Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The latest from the off-season procrastination corner

Judging by the deafening silence from official sources regarding almost all things South Melbourne, I have to say that everything must be going really well, and I have no interest in hearing otherwise. I've got my hands over my ears, I'm singing "lalalalalalalalala", and all I can see is you people's mouths going up and down, your tongues twirling and teeth shifting from side to side, and your hands gesturing wildly in some vain attempt to get my attention, I assume in a vain effort to tell me that, actually, we're all doomed.

Well, I'm not having it. Everything is going to be fine. Relax ρε, etc. And even if our 2019 season - our 60th anniversary season - is a bigger failure than 2018, well, so what? As the middle-aged Clarendon Corner kids like to say, "we had a good run", and isn't that true?

I can see already that what's left of the regular South of the Border audience might be a bit suss about this new-found positivity, and I sympathise. But maybe I should try being big-hearted and open-minded about things, and just let the universe do as it pleases. To that end, rather than scoffing at every transfer rumour, I'm going to choose life and believe everything posted on soccer-forum and at least half of what gets posted on the current iteration of the South forum, especially the stuff that contradicts the other stuff. I could be cautious, but since when that has that got me anywhere?

Months ago we had a big info session about our A-League bid, one of whose elements included the promise and/or threat that there would be more information released to the general public, and yet here we are months later, with almost no new information about the bid. Some of that delay has to be put down to a rare case of South's board exercising some proper restraint, what with us being in danger of relegation for a good chunk of that part of the year; but even after that pitfall was avoided we have still heard diddly squat, other than to note that we had indeed submitted our bid.

Not that of any of this matters anyway, but assuming that the whole expansion process isn't effectively delayed for another year because of the changes in the FFA Congress and the A-League licence holders getting their dirty mitts on the mechanics of expansion, do we - or rather our anonymous financial partners - even have the $15 million now rumoured to be the asking price for a licence fee? And who are these mystery bottomless pits of money? Is it the Chinese, who will eventually be forced to bow out by the Communist Party? is it Harry Stamoulis, formerly of the Tasmanian A-League bid, former Victory shareholder, and former possible maybe South fan? Anyway, all the leading journalist boffins have said that we're not anywhere near the frontrunners for one of the two available licences, so what does it matter, except now we have other anonymous self-declared insiders blathering away on social media that we're actually in a good spot, and it is other groups which have failed to impress, and you can apparently take to the bank.

Speaking of money, I look at the absurd wages and sign-on fee figures being bandied about for the NPL next year, and I just have to laugh, before remembering that we have to believe that all of it is true. Like Altona Magic offering $40k a sign on fee and $1.5k a week for the nonce formerly known as the People's Champ, and I call him nonce for obvious reasons (boo hiss etc) but what if he is going to get that money? Who's the fool then? Certainly not him unless he fails to declare it on his taxes and the tax man comes calling, but how likely is that to happen anyway? Victorian semi-professional soccer players are all very diligent in declaring their earnings from football, especially the stuff that they get in brown paper bags out in the carpark every second Thursday after training.

And look, if clubs are dumb enough to hand out that kind of cash, then who's fault is it if players take it? Players are only human after all. But when most places have two men and a dog following them, are they even actually clubs any more? Because let's be honest, the vast majority of the time it's not clubs funding the players wage arms race, it's money-men and the occasional money-woman, for purposes that are best known to them and their accountants. Now every level-headed person knows that soccer is a bad investment, and our local leagues are an especially pertinent example of that. And yet we here are, with wages and the like still escalating, even as people still cry "but the prize money for winning the championship is stuff-all!", as if the people chucking in the money don't know this, or that even most successful FFA Cup runs are largely a bust.

But like I said, here we are, where tens of thousands are squandered each week by clubs in order to win games played in front of nobody. Now if there were crowds and media attention and sponsors to be impressed, I'd understand, but there aren't, and because I don't understand and because I have no money, I probably never will understand. That's OK, understanding is overrated anyway. I've tried ignorance, half-ignorance, half-knowing, and with full-knowing being out of the question, I've come to understand that as far as these matters go, ignorance is best.

Back to us for a moment though. Last week or thereabouts the whole South world was abuzz with the news that Johnny A hadn't quite said yes but also hadn't quite said no to us, and therefore we had people saying it was a lock and/or imminent that he would be our next coach as soon as Bentleigh's FFA Cup run was over. Therefore because of the certain fact that Johnny A was going to be our coach, certain folk had to start doing the mental gymnastics needed to accommodate this return of a newly re-minted favourite son because of the, er, unpleasantness, which had come to pass us lo this past decade. For the sake of being able to get a coach with some pedigree of success and good football - and more importantly

And then whether because we couldn't stump up the necessary money or because he's some twisted genius, Johnny A signed up with Bentleigh for another season, leaving us with our pants around our ankles. But while we don't have a coach as other clubs start making signings and begin thinking about pre-season, and we have no idea if Con Tangalakis hasn't been insulted enough by our bypassing him for this long after he saved us from relegation, we at least get to boo Johnny A again assuming we have a club next year.

If you believe what's been said around the traps, we're not going to have any players left anyway, that we'll be starting from an even worse position than our return to soccer in 2005 after our long lay off, and that even long-serving players are considering their options and shopping themselves around. Now half the rumours around that include the notion that we owe players two months wages, the other half being rumours that we only owe them four or five weeks wages - which if true is still bizarre and horrific considering how rarely we had to pay for win bonuses in 2018 - and further to that, that we're being taken to the PFA, and FIFA, and the United Federation of Planets. But who cares if some of these players are leaving, because according to dark corners of the internet, some of them tried to get us relegated anyway.

So like I said, it's going well. At least I have other things to distract me now.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

South of the Border awards 2018

As usual, I put in zero effort with these.

Player of the year: Leigh Minopoulos. I was going to give it to Oliver Minatel for his novelty goals and shift into defensive midfield which yielded temporary positive results. Then I was going to give it to Marcus Schroen for being a sort of mid-season boom recruit. But I give the award this year to the guy who showed the biggest heart throughout the whole of the season.

Under 21 player of the year: The Cliff Hussey Memorial Trophy goes to Ben Djiba. It's a shallow pool, again. Though there were numerous young players dropped into the side during the year, and most of them showed something, there were few if any who were given extended time invthe seniro side. But among those who were used, none was thrown into the deep end quite like Ben Djiba, and I give him credit for this - he coughed up the goal in the first ten minutes against Port, but he was nowhere near our worst player on that day, and went on to settle and look like maybe belonged on that field.

Goal of the year: Four way tie between the three goals Kingston scored against Gully in round 26, or Pascoe Vale's equaliser against Hume in the same round.

Best performance: Dandenong Thunder away. Downshill skiing? Maybe, but it was 9-0 and utter domination from start to finish.

Best away game of the year: Bentleigh away. Positive attitude, positive result.

Call of the year: "We should let Sasa coach the first half of games, and CT the second". It almost seems quaint now, but it showed that the team wasn't completely trash.

Chant of the year: I really shouldn't pick any of the perennials for this, but "sack the board" became the standout. Apologies to "Sideshow Bob / Kill Bart", and "call it off!".

Best pre-match/after match dinner location: Even though the MSG lobby says there's no scientific evidence that their product causes the headaches that MSG is rumoured to do, I got a massive headache the day after eating at some Laotian joint whose meal was otherwise very good. So the prize goes to some Afghan chicken place in Dandenong.

Friends we lost along the way: A South Melbourne umbrella. Table service in the social club. Dignity.

Barely related to anything stupidity highlight of the year: South supporters reputedly betting successfully against their own team, exploiting outrageously mistaken odds in order to help fund their own world cup trips.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

One final lot of disappointment for season 2018

Another delayed round up of recent events.

Hopes were high on Sunday for all sorts of reason, but were dashed mercilessly in both games I was privy to seeing. Having battled through illness during the week, I pushed through and made it to AAMI Park for the women's grand final. I arrived at the ground early, intending to catch the promotion-relegation playoff between Green Gully and Moreland City. Green Gully, who hadn't won a game in about four months, were facing their first relegation since being demoted from the NSL in 1986, and their first ever relegation in the history of their state league participation which could have seen them in the Victorian secnd tier for the first time since 1976.

Meanwhile Moreland City were trying tio make their own history. The result of an elongated merger of three clubs - Moreland and Park Rangers, and later Coburg - the merged entity has never been in the Victorian top flight, basically battling around two or three levels below that for most of its post-merger history. The last time any of the constituent clubs was in the Victorian top-tier was Moreland all the way back in 1962, making this the most important in the pre and post Moreland merger history since Moreland won the Dockerty Cup in 1957.

