Thursday, 30 July 2015

Agony, of a sort - Palm Beach Sharks 1 South Melbourne 1 (South lose on penalties)

Process (a prologue)
I like to talk about writing, and I especially like to talk about writing this blog. But often times I talk about this in historical terms, or emotional terms, or literary terms, and seldom about the process. Normally I would leave discussion about that process out of a post on a game, but in this case I think there's a reasonable excuse for it.

The structure of the blog has really settled down over the past couple of seasons. There are segments which now take the form of a template I work around. I think about the things that fall outside of a South match day, and put them in first. Usually I leave the relevant South game until last. Sometimes the narrative thread of a week is easy to recognise, and I can come up with something creative and witty. Sometimes that doesn't happen, and I resort to talking more about the game than I feel I probably should.

And sometimes a game just leaves you so drained, that sitting at a computer and trying to resolve it and fix it in print is impossible, Some people who write these kinds of fan blogs, after a loss like that, can find no rest until they pour out their thoughts even if it takes all night. That's not me; as a slow thinker, I need to incubate. And thus if a post sometimes doesn't appear on here as quickly as you'd expect, it might be because I'm busy, but just as likely is that I'm spending my time doing something else, like going back to the Limerick because in my distress at the loss I forgot that I'd taken my bag with me after heading to the pub straight after work. Public transport gives you a lot of time to think.

The long and the short of it
There are two games to discuss here, those being the long game and the short game.

The short game is what happened on the field. Of all the things just about any club does, more attention is focused on this part of a club's existence, and yet often with so little and fickle reward. Coaches and players are studied, negotiated with, hired, and then let loose for as long as results stack up the right way, while boards and committees, so used to being in charge, try to resist interfering, though some are clearly better at not interfering than others.

The short game is why the club exists, and is the most tangible, immediate form of a club's existence. Seeing our team on the field is the main reason we become involved as spectators, members, and then as club men or women. The friendships we collect, the history of the club, are all an extension of the 11 players representing us on the field.

And yet that is the part of the game that people have the least control of. A player might get 25 touches, 40 touches, 1 touch, but most of those will see contact of the ball with the boot only momentarily. The coach hopes he has put out the right team, with the right tactics and with the right frame of mind. The board hopes that the team does the bare minimum of what it's paid to do, with some clubs' bare minimums being more ambitious than others. The supporters meanwhile watch on, and either encourage, abuse or both in the vain hope that some of it has an impact on the result.

Last night, some say 400, others 500, South supporters and sympathisers were up at Robina Stadium to cheer on the team. In Melbourne, there were about 40 odd in the upstairs room of the Limerick Arms, wishing they could be on the Gold Coast, or at the very least in our own social club, but being glad to at least be in a nice room, with good food and decent service. Other South fans who read this would have watched the game at home, and would be hurt by the result as much as anyone.

For those at the pub, as the game wore on, the questions being asked were the same. Why did Nikola Roganovic just not pick up the ball that lead to the penalty? Why were the extra time substitutions brought on so late? Leigh Minopoulos came on with ten minutes to go and looked dangerous from the get go - but the problem, apart from a lack of time to do anything, is that he had no other fresh legs to work off - why Andy Bevin was not brought on immediately following Palm Beach's red card, let alone before that, one can only guess at. If Taylor had so little confidence in Bevin, why not use Chris Irwin, who while also struggling for form has had more game time and shown more than Bevin has?

Brad Norton was excellent, but for mine Iqi Jawadi was our main driver in midfield and our best until he was subbed out for who knows what reason. While not playing against an A-League opponent, his work rate and level headedness showed that he is likely not long for our level. Nick Epifano drifted in and out of the game, as he tends to do. Milos Lujic was not as clinical as he can be. David Stirton, playing wide and away from Lujic, was not as effective as I think he would have been had he been played closer to his striking partner The defence by and large acquitted themselves well, apart from the first ten minutes or so.

If I had to pick out one player who caught the ire of myself and other supporters, it was Jake Barker-Daish, who has struggled to make his mark on the season in almost every game he has played. That's not to say he has been poor, but has he changed the course of many games this season for the better? His selection and retention throughout the entirety of this match said to me that Taylor had put out a side that was more intent on not losing this match rather than going out and winning it. Being the superior team on the park surely meant trying to avoid the scenario that the inferior wanted most - the lottery of the penalty shoot out.

The atmosphere at the Limerick, while very good and upbeat for the most part, slowly turned to frustration at the slowness of our ball movement and our inability to breakdown our opponent. Taylor's lack of subs just made things worse. When Eagar's penalty was saved to end the contest, there was if not silence - the trivia night downstairs made more than enough noise to fill the void - than a gnarling internal agony that could not speak. Everyone knew we had blown another chance on field to get the club some attention and build momentum for that intangible something.

That's how the short game leads into the long one. The long game is about resurrecting the club as a meaningful powerful entity in its own right once more; not an afterthought, not a historical footnote, but something that will shape the future of the game in this country; and to do this not by merely replicating what came before, but taking the best bits of that history and combining with the hard lessons of exile.

So while there was genuine hurt at the result of the game on its own merits, there was also hurt for the progress lost on the long term plans for the club. Whether they are fanciful dreams or not, and that I still think that they are is beside the point, the sense of the lost opportunity is real. Much of the focus has been on this article. On the surface it's another in the long line of pieces which talk us up, sees us talk ourselves up, and then makes for much mirth among opposition supporters which only gets extended when we screw up.

I, too, have many grievances with these articles. As a materialist, I'm not one for dreams and lack of detail. Show me, show the members, the evidence of your success as a board, otherwise it's just idle talk. If we can't progress past the levels we say should progress past, is it not better to hold your tongue? A successful FFA Cup run should not be the measure of whether a team - any team - from outside the topflight gets into the A-League. While I understand that an FFA Cup match at home against A-League opposition, especially Melbourne based A-League opposition, would show some potential for crowds and match day experience and management, it will fall well short of all the other things that a club needs to qualify for an A-League licence.

Our continued obsession with pointing out our social media numbers has reached so much beyond parody that we're even being mocked by people that aren't Croatians with chips on their shoulder. I have nothing against ambition (OK, that's often a lie, but let's play along for a moment and assume the original statement is true), but doesn't this newly re-found reach for the stars mentality fly in the face of the (measured) hissy fit the club threw earlier this year when David Gallop said that we wouldn't be seeing promotion and relegation for 20 years?

While the board may be proud "the club turns over more than $1m annually and expects to double that when its social club and futsal centre is completed in the next year or so", for many of our fans it's merely an arbitrary number. Meanwhile they're probably thinking, 'good grief, more waiting for an interminably vague date' regarding the social club. They may also get squeamish when they hear the board seemingly push aside our history - after all, most of our history was pretty damn good. The short game? Our history is thousands of those moments, so why cast them aside?

But at least at this stage, that kind of rhetoric is still well short of some of the speculation about giving up our history for an A-League bid which may not even exist. History is a powerful guide, but the future is open ended. You don't need to sell out the past in order to make progress. In that respect, I endorse our president's statement about earning our place rather than it being given to us because of 'don't you know who I am?' style antics. And as hard as it is to hear that the exile from the big show has been beneficial to the club, in many ways Leo Athanasakis is only saying what I've said on this matter for years. That doesn't mean we've got everything right, but based on the way the club was run during the NSL years, would we have survived even a couple of seasons in the reformed topflight?

And while I think there could be better ways of demonstrating our ambition without coming across as overly desperate, the tendency towards ambition for the club is not something to be scoffed at. No matter how we go about our business, especially when it comes to somehow thinking we can get out of this competition, there will always be those outside the club that will doubt and mock us, As much prestige as we've lost in our decade away from the topflight, we still have enough presence for outside people to bother caring about our failures. Perhaps more importantly, there are people who would have once dismissed even the suggestion that we should be given another chance at a higher level, who have changed their mind on the matter.

Now of course the court of public opinion counts for nought, but that could equally be applied to those outside our club who seek to burst our bubble. When it comes to somehow getting out of this situation, it's only in the corridors of power that opinions matter. The key thing to remember about public opinion though, is not to become slavish to it, nor to dismiss it outright, but to figure out who's worth listening to and when. Sometimes (often) our self-delusions need deflating, even if the motives of those performing that deflation aren't not always pure. Sometimes it's also worth getting outside our misery caves and taking some pride in how far the club has come and that people outside ourselves recognise this, while still acknowledging that there are still many things that need to get done, and processes that need to be improved, not least of which is communication with the membership about important issues.

There were even people complaining about putting pressure on the players to perform in this game. Really? I thought this was South Melbourne. The fact that each loss still burns, and each success feels significant means something. It means that we're still a going concern that's worth fighting for. As easy as it is to dismiss those who've left us behind, for some it just be may be the fact that they feel our plight too deeply. What I would say to those people is come back to the club that you clearly care for, and share that experience with your fellow Hellas fans. Supporting South is not something which should be experienced in isolation. This is something understood by both those of us on the Gold Coast, and those at the Limerick.

