Saturday, 24 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 7 - A tournament well enjoyed

It's a pity that apparently some of our social betters in the government thought that we couldn't manage to host both the midpoint of a grand slam tennis tournament and an Asian Cup semi-final, but full credit to Newcastle and their state government; in this case, the well worn sporting cliche that 'they just wanted it more' appears to be true.

For those of us who attended every Melbourne based game of the Asian Cup that we could, we got more than our money's worth regardless of where we sat, and yet still left wanting more. The atmosphere in the stadium ranged from the parochial (Australia vs Kuwait), to glorious support for the relative underdog (Uzbekistan vs Saudi Arabia) to the raucous (Iran vs Bahrain). The games, with the odd mismatch noted (Jordan vs Palestine and large portions of Japan vs Jordan) were for the most part highly competitive affairs. The play was unusually free of the cynical diving and time wasting efforts we've come to associate with Asian soccer.

The different teams for the most part, even when they were clearly outgunned talent wise, still sought to try and score, which provided a huge amount of entertainment. Many of the games, while lacking a certain tactical cynicism and occasionally awful and foolhardy defending, at least provided plenty of heady attacking moments to savour. Some of the vision and movement off the ball by almost every team was glorious to watch, and Uzbekistan's perhaps most of all, as they went from dizzily uncoordinated defending to scintillating once touch football in the blink of an eye.

The last game at the Bubbledome for this tournament, the quarter final match between South Korea and Uzbekistan had so much of what made the previous six matches so special. A dominant and vocal number of the better known nation in the stands; enough people at opposite end, whether actual supporters of gleeful local hangers on, willing to add a counter voice; and plenty of neutrals just hoping for a great game. And what a game it was, despite the poor finishing from both sides.

While some people left at the end of the regulation 90 minutes in order to get to a television in time for the Australia game, most of the crowd stayed to watch the rest of the game: the inconsolable Uzbek defender who knew he should have just cleared the ball instead of being daring, and the goalkeeper who just couldn't keep the ball from crossing the line, both of which happened right in front of us; the way the South Korean player who streamed forwards and instead of going into the corner to kill off the game, set up the second goal; and palpable joy on the faces of the two Korean blokes sitting behind us, who were in tears with the result. And to think there are a small band of cynics out there trying to downplay the tournament's meaning, just because it's not the Euros.

We've made the semi-finals, so let's all have a parade
Of course going to extra time made getting home in time for the start of the Socceroos game impossible. Sure, I could have watched the game at a pub or something, but by the time I get home from the city, especially if that game also went into extra time... more annoying was when I got picked up at the station by my dad, I tried putting the radio on to the local ABC station in the hopes of at least an update of the scores, hopefully via a live radio broadcast of this important match, only to find that they were broadcasting Lleyton Hewitt's match instead. Right priorities as one particular member of the Twitterati likes to say; and aside from that, whoever thinks tennis on the radio is a good idea, has serious rocks in their head.

The second half was watched on free to air television, as nature intended, and even enjoyed because of Tim Cahill's heroics rather than anything his team mates managed to achieve, as well as the mostly mediocre Chinese opposition; though having to deal with Andy Harper's public orgasms is something I wondered how people dealt with on a week to week basis. One wit suggested alcohol; another a sort of learned selective hearing due to having children. Neither of those suggestions were much help to me. Anyway, the game won it was time to go the panel in between flicking between the two channels showing tennis, because I am such a huge tennis fan don't you know.

At one point during this panel, the reanimated corpse that is Gerard Whateley compared the Socceroos and/or Tim Cahill to now holding as much prominence and/or adoration with the Australian public, especially children as [Olympic hurdler] Sally Pearson and [Test cricketer] Steve Smith. Now Whateley obviously means this to be a compliment to Cahill and the Socceroos, but there's also a problem with this (perhaps offhand) analysis - and that's the fact that the Socceroos and Cahill have long been in the public consciousness as national icons, more recognisable than Pearson or Smith. Regardless of your thoughts on everything that's happened post-Crawford, the Socceroos' sporting stature has been secure since the Uruguay qualification match in 2005, and Cahill's on field reputation was secured soon afterwards.

What irks me about this issue is the need of certain people in the media feeling the urge to anoint the Socceroos as legitimately part of the elite (and therefore mainstream) Australian sporting pantheon. It speaks more to the fact on how far behind the times they are, and how out of touch with the actual sporting interests of the Australian public they are, than any serious consequences of their commentary. With particular emphasis on Whateley, I've always wondered how he gets it so wrong. I say this after years of watching him on Offsiders, where the end of each show is capped off by him doing the rounds of the horse racing news. And I'm thinking, if it wasn't for the twice yearly let's dress up and get pissed events, horse racing's interest lies only with the group of derros that hang out at the Borrack Square TAB (and their type across the country), and those who because they have smartphones can hide their derro-esque nature behind a mid-price label polo shirt, new pair of khakis and shoes that weren't better off being slung over the top of power lines in front of the house that has drugs in it - because everyone knows that's the like the Golden Arches of drugs.

Having said all that
It's been a tragedy that this tournament has not been on free to air, except for the very limited and delayed coverage. Here's a tournament that was predicted to be a lemon by impossibly conflict of interest affected media man, it's had a lot of goals and excitement, and had much better than expected crowds to most of its matches - crossing boundaries of old soccer, new football and even non-football people - and yet the interest generally has been low in the mainstream media. Outside the parochial Socceroos interest and the actually excellent writing of those in the print media - even from some of those writers I don't particularly have time for - there's been little traction. Now I can complain and cast conspiracies about the media being behind the times (see above), but there's an element of doubt that creeps in as well. Maybe they know something we don't? Maybe they have access to market data that shows that while soccer may have some worth as a niche product, that it's just not big enough to merit mainstream coverage, and that perhaps Paul Keating's dream of Australia seeing itself as being an Asian country is some time off yet. Or maybe it's the soccer people who are so ahead of the curve that it's going to take a long time for the straight and narrow world to catch up.
That Iran-Iraq game was so much fun to watch. It had everything that a great game should, and generated a lot of interest among people on the net, those who had pay TV, and those like me willing to break the law (a massive crime against the human rights of corporations who have paid lots of money to show the game) to watch the game on a live stream. But what of those who don't have pay television? What about the casual sports enthusiast, the one that may actually be won over by a game like that, notwithstanding my personal belief that it's better off seeing a sport at its most mediocre and then being intrigued with it, rather than getting the big pay off. I don't know. I guess I should be glad that I got to see it at all, and that I should be grateful to those members of the American military industrial complex that made such breaches of copyright possible.

