Monday, 16 October 2017

South of the Border Awards 2017

Player of the year: Nick Epifano. The People's Champ missed the first five games, but was one of the two catalysts - along with Michael Eagar - for our turnaround in form after the poor start to the season. His performances were more even across the season than they have been in the past, and his effort on the defensive side of the game also improved a lot. Here's hoping that this season is a launching pad to an even better season next year.

Under 21 player of the year: The Cliff Hussey Memorial Trophy goes to Matthew Millar. Two years in a row, thank goodness he turned 21 in August so he can't win it again next season.

Goal of the year: Milos Lujic vs Knights at home. Yes it was a great goal, an atypical one for six yard box specialist like Milos, but its timing - after a half where we'd been pretty well outplayed and should've been down 2-0 at least - adds to the magic.

Best performance: against Heidelberg at the Bubbledome. Played them off the park from beginning to end.

Best away game of the year: I didn't go, but apparently the trip to the Gold Coast was pretty wild.

Call of the year: 'Come on Laura, miss it for South!' - me, at former South player Laura Spiranovic as she was taking a penalty in the shoot-out for Geelong Galaxy in the grand final against South. Laura missed.

Chant of the year: A-League or NPL / It doesn't matter to us/ The only thing that really matters / Is South Melbourne Hellas. Honourable mentions to 'Bill Paps is on fire the truth is terrified', and,'Sing us a song you're a Hellas fan', even if only like three of us actually

Best pre-match/after match dinner location: The social club wins by default. It'll have to lift its game next year though.

Friends we lost along the way: The social club count up clock. Smfcboard.com. Paul Henning. :(

Barely related to anything stupidity highlight of the year: I mean, where do you start? Misplaced fingers? Alleged spitting? Players going on holidays during the season? The visa player who spent most of his time in the 20s? Me beating Big Griff on FIFA 15 in the social club by having some random PAOK player's shot dribble underneath Mat Ryan? My image being plastered all over Windsor station by a bunch of kids?

I could go on. But I think the award should go to the West of the Quarry Twitter account, which a few rounds into the season was having a right old laugh at our very poor start to the season, only to see the tables turned pretty quickly.
At least they admitted their mea culpa. Going to so many of their games this season was almost as enjoyable as going to our games. Too bad that it seems they've got their act together for 2018.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

An impossible situation - South Melbourne 1 Sydney FC 5

As usual, forgive the unnecessarily elegiac tone.

Yesterday there were people trying to convince me - or perhaps more so themselves - that I looked happy. Some of those people were at the ground, others merely catching a glimpse of me smiling on the Fox Sports broadcast just before the start of the game. Whatever floats their boat I guess. I was with my mates, and it was almost certainly going to be our last game of the season. A long, long season.

My happiness or at the very least not miserableness was the natural response to being at a game of no consequence, no matter how anyone tried to dress it up. The lead up to the game from many of our people was understandable. A chance to capitalise on a rare and imperfect opportunity. Ticket prices set, food organised, and the club even putting out notices about public transport options. The fans made their banners and flags, invited as many people as they thought would come, and kept tabs on the weather in an obsessive manner. I hated the commercial television networks' use of eight day forecasts before this game, and I hate them even more now.

The final crowd of 5,747 was neither disastrous, nor earth shatteringly brilliant. You can blame the midweek slot and the interstate opponent, or the Socceroos and Ange Postecoglou sucking up all the limelight in the lead up. You can blame the impending bad weather, or the $25 entry charge. But maybe after being out in the cold for 13 years in the manner that we have been, this is all that we have left. It's not exactly been like starting from scratch, but at times it hasn't been too far from it. Sometimes it has been worse.

As much as I would love to go to town on Bill Paps and his talk of selling out the ground, the harsh reality of the situation remains. No crowd would've been big enough, no scoreline good enough, no atmosphere electric enough to make the game mean anything more than what it was; we, suffering but still afflicted by pride, having to face them, not Sydney FC specifically, but an entire soccer and mainstream Australian culture that has no place for us except in such rare and strange circumstances.

Take out the financial viability questions because only a few people will ever know for sure whether we could cut it in this state or any at all. Take out even the ethnic equation of things for just a second, because as a club we've largely moved beyond that, with last night being the best example of it so far. From my point of view at least, there was no cringe factor. Yet the experience as a whole was antithetical to the way top flight sport is done in Australia, by which I mean that despite the general professionalism of the way the event was handled as a whole last night, at no point was it slick. It was, to use those words now tainted by hipsters, artisanal, organic, handmade, at times even rustic.

General admission seating and a lack of oppressive security all round helps a lot in that regard, but at no point did the atmosphere at the ground, both before the game and during, feel forced or predetermined or pre-approved. It was, for want of a better term, a boutique experience in the best possible way, different from just about anything you get in top flight sport in this country. That in itself though, much as I would love to see it sold as a highlight and as a strength, as a beautiful point of difference, can only be seen in our era as encapsulating the shortcomings of being small, of not being exactly like everyone else. So it goes.

On the field, pretty soon the gulf in capability was made apparent. This wasn't simply a case of the best team in the country taking on a second division side; they were taking on a second division side from one of eight second divisions, and a side that had played one competitive fixture in about seven weeks, missing one of its more important players. Sydney's speed of thought, speed of movement on and off the ball, and their surer touch was always going to bring us undone at some point. The fact that we didn't completely sit back and try to absorb pressure was admirable, but also more liable to see us punished.

Not that it would've likely made any difference in the long run, but for a team like ours, missing Brad Norton unbalanced the whole thing. Our players were initially overwhelmed by the occasion and the lack of space afforded to them, and they often second guessed themselves. Mistakes that would lead to nothing in our league veered closer to life or death situations here. Nothing unexpected about that for anyone involved, but it's one thing to know it and quite another to experience it. Perhaps if they could bottle those moments where we took the initiative and showed no fear, there may be something worthwhile that we could take into next season.

Our team, like others at a similar playing level - and there's so many of them - is largely made up of those who have reached the A-League but have been discarded by it, and especially those who will never reach its ranks. Often enough, despite whatever gnashing of teeth there may be about lack of opportunity, there are good reasons for this. The players at our level are too slow or too small or not polished enough. It's not for lack of heart though. Matthew Millar is a prime example. Last night he was one of our best, for mine especially in the first half (though others will point to his second half) as he got into dangerous positions on the byline on a few occasions; but the quality in the form of an end product was just not there.

An extended dose of professionalism or even a consolidated second division would improve things, but establishing either is not within my capabilities; at best I'm here only to note the mostly obvious shortcomings of any attempt to establish such things. There is also something to be said for the notion that in FFA Cup games between A-League and state league opponents, the A-League team should be allowed to field two visa players, the same amount allowed to NPL teams as per their ordinary league business. Certainly it's been a thought bubble that a few have simultaneously had on and offline, and I'd be for such a move. Still, one must also acknowledge that even if such a rule was brought in, the calibre of visa player available to an A-League team easily outstrips what's available to a state league club.

It doesn't help either that Sydney's first goal was offside. You need all the luck in the world to get close, and we didn't get ours. 2-0 down at half-time, and despite having looked OK at times, there was no sense that there was any way back. But then Leigh Minopoulos scored that goal, and for the next 20 minutes all things seemed possible.
There was little chance that it could last, certainly not without an equaliser. We almost got there - Millar's long range effort after their keeper was caught way off his line would have brought the house down had it gone in -  but as the match wore on you could see the tiredness not merely creeping in, but storming in. The equaliser didn't come, and we ran out of gas. Some of the goals we let in were especially poor. But what a 20 minutes it was. It didn't all of a sudden make the struggle of the past 13 years worthwhile, but it was enjoyable, joyous even. There'll be plenty of chances next year and the year after and the year after that to wallow in the miserably meaningful; yesterday was about enjoying the absurd inconsequential.

After the Sydney goals rained in and the margin blew out, I got tired of chanting and of having an obstructed view thanks to hands and flags and people standing on seats, and worst of all, the score of opened umbrellas, so I went down to the concourse area. As the rain kept coming down, I got a good view of Clarendon Corner, the only full bay left in the ground, singing, chanting and enjoying themselves. What surprised me most though was how many people throughout the ground stayed to the end. The result was done, the weather was stuffed, there was no good reason for pretty much anyone apart from the usual people to stay. Yet they stayed.

That rain was something else. I guess we all knew that there was going to be heavy rain on the night, but I can't remember a Lakeside game that had a storm like that for some time. It was initially blown in from the north, chasing a lot of people out of the southern stand around to the northern side. Then the wind changed and moved it around so it blew into the northern stand. The running track threatened to turn into a lake, but the ground itself seemed to hold up well. Most surprisingly perhaps, our boys seemed to handle the conditions better than the Sydney players, especially during our best period, with even long passes to the wings being perfectly hit on several occasions.

All I wanted from the night was that we would avoid embarrassment on the field and off it. In my opinion we managed to avoid both, if not comfortably then by enough. Oh, and we scored a goal. Leigh Minopoulos, the player that gives me the most joy of any player in this team, wrote himself into a little bit of South Melbourne and Australian soccer history. Almost 18 years ago, John Anastasiadis bundled home the first Australian goal at a Club World Championship. Last night Minopoulos became the first player to score for a state league club in an FFA Cup semi-final. They're trivia questions that no one outside the dedicated few of us will be able to answer, but that's part of the story, too.

What to do with our good fortune
There's an episode of The Simpsons - atypically, I've forgotten which one - where the kids of Springfield are lined up outside the Noiseland Arcade, being shaken by a bouncer/security guard to see if they have enough loose change in order to be allowed inside. One hopes that the overpriced souvlaki (just like a proper top-flight stadium experience, as one wit noted), the $25 entry price for most patrons, and the $10 charge for social club members in direct opposition to the promises made by this board, have all raised enough money to pay off our debts to players, as well as current and former employees, with whatever's left over going towards paying off the loan the club took out to finish off the social club.

