Tuesday 7 November 2023

Here's to more of the same, for a little bit longer

It's like that bit in Pleasantville where Tobey McGuire and Reese Witherspoon find out that if you go past the end of Main Street, you only end up back at the start of Main Street 
So, after all that, we're back more or less where we started from. There were rumours about ten teams, twelve teams, not enough teams; a Monday announcement, an April start, a summer comp; and somewhere in the middle of all this, one particularly belligerent-verging-on-vengeful state federation. 

In a past life, it would have been exhausting trying to keep up with all the gossip. Nowadays, I no longer have time to dedicate anywhere near as much effort keeping tabs on the old socials. When I'm in court, my phone is on silent, and I don't have reason to touch it for hours at a time. Sometimes at lunch, I might even read a book instead; I will get through Ulysses one day.

A good thing that Football Australia were kind enough to provide official clarity - while the successful bidders would be informed and/or announced soon, the commencement of the National Second Division would be delayed until 2025. Cue then what I assume was a degree of frothing at the mouth by who I assume are still the usual suspects, and maybe among some others a degree of relief. Feel what you want to feel I suppose.

For mine, insofar as I'm not engaged with this like I was with our last A-League bid, the delay to the commencement of the NSD is both a letdown, and also probably the right thing to do. Clearly there are still some significant organisational and political obstacles to overcome, some of which could not be ignored while charging headfirst into a very novel enterprise. But whether you are for or against the NSD concept, especially as it relates to South's participation in it, the fact that the question still hasn't got a definitive resolution means that we are due for another season of everybody marking time.

I am a long-term sceptic when it comes to the NSD, but I have also gradually come to the accelerationist position that for our club, the NSD has to happen, and that we have to be in it. With participation in an NSD, we will at last get the answer that I think many South fans have in the back of their mind, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not: can this club if not the force it once was, can it at least be something more than it is right now?

If the club can function in a more professional format, that's terrific; all the years of post-NSL struggle will have been worth something more than the stoic glory of the self-righteous martyr. If we can't do it, than at least we know where we stand once and for all - that we are a spent force at anything above this state league level, and that so far as the senior men's team is concerned, we might as well pack it in.

They say that familiarity breeds contempt, and boy, is there a lot of familiarity about the place at the moment
There have been several coaching changes about the NPL, including one with quite the salacious story, but so far as South Melbourne senior men's team goes, it appears as if we will be making no change at the very top. Would a 2024 NSD have caused a shift? We will never know. 

One thing which has been confirmed has been the addition of ex-South NSL player (season 199519-96) Agim Sherifovski as an assistant coach. According to his LinkedIn page - where the news of his appointment was found - Sherifovski has spent the past five and a half years in coaching roles at Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City, which implies he's not joining us on a part time basis. LinkedIn also tells us that before taking the plunge into full time soccer coaching, Sherifovski worked at a bank, much like some other former coach of us - you know who I'm talking about.

As for players, ins and outs are being thrown about; Sawyer, Bonada, Cuba, some Wollongong keeper in; Elmazi out. But we have to wait for the club's social media guy to come back from overseas and get over his jet lag before we can actually start getting some proper, official announcements.

Now how are we supposed to watch this cesspool? In person?
Cluch TV, the company which provided streaming services for many community sporting organisations, has gone into administration. It remains to be seen how this effects the broadcasting of the NPL Victoria competition, and what consequences (if any) it has for the broadcasting of the National Second Division.

When's the next AGM?

Thursday 12 October 2023

A short lived Flame

The situation is something like this. 

Australian soccer record keeping, regardless of era or area, is generally garbage. I'm not even talking about minutes of board meetings, or narrative histories, or of collective memory. I'm talking about the most basic and fundamental aspect of the sport: records of who played, who scored, who won, and where everyone finished up at the end of the season. 

Clubs, federations, referees, fans, players, and journalists are all to blame. Few people in the game have ever wanted to do the hard yards, and fewer still have wanted to support them. A handful of anoraks potter around the edges, filling in gaps in the past, and trying to make sure that what's happening now doesn't become another gap to be filled in the future.

It's no less a problem at South Melbourne Hellas than it is at any other club. The senior men's team has played 64 seasons of football, and yet probably only the seasons from 2000-2001 onward have anything like the desired combination of completeness and accuracy in terms of appearances and goalscorers. The less said reserves and women's teams records, the better.

