The day that Frank Lowy took his ball and went home

Roy Hay Roar Rookie

By Roy Hay, Roy Hay is a Roar Rookie

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    It is not unprecedented for the wealthy owner of a club to walk away from the game and refuse to play by the rules in place at the time. In 1987 one president did just that after one round of the league season. His name was Frank Lowy.

    There are many differences between what happened with Sydney City and the Australian Soccer Federation (ASF), and the situation with Clive Palmer and Football Federation Australia (FFA) today, but some interesting similarities too.

    In both cases the club owner/president believed that the authorities were taking the game in the wrong direction. In both cases they had strong objections to the financial model under which the league was operating and they could see no prospect of improvement. In both cases their clubs could not sustain attendances to match their playing performance.

    The National Soccer League (NSL) began in 1977. Sydney City Hakoah was the most successful team on the field in the first ten years of the NSL, and Frank Lowy was president of the Hakoah Social Club for much of that time. The Social Club and its wealthy members bankrolled the soccer team.

    Sydney City won the championship four times, finished top of the home and away leagues on six occasions and played some of the most entertaining football in the history of the league. But it could never attract a crowd to match its playing ability. The demise of Hakoah was a long time in the making.

    In 1982 the Hakoah Social Club was fire-bombed by people opposed to its support of Israel. In 1985 there was a riot at Pratten Park during a match with long time rival Sydney Olympic, which led some older members of the Jewish community to consider whether the association with soccer should continue.

    In 1984 after pressure from the various states, particularly Victoria and South Australia, the NSL was split into two conferences in a vain hope that more local derbies would increase attendances. It did nothing to increase crowds for the league and for Hakoah it was a disaster as average crowds fell from 2011 in 1983 to 1019 in 1984.

    In 1986 Hakoah signed Israeli star Eli Ohana on a short term loan for five matches, but the team only finished fifth in the league. By the end of 1986, Lowy’s mind was made up. If the crowds did not pick up he would pull the plug on the Hakoah Social Club support of the football team, which had been the original raison d’etre for setting up the Social Club. That decision caused a heated and prolonged debate in the Hakoah ranks.

    The 1987 NSL season began on Friday 28 March and the following day Sydney City played Sydney Olympic at E S Marks field. The crowd was 5,187 and Tommy McCulloch scored both goals in a two-nil win. On Sunday 30 March Hakoah Social Club held its Annual General Meeting. Lowy had already sent a letter to members in which he wrote:

    ‘I say without qualification that we cannot afford to maintain a professional team any longer. Despite the sentimental arguments I can see no justification for our current level of funding. The cost of running the team could be $300,000 and $500,000 would be needed to maintain a top-line professional team in the near future. The decision of your board of directors to bite the bullet on this issue is a sad one. But we must be realistic. Our support for Sydney City will have to end sooner or later.’

    Lowy won a two-thirds majority for his proposal to the AGM to withdraw from the NSL forthwith. That caused an outcry in the wider football community with many saying that Hakoah had treated the league with disrespect. Attempts to rescue the situation by transferring the ownership to Blacktown City or to a consortium led by Harry Michaels, who offered to buy the team for $650,000, failed. Meetings with the chair of the NSL Sam Papasavas proved unsuccessful.

    Frank Lowy said at the time and in his biography that he was frustrated because the ASF and NSL leaders did not share his vision for the game. He had stood for the presidency of the ASF against Sir Arthur George and lost, and he withdrew from both football and the presidency of Hakoah at the end of 1988.

    He did not engage in a public campaign to undermine the ASF or the NSL and he did not try to set up a breakaway organization, as Hakoah had done successfully in 1957 (that is another story) and Palmer has tried to do in 2012. Lowy left the Hakoah Social Club in a healthy state, but his influence on the game of football was not restored until 2003, following the Crawford Report and an appeal by the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard.