South of the Border off-season mode begins
There'll be awards no one cares about, and the usual periodic round up of news. There'll also be an AGM to discuss. And book reviews. I also have some other business to take care of and finish, so don't expect too much from me unless something dramatic happens.

Missed it by that much
There was some chatter out there that we had signed Gold Coast City striker Sam Smith. Smith, a 27 year old Englishman who didn't play against us in the FFA Cup due to injury, has instead re-signed with Gold Coast City.

Thank you
To the bloke who noticed that my keys had fallen out of my pocket during the second half.

Final thought
The season is finally over, thank goodness. See you all back in a few weeks time for the start of pre-season.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Odds and ends leading into our FFA Cup semi-final

There's news things which I could link to, but you're all pretty tech savvy individuals, so this is more of a filler piece, with some general advice about what to expect on Wednesday.

If you believe such things, ticket sales have been going pretty well for our FFA Cup semi-final, at about 3,000 pre-sales. That augurs well for a decent crowd, which will depend somewhat on what kind of hype (if any) will be built in the remaining few days, and if the relatively fine weather we've been having holds up.

At any rate, whatever the specific crowd number will be it's fairly certain that it will be one of the bigger crowds at Lakeside for a South game for many years, and thus there will be some common sense which will need to be applied on the night.

For starters, the car parking situation around the ground will likely be atrocious. So either get there early if you can, park further away, or seriously consider taking public transport. The no.12 tram goes right past the ground, while the no.1 stops two blocks away, on Clarendon Street or Moray Street. You could even take the no.96 down to MSAC.

Apart from pre-purchasing your tickets online, getting to the ground a little earlier should (though I make no promises on this) make all the difference with regards to getting into the ground in a timely manner. Whether you're new to Lakeside or have merely forgotten what it's like to have more than 200 people turn up to one of our games, it's worth remembering that our people have a tendency to turn up to games at the latest possible moment. I assume both gates will be open, which should make things easier.

Our regulars of course know this, but it's worth noting for 'occasional' and new visitors, that Lakeside is a non-smoking venue.

In terms of food and drink, if you're not a social club member, you may find it difficult if not impossible to get into the social club on the night. I am told however that there will be other food and drink stands open around the ground, and that these will be under operating under the auspices of the club. It also seems there will be a loosening of the up to now very tight liquor arrangements. All this is part of a hoped for general improvement in what South can offer on a match day.

I don't know if there will be any significant range of merchandise. If you're into that kind of thing, you know the drill already: bring your wallet, bring your credit cards, and hope that there's enough stock to satisfy your longing for stuff.

It might rain on Wednesday, it might not. If it does, the best places to be will be under those small parts of both stands which provide shelter. If it starts getting windy, that sheltered areas is diminished further, If you're out in the outer, bring an umbrella or poncho. Fox Sports will apparently be filming from the northern stand, which will reduce the capacity of that stand by a little bit.

If you choose sit in the bay in which Clarendon Corner locates itself, especially in the rows immediately behind them, you're more likely to have an obstructed view. Clarendon Corner will be standing and they will be waving flags and arms and such. If you are sensitive to swearing for whatever reason, this might also not be the best place to locate yourself. A good thing then that the whole venue will be open, right?

If you are not a regular in Clarendon Corner, but choose to stand in there on the night, there's some pretty basic protocols. If you're going to stand right in the middle, you should do so on the understanding that you will be expected to chant. If you're not a big chanter, stand somewhere to the edges. No flares. Don't be a dick. Pretty straightforward.

There will be no segregation at the game. I don't know if Sydney FC fans will bothering to turn up in such numbers as to be creating any sort of organised atmosphere. My advice for those of them that want to congregate somewhere is to take up a spot in the northern stand or on the terracing behind the goals. As for any other Sydney fans attending, sit or stand pretty much where common sense says you should. Most of us don't bite.

One hopes that the atmosphere will be jovial and relatively lighthearted. Of course we South people want to win this game, thought realistically our chances are fairly remote. Hopefully the boys can do well enough and have enough good fortune so as to at least make a game of it. If things go bad, it's not a reflection on us specifically, but mostly on the stark inequities of the situation as a whole.

That's not much as far as inspirational speeches go, but that's never been my bag anyway. For those able to enjoy South matches, enjoy it. For those who have more trouble enjoying games with any measure of importance, you know best how to deal with it.

In other news...
Not unexpectedly Nick Epifano won our best and fairest award for season 2017, at a low key awards night last Saturday in the social club. How low key? Pretty much no one outside the players and committee knew it was on. Natalie Martineau took out the equivalent women's award.

Monday, 2 October 2017

South claim WNPL title over Geelong Galaxy in dramatic grand final

Despite the senior men starting pre-season in late November 2016, the 2017 South season just doesn't end, and so we - the few, the proud, the geeky - found ourselves out at Broadmeadows for WNPL grand final day. I got there early enough to see almost all the under 18s final, which South lost 2-0 to Calder United. It was an uphill battle for most of the game for the South girls, who trailed 2-0 at the break and took a long time to get going in this game. They were up against the bigger bodied opposition which didn't help matters, but they fought their way until the end and had they snatched a goal late, things may have have ended up differently. As it was, Calder were the better side by some margin

The bombshell news before the senior grand final was that the league's golden boot winner Melina Ayers would be out, reportedly at the behest of the national youth squad selectors who did not want her playing and further aggravating a calf injury she had picked up while training with them. It left a sour taste in the mouth, but one had to have confidence in the rest of the squad which had done so well this season. And besides which, we had the services of the Matildas all time leading scorer in the form of Lisa de Vanna.

Lisa De Vanna shields the ball from a Geelong opponent. De Vanna was a crucial element of the championship win, even if at times her teammates went all mid 1990s Collingwood with her by looking to pass to her at every opportunity, as did those Magpie players of that era with Nathan Buckley. Photo: Mark Avellino.
After a sluggish start from both sides, it was De Vanna who put us ahead early on when she smashed a low cross from Natalie Martineau into the roof of the net. Still better was to come, with De Vanna setting up a shot for Jamie Pollock, only to have that effort sharply diverted with a header into the back of the net by Martineau. 2-0 is never a done and dusted scoreline, especially only half an hour in. This is perhaps especially true in the women's game at this level where shifts of momentum can be quick and devastating.

And thus in the second half, Antonia Niteros gave away an unnecessary penalty which was converted by former South player Laura Spiranovic, and soon enough Geelong were level when South keeper Molly-May Ramsay misjudged her positioning and saw a short curl around her from distance into the far corner. Times like that you think the game is going to slip away, but the introduction of Caitlin Greiser off the bench, along with renewed resolve from the South players saw us get on top in the final ten minutes of regular time.

Caitlin Greiser tries to win the ball from a Galaxy opponent. Photo: Mark Avellino
We hit the woodwork four times. We should have stormed over the top of them. And while Greiser was the main culprit, missing one sitter in particular, saying something like we would've won easily if Ayers was playing is a bit of a misnomer - the chances were there were to be taken, and we didn't do it. So the game went into extra time, and this time Greiser found herself at the back post and made no mistake. 3-2 up early in extra time, and looking good, only to cough up another equaliser. So as it was two years ago when South last played in and won a women's Victorian top flight grand final, the game was off to penalties.

One got the feeling of an immense injustice about to take place, but we worked our way to a two goal buffer in the shoot-out; only to try and Melbourne Croatia 1991 grand final our way out of the game by botching our chance to finish Galaxy off. When De Vanna stepped up to take our fifth penalty, it just looked wrong. Galaxy keeper Emily Kenshole had been doing a good job in the shoot-out, and she easily saved De Vanna's tentatively placed effort. Skipper Alex Cheal stepped up in the sudden death round, and though among some of the watchers in our behind the goals group was that this was another Michael Egar/Palm Beach 2015 moment. But Cheal put her penalty away, and then Geelong had their next effort saved easily by Ramsay.

120 minutes and still no winner, so now into the shoot-out. No one here seems particularly confident. Photo: Mark Avellino.
It was fitting but also pleasing that Greiser scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out. The striker has been understandably overshadowed by Ayers' goalscoring feats this season, but got into enough good positions to win the grand final on her own and yet came away with just the one goal. Credit to Greiser though, she held her nerve brilliantly and placed the ball out of reach of the goalkeeper, who had done a good job of guessing where our penalties were headed. And thus South won the title, adding 2017 to our previous wins in 2011, 2014, and 2015, and the enforced State League 1 title from 2016 - although to be fair, the 2011-2015 titles were done under the auspices of the SMWFC.

Tiff Eliadis was awarded best on ground, and she was a worthy recipient. She was important at first in midfield, and then in defence later in the game. It also wouldn't be a South championship without the trophy coming apart upon presentation, and that was the case again yesterday as the base came free right on cue. Later on the team and some of its well-wishers returned to the social club. The kitchen was closed, but the bar was open, and there were pizzas from Blue Room up the road, and later unfortunately from Pizza Hut. Nevertheless the vibe was good, and why wouldn't it be? You'd just won one of the most dramatic grand finals by the skin of your teeth.

But all's well that ends well! Trophies, pennants, and big smiles all round for a fine season. Photo: Mark Avellino.
It's in the nature of women's football (so far as my observations go) that at this stage of its development that teams are less cynical in their play than the men, and are always looking to attack rather than defend. Even so, this South team from what I've seen of it is even more obsessed with scoring goals over not conceding than even that stereotype of women's football allows. Some of the keener watchers of this team put that down in part to the coaching of Socrates Nicolaidis, and I like to think that somewhere in that influence is a bit of the old, classic South - the one which sought not just to win, but to attack, to fear no team. If the men's team under Chris Taylor has understandably taken on a more pragmatic approach during its run of success, then it's at the very least pleasing that in the women's teams and in the juniors, the old South ethic of winning and winning well is kicking on.

The grand final win however will no doubt annoy many of the other teams. Few if any of them wanted South included in the WNPL this season, crying both for lack of depth in the local women's game as a whole, but also for what they perceived as favourable treatment from FFV in us getting in at all after we missed out on the inaugural WNPL intake in 2015. For those who kept the faith, especially those players who remained with South during our short WNPL exclusion period, yesterday's triumph will be especially gratifying.