At various times, records from the NSL years are mired by lacunae to do with the poor record keeping associated with NSL Cups, Oceania Championships, Dockerty Cups, and officially sanctioned pre-season cups; and then there's such basics as not listing unused subs in the NSL proper, and sometimes not having details of subs making appearances at all. Go further back, and it gets even worse, with the crowning glory being the 1960 season, the club's first. It was a fantastic season: promotion to the State League with an almost perfect record, Dockerty Cup semi-finalists, and yet the match details of that season are a mess. 

The amateur (and now one professional) historians of Victorian soccer have done their best to piece together the match and season records not just of our past, but also of any other Victorian team they come into contact with. But with so much archival material missing, probably for good, and with so much of the necessary record keeping likely never existing in the first place, one has to acknowledge the fact that there's just going to be some information that we'll never get our hands on.

So, on to South. Wading into this mess a few years ago the club's historian John Kyrou started with a basic premise - creating spreadsheets trying to compile the foundational statistical of every senior men's season, and of every person who ever pulled the boots on for us in a senior game. Match details needing to be filled include date, kickoff time, venue, competition, round, score, crowd, South scorers, South team, coach. (no room for refs...) Then trying to fill in competition details for that season, and finally grand totals of games and goals.  

Some of the sources Kyrou relies upon are solid, some of them less so. OzFootball, the various newspapers like Soccer Action, Soccer World, ABSW... all are reliable, until they aren't; mistakes and omissions are made, and sometimes all you get is a couple of paragraphs. The same goes for the still kicking socceraust.co.uk, the labour of love of the late Alan Morley, whose data was based on the UK soccer pools. So what do you do? The only thing you can do, really. Keep looking over old sources, and hope that new old things turn up. For example, there are so many missing copies of Victoria's Soccer News which could help fill in gaps. There are also newspapers in the State Library, which might have a result or two.

The work of people like John Punshon and Mark Boric has pushed this approach to its extremes. The State Library has some great material, but microfilm is a terrible medium to work with, archaic and fiddly. Physical newspapers are better, but also have their limits; fragility, missing issues, limits on access. Then there are the language barriers; while the ethnic press isn't as helpful as you'd like to think (you'd be surprised how non-prominent sport is in early editions of Neos Kosmos), at least the stuff using Latin scripts is decipherable to anyone whose first language is English, with a bit of a patience.

But what about non-Latin scripts like Greek or Cyrillic? At least for the former, this is where the Greek readers have to step up, and it's an area where I admit I have been much slacker than I would have liked. Sure, there was COVID, and before that a thesis, but still. I've tried to make some amends in recent weeks by accessing first the Athletic Echo, the long running (1961?-1996) Melbourne based Greek-Australian sports newspaper, focusing on trying to confirm some specific 1990s details, and generally trying to get a feel for what the paper was like.

But then I recalled that there was another paper, the Athletic Flame (Athlitiki Floga). Remembering it from citations in Petros Kosmopoulos' thesis covering the first 30 years of the club, I had no idea how long that newspaper had been around for, only that it had been around in the 1960s. Well, I had nothing to do last Sunday afternoon, so I managed to book the paper in - you need to provide at least two days notice to get access to something like that - and went to the State Library to check it out.

Would it be chock full of ads? How much detail would there be? Would I be able to understand it? Would it be any good? No; heaps; yes; and yes. 
The masthead and part of the front page from the first edition of Athlitiki Floga, featuring the squads from South Melbourne Hellas and Alexander which had played a pre-season match on Greek national day.

I was impressed from the get-go. The Athletic Flame was, for the most part, an eight-page weekly sports newspaper, at first published on Fridays, and later on Wednesdays. It was mostly soccer, but included some coverage of other sports like boxing and professional wrestling.

For the soccer content, it contained thorough, blow-by-blow match reports for South matches, including starting lineups and player evaluations for everyone who took the field for Hellas. This is important, because I was able to correct a listed Hellas lineup on OzFootball (and in Kyrou's files - probably from the same source) that was otherwise complete; it's hard to think that a writer would compile such detail, only to then confuse George Papadopoulos for Takis Xanthopoulos.