Next game
The final of the Dockerty Cup, against Oakleigh Cannons. While the game is at Lakeside, the match day is controlled by FFV, and thus your South Melbourne membership will not get you entry into this match. I do not know if an FFV season pass will get you entry.

In good news however, tickets are available online via Ticketmaster, which will hopefully lessen hassles at the gate, though as pointed out by Mr Belias, the $4.20 booking fee will probably put a lot of people off. I suppose it's less of an issue if you use the internet option to buy several tickets, thereby minimising what Ticketmaster gets.

Or you could rock up to the ground early, watch the women's cup final, and avoid the fees and the lines altogether.

Modern heritage
While I would have preferred a solid red vee for the heritage strip - maybe next year - I did enjoy the return of the heritage jersey, as well as the respectful modern take on the design. Shame about the lack of hooped socks, but I get the reason for the omission (as long as it was concerns about a clash).

Another missed opportunity
I apparently made a great quip yesterday, and now I can't remember what it was.

Out of body experience
Watching South live on television was a bizarre experience.

In which I momentarily forget and ignore the fact that there are real people, with real emotions, who are just doing their jobs and what they think is right on behalf of an organisation I don't like. But, and here's the thing, they too made their choice when they hit 'tweet', and thus in retrospective retrospect, I stand by my comment.
Final thought

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Windy - Pascoe Vale 0 South Melbourne 0

This game's only highlight as a South fan was watching the ordeal of some of the Pascoe Vale volunteers looking for a stray ball that had landed in the front yard of one of the houses behind the southern end of the ground. Being in the running for three competitions is great, but it puts a strain on your resources, and your priorities also go on walkabout somehwat. So whi;e Bentleigh scraped a draw against Port, meaning we had a great chance to make up some of the difference, instead of taking advantage of that opportunity we played lacklustre football inappropriate for the windy conditions, probably with more than one eye on not exhausting ourselves for the FFA Cup match on Wednesday.

We played conservatively in the first half, which I suppose is understandable considering the fact that we played against a very strong wind; but our second half performance was no better. David Stirton had the best chance for us in the game in the first half, when instead of heading home a cross he tried to nurse home a volley and missed it completely. Apart from collecting an over hit cross, the Pascoe Vale goalkeeper's only exertion was to make a witty and self-deprecating riposte to some banter he received from the South fans behind the goal. At the other end of the ground, Pascoe Vale had two or three shots cleared off the line, and a number of botched attempts which should have resulted in goals.

And really, apart from the pizza man no longer being at the ground, apparently due to ill health, there's not much else to report from this game.

Next game - FFA Cup, preparations, where to meet, etcetera
Our next match is in the FFA Cup against Palm Beach Sharks on the Gold Coast, at Robina Stadium on Wednesday night. The following is some general info for those who are going up and what's going on, as well as for those in Melbourne who may want to watch the game with other South fans.

For those heading up to the Gold Coast:
The local Greek-Australian soccer club Surfers Paradise Apollo has posted the following relatively vague details on their Facebook page about South holding a training session at their ground, along with lunch.


The training session will be held at 9:30AM. Apollo's ground is about ten kilometres from Robina Stadium. Public transport is a less than convenient option in this case, so carpooling with hire cars or organising a taxi will be better options should you choose to go to Apollo's clubrooms first. Some other South fans will be drinking at the Dog and Parrot in Robina from 4:30 onwards. It's about three kilometres from the ground, or about a half an hour's walk.

As for the game itself, it appears that under the circumstances a reasonably healthy contingent of South fans is heading up, The numbers will hopefully be bolstered by members of Surfers Paradise Apollo and Brisbane Olympic. While not a decree by any means, it has been suggested that South fans should congregate together rather then spreading themselves throughout the stadium.

For the record, this writer will not be making the trip up for this game, due to work commitments.

For those watching the game in Melbourne:
While many of you will no doubt prefer to watch this in the comfort of your lounge room in suburbia, a group of the usual pre-match pub crew will be congregating at the Limerick Arms Hotel in South Melbourne, which is located on the south west corner of the Clarendon Street and Park Street intersection. Don't ask me about parking, but both the no. 12 and no. 1 trams stop at that intersection, making it a pretty convenient location on that front.


The Limerick also seems to be offering a free drink if you follow the instructions below.


Hope to see as many of those South fans not going up to Queensland, at the Limerick instead.

Around the grounds
Crawling
I took up an offer to watch Brunswick under 16s play Ballarat Red Devils up in Ballarat. That's what happens when your team's game gets postponed and you have nothing else to do. After my previous visit to watch this Brunswick team, I wasn't expecting much, but this time around the game resembled a soccer match. Neither side was particularly good, there were elementary errors aplenty, but at least it wasn't scrimmage ball. At the conclusion of the game, which I think Ballarat won 3-1 (but which is not important, because it's about development, not winning), I made note of the following things which troubled me and/or which I would like to see rectified.
  • If Altona East's reserves know how to use their fullbacks for overlapping play, why was there not one overlapping play in this game? 
  • Isn't part of the point of the 433 formation being made mandatory the fact that it's supposed to be the most flexible formation? Why then do so many NPL junior teams seem to use it so rigidly?
  • Unless they're offering encouragement, I'd rather not hear what parents have to say during a game. I want to hear what the coach and players are saying to each other.
  • Just because you're a bilingual parent, using Greek to express your bitchiness towards other players that aren't your son because you think that only you and the coach will understand, is not acceptable. It's actually deplorable.
  • If you're the coach and you think you can gain an edge by giving an impromptu instruction to a player in a different language, by all means go for it. But don't single that player out for abuse in that language, especially in a way that you would dare not do in English to all the other players. You want to blow off some Greek cultural steam at the soccer? There's 30-40 Greek-Australian soccer clubs in Melbourne with senior men's teams that expect and can handle that kind of banter (just not South Melbourne, obviously).
  • Skill level is one aspect of the curriculum that the NPL and its affiliated reforms will be judged on in the future, but right here, right now, surely we can teach defenders about the offside rule and how they can use it to their advantage. Soccer is not Australian rules football. You don't need to chase your direct opponent everywhere. If they want to be offside, let them.
  • That when Margaret Thatcher said that 'there is no such thing as society', she could have well been talking about the NPL.
The cake I had was OK. Always finish on a positive. that's my motto.

I scowl, therefore I am
Why did I go to the Roma vs Manchester City game? The availability of free tickets alone couldn't have been the answer, though heading to Leo Athanasakis' Brunswick office provided an excuse to also go across to Brunswick Savers (I bought a coat). Was it just to go there and wear a trademark sneer or scowl? Perhaps, but I'd like to think that's not all I do. Nevertheless, I did pick up two tickets for this game, expecting little and getting about as much in return; though I did get to share the experience and have a good chat with Shoot Farken's Athas Zafiris, who was third in line for consideration for my spare ticket. The game either lived up or down to everyone's expectations. It was played at something between half and three quarter pace, there was too much space, and nothing at stake. At least there were goals, and a couple of them rather good ones. The penalty shoot out was completely unnecessary; but then again so was the countdown timer at the end of each half which was counted down with gusto by many in the crowd.

The crowd was reported as being about 41,000, which seemed about right, though it was also hard to tell because as a Collingwood supporter, for that number I'm used to seeing a usually a two thirds full Ponsford Stand, which was mostly empty along with the neighbouring MCC Members' Stand (apparently the MCC members had to pay to attend). While I'm not sure why I expected every South person who accepted a free ticket to be located in the same part of the stadium, the cynical part of me wondered how some people ended up on Level 2, some on Level 1, and some on Level 4. Not that it's such a big deal - it's hard even for me to complain about free tickets to a game that I otherwise wouldn't have gone to and besides, I've willingly sat in similar positions at the MCG for soccer and footy matches - but you just wonder sometimes.

It could have been worse: the view from level 4 of the Great Southern Stand prior to kick off. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.

Maybe I watch too much local soccer and conversely not enough overseas stuff on the television, but my reading of the action seemed to be out of synch with much of the crowd. While most of the game saw a very muted reaction from the crowd - aside from the goals and some bizarre early hatred for Raheem Sterling - there were some passages of play which to me clearly seemed like they weren't anything special or that they would lead to a goal, which were anticipated with heartfelt oohs and aahs. For the most part though the crowd came across as politely bored, with the muted paper plane invasion coming only during the last ten minutes or so. There was also no Mexican wave of which to speak.

It was hard to tell who outnumbered who in terms of actual supporters of the two sides. The organised 'active' Roma fans seemed to outnumber their Manchester City equivalent, but neither group made much of an impact on the atmosphere of the game. The cheers for the goals seemed to be even handed, probably because most of the crowd were neutrals who just wanted to be entertained, and at about $70 a ticket for the cheap seats that's the least they were entitled to I suppose. On the matter of ticket prices, I myself couldn't see the value at that price, and anecdotally at least it seems that there were a lot of free tickets that got thrown about for this match.

