South Hellas Fathers: Tribute to my father Stevie Walker

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By Lorne Walker.

I remember kicking a football with a chubby kid with an intense gaze and accented English at the back of the stands at South Melbourne Hellas’s Middle Park stadium in the early 70s.

My dad was warming up on the pitch. His dad was in the stands. My dad was the captain Stevie Walker, a Glaswegian, a Ten-Pound (not quite) Pom, drawn to Australia by lack of opportunities at home, football or otherwise, and to the club by a pay-check supplementing his full-time salary.

Mum says the kid was Ange Postecoglou. His dad was drawn to Australia after losing his Athenian business to the Regime of the Colonels, and drawn to South Melbourne Hellas by its inherent Greekness – its name, its colours, its language- a home away from home.

‘Hellas’ has been removed from the name in an effort to de-ethicise Australian football, but the players’ kit remains blue and white, and spoken Greek mixes with the smoke from the souvlaki giros in the air.

Friendships were forged between those who became Australians at Middle Park. Francis Awaritefe is third from right on the back row, Paul Touliatos is second left on the front row. Photograph: Paul Touliatos
Friendships were forged between those who became Australians at Middle Park. Francis Awaritefe is third from right on the back row, Paul Touliatos is second left on the front row. Photo: Paul Touliatos.

Us kids would all kick the ball around in the dusty dirt car park until kick off when we would run through the tunnel under the stand to watch the game. My brother and I, together with Jimmy McKay’s and Jimmy Armstrong’s kids, ran to the seats at the front reserved for the players’ families.

The chubby Greek kid went to sit with his father in the stands. The South Melbourne crowds cheered as the players’ names, mostly of Greek and Scottish origin, were called out. The biggest cheer was for my dad. Hellas won more often than not. They won trophies almost every year back then. But they have been moved on, the stadium having been bulldozed and every March GP Formula One cars fly down the track laid down over where it once stood.

Postecoglou says that as the son of hard-working immigrants, football was the only time he would get to spend with his late father Jim.

“All I remember,” Postecoglou said, “is my father working hard. He’d be gone for work before I ate my breakfast and come home at night, have dinner, sit on the couch and fall asleep and go and do the same thing the next day.

“The only time I ever got to see any joy in my dad was when we went to the football on a Sunday. So that did make an impression on me, because I made a quick connection that football is something that makes him happy… so if I love this like he does, it will get me close to him.” It was time well spent.

Middle Park in its last days. Photograph: Paul Touliatos
Middle Park in its last days. Photo: Paul Touliatos.

Both lovers of the Beautiful Game, Postecoglou said “my motivation is always to produce teams [my] dad would enjoy watching.” He still does and wishes Jim was watching still.

Ange would go on to play for and coach both his adopted club and his adopted country, winning trophies at both, although it could be asked who adopted who. He is proud to be both Australian and Greek, as my father was to be Australian and Scottish.

Postecoglou loves both Association Football and Aussie Rules football. It was not easy for him though. He worked in a bank before he got his first full-time coaching job at Australian underage level, his dread of returning behind the counter spurring him on.

After his contract was not renewed, he coached in the Greek third division before returning to Australia struggling to make ends meet. For a period, he and his wife lived with her mother as he coached an amateur team and ran football clinics in suburban Melbourne. But that is what people like about Ange. He could have gone back to the bank, sought security in a stable job, but like his parents he trusted his instincts outside of his comfort zone.

His path as a manager was not orthodox. South Melbourne, Patras, Brisbane, Melbourne again, Yokohama, Glasgow and now London.

Ange Postecoglou is the only person to have been involved on the field in all four of our NSL title-winning teams.
Ange Postecoglou is the only person to have been involved on the field in all four of South Melbourne’s NSL title-winning teams. Photo: South Melbourne FC.

He can spot talent, his first-team squad at Celtic contained five Japanese players, none likely to have been signed by any other coach in a British league, including Scottish Premiership Player of the Year Kyogo Furihashi, and his Tottenham selections have been superb.

Ange’s success is our success, for the club, for the country, for anyone who steps out of their comfort zone and makes a go of it.

Ange Postecoglou with his Australia Under-20 squad in 2001 Photo Allsport Robert Cianflone.
Ange Postecoglou with his Australia Under-20 squad in 2001 Photo: Allsport Robert Cianflone.

I have not had Ange’s footballing successes, but like him I have lived around the world and cheered on clubs such as Urawa Reds, Partick Thistle, Southampton and RCD Espanyol – a typical Aussie, always cheering on the underdog. But for both Postecoglou and I, South Melbourne Hellas is where it began.

During the first pandemic summer of 2020, I couldn’t get back to Australia and was stuck in Europe. Able to travel amongst some border restrictions I took a ferry from Barcelona to Civitavecchia near Rome and rode my Suzuki through vacant Italy and Greece.

I had learnt plenty of Greek words from the other boys in those South Melbourne days, and forty-five years later, before I even set foot in Greece, I laughed when I heard the truck drivers use the same words amongst themselves, some naughty, some nice, through their facemasks on the empty ferry from Brindisi to Patras.

Ange Postecoglou – 2024 Manager of the Year.
Ange Postecoglou – 2024 Manager of the Year.

Three weeks in tourist free Greece brought back memories of my childhood weekends largely spent at South Melbourne Hellas (or “Hellas Melbourne” as it is known over there).

Smells, music, faces and language from a time before there was a national Australian league and Victoria was considered the football powerhouse. Memories of my parents coming home late and telling us about dinners with Pele and George Best. Memories of long-lost Stevie Walker articles clipped from the Soccer Action newspaper, memories of my dad listening to the radio in the kitchen to get the Scottish football results.

It did seem as though Partick Thistle always lost. Memories of going to more Greek Orthodox weddings and baptisms than any other ones. In the post-game dinners, I tried grilled squid before I tried kangaroo steak. I enjoyed a cheeky sip of ouzo before my first beer.

Stevie was my step-father and he and my mother divorced many years ago. I did not know him well man-to-man, but back when every second taxi driver was Greek, they all knew him. He died twenty years ago, ironically going into hospital the day before Greece won the UEFA Euro Cup 2004 and lasted six weeks later until the day after the Athens Olympics closing ceremony. I don’t remember much of either.

He gave me and my brothers a love of football, Scotland and Hellas. He never got to Greece, but he would have loved it, as the Greeks in Melbourne loved their Πάτερ Γεώργιος – Papa Yiorgo – Father George.

But he was my childhood hero, as Postecoglou’s father was to him, and during that sad, blazing, empty summer, alone on a terrace in the shade of an olive tree, I had some Alfa beer and ouzo to all our memories.

Γειά μας! Yiamas! Cheers!

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