Just quietly, too, this grand final was a cut or two above that 2015 decider at the Veneto Club, a messy and mistake riddled game. Geelong had given our women a good run for their money throughout the 2017 season, twice drawing 3-3 with us and losing the other game we played in circumstances which could've easily led to another 3-3 draw. While I think we deserved to win this game both on the balance of the day and on the balance of the season, Geelong would be devastated knowing they that threw everything they had at us and it still not being enough. Still, those of their supporters in the crowd were good sports about the whole thing, and there was a great feeling after the game at the entertainment which had been provided by both teams.

Those who weren't there missed an entertaining game of a good quality. Those who were there maybe just for the day for a bit of fun, saw themselves perhaps being surprised by how much they cared by the end.

FFA Cup semi-final ticketing news
Details have finally been released by the club.

If you haven't received an email about it yet, head here for a rundown of what's been announced so far.

Please keep all comments about ticketing for that game in that thread and not in this one.

Around the grounds
Double dose of joy and despair
The Saturday before last I headed out to Port Melbourne for a couple of state league promotion/relegation playoffs. These are my favourite fixtures in the Victorian soccer calendar. There's something on the line, and you get two sides playing against each other, on a neutral venue, who are of a roughly equivalent level but who may seldom if ever meet because of geography. And unlike a similar meeting in an FFA Cup game, the rewards are a bit more tangible, if modest. For clubs at this level, it's not the wishy-washy 'promise' of the impossible getting to the FFA Cup round of 32, but rather the more tangible and hard-earned slog of getting promoted up the Victorian soccer pyramid.

First up was Ashburton against Dingley Stars. Ashburton had been relegated to State League 4 under the stewardship of former coach (and one time South player) Steve O'Dor, but had done well enough to earn their way through to a promotion playoff. For Dingley - the old Southern Stars, who were in turn the old Dingley - a loss would mean another relegation. First things first - the temperature was up in the high 20s, which was going to play havoc with the fitness of both sides, especially if the game was going to go the distance into extra time and penalties. Secondly, it's not often you get two sets of bantering, chanting supporters to a game at Port. Usually it's the 50 old blokes who are hanging on to Port for grim life and maybe whatever of Clarendon Corner or MCF decided to turn and try and create some atmosphere. No aggro here, just good old fashioned passion.

I'm not going to pretend the skill level was the greatest, but at least the two teams got to play on a pretty decent surface and provided a very entertaining contest, and well with the $5 entry fee - because the weather was so nice, I'd left my media pass at home in my good jacket, but no gripes from me. Ashburton looked to attack on the wings, Dingley with balls over the top. It was one of those balls over the top that gave Dingley the lead, as the lofted through ball ended up being misjudged by the Ashburton keeper and bouncing over him into an empty net. In the second half Ashburton had the breeze and appeared to be taking control of the game. They drew level thanks to a deep cross to the back post, and that moment it looked like momentum was such that Dingley would get overrun.

But Dingley worked their way back into the game, and the game went into extra time. If one was to say who deserved to win it in normal time, it'd have been Ashburton, but they didn't take their chances. Yet it was Dingley who found the breakthrough in extra time, a cut back from the right being bundled into the back of the net for an own goal. But Ashy wasn't finished yet, and managed to get another equaliser, from a corner if memory serves me correct, their many corners before that point being almost all garbage. The penalty shoot out saw both teams supporters congregate behind the Williamstown Road goals. Dingley were the better team here, winning the shoot-out 4-2, leaving Ashy to wonder what if - but at least they were good sports about it. Just a pity that I don't think anyone was there to film this game.

The second fixture was State League 4 Sebastopol vs State League 3 Fawkner (the seniors of the junior wing, not the original senior wing which ended up at Mannginham). This game was a major let down after the previous one. Both sides were ordinary. Sebastapol had the better territory, but were ineffective in attack. Fawkner were solid at the back, but couldn't really get the ball forward. About 25 minutes in, Fawkner finally managed to get the ball upfield, and scored a very easy goal. That didn't improve the game in any way, and it took a dog's breakfast of a goal for Sebastopol to get level midway throough the second half, a series of headers from an uncleared corner ending up with one being looped over the Fawkner keeper.

Fawkner went down to ten men, and then survived an almighty keeper mistake to send the game into extra time. Not much happened in extra time, unless you count Sebastopol also going down to ten men, Fakwner cracking a shot into the crossbar from six yards after the keeper spilt the ball, and Blue Thunder doing a lousy job of preempting the problems that would arise from the rowdy Sebastopol support behind the goals which was liquored up and launching unceasing vitriol at certain Fawkner players. You can bet that if that was Clarendon Corner they would've had the security teams out there from the start, but for some reason it took one of the Fawkner defenders getting into slanging match with the Sebastopol support for security to cotton on the issue.

The game went into penalties, and Sebastapol won the shoot-out 4-2 to win promotion to State League 3. Unlike the earlier game, which was finished in a very sporting manner, the Sebastapol supporters and certain Fawkner players almost came to blows on the non-social club side of the players race, with security reacting very slowly. I'm not quite sure how it didn't kick off, but credit to those who few people from both sides who managed to assert their authority and eventually calm the situation down.

Final thought
Trivial as it may seem, and loathe as I am to finish on a sour note, it was disappointing not to see any members of the senior men's team in support of the senior women.

FFA Cup semi-final ticketing details announced

Ticketing details for the FFA Cup semi-final have finally been released by the club, or at least an email has gone out to those who are social club members. The pricing structure is as follows:
  • General Admission Adult - $25 
  • General Admission Concession - $15 
  • SMFC 2017 Social Club Members (including Parents) - $10 
  • Children Under 5 - free
This pricing structure of course is absolute bollocks. A slap in the face for all members, whether they are social club members or season ticket holders, who are being asked to pay for something that they were already. There is no way of getting around it - we were promised as part of our membership entry into all club controlled FFA Cup matches at Lakeside Stadium, and yet here we are being charged $10 (plus a booking fee if you pay online, lol).

It was bad enough when they pulled this kind of stunt during the finals series, and then had president Leo Athanasakis try to provide specious reasoning to justify it at the information meeting held afterwards, but this blatant thievery is a joke. Of course most people will pay it because the event is maybe a once in a blue moon affair, and that's what the club and the people making these decisions are banking on. Goodness knows the financial mess that must exist in the background for the club to be trying to gouge those who turn up week in, week out for even more.

Now of course if they hadn't included these games in the package, or specified that games from the round of 32 onward weren't included, I doubt you would've heard a peep from anyone, and people would've been fine paying ten bucks to get in. But since it's there in blue and white that these games are meant to be included, I would just absolutely love to see what kind of pathetic reasoning those behind this pricing structure use to justify it.

On another matter, while I noted in a recent statement that I was in favour of non-members being gouged as much as possible, the $25 charge for adult non-members is still strange. The minimum charge as set by FFA is $20, and considering the big talking done by some of our club reps with regards to our A-League bid and 'filling out the joint' (not that any of that matters), wouldn't they want to make the pricing scheme for those people as attractive as possible? Look, maybe I'll be wrong and people in their several thousands will pay $25 for the privilege of coming back to Lakeside after missing out on the the last 13 seasons or maybe 20 seasons, rationalising perhaps on the one hand that that's what they pay for (at a minimum, and it's probably more) for a seat at the A-League at the Bubbledome, and on the other hand that a penance rate of $1.92 per season (for 13 seasons) or the bargain basement rate of $1.20 for twenty seasons is well worth the price.

Indeed, there's an idea, although who knows how you'd implement it: charging people varying rates based upon how many years since they've been away from the club. Impractical as that is, I suppose we can hope that at the very least that those once in a lifetime bandwagon jumpers end up paying their $25 and end up being situated on the concrete terraces a million miles behind the goals because all 5,500 odd seats have been taken up.

Anyway, all gripes aside (for now), it should also be noted only social club members, South Melbourne Life and Hall of Fame Members, and SMFC players and parents are eligible for the $10 tickets - season pass holders will need to purchase one of the $25 general admission tickets. Social club members will need to present their social club cards upon entry. The social club member tickets will be available from www.smfc.com.au/SydMember, as well as from the club offices at Lakeside Stadium from 2pm on Tuesday October 4th.

Those who are eligible only for general admission tickets should check out smfc.com.au from Tuesday for more details about how to purchase tickets. Keep in mind also that the club has stipulated that social club members and South in Business Coterie guests will enter through the social club. The 1959 social club will be open from 5pm on match day.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

FFA Cup semi-final date set

By now most of you will have come across the news that our FFA Cup semi-final against Sydney FC has been set down for Wednesday October 11th at Lakeside. That's just two weeks away!

As noted in FFA's press release, this date was not originally one of the two options on the table - they being the 18 and 24th or some such - but due to Lakeside availability issues, we've been planted onto an earlier week.

Good news on two fronts then: first, that Nick Epifano won't miss the game due to overseas travel, and second, this whole thing will be over just that little bit earlier. Unless we win, of course.

The not so good news... it gives the club a week's less time to prepare. It's going to be difficult to sort out the ticketing situation, catering for a possible function, allocating space in the social club and everything else that goes with a marquee fixture like this on a skeleton crew.

What I hope for is the following:
  • Members to be granted free entry as stipulated on the membership brochure.
  • Everyone else - especially bandwagoners - to be fleeced to within an inch of what's allowable, and hopefully beyond what's ethical.
  • Both gates open for regular punters to enter and exit the venue.
  • The social club being open only to social club members, especially if the futsal court is not going to be converted to a public space for the event.
  • No half 'n' half scarves.
Apart from that, we wait for the ticketing details to be sorted out, and occupy ourselves with other things during this netherworld of being neither in season or out.

Monday, 25 September 2017

WNPL news - Seniors and under 18s in grand finals this week

Just some confirmation of fixture details for the WNPL grand finals this week. Our senior women - who qualified for the grand final two weeks ago - will be playing against Greater Geelong Galaxy at 5:00PM this Sunday at Hume City's ABD Stadium. Geelong reached the grand final by defeating Calder 3-1 on Saturday.