    Sydney City Hakoah attendance 1980-87 and Gold Coast United attendance 2009-2012:

    Sydney City Hakoah

    Year Aggregate home crowd Highest Lowest Average
    1980 3328 2558
    1981 40683 6892 1200 2712
    1982 33700 5658 1018 2246
    1983 30169 6712 400 2011
    1984 14267 2101 543 1019
    1985 25442 8420 635 2312
    1986
    1987 5187 5187 5187

    Source: Anthony Thomas Hughes, The Rise and Fall of Sydney Hakoah Soccer Football Club: A Case Study of Sport and Identity in Sydney’s Jewsish Community 1923–1987, PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, 2003, p. 213.

    Gold Coast United

    Year Aggregate home crowd Highest Lowest Average
    2009-10 75347 10024 2616 5382
    2010-11 51505 14783 1658 3434
    2011-12 30218 6927 1141 3022

    Sources: Hyundai A-League Media Guides 2009–2012

    Andrew Howe, by email, 3 March 2012.

    Roy Hay is a member of the History Panel of the Football Federation Australia. This is his personal view.

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    The Crowd Says (35)

    • Roar Guru

      March 5th 2012 @ 8:09am
      The Cattery said | March 5th 2012 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      An interesting history.

      • March 7th 2012 @ 12:48pm
        PeterK said | March 7th 2012 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

        Fascinating! The same complaints about him now as he was making then!

    • March 5th 2012 @ 8:59am
      Qantas supports Australian Football said | March 5th 2012 @ 8:59am | ! Report

      Thank you for the article it was an interesting read and period that I can remember only too well. Your thorough research is very impressive. Frank Lowy is failing football yet again and to restore Australian Football’s momentum he and his secretary Ben Buckley should be immediately removed from office. His catastrophic decision making today is resembling that same period in the 1980’s where he presided over Hakoah—time for him to go and be replaced with a much younger stronger team at the helm.. Time for Craig Foster and Andy Harper to jointly step up and both run the head office—these two Football men jointly should lead Australian Football back into the 21st century. We need new blood—what we have now is an old man who should be retired with his secretary.

      • March 5th 2012 @ 9:14am
        Tigranes said | March 5th 2012 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        Qantas, Im not sure if Craig Foster would be up to running a professional sports operation. He is a good soccer analyst for a government funded television station and an average journalist, but the FFA needs someone who can run professional organisations.

        In short, Lowy any day over Foster and Harper.

      • Roar Guru

        March 5th 2012 @ 9:37am
        Philip Coates said | March 5th 2012 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        QASF, your gripe with Lowy and Buckley has some validity as most people agree with you that they have made mistakes, but your call for Foster and Harper to take over is grasping at straws (ABL – anyone but Lowy ??). The nicest thing that can be said about Foster is that he is an analyst on the game and he has represented players on the Players Association. Harper was CEO of Sydney FC for a grand total of one year. Harper is fresh and young and I like him but if he can’t run Sydney, or didn’t like running Sydney (I’m not sure which but he wasn’t there long) so there is no way he could try and run the entire A-League or the FFA.

        I don’t agree with you often but I do agree change is needed either in policy or structure or personnel at FFA and maybe the Palmer disaster might be the catalyst for a some of that change to occur. But it seems beyond Harper and let it not be Foster who has too many of his own personal axes to grind and is just a constant sniper.

        • March 5th 2012 @ 9:54am
          Qantas supports Australian Football said | March 5th 2012 @ 9:54am | ! Report

          Harper was sacked from SFC by Frank Lowy because he was too successful. It was the best year SFC had under Andy Harper who set the trend for full time professional football in Australia. Lowy is too conservative and does not understand the necessity to promote Australian Football. And that is also why successful John O’Neil left the FFA the most successful of all the FFA executives—he was continually hamstrung by Lowy’s conservatism. Lowy is old and tired and must go for the good of the game and please Frank take your AFL secretary with you.

          • March 7th 2012 @ 12:49pm
            PeterK said | March 7th 2012 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

            Agree strongly re JON!

