The meteoric rise of St George City FA is remarkable given the infancy of the club, having only been formed in 2016.
In their inaugural season in league football, St George City FA won the State League, the equivalent of the fourth tier of football in NSW, and were promptly promoted to the National Premier Leagues 3 NSW Men’s competition in 2017.
First season in the NSW NPL 3 in 2017, and St George City FA finished a very creditable 3rd, behind Rydalmere Lions and Fraser Park. The club reviewed the season in meticulous detail, to then go on and successfully sweep all before them in 2018.
St George City FA have this season become the envy and benchmark of other clubs, having won the 1st Grade Premiership, the Championship series – culminating in a 2-0 win over SD Raiders in the Grand Final – as well as the Club Championship, meaning promotion to the National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Men’s competition in 2019.
So what makes St George City FA tick?
FNSW caught up with Head Coach, Manny Spanoudakis, who has been at the helm since the outset in 2016.
FNSW – Tell us a little about how the club started a few years ago?
Manny Spanoudakis (St George City FA Head Coach) – Whilst St George City FA was created in 2016, the St George Football Association has a long and rich history as a football development nursery having produced many Socceroos since it was established in 1924. St George City FA’s charter is to provide a development pathway for the many local juniors playing in the St George Football Association and to provide them with an opportunity to compete at an elite level in the NPL NSW Men’s Senior program and beyond.
FNSW – What have been some of the biggest challenges the club has faced in its infancy?
(MS) – Establishing a new senior program presents a number of logistical and operational challenges. Assembling 3 squads from scratch takes a lot of planning and patience. Promotion is achieved by winning the Club Championship which means that we needed to apply the same amount of attention and focus to all three grades. Aytek Genc, our Head of Football, worked tirelessly to secure training and playing facilities, quality players, coaches and support staff. His extensive experience both as an elite coach and football administrator laid the foundation for what was to be an extremely successful inaugural year where we secured the Club Championship, earning promotion to NPL 3.
FNSW – What is the football philosophy at St George City FA?
(MS) – Our philosophy is to play a quick and free flowing style of possession based attacking football. This requires players to be technically, tactically and athletically astute and to be able to adapt to the rigours associated with competing in a physically and mentally challenging 26 Round season. Our philosophy is embedded within the DNA of everyone involved at the club and was exemplified this season where we scored 254 goals across all three grades.
FNSW – You won the Premiership/Championship double in your first year in the State League Men’s and backed that up with a similar Premiership/Championship double this year in NPL 3 – how do the two triumphs compare?
(MS) – In our first year, we literally started with 0 players so we spent quite a bit of time presenting our vision as a club to players and getting their buy in on that vision so that they would come across to us. We were very pleased to see that all the players bought in on our vision and strategy from day one and thankfully we won promotion to NPL 3 in our first year.
In 2018, we had a base of players that had already been with the club for a couple of years and they knew and understood our culture, values and goals. They become vocal ambassadors for our club so when it came down to attracting new quality people/players, they also played a key role. In a short period, we had established a strong brand and reputation as a serious, professional and ambitious football club and this allowed us to assemble very competitive squads in all three grades.
FNSW – Who were some of the key players during the season who surprised you with their overall performance?
No one really surprised me with their overall performance as I knew that all the players we recruited had great qualities both on and off the park. I was especially pleased for 18 year old Emanuel Koumis as he finished the year as the NPL 3’s U20 Player of the Year and in the 1st Grade starting 11 players for the finals.
The beauty of the first grade squad we assembled this season was that it was well balanced. We knew that at any time during the season we would need to call upon different players to lead the way and help us win games in difficult situations. The foundation of our attacking style of football is our defensive set up. Our first grade team had the best defensive record conceding 23 goals in 28 games. At the back, they were marshalled by the Goalkeeper of the year Chris Marques. At 20 years of age, Chris showed maturity beyond his years and kept 13 clean sheets on our way to the double.
Led by our club captain Bill Tsanidis, our defence, which was also made up of the experienced Sean Thomas, Luke Burke, and Kyoji Mori, was a pillar of strength all season. Additionally, mid-season re-enforcement with Matt Mayora and Paul Turrin added great depth and experience at the back.
Our midfield was also outstanding all year and they truly were the “engine room” for our team. Kerim Kumsuz, Musashi Kokubo and Alvaro Malmierca developed a formidable combination throughout the season and laid the platform for success. Alex Euripidou was signed as a utility player and he stepped up on many occasions in various positions.
Up front, Geoffry Lino was on fire up until a hamstring injury sidelined him for 10 weeks, scoring 17 goals in 15 games before making a return in time for the finals. Geoff was strongly supported by Sam Messam, Steve Kuzmanovski, James Spanoudakis, and off course 18yo Emanuel Koumis, all of whom chipped in with many goals at critical times.
FNSW – St George City FA were successful in 2018 across both the Seniors and Juniors – how do you implement a strategy and manage the expectations across an entire club?
