Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Important pricing information for this week's game

Some people who recently visited Jack Edwards Reserve (home of Oakleigh Cannons) have noticed that Oakleigh have begun dabbling in the practice of variable pricing at the gate. For those who have become accustomed to the fact that for many years now the price of tickets was standardised by the FFV, this may come as a bit of a surprise, especially considering there is no mention of it in the 2015 regulations that the pricing policy has changed.

Because many if not most South fans are members of our club, we don't notice the fact that at Lakeside there is a ticket surcharge by the venue's ticket operator which is added to the standard $12 fee. Never mind the fact that we don't actually get that surcharge, it's not escaped the attention of some visiting fans.

And while the variable pricing provision is not mentioned in the NPL regulations (something which really should be corrected, along with a typo in the relevant section suggesting it's still 2014), recently elected board member Nick Tsiaras was good enough to send me a copy of the memo from head of NPL Liam Bentley, which notified the NPL licensees of the change in policy, along with the rationale behind it, which you can read below.

In other words, if you rock up to Oakleigh (or any other club for that matter) this season and the pricing seems off, this is why. Let's just hope that it's not used as a means of milking South fans because we bring a few more people than most clubs.

TO: ALL NPL CLUBS
FROM: HEAD OF NPL & WPL
DATE: FRIDAY 20TH FEBRUARY
SUBJECT: NPL ADMITTANCE FEE 
Good afternoon all, 
After receiving feedback in relation to the setting of admission prices in the 2015 NPL Rules of Competition, FFV have reviewed Rule 12.1.2 and will vary that rule to make the admission prices referred to therein ‘recommended prices only’. Clubs will be permitted to charge other than the amount prescribed if they deem appropriate. Please note Under 14s will still enter for free. 
With a focus this year on developing the best match day experience for fans at NPL matches. and bringing greater numbers of supporters through the gate, we encourage clubs to use this flexibility to find out what bests suits their club. It is important to balance a number of things, amongst others: 
  • The number of fans paying at the gate against the money taken in through the canteen on a match day; and 
  • The income from current members against the possibility of attracting long term fans to the club. 
We also encourage clubs to be creative in marketing their home matches to attract new
fans, such as “bring a friend for free”, “women and kids are free” “$5 entry for everyone”, “Entry includes a drink / food” promotions and find out what works for your club.
We also remind clubs to be reasonable in their pricing structure and to not price the average NPL fan out of attending matches at your club.
This issue will be placed on the agenda at the next NPL Delegates meeting and we will track the progress of this throughout the year. There is no downside to having more people turn up at our matches and I look forward to working with everyone throughout 2015 to bring the fans back to Premier League football in Victoria. 
Kind Regards,
Liam Bentley
Head of NPL & WPL

Monday, 18 May 2015

Paramnesia - Northcote City 1 South Melbourne 2

Paramnesia: a condition or phenomenon involving distorted memory or confusions of fact and fantasy, such as confabulation or déjà vu.

Reduplicative paramnesia: the delusional belief that a place or location has been duplicated, existing in two or more places simultaneously, or that it has been 'relocated' to another site.

Everything seems the same, and yet somehow different. There are fewer people here than usual, but it's hard to tell upon what basis I'm making that assertion. There is more grass on the field than last year, but I don't think the ball will play any truer. One of the Hellas oldies walks past and asks if we're the team in blue or the team in white. I also learn that swearing is bad, unless you're in a position of power. Someone asks me who the moderator is on smfcboard, and this atheist must answer like a theist: One cannot know the Mod, but the Mod is there; the Mod sees all and knows all; we cannot know the Mod's motives, but we must trust that Mod knows best, and that He loves us and has our best interests at heart.

Inside Northcote's social club, the state knockout cup trophy is not the Dockerty Cup, but a giant light bulb. The back corner has been worked on, but the paint job just makes it look bare and sullen, devoid of life and activity. The new Northcote logo that once impressed me is now less impressive once I'm informed that it comes from a Greek cement company's (owned by Italians) logo. Where the table with the sauces used to be is now as fully fledged candy bar as I've ever seen at a soccer club. Chocolate bars, packets of chips, muesli bars, giant 'cookies', and two varieties of Skittles. I go for a pack of sour Skittles, but resist the call to turn it into Skittlebräu; one vice at a time is enough.

We start off the game in a promising fashion, with Andy Brennan doing his usual thing of needing to get three messy crosses in before finding his range. I get the feeling that he'd have made an excellent 18th century artillery man, but that's just probably me having been influenced by one of the DVDs on the history of war machines that one of my brothers borrowed from the library. Eventually a Brennan cross finds Lujic, but in another twist which has me doubting the validity of this reality, Lujic doesn't score from it; instead the ball spills loose and Matthew Theodore tucks it away for 1-0. It's nice to have some variation on the same old theme.

Unusually, we're going towards the car park end in the first half, and because there are games going on at Darebin, I keep hearing whistles from those games, but play keeps going, as my arms become exhausted from trying to block out the sun. Northcote regroup, and soon start piling on the pressure, hitting the post, and then duly get their reward. Defensively we are all over the shop, playing too narrow as in the game against Port. At halftime as I'm making my way around to the western side of the ground, an old man starts saying to us that Hellas is dead, the Greeks are dead. He's not ranting, or screaming - he's speaking in a calm, matter of fact voice, albeit one that will tolerate no argument on the matter. He does not offer the chance of redemption if we repent, however such repentance may be achieved; his statement is made with the knowledge that it is irrefutable, and that anyone who dares try comes across as far more mad than they could ever make the old man out to be.

Dane Milovanovic throws himself sideways into the celebrations following
Milos Lujic's winner. Photo:: Ian Syson.
Choosing to stand behind the goal ends at Northcote means missing out on much of the game, and thus the events at the other end of the field are not entirely clear; and because of this Northcote's many chances may not be as close as they appear, even if the groans of disappointment at the other end seem to indicate that they were close. At our end, even though the sun is no longer in my eyes, I still can't see much of the field even as we begin to reassert control. Being in the bunched up Clarendon Corner means that much of the field is obscured, including most of the goal face. Fate is such though that what would turn out to be Lulic's winner ended up going in at that one piece of empty net that I could see among the miniature throng around me, before the throng rushed forward to celebrate with the team. There were close calls after that, too, and seven inexplicable minutes of injury time played by the referee, but we held on, and we end the first half of the season undefeated; and yet not alone in that regard, and with a fear that it will all come crumbling down. How sad and fearful have I become that even this glorious run can still not be fully enjoyed?

THAT... was Edna Krabappel. You only get one chance with Edna Krabappel. I hope you're happy.
After the match Gains and I went to AAMI Park to watch the Melbourne Storm take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs, because Gains had a coupon that granted the holder two general admission tickets for the price of one. Despite getting to the ground at 6:30 (an hour before kickoff), we find that the general admission tickets are all sold out, and I was not interested in the $32 'general admission plus' tickets which would have had us sitting in one of the worst spots in the ground (which from my limited live rugby league watching experience is pretty much everywhere that isn't an elevated and central sideline position) and paying twice as much as we'd planned for the privilege of doing so. So we did the sensible thing by walking away, and going back into the city for some Korean food.

Next game
Away to Oakleigh Cannons. Something stupid will probably happen. Also, we will probably lose.

Luke Eyles, who's been rumoured as a possible signing, in action for
Hobart Olympia against Devonport Strikers, Photo: Walter Pless.
More Tasmanians, more often
So while other clubs have been making some relatively high profile moves, we'd been relatively quiet - that is until yesterday or the day before or the day before that (and who could be bothered checking), when we announced the signing of attacking midfielder Nick Morton. Morton was signed from Melbourne Heart's NPL side, though originally he was from South Hobart, where his father Ken is of course the coach. In possibly more evidence that our recruiting has been taken over by infamous Tasmanian people smuggler David Clarkson, I've also heard that we may be signing another Tasmanian, Luke Eyles from Hobart Olympia, who was once a defender but is now a left sided attacking midfielder. No news yet on a defender or back up goalkeeper, nor who'll be let go to make room for these signings, nor or information on Nick Epifano's 'overseas move' - which I'm starting to believe does not actually exist.

