Sunday, 3 May 2015

Indefinite - Port Melbourne 2 South Melbourne 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social club news, as osmotically gleaned from the internet and dewy grass æther 
Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close. Resolution is close.

Smithers, my wallet's in my right front pocket
Oh, and I'll take that statue of justice too..

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

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

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Metamorphosis (in a Robert Manne sort of way)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Internecine - South Melbourne 1 Pascoe Vale 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Between the lines - Hume City 0 South Melbourne 1

(alternative title: Juvenilia flavoured experiment in harmonising dissonant and/or discordant narratives)

One day they will make it easier to cross from the north side of Barry road to the south side, maybe even place a footpath on the south side, but until that time at least once a year I will be taking my life into my hands hoping a car doesn't floor me as it comes around the bend. An outstanding defensive display helped South Melbourne FC defeat Hume City 0-1 at ABD Stadium on Saturday night. The weather was calm, even pleasant during the under 20s game, which I think we won. Five minutes before the seniors kickoff though the wind picked up and all of a sudden watching the planes fly low overhead as they descended towards Tullamarine wasn't as fun as it had been up until that point. On a treacherous night in Broadmeadows, Milos Lujic’s first half header was enough to secure the points in a game that was far from pretty but considerably entertaining nonetheless. Some of the people who had got there early complained about the long lines to get food and drink in the Hume City social club, but I had little issue getting a can of Turkish gazoza. The win extended South’s unbeaten start to the season to eight games in the PlayStation 4 NPL Victoria and ten games across all competitions. South won the first eleven League matches of the 2014 season before going on to win the title. I was impressed with Broadmeadows Valley Park has come along; last year the stand, this year adequate if not spectacular lighting, and a very good scoreboard. of course it was hard to see what was going for much of this game, as the rain started coming down, and standing huddled eight people to one umbrella at the northern end of the ground, it was difficult to tell what was going on. That, and because I had a beanie instead of a hat, my glasses got wet and my vision even blurrier than usual. And where was the little shed that they used to have behind those goals? It might have been a different story had Hume City captain Nick Hegarty found the back of the net in the eighth minute of the game. Hegarty’s header struck the underside of the crossbar, bouncing back out into the field of play before eventually being cleared by Brad Norton. For those of us behind the goal, it was one of those games where the chatter devolved into the absurd. A 'Frozen' (the kids movie, not the Madonna song) inspired chant; Pokemon; meteorologists; what Christi Malthouse is doing with herself these days. South was forced to withstand some heavy pressure from the home side early in the match, before Lujic’s ninth goal of the season gave the defending NPL Victoria Champions the lead after 26 minutes. Nick Epifano delivered a delightful ball to the near post, with Lujic finding the back of the net with a characteristically powerful header. Prior to the game, Steve from Broady had considered the merits of going home - he lives very near to the ground - and getting a jumper or jacket. Having decided against this, and being unable to squeeze under Gains' umbrellas, he gets absolutely soaked. The lead gave Chris Taylor’s men more control over proceedings, with Epifano and Andy Brennan constantly threatening on each flank. One of the kids behind the goals, a possible affiliate of the new 'ultras' group that seems to have coalesced at South, has that group's apparent ringleader on speakerphone, in a discussion hat lasts for a huge portion of the game. Just before half-time a surging run from Brennan resulted in a free-kick on the edge of the area. After initially slipping in his run-up, Dane Milovanovic drove a powerful shot underneath the wall which forced Hume goalkeeper Chris Oldfield into a terrific diving save. Fan loyalty, being hardcore, the self-esteem derived from being a part of a downtrodden brotherhood - at some point you realise it's all a crock, perhaps 65 minutes into a game where you sense that the 1-0 lead you're desperately clinging onto will be erased by an injury time equaliser The nobility of work is a sham, a lie. A combination of shocking conditions and some excellent defending from both sides meant that chances were few and far between in the second half. Photographer Cindy Nitsos' camera lens is streaked with water. Pleas for some tissues to clean it up mean that some are found, and delivered by one of the home team's ground marshals. Tim Mala was particularly outstanding at the right side of defence, nailing a series of important slide tackles and successfully nullifying star Hume attacker Jai Ingham.At one stage David Stirton is running into open space at the edge of the box, but goes down like he's been shot. Is it the groin issue that's been troubling him? As he comes around behind the southern goals where we're standing after having been subbed off, he says it's a corky. Somebody tells him to use up all the hot water in the shower. Someone else says make sure Epa doesn't get any. The game came to life in the final ten minutes when Hume had a big chance to level the scores, only for Calvin Mbarga’s header to sail over the crossbar. Hume's goalkeeper Chris Oldfield went in hard for a punched clearance, and it looks like he's hurt his arm. All our pleas to the team though to take advantage of his bung arm go unheeded however. Moments later Andy Brennan skipped down the field after a slip from a Hume defender, however the big Tasmanian’s shot went just wide of the post. It mattered little, with the final whistle sounding a few moments later to give South a sixth League win in 2015 with Taylor’s side still unbeaten in ten matches across all competitions this season. Someone makes a quip to Andy Brennan that he should be playing well in this weather, because it's quite Tasmanian in character. Captain Michael Eagar commended the resilience of his squad after three wins in seven days during the past week. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy tonight but we knuckled down, did the hard yards and got the deserved three points. We had a tough derby match last Saturday, then the midweek Cup game and then another tough game tonight. It’s been a great effort by everyone in the squad. Everyone has done their job when called upon.” I'm happy that we've won the game, but I'm cold and wet and hungry and I just want to make as uick an exit from here as possible. Fix Hellas Beer Man of the Match Tim Mala was also quick to sing the praises of the defence and striker Milos Lujic. “Millsy is the sort of guy that if you give him half a metre he’s so dangerous that he makes you pay and that’s what he did tonight. It was a good effort by everyone really, we had to grind it out but we got the win and you can see that we’re buzzing now.” In the stand after the game, I spot soccer academic Les Street and newly elected FFV boardmember Nicholas Tsiaras, who is kind enough to give me and Gains a lift to Batman Station. During the trip, we discuss the convoluted and closer than many think election race. There was further good news in the Under 20s as Nashir Hussainy’s second half goal gave South Melbourne a 0-1 win over Hume City. After having some KFC (Korean fried chicken) for dinner in the city, I make my way to Spencer Street, where I get asked by two people what North did tonight, which I don't mind this time, because they were playing a match at Docklands that had just finished. On the train replacement bus back to Sunshine, there's a woman who's half Courtney Cox, half Alice Cooper, holding a large bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water. South Melbourne FC’s next match is at home against Pascoe Vale at Lakeside Stadium on Friday 24 April. Kick-off is at 8:15pm.

