Sunday, 25 September 2016

South of the Border Awards 2016

Clearly I put as much thought and care into these things as I usually do.

Player of the year: Nikola Roganovic, who apart from Milos Lujic, almost singlehandedly kept us near the top of the table, and who pulled off two wonder saves in the grand final. Apologies to Milos Lujic, who would have won it any other year.

Under 21 player of the year: The Cliff Hussey Memorial Trophy goes to Matthew Millar. This is especially pertinent once I realised he was only 20, and not something like 23. Apologies to no one else.

Goal of the year: Iqi Jawadi away at Port Melbourne. A goal so good, it destroyed his South career. Marcus Schroen would have won it if he scored from that free kick in the grand final, or from any free kick for that matter, because no one scores from free kicks for us pretty much ever.

Best performance: Round 1, Bergers at home. Maybe I should have picked a game where we didn't win thanks in part to a red card, but good luck finding that game. Apologies to the first seventy minutes or so against Bentleigh in the league - you were scuttled by a) bad coaching and b) losing.

Best away game of the year: Victory away. 'So much to do at Cartmanland, but you can't come' and all that. Apologies to those of you who couldn't get in to that game, and for whom the best away game would probably have been the Heidelberg semi-final I suppose.

Call of the year: The Melbourne Knights fan at Somers Street who abused the officials (who got the relevant offside call and subsequent red card absolutely right, then abused MFootball's commentary team accusing them of being biased because he thought they were working for Greek radio. Apologies to myself for several witty comments made throughout the year.

Chant of the year: '6-5, on aggregate!' You shouldn't hand out such awards to yourself, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and that chant probably saved a few people from going catatonic with rage that night. Apologies to 'thanks for beating Bentleigh' from the grand final.

Best pre-match/after match dinner location: Nasi lemak at Old Town White Coffee. Apologies to the fifty bazillion Korean fried chicken places we went to. No apologies to places that sponsored the club, because you all dropped the ball at some point.

Friends we (apparently) lost along the way:Another umbrella. Maybe Skip Fulton. Possibly West of the Quarry.

Barely related to anything stupidity highlight of the year: Steve from Broady's initial itinerary for his trip to Perth to watch the Socceroos vs Iraq. Unfortunately he came to his senses and avoided creating a sequel to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

No Kevin Nelson artefact Wednesday - VPL 2006 Champions T-Shirt

This Saturday marks ten years since the 2006 VPL grand final, where we beat Altona Magic 1-0. To mark the occasion, South put out a commemorative championship t-shirt with the names of every player who played for South that year. All except one, that is. Striker Kevin Nelson's name does not appear on the t-shirt, for reasons which do not remain clear. Nelson's contract was terminated following a 2-0 win away at Melbourne Knights, during which he came off injured. Nelson took the matter to arbitration of some sort, the result of which I'm not certain. Just about everyone else who had a hand in that championship - other players who left, players who barely played, the massage therapist - managed to get on the shirt, but Nelson - who scored seven goals in 18 league appearances - did not. Now I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but I do suspect that this omission was deliberate, in which case it's a callous way of rewriting history.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Bruno told us so! South Melbourne 3 Oakleigh Cannons 2

Thank goodness we won because otherwise doing stuff all work during the week (except for reading the first essay in Josef Pieper's 1948 book Leisure, the Basis of Culturewould have been considered a tremendous waste of time.

Sleep was hard to come by the night before the game, but the nerves only really kicked in about 11:30 on Sunday morning as I was on the train on my way to the Limerick Arms for the pre-match drinks session. It took a while for people to filter towards the pub - the late start maybe dissuaded people from getting there at noon - but soon enough there was a good turnout there, with plebs and civic leaders paying due homage if you know what I mean. 

There was some good chanting from those who felt like chanting before a game, politeness shown towards the elderly couple who had to make their way through the crowd outside the pub, and hilarious gags such as,
'Hey, we should change our name to Social Media FC - we'd still be able to use the SMFC acronym.'
And one other heinous joke about making a movie about South's overcoming adversity in 2016 that's probably not fit for print.

What's the hubbub? Did Taylor finally get the sack?
Walking up Clarendon Street with Gains (earlier than everyone else, because who knew when they were going to leave the pub) we saw Richmond ruck/forward and St Albans Dinamo president Ivan Maric and some other St Albans people, seemingly ready to go home rather than watch the main event. Even getting to the ground an hour before the game you could tell there was going to be bigger crowd than last year's final, but more on that later.

Apart from several moments of skill and close combination play by the usual suspects, I don't think it was the highest standard match - last year's contest had a lot more quality I felt - but it will be remembered within Victorian soccer circles as a classic in its own right for the non-stop entertainment it provided. Both sides hit the woodwork on multiple occasions, forced good saves, had shots cleared off the line and were prone to the kinds of mistakes which made fans of the two sides and neutrals alike feel like a goal was never far away. Otherwise, there was a nervousness to much of the ball control, with players preferring to clear the ball rather than take control of possession in situations where they probably could have done so. Even defensively, South especially looked cautious, and unwilling to go hard at Oakleigh's attacking players, which was concerning at the time - one realises now, with the benefit of hindsight, that probably only part of that was due to the skill and size of Oakleigh's attackers, and that we were being cautious not to give away fouls anywhere near the edge of the box.

Whoo! South rule!
It was a game that embodied the idea held by armchair pundits that both sides had top line attacks but suspect defenses. South started the game better, pressing well and earning a number of corners, but Oakleigh soon wrested control of the game. Leigh Minopoulos' goal to open the scoring against the run of play highlighted two things; first, Chris Taylor's maxim that games are won in 'moments' (or at least Taylor conditions his team in that way), but also that desperate defending and super saves can all be undone by slacking off in defense. Minopoulos finding himself with no one in front of him on the left flank from a throw in, and strolling towards goal before executing a calm finish, is exactly the kind of thing that kills coaches and supporters; indeed, it's the kind of thing that killed South during the increasingly barren years after the 2006 championship.

Getting that goal could have served to settle our nerves, but instead Oakleigh managed to pull the goal back soon afterwards, after another one of those 'moments'. An out of position Brad Norton, way upfield, instead of holding his ground went in for an all or nothing challenge and came out of that with nothing - less than nothing in fact as Oakleigh exploited the space Norton had left behind to score the equalising goal. At that point - midway through the first half - I was hoping that we could somehow get to halftime level and reboot from there. Credit to the team however that they managed to work their way back into the contest in the final five minutes of the half.

No one thought we'd score from the free kick - we've barely got close over the past five years - but Schroen managed to get closer than I'd anticipated, hitting the top of the crossbar. His curling shot right on halftime also smacked into the post, and should have been at least attempted to be hit back at goal instead of (and I'm not sure who it was of our players) being responded to by turning around in anguish or disappointment.

I thought that we would carry that momentum into the second half, but Oakleigh again were the better team. Yet we took the lead again, thanks to a pinpoint cross by the People's Champ to Marcus Schroen, who nodded home from close range. Schroen will justifiably get the plaudits for the goal, and he did end up winning the Jimmy Rooney medal for his performance as our most important player going forward, but it was a great maneuver from Nick Epifano, exploiting the lack of speed of the Oakleigh defender (and perhaps his belief that the People's Champ would cut in on his right?) crossing on his non-preferred left foot into just the right spot.