Now I may be blind, but one thing that was obvious upon entering the - in my case, via the media entry in Gate 5 - was that there were more than a few purportedly neutral onlookers from other clubs in attendance, to my mind hoping for a Gully loss in order to pick apart the choicer elements of that carcass. I mean, some of them may have been there to watch a game, see a bit of history, but isn't it better to be pragmatic about these things? The crowd for the first game of the day was mostly Moreland City people, a very small amount of Green Gully people, the odd curious onlooker, and the rest was filled with vultures and hyenas.

These aren't always the best games to watch from the point of view of a good standard of play, even if there is usually the obvious effect of tension due to there being so much at stake. Moreland City had the better of the first half - and not just because they took a 1-0 lead into halftime - but Gully were far from out of it, and probably should have had a goal of their own had they been a bit more willing to pull the trigger with both shots and crosses.

The second half between minute 45 and about minute 91 was all Moreland. A lot of that was not because Moreland were really any good, but rather because Gully were worse than bad, like they were barely there, like their players didn't even care. There was no urgency, no feeling that there was even pride on the line, whether that was the club's or the players' own. Under such circumstances, Moreland scoring their second goal just before injury time was probably the worst thing that could've happened to the NPL 2 side. They celebrated like mad (as you would), and then seemingly promptly forgot that the game hadn't finished yet.

Gully got a goal back soon afterward, and then incredibly got a second before full time. I've seen a few hokey comebacks, but this one took the cake. In almost every other nonsense getting off the canvas kind of win I've seen, there's at least been a sign of life, no matter how fragile - something like a renewed desired, taking risks, someone getting fired up. There was nothing to suggest Gully even had half a goal in them for almost the entire second half, but we found ourselves heading to extra time, and if I must say so - and I did - Gully were now the more likely to win. And they did, scoring extra-time's only goal, with Moreland having no answers, in part because they'd made their time-wasting subs during regular time, but probably mostly it's just that Gully had better players who finally decided to pull their finger out.

Suffice to say that from my point of view, this is a result that we didn't want. While there's no guarantees that Gully will sort out all their problems from this season, you wouldn't think they'd have as much of a horror run as they did through the latter two thirds of 2018. With big spenders in Altona Magic and Dandendong City coming up into our division, and a revitalised Gully, 2019 is going to be a brutal year with no obvious candidates for relegation, except for someone like Kingston who wouldn't have the budget capacity of everyone else - and even they've been able to punch above their wight with some good coaching and recruiting.

Further proof if you needed any that finals systems do not work for soccer
Time eventually for the women's grand final. About a dozen or so Clarendon Corner and affiliated persons parked at the northern end of the ground, adjacent to a group of teens who seemed to be cheering for both sides, before they chose to support Bulleen. To be fair, that mostly the work of one very loose unit.

Not great news to start off with for South, with senior goalkeeper Beth Mason-Jones out of the game because of... well, I'm not sure. Thus the 19s keeper, who had played the day before, got a grand final starting berth, and while I was assured that she could do the job, hindsight would show that while she hardly cost us the game, the defensive reshuffle put in place to help her out unsettled our set up.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves. We had not lost to Bulleen in the NPLW era, and had looked good in beating them 3-2 - it could've been so many more - to win the premier's plate a couple of weeks ago. Yet on Sunday, the team looked a bit off, and even if Bulleen weren't exactly brilliant, they were the better organised and more in synch of the two teams.

Still, we made it to half time level, and to my mind had the chance to improve significantly on what we'd produce, and with some good subs we should've been able to improve our general build up play. No dice. We copped the opening goal from a very dubious penalty, were soon 2-0 down, and just about cooked then and there. I know that we had a habit of coming back from deficits in 2018 - and hadn't we just seen Green Gully play much worse and still get a result? - but it never looked likely.

One of our supporters made the comment during the course of the match that the South team looked like eleven good players who'd never played before, and there's some validity to that comment. Communication wasn't right almost from the start, and not even the appearance in the second half of Lisa De Vanna made much improvement on that front. There was no meaningful movement off the ball, few decent overlaps, and nothing going right for us anywhere.

Then we went 3-0 down late, and that was that. Sure, we finally put in a decent cross for Melina Ayers ti head home, and then hit the crossbar soon after that, but it would've been the greatest of highway robberies to win this game that we never really looked like winning even when we had the nominal upper hand.

That the Bulleen keeper won the player of the match award tells you a bit about how this game - we created enough chances but were held out by determined Bulleen defence led by their keeper. Take nothing away from Bulleen though, they were the better team, and certainly more clinical, while we struggled to produce our usual levels of quality both in terms of crossing and certainly in terms of finishing.

Despite what was reportedly mentioned by president Leo Athanasakis on radio some weeks back - that Con Tangalakis would be coaching us next year - no announcement has yet been made on this matter. Maybe the board reshuffling has delayed things? Maybe the club is waiting to see what all the available options are? Maybe there's a review being undertaken of what went wrong? Who knows. It's early days yet, so I'm not pressing any panic buttons

On the signings front, it looks like we've lost the race to sign former junior Peter Skapetis, who has signed at Dandenong Thunder. People seem very disappointed about this, for obvious reasons, and are wondering if we're already on the back-foot for regenerating the team for next season.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

South Melbourne NPLW side through to grand final

South's NPLW side overcame Alamein and a torrential downpour to reach
another grand final. Photo: Rachel Bach.
Unfortunately, competing commitments kept me from attending last night's NPLW semi final between South Melbourne and Alamein at Lakeside. I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't get to see South in the grand final this season, mostly due to the combination of a daft finals system which offered no double chance to the lading sides, and also Alamein having been a troublesome opponent for us this year.

Keeping tabs on the affair via Twitter, it seemed like the first half had its fair share of nervy moments, but it all worked out rather nicely - a big win in difficult conditions, and another trip to grand final day. Arguably, we've got our preferred choice of opponent in Bulleen, who crushed Calder in the other semi final. Of course, having finished top of the table, we're the favourites, but (famous last words) I think we match up better against Bulleen than we do against the physical Calder. We've beaten Bulleen in all three of our league meetings in 2018, and in a Team App Cup meeting which we later lost as a forfeit due to playing an ineligible player - while they're a more than competitive team with some speed - which might become a factor on the wide open spaces of the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, I'm confident that the women can take out another title.

The senior women are aiming for a fifth title in a row in various formats and official alignments with the South Melbourne Hellas parent body. In 2014 we beat Heidelberg 1-0 in the grand final, and followed that up with a penalty shootout win (after the game finished 2-2) against Boroondara Eagles. In 2016, having missed out on entry to the NPLW competition and placed in State League One North-West, South edged out University of Melbourne by a game, and thrashed South-East winner Boroondara 4-0 in the state league grand final. Of course in 2017, officially back in the Hellas fold, the women won another grand final penalty shootout, this time against Greater Geelong Galaxy, after that game finished at 3-3.

Now onto next week. The grand final is at AAMI Park on Sunday, kickoff at 3:30 - which is frankly a great time. If you get there early, you can watch the men's NPL promotion/relegation playoff between Green Gully and Moreland City. If you really want to, you can watch the NPL grand final afterwards - that's your own business. More importantly, whether you're a regular, intermittent, or never-was supporter of the South women's teams, it would be great to see as many South fans as possible at the game. They're a good side to watch, and they fight 'til the end. And how many chances do you get to watch any South side at AAMI Park? Exactly. I'll see you there.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

NPLW (Minor) Premiers - Bulleen Lions 2 South Melbourne 3

 No idea if FFV chartered a chopper to fly the plate between Keilor and Bulleen.
 Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
Trundled out to the Veneto Club last Saturday to see the South Melbourne NPLW side take on Bulleen Lions in the final round of the home and away season. At stake was what I still call the minor premiership, casting me as a walking talking anachronism in that regard, because it's all about premier's plates nowadays. The situation was that South had to win the game in order to finish the regular season on top of the ladder - and with second placed Calder United playing Heidelberg and likely to win that game comfortably, anything other than a win would almost certainly consign the senior women to a second place finish.

After doing the requisite meet and greets with various movers and shakers, I parked myself in the grandstand up toward the southern end where we ended up shooting in the first half. The first forty minutes by us wasn't great. Erratic play, no cutting edge, nothing seeming to be working. Bulleen making the most of a bad defensive error to take the lead, and even though Bulleen are also finals bound, I know we are favourites in this game and it's been such a let down so far. The last five minutes of the half look a bit stronger, but still we were down, not up, and that's not where we wanted to be with Calder doing the business against the Bergers.