Dockerty Cup news
We've been drawn to play the Knights at home. While the game will be played over the Queen's Birthday weekend, no time or date has been selected yet.

Andy Brennan on trial
News from the South Hobart site is that he's been called up for a trial this week with Newcastle Jets, but that he will be back for Friday's game against Pascoe Vale.

The continuing adventures of Nick Epifano (featuring Cliff)
Another week, another social media related storm, this time with Epifano suspended indefinitely from football activity, and with a fan also being banned from games indefinitely. This comes on the back of certain events which occurred yesterday on smfcboard, where South fan (and former contributor to this blog) 'Cliff' posted screenshots of correspondence between himself and Nick Epifano. It just so happens that I did not get to see any of the correspondence before it was deleted from the forum. My understanding is that it did not provide a complete picture of the exchange between Epifano and Cliff. What a mess.

I'm not a trained monkey!
Final thought

Friday, 17 April 2015

In a canter - South Melbourne 8 North Sunshine Eagles 0

I couldn't make it to this game, so thank you Gains who has provided this match report in my absence.

Paul asked me to help him write the match report for the cup match before the game, so here I am again. My previous match report ended up with Peter Tsolakis resigning as head coach so I hope nothing of the same sort happens again.

Personally I don't like how it is called the FFA Cup qualifier where it is primarily about the Dockerty Cup and the four FFA Cup spots happen to be the easiest way to find four entrants from Victoria but maybe that's just me.

Pre-match and Background
On the way to the ground there are at least fifty North Sunshine fans singing and chanting to support the team and with the addition of those already inside, there were at least a hundred of them coming to support their team against South. They were here courtesy of an epic penalty shootout victory over Sunshine George Cross, after drawing 4-4 in normal time and 6-6 in extra time with two men down after red cards. South won 5-0 against Whittlesea United in the previous round.

Perhaps knowing their previous round win and people talking about North Sunshine as being a team that fears no opposition, Chris Taylor selected a strong starting eleven after the weekend derby against Melbourne Knights. Nick Epifano and Jake Barker-Daish replaced Dane Milovanovic and Matthew Theodore from the team that beat the Knights, while Tim Mala served the second part of his two match ban from the red card against Green Gully.

Andy Brennan on the ball, with what looks like a hundred tissues stuffed up
his nose, after copping a ball to the face. Photo: Cindy Nitsos
First Half
An early goal from Milos Lujic assisted by the in-form Andy Brennan, who dispossessed a North Sunshine player, helped the team's confidence considering it had taken around half an hour for the first goal to arrive against Whittlesea. Ten minutes later, Brad Norton's great cross found Brennan rushing from the right, which made it two. There was controversy when Lujic got heavily fouled just outside the box and the loose ball went to Brennan who put it into the net, only for the referee to pull the game back for the initial foul much to the protestations of South fans. David Stirton scored from the free kick, most likely South's first since Fernando's against Preston Lions in the 2013 Dockerty Cup quarter final. Lujic got substituted for Leigh Minopoulos immediately after the goal. Another Stirton goal, this time from an Epifano cross, put the game beyond North Sunshine's reach and just a minute later when Epifano was brought down close to the six yard box, a penalty scored by Epifano himself and a red card for the defender basically ended the game as a contest. Taylor made his second substitution at this point, replacing Brennan who got hit in the head with the ball and ran around with gauze around his mouth for a while with Andy Kecojevic. The first half ended 5-0 and with one man advantage, progression to the next round is almost certain.

It seemed during the second half, North Sunshine's goalkeeper (who drew a few “sign him up” chants after some of his saves) got substituted.

Iqi Jawadi evades his North Sunshine opponent. Photo: Cindy Nitsos
Second Half
The intensity of the game dropped in second half; consequently, North Sunshine got a lot more of the ball compared and had some moments where they broke through South's back line and tested Nikola Roganovic in goals. It took until the hour mark for South to increase the lead with Minopoulos scoring. Five minutes later Stirton grabbed his hattrick to made it seven. Around this time other match results were announced through the PA (though having some sound issues where it sounded like a Nespresso machine operating after they finished the broadcast) with Ballarat Red Devils getting a cheer and impromptu chant after news of their lead (and eventual victory) over Bentleigh Greens piped in. Jake Barker-Daish ended the match with a goal of his own, a right footed shot from outside the box beyond the goalkeeper's reach. Eight-nil it ended, more players getting a run in the team and gaining match fitness; the next round awaits.

Nick Epifano gets brought down in the box. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Nick Epifano
After being dropped from the starting eleven against the Knights, Epifano looks more active in the second half, dropped back and tried to win the ball from his opposition more. On the pitch, his extra effort showed itself in the form of a first half assist and goal, not to mention his shots and dangerous crosses. The intensity dropped in the second half but so did that of the others considering the scoreline, but he still provided a few crosses which almost resulted in goals.

Post-match though, Epifano walked straight to the tunnel and despite captain Michael Eagar's attempt to have him celebrate together with the fans, Epifano pushed him away and walked down the tunnel, which the  fans noticed. Post player/fan celebration, Roganovic went over to the fans and tried to give an explanation. He asked the fans to give Epifano some time, said that he is probably having his issues at home, he is still very young at nineteen, and all the other players are trying to support Epifano who they consider an important part of the team. Most of the fans there accepted Roganovic's explanation, but more importantly gained more respect for the goalkeeper as he did not need to go out of his way to clear the air.