In terms of entertainment, I'm going to echo Athas' point made on the night that there should have been more show-boating. If the two sides weren't going to go in full bore (and as already stated, there was no reason to do so), they could have at least pulled out a few more daring dribbling maneuvers, or taken a few more shots on goal from range. Too often the game was a slopfest caused in part by well drilled players not knowing how to play in a game with no meaning and little intensity. Too many times it seemed as if players would rather take an extra touch, avoid a volleyed shot, make an extra pass or even prefer to get fouled rather than do something even remotely daring.

Meanness for the sake of meanness can be entertaining on occasion, especially when it cuts through far too much unnecessary treacle, but in the long run it gets boring. Going down to Level 1 to get a better look at the penalty shoot out, it became clear that those clearly most thrilled with the experience were the children. Not all the children, as it was a dull game despite the goals, and children do get bored easily; but there were kids thrilled with the simple fact of Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart not only taking a penalty, but successfully smashing it into the back of the net; the comically missed penalties provided a moment of clownish levity; and on the way back to Richmond station, and the train back home to Sunshine, the kids seemed happy with what they saw.

The problem, if you want to call it that, is that as much as we as soccer people would like to believe that these games by touring sides will usher in some sort of soccer golden age, by inspiring the children to play the game, next week there will be a different circus in town, and the week after that another one, and so on. I can see the point in Real Madrid touring, in terms of spreading their global brand; I can sort of see why Manchester City would tour, for similar reasons as Real Madrid, albeit with delusions of grandeur as to their own importance; but the point of Roma being here is less tangible, since their scope for marketing themselves is rather restricted by the reality of them not being an especially popular club outside of Italy.

These games have said a lot about Melbourne, and for the most part not very good things. The city has an image of itself as the 'sporting capital of the world', but what does that actually mean in reality? What does it say that we would rather pay for overpriced tickets to glorified practice matches, but ignore the local variants (and I include the A-League in this)? As Australian soccer fans, we tend to scoff at Asian fans - in Singapore, in Malaysia, in Indonesia - of these European behemoths who gather in their national stadiums to pay to watch the same glorified practice matches we are now falling over ourselves to watch (at least those games involving true giants such as Real Madrid and Liverpool).

And yet the fans of Malaysian football have recently turned against these tours, noting the negative impact it has on their local football. Meanwhile in Melbourne, our insecurity which is dressed up as self-regard has seen us fall head over heels in love with a traveling circus. And considered on that level, I start to think that maybe it's not about sport at all, but about proximity to celebrity and the ego of the city that are at the forefront of these events. The Herald Sun, who are as responsible as anyone for the inferiority complex this city has, found itself torn in two this past week. On the one hand there was its usual reactionary and rank 'Aussie Rules is better than sockah' rhetoric, and on the other hand there was its 'how great is Melbourne that it can attract such big events' rhetoric. It was the very definition of cognitive dissonance.

Bigger cities get bigger and better circuses, and this is why Melbourne gets Cristiano Ronaldo and Yarrawonga gets Brendan Fevola. But at the end of the day, a circus is still a circus. The FFA picks up a cheque no matter how many people turned up, and believers in trickle down economics that they are, they believe that these games will create converts to the local scene. I suppose if someone's willing to cough up the cash, it's a case for all concerned of 'why wouldn't you take it?', but I also wonder: does a big crowd and a good show means people won't take the local scene seriously? Does a big crowd and a poor show mean the game won't be taken seriously? Was this mediocre affair (the Roma-Man City game), which was effectively the matinée or tight-arse Tuesday performance, worthwhile in any way in the long term?

Pardon our French
Did you happen to watch the footage of the win against Heidelberg in the Doockerty Cup semi final? Quite a bit of audible swearing in there. Not that I'm offended, but it does make you think.

The Cros make an emotional breakthrough after being banned from smfcboard
Mumbles: I guess I've always used trolling smfcboard as a way of getting attention.
11.Boo: Yes! Yes! Me too!

Final thought
When exactly did the club learn that they were going to get free tickets for the Roma - Man City game? How far back did they know that we wouldn't have access to Lakeside last week? What happens if the ICC series comes back again next year? Was Steve from Broady the only person in Melbourne who actually bought a ticket to the game? The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind...

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Social club artefact Wednesday - Social Club entrance

I was going to put up something a lot more fun, but then this photo was sent in by one of our readers. It's a photo of one of the entrances to what was known as the 'social club' - a very 20th century idea which many of our younger fans won't quite be able to comprehend, but here's the gist of it. It was a space where supporters of the club could gather before or after a game for a drink or a meal; where they could mingle with their fellow supporters as well as opposition fans, as well be within touching distance of the committee and even the players in a social situation. There was a large screen for broadcasts of all sorts of sporting events, plenty of room for different functions - casino nights, jersey nights, tavern nights, even quiz nights (one of which I hosted!). In the disused back room and in the main room, we made banners and flags. Supporter groups and other volunteers had meetings there. After losses you'd commiserate there, but it was also a great place to celebrate a win, or especially a championship. And hodge podge as it was, there was a presentation of our history in there, in our museum filled with trophies, photographs and artefacts, and framed jerseys and pennants along the walls. The honour boards told you who'd been on committees and what we'd achieved, and there was a huge honour board for the plebs who'd donated their time and/or money to the building of the social club and stand. I even watched soft core SBS porn in there once with the Kiss of Death and a board member! Oh, and the AGM! Who could forget the fun of the AGMs?

Sure it was a bit dank and the carpet needed replacing, but it was our place. And now for over five and a half years we've had no place. I understand that some of that time was unavoidable, I understand that previous governments and their departments played hardball. But I thought the new government was supposed to sort all this out. They told us so. The club told us so. And yet here we are, still. What the hell is going on? The club exists for four hours every second week during 26 odd weeks of the year. Outside of that time, we don't exist as a tangible club. The plebs sit out in the cold, and get rushed out five minutes after a game is finished, while the only people who get reliable access to the heavy hitters, even if it's only for a friendly chat, are the people in the sponsors boxes. The players we get to know only through social media and via official club avenues, and hasn't that worked out well?

Friday, 17 July 2015

Everyone loves Hellas - South Melbourne 2 Heidelberg United 1

While very, very happy to get the win, it was to me a pretty ordinary game from both sides. That we won at all, despite being the worse of the two sides - I won't say outplayed, because I think the Bergers weren't much chop either on Wednesday - for most of the night, I think it was our sheer force of will that managed to get us through. It has been a common theme of the Chris Taylor era that more or less, even if the team is not playing particularly well, it still persists right until the final whistle. South Melbourne fight to the end, as the chant goes (something also noted by Chris Taylor).

The game was far from the quality and entertainment of the most recent league meeting between the two sides. The Bergers looked better, if only because what they were trying to do seemed more straightforward. Meanwhile we had Milos Lujic and David Stirton collecting balls on the wing on the halfway line. I couldn't really see us working our way back into the game, but we did it, thanks in part to everyone's favourite indentured labourer.
If only this was medieval times, we could have cut out his tongue by now, maybe chopped off his typing fingers as well. The first goal, a back post right place right time effort, got us back on level terms. Our eagerness to then finish off the game before extra time was in some ways commendable, but also lead to other problems - namely our players running into each other instead of talking to each other like experienced senior players should. Of course you'd rather two players be where the action is rather than none, but it looked sloppy, and almost cost us a goal when Nikola Roganovic had the ball dislodged from his grasp by colliding with a team mate.

Now George Katsakis thought the penalty we got was pretty soft, but I thought it was fine. I suppose that's another thing George and I will have to disagree on. Considering that Lujic and Stirton now have incurable stage fright when it comes to penalty taking, it made sense to have Epifano take it considering he was the last one to score from the spot. And another thing - if it seems like we've been getting more than our fair share of penalties of late, there's probably a good reason for that - we're actually getting the ball and players into the opposing team's 18 yard box on a regular basis, unlike the Peter Tsolakis era where the Trifiros conspired to keep the ball as far as away from there as possible.

Anyway, the win means we're into the final of the Dockerty Cup for the first time since 1995. Of course, prior to the recent recall of cup football in this state, the Dockerty Cup was in recess for almost that entire time, apart from 2004 (on a side note, I recently learned out that despite our problems in 2004, we actually entered the Dockerty Cup, albeit forfeiting to Bulleen Zebras). We'll be playing Oakleigh Cannons, who defeated Hume last night.

The final will be at Lakeside, which has pissed off people of diverse stripes. First up the Oakleigh people, who are probably aghast at the fact that they're being asked to travel more than five minutes away from home, let alone to 'our' ground. Then you have the strange complaint by people who won't even be participating in the game, that being some Knights fans and of course George Katsakis. Is it our fault that we have the best soccer ground outside of AAMI Park? Doesn't the very real possibility that we'll get done on our own turf thrill these people even a little?