      • March 5th 2012 @ 10:36am
        Midfielder said | March 5th 2012 @ 10:36am | ! Report

        Q

        Trouble with Fozzzie in charge he would destroy the game within twelve months… he is good at analysising a game and thats about all..

        Q hand on heart has CP done a good job…

        What did you want FFA to do…. the ad you kep refering too was an internet ad it was not shown in Sydney as far as I am aware…

        You and Fozzie compare this FFA adminstration with the old NSL … what hand on heart stuff agian…

        Whaty this smells to me is SBS are not doing to good in the new media deal…. in any other time period what CP has said would have Fozzie screaming for CP to be given the bullet…

        LM finally wrote a decent article on TWG site today…

        Q … put to a vote who you want running football… FL or CP … lol it would be 95 to 5 in favour of FL…

        What has he done and has he put money in… the W-League, SFC, among others…. got us into Asia which is why CP got involved…

        Am I saying FFA are faultless, noway in fact I have written a number of times that BB should be sacked…

        But it was CP who failed to get the crowds tho the gate … FFA spent more time on there trying to help and he told em FO… he copied tyhe Mariners how to engage the local community and then tho it out…

        CP has some things right in all these disputes if you spraw your fire broad enough you will hit something…

        • March 5th 2012 @ 11:16am
          striker said | March 5th 2012 @ 11:16am | ! Report

          Totally agree Midfielder Lowy not perfecr but the game is at least a mainstram sport where as pre NSL days we were lucky if ever there was a mention on free to air tv and that was only if there was a riot.

          • March 7th 2012 @ 12:52pm
            PeterK said | March 7th 2012 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

            Midfielder, does FL put any of his own money in?

        • March 5th 2012 @ 12:46pm
          Qantas supports Australian Football said | March 5th 2012 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

          You are only believing Frank Lowy—if you read a bit more you would have read Clive Mensink GCU CEO went to Sydney to see Ben Buckley about some conditions Clive Palmer wanted the FFA to meet and they flatly refused saying they were not a bank. OK they should have made it clear to Palmer to just hang on until after the FOX negotiations are done—or better still release a statement telling us all what the TV FOX and digial deal is going to be worth. No one to this day knows what is going on with those negotiations. The AFL and the NRL made it very clear they were going for the big $Billion and what has Frank and Ben told us up to date, ZERO on what we can expect. The owners are fed up and can’t plan ahead knowing how much the FFA are wanting and this is the main issue with Frank and his secretary they are weak negotiators. They have to go for the good of the game—all they are capable of doing is revoking football licences. I reckon Clive Palmer is right he said you can’t send in public servants to negotiate big TV deals. Ben Buckley and Frank Lowy have lied to us for far too long. Time’s up Frank, get out, along with your secretary as well, to allow real football men like Foster and Harper to take over for the good of the game and if need be take in Palmer to help negotiate a real TV deal ‘cos you need a real head kicker to get the best TV deal possible.

          • Editor

            March 5th 2012 @ 12:59pm
            Tristan Rayner said | March 5th 2012 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

            The main issue, QSAF, is that Foster and Harper are journalists, not executives. You agree with their agenda, but are you sure they’d be suitable to running the business of the FFA? You’re really hoping that they can influence via a consulting role.

            You’re upset your club is gone, but don’t let that red mist descend too far.

            • March 5th 2012 @ 1:16pm
              Qantas supports Australian Football said | March 5th 2012 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

              Bob Carr was a journalist and was the Premier of NSW and now the Foreign Minister for the Gillard government. Don’t underestimate these two men Foster and Harper they know the product extremely well. With the right support staff they would be far better than the incumbent who is old and tied with his right hand man being just his ex-AFL secretary ‘cos he has no real feel for the game and just carries out Frank’s bad decision making—Frank is past it and now he has to go.

              • March 5th 2012 @ 4:39pm
                JasonA said | March 5th 2012 @ 4:39pm | ! Report

                QSAF,

                I hear where you are coming from in regards to Lowy. He is not perfect by any means. But Palmer would be worse. Hopefully this situation will highlight some underlying problems that need to be ironed out if the game is to move forward and keep up with the bigger professional sports.

