Monday, 25 July 2016

I guess you just had to be there - Melbourne Victory 1 South Melbourne 4

If this game's entire existence during the week proved somewhat illusory, perhaps even mythical, there's a good reason for that - practically no one - except perhaps Victory and FFV - seemed to know what was going on, and that includes South Melbourne.

As an FFV accredited freelance media human, I was asked to apply if I wanted to attend the game. I did, and eventually got the email saying that I was in, including notification of the time and location of the match - but publication of such details was essentially prohibited, with media being asked to show discretion.

Fair enough I thought, seeing as how they'd gone to all this bother to make sure nothing could go wrong. But it does make you wonder, at least on the surface of things, how bad things have gotten when 40 odd delinquents and their hangers on and supporters can cause this absurd situation; that Victory, like so many Australian soccer entities before it, doesn't know how to resolve the problem; that a soccer team with more resources at its disposal than almost any other in the code's local history has allowed or seen things get to a point where a match involving its youth team can't be played safely unless the most drastic security measures are taken.

Thus after performing a sort of radio silence on the matter in the days leading up the game, on the day of the match I tried to play it all mysterious
But really, there was no point. Everyone who really wanted to know where the game was going to be held, and at what time, pretty much knew everything there was to know. If there were any people planning on causing chaos, they didn't bother to show.

(I did see one bloke on the train towards the city with a Victory cap on, but whoever they were they did not end up at the Bubbledome)

Outside the ground, there was almost no evidence that there was an event of any sort was taking place at the Bubbledome - only a couple of security personnel and an unusually large amount of vehicles in the car park. Considering that parking in the Bubbledome car park was apparently $30, it's doubtful that any of the people who had driven to the Hawthorn vs Richmond game would have parked there, when they could have managed to use the MCG car park for $10

(for the record, one attendee parked near the Yarra; another possibly past Richmond station, like my dad used to do for Olympic Park matches back in the day; me, I took public transport, of course)

Entrance was via Gate 5, which so far as I can tell, is usually reserved for corporate visitors and such. Names and photo IDs were checked off, wristbands allocated (pink for independent media flunkies, blue for South Melbourne associated flunkies) and even metal scanners were used. I suppose if you were going to sell the event as one containing security overkill, you may as well at least try to look the part.

Had I spent less time working on my thesis this week, I may have been able to have some more pre-prepared joke material on hand. As it was, I could only really manage to get the completely obvious Green Seat Elite joke out of the way
And one ad lib (is that even possible on Twitter?), which seemed to resonate more with the general soccer public - another hint to stick to my day job, whatever that is.
It was, as you'd expect, a very bare bones event. There was a little bit of PS4 NPL Victoria signage behind the goals, but the rest of the sponsor boards - I assume from Melbourne Storm's game the previous night - had been covered over with black plastic. Neither scoreboard was in operation. There were no announcements made over the PA. There was no ball kids. There was no food or drink. There was a fourth official though.

Considering there had been a rugby league played just the night before, the ground looked in much better condition than you would have expected - most of the rugby league lines were gone, as were the on field sponsor logos. Generally the surface looked good, although the length of the grass (hi, Johnny A!) meant that balls that would have otherwise kept rolling out of play ended up stalling inside the lines; both team seemed to adapt to this fact fairly quickly.

There were some patches of the ground that were less conducive to good play than others, especially a large patch near the two Bunnings chair furnished bench areas. There were also times where players lost their footing in other parts of the ground. Still, the surface was in much better shape than its Olympic Park counterpart for the 1999 grand final.

Predictably, almost the entire ground was off limits. There was a very narrow space allocated right in the centre of the middle section of the western stand, where all the dignitaries get to sit for important games, cordoned off on both sides. Some media folks wandered around a bit - like Les Street, who got the chance to explore the venue, and some photographers who set up camp behind the goals - but otherwise the 40-50 people in attendance (I didn't do an official count) had enough room to snare a corner for themselves and not have their private conversations overheard by anyone.

The Victory players' parents and assorted flunkies generally sat to the left of the designated seating area, while the South contingent and its flunkies generally sat on the right, although for the second half some of us stood in a 'no standing' area in between. There seemed to be very little interaction between the two groups, except for one Greek speaking dill from the Victory side and one Greek speaking dill from the South side trying to get into an argument for who knows what reason. A stern word put an end to that nonsense pretty quickly.

A few of us managed to have a good, albeit brief post-game chat with the father of Victory's scorer John MacLean (an ex-South junior, among other teams). In general though, the atmosphere was neither that of a pre-season friendly, where people feel free to chat and move about freely, nor that of a ridgy didge match where one could chant, yell or cheer without feeling that you weren't transgressing some unspoken limited bounds of acceptable conduct. Applauding the goals or calling for a handball or card was about as far as most people tended to venture. Even clapping the team off the field seemed to be done more out of habit than overwhelming enthusiasm, though the mediocre performance may have had something to do with that.

(While you couldn't hear the crowd from the MCG, you could hear clearly hear the sirens from there, and from the VFL match at the Punt Road Oval. The seagulls also turned up, but there was nothing for them to eat, so there weren't that many of them.)

As we were leaving - or trying to, at any rate- there were some people visible outside the ground, perhaps looking for Pokemon, only to be told...
Which wasn't true!
In summary, it was the kind of thing that was fun (barely) to do once, and never again. The one saving grace was not having to deal with Harry the Drummer (who I understand is busy taking the matter to VCAT), but everyone else that should have been entitled to come to this match was sorely missed. There's a time and a place for novelty, but events conducted like this set a bad precedent. Let's hope we don't have to deal with such a situation ever again.

Though of course, if I can score an invite, I'll still attend.

The match itself
A good deal of you would have seen the game via the stream and thus have at least some part of the experience filtered through the limiting lens of the camera and John Kyrou's commentary, but having not watched the stream myself (yet - I may watch portions of it later), it'd be interesting to see how much the post-game autopsies match up between those at home and those at the ground.

One uncanny similarity which both those at the ground and those at home were the references to last year's Palm Beach FFA Cup loss. Going ahead (even in a similar manner), and getting equalised by an inferior team off pretty much their only attack for the half, with even Chris Taylor's at best uninspiring body language - the parallels were troubling.

Our crossing was again woeful. During the first half, we had so much more of the ball, and so much more territory, that we should have been in a much better position than 1-1 at the break. Victory had stacked their defensive numbers in front of the six yard box, making shots from directly in front of goal hard to get away without being blocked. Had we been able to cross the ball better, this would not have been so much of an issue, but this is how it is for us so far in 2016.

There were times, too, when we managed to take advantage of some sloppy attempts at playing the ball out of the back by Victory, which should have in theory meant that we could test their keeper out without so many numbers in the way; but for whatever reason, we didn't do well on that front either. Victory improved considerably in the second half, making our ramshackle defense look well, even more ordinary than usual all things being equal, and we were fortunate again that we had Nikola Roganovic in goal.

A good thing that we were able to weather that period of mediocrity long enough to finally put the game out of reach - Leigh Minopoulos getting on the scorer's sheet for doing little more than smashing the ball hard and on target and through Victory goalkeeper Spinella's legs; Manolo for cleaning up the scraps after Spinella's save ended up on the edge of the six yard box; and Milos putting away a penalty he was perhaps a little lucky to earn in the first place.

Putting aside the slightly self-righteous notion of the club's reputation in these matters, what was disappointing (and illuminating) were the sub par performances of some of those who in theory have elevated credentials. Some of our players have played A-League, even if briefly; some have ambitions to play in the A-League or higher up. Matt Millar tries hard - if there was an award for player most likely to be mistaken for a crash test dummy, he'd be a lock for the prize - but hasn't produced a match winning performance since very early on in the season. Brad Norton didn't have one of his best game either, but at least he kept trying and was crucially involved in the third goal.

And then there was the People's Champ. Having had enough of the ball in the first half but for not much useful outcome - admittedly not alone on that front - in the second half he took a free kick from the right hand side and some distance out, with the goal of launching it into the mixer. Having failed to get sufficient elevation on the kick, it went to the lone Victory defender in what you might call 'the wall', and Victory counter attacked from that side with the People's Champ performing a customary sulk.

At the time, I was mostly glad that we didn't concede a goal from that situation, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to confirm to me that the People's Champ, like so many other players in our team and at this level - and we have noted it of other players, so it's not just him - have found their level. This far and no further, and all that. Here he was, still I assume holding an ambition of playing at a higher level, playing against a selection of players mostly 2-4 years younger than him who've been specially selected because they want to do the same, and he failed to make his case.