The second half started off better, We leveled! And then we conceded, from a blistering counter attack exposing a vacant left hand side. Then Lisa De Vanna came on, and while not the catalyst for everything that came afterwards, her appearance didn't hurt. By that time the pattern was already set anyway, with our girls pressing hard onto the Bulleen defense, who couldn't handle the pressure, struggling to play through the high South press. But there was always that risk of the counter attack, and it was one of those classic scenarios, the team leading but fading, their opponents raining shots and chances on their goal, all of it coming down to who would land the next decisive blow.

It was us! Then we took the lead, and good luck to Bulleen after having to chase the game. Full time whistle went, and time for celebrations! Everyone seemed happy, except for the security guard who didn't want people going on to the field after the game, and I guess he was doing his job and all, but in the context of things he was still being a bit of a killjoy. I slipped on my media pass and acted like an official journo person for my one token moment of any given calendar year

Now onto the finals, this Saturday at Lakeside against fourth placed Alamein, with a 4:30 kickoff  - there are also under 19 and under 16 curtain raisers involving South. For some reason the top two don't get the benefit of the double chance.
One wonder why you even have a finals series under such circumstances, really.

Leo Athanasakis announces retirement from South presidency and board
What is it about South Melbourne Hellas and Saturday morning bombshell announcements in 2018? First we sack Chris Taylor while some of us were still munching our corn flakes. Now we get this big announcement while watching Saturday morning cartoons in our pyjamas.

So what to make of it? Was he pushed or did he leave of his own volition? Theories will abound, but I'm going to go with exiting unwillingly, due to pressure from within the board, but that's on the increasingly few mumblings I'm privy to. There had been murmurings about such a thing happening or at least needing to happen for at least a couple of years, but since nothing happened, it was all idle talk. But now one way or another, it has happened, or rather will happen - Leo is staying on until the next AGM which the club claims will be held this December.

From what I gather, Leo joined the board sometime in the late NSL era, and became president at probably the club's lowest ebb at the end of 2007, unless you think the club;s lowest is right now, a not entirely unjustifiable position to take. Back then we'd gone through three presidents in more or less three years. The naive idea of the VPL being a way to get some crowds to watch the old derbies and such didn't last long. The even more naive hope that winning championships would be the key to bringing back crowds, or proving who knows what else, didn't materialise. Lakeside as a venue was in an increasingly dilapidated state, and the lease was running out. The club's playing arms - seniors, juniors, women - were in three different pieces.

Anyone coming into fix that situation was on a hiding to nothing. Leo's listed what he believes his achievements are on the club website, and on the face of it, its pretty impressive. People have and will continue to question that legacy, but that's only fair and natural. When you're in charge for eleven years, you get enemies, people get cynical, but you also get things wrong enough times that that's what people will remember.

The expectation seems to be that Nick Maikoussis will take over the presidency, and some will be satisfied by that, while others are baying for more blood. I could go through a huge list of the things that annoyed me about board actions under Leo that have pissed me off, but I'm too tired to fight right now. One can't help but feel that the old me, that is the younger me, would have raged harder on here, done a presidential retirement spectacular. These days I'm amazed the club actually still exists.

Farewell Tony Margaritis the board member, welcome back Tony Margaritis the ordinary supporter
More board resignations than you can poke a stick at. Also, who are all these people poking sticks at things? Anyway, word on the street is that after ten years Tony Margaritis will be stepping down from the board. What can you say about Tony's time on the board? Whenever there was something that needed to be fixed, Tony was always there to do it, or at least organise someone suitable to do it. He was responsible for our merchandise, and worked the merch booth for years. His work on the social club was immense, giving up huge amounts of his own time and labour to complete the job. At a club known for its longstanding tradition of having its board full of suits, Tony provided a necessary dash of blue collar.

Most importantly, Tony has looked after me in so many ways that I know of, and probably in countless ways that I don't. He even bought a handbag off me one year, and even though all of that money ended up back in the club, I appreciated the gesture. I haven't always returned that favour in kind, which is partly because of the nature of writing South of the Border, but mostly because of inexcusable character failings on my part. But even if it's selfish of me to do so, I think it's better to choose to remember the better times, of which there were many and hopefully more than enough to redeem those times when I screwed up.

Maybe there aren't, but this isn't about me, it's about Tony's contribution to the club in an official capacity over the past decade, and unofficially for years before that. So here's to Tony's retirement from the board, and his return to the plebeian existence of the mug punter.

A few brief comments on FFA announcing a review into their National Club Identity Policy
There was intermittent discussion a week or two ago about FFA announcing a review into its National Club Identity Policy, and all of a sudden I found myself back in 2014, sitting in a theatre somewhere in Jeff's Shed or the Melbourne Convention Centre - and based on that stunning lack of suitable recollection, good luck to any future Heinrich Schliemann types looking for the site of such a momentous occasion three thousand years or so from now.

I remember sitting through so much nonsense, my cynicism unleashed to the fullest for no good purpose, waiting for the chance to get my hands on the microphone being passed around for audience Q&A. I did get that microphone, and I then made a bit of an idiot of myself (in the manner of my outrage if not quite in the complaint's content) by questioning the FFA panellists on the National Club Identity Policy. The rest is history, so to speak. People agreed, people disagreed, nothing changed. Was there even any minor valour in taking a small stand? Could it be that one small voice doesn't count in the room?

Anyway, I think most of what I've written and said over the years about the FFA's introduction of the NCIP over the years remains valid, though as with other issues I have mellowed over the years. That's right, I used to be cool, now I'm just old. It happens. I still despise any restrictions on what ethnic paraphernalia an Australian soccer club can use to identify itself with, but more so I despise the culture which created the possibility for this kind of ideology to take hold. Most of that resentment is directed at mainstream Australian society, with a small bit leftover for specific members of the ethnic soccer fraternity, who over the years weren't able to be mature or disciplined enough about such matters, and gave everyone who hated them every excuse in the book to try and ban this stuff.

Historically, those prohibitions were applied differently across state lines and across different football governing bodies. They were rules applied to some clubs and not others for reasons that were sometimes obvious, and just as often not. In some ways, you can see why FFA wanted to implement a policy that would standardise and supersede the contradictory and piecemeal regulations, even if I doubt that anyone really thought it was necessary.

Then the FFA Cup arrived, and there was all this good feeling around bringing the old and the new together, and for some reason FFA decided this was a good time to introduce their policy. They can claim all they like that some obscure and never-to-be-named Western Australian soccer official asked for it, but the timing of the announcement of the FFA Cup and the introduction of the NCIP were just too close together.

And yet still nothing was definitively resolved. Melbourne Croatia tried a sort of punk manoeuvre with that chief sponsor on their jersey, and I think when we're all old and grey it'll still be stuck in the Human Rights Commission inbox. Gwelup was sometimes Croatia, and sometimes not. Hakoah always got be Hakoah for some reason. Journos old and new called us Hellas, Hellas fans chanted Hellas, but we were not allowed to display Hellas. This year the historically least likely Victorian Italian club to ever be half relevant was forced to black out an Italian tricolour on the back of the shirts, while the same basic pattern in their logo was fine. Little Charlestown Azzurri tried making waves.

Even FFV came out and said the NCIP was a junk policy, though did they mention what existed in their own state before the NCIP came in? If they did, I must've missed that. And that perhaps that many of the big players involved in FFV and all sorts of other similar places now would've argued for de-ethnicising policies back then to be trendy, or out of necessity?

Look, who knows what lies in human hearts at any given moment, and it's quite possible that decisions made at one time are just as right as rescinding those same decisions twenty years down the track when most people are no longer really sure how we got here. What we can say is that FFA's self-proclaimed search for procedural consistency has been a demonstrable failure, though since failure has seldom been something alien to Australian soccer, is that really such a thing to be worried about? It failed on two fronts.

First, consistency - as noted, the application of the policy, in part because of the tacking on of a non-retrospective clause, meant that all sorts of anomalies worked their way through into the public eye, most of which were handled badly, because since when do handle matters of ethnicity well in Australia? Exactly. Second, demand, or rather the lack of it. No one actually wanted this. Of all the things that were happening in Australian soccer at the time the policy was brought in, this would've seen so low down the list of priorities of anybody remotely sane. But then FFA made it an issue, and it's burbled away when really it should not have existed. Most ethnic soccer clubs had accepted their fate of being publicly neutered of any visible intellectual property oriented signs of difference, and powerless because of irrelevance, had chosen to stew in a bath of their own impotent resentment.

But here we are anyway, where things are being "reconsidered", whatever that means. Some people have asked here, if the policy and its affiliates were abandoned, would South fans want South to go back to being Hellas, or would they prefer to be SMFC? And it's a question which would be applied across quite a few clubs. I would say, really, it's up to the supporters of each club to decide for themselves. And it would be their decision. Would I go back to South Melbourne Hellas? Sure, but not for the reasons some might think of. I'm no nationalist, but I respect the club's heritage. Also it's a really beautiful name, one that has poetic quality that SMFC just doesn't, But would I be upset if the club didn't go back of it had the chance? No.