                In regards to Craig Foster and Andy Harper I’m not sure how you could actually believe two pundits could run a potentially billion dollar organisation. As far as i know neither have the necessary experience or qualifications in Business Administration or Sports Management. I’m sure that the right person for the job (Business and Football minded) is out there.

              • March 5th 2012 @ 5:22pm
                Qantas supports Australian Football said | March 5th 2012 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

                JasonA—I was a long time supporter of Lowy and I don’t come to this conclusion so readily. Lowy is old and tired and we need young men who know the product inside out. Foster and Harper have business degrees and are very smart young men who know the product better then any. It’s time for them to step up to take control. They are more than football pundits—both have studied at University and obtained the necessary business degrees to make the correct business decisions. Lowy may have been good at building shopping complexes, but he is now making the most elementary mistakes in football administration. It’s time for him to step aside and let younger more energetic men come through to push football forward to reach its full potential. We have 4 or 5 billionaires who are owners of the HAL clubs now wondering about the decision making of Frank Lowy— it’s time for him to step aside now, at the close of the season, to make way for new blood.

            • March 29th 2012 @ 8:58pm
              Pete said | March 29th 2012 @ 8:58pm | ! Report

              I am not here to voice an opinion on the executive talents of Harper and/or Foster, or anyone else out of the picture at the moment. However, it would seem to me, the prime requirement for a successful chief anywhere would be the ability to handpick a team which covers ALL the qualities required to run a large and successful organization … and then let them do their work within the parameters set in their job descriptions. That is what Lowy’s job should be, not the daily arbiter of every single thing in the roof body.
              What does he do instead? He surrounds himself with yes men.

          • March 5th 2012 @ 9:47pm
            Cpaaa said | March 5th 2012 @ 9:47pm | ! Report

            QSAF i would rejoice in the resignation of Ben Buckley in replace of a Goat. He is there to negotiate the tv deal but if he continues his way there will be no tv deal to negotiate. Frank is wise and it is time for him to announce a successor.
            The FFA as i see it, do not have a a strategy in the short term let alone the long term. Fosters philosophy should be taken and welcomed on board at the FFA. If only they would listen.

    • Roar Guru

      March 5th 2012 @ 12:09pm
      apaway said | March 5th 2012 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

      Roy

      Interesting comparison and definite food for thought. However, the Sydney City situation is very different to the Gold Coast one and you did acknowledge some of those differences.

      My understanding is the decision to withdraw Sydney City was one that could only be made at the Hakoah AGM, which was always held in late March. So it wouldn’t particularly matter what year it happened, it was going to impact the league in progress.

      The crowd comparison should probably also have encompassed the average crowds of the league as a whole. Sydney City’s home crowds were bad, no doubt. But the gap between their crowds and the league average was not as great as that of GCU and the A-League average.

    • March 5th 2012 @ 12:15pm
      Futbanous said | March 5th 2012 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

      Having attended a few Sydney City games & followed the NSL since inception I fail to see the point of this story.
      Times were different then in football as anybody who was around at the time will know.
      Generally outside the Major Ethnic clubs & their supporters ,local support for Football at professional level was insipid at best. Trying to get anybody outside those communities to attend was like getting Clive to participate in the Gold Coast Triathalon.
      The Hakoah club relying on support from the Jewish community in the Eastern suburbs was never going to have a big supporter base. Most Jews in the area were affluent unlike the mainly working class background of those who supported the Greek,Italian or Croatian clubs etc. Football was not their go. The club was always on borrowed time once it started to buy success. Frank obviously underestimated the amount of people who would turn up from outside the Jewish community.
      In other words football at local level was marginalised a game operating in a twilight zone.
      To claim otherwise is delusional & false.
      Maybe Frank is getting older not as sharp in his decision making,aren’t we all.
      But can any genuine long term football fan look themselves in the face & say that he has achieved nothing in the years since he became chairman.
      If you believe he has achieved much in the last 7 years then at least be gracious enough to acknowledge those achievements before slinging insults at the bloke. & telling him its knackers yard time.