Friendly against Springvale White Eagles today

Apparently our last friendly match on the road before we can get back to the business of hosting these things at Lakeside, following the end of its use as an Asian Cup training venue. It'll be at White Eagles' ground, under 20s kick off at 4pm, seniors at 6pm. Too hard for me to get out there via public transport, so I'm going to take one of my brothers to see relics related to the Confederate ship Shenandoah and American Civil War in general.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 6 - Meh

This was a fairly tedious affair, regardless of some of the quality of players at Japan's disposal. Due to their loss against Iraq, it was a long shot that Jordan would be able to qualify - they would have have to outdo whatever result Iraq was to get against Palestine, and with the overly cautious attitude they came out with, even a workmanlike rather than impressive Japanese side could do the business, even with a couple of disallowed goals. There were times when Japan tried to reinvent the wheel - Honda's awful second half freekick the most notable example - but the few times Jordan got forward, they either dithered or failed to apply the appropriate finishing touch. To their credit, the Jordanians were more expansive during the second half, but I guess they needed to be anyway. It was a relief to me that they were, because it made the second half easier to watch, what with the Japan supporting family constantly leaning forwards to block my view of the north end, and the mother(?) taking many happy snaps of many inconsequential passages of play. The Jordanian end seemed to be made up of a lot of A-League fans having a bit of a laugh, and obviously quite bored in that tried to rip Mexixan wave after Mexican wave; and when the people on the clockwise side had had enough, they switched to going counter-clockwise. Later at Flinders Street, one could overhear some crazy woman having a dumb argument with someone who may well have been Melbourne public transport's famous(?) homeless rapper.

Friendly against Kingston City tonight

Seniors only, McClelland Drive, Frankston, 7:00PM.

Monday, 19 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 5 - Fun!

Sydney FC fans in the northern end yesterday, protesting
their Russian owner's management of their franchise.
Attempts to get a translation of the message from David
Warner were unsuccessful. Photo: Gains.
The pre-match festivities were spent drinking beer, in moderation. Once at the ground, my seat turned out to be the best one that I will have for the entire tournament; close enough to be part of the action, yet far back enough to be able to see the chalk on the sideline, and thus berate the Saudi player who paused waiting for the signal for a throw in which never came, and which I even I could see the linesman got spot on. On the issue of officiating, congratulations are due to referee Ben Williams, who managed to turn what seemed like those parts of the crowd ready to enjoy the game as neutrals, into relatively raving lunatic Uzbekistan supporters with some pretty spotty refereeing during the early parts of the second half. No matter, the right result was achieved, with the Uzbeks pulling through. I have to say, this was the most fun match to be at so far for the on field exploits as opposed to fan generated nonsense. Both teams played with an outdated openness of formation and a bygone sense of joie de vivre. Fancy spin moves, flick passes, ambitious through balls, desperate defending - if you wanted pure entertainment over the boredom of modern ultra-scientific football, the Bubbledome was the place to be. Of course it's easy to say that if you're not following a team in the middle of a turgid league campaign, but that's part of the Asian Cup's appeal, is it not? Unless you have a diasporic connection of some sort, or spent five minutes in a transit lounge at an airport located in one of the participating nations, the main thing to hope for is that a) one of the lesser human rights abusing nations does well, or b) that you see some sort of decent spectacle. And on that latter front, I doubt any one of the 10,000 people at the game would have gone home disappointed.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 4 - Slapdash

Crisis? What crisis?
Upon reaching Richmond station, I realised that I had either forgotten to bring my match ticket, or had somehow lost it along the way. No matter; the issue was sorted out at the ticket booth, and no harm was done.

Oh, Palestine! Also, Jordan was there, too.
I think that enough has probably already been said (and will continue to be said) about the political implications of Palestine being at this tournament, and what it means for the members of their diaspora. Most of it, too, will be far more interesting and better thought out than I anything I could come up with.

Some may even consider it trite, given the way the Palestinian national has been covered during this tournament, to even talk about the playing merits of the team itself, and on any front, I'd be the last person who should probably making comment on that. However, it should probably be something that's at least acknowledged in the greater scheme of trying to figure out if Asian football is actually getting better.

As with the previous Asian Cup, the teams which have qualified for the 2015 tournament include two teams from the AFC Challenge Cup, a biennial tournament for developing nations which grants the winner entry to the Asian Cup proper. Last time, it was North Korea and India who won spots in the final draw; this time North Korea and Palestine.

I'm not quite sure how they sort out which teams are classed as 'developing nations', because for North Korea to qualify via this mode twice, while also managing to qualify for the World Cup seems a little nutty. Further to that, how did North Korea manage to be classed as a 'developing' nation when nations like Syria, Hong Kong, Yemen and Singapore were put into the main draw?

Whether it's actually benefited the other nations - India and Palestine - from a playing level is impossible to tell - my guess would be pretty much no, but there are so many mitigating circumstances for the lack of progress for both nations that one can't just expect one major tournament appearance to change a nation's football fortunes.

Would those teams that were put into the main draw and missed out on qualification, and perhaps the tournament itself, benefited from being given a spot at the expense of the developing nations? Looking at Asian football in terms of the sharp dip in quality of the say top eight or ten teams, probably not. Still, I don't  think expanding the competition to 24 teams, as will be the case for the 2019 tournament, will do much good.

As for the game, there were some fairly skillful players out there, but as has probably been noted already, their penchant for naive play and making dumb decisions was plain for all to see. Jordan were more clinical, showing up the gulf in class between a borderline 2nd/3rd tier Asian nation with one somewhere lower than that. It was nice that Palestine scored, though being 5-1 down at the time they probably could have spared a moment to celebrate with the rowdy contingent of Palestinian supporters behind the goal instead of rush the ball back to the middle.

Diminishing returns/Sphere of influence
This game was of course a grand opportunity for the Palestinian people to make some headway in the public relations stakes, and I think it's fair to say they made a reasonable impression, with one major caveat, which I'll get to soon. The Palestinians mostly took up a bay or two in their designated supporter end, as well as being scattered throughout the eastern side. They had a great visual presence, and made a lot of noise, often with the chant 'Free, free, Palestine'. By the end of the game, even the little Anglo kid in front of me was quietly chanting it.

But one has to wonder how much of difference it will make in the long run. This is not to say that the Palestinian fans (and their leftist supporters in the crowd, including the person with the Scottish flag) should not have taken the opportunity provided to them, especially outside the context of a noisy and angry regular protest, where they'd be framed as ethnic agitators. But how many people did they actually reach? And in a way this is not just a question relevant to this game, but the tournament as a whole, in trying to figure out - albeit in an entirely anecdotal and slapdash manner - how much it's crossed over into the Australian popular imagination.

There were about 10,000 people at this game. Many of those would have already been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, while others would have been just been there for the football at cheap prices. While the attendances across the country have been very good, the coverage of the tournament in the media as a whole has been mediocre at best, I think. Now this is me talking as someone who doesn't listen to commercial radio or even the ABC, and also as someone who doesn't read print newspapers. If I was to judge from what I've seen so far, most of the mainstream television media has been utterly uninterested in the Asian Cup, with the exception of the Socceroos.