Our under 18s have also reached the grand final - by defeating Bulleen 3-2 at Lakeside on Saturday - and they will also be playing on Sunday at Hume, with their match kicking off at 2:00PM.

In terms of venue selection, it's hardly my cup of tea, but it is pretty standard procedure and 'what else we can do' anyway? I'm looking forward to the trip out there, and hopefully a few South fans - even those who may not have seen much of our WNPL teams this year - make the trip out there to support our teams.

It's been a solid year back in the Victorian top tier for our women's teams, with the only hiccups being an unlucky exit in the cup and a slightly wobbly start to the league campaign. Having if not quite steamrolled over the rest of the league on their way to finishing top of the table than at least come pretty close, hopefully our senior women can take the win here so as to leave no doubt about who was best in 2017

Plus one assumes Lisa De Vanna will be back in the starting lineup after missing our last game because of Matildas commitments, and De Vanna alongside Melina Ayers is great to watch, the veteran and the young up and comer.

I mean, what else are you going to do, stay home and watch rugby league? Exactly.

Friday, 22 September 2017

It begins... Gold Coast City 0 South Melbourne 6

Drawn against this mob again. No Brad Norton, in Spain for whatever reason, and what looked to me like a weak bench. Sure, they didn't have one of their gun forwards, but they were supposed to be better than the team we played, dominated and still found a way to lose against two years ago.

Talk about anticlimactic.

And if there is one lingering frustration with Wednesday's result in amid all the relief and joy, it's that this is exactly what we should have done to Palm Beach/Gold Coast City two years ago. Give or take one or two players, we had a better team then, but it is what it is, and one should not take for granted what we actually have compared to what we lost.

If that's too many cliches for a Friday morning, consider it a warning for what's about to come. The circus is about to come to town and every idiot with a pathological hatred of us, and every South fan with an axe to grind is going to come out swinging with so much confected outrage and bile that certain sections of the internet may well collapse from under their weight. And that's not including whatever the club decides to put out in the public sphere. Indeed, they've already begun.

Unlike the apparently 300 odd travelling supporters, your correspondent was located in our social club, arriving early enough for happy hour drinks, $7 burgers, and what looked likely to be a less than stellar turnout. Thankfully numbers arrived close to kick off, and the place was fullish albeit comfortable - not many people bumping into each other, if you know what I mean. Fatalist that I am, I had already written us off in this game weeks ahead of time. Contrarian that I am, I still got instantly got nervous once the game begun. Like most of you, I'm only human. The first goal did little to settle my nerves, and if anything it made them worse. The second goal didn't help much either. 2-0 up within ten minutes? Plenty of time to screw that up.

Can I also say that the young lad who announced the fact that we were 2-0 up before the stream had caught up to that fact - I assume he was being messaged from a mate or checking an app - may have thought he was doing us a favour, but he snuffed out the instinctive joy of that moment.

Under the circumstances, the lineup was fine. Michael Eagar was back in the starting eleven, though his absence in several lead up matches continue to confound. Luke Pavlou filled in at left back, but unlike every other time that move was tried and found wanting (including with Liam McCormick), nothing happened, Gold Coast simply failed to exploit that or any other situation available to them, Getting two goals up early helps a lot, but it looked like - and I agree with our resident tactically aware friend - Gold Coast set up absolutely the wrong way to play us.

We had so much time on the ball. It was mad. If there is one thing we are good at as a team, it's feeling comfortable when we are given acres of space. There was no shutting down - Lujic was given more room in this match than he has been all season in the NPL - and everything seemed to roll around in slow motion. Even in that part of the game from about 20-40 minutes, where the match was more even, City did little to make me feel like they had a way of getting back except by accident. Of course we all know that such accidents are possible, and that they can lead to chain reactions, but Jesse Daley's goal finished it off, For once we found the space on the edge of the box, and for once we took that shot. I don't even remember anyone yelling 'shoot!' like they would at a South game; I was already celebrating the goal before it had even halfway reached the net,

The second half was pure farce. Milos finishing off what should have been a much easier goal from four or five shots and passes before that. Stefan Zinni scoring with his first touch after coming off the bench. Millar's icing on the cake, nodding home the header from a tight angle after the City keeper made a mess of his attempt at a chip pass or clearance. 'If in doubt, kick it out' is what the rugby pundits say, and at 5-0 down what harm could there be from just conceding a corner? Each goal was celebrated, but with less gusto as the game wore. The social club descended turned to idle chatter in between goals. The crowd noise from the TV seemed less intense as the match wore on. Do you make a big deal of celebrating putting goals past a team which played like a pub side? Taylor not only made early subs, he made all his subs. That's how comfortable it was.

Reaching this stage of the tournament, albeit via the 'designated mandatory NPL side in the semi-finals route of least resistance' helps ease some concerns, and introduces others. Of those things which have been soothed, the idea that this season was close to being a bust. No league success, no finals success, no post-season success, no Dockerty Cup success, not even a Charity Shield! Well, this has made everyone very happy, because even though in reality we've won squat this year, this is the thing that everyone cares about, both for 'relevance' and the money it'll bring. (Not everyone agrees that merely reaching this stage is a marker of success however).

It has also helped further diminish the notion of failing in 'big matches', especially under the Chris Taylor League Grinder method, so prone - apparently - to getting results in the workaday world of NPL Victoria, but less good at getting the job done in winner takes all affairs. Of course there's been a ton of luck involved with this run, but who I am to argue that it's a well overdue correction for all the luck that went against us in the past. Maybe this run of good fortune will be corrected in due course with some particularly amazing piece of stunning bad fortune.

After the game, we all waited for the result for the other game to be decided, and there was some trepidation that Blacktown City would get up over the Wanderers, something which might end up jeopardising our big payday. Unfortunately for the Demons - the best second tier team in the country across the past decade, maybe more - they couldn't get the job done. Which ended up with us getting drawn at home against Sydney FC, at a date yet to be decided upon.

What kind of preparation can the team do in the meantime? The A-League teams will probably have sorted out their schedules, and certainly closer to the date they'll be in their own season. An A-League youth team perhaps? Our WNPL team? Syria? Everyone on the ground seems relaxed about things, so much so that Chris Taylor is off on holidays for three weeks. That'll mean he'll hopefully miss most of the off-field nonsense that's going to build up. We've had already had Bill Papasteragiadis promise to sell out Lakeside, I assume with a crowd mostly made up of sellouts. To be a little fair, if you talk a big game like we do about ambition and latent and dormant support, you're going to be judged on your crowd. But promising a sell-out already seems to suggest that we're going to be in a for a long few weeks.

Next game
For the men, a home FFA Cup semi-final against Sydney FC some time in October.

For the women, a grand final appearance on Sunday week against either Calder or Geelong.

For me, probably some state league promotion/relegation playoffs on Saturday out at Port.

Hellas Ain't A Bad Place To Be/Highway To Hellas/Hellas Bells
Something strange is happening. There has been a gentle reemergence of a word which we had perhaps thought was banished to the historical vernacular.
Of course, the emphasis here is that in the vernacular, it didn't disappear. Our supporters have never stopped calling the club Hellas. Clarendon Corner, its Greeks and non-Greeks, still chant Hellas The club because of modern bylaws and constitutional necessity calls itself a different name - South Melbourne FC - and adapts that marketing angle for most of its social media product. Thus SMFC TV, smfc.com.au, @smfc etc. But the club has never abandoned the Hellas name. There are the retro 1991 style S. M. Hellas shirts. The club's business name is still officially South Melbourne Hellas. Our enemies use the term, and it sits along the short-form 'South' as a term of convenience and easy recognition.

Sure, some people use 'Hellas' out of spite, as 'proof' that we are not a broad-based club, a club not fit for the A-League, not even a club fit for Australian society. But that's for the comments pages of newspapers and the dumpster fires that are internet forums, not the mainstream media. Here's another one.
Once upon a time it was absolutely normal for journos and commentators to avoid saying the 'H' word on air, and we became accustomed to it. Nor did we expect to hear it said or written, except in very particular circumstances, usually in the past tense, sometimes searching for the romantic. Of course there were always outliers. The late Laurie Schwab was famously recalcitrant in his disobedience, refusing to buckle down under the weight of governing body edicts to erase ethnicity. More recently, Ante Jukic has dabbled with using the old nomenclatures. But people like that are the minority.

So what do we make of this small, probably unintentional tear in the fabric of the Australian soccer cosmos? My feeling is that it's mostly older people in the journo game, who are out of habit with what to call us because we've been irrelevant to them and everyone else in their world for so long. On the ground, the situation seems to have remained much the same.
But that's Australian soccer for you.

Final thought
Call us Hellas a million times, I don't care; just please don't refer to us as 'Souths'.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

FFA Cup training session update

For those of our people on the Gold Coast, apparently our training session has been moved from Broadbeach's ground to another venue. See the president's tweet below.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

WNPL - South Melbourne 4 Calder United 2

The view of Lakeside Stadium yesterday from the media control room, during
yesterday's girls under 15 NPL match between South and Geelong. 
I rocked up to Lakeside early enough yesterday that I got sit in the media box and watch about three quarters of the under 15 girls elimination final between South and Geelong Galaxy. I can't I was particularly impressed by the standard, but that's partly a depth issue - it'll get there eventually, and one can't be too harsh, yet. I was most impressed with the general composure of South's two centre-backs, which went a long way to securing a 5-1 win for us.

After a burger in the social club, it was time for the main business at hand, the WNPL qualifying final between South and Calder United. It sounds stupid to even have to ask, but is there no requirement in the WNPL franchise/licence system that the teams have to have an away strip? It seems utterly mad that I rocked up to Lakeside yesterday and had to watch the home team (us) in its (more or less) traditional deep royal blue kit play against the away team (them) in a hue of navy blue (except for white socks) that became very problematic (to me at least) at certain points in the game, especially when the sun was directly overhead (or near enough to it) and the players were masked by shadow.