What I would love to see in the event that the policy is rescinded is choice, and maybe the acknowledgement that many clubs have more than one identity. One from the past, one from the present. Maybe some days, like om special occasions they want to remind themselves and others of their origins, and for the rest of the time they're happy to exist in a less-confronting public relations manner. Is Australian soccer mature enough for that kind of reasonableness? History says no, but if we've learned nothing else, it's that stranger things have happened.

Nothing in particular
I stopped listening to 3XY ages ago. I quit most forums except the South forum and soccer-forum.com, and even the former is a bit of a slog nowadays. I rarely visit Facebook anymore. I don't follow almost any of the soccer podcasts, and on Twitter I seem to mostly only follow funny people rather than angry people. And I tell you what, it's been good for my mental health. It's helped me calm the fuck down a bit, but it does mean that I'm more out of the loop than I've ever been with whatever the latest outrage or conspiracy is doing the rounds. And since I no longer get drip fed info like I used to - those days are so far back in the rear view mirror, that nowadays it feels uncanny that I ever even actually knew anything - just about anything that happens at South behind the scenes is as surprising to me as it is to most of you, if and when we ever find out about. So where we end up from here, I can really only blindly speculate, and what's the point of that? And really, what's the point of writing this section down anyway? I don't know, but don't mistake it for resentment, perhaps just the sense that South of the Border should periodically note where it sits in the pecking order of things, which has always vacillated between low importance and lower importance; which is how I like it to be honest. I'm not good with confrontation, as I think I've mentioned before.

Final thought
Sometimes it's only right to go back to the beginning and remember the moment when someone decided to put their hand up...

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Safe - South Melbourne 0 Port Melbourne 1

Having looked for it in a few places since I first read it several years ago and come up empty, the following anecdote is possibly something I've made up. When the late Les Murray  published his memoir By the Balls, he joked that he wanted to use the title The Great Poison instead, alluding to the hold that soccer has on its most dedicated supporters. And whether my recollection is true or not, the trope of football fans joking about how their support of their team is like an illness is a well-worn one anyway.

Usually we laugh when we talk about such things. In the first place, it's because it's just an absurd thing to say. In the second place, it's because when we say such things we seek to establish a sort of self-valourising and self-justifying aspect to it; we add a moral dimension to our support of the game and our particular club, clothing ourselves in the idea that we are making a noble sacrifice, both misunderstood and not understood by those poor souls who exist outside that cultural milieu. The more dour the experience, the worse the results, the more obscure and downtrodden the club, the more football fandom karma we accrue if not quite the benefit in the next life, then at least the ability to be smug in this one. What would those other people know about loyalty, dedication, and good old fashioned sticktoitiveness?

But there is of course the other side of this fable: that the unconditional attachment to this kind of cause can be very unhealthy. Thus I put it to you, dear reader, that South Melbourne Hellas' 2018 season consisted of little to no nobility, honour, valour or whatever other lofty epithet you want to attach to it. Indeed, it probably actually made people sick. Proximity to the abomination that was this season made just about everyone who came into contact with it much worse off mentally, socially, and in some cases maybe even physically.

Things were bad enough as they were leading into the game, and worse when we saw Sunday's squad weakened by the absence of Luke Adams with injury, Then when Tim Mala got himself sent off a minute and a half into the game with one of the dumbest challenges you'll ever see, all thoughts turned towards waiting to see how much worse it could get, which didn't take long: youth team debutant Ben Djiba, thrust into the left-back position as a starter, gave Sam Smith - one of Port Melbourne's many ex-South players taking the field that day - the perfect chance to give Port the lead and thrust them towards the finals, and send us toward relegation.

At that moment I just wanted to leave, or throw up. I've had nervous spells and felt dizzy at football matches, I walked out (as far as the social club) once, I've had my arms go numb, but the only other time I ever wanted to spew was round one, 2010 in the AFL, when Collingwood dodged a bullet by beating the Demons by a point when some Melbourne plonker dropped a mark with about two seconds left. Thankfully for the patrons in the top deck of the Great Southern Stand that day, I was able to collect myself and not chunder across the row in front of me.

What made things much, much worse on Sunday was that all things considered, we actually started playing well. Sure we were shaky or less than competent across different areas, but we weren't nearly as bad as we had been at times in 2018. One felt that Port were the more likely to score next, but it was not the fait accompli that the previous two weeks had been. At times we even outplayed Port, though you knew the goal was never going to come, and thus we had to do that thing where half our time was spent watching our phones for updates of other games. Hume had taken the lead at Pascoe Vale, but Kingston were doing well against Gully, and thus despite being down in our own game, things were looking up.

Apart from a couple of near miss free kicks, our great moment came late in the first half, when Pep Marafioti squared the ball to an unmarked Marcus Schroen on the edge of th six yard box and right in front, only for Schroen to blast it over the bar. Realistically, we weren't going to save ourselves, and some atrocious refereeing didn't help, as the game threatened to flare up into several scuffles. The worst decision was none of the three officials seeing one of our players getting potted by a Port player behind play in the middle of the field. Not that any of that mattered. Kingston went up 3-0 late in their game, and for good measure Paco equalised late in their match. So, without having to do any heavy lifting of our own over the last four games, we survived thanks to the kindness of strangers - and that 3-2 win against Gully before things fell apart well and proper for the last month of the season.

As our survival was secured well before full time, there was time to ponder things half relevant. Like if we got into the A-League, how good would it be to have Clarendon Corner located in the few surviving spectator amenities of the 1926 Stand? It would fulfil so many of our requirements - in the best Clarendon Corner tradition it would be the worst spot in the ground to watch a game from; it would be perfect for making sure we were nowhere near the returning bandwagon; in a few decades there'd eventually there'd be just a couple of people left, leaving two lucky fans the chance to live out a real life Statler and Waldorf fantasy.

Some people broke out some chants, willing us to score to get Kingston into the finals as payment for rescuing us. Milos Lujic got benched, to his disgust. Everyone has the feeling that he's on his way out, probably to Oakleigh and Chris Taylor. We can talk about ignominious ends, but there almost no one came out of this year clean. You looked out onto the field, at the players who took part on the day and even those who weren't there, and wondered how many would be back next year. Brad Norton, probably. Leigh Minopoulos, if he feels his body is right, perhaps. Kristian Konstantinidis, if his head's screwed on right. Luke Adams if he wants to settle down in Australia permanatently. But the rest? Makeche, Howard, Foschini, Jawadi, Mala, Marshall, Minatel you'd all assume our likely to be gone.

Will we keep one or either of the Marafioti brothers? Pep did well enough I thought to earn another season; Giordano was meant to be the great white hope of the youth system, for whom so much was sacrificed for, but injury and insanity meant his season was a wash. Will the once implausible but now perhaps merely unlikely happen, and Nikola Roganovic stick around? We went through four goalkeepers this year - one injured, one discarded, one flew in and flew out, and the last came back in our hour of need but can he commit to something more substantial? What's the fate of the several youth players we tried once Sasa Kolman left? As promising as almost all of them looked at some point, did anyone of them do enough to warrant anything more than fringe bench spot next year? Next year, eh? What a luxury to be able to say that without a complete and overbearing sense of shame.

Those who still listen to 3XY say that they heard president Leo Athanasakis had re-appointed Con Tangalakis as our coach for 2019, but as usual with these things, I'll believe it when I see it. A strange coaching decision at the start of the season set all of this in motion, to the point where we were two bad results away from a relegation playoff, and our now on the verge of a player exodus the likes of which we haven't seen since the end of the NSL. Now maybe the sacking of Chris Taylor was necessary, maybe it wasn't - regardless one gets the feeling that things were coming to a head one way or another behind the scenes for reasons that probably have as much to do with interpersonal dynamics between Taylor and the board than any issues of competence.And even if his sacking was executed brilliantly from a Machiavellian, didn't see that coming point of view, clearly everything else to do with that decision was done so poorly, that one wonders if people actually thought this through properly.

At the end of the day and at the end of our season, there was relief, and time for a rum and coke. But there was also the feeling for me that had this season gone on any longer, then I would have had to follow in the footsteps of Julianne Moore's character in Todd Haynes' 1995 film Safe, and remove myself to an igloo in the desert, where none of this mattered, or even existed.

But, please, South, don't drive into that chasm!
Now a lot of this next segment originally made its appearance on Twitter, so if you've already seen it there, you can skip to the bit.