What's taking the προξενιό so long to resolve itself?
Women, am I right fellas? Can't live with them, can't really call yourself a broad based (no pun intended) and compelling club without them. But seriously, we, that is SMFC, and them, that is SMWFC, are getting along reasonably well these days, or so we've been lead to believe. We're even exchanging coy love letters out in public. No more sending your best mate to get on his BMX to go send a message to her best friend to pass on to her. This is getting serious.
Still, I am getting impatient. The women's NPL criteria has been released, and I assume that SMWFC will be applying. We keep talking about how much closer we're getting. There's obviously much to be gained from the experience. So what's the hold up, people? Is it that we don't have a social club house ready for the marriage? Is there disagreement about the προίκα they'll bring? Are her parents unimpressed by Leo's apparent inability to properly knot a tie, and why should that even matter? Can't we, simply by being together, make each other better?

Yeah, fuck yas, ya fucken wogs! And I'm allowed to say that, because I am also effnik.
George Calombaris is Victory and SMH until he dies,  but it seems the SMH part died a long time ago if his non appearance at probably any South game since the NSL ended (let alone any sort of meaningful advocacy) is anything to go by. It must be like when Jennifer Gibbons killed herself so that her twin sister June might be able to live a normal life. Calombaris is of course the Ghost of Hellas Future when it comes to abandoning South in part to leverage his fame. There was of course George Kapiniaris, the Ghost of Hellas Past, who loved South but who could not love it in this condition, and who was like me probably at the Richmond-Collingwood game yesterday. There's also of course Nick Giannopoulos, who I'm not sure if he ever loved soccer, or even being Greek, or found it just a useful way to leverage his one dimensional career (and look what happened when he tried to be two dimensional). And thus we now have Calombaris, the modern Greek-Australian spokesman of behalf of the poulimenoi and his own shame re-interpreted as evidence of the game now being inclusive. And so by some strange sophistry, assimilation = multiculturalism, which is OK because at least you can choose which of his overpriced souvs you want to be served cold.

Now maybe Calombaris really believes his own hype, or feels he's doing Australian soccer justice by being its public face in this way, but I wonder if he would have choked on his τραχανά when he saw the Herald Sun's editorial on the morning of the A-League grand final. Would he have been offended at the soccer hating Hun trying to get some leverage off this event? Would he have become squeamish at the way South Melbourne Hellas is put down in the article? Or would he have felt pride in seeing a part of his own rhetoric in the form of temporarily official doctrine?

Oh, we but we had to break a few eggs! Does that mean that the ends justify the means, or is that simply too coarse of a phrase, one lacking the metaphorical flourishes that will hide the atrocities committed? I have written too many times already about the farce that is the FFA Cup especially in its supposed role of healing the game. But there's not just one version of Australian soccer healing - there's also that old chestnut of  merging the stats! A wonderful gesture (when it isn't put down immediately by those new dawners who can't stand the thought of soccer having existed now that we have football instead), but I'll raise the stakes even further: fuck you and all your records, when you don't even have the balls to let us compete. The company man tells his 250 million strong global audience that some team won a record third equalling Australian title; Australian soccer historians wishing to use this bloke to write the foreword for their book may want to rethink that strategy. An Australian soccer book! The shining star told me to write a book, without knowing that even before it got to the bit where I became re-engrossed in South, that almost all of it would be a miserablist dirge focusing on personal exclusion, only to now be institutionally excluded. Another bloke says I am Bob Ellis, and that is the greatest insult of all, being compared to a man who went from the eloquence and pathos of his defeatist weekly eulogies on Tony Biggs' show on Triple R during the Howard years, to becoming the most insufferable and vile curmudgeon of Australian politics.

'To live without hope is to cease to live' said some writer whose work I've never read. But old mate Fyodor only had to deal with the Tsar and on occasion God himself, whereas we have to deal with a far more brutal tyrant. Existence is resistance someone else said, and that's partly true, but AD Hope wasn't too fond of those 'Whose boast is not: "we live" but "we survive", and he probably had a point. Survival is in one sense instinctive, and therefore hardly an accomplishment in its own right. Oh, but there's a glimmer of hope yet another person said! Didn't you read the Whole of Football document? It says NPL teams will be considered for future entry into the A-League! So get cracking and entice those heaving untapped masses with a lot of spare time on their hands and understanding families, who don't believe the hype about evil ethnic clubs, and who go out of their way to find out what exists outside the mainstream, and build up your supporter base the good old fashioned way - a method which just so happens to be the complete opposite of what every franchise in the top tier has done.

Nah, seriously, come to South, it's a lot of fun.

Around the grounds
Ten loukoumades later...
The option was go to Port vs Knights, Oakleigh vs Bentleigh, or stay home and sulk. Tempting as the final option was, the promise of loukoumades (albeit modernised ones as opposed to the crispy, gnarly ones you get at Greek πανηγύρια) was too good of an offer to refuse. One of the security guards, whom I've since learned is an insane soccer-forum quasi-celebrity, informs me with jocularity that South aren't playing here tonight, and that while  Frankly, I'm more interested in promised desserts, and eight traditionally flavoured ones later (with not enough syrup, but that's the style these days), and one each of peanut butter and jam, and some Nutella hazelnut concoction (stolen off Gains), and I felt like I'd accomplished the goal I'd set out to achieve for the evening. The match itself was a bit of a bore, end to end, but lacking in quality. The game finished 1-1.

But that's not all! On the train on the way home, a very ethnically diverse group of kids were on the train (so diverse they could have been included in a Melbourne Victory flyer), and one of them started playing N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton on their phone. Then a North Melbourne supporter who was probably in her mid 60s asked them to turn it down. And the kid with the phone did! Somehow that seems to go against the spirit of what N.W.A. were about, but at least the slightly mad North Melbourne fan with the piercing through his lip started rapping the lyrics. Cool story, bro.

Final thought
It only occurred to me one year later that I should have titled the post from last year's game here 'Horses for Courses'. What a missed opportunity.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Five moments - South Melbourne 5 Dandenong Thunder 0

First goal - You'll miss him when's gone
What was that I said in the previous post about our only reliable avenue to goal coming from the combination of Andy Brennan and Milos Lujic? Once again Brennan sped past his opponent out wide, crossed the ball into the middle, where Lujic eased the ball home for the early opener. It was a phenomenon that did not go unnoticed even by those who don't normally pay that much attention to the game 'Brennan to Lujic, ole, ole, ole' went the chant.

Second goal - Blink and you'll miss it
Another corner, this time midway during the first half, and the decision to play it short is vindicated. While almost everyone - crowd, opposition, seagulls - were going through the motions of waiting for the corner to be sent in deep, Brad Norton received the ball on the edge of the box and somehow managed to sneak his shot through the mess of legs that stood between himself and the goal - though the FFV match report has credited it to Ramazan Tavsancioglu as an own goal.

Third goal - If a goal is scored but no one sees it, does it still count?
Brennan found himself out wide again, sliced in a cross - there's no way it could have been a shot - which seemed to hit the side netting and fall in through a hole in the net. The referee didn't count it initially, and only Brennan was celebrating, but the ref nevertheless went to the linesman on that side of the ground, had a chat, then went over to check the net, and awarded the goal. After the match when I asked Brennan if it had gone in he said yes, and that he was wondering why no one had started cheering.

Fourth goal - It's not a complicated game
With the points secured, and another game to come on Saturday - which will make it three games in nine days - some players were given an early rest and others were brought on to clean up the scraps of a disappointing Dandenong Thunder side. And thus David Stirton, who has suffered from form and and injury concerns since arriving at South from Bentleigh, came off the bench and slotted home from a regulation through ball. He seemed pretty stoked with the goal, which was a nice touch.