As one smfcboard based observer who watched the game via the club's stream noted, the People's Champ couldn't even blame a hostile (or encouraging!) crowd for it this time. All this while Manolo sits on the bench and waits to come on and clean up the mess in his 20 or so allotted minutes. On the other hand, Matthew Foschini was our best by a mile, reading the play better than just about anyone out there. At some level, superior experience and strength were enough to win the day, and we should be glad for that. We have played better than this in previous weeks and had nothing to show for it; even ladder leading Bentleigh only managed to beat this Victory outfit (or a version thereof) only 2-1.

It must have been strange for Foschini and Millar to be out there playing in a venue where they'd played before so many times, and yet now with just about no one there. It must have been strange, too, for the handful of South people there, who because of their much stricter than mine anti-FFA ethos and with no interest in the other sports that use the venue, were visiting the Bubbledome for the first time.

Some aspects of the performance can be put down to personnel issues or the strange environment, but a lot of it was also strangely familiar so far as this season is concerned. I suppose we should be glad to have earned the three points, maintained second, and kept ourselves still visible as a speck on Bentleigh's rear view mirror.

The best seats in your house
From all reports the live stream provided by South's media team was a success, with a reported reach of 600k (which is pretty good for such short notice), though I have no idea of how many people were actually watching.the game. Judging from the club's Facebook page, it was at least a reasonable amount, whatever a reasonable amount may actually be. It even included some mock chanting!

Standing outside the media box, it was hard to tell what was going on in there, or whether the crew were having problems getting the stream to work in any way, with the booth being more or less soundproof. Communication, if not conducted by phone, was done via the person outside speaking through a bona fide hole in the wall.

I actually regret not taking a picture of the hole in the wall. 

Next game
Avondale at home on Sunday arvo. I hope to see all of you there now that you are all free to attend again. Because you will be there, right?

For the record
The person responsible for throwing the flare at South fans during this year's FFA Cup match against Altona Magic, has been banned from playing or attending matches for one year.

Around the grounds
Say no to endless reruns of post-Golden Age Simpsons
Saw a tweet about the catch up game between Avondale and Northcote, and after only momentary hesitation about whether it was better to stay inside a warm house watching repeats of stuff that I barely cared about the first time around, I decided to head out to Knights Stadium. I mean, it's only a short drive from my place, and I hadn't been there for so long, and this was a game that could've opened up the relegation battle a bit more. I also thought that maybe They could use an extra person in attendance, even if I didn't pay to get because of my media pass, but on that point the crowd was actually rather good. I mean, rather good by Avondale vs Northcote standards, and more or less what you'd expect even if this was a weekend instead of a weeknight clash. All that was left to ruin the night was a disappointing game, but even that didn't happen. Northcote had the better of most of this game, should have scored when the keeper was stranded - instead hitting the post - and even managed to find a second wind in pursuance of its pressing game through astutely timed substitutions. All that effort was almost for nothing though, as they saw numerous low and high crosses fail to be converted. Avondale for their part looked OK at times, mounting the odd counter attack and looking dangerous from set pieces; but on the whole they were poor, unable to play out from the back or maintain possession for long periods of time. Still, the point earned for them here is probably worth more than Northcote's point.

Final thought
Can it really be considered a genuine top tier Victorian league match if there's no Dodgy Asian Betting guy reporting on it? If the DAB rep was there, he was doing a good job of hiding, though not so good a job of reporting the goalscorers.

Monday, 18 July 2016

That was then, this is now - Oakleigh Cannons 4 South Melbourne 3

It started off with getting to the ground an hour early, even though I knew the 20s game had been moved to 8:00, because Melbourne's pubic transport system is that damn good. We then moved on to people looking at the sky,
and then with an already delayed kickoff being further delayed by the fact that someone buggered up the pegs on one of the goals. And suddenly, the best laid plans of mice and men were laid to waste, but more on that later.

Another's minute's silence for an unnamed individual, and then kickoff, finally. And then thing got weird. Within ten minutes a ball through the middle of our all over the shop defense saw Kristian Konstantinidis, back for the first time since forever, foul the Oakleigh player from behind justr on the line of the penalty area. KK got his red card, and we copped the goal from the resulting free kick - double burn because we have no one who can take free kicks, and haven't really had one for some time.

Somehow though we found ourselves not only level, but leading. Milos Lujic was collected hard by Oakleigh keeper John Honos. Everyone was expecting a red card, not noticing that the ball had trickled into the net. So, nobody celebrated, instead raining anger down upon the referee. Probably for the best, as we'd already wasted copious amounts of newspaper confetti before the game.

Now I was one of the people asking for 'last man/denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity' blood, so I apologise (especially to Banger) if my furor and overly forthright explanations were based on wrong assumption of the rules in that, based on some discussion of the matter on soccer-forum, as the advantage saw the goal scored, the 'denial of goal scoring opportunity' clause could not be invoked; the only way Honos could have got a red card is if the referee deemed Honos' challenge worthy of a red card on its own merits as a violent or dangerous piece of play.

On reflection, without viewing the incident a second time, the ref possibly (probably?) made the right call in not giving Honos a red card, but he probably should have got a yellow for the tackle. Nevertheless we managed to take the lead through Leigh Minopulos (why hasn't he being playing all season!), and looked good, attacking and dangerous, but unfortunately copped a soft, soft, soft goal from a long ball.

Second half, and we came out again looking to press forward and try and score goals - thinking, I believe correctly, that we would need goals on the board because Oakleugh were almost given to add to their tally. Apart from falling behind 4-2, and losing 4-3 - the penalty probably didn't warrnt a red, but it's not like Pantelidis didn't know what he was doing when he brought Milos down - the irritating thing was that we had a lot of good chances to score. Oakleigh's goal for 3-2 from the cut back? We had chances much like that before and after it, but couldn't make them stick. Our defense, already wonky and makeshift but now tired also, made mistakes but also in a sense let down by the forwards who failed to take advantage of many good opportunities.

Oh, and some dire corner taking, as per usual. And thus we fall further behind Bentleigh, probably out of reach of the minor premiership and the NPL national playoffs if we're being realistic. While we can enjoy the anarchic spectacle of a Chris Taylor side actually playing attacking football (and try to convince ourselves that maybe this approach will pay off in the finals), we also have to acknowledge the discipline problems - the red cards, the disinterest from some players (Iqi Jawadi came off the bench and played left back, and did some nice things), and even players taking holidays in mid-season. A fun rabble is still a rabble; I mean, when you get down to it.

The game finished 4-3, with Oakleigh managing to waste enough time to get the points. The game finished so late I missed a train which I should have easily caught, read nihilistic Chuck Palahniuk short stories, and ended up eating junk food somewhere in the CBD. They don't put that part of South Melbourne experience in the membership brochure.

Next game
Melbourne Victory away at an as yet undisclosed location, at an undisclosed time. This game will be played behind closed doors 'with only players, officials, family members and accredited media allowed entry'. Even media have been asked to apply for entry to the game.

And yes, your correspondent has applied, and I hope that I can make it in.

Just on that...
Several people have of course recalled the incident in 2007 where South Melbourne was adjudged by FFV to have forfeited a home fixture against Melbourne Knights days before the scheduled kickoff.

In the early parts of that wonderful year, you may recall that there had been a confrontation between Serbian and Croatian supporters at the Australian Open tennis ('he kicked me in da chest, bro' and all that), and that somewhere in among the photos were various members of the Hellas Fan Club.

Later that year, at the Water Polo World Championships held in Melbourne, further incidents ensued between two or more of the aforementioned groups, and certain people were worried about these incidents being brought over into in the VPL.

To that end - and here's where it gets a bit murky, as the passage of time has made things hazy - South Melbourne decided, perhaps keeping in mind their good behaviour stipulations stemming from the 2005 Preston incident, that they wanted either a closed doors match or one with a members only stipulation.

That was not accepted by the people then working at FFV. Instead, after a meeting or series of meetings between South, Knights, FFV and Victoria Police, FFV proposed what South considered a draconian and exorbitant security arrangement.

Both South and FFV claimed to have the support of Victoria Police, but the end result was that South refused to hold an open doors match, and FFV preemptively decided that South had forfeited and awarded the Knights a 3-0 win.

Now nine years on, and several FFV management groups and contentious incidents later (including, let us not forget, members of Clarendon Corner being barred from an open doors fixture away at Preston in 2008, a decision made in part by the FFV employee who decided South should forfeit against the Knights, and the same bloke South almost hired as a general manger later on), Victory has made a similar request for this week's fixture, and people with long memories have, and not without good reason, said
  • HUH? 
  • WHAT?
  • BAH?
  • GUH?
  • ZUH?
  • ARE YOU SERIOUS?
  • YOU HAVE GOT BE KIDDING ME!
  • FFV's CORRUPT!
  • BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
and variations thereof. Of course one can't go without noting the additional irony that, regarding the punishment received by Victory for the Lakeside incident, that many people complained how lenient it was due to the fact that there was no fine and no closed door games.