Most weeks there were even Hellas reserves results, with goal scorers. That's how you know that youngster Mike Mandalis spent most of the year in the twos alongside the veteran striker Antonis Karagiannis. There were gossip columns, a generic round up of the rest of the State League, match reports and (often) team lists for Alexander and Athena, some coverage of small Sunday league teams, news on the big interstate Greek clubs,  profiles of big name overseas players, and a couple of pages dedicated to the Greek and Cypriot leagues.  

So far, so good. But there's also a downside. The quality of the photo reproductions isn't the best. Detailed information on the opponents of the Greek clubs is often negligible. But worst, the typeface used is pretty small. Here was me worrying about diacritics and how "educated" the language would be, but the clearly demotic language was little bother. But my poor, weak eyes, squinting at the small text! There was also a missing issue (no. 08), and worst of all, the State Library's collection seems to stop in late July at no. 18.

So incredibly frustrating. Here we are, having a great time, and then it just stops. Is that because that's all the State Library had, or because that was as far as the paper got? Methinks the latter, and that's a real shame, because apart from usefulness up to that point in filling in and confirming details for several Hellas matches (probably a dozen, and a pre-season friendly) in our first state league title year, it was such a good paper! It was passionate, and biased, and fickle, and played favourites, and it was a real ride.

While mostly just skimming through, I was able to tell that the match reporter was a huge fan of some players, and not others. For instance, he was harsh on John Bedford, and mainly wrote backhanded compliments about Ted Smith as someone who ran a lot. Other players, like John Margaritis, were geniuses. There was a bias toward the Greek players, but when they failed, the criticism was magnified; ineffective, ill-disciplined (especially said of Savvas Salapasidis), and greedy - not teamwork oriented.

The paper had forthright opinions about a lot of things, including the standard of referees, the fickleness of South supporters, and the poor standard of some of the grounds. For example, the extract on the right gives as one reason why Hellas could only draw 1-1 with the struggling Melbourne Hungaria, the state of the tiny McDonald Reserve in Gardiner:
"A paddock unsuitable for football. The murderers of football, all those who make up the Federation, not looking to create or find grounds, only taking money from clubs, technical teams getting murdered on unsuitable fields, because they are unable to perform."
Remarkably, the front page would even have an English column, with its own bullish opinions. Sadly, that column disappeared about two thirds of the way through the available issues. When the Greek and Cypriot leagues moved into their off-seasons, the paper came with fewer pages. And then it was over, or so it seems. I know that there is a copy of issue no. 08 at La Trobe University, in the Dardalis Collection. Not quite an impenetrable fortress, but they don't get close to rolling out the welcome mat for you like they do in the History and Heritage room at the State Library. But there are also scattered Greek-Australian sports papers in there from the late 1950s and 1960 which could be interesting...

So what did we learn? That the Athletic Flame is a paper worth revisiting, because its coverage of South Melbourne Hellas is outstanding. It'll also need revisiting because it has lineups for Alexander and Athena which likely exist nowhere else. It has details, or at least acknowledgement, of new teams (like the short lived Doxa Richmond), and the demise of others (Florina). It even has a fan writing in (see right) with suggestions for songs to sing at the matches. (these would have been handy to find about five years ago...)

One also remembered some research basics that one knew back in his student days, but which he had forgotten since. Chief among those - focusing on the task at hand, and not getting distracted by all the fun stuff. Never underestimating how long it can take to through a source. Getting familiar with an unfamiliar source can take time. But I also remembered the thrill of research. it's been a while.

Saturday 30 September 2023

Interstate soccer came back... but did anyone notice? (yes, sorta)

So last Saturday Victoria played its first interstate match since 2009. Back then, Victoria's men's team defeated Northern New South Wales 3-2 up in Newcastle. Joseph Youssef, Ramazan Tavsancioglu, and Steven O'Dor were part of the men's squad, and Laura Spiranovic was in the women's team. Records of the whole event, played as part of shared 125th anniversaries of the two federations, are sketchy though, which is a funny thing to say about a game played not even 15 years ago. 