Fifth goal - On love
As Leigh Minopoulos streamed forward late in the game, he found himself with a decision to make - to lay off the ball to the right, or to the left. To the right was Nick Epifano, to the left Iqi Jawadi, both former Dandenong Thunder players. What tension was left in this game was heightened significantly by the sight of this complex ethical dilemma being played out in real time. Minopoulos chose left, Jawadi scored and the entire side rushed around the little midfielder who doesn't get to score a lot of goals - all of course except for Epifano, who sullenly stayed apart from the celebration. Later he managed a brief moment of solidarity with the bloke he's reputedly closest to in the change rooms, but it looked sad, him not being able to show instinctive joy for his friend's accomplishment. It may have been Aristotle who said that you can't love something which does not have the capacity to love you in return - is it therefore possible that Epifano can't be loved for the simple reason that he does not have the capacity of giving love? As an alleged human being, and not an automaton or android, does this make him pitiable rather than hate worthy?

Next game
Saturday arvo at the erratic Northcote City, to round out the first half of the home and away season.

Crowd
Our crowd counter estimates that the crowd was made up of approximately 290 people.

The Kids Are Alright
Some of the Enosi 59 crew were back in attendance last night - on a school night, no less - and no, I don't believe the rumour that they spent the first half in a corporate box. Things seem to be gelling a little more between the new and the old, and I'm not only saying that because one of the kids was offering people some of his peanuts. The chanting, when people could be arsed, was back to its shambolic best, with references to Blue Thunder Kosta's terrible old man hat, the wooden spoon that took the place of an actual drumstick, and other chants directed at the authorities which visiting stadium enthusiast Les Street described as 'subversive'. I assume that he was referring to the 'we're gonna breakaway/fuck the FFA chant'; but perhaps more subversive and petulant was the moment when, after having being asked Kosta to cut out the swearing on request from President Leo Athanasakis, only for the request to be met with an even heartier rendition of a swearing related chant once Kosta left the vicinity.

Final thought
Spoon!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Wake - South Melbourne 1 Avondale Heights 0

You can divorce your spouse, change your religion, and sadly these days even change your soccer team, but one thing that should remain a constant - as long as its feasible - is the bloke who cuts your hair. I've been going to the same barber for 28 years now, a bloke named Chris who really only knows how to cut hair in two styles: a buzz cut, and what one of my brothers calls 'the Hitler'. I had the Hitler (or variations thereof) up until I was about 15; then he went overseas for a bit and had another barber take over his shop for a few months, and she convinced me to try a buzz cut. Nearly 17 years later I'm still here: I chose my haircut when I was 15, my fashion sense when I was 18, and have barely deviated since.

If anyone can explain why back in the day South fans had a
chant for the English medley pianist and singer Mrs Mills,
I'd really appreciate it, because it's got me baffled.
I bring this up because my barber, as all good barbers should, likes to talk about sport. Sure he knows next to nothing about the topic, but as a living example of the changes in Australian sporting tastes, he's as good as anyone. There used to be a TAB outlet across the road, and the local Greek bums would go back and forth between the TAB and Chris' shop with the radio, and the shop's copy of the form guide going from hand to hand. Chris was also once the first aid man at Doxa Yarraville; he even has a signed Mark Philippousis photo from when the Scud decided he'd do a pre-season there during the Hellenic Cup one summer. The shop being located midway between East Altona PAOK and Doxa Yarraville meant that you'd get all the local goss about those two sides. And sure there was always talk about Liverpool, Olympiakos and Footscray, but the centre of it in my flawed recollection was that there was always local soccer in there in amid the dirty jokes (told around a ten year old with a nod and a wink), perving on attractive women who walked past the shop, all done to a soundtrack of easy listening, the races, and Greek radio only when there were no ξένοι in the shop, or no races on.

The TAB outlet closed, and most of the bums moved on. Our conversations over the years became harder, now that I was at the centre of them, with no or fewer distractions from other people. As I became estranged from watching local soccer except for Hellas (when I could), then as my support for Liverpool evaporated, my fleeting interest in Greek soccer succumbed to apathy, and as he moved towards watching the A-League and I moved away from it and fully back into the local scene, all that was left was a ritual repeated for the sake of obliterating the silence. Yarraville would have high hopes but do nothing, while Altona East would plod along a division higher, and we would discuss the reasons why they wouldn't merge. Even if I had an interest in Liverpool or Greek soccer or the A-League, the lack of pay television would have made all these things redundant. And thus while he gives me my $10 haircut ('only for you Paul, because I've known you for nearly 30 years'), we stumble through a haphazard conversation, where if I spoke in English he would answer in Greek, and if I spoke in Greek he would answer in English.

When he asked me on Friday if I was going to the soccer that night - meaning the Victory-Heart game, for which he allegedly had a ticket - I said yes, I'm going to watch Hellas. He asked who we were playing and I said Avondale Heights, a team Yarraville would have once been accustomed to playing against in the middle tiers of Victorian soccer. But then he said something weird to me, and I assume it was based on my saying that I was going to Lakeside instead of Docklands: 'The reason I like you Paul, is because you don't have any friends'. He then went on some bizarre spiel about friends betraying you, an eye for an eye and all sorts of guff, but that line really got me thinking. Is that the reason I go to South?

If that's a long-winded way of eventually getting to the bit where I discuss the game, I think it still fits neatly enough into how the night was passed. At the pub, which had reputedly only bought a few weeks worth of sponsorship, and thus we were not obliged to drink there from now on, much of the time was spent in lament in terms of where we were, and where we had been. This in and of itself was not a first, and most of it was still centred on humour, but the wistfulness of remembering some of the long lost faces and voices, who had either given up the ghost, or would now prefer to go watch the game up the road, along with some of the players who had disappeared into thin air had a certain fatalism attached to it.

At the ground the self-declared Ultras group Enosi 59 were nowhere to be seen, and thus chanting took a while to get going, what with being relatively miserable as we collectively stared into the face of Australian soccer oblivion. Andy Brennan's cross to Milos Lujic for the game's only goal livened things up a bit, and even as the standard of play deteriorated, there was a sort of joy restored to the situation even if it was mostly a celebration of mediocrity. Thus chants on being aspirational, about Frank Piccione wearing a sports bra (originally intended for Griffo), 'we're gonna breakaway/fuck the FFA', 'we only chant for promotion (but also relegation)', and a whole series of handbag related chants that had nothing to do with the Ladies Night theme but were there nonetheless.

VPL legend and current South goalkeeper coach Bojo Jevdevic, in action
during the halftime penalty shootout match day experience gimmick.
Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
At halftime one of the sponsors was giving away a prize of a cosmetics pack to a lucky lady who was good enough to win a penalty shootout competition with Bojo Jevdevic in goal. That went on for probably 15 minutes, and probably ten minutes too long. The second half was largely forgettable muck from both sides. The visitors hit the crossbar, and had a goal disallowed for offside, but that was about it. Everything remotely useful seems to be going through Brennan and Lujic at the moment, while the rest of the team responsible for attacking maneuvers flounder. Nick Epifano was back in number seven, but was otherwise a non-entity (it's also being rumoured that he'll be flogged off overseas somewhere during the upcoming transfer window). Iqi Jawadi is not at the level he was last year, while others struggle with fitness and/or form. And yet we're still picking up points, we're still undefeated, and we still could make some good signings during the transfer window to liven up the side. I just hope the team finds its bearings again sooner rather than later - but things could definitely be worse!
Next game
Tuesday night at home against Dandenong Thunder, at the spiffing time of 8:30PM even though there won't be an under 20s curtain raiser.

Edit:
They may be a curtain raiser held after all.

