The Ange Postecoglou mural that predicted his Tottenham future and Premier League destiny
Ange Postecoglou fever is gripping Tottenham Hotspur and the Premier League but across the world they always knew what was going to happen
By Alasdair Gold Tottenham Hotspur correspondent
Ange Postecoglou stands in front of the mural featuring him, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola at Nunawading City FC (Image: Photo courtesy of Nick Dimitrakis)
In Melbourne there are two striking murals dedicated to Ange Postecoglou – one that creeps up on you suddenly and one that is tucked away from the public eye.
The new Tottenham Hotspur boss has made a major early impression on the Premier League with his side sat on top of the early table and playing a brand of thrilling football the club’s fans have yearned for in recent years. Yet on the other side of the world, in the Australian city the 58-year-old grew up in, Melbourne has always known what Postecoglou was capable of.
football.london took a walk first along Coventry Street, just over the Yarra River from the city’s central business district. At first sight it’s just a normal, quieter city road in South Melbourne, less visited by the tourists and the commuters, but stroll past the cafes and clothes shops to about 214 Coventry Street, just past a furniture-making store, and you’ll suddenly come across Ange Postecoglou.
It’s a striking mural painted on a big section of wall facing the road and it shows the Australian on the pitch with his fist clenched, a medal around his neck and holding the Scottish Premiership trophy in his other hand after his first season at Celtic.
The mural is called “Big Ange” and was painted by the Paisley-born and now Melbourne resident and artist Shaun Devenney in 2022 ahead of Postecoglou’s return to the city that summer for the Scottish side’s pre-season tour. It was a labour of love for Celtic fan Devenney, who did it off his own back and without payment to realise an idea he’d been mulling over for a while.
“Big Ange” went down as well with the locals in South Melbourne as it did with the Celtic fans back in Glasgow, for Postecoglou is a cherished son of the city.
That’s because if you head just over two miles from Coventry Street, going down Moray Street, along Park Street and jump on State Route 26, you’ll come to Prahran – the suburb in South Melbourne where the Postecoglou family settled when they first arrived from Greece in 1970.
The Prahran of today is a fashionable, trendy area with restaurants and bars, but look down the bungalow-lined old side streets and you can see how it was when the Postecoglous and countless others Greek families, as well as those from countries such as Italy, England, New Zealand and China, made the trip across the world to start a new life on Australian shores.
The Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh, about eight miles on from Prahran, perhaps gives you a better sense today of the Greek impact on the city. In truth you can feel the Greek influence across Melbourne, a place said to boast the third biggest Greek population of any city in the world after Athens and Thessalonica.
Postecoglou was just five when his family stepped on the boat to Australia. They arrived in Bonegilla – a reception centre for immigrants in Victoria, before they were relocated to Prahran. There they moved into a house with another family right behind a jam factory that was on the corner of Chapel Street and Garden Street. Nowadays it’s a shopping centre called – of course – The Jam Factory.
“We were sharing a house with another family,” Postecoglou remembered in an interview with the Herald Sun almost seven years ago. “We were sharing bedrooms and my dad and the other gentleman in the house heard of a mattress that had been put out on the street.
“They left, got it, and put it on their shoulders to carry back. My dad reckons he passed the Prahran town hall clock twice before realising they were going around in circles. Eventually it started to get dark. This was an era pre mobile phones, so they had no way of figuring out how to get home. Eventually, they found their way home, and he collapsed on the mattress!”
The Postecoglous began to settle in their new home and for little Ange the adaptation to life in Australia was easier than for his parents as he quickly picked up the language and his sporting ability came to the fore.
football.london walked in the footsteps of the young Ange Postecoglou down Chapel Street and along Malvern Road on the just under one-and-a-half mile journey he would have taken to get to Prahran High School each day.
The school has since been relocated, but a plaque remains as well as the school badge on the pavement with its motto ‘To greater things’, which seems entirely fitting for its famous former pupil. The site now contains the Orrong Romanis Reserve, a place for cricket and rugby to be played and a community centre.
Back in the 1970s though that land would see the formation of the club’s football team, led by a 12-year-old Ange Postecoglou.
Australian Rules Football, cricket and rugby dominated sporting life in Melbourne, as they did across Australia, but for the immigrants from overseas they wanted to reconnect with the sport known as ‘soccer’ in their new homeland.