So has the tournament managed to connect with non-soccer fans in Australia, or has it been confined to the already established soccer audience? Certainly the A-League audience has turned up, as have soccer people outside that milieu - every game I've attended so far has had plenty of South people - and there has been good diaspora attendance from most of the teams that can muster up said support (regardless of whether individuals in those groups actually have an interest in the game). But I just can't see this tournament as having crossed over outside of those groups.

Going out for a drink after the game, there didn't seem to be any indication that there was this major tournament happening right now. Sure, pretty much any pub that's not strictly catering to an old man 'dishlicker and pot of VB' crowd would have had the Iraq-Japan game on, but how many would have taken an interest, especially if they weren't even really taking an interest in the Australia vs England one day cricket match on the big screen?

In that sense, even if the games were live on free to air, I'm struggling to see them having made much of a ratings splash. Of course that doesn't include the Socceroos games, which have long since crossed over, at least in the public consciousness, as being worth even non-soccer people's time, at least at important moments.

So complaints about the lack of live free to air Socceroos matches almost threatens to become more of a personal complaint. It seems absurd to me, regardless of the need to pay the bills, that our national team is not accessible to the widest possible audience.

Len: Hey, big fight coming up.
Karl: Yea, you wanna come over to my house and listen to round-by-round updates on the radio?
Len: Oh, yeah, okay. Oh, and then after the fight, we can watch the still photos on the 11-o'clock news.
Karl: Not too shabby!

- Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment
After struggling with a laggy and increasingly delayed illegally obtained Brazilian live stream - at one point it was clear from Twitter talk that South Korea had scored, but five minutes later my stream still hadn't caught up to that moment - I gave up, and decided to try and find a terrestrial radio broadcast. No good on that front either, as ABC local radio seemed to have some regular boring programming on and ABC News Radio had only general sports blather, including a chat while with Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland, though it was of them to let us know that Australia had a throw in at one point. So it was off to the the internet again, for the ABC's broadcast of the game.

And while I know that I could have chosen one of many easier options - just gone and searched for the internet radio stream in the first place, or traipsed down to a local pub showing the game (which in reality is not an option for me, as I don't go to pubs by myself) - I just don't feel it should have come down to this. Is this further evidence of the transformation of the game from a working class game to a middle middle class commodity? Possibly. Or is it a demonstration that soccer is big enough to create a valuable niche product (and therefore ideal for pay TV), but not one that's big enough to be worthwhile for free to air commercial broadcasting?

The continuing adventures of Nutmeg the Wombat

The best part of the evening was...
... that I managed to get home in time to watch the second half of the Red Dwarf episode with the version of Earth where everything runs in reverse.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

South playing Langwarrin today

Out at Langwarrin, seniors at 3pm, reserves/20s at 1pm. Alas, once again I doubt that I'll be able to make it out there.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 3 - Kill the Buddha

Prologue
I woke up in a foul mood yesterday, which may go some way towards explaining the following post.

Going out for a patented Sideshow Bob 'vigorous constitutional' only made things worse
After finding myself actually enjoying last Sunday's Iran vs Bahrain match, and thus looking forward to the rest of the tournament (at least those parts that I could attend), I decided to look up just for the sake of it who'd be hosting the next tournament in 2019. It turns out that hasn't been decided yet, but one of the bidders happens to be Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia: a nation that does not allow unaccompanied women to do pretty much anything (and of course bans them from attending football matches); a nation that does not allow expressions of any faith other than Islam, and a nation that censors all of its media to the nth degree. And yet how much more advanced are we? Let's use this as an opportunity to blow something minor completely out of proportion. During Tuesday's win by the Socceroos - which I quit watching after we went 3-0 up, because the streams I tried watching the game on became unusable - Tom Juric scored the team's fourth goal, and proceeded to lift his shirt to reveal a message in Croatian/Split dialect/Shtokavian/Serbo-Croatian/Vukovian, which said 'Mama, Tata, Braco' (Mother/Mum, Father/Dad, Brother/Bro - as a believer in the importance of the reader as symbiotic participant in the writing process, I'm letting you take your pick on the formality of the message).

Apparently a minority (or a statistically significant number, depending on who you believe) of people on Facebook and Twitter had a whinge about this - specifically on the fact that the message was not in English - and thus discussion of this filled my Twitter timeline, leading to me making a dick of myself by singling out one person in isolation for semi-confected outrage when it was utterly unfair of me to do so. That person is merely an agent of the problem, not its cause and really, I would have been much wiser parlaying my hard won wisdom into the alternative discussion about ice cream, and how cool was it when you tried to reach for ice creams at the bottom of the fridge at your local milk bar, because they would definitely be the coldest and by definition the best.

The issue remains however, that those who support the National Club Identity Policy (here we go again, boooooooooorrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing) provide a sense of legitimacy to those people in Australian soccer (and by extension Australian society) who use that policy to further their assimilationist ends. Pointing out the fact that messages on shirts other than those things allowed to be put on playing jerseys (whatever that means under our current nightmarish regime) aren't allowed anyway (and liable to be punished by a yellow card and/or disqualification from Australian competitions) is beside the point; neither are offside goals allowed, yet the Socceroos' third goal clearly benefited from a cock up from the officials on that front, and it still counted. Unless you're the editor of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspaper, what has been seen cannot be unseen.

The creator of this images wishes to remain anonymous.
I guess I owe them a frap or beverage of their choosing.
Now while 'the few, the proud, the geeky' among us may have the power of furious and righteous indignity on our side, the great mass of the Australian soccer public could not give a fat rat's clacker. Our 'cause', such as it is, is doomed, due to the combination of both a jackbooted bureaucracy acting on behalf of Dear Leader (and a big 'hi' to all my North Korean readers, yes we do have our own 'Dear Leader' who will soon be replaced by his son) and vast consumerist indifference (and here's a question to consider - is apathy better or worse than indifference? Yes, it could very well be a trick question, but Buddhism needs new koans, so here I am offering something for them at least to mull over).

Ideologues are comparatively easy to deal with, if not in the actual reasoning part, then at least the part where you know where they stand. They put forward their beliefs, you put forward yours, and the age old dance of liberal vs conservative gets played out once more. With those whose main goal is a perverse search for a relaxed and comfortable middle ground, for whom the ends justify the means as long as they're not personally adversely affected, there's little you can do. This makes those comments that more or less state 'well, I think people have voted with their feet, and thus this regime must be doing something right' downright infuriating. I can't think of a way in which one would begin to approach this problem, one which is at the heart of Lowy's 'success'.