Vale Fotis Antipas
The following is taken from the South site's article.
South Melbourne FC is in mourning after learning of the recent passing of founding member and club volunteer Fotios Antipas.
Mr. Antipas played for Hellenic in the 1950s, with history showing that Hellenic merged with Yarra Park and South Melbourne United to form South Melbourne Hellas in 1959.
When his playing days were complete, Mr Antipas volunteered at South Melbourne FC and was a very proud supporter and life member.
SMFC President Leo Athanasakis added that “on behalf of everyone at SMFC, we extend our condolences to the Antipas family on the recent passing of Mr Fotios Antipas, a man who has been involved at our great Club ever since it was formed over 55 years ago. We have also lost a link to our history as well, with Mr Antipas being involved with one of the three pre-merger clubs in Hellenic. We mourn his loss.”
Our thoughts are with his family at this very tough time.
Antipas is in the team photo of Hellenic in this post. Former general manager Peter Kokotis, whose family was involved with Yarra Park back in the day, informs me that Antipas was originally from Panachaiki, and that Yarra Park had tried to sign him, but that Hellenic via Antonis Karagiannis (also spelled Carayiannis) managed to get him first.


Around the grounds
Only the lonely (Dum-dum-dummy doo-wah)

While not a Western Suburbs fan, I'd still been to Ralph Reserve on several previous occasions, but yesterday was my first match there as a West Sunshine local; conveniently, it was against my pseudo-genetic-geographically allocated state league side Altona East. The souvs in the social club are still only $7, and they also had a wide range of pastelia on sale. Being probably the only person left in Victoria who gets a craving for a pasteli at the soccer, I was appreciative of the gesture, even if it's likely that most of them have been sitting there for a decade. In amid the motley mix of Greek music and classic hits being played over the PA system to the crowd of 50 people or so (I blame Mothers Day for the diminished crowd), they also played Kurtis Blow's 'The Breaks', thereby almost completely redeeming the concept of playing loud music at a sporting venue.
The view from between the benches at Ralph Reserve, as Western Suburbs
and Altona East prepare to kick off . Photo: Paul Mavroudis
I couldn't figure out where to watch the game from, but eventually settled for the outer side in between the benches. The media box was out of the question, not only because I did not bring my media pass with me; nor for the isolating experience it would be being in there by myself; not even for the hilarity of having anyone bother to make the appearance of writing a genuine match report on this fixture; but also because I know the day I actually legitimately get into a media box, that a little part of whatever street cred I have left will be annihilated.

The home team's jerseys had player names on the back. The away team had strips where some of the jerseys had thick stripes, while others had thin ones. Suburbs had three or four African players, a smattering of Brazilians, former South player Andy Bourakis, and Terry Antoniadis as coach, who avoided getting Altona East relegated when he coached there in 2013 and 2014 mostly because of the NPL sucking up teams to a higher division. Altona East had a Japanese forward, a Turkish captain, a Lebanese midfielder who sometimes barked like a dog at his opponents, and a Neighbours tour bus worth of British players of varying degrees of mouthiness.

Panellinios: Honoured the Greek name.
Everyone to Middle Park on Sunday!
Hellas - Brisbane City.

Suburbs started the stronger, but soon East began getting behind the home team's defence, and the pattern of the game was set. The Fernando de Moraes of State League 1 (complete with black gloves) was ineffective, Suburbs players got too physical for the referee's liking, and Antoniadis got more abusive to everyone as the half rolled on. For their part, East's coach (who seemed to be the assistant taking over for the regular guy, probably due to suspension), spent most of his time quietly giving instructions and telling one of his players ('Robbie') to shut his mouth.

East eventually worked out how to a score a goal following some comical finishing before that, as the little Japanese bloke Honda (one of the blokes nearby made the reassuring comment that Honda was fast) squeezed the ball home. Just before half time, as the referee was busy talking to a Suburbs player, a loud thwack was heard, and the linesman in front of the social clubs started waving his flag. A few metres away, an East player was down on the ground, and the inference was clear - he'd been decked by an opponent, who got his marching orders. Antoniadis was filthy, thinking that that player had just cost him the game.
The view from Ralph Reserve's stand. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
But early in the second half when Suburbs found themselves clear on goal, an East defender pulled the attacker back, and while the ref played advantage, the failure of Suburbs to make the most of the chance saw the foul called back with the East player sent off, and numerical parity restored. East scored a goal from a free kick which was called back for offside I assume, but then the rain came down, and since I only act hardcore for South, I decided to go into the stand.

The combination of long grass, flat balls, the sun poking through, the fine mist of rain swirling around like Jamie Oliver scattering herbs from a great height (most of which are destined to miss the plate), made the game hard to watch - and that's not even taking into account the relatively poor standard of play. But the one on one duals, the physicality, the ebbs and flows of the match, the small crowd made up of old men, reserves and assorted dateless wonders, and of course the struggle against the elements all gave the game a sort of backhanded sense of nobility. It wasn't pretty, but there was endeavour. The game had minimal meaning, but it still meant something. Suburbs fought back and took control, but could not manage an equaliser. As I was leaving I saw a likeable but opinionated South fan I knew stuffing his face full of hot chips, and maybe that's what the game meant - a chance for the lonely to go outside of their homes, and find something to eat in the alleged company of familiar faces. Maybe my barber was right, but it's maybe not just me who doesn't have any friends, and the question then becomes 'where would senior men's soccer in Victoria be without us?'

Final thought (courtesy of FS)

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Assorted reactions to FFA's Whole of Football Plan

Now I'm not going to go into too much detail about a document whose contents were already decided before they'd even conducted their infamous box ticking consultation from 2014 (for some reason the most popular article ever on this blog). So they want to be the number one sport and cement their autocratic rule by abolishing the states. They told us that months ago - and if we're fair dinkum, there is nothing in this document that should surprise any of us. So here are a bunch of mostly hysterical reactions to this announcement.

Misplaced anger
Some people have been upset by the For Modern Football site's satirical take on South's press release. If anyone should be upset though it should be me, because I was doing this kind of stuff years ago.

Cynical
The stated aim of making soccer more affordable to play, especially junior registrations, is a motherhood statement that should be eclipsed by certain realities of the situation, including the backgrounds and statements of those putting forward that rhetoric.

When during the NPL consultation process former FFV CEO Mark Rendell compared the then potential cost of the NPL junior fees to a sport like swimming (as well as classifying South's then $3,500 program as a 'Rolls Royce' program); when Tom Kalas tried to justify the cost of that South program by comparing it to dance, music or karate; and when Kyle Patterson compared the costs of junior soccer to his kid's violin lessons - what does this mean in the context of making soccer more affordable for kids?

At best it's another motherhood statement in a document full of them; at worst, it's insincere about soccer's attempts to go middle class. It's language which speaks to an aspirational segment of Australian society which is not concerned primarily with cost, but with value. In the same way that increasing numbers of middle class people scrimp, save or make sacrifices to send their children to expensive private schools - and to hell with those left behind the in the public system - it's the perceived value that's more important than the price of that sacrifice.

[A side note - whether there is also a cultural and class consciousness element to this is also worth considering. Several years ago on a certain forum, a bloke posted his observation that some middle class English people were moving towards the upper class game of rugby union, in part because of the persistent and/or residual association of soccer with the working class. I don't know if that observation was accurate, and the English class system is obviously quite different to Australia's, but there is I think something intriguing about that assertion, and something that could very well be applicable to those who see soccer as providing a more cosmopolitan sporting option than the insular and boorish (bogan?) Aussie Rules and rugby league cultures.]

In other words, soccer is now a middle class game. The participant is only useful so long as they can be leveraged for more and more money. It's not about fun any more, or belonging to a club, or even being able to take up one sport during the winter and another during the summer. Each soccer loving individual in this country has had a monetary value placed upon their head, whether they are a player, parent, volunteer, fan, media person or even - and while undoubtedly a sign of the times, also a bit frightening - someone mostly interested in soccer video games. And like the cult-ish Evangelical mega-churches the 'we are football' branding and rhetoric reeks of these days, it's bring your credit card with you when you come to worship.