With Ange’s bond with his father Dimitris, known as Jim, coming mostly from their shared love of football and watching the games from England and Match of the Day in the early hours on their television, this was one 12-year-old who wanted to see the sport kick off quite literally at Prahran High School.
The badge and motto that lies on the former site of Prahran High School where Ange Postecoglou studied as a child (Image: Alasdair Gold)
In fact the young Ange was obsessed by the sport, poring over any football books and magazines he could get his hands on and, even at that age, studying the strategies of famous players and coaches. He discussed and debated the game with his father in every spare moment he could when his old man wasn’t working or asleep, the two of them watching any local games they could in-person as well as those matches abroad on television or film.
Postecoglou’s whole football philosophy is inspired not by the greats of the game but instead by his father’s mantra about the game – “Keep the ball down”. To this day, those words tell you everything you need to know about the Australian coach’s teams.
When Jim was preoccupied so the young Ange would corner his father’s friends to ask them questions about football and expand his ideas about the game. He was already playing football for South Melbourne Hellas’ youth sides where would later play at a senior level under Ferenc Puskas and then manage them. So if anyone was going to set up a football team at school it was him.
“I got the board’s support at the age of 12! The Aussie Rules side in the school was the eminent sporting team. Me and a few other migrant kids there said we wanted to play soccer. They said no worries, and gave us this box,” recalled Postecoglou in that old interview. “In the box was this sleeveless, woollen footy jumper from the year before.
“Accompanying that were these extremely tight footy shorts, all topped off with a coach who was a music teacher. Upon our first game he told us he had no idea what he was doing, and would often just go sit by the tree and mark homework while we played.
“By that stage, I was immersed in the game, and said I was going to coach. The most remarkable thing was that I had mates, at 12 years of age, who were listening to me. I would run the drills, pick the teams, talk tactics and do the substitutions. It was a natural fit, really.”
In that moment Postecoglou the manager was born. It was a role he was made for and even back then he was a tough boss. He led the team through warm-ups, drills and training sessions that he had devised or read about and he selected the team, putting his team-mates in the positions that he felt best suited their talents.
They worked hard under young Ange and had a point to prove to their school – something Postecoglou has taken into life with him, always looking to prove people wrong.
In true Disney movie fashion so this hastily-thrown together group of children, dressed in whatever Aussie Rules kit they were given and coached by a 12-year-old, went out there and they won, and they won, and they won some more.
For Prahran High School’s new football team went through an undefeated season all way to the state championship where their young player-coach scored one of the goals in the grand final.
“We won the state championships. I remember the prize: a pennant and Supernaught album for being man of the match!” said Postecoglou.
The team not only won that grand final but they won respect from others in the school – staff and pupils – for what they achieved off their own backs.
It was the forging of the Ange Postecoglou you see today and the first steps of another wonderful immigrant’s success story, again showing that you can achieve anything you put your mind to regardless of where you began on life’s road.
The mural of Ange Postecoglou in Melbourne, showing him lifting the Scottish Premiership trophy in his first season at Celtic (Image: Alasdair Gold)
After a reasonable playing career, which saw him represent his country, Postecoglou’s career as a manager would hold far more and would take him to success at South Melbourne, Brisbane Roar – including that record-breaking 36-game unbeaten run, Melbourne Victory in between stints as the Australian national coach – where he lifted the Asian Cup as well as taking part in and qualifying for World Cups – having also previously lead the national youth sides.
Then came the title-winning terms in Japan with Yokohama F.Marinos – their first league triumph in 15 years – and five trophies including the treble in Scotland with Celtic. Then came the move to the Premier League to compete in the English game he had always loved with his father, who is no longer alive to see where his son’s journey has now taken him.
Jim was proud of Ange’s achievements in Australia with both clubs and the national team, although the Spurs manager has previously admitted he would only find that out later from others.
Postecoglou will always call his father “the greatest man I know” for taking his family halfway round the world, “sacrificing his own dreams and ambitions so that they could follow theirs” yet their relationship was not one of close personal communication of feelings.
Thankfully Jim told others of his pride in his son before he died in 2018 and Postecoglou continues to try to do things that would have made his father proud.
It’s not only about the titles and the on-pitch success, Postecoglou is also keen to leave his legacy in terms of developing young coaches and young players. It was with the latter in mind that football.london continued the trip across Melbourne, just over 10 miles from Prahran, to Nunawading City FC.
This is where our journey leads us to our other Ange Postecoglou mural, the one more tucked away from the general public but equally as striking, if not more so.
