[IMAGE] ANY REASON TO CELEBRATE

BY GEOFF "THAT'S THE SPIRIT" COY

In this article Geoff Coy takes a look at what has been happening behind the scenes as Northern Spirit F.C.
wound down from their debut season.


Well there might not have been much in the trophy cabinet at the end of the season for Northern Spirit (that's if you exclude the Sydney Cup) but that didn't stop Spirit supporters from celebrating their inaugural season in style.

SPIRITS FLY

First up in June there was the "Spirit's Fly" Ball at the Darling Harbour Convention Centre. Talk about putting on the Ritz.
The $120 a head turnout saw the who's who of NSW politics mixing it with players, officials, stakeholders, supporters and even a mad dog ex Socceroo coach.
Vince Sorrrenti as MC stole the show in his imminent no holds barred style of comedy. Vince felt right at home in lambasting the NSW Liberal Party and its representatives, one Remo Nogorrotto and Kerry Chockarovski. The Italian community also came in for its fair share.

Top billing of the night went to those cashed up sponsors and supporters who were prepared to hand out big bucks in the auction for framed autographed players shirts.
First up was Mark Rudan's shirt that went for $1300. Rude's scored Spirits first ever competition goal in the match against Carlton at Optus Oval back in October.
This was followed by Kresemir Marusic, Harry Kewell's Leeds United shirt and then Arnold's and Slater's shirts that fetched between 4,500 and $5,000.
As for the player awards Paul Henderson took out the player of the season award and in a somewhat surprising announcement Paul Bilokopic took out the players' player of the year award.
Bill Collins, the club physio took out the award for the most valuable clubman
In was advertised as a black tie affair but the Bob Stander's in their own inevitable style were not to be outdone on the night.
Tancred Fergus was resplendent in his Town Cryer's attire as was the much photographed John McCormack in his Brigadoon outfit. Not to mention Miss Evelyn as "Twin Peaks."
The best dressed player on the night went to Chi Chi Mendez complete with hat, tails and cane. It was good to see Chi Chi make an appearance since falling out of favour with Graham Arnold.

SUPPORTERS NIGHT

On the 10th July the supporters held their own awards night not far from the maddening. The location was North Sydney Leagues Bowling Club just a stones throw from the Bob Stand at NSO.
The cost was a much more reasonable $10.00 per head which included a B-B-Q and drinks at bar prices.
The night was attended by over 100 supporters in addition to a good representation of players and officials.
The supporters when to great lengths in preparing a video presentation of the past season in addition to the numerous awards presented on the night.
For the benefit of all Studs Up readers the wards were as follows:
* Supporters Llama Award for the player with Best Humour - Paul Bilokapic
* Golden Boot Award for most goals scored at home - Kresemir Marusic
* Supporters Coach of the Year - Graham Arnold, Manly Bus Company - runner up
* Golden Goal Award for Best Goal - Daniel Watkins
* Supporters Junior Development Award - Phil Moss
* Most Approachable Player Award - Robbie Slater
* Supporters Player of the Year Award - Paul Henderson
* Supporters of the year - Darren & Damon (attendance at 14 home & 9 away games)
* Best Supporters Web Site - Chris Dunkerley (SU reader) and Ari Chia
By far and away the most popular award of the night was the Willie Award (supporters mascot is Free Willie) for Biggest Dick of the Year. That, as no surprise went to Channel X weather man and ground announcer, Tim Bailey
. Fortunately Tim was unable to attend the event to collect his award. Hopefully he won't be seen around NSO again.
For some reason unbeknown to me, Robbie Slater was also given "Biggest Pisshead of the Year" award and was promptly asked to down a yard glass. Something he did with a degree of difficulty.
Surely, Paul Bilokopic should have won an award for botting the most number of durries at the club after a game.
But the biggest disappointment was the absence of an award for John, the man behind the Hendo Doll. Next season, Hendo Doll will be wired for sound following John's recent visit to a Tandy showroom.
All aside it was an enjoyable night albeit in stark contrast to the clubs version but never the less one that is sure to be on next seasons calender of events.

GETTING INTO THE SPIRIT OF THINGS


In this article Geoff Coy took a look in mid-1998 at what had been happening behind the scenes as Northern Spirit F.C.
prepared for entry to the first season in the Ericsson Cup competition.



On 18th October 1997 the Sydney Morning Herald soccer scribe, Michael Cockerill reported that a cashed up private consortium based on Sydney's north side was set to join the National Soccer League.


The new club, Northern Spirit had been established after 12 months of secret planning and the backers had settled on what they called the upwardly mobile northern suburbs of Sydney.