Of course if your bank balance is smaller, or if your involvement in the game generates minimal value for the upper tiers - or heaven forbid, doesn't agree with every part of this Great Leap Forward - you can go and get stuffed. This is disturbing to me because in my line of work I'm required (and want) to see the best in people and their potential. FFA does the opposite. The concept of people getting into and enjoying soccer as an end in itself has been thrown under the bus.

As increasingly seems to be the case these days, I'm reminded of a comment Melbourne Heart CEO Scott Munn made at an academic conference a few years back, about the relative pointlessness of school visits by his organisation.
As an aside, one of the more curious things that was said by Munn, was that one off attempts at trying to convert people to your cause like school clinics were almost doomed to fail (he used some clever analogy about pissing on your own leg - I can't remember how it went, but it was quite funny). 
This was a point expanded upon at last year's Whole of Football Plan meeting in Melbourne, when the failure to leverage soccer's existing base for the A-League was something which FFA wanted corrected (fair enough), but was a point nevertheless which showed how different the priorities of those at the top and those at the bottom were.
The FFA... seemed to think that things like school visits and absurdly inflated participation numbers - which included intangibles like kids playing street soccer - were all about converting kids into being A-League fans. The difference with those of the community club sector was the community club representatives were showing annoyance at the lack of school visits not because of the missed opportunity of getting kids to follow the A-League, but to get them involved with the game of soccer as opposed to other sports.
Some people think soccer is first and foremost a great game to be involved in. Others think the most important thing is not how much you enjoy the experience, but how much they can fleece you for. I guess this is why I'm not in marketing.

Gallows humour

SMFCBLUES07 wrote:
I'll do the honours here

Press release:

smfc wish to announce since there is no future in football we have abandoned ship and will refocus our efforts in strip clubs not social room

The one with a forced literary allusion
In Toni Morrison's novel Beloved,  the slaves learn that 'definitions belong to the definers, not the defined'. The FFA has spent the past ten years applying that lesson. Soccer is, among other things, wogs, violence, incompetence and marginality. Football is other things: good things, Australian things, mainstream things. Most importantly, FFA has learned from the disparagement that soccer received from other codes over the decades, and vowed that it would never succumb to the same fate - not only this, but they have striven to take it to the next level, by appropriating the language of the oppressor and using it as a successful example of wedge politics.

Terms like new dawn and bitter, mainstream and ethnic, new football and old soccer  - they all create division, and almost everyone has bought into them, this writer included. From our side of the fence, there have been those like the long gone Pumpkin Seed Eaters who have attempted creating other names, such as foundation clubs; journalists, when they weren't completely on the bandwagon, traditional clubs; FFV and FFA when they tried to find the most patronising PC term possible, community clubs. The net effect of all these definitions though was to point towards two directions - the past and the future.

Regardless of whether one got sucked into using the terms created by those with the power, or those without it - even my facetious and petty 'I am soccer' catchphrase in response to 'we are football' - the debate has been had on the powerful's terms. It's too late now to to start using different language in the hope that it will somehow turn everything around, but it's not too late to define ourselves outside of the parameters that have set. How we would do that, and what would be appropriate terms to use is an etymological process I'd be interested in seeing developed.

Official
The club released its own response, and it's another in a recent line of measured posts.
MEDIA RELEASE – THE POSSIBLE END OF ASPIRATIONAL FOOTBALL
May 6, 2015 
South Melbourne FC welcomes Football Federation Australia opening up the dialogue about Australia’s football future with the ‘Whole of Football Plan’ released on 5 May 2015. 
However, the current FFA Plan spells the possible end for aspirational football in this country. 
The proposed Plan currently provides no obvious club pathway that allows any club that aspires to develop and improve their process, systems and connection with their communities – or more importantly succeeds on the field – to be promoted as occurs throughout the football world. 
We are also disappointed that the FFA does not detail plans for further development of a second tier of Australian football, to facilitate the intended expansion of the Hyundai A-League and ultimately the implementation of a viable promotion and relegation system. 
Promotion and relegation would assist the improvement of the quality of our top division and provide a breeding ground for players, coaches, officials and aspiring clubs. 
More generally, a key component of all successful ‘plans’ is ‘implementation detail.’ We are keen to review that detail when it gets released. 
The FFA has certainly made great in-roads for our code’s development (for example football broadcasting and the launching of the Westfield FFA Cup), however we are mindful that strategic errors have also been made in the past. 
As a key stakeholder of football in Australia, we will be contacting the FFA to understand and obtain greater detail about their planning processes and to ensure the long term viability and growth of our club. 
Leo Athanasakis, SMFC President
Tom Kalas, SMFC Director
Whatever I may think of the club's approach over these past few years, I'm not going to go out and fault it. They tried to play nice, they tried to be conciliatory, they tried to be collegiate. Melbourne Knights tried to be difficult, tried to dig their heels in, tried to make a scene. No issue with that either. The fact is if they don't want you, they don't want you, and no amount of niceness or hostility is going to change things. Still, it'd be nice if some people, outside of those who are with us now, could have made a bit more of a fuss, if only for show.

Abandoned
This photo is the one the club chose to use to illustrate its press release. I made a comment on the club's Facebook page that it was slightly mischievous. It's a pointed reminder of what we once were, and where we are now. More importantly, it's a reminder that those who could, at the very least, speak up for us - not in an outrageous way, but in a way that they believe that we are still relevant - have chosen not to do so.

That the photo contains two of our most beloved members adds to the sting. And where's former president George Donikian? Spruiking the A-League semi-final with George Calombaris. Where is the Greek community?  At the A-League or the footy, or making fun of us on our Facebook page, telling us we're doomed, that we should give up because they have, and that there's a newer, shinier toy to play with. To be marginalised by the authorities is one thing, but to be marginalised by your own, that's the biggest insult. Making fun of us because we don't get the crowds we used to, as if the people pointing that out aren't part of that problem. And where will Enosi 59 be this week?

Boy, I really didn't see that one coming/Defeatist
Now the part of the announcement that most South fans (plus assorted remnants of old soccer and their associated new dawn sympathisers) picked up on was the FFA finally putting to rest promotion and relegation to the A-League. I am of course on the record as stating that I don't believe promotion is suitable for Australian soccer, and I still hold to that position. But no matter how harebrained I think that idea is, there is something I admire in it, and which seems to have been lost in the wash - and that is that at some level a belief in promotion and relegation is actually an endorsement in FFA, the last ten years and in the future of Australian soccer. It puts forward the belief that there is a viable future soccer in Australia, not just for the 'mainstream' but also the 'traditional'. It's a belief that's not about the old antagonisms, but about sharing a space.

If that's an example of the circumstances of the past ten years creating a sort of forced humility, then so be it. The problem with FFA's approach of incrementally increasing the number of teams in the top flight is that there is still no detail about what plan they'll use. Their own history on the matter is full of contradictions: last October Frank Lowy says that promotion and relegation will happen soon; now they rule it out; David Gallop says they'll fish where the fish are from now on, but now adds that any region with a population of 500,000 will be looked at, despite the problems of Central Coast and North Queensland; they briefly mention in the Whole f Football document that applications for an A-League licence from an NPL team would be possible, but offer no details, no pathway, no method.

Absurd (sans Simpsons reference)
So how do we get back to the top? If the A-League teams monopolise the majority of youth development, if no matter how well you do on and off the park you're effectively locked out, where's the incentive to excel by the processes of reform and self-improvement and by trying to follow the rules such as they exist in the NPL? To merely achieve the honour of being the longest lasting of the ethnic club museum pieces? When I asked on Twitter, rhetorically of course, for someone, anyone, to at least show us the hoops that we need to jump through to make the grade, Mark Bosnich offered to explain it to myself along with the others involved in the relevant discussion, in person next time he comes to Melbourne.
While I appreciate the gesture, and would happily take part in such a meeting, I'm curious as to what Bosnich thinks it will achieve. Does he have some special insight or inside knowledge that's not available to the rest of the soccer public?