Aytek Genc hired excellent coaches with plenty of experience. Guys like Adrian Webster, Perdo Ricoy and Mirko Jurilj have hundreds of games of NSL appearances and were able to share their knowledge and experience on the younger age groups. This proved to be invaluable.
Of the 7 teams competing in the NPL 2 Boys Youth and NPL 3 Men’s competitions, 6 made it to the Grand Final and the 7th, our U13‘s, were Premiers, however they unfortunately lost their semi final in extra time. If there was a Club Championship in the Youth League, our club would have been on top of the ladder. This says a lot about the program that Aytek has assembled and the quality coaches.
In senior program, all three grades made the Grand Final with our U20’s and 1st grade winning the double. Our U18’s were very unlucky to lose the Grand Final in a penalty shootout. Having all three grades in the Grand Final was a massive achievement for our club. one that we are very proud of.
Full credit must go to Aytek Genc, who created, implemented and managed a holistic football program over the last 3 years. The results across the board are testament to the fact that we are heading in the right direction, and what’s even more exciting is that the best is yet to come.
FNSW – What the club has achieved since its inception is now in the past – what are some of the key areas you will need to focus on given the club’s promotion to the NSW NPL 2 Men’s competition in 2019?
(MS) – Now that this season has ended, it’s important that we all take a little time off to decompress and freshen up again for next season. NPL 2 presents many more challenges and we will need all our energy for the year ahead. I am confident that the strategy that Aytek Genc has implemented remains valid and robust enough to overcome the rigours associated with the NPL 2 Men’s and NPL 1 Youth League competitions.
FNSW – Who are some of the people within the club that have contributed to the club’s overall success, and what is it exactly that they do / have done?
(MS) – Our Head of football Aytek Genc is the driving force behind our club. His vision and commitment to our values and goals is world class and his ability to bring it all together is second to none.
Steve Keremelevski is the U20 & 1st Grade team manager. He has volunteered his time to provide hundreds of hours of support at training and the games. Without Steve looking after the match day operational tasks we could not focus on our job. Our operations manager, Nicole Aroney, was the glue that held it all together behind the scenes. Nicole did so many things to support us, it would take an hour to mention them all.
Stelios Pikoulas (strength & conditioning coach) was integral to the physical preparation and competiveness of our 1st Grade & U20’s squad. We started our preparation on December 4th 2017 and trained 3 days a week (plus games) until the Grand Final. Stelios made sure that every week the players were physically prepared for the game ahead and did an outstanding job. He is professional and diligent in all that he does and has a great future ahead of him.
Also working closely behind the scenes was Mina Lawendy, our team physiotherapist. Mina worked tirelessly to make sure that the players stayed on the park and collaborated closely with all staff to keep us informed of the injured players and their status.
Additionally, Adrian Webster wore two hats both as 1st Grade Assistant Coach and U20’s coach. This allowed us to work closely and to integrate the U20’s into the senior training program as much as possible. I believe Adrian’s contribution was key in helping us secure the double in both U20’s and 1st Grade. Adrian worked closely with his brother Dujon in the U20’s in the second half of the season and helped us secure the Club Championship.
Finally, the Board of SGFA leveraged our position as the largest community group in the St George area to secure valuable funding for the development of two state of the art football facilities. Their lobbying to all levels of government for these necessary funds saw the opening of a new synthetic field at Ador Ave, and in early 2019 a new million dollar amenities block and synthetic pitch at Peakhurst Park. This will allow our club to have a training base second to none in the NPL from which we can continue to develop our teams. The Board also negotiated the use of Kogarah Jubilee Oval for 6 home games this season. This is by far the best football facility in NSW and all players from U13 – 1st Grade enjoyed the experience of playing at this fantastic facility. Other than this facility, we also need to thank local clubs like Hurstville Zagreb and San Souci, who allowed us to use their training grounds throughout the season when required – the support from the local clubs has been fantastic since our inception.
FNSW – On a personal level, FNSW captured the moment your son, James, netted the winning goal in this year’s Grand Final – tell me what that meant to you both, as well as the family?
I truly appreciate the significance of that moment, both as a parent and as a coach. James scored his goal near the end of the Grand Final and it effectively secured our victory and brought closure to a very rewarding season. Joy, pride and relief overwhelmed me at that time, and I am grateful that God brought this moment into both our lives. Early in the season, James suffered a bad injury and his season was disrupted after completing a strong pre- season. You’re never sure how a player responds to injuries and if he’ll come back just as strong. Watching him do hours of rehab and pushing himself to get back to full fitness was stressful, both as a parent and a coach. Once he recovered, he played in the second half of the season, and in the Semi-Final and Grand Final, and his contribution was immense.
Unfortunately for James, I am very hard on him. He takes it in his stride and always works hard for the team and I am very proud of the young man he has become. To be able to share such a significant moment in the club’s history with my son – not to mention my father in the stands – is indescribable.
Winning is a habit in football – and the manner in which the St George City FA club built their foundations and have gone about their business during their first 3 years of operation, you can see why winning has well and truly become a habit for everyone associated at the club.