Melbourne Knights president Ange Cimera and director Tony Juric will fly to Sydney today to make a last-ditch plea to soccer’s national powerbrokers to force the sport’s Victorian rulers to admit the Sunshine club into the state’s elite competition.
The duo will meet with officials from other NSL clubs and Australian Soccer Association representatives, arguing that their decision to voluntarily step down from the new Australian Premier League to make way for a broad-based, non-ethnic team in Melbourne should mean they get immediate access to the Victorian Premier League.
South Melbourne chief executive Mark Patterson and officials of the Albert Park-based club will also attend the meeting to argue their case that they, too, should be able to field a team in the VPL, even though they are also bidding for a place in the revamped APL.
If the Knights do not get the support they require, Juric said there could be serious consequences for the sport locally, including the possibility of a legal challenge to the VSF or the league. Given that there could be an exodus of players from Somers Street before the end of the NSL season if the decision is not overturned, he also warned that the Knights might also be forced to field a youth team of 16- and 17-year-olds for its final two home NSL matches against Adelaide and Sydney United, teams chasing a top-six berth.
“I am not leaving that meeting tomorrow until something is sorted out. If I have to turn tables over, I will,” an angry Juric said yesterday. “I want phone calls made to the Victorian Soccer Federation to get this issue resolved in the interests of the game. The ASA has got the power to direct them to put us into the league, the VSF commissioners have the power to overturn an earlier decision and put us into the league.”
Juric also claimed that at least four, and possibly five, of the VPL clubs that last week voted against the inclusion of the Knights (and South Melbourne) into the VPL had reconsidered their position.
“The VSF commissioners are meeting on Tuesday night and we will have nine or 10 statutory declarations where clubs will back our bid saying they have changed their minds. It will then be up to the commissioners to change their minds and put us in the league. If they do not, one of them will be around in three or four months’ time when the constitution in Victoria is rewritten by the ASA.”
The Knights’ major sponsor, Compass Packaging, was committed to backing the club in the VPL, he added.
The PFA, the players union, yesterday called on the ASA and VSF to “show leadership” to resolve the situation. “We are not going to sit back and watch players being treated like this,” chief executive Rob Anderson said. “We will be considering what the legal and contractual obligations going forward are.”
Meanwhile, South Melbourne is still courting investors to help it in its efforts to raise the $5 million needed to be considered for a spot in the new APL.
The latest name to be linked with the club is South Australian-based shopping-centre millionaire Con Makris. Makris, the man behind South Australian state league side Adelaide Galaxy, is a serial “white knight” for struggling NSL clubs, although he has yet to commit his considerable funds to any.
In the past he has expressed interest in bailing out Adelaide City and Carlton without cementing any deals.