Absurd (with Simpsons reference)
What I imagine Mark Bosnich will feel like if he ever follows through with his promise to meet with the bitters.

Personal
This isn't just a story about old soccer fans, or South fans in particular. This is a story that has deep resonance to me as an individual. Now I've never run a club, but I have the utmost respect for those people that do put their hand up to do it these days - even when I disagree with them, and even when they fail. No one is closer to the coal face than they are in terms of seeing the problems and institutional injustices every day, and no one understands them better.

But having written this blog for seven and a half years, and having been involved in the online arguments for long before that, I feel I have a unique relationship to this problem. Getting reconnected with South Melbourne in 2006, and having my writing on the forums praised and encouraged (especially by Ian Syson) has lead to a number of peculiar outcomes.

Firstly, for better and for worse I have become the chief voice of South Melbourne fans outside of what the club controls and what some fans on certain forums put out. My self-declared desire to be the reasonable one, to play a straight bat so to speak, has won me some admirers; but the overall effect has been that the necessity and rigour of trying to fine tune the arguments combined with the increasing and ongoing marginalisation of South means that I have found myself backed into an ideological corner.

I'm not alone in that corner, but that's not really the point. There have been plenty of times when I've been jubilant or outraged, cautiously optimistic or maudlin, inspired or defeatist - these are the general swings and roundabouts of being involved with the game at any level. The point here is that because of South Melbourne I have ended up with the career of sorts that I have now, and the option to be broader and more engaged with Australian soccer such as it exists these days.

Every few months I end up having a discussion with Ian Syson where he worries about my own increasing marginalisation in the soccer writing world, a world where he thinks I can contribute intelligent and cogent arguments to a wider reading audience than I do now. And yet every time we have this conversation, I find some myself being more adamant that I can't make myself be the kind of writer that Syson (and others) would want me to be; and instead of embracing those possibilities of taking an interest in and writing for a broader audience, with each passing year I find my focus getting narrower, and my outlook become one that can allow fewer compromises and extensions of faith and trust.

While a measure of this attitude is inevitably down to my being an introvert, a large part of it is because by associating myself so strongly with South Melbourne, I have been made smaller and more insular by the circumstances of our decline, and my reaction towards those whom I hold responsible. Thus as South has been marginalised culturally, so have I, and I can imagine that at times this is a feeling that many South fans have felt over the last ten years or so.

And while I'm a doom and gloom merchant by trade, the fact is that I don't like partaking in defeatism for the sake of defeatism. A former friend, from back in the days when I was involved with left-wing student politics at Melbourne University, who had me pegged as a hopeless pessimist, later told me that she'd been mistaken; that rather than being an outright pessimist, I was a foolhardy optimist, who when my expectations weren't met, descended into cynicism and irony as a coping mechanism. Amateur psychology it may have been, but the fact that she took the time to think about it resonated with me as much as the content of the message itself.

I resolved then to lower my expectations, to be more cautious. But no matter how much you try to do that, we as human beings inevitably see and come to understand these things through our own prism. In that way, South fans see this plan as hostile to our interests. Outside of us, an acquiescent and largely apathetic soccer public just goes along with it. All the pride, the incapacitating anger, the depression that we experience is at best for those outside of our sphere seen as a regrettable and ultimately forgettable novelty.

Having by and large conformed to the new regime, outsiders do not understand the pressure that exists to conform to or engage with this regime - and that by not doing so it means that you become smaller, narrower, and seen as selfish almost by default, when all you as a dedicated South fan see is your loyalty to the cause. I know this, because having been briefly on the other side of this schism, I've learned the arguments from both sides.

We have collectively been made smaller by the experience. There are people who have lost their passion for the game entirely, while others have given up the ghost on the national team. On the latter point, despite my diminished passion for the Socceroos, I never thought that I'd get to the point where I felt my relationship to the national team would have felt like it had been poisoned by South's predicament, but that's where I am now. It takes a certain level of intestinal fortitude to resist, which at times becomes too much to bear - when seen from the outside, it seems as if all sense of perspective is lost

There were many times when I was writing this post where I had to stop because I was so angry and despondent. That we care that much should be seen as a strength, not a weakness; but how do we convince not only others but ourselves, too, of that fact?

Pragmatic fatalism
So what do we do now? The same thing we always do. Support the club, try our best to make it bigger and better despite all the obstacles that we face. In that way we not only honour the work being put in now, but the history of the club as a whole.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Indefinite - Port Melbourne 2 South Melbourne 2

Different number, same player. Nick Epifano in action against Port.
Photo: Cindy Nitsos. 
As Guns n' Roses once noted, nothing lasts forever, even indefinite bans. Thus the rumours that Nick Epifano would be in the starting eleven for the game against Port turned out to be true. Sure, he was wearing number twenty instead of his usual number seven, but it was otherwise hard to miss his trademark blonde Basil Brush mop of hair. That, and his name was in the starting line up as mentioned on Twitter.

I don't care how thin we are on the bench, the fact that Epifano played in this game was unacceptable. Regardless of how much respect Chris Taylor has earned during South Melbourne stint, Epifano's poor conduct exists outside the football department. This was meant to be a club matter, and all I can see happening is Epifano getting too many second chances without having to pay appropriate penance. Three days off? A week off? But only until we really need him.

Regardless of whether it's Chris Taylor or the board pulling the strings on this matter - and I don't think it's Epifano, who's just taking advantage of the farcical situation - it's insulting to the fans that this is the course of action that's been taken. For whatever its worth, some booed and abused Epifano, a smaller number encouraged him, but most people offered very little either way - and to be brutally frank, the atmosphere was like a morgue, a phenomenon which is much worse. To have the passion sucked out of the supporter base like that, after all we've been through these past 11 years, it was just devastating to be a part of it. The late push as the fans tried to rally the team home to at first an unlikely equaliser, and then an unlikely winner, only masked the relative apathy that set in during the rest of the game.

As a side note, Epifano's performance was neither very good, nor very bad. He put in more effort than usual when it came to trying to win the ball back, but I don't think I've ever seen a player look more awkward in doing so. Where he looks comfortable with the ball at his feet, when trying to shut down the opposition he has the most unusual gait I've seen, as if like a newly born calf or foal he's still learning how to run. Meanwhile in his attacking forays he did some good things, but mucked up his best chance, a pass into the 18 yard box towards the unmarked strikers.

Luke Adams' back post header sails past Port keeper Stjepan Gal.
Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Luke Adams' gave us what was probably a deserved early lead when he floated in the back post and headed home, but I never felt like we had control of this match. Aside from that effort, what was a very lacklustre South Melbourne saw a good portion of its better chance fall to Leigh Minopoulos, who wasn't able to make any of them count. Now, this is not as if Minopoulos played badly or missed his shots by miles, but last season - indeed, in the corresponding fixture - he was able to be the difference in tight contests. The problem for Leigh is the combination of his 2014 super-sub performances and his limited opportunities, he has to be seen to be more effective than many other players; the line between between success and failure for him is much finer than for other players.

After we went up Port then had the better chances, but wasteful finishing from their end saw us go into the break 1-0 up. Shaun Kelly's header missed narrowly late in the first half, in what would have created an odd scoreline - 1-1 with both goals from the centrebacks - but he made up for that when he headed home uncontested from a corner to level the scores. It looked like a good corner, but for none of our players to seemingly even get near it was devastating in its own way.

Trent Rixon missed an absolute sitter soon after that - and looked incredibly nonchalant doing it - but Alan Kearney scored from the penalty spot to give Port the lead they deserved. Once again our downfall has been in rushing the play. Bombing it to Milos Lujic might make sense if he's near goals, and someone can pick up the scraps, but doing it while he's midfield and up against two defenders... I don't know. We've mentioned before that Taylor wants the team to play less direct, so there's a message there that the players are ignoring for some reason.