Call it an issue of no great significance to anyone but people like me, but surely it is one of the fundamental tenets of the game, essential to every level, that the two teams should wear easily distinguishable playing strips? I've made this point before regarding Bentleigh's propensity to wear green at Lakeside against us, when they do have a suitably garish orange thing they could wear to make things more distinct. I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle on this one, but I'm going to keep chipping away.

For South there was no Lisa De Vanna (national duty), and golden boot winner Melina Ayers was on the bench (apparently unwell). And then 67 seconds in, while I had my back turned while climbing the stairs, we already 1-0 down. Soon afterwards we should have been 2-0 down,  but Calder muffed a near enough to unmissable chance, hitting the crossbar and post in one go. That didn't quite serve as enough of a wake up call, but we seemed to to at least get the game onto an even keel, though we never really looked like scoring. All we had was Caitlin Greiser up front, who worked very hard but had little support, and certainly no number following her into the box. Tiff Eliadis was a bit of a one woman show in midfield, but the whole thing uncoordinated. We looked flat, and worst of all were making elementary ball control mistakes across the park.

The second half didn't start off much better, and even the inclusion of Ayers off the bench didn't seem to be making a difference - she seemed to be moving around listlessly for the first ten or so minutes of her stint. But then the game plan or a part of it, at least from the left hand side (I think it was Alex Gummer) started to kick in and things changed quite quickly. All of a sudden we had a deserved 2-1 lead, but just as it seems that the momentum of the second half was going our way, we coughed up another very soft goal, and were then fortunate to hang on for extra time.

Calder should have finished it off in the ninety minutes, but in extra time we found another gear and overran our opponents, not without some fortune. Three of our goals crawled over the line, two having had got a touch off the Calder keeper but not enough to steer them wide, and the last goal by Ayers one which was comical in the ball's slow motion effort to cross the line, where I would have expected the Calder defence to clear it off the line.

Not out side's best effort for the season from what I've seen, but enough to get them into the grand final a week off.

Next game
The WNPL side now has a week off as they wait to see who they'll play in the grand final out of Calder and Geelong Galaxy. The grand final will be played at Hume City's ground.

Of course before then our senior men take on Gold Coast City on Wednesday. If you're not heading up to the Gold Coast, come to the social club and watch the game. Or stay home. Up to you really.

What (some of) they don't want you to know, for reasons I can only speculate on (but won't)
The men's team played a closed door friendly against Melbourne Victory's senior squad last Wednesday at Lakeside. We lost 1-0. Apparently we weren't too bad.

Gold Medal night musings
What's there to muse on... apart from Melina Ayers winning the golden boot  - a non-partisan decision if there was one, because they wouldn't give it to the woman who scored the second most goals, would they? - we didn't win anything in either the men's an women's categories. I'm not too bothered by that, though some people closer to the coalface were upset that WNPL senior coach Socrates Nicolaides didn't win the WNP coach of the year, ostensibly because his team finished top of the table in its first year of being in the competition.

I myself have no such issues with the awarding of the prize to someone else, because it's not every team in the Victorian WNPL that has the squad that we have at our disposal, including Lisa De Vanna from halfway through the season. More justifiable is the wonderment that Melina Ayers, who scored 38 goals this season, didn't even manage to crack the top ten rankings for player of the year.

On a personal front, I was disappointed that there were no Hall of Fame inductions, but I was relieved that Shona Bass got her induction from last year awarded this year, after personal circumstances prevented her from receiving the prize in 2016.

I was also disappointed that there was no article of the year prize awarded alongside the other media prizes. A sign that the written word is losing its relevance in Victorian soccer? I certainly hope not, because there are still good people doing good work in this area.

The Continuing Adventures of 'Bill Paps is on fire, the truth is terrified'
Cometh the South Melbourne Hellas FFA Cup match, cometh the Bill Paps' whopper. This time in an article on The World Game our man gets quoted saying:
If we make it to the semi-finals, we will be only the second non-A-League team to have done that.
Which is so, so wrong it unsettles even my rock-solid jaded cynicism.

Of course, as many non-delusional South fans have pointed out, because of the corrupted draw for the FFA Cup national rounds, a non-A-League team is guaranteed to make the semi-finals every year. This is how in turn Bentleigh Greens, Hume City, and Canberra Olympic were able to make it to the FFA Cup semi-finals. Thus the achievement of a state league team making the FFA Cup semi-finals is just as much a sign of having received the most favourable draw as it is actually winning the games put in front of you, and why you - by which I mean this year, South - will look incredibly inept if we don't get to the semi-finals.

This is why some people - including some South Melbourne directors - don't really care about progressing in the tournament, because they would rather get a big payday from a Melbourne based A-League team in the first round and who cares if we get bundled out as long we make the $$$.

But it's not all Bill's fault. I also blame Dave Lewis, the article's author, who let Papastergiadis get away with making such an obviously wrong claim.

But it's also not all Dave's fault. I also blame every soccer journalist in this country who has become so enamoured with South Melbourne's ability to drive click-bait that they're happy to let us waffle on like idiots at the drop of a hat and refuse to challenge even our most obviously wrong claims.

But I also blame our fans, at least those who unflinchingly support such idiocy out of some apparent sense of necessary gamesmanship. It's a rubbish attitude which leads to unjustifiable behaviour and makes us all look like an even stupider club than we actually are. It justifies the attitude that lies and nonsense and bombastic statements are more valuable than actually putting together a coherent plan.

Not that any of that matters, of course.

Kicking It!
In all the goings on of the past few weeks, we completely forgot to note that James Stefanou, a member of our 2006 Victorian Premier League winning squad, is now playing as an American football place kicker for Colorado Boulder. There's a good piece here about how that came about. Of course he's not the first ex-South person to make the move to college football, with Nick Jacobs playing as a punter for the Memphis Tigers. But it is unusual to see an Australian taking on place kicking duties.

Well, we'll always have (the cafe a few doors down from) the laundromat
PAVE JUSUP: Now, you realise if I become Melbourne Knights president,
we can no longer be friends, unless you become a Knights fan.
ME: Hmm. That's probably never gonna happen.

That time when things got odd, even by my standards (woe was sort of me, but now it's much more complicated than that)
As the noted philosopher Ben Folds once opined, 'I was never cool in school / I'm sure you don't remember me'. We'll return to this point later.

This week my Twitter avatar - me looking at the camera with a well-developed self-disciplined non-committal scowl - ended up being plastered over parts of Windsor station by a bunch of kids mostly from St Michael's Grammar, several of whom seem to have the name Josh which makes things harder to keep a track of.

For me this was both cause for concern but also bemusement. The concern was a reflex. Of course anyone in a similar situation would be stunned to see their image used like that in a public space out of the blue. My bemusement came from a different place, because this was an apparent homage by the boys responsible, for the work that I do here.

This is still something I'm going to have to get my head around. Back in primary school, I was never one of the cool kids, but I was definitely included in the main male social group, not bullied for having glasses or above average (for that school) intellect. Within about a week or so of starting high school, that changed. And while one can repeat Vonnegut's fatalist maxim 'so it goes', it does take a toll and it does cloud my perspective on things decades down the line. I'm precious like that.

So for this to happen, I suppose I was flattered but also uneasy at the same time. But attached to this was also the sentiment expressed by the boys responsible that they love to read the work that I do here on South of the Border, to the point that it apparently makes reading fun:
Which at least means I'm helping preserve a key lesson of the Sonic the Hedgehog animated series. There's also the slightly brain-melting revelation that my regular audience extends to people beyond the core demographic of 35-49yo males employed in middle management jobs, and people who like the heady mix of occasional Simpsons gags and quasi-esoteric references.

And what kind of writer would I be if I got upset at that? At least it wasn't the screen-cap of me in a coffin I suppose.

Final thought
Close enough.

Friday, 15 September 2017

South women begin finals campaign tomorrow afternoon

Just a heads up that tomorrow afternoon at Lakeside, kickoff 1:30, South Melbourne's WNPL team will be taking on Calder United in the qualifying final. The WNPL finals being more sensible than its men's equivalent, South losing does not signal the end of their stellar season, but sees them instead head to the preliminary final. The curtain raiser sees our under 15 girls take on Geelong Galaxy in an elimination final, kickoff at 11:00.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Notes from last night's members meeting

Whenever the club calls one of these meetings - all too infrequently, really - you always wonder how many people will turn up, what the night will see us cover, and what the mood of the joint will be.

My hunch was that this meeting would be a little bit about the upcoming FFA Cup match in Queensland, a lot more about the operation of the social club, and apart from those items whatever else could be thrown in by whoever saw an opening in the likely loose agenda/running order.

And that's pretty much happened. For the most part the evening was civil and constructive. While folks like me are generally happy with how the social club has been operating, there are many, many areas which can and should be improved upon. And for the 20 odd supporters who came down to the meeting, I think it's fair to say that they got their points across on those matters in a clear manner.

That doesn't mean that some suggestions and preferences didn't contradict each other, but that's always going to be the case; you can't please everybody all of the time all at once. The club hopes to hold these kinds of events more often. I agree with this, and the mere existence of the social club makes it easier to do that. The next such meeting may happen before the AGM. The AGM itself is slated to happen 'this side of Christmas'.

Queensland FFA Cup plans
This came across as a bit ad hoc and likely to end up a bit of a mess. The intention seemed to be to organise pre-game meet-ups, a lunch session, and post-game drinks on the Gold Coast on the day of the game. Whether the club will be able to organise anything at such short notice I don't know. The key points seemed to be:
  • The team will be flying up the day before game. On the day of the game, they'll be having a training session at Broadbeach United Soccer Club. This is because it's apparently the only club in the region that has a surface in reasonable enough shape. Fans will be able to go and have a look, but there won't be a barbecue or anything like that.
  • The club is interested in getting supporters together for lunch after this training session, but as to the details, that remains unclear. Likewise for the post-game drinks gathering. Stay tuned to the club's official media channels I suppose, in the event that something comes together.
  • There were names and emails being collected by the president, on the premise that the club would purchase tickets for those people. Again, I don't know how widely this will be promoted outside the group that attended last night's meeting.
  • Gold Coast City is also promoting a deal for online ticket sales, whereby for every adult ticket you purchase you get a free concession ticket. 
For those left behind here in Melbourne, the club will be screening the game in the social club. One would assume and hope that the social club would be packed out for such an affair, but you never know. 