 It's only ironic however insofar as one would have been a punishment handed down from FFV, and the other - the current suggestion - is something which is of Victory's own choosing, which seems to indicate that Victory either can't or isn't able to create a safe environment for spectators at this fixture, and that rather than deal with that problem (and the prominent resources at their disposal to do so - remember, FFV's tribunal declined to fine them because they had so much money) they're being allowed to work around the problem.

Look, I'm not here to moralise (much, this time). I don't know what the right way of going about these things is, and thank the deity or celebrity of your choice that's the case. But it does seem a tad unjust for South fans to be barred from this fixture, considering FFV's own tribunal said South had nothing to answer for with regards the Lakeside incident; that the entire blame was squarely on Victory and its supporters.

Goodness knows what's going to happen at Knights vs Victory the following week.

And another thing...
There has been talk that this match may be played at AAMI Park. How hilarious would it be, that after so many failed attempts at getting into the A-League, failing to get into Victorian cup finals and grand finals that were hosted there, that we should end playing there where no one could see it...

And if were to be held at AAMI Park, one assumes on a Sunday, that'd be less than 24 hours after the field had been chopped up by the Melbourne Storm game.

Social club rumour
I am told that we have put in a building permit for a space that can hold 160 people seated. Make of that what you will.

Around the grounds
Facepalm
Altona East's players finally gave mid-season signing Anthony Giannopoulos the ball 85 minutes into the game, and he managed to do something so simple, and yet so effective, that it lead to an equalising goal and and a point for East against Keilor Park. Imagine if they gave him more of the ball what might happen.

Final thought
We’re basically big animals, evolved to break open shells and eat raw oysters, but now we’re expected to keep track of all 300 Kardashian sisters and 800 Baldwin brothers. Seriously, at the rate they reproduce the Kardashians and the Baldwins are going to wipe out all other species of humans. The rest of us, you and me, we’re just evolutionary dead ends waiting to wink out.
- Chuck Palahniuk, Zombies

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Tάβλη artefact Wednesday - Hellas-Alexander backgammon table

This artefact, already seen by many people on Twitter, comes to us courtesy of reporter at large Anthony Colangelo:
Club branded tavli tables (the game - or rather games, as there are variations within the broader variation - are a variant of backgammon) are common in Greece (at least for major clubs), so it's not necessarily a surprise to see the existence of this and related items in Australia, even if they aren't exactly officially endorsed by the clubs themselves. The unofficial nature of a board like this also opens up the possibility that variants on this board's particular design also exist - if so, we'd of course love to see them.

The existence of such an item reminds us of course of a time when clubs like South Melbourne Hellas and Heidelberg United Alexander were integral parts of Greek-Australian culture in Melbourne, much like playing tavli itself, which I suppose if you moved in the right kinds of circles would still be visible as a pastime but which I myself don't see the young people partake in much these days.

And that includes myself of course - being a chess player in my youth (not a very good one mind, learning not even the basic elements of chess game theory, and giving up in the mid 1990s when I had reached the lofty peak of an accidental win against my high school's best player), our family backgammon table (if we still even have it), just been gathering dust for the past 20 years.

But enough maudlin nostalgia! What an item! The dagginess and the wogginess of Australian soccer personified in a single object!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Bad Blood - Bentleigh Greens 3 South Melbourne 1

A relatively short and bittersweet entry for this week.

This was a game essentially defined by two phenomena: first, South putting in a hell of an offensive effort, going some way to reclaiming the club's honour, before the coaches lost their nerve; second, an on and off-field hostility between the two sides that is threatening to get out of control.

With no Milos Lujic, it was always going to be interesting to see who Taylor would start up front. To that end, we saw both Leigh Minopoulos and Manolo start, up front no less, and the instruction was clear - pressure Bentleigh up the field, don't give them too much time on the ball, don't let them play too easily out from the back.

It wasn't a full proof plan - no plan is - but for so much of this game, we were the better team. That relative dominance didn't translate into a ton of a chances, but at the very least Bentleigh - the benchmark team of 2016 -  looked frazzled, human.

Sport is not only physical, it's also mental - it's a cliché, but here's a whole bunch more. You have to believe you can win the game, and you have to believe that the opponent is beatable. Facing an opponent that has the wood on you, that may even believe that should it do everything right that it can't lose to you, you have to find a way to undermine that belief.

And for a long time in this game, we had self-belief, and we shook - however minutely - Bentleigh's belief in itself. You could see it from early on in the match, where the Greens' players began resorting to melees and some less than professional conduct, chief of those being Brad Norton being charged into the fence early on in the game.

Getting into half time up 1-0 despite Luke Adams' dismissal (I was too far away to see if it was warranted or the right call) was good, but as important was how we'd done it. Even in the second half we looked good, and then we took off Manolo (I assume because he's not fit enough to run out a game yet), took off Minopoulos (not sure why) and were left with no forwards on the park.

The dismissal of Kamal Ibrahim so soon after he came on for the Greens should have made our task easier, but instead we copped a goal from a set piece, and then did what we have done for much of the season, which is if not capitulate, then lose our way to such an extent that goals against us come in bursts.

Yes, Chris Irwin (getting a serious dose of chrono-poisoning), had a great chance to get us a second goal and give us back the momentum, but what had earlier looked like a cohesive effort was no longer quite there. Does Bentleigh therefore take more confidence out of a game like, where they played beneath their best (in large part due to South's efforts) but still got the points? Does the end of the game undo all the good we had achieved before that?

Off the field, things seemed to get very nasty, especially towards the end of the game. Standing behind the goals at the car park end during the second half, the South fans and Bentleigh's keeper were able to have some decent banter without crossing the lines - though the keeper's hissing noises were and are perplexing. At the end of the game, Bentleigh's keeper was able to be gracious in victory, and the South supporters behind the goals took his in the right spirit, despite our obvious disappointment in the result

Things seemed to be much less pleasant under the shed, especially the interactions between our supporters and Bentleigh coach Johnny A, which culminated in Anastasiadis gesturing to his players to celebrate their third goal in front of the South fans
Even though the affinity between Johnny A' and South has been deteriorating for a while now, especially as his Bentleigh side has become our closest rival for silverware, it's not a good look for either side when things reach this point.

That's not to excuse either party's behaviour, or even make comment on what exactly was going on in that vicinity during the second half - I wasn't anywhere near enough to comment on the specifics either way (and likewise on other allegations made about racist, sexist or violent comments made during the game) - only to note that from where I stood it looked very bad, and that such incidents can quickly escalate out of control.

Following on from the relative PR win of the Victory incident, it's a timely reminder that the ability to claim the moral high ground is only yours so long as you act up towards that standard; the moment you slip from that perch, you could lose more than the right to point the finger at others' poor behaviour.

As for the league season, we are now in second place, trailing Bentleigh by two points and a fair chunk of goal difference. Losing more players to red cards and yellow cards won't do us any favours. And if we want to finish top of the table, we need to quickly turn this new found enthusiasm and attitude into wins, not merely respectable performances - while hoping that Bentleigh's more crowded schedule also takes its toll at some point.

Next week
Oakleigh away on Sunday evening.

Please note that kickoff for the under 20s match has been moved to after the conclusion of the senior match.

'It's a legitimate complaint' department
One of our readers asked me on Friday night why we weren't wearing our white away strip. In the darker corners of Kingston Heath's main pitch, it was at times difficult to tell apart the two sides as dark green and darkish blue began to blend in to each other - and the mist that settled on the field also didn't help matters. Would it not also have made it easier for our own players to see each other? As our friend noted, we have an away strip, why not use it?

'There's a heartbeat' - social club news
Towards the end of a new weekly video segment the club has begun releasing, there was information provided about the imminent working on the social club and affiliated areas.
As has been explained earlier by the club itself, the fit-out of the office spaces will be the first can off the rank - my mail is that this will take approximately three weeks. Some people may be/are confused by why the change rooms need to be worked on, what with having possibly seen the main part of the home change rooms (especially, after say, after a title win) which look fantastic. What I'm being told is that the bath, shower and toilet facilities, which haven't been properly maintained since the end of the NSL, are in dire need of replacing. Whether that's done immediately, I don't lnow, but they will be done.

Oh, and the 'heartbeat' of the segment's title? That's a reference to the fact that the power is connected to the social club once more - things are ever so gradually getting into gear...

There's a first time for everything
Thank you to Nasya Bahfen quoting a passage out of my (at this time) lone academic article in her recently published journal article on Melbourne Heart and perceptions of race and ethnicity.

Final thoughts
Thanks not only to SMFCMike for giving me and Gains a lift back to the station, but to everyone else who offered - you're all champs!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

We need your help to identify a possible South Melbourne Hellas pin

Despite the somewhat gloomy nature of the photograph - don't blame me, blame the source material - the nature of this week's artefact is fairly self-evident.

