Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Moving House artefact Wednesday - Kon moves house...

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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


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

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

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Losing on aggregate - South Melbourne 3 Richmond 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

'Even yeeros has been homogenised', by Savvas Tzionis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Dead of Winter - South Melbourne 1 Bulleen Lions 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next game
Richmond at home on Friday night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Nothing will ever be OK - Bentleigh Greens 4 South Melbourne 0

Earlier in the season after we had somehow beaten Bentleigh 2-1, and Johnny A had said post-match that his team was 'so far ahead of South Melbourne as a football team, it's not funny', we were able to laugh mostly because we had won that day. Certainly, we were not laughing because we thought the statement was not true - we had been outplayed for much of that game, even when Bentleigh went down to ten men.

And it wasn't even like we were outplayed that day by a team motivated solely by the adrenaline of being down to ten men; we were outplayed by a team that felt that it was better than us as a matter of principle. So even as on that day we enjoyed the win, as you would especially given Nikola Roganovic's double penalty saving heroics, one knew in the back of our minds that when we were to meet again during the season, that things could and probably would turn out very differently.

And so it has come to pass, as we were denied the chance to once again reach the national stage. Some of you will feel that as well as the devastating manner of the loss on the park, that the failure to grasp the opportunity to be on the national stage adds to that humiliation. Speaking for myself, as someone who has never warmed to the FFA Cup gimmick and its alleged benefits to South and Australian soccer more broadly, that's not what bothers me about last night - but that's not what a lot of South people, both pleb and patrician, feel about the situation and I understand that. That the loss happened to be in a winner takes all game in the human-powered roulette wheel of the FFA Cup only compounds the sense of loss.

My main concern however, and it's really not an attempt at a holier than thou manifesto on how South should be run, is that we are in a rut on field this season, and there appears at this stage to be no definitive plan about how to get ourselves out of it. Cup football is by its nature erratic. More importantly as far as I'm concerned, is that we are on top of the ladder halfway through the season, pulling out the occasional sterling performance, which have offered bouts of pleasure and joy, but not enough to allay fears that it's all somehow a ruse - that we don't deserve to be there based on the football we have played this season and the obscene good fortune we've received with penalties, red cards and the like.

This is highlighted most of all by the fact that, even were we to finish on top of the table at the end of the home and away season - and that is of course very much a possibility, especially now that we won't have to rest players midweek for cup matches - that our best and fairest award would probably go to our goalkeeper. And were it not for some amazing work from Roganovic between the sticks last night - as well as some terrible finishing from Bentleigh, albeit after the game was already won - the final scoreline could have been much, much worse.

As has been noted already by many of our supporters, both online and at the ground last night, we are at the stage where something has to change. We have seen this too many times already, when we are involved in big, winner take all games, we are by and large unable to rise to the occasion. How likely that is to change in the near future is anyone's guess, but it seems unlikely. In some, perhaps even many respects, Chris Taylor is the Mick Malthouse of Victorian soccer - a capable coach who is able to drill a good team into grinding out results with a dour and outwardly reliable game plan, but whose teams fail so often on the winner takes all stage because they are unable to go up another gear, or to move to Plan B.

Our team over the past three seasons seems to have been built on the principle that the first option is to do what is tried and true. The second option, when things aren't going our way, is to try that even harder. Only once the team is in a real mess do we start shaking things up, by which stage you are not relying only or even mostly on tactical adjustment on its own terms, but instead as an act of desperation. Last night we went into the game with three defensive midfielders, ostensibly handing the initiative to Bentleigh from the beginning. After a scrappy first five or minutes, we were already on the back foot.

That we were 1-0 down at halftime was clearly not a good outcome, but it could also have been much worse. But did we make any adjustment to try and swing things around in the second half? Not really. Yes, there was an initial burst of energy and even good and purposeful crossing into the box in the opening minutes of the second half, but that all seemed to stem from the 'try Plan A again, but harder' ideology. Then we went down 2-0, and then eventually down 3-0 and down to ten men, and there were to be no heroics akin to last year's comeback at Kingston Heath.

On the one hand, this approach is evidence of the trust that Taylor places in his players and his game plan. One can go on about the perception of playing favourites and there being untouchable players, but in general having the belief that the players you've put out there can do the job is a good thing. But that trust must be tempered by a sense of objective clarity, too, and the understanding that if that trust is not being repaid by the selected starting eleven during the course of a match, then that trust should also be paid to those players you have in reserve.

If there has been a consistent criticism of Taylor's selection and tactical manifesto, it is that it is predictable to the point of ossification. Taylor is on record as saying that he worries little about how other teams set up, focusing mostly on what his team does. That may or may not be a ruse, but surely there is at least some place for taking into account what the opposition does and how they like to play? It's not the be all and end all, but letting Bentleigh play the way they want to play is just asking for trouble. Now one could hammer the point about opposition scouting and such, as this blog and others have sought to do in the past, but the fact of the matter is that we have played and been outplayed by Bentleigh enough times in recent seasons, that there is little mystery to be had on that front, and yet we keep putting out largely the same team in the same setup, all while expecting a different outcome.

Nevertheless, despite all the criticisms many of us will make of the coach and his tactics, at least some of the onus for results like this must go to the players as well. One learned spectator noted last night, and very early on as well, that we aren't exactly the smartest football team in this competition. Apart from undisciplined tackles, like Iqi Jawadi's unnecessary yellow card during the first half, so much of what what passed for situational nous was lacking. At least some of that can be put down to the tempo that Bentleigh play at, and at which we struggle. When there's a dour contest, one can more or less trust our side to grind out a result or at the very least produce a competitive performance. When the opposition pursues a fast and mobile tactical approach, both the speed of the game and the implied speed of the game sees us coughing up possession in dangerous areas at an alarming rate.