Nikola Roganovic was then forced to make two clutch saves, one from long range from Dean Piemonte tipped wide for a corner, and one from a medium range Goran Zoric effort which Roganovic tipped onto the crossbar. The bloke who had almost singlehandedly kept us within touching distance of the minor premiership for far longer than we had any right to stepped up big time when it counted. If it is to be his last game for us - some have hinted he may hang up the gloves - than I am glad that he's been able to secure a championship while playing for us.

Our third goal was from another throw in, although this had a little bit of a sense of a set play about it. Minopoulos' superior game sense - the mere fact of his being on the field lifts the collective soccer IQ of our team by a significant margin - saw him nod the ball down to Schroen who smashed home his own volley. After that we should have absolutely hammered them. One sequence of play which saw at least three attempts from more or less point blank range rebuffed was the height of madness; at the other end, Oakleigh kept plugging away, while we were at times camped in our own half, unable to clear the ball on occasion except in the most comical of fashions. And as much stick as we've all given stick to Tim Mala for his downturn in form this season, thank goodness he was on the line to clear that shot which could have turned things on their head once again.

In this season of red cards in South games it was fitting that the game ended the way it did, with a red card to Oakleigh's Adrian Chiapetta, followed by a late Oakleigh goal which had us squirming for another thirty seconds. Once again, we were scored against by a team with a numerical disadvantage, even in this case where there were just moments left in between the dismissal and the end of the game.

The final whistle for some was the time to celebrate, but for me it was a chance to feel some relief. It has been a chaotic, sometimes exhilarating but mostly frustrating season. There were huge wins, especially early in the season which gave us a sense of false hope; theheavy losses, some of them absolutely devastating - Richmond away, Heidelberg away, Bentleigh away twice, Avondale at home where we looked desultory; the three point deduction, no FFA Cup run, the fact that we had not beaten a top six side for the whole second half of the year until we beat Gully in the last round.

Added to that was the fact that we were playing awful, ugly football, which we had accepted two years ago because it by and large worked and because we had been starved of success, but which we were now over because it was slightly less successful and we wanted to be entertained and to have two up front as a minimum. To his credit Chris Taylor made the necessary adjustments, managed the interferences and the egos and got the team clicking at the right time of the season. Beating the Knights and Pascoe Vale, then knocking off four finalists in a row, and snaring the title could only have realistically come about with a change in mindset, or as Nicholas Tsiaras said, Taylor embracing his inner gambler.

So apart from the satisfaction of winning the title, Taylor gets the joy of knowing he has overcome his detractors, some of whom clearly had no idea what they're were talking about. Although to be fair to people who can't remember all the way back to July 2016, I did hint at the possibility that things could get better, and that a more attacking, risky approach would pay dividends in a season where finals would be the final (ahem) arbiter of the 2016 champion.
While we can enjoy the anarchic spectacle of a Chris Taylor side actually playing attacking football (and try to convince ourselves that maybe this approach will pay off in the finals)
Which just goes to show that if you hold every opinion possible at one stage or another, even though you'll always be wrong, you'll always be right, too. All of which keeps the universe in balance.

Post-match celebrations
Apparently not quite as many managed to get into the change rooms for the celebrations as in 2014 - probably for the best to be honest, as things got very claustrophobic that night.

Suitably blurry photograph of the post-match celebrations.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis. But seriously, why would anyone else want to claim it?
As for myself, I was just happy to stay outside in the grandstand and on the causeway in front of the grandstand, just letting it all sink in, and having a final catch up with South folk who I won't see - their attendance at an AGM notwithstanding - until next year.

No social club and a late finish meant that once again celebrations after the game at the Limerick Arms were fairly low key, before I assume many of the players, coaches, board members and support headed out to a nightspot or two.

Speaking of a lack of a social club, even our replacement social club the Limerick Arms almost failed us, when a dishwasher caught fire, forcing the temporary evacuation of the premises.
Although the fact that the harebrained rumour that managed to take hold, that someone had thrown a flare into the dishwasher, causing said fire, doesn't say much for the gullibility of some people. To be honest, the less said about how staff members allegedly tried to put out the fire, the better. Drink service resumed, though the kitchen was out of action. A trip down the road to a local Greek restaurant and sponsor of the club for a takeaway souv also saw us come up short. At least one could find comfort in having won a record tenth Victorian title.

Match day operations fail / Neutral venue chat
Once the venue for the grand final had been announced, and especially once it was known that South would be one of the two competing teams, most people without a rampant hatred of South Melbourne or who sought to play down the significance of the grand final as Victorian soccer's 'showpiece event' (blecch) were begging FFV to open up the northern stand to spectators. They didn't listen, they didn't organise with the State Sports Centres Trust to do so, and didn't that make them look like fools on the day.

But even before that there were massive issues outside the gate with long lines and the return of the tedious Ticketmaster ticket sales process, who were reportedly printing off tickets one by one instead of having a whole stack of them pre-printed and ready to go. That dire process as well as having too few ticket booths open meant that there were scores of people who didn't get into the ground until 20 minutes after kickoff.

Of course, one can note the advice given to pre-purchase tickets
but the reality is that not everyone reads this blog (hard to believe, I know), and most of those in attendance yesterday only visit Lakeside when a big crowd is expected, which is seldom the case these days.

Credit to FFV president Kimon Taliadoros for fronting up and apologising, and throwing the gates open, but it makes one wonder how we even got to this point. Were they going off last year's crowd of about 3,500, when Bentleigh Greens brought almost no fans to the game? Did they not take seriously the idea that Oakleigh may try and bring some support of their own to this game, or that there may be a lot of neutrals, especially leftover from the curtain raiser?
So, far too many people were squeezed into one stand - and in front of the stand - when there was a perfectly good stand on the other side waiting to be used. Eventually they let patrons use the concrete terracing behind the goals at the scoreboard end, and finally during the second half managed to get organised enough to open the other stand.
That didn't make up for the absurd lines for food and drink (again, greatly underestimating the crowd, and to make matters worse, the loukoumades people didn't turn up either like they said they would). As noted by the Heidelberg supporting 'redboots' on soccer forum:
Surely at an event like this you invite people to either bid or tender for the placement of their food vans... For fuck's sake, Melbourne is the King of man bun wearing food vendors and even one other van would've made a world of difference.... A spit going with gyro would've made a difference...
Apart from FFV losing a huge chunk of cash - the 'official' crowd of 4,211 would have been nowhere the real crowd number (perhaps only 80%) considering how many people were let in for free - but also a lot of goodwill, too. The large crowd - which included a fair amount of neutrals - at least put those in their place who, however jokingly, suggested that Kingston Heath or Broadmeadows would have been a more appropriate venue.

Now whether the match should have been played at a neutral venue is another matter - and Gus Tsolakis let FFV board members and staff know his opinion after the game - but underselling the importance of the grand final by playing it at second and third tier venues, with limited shelter, limited seating and poor viewing angles is the last thing we need.

But with most suitable venues - and there really are only three suitable venues, being AAMI Park, Lakeside and at a pinch Knights Stadium - needing to be booked in advance, what happens if they do step up and host the game at AAMI Park, and we have another game with two minnow teams in terms of support? People will be lining up to kick FFV for wasting everyone's money. And what if they played the game at Knights Stadium and the surface was stuffed?

Short of a marquee fixture like a combination of Knights-South-Heidelberg, Lakeside is on most occasions the most appropriate place to hold the NPL grand final. Seeing as that is the case, the point is then to not skimp on the extras when using the venue. Designed for crowds up to 10,000, it can comfortably hold 5,000+ plus patrons as long as you don't try to squeeze them into the space of 3,500.