What is less obvious about this enamel pin, is its history and relationship - if any - with South Melbourne Hellas.

The photo of this pin was sent to South of the Border by club historian John Kyrou, who had in turn received it from a collector wanting to gauge its authenticity and provenance.

Though the quality of the photo is not great, there are above the word 'HELLAS' the letters 'S' and 'M', and below that the letters 'S' and 'C'.

Those things seem to indicate the likelihood that it is a South Melbourne Hellas pin.

On the back there is - possibly, as the writing is hard to read - the word 'WEBB', which one assumes is the manufacturer's name

But that's where you people need to come in. Have you seen a pin like this one before? Do you perhaps own one yourself? If it is a legitimate South Melbourne Hellas pin, could you help us identify the era in which they were made? If you can help, please leave your comments on here.
.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Have a go, ya mugs! South Melbourne 2 Hume City 2

I'm finishing this off on a Monday because of a brutal weekend spent laid up with a cold, and one side-trip to the bloody supermarket. Through the haze I'm trying to remember what happened on Friday, and I keep returning to one key thing - that the experience of the game was fun.

Now there's lots of ways you can have fun at South Melbourne but watching the team, in particular this iteration of it with its patented Taylor Tendencies (I was going to say Taylorist, but that's something a little different), isn't always one of them. And we know this because our most vocal internet people keep telling us that we are hard to watch, all while many of those looking way up high to where we sit on the ladder wonder how you can be top of the table and not be having fun.

Now people wanted more entertainment, but I'm not quite sure that they wanted it in this way. Chaotic defending, heroic goalkeeping (again) by Nikola Roganovic and spurned chances; end to end football, heart in mouth moments and South being just a few centimetres from a third goal late on which would have torn the roof off the joint.

Sitting at my keyboard tapping this out with a bad cold, and having made the very poor decision to further compound my headache by playing Mr Bungle's Disco Volante album yesterday, somehow I've still come out of this match in an optimistic mood. If nothing else, we may have figured out this one important fact - that as rubbish as our defending can be at times, the defenses of opposition sides are equally prone to making mistakes and looking all at sea - and that maybe all we need to do is be more assertive or forceful in testing the limits of opposition defenses.

A new banner by the bloke behind the Tibbzy FC youtube account. Nice to
have a new banner on hand, even if I don't agree with the message - not just
for economic reasons, but also because I'd rather South get into the A-League
and then burn the drawbridge, locking ourselves inside. Photo: Gains.
That's not how everyone's seeing this, and that's totally OK. I get it. How much more obvious is it that two up front is better than one solitary Lujic? When are we going to settle on what our midfield looks like? Will Iqi Jawadi ever be forgiven for whatever his indiscretions have been? Why are we persisting with short corners to the point where we almost conceded a goal from one on Friday night?

But that's only part of the story. Some have decided that Hume were the better team, with numerous chances to put us away, especially in the first half. But I would counter that with Lujic having his one on one chance saved, and the header that hit the post, with the scramble that couldn't put the ball away.

Like in the game against Richmond, we moved the ball quickly, looking to take advantage of the complacency of sides who feel that you should just sit back and set up, because South Melbourne won't play in quickly (except from a damn short corner). Sometimes this resulted in long ball after long ball, and that would have been hard to watch. But sometimes those long balls worked, sometimes they led to the opposition making errors, and sometimes we even managed to get the ball moving towards advantage along the ground. Whatever else, our last two or three weeks have seen our attacking maneuvers portray a sense of unpredictability and versatility.

At 1-1 at halftime, there's an argument to be had that we were lucky to be level, what with our getting an equaliser via a fortunate penalty. Yeah, maybe, sure, possibly? I don't know. Can you make your own luck? Does it even matter? Are we so obsessed with the how that we forget about the how many? Do we, like, even have a midfield? Maybe. But gathering our thoughts together, we remember, that South Melbourne is about results + style + entertainment. Results is points on the board, entertainment is goals and action, but style in the South Melbourne Hellas sense is about attitude - the attitude that South Melbourne Hellas should fear no opponent in this country and play its football accordingly, if not with perfect technique then at the very least with ambition.

The introduction of Manolo changed the game. Of course it did. All of a sudden the best player available to either side on the night was on the field, and playing forward in support of Lujic. One can gush about his talent on the ball, but what is of equal importance is his zeal for the contest. That cross to Lujic which saw us take the lead wasn't just an example of perfect placement, but proof of the importance of having a red hot go; Manolo is out-sprinting and out-working opponents and teammates alike.

The People's Champ, who has improved in that regard (albeit from a very low base), could learn a lot about what it takes to be a professional footballer, but also a South Melbourne Hellas style footballer, from Manolo's example. There were, again, too many petulant moments where his body language magnified his lack of effort and apparent self-loathing. All this while Taylor's attempts in 2016 to play the People's Champ more centrally have started bearing some fruit. Passion and effort aren't enough though, and there's something to be said for keeping your head. Even given Hume's penchant for scoring soon after conceding, giving up the equaliser straight for the kickoff was a horrendous moment. Not much better was Tim Mala's straight red card. What was the point of that exactly?

That last ten minutes was the best football we have played for some time. Three glorious chances to score, scuppered alternately by Hume's defensive desperation, imprecise finishing and finally the woodwork. It is fair to say we have been waiting all season for Marcus Schroen to hit a shot like that, which I suppose is much easier for him to do if he's in front of goal instead out wide. It may have been unjust to have snared all three points, but there are bigger things to focus on. The team, possibly because of the humiliation of the Bentleigh FFA Cup, clearly has some fight left in it. As important has been the change in attitude. Whether it has come from Taylor or from the players themselves, there is clear evidence now that we would rather attack than sit back.

That of course doesn't mean there isn't huge room for improvement. The team set up, with Mala at centre-back, and some of the very shoddy defending on Friday night, won't be as fortunate in future matches, but you've got to start (or in thus case, re-start) somewhere. But remembering some of the most important things about what made this club great in the first place - the willingness by its players to have fun, to display a zest for the game and show no fear - will at least give the team a chance.

Next week
Bentleigh away on Friday night, without Lujic (five yellow cards) and Mala (for the straight red). Does this mean that Koroma gets another go t right back? Will Taylor (or his stand in for the night, Chris Marshall) start Michael Eagar? Is Kristian Konstantinidis any closer to making a return? And who's going to play up front?

Those wishing to use public transport to and from Kingston Heath should be aware that there are significant disruptions to the Frankston line as part of the removal of four level crossings. Take that into account when planning your journey to and from the ground.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and you know what, I traveled down both of them, just because I could (and that made absolutely no difference)
Last week we asked what the deal was with the split path carpet shenanigans leading out of the players' race. We got no answer. This week, in addition to still wondering what the deal with the split paths is, South of the Border is asking what was the deal with the two teams taking the same branch on Friday night? Was that because of the night's charity theme? Has inspiration for the split paths been taken from somewhere else? Are we channeling or satirising Robert Frost here?

Is the honeymoon over?
The new security mob who have replaced Blue Thunder have had very little to do with Clarendon Corner thus far, but they did come by for a visit on Friday night during the first half. I don't know what was said during the heated conversation, but people weren't happy. Whether it was because of an official instruction from the club (I thought the recent pre-game warnings on anti-social behaviour were new, but others assure me they are not) or done of security's own volition I do not know. There was also an altercation of sorts on the other side of the players' race in the second half, but I'm not sure who was involved with that or what it was about.

Victory tribunal decision
Well the tribunal result finally came in, and there's a sort of resigned sense of disappointment at the outcome. A six point deduction for this season, a 12 month suspended six point sentence, and no fine.

Some have attempted to frame the disappointment and anger about the perceived leniency of the tribunal decision as being about 'bitters vs the new dawn', and it would be foolish to deny that there's not an element of that embedded in the reaction. But it's more complicated than that, and to limit it to the confines of a niche ideological skirmish misses the broader picture - which is what is the place, function and treatment of a top-flight, wealthy and privately owned team like Victory in FFV competitions, especially when compared to the treatment meted out to community owned clubs?

Rightly or wrongly, the perception among at least some of those interested in senior men's football in Victoria is that over the years Victory have a received a very fair deal from FFV. Branding, co-operation, advertising - with the most extreme notion being that FFV has seen promoting Victory as the easiest way of promoting its own operations - while those at community clubs still wonder what their annual fees - and fines - go towards when they themselves have to pay for refs and facilities, as well as performing functions such as filling in scores, self-promotion, etc.

It's also an environment where an increase in fines was used not only as a draconian deterrent for poor behaviour, but also as a means of correcting a dismal financial position at FFV. Seen within this context, you can see why people in the lower reaches wanted to see a very specific outcome in this tribunal case - one which was as near as possible equivalent to that received by Dandenong Thunder for the troubles at the 2012 grand final. That would mean not only a large point deduction,but also closed door matches and a massive fine. Instead, FFV limited themselves to the point deduction, for a team already staring down the barrel at relegation following a long run of poor results.

