In late 1994, or perhaps ’95, I received an unexpected call from Terry Jones, the-then secretary of the Victorian Soccer Federation, the game’s governing body prior to the spruced-up FFV. He asked if I might attend then then equivalent of last Thursday evening’s Gold Medal presentation, which was just a couple of days away. The night itself remains a bit of a blur, but I did leave St Kilda Town Hall that evening with a trophy proclaiming my place as ‘Victorian Soccer Personality of the Year.’ Um, what the?

Which was cool, except who voted on it and why, who was I in contention against, and what criteria did I fit to become personality of the year were mysteries to me then, and remain so. A cash prize would have been handy, but the spoils of such a lonely triumph – the trophy – was to remain in my possession for less than 24 hours. The very next night, at a church hall in Fawkner, in my role as a ‘professional’ wrestling MC, a couple of the heavyweights required a prop for their main event bout. When last I saw my silverware all those years ago, it was in the meaty clutches of ‘The Italian Tank’, as he swang it wildly and endeavoured to smash in the skull of one ‘Mad Max Miller’. And with each clang of metal against forehead, the whole weekend faded into the recesses of memory and I’ve rarely thought of the trophy again.

Individual awards are a bit like that. After backslaps and hand-shakes it’s pretty much yours to celebrate quietly, familial indulgence aside. I fancy there is not a single footballer who attended last Thursday’s ceremony at Essendon Fields who wouldn’t trade up his individual accolades for a championship or a cup triumph with his mates. We’ve had quite a few of those team triumphs at Heidelberg in recent times. Indeed, the Warriors and those bloody Bentleigh Greens have shared all but one of the last eleven domestic state trophies, going into the 2019 Grand Final. And, yes, there was some angst and disappointment at the Heidelberg United tables when – for the second consecutive season – not a single Warrior champion or coach (or media team, while I’m at it!!) was seen fit to be considered the preeminent performer of 2019, in any of the eight senior men categories.

Indeed, the lack of club recognition was enough to drive staunch Heidelberg man, Billy Pargas, into pouring out his soul on social media. “Attended the FFV gold medal night last night….. I was left disappointed”, declared the usually beaming souva superstar, in the hours after Gold Medal night.

“Nobody from Heidelberg United F.C, players, media, coaches got an award or even close to an award. This confuses me. Even though our men’s team ended up first, we had no players rank in the top 15!!! We have an excellent media department live streaming every senior men’s and women’s game, midweek shows, weekly columns yet no reward. Our coaching staff have helped us win 7 trophies in 3 years yet that does not seem to be good enough..It is disappointing to see a team and club so successful not be recognised by its peers… Not sour grapes, just confused how a team so successful over the last 3 years can score no votes, have no recognition of their coach, have no youth talent have no media department but win

7 trophies….. Can somebody explain this like I’m a 2-year old?” read Billy’s not unwarranted and passionate Facebook rant.

Billy’s eloquent plea for clarity will likely fall on deaf ears. It is pretty much as it always has been. At times unwieldy, incomprehensible, inconsistent or sometimes even dark and mysterious (as in the case of 1995’s soccer personality of the year) nominations and voting systems and sometimes perhaps odd and sometimes unexpected results. It’s been that way since my very first medal night back in 1980.

The late 70’s and early 80’s was an era utterly dominated by the Melbourne Knights – known as Essendon, then Melbourne Croatia, back in the day – and you reckon there weren’t a few noses out of joint and a whispered chorus of expletives from the Croatia table that night, when Juventus dynamo, Bobby McGuinness, took home the Rothmans Medal* ahead of any one of Croatia’s star-studded line-up. At that time, Croatia – which had had smashed McGuinness’ Juve team 7-0 in the 1980 Dockerty Cup Final just a few weeks before – boasted a couple of Socceroos and seven members of the Victorian state team and they were roundly expected to sweep awards night. Moods darkened further 12 months later, when an upstart newcomer named Charlie Egan – from far-flung league lightweight Frankston City, for goodness sakes – snatched the medal from under their noses.