Social Club matters
Most of the issues with the functionality of the social club can be reduced to two factors:
  • On match days, the club misunderstanding how different South fans want to use the social club.
  • On non-match days, the club overestimating how often members were likely to use the facility.
As a case in point: though of course I see my friends and well-wishers at games and sit with them in the social club if they're present, I go to games by myself. I prefer to arrive at games early. I'm in the social club when it's not busy. I'm able to order and be served food and drink quickly. I drink alcohol only moderately, and prefer craft beer, mixed drinks or soft drinks over standard beer. I tend to leave games fairly quickly after their conclusion, because I have family commitments. I'm interested in some kinds of events hosted at the club (Socceroos screenings, trivia nights) but I'm not interested in others (Greece national team games, Greek nights, futsal, poker nights). I'm a bit of a spendthrift, but I'm more than willing to pay slightly higher prices at the social club because more of the money will stay at the club.

This is one kind of experience and attitude. Others will arrive later and stay later than I do. They may drink more booze than I do and have different tastes, and they may shout drinks for others. They will have a different preference in terms of food and drink and how they want it served, what kind of events they want to see held, how they get to and from games. They are more conscious of pricing, either on principle or because of necessity. The club needs to get across these details, some of which can only be learned from the experience of running the social club, some which can only be learned from listening to supporter feedback, and others... well, they're in the marketing and business game, not me.

South Melbourne's membership is at its most demographically diverse in its history. I'm not talking only about the ethnic angle. We have the core membership and fan base which is mostly interested in the fate of the senior men's team, and builds their relationship to the club around that. Others may extend their interest towards the senior women, or follow the women's team more specifically. As well as having as the WNPL women's team, we also have at least an implied continuing connection to the social women players at SMWFC.

Then we have the juniors (now made up of boys and girls), and their parents. We have people who live near the ground, but most live somewhere farther away. We have our staunch members who have kept coming, and we have a smattering of people who have joined up more recently. Of course our majority 'support' is now made up of latent and lapsed fans, and it's harder and perhaps even pointless for the purposes of this discussion to include them. As hard as it may be to achieve, the social club then needs to be almost all things to all people, or failing that, it needs to achieve a level of proficiency on access and price that works for as many of our different demographics as is feasible and reasonable. It's not an easy balance, but at the moment there is still so much work to do, but there's also opportunity in that.

Food and drink
Speed of service was a big issue, as has been the case since the social club opened. There is also the confusion for patrons and staff at busy and crowded times with the ticket system. One solution offered up by a supporter was a buzzer or pager system, which works well in pubs and places like large pharmacies. Nevertheless, that doesn't help those who don't want to wait a long time for food, especially because they have no interest in hanging around in the social cub and would rather be outside.

The overemphasis on stocking premium and craft beers was also brought up. Some (like yours truly) are more than happy with the selection of beers on tap, but others want the choice of more 'common fare' for want of a better term. There was also strong criticism of the absolute mess for those wanting to buy coffee. There was the suggestion that the coffee cart would be moved elsewhere to a more suitable position, and that the payment system - which currently sees tickets purchased from the bar and not from the coffee cart - would be improved. The suggestion was also made that one should be able to order pretty much anything from any cash register.

Some changes already planned for next season should help improve the general experience. Chief among these will be our taking over the running of the kiosk on the right hand side of the grandstand, which will hopefully spread the load. Operating that kiosk will also mean that people who want to buy from and support the club will not need to be in the social club to do so. But it doesn't mean that the social club kitchen as it has been built is effectively able to cope with large crowds, and that in itself is a worry.

The idea of a happy hour at some point before or after the game was also floated, and seemed to garner support. The pricing of drinks was also brought up as an issue, specifically soft drinks, but don't expect significant change on that front as post-mix makes the club more money.

Entry and exit
This is often a mess. The single entry system has been a shambles, and this is all on the club because it has forgotten that a lot of our supporters turn up close to kickoff. There seemed to be the suggestion that the club would likely open up multiple entrances on more occasions next year, whether that was a combination of the futsal entrance and Gate 2 or office entrances. I brought up the fact that entry to the venue is often poorly patrolled/controlled by security and door people, and people can walk in without paying or having their memberships checked.

Exits were also a problem. Because of a combination of using only one entry point, as well as the priority access for social club members to the social club immediately after a game, exiting the venue has been problematic, To some extent this is a communication issue, with many patrons apparently being unaware that regardless of whatever the entry situation is on any given match day, Gate 2 is always available as an exit point.

There were also points made about the way people cluster around the bar, even when not buying food or drinks, which makes moving around the social club difficult. To this was added the potential for different arrangements of tables, including round tables. Still, one gets the feeling that the board are going to continue to wing it on these particular issues, as well as maintaining the emphasis on trying to get people into the social club.

Scheduling
We may see some reduction in the NPL/WNPL double headers. This would be done in part to increase our footprint at Lakeside across more days, and hopefully have more traffic through the social club. An added benefit of such an approach, though not mentioned on the night, would be having our under 20s NPL and under 18s WNPL teams get more time on a half decent pitch as opposed to the minefield pitches down Middle Park way.

Scheduling for the men's games remains contested. There's a split between people who prefer Fridays and people who prefer Sundays. My main contribution to that discussion was that if we were going to mix it up by including Friday night games, could we not do them in the middle of winter? I know the board has its own preferences on time-slots, and for every staunch '3PM Sunday' type, there are others who want to avoid going up against junior games. You can't please everyone.

Ultimately senior men's game scheduling will be decided, as it has been for the past few seasons, according to preferences of the coaching staff. There was the apparent promise of getting in one or two home games before the grand prix next season. This season it was understandable (albeit detrimental to our on field performances) that the club held off hosting home games until the social club was ready. Next year, notwithstanding annual work on the Lakeside surface, this should be avoided as much as possible.

Events and usage - Futsal court
As has been discussed around the traps, the club was approached by several outside groups to run the futsal court. The club decided against this approach. The bad side of that is that it appears that the club made that decision without any obvious due diligence. That's balanced out (at least in my opinion, though others will certainly disagree) that the club was entitled to find out in its own time what the functional capacity of the futsal court was, what the club could achieve from a commercial point of view on its own, as well balancing the desire to use the court for junior training sessions as well. The option to lease out the futsal court to an outside group in future has not been ruled out. The club claims that the court's daytime usage is going quite well, principally based around local schools, and that the court is also getting good usage on Saturdays from junior competition.

Events and usage - Bistro
The club was disappointed at the lack of patronage and usage of the social club outside of match days by club members. The members in attendance were quick to point out several reasons for this:
  • South members as a whole do not live near the ground. Indeed, many live quite far away from the venue, making an impromptu trip out to Lakeside untenable for many of our fans.
  • There is a reason why our juniors and their parents are more frequent attendees during the week - because their schedules are based around the club.
  • In terms of events, there is not enough attracting people to Friday sessions, the day of the week currently lagging the most and which the club would like to improve the most.
  • The club could not solely rely on leveraging off the club's limited membership base; it needs to branch out to other potentially interested groups.
OK, look. If one was to choose one singularly magnificent mind-boggling example of stupidity so far as the club's operation of the social club is concerned, it's this: the club expected most if not all of the promotional work for the social club to come from the club's membership. Now I can agree with the board that word of mouth is going to be more than useful in the gradual promotion of the social club, but when:
  • There are no obvious contact details about hiring out the venue.
  • There is no price list or set menu list for events.
  • It is not even clear when the social club is open.

What hope do we really have of telling others about our social club, when we ourselves don't know what's going on? In other words, the promotion of the social club as a whole has been dire. Of course one could just contact the club directly, but if you're going to run a bistro that hopes to attract members to non-game day visits, let alone run as a low key/casual function space, than the club really needs to step up its promotional game.

Think of it this way. If the folk from Clarendon Corner wanted to organise a one day futsal tournament among themselves during the off-season, who would they contact? How would they find out that information? Sure, someone like myself could figuratively be bothered to email or call the generic club contact, or ask people working (for now...) at the club about sorting stuff out, but it shouldn't have to be like that. The information needs to be clear and easy to access.

I get that it's going to take time for things to settle. Having so many home games back-to-back possibly made things more difficult. I think another part of the problem was the high expectations set by the board and supporters for the social club, but also with how things began when it opened. For the last point in particular, the initial menus were broad and sought to cater to a bistro clientèle... then over several weeks everything was scaled back. The good news is that apparently the club does tend to make money off most nights and events that it holds, though there are erratic or inconsistent results. Some Socceroos games get much better turnouts than others for instance.

There was of course the issue of being able to leverage off of schools and athletics and such using Lakeside. Some of the issues come across as bureaucratic nonsense, others more understandable. In the former category, issues around emergency exits, safety and such seemed kind of ridiculous. On the latter part, schools asking for food that fits specific dietary requirements - in other words, healthy foods - is more problematic. It goes some way to explaining why other, outside groups have also not bothered to set up shop for such events. Maybe we need Jamie Oliver to step in and help us?

After last week's initially confusing set up with regards to which social club door should be open for the grand final - and for me at least, how we were able to manage to be open at all, despite it not being our event - was answered in that because it was a soccer event, we could open.

But some issues are not going to be able to overcome. The liquor licensing laws are always going to hold us back. The inability to carry liquor outside the social club into the arena area is an issue that is not going to go away. But our restricted (midnight) licence also means that, realistically, we won't be able to host things like late night EPL fixtures, inhibiting our ability to play host to specific EPL fan groups. Not having FoxSports or Optus also limits the kind of sports screenings you can have.