As much as South Melbourne's car crash 2018 season was (rightly) the focus of many people's attention, let's not let it obscure Green Gully's remarkable decline. After round ten, where Gully had crunched us 3-0 at Lakeside, Gully sat in fourth spot with six wins, two draws and two losses. They were eleven points clear of us, and in a good position you'd think to make a finals run, and certainly not be considered a likely candidate for (provisional) relegation. Yet Gully picked up just one win and three draws in their final sixteen games. For a club with a stable income, no obvious external sponsor and supporter expectations to live up to, as well twenty years of alternately successful/competitive teams, it's quite an astonishing situation.

Gully also have some quality players - who many clubs will be circling in the event they lose the playoff game - played some decent football, and seldom got belted (especially in the way that did). One shouldn't write them off in the upcoming playoff, of course - but you have to wonder how they of all clubs ended up in this situation. The on again/off again affair with Arthur Papas hasn't helped; and for a coach touted by some as part of a young generation of up and coming Australian coaches, that should put a solid dent in what's left of his local reputation.

Part of the word on the street is that Papas shared at least one trait with fellow young full-time coach Sasa Kolman, in that his expectations of semi-professional players - especially the time they could reasonably be expected to give to their soccer careers - were wildly optimistic. I'm talking extra training sessions, before work morning sessions and the like. Now well may we say that for the money players in the NPL are getting, they should be doing more than what they do (especially since their ability to draw cards is negligible at best), but as long their chief source of income comes from a day job, that's not going to happen.

Alongside playing in a second tier cut up into a dozen pieces, we are all aware that the differing levels of professionalism between the A-League and the aforementioned second tiers is one of the most-significant barriers to Australian players making the step up to professional ranks. As we all know, there are people working on fixing at least one part of that issue, by virtue of getting a national second tier up and running, but one wonders whether it'll be worth it if the players are full professionals. But that's for the optimists to figure out.

In summary, this is another warning that in NPL Victoria you don't even have to completely sabotage your own season like we did to find yourself in trouble - just the slightest complacency in a tight season, and you're in the relegation playoff. And it's only going to get tougher next year with Altona Magic and Dandenong City getting promoted. For the moment just be grateful that were at least three teams worse than us in 2018, remarkable as that might be..

Off-season winding down mode, pending...
Usually when the senior men's team season ends, South of the Border goes into our half-arsed off-season mode. In recent times that's meant at least a few more weeks of blog action, but since this will be the first time since 2012 that the men won't be involved in any post-season antics, we find ourselves in the slightly anomalous situation insofar as the blog is concerned. That's because even though our men have greatly disappointed all of us, the senior women's teams are still very much alive and kicking, and looking to add several pieces of silverware to their collection.

This week they're aware to Bulleen on Saturday afternoon, hoping to clinch what I still anachronistically call the minor premiership, and after that they will be embarking on a finals campaign which will hopefully see them make an appearance at AAMI Park on grand final day. It'd be great to see a few more people at their games, because they are worth watching, and lopsided as the NPLW can be, at the business end of the season things get a lot more competitive.

Now that's all well and good for those who have an interest in our women's teams, but I get that's not a sentiment shared by everyone at South Melbourne. As noted ad nauseum recently (OK, twice), I'm a bit busy with work and stuff at the moment, and I don't expect that to let up until early November. Nevertheless, along with the women's stuff, there'll eventually be the usual off-season winding down of South of the Border. So that means the usual patchwork awards, book reviews, maybe some historical guff, and possibly drawing into the archives for draft pieces that maybe should see the light of day at some point.

There will also be some A-League bid news (not that any of that matters), and I assume there'll be an AGM at some point. So, there'll be enough to talk about: just gotta find the time to do it all.

Speaking of the A-League bid
The club has confirmed that it has "submitted its formal bid to join the Hyundai A-league in season 2019/20". Some have mocked the "60 years in the making reference", though I'm not sure why. If anything they should be congratulating the club on at least making the sensible decision to post the notice after we had avoided the relegation playoff, rather than putting it up beforehand.

Final thought
It's well before my end of year round round up, and it'll sound typically self-pitying as I write this, but I feel as if in a lot of ways I've let down the South of the Border readership this year with my writing efforts. There are some personal reasons for this - which I can hopefully let you all know about in due course - but mostly it comes down to me being utterly depressed and demotivated by the experience of watching and attending South Melbourne matches this year.

That goes for almost the whole experience - the performance of the men's team, the often self-serving and self-preservation antics of the board, the decline in quality of the social club (I'm leaving out manager Tegan, and Noula the cook, who did the best they could with the resources given to them), and the sometimes (often) embarrassing antics of the fans, myself included. The things that kept it all together? The fact that enough players gave enough of a stuff for just long enough to get us over the line, showing us that there was at least some residual pride left in the squad; the persistent camaraderie of the ramshackle operation that is Clarendon Corner, including some of the younger boys; lastly, the fact of what else are you going to do when there's a South game on?

Here's to the hope that this is a serious wake up call to the club that a half-arsed approach to running and supporting South Melbourne Hellas is going to end very badly. Here's to the hope that 2019 will provide us with a much better season on the field than the rollicking shambles that was 2018.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

So it's come to this, he says, again - Avondale 6 South Melbourne 2

Gains and I took the 58 tram through the inner north yesterday on our way to the game. On its mazy route the tram goes by the Queen Vic markets, the zoo, and several hospitals. So many opportunities to do something more worthwhile with our Saturday afternoon. But then what kind of South fans would we be if we did that?

It's good what Avondale have done with their refurbishment of the Reggio Calabria Club, and it'll be even better when they put in the grandstands and sheltered areas. Everyone who has given them stick for Doyle Street and their shifting from ground to ground also has to give them credit for establishing a much needed spectator friendly match day venue for the inner north.

Some people still hoped for a win, or a draw. The most I was hoping for was a loss that didn't destroy our "goals for and against" tally, and that Hume would do us a favour by beating Gully later that evening. Of course neither of those things happened, and our survival now hinges on last day heroics or, more likely, some kind of dumb, undeserved luck going our way.

We started the game half asleep but woke up before any damage had been done. That didn't mean we dominated the game in its early stages, but we were at least trying. Still, every time Avondale went up the other end of the field, they looked like they were a good chance to score. Corner after corner was repelled, while we resorted to long balls into space.

Funnily enough, that tactic worked enough to get us the lead, not even entirely against the run of play. Pep Marafioti slotting his penalty was a good morale booster for the day, and for Pep personally, as his form in front of goals had been scratchy in the past couple of games. Sadly, we couldn't hold onto that lead for the rest of the first half. At that moment you kinda knew what was going to come in the second half.

Worse, because we'd taken the lead, the usual bipolar suspects had started dreaming again of a late and unexpected finals run. The team's performances have hurt supporters, that's true, but some people have been just as responsible for the damage done to themselves due to their inability to maintain a proper emotional equilibrium. That, and they choose to ignore what has been staring them in the face for most of the season: that regardless of its configuration, the team has been mostly a shambles this season, perched on a perpetual ledge of imminent self-immolation.

Everyone reacts to a game differently, and how boring would it be if everyone supporting the game was an emotionally distant chin-stroker? As for me, I might not react as outwardly incensed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown as some, but I hurt just the same. After all, everybody hurts, sometimes™, and my goodness hasn't there been so much hurt this season, and possibly worse to come next week. You know, I got to the stage yesterday where I though to myself, even if we survive this season, we'll probably get relegated next year?

Maybe I'm just trying to pretend that, whatever happens next week, there will still be a club to follow next year. Maybe all I'm hoping for is that if we do end up relegated, that we don't end up in NPL 2 East purely from a personal travel convenience standpoint, though that's probably what will happen, and how much that would suck despite the opportunity for long train trips into the country. As morbid as that sounds, is it any worse than getting into arguments with Shouty Mike from a distance of 50 metres, like two small dogs safely locked away in their suburban front yards, yapping at each other's voices?

When we pulled it back to 4-2 - and I'm still not convinced the ball went over the line, but I'll defer to those in a better position - I hoped not for a comeback, but for damage limitation. That was also too hopeful. Another two goals conceded, including one right on full time which makes you wonder what the referee's motive was in playing five minutes injury time when the game was done and dusted anyway.

We fought for a bit, but as soon as adversity struck - in the form here of Elvis Kamsoba, probably the season's most improved player - we just couldn't keep up. Sometimes it's a matter of not wanting it as much as the other team, but more often this season it's just been about not being good enough. There are myriad reasons for that, endlessly explored here and especially elsewhere, and most of which will get turned over again during the off-season.