But how FFV's tribunal got to that decision is what's most important. We need to remember, first, that FFV's tribunal does not use precedent as part of its decision making process. That in itself means that there is a large amount of leeway available to them when making a decision.

For instance, in this case, the tribunal has cited the co-operation given by Victory and its guilty plea as a mitigating factor, as compared with Thunder's inability (or refusal?) to name the relevant culprits. This line of thinking is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, there is talk - which has been claimed to be from those in attendance at the tribunal hearing - that Victory initially pleaded 'not guilty' to the charges, and then changed their plea (is this what is referred to when "After an initial discussion with the panel"?). Second, they get credit for identifying those persons responsible for the attack on the South Melbourne fans - this is despite the fact that South Melbourne had already done much of the legwork in identifying the culprits - including compiling a dossier.

Now it's possible that Victory had done its own homework in identifying those responsible, but there are also question marks about that. Those supporter marshals of theirs in attendance at the Lakeside game - would they not have known the identities of at least some of those responsible? Would they have been able to identify the culprits without the services of the surveillance equipment at Lakeside, as well the the work of the South fans and independent journos who took photos and footage? And what would have happened had this occurred at a ground - such as Epping, for argument's sake - where those surveillance facilities were not available?

The delays in dealing with the matter have also caused consternation. Knowing that a repeat of the violence at Lakeside was possible at the following week's Victory vs Knights game at Epping, FFV did not create a closed door situation, and in part this lead to violent incident which occurred at that game - an incident which has no yet been dealt with by FFV - and has served inadvertently as a free hit to those people who wanted to act up this and potentially any other game which followed the Lakeside game but before the tribunal decision was handed down.

(As an aside, it also makes you wonder why Victory's matches against South and Knights were played in consecutive weeks. The thinking may have been to get them out of the way in as short a space of time as possible, but that probably should have been measured against the potential of violence at either of those fixtures. This is not to say that violence should be expected at such fixtures, but clearly the potential for it to occur was factored into the security arrangements at the Lakeside match. Why not then space those games out, so that in the event that something like this did occur, there would be sufficient time to deal with it both in a tribunal setting and in time for the next 'high risk' fixture.)

The language used by FFV is also problematic. Take this for example.
Mr Robson, the club Chief Executive gave evidence about the attitude of the club to the behaviour. He was a credible and respected Chief Executive of a sporting club that is in an unfortunate and difficult position. He said that the violence that occurred was abhorrent to Melbourne Victory. It was and is a successful football club with many more supporters than those who misbehaved. It has a turnover of in the vicinity of $19 million and spends “a significant six figure sum” on security at its games. 
It almost seems as if the tribunal is falling over itself to separate the conduct of Victory's management from its supporters. This is an approach that is so rare (almost to the point of fawning), that it is hard to imagine it ever being applied to community owned clubs, many of which have had onerous fines placed upon them due to the actions of rogue supporters or individuals. As I noted on Twitter last week after first reading the judgment, the tribunal's reasoning to leads one to the conclusion that,
The reasons for the lack of a fine are also somewhat bizarre,
We have elected not to fine Melbourne Victory for what occurred for four reasons. First we accept the credible evidence of Mr McLeod and Mr Robson that fines will have no detrimental effect.
So has the tribunal elected not to fine Victory because Victory is so wealthy that fines have no impact on them, or because the supporters involved don't care? If it is the former, then that is a case of discrimination based on how much money a club has. If it is the latter, then why bother giving Victory's youth team any punishment? After all, those responsible clearly couldn't care less about the impact of their actions on Victory's youth team. Neither would Victory's management be particularly fussed about the point deduction, because they were probably on course for relegation anyway.
Second, Melbourne Victory took all reasonable steps to prevent that which ultimately occurred.
It is hard to know what happened here, as little information is provided, beyond the existence of meetings in the lead up to the game. It is likely we will never know what 'all reasonable steps' means.
Third, it is their staff members who are responsible for gathering the evidence that has led to 17 spectators being banned from the game.
As we have noted already, South Melbourne had already compiled and submitted a dossier of many (20+ names) of those involved in the incident, which included some ex-South Melbourne fans and people banned from South matches, and yet South Melbourne's contribution to this gets scarce mention, if any mention at all in this ruling. The reasoning for the six point deduction is also strange:
As a matter of deterrence, and to support the objectives of the GDT, if supporters of clubs see that clubs will be penalised for violent supporter behaviour then supporters will exert social pressure on each other not to misbehave and particularly not to be violent. If their fellow spectators know who they are, they will hopefully identify them for the benefit of the FFV and the Victoria Police. To do otherwise might penalise the team that they support. Presently, it is only due to the hard work of the Club that 17 wrongdoers have been identified. If the supporters knew that the conduct of the unruly supporters might affect the team that they all support, then they might assist the FFV and Victoria Police in stamping out this behaviour. If the supporters were aware that their behaviour might cause the team to suffer a penalty then they might calm each other down rather than winding each other up and inflaming the situation, which is what occurred
It is strange because as we have noted earlier, those responsible and their friends have little concern about the league fate of this wing of Victory. They had misbehaved in several other matches subsequent to the incident at Ballarat last year, including dislodging corner flags (and therefore interfering with the match and match day operations), and yet little to nothing was done by supporters, their own club or FFV to stamp out this behaviour and weed out the troublemakers.

In addition. point deductions as a deterrent may work for community clubs, in at least forcing them to get rid of those responsible for bad behaviour at games, but within the self-described 'ultras' segment of football support that the guilty Victory fans have found themselves in, it is likely to have no impact at all. That group defines itself by its (supposed) rigid independence from the club and their support for Victory as being far more meaningful than that offered by other supporters. Most Victory supporters, who have nothing to do with and no interest in their NPL team, are probably oblivious to what has occurred.

In that sense, neither docking Victory's NPL team points nor fining them nor having them play games behind closed doors will have any meaningful impact. In which case, why not impose all three punishments, as happened to Dandenong Thunder? To my mind, the only punishment that could possibly create an impact is to go after Victory's A-League team, by docking that side points (they are, I believe, already on a three point suspended sentence there). Of course that was always extremely unlikely to happen, but that is the only hope of things changing: that these supporters do enough damage to the one thing that matters to all of their supporters - the points tally of the A-League team - that the vast majority of sensible supporters say enough is enough.

Further adding to the confusing nature of this result are the lack of charges thrown towards South Melbourne and our supporters. Whatever one's thoughts on self-defense - its applicability, where one may draw the line into what is self-defense and what isn't - the usual procedure, or perhaps better worded as 'the usual outcome', is to go hard after both sides for an incident such as this. Yet the tribunal was at pains to emphasise that one side - Victory - was the aggressor, and that the other - South Melbourne - was the victim, to the point where the premeditated nature of the attack is acknowledged,
Some of the spectators must have known that the South Melbourne banner was to be stolen (as this was approximately 150 metres across the pitch from where they were sitting) and that their support could be required. Many of them had clothing and sunglasses to cover their faces. The game was played in warm conditions and at night. There was no need for sunglasses or clothing to cover faces. This meant that the process of identifying the wrongdoers has been made all the more difficult.
This is not the kind of outcome or reasoning that one sees very often in FFV tribunal decisions. Given that the acts of violence and theft were premeditated, one would have hoped for a more significant punishment.

Lastly, it is interesting to note also that Blue Thunder security, the security company in charge for the day, get no mention whatsoever in the tribunal report. Security gets very little mention at all in fact, though there is the odd nod towards security failures,
Notwithstanding the agreed increased standards of security, the banned spectators
gained entry and other spectators were not safe
How those banned supporters managed to get into Lakeside is not elaborated upon in the tribunal's report. One is left with the feeling that, as much as what took place on the day was important, how things got to that stage was not considered as important, except where the tribunal could find ways to mitigate Victory's responsibility.

How much any club can control every single one of its supporters, regardless of whether they are players, coaches, frequent attendees or once in a blue moon trouble makers, has always been the question at the heart of such matters. That there could have been more effort made to prevent certain people from attending this match for instance, is without doubt - but would that have necessarily prevented others from acting up on the day? Or the next week?

But this is the environment that the vast majority of teams at this level live in. They are considered responsible for any (usually spontaneous) trouble caused by rogue supporters, or by anyone even vaguely affiliated with one of the teams. Thus the attempts by FFV to be seen to not be critical of Victory,
A superficial reading of this decision might lead to a conclusion that we are critical of Melbourne Victory. We are not. 
are perhaps the most troubling aspect of the whole experience. So many clubs attend tribunal sessions already feeling that they have already been found guilty. That once in the tribunal space, their side of the story is not given any respect. That the actions of sometimes unknown individuals (for example in the cases of those who light flares, often in - ironically - poorly lit and poorly patrolled venues), can have consequences for a club as a whole, with scarcely any sympathetic noises being made by the tribunal. The feeling is that by pleading guilty, even when you think have a legitimate case, that at least you get out of there quickly and on to figuring out how you're going to pay the fine.