In a neat coincidence, one of the right wing people
I'm friends with on Facebook put this up on his timeline
yesterday. Being unashamed (proud?) of my physical
inferiority I find myself disagreeing with the notion
put forward in this picture, but as a vivid portrayal of
Mishima's ideology, it looks pretty sweet.
So now that it's clear that our movement is indeed doomed - and if you think it isn't that's great (really, that's not sarcasm), you won't get much value out of the rest of this section, so you can leave now, because this would otherwise be a waste of your time - what do 'I/we/me/us' do? Now Yukio Mishima may have been a right-wing crackpot alongside being a brilliant writer, but at least he believed in something, even if what he believed in was a fanciful version of the past while fully (probably?) understanding that the values he purportedly wanted Japan to re-adopt were never truly realised anyway, and never could be realised. But who among us would re-create Mishima's end - and I stress here for those familiar with Mishima's end, that this analogy is purely metaphorical, and not just because I don't have a kaishakunin - and at least be able to go out in a dignified (albeit in Mishima's and also Seneca's case, very messy), blaze of glory?

The famous Buddhist koan - at least within the East, not necessarily here in the West where we tend to obsess about the sounds of trees falling and one hand clapping - asks us that if we see the Buddha on the road, to kill him, and that goes for Nansen's kitten as well I presume. What then must we as 'bitters' destroy in order to get out of our cycle of romanticism, self-righteousness and self-pity, all while those whom have contributed to our relative destitution continue as they please? Can I even go to my local manoush joint any more, now that they're putting up posters for Salafist speakers? Do any of us have the stomach to transform this movement of five or six people on the internet to become something transcendent and therefore meaningful beyond our little circle? Can our beloved anger become useful, or is our fury, however justified by the circumstances, a hindrance? Is this sense of irrevocable apartness that I feel from the great mass of soccer's support in country a terminal condition? Am I destined to become another one of 'those people', the kind whose support of the national team - which I hitherto held if not as sacred, then at least as separate from the poisonous atmosphere of the current political situation - is reduced either to apathy or bilious hatred?

Saudi Arabia vs North Korea
Approaching the Bubbledome on Wednesday evening I was filled with intense moral quandaries, because both of these nations are evil, and therefore one could not possibly support either of them; and yet there would be people supporting them. Now in the case of the much maligned (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) Iran, this problem could conceivably be ameliorated via the perspective of ethnicity and the affection the diaspora has for the homeland, without necessarily having the tacit approval of any of the policies of said nation state.

For Saudi Arabia and North Korea, this is complicated by all sorts of things. In Saudi Arabia's case, because it's not even a real country as we know it today, just the parts of the Arabian Peninsula ruled by the Saudi family since the 1930s. There were quite a lot of Saudi fans at the game yesterday, but not many women as far as I could tell. Still, the Saudi fans managed to hand out quite a few flags to a lot of people who would probably be revolted with the way that country is run. For the North Koreans, run by an equally hideous regime, there were as far I could tell (or reasonably expect), no actual North Korean fans from North Korea in the stadium. Instead their supporters end at the northern end of the ground was taken up by various members of the Melbourne Victory's active groups.

A good clue towards establishing that they weren't real North Koreans, even from my spot in the good seats, is that the chants (all in English, and all largely taking the piss, eg. North Korea is best Korea, or some such), is that they kept referring to North Korea, which the real North Korea would never do, since they (like the South) consider themselves the real Korea. Speaking of real Koreans, that is people from the Korean Peninsula, there were apparently some in the crowd, I'm guessing sitting well away from the 'North Koreans'.
There were also apparently people wearing Kim Jong-Un masks in the northern end, and when security went in to confiscate them, they were jeered by those North Korean sympathisers, who didn't seem to appreciate the gesture made by stadium management towards creating a genuine North Korean experience.
Closer to home in Aisle 4, Row D, we were more concerned with not getting crushed to death by the ceremonial flags hanging off the rafters.
As the patrons in the relevant area were moved across into the neighbouring bays without too much fuss, one had to wonder though: what was the cause of the problem? While the half filled stadium (attendance at a touch under 13k) allowed patrons to be moved to adjacent bays, what would have happened had the stadium been filled up, say, for a Socceroos match? And who's going to be held responsible for this debacle?
Of course, because no one was killed or injured, there was also a lighter side to the flag situation.
Can you believe that lighthearted comment spiralled out of control into a Bitter vs New Dawn argument? Of course you can, it's the internet.

Now friends, there was also a match being played, and it was pretty damn fun and frustrating to watch in equal measure, as both teams pinged the ball back and forth as quickly as possible. The North Koreans looked the more likely to score in the beginning and they did, but surprisingly perhaps the Saudis didn't collapse in a heap, and actually ran over the top of their totalitarian counterparts, while looking quite stylish at the same, though their finishing could do with some work.

The most bizarre thing about the North Koreans though, apart from their coach apparently being on a direct line to Pyongyang, was the overly physical approach they brought to the contest. They copped a yellow card within the first couple of minutes for a pretty savage tackle, and after a few more bad tackles interspersed throughout the game, they finished it off with a brilliant shirtfront which somehow managed to avoid receiving any sort of card. Of course, if you did that in the AFL these days you'd get suspended.

Epilogue mode stolen from Gillian Rubenstein's Beyond the Labyrinth
If you rolled six or under:

Not that it matters anymore, but where is the social club? Since the only acceptable way to socialise in Australia is with booze, and goodness knows no one can possibly have fun without it, it'd be nice if we had some place of our own to have 'fun'.

If you threw over six:
A week or two before Christmas, someone at Victoria University did a bit of a ring around to all the relevant people (except me, and possibly others who I am not aware of) looking for ways to contribute to finding connections to the Asian Cup so Victoria University's academics could be at the forefront of writing on the tournament, thus reinforcing our reputation as the 'sports university'.

After being included (eventually) via being CCed into an email, I did get a phone call asking me what my expertise was exactly, and how would that fit into what the project was about. Well I tried to put forward what my angle is, difficult as it was considering I don't really conduct interviews, and nor does my research have an utterly direct and completely obvious connection to the Asian Cup, and neither did this person really explain what it was that they wanted, but could I at least email him some examples of my work for him to see.

I did so, and never heard back from him. After looking back at this post, it was probably for the best.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

South vs Pines tonight

Tonight South plays Frankston Pines out at Monterrey Reserve, with kickoff at 7:00PM. If you're not heading out to the Asian Cup like I am, it might be worth a look.

Monday, 12 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 2 - A Greek in the Persian Empire

Breakfast TV (we've got a long way to go; or conversely, the mainstream media doesn't know what's news and what isn't)
Now the ever so slightly churlish point about this is that the Asian Cup seems either to have made little to no impact among Australia's sporting public - which the crowds at thus far at least show not to be the case - or that the mainstream press still doesn't get it, and perhaps never will.

