The AFL has sold its suburban identity

While it’s hard to imagine now, the AFL was once in financial turmoil.

In the late 1980’s, the club had $20million of debt, a figure which was closely aligned to its annual turnover.

Conventional wisdom was that to have so many clubs located in one city was an unsustainable stretch or resources. Part of the league’s plan for survival was its ground rationalisation scheme, which would see it’s Melbourne clubs move from its traditional suburban venues to just two sites; the MCG and the newly-built Docklands Stadium.

While the success of the AFL’s grand scheme is inarguable, what exactly has the league lost by abandoning its suburban roots?

The most pertinent case study to answer this question is Collingwood. The Magpies were self-sufficient in its spiritual home, Victoria Park, and have also now completely moved its training base. The club’s VFL team plays half of its home games at Victoria Park to be the club’s only remaining link to its original home.

If there are ill-effects felt by the abandonment of a club’s traditional home, it will have been felt by the Pies.

Collingwood was among the last clubs to fully transition to the AFL’s ground rationalisation scheme. The club began to move home games to the MCG in 1993, before fully transitioning in 2000.

Its final match at Victoria Park was a 42-point loss to Brisbane in 1999. The loss resigned the club to its second bottom-placed finish in its history.

Talk about rock-bottom.

The ground was due to be demolished the very next year, but it was saved by its place on the Victorian Heritage Register. The club continued to use Victoria Park as a training and administrative base before moving to its purpose-built facility as the Olympic Park Complex.

A glance at the history books can’t encapsulate the significance of the ground to the Collingwood/Abbotsford area, though some historians have made a good fist of it. Nor can setting foot into the ground itself, which is available for public use and is today frequented by dog owners and families playing a traditional game of kick-to-kick.

To truly appreciate the consequence of this old football ground, one must first understand the history of its most famous tenant, the Collingwood Football Club. Specifically, it must be understood how the club became representative of its suburb and therefore its supporters, who were able to live expressly through it.

Infographic
The demise of Melbourne’s traditional suburban football grounds.

To borrow the well-worn metaphor, you must speak to those who have black and white flowing through their veins.

Shane Barrie, of the Victoria Park Heritage Committee (VPHC), certainly fills this criteria. His great-grandfather Frederick Trenerry Brown organised the purchase of 12 hectares of land in 1879. The location had previously been known as ‘Dight’s Paddock,’ and was bordered roughly by what is now Johnston Street, the Yarra river, Hoddle Street and the Eastern Freeway.

According to the VPHC’s website, Barrie and the rest of the committee seek to: “represent ordinary people that have a passionate and very personal connection to the ground. This includes people that have sat in the stands or stood on the terraces, players that have toiled and bled for the black and white jumper and those souls that rest in peace on the ground.”

Victoria Park was originally established as a cricket ground and had no respectable football club stationed there. The Britannia Football Club had tried and failed to be admitted into the premier competition, the VFA. The people of Collingwood demanded more.

A meeting at the Collingwood town hall on February 12 1892 led to the formation of the Collingwood Football Club. By Barrie’s reckoning: “it’s the only club in world sport to have been formed by a popular uprising of the people.”

With the support of local council, who allocated £600 for the necessary upgrades to Victoria Park, Collingwood was admitted into the VFA. Its first game on May 7 against Carlton drew an estimated 16,000 spectators.

“We were a big club from day one. We’ve always had the biggest crowds and the biggest following,” says Barrie.

Collingwood, being a working-class, blue collar suburb, was particularly affected by the Great Depression. This emerged a symbol of hope for its down-trodden supporters, as this coincided with the club’s most successful period.

Collingwood remains the only club in the VFL/AFL’s 119-year history to win four consecutive premierships, achieving the feat from 1927-30.

“Collingwood had gone into depression in 1926, the suburb was really struggling,” Barrie says.

“What got us through was that the club won the premierships, ’27, ’28, ’29 and ’30. It took everyone’s attention off the misery that was being suffered here.