An impressive application had been lodged with Soccer Australia with the strong points being:


Backing from the 3 local associations of Gladesville Hornsby, Kuringai and Manly Warringah

Representation of 22,000 registered players from the 3 associations

Eclectric Board of Directors led by Remo Nogorotto which also included


Kathryn Greiner - Councillor, Sydney City Council

Emmanuel Zammit - the former chief executive of Sydney United

Tony Anastasi - the managing-director of Auto Parts Australia

Kerry Chikarovski - Liberal State MP for Lane Cove

Peter Rix - The executive-producer of ARIA


Ownership by Remo Nogorotto, Rene Licata (ex Marconi-Fairfield player) and an as yet unnamed Malaysian organisation.

Capital of $5 million to be injected into the club with an initial budget of one million dollars for player payments

Full time playing staff

Extensive market research


Once the application had been lodged attention then focused on the now infamous World Cup qualifiers with Iran and for a while not much was heard of the Spirit application.


In December the board of directors came out with a plea Soccer Australia stating that they needed approval by early January to allow sufficient time to gear up for next seasons Ericsson Cup.


At the time of the SA application a marketing brochure was produced and Remo Nogorotto went on record with the following statement:


"The Northern Spirit Football Club or 'The Spirit' as it will become known in football terraces around the country, will be about the pursuit of excellence both on and off the playing field. It is the Club's aim to revolutionise the manner in which soccer has been perceived in the Australian sporting market place. For too long, the game has been regarded as the 'sleeping giant' of all the football codes. Northern Spirit FC seeks to finally convert this potential into reality.


We aim to capture the fire the imagination of sporting enthusiasts in Northern Sydney who, for the first time will have a national league club to call their very own".


He concluded by inviting all and sundry to "become a part of a truly exciting new sporting phenomenon and to share in the experience of the Spirit".


The statistics behind the push included:


A population of 715,536 people in the greater north of Sydney

A high concentration of second generation Australians

A rich blend of ethnic backgrounds

The highest concentration of expatriate British living in Sydney ie Manly 10.5% of the population and North Sydney 9.8%.


The Spirit name was selected after extensive market research. Something the people at Northern Spirit appear to have done a lot of.


According to history associated with North Sydney Oval and aboriginal legend a mighty warrior once inhabited the hill where North Sydney Oval now stands.


It is reputed that the warrior held vast resources of valour and honour and performed mighty deeds and because of such mighty deeds he lived forever and his homeland absorbed the spirit.


Could it be that in the not too distant future a whole team of modern day warriors will attempt to carry on this glorious tradition.


THE PLAN


The Spirit will be a full time professional club and they intend to be stylish, fresh and contemporary.


Potential corporate support will be targeted towards large multinational companies whose head offices occupy the CBD's of St Leonards, North Sydney and Chatwood.


It is also intended to capture the imagination of those sporting enthusiasts who have probably never attended a club soccer game in Australia.


It is hoped all this will be achieved by creating community awareness and building support through associations with local councils, community clubs, chambers of commerce, retail shopping centres, schools and tertiary institutions.


THE COLOURS


It has been written that the colours of the Northern Spirit (red yellow and blue) have been adopted from the 3 local association.


The colours of the three local associations are:


Gladesville/Hornsby: black and gold

Kuringai: green and white with a dash of yellow

Manly Warringah: blue and red


The marketing brochure features a touched up picture of Graham Arnold in a white strip with red yellow and blue trim whilst the alternate strip is predominantly red with blue/white/yellow trim.


If the truth is known the predominant colours of red and yellow closely follow the corporate colour scheme of the local North Sydney Council. A stroll around the North Sydney district reveals red and yellow street signs and matching bus shelters.


Could it be that the club colours were chosen to appease the local council more so than the local associations.


ASSOCIATED PROBLEMS


Despite the extensive market research the Spirit launch has not been without it's problems.


The choice of a home ground at North Sydney Oval (NSO), complete with its oval shape and cricket pitch has raised a few eyebrows. Especially in light of Carlton's experience at Optus Oval this season.


Every player from the junior association through to the nation league knows that the equation of soccer + cricket pitch = disaster. Although it must be stressed that the oval dimensions of NSO are no where as big as the MCG or SCG.


To the north of Sydney Harbour, the city is almost void of top sporting venues. From a soccer perspective the choice is narrowed down to NSO, the rectangular Brookvale Oval on the northern beaches or Parramatta Stadium which is too far to the west.


A visit to the North Sydney Oval web site reveals some unnerving facts.


The playing area absorbs tremendous usage during the year with grade fixtures for North Sydney League and Northern Suburbs Rugby Union fixtures played from March to September. This combined with local and schoolboy junior league and union representative matches results in well over 100 games of football per season in addition to regular weekly training


Talk at the moment is that North Sydney Rugby League Club intends to relocate to the central coast by 1999. However, talk is cheap and without a suitable stadium at the central coast Norths could be at NSO for some time yet.