Thinking out loud (too loud, maybe)
While George Katsakis is exactly the kind of pantomime villain you want coaching your biggest rival, his dismissal (along with assistant Jeff Olver) by the officials late in the game, while amusing from a distance, is alleged to have been fueled in part by alleged abusive comments from a member of the South personnel on the bench. Someone on the forum reckons racism was involved. Now I have no idea whether any of Katsakis' complaints are based on fact, but let's for a moment assume that they are.

If someone from South (and in this case, not a fan, but an 'official' part of the match day team) made a racist comment, how would the club handle it? Following the repeated failure to adequately punish Nick Epifano for his indiscretions, let alone prevent him from repeatedly racially abusing our supporters, how would the club go about sanctioning someone else? Therefore let's hope there's nothing to it, and that we can focus our attention on getting security to demand a kid stops playing a whistle. You know, the big issues.

Meanwhile Cliff Hussey is still waiting for justice to be served, but that's his own fault I suppose for not being a goal scoring winger beloved by the people that count most.

More Katsakis
Apparently our old mate George (who was apparently still complaining about the penalty decision in the Bergers social club during the Hume vs Oakleigh semi final) was complaining to Leo that Heidelberg weren't fed after the last league fixture we hosted against them. Well here's a message from me to you, George - get in line. South supporters have been waiting for a meal at South for five and a half years.

Crowd count
Our crowd counter reckoned there were 330 people in attendance last night, which went up to 331 when James Belias turned up. The FFV radio broadcast of the Hume vs Oakleigh game stated that it was 480 paid attendees, so not counting everyone that got in on a freebie.

The sound of silence
There was no music played on which to report.

Next game - please note that this week's game against Hume has been postponed
This week's scheduled game at home against Hume has been postponed by a month, due to Real Madrid being given the use of Lakeside Stadium on Sunday for a training session who knows what the actual reason is. Maybe Roma is using the ground, maybe it was booked weeks in advance, maybe we moved aside gracefully, maybe we asked for the postponement deliberately because Chris Taylor and South Melbourne felt like it, and what Chris Taylor and South Melbourne want, Chrisy Taylor and South Melbourne get (*except a social club). Our next game therefore will be on Saturday week away to Pascoe Vale, at CB Smith Reserve.

Iqi Jawadi off to Germany to do Afghani things
Iqi Jawadi is off to Germany this week to be part of an Afghan national team squad training camp. He'll be back in time for the Pascoe Vale game though, which is good. It's a good thing we have this week off.

No one is happy, and what's more, no one should ever be happy
Stan: I can't hold it in anymore! I missed this! 
Francine: What are you talking about? 
Stan: This! Him! The non-existent letters! There's nothing written on this! That's all off the top of his head! I missed this silly son of a bitch! 

While on the surface of it, the announcement of some sort of partnership or relationship between ourselves and Real Madrid seems lame, opportunistic and thin on detail - detail which will apparently be filled in at a later date - there really is no point in me tearing it to pieces because being in a good mood (owing to winning on Wednesday) means that I will give the club the benefit of the doubt... for now.

Far more enjoyable is to watch several competing factions duke it out, inadvertently creating meaning out of a meaningless document. Is it an excuse to celebrate? Sure, why not; if you want to prematurely ejaculate over something, when all South has shown anyone yet is a bit of cleavage (and for all you know it could just be two coconuts in that brassiere), go for it. Want to hate the club for pulling more stupid stunts when we're still waiting for a social club? Again, plenty of opportunity for self-flagellation there as well. Happen to be a Croatian on smfcboard who wants to join in the fun? You can be the peeping tom hiding in the bushes groping yourself. See, plenty of enjoyment for everyone.

Now of course the partnership or relationship or whatever does look incredibly silly when you have, among other things
  • no detail released yet
  • allegations of board member self-interest
  • Luka Modric turning up to Knights training
  • AFL heads doing their best to make it all about themselves
  • Complimentary tickets being given out to South members for the one game of this nonsense international circus that Real aren't a part of
and the funny thing about these tickets is that at no stage did I receive an email, nor did many others who might expect to have been notified of this offer. The usually trigger happy South media team also seem to have buried it.

For the record, if you want tickets to the Roma-Manchester City game on Tuesday, you'll have to be a financial member, go to Leo's office n Brunswick during business hours and hope that the tickets haven't all gone. Why not at the club offices at MSAC? Who knows. Why not publicised more? Dunno. Are these 300 tickets from the Victorian government in lieu of having our social club? I doubt it, but whatever, being a burden on the taxpayer I was able to make it out to Leo's to pick up my tickets. Now I have to decide who to take with me, a classic sitcom scenario.

You shouldn't have seen that, but you did (unless you didn't)
The recent doco that George Donikian and friends have been making? Well, someone uploaded the South Melbourne portion to youtube, someone else (or maybe the same person!) put a link up on the FourFourTwo forums, and then I put up the link on Twitter, after barely watching any of it because I had to go run some errands. Then I find out it got taken down, and later that it shouldn't have been up at all! Anyway, I can't wait until it comes out properly, so I can pick apart all the mistakes and agendas. I believe it will be shown on FoxSports before the FFA Cup match against Palm Beach.

Not even trying anymore
An old man, an Islander and some bloke wearing an NWO hoodie get on to the train. They are of course ticket inspectors. Despite the pisspoor disguises, I did get a kick from the multi layered irony of someone wearing New World Order gear being a part of the increasing police state. Or something to that effect.

Final thought

Monday, 13 July 2015

Aesthetics - Melbourne Knights 2 South Melbourne 1

There's only so many times that you can fall behind to a rival in a calendar year and expect to come from behind to take the chocolates. A fourth time in a row was probably too much to ask for (especially without Andy Brennan), but where I would normally be sullen and introverted about our prospects, I still think we have turned the corner from the worst parts of our season. Then again, come back here later this week after the probable loss to Heidelberg, and I think I'll have changed my tune for the millionth time.

For all the talk that we were outplayed, that's only part of the story, because there were periods of the game where we were the better team. In the end it came down to two unforgivable mistakes in our defense, and a reluctance to play balls into the box early to get the Knights defense - hardly their best attribute - scrambling around.

Leigh Minopoulos watches Matthew Theodore's shot go in. When you raise
your umbrella up in the air in celebration like that, it kinda stops doing its job.
Photo: Steve Starek.
The Knights seem to apply that old trick of taking it in turns to put in a yellow card worthy challenge, which worked yesterday but may not work in the future. For whatever it's worth, not that we deserved anything more than a point from the game, but I felt that standing right in line behind the goals of that late handball, that it was indeed a handball and that there was no reason for the Knights' players hand to be up that high. It's a matter of technique, and rather than explode at the referee, the Knights players, especially Chris May who went off like a bit of a pork chop, should be focusing on avoiding having their hands so high up in the air in the first place.

In the end of course May saved Stirton's relatively timid and badly placed shot - I was pointing at him to hit it the other way, so I'm absolved of any blame - and Knights won the game anyway. And while of course it's easier to be happy when you've won (or so I'm told), credit to May for genuinely applauding the South fans behind his goal; which is more than can be said for almost every South player, though they should be cut some slack I suppose for being devastated at dropping points right at the death for the second time in ten days. I'm as annoyed as the next South fan that we didn't take the chance to take top spot off Bentleigh, who have started to stumble in recent weeks, as well as being frustrated that penalty taking seems to have collectively spooked the side, but the race for the NPL national playoff spot is still well and truly on

Some thoughts on the match day experience, because Pave Jusup asked for them
Inconsistencies at the gate
Upon arriving at the ground with Ian Syson last week, the $3 car park fee was waived when Syson displayed his 2015 FFV season pass. This week, when I showed my media pass, I was charged $3. This seemed odd to me, but not a big deal , until it turned out that there were some people being charged and others not (Syson managed to get away with paying for example). I don't know what the regulations have to say (if they have anything to say at all) about whether pass holders (including players) should be charged for car parking, but it seems that the car park attendants should be instructed to at least be consistent in their approach.

Food
Unless you count the Butter Menthols I bought at Woolies before the game, of which I had about five during the game, I didn't have any food at the ground this time. This was in large part due to the fact that I took Gains to Sunshine Plaza so he could partake in the brilliance that is Sunshine Charcoal Chicken. There were no regrets.

Ambiance
While I am of the opinion that the game in and of itself is the match day experience, we live in modern times, and people apparently need to be geared up towards the match itself by the use of music. Of course everyone thinks that they are the world's most tasteful and under appreciated DJ, and forever most overlooked Rage guest presenter, and thus when someone gets the chance to be in the ground announcer's booth and choose the music they all think they're unleashing not just quality quality tunes, but also something educational.