Nunawading City FC can be found in a quieter suburb, filled with stretches of green grass, in the east of Melbourne, perhaps more notable for being a mile or so from where the soap Neighbours is filmed both inside at nearby studios and outside in the small residential street of Pin Oak Court, better known to viewers as Ramsay Street.
It is on the wall inside the clubhouse at this football club in the Melbourne suburb where you will find an eye-catching mural of Postecoglou’s face alongside those of Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff.
It was the brainchild of Nick Dimitrakis, the club’s head of football operations, and was painted seven years ago by artist Anthony Samargis.
Dimitrakis thought up the mural as far back as 2008 when he convinced the then out of coaching work Postecoglou – following an infamous televised spat on TV with pundit Craig Foster – to set up his youth development programme at his club in the Melbourne suburbs even though it didn’t even have a youth team at that point!
When you meet Dimitrakis, you can instantly see how he convinced even the gruff Postecoglou. He is a whirlwind of energy, smiles and enthusiasm, wrapped up with a catchphrase of “correct!” which is often accompanied by a bellowing laugh.
Dimitrakis was drawn to Postecoglou like a moth to a flame, entranced by his ideas about how football should be played and he wanted to reignite the manager’s “V-Elite” youth development programme with Football Federation Victoria, which had run into funding issues and stuttered to a close elsewhere.
He wanted to bring it to Nunawading because he saw genius in Postecoglou and it was where the mural, likening him even back then to Guardiola and Cruyff, was born.
“Ange deserves to be part of the conversation as one of the best current managers in the world,” Dimitrakis told football.london. “Ange is his own innovator in continually evolving the game.
“He has a clear philosophy and a formula of what traits are required for every player in every position on the field to execute his game plan. It assists him in whichever environment he goes into as he chooses players in roles without guesswork.
“He is my mentor of the game and leaves a legacy in every environment he enters including our little junior development club Nunawading City.”
People in Australia laughed back then at the mural, for placing Postecoglou alongside such football greats and they also laughed at the young teams playing passing football from the back at Nunawading, some labelling it a football cult of sorts, as the teams were heavily beaten early on by the young teams playing the more direct style of the game more common in the country.
Then the Postecoglou way began to click and the young players began to fully let go of their fear on the ball. The results and most importantly the development of the youngsters soon followed.
Almost 16 years on from the idea for that mural and nobody is laughing at Postecoglou as he rubs shoulders with Guardiola in the Premier League and nobody is laughing at a youth set-up in the Melbourne suburbs that has produced players who went on to sign for clubs in the A-League and the Premier League.
It all flows from Postecoglou and speaking to Dimitrakis you get a keen sense of what life is like alongside the now Spurs boss, as the two would sit and watch the young players in action. Postecoglou was always keen to know how much the least gifted youngster had developed since his last visit as that was the true marker for the programme rather than those at the other end of the spectrum.
Dimitrakis spoke of Postecoglou switching effortlessly from cracking jokes to being unsettlingly serious in a split second, and watching his oldest son playing years ago at Nunawading supportively as a father rather then acting and instructing as a manager – perhaps through an in-built drive to make sure his children always know how he feels about them.
Postecoglou is honoured by the mural within the clubhouse but has always made it clear that he does not compare himself to anyone in the game, once telling Dimitrakis sternly: “He is Pep and I am Ange.”
One Dimitrakis story that summed up Postecoglou perfectly came from when the coach was in attendance at the club, watching one of the sides in action.
Postecoglou began to realise with a smile in one moment that the young players had taken on the style he wanted as he watched them produce a wonderful sweeping passing move right from the back that ended with a goal, only for the offside flag to be raised and the effort to be ruled out.
Many of the parents watching on began to go mad about the debatable offside, complaining at the officials, but Postecoglou, calm as ever in such moments, simply turned to Dimitrakis and said: “They’re so busy complaining about the offside that they’ve missed the most important thing, the way their children just played football.”
For this is exactly how Postecoglou wants the game to be played, the way he and his father loved. That is the most important thing and always will be.
When Postecoglou said goodbye to his father, able to be there in those final moments at his side in 2018, he told him that he loved him and then in Greek he said those words that meant so much to them both – “Κάτω η μπάλα”.
“Keep the ball down” – it’s the Postecoglou way, the Nunawading way and now it’s the Tottenham Hotspur way.