Learned a New Greek Word Today
Σταμάτα! (Stop!)

Next Match
Hume City away. Five previous away results against them were W L W L W. Depending whether you believe in statistics and/or superstitions this might be the match you want to skip or go to and see the team break the pattern. As Tim Mala has finished serving his ban and might potentially return to the team, you might also want to spend a minute or more of your weekend in Broady with him.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Limited internet blues - South Melbourne 2 Melbourne Knights 1

(Preamble) Sign of the Times
While waiting at the tram stop in between Flinders Street and Federation Square to catch a tram to the pub (as it turned out, no one else turned up, so that was a bit of a waste), a Yarra Trams employee on the platform started chatting with me about South and who we were playing. I mentioned 'Croatia', and he asked me about what kind of crowd the game would get. I said probably 1000-1500. It turned out that my new mate was a lapsed South fan - who else would reply to my hopeful crowd estimate with 'but we used to get 8,000 for this game'?

How do you respond to that assertion with anything resembling good grace? Here was a bloke bemoaning the fact that South crowds had gotten smaller, while not acknowledging that he himself was part of the problem. After I somehow made that point to him without directly implicating or blaming him, he then wished me a happy Easter, to which I said 'not for me'.

'Why not?' he said.
'I'm not a believer' I replied.
'You should go anyway' he responded, before I clambered onto the No.1 tram towards South Melbourne Beach, and he went on to help out some other commuters.

The tension mounts (on with the body count)
A Saturday afternoon kickoff, up against just about every other senior men's soccer match in Melbourne - not exactly the most ideal kickoff time, despite the horribly pristine and un-winter-like weather. Upon entering the ground I picked up my 2014 championship pennant souvenir, which was in a soccer style, whereas my idea had been for a baseball/Happy Days style horizontal triangle, in part because of some people at South calling me Richie Cunningham; no matter.

The apparently newly relaid turf was described by one person who had walked on it as having been left long, as well as being both sandy and moist; somehow later in the day, I thought I'd heard overheard someone chanting to themselves 'Epifano walks on quicksand'.

An early detour
Speaking of Nick Epifano, he was both there (in that he was on the bench), and not there (in that he didn't seem to celebrate the winning goal, nor did he get subbed on). I have been told and I have read from the more sympathetic side of this issue that Epifano wants to be at South, and that he had made that decision before the season despite receiving several better monetary offers, combined with denigration of South from persons involved at other clubs.

If that is true, and I don't doubt that to be the case, then he has an awfully strange way of showing it, for example by remaining expressionless on the bench when we do something good, or being the first to leave the ground after a game. That's not a crime in and of itself - the bloke's probably an incurable introvert - but it does cut against the grain of expectation in a vocation where overt and obvious physical and emotional expression is expected as standard.

After last week's episode of rank stupidity, the club went into lock down, and while my initial feeling was that Epifano would have been sacked, every day that went past seemed to make this less likely. What was the hold up for? Why had there been no comment from the club, even if it was only to acknowledge that the incident had happened, and that more news would be released later?

As it turned out, the club went on an atypically 'thorough consultative process' to try and figure out what the best solution would be to this scenario. They even engaged stakeholders across the club, including some members. And in the interests of openness, I was one of those members consulted. Without going into too much detail about that process, my recommendation was that the club sack Epifano, because while I believe that there is a substantial player welfare element involved here, that we as a club do not have the capacity to deal with that problem, as well as being doubtful of Epifano's remorse, especially considering the behaviour of some of those people in his camp.

Whatever the motivations of the club - and they may genuinely believe that this is a player welfare issue, and not merely be seeing it as a case of Epifano being a very talented player who'd they'd rather not let go - it takes a fair amount of guts to take it down this direction. That will sound wrongheaded to a few people out there, who will more naturally equate this is being a sign of weakness and indecisiveness. But undoubtedly, this is an attempt if not to implement than to at least mimic the 'professional' solution a top tier sporting club would apply in the same or similar situation.

The word that I've received on the matter is that within all levels of the club - coach, board, player leadership group - failed to adequately deal with the initial Facebook comment issue; so that while Epifano can't be nor should he be absolved of taking responsibility for his own actions, at least some part of the problem was in the ineffective and inadequate response from the club itself to the initial fuck up. Of course those in charge are well aware that this could all blow up in their face spectacularly, but as far as I'm concerned on this matter, if they can somehow make this work for the benefit of all involved, it would actually demonstrate an increase of maturity and professionalism in the club.

I don't think it's going to work for all sorts of reasons, but it'll be very interesting to see how this all plays out. What's already surprised me is the response from many of those on smfcboard.com - and I don't mean those who are only protesting we keep Epifano because of his talent, because that's no surprise at all - but those who have provided measured, nuanced responses outside the Kiss of Death's 'knee-jerk hard arse' response and the SMFC Mike brand of 'how much deeper can I crawl up the board's arse' response binary.

OK, back on track now
There was also some sort of camera crew attached to someone who looked like George Donikian (wearing his ground access pass on a Melbourne Heart lanyard) who, as far as I could gather, were filming some sort of feature on Australian soccer, starting with community clubs, then NPL, then A-League. Someone bemoaned the fact that they turned up to a fixture that was likely to have a poor crowd, but why not capture the true spirit of forcefully inflicted mediocrity that we've succumbed to? The mood lightened somewhat when the camera crew started filming Clarendon Corner, and we started singing 'We only sing when there's cameras!'.

Even the early Knights goal didn't sink people's enthusiasm, perhaps because we always looked likely to score. A large part of this was due to Andy Brennan, who was given hectares of space to run into on the right hand side, and which he duly used to take apart the inexperienced and/or substandard Knights defense. When he got past them, he put in several good crosses; when he failed to get past an opponent, the result was usually a foul, often with a yellow a card to the offender, though it took some time for the ref to get to that point. Having seen (via videos) the kind of space Brennan was gifted in Tasmania - usually way too much - I was surprised to see him allowed to roam the way he was on Saturday. That's not a complaint mind you, only an observation, in that less space was one of the issues I thought he'd have to deal with in Victorian soccer.