Decor and design
There was some criticism of the look of the social club. The president's response to that was that the emphasis should be on the major things we have won, as well as keeping things in tune with the 'clean' look of the social club space. To be fair (and by way of explanation), that approach is in line with some of the recommendations made by people (including myself) who visited several AFL club museums as part of research into how other sporting clubs do museum spaces (the details of which are for another time).

Still, some good points were brought up, in that the space as a whole was still too bare, and that there were several walls which could use something - whether trophies, pennants or other stuff - to complement the existing look. For example, I'm not in favour of going back to the old cluttered look of the previous museum, but there should be room for honour boards, pennants or more club branding around the place. I like the general aesthetic ideas being used at the moment (though I had nothing to do with its implementation after the research trip), but it veers too much the other way towards austerity.

If the idea was to create a 'neutral' space suitable for non-South functions, then it misses the point somewhat. Groups who hold work or other functions in bowls clubs and the like aren't in neutral spaces, indeed quite the contrary. What we can do is implement a more prominent South feel to the place whose aesthetics also fit in with the current arrangement. The lack of an honour board was one point brought up. The old honour board, currently located in the players' rooms, would look very much out of place in a 'modern' setting like our social club. But what about a modernised, perspex version as used by Collingwood in its foyer and museum spaces? They use a black and white motif which looks clean and smart, and is the kind of thing that we could certainly implement ourselves to add more of a 'blue and white' feel to the place.

The president stated that there is a sub-committee working on such ideas, which I'm glad to hear. Further mooted improvements include a history of the evolution of our jersey and our badges over the years, which if implemented would be a drastic improvement on the current under-utilisation of wall space. If they want any particular feedback, I'm willing to be a sounding board.

Communication
This is always going to be an issue. Most irritatingly, it tends to veer between the sometimes very good (our general social media presence) and the sometimes very, very bad (pick your own case study). The worst cases are when the board think their ideas are clear or are likely to have wide ranging support within the club, but are in reality quite the opposite. The FFA Cup event in the social club and the requirement to pay for entry into our NPL finals game are just two examples where had the board not assumed to know how pleb South fans would react and instead maybe done a straw poll of some such fans, they could've avoided copping grief for those decisions.

We have members with real world experiences, some who help run other soccer and sporting clubs, some of whom have experience running event spaces and corporate gigs, who would be ready to offer advice if asked. We also have people who aren't trapped in the echo chamber of the boardroom, and who have a different feel for what's going on among the supporters. It's up to the board to seek out those people and to use that expertise, and if not to follow it, then to at least take it into account.

Afterwards
The tail end of the meeting veered off into discussions about Facebook and member numbers, which turned into an unruly mess. I agreed with some of the points being made, but that discussion was a bit of a dog's breakfast if I'm being honest.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

This Sporting Life

Before we begin working backwards (preface for Maurice Bisetto)
By all means, have a go at Lakeside as a modern multi-purpose sporting stadium; but if you happen to be the president of a soccer club that plays in a mud pit, while also working for an A-League bid in the form of Geelong's Victoria Patriots - whose desired rectangular home ground doesn't even exist - maybe you should be a bit more circumspect about such things, eh?

Monday morning
Frozen tundra of Soldier Field
Upset at the Seahawks' offensive line for not protecting Russell Wilson properly, and Aaron Rodgers for not throwing to Devante Adams enough, but the Galloping Gazelles were rescued this week in part by a seven sack and one defensive TD effort from the Steelers. Let's be honest, that kind of good luck won't last, and in the end the main thing is to have the best avatar and the best and most accessibly obscure television referencing team name.

Sunday
There but for the grace of God go I
So it'd come to this, Melbourne Knights playing in a match to avoid being relegated to the Victorian second tier. Their opponents were Dandenong City, the upstart Croatian team from the other side of town. The story circulating around some quarters weeks in advance was that this game was fixed in favour of Knights, with City to defer to the prerogative of the standard bearer of local Croatian soccer to maintain its place. I think that's being a little melodramatic in what would have been a 50/50 game at the best of times, and more so in favour of Knights after Steven Topalovic got red carded last week, and Shaun Kelly out with a broken leg. But Daniel Visevic starting on the bench? That would have those looking for suspicious motives raising their eyebrows in a kind of 'I told you so' fashion.

The plainer truth of the matter is that the game was pretty timid for the most part, on the field and in the stands - the crowd wasn't as large for this first game in the double header as some have been making out, maybe a solid 800-1000, and they were very quiet. That's understandable, insofar as there was no right answer for the non-neutrals in the crowd. I was hoping for a good game first, and if Knights were to be allowed to stay up, to at least be forced to be earn it. On the former point, it did not live up to any sort of competitive or quality hype one would have hoped for. On the latter point, the fact that Kym Harris, who had done nothing all year - and as I pointed out to anyone who cared to listen, I saw enough games to make that judgement - scored a hat trick, said something about the nature of this game.

It was just as well Harris did pull his finger out, because there was no Tom Cahill for Knights. If the game was fixed, it was disguised well enough, though Dandy pulling two goals back late perhaps made it look a lot more suss considering that for most of the game they were incredibly limp going forward - a couple of headers over the bar in the second half when the game had already slipped away, and a free kick which hit the post in the first half were as close as they got. So far as Knights are concerned perhaps, 2017 as a whole was a hard lesson learned with the fortune of not needing to learn it next year in NPL 2 with a cash splashing Altona Magic to fight against.

In all honesty, I have no strong feelings either way as to whether it would've been good to see Knights go down. It wouldn't have made our lives significantly better or worse. There would have been a momentary or temporary period of schadenfreude, but that kind of thing only serves to distract one from one's own mess. Most of the Croatians who had come to see this game left after its conclusion, I suppose wanting to put the whole unseemly business behind them as soon as possible. Who can blame them?

As for me though, the whole thing felt like compromise ending to Pretty in Pink. Did you know that the in the original ending, Molly Ringwald's character is meant to end up with Duckie? But test audiences apparently reacted badly to that ending, so they instead had her ending up with the rich snob. Here, too, it seems we had a whole film pointing us towards a certain conclusion, only to rip it away from us at the last moment for no good reason whatsoever.

At least us public transport types were saved* from having to go out into the middle of nowhere police paddocks out the back of Endeavour Hills or wherever Dandy City play.

*Pending a possible FFA Cup trip out there.

May the best team win on the day we decide that it all counts
The grand final itself arrived, and proceeded to be if not a dire affair, than a rather unmemorable game nevertheless. The game was tight, chances were few. Some say that Bentleigh had the better of the midfield battle, but I reckon the Bergers created the better chances throughout the game in spite of 'King' Kenny Athiu being marked out of the game for the most part. The first half finished 0-0, probably should have been 1-1, but so it goes.

The second half was better. In part this was because Bentleigh opened the scoring through a dreadful error by Heidelberg captain Luke Byles, not the first time he's provided such a moment this season (see his horrendous under-hit square ball against Knights at Somers Street) or for a certain other team he used to play for. Bergers got a penalty to push it to extra time. Lambros Honos apparently scored a wonder goal to win it in extra time, I didn't see it and I don't have any regrets on that.

In a fair and just world, Heidelberg would have been crowned champions this year by virtue of finishing well clear on top of the table. Likewise for Bentleigh last season, and to a slightly lesser extent for South in 2015. While we're not going to be rid of a finals system BECAUSE STRAYA, could we at least get a nominally fairer finals system? I nominate the McIntyre Final Five.

Learning from past mistakes, mostly
After last year's mess of a grand final day, when FFV grossly underestimated the walk up attendance, yesterday there were far fewer issues with how the day went. The northern stand was opened up early on, including it seems the northern ticket booth, and patrons did not seem to take long to purchase their ticker and enter the venue.

Our social club was open, but it took a little while to sort which side to have it open from. Initially the plan seemed to be let people in from the futsal court entrance - that is, from outside the venue entirely - and allow people to enter from the arena side only if they had already purchased a ticket via the use of a pass-out system. At some point this was changed, and the outside door was locked, with people being able to come in and out from the arena side as they pleased, provided they didn't take any liquor outside

This is interesting in terms of what's been happening at Lakeside since we moved back in, whereby if there is not a South Melbourne match event in progress, than the door which leads from the social club to the arena is supposed to be locked, with an alarm going off should anyone try to access that door. The reasons for this seem to boil down to a combination of whatever agreements we live under as well as the continuing pettiness of the Trust.

The social club seemed to get more action once the entry switch was made. I don't think it was packed at any stage, but it seemed to be doing OK up until the last point I checked in, which was in the time between the two games up to just before kick off in the grand final. That it had to compete with the food outlets outside, including a Nando's truck, didn't help its cause, but things could have gone worse. That's my take on that anyway.

By the time grand final started, I'd estimate the southern stand was about 2/3 to 3/4 full at most. There were few people behind the goal ends, and not many standing alongside the fences or on the concourses. All up about 3,700 people turned up across both games. If I absolutely had to hazard a guess, the grand final itself had about 2800-3000 spectators. As expected there were few Bentleigh people in attendance.

There was a good smattering of Bergers support, but also a lot of neutrals. The Bergers fans made little noise, apart from a repetitive drum. The snake charmer I heard only once, the Ah-ah-lexandros chant only after the Bergers equalised. I didn't expect South Melbourne/Clarendon Corner levels of effort and relative co-ordination, but the lack of banners and flags surprised me, as on carnival days the Berger fans are at least good for that much.

The most irritating thing about the event as a whole was whoever was put into ground announcing duties. As I noted on Twitter, they were one novelty branding iron away from yelling 'OPEN WIDE FOR SOME SOCCER!'. It really was too much, and the crowd did not respond to his calls 'to make some noise' in any event.I didn't stick around for the post-game ceremonies, and wouldn't have done so for either team. It was only on the day itself that I committed to sticking around for the second game at all, my overwhelming interest being in the curtain raiser.