Of course almost everyone who does this at any level has no taste whatsoever. The people who choose the music at more premium, top flight events are hamstrung by the specifications of corporate, family friendly, generic blandness, but the second tier allows you a bit more freedom. And yet who takes it? No, for some reason at Lakeside we are bombarded with house music and commercial r n' b, and this was even the case last week at Knights Stadium.

My many complaints about this have not gone unnoticed, to the point where I was allowed to choose one song for Lakeside last week (I of course went with Kitchens of Distinction's 'When In Heaven'). Yesterday at Knights Stadium instead of whatever crap they had last week, the DJ started off with Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire'. Not bad, though Mr DJ would have earned more hipster brownie points if he played the Anita Carter's (June Carter Cash's sister) version.

Then we had Van Halen's 'Panama', which I noted yesterday should be the nation of Panama's national anthem. OK, so not early Van Halen, but still pre-Sammy Hagar, so OK (see how I pretend to have an opinion on a division that I really have very little knowledge of?). Then more Van Halen ('Jump') which is probably pushing it in terms of variety. Then AC (lightning bolt symbol) DCs' 'Thunderstruck' from which point things went down hill. I hate that song. It goes nowhere and has nothing of what made AC/DC such a fun and often weird band in the 1970s. He may not have produced it, but I blame Mutt Lange, he who tried his best to take the fun out of rock music in the 1980s.

Then Queen, bugger me if I can remember which song except that it wasn't one of their three good ones (or failing that 'Bicycle Race'), and then I stopped caring. Overall 5/10.

Information, and/or the lack thereof
Last week when I went to Knights Stadium the ground announcer was very happy to note the Sydney United score during the Waratah Cup final, which United won. This week? Nothing. Was it an oversight? Did the fact that United were losing to Bonnyrigg have anything to do with the omission?

Spectator behaviour
Following some recent incidents at South games there were enough concerns about potential stupidity at this game that Knights put out a press release going on about codes of conduct when they could have easily narrowed it down to 'don't be a dickhead'. To which of course I churlishly responded with a Simpsons still.
If we're being completely honest with ourselves, the best way to control crowd behaviour in the VPL is to have the weather turn nasty, and the rain and the cold (even though it wasn't really that cold) probably kept a lot of people away that would have otherwise turned up to this game. For all their hardness, MCF bailed themselves up in the far end of the grandstand rather than their usual spot on Quarry Hill (and while my dad would have agreed with their stance, one of his peasant sayings comes to mind, that being 'είστε από ζάχαρη και θα λιώσετε;', and thus the three or so Clarendon Corner folk were a lonely presence on Quarry Hill during the first half.
The numbers for Clarendon Corner tripled during the second half, but there was no argle bargle of which to speak. I think everyone was scared of that kid who was standing out in the rain wearing shorts and a t-shirt. That kid was a hard muthafucka; either that, or he was trying to get a cold on purpose as to miss school today.

Next game
Wednesday night at Jack Edwards Reserve against the Bergers for a place in the Dockerty Cup final. This will in theory have been made tougher, because the Bergers' game against Green Gully yesterday was abandoned without a ball being kicked, giving them a few days extra rest. One of the insiders reckons Theodore will miss this week due to work commitments. How semi-pro is that?

Great moments in electrical safety


Kiwi Kapers Korner
So it turns out that Luke Adams' absence from South duties because of the Kiwi Olympic qualifying campaign was all for nothing. In a case of prime FFV grade shenanigans, the Oceania Football Confederation upheld a protest by Vanuatu that New Zealand played an ineligible player in their semi-final, and thus New Zealand were disqualified from the tournament. I feel for Luke Adams, I really do, because I'm sure he would have loved playing for his nation in the Olympics next year, but I also feel for South Melbourne because we really could have used Adams during this time of defensive difficulties. I hope Adams will be back for the Dockerty Cup semi-final.

I fear no reprisal
From the files of 'if it didn't exist, someone would have had to invent it'
Rather than go to the soccer on Saturday, I went and watched a student of mine play field hockey for Brunswick against La Trobe University, at the State Netball and Hockey Centre. Putting on my best impersonation of an AFL bigot at a soccer match, here are my thoughts on hockey.
  • On the face of it, the wet conditions make negligible difference on the game, largely because of the artificial pitches.
  • There was a goal disallowed, and I have no idea why.
  • Except for cracking shots, everything seems to happen at 3/4 pace. Counter attacks, dribbling, switching, you name it, it seems to go slower than it should.
  • No aerial game, so essentially most of the match is played in two dimensions.
  • No left handers and no using the back of the stick, further cutting off a dimension.
  • Rather than any sense of formation and players moving together forwards, backwards left or right as you might expect in soccer, the game was more about (relatively neat) scrimmages.
  • No offsides, though of course without the aerial component that liberty is much curtailed.
  • Very little back chat to the referee.
  • A certain level of timidity compared to soccer.
  • Dare I say it, a seeming bias towards the upper and upper middle classes, and a certain uniformity of ethnicity.
  • For some reason Brunswick had t-shirts while La Trobe had singlets. 
  • No spectator culture of which to speak (apart from parents, friends etc - this included the men's game I saw earlier in the day)
It seems to be a game that's obsessed with trying to find a way to tell you what you can't do, rather than what you can. It would however be mighty greedy of me to ask them to change their game to suit my tastes, when I already have a game that has similar elements and outwardly similar aesthetics and which I enjoy on a weekly basis (and sometimes two or three times a week). As much as I was there was to watch my student play - she scored, her team won, double bonus - I found myself almost as interested by Brunswick's sweeper, an older woman who seemed to double up as coach at least in the way she marshaled and encouraged her troops. After watching Brunswick City vs Avondale Heights under 16s NPL last week, it was refreshing to see.

It was also my first time being at the State Netball and Hockey Centre (run by the same people who look after Lakeside), and I have to say that on the whole the facilities are very good. Many a third tier soccer team (which would be the equivalent of the game I watched) would appreciate access to something of that quality, even if it was only at a non run down Darebin. Our game was on court 2, which had more limited seating and cover than the much better court 1, but still had great lighting and even some terracing behind one of the goals. Overall, class biases aside, I'm not sure who's playing this game and for what reason when they could be playing soccer. It just seems so stifling, even if you have a fluoro hockey stick.

Final thought
Andy Brennan would have been real useful in those conditions. Actually, he would have been useful in a lot of these recent games. I miss Andy Brennan.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Role reversal - South Melbourne 3 Green Gully 2

The crowd of 350 (plus George Katsakis and his wife apparently, as well as George Donikian's documentary crew) were treated to an exciting, if unusual spectacle. Exciting because it was a five goal thriller; unusual because the Green Gully side that played last night resembled no Green Gully side I've watched over the past decade. They played fluent football that did not rely upon their trademark bull storming style. Indeed it was South that was repeatedly punished by the referee (himself a massive unit of a bloke who was also a particular stickler for having the throw ins performed at exactly the right spot) for numerous fouls, and once more we collected yellow cards that will hurt us in the long run.

Gully had the better play and the better chances, and it will be interesting to see the progress this team can make over the course of the rest of this season. As for us, there was good and bad. The bad was the sloppiness of much of our passing, bouts of indecisiveness, and a habit of having our midfield sit too deep. The good was almost entirely contained in two players continuing to make their way back from injuries. David Stirton's two goals were well taken, and showed again signs for why we signed him. The other player to shine was Stephen Hatzikostas, who was in the middle of everything, providing the kind of steel we've been missing in the middle since Dane Milovanovic.

The best thing of all, of course, is that we won the game not because we were the better team, but in spite of it. The team kept fighting to the end, and Leigh Minopoulos' pass to Milos Lujic for the late winner was the measure of calmness. Last year Leigh would have taken the shot, and probably scored. This time, out of sorts this season in front of goal, he turned provider and Lujic, who had been treated worse than Travis Cloke by the officials, got on the scoring sheets for a second game running, putting paid to any theories of his 2015 self having an Andy Brennan dependency.

Next game
Knights away on Sunday.

