St George fighting back to former glory

When talking about the history of football in Australia, it's impossible not to talk about the legacy of the St George Football club.

When talking about the history of football in Australia, it's impossible not to talk about the legacy of the St George Football club.

The Saints may now be playing in the second-tier competition in NSW but there was a time they were the kings of the national competition.

In fact, it was members of the St George club that played a leading role in establishing the Australian National Soccer League back in 1977.

And the club would be one of the superpowers of the league, going on to win the NSL six years later under the tutelage of former Socceroos boss Frank Arok.

It was heady days for football in the region and the Saints were at the forefront.

There were times the club provided as many as 10 players to the Socceroos side, including five - Johnny Warren, Atti Abonyi, Manfred Schaefer, Harry Williams and Doug Utjesenovic - in the 1974 World Cup squad.

But unfortunately for St George, those successful days couldn't last forever.

After dropping back to the NSW State League in the early 1990's, the club was then controversially omitted from the new-look New South Wales Premier League which started in 2005, despite winning the top flight just a few seasons earlier.

While the club's current standing is a far cry from those glory times back in the 70's and 80's, there is some positive signs the Saints are on the up.

They are currently top of the second-tier competition and on track for a promotion back to the top flight of NSW football.

Current head coach of the club is Manny Spanoudakis, who played for the Saints back in the old NSL and knows all too well the proud history associated with the club.

"Those days playing under (ex-Socceroos coach) Frank Arok, St George had a significant influence and standing in the Australian football landscape," Spanoudakis said this week.

"It was such a successful time and a prestigious club to play for.

"You look at St George Stadium back then and whenever there was a game there it was always packed.

"When the Socceroos played matches in Sydney they would often play out of St George Stadium. It was a great time not only for the players and the club but the whole area.

"It's hard the way things changed over the years but when the chance to get involved with the club again came up it was a no-brainer.

"I've always had that emotional attachment there and it's exciting to be a part of it again."

And indeed it does seem to be a good time to be involved with the Saints.

Not only are things looking up on the field - with the current league leaders also in the last four of the Waratah Cup against Sutherland next week - but plans are in place to redevelop the dilapidated St George Stadium.

It's all part of the plan to get St George back to the place those that have such a strong affiliation with the club feel they belong.

"So far so good," was how Spanoudakis described how the club is travelling since he took over.

"We're probably a little beyond our expectations even at this stage.

"We put a plan in place to get back into Premier League over the next couple of seasons but we're sitting second in the club championship and there's no reason why we can't get up there for next season."

Spanoudakis has put together an impressive squad at the Saints, with a real influence of promoting young talent.

The average age of the current first team squad is under 23, and the St George boss sees this as the blueprint to returning the club to one of the most respected in not only NSW, but Australia, again.

"Our goal is to be a club that players really want to play for, with a good program that will assist them to progress to the A-League or wherever they want to go," Spanoudakis said.

"If we can be known as a club that can help develop young players and also have some success along the way then I don't think there's much more you can ask."