It’s an historically measurable but inexplicable trend that in terms of individual awards, the system always appears weighted against the successful clubs. Consider this; in seasons 2017 through 2019 the Warriors and arch rivals Bentleigh have shared all but one of eleven Victorian titles, batting at a combined success rate of in excess of 90 percent. Yet only five of the 24 (eight per season) individual senior awards decided over the same period have found their way to Catalina Street or Kingston Heath. Heidelberg has won nothing since 2017, when we snagged Golden Boot, Player’s Player and Coach of the Year. Bentleigh boats only a double in 2018, with Coach of the Year and Tyson Holmes’ Gold Medal success. For the record, Avondale has secured four individual accolades from 2017 to 2019, more than any other Victorian NPL club. Dandenong Thunder, Hume City and Oakleigh Cannons have won as many as the ‘Bergers.

So, in answer to your question, Billy, no, I have no explanation at all, my friend. My apologies. But, perhaps the calming perspective of former Sydney Olympic star and later Wollongong Wolves coach, Nick Theodorakopoulos, may help somewhat. At the time his Wolves were playing a stunning brand of footy and averaging nearly four goals per game as they strode toward a remarkable season 1999/2000 NSL title. We were sharing bevvies in a hotel bar somewhere on the NSW South Coast when the subject of individual awards came up.

“They are a nice consolation in a losing season”, he offered. “It’s the crap you enjoy when your team isn’t winning anything.” We cracked up laughing.

This piece is not intended to, nor should it be interpreted as, a whack on how the FFV award outcomes are reached, nor is it a churlish knock on some of the league’s recent terrific winners. Indeed, there were many stars of the 2019 Vic NPL season strewn across the ballroom the other night, any number of whom might have won an award or two without controversy or faulting voting or nomination procedure. In the end it’s simply about opinions. Any further arbitration remains equally as subjective. So a hearty well done to

Gold Medallist, Joe Guest, and the other 2019 winners. I guess we’ll see you all again when it counts, on the paddock in season 2020.

And, just in case anyone requires reminding, it is on the green playing fields where Heidelberg United Alexander talks the talk and does its best work. And, if you think about it, Warriors already boast a squad chock full of gold-medal winners. They’ve been collecting them as a team for the past three glorious seasons and I doubt any of the three-peat wonder boys would trade off that achievement for pretty much anything.

And so we look ahead to Saturday’s showdown with Perth at Port Melbourne. Game on. Play big, boys. Warrior Nation. It’s where we live.

FOOTNOTE: Yes, indeed, the Gold Medal of today was once known as the Rothmans Medal*. And not only did the cigarette company sponsor the event – then held at the now demolished Southern Cross Ballroom in the city – smoking at awards night (or anywhere indoors, for that matter) was not only socially acceptable, it was encouraged. On at least one medal night I can recall, there was a complimentary Rothmans pack of 20 ciggies placed as a gift at each and every place-setting in the ballroom.

Plumes of billowing smoke aside, not much has changed in the past 40 years of awards nights, although replace today’s skinny jeans and hair product for porno moustaches and wide lapels. There was – and still is – plenty of preening and pretence, and that’s just the men. Everybody is ever-so-pleasant and forced grins feature, as polite nods and handshakes are exchanged between folks who have spent the winter kicking lumps out of each other are forced to mingle in a confined space. The more isolated tables are the domains of the refs or the journos.

Speaking of journos, I also credit my first awards night in 1980 as teaching me a valuable life lesson. The first person to greet me as I entered the Southern Cross Ballroom was a Scottish import of some calibre, whose name and club shall remain anonymous (but I’ve got a long memory, pal!!!). His greeting was to grab a handful of the collar of my shirt and cock his right fist, only for one of his teammates to pull him away before he fired off the shot. Something in one of my Sunday newspaper columns was apparently not to his liking.

But I did better than a colleague from one of Melbourne‘s big daily newspapers, a couple of years later. He was standing at the wrong urinal at the wrong time on awards night when a player and senior coach from a club he had apparently wronged in print sauntered in, both after a few drinks. My journo mate spent that night in hospital as a result of that encounter. And, on reflection, I reckon awards night has changed a lot. Much less bloodshed, for one!