Finally, the game is not played in the stands, or on paper, it is played on grass - and in Lakeside's case, a regulation sized field - which to be fair, may be alienating for sides that don't have grass or a regulation sized field. Quite where the advantage for South is supposed to come into it, I don't know. It's also true that Oakleigh has beaten us just once in our designated home games in the league and cup since 2006, including venues as disparate as Bob Jane Stadium, Lakeside Stadium, Northcote and Kingston Heath; but let's not forget, this is the club that once forfeited a game against us for spurious reasons.

Some brief thoughts on the atmosphere
Felt better last year, probably because last year's crowd was almost entirely South fans, whereas this year was much more mixed, with a healthy neutral attendance. I didn't like the fact that some people kept trying to start anti-Oakleigh chants - they were the underdog in this game, so why the reference to them choking? - and besides which, isn't it better if we try and support and pay attention to our team? There was a decent cheer for the Oakleigh goal, and the chanting from Clarendon Corner often had a disjointed, nervous quality to it, probably in reaction to the nature of the contest and the context of the season. But I prefer that compared to non-reactive monotonous chants that seem to have no connection to the game as it's being played out. Best chant was 'thanks for beating Bentleigh', which probably contradicts a point I made earlier within this paragraph, but at least it had a self-referential honesty to it.

There were the usual array of banners, including a couple of small throw over ones, but I liked this Super Mario one best, even if I think a Sonic the Hedgehog who is naturally blue would work better.
Next year Cacophonix!

Lucky me though
I had forgotten my media pass at home, but luckily Tony came by the pub with some complimentary tickets courtesy of his connection to St Albans Dinamo.

Post-game flare
Some folk were concerned that perhaps we could get fined for the flare that was ripped late in the affair in the north west corner of the ground (possibly thrown over the fence?), but my sources say that won't be the case.

Media coverage - it was actually good!
In times past when our club mattered beyond the feelings of its own supporters, one of the great joys of winning a match was digesting the post-match news feeds. Of course over the past decade we have been starved of this joy, even following championship wins. This grand final however had what was for Victorian soccer some pretty decent mainstream coverage, especially after the fact. The oft-maligned (not least by South of the Border) Michael Lynch got in three pieces in The Age - one on the game itself, one on Jimmy Rooney medalist Marcus Schroen, and one with Chris Taylor about the staleness of the A-League and its recruiting. The Herald Sun's David Davutovic also got a report in on the game.

As for Neos Kosmos, their traditional early deadlines have seen them so far only put up a perfunctory summary in Greek online - one would expect more material in the Thursday print edition. I don't have a copy of the Neos Kosmos edition which reportedly had a photo of Clarendon Corner/South fans away at Oakleigh from earlier this season, which reportedly had the caption claiming they were Oakleigh fans.

There was also a live stream provided by FFV on Facebook, which managed to get about 1,000 viewers apparently. I don't know what the quality of the stream was like, but one complaint was it should have been in Youtube, like the NPL NSW grand final, which would have made it more accessible. A fair point, I reckon.

Gold Medal night round up
Last week we managed to pick up some awards. Matt Millar won the young player of the year award, Milos Lujic was officially presented with his golden boot prize, while Jimmy Armstrong was inducted into the FFV Hall of Fame. Nikola Roganovic missed out on goalkeeper of the year to Chris Oldfield, which I'm a bit surprised by.

Off-season schedule
That concludes South of the Border's usual in-season programming for 2016. Coming up is the now usual South of the Border off-season blog mode which will include:
  • pointless awards post
  • monthly digests
  • occasional match reports from assorted quasi-random sporting fixtures
  • hopefully an AGM
  • news, if it exists, on the construction of the social club (starting 'soon', apparently)
  • maybe an artefact segment here or there
  • the odd book review (Alex Duric has a book out!)
  • breaking news if it's important enough to consider as such.
Of course if anyone wants to submit something in the meantime, you're more than welcome to do so. For those who drop off at this time of year, thanks for stopping by. For those who like to visit us during the off-season, you pretty much know what you're in for.

Around the grounds
For whom the bell tolls
Headed out to Paisley Park for the final round of the state league season, and a relegation deciding match between Altona East and Cairnlea. East had the advantage in terms of ladder position and goal difference - Cairnlea would need to win by three goals to overtake East - and so this was if not quite a dead rubber, than one where the odds were heavily stacked in one team's favour. Unlike the usual state league procedure of people trying to scam their way into the ground for free, or pretend they're a concession holder or pensioner, or demand change back to the cent, most people seemed to be in a generous mood, happy to leave change behind as a donation to the club. Small South contingent in attendance as well, getting some 'inconsequential' football out of the way before our grand final, but also there to see ex-South junior and friend Anthony Giannopoulos strutting his stuff for East. The first half was pretty 'meh' to be honest, neither team able to offer much. In the second half a Giannopoulos pass inside set up East's first goal, and safety from relegation was secured. A second goal was merely icing on the cake. Long serving (albeit across multiple stints) Cairnlea captain Mustafa Mustafa (and let's not forget one time fringe South player) was chaired off the ground in his final game with a guard of honour, a nice gesture.
Relegation brings with it its own heartache, as does retirement. Avoiding relegation on the final day brings relief, but pretty soon leaves you wondering how you got yourself so deep into the mess in the first place.

The next to last final thought
Happy birthday to Tony Margaritis for yesterday. I think he got what he wanted.

Final thought
How much better are finals than first past the post?

Maybe later, OK?

I woke up. I had some breakfast. I watched the Giants beat the Cowboys on TV, thanks to the latter's inability to comprehend the basics of clock management. I've been reading forums. I wrote some stuff, stole some stuff, borrowed some stuff. I'm off to have some lunch now, and when that's done, maybe I'll write a little more.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Once more unto the breach, dear friends - Heidelberg United 1 South Melbourne 2

Olympic Village has one of the most elongated arrangements for players walking onto the ground from the change rooms - their social club being at the northern end of the ground, the players have to walk through the small terracing area there, past the running track, onto the back field and finally onto the ground itself.

Passionate celebrations after one of our two goals scored on Saturday night.
Photo: Kevin Juggins.
Maybe our players were still making their way to the southern end of the ground if not physically than at least mentally, which would go some way to explaining how we managed to cop a goal in the first 15 seconds. Naturally, copping a goal within the opening 15 seconds of a match is not the way you want to start. How Archie Thompson got so much time and space on the right to put his cross is troubling; even more disturbing is how no one picked up the runner at the back post.

Having said that, it's nominally better to fall behind 15 seconds into a game than 15 seconds from the end, because in theory at least in the former situation you have 90 minutes to claw the deficit back. The best thing is that we didn't lose our heads unlike the last time we played at that ground and copped five. So even if we weren't creating a lot of or even any clear cut chances, you could see that mentally at least we were on point pretty much straight after conceding. That didn't mean we couldn't have found ourselves 2-0 down regardless as Archie Thompson found himself one on one with Roganovic, but hit a weak shot within range of Nikola who pushed the shot wide.Thompson had been called offside by the linesman, but the referee allowed play to continue with our players standing around assuming the call would go our way. For the millionth time, play the damn whistle.