Having said that however, the reason I was channel surfing across the spectrum in the first place is because I had not seen any of the goals or action from the previous day's matches. Now of course I could have stayed up late to watch the highlights on the ABC, or could have used an illegal stream (not an option with my internet screwing up, whatever the dubious legalities), and I was also interested in seeing if, or how the local broadbased television services would cover the matter as opposed to just taking the relatively easy way out and looking for highlights online - because the issue is not whether someone already interested in the tournament could find information online themselves, but whether those with at best a passing interest could end up in the position of being unable to avoid it.

'They take hundreds of magazines, filter out the crap, and leave you with something that fits right in your front pocket.'
Then again, highlights packages, whether of a solitary goal in a news round up or in a dedicated program can only go so far. I recall many years ago, back when SBS still had the EPL highlights show and I still had some sort of allegiance to Liverpool. Come Monday evening I would be watching the show, getting high on a sugared up dose of all the good bits minus all the fluff, until one realises that (in my case at least) that there's actually something to be said for the live in the flesh experience itself, as well as all the attendant bits - travel, meet, greet, bad/good food, lining up, atmosphere - that one just doesn't get from watching something on TV.

I say this because I saw some old woman on the train from Flinders Street to Richmond with a copy of Readers Digest, and aside from the horror that they've nabbed another unsuspecting old person to a subscription via their sweepstakes scam, I could not believe that there are people still reading that junk. And it served as a reminder of what the live in the flesh (or whole game) experience of a football match entails; the fact you won't only be served the cherry picked highlights, but also a fair bit of slop. But that slop is what makes the cherry even sweeter when it does come, and provides a more complete experience.

Neutral venue is not neutral
Both around the stadium and at the Corner Hotel (avoid the fish), where several people (me, Steve from Broady, Joe Gorman and Shoot Farken's Athas Zafiris) were spending pre-game, there was already evidence of a very strong Iranian contingent. Not necessarily a lot of football jerseys in evidence, but certainly a lot of colour and excitement, and a fairly even split between the current Iranian flag and variations which were certainly not the current Iranian flag.

Once at the ground and on Level 3 on the eastern side (with the requisite setting sun in the eyes), we (me, Gains and his housemate) found ourselves in the middle of a huge Iranian contingent, who basically dominated that side, as they did the Olympic Park Boulevard end of the ground. Not many, if any, Bahraini fans visible.

Being amid this huge group, I was neither Xenophon on the run to the sea, nor Alexander set to conquer, nor Memnon of Rhodes giving advice that would be ignored until too late, but just a bloke enjoying both the tension on the field and off it. Neither were the Iranian fans hostile in any way, ala the Fearless Iranians From Hell. If anything (and not that I should sound surprised), the vibe was super friendly and reminiscent for me of the following:
Now of course as was pointed out in a reply to this statement on Twitter, the Iranian fans did not have their own Lefteri, and the airhorn they had soon got confiscated, but the family vibe and the passion on display sent me instinctually back to the old NSL finals days. Now whether many of the Iranian fans actually had much awareness of what was going on is another matter entirely, as they cheered the several clearly offside goals and went nuts every time their keeper made a regulation save, is a moot point. They were loud, they were passionate, and they were a lot of fun to be around.

I'm not sure any other team's fans will create as good a vibe at a Melbourne game, but the Asian Cup, whether for the on field stuff or off field, has been fantastic so far, and I'm really looking to the remaining five games here. If you do end up at a game though with what's likely to be decent crowd, try and pre-purchase your tickets, as that will save you a lot of hassle on the day.

Some boys take a beautiful girl/And hide her away from the rest of the world
The Iranian theocracy could learn a thing or two from both Cyndi Lauper and the Iranian diaspora.

The actual game itself, because there are no prizes awarded for best atmosphere
And while that's certainly a cutting remark to make, the standard for large portions of the game, especially earlier on, was poor. The decision making and first touch of the Iranians in particular was particularly bad (though I liked both wingers for Iran, they had a bit of skill and like to take players on, always good to see wingers have a go). Bahrain seemed to have the better of it initially, and probably should have scored the first goal, but eventually the Iranians came to boss this game.

When Iran eventually did get going, they weren't helped by having Iranian Archie Thompson - and even if it was actually several different players, it's easier and more edifying for the narrative to combine them into one personage for the sake of the joke -  constantly being caught offside. When the opening goal did come, it was worth it, because whether or not it was mis-hit it was a peach of a goal, and that's all that matters in the end.

What was most disappointing was that once they fell behind, Bahrain actually did very little to rectify the situation. This was further emphasised when they went 2-0 down - and really, if this tournament has taught us nothing else, it's that there is genuine value in having someone at the near and far posts while defending set pieces - they remained stagnant, committing few players forward. My hope that the Bahrainis would score two late goals - not out of some desire for vengeance for 1997, because nothing will ever make up for that, but more so for the calamitous emotional distress it would have caused.

To further illustrate the point made earlier
This morning on Sunrise: Federer's 1000th win, Michael Clarke injury concern, Packers beat the Cowboys in the playoffs.

Yes random person on Swan Street who apparently saw my hat, South Melbourne Hellas still exists
- Ζει ο βασιλιάς Αλέξανδρος;
- Ζει και βασιλεύει.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 1 - Self-Perpetuating Nostalgia Blues

Seeing as I have tickets to seven matches of the 2015 Asian Cup (along with Gains and his housemate), all in Melbourne. I really wanted to write something that was akin to the greatness of my World Cup pieces for Shoot Farken, but that's not going to happen. In part this is because if you don't have pay TV, as I don't, the tournament may as well as not exist, but also inspiration just hasn't struck. So instead please enjoy or disregard the following, the usual dose of moroseness.

First stop was the Precinct Hotel to catch up with Steve from Broady, because he reckoned that the Cricketers Arms, where the Green and Gold Army was planning to set up, was a hole. Let's be honest though, the Precinct is also a dump. Eventually we did wander over to the Cricketers Arms - but not before bumping into now former South player Shaun Timmins on the way there - in order to meet up with a South supporter who is not completely disillusioned and/or cynical with whatever it is that the Green and Gold Army is meant to be these days.

Aside from inexplicably watching Australia vs India during the 2011 Asian Cup at the Celtic Club - an event which somehow did not make it to this blog in any form - my one and only other close up experience with the Green and Gold Army was back in 2009, which I wrote up in a hyper jaded manner on this blog. The ensuing years have made it harder to hate the Green and Gold Army though. Stripped of relevance by pretty much everyone, replaced by the one game wonder of Terrace Australia [sic], but still kicking on, who am I to kick a dog while it's down?