And then you see the FFV tribunal seemingly falling over itself to find excuses and platitudes for an organisation that is better organised and better resourced than almost any soccer team in the state, and thus surely able to defend itself far better than most. To have those 17 supporters from that team be tried and banned, and the results initially posted without any mention as to which to team they were associates of, until - perhaps coincidentally - attention was brought to that fact.

The tribunal's decision, based on their reasoning, may have been technically correct. But justice also has to deal with the matterof  perception. If the general Victorian soccer public perceive that one group - whether that's an A-League team or NPL team - is getting more favourable treatment from the tribunal than another group, then that is not a good look for the game in this state.

Final thought
Harry Lookofsky's album Stringsville is not jazz. Discuss.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Moving House artefact Wednesday - Kon moves house...

Usually this segment (when it bothers to run) doesn't go full bore with the images, but this is a bit of a special edition.

One of our readers, Kon, has recently moved house and needed to take some South Melbourne Hellas memorabilia with him, including some posters from 1988 and 1998. In his own words:

"One of the posters hung proudly in my dad's garage for 27 years. Dad passed away in 2009, an avid SMH supporter since 1964 - from memory, the last game we attended together was an away game in Heidelberg sometime in 2007/2008. His last SMH triumph was in taking his 5-year-old grandson to the final against Altona Magic back in 2006.

After 45 years at the same address, we sold, packed up and moved out of our family home. Memories. Of course, I had to take the posters with me. Damn shame I couldn't salvage the 'Barbaresso Ouzo & SMH, a great combination' sticker that was fixed to the door of the outside laundry."

Not that I keep up to date with all the different Greek language publications that exist and have existed in Australia, but Ελληνοαυστραλιανη Παροικία ('Greek Community') is a new one to me.

There are people out there who watched South in this era, who seemed to like this jersey. I can't say that I am one of those people. But the poster (see immediately below) is nice, and probably not one commonly seen.


The other poster and the news article spread are from just before the 1998 grand final. The juxtaposition between the two eras is interesting. Uniforms, stadium, branding, cultural emphasis. How the boast of 'not just a name, an empire' in 1998, even before we'd won the title, proved half true for a few years, but soon turned to dust.



As noted earlier, one bit of memorabilia which Kon and his family couldn't take with them to their new address was the sticker below, as it was stuck to the door of their laundry. But here it is preserved for posterity.


Thanks once again to Kon for sending these images our way, especially the sticker.

Lastly, since I am no good with putting names to faces, it'd be nice if all you old timers could list the players and staff members in each photo so I can create some complete captions for each image.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Losing on aggregate - South Melbourne 3 Richmond 2

There is an aspect to which one could compare this South Melbourne side to someone being rehabilitated from a stroke or a serious car accident. You have to re-learn how to do everything that once seemed so natural - how to talk, how to walk, rebuilding muscle memory - and neither doing it nor watching it is going to be an easy experience.

The first half of this game was unpleasant to watch; despite the cold, the rain hadn't even started yet. so it's not like you can blame the onset of mass precipitation for what was happening. Richmond mostly chose to counter attack, being the first team in several weeks to genuinely exploit our offside trap sensibilities. Even Bentleigh in our recent cup embarrassment didn't do as well on that front.

But in the final third of the pitch the visitors were wayward with their passing and wasteful with their finishing. For our part, we had most of the ball, but mostly to little effect in the first half - though our corners did look better and more dangerous than has been the case for some time. There was much annoyance with a lot of the passing around the back and especially the passing back to Nikola Roganovic, but playing devil's advocate for a moment, I think I could see what they were trying to do.

Rather than needlessly hoof the ball forward, or even as part of the symptom of shirking responsibility, Friday night saw the side perhaps trying to adapt to a different mode of getting forward. Instead of relying solely or mostly on getting the ball onto the wings, we decided to find a way to play through the middle as well - so there was a lot of scrappy play, and lots of strays passes from us as we sought to take some more risks in midfield.

Part of that can be put down to Andy Kecojevic, who started a second successive game, who rather than play like his more defensively minded kin such as Iqi Jawadi (who was back on the bench this week, but saw no game time), Steve Hatzikostas (who worked hard in conditions which played to his strengths) or Matthew Foschini, who was at centre-back anyway (with Michael Eagar not being recalled after serving his one match suspension), was busy trying to move the ball forward and as quickly as possible.

Perhaps this is because Andy's a genuine attacking midfielder, or because he's too young to have been brow beaten into playing a dour sort of game. I sensed that in part because of the presence of Kecojevic, especially in the second half when we started cutting through all three channels, left, right and middle, we looked almost versatile and unpredictable.

Some aren't sold on his alleged potential, and that's understandable from the point of view that he is only 18 and has played very little senior football, despite what the stats may say. But from the point of view of attitude the team seemed to be, at least in the second half, looking to do something with every possession of the ball. That doesn't mean it was all pretty or fluid, but it was at least fun to watch.

Having the right attitude isn't everything in soccer, but it's a bloody good place to start. The first goal in particular was one of the worst goals I think I have ever seen, players falling all over the place or just standing around, and eventually someone (Milos Lujic) doing what had to be done in the absence of a referee's whistle putting an end to the madness and putting the ball into the back of the net.

Conceding a goal soon after to substitute Nick Niagoran (has any ex-South junior hurt us so much in such a short space of time?) could have seen the team implode, but Kecojevic was on hand to put us back ahead, and the flip pass into hectares of space by the People's Champ saw Spanish import Manolo (again coming off the bench) finish off a one on one to give us a 3-1 lead with you would have thought not enough time remaining for a repeat of the heinous implosion that occurred last time we were leading Richmond 3-1.

Except that Richmond gave it a fair old shake despite the limited time on offer, reducing the deficit back to one when a South defender failed to either dispossess or bring down Niagoran who passed across the face of goal for an easy finish by a teammate. After that, we relied on Roganovic making a double save to get all three points, but rather than there being a feeling of angst mixed with relief akin to that which followed the Bulleen game, I think what we had here was relief mixed with a sort of happiness - no one thought it was a great performance, but people could at least appreciate (I hope) the endeavour and the intent of the side.

And the scoreline does flatter Richmond, too. They had their moments at the beginning and at the end of the match, but the game was played mostly on our terms, especially in the second half when we launched several promising attacks and forced the Richmond keeper into action on several occasions - and one notable instance of inaction, when he let a low cross or shot towards the near post from Brad Norton hit the post and squirt across the six yard box, just out of reach of the equally surprised South players in the vicinity.

In the end, my biggest concern was not some galoot chanting 'we're gonna lose 6-3' when we were 3-1 up, but whether Amadu Koroma coming on as a substitute was going to cost us three points, because his name hadn't been on the team sheet provided to the general public before the game. Not for the first time this season, there was a late change to the line up, and another team sheet filled out. At least for consistency's sake, Chris Irwin's three minute stint at the end of the game was as legit as they come.
Next week
Hume on Friday night (really!), as we begin a stretch of three games against teams bound for the finals. Should be fun.

Rolling out the green carpet
For some inexplicable reason, the path out of the players' race on Friday was not 'as the crow flies' but instead one which diverged into two paths which ended up taking the two teams the long way around to their benches. I have not been able to independently come up with a reason for this change in proceeding, and for a moment I was worried that this whole enterprise may lead to an A-League style 'face-off', a phenomenon I've heard much about, but whose horror I have thankfully not seen. Just our luck that the players ending up in the usual line and handshake formation. Further adding to the perceived pointlessness of the whole thing was the substitutes and assorted others disregarding the existence of the separate paths at halftime, and everyone walking through the players' race at the end of the game without making any unnecessary detours. If anyone can fill us in as to what was going on here, we'd be glad to know.

TGIF!
So apparently we tried to have this fixture moved to Sunday (for who knows what reason, but perhaps in the hope that more than 150 people would turn up), and Richmond said 'no'. What's good about this is that some folk from our side are blaming Richmond for this outcome, as if it was Richmond's fault that the game was scheduled for a Friday night in the middle of winter in the first place. Worth remembering that Greeks did invent hubris after all.

Social club news
So the latest tidbit on this saga which I have managed to source from a third or fourth hand source is that apparently there's a power box in place, which I am reliably informed is necessary for the operation of tools in the event that someone may want to do some work on the social club.