For his part Thompson wasn't as bad as he was made out to be by some - after all, he put the cross in for their goal, and had their best chance for the remainder of the game - but his lack of fitness played its part, seeing him benched. If anything, the lack of familiarity between Athiu and Thompson was a bigger stumbling block to the Bergers than Thompson's lack of match fitness. Thompson would repeatedly peel off a defender by straying into an offside position (a typical Archie trait), but Athiu and the Berger midfielders didn't seem to be able to use this tactic to his advantage. His being subbed wasn't a turning point as such, but it did force Kenny Athiu to shoulder more of the forward responsibility for the home side. And while Kenny's size and mobility did cause us problems, it was much easier to handle one threat than two, especially against ten men.

After getting the experienced Perry Mur to officiate in our match last week, this time we had the bloke who did (I think) our Victory and Hume home games, officiating performances which were considered poor by several observers at the time. This game, too, saw scuffles and melees from early on, and the chance to take control of the game before it got of out of hand was missed. This included the pantomime villain behaviour of Heidelberg coach George Katsakis, who spent a good deal of the first half especially complaining in a manner which in other games would probably have seen him dismissed from the touchline.

One insider I spoke to after the game suggested that the reason we get so many of these younger refs for our games is to give them a taste of the big match experience, and a bit of hostile/vocal atmosphere (or any atmosphere at all, I suppose) which is part and parcel of becoming an elite official. Regardless of the merits of this idea, rightly or wrongly it was clear players from both sides had little much confidence in or respect for the referee. Conduct thus deteriorated to the point where Heidelberg's Reuben Way, despite winning a free kick and having his South opponent get a yellow card, decided to lash out at his South opponent (Millar? Norton?) and get himself sent off.
It was such stupid behaviour that even most of the home team's supporters couldn't excuse it, and it went a long way to helping us win this match. That said, going in to halftime 1-0 down was disappointing - especially because Leigh Minopoulos had failed to take his chance with a back post header - and I must admit that even with the man advantage I wasn't confident that we could pull off the win. I had the feeling instead that it would be one of those game where we would somehow fail to put away the chances that would come our way in the second half, especially if the Bergers went all defensive.

Instead the Bergers, even though they mostly looked to counter attack, kept looking for the second goal as a priority instead of trying to hold us out. In that way, Katsakis is Taylor's ideological opposite, always looking to take a game on rather than shut up shop and play conservatively. Chris Irwin coming on for Tim Mala, and Matty Millar going to right backm, along with Minopoulos moving over the left helped emphasise our ascendancy in this match, as did Taylor's decision to go to something that resembled three at the back when attacking.

So, after many months of asking for more risk taking in situations which seem to require it from an otherwise cautious operator, it actually happened, and we were the better for it. That's not to say that there wasn't luck involved with our two goals - the first one bundled in perhaps off a deflection, the second from a long ball not controlled by old mate Luke Byles which fell to a wide open Milos Lujic - but sometimes it's a bit like cricket, in that it's not the good balls that get you a wicket, but the bad ones which are a result of all the pressure from the good deliveries. All of which lead to a massive case of WILD SCENES when we did score, especially when we took the lead.
There were multiple opportunities to finish them off after that, but our failure to take those chances made the closing minutes of this match much more nerve wracking than they should have been. Our set piece taking still fails to past muster for the most part, but Taylor's change a a more attacking setup at least gives us more of a chance to score from open play than had been the case during mid-season.

Look at my range! Chris Taylor's 'serial killer movie' actor headshot .
Photo: Kevin Juggins.
With no suspensions or serious injuries to consider, one expects that we would field an unchanged lineup for the grand final. This would mean that Tim Mala would keep his spot in the starting eleven, despite some less than stellar performances in recent times. The issue is however, that dropping Mala would mean Chris Irwin would have to play a full game - not that there's anything wrong with that - but it would give us one less game changing option off the bench. Whatever else he may or may not be, Tim Mala is not an impact player, and his being on the bench would be useful in the event of an injury only.

It was good to see a decent crowd at the Village, with plenty of people from both sides. It would have been nice if there were more of course, but the halcyon days are gone and mainstream promotion of this game was just about zero. The atmosphere on our side was decent, though the combination of winning and mad fence runs after scoring goes some way to making that happen. No trouble at at the ground, apart from someone on the Heidelberg side lighting a flare after their goal, and a couple of drunk Berger fans attempting to accost our cameraman.

Of course even a win that felt as good as this one did won't be worth much if we don't manage to win next week - such are the hard headed realities of soccer. But at least it makes the laborious public transport trips to and from the ground more bearable, makes food and drink taste better, and makes life worth living just that little bit more.

Goodness, I've gone all sentimental again.

Next week, including match and ticketing information
The grand final will see us take on Oakleigh Cannons, at Lakeside on Sunday evening, with kickoff at 5:30PM.

While tickets will be available at the gate, it's probably best to pre-purchase them to avoid potentially stupid queues at the gate close to kickoff. Ticketmaster is the online vendor for this event.

For those unable to make it to the game, or who don't wish to give FFV any money, or who have some sort of moral objection to Lakeside hosting the event, it appears that FFV will also be streaming the game on Facebook.

Since FFV are running the event, there is no news on whether the opposite stand will be opened. Last year the venue comfortably dealt with the grand final attendance, but if Oakleigh put in more effort than Bentleigh did last year in getting their juniors and parents to this game, than opening the opposite grandstand and even perhaps the other gate might be worthwhile.

Oakleigh have had a good season, and were able to dispatch a probably tiring Bentleigh Greens yesterday in what sounded at times on the radio like a pretty physical game. Oakleigh's strengths are well known, mostly centred on their firepower up front which is in great nick, and their good range of set piece takers. That said, it'd be unreasonable for us to claim rank underdog status for this match, not because of home ground advantage or even form, but because we did finish some ways ahead of the Cannons during the regular season.

There will be a curtain raiser at 2:00, in the form of the NPL 2 East champion Kingston City, and NPL 2 West champion St Albans, in a match more for lukewarm pride than anything else - both sides will have put much more stock in securing automatic promotion into NPL 1 for 2017 than the arbitrary honour of being declared outright NPL 2 champion.

Some musings on the matter of a neutral venue
As with 2006 and 2015, the decision to have the grand final at Lakeside when South is one of the competing teams has been brought up - and not without legitimate issue it must be said.

Now for mine, unless you're playing on
  • a synthetic pitch 
  • a field of very small dimensions
  • a potato patch
home ground advantage is overrated when it comes to the Victorian top flight.Be that as it may, since there is a perception out there that there is a such a thing as home ground advantage, what should be done about it? The obvious answer is to play the match somewhere else - but where? There really are only two other options though worth considering.

If only one stand at Lakeside gets used, Knights Stadium has a larger seating capacity compared to Lakeside Stadium, and despite being inconvenient for public transport types, it at least has most of the trappings of a proper stadium. AAMI Park would be the other choice, but it's too expensive, even with a half decent crowd.

Some of the other options are laughable though. Epping Stadium has a great surface, but little else to recommend it, being in the middle of nowhere and with poor spectator amenities. Kingston Heath, with poor sight lines across 3/4 of the ground? Olympic Village? Realistically, nowhere else in Victoria has enough seating and modern amenities.So while not ideal, FFV can probably be excused for going to the default option.

All of which brings up a another more legitimate matter...

Why do we have finals, and why do we have this finals system specifically?
The debate about whether soccer should have a finals series will rage forever in Australia. My point of view on the matter is that soccer isn't suited to finals series as a means of deciding a league champion. The closeness of results and the elevated chance of draws compared to other sports, means that an inferior team has a much better chance of winning a title based on luck or a convenient burst of late season form.

