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New Reds ownership: will Adelaide be a bit more United?

Manton St Tales

It may well be remembered as Adelaide United’s Glorious Revolution.

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The actual Glorious Revolution also involved a Dutch leader (William of Orange, later William III of England) who, remarkably, was invited by prominent Englishmen to invade their country and remove their home-grown king.

United’s new Dutch leader may have been invited to depose locals too. Certainly, Piet van der Pol would have at least developed some interest in acquiring the club through his association with Bruno Marveggio, one of the previous owners.

While it’s impossible to predict how invested or successful the new venture will be, supporters can rest assured that its head has a deep history in the game.

Along with establishing Qingdao Red Lions, van der Pol is a former director of ADO Den Haag. He is also well known to several Australian club owners and officials as a player agent with one of his clients being former Adelaide United favourite Sergio van Dijk.

Inevitably there has been speculation about how much the new investors paid to take over. I understand it was $9 million but it was stressed to me that that was the amount cleared after debts, which may have included a loan provided by one of the outgoing owners.

If comments sections and fan forums are any guide, the new ownership has been largely welcomed. But that has been fuelled in part by a sentiment, expressed well before rumours about the sale began swirling, that change was desperately needed.

Why? The previous ownership group bought the club’s licence from Football Federation Australia in November 2010 and the Reds’ only championship was won on its watch.

There are several answers but for many supporters, there were simply too many conflicts and controversies.

And a lot of them were essentially about money, which makes fans uncomfortable unless the owners of the team they support have the deepest of pockets.

As chairman, Greg Griffin was talking about that subject from day one: “We are not here to lose money, we’re actually here to make it.”

In the drive to either increase revenues or reduce expenses, Griffin had battles on more fronts than I could list. But we can start with: Adelaide Venue Management (operators of Hindmarsh Stadium), Football Federation South Australia, Professional Footballers Australia, Football Federation Australia (having first teamed up with FFA in a collective bargaining brawl with PFA), and his own Adelaide United players.

You could say that’s fair enough: fighting to keep the club’s finances sound is an absolute necessity.

But what surely wasn’t necessary was the need to air so many of those disputes publicly while adding more than a smattering of hyperbole.

There was the “attack on United’s integrity” in describing wages sought by the United players facing Villarreal and Liverpool in exhibition matches in 2015 (a comment which moved those players to respond through an open letter to fans).

We also had “this is economic vandalism”, during the collective bargaining dispute with PFA.

And at a time when Adelaide United’s W-League team was actually being run by FFSA, Griffin, in between making several encouraging comments, still managed to drop a sentence that made the women’s team sound like a pricey annoyance: “We’re in the business of running an A-League team and one day you’re suddenly told that we’re running a women’s league team and that’s an extra couple of hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses which is lost it’s gone.”

Of course, not every dispute was about dollars. When former ABC journalist Loukas Founten wrote the excellent A Decade United, the first and to my knowledge, only, history of Adelaide United, there was an opportunity for the club to use the book to celebrate how it had quickly become part of South Australia’s sporting landscape.

Instead, Founten was threatened with legal action over some of the book’s contents and a rare chance to promote the legacy of the club’s formative years was missed. His garage would end up housing several hundred copies.

If a history was written about 2017 – what would turn out to be the previous ownership group’s last full year – it might be entitled “Griffin’s Wars”.

In April he urged Marveggio to sell his stake in the club after a story broke about Marveggio’s business not paying outstanding superannuation. That backfired a few days later with the revelation that Adelaide United itself owed super to its players.

Within the next three months, Griffin would, in short order: slam popular full-back Tarek Elrich, who had expressed concerns about how few players the club had signed; threaten to withdraw United players from the Asian Football Confederation Under-23 championships; and feed a story about Adelaide United playing matches at Norwood Oval.

With unrest growing among fans, Grant Mayer, the then chief executive, agreed to an interview on Soccer on 531. He conceded that the club made mistakes in the way it dealt with the matter of releasing players for the Asian tournament and dismissed the Norwood move, saying: “I suggest that story may have been written very late on a Friday night. I can assure every listener … that we won’t be playing at the other Coopers Stadium (Norwood Oval).”

And while all that was going on, guess who was leading Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (i.e. the 10 A-League clubs) in its power struggle with FFA?

I didn’t – and don’t – dislike Griffin. Conversations I had with him were generally positive. And while continuing his work as a lawyer and in business – in which he’s obviously successful – he put an impressive amount of energy into his role with Adelaide United.

But, like many Reds fans, I didn’t like the way he handled many matters and certainly felt there were several that he needn’t have been involved in.

Which is why there are supporters who are somewhat optimistic about a future they don’t yet know anything about. Time will tell whether it truly is glorious. But if it’s calmer – in the short-term at least – that will be a relief.

Paul Marcuccitti is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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