What's of concern here is not only that issue of not being able to match it with those kinds of teams or assert our game plan in those situations - though of course that is the main issue - it is also the fact that we have players on our books that have arrived from a league above us where the tempo is by its professional nature already much faster, but also because we have players that still hold the desire to play at higher levels, but who clearly struggle to cope with both high tempo football and the ability to find a way, either individually or collectively, to change the tempo of a match to suit our game plan or at the very least disrupt the efforts of the opposition.

These things are not said for the sake of completely denying the possibility of positive change, or even possible success in the latter half of this season. As despondent as we all feel after this match, especially when this loss is taken as being an exemplar of a failure long in the making (or perhaps even as evidence of a trend of losing in big matches), we haven't reached the heights that we have these past three seasons or even this season by luck alone. That is to say, we do have some good players and even some very talented players at our disposal, which we have seen evidence of enough times to know that those talents are not fleeting aberrations. Even the most outrageous fortune can only get you so far.

But we are perhaps at the point where the squad, or certain parts of the squad, are on final notice as regards to being South players. Every squad, no matter how successful, eventually reaches its point of no return. Much of the rest of the season then will not only be about trying to salvage a championship - which is an odd way of looking at things, but we are an odd people in our expectations - but also providing an opportunity to definitively assess who is worth keeping, and who it is time to move on. And that applies not only to those whose skills or temperament may not be up to scratch, but also to those whose commitment to the cause is lacking. Part time footballers they may all be, but a part-time attitude shouldn't and won't cut it at this level.

Against my alleged cynical and negative nature, as well as perhaps my better judgment, I am choosing in the harsh light of day to see this 'disaster' (such as it is) not as the end of something, but as the possible start of something hopefully new, and more successful than that which has preceded it. The only other option is to accept mediocrity, and we have all experienced enough of that during our post-NSL stint to never want to go back to that ever again. The challenge is there to be confronted; we now wait to see how the coach and players answer the call, not just against middling and low ranking opposition, nor even those whom the stats and pundits say are our peers, but against what we ourselves think we can achieve. If there has been a sense that our aspirations as to what we can achieve and the manner in which we may achieve those aims have been too narrow, this is the time to rid ourselves of those self-imposed limitations.

Or we could see everyone go into self-preservation mode. That could be fun, too.

Other ordeals which pale into comparison with the experience of our collective grief
While I enjoy the sometimes overly sadomasochistic nature of taking public transport to games around town, sometimes even I find myself wondering why one would put oneself through this torture.

(yes, yes, I know I do it in part because I can't drive very far especially at night, and because I love my team, and because I like public transport, but there is a level of madness involved at times, as a certain dear friend who has recently come to rely more on public transport than they have for a long time has come to acknowledge - though I'm not sure that in his drunken state he was being complimentary or derisory of my apparently well learned patience with late night services)

With works ramping up on level crossing removals in the south eastern suburbs, Gains and I avoided the Frankston line completely and ended up taking the Sandringham line instead out to Hampton. That line is reliable, fairly short, and you end up taking the same bus to the ground as you would if you'd caught the bus to Cheltenham station on the Frankston line.

But what should have been a straightforward if slightly elongated trip in terms of time, ended up being messier and more frustrating, and even included a possible omen of our doom. So apart from having to deal with Gold FM playing crap songs (I maintain that Spandau Ballet and Smash Mouth are awful), we ended up being dumped at the bus stop at Westfield Southland in order that the bus we were on could be taken back to the depot. Great.

While waiting for the next 828 heading towards Berwick, I got thirsty. I could see a vending machine inside the building. Sadly, Frank Lowy had closed up shop for the night, denying South people (ie, me) access to the probably overpriced but still fruitful albeit mediocre bounty available just metres away and yet so far out of reach. There you go, there's your laboured allegory for this week.

Still, we managed to get to the ground on time to see a long line at the gate, Harry the drummer with a whole kit set up, and planted ourselves underneath the shed. Poor sight-lines and copious amounts of tobacco smoke made that position untenable, so we moved to the hill behind the Bentleigh bench, and then behind the goals in the second half, where we were taunted by the home side's keeper. It's fair to say that the whole experience was a monotonously classy affair.

The one mercy was getting a lift back to the city. Thank you to Nick Tsiaras for giving myself and Gains a lift back to Flinders Street. It saved us from suffering further grief. The best thing is, it'll be even worse next month, when the whole Frankston line gets shut down for 37 odd days, and we have to do this all over again.

Next game
Bulleen at home. Please note that this game has been moved from Friday night to Sunday afternoon.

Final thought
Do I want to know why Clarendon Corner were chanting about going to the Pancake Parlour?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Laughter - South Melbourne 2 Port Melbourne 0

But I am just a simple wog soccer club. I have only read
 about being relevant to Australian football in books.
So this is where we're at now. It especially applies to us because, you know, former NSL powerhouse and such and such, but it could equally apply to any other team in our league (or applicable leagues in other states) which may happen to be in our present position. That position is of course, top of the league midway through the season (regardless of whether we 'deserve' to be there or not), playing against a local rival with a ton of ex-players of ours, a game our side manages to win, extending our lead at the top... and it hardly seemed to matter.

We're not just talking about the crowd, which while at its usual smallness, was still broadly appreciative of these facts. Hell, we even looked good and/or better than our opponent, like we actually deserved to win by even more than the two goal margin that we did win by. The coach even made some early, attacking subs, our attacks looked almost fluid, and even our crossing wasn't so bad once Matthew Millar decided that trying to launch balls over Turn 6 and onto Albert Road was probably not the best use of his latent talents. Our defending meanwhile was a bit higgledy-piggledy at times, but Port weren't able to take advantage of that. Now that Luke Adams' All Whites duties are concluded with (they won the OFC Nations Cup on penalties), that he'll be back in the side, provided that the rumours of him trialling with other teams aren't true.

- You are now assimilated into Australian football.
- But how?
- It is the mystery of the FFA Cup.
Yet all eyes were and are on Tuesday, not because of the opponent in that match, or because it may help us move one step closer to defending our Dockerty Cup title, but because we have the chance to win a match in which we can afterwards figuratively shout out 'bingo' and hope that winning the jackpot means we get a big pay day (host an A-League team on national television, in front of a big crowd, where we acquit ourselves well on all fronts), instead of an away trip to Shamrock Rovers in Darwin where we'll probably manage to lose on penalties again and disgrace ourselves in some other hitherto unforeseeable but hilarious manner.

