It was back in 1959, when former president of Hellenic FC, Theo Marmaras suggested the merger of his own club, alongside Yarra Park Ajax and South Melbourne United, in order to create a team with a stronger supporter base.
That team was dubbed “South Melbourne Hellas” in honour of the majority of the fans that came from the Greek community, and went on to write its own history in the annals of Australian football.
Since then, South has gone on to become a powerhouse in its own right, lifting a number of trophies up until today and becoming the foundation upon which a number of players built their careers.
The fact that they won their first piece of silverware in their inaugural participation within the Victorian First Division North Championship in 1960 was only evident of the huge success that was to follow, as they went on to win the Victorian State League (VSL) in 1962, in what was just their second year in the state tournament.
‘Hellas’ then went on to win back-to-back championships for three consecutive seasons (1964, 1965, 1966), yet what followed was a long dry spell for the club, that saw them missing out on the championship title for the next eight years.
Yet the introduction of Bill Curran as head coach saw him inject new blood into the team, with players such as Jim Armstrong, Steve Walker and Ulysses Kokkinos leading the pack.
The club returned to its natural place in 1972, clinching the title ahead of rivals George Cross, a feat they would repeat in seasons 1974 and 1976. South also won their first Dockerty Cup in 1974, beating Wilhelmina in the final, 4-1, a feat that they repeated the next season, this time against Sunshine (2-1).
The year 1977 however, brought many dramatic changes both inside the club and out, with the departure of key players such as Armstrong, Walker, Jim Mackay and Peter Bourne among others, who had played a crucial role in solidifying South’s position among the best of Australian football.
As if that wasn’t enough, this was the year that the National Soccer League (NSL) was introduced to the Australian Football Community, leaving the club in a highly vulnerable position in its first seasons within the tournament.
It’s worth noting that up until 1984, their highest achievement was finishing in third place (1978). Yet with the arrival of John Margaritis at the helm of the club, things slowly began to change.
He brought a number of new players to South, including Branko Buljevic, Alun Evans, George Campbell and Alan Davidson, that started to turn things around and heralded a winning spirit into the dressing rooms.
This all escalated during the 1983/84 season, which coincidentally was also the season when the play-off procedure was first introduced into Australian football.
South Melbourne took first place in the regular season, going on to beat Sydney Olympic 4-2 on aggregate in the double finals. Yet, despite their great success, the following season saw them knocked out early in the play-offs, putting an early end to their success.
The end of the 1980’s saw South struggling in the middle of the table, with the only exception being the 1987/88 season where they finished third and made it all the way to the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by Marconi.
That same season, the club was also awarded the Dockerty Cup, after Melbourne Croatia attempted to use an ineligible player in the final.
What followed however could only be described as the club’s “golden age”, as during the 90’s South Melbourne won three championships (while participating in the play-offs another six times), four Dockerty Cups and on Charity Shield, featuring players and staff members such as the late Ferenc Puskas, Paul Trimboli, Angelos Postecoglou, Kimon Taliadoros, Peter Tsolakis and Steve Blair.
The pinnacle of their success came on the 1998/99 season that saw them win the Oceania Championship in a final against Nadi, then go on to represent the continent in the FIFA World Club Championship in Brazil. Speaking to Neos Kosmos, former club treasurer Peter Skrepetis fondly remembers those days:
“In my 28 years with Hellas, that was the greatest thing that ever happened to the club. We went there with Angelos (Postecoglou) as our coach and we had a very good team, we played against teams like Manchester United and Necaxa from Mexico and even though we lost all three games we played, it was only by a small margin.
“We had overall good results. Those were very good times. The chairman then was Mr Giorgos Vasilopoulos and he took with him almost the entire board of the club. We had a fantastic time.
“For us that served South Melbourne for all those years, that was the greatest gift to have the opportunity to travel to Brazil”.
However the next few years weren’t met with a similar level of success and in 2005 the foundations of the sport in Australia were shaken to their core with what many people consider to be a huge step back for the sport: the A-League was introduced, bringing with it a slew of entirely new franchises to Australian football, while the clubs that belonged to the NSL were forced to return to their respective State Leagues (now dubbed “National Premier Leagues” – NPL).
Since then, South Melbourne has won the NPL a total of three times (2006, 2014, 2016), yet now the club seems more focused on finding its rightful place within the Australian football community.
South Melbourne chairman Nick Maikousis points out his most important moment with the club to Neos Kosmos, while also stating their intentions for the future: “For me personally it had to be (Ange) Postecoglou’s first championship with us (1998) and the reason for that is because my father had passed away a week leading up to the final. He was the one that took me to the club when I was two-years-old. I also recall then-president George Vasilopoulos draping a scarf over my father’s coffin. So that was a very big, emotional week for me,” Mr Maikousis says.
“It’s all very good to talk about our history, but frankly it’s all about us writing our own history moving forward. We need to be recognised as a significant football brand in this country and broader Asia and we hope to accomplish that through The Championship, which is the new Second Division.”