At this point it looked rather unlikely that we would be able to get back in the game, but the introduction of Andy Brennan - who didn't start the game I assume do to concerns about a hamstring twinge from the Pascoe Vale game - added a little more grunt and spark. Mind you, Brennan (and all our wide play for that matter) was made far less effective by the very narrow field provided by the home side. All things considered, it was the narrowest field I'd seen since I used to go watch the South women's team play on Field 13.

Prior to our contentious equaliser, missed handballs were already a bone of contention. It looked like a Port player on the ground in his own 18 yard box clearly handled the ball, but there was no call from referee Shaun Evans, of whom the best thing could have been said that he'd lost some weight since we saw him last. One could talk about some sort of karma then for our equaliser, especially if we include some of the brutal tackles that we'd been in the receiving end of - but neither the world nor soccer work like that. Just accept that it was a dodgy goal, be glad it was for us, and move on.

Next week
The start of a theoretically easier stretch of matches begins with a home match against Avondale Heights on Friday night. What I see is a tough month ahead if for no other reason due to limited manpower.

Andy Brennan off to Newcastle Jets - confirmed
The recent rumours have proven to be true, with Brennan signing a two year deal with the struggling A-League outfit. I think it's all a bit sudden, but you've got to take your opportunities when they present themselves. I, like probably a few South Melbourne fans, will be disappointed to lose Andy, as he was not just a talented player but someone with a great attitude on and off the park - the comment was even made to me once by an insider that he's too eager to learn. The Jets begin pre-season training on June 22nd, and unusually perhaps we get to keep Brennan all the way up until the Dockerty Cup game against Melbourne Knights on the Queen's Birthday long weekend.

2016 Australian Grand Prix pushed back a couple of weeks
Neos Kosmos English Weekly (via AAP) has reported that next year's Australian Grand Prix will be pushed back a couple of weeks - does this mean that we'll be able to host more than one home game during the warmer months, or will some other excuse turn up to prevent that from happening?

Social club news, as osmotically gleaned from the internet and dewy grass æther 
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Smithers, my wallet's in my right front pocket
Oh, and I'll take that statue of justice too..

Everything else
Bad public transport, being offered a lift by Kev, Hainanese chicken rice + curry puff + soy bean drink, schmoozing with the high rollers, it's European!, hanging out with the plebs, Dave Gilmour vs Roger Waters, tailored suits, observing someone drinking VB in an attempt to fit in with the common man, night shift shelf stacking, barcodes and reflexive memory. Also imagining that I overhead someone mention how good this blog is,

Final thought
The effects of a long season are starting to kick in, and we're not even half way through yet.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Metamorphosis (in a Robert Manne sort of way)

This is a guest post by one of South of the Border's most frequent contributors to the comments section, Savvas Tzionis. It's an interesting ramble about a very unorthodox journey towards, away from and finally back to South. Cheers, Savvas!

This is the story of a South Melbourne fan who went from being an anti NSL (and by definition, anti-South to some extent) zealot to an anti A-League agitator (by definition, a very much pro South Melbourne fan).

I grew up in Greek family with a Cypriot father who passed on down to me, not a love for soccer, but his passion for the Carlton Football Club, much like his own uncle passed on the passion to him when my father arrived in 1951 as a 17 year old (my father's uncle having arrived in the 1920s.)

Soccer was, and has remained for him, a secondary sport. For me, the 1986 World Cup made a indelible impression on me. It councided with a nadir in the VFL, highlighted for me with the pre game entertainment at the 1986 grand final where John Elliott's Fosters Lager was horribly ubiquitous! Thus the journey began. South games, which I rarely attended, were now part of my ritual. For up to ten years from 1986 to 1994, both Australian rules and soccer were part of my diet, with Australian rules still the dominant partner.

Then in 1994, the once great game of Australian rules quite suddenly lost its aesthetic appeal, and soccer found itself number one. But, concurrently, I was also frustrated by the ethnocentric nature of the sport. The clubs seemed to be run by ultra-nationalists who had no interest in broadening the game's appeal.

I then moved to Sydney in 1998 for a year, and was fortunate enough to time my arrival with the introduction of the Northern Spirit. Those Friday night games were something else. I stood amongst the non official cheer squad (as opposed to the larger 'official' cheer squad on the opposite side), who were a motley group of English, Australian, and Southern Europeans. The English were the leaders, and rightly so, because they had the wittiest lines! It confirmed to me that we were not harnessing the latent interest in the game.

Once I returned to Melbourne, and in the wake of the missed 1997 Iran debacle which stifled the opportunity to grow the game, I drifted away from the sport to the point where I stopped going altogether. There were other external factors, but the deteriorating aura surrounding Australian soccer was of no interest to me. But when the Howard goverment was encouraged to enter the debate, I smelt a nasty rat.

I became a trolling internet soccer forum abuser, accusing the new regime of pseudo racism, and labelling its key element of change, the A-League, as the B (British and second rate!) League. I decided to attend Souths first game back in the State League against our erstwhile rival, Heidelberg. I didn't want to admit it, but it was such a sad affair, in spite of the large crowd, that I never went again (bar the odd Monday night game at Bulleen, near my home) until 2012 when I felt the urge to start attending South games again.

Why? Various reasons. My retreat from mainstream society was manifesting itself in various ways, and coming back to the Hellas fold was one of those ways. I also felt an urge to do my bit to hold on to a bit of the old Greek Australian society, and returning to Hellas was one way of doing this.

Throughout this metamorphosis, I look with chagrin to my attitude towards fans of our rival, Melbourne Knights. In the past, I saw them as the evil beast of Australian soccer; but now I grudgingly respect their steadfastness, and their realistic views of what many people think of 'ethnics', for want of a better word. Perhaps one factor is the modern history of Croatia being under a (albeit relatively benign) communist dictatorship, which engendered a mistrust in 'best intentions', very much a trait of over governance, which the FFA can be accused of.

South Melbourne squad from round 1, 2012, prior to the 4-0 win against
Moreland Zebras. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
My initial steps back into the fold were a little timid. My first game back was against the lowly, and destined to be relegated, Moreland Zebras. Interestingly it coincided with South Melbourne Hellas' return to Lakeside after the refurbishment. I barely knew the players. Looking back now, I chuckle that my earliest memory was of Kyle Joryeff scoring twice in that game. By mid season, he was gone! Although I had dived straight in and purchased a membership, I was only attending home games for the first two years. But from 2014, I found myself attending even early round cup games. I think the trigger was the chance to visit the old NSL grounds like Chaplin Reserve to see the once middle strength Sunshine Geirge Cross. I now knew every player (not easy with the high rotation of player lists, a marked, but understandable contrast to the NSL days.) and this was a key reconnection to the club.

My two most memorable matches during this time were the penultimate 2012 game against Bentleigh Greens which sealed our fate for that year, and the 2013 elimination final against Green Gully. Extreme disappointment, followed by an elation I hadn't felt since probably the 1991 NSL grand final. Where this new chapter will take me, is perhaps out of my hands. I would like to think the club, on the back of the return to the newly improved Lakeside Oval and the finalisation of the 40 year lease, has some real foundations in place for a return to better times. The team is finally back where it belongs on top, and I TRUST(!) the Social Club will be ready soon!

A couple of people who I would like to mention is the author of this blog, Paul, whose writings have been one of the reasons I have not only returned, but have taken it up a step, (to quote George Costanza from the Hamptons episode) in supporting South.

And to George, who I met through a mutual friend back in the early 1990's, on the terraces in the outer at Middle Park. Upon returning to SMH, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him at Lakeside, still attending, 15 years after I last saw him, still attending with his non driving father. His response to seeing me was akin to Mario from Mario's Pizza in the Frogger episode from Seinfeld ... 'Where've you been?!'