Beating Bentleigh on Tuesday, should we manage to do so - and at this point I would like to perpetuate the partly superstitious nonce jinx related idea that we are the rank underdogs in this match - will mean so much more than whatever it is we're trying to achieve in the league. Maybe our people in the terraces are desperate for the attention that an FFA Cup proper appearance will provide, having sold their souls for 'just a taste'; worse, perhaps all the attention being paid to Tuesday, combined with the nonsense lightheartedness of Friday, is a sign that people are getting bored with this league and have truly begun placing more importance on Shaun Mooney's crap-shoot tournament than their bread and butter league.

Compared to that possibility, comfortably beating a middling Port side in the league on a cold and wet evening in June isn't remotely on the radar.

Yes, we have no loukoumathes
When I say that all eyes were on Tuesday, I should be put a minor caveat on that. There was also attention being paid to the fact that the St Gerry's loukoumathes stand had not turned up despite promising to do so. Cue several chants about the absence of loukoumathes. Then again, perhaps even all the chatter about Korean BBQ and pastitsio and all the rest of the Food Network style chatter in Clarendon Corner was just people getting into the Food Federation Australia Cup swing of things.

My favourite part of the evening
When the People's Champ put in a nice pass that Milos Lujic didn't react to quickly enough, Lujic still applauded the People's Champ for the effort. Unfortunately, the People's Champ had already turned around by this point, never seeing Lujic's gesture of goodwill.

Let's be unabashedly positive for just a moment
Leigh Minopoulos scored. There's no one who can be displeased about that. The thing is, even if the goal was from two yards out, and even if Leigh doesn't always set the world on fire, the way he moves around the field is just so different to the way the rest of the team does. It's not primarily about raw pace or neat one-twos, but about gliding around the field and finding himself in the right space. Hope we keep him on, because he adds another string to our bow.

A word on Port, just for the sake of it 
Yes they had some good players out or having recently departed, but I'm annually flummoxed as to what it is they're trying to achieve. Apart from the misfortune of the 2013 Southern Stars incident, which saw Port be the big losers - although they still could have made the finals had they not capitulated against us in the final round - they spend big, recruit hard, and end up lower mid-table or needing dodgy late goals to avoid the drop. Or maybe, they also had two eyes on the FFA Cup.

Next game
FFA Cup match against Bentleigh on Tuesday, at Kingston Heath. The winner of this match qualifies for the FFA Cup proper.

Those who choose to travel to matches via public transport should be aware that there are works being undertaken on the Frankston line in preparation for level crossing removals. Check the PTV website to see how this may affect your journey.

For the record, Gains and I will be bypassing the Frankston line,, taking the Sandringham line out to Hampton, then catching the 828 from there.

For those who can't make it to the game, the game will also (probably) be live video streamed by FFV, though if they use the same streaming service as they did for the Green Gully vs Bulleen FFA Cup match last Wednesday, don't count on it being anything remotely like reliable.

Arrivals... 
Phase 2 of Operation Let's Sign Some Bloke From Spain That No One's Ever Seen And Let's Hope That Maybe He'll Be A Striker has seen us sign up a - wait for it - striker(?!) from Leganes reserves called Manuel Padilla Herrero. A (mandatory adjective) jetlagged Herrero played about an hour in the under 20s on Friday night, scoring a hattrick and providing at least one assist. The report of one the people that was there watching the 20s (I was at the Limerick, where we were cheering every 'Manolo' score update on Twitter), while acknowledging the poverty of the opposition, noted that Manolo's touch, game sense and work rate were very good.

So maybe, just maybe, we have a little gem on our hands. That then creates a series of neat little problems like, will we play him on Tuesday? Who gets dropped to let him start? Does the formation change? And will his loan spell end before our season does?

...and departures
Teenage wingback Luke Eyles has been released, subsequently signing with NPL2 promotion contender Kingston City. The Tasmanian was in the first year of a two year deal with South after signing from 2015 Tasmanian champions Hobart Olympia, but has been unable to break into South's starting lineup.

Midfielder Cody Martindale, who also spent most of this season in the under 20s on the comeback trail after missing most of last season due to injury, has ended up at Northcote, but both Martindale and Eyles are reportedly being asked back for 2017 pre-season training at South.

One assumes that Philzgerald Mbaka is also gone, but no official announcement has been made on that front so far as I can tell.

You really blew it!
I would just like to thank those people who ripped flares both before and during the second Australia vs Greece game for finally squashing any hope that South Melbourne had of getting into the A-League. And we were this close to making it, too.

Around the grounds/Year of the Fence
Make your own fun
Got stood up for a Saturday arvo soccer sesh, but I somehow managed to find the desire against incredible odds to drive out to Cairnlea to see the struggling home side take on the slightly more struggling Altona East. Thankfully being out at Cairnlea meant that I got to spend an afternoon with Cairnlea's media dude Andrew, and better still, we got to see a pretty tidy game, especially the second half with its four goals. This included an injury time penalty equaliser which disappointed the locals.

Final thought
Who am I kidding, Friday was fun as all fuck.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Guys and Dolls - South Melbourne 3 Northcote City 1

South Melbourne Women 0 University of Melbourne 2
First up on Sunday were the South women's team against University of Melbourne. I'm not sure why this game was scheduled for a 1:00 kickoff instead of 2:00. Those few who showed up for the curtain raiser were afterwards left with an hour to kill, while others who thought the women's game started later only got a half's worth of football. Anyway, with the South women being top of the table, I was surprised to see them struggling for most of the game. Perhaps they rested a few players for this game after being knocked out of the cup in midweek by Bulleen?

