They’re one of the most well-known and historically decorated sides in Victorian football, but 2020 is set to present a series of new challenges for Heidelberg United.
Suffering relegation from the VPL in 2012, the Bergers bounced back to the top tier of the NPL in 2014 and went on a run of success that – coinciding with the renewed national interest in the second tier that came with the launch of the FFA Cup – made them one of the best-known clubs outside the A-League.
Premiers of NPL Victoria in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Head Coach George Katsakis’ side won the state championship in 2018 and the national title in 2017.
More than 11,000 fans packed into Olympic Village to watch their 2015 FFA Cup clash with Melbourne City and an upset win over Perth Glory in the 2017 FFA Cup Round of 32 brought the club a renewed focus not seen since they were in the NSL.
For the most part, these achievements have been built off the back of continuity.
Whereas players such as Kenny Athiu and Daniel Heffernan have come and gone, Katsakis – the longest-serving coach in the Victorian topflight – has been able to maintain a core group of players to fuel his club’s success.
In 2020, however, change is afoot at Alexandros.
While Josh Wilkins, Shaun Ellis, Adrian Zahra, Reuben Way, Lewis Hall, and Harry Noon are all once again set to pull on the black and yellow, key figures Alex Schiavo, Andrew Cartanos, Brendan White, Paul O’Brien, Steven Pace, Tom Cahill, and Luke Byles have all departed.
Les Doumbalis had originally been expected to retire but was enticed back as defensive cover.
In the place of the departed will be new signings such as Ajdin Fetahagic, Aamir Abdallah, Anthony Theodoropoulos, Dusan Bosnjak, and interstate additions Lachlan Barr – formerly of NPL SA club Metrostars – and James Demetriou – formerly of NPL NSW side Sydney Olympic.
“The Bergers always recruit really well,” defender Wilkins said.
“That’s one thing that I said when I sat down with the club at the end of the last season, I’d no doubt we’d bring in some good players and we have again.
“Yes, we’ve had a lot of movement but I’d say we’ve brought in a lot of talent this year. Probably the most talented group of players I’ve seen at Heidelberg in the last couple of years. There’s no weak link in that regard.
“I think there’s a lot of positive things to take from the recruiting process and I’m looking forward to it. If we can get this group to gel quickly then we’re going to surprise people again.
“I know a lot of people have written us off.”
Wilkins arrived at Olympic Village ahead of the 2016 NPL Victoria season, making the move from successful Western Australian side Perth SC in pursuit of greater opportunities.
He’s since gone on to become somewhat of an ironman on the flank of the Bergers defence, playing 98 league games across his four league seasons and briefly trialled with Central Coast Mariners during the 2018/19 A-League offseason.