    • March 5th 2012 @ 2:20pm
      jbinnie said | March 5th 2012 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

      Roy – Typical of your usual work, a thoroughly researched article into the past that does.despite what some people are saying,does have some similarities to today’s goings on.
      Just a couple of things I would like to point out that add a bit of clarification to some of the times and figures you have used.
      (1) The data supplied concerning GCU’s crowd figures for last season should really point out that that “largest crowd” of 14,783 was actually a “free entry” day put on by Palmer. IMO this should not be included in their actual average crowd figures and if it is omitted then their “true” average crowd for entrance paying supporters drops from the shown 3434 to a more realistic 2623.
      (2) Although you cover Lowy’s reasons from leaving football very well I think you could have pointed out that HIS withdrawal started a few years before he ,as a very powerful influence on the Hakpah Social Club, “pulled” Sydney City from the NSL. Around 1982/83 I attended an ASF AGM at the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney where part of the agenda was to elect a high official ??? who would be Sir Arthur George’s (who earlier had declared his intention to stand down soon), understudy.There were 2 candidates,Papasavas and Lowy. Lowy got thrashed in the voting,voting that was being affected all around the room by noted people in football going around telling the delegates who to vote for. Such was my disgust at these goings-on I too departed the NSL soccer scene later that year.I honestly believe it was this occurrence that started Lowy’s withdrawal from the game leading to his 1988 “pulling” of Sydney City.He did not leave the code altogether,from memory he started a Hakoah backed amateur team called Maccabi United. Thanks again for the trip down memory lane. jb

      • March 5th 2012 @ 5:11pm
        Peter Scott said | March 5th 2012 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

        You’re absolutely right. Lowy pulling the plug on football at Hakoah was a vendetta, pure and simple, after he got screwed by Arthur George and his buddies. And, Lowy did not give a damn about the wishes of Hakoah football fans!

        The AGM was fixed. New members flooded the register beforehand and, lo and behold, they were Lowy’s men. He already tried to kill off football on a previous occasion and failed. This time he took no chances.

        As for Futbanous, he is also misinformed. Hakoah used to attract many thousands of Jewish football fans to all their games – and their children – it was a way of life in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. However, Lowy had this fixation about being an “ethnic”, an inferiority complex about it, a giant sized chip on his shoulder, which led to the idiocy of the Sydney City Slickers experiment, identifying with the one part of Sydney, which had virtually no population. His expressed reason was the lack of support from the Jewish community. The reason for that? His and Andrew Lederer’s long standing determination not to allow any sort of involvement by anyone else in the running and administration of football – and to a large extent of the social club, as well – within Hakoah.

        In a community of educated, successful people, there were no volunteers for “involvement”, which would have entailed the cutting up of oranges for halftime and not much else. In earlier years, under the presidencies of the likes of Walter Sternberg and Karl Rodny, supporters were involved, new and capable administrative talent was tapped, the juniors – the source of new followers – had meaningful representation on the Board of Directors (including myself for a period) and thousands turned up at the games each weekend to cheer for a club with some meaning and relevance for them.

        Lowy and Lederer ran a two man band, in the end there was only the two of them left … and then nothing. No team, no social club. At the very end Lederer saw the stupidity and vindictiveness of it all, but still did not have the gumption to come out openly in opposition to Lowy, fearing possible adverse effects on his business relationship with Westfield. Wasn’t alone in this view.