It's a good thing we have a social media policy now to deal with these incidents
I suppose we were well overdue for more of this nonsense, so here we are again. Since nothing will be done about it, I do have one issue that I'd like to bring up in relation to this latest incident. Now I don't pretend to know enough about the Greek social and economic crisis to say whether or not Epifano is right about the level of debt or the root cause of the problem - and I somehow fancy that Nick himself has even less of an idea - but using the word 'peasant'? Now say what you like about South fans (and Epifano has, bless his white cotton socks), but peasant is probably one of the least accurate descriptions you could give. For starters, I'd categorise Dimitrios Jim George as an adjunct of the proletariat, seeing as how he works in manufacturing. Myself, I'm a semi-itinerant lay preacher and scholar. While we do have one groundskeeper that I'm aware of, most of the other people at the club are desk jockeys, entrepreneurs, bean counters, captains of industry, stonemasons, merchants, glorified babysitters, digital craftsmen, members of the caulking guild; you get the picture. I'm not even sure that we have any market gardeners, let alone members of an agrarian based class system whose job it is to till the land of the barons while struggling to find a spare moment to perform subsistence farming on their own meagre plot of land. If anything, the closest thing we have to peasants at South Melbourne are the players themselves, since they are in a sense bonded labourers (a situation which was worse for them pre-Bosman, since back then when their tenure was finished they still couldn't leave without a club's permission) working on the closest thing we have to agricultural conditions - mud, grass, etc - with the role of the reeve (the medieval term for the serfs' overseer, and the link man to the earls or barons) being undertaken to some extent by the coach (the home and away season is also arguably a sort of variation of medieval field rotation). Having put it like that, you can see that the root cause of the problem is giving peasants like Epifano, and Chris Taylor as the reeve, far too much respect, and letting them disrupt the social order. But since the black plague (the A-League) came in and wiped out most of our supporters, and FFV gave all the serfs more rights a few years back, I suppose we're in the process of evolving towards a market based economic and social system. Wake me up when we get to the anarcho-syndicalist commune stage.

Around the grounds
The wrong side of the bell curve
Take all of the following with an extra grain of salt. As a favour to a friend... no, favour is not the right word... I don't know what the right word is to be honest... I was finally able to make an appearance at said friend's son's under 16 match NPL West match. The contest was between Brunswick City, near bottom of the table, and Avondale Heights, somewhere near the middle, played on the back pitch at Dunstan Reserve, the one that used to be a footy oval. Now I don't watch junior soccer, and making sweeping judgements about the validity and effectiveness of the NPL based upon one game would be stupid. Certainly that's not my intention here. However, I will say a that I noticed a few things. The coaching seemed substandard. I can understand that at the size of the Victorian NPL - 32 clubs or whatever it is - that there will bad teams, and even poor players. What I did not expect was to see teams that were so robotic and one dimensional. The set up of the teams at the goal kicks - especially from Brunswick - resembled a set up a kick off. The skill level of most of the players was at best, mediocre - again understandable considering the obvious lack of depth of talent for this bloated NPL. Avondale had enough better players that they won the match something like 5-0.

More disturbing than the skill level was the style of game. There was very little fluency from either side, and while that was expected from the struggling Brunswick, even Avondale resorted to making the game into something resembling modern Australian Rules football, where the game had the appearance of being mostly one scrimmage to another. The field, while narrow, was in otherwise good condition, the conditions dry, and yet there were few moments where I felt that I was watching something resembling organised soccer. The toll of an already long and unsuccessful season was clearly visible on the faces of Brunswick team, but even the Avondale players didn't seem to be enjoying themselves. I've seen the bottom tier of women's soccer in this state, and I've followed a mostly struggling Altona East reserves team for years now, and even when they lose, there is still at some level an obvious enjoyment of the game and camaraderie.

That was in scant evidence at this fixture. There was little chatter from the players, and perhaps indicative of something, no usage of nicknames, no sense of familiarity with each other. It came across as if many of the players were lone rangers (someone else's term). There was also some mildly unsavoury business on the sidelines. At one point the Avondale coach abused his team's volunteer linesman for making a bad offside call, at which point the volunteer gave up being linesman. That this happened when his team was several goals up, and that the focus should have been on the development of his players rather than the scoreboard, is troubling. The parents on the sidelines for the most part were outwardly well behaved - a couple were more vocal and veered closer to the bad sports parent stereotype than they'd probably like to admit - but instead you had a sort of passive-aggressive vibe. Mutterings about coaches, about the inadequacies of players other than their own sons. The whole experience was very peculiar to an outsider, but it was just one game, and thus I'm reluctant to treat it as the norm for the competition. It has made me interested in seeing more though.

Every time a team plays South they treat it like a grand final
After watching the NPL junior game it was decided to go watch Melbourne Knights vs Werribee at Somers Street. At the very least I thought that the relegation threatened Bees would put in a spirited, grinding performance, but instead they got done 5-1, which only served to make me angry. Where was this crapness when they played us a few weeks back? Why they were put off by the terrible music being played over the Knights Stadium speakers in a way that they weren't when playing against us? It was a mediocre match, but at least a couple of the kids from the NPL junior game who came along for the ride learned something about soccer simply by watching one competent and one moderately competent (but on the day much less competent) teams do battle.

Final thought
A huge thank you to Cuddles for playing one of my song selections over the PA, that being Kitchens of Distinction's 'When In Heaven'.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Disappointed, embarrassed - South Melbourne 1 Heidelberg United 2

Normally I'd spend the day after a game like that just getting on with the job of writing this blog, but fuck it if I just could not be bothered with soccer at all yesterday. So I went and watched the Collingwood magoos take on Sandringham yesterday instead.

Throwing away the game like that in the way that we did was a travesty. Not just because it was against Heidelberg, but because undermanned as we were, we managed to look far better than we had in several weeks. Lujic looked like a threat again, Hatzikostas and Jawadi looked good in the middle, even if our back line was a mess. And even though some of our players had absolute nightmares of games - Lakic will surely never play that badly again - there was enough improvement in attack to say that we may just have turned a corner. Oh, Leigh Minopoulos, how did you miss that sitter when you came on? Oh Andy Kecojevic, why couldn't either of your two wonderful freekicks have snuck into the inside of the post instead of ricocheting off it and out? Where was the game sense in the last five minutes? I mean sure, go for the win, but don't throw away the point you've worked so hard to earn!

Then again, considering the shenanigans that happened off the field, I don't know how much I would have enjoyed the win anyway. The behaviour of some of our fans was nothing short of disgraceful. The flares were just the start of it. Despite the pleas from older heads in the week leading up to this contest not to light them in the ground, the calls went unheeded from at least one person.

I should be clear on my position on flares. Firstly, I don't like them from an aesthetic point of view - they smell, they sting my eyes and throat, and I think they look childish and pathetic in comparison to excellent chanting and the colour brought by many and diverse flags and banners. Secondly, the legality of releasing flares is less of an issue to me than the fact because they're banned at soccer games in Australia, each one lit by one of our fans costs the club money. Now whether you like the board or not is immaterial to this discussion - I'm thinking here of the efforts of the volunteers and staff who bust a gut trying to get a team on the park each week and putting on a professional and well organised show. Thirdly, if you're gonna be a dick and light a flare, at least have the balls to hold it up instead of scurrying away. As for the tosser who threw the flare over the fence, thank goodness you didn't hit the running track. Frankly, if you're so into flares that they take precedence over the enjoyment of the match itself and the efforts of the people working hard to keep the club going, you'd be better off going to watch the gas flares at the casino.

'Lisa, maybe if I'm part of that mob, I can help steer it in wise directions.'
Of course there was also the typical sarcastic dropkick reaction of 'oh no, flares, how scary and wrong' - but it's not about the flares, it's about what they represent - a disregard for the club and your fellow supporters. But if only flares were the main problem from Friday night, we could all possibly put it down to some sort of immaturity, and that over time the kids would learn as the older Clarendon Corner heads had to learn.

Unfortunately the flares had to play second fiddle to some younger supporters stealing a banner from the Heidelberg active contingent. On a certain level, I can tolerate accidental stupidity, but planned stupidity - and the banner stealing certainly did seem like a planned affair - that's much less forgivable. This of course kicked off a sequence of events which saw Berger fans rush rush over to get the banner back and/or remonstrate, and then saw push and shove after the match. Whatever anyone thinks of the South - Bergers rivalry, it is not a violent or angry one. Being both Greek founded and supported clubs, many of us know and have known friends an relatives from both sides of the ledger. In the days when people went to more than one game a weekend, South fans would go with their Berger mates to their games, and they would reciprocate.

As for the Berger fans who apparently tried to storm the corporate areas after the ground announcer's 'eggs on toast' jibe, get over yourselves. It's not like he called you Bulgarians or something equally stupid.

Without wishing to absolve the guilty parties in any way, nor appearing to join the 'boys will be boys' crowd, security's efforts on the night were poor. The separation of the two sets of fans at the end of the game, the lack of an obvious presence around Clarendon Corner after some members of Enosi 59 had already lit flares before the match on Clarendon Street - surely Blue Thunder have been around these leagues and clubs long enough to have got even the basics right, but alas that was not the case.

Lest this tirade be taken as a slur against every person in Enosi 59 or their hangers on or supporters, it's not. There are good guys in the group, who've added to the atmosphere at games, and I've been more than happy to have a chat with those guys. Someone who should know better made the allegation recently that I am anti-active and pro picnic support. My response then, as it is now, is that I'm not against active support - I'm against dickheads whether they're chanting types or sitting down and enjoying the game on their own terms types. I'm still of the opinion that being a dickhead is not a genetic condition, and if that is the case, being a dickhead must therefore be a personal decision - and I've yet to meet someone who likes a dickhead.