I must admit that on face value the Cricketers Arms is perhaps an odd choice for such a meet and greet. Apart from its close proximity to the ground, both the interior and the beer garden out the back were liberally decorated in VFL, AFL and cricket paraphernalia. Apart from re-telling unpublishable South gossip, the only other significant thing to do was to become complicit in someone's alcohol problem. But I suppose that's what going to a pub is all about anyway.

Steve from Broady wanted to head to the ground early for some unknown reasons. On the way there we spotted a suited up Alan Davidson talking to someone, before we crossed over into Gosch's Paddock (named after some long dead Melbourne City councilman) and tried to get a handle on what the pre-match festivities consisted of; as it turned out, it was mostly a handful of tent booths with skill games for the kids, and a merch stand.

Outside the Gate 2 entrance at the Bubbledome, there was ethnic dancing of a sort, though I didn't hang around long enough to notice if it was a generic (or specific) Levantine dabkeor something altogether more Kuwaiti. If it indeed was a Kuwaiti folk dance, one wonders if they'd have been allowed to do it in Kuwait proper, where dancing (among other 'fun' things) is prohibited. And of course, my thoughts turned to the NCIP and all that, before being distracted by the white line on the concourse with the attendant instruction 'no smoking beyond thus point', as if the cigarette smoke and the wind could read, much less care where they would end up. But back to the NCIP for just a moment, how good was it that Asian Cup organising committee managed to choose a meat pie as our national dish? It's one of those things that in reality is almost entirely inconsequential, but because of that in-consequentiality manages to rankle my feathers even more. For the record, I would have gone with stale bain marie dim sims.

Once inside, Steve and I did a lap around the inside of the ground to kill time. I bought a scarf in part because it was going to get colder and the threat of rain, and because my green with one gold star Hattrick t-shirt wasn't going to cut it on that front. We bumped into two fellow South fans as well, which just goes to prove that we're not all Socceroo hating, old soccer Nazis. It was my first Socceroos game for a year and a half, the last time being a forgettable (in that I'd forgotten about it entirely) World Cup qualifier against Jordan at Docklands. The last time I was at the Bubbledome was for a Rebels game. The last time I saw a soccer match at the Bubbledome was for another, earlier World Cup qualifying game against Saudi Arabia. It was interesting to see all the elements of the normal Bubbledome stripped back, by which I mean the sponorship boards, but there was also a very large expanded media space on the western side of the ground. Otherwise it was pretty much the same place.

Now it's true that unless you're shoved into some corner, there are not really any bad seats at the Bubbledome, but it was probably a bit dishonest to class the seats we had as 'category A' seats, considering that we were behind the line of the goal - surely that definition should have applied more strictly to areas including only more central bays. At least we could get a good look at the scoreboard from where we were, which became became more necessary in the second half as the bloke next to me was an unnecessary leaner, meaning that we, too, had to lean forward every time the ball went down toward the Olympic Boulevard end.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott made an appearance and was booed by large sections of the the crowd, unlike the time I saw him make an appearance at Brookvale Oval in 2014. Of course back then he was in his own electorate, and accompanied by a sick child as well. Frank Lowy got a much kinder reception though, except from me. If you're going to have a chip on your shoulder, you may as well be sincere about it.

The opening ceremony was all a bit ho hum, some strange inflatable set up, three artists I knew next to nothing about - one song I recognised from some ad campaign on television - and music played at an earth shakingly loud volume, which jarred with the tolerable volume of the pre-game entertainment before that. It probably didn't help that I was seated right behind some massive pitch side speakers, covered in plastic I assume to protect them from any possible deluge, but because of this also making a huge distorted rustling noise. If anyone can make head or tail of all the people running around and doing backflips and cartwheels, good to you. Opening ceremonies are for television audiences anyway, not for people in the stands with obstructed and only one view of the action.
Oh yes, as warned in an email before the match, there was also audience participation by way of what the organisers called a 'tifo' - which was really getting a coloured card out from the back of your seat and making sure you flipped it at the right moment. We even went through a taxing practice run; taxing in that we flipped the cards several times during that warm up, while it only required one flip during the opening ceremony itself. More on those pieces of cardboard later.
The first 30 odd minutes was pretty mediocre stuff from the Socceroos, the goal conceded from the corner being the highlight of said mediocrity. A close runner up however was the first corner we took which was played short RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! Aside from whatever irrational hatred I have of short corners, we have this guy called Tim Cahill, who even though he's a self-aggrandising, right wing nut job associating shill, has a magical forehead onto which every lofted ball we can send into the area should be sent to.

Nevertheless, as was expected but not assured, we managed to run over the top of them. As we all rose up to celebrate the Socceroos two first half goals, I got accidentally elbowed in the side after each time by the Unnecessary Leaner in bis excitement, which took the edge off the celebrations for me. Further injury was avoided because for the third goal everyone was standing up in anticipation of the penalty, and the the fourth goal was a such a junk time effort there was no real point in celebrating it anyway.

At half time the sprinklers either turned themselves or were turned on by someone for the same reason (which escapes me at this moment) they were turned on before the match. Either way the photographers had to make a bit of run for it. The second half was entertaining at least as we peppered the goals, but the Kuwaitis were also able to break through the offside trap on a handful of occasions and barring some good work by Mat Ryan in goal, it might have been a tighter finish. Instead the crowd grew bored as the Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! chant started going through the crowds, and the pieces of cardboard used for the opening ceremony were crafted into paper planes. A handful were well crafted enough to make it onto the field; most seemed to make it as far as the space behind the ad boards, while a good few didn't even get that far, managing only to collide with the back of people's heads, reminding me of the time I got hit in the head with a coin at a Victory game.

At the end of the day, the man of the match was clearly the referee, who bucked the trend of all referees being rubbish all the time,  what with having an excellent game all around, especially in not falling for pretty much any of the diving antics of the Socceroos. Remember the days when we were all self-righteous about the diving and feigning of injuries of Asian teams? Well judging from last night's match, that's gone completely out the window now, as we have now become the petulant equals of our region's finest in this matter. Welcome to modern Australian football.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Friendly against Dandenong City on Saturday

This Saturday we'll be playing our first pre-season match for 2015 against NPL1 side Dandenong City, at the unfortunate time of 10:30AM, at the even more unfortunate location of Somerville Secondary College. While your correspondent would love to be there, the Stony Point line does not provide a good enough service on Saturday mornings for me to get out there. If someone is foolhardy enough to get out there, feel free to send in some sort of report.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Totalitarian theocracy artefact Wednesday - Saudi Arabia FA pennant

With the Asian Cup starting this week, and what with the Saudis even visiting Melbourne next week to play North Korea (in a totalitarian theocracy derby, how apt), this seemed like as good as time as any to post this piece of history.  Three years ago now, the Saudi Arabian national team used Lakeside as a training base in the lead up to playing what was for them, a must win game against the Socceroos in the course of World Cup qualifying. That stint included a warm up match New Zealand which turned out to be open to the public, a fact however that was announced too late for me to make use of. Anyway, I assume this was presented to us as a token of their thanks to us infidels for using the stadium. Is the drawing of the footballer on the pennant classifiable as a graven image? What about the date palm? I don't know; I'm no theologian. If you're anywhere near me in the good seats during the Melbourne based Asian Cup matches, come around and say hello.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

December 2014 digest

Memberships are available
The usual deal. Head here to make your purchase. Support your club. Good to see that entry to all home league and potential Dockerty and FFA Cup games is included.

