Ange Postecoglou holding the Tottenham Hotspur shirt during his presentation. Image: @SpursOfficial/Twitter

Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspurs’ appointment of Ange Postecoglou last week encapsulated the essence of a tale from rags to riches, not necessarily from a financial standpoint, but more so overcoming the doubters and critics.

With almost the entire population in Australia knowing who Poestecoglou is or has at least heard the name, it presents an opportunity to reflect on where it all began.

Now working for Football Australia, Peter Filopoulos spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, to share his experiences operating as the General Manager of South Melbourne and collaborating alongside Ange during his first managerial spell.

Filopoulos started as a volunteer at the club before moving his way up to becoming General Manager from 1992-1999, working tirelessly behind the scenes and forming a close relationship with Ange.

Before Postecoglou transitioned from assistant coach to head coach, Filopoulos explained that it was far from smooth sailing for a team used to tasting success and winning trophies in the National Soccer League (NSL).

“It started in 95’ when we had a disastrous season under Frank Arok (Socceroos’ longest-serving manager). It was quite an interesting period as we had some good times and some bad times, but that particular year we had a bad time,” Filopoulos told The Inner Sanctum.

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One of the reasons Ange is in the position he finds himself in today, exists partly due to his incredible passion and love for the game. He represented the South Melbourne badge with pride during his playing career as captain, before translating that devotion to his role in the coaching staff.

After suffering an embarrassing defeat toward the end of the season, Peter recounts a story he remembers vividly that demonstrates beyond doubt Ange’s affection for a club attached to his heart since he was a little boy.

“The most symbolic moment for me was the fourth last game of the season of ’95/96 when we were at Marconi Stallions and we lost disastrously 3-0, which was pretty much the nail in the coffin for Frank,” he said.

“After that game, I felt the players were not really comprehending what just happened and what it meant. On the long bus ride home, I could see Ange was getting agitated and the players were mucking around on the bus that you would’ve thought we won 3-0.

“Ange picks up the microphone from the front of the bus and he just launched a savage tirade which was professional, but savage.

“He said really aggressively, ‘Listen, guys, I don’t think you guys have realised what’s happened today. I’m the assistant coach, I’ve played for this club since under 8’s, I’ve represented this club at every age level, I’ve captained the seniors to two premierships, and I really can’t think back to a team that disgraced the emblem and the jersey as such as you guys did today.’”

Still running on adrenaline and raw emotion, both Filopoulos and Postecoglou sat together in the car on the way home, the passion was evident.

“He chewed my ear off about where the club should be at, what should be done, and explained his ideas,” Filopoulos explained.

“I’m not saying this because he’s a Tottenham coach but I went home thinking, ‘Wow…This guy has leadership skills.’ He had it as a captain, but I was really impressed by the way he was able to articulate the problem and how he could navigate through a vision of where he thinks we need to be.”

From there, Postecoglou received the backing of the board through a unanimous decision and temporarily took over the reigns from Arok with three matches remaining in the season.

“I do remember, he showed no emotion and said ‘Thanks, big fella. That’s good,’ then I asked Ange if he was excited and he goes, ‘Nah. It’s a good opportunity. What I want you to do is go back to the office and call every single player because they need to come to training and they need to be there by six o’clock. It’s mandatory and everyone has to be there,’” Filopoulos said.

That snippet exemplifies Ange’s commitment and how serious he is about setting the bar high, dissecting every small detail both on and off the pitch without wasting a second. 

Drastic improvements followed suit under Postecoglou’s guidance, and he felt he deserved more than an interim role.

When discussing the search for a full-time manager, Ange questioned Peter by asking, “What about me big fella? Have I been mentioned?’, receiving a reply of, ‘Quite honestly, no. Do you even want the role? I haven’t even had this conversation with you.”

“Yes I do,” Ange said with ascendency. This man desperately wanted a chance at all costs.

