Melbourne’s future in the reformed league.
“We want to embrace change and be positive but we want the fans to show us that they are serious about wanting us to represent their soccer interests. We are playing good, exciting and positive soccer and we are asking the fans to back the team and the club by putting bums on seats” said Patterson
All indications are that the new reformed league will be operational for next year.