Placed here just in case you've never seen this
before.
The equaliser when it did come was pretty damn contentious for all sorts of reasons. The penalty call was so soft that it caught everyone by surprise. Milos Lujic's celebration following his successful spot kick only made things more interesting. Instead of running towards the home supporters, or being crowded by his teammates, he made his way towards where MCF were located, and produced an elongated 'shush' celebration, before crossing himself (in the Orthodox manner) and pointing towards the sky. Somehow some folks interpreted the gesture as a return to the Bobby Despotovski incident of many years ago, a claim which soon spread to social media.

While that allegation was later shown to be false, the immediate result was the referee blowing his whistle for halftime, and a scuffle between the two teams as they headed off towards the tunnel. Whatever Lujic did, and however much we've copped from opposition players over the years, I'm not a fan of celebrating in front of the opposition; but then again, I'm not one for outlandish goal celebrations anyway. Under normal circumstances, my personal goal celebration preference list is:
  1. Thanking the player who passed the ball to you.
  2. Celebrating with your supporters.
  3. Dedicating the effort to Jesus/Buddha/Allah/recently deceased person/currently ill person/new born person/your high score playing as Questor the Elf on Gauntlet
  4. Only carrying on like a complete pork chop if you've scored an absolute cracker or decisive, season defining goal.
Still, it was rather absurd that Knights fans were getting in an uproar, all while some of their supporters had resuscitated the old NSL era chant "I'd rather fuck an Abo than a Greek'. The notion that some have put forward - and it's not a notion that I disagree with - that the Knights are possibly the worst possible club to challenge the FFA's National Club Identity Policy got a bit of an unnecessary boost there.

The second half saw us more or less pick up where we left off. Brennan continued to take the piss, and got his due reward when he battled hard, caused a turnover and received the resulting through ball which he slotted home. It was a little ugly, but damn was it effective. The rest of the game saw us alternately try to ice the game - a Chris May double save made that part harder - and try to weather the visitors' attacks. There were a few of those, mostly from the air where we didn't look that comfortable, but we held on and that's what matters most.

As the game wound down to its tense finish, I casually remarked how nice the ground now looked with its new signage; if only it had more people to appreciate what the club is doing these days; and if only the signs were perhaps a metre further back, because they looked pretty close to the touchline. One last thing on the game itself. Now, I'm going to completely disregard whatever the exact rule may be, but how Chris May's blatant and deliberate handball miles outside of his area - and the follow up pretence of being hit in the face - got only a yellow card, when Tim Mala missed two games for calling Kieran Gonzalez a dickhead is beyond me.

On the tram back towards the city, a Knights supporter with either his dad or his grandad bemoaned Hellas' diving tactics. Me, I tried to persuade Steven Chang of the virtues of Frozen Tears' club theme song, to no avail.

Deluxe Ultra Crowd Estimator Segment 3000
Due to a certain amount of demand, here is the beginning of a new crowd estimator segment - and maybe the end, too, because new segments on South of the Border are never guaranteed to last. To be honest, I hadn't even thought about this last week, but one of our readers came up to me during the game and suggested what he considered to be a 'realistic' number. While I was trying to come up with a catchy name for the segment - which as you can see, didn't happen - another fan wearing a Manowar hoodie also provided a 'propaganda' number.

So in an effort to spread the love between both factions, and in lieu of the club actually releasing genuine attendance numbers unless you happen to be in the car with El Presidente at the time, here are both possible answers.

Realistic: 1000
Inflated South propaganda: 1800

If you would like to participate in this segment, please see me at any South game in order to provide your answer.

Next game, holy crap, that's on tonight!
Dockerty Cup action against North Sunshine Eagles at Lakeside. The game is free for members, but not free for the general public, after a stadium issue arose making the previous announcement from the club that it would be free for all, redundant.

A Magyar homecoming at Melbourne’s Greek Derby
It's been a fairly hectic few weeks for me of late. One of the downsides to this chaos is that I haven't been able to keep up with my reading as much as i would have liked, and that includes stuff on the net. Nevertheless, I finally got around to reading Engel Schmidl's latest piece on Shoot Farken, and it was well worth the wait. It's set during the most recent Heidelberg-South derby game, which is the angle I'm using to justify promoting it. Do check it out.

Next year in Jerusalem
Did you know that the 'no social club' clock on the blog doesn't come up in the browser on my crappy mobile phone? Anyway, thanks to the good people on smfcboard.com who noted that we've notched up five years without a social club, except for some casino night and the doomed from the start attempts to make Beachcomber Cafe a temporary replacement of sorts.

Around the Grounds
So it's come to this
I went with Steve from Broady to Port Melbourne vs Heidelberg, and apart from picking the worst spot on the ground to view the game, it kinda felt like old times, before 'Griffo' became a massive Victorian soccer celebrity, at the same time as the amount of non-South games he watched decreased dramatically. No matter. I was expecting big things from this game, what with both teams doing well this season. Alas, I was left disappointed. The Bergers scored a goal in the opening couple of minutes, and finished off the game with a second goal in the 91st minute. In between all of that, very little of note happened, except for Port skying the odd chance way over the bar. Slightly more interesting was Port's canteen, which was serving cans of Fosters, and the linesman who before each half thought that it was a matter of great importance that the goalkeeper's water-bottles were on the outside of the side netting rather than on the inside. Heidelberg goalkeeper Griffin McMaster, who received the lesson just before the start of the second half, could only comply with a look of utter disbelief, while exclaiming that he'd never come across that request before.

Final thought
After 28 years, it's farewell to Altona North, and hello Sunshine West. Where did the time go?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

No, I'm not dead

The reason there has been no post on last week's very eventful game - and many other issues besides that - is that I have been in the process of moving house, and have had limited time and/or access to the internet. Rest assured though, that there will be stuff posted on those games at some point.