Nevertheless, for sometimes contrived reasons of 'tradition' or 'Australianess', or the more reasonably posited economics or ' it helps to maintain interest' lines, we're stuck with finals as the ultimate arbiter of a season's champion.

Where the problem comes in here though is that the finals system we are seemingly compelled to use puts such extreme stock in late season perfection that one loss means you're out. That's not such a big deal for teams finishing lower down the table, but for those who finished near the top there's such a diminished advantage it's barely an advantage at all.

Now I don't have much time for Bentleigh, but it's hard not to see the ridiculousness of them or any other team in an equivalent position. We ourselves were just minutes away in our semi-final against Pascoe Vale from going to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out which would have undone 30 weeks of action.

Last year at least one could make the argument that the grand final showcased Victoria's two leading teams, who finished on equal points, in a winner takes all battle; the appropriate finale, even if the system is not designed to make that outcome occur.

This year though the composition of the final makes it all look a bit like the schoolyard kickabout at lunchtime. You're playing a game, the music starts playing to tell you to go back to class, and someone invariably shouts 'last goal wins'. That's probably acceptable for judging the champions of lunchtime, but is it really ideal for a purported 'proper' league to use the same methodology?

Doubtless there are mathematicians out there who could come up with reasons why this or that system works best, but for me the top five system seems to me to be the best one, in that there is some higher reward or benefit for finishing up near the top of the table.

And don't tell me it's about scheduling the season to finish a week earlier so we can fit it in with the national NPL playoffs. If scheduling was a such a huge matter, Richmond wouldn't have to wait a month between games to play its playoff match against the third best NPL 2 team.

Women's team news
Congrats to the senior women's team who after claiming the State League 1 North-West league title last week, annihilated their south-east counterpart Boroondara Eagles 4-0. It's a third straight title for the senior women, albeit this one is second tier Victorian title instead of the back to back WVPL titles of 2014 and 2015.
For some reason this match was played out at Knox, which meant that I was unable to make it out there. More's the pity.

Final thought 
It looks like soon I'll have the final say on Australian soccer in print. What an age we live in.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Currently joyful, pending future doom - South Melbourne 3 Hume City 0

The first surprise yesterday was having an experienced referee in the middle of the ground in Perry Mur. He's not everyone's favourite ref - I think there are times when he could be more forthcoming with the cards - but as far as keeping a game under control, there ain't much better than him around. One has to marvel for example at how a spiteful period towards the end of the first half didn't spiral out of control. The second surprise was how good we were. Now people will say and have said that Hume were going to be tired from playing three games in one week, including a midweek FFA Cup match against Melbourne Victory.

[Should we count their home loss against Bulleen where they probably rested a whole bunch of players in the lead up to that FFA Cup game? Had they beaten us yesterday would they be instead be praised for their fitness and resilience? Surely Green Gully has had a more tiring schedule, what with having to play an extra match in the form of the Dockerty Cup final as well as having a pending FFA Cup match of their own. Does the fact that our last two wins came against teams who have played midweek fixtures in the lead up to their games against us mean our relative ease of victory in those matches is distorted?]

To be honest, I didn't see it like that, and I didn't notice much tiredness on their part. I didn't even think that Hume played badly, only that we played better. That in itself is an odd remark to make in a season which has been characterised by most South fans (including yours truly) being so quick to assess the opposition as having being unlucky whether they'd won or lost against; as our team being managed atrociously, having recruited badly and only in contention for top spot for as long as it was during the season because of the kind of outrageous fortune that few opposition sides could overcome. In a nutshell then, a result like this for Hume is entirely their own fault. How could they lose so badly to a team that was according to many of its supporters apparently many orders of magnitude more mediocre?

Leigh Minopoulos gets past his Hume City opponent. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
That's for those folk to figure out I suppose, while the rest of us enjoy this brief opening of a window in which we can convince ourselves that we have a realistic shot at the title. I've said it a million times, but having the extra man up front seems to do wonders for us. What was the most predictable (albeit still relatively effective) attack in the league has all of a sudden become one that is multifaceted, variable and fun to watch. It's been an entertaining as well as successful month of soccer. Our finishing could be better, but three goals a match will win you most games - though one has to note that we won't get as many chances as we did in this game every week. Most disappointing miss of the match goes to Matt Millar, for not hitting the drone that was hovering near the goal at the Albert Road Drive end of the ground - if you're going to sky the ball ten metres over the crossbar, at least take a drone or a seagull out!

It always (usually?) helps when you score an early goal, and Marcus Schroen (that little boy whom nobody liked) has run into a bit of form. That made up for Milos Lujic failing to score when one on one with Chris Oldfield - and while I'm not against Milos taking the early shot, it seemed to be at odds with our recent practice of trying to go around the keeper.

Everyone pitched in, even the People's Champ, who worked hard and tracked back when necessary - so much so that it was being remarked upon that someone may have finally had a word with him that had made a difference, ONLY FOR THE PEOPLE'S CHAMP TO ALMOST IMMEDIATELY LOSE OUT IN A CONTEST IN MIDFIELD AND CHUCK A MASSIVE SOOK AND HAVE THE GRANDSTAND RISE AS ONE IN RESPONSE WITH FRUSTRATION AND FURY. Having said that, he managed to keep himself in check for the rest of the game even if his finishing has been in the same place it has been for most of the season, which is in the toilet. But most of us would have been pleased with the effort he put in, while acknowledging that IT IS EXACTLY THOSE MOMENTARY LAPSES WHICH COULD LEAD TO THE OPPOSITION SCORING AGAINST THE RUN OF PLAY AND GAINING THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ASCENDANCY. Nevertheless, his little header on the byline that lead to Norton's cross that lead to Milos' goal was commendable. He probably won't be able to rely on as true a bounce at the Village this week, but sometimes things just work.

At 2-0 up and cruising during the second half, the discussion in Clarendon Corner went all midlife crisis with people more interested in comparing different supermarkets in the northern suburbs. Thank goodness that didn't last, what with the discussion descending into what constituted the attainment of northern suburbs street cred (ie, how do you pronounce Reservoir and Mahoneys Road; gosh, it almost seemed that they were going to draw up a list for northern suburbs citizenship test) and most importantly HOW THAT DIDN'T MATTER ANYWAY BECAUSE

Attention to the match was restored upon witnessing Brad Norton collapsing in a heap towards the end of the game when it was just about wrapped up was the last thing we needed, even if he managed to walk all the way around the outer of the field unassisted after being subbed off - in an interview post-match Chris Taylor said that Norton had suffered a groin strain, and that while he could have continued playing, he was taken off as a precaution. One expects he'll be good to play this week - and with Manolo apparently flying out of the country last night, Kristian Konstantinidis performing well with Luke Adams in central defense, and Amadu Koroma not being able to force his way into the starting eleven, it's unlikely that we'll see any changes to the starting eleven, or even the match day selection as a whole.

Minopoulos' goal - it looked like an own goal but it's been credited to him, so who am I to take it off him - iced the game. It's just great to see everyone so happy. I know it won't last much longer, but instead of everyone wishing the season would just finish already, people are looking forward to going to see South Melbourne for at least one more week in 2016. The first half yesterday was about as a complete performance as we've put in all season.