The problems that pale in comparison to the other issues but which are still worth a mention
There's been an older guy turning up recently to the bay that Clarendon Corner uses who's been using a tabla drum. Some a re for it, some are against it, but I don't mind, it adds to the atmosphere and the guy can actually play. On Friday night though for some reason upon entering the ground, I noticed that he was singing along to a karaoke version of 'Livin La Vida Loca'. He also had Lefteri's trumpet tune hooked up to his sound system on wheels. to which many of the longer standing Clarendon Corner people objected, on the grounds (justifiably I think) of artificiality. Whether or not current trumpet player Bruno is at a game and/or willing to play the trumpet (and on this occasion he was), putting the sound effect on like that while well intentioned is just one step closer to taking away the fan made aspect of supporter groups, and that as such Stathi's vocalised version of the trumpet tune has more heart and character than a pre-recorded tune ever could. The situation seemed to resolve itself.

Crowd
700-800

Crisis at the canteen
Our crowd counter was disappointed that the canteen was no longer willing to serve the Fantastic brand cup noodle, because 'it would take too long to boil the water'.

Celebrity watch
George Calombaris was in attendance.

Next game
Tuesday night at home against a Green Gully side fresh from thumping Bentleigh Greens 4-0 - Bentleigh's first league defeat of the season.

FFA Cup news
We've been drawn against Queensland side Palm Beach, with the match to be played on the Gold Coast. The game will be at Robina Stadium, to be played on Wednesday 29th July at 7:30PM.

Being South Melbourne, the most important club in Australia, our game will be one of those broadcast by Fox Sports. I assume this means that we won't be having our own highlights up on youtube or on the SMFC TV show on Aurora. For those unable to be there in person, I assume some fans will gather at a pub somewhere to watch the game, and I'll let you all know where that will be should that happen. That's what happens when you don't have a social club.

There's also this:
South are marking their return to the big time by wearing their heritage strip of white with a red V, the colours of South Melbourne United, one of the three teams that merged more than 50 years ago to form the current club
Juniper Hill's home uniform.. Julius
Stoker is the club's games record
holder with 314 league and cup
appearances. The design was created
to my spec by 'paquebot', owner of
AS Uijeongbu 07, five time Korean
champions/
which as always has proved divisive on historical, cultural and aesthetic grounds. My stance on the matter is pretty clear, and dare I say it, progressive, rather than conservative (which I've nothing against) or reactionary (you know who you are). I'm not in favour of dislodging the blue and white of the home strip, but I reckon that the heritage strip should be made the permanent away strip. But then again, I am one of those people who likes the aesthetics of the heritage jersey, shorts and hooped socks combo, as well having what I see as a historical wrong being rectified.

The concerns however that it's being used a gimmick have some validity. Here's hoping that it's not just a one off event, and further more that the red vee is tasteful (as per the image adjacent) and not like some of the really huge South Melbourne United ones or heaven forbid, St George-Illawarra Dragons.

Actually, on reflection I may just be a rampant ideologue on this matter myself - after all, I did get a more a talented person than myself to customise my Hatriick team's home uniform to resemble the South Melbourne Hellas heritage strip. On that front, if it were at all possible, I'd also love to see the use of the 1966 Bristol Rovers style jersey, which is also a pearler. Then again, I once argued for QPR style hoops, if the right kind of sponsor could be found to augment the jersey.

Nick Epifano cuts Dundee United trial short
Also apparently done his hamstring, not sure of the severity. He was apparently in attendance at the game on Friday.

Speaking of South Melbourne United
While using Trove's newspaper database while doing some research on a project I'm working on, I came across an article from 1936 which talked about that club's very early days, and their application to use the Port Melbourne Football Ground - by which I assume they mean the venue commonly known as the North Port Oval. This is intriguing to me not just for its South Melbourne connections - and why did South Melbourne United form separately from the South Melbourne club that was already in existence? - , but also because of the fact that Port Melbourne as a district was, to my knowledge at least, virtually unknown as a soccer playing area. South Melbourne, Albert Park, Middle Park, St Kilda, South Yarra and Prahran all had lasting and consistent representation either as clubs or venue locations, but Port Melbourne is conspicuous by its absence in the records.

Upon further investigation, it appears that Royal Caledonians had a made an attempt two years earlier to get access to North Port, so it wasn't a new phenomenon. At a meeting to discuss South Melbourne United's application, one councillor said if it went ahead it would be 'the end of the Port Melbourne Football Club', an extraordinary claim to make considering that South Melbourne United had not even fielded a senior team yet. The councillor who stood against South Melbourne United's application was one JP Crichton, a long serving members of the municipality, many times mayor, and on at least on one occasion president of the Port Melbourne Football Club. Self-interest and self-preservation perhaps? Port Melbourne had finished two games clear at the bottom of the VFA ladder in 1936, but surely they couldn't have been that scared of soccer, being part of an Australian Rules club that already had such a storied history? I haven't yet been able ti find any further details of what happened to United's application, but it is an interesting story for both ground usage buffs and South Melbourne soccer history buffs - had United settled down in Port Melbourne, the events which lead to our club's founding some 24 years later would have been quite different.

Final thought
Don't go too hard on them on the blog he said. I gave him my best attempt at an affected death stare, but maybe he had a point.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Thrilling artefact Wednesday - South Thrills! sticker

As with the Selangor FA pennant artefact, this photo I believe is from team manager Frank Piccione's dungeon under our grandstand - and if it isn't, then I have no idea where I got this photo from, which I assume I took. Just in case you can't figure out the text covered by the glare, the whole text reads 'DON'T FOOL YOURSELF SOUTH THRILLS!', which I imagine is a play on words on the the Transport Accident Commission 'Don't fool yourself, speed kills' safety campaign. Don't recall the year this sticker came out, though the four stars on the logo provides some clue.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Doom, gloom - South Melbourne 0 Bentleigh Greens 1

South's loss yesterday was not for lack of effort. The team had a plan, stuck to it well enough for large parts of the game, but ultimately deserved to lose the contest to superior opposition. That we conceded the decisive goal from another set piece was disappointing, but in truth it could have also come from several other chances which Nikola Roganovic had to stop.

We're at a level of personnel issues that we haven't had to deal with since Chris Taylor took over two seasons ago. Losing Andy Brennan hurt, not because he was quick, but because he was quick, strong and decisive. You never died wondering with him, and unfortunately neither Andy Bevin nor Chris Irwin have demonstrated those qualities as of yet. Irwin at least is a project player, someone for the future, but you have to wonder about the decision to sign Bevin going on his performances for the club thus far.

The recent effects of Brennan's absence were masked somewhat by the good form of Nick Epifano, but without him for at least who knows how many more games while he trials overseas, we've quite clearly had both our wings clipped, and not being a side with big midfielders to storm through the middle, we looked stumped going forward. That quip last week about Lujic not scoring since Brennan left? That was half a joke last week, because he still had plenty of chances - yesterday the supply slowed down to a trickle.

Watching Lujic toiling fruitlessly up front without any support or service took me back to the Trent Rixon days. Yesterday's tactics of containment - which worked for the first half at least - provided little option going up front. The calls for Leigh Minopoulos to be given a starting role next to Lujic sound about as good idea as any at the moment, hell, even the calls for under 20s player Nashir Hussainy to get a go.

Down back the problems continue to mount. Luke Adams missed yesterday's match because of New Zealand Olympic qualifying duty in Papua New Guinea, and could miss as many as six weeks while the team goes on a long tour. Even the qualifying tournament won't be no picnic - New Zealand are scheduled to play five games in ten days in the middle of the day. Brad Norton's red card will see him miss next game, and there is talk that Tim Mala may also miss this week's Heidelberg game having picked up too many yellow cards.

The personnel problems wouldn't be so bad if we were not coming up into a very crowded part of the calendar - there are going to be midweek league games, FFA Cup games and Dockerty Cup matches. Hard decisions will need to be made about which of these take priority. Do we give up the ghost on catching Bentleigh, and just let the NPL national finals place go? Seeing as we've secured a finals spot, and that there's no double chance on offer in the finals, do we focus on the Dockerty Cup? Will we have a competitive team for an FFA Cup fixture?

It's almost absurd to be feeling this morosely about the team this season considering we've only lost twice this season and are just four points behind top spot. There are some positives to think about amid the doom and gloom. David Stirton played about an hour in the 20s yesterday, and Stephen Hatzikostas came on in the last ten minutes of the senior game. How much those appearances were out of necessity rather than desire I don't know. This is going to be a very trying second half of the season for all concerned.

Crowd watch
Our resident counter says 'too hard to count, but probably close to 1,000.

Next week
Another tough game, this time against Heidelberg.

Dockerty Cup news
Speaking of Heidelberg, we've drawn them as our semi-final opponents in the Dockerty Cup. The game will be played at a neutral venue on either July 15th or 16th.