Funnily enough, it was a BBQ gathering at Filopoulos’ house where he invited all of the younger board members along with Postecoglou, which paved the way for a successful managerial career.

Gathered outside, the coaching role brought itself to light in a discussion. Ange, minding his own business and listening in the background, was asked, “Ange, what do you think?”

To this day, what Postecoglou was about to say struck a chord with Peter.

“That was his moment, using the opportunity to express his thoughts for 15-20 minutes about his vision for the club, building sustainable success, and what he would bring to the table, putting his foot forward,” he said.

“There was silence, and the vice-president turns around and says, ‘Ange…you’re our f****** next coach mate.’” It was at that very moment that the dream would be realised for Postecoglou.

The Postecoglou-era officially took full flight in his first off-season as manager, detailed by Filopoulos who was amazed by the amount of effort and work put into the planning process off the pitch.

“It was one of the busiest off-seasons in my life. As soon as he got the job, the standards went from [low] to [high] and I was parking my responsibilities to work with him and make sure he got what he wanted.

“Every day he was analysing players from overseas. There were players like Paul Agostino, overseas not even playing in high leagues. He was analysing data and going to NPL games on the weekends. No coach had ever done that and it was really next level.”

Since the Tottenham news, viral videos have circulated across social media showing Postecoglou’s passionate speeches. Peter shared one of his fondest memories.

“Heidelberg was a massive derby for us. Coaches and futures were decided on whether we won or lost that game,” he said.

“I remember before the Heidelberg game he rang me and said, ‘I want you to be at the club museum by 6:15,’ I go, ‘What for?’ And he replied, ‘You’ll see.’

“He gave them a 20-minute history lesson on the club on why South Melbourne is who it is, what the derby means, and the history behind it.

“I’m not that great playing, but I reckon I could’ve put a jersey on after that spill.”

Results are everything for South Melbourne who possess a lot of proud prestige and history, but Postecoglou struggled to get the ball rolling early on.

“We started horribly. It was a train wreck. I think it was one win out of the first seven games and the section of board members who didn’t want Ange were surrounding like sharks. There were people coming in the office demanding to see me and there were board members who wanted my head for supporting the appointment,” he said.

Under the most intense scrutiny possible, the Postecoglou experiment was heading toward a dead end with pressure mounting from the hierarchy and the fans.

On the brink of succumbing to the sack, he was dealt with an unimaginable lifeline.

“When we lost that seventh game, there was supposed to be a board meeting and I think there was going to be an ambush of the president to try and oust Ange.

“The president at the time pretended to be sick along with a few board members who couldn’t make it, so a decision couldn’t be made.”

From just a single board meeting away from losing his job, Postecoglou grabbed the opportunity with both hands against the club which it all started when he grabbed the microphone on the bus.

“So he got the eighth chance and it ends up being back at Marconi. I was there, nil-nil up until the 89th minute with a really scrappy Paul Trimboli goal. We stole three points and zipped up those three points in the kitty bag and ran straight back to Melbourne.

“I think that was the moment where it could’ve been all over for Ange Postecoglou,” Peter said.

Perhaps, that story serves as a warning for Tottenham to give their new manager all of the necessary time possible to build a core group and translate his philosophy across to create a long-term project.

Ange and Peter feature at the 1999 Soccer Australia annual awards dinner after winning back-to-back championships with South Melbourne. Credit: Peter Filopoulos

Two championships followed in 1998 and 1999 with South Melbourne to cement Postecoglou’s legacy as arguably the greatest coach to have ever graced the club.

Most importantly, he’s a great guy who takes nothing for granted, echoed by Filopoulos.

“Even after I left we would catch up and what I loved about him was he would say to me, ‘Big fella, I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me mate,’ in terms of the way I supported him.”

That humble and down-to-earth aspect is why the Australian public wants the Melbourne-raised tactician to succeed. He genuinely deserves this.

Whatever the outcome at Tottenham, Ange Postecoglou will never forget his journey from where it all started.

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