“It was a horrible place to exist, but we were winning premierships. We had overtaken everyone in terms of football. We were the premier team by the end of the ‘20s.”

Two more premierships were added in 1935-36 in what was the club’s golden age prior to WWII.

Barrie pinpoints the club obtaining a liquor license in 1942 as a turning point in the club’s history in terms of its relationship to its supporters.

The new license led to the formation of a social club, which had access to the bar at games. The cost of a membership to the social club was out of reach of many supporters.

Collingwood refers to itself as a ‘flat’ club, that is that all supporters are on the same level and that it is classless. Barrie scoffs at this suggestion.

“Collingwood has lost this egalitarian sense, it lost it ages ago,” says Barrie.

“[President Eddie McGuire] and the club still talk about being a ‘flat club.’ We’re not a flat club. That left here at Victoria Club when it became home of the toffs.”

By the early 1980’s, this had manifested into a four-tiered social club, with each level belonging to a different class of corporate member, above the season ticket holders in the main grandstand and general admission patrons on the old hill.

Despite these issues, Barrie believes that the sense of community that was felt by Collingwood fans in its historic traditional home is irreplaceable in the shared tenancy of the MCG.

“I feel it’s part of the reason to turn up and support is not there, it’s been corporatised. Whereas [at Victoria Park], there was a sense of ownership,” Barrie says.

“You were invested in the club. If you were a supporter, you were the club, and the club recognised that.”

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Don’t call it a hangover

Just about everybody has had their say on the perceived ‘premiership hangover’ of the Western Bulldogs.

But what do the most important people, the fans, think of the club’s last 18 months? Billy Higgins finds out.

Arnold “110 per cent” committed to Sydney

Newly appointed Socceroos coach Graham Arnold says he is committed to achieving success with Sydney FC for the remainder of the A-League season.

Billy Higgins has more.


Arnold reassured Sky Blues fans that his focus remains solely on adding to the club’s trophy cabinet, while he remains in charge.

“I know that uh to the fans at Sydney FC I will give every bit of commitment from here today till the end of June where we will finish this competition with silverware.”

Arnold’s side is five points clear at the top of the A-league table with five matches to play. Sydney currently hold all three major trophies in Australia; the A-League premiership, A-League championship and FFA Cup.

Billy Higgins reporting for Upstart News.


 

Liverpool 3 – 1 Everton: How It Happened

Liverpool continued their recent dominance over their Stanley Park neighbours with a convincing 3-1 win in the 228th Merseyside derby on Saturday.

Sadio Mane, Phillipe Coutinho and Divock Origi were on the scoresheet for the Reds, who stretched Everton’s winless run at Anfield into its 19th year.

Before the match, the club honoured long time club physician Ronnie ‘Bugsy’ Moran, who passed away earlier in the week. Known by many as ‘Mr.Liverpool,’ Moran was remembered with a minutes applause by both teams and the crowd, as well as a mosaic across the whole Kop.

Bugsy Mosaic.PNG

Jurgen Klopp selected a predictable Liverpool side, with Adam Lallana unavailable with a thigh injury sustained on international duty, Jordan Henderson being kept out by his persistent foot problems, while Daniel Sturridge couldn’t play due to his body being held together by tissue paper.

Klopp resisted the temptation to slot Coutinho into the midfield, instead pushing Emre Can forward and relying on the experience of Lucas in the holding position.

Liverpool team.PNG

Ronald Koeman elected to go down a different route. He sprung a surprise by naming a young, inexperienced side in an attempt to end the Toffees’ 13-match winless run against Liverpool.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin kept Kevin Mirallas on the bench and Tom Davies was preferred to Gareth Barry in the centre. The absence of Morgan Schneiderlin caused Koeman revert to a back-three. Little-known defender Matthew Pennington made his Premier League debut on the right side of the defence.

Evershit team.PNG

Koeman quote.PNG

It was always going to be interesting to see how the young Everton team would settle in such a hostile atmosphere. The answer, evidently, was poorly.