Melbourne Uni squandered a good chance early on by shooting wide, then hit a penalty against the post and the resulting rebound straight at the South keeper, who worked hard to keep the score respectable. Uni dominated territory for most of the game, with South struggling to work any meaningful maneuvers until well into the second half - apart from a disallowed goal for offside while the game was still scoreless, which would have been grossly against the run of play.

Tiredness obviously played a factor in the result, but so did a lack of composure. There were enough chances when South did get the ball or made interceptions that could've turned out so much better. Still, despite the loss they remain equal first along with Uni. I hope that in future these double headers are scheduled without so much downtime between matches. It'd be OK if we had a social club to occupy our time, but waiting an hour for the men's game to start while we have a player's dreadful taste in music playing over the speakers is not the most edifying experience.

As for the men, three points, but otherwise neither here nor there
Steven Hatzikostas back in, Amadu Koroma rested, and Nikola Roganovic back in between the sticks after injuring himself during Wednesday night's warm-up. Close enough to a full squad in its usual set up so as to provide no excuses against an opponent which has shown improvement, but was still bottom of the table. Northcote, like so many teams which play against South Melbourne, showed some initiative - in the opinion of our fans, perhaps more than normally would, which satisfies our own ego, but which if true makes things harder for us - but their best efforts mostly consisted of counter attacking that fell short at the first hurdle, being unable to beat the offside trap.

One of South's ball boys shields a photographer from the elements.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
But what about our own efforts? Having just one striker up front means that the midfielders need to get forward for us to create opportunities that aren't based on kick and chase. And as happened against North Geelong, Matthew Millar and the People's Champ managed to get behind enemy lines enough times leading to many chances on goal. Was Milos Lujic offside for one of those opening half goals? Can one get upset at scoring a poacher's goal from a spillage, especially as we had a bout half a dozen similar chances against Pascoe Vale which we failed to take? Let's just be glad that at least in this case, there appeared to be a lesson learned about following up a shot and making the most of a keeper's mistake.

Conceding a goal from a corner was horrifying from the point of view of conceding another goal from a set piece, but also from a corner delivered in the manner that we scarcely dare try ourselves. That we restored our two goal buffer and maintained it comfortably until the end didn't necessarily create the sense of positive momentum that we're all craving, instead perhaps creating the feeling of doing what had to be done, and absolutely no more or and no less than that. A 2-1 win would have probably sent people into panic mode or something akin to that, railing against a team that couldn't properly dispatch a struggling side. Had we won 4-1 or 5-1, the side would probably be accused of downhill skiing, able to beat up on poor little Northcote but go missing when it counts.

Despite all of that, once again - and really, it's probably just my latest little hang up - the very late subs, this time made in the 88th and 91st minutes, continue to baffle me. Is there that little trust in the capabilities of the bench that they can't be entrusted with maintaining a two goal lead for 12 minutes instead of 5? Against (in midweek) a team a division below us and (yesterday) a team that's bottom of the table by some margin? Even as the coaches keep making reference to how deep our squad is, and how the squad needs to be rotated during those periods of the season with a heavy workload?

I don't know, maybe I bring this up only because when you mostly keep winning, you need to find some obscure area which doesn't seem to be perfect, and then pick on that. I was glad that Leigh Minopoulos got some solid minutes off the bench, and I fancy so were a few other South fans.

After the match
I did not bother with the Greek national team training session, not because of the 90 minute wait after our game for it to begin, but because I couldn't give a rat's about the Greek national team. From the sound of things not too many people made the effort to watch them train, though some of the players themselves reportedly seemed personable and willing to mingle with fans.

By the way, I had a look at the ticket prices for tomorrow's game partly out of morbid curiosity, and my goodness, they must think the Greek community of Melbourne (and wherever else Greeks may fly or drive in from for this game) are making Calombaris amounts of money.

Next game
Port Melbourne at home on Friday night. With the all or nothing FFA Cup grudge match spectacular against Bentleigh coming up soon after this fixture, it will be interesting to see what approach to team selection that Taylor and friends make.

FFA Cup fixture news
Our FFA Cup match away against Bentleigh has been scheduled for Tuesday June 14th, kickoff at 7:30PM.

Tsk, tsk, tsk department
As if wearing number 99 wasn't enough of a rubbish gimmick, Iqi Jawadi has now taken to wearing non-matching boots. Oh for the glory days of 2013, and Renco Van Eeken Fruit Watch. That was both classy, and sending a good message to the children and their parents.

Where in the world is Philzgerald Mbaka?
He seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. I'm hearing some talk that he is no longer at the club. If this is true, that would open up some space on our PPS tally.

This souvlaki goes up to eleven
We had a go at Bentleigh earlier this year for their $12 souv, so it's only right that we take aim at the Lakeside souvlaki truck for charging $11 for what is at best only a so-so souv. No wonder I end up eating on Clarendon Street before or after a game. Is the rent at Lakeside really that onerous?

Speaking of which
How's the social club coming along?

I'm going to take a wild stab at this and say not very good.

Luke Adams scores exactly the kind of goal you'd expect him to
Around the grounds
Being Greek, for one night only
Chris Egan and I ended up at Jack Edwards Reserve mostly because it was raining, and because Kevin Bartlett Reserve has no shelter. Oakleigh scored after two minutes, Bulleen missed a glorious chance to equalise a minute later, and as far as I'm concerned, that was that, though the home side added a couple more goals for good measure. I was impressed with the style of the two sides in the wet conditions, as both tried to be patient and play the ball on the ground, but there is such a thing as being too patient. Then we ended up at Vanilla because Chris wanted to see where Melbourne Greeks go to be Greek I suppose.

Belles of Ballarat
The last, and only other time that I'd gone to see the Matildas play a match was ten years ago. On that day, there were about a hundred people at Lakeside, most of them probably Mexican fans. The four or five or so Aussie fans standing on Clarendon Corner (including myself) waved a couple of flags, and even managed to convince the referee to award a corner that probably wasn't (I thought it was, so at least I was being honest), which the Matildas scored from. How's that for changing the course of history? Still, interest was so low that the Matildas' next game was played at Port Melbourne of all places. But things have changed now, and people are more interested in the Matildas and women's soccer in general. So when it was announced that they'd be playing a game in Ballarat, one couldn't help but feel that there was too much novelty value to ignore, even with a Paisley Park derby option closer to home.

