I Heart Melbourne

Melbourne Heart FC Chairman Peter Sidwell was recently featured in Soccer International Magazine to discuss his plans as preparations for the club’s entry into the 2010/11 A-League season take shape.

By Soccer International Magazine

While planning for the A-League was in its infancy, the fate of a Melbourne-based outfit was long considered to be the potential weak link, but any concern was quickly erased as the Victory went about building the biggest legion of fans in the league.

Half a decade on, enter Melbourne Heart FC, the club looking to usurp the Victory-s dominance in the southern capital.

Soccer International spoke to Melbourne Heart FC Peter Sidwell to discuss his plans as preparations for the club-s entry into the 2010/11 A-League season begin to take shape.

SI: Peter, why do you believe Football Federation Australia (FFA) opted for the Heart as opposed to the two other alternatives?

PS: You would have to ask the FFA that, but we put forward a very professional proposal which I believe addressed some key points and key issues which resonated with the FFA. I think the professionalism of our presentation and its content was part of the reason we were awarded the license.

With the board of the club containing a number of noted football people, including Michael Catalano and Manny Galanos, did this give the club added credibility?

I think it gives the board a better breadth of understanding. We have some business people involved, some football people, some entertainment people; we-ve got a good spread. The compilation of the board was deliberately aggregated to represent a whole cross-section of capabilities to add value to the club. I-m really pleased as it is turning out with the input from individual directors.

How does Heart plan to draw a fan base?

I think our aim is to create a new market and I think the market is big enough to do that. There is a great following for Melbourne Victory in this town at the moment and they ought to be applauded for the work they have done. They have done a mighty job over the journey so far and attracted a lot of support, but this town is a big town, and this state is a big state and we are confident we can get across to a lot of areas which are new territories as far as we-re concerned. Our aim is certainly not to lure across any existing Melbourne Victory supporters. I don-t think it does a lot for either us or the game.

What does the club hope to offer existing football fans that have chosen not to support Victory?

I think our points of difference will become evident as we unfold, so I think that will be in the eye of the beholder as we start to expose the latent supporter out there to what we are going to be about. That is a work in progress as far as we are concerned but we have very strong views about it that you will see emerge in the months ahead.

There remains an element of supporters from former National Soccer League (NSL) clubs such as South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights who feel neglected and disenfranchised by the A-League. Will Heart actively work to draw these fans out of the woodwork?

I think they will just see we are a club who will try to integrate a form and shape of the game that will either appeal to them or not. We haven-t got a specific policy to say we are going to go after former NSL fans. We are mindful we have to deliver a game to the people that is attractive and entertaining and brings them back, so I feel we have a more global view in that regard.

Will Heart portray itself as a club of the people in an attempt to muster up support at a grassroots level?

We will certainly try to embrace as many people near and far to our club. That-s our job and we are clearly going to have to work hard to do so.

Is an approach similar to that taken by the Central Coast Mariners going to be likely?

It is a very different background because of the nature of their location and therefore much of the development of any club is based on the cultural circumstances of their area. We are conscious of what that is in Melbourne and we are going to try and work at that.

How has the global financial crisis impacted Melbourne Heart FC's plans?

Everybody is affected by the global financial crisis so all of us have had to cut our costs along the way in some way shape or form, but as far as the club is concerned I think our basic originating structure hasn-t altered and our basic funding model hasn-t altered. Those funds have been allocated by the various share holders and the model is in place. There is a salary cap in place as you are aware so there are a whole lot of known factors for the club which give you certainty about the scale of the operation and the scope of it. While we-re all impacted by the global financial crisis, we-re certainly all ok going forward.

What type of football does Heart want to be known for?

We are mindful the game can be played in various ways but we believe we have an incumbent responsibility to entertain the people at the football and the public and want to be entertained.

What type of marquee player does the club hope to attract?

That will be the coach-s role to nominate a player while being guided by the club-s philosophy of what we are all trying to achieve. It is presumptuous for anybody at a board level to be making those judgements. We will appoint a Chief Executive Officer (Scott Munn) and a coach who we hope will be able to deliver a vision of what the policy of the board is. That is what our role is but we will certainly give them an overall direction of the vision of the sort of game we want to play and the calibre of club we want to have. However, I don-t think it will be the board-s responsibility to tell the coach who to sign.

In terms of the club-s vision then, will a Victorian-based Socceroo be a priority?

We are across all those bases and wider but again the actual physical determination of the player will be made by the coach but we are passionate to make sure we embrace every supporter and we are going to try and use a marquee identity to do that for sure.

Are you concerned that perhaps the talent pool will have been exhausted by the time club begins scouting for players?

If you look at the way the salary cap and the use of marquee players are structured, it enables clubs to sign players both locally and overseas. If we were talking about a far greater number of clubs then perhaps you could highlight the issue of a shortage of players but I don-t think an additional 46 players for the two new clubs will be a turning point in terms of the availability of footballers in this country. There are a lot of kids coming through and internationally we have lots of players at all sorts of levels who are now interested to play in a league which is showing its dynamic form and taking off.

Is the club considering the option of starting a youth academy in future?

We certainly believe in a youth policy and we-ll articulate that more clearly in the coming months, but I can say we are anxious to embrace youth because it does ensure you have a great feeder of talent for the club and the game in general and it falls in line with the spirit of why you would create a club. We have done a mighty job so far in this country with a limited ability to expose our talent and the more we expose youth to the game and then the youth to the world, everybody is a beneficiary of it and that is certainly part of our thought process going forward.

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