Midfielder Ross Barkley miraculously escaped a booking in the sixth minute for a late, crude tackle on Can. Barkley has history in this fixture. In the season’s earlier Merseyside derby in December, Barkley was extremely fortunate to remain on the pitch after a potentially leg-breaking tackle on Jordan Henderson.

Liverpool had a lead within eight minutes. Some interplay between the front three of Firmino, Coutinho and Mane eventually saw Mane with room to shoot from the left side of the box, where he rolled the ball past a helpless Joel Robles into Everton’s goal.

Everton must have been sick to death of the Senegalese, who of course scored the stoppage-time winner in Liverpool’s 1-0 win in December.

Against the run of play, it was Everton who scored next as Liverpool’s deficiency in defending set-pieces reared itself for the upteenth time. Jagielka got a flick-on at the near-post and the ball fell for Pennington after a goal-mouth scramble, who couldn’t miss from point-blank range.

Liverpool’s lead was soon restored by Coutinho. The Brazilian magician made a trademark run from his left wing, cutting inside defenders with ease and curling a shot into the top-right hand corner of the net.

Liverpool took their goal-advantage into the break, but should have had a man advantage as well. Barkley left a foot in a challenge with Dejan Lovren towards the end of the first half and received yellow. Had he been booked for his previous challenge on Can, Barkley would have been off the pitch.

The second-half started poorly for Liverpool. Goalscorer Sadio Mane had to be substituted after a nasty incident where his knee and ankle twisted unnaturally beneath him. He will likely miss several weeks with his injury.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Reds however. Mane was replaced by Origi, who soon doubled Liverpool’s lead after a through-pass from Coutinho.

The remaining 30 minutes of play passed without significant incident, save for some poor challenges from Ashley Williams which could have resulted in red cards. Everton have failed to beat Liverpool for 14 consecutive matches, which is just one shy of their all-time record set from 1972-78.

Survival Guide to the ‘Silly Season’

Liverpool’s season has ended.

It is truly a grim realisation to come to each May. Fortunately, commercialism has ensured that the off-season is becoming shorter every year; our first pre-season game is in a little over five weeks, but it is an off-season nonetheless.

Every fan has their own coping mechanisms. Some will satiate their football cravings with the European Championships in France (at the time of writing, 12 Liverpool players have been named in their respective nations provisional squads for the tournament.) Some will devote their time to sports closer to home in Australia. Some will even go to the lengths of spending the extra time with their friends and family.

Personally, I like to immerse myself daily in the myriad of transfer speculation which occurs annually in the European summer (the English tabloids are my favourite – I consider it my guilty pleasure).

The vast majority of this ‘news’ is absolutely ridiculous. If a manager looks at his star player the wrong way, dozens of articles will appear claiming a deal is imminent for him to switch to a rival team. Players following, or unfollowing, a club’s twitter account becomes back page news. Previously unknown players who exceed expectations at the Euros will be linked with moves to Munich or Madrid. Its not hard to see why these months are known as the ‘silly season.’

Fans, myself included, will once again fall for the trap of believing some of these stories and begin to speculate just how good the next season will be. We will be teased about Mario Gotze as we have been for months until he either signs at Bayern or somewhere else. We’ll become experts on players that we know very little about and convince ourselves that each signing is just what we’ve been missing.

The odd outrageous link will appear, the most recent being Gonzalo Higuain’s suggestion that he’d love to play for Jurgen Klopp. If that’s not confirmation that he will be wearing red next season then I don’t know what is!

But there is light at the end of this dark tunnel. Once the signings are finalised and the obligatory photos of players signing a blank piece of paper/holding the club’s scarf aloft at Anfield/awkwardly holding a jersey with their name on it have been taken, we fans can be optimistic. We can truly believe that we will be better than we were before and that this will be our year. Call it optimism or blind faith, but this passion is what makes following a football club such a unique and incredible experience.