In...
Dane Milovanovic, most recently of some mob in the Maldives.

and out...
general manager Peter Kokotis. Or at least that's the word on the street. Interesting to see if they choose to replace him, and if so with who. And to think I still haven't managed to get that Yarra Park Aias photo with the team list off him. Score that as a failed KPI target.

and no word yet...
On who'll be keeping for us. Will it be Peter Gavalas? Nikola Roganovic? Chris Maynard? And what about who'll be the technical director. Because you can't have your senior coach also be your technical director.

In case you missed it... 
The fixtures for the 2015 season are out. Here are some of the issues of slightly lesser importance. First, finals are back, which is good for people who get bored when their teams are out of the ruuning five minutes into the season, but bad for those people who hate finals in soccer. Worse, FFV have inexplicably decided to use the A-League top six model, which is a straight knockout affair, with the only benefit to the top two teams being a week off. That just ends up making the finals series even more of a who's in form at the 'right' time of the season lottery.

There's at least a couple of new venues to visit this year as well, of a sort. We'll be visiting North Geelong Elcho Park for the first time (as far as I'm aware) in round 2, and in round 23 we'll be playing at the revamped CB Smith Reserve for the first time (as well as the first time at that venue since the 'why' game in 2008), as Pascoe Vale have moved their senior matches there for 2015. Avondale Heights - who have re-branded themselves as Avondale FC, which I won't use - are listed as playing out of Doyle Street Reserve, which falls well short of the requirements of the NPL for senior matches, so it will be interesting to see how that pans out.

For some inexplicable reason most of our home games are on Fridays, which without a social club seems to be a rather daft decision, but one that's still apparently subject to change. The club even held a survey asking for feedback about preferred times. I reckon Sunday 3:00PM is best. It will be interesting to see what arrangements are made for the home game against Melbourne Knights, which reportedly falls on Orthodox Easter week.

But back to the social club for a moment...
The fashionably late 2014 South Melbourne AGM will be held on Thursday January 29th, at 7:00PM in the President's Room. Unfortunately, your correspondent will almost certainly miss the affair. The reason for this is that around that time I'll be having laser surgery to remove a blister on my non-functioning left eye, which I anticipate will see me out of action for a few days at least. If anyone attending would like to do a write up for the blog, please get in contact with me.

Adelaide trip 2015
Which doubly sucks because it's been said that we'll be going to Adelaide in the first week of February to play one or two games as part of the pre-season, with one of the games definitely being against West Adelaide. Let's just hope they get around soon to booking the tickets and accommodation.

OK, here's the problem
I will be attending seven Asian Cup matches during January, as well as a local academic sports conference, eye surgery and whatever else may come up during January and February. This will mean that I will miss several South Melbourne pre-season friendly fixtures. So I'm looking for people that will be going to these and related events to maybe pitch in and provide some short reports, otherwise the quality of the South related content during January may well and truly suck more than usual. Send all your inquiries to the usual address. Especially keen on someone covering the prospective Adelaide trip.

The house (aka Eddie McGuire) always wins
So the Socceroos won't be training at Lakeside, but rather at the hollow shell of what Eddie 'sometimes I love soccer, but most of the time I don't because it's played by wogs' McGuire turned Olympic Park into. I think Lakeside might be hosting Uzbekistan instead. If someone could get me access to the latter's training sessions, that would be nice.

Some thoughts on getting ahead of ourselves (but not really)
I was going to write some sort of brief spiel about the ramifications of the move away from small markets in the A-League and what that might mean for us, but then I figured that since we're never going to be in the A-League anyway, that the point was probably moot.

Nick Jacobs, Memphis Tiger
An interesting post was recently made on smfcboard - and then followed up by George Kouroumalis on the official site - alerting people to the fact that former player Nick Jacobs, who reportedly retired from soccer following a long lay off with injury, has surfaced in the US playing college football for the University of Memphis Tigers, where he is also studying engineering.

It seems like the guy who used be to the punter for them, the highly rated Tom Hornsey (another Aussie), had been drafted by the Dallas Cowboys (and since released as a free agent), and that Nick has managed to dislodge Hornsey's replacement as the first choice punter.
Jacobs has been averaging around 33 yards per punt (with a season long of 42), which isn't great (I think NFL punters aim for around 45 yards net gain?), but on the other hand Jacobs hasn't had to make too many punts either, which is generally a sign that the offence is doing its job - and those punts he has made have invariably ended up inside the 20.

Now I'm hardly an expert an college football - the bowl election process and the random ways One HD would show games made it terribly confusing - but Memphis appear to be one of the more minor teams in the top NCAA divisions. Still, they've done well this season going from a 3-9 season in 2013 to a 9-3 record in 2014, and even reaching a bowl game, which is a rarity for them and a fair reward for their reversal in fortunes. Their conference record of 7-1 saw them win a a share of the conference championship, their first championship of any kind since 1971.

Memphis won their bowl match against Brigham Young University 55-48 in double over time, a game which also included a massive on field brawl. It was Memphis' first ten win season since 1938.

Mandatory Frank Lowy succession comment
Here are some of the things that are bothering me about this process.
  • People using legalistic arguments as opposed to ethical ones in order to justify the potential hiring of Steven Lowy as Frank's successor.
  • The continuing and fervent apologia hinting at, or openly appealing to the abstract notion of 'the greater good'.
  • The fact that we apparently have such a lack of capable people to call upon in the game that Frank's boy seems to be the 'most obvious' candidate, even as we conduct another patented Australian soccer world wide search.
The moment where FFA does or doesn't choose Steven Lowy as Frank's successor is almost irrelevant. It is the process which allows that to even be a possibility that's a concern. But what to do about it?

Labored analogy based upon an old review of Eels' Daisies of the Galaxy album.
Sometimes I feel like my writing on the game has becomes so insular that I can't come out, and that only the existing members of my hard won and loyal audience can possibly continue traveling with me on this mildly eccentric faux indie ride.

Friday, 26 December 2014

South of the Border celebrates seven years of seething, and lesser seething

Fear and loathing are for the other 364 days of the year. Today is reserved for thanking the following people:

The club, especially those who volunteer their time to keep it going week by week.