NPL public transport guide updates
Not that we'll be heading out to Galvin Park again this year, but opening of the Regional Rail Link has meant that quite a few timetables have been updated. Thanks to PTV's Peter Parker for letting me know about the new ways to get to Galvin Park using public transport.

While we're on the topic of public transport
These 5:00PM Sunday kickoffs are a nightmare for me in terms of getting home after the game. The final whistle sees me inevitably miss the first tram, so there's 15 minutes waiting at the tram stop, meaning I miss the 7:27 train to Sunshine and have to wait until the 7:57... getting home past 8:20. But you know, I'm sure someone important thinks 5:00PM is a great idea.

Speaking of great ideas
I know I've said this before, but I would like to be in charge of the pre-game music at Lakeside for one week. I could play tasteful selections in any number of genres: post-punk, alternative, shoegaze, dream pop, film and video game soundtracks, IDM, doom jazz, even chip tune. Just no more of that damn dance music. I could even choose some vaporwave. You have my details. Call me.

Around the grounds
Chinese whispers
On Saturday at Sunbury, two separate people asked me the same question: where's Jim? And my answer was, how the fuck would I know? OK, maybe more polite than that. I am usually a very calm and very polite individual. Anyway, if you're struggling to find any sort of emotional investment in a suburban soccer match - perhaps because you have no one to distract you with idle chatter, or because however well meaning the teams are they aren't creating many chances, or because there are only so many five dollar hamburgers and $6.10 plastic cups of cider (the latter from the social club!) you can stuff into your gob - the best thing to do is stand next to one of the benches and listen in to the chatter. This is even better if the home team and visitors benches are a) close together and b) made up of people who know each other. Thus you can take in the banter between the two sides, especially from the coaches, as they try to motivate, psychologise, intimidate and plant ideas into the referee's head from one of the worst spots to try and pull the strings. There's that many ideas and instructions being thrown out that perhaps the players on the opposite side of the field are the lucky ones, just being able to play - unless of course you play in the reserves and you have some parent yelling out constant instructions as if he were a ten year old playing FIFA on the XBOX or Playstation. As for the game, Altona East took the lead when an in-swinging corner went straight in. Sunbury equalised, but East won the game when soon after that one of their boys headed home at the back post from a corner. It took me ages to get home, because the people in charge of integrating buses and trains for Sunbury clearly have no idea what they're doing.

Final thought
You remember how back when Lakeside reopened after the redevelopment, as part of their membership packages South had an option for a social club membership? Because you know, it was coming soon? And that suckers like me bought one? Good times.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Making sense of the National Club Identity Policy - Joe Gorman

South of the Border is delighted to have been offered a piece for publication by friend of the blog, Joe Gorman. And bonus! It's about Gwelup Croatia and the National Club Identity Policy! 

On Sunday evening, a small Western Australian soccer club named Gwelup Croatia were defeated 4-3 by Perth SC. Before the match began, they were warned that if they won and qualified for the final 32 of the FFA Cup, their logo and name Croatia may need to be changed.

It subsequently emerged that Gwelup Croatia were warned by Football West that FFA might consider their name and logo too ethnic. Which was a reasonable assumption from Football West, considering another Western Australian club, Stirling Lions, were forced by FFA to remove the Star of Vergina from their jersey last season.

FFA denied that Gwelup Croatia would have had to change their name or their logo, although continued to leave the word 'Croatia' off their match report (later it was amended to include the word Croatia). They also admitted that the National Club Identity Policy could be applied retrospectively "through certain conduct". And so a fundamental issue remains unclear how ethnic does a club need to be to earn the attention of FFA and their National Club Identity Policy?

The National Club Identity Policy, released a year ago almost to the date, advises that soccer clubs must not have names that contain "ethnic, national, political, racial or religious connotations either in isolation or combination."

But this is not new. The policy is the latest iteration of a phenomenon that has existed since the Scottish migrants first set up their own clubs, and later the Europeans in the postwar period. This recurring theme has been made complicated by the fact that the de-ethnicisation of clubs has often been put forward by those who are themselves of an ethnic background.

For example, in 1964 the NSW Federation management committee voted against a motion from Alex Pongrass (nee Sándor Pongrácz) of the Budapest club in Sydney that all clubs must include a district name as well as a national name. So Budapest went it alone, becoming St. George-Budapest and eventually St. George, setting a trend eventually followed across the country. Some clubs were happier than others to make the change. Some people changed their minds on the issue over time.

In 1965, while he was a club official of Pan Hellenic (now Sydney Olympic), Sir Arthur George who changed his own name from Athanasios Theodore Tzortzatos was against changing club names. Those people harping on about the effects of nationalistic names suffer from a massive dose of inferiority complex, he said. Why should clubs change their names? One out of four people under 21 now in Australia was born elsewhere.

Yet by 1977, he had assumed the presidency of the Australian Soccer Federation, and had banned ethnic names from the national competition. In 1978, he said, soccer is not being regarded as an Australian sport, due to so many of the names being used at present.

These familiar arguments for an against ethnic names continued through the 1980s and 1990s, inflamed primarily by the presence of Sydney Croatia and Melbourne Croatia. In 1996, when Josip Simunic first decided to pledge his allegiance to Croatia, the country of his parents, rather than Australia, the names and logos were seen as proof of ethnic clubs as fifth column. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald asked if Simunic had not played for a club with Croatian emblems on its jersey and which continues to identify with Croatia, would he have opted for Croatia over Australia?

It was nonsense, of course. More Australians of Croatian heritage have played for the Socceroos than for Croatia, and many of them grew up supporting the various Croatias around the country. Mark Viduka is perhaps the best example of this. Yet the truth is nobody much likes the Croats in soccer, sometimes for reasons that are entirely justifiable, and so many fans, commentators and officials have played the man and abandoned the principle. But remove the Croats from this, or indeed remove soccer, and youre left with an ideological position that can only be seen as discriminatory.

Nowhere else in Australian society would would this be acceptable practice. Its a depressing irony Australias first genuinely multicultural sport has internalised the logic of assimilation and unleashed its toxic influence on the few remaining clubs that wish to retain the most visible symbols of their identity.

Ultimately, we need to move away from the idea that this is an issue simply for football. Someone  recently told me the NCIP is for the good of "the whole of the game in 2015". My response was that I do not care for the good of the whole of the game in 2015. I care for the good of people and communities in 2015, and hope to see that expressed through soccer.

As the father of multiculturalism, Al Grassby, said, this has with far reaching effects, not just for those involved in soccer. Its worth re-reading the recommendations in the Galbally Report from 1978, seen as one of the founding documents of Australian multiculturalism. There are some two statements that go straight to the heart of the club names issue. The report reads:
Provided that ethnic identity is not stressed at the expense of society at large, but is interwoven into the fabric of our nationhood by the process of multicultural interaction, then the community as a whole will benefit substantially and its democratic nature will be reinforced.
Are club names such as Gwelup Croatia elevating ethnic identities at the expense of society at large? Perhaps. Many have made the case that ethnic names perpetuate the view that soccer is dominated by ethnic enclaves, and that ethnic names are a harbinger to violence and division at grounds. Others might take the view that "the process of multicultural interaction" is in the playing of soccer against other Australian clubs of various origins.

Indeed the authors of the Report rejected the argument that cultural diversity immediately creates division. Rather, they argued, we believe that hostility and bitterness between groups are often the result of cultural repression. Is FFAs ban on national, political or religious names and logos cultural repression? Absolutely. The logical question arises who here is creating the division?

It is true that the Croats will continue to create the most noise about the National Club Identity Policy, and most of the clubs of ethnic origin have simply moved on, happy to be known simply by their district or nicknames. This is their right and their prerogative. But just as Essendon Royals are unlikely to revert back to Unione Sportiva Triestina, no club should never be forced to change in order to justify their existence.

A spokesperson for Gwelup Croatia told me there was no way they would have changed their name if asked by FFA. Although FFA assure us its not the case, it feels as if a battle may have been narrowly avoided. Still, it remains fundamentally different for the membership of a soccer club to decide to change their name, logo or jersey in order to seek broad based approval than for that change to be forced upon them arbitrarily by a administrative body they did not elect to be governed by.

During the recent Asian Cup, soccer-mad Australians of Iranian, Korean, Iraqi and Palestinian heritage support their national teams, bringing with them all the colour and passion that makes soccer the world game. Many of these communities have quietly begun their own clubs and federations independently of FFA. Theres Chinese, Lebanese, Somalian and Iranian soccer associations, just to name a few, and many of the people involved in these are aware that FFA dont want them to form new ethnic clubs. Is this the message that FFA wants to send to the wider community? And as soccer fans, are we complicit in endorsing this message?

At some point, lest we argue about this for another 50 years, were going to have to accept that in a multicultural society Croatia is not foreign, nor is Maccabi Hakoah, nor is Al-Tira Stars for that matter. Once people arrive here and set down roots, their cultural inheritance becomes part of Australia. Even if we hate the Croats, we are all Gwelup Croatia.