In the mean time, don't forget that we have a cup game tomorrow against North Sunshine Eagles, at home, at 7:30.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

I'm seeing double artefact Wednesday - 1966 championship pennants

1966 state league championship pennant, from a later tradition.. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
Now, if someone can fill me in on how such a situation would come up, I'd love to hear an explanation. For some reason, we have two different pennants for our 1966 state league title, our fourth state title.and the final part of the 1964-65-66 hat-trick. The pennant on the right - which due to shoddy camerawork and the awful lighting in the old social club has taken on a raucously jaundiced hue - seems to be a part of the same tradition or set as most of the other state league title pennants from the Victorian Soccer Federation series that were on display. And yet, amid that series of pennants, I found another 1966 championship pennant, one that clearly belongs to an older tradition. If nothing else, the different designs of the balls on the two VSF logos is a dead giveaway. This leads me to ask a number of questions.

Alternate 1966 state league championship pennant, from what appears to be an earlier
tradition or series. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
What ever happened to the rest of the pennants from that earlier set? How did the original(?) 1966 pennant survive when the others didn't? In addition to that, the next thing to figure out is whether there were any actual trophies awarded for the state league titles back then. If there were, then as best as I can remember we're missing every single one of them from the pre-NSL era, which is a damn shame considering how many relatively ephemeral trophies we had on display and which are currently packed away in storage awaiting the reconstruction of the social club, Finally, in terms of which design I prefer, it's the older version. Ignoring the superior colour quality of the alternate pennant's photo, the design just has a lot more 'oomph' and presence, which I know won't satisfy the graphic design heads who read this blog, but maybe they can come in and talk about the differences between the two pennants using proper graphic design jargon - come on, you know you want to.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Farce shambles - Green Gully 0 South Melbourne 2

Never, ever a dull day for South at Gully, but even I wasn't expecting today's shenanigans. But before the usual shoddy rundown of the game, well done to Green Gully for once again offering SMFCTV no help whatsoever to find a suitable place to film, a disgrace in itself in terms of hospitality, but even more woeful when they're not even sending their own film footage to FFV for the weekly highlights video. Clowns.

Gully have been a bit all over the shop this season, while we ourselves hadn't put in anything close to resembling a cohesive 90 minute performance; yet we were still undefeated and picking up points against some good teams under difficult circumstances. Leigh Minopoulos, who got a start at the expense of Andy Brennan, scored during the first half only to have it called back for offside. My immediate gut instinct, admittedly from viewing the incident from the halfway line, was that it was offside, though others closer in line insisted it was a legitimate goal. Minopoulos had another chance though to open the scoring, but mucked up the opportunity spectacularly - either shooting or better still, passing it to his right to the unmarked Milos Lujic would have sufficed - instead his inaction saw the chance squandered and Leigh copping a barrage of abuse for the effort. What was that it that Mr Miyagi told Daniel-san about being decisive?



Speaking of South fans abusing players, I didn't hear anybody abuse Nick Epifano at the point in time when he decided to abuse the South supporters. Now whether he said 'Greek cunts' or 'spastic cunts' or 'spastic Greek cunts' is irrelevant. But more on this later. And as something completely unrelated to this (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), the call of the day outside of the farcical post-match scenes was one of our fans offering to buy Roddy Vargas' Socceroo jersey for ten bucks.

It was a very even game, with Gully also finding themselves in good positions to score, but more often than not failing to make the most of their opportunities throughout the game. This was either due to woeful finishing, overuse of the ball, or when required, the heroics of Nikola Roganovic - and before I forget, yes there was a substitute keeper on the bench yesterday!

Remember also when I was a little mystified by Chris Taylor's comments following the Community Shield win over Melbourne Knights about us playing too direct? I mean, isn't that the supposed hallmark of the Chris Taylor game plan? Well yesterday highlighted to me what he was going on about. As with with several games this season, there have been too many moments where we have coughed the ball up cheaply in completely unnecessary situations - situations which weren't down to opposition pressure, but merely poor decision making. I'm no opponent of the long ball, but when it becomes the default option even in circumstances where it's not warranted, and all you do is end up giving the ball back to the opposition under no pressure, with the opposition closer to the middle of the ground... it just sucks man, you know?

Andy Brennan dispossesses Green Gully goalkeeper Kieran Gonzalez.
Photo: Kevin Juggins.
Was Lujic's first goal offside? Again my instinct was yes, but the officials thought otherwise, and we took the lead late on and put ourselves in the best position to win this arm wrestle of a game. Dane Milovanovic's ball to Lujic was perfect, and it was great to see Dane get a start and stiffen up the spine of the the whole structure. His distribution was also very good. I'm a big Andy Brennan fan, and while I know he's got a lot to learn yet about playing in this competition - especially in learning how to pace himself - off the bench thus far this season he has been an asset. Even if not every cross goes where it should, his attitude and willingness to fight for the ball means that defenders always have to be alert, and are more prone to making a mistake from implied pressure as well as actual pressure. Brennan's dispossessing of Green Gully goalkeeper Kieran Gonzalez, which he followed up with a lay-off to Lujic who snuck it into the net, was fabulous stuff.

Quite why Tim Mala received a red card after all of that is probably only known to those who were on the field. The inference being made is that Mala abused Gonzalez for screwing up, and after Gonzalez made an issue of it the referee decided to send Mala off, a heinous overreaction akin to when Jesse Krncevic was sent off a few years back against Heidelberg. Chances are that the red card won't be overturned, and who knows how many games Mala will miss because of it. Then the game finished and another tumultuous game at Green Gully Reserve had come to end,

And then...
the farcical scenes began, or should I say probably continued on from a few weeks ago. During half time of the Bentleigh game, one of our supporters had posted a comment critical of Nick Epifano's performance during that first half (see the screenshot on the right) on the South Melbourne Facebook page. Epifano responded in a hostile manner, and tagged in Iqi Jawadi to the discussion. I only became aware of this because of anonymous person who mentioned the incident in the comments section of that post. Upon trying to find evidence of the discussion, I came up mostly empty, as apparently comments with swearing automatically don't get published on the South Facebook page. If that's true, what this means is that the person who saw the post was either an insider, or was otherwise Facebook friends with Epifano and thus able to see the comment regardless of its content. Since I don't befriend any of our players on Facebook, and follow almost none of them on Twitter - a deliberate policy of mine - I can't say for certain how the comment was seen.