For now, as doubtful as I am that we can do it, I want more than for the team to do enough to survive. I don't care about board egos, and I don't care about which players aren't going to be there next year. Just get the damn job done, and can resume tearing each other apart after that.

Next week
Port Melbourne at home. We hope this will be our last game of the season.

But it might not be
Kingston beat Heidelberg by a large margin on Friday night, in a result some are calling very suspicious; nevertheless, that win has secured their NPL survival. Dandenong Thunder beat Northcote last night, also securing their survival. Last night, Green Gully came from behind twice to draw with Hume City. It is not a result that does us any favours; then again, even a point in any of our previous three matches could've made this discussion moot.

That discussion is of course the relegation discussion, one we were *this* close to not having to deal with a few weeks ago following our win over Gully, but following a three game run where we've conceded sixteen goals, it is very much a possibility.

There had been some debate yesterday on the order of tie-breaking procedures in the event that two or more teams finished on the same amount of points. I was of the opinion that goal difference was the most important consideration, while some said that head-to-head was the most important factor.  Upon looking at the NPL regulations, it is clear that goal difference has primacy over head-to-head.
4.5.4. If one (1) or more Teams finish the Regular Season on the same number of
points, their final position will be determined as follows:
  • a. The Team with the greatest Goal Difference will finish higher. 
  • b. If Goal Difference is the same, then the Team that has scored the most Goals FOR will be deemed to have finished higher. 
  • c. If Goal Difference is the same and Goals FOR is the same, then the final order will be determined by the aggregate results of Competition Fixtures played between those Teams For the current Regular Season (excluding Cup Fixtures). 
  • d. If the aggregate scores between the Teams are the same, then AWAY goals will count as double.
As a point of hopefully useless trivia, if after all that two teams are still inseparable, a playoff match will be arranged.

So keeping all of that in mind, here's how things currently stand.

Gully plays Kingston at home, while Hume is away to Pascoe Vale. Leaving aside conspirational thinking about what their opponents may do in terms of resting players and such, the circumstances are reasonably clear:

  • If we win, we're safe regardless of what Gully or Hume do. 
  • If we draw, then we rely upon a) Hume failing to win, or b) Gully losing, drawing, or winning by fewer than three goals, unless Gully end up winning by a two goal margin via the absurdly high scoreline of at least 8-6 (assuming our game against Port finishes 0-0).
  • If we lose, we rely upon either Gully or Hume failing to win.

Final thought
No reader comments will be published this week. If you have a grievance with the board, take it up with them directly. For whatever it's worth, I think all our efforts this week should be on supporting the team to make one final push for survival. That's the extent of my inspirational capabilities at this stage.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

In the slash - Heidelberg United 4 South Melbourne 2

Unlike Cosmo Kramer, it's unlikely that we'll run out
of gas and wake up in a ditch to find the tank full.
Whatever illusory momentum we'd seemed to have built up by the end of the Green Gully match seems to have flown off into the ether. That goes for on field and off field, as the end of the season can't come fast enough, and the subsequent reckonings of how we ended up in this situation can get played out properly. At this stage all I'm hoping for is that our season ends in two weeks time, and is not extended to the damn playoff game on grand final day.

The previous week, an indeterminate amount of supporters were suddenly banned by the club for less than clear reasons. There was some talk that those people would also be banned from the away game against Heidelberg, but that did not seem to come to pass. Clarendon Corner arrived, situated itself in south-east corner of Olympic Village as opposed to its usual spot underneath shed roof, and chanted their usual repertoire as well countless adaptations of those familiar tunes substituted with the words "sack the board".

The club has since put up a notice on its website acknowledging the bans - clumsily noted as "up to eight supporters", as if they don't know the exact numbers.

It is impossible to make out from that post what exactly constituted the anti-social behaviour. In the past there have been attempts to clamp down on swearing in chants, but if that was the case here, then even your correspondent would be banned. If it was for the "sack the board" chants, those have been a serious and non-serious staple of South Melbourne matches for 20 years. If it was for the "sack the board" banner, that seems incredibly petty. If it was because of the events following our last home game against Heidelberg, I wasn't in the vicinity of that action, so I can't say with any authority whether the club has the moral right to do what it has done. If it's something else apart from that, I'd love to know what it is.

All that will be answered in good time, one way or another, but back to the immediate concern at hand. I don't think anyone seriously expected us to get a point at the Village, and the state of the substitutes bench said a bit too. Marcus Schroen started there, I would assume because he was still suffering from the effects of his injury the previous week; but talk around the ground was that he'd been dropped because he'd missed a training session due to new work commitments. As it was, Schroen came on during the second half and made a noticeable difference, and you wonder what would've happened had he played the whole game?

Milos Lujic started, even as rumours began circulating around the possibility that he's already come to a verbal agreement to play at Oakleigh next year. I don't know how much stock to put into rumours like that, which seem to gain momentum mostly when he has a bad game for us. He didn't have a  great game on Sunday, but to be honest, the service he received from our almost completely poxy midfield in the first half was very poor. Ndumba Makeche came off the bench, and seemed to do a lot better, being more mobile and more willing to throw himself into the fray.

Disregarding for a moment the post-season chaos that could engulf the club, I waver between thinking that there are at least a handful of players from this squad that could be retained, and then thinking that just about everyone is likely to bail and that we could be seeing an entirely new squad next year. Leigh Minopoulos played his heart out, but will his persistent injuries finally see him move on? Matthew Foschini sometimes shows proper leadership qualities and determination, but he's just as prone on his worst days to playing lazy football, hitting blind passes to nobody.

I could go on, but there really isn't any point just yet, because we still have to survive this season. With no other teams playing this weekend, it was our nominal chance to get a point or even a very unlikely win, or at the very least lose minimally and keep our goal difference advantage over Green Gully. Instead we found ourselves 4-0 down at halftime, our goal difference lead nearly evaporated, and the likelihood that it would disappearing over the subsequent 45 minutes. Somehow that didn't come to pass, which I put down to Makeche and Schroen's intervention. Back at 4-2, at least something from the day had been salvaged, and for some even the possibility that had we just got that third goal that we could've stormed our way to an unlikely draw.

But that's people getting way too optimistic for my tastes. All we can take out of the game is that Heidelberg didn't put away any of their numerous second half chances, that we clawed back a couple of goals and maybe something positive to take into next week.

Next week
Avondale away on Saturday afternoon at the Reggio Calabria Club. By Saturday night we'll have a good idea of what it is we'll need from the final round.

MCC Library on Wednesday, with the panel for the launch of Ian Syson's
 The Game That  Never Happened. In the far distance, Ian Syson, John Harms,
 John Didulica, and Roy Hay. Photo: Les Street.
The game that never happened
Last Wednesday, soccer journalists, football academics, Twitter elite, and assorted other people found themselves at the MCC Library for the launch of Ian Syson's new book The Game That Never Happened: The Vanishing History of Soccer in Australia. 

The launch party was in the form of a panel, as seems to be the trend of these things - well, this is the second book in a row that I've seen launched in this way at least. Joining Syson on the panel were Australian Rules and general sports writer John Harms, and PFA CEO John Didulica, with the book's publisher Roy Hay being the compere of sorts. Sadly, noted sportswriter Gideon Haigh was unable to attend due to a competing engagement, but he did send in a short summary of his thoughts which was read out during the launch, I think noting the way the book overturns the illusion of Australian sporting meritocracy.

Harms proceeded to discuss the ways in which the book fills a gap in its intersection of sport and culture, as well as noting its combination of two intellectual streams - narrative history and classic cultural studies. Harms also reflected on the book's touching on an aspect of his history, when it mentions the south-east Queensland town of Oakey, where Harms grew up. Asked whether Syson's book had changed his views on the development of Australian sporting cultures, with particular reference to his Queensland experience, Harms answered that it had actually solidified his opinions that as worthwhile and vibrant as soccer was, it had nevertheless failed to establish itself at the apex or centre of the local or national sporting cultures. The book's discussion of the spread of British miners however did illuminate why some towns had more vibrant soccer scenes than nearby towns.

For his part, Didulica noted that his reaction to the book was an aggrieved, visceral reaction, centred on the injustices faced by the sport in eras prior to those of the ethnic game. The book reveals layers of history, to my mind kind of a series of Troys, each one built on top of the ruins of the previous city. Didulica connected in particular with page 60, and the ways in which the Australian Rules fraternity was able to embed itself (within its dominant states) as being authentically British and Australian, while the commitment of the soccer people was seen as only towards Britain. It's an issue of perceived separateness which has persisted in the portrayals of Australian soccer and its adherents as having a lesser commitment to Australia, despite the fact that the formation of those clubs was in itself a commitment to a permanent existence in this country. But we return again to the idea that soccer, existing outside the official institutions and cultural mainstream of Australian life, finds itself forever battling for a way in against entrenched and defensive competitors.