Arriving in Ballarat one knew from past experience that the bus situation wasn't great, so Gains and I caught a cab to the ground, with our taxi driver singing along to a country and western CD. Upon entering the ground I saw that the stand was reserved, though what the point of that was considering the stand has no roof I'm not sure. There were food options for both pleb (hot dogs, chips, etc) and wannabe hipster (woodfired pizza, sliders with served brioche buns of a supermarket croissant level of sweetness) alike, on either side of the stand. FFV CEO Peter Gome was wearing a Green Bay Packers jacket, which while appropriate in terms of its colour scheme, prompted one to nevertheless ask the question of why he couldn't have Aussie soccer gear on instead?

The rain wasn't heavy, but it was consistent, and it probably had the effect of keeping some of the locals away. But there was a decent crowd in spite of the conditions (which were mild compared to other Ballarat experiences I've had), though how engaged the crowd were with the game is another matter entirely.
An early and fortunate goal - at least it appeared fortunate from our vantage point directly behind the trajectory of the shot - might have got the crowd into the game a bit, but it felt a bit more like a picnic day, which when all is said and done is perfectly fine. It was a friendly, the game wasn't much good - the Matildas played with very little width, or smarts for that matter - and New Zealand while stout in defense, offered stuff all going the other way. The second Matildas goal seemed to have a bit more style, but moments like that were too few and far between.

Considering how little anyone cared for the national anthem, one was hopeful that we could get away without a rendition of that bogan chant, but it popped up during the second half, momentarily ruining the whole day. Then I remembered that I had some raspberry drops that Chris Egan had bought (on my request) during his visit to Sovereign Hill earlier that day, and things weren't so bad anymore. It was also good to catch up with fellow FFV Historical Committee member Maggie Khoumi, Shoot Farken's Athas Zafiris, as well as Oz Soccer's legendary stats man Andrew Howe. Not a bad day overall, and being able to catch the train from Sunshine instead of Footscray or Spencer Street was a nice touch.

Final thought
Three consecutive days spent watching soccer in cold, wet and rainy conditions has not been kind to my health this week.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Progress, in the sense that we progressed - North Geelong 0 South Melbourne 2

Having chosen the worst spot to watch the game from - behind the goals during both halves - one can't say how well or not the defense played, nor how close some of North Geelong's attacks got to getting in, nor how close their numerous offsides were to not being offside, including the one from which they scored a disallowed goal from. I'm sure we'll watch the video later on and see how things went down, and relive the thrilling moment when an indistinguishable player of ours cleared the ball off the line when we were 2-0 up late in the game.

Nikola Roganovic was listed on the team sheet but was reportedly injured during the warm up, and was replaced by Zaim Zeneli. From last week's starting eleven, Hatzikostas and Theodore were replaced by Schroen and Mala, with Mala playing at centre back. I can't really fault any player last night, as most did their jobs, but some of the decision making continues to baffle - leaving aside the greater issue of short corners, how does one get a corner and end up playing it so far back that you get back to the half way line?

The very late subs also didn't make much sense to me, especially once we went 2-0 up. Why not give someone ten minutes instead of three? Overall, there were some better signs last night, but I don't think anyone is getting carried with anything. A couple of crosses hit the mark for a change, and that made a lot of difference. There also seemed to be more numbers around the box looking to clean up the scraps, though for the most luck and poor connections meant that we couldn't open our account in the first.

It was good that Milos Lujic managed to hit the back of the net, even though he was being that tightly marked that his defender could probably see the washing instructions on the tag inside Milos' shirt. That whole sequence of play leading up to his goal was quite good to watch actually, with the exception of the People's Champ throwing a minor hissy fit when he didn't receive the pass back from Brad Norton. Still, we probably didn't take as much advantage as we should have following that goal, with North needing to commit numbers forward and leaving more space behind.

As pleasing as it was to progress to the next round, it was just as pleasing to have done it during regulation instead of extra time. Having won this game we now face Bentleigh away for the right to enter the FFA Cup proper, as well progress to the Dockerty Cup semi-finals. Though the online fixtures at this stage have us listed as playing next Wednesday, I believe at this stage that is merely a placeholder date. Were that game to be held next week, there would need to be some re-arranging of the league fixtures.

The mid-season transfer window is now open. People seem apprehensive that we won't be making many, if any, signings, all while some other clubs have already been active. My limited mail is that we are, in fact, looking to make some signings, but my source has indication who we may be looking at or what perceived deficiency we may be looking to cover. Until then we'll continue to work with what we've got.

Next game
Sunday at 4:00PM against Northcote at Lakeside. Not that they're doing terribly well this season, but I think we'll be facing a much improved Northcote from the one we easily beat earlier in the year.

In addition, the women's team will be the curtain raiser for this match, while after the senior men's game, the Greek national team will have a training session at Lakeside.

Final thought
There were two players out there on Wednesday night wearing the number 99. It's a terrible gimmick.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Laughable - Heidelberg United 5 South Melbourne 0

I went to four games this week, and somehow the South game was the most hideous and lopsided game of them all. Because of that, people are probably expecting some sort of fire and brimstone report, but the truth is, I'm still laughing from last night's antics. I mean, what else can you do when watch your team capitulate so badly, in a season where we've scored a six, a five, two fours and copped a six and a five - and only fourteen games into the 26 game home and away season? And somehow still find ourselves on top of the table, thanks to Bentleigh managing only a draw on the synthetic turf at Bulleen?

Besides which, pretty much every South supporter - whether they lean towards trying to find the positives at all costs or whether they're more the type that wants to drive the bus off the cliff at the first setback - knows our deficiencies this season. They include, among other things, an isolated and increasingly frustrated forward who like the rest of the team is currently struggling to score from open play. The delivery into the box was once again poor, and when the ball did fall loose in and around the box, more often than not there weren't enough South players in the vicinity to make the most of those chances.