Everyone thinks they have immaculate (and of course everyone is wrong)
Seems like the club has dispensed with the player playlists for their pre-game and half time stadium music, NOT THAT ANYONE COULD REALLY TELL THE DIFFERENCE, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. As the South players walked out in the second half to the strains of 'Say My Name' by Destiny's Child, one felt that surely we deserved better than this, and surely we could do better.

[there was also, for me, the not altogether pleasant sense of being taken back to 1999 and Year 10 when the song first came out, and the girls in my tech studies class (I vaguely remember it was something to do with electronics; the boys mostly made balls of solder to throw at each other, or watched test cricket on a portable TV) would play the song off a cassette tape, before that medium fell out of use until it was revitalised by hipsters so that the only people who could listen to their post-Appalachian funk metal would be third world cab drivers driving old Datsuns through monsoonal traffic jams, or people that had bought an endless supply of Sony Walkmans from op shops. I'd add myself as a third possible market, but the cassette player in my 1989 Toyota Camry doesn't work.]

Of course, when it comes to  playing better music over the speakers (if indeed we must have music at all) I have offered my services on many occasions, even offering the club money for the privilege via such things as making it an auctionable item at the jersey night or making it a prize in a raffle. Of course, I have had minimal success on this front, managing to get Kitchens of Distinction's 'When In Heaven' played through what were then malfunctioning speakers last year, but otherwise we have had to put up with what the current master of ceremonies decides to play. Someone in Clarendon Corner did suggest we get a petition going...

A persistent pounding sensation
People are really getting fed up with the constant drumming during matches by Harry the Drummer. Let's see where this ends up.

Victory incident tribunal news...
The only news is that there is no news. Maybe tomorrow.

Update - decision has been released. Six point deduction, and six point suspended sentence. South of the Border will discuss the outcome in more detail in our next match report.

Around the grounds
Hard times, and they're only getting harder
So I ventured out to the right side of Paisley Park yesterday to witness the match between Altona East and Western Suburbs. East, as readers will know, are struggling, but Suburbs aren't doing much better. The first half of this game was more or less a complete write-off. The second half was better, and East had a number of good chances to open the scoring, but the visitors scored on a counter attack and withstood whatever the home side could offer. So, relegation looks likely for East, unless something drastic happens. Whether the return of Lester Abalos and the signing of former of South youth player Anthony Giannopoulos is part of that drastic thing, well, none of us will know for sure until the season is played out.

Final thought
Why do we persist with a single striker many fans ask. Perhaps South Melbourne is merely employing a variation of the 'No Homers' club.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

'Even yeeros has been homogenised', by Savvas Tzionis

As a South Melbourne fan I have always been curious how the NSW NPL compares to Victoria. I always watch the highlights and follow the online commentary of our erstwhile rivals across the Murray (or perhaps more correctly, the Barassi line). The past long weekend offered me the opportunity to see for myself, as I was travelling to Sydney for a break over the Queens Birthday weekend.

It was only natural, as a Hellas fan, that the game I selected to view was Sydney Olympic vs Blacktown City. Two teams from the past who have adapted to their new situation with varying degrees of ‘success’. Olympic is part of 'Old Soccer' and their situation, together with so many other similar clubs, has been discussed ad nauseum. Blacktown however, were in many ways a precursor to 'New Football' with their lack of NESB immigrant background. I wonder, if FFA had from the very start decided to go with the two team strategy in Sydney, whether or not Blacktown would have put their hand up for the Western Sydney licence?

While the history of the NSW and Victorian leagues were, in many respects a mirror of each other insofar as the type of clubs that were dominant in the NSL, their current situation has some quirky differences. Both leagues do have a similar geographical spread of clubs; however the NSW league has a higher representation of non-ethnically formed clubs representing key areas like the North Shore (Manly) and the Shire (Sutherland). Victoria's key difference is the proliferation of Greek backed clubs (6!).

I do prefer the more 'democratic' and diverse NSW league. It does in fact remind me of the late 1990s in the NSL, when Perth Glory and Northern Spirit added a new and much needed dimension to the game. As an aside back to the late 1990s, I wonder if that blasted Iran game helped destroy any chance that the NSL may harness that new diversity and strengthen as a league? Or was it terminal?

As you can imagine with Sydney, the weather was typically milder than Melbourne (the previous week’s record breaking downpour already forgotten). And my stay was very pleasant and quirky at times. I stayed in Glebe ('that suburb has αλήτηδες'), which will always be remembered by me due to the darkly humorous reference Graham Kennedy made on Blankety Blanks, to the murders of young boys that occurred at the time in that suburb (circa 1978).

We had some funny experiences with clean trains, finding a Greek café in Earlwood that was a poor man’s Oakleigh, and experiencing the Olympia Milk bar in Stanmore!

So, on Sunday, after departing from the sunny Opera Bar where minor celebrities such as Ada Nicodemou and Jessica Mauboy were spotted (and in Mauboy’s case, spoken to by a member of our traveling troupe), it was time to switch to soccer mode. A quick trip back to Glebe to freshen up and then consult google maps which informed me that the quickest way to get to Belmore from Glebe included taking the light rail to Dulwich Hill. And then a connecting train to Belmore. That was unexpected joy for a rail fan such as myself. The trip was in darkness except, aptly, for the moment the tram passed Lambert Park where a ladies match was in progress.

A ten minute walk from Belmore station via the local shops and I was at the ground. The first evidence that the game would have a low attendance was the lack of any automobiles parked nor any pedestrians in the vicinity of the ground. The ticketing booth consisted of a table at the front gate attended by a solitary man who may or may not have been off the boat.

I reached the main grandstand via the side where the increasingly maligned smokers of the new millennium were seen to lurk in the shadows. Everything that I witnessed was South Melbourne Hellas but on a tighter budget, such as the souvlaki stand and coffee bar run from the back of a van by a group of Asians (not that there is anything wrong with that!).

I decided to plonk myself close to the epicentre of the fans (which included their own version of Mullet Man from Bentleigh), who were generally spread around the grandstand but tended towards the main entrance. Virtually no one sat in the lower deck near the fence.

Sitting centrally was a fortuitous decision as I ended up sitting very close to the famous Andrea, who really is how he is presented on TV, a loud, energetic but positive influence on the team. He sat with his old Greek mates for the first half but for some reason they moved to a higher spot for the second half. A second half that was no better than the first.

Yes, the game turned out to be a frustratingly tight affair that Blacktown should have won except for some profligate finishing and some great keeping by the incredibly durable Paul Henderson (of Northern Spirit) fame*. How little happened in this game is evidenced by the match highlights being the smallest youtube clip that NSWNPL have released for any game this year!

As has been evidenced by the comparable FFA Cup runs by the NSW and VIC teams, the standard did appear of a lesser quality. Olympic players made some NPL2 type clangers (this was written after South’s abysmal Dockerty Cup match against Bentleigh, but the point remains), but were certainly a more mobile team than Blacktown. But Blacktown were very professional and consistently snuffed out any potential Olympic forays forward. Due to the game being a nil-all draw I never got a chance to gauge if Blacktown had any supporters present. The substitutions elicited a few claps but I think the away support was lower than even in the Victorian NPL. Then again, South does attract a lot of away supporters due to our position as the premier club in the competition. Olympic cannot claim that title in NSW, especially now. The lack of a crowd cannot be blamed on the weather, as Sydney’s winters are so much easier to bear than in Melbourne. I know that many times my friends refuse to attend due to the bitter cold we experience.

Finally, the game petered away to a tame end and I trundled off to the local Belmore souvlaki spot to meet some friends (including one person who was proud to be still living in the 80s! It helps that he was a Parramatta Eels supporter). Good food, yes, but the next day I realised that the Sydney centric term of Yeeros is slowly disappearing. The eatery was known as ‘Yiro Yiro’. Everything must be the same in the New Dawn era.

My last visit to Belmore Oval was in 1999 (when I lived in Sydney) and Hendo played that day!

Epilogue
Any romantic notions I had that the NSW NPL was better or perhaps something more than the Victorian version were extinguished to a large extent. The ‘diversity’ I mentioned earlier is pointless if no one actually attends. I think I was looking for hope in NSW for ‘Old Soccer’, or maybe I was simply hoping that there would be more people who were willing not to drink the FFA koolaid, but it looks as if it might be worse in Sydney.

An NRL postscript
The following day I ventured out to ANZ stadium to witness my first ever NRL game in Sydney (my only previous game was a ‘New Dawn’ game featuring the Storm). There really is not much to say about this experience. The train trip to the ground was very much a scene from Pizza (even the WASP guy said ‘I swear to god’). The ground is far too big for the 20,000 people who attended, the game itself featured two middle of the road teams, and they played accordingly I felt, yet prices were not cheap. I was willing to pay 'silver grade' prices but they were sold out (yet there appeared to be many empty seats in those sections). So I had to make do with just behind the touch line. Not a great view. But then again, most viewing points are not that great for this sport. Its status as a tv game was really accentuated on this day.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Dead of Winter - South Melbourne 1 Bulleen Lions 0

After the abject horror of Tuesday, it would be foolish to expect miracles on Sunday. Indeed, were those miracles to occur, they would almost certainly manage to enrage the South Melbourne Hellas public far more than the wayward performance that was actually produced today. Had we come out all guns blazing and slaughtering an at best mediocre Bulleen, people would have wondered - and not without some justification - where that kind of competence was just days before. Instead, we got to see roughly where the team is located at this point in time - and not just within the context of this season, but in the context of the past three years since our revival under Chris Taylor.