 

Staying in touch with the Reds

Supporting a club from the other side of the world presents its unique challenges. Fortunately we now live in an age where we aren’t obscured from what’s going on at Liverpool because of distance. This list of twitter accounts will ensure you stay in the loop of everything that goes on at Anfield and get every perspective of the major issues.

Subscribe to the list here: LFC News Feed

Liverpool FC (@LFC)

The club’s account is your first point of call for all official club statements. It also gives exclusive access to photos of training at Melwood, the manger’s press conferences, the player’s dressing room and more.

LFC Australia & NZ (@LFCANZ)

The club’s official account down under. Generally retweets content from the international LFC page, but also gives useful information on match broadcasts and kick-off times specific to Australia.

Premier League (@premierleague)

Stay up to date with everything happening in the league. Keep an eye on opponent’s results and watch Liverpool soar up the table!

Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC)

The Liverpool ECHO’s dedicated LFC news page. It gives hourly updates of everything happening at Liverpool, so you won’t miss a thing.

LFC Melbourne (@LFCMelbourne)

LFC Melbourne isn’t run by the club. It’s the official account of the Melbourne Liverpool supporters club. If you’re from another part of the country then don’t worry, each major city has its own supporters club to follow.

Bourke Street Imperial (@The_Impy)

The Impy is LFC’s official Melbourne base and screens live all matches to its patrons. Here you’ll find information regarding its events. Again, if you’re not from Melbourne then each city will have its own pub to watch the Reds with fellow supporters.

Liverpool Australia (@LFC_Australia)

Another page run by fans. They give a wrap-up of the day’s news out of Liverpool in a much more Aussie friendly time-zone.

This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield)

This is Anfield is an award-winning fan website based in the UK. They provide news and opinion in articles, videos and pod casts. I personally thoroughly enjoy their passionate insight and analysis and highly recommend that you follow them.

The Redmen TV (@TheRedmenTV)

The Redmen TV describes itself as “uncensored LFC television.” They provide zealous debate reactions to LFC news from their own panel members in the form of videos. Their interviews with fans leaving Anfield after matches are a highlight.

Jim Boardman (@JimBoardman)

Boardman writes about Liverpool for The Daily Mirror. Has a wealth of knowledge and experience as a football writer and gives excellent insight in his columns.

Jamie Carragher (@Carra23)

Admittedly, there is some annoying Sky promotion on Carra’s account. It’s worth putting up with though, because he tweets the way he played; honest and uncompromising. He gives plenty of (often hilarious) opinion on Liverpool and football in general.

I’ve left the current players of this list. Their twitter activity tends to be a bit on the safe side because their frightened to say anything controversial. For the purpose of this list they’re not very useful, but that shouldn’t stop you from following them to show support for our men in red!

Magical Cup Run Culminates in Basel

Set your alarms Reds. Our magical 2016 Europa League run culminates in the final tomorrow morning at 4.45 AEST.

Overall our season has been, again, mediocre. An eighth place finish in a league which was as wide open as we have seen for a long time is not satisfactory. But this disappointment has been masked by the charisma of Jurgen Klopp and the stardust he has been able to sprinkle onto our squad on Thursday nights.

Its truly had it all this cup run. The indignity of nights at FC Sion amd Rubin Kazan (with respect to those clubs, we expect to dine at Europe’s top table). The dour performance against Augsburg. The sweetest of victories over United. The heartstopping, impossible comeback against Dortmund. The destruction of Villareal at Anfield.

The constant has been Liverpool victory. It has been brought about by a newfound, relentless attitude which reflects our firebrand German boss.

There is a genuine belief amongst fans, and it seems players, that the club is on the verge of another great era.

In football, success is not measured in goodwill or positivity. Even winning becomes empty after a time if it is not supported by something more substantial (just ask an Arsenal fan).

Trophies are the measure of greatness for a football club. Our memories of Steven Gerrard’s exploits in the Champions League and FA cup finals are now over a decade old. We only have one League Cup to boast about since. For a club of Liverpool’s stature, that is not acceptable.

