Tennis great turned sports administrator Paul McNamee - the man who rejected the FFA CEO role 12 years ago - has made an impassioned plea for South Melbourne to be granted an A-League license.
The former Australian Open and Golf Australia chief was part of the South Melbourne-backed Southern Cross bid team of 2008, which was “shut down” in favour of Melbourne Heart for an expansion spot.
McNamee is convinced FFA “bias” against South’s Greek origins stood against them a decade ago in a glaring example of ‘new football’ putting the boot into ‘old soccer’.
And while not officially involved in South’s latest attempt to get back into the main stream, McNamee - a die-hard Melbourne Victory and Liverpool fan - believes they will bring “soul and passion” to the competition, as well as providing a talent pathway which to date has produced 53 Socceroos.
“In my view it’s time to recalibrate because the A-League has serious issues and there are many people from the old NSL days who simply don’t follow the competition,” said McNamee ahead of the FFA board meeting on Wednesday which could admit up to two new teams for next season.
“I follow Melbourne Victory but you can’t compare their program to that of South Melbourne for boys and girls.
“I’ve been to the academies at Tottenham, Celtic and Borussia Monchengladbach and South. In terms of what they’re doing at youth level, they are the Australian equivalent.
“Most of the A-League teams are more franchises and brands than they are clubs in the traditional sense.
“They lack soul and that’s something South - with their great history in the NSL - have in abundance.
“People talk about history being a negative to South Melbourne. In my opinion, it’s quite the opposite. To say it’s a negative has connotations of racism about it.
“The most important thing though is not their past, it’s their future as a bona fide development pathway which no other A-League club offers.”
South are up against Team 11 and Western Melbourne in Victoria, two bids which require transport and stadium infrastructure , as well as Southern Expansion, Macarthur South West Sydney and Canberra.
“How the heck can South Melbourne not stack up against the other bids,” added McNamee.
“The funding is there, the ground is there, the development pathways are there. Seriously, what is all this about. Am I missing something here?
“When is football going to embrace is history? This ‘old soccer, new football’ concept should’ve got thrown out years ago.
“It’s a bad thing and I believe that’s why Southern Cross got shut down. Without any discussion the spot is simply went to Melbourne Heart.
“That was a decision based on bias, in my opinion, and it shocked me. It was about their ethnicity.
“Is my Irish background a problem for somebody? Liverpool have Irish Catholic fans, is that a problem?
“I’m troubled by some of criticism of South ... we almost apologized by calling it Southern Cross last time because of the prevailing mood (at FFA).
“Now it’s unashamedly South Melbourne. Now tell them they’re ethnic and don’t belong. This is Australia in 2018. Are you kidding me?”
Ben Buckley subsequently took the job which McNamee, now 64 and currently involved with Basketball Australia, turned down back in 2006, and he has no regrets.
“My son (Rowan) loves and plays and I thought bringing the job home with me every night might destroy his affection for the game,” he said.
“So I slept on the offer and said ‘no thanks’. In some ways it was the job I always wanted, but looking back Ben Buckley basically spent five years chasing votes for the World Cup and we all know what happened there. I’m so happy that that wasn’t me.”
McNamee believes promotion and relegation will come within five years to the A-League, in the ultimate act of inclusivity.
“We have clubs like South Melbourne who will win their way through and that dispels the theory that we must only have new clubs,” he added.
“It’s going to happen anyway so get a decent club like South Melbourne should be admitted in now.
“They have passion, it’s the tonic of life. It produces crowds and crowds produce ratings, I know that from tennis.
“We have to be inclusive because the FFA have divided the sport since the A-League’s inception.
“South Melbourne fans haven’t felt welcome. This is a subject I feel passionately about because I love football.
“People might say, ‘what do you know about the game?
“But I knew enough for FFA to want to hire me as CEO. I know a little bit.”