Regardless, all of that is beside the point. Epifano bit back in a very offensive manner to what was fairly tame commentary, and while the club tried to keep it quiet, it did leak via the relative blog comment onto smfcboard.com where it was confirmed by Con Shomos that indeed the incident had happened. From there, I asked the club via Twitter if Epifano would be punished, to which board member Tony Margaritis replied that the matter had been dealt with, without elaborating on what the exact punishment would be. Fair enough, give the bloke a bake behind closed doors, let the internal processes try to sort the situation out,

Now I'm always reticent to try and say things like 'all supporters think this' or 'most supporters consider that'. The risks and pitfalls are too obvious. But I think I can safely say that for most of our supporters, in their minds abuse directed at our players is not personal - though I can certainly see how it would be taken personally - but almost entirely an expression of their frustration at a given passage of play, or match or even season. In that sense, it's no different to supporters from almost any sporting club around the world.

Nick Epifano heads clear during the game. Photo: Kevin Juggins.
There's also a legitimate stream of thought out there that you should never abuse any player on your team. It's not one that I subscribe to for all sorts of reasons, but it's an opinion that a lot of people hold, and I'm not going to begrudge them that. The fact of the matter though is that yesterday Epifano didn't react to abuse, but to encouragement! While I didn't hear his comments, I can categorically state that those of us on the fence near where the outburst occurred did not abuse him, but only sought to encourage him to make a follow up effort while the Gully defender was in a relatively tight spot and potentially susceptible to making an error if put under more pressure - in other words, comments directed to every one of our players. Some fans even noted on the forums yesterday that even after Epifano's outburst, that the supporters by and large kept on trying to encourage him during the second half.

South fans don't have the best reputation for abuse of their own team, but the fact that Epifano seemed to get upset at that and not abuse is kind of disturbing to me. Does he have other issues that he's dealing with? I'm struggling to figure out what his problem is. I'm also hardly the eternal optimist when it comes to pretty much anything South related, but even at the end of the match I felt that the situation could have been rescued (even if only partially or temporarily) if only he'd come over with the rest of the team and thanked the fans for turning our, and in turn receiving thanks for the team's efforts - a display of mutual respect despite whatever tantrums were had in the heat of the moment. Instead this happened.
Instead of swallowing his pride somewhat and trying to defuse the situation, his actions only served to make what was a hard fought win in a game that could have gone either, all about himself.

Then, as those of us along the fence were about to begin our exit out of the ground before having to deal with the traditional bottleneck situation in the Green Gully car park, attention turned to supporters further up on the hill getting into a blue with Nick Epifano's mum and assorted other friends and relatives of his, all while you could clearly hear the players singing the song in the change rooms with gusto. Now what exactly was being said and who started it, I have next to no idea, as I stayed near the fence watching on in amused horror at the utter farce shambles of the situation, only joining in with the childish yet appropriate Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! chant.

It was hard to make head or tail of the situation, as those on either side of the argument ended up inadvertently ganging up on those who were trying to calm the situation down, as well as somehow involving those who weren't even in the discussion at all. As stupid and unseemly as all of this was, it only got worse when Epifano came out of the dressing rooms in his club polo and track pants, crossed over to the outer side, jumped the fence and looked like he wanted to fight with some of our fans, only to be held back by his mum.

Eventually our president Leo Athanasakis came out, and people started to move on slowly, though the yelling and abuse continued out into the car park area. Thank goodness that the situtation didn't manage to escalate even further. The remaining South fans stood in the car park holding an informal debrief, trying to figure out what had happened, how it had happened, and what would happen next - as well as an inordinate amount of people asking me when it would all go on the blog.

The general though by no means unanimous consensus seemed to be that whatever actions the club had taken to punish Epifano after the initial Facebook incident, they had failed to make the situation better; that by and large, Epifano was not copping any abuse out of the ordinary, that indeed it was still mostly genuine encouragement (though word had spread of his first half outburst, and thius some fans were in mood to be conciliatory) and that he was certainly not receiving the kind of attention that Minopoulos had received when he fluffed his chance in the first half, After fan frustration at a poor cross he put in during the second half though, the abuse and frustration was more apparent, and to make matters, Epifano had another go at the supporters. Epifano is now as good as persona non grata and that the club (and certainly not the coach) has no option but to sack him; and that had he been playing for Melbourne Knights for example, the hardcore fans there would have been a lot less tolerant of his behaviour than we had been.

During this debrief, several South players emerged from the ground on their way to their cars, all of whom were applauded by the fans. I even made the (unusually for me) witty quip to those players that they shouldn't worry that we were all in the car park, as we weren't out to get them. So what happens next? There are some who are still willing to believe that the club can deal with this issue. For others, perhaps most of those who witnessed the incident, there is no option other than the most blunt and most obvious - Epifano needs to be sacked, and anyone else who wants to go with him can please themselves, In the anger of the moment, that was my opinion, too. However, on thinking about the situation overnight, it occurred to me that in some ways this is a situation I've dealt with before, and that my reaction in that case was very similar.

For those not aware, part of my non-South life includes teaching literature classes at university. A few years ago I had caught a student of mine blatantly plagiarising. What made it worse was that upon discussion with some of my colleagues, it turned out that she was a serial plagiariser. I was all ready to throw the book at this student and be done with her. However, after going through the plagiarism process with the student advocate, it turned out that there were deeper issues causing the plagiarism. It was only after the adherence to due process though that we got to that point. Now this student, who was shy and lacked confidence, was at least able to get the help she needed, and eventually she graduated.

Whether that experience of mine is entirely analogous to this situation is perhaps in the eye of the beholder. I had got upon my high horse about the matter, but what had that achieved? Likewise, it's an easy and understandable fact about those South fans that have remained loyal with regards to getting on their high horses about the matter. Part of our self-esteem as South supporters these days is in the fact that we are still supporting our club in the same way that we did when we were in the NSL instead of this horrid existence trapped under the metaphorical floorboards of Australian soccer.