Tomorrow could be the beginning of a change in fortunes for Liverpool Football Club. Champions League qualification is a prize for the winner, which would be a significant boost in terms of recruitment. The confidence gained from such a win can do wonders for the squad.

The thrilling road to the final has been uplifting for Liverpool, regardless of tomorrow’s result. But there is nothing quite like watching the red confetti rain down on our newest piece of silverware.

Firmino stokes Gotze fire

Just in case Reds fans needed any more excitement at the moment, Roberto Firmino has conceded that he has imagined playing with Bayern Munich maestro Mario Götze.

Speaking to BILD Sport ahead of Thursday morning’s Europa League final, Firmino believes the German International would fit in well at Anfield.

“Also Götze I still know well from my time in Germany, when I played with Hoffenheim against Borussia Dortmund and Bayern. He has incredible qualities in attack. He would fit in well with us and will surely help us with his class also.”

This news comes after reports out of Germany suggest that incoming Bayern manager Carlo Ancelotti has told Götze he is free to leave in the summer.

Götze’s relationship with Jurgen Klopp is well-documented. A victory against Sevilla on Thursday would ensure Champions League qualification for next season and place Liverpool firmly in pole position to land the World Cup winner’s signature.

As fans we have been left crestfallen before having dared to dream of such stars wearing red; Alexis Sanchez, Willian and Christian Eriksen are recent examples. But Klopp’s paternal relationship with Götze means that a Coutinho-Firmino-Götze attacking trident may be less far-fetched than it seems.

 

Read the full interview here (like Götze, its German!)

Reds Storm to Basel

The Reds have advanced to the Europa League final in rampant fashion following their 3-1 aggregate win over Villarreal.

Our spirits were buoyed an hour before kick-off when our two best non-Brazilian players returned to the starting XI; Emre Can recovered from an ankle problem and Daniel Sturridge was restored after Jurgen Klopp strangely chose not to feature him in the first leg.

Both returned in imperious form. Can dominated from the outset in the space afforded to him by Villarreal’s rigid 4-4-2 and Sturridge was a constant menace to the defence with his clever positioning.

It was Sturridge’s positioning which brought about the Reds’ opener. True, the defending was poor and he didn’t get the final touch, but his presence in the penalty area cause enough confusion for the Kop to suck the ball into the net from the Yellow Submarine skipper’s leg.

But there was no doubting the England striker for Liverpool’s second goal of the tie, which ultimately would win it. His positioning again proved decisive. While the finish itself was slightly fortunate, the celebration was simply brilliant. The jubilant face and flailing arms were infectious, certainly to this supporter who found himself following Sturridge to the corner flag from his lounge room.

The Yellow Submarine was well and truly sunk by this stage. Victor Ruiz was sent off for a second yellow card and Adam Lallana added a sweetener for Liverpool but the damage had been done.

In truth, the match was won even before kick-off. After Villarreal took a slight advantage from the first leg, Klopp warned that there was still plenty to play for:

“Sorry, but it is not over. You have to come to Anfield too.”

His words proved prophetic, as Villarreal seemed overawed by the atmospheric occasion. It started from the top with their manager Marcelinho. He out shone Klopp on the sideline in the first leg, constantly gesturing, remonstrating and using his technical area as a launching pad rather than a restriction. He was insufferable.

But it was a changed man who arrived at Anfield a week later. He was timid and reserved. His attitude seemed to affect his players, or vice-versa. The captain Bruno set the tone with an early own goal, goalkeeper Alphonse Areola couldn’t catch a cold and Roberto Soldado returned to his peak Tottenham form (dreadful).

But as poor as the Spanish side were on the night, Liverpool were exceptional. All 11 players delivered for the vociferous Anfield support and continued the spellbinding run all the way to the Europa League Final, ensuring one more 5am wake-up call for their Australian supporters.