It's worth noting that Taylor provided what we believed was needed at that time - an extreme back to basics approach, a team and style designed for the VPL as it was then, able to grind out results against all the other grinding, fighting, scrapping teams and the awful, potato patch fields they called their home grounds. But the old adage of 'be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it', reminds us that the peculiar mess we're in at the moment - still top of the table, but hardly feeling like we deserve it - is in part due to us, the fans. After so many incoherent and chaotic seasons following our 2006 championship, where we were occasionally brilliant but mostly just not good enough, the call went out for an experienced and no-nonsense coach, and a team that would play to win, and do whatever it took to do so - even if that 'sacred' South Melbourne Hellas trope of needing to win while also being entertaining got shown the door.

And to be fair, that approach has broadly been successful. The revival in the second half 2013 got us to within one game of a grand final. In 2014 we came storming out of the blocks and won the league with two games to spare. In 2015, despite struggles with injury, we managed to rally from behind to finish top of the table again, recovering well after the FFA Cup loss to Palm Beach to put together a stunning run that included the Dockerty Cup win. The grand final loss hurt, but the feeling was that perhaps Bentleigh deserved it. We'd had an amazing two and half season run, and we'd come back next year determined to redeem ourselves, especially after the catastrophic performance against Hobart Olympia.

But if that grand final loss, and the two losses against Bentleigh this year (and even our win) have shown us anything, is that the desirable attributes required now to succeed in this league have changed. No longer are the grinding, ugly teams, personified by the Green Gully sides of 1999-2011, the ones that do well. The game has changed. Irrespective of the relative competencies of the current leading teams (or at least those teams making up the top six at the moment), the emphasis has changed to teams trying to play better football.

And on that front, we have been found wanting. There are games where we have mauled teams this year, but there have also been games when we have been mauled, and rather than being considered an off day, those losses have mounted up - and we are now looking at something far more serious. And rather than see it as something which we can turnaround, the navel gazing mood at the present time is such that it's not just this year's losses, but all the 'big game' losses of the past three years, that have snowballed into an avalanche of despair.

In part due to suspensions, players traveling overseas, and apparently even some unverified sooking in the background, the team that took the field against Bulleen was not the one which played against Bentleigh. The bench even included a couple of under 20s players! But the set up was much the same, The inclusion of Andy Kecojevic showed a measure of attacking intent, as did the necessary inclusion of Amadu Koroma because Tim Mala was playing at centre-back, but the structure and ideology were the same.

Stand in captain Brad Norton competes for the ball against a Bulleen opponent,
with Andy Kecojevic in the background. Photo. Kevin Juggins.
In that regard we were fortunate to have two things in our favour: first, that our initial burst of 'we mean business after Tuesday's embarrassment' efforts saw us a score a goal, scrappy as it was. Second, Bulleen, either because they're in their own rut, or because they've lost important players, or because they weren't playing on their own synthetic turf, were poor. Getting that early goal made one hope, perhaps even expect, that we would run over the top of Bulleen. And it's not like we didn't have our chances to do so, and promising patches of play, but it just didn't happen. The longer that anticipated storming of Bulleen's barricades didn't happen, the more muddled and less inspiring things started to become. On several occasions today we arguably reached the point that no team wants to reach - the point in which one can identify players not wishing to take responsibility when they're in possession, preferring to pass it off to someone else.

As with Tuesday's performance, our players began playing balls without even looking where they may be kicking said balls. This is not entirely unreasonable - if you're a midfielder or a forward who's developed a rapport with your teammates of such a high level that a 'sight unseen' pass reaches its target in part due to cosmic understanding, great. When your defenders start pulling those moves, leading to turnovers in dangerous areas, not great. The whole experience eventually reached the stage where people were beginning to expect Bulleen to eventually equalise. This expected equaliser, had it actually happened, would have been scored by a team some in the crowd judged to be the least capable side we have played in the league this year.

Unlike some people, I think Chris Taylor is a good coach, one capable of reforming the team. But to do that he will also require a measure of self-reflection, and the acknowledgement that the task he was brought in to perform has been completed. He's got us back to being consistently competitive and among the leading pack. But the style and ethos that got us there needs to be, if not discarded, then adapted for a new reality - one where our nearest rivals have adapted, and begun to outperform us. This may mean the end of the line for some players. But the other problem is, because Taylor is a conservative and risk averse coach, whose recent success has been based on those attributes, it will be difficult to change those habits. Even today, it took until the 88th minute for Chris Irwin to get a run. Yes it's twice the game time he would have received had he come on during 91st minute, as has been the custom, but I'm not sure anyone's getting the best out of that situation.

¡Machismo!
The desire to witness within our team even the evidence of that intangible combination of the qualities of skill, ambition, desire, hunger, tenacity, was perhaps partly sated by the second half appearance of Manuel 'Manolo' Padilla Herero. While he was disappointingly placed in a wide position instead of closer to Milos Lujic - such is life at the moment - he did manage to show glimpses not only of his talent but also of (as one punter put it) testicular fortitude. Putting aside the PC abstractions inherent in that description, one wonders how one measures 'testicular fortitude', and how frighteningly literal such tests may be. Less literally, I can see where our punter was coming from, because even though Manolo has thus far played in less than ideal situations (one under 20s match, a lost cause, and a bit against Bulleen), there were signs that Manolo could be something worthwhile - provided that he can prove his worth against 'good' teams, and that his loan period lasts the entire rest of the season, instead of until whenever Leganes want him back.

Next game
Richmond at home on Friday night.

Censorship on SMFCBoard, again
Some of my more anally retentive readers will recall that I commented last year on the increasingly arbitrary censorship that was occurring on our beloved SMFCBoard. That comment lead in part to a more relaxed and tolerant approach to letting people post what they felt, and what I perceived to be a less secretive and arbitrary approach to forum moderation.

Well I'm sad to say that that period of gentler moderation has once again lapsed, and is unfortunately now worse than what had occurred before. I won't trawl over my own reasoning again for a more lax approach to moderation and censorship - anyone who visits this blog regularly enough knows where I stand. But I will say this - when one deletes an entire thread because one does not like the comments of a few within that thread, you take away not only that person's right to have their say, but also the right of others to read those comments, to engage with them, and to approve of, disregard, ignore, argue against, or even just plain old skim over those comments. The same goes for banning people because their view of the club doesn't fit your own ideas of what that should be - and I say that as someone who often disagrees with what the poster known an Buffalo Cup has to say.

It's not the only form of censorship on SMFCBoard - the lack of open registrations is one such other example - but as it is another step towards turning the forum into an echo chamber, I'm boycotting the forum until the people in charge of moderation as a whole come back to their senses.

Though it's possible I'll cave in before then.

Victory tribunal decision pending - coming soon?
Over the past two entries, I'd forgotten to mention the ongoing saga of this particular situation. Victory's tribunal session was held a little while back, with the details of the adjudication held back for 10 to 30 days, depending on which source you believe. If it is ten days, then tomorrow we should get news of what Victory's punishment is. Meanwhile, we also wait to see what the FFV tribunal have to say on our part in the affair.

Brandon Sanderson's Elantris, in case you were wondering
Around the Grounds
Disappointment
After Tuesday's calamitous performance, I had no real desire to watch any non-South soccer. Still, a friend's son - a goalkeeper - had been called up from the youth ranks at Clifton Hill to play in the reserves. and having known the young man for a number of years I felt it was my duty to go and watch. Also, something about vitamin D. Sadly, the young man was first relegated to the bench, and then to not even being on the team sheet, but we stayed on and watched anyway, as a swift and clever Clifton Hill edged an older Mornington 2-1. Not bothering to stay to watch the seniors, the young goalkeeper was dropped off home, and then his father and I went to see what was on offer around the burbs. Ending up at an open park with a pitch black cricket square somewhere in Flemington, with a deep slope towards one end adjacent to the establishment bowls club, we saw a green team playing a maroon and orange team. The greens were quickly identified as being Maribyrnong Greens of State League 4 West, with their opponents being Newmarket Phoenix. But after watching about five minutes, I dropped any pretense at interest in the proceedings, and we left.

Final thought
Lest we forget that today the fourth official finally became useful for something other than holding up a blackboard and playing babysitter to the competing coaches.