We still expect excellence from our players, many of whom have no regard or understanding about what the club means to us. In some ways this is inevitable - the players are from a different generation, and their experiences are often very different to our own. We don't even have a social club to get to know them outside of South's media team, where acknowledgement of the fans may as well be part of the performance as opposed to something from the heart - a harsh thing to say when clearly there are players of ours who do appreciate the supporters.

The entire experience was light years away from the recent Dockerty Cup game against Whittlesea United, where Tansel Baser was treated like the legend of the club he is, while he wholeheartedly reciprocated after the match. All of which is a very long-winded of saying, is there truly no hope for Epifano to remain at South? Are we past the point of no return? The evidence seems to say that he's a goner one way or another, and the supporters who have spoken on the matter seem to generally be on the same page on this matter. Will the club hold the same point of view? What will be the consequences if he isn't sacked? What's the point of having a code of conduct if its not enforced? Should supporters get access to the players' code of conduct? So many questions that I'd love the answer to.

Or we could just sack the bloke and let the chips fall where they may.

Next week
Saturday afternoon on Orthodox Easter Saturday, at home against the Melbourne Knights who have an equal share of the top of the table - and doesn't that second part of the sentence just sicken you?

Pearl Jam sucks
Yesterday myself and another music fan agreed on this matter. We may have to start a support group for all those who don't get why so many people seem to rate them.

Elias Donoudis and his narrow sense of what our clubs mean
More nonsense from this chump, this time complaining about how last week's derby against the Bergers was hardly relevant to the Greek community, as there were hardly any Greeks playing in the game. Nevermind that his beloved 1984 South championship team had only one Greek starting player during both grand final legs. What a malaka.

Final thought
Later that night, after listening to Collingwood squeak home after almost coughing up a 50 point lead, I went out into the backyard with my dad so we could watch the lunar eclipse. In the background, the usual western suburbs hoons were doing their thing, passenger and freight trains rumbled past, and some fruit bats attacked my neighbour's fig tree in search of a feed. Watching the moon gradually become hidden by the Earth's shadow naturally brought out all the usual Sagan-esque clichés about how small and insignificant we are, and how stupid getting so angry and passionate about soccer is. Yet, we'll be back next week to do it all again, taking this game way too seriously relative to its cosmic importance, People are strange.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Atypical artefact Friday - Hellas Soccer Club Melbourne pennant

In lieu of the Kiss of Death having gone missing this week, I decided to pull out an artefact for a Friday instead of a Wednesday. This pennant was in the South Melbourne Hellas boardroom back at the old Lakeside offices, and I assume that it dates well back to our days at Middle Park. Most notably, it does not include the name 'South Melbourne' in any part of its design - could this mean that it dates back to the 1959 merger of Yarra Park and Hellenic to form Hellas, but before that newly formed club amalgamated with South Melbourne United in early 1960? I can't say for sure; perhaps it was a later Anglisised example of the club's Greek name 'Ελλάς Μελβούρνης', (Ellas Melvournis). All that I can say for sure is that it's one of our most beautiful and well made pennants - flimsy this ain't - and something that many if not most of our fans would have never seen.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Need more gas in the tank - Heidelberg United 1 South Melbourne 1

Took one of our reader's suggestions and used the route 250 to get to the ground, and though the walk to the ground was all downhill, it did take longer than I'd anticipated, and of course the ancient turnstiles at the front of the ground weren't working. At least the bus ride allowed me to meet Tim McGlone, one of the newer faces in the ever expanding South Melbourne media team. There was a minute''s silence for a Heidelberg member who had passed away, and then the Greek national anthem for Greek national day (NCIP!) and the Aussie one (crackling badly through the PA system), all combined with the smell of the rankest cigarettes I've smelled for some time, and then we were off. Also, 3XY and Michael Lynch were there.

We started off a bit slow, but eventually got on top and started bossing the game, pulling together some wonderful passing play. The lineup was the same as the one that started the second half against Bentleigh the week before, including no substitute keeper again. This arrangement didn't last very long, as Cody Martindale had to come off early with an injury, and on came Andy Kecojevic. Soon enough we took the lead, Milos Lujic hitting a wonderful shot after some excellent lead up work.

Later on in the half Brad Norton was viciously cut down, and soon after half time Tim Mala had to go off with injury as well. Unlike last year, where we managed to keep most of our starting eleven players on the field for the entire season, this season, while not being quite the disaster on that front that it could be, has been a challenge. Dan Heffernan didn't play for the Bergers which helped our cause, as his replacement Kenny Athiu kept finding himself offside. Still, our defensive stocks at the moment are thin, and it will be interesting to see how we cope once we hit the more crowded part of the schedule where we have to play three games in a week.

The second half saw the arrival of a persistent problem this season - not enough gas in the tank. Last season we were able to win games in part because we were better able to run out matches, including often making substitutions quite late in the piece. This season, even with early subs, we look unable to run out games convincingly. I hope this is all part of the plan to help us peak later in the year, and that once we hit our stretch of Friday night home matches, that our recovery and fitness plan kicks into action and gives us some kind of edge. Until that moment arrives however, we are looking particularly vulnerable.

While last season we started off well and became tired towards the end, it's still not a good look to be struggling the way we have been. Having said that, had we scored the goal that we should have in the second half to make it 2-0, this probably would have been game, set and match. As it was the Bergers took it up the other end and scored immediately, and then proceeded to dominate proceedings. Andreas Govas hit one of the hardest shots I've seen for some time from long range - thank goodness that we have Nikola Roganovic in goals this season - he's been doing an outstanding job, and looks safe as houses in the air as well.

Injuries and lack of fitness aside, what made matters worse is that we lost all composure on the ball. Nick Epifano got himself into good position on a couple of occasions, but failed to make the most of his opportunities. Several players were guilty of making horrible, rushed passes, as well as bombing the ball long to the increasingly isolated Lujic. Leigh Minopoulos came on and added a bit of spark and pace, as well as level headedness - the problem there is that we appear to be heading into a problem we had several seasons ago, that we have a lot of players that look good coming off the bench, but not as many who can start and finish a game off well.