Here comes the sciencey bit
The closest Hume got to scoring was in the following situations
  • Immediately after we scored, which is their specialty
  • From offside positions
Regarding the first matter, having watched the Altona East reserves during that era where they had a habit of conceding 1-3 goals within five minutes after scoring themselves, the answer to that seems to be to have the captain - ie, the most responsible, calm person - quickly get everyone back into the frame of mind of 'great we scored a goal, now let's regain our focus, and if necessary boot the ball out indiscrimately for the next few minutes to slow the game down'.

As for the second issue, each time they got free to shoot on goal, they were called back for offside - and even then they failed to beat Roganovic. It's the best we've played the offside trap all season, and considering that we're going to have the king of being offside playing against us next week, it will do us well to maintain that level of proficiency in this area.

But you can't always rely on the officials agreeing with your interpretation of offside. There was some discussion yesterday about the closeness of some offside calls, to which I blurted out something about the parallax effect without really knowing if it had any relevance to offside whatsoever. Luckily we had a qualified scientist nearby, and even if he was involved in chemistry and not physics or engineering (and I wasn't going to ask the economist, because economics is not a science) to suggest that the parallax could indeed have some bearing on the implantation of the offside rule.

This article here (with diagrams) I think provides a reasonably coherent explanation of the parallax effect on offside calls, but if like me you don't come out of it understanding how it all works, let's just assume as we have always done the linesman/woman/being/person/sentient entity gets all the decisions which go against us wrong, except when it's so obvious that he or she is right and instead we heap abuse on the incompetent player keeping everyone onside.

Next game
Heidelberg away, Saturday night. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date.

Women's team news
Congratulations to the senior women's team for clinching the State League 1 North-West title. They secured this with a 5-0 win over Eltham Redbacks. I had intended to see most of this game, but got caught up at the pub - at least I managed to catch the most of the second half.

Those of us who didn't go for a smoke at halftime warmly congratulated the team as they were presented to the crowd at halftime of the men's game. For those wondering where the trophy was, I presume because it is a state league championship, that they'll only receive a pennant for their troubles, as seems to be de rigeur for state league teams.

Just as an aside, there was some talk of SMWFC adding another star to their club crest because of this title. Surely that would only apply in the event that they won a top tier state title, not a second tier title? This is just one of the reasons why I hate stars on logos, but we're stuck with them I suppose.

There has been talk around the traps about the WNPL expanding to nine or ten teams, something which the current eight licensees are against because they do not believe the talent is there, and that such an expansion would dilute the quality of the league. There is even the view that the only reason that expansion is even being looked at is because of South Melbourne.

Now our ambition to return to local top flight women's football is no secret, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. The current licensees may be right about the shallowness of the talent pool (especially now that everyone's leaving to play footy), but one feels that our inferred clout - as well as the facilities that we could devote to women's soccer - may get us over the line.

Nevertheless, while I wish I'd managed to get to a few more games this season, it's a huge congratulations from South of the Border to all the players and coaching staff for a successful season.

Around the grounds
The second last time
In 1981, after 34 years of wandering around a whole bunch of grounds in Melbourne, George Cross arrived in Sunshine - namely Chaplin Reserve, previously known as the Railway Reserve, Gardens Reserve (possibly also Sunshine Park) and perhaps more colloquially as McKay's ground, after HV McKay of Sunshine Harvester and minimum wage fame, effectively the town's founder and long time patrician. There they shared the ground with Sunshine City, an Anglo-Australian club. At the end of the 1982 season, Sunshine City and George Cross amalgamated, with City's yellow and black being incorporated into Sunshine George Cross' away strip.

In 2009, Sunshine George Cross played its final ever match at Chaplin Reserve, after selling the land to developers (though I'm not sure how it came to be that the land was owned by George Cross). Seven years later they did so again, although this time it seems to be for good, as the sale of the land gets finalised once and for all, probably turning one of Sunshine's earliest public spaces into apartments whose occupants will have their sleep interrupted by Sunbury, Ballarat, Geelong, and Bendigo trains. The ground's location, at the junction of two railway lines was no accident. The town itself was situated there for that purpose - and like the nearby HV McKay Gardens and the church next door, the reserve was situated for the optimum convenience of the local community.

(other factory sites in Sunshine also had their own sporting grounds, such as Nettlefolds which had a ground which backed onto the back of the factory, roughly on the present site of Harvey Norman)

Unlike some people, I liked Chaplin Reserve. Granted, I never got to see it at its best, which was probably during the 1970s when state league soccer still mattered and before the then still nomadic George Cross had moved there, or in the 1980s where thousands of mad Maltese would create a hostile atmosphere (see Paul Wade's account of one particular match there in his autobiography), but it had a rough working class charm that is a reminder that the de-suburbanisation of top flight sport in Melbourne wasn't just an VFL/AFL matter - it had a significant impact on soccer as well, socially and economically.

Michael Weinstein, Theo Marmaras and Tommy Burns watch a match a
match at Chaplin Reserve, during a Channel 9 broadcast in 1975.
Photo courtesy of Mrs Weinstein.
To that end, visiting the ground one was struck by the fact that national league soccer was played here - that games would have been broadcast from Sunshine to homes across the nation, or at least those watching SBS. Speaking to former George Cross player and coach Chris Taylor yesterday about this ground, he told me the story of how when he first arrived at Chaplin Reserve, he assumed it was the training ground; only to be told that, no, that was what they would train and play on.

No, I only got to see it during its decline. On my return to watching South and local soccer in general in 2006, I visited the ground for the first time and saw a match where we got done by a Trent Waterson header, and then got done by signing Waterson not once but twice. That day some nutbag George Cross fans in my vicinity called me 'Brooksy's love child', though I never did find out who the hell Brooksy was. I actually met up with those guys again in the Lakeside social club after the game with that goal by Fernando, where they were clearly not in as a good a mood.

The trip there in 2007 was my favourite South experience at the ground, but we've already spoken about that before. Earlier that same year, the greatest South Melbourne Hellas libero that never was pulled out two 360s in a pre-season game there. We also played a pre-season match against Knights there on a rock hard ground in 2008. Usually games for us there meant ugly, low scoring affairs, which we seldom won. Georgies getting relegated meant that we didn't get many chances to improve upon what was a pretty lousy record there, with our biggest win against them during our post-NSL era - a 4-0 mauling in the last round of 2010 - being played at Somers Street.

The entry to the dilapidated bocci/bocce club, which was being used by
some kids for a kickaround. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
The last game we played there was in 2014 - when the early rounds of what was FFA Cup qualification was still called the Dockerty Cup, and Robert Santilli gave away as daft a penalty as you'll ever see, gifting us a win we probably didn't deserve. The crowd for that game was perhaps just a tenth of what it was on my first visit there in 2006; Ozfootball says 1,000 for the 2006 league match - I reckon there would have been barely 100 for the 2014 cup match.

The best game that I ever saw there - and what with the ground being so compact, the surface usually rubbish, and Georgies teams more keen on playing rugby than soccer, that's not saying much - was the 2011 Langwarrin vs Whittlesea Ranges state 1/2 playoff game, a match with lots of goals and a bit of controversy. Despite its excellent positioning regarding public transport, I didn't get to nearly enough matches there, even after I moved to Sunshine last year, just a short bus trip and walk to the ground. Even when I lived in Altona North, one of the buses that went past my house would get me to within a stone's throw of the ground, and yet I never found myself there as often as I would more out of the way places.

To be fair, the shoddy football that George Cross played, the fact that the Geelong portion of the regional rail link works had seen the outer terracing removed - previously the best place to watch a match there from, aside perhaps from the bridge over the Bendigo line - and the dwindling crowds all contributed to diminishing the appeal of going there, when on any given Saturday there were so many more appealing soccer options across Melbourne.