He stuck at it, whereas so many of us left.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Internecine - South Melbourne 1 Pascoe Vale 0

Same as it ever was
This week was another interesting week at South Melbourne, even if it was still mostly a continuation of the post-NSL era phenomenon of the off field stuff being far more interesting than what happens on the field. What makes this slightly more tragic now is that despite the turmoil, the team is actually playing well (or at least well enough to still be undefeated) and therefore the gap between the on and field levels of interest shouldn't be this high. But here we are.

Come gather, 'round children...
Two themes largely dominated the discussion rounds this week. First was the banning of Cliff Hussey from the club indefinitely after his online run-in with Nick Epifano. Cliff thus began the transformation from marginal, shuffling, bad haircut freak show to, for some people at least, the people's hero - a change which could yet prove to be validated, and thus incredibly dangerous for those who've put their lot in with Epifano and Chris Taylor, the person who's most gone into bat for Epifano. Despite people pushing for him to turn up to last night's match in order to provoke some sort of protest action, Cliff did the sensible thing and stayed away, The pre-match rumour that Epifano was set to get a start or a bench position, despite his own indefinite ban from football, proved to be a false alarm.

The questions that keep you up at night
Is it true that Epifano is due to go overseas sometime during the season? If he has serious mental problems that he needs to sort out, shouldn't he be taking a break from football to sort them out, instead of always seemingly being near enough to getting a game, if not getting one? Who is responsible for anonymously posting the comment on here about his Facebook comment after the Bentleigh game? If we lose players mid-season, who can we find in the transfer window that's worthwhile, isn't cup tied, and won't break the player points tally? What happens if the latest arbitrary deadline set by Martin Foley for the resolution of the lease issue passes? Can we go on together with suspicious minds?

From donkey to thoroughbred in six weeks
The other issue was the rumour (from a usually reliable source) that Andy Brennan's trial at Newcastle Jets was such a success that he's signed a two year deal with that side, which seemed to be confirmed to me last night with a metaphorical nod and a wink by another insider. The reaction on the forum was terribly predictable, but as Dr Phil says, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

So there was the usual reactionary anger against the FFA. There were was more pragmatic argument about the structures that make this sort of thing inevitable, although with little acknowledgement of the fact that we've had very few players taken up to the A-League. There were even those who, out of a sense of defeat and/or genuine goodwill, wished Brennan well, and hoped that we could keep him for at least a while longer before he officially has to leave. Some people though were hinting at treason and betrayal; that Brennan and the club have hoodwinked the fans; that Brennan would not put in 100% now that he had an A-League gig; that we should have put our best player onto a professional contract.

Never mind that Brennan came from being an off the bench impact player, to starting against the Knights in part because of one goose's stupid antics and the other two strikers' inability to stick the landing - within six short weeks he went from potential glue stick to champion racehorse. The tragicomic call for our 'better' players to be put on professional contracts, and if possible for more than one season - aside from the costs that would be incurred for doing so - is exactly the opposite course of action to what people asked for when we did have players on long term contracts! Those players on longer term contracts eventually became an albatross around our collective neck, as they routinely underperformed or became injured. The call then was for bringing in a ton of a new players and a new coach to replace those at the club, and then bemoan the lack of stability, and on and on it goes,

The structural injustice we have to deal with means that there can be (and is) justifiable anger when something like this is due to occur - but the fact is that this structural injustice is sufficiently onorous that there's really no need to start frothing at the mouth and putting that foam on the cake and calling it whipped cream.

The whole thing smacks of effort
Some of Clarendon Corner's old guard look on, unamused and unimpressed.
There has been a steady influx of kids in the active areas at South of late. That's a good thing. That they are self-styling themselves as 'ultras' (with the current name of 'Enosi 59'), and trying to bring in A-League style chants and attitude, well, that isn't necessarily going over so well. Some of the older heads have latched onto the enthusiasm the new group has brought to affairs - I mean, how often is it that Clarendon Corner makes an effort against teams like Pascoe Vale? - but others aren't sold on this yet. The kids haven't done the hard yards, they haven't proven themselves over the journey. And where's the sense humour? The 'schizophrenia' chant doesn't count. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out. Is it possible for a state league team to have two different chanting groups? The last time that was tried, when Gate 1 split off from CC, it didn't last very long.

In the midst of all this, a game of soccer broke out
As for the game itself, I wouldn't call it dire or lacklustre, just disappointing. I expected more from Pascoe Vale, but they mostly sat back and tried to hit us on the counter. For a team that has some serviceable attacking options, it looked liked they'd decided from the start they were going to sit back and take what few opportunities that may fall their way - a long way from the team that should have destroyed Port Melbourne in the first half earlier this season.

We weren't great, and too often it seemed like we resorted to long medium balls over the top and long range shots, but we got the job done again in a game that few got to see and fewer still will remember. When Milos Lujic scored what turned out to be the game's only goal - from one of those aforementioned balls over the top, with a little help from a deflection - it nevertheless seemed to have come from nowhere; and even though I admit I wasn't fully paying attention at that moment, and thus more likely to conceive of the situation as happening almost outside of the realm of the game's expected flow, the replay also seems to suggest that it was a goal out of almost nothing.

Heavy rain then swept across from the west, turning over the sponsor boards and sending the officials scuttling out to get the ball kids indoors, lest they catch a cold. Team manager Frank Piccione filled in for a bit until the weather calmed down, though he didn't exactly looked thrilled about it. Having once performed a similar role during an ill-fated cup game, I can sympathise.

The second half was better from us, even as the weather turned nasty. Lujic hit the post with a header, Dane Milovanovic cracked a powerful long range shot which at least looked spectacular, and a volleyed Brennan attempt almost managed goal of the season of the status, were it not for the visitor's keeper making the save. At the other end, apart from set pieces - and even there Pascoe Vale were generally poor - the most likely means of us conceding were the weather and our own complacency, neither of which made much impact on the game.

Crowd watch
My resident realist informant said 400, including the people in the souvlaki line. No propaganda number was provided. When they all bunched up together in the upper parts of the stand when the rain began, it looked like more from my side on position, but doesn't it always? I'm starting to come around to the idea that anything later than 8:00pm kickoff time for the senior game is just madness, especially when they start the game at 8:13 instead of the scheduled 8:15 anyway.

Next week
Port away on Friday night. Another little mini-South reunion: Shaun Kelly, Alan Kearney, Kamal Ibrahim, Trent Rixon. It's going to be fun.

The Great Tomato Sauce Shortage of 2015
Those who there will be telling their grandchildren about this. I mentioned in my round 1 report that the Water Rat burger was tasty, but completely undone by the lack of tomato sauce. Well last night I tried their chicken parma - which at $18 instead of $22 for South fans, is a sort of special deal I guess - and was greatly disappointed. A burger with fancy capsicum paste instead of tomato sauce? I can understand if not approve of that. A parma without any napoli sauce? As I struggled through my chicken schnitzel covered in burnt cheese, I decided that I'd stick to the happy hour beers, but from now on eat from the Valkanis canteen instead, even if it does take half an hour of waiting in line for a souv. And just to emphasise how bad this tomato sauce shortage crisis is  - even their bottle of tomato ketchup (really guys, ketchup?) on the outside table was just about empty.

Around the grounds
I love the smell of napalm oil refineries in the morning afternoon
Altona East vs North Sunshine Eagles out at Paisley Park. The first thing I notice is how many North Sunshine supporters are at the ground halfway through the reserves game - dead set, there are more people at the ground by 2:15 then there are for most Altona East senior games. The second thing I notice, after buying my souvlaki and hanging out next to the ticket shed, is that I can smell the refinery next door. Two weeks away from Altona North is all it took for me to lose my immunity to that odour. North Sunshine took a 1-0 lead into half time courtesy of a free header from a corner. East equalised early in the second half from a well worked move, but conceded again from another unmarked header, then left a man by himself at the back post to be 3-1 down. A late penalty to the hosts made it 3-2, but poor passing made a late equaliser unlikely. It didn't happen.

Final thought
'You need to unban Cliff/He's not as bad as Griff'