The players and coaching staff who won us a title.

Thanks also to Steve from Broady (stats), Supermercado (security management artefact), Arthur and Nick Vertsonis for sending some great artefacts to put up, Cindy Nitsos (many, many photos), Pavlaki (assorted hilarity), Mark Boric (for lending me his VSF yearbooks), Manny (comics), Skip Fulton for the odd under 20s report and around the grounds bizzo before I lent him to Goal Weekly and the South official site, the Agitator, and of course Kiss of Death for another erratic year of contributions.

People whose match reports I stole details from because me no see very good and stuff.

The Hon. Hugh Delahunty for responding to my letter.

Engel Schmidl and Athas Zafiris at Shoot Farken for publishing my Heavy Sleeper world cup pieces. It was a pleasure doing them.

Anthony Colangelo for letting me have an hour on radio to put forward my world view, albeit an hour that I had to share with someone else.

Tom Pollock, for letting me be on his radio documentary, even if Roy Hay managed to get both the first and last word.

The peerless Walter Pless, who took up my offer of doing a write up on his site, explaining South Melbourne's season in the lead up to the South Hobart game.

Also Pave Jusup, Joe Gorman, Chris Egan, Lou Tona, Nicholas Tsiaras, The Saint, Tony Montana, Cuddles, all for various reasons not necessarily related to the blog.

All the new people I met.

All the old faces.

Anyone who gave me and Gains a lift to some place.

Everyone who re-tweeted, left a comment, or sent us something to put up. Your interest in this project ensures not that it survives, but that I try a little harder than I otherwise might.

Anyone who thinks they should be in here but isn't - it's probably my fault.

And especially Ian Syson and Gains.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Book Review - Sweet Time, by Graham Reilly

Graham Reilly's 2004 novel Sweet Time is a nostalgic look at the birth of a soccer club, and the community which created it, as an assortment of mostly Scottish migrants attempt to settle into their new lives in Australia.

In the 1960s, former Catholic priest, now high school teacher Douglas Fairbanks and his wife Kirstin arrive in Australia from Glasgow. More specifically, they arrive in Melbourne, settling in the fictionalised western suburb of Baytown. As with many migrant tales, it is the immediate differences which fascinate them. The heat (they can't figure out whether to keep their butter in the fridge or pantry), the people and the sense of opportunity that exists - the working class Glasgow streets they've left behind being mired in the usual social ills.

It's perhaps a slightly atypical Australian migrant narrative, in that the focus is on British migrants, mostly from Scotland. It's also for the most part light hearted, as the migrants of all stripes try to make the best of their situation, appreciating what their new country has to offer. The main conflict in the novel comes from inside of Douglas, unsure about the choices he's made in his life, including his marriage, a struggle which doesn't necessarily engage as much as it should - but that may be an issue of personal taste.

What is most fascinating about this text, at least for me, are the passages dealing with the creation of the Baytown Soccer Club. In large part, this is because the suburbs of Baytown and its new soccer club share a few traits with the suburb of Altona and the Altona City Soccer Club. The now long defunct Altona Star newspaper becomes the Baytown Star. Like the fictional Baytown S.C., Altona City was formed in the 1960s in Melbourne's western suburbs, on swamp land across the road from Cherry Lake. 

Since Reilly was a 1960s migrant himself to Altona, and because of the obvious references to those real life entities, it makes one think about which parts of the Baytown club are based on actual Altona City history, which parts are a re-telling of historical facts about other clubs in an amalgamated context, and which parts come entirely from Reilly's imagination.

Overall, the soccer narrative, like the rest of the text, is couched in nostalgia. The group which forms the new soccer club, despite being dominated by Scots, also includes Maltese, Italians and the odd local, breaking with the commonly held idea that soccer at that time was a sport completely dominated by mono-ethnic clubs. Indeed, apart from a brief mention of Celtic, there is no mention of any other clubs, scant mention of the Victorian soccer system, and no mention of ethnic divides within the game. The club also has relatively humble ambitions, unlike those clubs which exist in say relevant novels by David Martin or Peter Goldsworthy.

As mentioned earlier, the club’s land is located in semi-reclaimed swamp land, mirroring the fringe lands historically allocated to other soccer clubs. The volunteers put in countless hours of labour to get the place up to scratch. There is also antipathy from certain quarters to the establishment of the soccer club. This includes members of the council and the local Australian rules football fraternity, who attempt to sabotage the creation of the club. At different times, they pull down the fence, destroy the field, and burn down the pavilion. Compare this treatment to the real life attempts at sabotaging soccer grounds (Middle Park and Hobart) and denying soccer clubs access to land (Footscray JUST and Hakoah).

Part of this antipathy and vandalism is linked in the novel to local antipathy to migrants and ‘their’ game – the inference being that they should assimilate and all that - but also to the mayor (and president of the Australian rules football club) who is seeking to drive the club away from the land allocated to them, in order to build a new large scale housing development. It's an interesting tack to take, pairing soccerphobia with self-interest, even if the mayor's villainy makes him look a little cartoonish, with Reilly taking much glee in creating a caricature of the ultimate soccer hater. In some ways, it's an antecedent of the soccer hating journalist from Adrian Deans' Mr Cleansheets.

Reilly also tries to find ways to secure an Australian place for soccer, by showing the hard work of the soccer club's volunteers, as well as their diversity, open mindedness, and their ability to participate in other parts of Australian society. Reilly attempts, not very subtly but effectively nonetheless, to overcome the perception of soccer as a weak game.The most notable way he does this is via the teenage ‘schemie’ immigrant Wullie Henderson, who has a no-holds barred attitude to violence and swearing. Wullie, with his accent and role as comic relief, is also by far the most interesting character in this novel.

Even without the Altona City touchstone, you don't need to know how the soccer side of the story ends. The main plot involving Douglas' internal struggle has its dark moments, but overall this is a text that would rather celebrate the migrant narrative than question it, seeing in it an overwhelmingly positive story - and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. A good, entertaining read.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Calculator artefact Wednesday - Kimon Taliadoros, Playmaker of the Month

This was sourced from Australian soccer historian and Hellas fan Damian Smith. Two things about this image. Firstly, I've been waiting for a suitable time to put it up, but let's be honest, there was probably never going to be a suitable moment. Secondly, I have next to no idea what the context of this photo is. Is there an article attached? More photos? What kind of Greek is that hairless? Will Kimon use the excuse 'that he was young and needed the money'? And perhaps most importantly, does Kimon still own that tie?

This seems like a good note to sign off on for 2014. Apart from a couple more posts - one a book review, the other my annual thanksgiving post - that's it this year from me. Unless of course, something really stupendously amazing happens - like going broke, or getting into the A-League - and even then I'd probably wait until the new year.