One thing that comes up consistently
If there's one thing which delights me about Lakeside Stadium above all others it is its status as a non-smoking venue. This rule isn't always adhered to by patrons, but for the most the smoking ban means that the air at NPL matches at Lakeside is a lot more breathable than at pretty much every other venue. This of course upsets smokers, especially those who are at best irregular visitors to Lakeside and who are more used to puffing away at will at suburban grounds. Apart from some smokers' indignant propensity to shout 'POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD' in such situations, I think part of the problem is people not realising that legally Lakeside Stadium is treated no differently to other major sporting venues in this state, despite the incongruity of most of its football matches being not very major events at all.

To which I say, suffer in your jocks.

If there's one thing Oz soccer struggles with, it's in sourcing
stickers that are hard to rip off wherever you've decided to
stick them. You can't go cheap and local and buy them off
the local sticker place selling 'fuck off we're full' designs
at the local trash n' treasure market. You've got to make the
effort to source stickers from wherever European ultras
groups get their stickers done.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis
Saturday 
With apologies to the South women, but I'll see you in the finals
Last day of the home and away season for the state leagues and for WNPL, I could - should - be at Lakeside watching the South women winning what I call the minor premiership, but I've made a promise to go see Clifton Hill once this season. Fuelled by the righteous indignation of someone arguing that we bend reality to our own will just like that, I settled in to watch a pair of dead rubber matches. In the reserves Clifton Hill held out Mooroolbark 2-1. The seniors was even more pointless, Clifton Hill out of the title running, the Barkers already relegated. The first half was even enough, 1-0 at the break to the Hillmen, but it was mostly close because the home side couldn't finish properly. They fixed that in the second half, running out 6-1 winners. The most notable moment was not one of the goals, but a low drive from way out by a Clifton Hill player, a shot whose laser-like qualities managed to hit one of his own teammates who failed to get out of the way; the shooter declaring in frustration 'oh, now you win finally win a header'. As expected the souv was mediocre, undressed salad and not much meat.

The notion also came up and was developed that, Tiamat willing the A-League fell over and we needed to get a new national league going, that first dibs on entering should go to Mooroolbark. They could of course reject formal participation, but like Greece leading the parade of nations at modern Olympic Games, there'd be no harm in offering a symbolic gesture on that front.

Friday or Saturday...
Famous production line
South under 20s forward Giordano Marafioti has been picked for the Young Socceroos squad going to Qatar for some reason or another.

Friday
The Glamorous Lives of Professional Athletes
On a whim I decided to head out to Traralgon with Chris Egan to watch the Perth Wildcats play the Adelaide 36ers in a pre-season tournament in Gippsland. It was only my second time in Gippsland, my only other trip out there being a trip to Morwell. Fair to say that Traralgon isn't impressive by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems like a slight step up from Morwell. Believe me, you don't go there for the architecture - even the walking tour sheets they hand out at the local tourist centre seem to refer mostly to buildings that have been knocked down. I suppose that's why the people in the information office were shocked that anyone came visiting by train.

ASIC building in Traralgon. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
After visiting one of the local bakeries (above average sausage roll, average chocolate eclair)  we did walk around the town for a bit. Visited the library to see what kind of local history section they had (not my idea of fun, but go with the flow), and noticed that their footy book display had references only to AFL books and nothing about the local scene. But there was this (see right), the amazing federal brutalist (is that even a correct term?) government building that turned out to be an Australian Securities and Investments Commission building. What was ASIC doing having an office in Traralgon? What were ASIC doing having an office in Traralagon in a building like that? I don't know the history, but I'd love to know the history. Went to a local bare bones pub, then an oddly designed and rather dull Catholic church (my first Catholic church visit, got nothing on the Orthodox).

Traralgon is also strange in how little it seems to make of being the birthplace of a Nobel Prize winner. There's a small bust somewhere in the town's CBD (I think outside the too fancy by half post office), and a room named after him in what may be the council chambers, but nothing else visible so far as I can remember. Maybe it's because some of his later views bordered on being eugenicist. 

Looking towards the south/south-eastern end of the Traralgon showgrounds.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
We then walked out of the compact and dull CBD area (yes it still has a Sanity outlet, but that's hardly a real attraction) which meant we eventually reached the combination Traralgon football ground and showgrounds. I was taken back to a time during the mid 1990s when the then floundering VFA/VFL was looking for regional teams to help fill out the space left behind by most of the VFA's teams going broke over the preceding decade. Traralgon (along with North Ballarat and Bendigo Diggers) was part of that attempt at regional expansion, and on face value that made a sort of sense - Traralgon were a very strong club in the Gippsland region. But of course it didn't work out, with the Maroons winning only four and a half games over two seasons. Possibly, too, there was not so much interest from locals in rivalries with Melbourne based clubs they knew little of and cared little for.

Entrance to the Traralgon showgrounds, with the decorative gates
installed fir the 1988 Bicentennial. Photo: Chris Egan.
But I wouldn't want to be too bold in my assertions, because my entire experience of that period of history was occasionally seeing this ground on ABC TV on Saturday afternoons after I'd finished Greek school.The ground was open to the public, so we had a bit of a wander around. There wasn't a great deal of cover or seating, but the scoreboard had a clock going up to an hour, instead of the usual 45 minutes that most footy grounds have. There were also semi-elaborate gates out the front, installed as part of the 1988 Bicentennial.

The north side of Traralgon City's club rooms. Around the corner on the
left hand side were City's grounds. Around the corner on the right hand side
were Olympians grounds. Photo: Paul Mavorudis.
Wandering up further north, we ended up finding what could be considered Traralgon's soccer precinct, though when arriving there it didn't seem to register as such. From the angle we walked in from, all we could see was Traralgon City's grounds and small club rooms, with no seats. Walking around the north side of the club rooms however was revealed an interesting sight: the home ground of Traralgon Olympians, with separate club rooms.

Now being an Altona East follower of sorts means that I'm used to having two clubs share a common club room facilities while having separate fields, but I could not think of (off the top of my head) a situation where two clubs in Melbourne were so close to each other while having entirely separate facilities. It was all a bit small scale Dundee and Dundee United, for those familiar with the proximity of Dens Park and Tannadice to each other.

Looking south-east from the Jim Fkiaris Stand at Traralgon Olympians'
ground. Note the plentiful cover, terrace standing room, as well as
comfortable seating. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
It's fair to say that while it's not really much of a difference, Olympians have the better facility. The Jim Fkiaris Stand caters to everyone's needs: plenty of room for standing, but also half a dozen or so long wooden benches with plenty of leg room, all undercover. It's the thing that should conceivably be within the reach of any suburban club that has a space with adequate cover and elevation to achieve, let alone for local councils to be able to implement. Of course the latter are more interested in elaborate and arty designs which provide neither shelter nor seating these days. So it goes.

Of course some of the more trainspotter types out there will recall that Traralgon Olympians did participate in a couple of Hellenic Cups in the mid 2000s, though if memory serves me correctly they were never in one of South's groups. If anyone's willing to tag along for the train ride, I'd be more than up for a day out at the Traralgon derby next year, provided the fixture was one being hosted by Olympians.

Traralgon Olympians' match day canteen menu. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
Just don't expect any miracles on the catering front though. While the offerings are cheap and cheerful, Australian soccer food tourists looking for regional souv action will be left disappointed if the menu (see right) is an accurate reflection of what's on offer at an Olympians match day.

Eventually came time to head to the Traralgon basketball centre, which didn't require a bus trip but we made use of one anyway. The facility was pretty much one expected, at least in terms of the main court, except for there being seating on both sides. Oh, and there were Wildcats fans other than Chris Egan in attendance. I've been to two basketball matches before this, and fair to say that the sport is not my cup of tea. One was a Melbourne Tigers (remember them?) vs 36ers game at Hisense Arena I think, after a spare ticket became available in a party of four. I didn't end up writing about that because things got a bit congested on here during February of I think it was 2014. All I can remember is that the standard was poor, especially the shooting, and that there were a lot of families in a solid crowd, which made me wonder why they bothered re-branding later on. Oh, and I also went to a Dandenong Rangers WNBL game.

This game was as you'd expect from a pre-season affair, a heady mix of free-flowing and sloppy, with not much pressure on the shooters (and consequently what seemed like a decent field goal rate) but also a lot of fouls off the ball. The highlight of our time there was a half time competition where fans got to take a shot from the half way line to win $1,000. A red-headed lad managed to get the prize with the very first shot, and I felt good for him, but also a little concerned. What if this was the highlight of his life and it was all downhill from here? And how unlucky in a sense that he nailed this shot in Traralgon, where the best he could hope for would be $1,000, and not somewhere in the state where the potential prizes could be worth a lot more.

Walking out at three quarter time because of my mistaken perception of what I thought was the last train back to Melbourne, we at least got to see the Sydney Kings pile out of a couple of rental vans, which kind of made the boast in the tournament programme that the NBL is one of the world's leading basketball leagues seem a little hollow. The realisation once we reached Traralgon station that we could've watched the game upset my OCD need for closure sensibilities, but at Chris pointed out, at least we got back to town early enough that I didn't have to deal with any obnoxious Richmond fans after the footy. Still got to see a nutbag arguing with staff at the Elizabeth Street KFC, the aftermath of which we avoided by going across the road for bad pizza instead.

Friday, somewhere on the way to, or in, Traralgon
Numbers
Somehow Travis Kelce only gets five catches for forty yards in a game the Chiefs rack up up 42 points in.

Thursday, about 1:30 in the afternoon
Waivers
After being sucked in to filling out the league slots in an NFL fantasy league, I found myself in the Vic Uni library participating in a serpentine draft with pick no. 2 instead of doing thesis work. I had only half an idea of what I was doing, ended up being ranked the worst ranked team. Missed out on all the good running backs, or even the ones that will have to make up for being on teams with lousy quarterbacks. Oh well, as long as I can get Danny Amendola on waivers later...

Thursday, or maybe Wednesday
Keep Australia Beautiful
I peeled off a North Terrace Boys sticker off the bottom of a gantry at Footscray station.

Final thought
The highlight of the week was during the Knights-Dandy game, when two little girls walked through our row and meowed in the direction of Big Griff.

The less said about industrial strength mineral water and the people who drink it however, the better.