For about half an hour or so, the game was evenly matched, with both sides attacking and looking somewhat dangerous. Even the Bergers' opening goal didn't immediately suggest that an avalanche was headed our way. But one could have perhaps looked at it another way - even as the early part of the game ebbed and flowed, we rarely if ever tested the Heidelberg keeper, whereas the home side had forced Roganovic into making some saves. Still, that doesn't quite excuse copping the second goal from another set piece, and coughing up the third goal soon afterwards. Kenny Athiu in particular was a nightmare for our defense, too big and too mobile, in stark contrast to what was happening at the other end.

That the difference between our best and our worst can be so far apart means that one has no idea which South side is going to turn up on any given day. For a side that has built a reputation these past few seasons on its resolute consistency - even as it has bored some of our fans to death - this is an interesting development which I don't think Chris Taylor will be too pleased with.

Quite a few people are calling for reinforcements during the transfer window, and that's understandable. My worry is however that another striker or better mids aren't going to be of much use if the formation and tactical approach largely stays the same. Not every problem can be solved with a cheque-book, even in this league. What I want to see is a Plan B, or a Plan C - maybe even just a plan where we perhaps play two up front and take some of the focus off Milos, and make the side less predictable. What was most disappointing last night is that it was unclear what the plan was once we came out of the sheds. Somehow we came out looking even more disheveled after the break than we had before it.

One thing I noticed recently was that in an interview (which damned if I can find the link to now), Chris Taylor claimed he didn't much focus on what the opposition did, as long his team did what it was told to do. George Katsakis on the other hand, after this match, noted the homework they'd done on us and the efforts put in on shutting down our mains strengths. How much one can take out of those kinds of comments in isolation I don't know - and there may be a certain degree of misdirection in there - but a personal annoyance of mine for some years now has been the apparent lack of interest in what other teams are doing.

And while we have addressed this issue apparently for this season with an 'opposition scout', it still falls short of the kind of legwork people like George Katsakis put in not just in scouting opponents, as well as players and teams from other comps, but also networking - the art of seeing and being seen. Anyway, that's a topic for another day, and besides which there was apparently a South crew at the Bergers' spit roast night last Thursday, so maybe we're getting better at these things anyway.

Antics
There was much stupidity and silliness at this game. Apparently a young South supporter had tried to use bolt cutters to try and enter the ground. Pretty stupid if true. There was also what appeared to be a flare lit on the grandstand side of the ground, along with some sort of commotion.  As the game degenerated into farce, Clarendon Corner at least tried to make light of the situation - which would have at least pleased those who get annoyed when South fans start abusing the team. There were dust storms created by stamping on the ground underneath the shed, which filtered up into the air. There was an attempt by a few people at running behind Heidelberg Harismidis and waving their arms along with him - a means of amusing oneself which ended after people realised pretty quickly that it was hard work keeping up with him.

There was also much jocular chanting, including '6-5 on aggregate', which could have so easily backfired if the Bergers had scored another one - and they could have easily done so. Small mercies and all that. Most hilarious of all was perhaps the penalty miss from the People's Champ - at 5-0 down it wouldn't have made much difference except for the record books, but having failed to score from two out of his last three penalty attempts, this is hardly another problem we need, when we have had such a good run with penalties and opposition red cards so far this season, a run which will surely have to end soon.

Next game / FFA Cup updates
Not much time to dwell on what happened yesterday though, as we play North Geelong in the FFA Cup on Wednesday night. This game has been moved from Elcho Park to Port Melbourne, as North Geelong couldn't meet the lighting requirements in order to host this game. Good news for public transport using folk and people who live nowhere near Lara. Bad news for people who like peripatetic adventures when it comes to Victorian soccer.

The winner of this game has been drawn to play away against Bentleigh in the next round. A poisoned chalice if ever I saw one.

Victory supporters banned by FFV - charges for Victory itself yet to be announced
Last week FFV held tribunal sessions for those charged with offenses related to the incidents at the South vs Victory match earlier this year. They have also published the results of those tribunal sessions on their website. For the six people who appeared at the tribunal, all plead guilty and all were given bans of various time frames. The other eleven did not appear at the tribunal, and received automatic five year bans - though if they choose to make an appearance within.

Several 'anomalies', for want of a better word, have already been noticed by several online commentators. First, in their tribunal sessions as individuals, the first six Victory supporters to visit the tribunal did not have their club associations attached to their tribunal notice. Perhaps due to some online criticisms made, this was later rectified when the entire list of 17 offenders was put up.

Several punters also noted the anomaly of some of those who were banned by the tribunal being given multiple but concurrent bans of differing length. This is because some of those involved were current players from other clubs, including two from Frankston Pines and one from a Northcote underage NPL team, as reported by MFootball's initial article on the matter. One of those found guilty also seems to be a qualified or at least aspiring referee, if the ban on their officiating games is anything to go by.

The online reaction to the initial tribunal sessions seemed to suggest that a lot of people were unaware that the FFV was going to also deal with Melbourne Victory's role as one of the participating clubs at a later date. Eventually this anger perhaps lead to FFV putting out a statement noting that charges would soon be laid against Melbourne Victory. On the face of things, this was good news for South, as the statement does not include any mention of South being charged with any breaches. Less encouraging was that FFV has mentioned they are still looking for more participants in the fight from both sides.

Until then, a Victorian soccer public hungry for justice, waits.