From the end of September through to February approximately 40 days of first class, first grade and social cricket are played at NSO. This includes the home matches of North Sydney District Cricket Club played over two days, Saturday to Saturday, Mercantile Mutual Cup, one-day games and the occasional Sheffield Shield fixture.


All in all a busy schedule for the grounds staff who will be further burdened by additional "Spirit" fixtures running from October through to April.


Back in the 1970's & '80's the ground was known as a concrete dustbowl because of its over use from four codes of football. This led to the reconstruction of the playing area that was completed in 1987.


The playing area consists of 1.5 hectares, 6 cricket wickets covered in Greenlees Park couch which is over sown with a mixture of Gator and Top Hat rye grasses complete with a sand profile drainage system and automatic irrigation system.


Recent news suggests that a revolutionary "Strathair" turf system similar to that used at Old Trafford will allow the grounds staff to cultivate tubs of grass and transport them to and from the playing area during spring and summer making the ground suitable for its both summer tenants.


One local paper recently reported that the cost of the turf technology that the club intends to install would be $150,000.


To the layman, the logistics of transporting 2 tubs of turf and soil to and from a the middle of the oval every second week is quite staggering. How this works in practice remains to be seen.


Recent Spirit signing Kresimir Marusic has been outspoken on his dislike of the cricket pitch in the middle of Optus Oval. When questioned after the Ericsson Cup Grand Final about playing on a cricket pitch at NSO he stated "no more cricket pitches! If there is a cricket pitch there I'm leaving"


All I can say is that the Spirit board must have already convinced Kresa that he won't face similar problems at NSO.


Word has it that three home games will be played at the rectangular Brookvale Oval to assist with tenant congestion at NSO and also to help gauge the level of support coming from the peninsula area.


Serious allegations have also been made towards Nogorotto and his board concerning player poaching and visiting rival club dressing rooms to sign players.


GROUND LAYOUT


The ground capacity is stated at 20,000. With approximately 5,500 in covered stands with the remainder comprising uncovered and unseated concourse and hill arrangements.


The modern stands and buildings have been built with materials and techniques so they carefully blend with the traditional stands.


On first appearance NSO presents a picture of elegance and timeless quality but it is not a purpose built football ground and from the aspect of covered seating and close up action it does not compare at all to the SFS or Parramatta Stadium.


I am told that the ground is "dry" with the exception of corporate boxes and function center and members' facilities located in the Mollie Dive Stand.


A point further emphasized by the sign located at the entranceway to ground indicating a $200 fine for bringing in of alcohol into the ground.


This might be a welcoming gestures for family supporters but it will prove disconcerting for some sections of the supporter base who no doubt will need to fill up before and after the games at the numerous hotels adjacent to and in near proximity to the ground


RECENT HAPPENINGS


The Club administration office was recently opened. It is located close to the ground at 13-15 Ridge Street.


Melissa Down is the Operations Manager and employed on a full time basis. Roger Sleeman is media liaison man and employed on a contract basis. Some readers might remember Roger from his days at British Soccer Weekly and as a contributor to Studs Up.


A promotion has been planned and will take place at NSO on the afternoon of Sunday 12th July (World Cup Final Day).


Events will center round a family fun day and include international food and wine stalls, children's activities, meet the players and players versus celebrities match.


A CLOSE CHESTED APPROACH


Apart from the confirmed signing of player/coach Graham Arnold the Spirit have kept quiet about their player signings. The club has confirmed that 14 players have been signed to full time contracts.


The media has speculated on these signing in recent months and its is believed that the following players have signed to play:


Graham Arnold, Scott Ollerenshaw, Ian Crook, Kresimir Marusic, Mark Rudan, Paul Bilokopic, Luke Casserley, Troy Cranney, Gabriel Mendez, Tony Perinich, Clayton Zane


An announcement including player signings is expected at the conclusion of this seasons Ericsson Cup grand final and will probably coincide with all the media hype surrounding the commencement of France '98 in June.


The history of Australian soccer is littered with clubs that strived for the top only to disappear without trace and Northern Sydney is no different.


Clubs such as Gladesville, Polonia-Northside, Kuringai, Lane Cove, Artarmon-North Shore, Warringah Dolphins, Gladesville-Hornsby and Northern Districts United have all disappeared over time.


For the sake of soccer followers in Sydney's north, it is hoped that The Spirit succeed with their plan and at the same time provide an impetus to Soccer Australia's objective to make the game the dominant football code in this country.

[IMAGE]

© 1998, 1999 Geoff Coy (written May, 1998 and July, 1999 and printed in STUDS UP fanzine Nos. 30 and 41)

Subscribe at: The Studs Up fanzine web site

Uploaded 27th May, 1998 and then on 3rd September, 1999