Syson sees this soccerphobia beginning in Perth, where the Edwardian ideals of sporting amateurism and pluralism are shown to be an illusion, as the choice of which football code to pursue becomes more than just an aesthetic choice; morality and values exhibited through sport become important, and a sort of footy nationalism begins to take hold. There was some follow up discussion after that discussing the public debates of system of chaos vs scientific play, differing depictions of the violence of play, the militarisation of sport then and now, and the danger of people working on these histories having their work become part of what I consider to be pissing contests between codes about who sacrificed more for various war efforts. It's certainly not Syson's intention to contribute to that kind of discourse - his intention is show how the growth of early 20th Australian soccer was devastated by players volunteering for war - but it is something that could certainly happen, and probably already has.

If I were to summarise the point of both the book and the launch discussion in a sentence, I would say that soccer is popular in the wrong places, then popular with the wrong people. Where it becomes the mainstream game in its early days, it is too far away from the centres of economic and social power to become a game embedded within the broader culture. Later, of course, it becomes associated so much with foreignness that even though the game has been revived in metropolitan centres, there is a stigma that cannot be overcome.

As for the book itself, it is in many ways a reworking and consolidation of several academic journal articles that Syson has written, mostly on the pre-wogball history of soccer in Australia. There's other stuff that could've been included - including some really interesting stuff on early Aboriginal soccer players - but this is a lean book whose main goal is to provoke a fervent revisionist discussion about Australian soccer history, while also prompting further research from others. Only time will tell of course how successful this book is at doing that.

Knowing the author for so long, and having discussed elements of this work with Ian for many years now, I can't really go out of my way to review the book as such. What I can say is that for various reasons the book had a protracted and difficult gestation period, and I'm glad and relieved that it's finally seen the light of day. Like many Australian soccer books, this one hardly sets out to provide the definitive take on the game's history. What it does do is scratch the surface of hitherto under-researched areas, breaking down assumptions about the origins of the game in Australia and its relationship to other football codes. It flies across the country, to both urban and rural areas, taking what on the surface seem like random formations of often short-lived clubs and soccer scenes, into what could be classed as broader trends. (One day Syson will have to follow through on his interactive historical map idea).

To that end I would've liked to have seen perhaps an appendix dealing with the research methodology, and especially its use of the National Library of Australian newspaper database Trove. It's an interesting point because during the panel discussions Syson did go into a bit of detail into his use of Trove, finding issues of nomenclature, articles where it was unclear what code of football was being played, and moments where soccer disappears so suddenly from the public record, that people believe themselves to be founding "inaugural" soccer clubs in their towns, oblivious to the fact that soccer had been there before; in some cases, very recently.

History is forgotten then; now it's flattened, so that mythologies about the game (and its counterpart games) have taken firm hold, and that cultural assumptions also obscure how those deciding which sports to play in colonial and early Federation Australia came to their decisions. So much of what we claim to understand about how that all happened is informed by the present, not the past; for instance, the matter of low scoring being used as justification for Australian Rules' popularity over soccer, when in its early decades Australian Rules had scoring that was comparable to that of soccer.

Within the book, too, one gets the idea that as much as Syson has done well to unearth hitherto forgotten and neglected materials, still was is often found is viewed through the lens of people who are not from the soccer fraternity. That causes its own problems, but that correspondence is still better than nothing and especially the assumed absence of writing about soccer from that era. The contemporary reports Syson looks at may be spotty, biased, dismissive, curious, and any number of other things, including an often frustrating penchant for having no eye to posterity, a trait common to news reports on both proto-football and codified football. But these articles are there, and they provide their own clues to what Syson argues is a much more complicated situation than has been given credit for.

What Syson seeks to make clear is that soccer is often there physically, even in its ebbs and flows of popularity, but that its cultural and historical status is made much smaller than it actually is, or rendered entirely non-existent. That's not to argue that soccer is akin to the mainstream codes in its centrality to Australian culture, only that  the ledger leans too much one way. How it got to that stage is part of what the book begins to answer. There is scope then to discuss in future work - should it ever come to pass - ideas of Victorian (as in the state/colony, not the era) nationalism and cultural imperialism, alongside the self-inflicted wounds.

Syson is also careful though; while acknowledging the debates being had in Australia in the 1800s about what game of football is best and which to play, that we need to avoid elevating those advocating for soccer into higher positions of cultural prominence than they probably/possibly had. There book is also informed by the centrality of Victoria to these matters, and sometimes you can see glimpses of Syson's anti-Victorian leanings become evident throughout the book. It often does read like something written by a cultural outsider, and one wonders if there's scope for work on the cultural history of early Australian Rules to be written by someone from the outside.

(James Coventry's book on the evolution of Australian Rules tactics, Time and Space, does this to a degree - it helps reclaim the role in the development of Australian Rules from a hegemonic Victorian point of view - but Coventry is a still a fo0ty person, albeit one from South Australia.)

As for how to purchase this book, while sales have gone well, there is an issue with the book's distributor, which has gone into liquidation. That will be rectified soon I'm told. For those hoping for an ebook edition, I am told that this is also being worked on.

Final thought
The funniest thing to happen this week was seeing fellow South fan Dave's reaction at the book launch, as he saw me in my element of quasi Australian soccer writing celebrity. In that regard, it was nice to meet sometime poet Alan Whykes, and writer/coach/fan George Ploumidis at the game itself, and to have a casual chat. If it was only about watching the game, and not being able to share our joy and misery with other people, it'd be a much lesser experience.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Sack everyone and everything - South Melbourne 1 Kingston City 4

If I wanted last season to be over because of its brutal length, then surely this season I want to come to an end as quickly and as painlessly as possible. It has been a nightmare on several fronts, with a brief half-earned, half-gifted to us revival which is keeping our head above water, and which for a short period of time brought if not happiness nor peace of mind, than at least

It was a strange week, too, even before we got our caning against Kingston and pulled back down into the heart of the relegation stoush. South fans, paranoid, panicky, and with a 14 year chip on their collective shoulder, are ready to lash out at anyone. The first target was Paul Wade, for his support of the Dandenong A-League bid. It was a reaction from our fans which I wasn't surprised by, but one that I felt was misdirected for a couple of reasons. First, where Wade can be considered to have a coherent and/or consistent policy with regards to what our nation's top tier should look like, he is long ago on record as saying that "broadbased" teams (complete with gimmick nicknames) were/are the future of the game. That was all the way back in 1995, in his autobiography - which I apologise again for not having reviewed in depth, ten and a half years into the blog.

Now it was pointed out (and rightly so) that Wade had also endorsed our bid last year, and that therefore something must have changed for him to do this, and that "something" was money. I wouldn't rule it out - why rule anything out in Australian soccer? - but Wade never seemed to me like the kind of guy who would do something just for the money. Still, that seeming inconsistency in his endorsements goes to another point about how nonsensical the fury at Wade's most recent comments was: and that point is, who actually takes what Paul Wade has to say seriously? Yes, he'll get wheeled out by the ABC from time to time to talk about the Socceroos or the state of the game, but his overblown pronouncements almost always make him seem incredibly out of touch with everything going on in Australian soccer. He is in a lot ways an Australian soccer media relic, one whose heyday was a very long time ago as a player, not that much far removed as a commentator, and it's odd to me that anyone takes what he says seriously, let alone personally.

Once everyone got bored with Wade, it was time to turn on The Age's Michael Lynch. Now goodness knows, South of the Border has hardly been Lynch's biggest fan over the years, but we've mellowed out to the point where my loathing is now muted, and I'm now mostly just plain old distrustful. Lynch, who has found if not a soft-spot for "the old clubs" in recent times, has certainly managed to rediscover at least a peripheral interest in them. As to what prompted that rediscovery, the only wisdom I can offer on that front is typically cynical and a little bit hackneyed: that Lynch and other soccer journos noticed a change in the air, and they thought that maybe their previously dismissive attitudes towards the old clubs might see them miss the zeitgeist.

And when it comes to Australian soccer media, the zeitgeist is all, and anyone who falls outside of that looks naff, old, fossilised, doddering. In this case, Lynch didn't necessarily commit any heinous crime other than putting forward the idea that in his view, and so far as the Melbourne A-League bidders were concerned, behind the scenes it was not South Melbourne that were favoured, but rather the other two bids. Enter a more subdued version of the angry mob that went after Wade, which hadn't necessarily taken the time to think about the situation. For as absurd as the South bid is, and as as absurd as the other two Melbourne bids are, and any A-League bids for a system that needs drastic overhaul (whether pro/rel or plainer reform to its current state), is noting that the powers that be might prefer some over others, and that such attitudes may have been locked in place for a long time, really that absurd of an idea?