Milos Lujic still looks ominous, but he needs a reliable friend up front. David Stirton didn't start this game, nor was he used off the bench. Andy Brennan, the player Ian Syson and I had come to see most of all, worked hard but was visibly tired even in the first half. He also learned that the space he was accustomed to in Tasmania, as well as the tricks he could use to beat an opponent one on one, are not as reliable in Victoria; still, I think there's huge upside, and that it's all part of the learning process for him. I also love Leigh Minopoulos, but I have my doubts about whether he could be as effective as a starting player. The midfield for the most part battles hard, but they're undersized, and where we should be using Michael Eagar or Dane Milovanovic in defensive midfield as an enforcer, defensive necessities and lack of fitness respectively are leaving us scrambling for makeshift options.

In the end, while the officiating didn't help us - and I say that as someone who usually enjoys Lucien's relative finickiness, as long as he's being even handed and accurate - we were a little lucky to get away with the point, Still, we also had our chances, and if we can get our fitness right, and figure out the exact starting eleven that we want to settle on (injuries notwithstanding), we have a lot of upside to come, which I'm not sure can be said for a lot of the other teams around us at this point in time. To only be playing 25-30 minutes of good football, against mostly the teams likely to be in the finals race, and still be picking up points - that's the positive that I'm going to take out of this opening part of the season.

This sucks
This also happened to Preston late last season at Keilor Park. Someone on Twitter said that there are actually FFV rules that the change rooms must be locked, but even with that, surely it would be common sense to lock the rooms anyway? I don't know, this just seems like something that's so easily preventable.

No substitute goalkeeper again comedy commentary piece
Our officials saw there was a problem and they fixed it, didn't they?


Next week
Of course our charmed run of results - if not quite personnel issues - could all come crashing down this week, when we play Green Gully away on Saturday afternoon. Another difficult game to be sure, but at least it's our last away game for this stretch before we get back home to Lakeside.

Jersey night
Having just missed the 96 tram to St Kilda, I waited patiently for the next one, only for the driver to let off passengers, pick up almost no one and then bolt off. At least I handled the situation slightly better than the bloke who swore out loud and thumped the side of the tram, scaring some children inside of it - his own admission, made somewhat shamefully. I eventually made it to the venue, where I tried to psych myself up for some classic cynicism.
Seriously, how churlish can you get before the event even starts? Anyway, many famous people were there. Kimon Taliadoros, always on an insatiable quest for power; Mal Impiombato, the latest FFA bureaucratic heavy hitter we're desperately trying to woo; Tara Rushton, something, something, hot chick, something, something, where's Mel?; Martin Foley, the local member of parliament, who's stuck his neck out for a bunch of Greeks who mostly don't live in his electorate; and Santo Cilauro, of various projects including one where they let Sam Pang boast about the fact he knowns nothing about the game - mind you, that's someone else's interpretation, because I don't watch the relevant show.

There were also the usual sponsors, board members and sprinkling of ordinary fans, thrust into the back corner, and the firm establishment of an SMFC media team cartel, minus one very important member - and no, it wasn't me! Thus, mingling was made very difficult, and created a sort of sullen mood in certain areas of the venue. Nevertheless, it was nice of Chris Taylor to pop around, while the movers and shakers were busy trying to schmooze people with money and influence.
If this was a Greek wedding though - and I use Greek weddings as the example only because they're the only ones I've ever been to - there'd be much complaining that no member of the committee came around to thank us for attending and ask us how we were faring, apart from collecting our money. Speaking of money, the player auction was of course a central feature of the night's proceedings. It was a more muted, but evenly spread affair this season, no ridiculous over the top amounts, but none of the lesser players went for the measly sum of $500. Kosta from Blue Thunder Security of course bought Matthew Theodore, while Nick Epifano - despite his absence on the night - managed to get the equal top amount alongside Michael Eagar. A pity that us ordinary fans were too disorganised and/or poor to be able to buy someone. Maybe next year.

Anyway, as was the case last year, local MP Martin Foley got a chance to have his say, opining on the frustrations that the Lakeside lease still hasn't been sorted out yet - especially given that he had promised March 15th of this year as a deadline.
One of the people inside the tent had a more detailed version of Foley's commentary, as posted on smfcboard.
Foley essentially said that it will all be done and dusted in the next few weeks by the latest with the deadline set by government April 29th. George Lekakis (Multicultural commission) has been appointed to oversee the process to ensure we get what we have been promised, while the senior ALP members have sent a formal directive to the department to also ensure the above happens. 
He also went on about how South has acted in good faith in the past 5 years and how badly they have been let down by government. While he couldn't control what Liberal did, he did apologise on behalf of the ALP.
But what's another arbitrary deadline between friends? Then it was time for the football panel discussion chaired by Tom Kalas, which touched on prospective FFV president Kimon Talidoros' desire to align the states with what FFA was doing, something to do with promotion/relegation, and pointing out how awesome South was or is. I think SMFCMike enjoyed this segment a lot more than I did.
The meals were a step down from last year's efforts.
This sparked some Twitter discussion at least about the merits or otherwise, of Greek lentil soup, The chicken for the main was quite good, even with the creamy pasta side dish shenanigans. On the other hand, dessert was a disaster.
And that's even leaving out the pathetically small pieces of cut up cherry ripe slice and lemon slice. What happened to the pannacotta from last year? It was good to meet FFV media dude Alan Delic at the end of the night, where I commended the recent work FFV has been doing in the media area. I also mentioned how I'm a big fan of FFV giving the NPL clubs cameras to film their own games, which I know is not necessarily popular with some people because of the low quality of some of the filming, and 'more urgent priorities'. Overall, it wasn't the most enjoyable night, and I'd had more fun in other years at this event. Swings and roundabouts and all that.

Πολύ γκρινιάρης δεν είσαι?
Nick Epifano fan abuse issue borrowed comedy commentary piece

I am very interested in seeing how this will be dealt with - on a purely intellectual level of course.
Final thought
I might be a cunt, but...