The occasion was the formation of the Sydney chapter of the ‘Men of Football’, an organisation which represents football’s alumni with enthusiasm, purpose, and distinction.
They came in from the cold, literally. The venue was an Italian restaurant in Sydney’s inner-west, owned by Tony Raciti, the man who has almost single-handedly kept one of Australia’s iconic clubs, APIA-Leichhardt, alive. The occasion was the formation of the Sydney chapter of the ‘Men of Football’, an organisation which represents football’s alumni with enthusiasm, purpose, and distinction.
As one of the organisers of the meeting I had pondered whether the level of commitment would be enough to get the chapter off the ground. These blokes talk a good game, after all. I needn’t have worried. And so Sydney joins chapters from Newcastle and the Central Coast within the nascent MOF framework – a movement which, in my view, illustrates a new level of maturity, and pride, within the game. And not before time.
Not so long ago, these people were disaffected, and disenfranchised. Slowly but surely MOF is bringing them back into the fold, chipping away at the divide between ‘old soccer’ and ‘new football’. When – not if – MOF reaches its goal of incorporating chapters across the country, we can safely say the civil war will be over. Then watch the game go.
MOF does have an important, worthy, function as a fund-raising organisation to assist with hard-luck stories from within the game. Both the Newcastle and Central Coast chapters have already contributed to causes as diverse as buying jerseys for a team of immigrants, helping pay for cancer treatment for local junior, and subsidising a trip to the national titles for a teenage girl whose family was smuggling to afford the bill. This is a key element of its charter.
But just as important is the opportunity MOF provides to reconnect people with each other, and with the game. We all know how football has struggled – and often failed – to recognise its history, and therefore maintain the narrative. The oversight has cost the game dearly. The FFA has been working hard to make up the lost ground with initiatives such as cap presentations, a panel of historians, commemorative functions and the Hall of Fame. But it can’t do it on it’s own.
MOF is living, breathing, history – a priceless interactive experience which provides the most important part of the discussion. Context. Former and current players, coaches, officials, referees, and even media types understand the fabric of the game because they have lived, or are living, it. Factor in the collective skill set, and the network, these people provide and you don’t have to be a genius to appreciate what an invaluable resource the MOF can be.
There was five decades of knowledge and experience in the room at Haberfield. How’s this for a teamsheet? Peter Fuzes, John Doyle, Jim Fraser, Peter Brogan, Ron Tilsed, Nick Plataniotis, Bruno Vidaic, David Rezo, Alex Tobin, Neal Endacott, Craig Mason, Billy McColl, Dave Fitzharris, Ken Schembri and Alex McPherson were just some of those who attended. There were apologies from the likes of Jean Paul de Marigny, Denis Yaager, Ian Hunter and Berti Mariani. The founding committee includes Andy Paschalidis, Brian Brown, Lou Apostolovski, Paul Carter, Tony Henderson and David Barrett. I reckon that’s a decent start.
The first gathering of the newly-minted MOF chapter will take place when Sydney FC host Wellington Phoenix in late November, and that’s thanks to the support of Sky Blues boss Tony Pignata. Developing a relationship with local Hyundai A-League clubs has a lot to offer both parties. That’s not to say it will always be plain sailing. There are strong wills, and even stronger opinions, within the MOF, and these blokes pride themselves on their independence. But if clubs, and federations, are smart enough and big enough to handle the cut-and-thrust, they will learn a lot, and gain even more. Believe it or not, the goals are the same. To grow the game. New shoots from old seeds? Absolutely. And football will be much stronger because of it.