Around the grounds
In search of the right result
Trundled out to Somers Street for some FFA Cup action on Tuesday night and parked at the furthest extremes of the car park, where there's still some actual grass. Despite the extra metres I'd have to walk both to and from the ground, the decision may have helped save my vehicle from being struck by a REDACTED launched after the conclusion of the game. Still, even as REDACTED hung in the air as REDACTED are designed to do, it wasn't as pretty as the moon that night. Knights were the home team, taking on Croatian brothers or sisters (let's just say siblings) Dandenong City Chelsea Hajduk, but despite the visitors making a show of it, their defense was rubbish; they copped two goals in a minute midway through the half, and never looked like getting back in the game after that. It was 3-0 at halftime, and 3-1 at full time - an injury time goal scored by City which probably had some Singapore based gambler crying into his char kway teow for ruining his clean sheet spot bet. Almost nothing of note happened in the second half, apart from me riffing on Twitter about said boredom, and beginning the campaign to get South to make beanies with pompoms on them. Seeing as how my campaign to get hooped socks onto the uniform only took six years to come to fruition, one should be patient.

I remember nothing
Port vs Oaks at Port. Even this far from the finish line - smack bang on halfway - Port needed to win this in order to keep touch with the top six. In that sense, losing this match 4-1, with their one goal coming very, very late, was not a good outcome for the Sharks. Oh, but it all could have turned out so differently. The whole goal face to aim at, and yesterday's hero Adrian Zahra hit his early shot right at John Honos. Later, Oakleigh make hay out of Port's defensive lapse sunshine, and things just got worse from there, though Oakleigh's finishing was tidy. Not that Port's season is over by any means, but it looks like their focus might be on the FFA and/or Dockerty Cups now. Or maybe like 90% of the clubs in this competition, that's where it always was.


Things are grim for Altona East. One win, one draw and being knocked out by a lower league opponent was all they had to show so far in 2016. One of the locals noted to me that since they don't win at home, today was likely to be another bad day; I noted that East doesn't seem to be winning anything, it probably didn't matter where they played. Things got even worse when East found themselves 3-0 down at home within 20 minutes or so to a mediocre Westgate side. Somehow East managed to get themselves into the sheds only 3-2 down, which lead to the necessary tantrum from the Westgate brains trust at halftime. A side footed volley from probably 20 metres out just after the break, that swerved out of the reach of the Altona East goalkeeper and into the side of the net was wonderful to watch, and just about sealed the game. A junk time goal to each side late on proved the point that more goals ≠ more quality, no matter how much deluded soccer haters may think otherwise. 

Final thought
Only copped half as many as Nunawading did on the weekend, yet even they managed to score - from a free kick no less.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

South win 2016 Apertura title - Green Gully 0 South Melbourne 1

After walking around the HV McKay Gardens during the morning and having Afghan food for lunch, it was time to drive Chris Egan and Gains up to Green Gully Reserve in order to return to the scene of the crime as it were. And yes, while one did consider turning around and heading to the MCG because Collingwood were up by seven goals against Geelong at quarter time, we did end up making the turn onto Green Gully Road and into Gully's Chinese finger trap car park.

A couple of changes as well. No Luke Adams because of international duty, so Matthew Foschini was at centre back alongside Michael Eagar. Marcus Schroen made way for Iqi Jawadi's first start in many weeks, and Steven Hatzikostas also got a start. Were we a bit mosquito fleet in midfield with Mathew Theodore playing the attacking midfield role he's best suited to? Sure, but it actually seemed to work.

The difference, if anything, is that we seemed to press up on Green Gully in a way that we have not been doing to our opponents for... well, I'll let you guys decide how long. Most NPL defenses, with the probable exception of Bentleigh, can't play their way out of the back without hoofing it out or up the field, but even by those standards Gully's defense yesterday was all over the shop. They panicked even in rudimentary defensive situations, gifting us corners, throw ins and possession in dangerous positions on a regular basis.

Yes there was a noticeable breeze heading towards the car park end goal to which we were heading in the first half, but that doesn't explain some of the poor decision making by Gully. One of these poor decisions eventually lead to our goal, with us being given a penalty after a rather clumsy attempt by a Gully defender to prevent Amadu Koroma from playing the ball in the 18 yard box. Despite having a penalty saved last week against Pascoe Vale, the People's Champ once again took responsibility for the spot kick duties, eventually scoring from a stutter-y if not quite stuttering approach, but that's just one of those things open to interpretation.
and in case you're wondering why the 'Folau' reference, no, old mate Israel hasn't decided to take up soccer - here's the correction from John Patitsas soon afterwards.
So was the People's Champ's penalty stride one continuous motion? Probably just, but you know what they say about being technically correct. What was quite daft was Green Gully keeper Dowisha running up to referee Shaun Evans to complain, as if Evans was going to change his mind because he asked him to. I admit there was a point there where after the penalty was converted and Dowisha and his teammates made their pleas for re-consideration, that time seemed to stand still, but the goal stood and Dowisha got a yellow card for his trouble.

The goal was no less than we deserved on the balance of play, and the greatest disappointment was that we couldn't add to that goal. Crosses kept missing, corners again were dire, and our free kicks lacked venom, albeit at least for once they tended to be on target. Oh, how good would it have been had Mathew Theodore's first half shot crashed in off the cross bar instead of out?

Defensively, bolstered by a hungry and tenacious midfield, we looked strong, albeit there were a couple of moments - as much due to the wicked spin of the match balls, which also caught out some Gully defenders at times - where we needed to rely on Nikola Roganovic's reflexes. Mostly that was at the end, thank goodness, where he did what he had to do.

After so many years of struggling to win at this ground, to make it four wins here in four years says a lot about how much we've improved as a team during that time, and how much perhaps Gully has if not stalled, than at least retreated from its one time ruthlessness of the Dobson years.

Instead of being butchered to death (apart from a couple of dubious late tackles) and struggling to play against the masters of grinding out a result, we had to withstand mostly silly and pointless fouling and at best only had to endure a late flurry of action which, while it could have resulted in an equaliser, did not. We were in control for eighty of the ninety minutes, and even that ten minute period at the end where Gully started throwing the kitchen sink at us doesn't diminish that fact.