Arriving at the ground on Saturday, there wasn't a huge crowd in attendance, perhaps 300-400 or so, mostly inside the social club pavilion under the adjoining shed, and clearly there to catch up with old friends rather than watch the game. Kevin Muscat, Andrew Marth and Paul Trimboli were just some of the old faces who'd turned up for the final hurrah. As for me, the most interesting thing I noticed during this time was the playing of a Sunshine George Cross Maltese language theme song over the PA system, which I would love to get a copy of.

With the outer terracing long gone, this
Werribee City supporter improvises
 a better view next to the bench.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis
The match itself provided Sunshine George Cross with a chance to redeem the failure to win their previous 'final' match at this ground against Preston, a game they lost 1-0 to a team that had up until that point won just one game all season and were due to be relegated. But within the opening five minutes Werribee put paid to any notion of romance or sentiment. With the hosts having failed to adequately clear a corner, City managed to keep bundling the ball forward until it was put away near the goal line.

Werribee (incidentally wearing black and yellow, the colours of Sunshine City, instead of their traditional blue and yellow), kept dominating thereafter up until the half hour mark, and should have added another couple of goals to their tally. Though they were going against the wind, it seemed to be more the fact the occasion had got to the George Cross players. They managed to lift late in the half and should have equalised - one effort hit the post and somehow the rebound stayed out of reach of every George Cross player in the box, and soon after another chance at the back was squandered. One of the George Cross players on the bench had a go at the teammate who missed the chance, only to be told off by his coach for doing so. Within five minutes the same coach was not shy about telling one of his players 'and that's why you're not playing at a higher level', or words to that effect.
The scoreboard, relocated from the south-west corner of the
ground to the south-east corner, was not in operation.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis

In the second half with the assistance of the breeze and the confidence gained from their first half rally, the home side controlled the game, with Werribee unable to get out of its own half except for the occasional attempt at booting it long down the field; but George Cross could not get into the box, and for the second time in a final game at Chaplin Reserve, they lost 1-0. The theme song was blasted over the PA after the game regardless of the result, and was still clearly audible at the bus stop on Durham Road a few hundred metres away.

A case containing (one assumes) numbers for the scoreboard, which
was not in operation on Saturday. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
So that's it for senior soccer at Chaplin Reserve. While it was not exclusively a soccer ground for all of its existence - a number of sports were played there, and a look at the 1945 aerial map suggests that footy and cricket were just two of the sports which used the park at some point - later on it was in its own way one of Melbourne's most iconic soccer grounds - if there can be such a thing for a state in which the game's premier or at least longest serving venues have often existed in the periphery of both the public imagination and the fringe of public amenity.

After speculation that they would end up in Caroline Springs, it appears that George Cross will move to Plumpton/Taylors Hill West. Whether that will mean a name change, I don't know.

Final thought
Did you hear that sound yesterday? No? Exactly. Glorious, wasn't it? For the record, I had nothing to do with it, and you can't prove that I did.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Report delayed because I went out to buy some thermal paste - South Melbourne 4 Green Gully 2

So at the tribunal last Wednesday we had our date with destiny regarding the poor behaviour of some of our fans away at Bentleigh earlier this season. The net result was a six month ban for one of our supporters (albeit only ending up at a length of about two actual months of NPL soccer), and a three point deduction to the senior men's team. The effect of the latter is that we fell from second to third on the ladder, and with Heidelberg taking on Victory, we were doomed to remain there regardless of what we did against Gully.

Having not been at this tribunal session myself, and having not been given a debrief by anyone - not that I'm owed one, so don't take this as a complaint - I can only rely on the result of the tribunal hearing as put up on FFV's noticeboard, and the scuttlebutt on smfcboard.

The tribunal notice unfortunately does not go into any surplus detail about the nature of the incident. There are the charges against the relevant South fan (who pleaded not guilty) and the club for failing to control club associates (the club also pleaded not guilty), but no explanation of how the tribunal came to its decisions of guilty on both counts.

This is unfortunate because apart from FFV failing here to live up to its purported organisational value of transparency, I appreciate it when serious incidents such as this and the way they are handled are described by FFV's tribunal; because even if they don't work on precedent, it's nice to get a handle on the thought processes involved.

From what I can gather, the relevant sponsor who was accused of making the most egregious of the remarks towards the assistant referee fronted the tribunal, and accepted responsibility, and for that, credit must be given. Despite this intervention, the supporter put up on the various charges however was, by some process that remains unclear to me, found guilty, possibly for other comments made.

The process of identification, in particular what evidence was produced on the night, remains unexplained. That the conduct on the night of some South fans within the vicinity of the Kingston Heath grandstand was at best less than stellar is not in doubt; how one individual was picked out of that mess, and what the security firm in charge on the night was doing we will perhaps never know.

The interpretive fallout from the penalty has been diverse, but also predictable. To my mind the worst reactions have involved the allegations of a conspiracy theory; that FFV punished us for our so thoroughly identifying the Victory hooligans from the Lakeside incident earlier his season. I find this proposition utterly absurd, without any shred of evidence.

Other supporters have fallen into various camps of blaming the board for its handling of the matter, based on party lines so to speak. So there's your run of the mill Clarendon Corner type who are distrustful of the board based on their experiences going back a decade now. The are also those who have become hardened to the board over the course of time. In both instances it can be hard to separate the preexisting ideology from the reaction.

Despite its seeming inevitability (and some have even argued relative leniency, noting also the tokenistic $500 fine) I can understand the angst caused by the decision to dock us three points. Assuming for the time being that South Melbourne co-operated as was its obligation to do so in identifying the fan it was asked to by FFV - and that there were no mischief being done out of the public eye - what more can South Melbourne or any club do to prevent such incidents occurring in the first place?

Earlier this year at the AGM, we were told that we had avoided punishment as a club after a South fan (or one designated as such on the day; that individual would be one of those associated with the Victory hooligans who attacked South supporters) lit a flare and caused an incident in amid the Heidelberg fans, due to our identification and banning of that person. It was at a South home game, the security features there are better than most other grounds, and we were able to take advantage of that situation.

Earlier this year, after a flare was lit within the area where Clarendon Corner was located at the Veneto Club, on heading out of the ground after the game I was asked by president Leo Athanasakis whether I knew who had lit the flare. I replied that I didn't, and that was true - and if I did know, I would have told him. Likewise, when things threatened to get out of control at the cup match against Altona Magic this year, me being in the role of a supporter marshal, I had to try (probably badly, but well enough thanks to another fan at a crucial moment) to prevent people from our side doing something stupid.

But as per a discussion I had with one of our regular supporter marshals prior to yesterday's match, the obvious issue with that approach is do we (that is every club) then have to provide a chaperone each and every one of our supporters?

More nuanced therefore, from both inside and outside the club, have been the discussions surrounding how normalised point deductions have become in Victorian soccer as the primary way of dealing with serious cases of individual or club misconduct. While other local/suburban sporting competitions (the ones I'm familiar with most are various footy leagues) also use point deductions, I think you'd be hard pressed to find another sporting body which is so reliant on docking points instead of punishing the individual.

It has become so normalised that one can go through several divisions of the FFV league tables and see where point deductions have been applied. But the other punitive option employed by FFV over the years, namely fines, have also been controversial. Not being terribly imaginative, I'd like to know what the other disciplinary options are from people who don't like the way the current system operates. What course of action should FFV take instead to curb incidents of poor on and off field behaviour, especially in the case where a club refuses to identify individuals or cooperate with FFV?

