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Inside story on United's dramatic first decade

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Few people relish going to the counter at a bookstore to pay for a large illustrated history of a sporting team.

You just know that nerdy looking person behind the desk has been discussing a new biography of an eighteenth century artist at a recent book club meeting and he or she is undoubtedly judging you. That smile doesn’t fool anyone: it’s condescending, not polite.

At this point you feel compelled to say, “my 12-year-old nephew will love this”, then insist you don’t need the receipt and shuffle quickly to the front door.

Of course books of this sort can be dull. Even the most famous teams have usually had boring periods in their histories.

Nevertheless, A Decade United by ABC journalist Loukas Founten, is a fantastic read.

This is partly because there has been so much drama at United since the club was formed in 2003.

But Founten also deserves a lot of credit for tirelessly chasing all the people who have been an important part of United’s story since day one: administrators, sponsors, coaches, players and fans.

You don’t just get recycled reports of episodes like the fall out after the 6-0 grand final loss to Melbourne Victory in 2007 (which exposed tensions within the club and led to the departures of captain Ross Aloisi and inaugural coach John Kosmina), you get the perspectives of the people involved.

Those are tales of hurt, anger and perceived injustice.

They are also illuminating. Even observers who imagine they are well-informed about all the internal politics over the last decade are likely to learn a few things.

Frankly it would be worth reading the book for Kosmina’s roles in the club’s history alone – he has never been one to hold back. As an Adelaide native who was twice appointed coach, and who twice left in a cloud of bitterness, Kossie is integral to the story.

John Kosmina at United in 2012. AAP photo

John Kosmina at United in 2012. AAP photo

Whether he intended it or not, some of his accounts are entertaining. It’s no secret that Kosmina didn’t appreciate having to accommodate ageing Brazilian World Cup hero Romario in the team for a few games but his take on the matter had me laughing out loud (though I then groaned when I read that, after Romario’s arrival, 250,000 Adelaide United shirts were sold in Brazil and the club managed not to make a cent out of it).

Kosmina’s second coaching stint at United was shorter than his first but just as controversial. On his return, one of his first decisions was to take the captaincy off Jon McKain. According to McKain, Kossie shunned him before telling him that he “wasn’t in his plans”. Adelaide’s fans never knew why Kosmina had a problem with the tall defender. McKain still doesn’t know.

Michael Valkanis, currently an assistant coach and youth team coach at United, also held both roles under Kosmina. Unlike McKain, he does know why Kosmina had a problem with him. When Kossie left the club for the second time there were rumours that Valkanis had undermined him. Both sides of the story are in Founten’s book.

This is where we’re left with one question: how did so many of us fall for this 21st century construct which, in less than 12 years, has taken us on a drama filled ride with little silverware to reward us?

After the launch for A Decade United on Friday night, Spiro Karanikos-Mimis and I interviewed Loukas Founten for our radio show. The author confirmed that he couldn’t print a lot of what Kosmina told him because he “didn’t want to get sued”.

There’s also plenty to interest readers sans Kosmina. Among other things, the book gives us Aurelio Vidmar’s reflection on the infamous “pissant town” comments he made in 2009.

Former crowd favourite Marcos Flores gives his account of his strained departure from the club as well. At the time there were whispers that he wanted to stay; his recollection of the events surrounding his exit is fascinating. The Argentine playmaker also confirms that, after a stint in China, he sought a move back to Adelaide. He insists that he didn’t want to deal with any other A-League team and that he only signed for Melbourne Victory after United decided against making him an offer.

The home fans were extremely hostile when Flores returned to Hindmarsh wearing the arch-enemy’s colours. Many will see things differently after reading his explanation.

And why did Robert Gerard and his band of Aussie Rules fans form a consortium to buy Adelaide United’s licence from Football Federation Australia (which held the licence after former owner Nick Bianco handed it back)? Gerard reveals that it wasn’t a South Australian that suggested he should get involved; he was encouraged to do so while he was doing business interstate.

Not all of A Decade United is strictly about the club. Other events that help provide context are covered. The year of United’s founding, 2003, was also the year of the Report of the Independent Soccer Review Committee (aka the Crawford Report). It led to the sport’s badly needed overhaul and this is acknowleged from the outset.

As the sport’s recent history in Australia is often divided into before and after 2005 (when the A-League began and the World Cup qualification drought was broken), it’s worth remembering that it was in 2003, a time when Australian soccer was on its knees, that thousands of people had to be turned away from United’s first game because so many wanted to be there.

Archie Thompson farewells red-carded Ross Aloisi during United's disastrous 2007 grand final showing. AAP image

Archie Thompson farewells red-carded Ross Aloisi during United’s disastrous 2007 grand final showing. AAP image

The most pleasant surprise in Founten’s book is that some former players, particularly those who were there in the early days, reveal a deep affection for the club.

Ross Aloisi was interviewed several years after playing his last game but said “I still love Adelaide United”. Reflecting on leaving his role as coach to take a position with the Socceroos, Aurelio Vidmar said “there is always a massive place in my heart for Adelaide United”. During an injury lay-off, Michael Valkanis took it upon himself to organise posters and photos on the bare walls to “develop a culture” and create “a feel about the place”.

Given the history those three had in the National Soccer League before United’s inception, it’s easy to imagine that they might see their time at the young club as just another part of their impressive careers. Not so.

Former owner Nick Bianco and former chairman Dario Fontanarosa both remain passionate about the club as well. Both were interviewed for A Decade United and both were at its launch.

While reading Founten’s book, I realised how dear the club is to me too. I was on board on day one so that might not seem surprising. But I was also 29 years old and had attended NSL matches since the early 1980s. I made my attachments to the teams I support in England and Italy (and to my AFL team) when I was a kid.

This is where we’re left with one question: how did so many of us fall for this 21st century construct which, in less than 12 years, has taken us on a drama filled ride with little silverware to reward us?

What is certain is United is now an established part of Adelaide’s sporting landscape. As one of the only clubs that had a foot in both the NSL and the A-League, it was also important in Australian soccer’s transformation.

I’m pleased that someone wrote this story and did it justice. A Decade United by Loukas Founten should be on the bookshelves of South Australian sports fans and Australians who love the game.

And the best news is that you can buy it online and avoid all that awkwardness at the bookstore counter.

A Decade United can be bought from its website, www.adecadeunited.com, for $45.00 + $10.00 P&H. Part proceeds of all sales support Camp Quality.

Paul Marcuccitti’s soccer column is published in InDaily on Mondays. He is a co-presenter of 5RTI’s Soccer on 531 program which can be heard from 11am on Saturdays.

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