        At the very end, a group of Hakoah people with ability and backing worked out a business plan, which would have enabled the club to continue in the NSL that season and more than likely beyond it, without it being a financial burden on the social club. The guarantee of competence would have been the presence of Harry Lakmaker, universally recognized as one of the top administrators in the game. A younger generation of businessmen, lawyers, professional people were ready to take over, but were screwed over by Lowy and his stacked meeting (see above). At an open meeting I attended football fans begged for at least a State League team to be maintained, so that the Hakoah name and image be carried on. Lowy contemptuously tossed it at his audience, that he did not wish to be involved in a team, which was not necessarily the highest possible level. Never mind, that legally it was not HIS team , but that of the members, nor that he was not asked to be involved. My response was a prediction, that with such an attitude the time was nearing when even the social club – which was founded by football and for football – may be a thing of the past, concreted over and turned into another shopping centre. Zoning regulations prevented that from happening in Bondi, but I wasn’t far wrong. I think it is now an apartment building.

        Harry Lakmaker and his group were not allowed the chance to try and salvage the disaster Lowy and his yes men conjured up, because there was a clear and present danger they may have succeeded and how would that have looked for Frank Lowy?

        Frank Lowy was a one man band then and he is still a one man band. The results were there to see in the instance of his club, which he destroyed. You all better hope and pray, that history won’t repeat itself, this time on a national scale.

        Finally, Lowy did not start any amateur team. There was a number of them in existence long before the drama of Hakoah’s demise. As for Maccabi, already in existence, he used it as a pathetic fig leaf, throwing a few bucks – emphasis on the few – at them, because the Hakoah Social Club’s articles of association mandated financial support for football. The irony was and is, that those articles were written into the founding document at Lowy’s firm demand. He insisited, that this would prevent any danger of non-football people taking over the club in the future and turning it into nothing more than a poker machine palace. How delicious is that?

        These are the facts of the case. I was there, right in the middle of it, from the early sixties. Everything else you are told is rubbish, pathetic self justification. And, to hear Lowy boasting a few days ago about how he empathises with clubs, having been a club president himself for a couple of decades, well, all it does is add insult to injury.

    • March 5th 2012 @ 6:18pm
      Futbanous said | March 5th 2012 @ 6:18pm | ! Report

      Peter Scott

      How could I be misinformed if I went to matches?
      I’d been to enough football matches by then to make an informed guess on the make up of crowds. The crowd figures themselves do not indicate that many thousands turned up only a small amount.
      I lived in the Eastern suburbs from where I was standing(outside the Jewish community) it was definitely not a way of life for most people living there.
      You may be right about the inside story on Frank Lowys dealings with Hakoah I’m a football fan. not a politician.
      But don’t try & indicate that it was a way of life even for Jews in the Eastern suburbs,crowds state otherwise.

      • March 5th 2012 @ 7:54pm
        Peter Scott said | March 5th 2012 @ 7:54pm | ! Report

        Depends when, my friend. In the 60s, early 70s, had crowds as big and better than just about any club except Olympic (when they arrived in Div. 1).

        • March 6th 2012 @ 10:27am
          Futbanous said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:27am | ! Report

          Peter Scott
          When is in relation to this article i.e. about the NSL & Sydney City Hakoah.
          I’ll have to take your word about crowds in the sixties as there appears to be no reliable evidence(that I can find) online.

      • March 5th 2012 @ 8:19pm
        Peter Scott said | March 5th 2012 @ 8:19pm | ! Report

        I should add, that it was a great deal more than simply who turned up at games, Futbanous. If you read through my earlier contribution again, perhaps you will discover that for yourself.

        The death of a football club hangs in the balance on the basis of many factors, not simply the attendances at some matches. In Hakoah/Sydney City’s case the dire attendances at the later stages were the direct consequences of the overwhelming personality and control of one man. By the same token, the bumper crowds enjoyed during some periods in earlier decades were the result of the vision of other strong men, but these men did not wish to act as a one man band. They involved, embraced, listened to what the fans, members, their market wanted.

        As did Frank Lowy at one time, before he got pissed off by Arthur George outmaneuvering him. If anyone thinks there was anything else in the mixture leading to Hakoah’s demise, they are kidding themselves. Especially in the light of the fact, there was a group ready, willing and able to take over from him, but wasn’t allowed to.

        It is a VERY ugly story.

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