Anyway, having amused ourselves by turning onto outsiders, and someone who people had convinced themselves was South through and through by virtue of stuff that happened most recently 23 years ago, ignoring the fact that Wade has had little to do with us since, it was time to lash out at each other. Which, to be fair, is a longstanding South speciality, and in recent times enjoyed by some of our people more than what happens on field. At some point during the under 20s game on Sunday, word was going around about a small group of South fans - perhaps half a dozen - being banned by the club, and/or possibly the stadium trust.

This was odd, in part because at least some of those supposedly banned were already in the stadium, an oversight which it turned out one could put down to the club being too slow to get its act together from the time gates were opened. Eventually had photos of the banned supporters, and prevented them from entering (or re-entering) the stadium. The other odd aspect was no one seemed sure why it was that these supporters had been banned, for how long they'd been banned, and what efforts the club had taken (if they had taken any effort) to inform those banned that they were indeed banned from Lakeside.

That obviously cast a pall over affairs from before kickoff, and eventually most of Clarendon Corner decided to watch the game from outside the ground from behind the fence at the western end of the ground. It's not the best of the view of the ground, but for this banned and their sympathisers, there was an obvious principle involved, and also precedent - let's not forget that members of Clarendon Corner had spent a good portion of our early time at Northcote protesting the banning of some fans following the pitch invasion at the final game at the old Lakeside.

There was next to no chanting from what was left of Clarendon Corner inside the ground, and a lot of chanting from the majority of those who decamped outside the ground. Nothing out of the ordinary was chanted that I could discern from my position inside the ground. Those at the ground who are not up to speed on all these kinds of things must have been very confused by what was going on. At times volunteer marshals spent some time there, as did security, and one stadium trust staffer seemed particularly nervous about the whole affair, though seemingly not doing much other than pacing up and down the stairs in front of his match day office.

While their chants were mostly clearly audible, Clarendon Corner in exile were largely invisible to those inside the ground, except for one character who was quite visible as he climbed on top of the ticket box next to the Gate 1 entrance, and proceeded to walk along the top of the outer fence to the bewilderment of most and even to the amusement of some - including a security guard - who I suppose could appreciate the farce of the performance and the situation that performance was embedded in. As security approached, he jumped down back outside

Me, I acknowledge that farce of what passes for supporting this club on a weekly basis, but I couldn't help find the whole thing exceptionally grim. I wouldn't go so far as to call the past few weeks a truce between disgruntled fans and the board, but as has tended to be the case at South in recent years, a run of good results acts like a sedative, numbing tension for a short time before a bad result or two brings the underlying issues back to the surface. The only odd thing, if one could it even call it that, is that on Sunday we didn't even get to the bad result bit before the unpleasantness began.

And if everything else going on wasn't making things grim enough, the team itself came out of the sheds half asleep and seldom looked like it was a chance in a game where, had we won, it would've secured our NPL status for 2019. Kingston took the lead early through a penalty (no complaints from me on the decision) and eerily - and not bloody helpfully - Gully had also taken the lead at Olympic Village at the same time. Kingston being a quick side, I just had a feeling that we would struggle to keep them away from goal, and we weren't helped by having an unsettled defensive set up thanks to the absence of Brad Norton.

We did eventually start clicking into gear, and I thought we finished the half reasonably strongly. Marcus Schroen's goal direct from the corner got us level at halftime, just as the Bergers themselves had equalised. So at that particular moment, things were looking a lot better than they had five minutes into the game. I wasn't especially confident about the second half, but I didn't foresee the second half collapse. You could, as some have done, try to put it to the fact of Kingston having the wind in the second half, but it wasn't like they were hoofing the ball down the field. It was all very neat and tidy, and exploiting a slow defence.

Before you knew it we were behind again. By the time we got to 3-1, it was a matter of playing out time and hoping things didn't get worse. They did, of course, but the bigger concern was Schroen coming off injured; along with Oliver Minatel, Schroen has been the other key player in turning our season around from its direst point, and to potentially lose him for further matches would be a massive blow. This is especially the case when we have three tough games to go, including two of the top three side. But all credit to Kingston - they have a smaller budget, they play youth, and they play attractive football. I hate Monday night football, but if we're going to have a surplus of (Greek) minnow teams in this comp, the least that we can hope for is that try to entertain.

As the sun set on another home loss in 2018, and people retreated to their various internet hovels to vent and moan and plan their next moves, some of our people turned their attention towards the spectacle of the Western Melbourne Group's open forum, deciding to scoff and deride several of the key takeaways from that affair. Not that any of that matters, of course, but I guess it's nice to have a hobby that people get some joy from. Goodness knows there hasn't been much joy at South this season.

Next game
At Heidelberg on Sunday afternoon, in a replay of the previously abandoned match. It's the catch-up round, and we're the only teams playing, so there could be a decent crowd. That, and the Bergers can secure what I'm still calling the minor premiership with a win here. Rather than making the game free entry, there will be a cover charge - with the proceeds going to the Greek bushfire appeal. As noble as that sentiment is, I can positively sense the cynicism dripping out of some of our supporters.

The arrangement is going ahead with the blessing of our own club, which makes total sense when you think about it. After all, we are a Greek club; we would be destroyed in the media if we didn't support it; and at any rate, one of our board members also happens to be the president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne.

Apparently you will be able to get a receipt for your donation/entry ticket, if you are that way inclined. I'm just hoping for a win, and no repeat of the nonsense which took place after our most recent meeting. Which, when I put it like that, is clearly hoping for too much.

Relegation/survival prognostication - as stolen from Greekfire's post on smfcfans.com
The following post by "Greekfire" appeared on smfcfans.com, and does a much better job at summarising our predicament than any amount of waffling I could do. All I've changed from it is shortening the team names so they don't stretch out the table template.

I've run the numbers on the remaining games to analyse the scenarios whereby we can end up in 12th and the relegation playoff. There are basically 5 teams in the mix:
  • South Melbourne
  • Kingston City
  • Hume City
  • Green Gully
  • Dandenong Thunder
Before going on to look at the games that matter, there are a few assumptions:
  1. We lose all of our last 3 games - to put us in the worst possible case for ourselves
  2. Goal difference plays no part in the result (i.e. we don't get battered / we lose 1-0 in each game / no one else belts anyone)
  3. Dandenong Thunder is ignored for now - the teams they play (Northcote @ home, Knights away) don't have any other influence on the results of anyone else, so it's not worth analysing every combo of their games
The relevant games are then the games featuring the other 3 contenders:
  • Kingston City vs Heidelberg United
  • Hume City vs Green Gully
  • Hume City vs Pascoe Vale
  • Green Gully vs Kingston City
We're very lucky, at this point, that there are 2 games where 2 contenders play each other.

If we consider that each game can either be a win to the home team (1), a draw (X) or a loss (2), then there are 3x3x3x3 possible outcomes, or 81 scenarios.

Of these, we finish 12th in 7 of them, or in 8.6% of cases (assuming every result of every game is equally likely and independent) - these are outlined below:

Kingston Heidelberg 111XXX2
GullyKingston 11X11XX
South Melbourne28.528.528.528.528.528.528.5

Key things to note:
  • If we get a point from any of our last 3 games, we avoid all of these scenarios as we would move up to 29.5 points and safely above at least 1 other team in every scenario (assuming we still have better GD)
  • Green Gully have to get a result from Hume City in 2 weeks, or else we are safe
  • Hume City have to beat Pascoe Vale on the last day, or else we are safe
  • Green Gully have to get a result from Kingston City on the last day, or else we are safe
In summary, from these 81 scenarios, the team most likely to go down is Green Gully:

TeamScenarios finishing 12th% chance
South Melbourne78.64%
Kingston City67.41%
Hume City2632.10%
Green Gully4251.85%

Of course, if Dandenong don't get a point from their last 2 games, we are safe anyway as they would stay below us on 28 points and lower GD, and all this would be moot.

Around the grounds
Friday night
Sat at home reading Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant while watching Batman, and later the footy.

Saturday arvo
Supermarket duties.

Saturday night
Went to the footy. Was alright.

Final thought
This semester I am in what may be called semi-gainful employment, with the possibility that my workload will increase significantly at very short notice. So, if you've been disappointed by the quality of South of the Border match posts in 2018, the lack of ephemeral material, or even just the deplorable promptness of publication, things are going to be pretty annoying for the next three months or so. Also, I've become quite fond of coming home on a Sunday evening after a game, switching my phone off, and just lying on the couch watching trash TV. So you know, take all of that into account for the next little bit.