That doesn't mean we played anywhere near to our potential, and we still look vulnerable from a number of ailments. First and foremost is our dependence on Milos Lujic as the lone man up front, which relies a lot on the wide players getting into the box to take some of the heat - and the markers - off Milos. At least yesterday Milos came up closer to the midfield to collect some balls, meaning that space was created behind him.

The second problem isn't far removed from the first one - what if Milos goes down with a long term injury? There is no other player in our squad with the same blend of physique and skill ready to slot into that role - it's arguable that apart from Leigh Minopoulos, a very different kind of forward, we don't even have any strikers full stop. The transfer window opens up soon, but should a striker even be signed by us, it would probably necessitate a change in the game plan, something which has not necessarily been at the top of our to do list these past few seasons.

We still have a problem with defending diagonal balls, which Gully only really seemed to take notice of late in the game, and which Koroma - who seemed to be the main defender being targeted - did well enough in defending most of the time. It was actually strange to see so little of the play on the concourse side of the ground in the second half, where there would have been more shelter to use against the wind.

Still, these are problems you'd admittedly rather have while being top of the table, and not in places other than that. Nevertheless there will come a point where people will see that period of struggle between the 2006 championship and the Chris Taylor helmed resurgence as irrelevant to what happens now. And that would be fair enough. Not that we have done poorly, but the measure of success which many fans will have used to score this side - which once would have been limited to 'oh my goodness, we no longer completely suck!' - will change.

Next game
Heidelberg away.

...and justice for all
Since Jason Newsted is still waiting for justice, than perhaps we can wait a little longer for the tribunal date for the Victory incident. But not too much longer surely.

Does anyone actually care? - social media edition
As a Twitter fiend - attempts to wean myself off the medium have been only moderately successful at best - I am interested in following the conversation that centres on the NPL Victoria on that platform. Now, being a not very popular league, there isn't much interest overall on Twitter. That's to be expected, and not something we should get alarmed at.

And despite Twitter's potential, the medium itself is retreating into re-tweets of news and information instead of original content (as is happening with other social media platforms, including Facebook). Aside from that problem, even when a popular event (such as an AFL match) starts trending, the kind of talk that takes place resembles something more akin to people yelling into the breeze than actually talking with one another.

If Twitter is to become just another shorthand news source, that's not so much of a problem (except for Twitter itself, perhaps), but the lack of engagement from ordinary NPL punters is interesting, especially when FFV has (quite rightly) put more emphasis on NPL Victoria clubs' use of social media. Now obviously quite a few won't have Twitter at all, but most people have Facebook accounts these days, yet for the most part the engagement levels seem about the same, taking into account a lot more people use Facebook than Twitter.

While Twitter is my main focus in this aimless thinking out loud piece, the lack of engagement on Facebook for many teams - where more of their support, both actual and latent, resides - is also worth noting. A few weeks ago, after we had defeated Bentleigh in that very exciting match, Bentleigh Greens had posted a video of an exasperated Johnny A blaming the length of the grass as part of the reason his team didn't win. Myself and a couple of other South fans decided to post on their Facebook page making note of last year's painted grass fiasco, comments which were deleted by the Bentleigh Facebook admin.

That we could just re-post the same critique on Twitter without them being able to do anything about it was not really the issue. More interesting was that on that and so many other Bentleigh posts, there were no comments. Yes, they're not the best supported club out there, but it's not so much different for South Melbourne Facebook posts, especially considering the vast amount of (real or bought or whatever) 'likes' we have compared to other teams.

People may read the social media updates, occasionally click on 'like', but beyond that there's not much engagement unless there's controversy. It's not much different for South games on Twitter. It's usually me, SMFCMike and... that's about it. And I've taken my foot off the Twitter pedal this year for South games this year so I can focus more attention on the game and the real world banter. But even in other games, there's quite a lack of Twitter discussion for most NPL Victoria games, with the exception of the news sources and the global gambling 'community'.

I suppose it's easier to become engaged on social media when you're a neutral, or if you're watching a game on television - and while you're seated, if you happen to be in a stadium. It's easier to also to feel the need to post something if you think someone else cares, and with a niche product like the NPL, that kind of motivation is often hard to find.

A fellow blogger newer to the blogging game asked me recently how many hits I was getting - a reasonable question. My response was about 400-600 hits for match reports, a lot less for artefact segments. If a game has had a measure of controversy, those posts tend to get a lot more traction. It's little surprise that the antics of the People's Champ at last year's game at Green Gully fits into the category of well visited match report posts.

Only three of my top ten posts hit-wise are from match reports, and that's fair enough - they're not my main forte skill-wise, and most South people still interested in South tend to be at the games most weeks. Editorial pieces or posts where I'm covering off-field sagas often get a lot more interest, because I'm one of the few covering them in a public forum, especially when it comes to issues directly affecting South.

But it's very difficult to gain traction - the narrow focus, the league we're in, all of these things makes getting and maintaining a large audience difficult. Not that I have an issue with that personally, but it's an example of how hard it is to get an audience for media based around a second tier competition in Australia. At least I write on a club with some supporters, and with a residual level of interest in Australian soccer circles. For lesser supported clubs with no great history or even tendency towards controversy, there's not much chance of developing an audience from such meager ingredients.

While I don't disagree that trying to use Twitter or Facebook is a good thing for clubs - few do it well enough, though they are getting better - I'm interested in knowing what the FFV hopes the clubs can achieve in the long run. An event such as South vs Knights (or similar) FFA Cup match will get some traction because of the fixture's 'event' status, but the same fixture as a league game will only get smidgen of the same attention.

For my part, even if my hit numbers stay small, the number of comments has increased a fair bit, and that indicates a steady level of engagement. Maybe there is sort of community built around this site (or even the now outdated idea of a 'forum') that needs to be looked at by FFV and various NPL clubs, and that merely spewing out a stream of news bites isn't enough to engage people, let alone keep them engaged.

Or maybe we should just be prepared to all ride the controversy relevance roller-coaster.

Around the grounds (NPL hurrah!)
I didn't manage to get to any other games this week.

Final thought
Who cares if this is recycled from last year's game?