Don't get me wrong: even if I'm one of a very small minority of people who thinks we got what we deserved, I get the frustration relating to the inconsistency of punishments dished out. We copped three points for failing to prevent comments that varied from stupid to offensive to outright vile. Heidelberg got nine points for for something worse - including alleged damage to an official's car - but got that down to three but also a hefty fine. Victory got six points and no fine for 30 odd blokes streaming across hundred metres to punch on with opposition supporters. Other teams get docked points after repeated infractions, when expulsion could be seen as the more appropriate answer.

But most of these things seem to me to miss the most crucial point - that without the first cause of the incident itself, there would be no need for the board to clean up this mess whether poorly or well; nor would be tribunal sessions where FFV would be asked to dispense summary or actual justice. This is where I feel sorry for people at the club - even if I think that they could or should handle such situations better, the point is that they shouldn't have to deal with such situations in the first place. In addition to that, there is only so much any club can do to prevent these sorts of incidents from occurring.

And the FFV, too, has a duty of care to its officials. Those officials are the branch of FFV that the Victorian soccer public most comes into contact with. The competency or otherwise of these officials is a matter for consideration on its own terms; it is not a line that can be used as a pretext for arguing that officiating mistakes are a justifiable pretext for fans or players to vent bilious hatred or even violence. As I argued last week, the supreme irony is that so often it's the fans who get it wrong seems lost on the people making these arguments - should the officials then get the chance to cry 'instigation' at the supporters?

Not that it should make any difference. The officials across any number of team sports expect a vocal home crowd to particularly scathing towards decisions that go against the home side, but there are lines that just shouldn't be crossed, not because of common sense but because of common decency, or failing that, respect for our club. For South fans who get targeted by opposition players, who have over the past decade or so taken the opportunity to celebrate goals in front of us instead of their own supporters, the best thing to do is not give those players the satisfaction of retaliating. As one of our more passionate but also level headed supporters noted yesterday and has been noting for years, attention at those moments should be paid to supporting our team

There are people who are still going out on the all or nothing approach on the matter of abuse, as if their entire right to be passionate at the soccer has been taken away. They are doing this I assume either because they are ignorant of the vile nature of the comments that were made on the night in question, or because they are on some sort of free speech, anti-PC brigade bandwagon. If it is the former, than I wonder how they would justify comments made to the official which included references to rape; if the latter, then it's the kind of absolutist position that is impossible to negotiate with, and which is an ideological which will never be accepted by FFV or any other similar sporting body, unless by chance you become an Australian test cricketer.

Rocking up to the ground yesterday, I was concerned that the game would be marred by further crass stupidity liable to get the club in trouble; instead a more humorous turn was taken, both in the stands and after the game, when the supporters ironically clapped off the officials as they left the field. I get that that kind of approach is not hardcore enough for some people, but I always find that a subversive, clever attitude is what we should be aiming for rather than crass macho bullshit. But then again since I could never pull the latter off, I would say that, wouldn't I?

The laughs keep on coming...
The suggestion was made yesterday by some supporters that the club had decided to take up its option of making an appeal. Should that be true, I can't say that I agree with this course of action. In part this is because of the lessons which one hoped would have been learned from South Melbourne vs FFV 2010; namely, that FFV can dock us more points, points which would be applied next season, and done so for no other reason than the the tribunal would consider our appeal to be frivolous.

Now of course an appeal could be successful - after all, Heidelberg got their nine point punishment reduced to three points - but I don't see the point in taking that risk.

Update: The club will not appeal the decision.

A casual reminder of other forum options
Some people on smfcboard once again noted the locking of threads, the clamping down of discussions etc, and once again came up with the idea of starting up another South Melbourne supporters forum. Of course these things have been tried before, both in the fashion of a forum that quickly ended up in gimmick territory, but also one that was started up this year, and fell out of use due to a lack of traffic.

So if you are fed up with smfcboard, organise your buddies and go here and register and vent in the way that you think you're not allowed to do so right now. Create a critical mass and see what you can do.

For the record, I registered on there ages ago mostly to secure my preferred username.

After all that...
There was a game to be played in front of a small and initially fairly sombre crowd. With Clarendon Corner taking the pisstake route by employing 19th Century style upper class polite disagreement to its logical conclusion, and the rest of the crowd probably assuming the worst that Heidelberg would beat Victory, there didn't seem much to be enthused about. Even less so when after South had pressed for most of the contest, Gully took the lead when an unmarked player on the far side of the six yard box smashed the ball into the back of the net uncontested.

At least the poor finishing of the first half was turned into some quality finishing in the second, and we eventually romped this game in. Of course we had to let Gully score another goal because our defense remains a sieve; as one of our favourite cynical forumites noted, we're probably going to have to score three or four goals a game to give ourselves a chance of winning the title from here. If that's the case, at least now we look like a team that not only can score three or four goals, but also one that seems to want to score that many instead of relying on grinding out a result from the opening minute.

Though neither team was probably at full strength or demonstrating full aturmbition, there are some things South can try and claim as hopeful omens leading into the finals. First, that Leigh Minopoulos playing alongside Milos Lujic is such an obviously good idea that one wonders why no one thought of it before. Second, that by hook or crook, we've managed to win three in a row. Third, that for the first time since the last time we beat Gully, we actually managed to one of the teams currently sitting inside the top six.

I assume that no one who was at risk of getting a fifth yellow card and therefore missing out on the first week of finals, did so. To that end the squad yesterday used Chris Irwin in place of the the People's Champ, and Andy Kecojevic and Joshua Hodes, the latter making his senior debut, also came on off the bench during the latter stages of the game. Apart from the People's Champ, one assumes that Amadu Koroma will be the other possible player to come into the starting eleven, probably at the expense of Tim Mala.

I'm not expecting miracles, but I don't see the point quite yet of writing off the team before the season is officially done. The nature of this finals system in particular is that with just one good performance and a couple of arsey results, you can find yourself with a title. Failing that, let's all fire away with who should be kept, who we should sack, and who deserves to be shot from a cannon into the sun.

I know who'd I'd like to see put into that cannon by the way.

Next week
Barring some unforeseen circumstance, we're playing Hume City at home this Sunday evening in an elimination final. Now not that I keep up with these things, but I'm told that Hume may have an FFA Cup match this week, which one hopes may tire them out a little as the midweek duties of Green Gully probably took the edge off as well.

Your South Melbourne membership will get you free entry into this game; otherwise tickets are $15/$10.

Senior women's team on verge of title
Our senior women have yet to wrap up their State League 1 North-West title after they lost to Melbourne University yesterday. This sets up a grand finish to their season this week in the final round. They'll be playing fourth placed Eltham Redbacks on Sunday, and with South Yarra playing Melbourne University, only a win absolutely guarantee South the title. The senior women's match against Eltham will kick off at 3:00PM, acting as a curtain raiser to the senior men's match.

Should they win the title, I assume, but am not sure, that they will play a match against the winner of the south-east side of the competition. I suppose we should cross that bridge when we come to it.

Futsalroos news
Just in case you were wondering what Fernando De Moraes was up to these days, he will be the Futsalroos' assistant coach when they head off the World Cup later this year. Which reminds me, I really should update the Futsalroos page on OzFootball.

Final thought
"Convicted of a crime I didn't even commit. Hah! Attempted murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry?"