Yes, interstate football is not what it was back in the 1950s, when state pride was something serious, or the 1960s and 70s when playing for the state against touring teams also had a degree of cachet. The introduction of national league soccer, the declining quality of touring teams, the women's feds merging into the men's sphere, and even some A-League teams adopting state colours as their own has made the whole thing near redundant. All that, and there's just so many better ways nowadays to assess talent for national team squads, which was one of the primary functions of interstate competition.

But someone out there still thinks there's a place for state matches, and so a couple of years ago we had Queensland host New South Wales in men's and women's matches, and last weekend we had Queensland visit us for a double-header. I decided to go all the way out to the Home of the Matildas, so I could sit in the grandstand this time, and at the very least check out the South boys and girls who were selected. I wouldn't have gone if the Pies had lost the night before in the prelim - I'd have been in too foul of a mood - but they'd won, so it was something to do, even if neither of the two persons I'd asked to come with me were able to join me.

It's a fair hike by public transport from Sunshine out to this new soccer venue, but not altogether too bad - the worst bit is the rideshare drivers parking in the bus lanes in the city, and the walk across from the La Trobe Uni bus stop to the complex. Apparently there's a tram stop that's closer, but since the complex surrounds are not quite finished yet, it's hard to know which paths are open and which aren't. Unfortunately I missed the first half hour of the women's match, where Victoria was already 2-0 up, in part thanks to a goal from South's Danielle Wise. In that part of the second half that I did see, they should have gone 3-0 up, except for the kind of hesitant finishing from close up which was a feature of the South men in the recent grand final.

Queensland were the better team in the second half, and observers who'd watched the entire match said they were the better team through most of the game, but they could only pull the one goal back, and thus Victoria won the first match of the double-header. I think South co-captain Akeisha Sandhu won the player of match. Quite a good quality match and reasonable attendance (though I think the grand final had a much better turnout), which would ordinarily make me curious enough to check out the standard of the A-League Women's comp, but you know...

Then it was time for the men. Victoria was missing Melbourne Knights players, because the Knights had an Australia Cup game the next day, and so the squad seemed to be mostly Avondale, Oakleigh, and South players. Can't say for certain how many of them were ex-Queenslanders. All four South selections - Javi Diaz Lopez, Brad Norton, Marco Jankovic, and Pat Langlois  - started the match for Victoria. 

It was a pretty flat atmosphere, until (I think) Xander Guy came off and his Yusef Ahmed was subbed on in the first half. Then the Yusef Ahmed fan club (some South fans may remember them from the grand final) lifted the mood with cheering for their man who, to his credit, also helped restore the balance of the game, as Queensland had had the better of the opening twenty minutes by some way. A cracking finish to open the scoring didn't do any harm either.

It was not a balls to the wall kind of game. There weren't any stupid tackles or aggro, and the players had licence to play a bit fancy, with quite a few nice dribbling moves you don't normally see. It was enjoyable for what it was - something a bit more serious and meaningful than a friendly, and a good chance for players to have a bit of fun as well. It was very high tempo at times though; you'd like to think it was a taste of what a second division could look like from a talent point of view.

Played on the hybrid turf-synthetic pitch, the aesthetics of the game felt a bit like a NSW NPL match - quite a bit more futsal-like, and not much of the hard-man stuff you get in Victoria. Having said that, I don't know much of what typical Queensland soccer looks like, so it's hard to make sweeping statements. Players from both sides at times had difficulty keeping their footing on the surface.

Jankovic got subbed out at half time I think, and Langlois was OK, Lopez was solid apart from one bad pass which almost cost Victoria a goal. Norton, who was captain of Victoria, coughed up the ball which lead to Queensland's equaliser, and looked by far the least comfortable defender on the field from either side in playing the ball out from the back. At times it looked like his teammates didn't really want to pass it to him, but part of that was because of a team tactic of aggressively trying to play through the middle. There was a clear instruction also not to play any long balls out of defence, which must have disoriented the South players at least a little.

Norton and Langlois both scored in the penalty shootout, and Lopez made the winning save. I'd like to think that regular post-season interstate soccer could become a thing again, even if the high costs and struggle for interest work against it. Twenty bucks seemed steeped for entry, but I'm not sure that making it cheaper would have increased the appeal to the fickle general soccer public. Not many South people there, apart from friends and family of the players - I think the only person I saw was senior men's team manager Kris Peladarinos. Anyway, fun time had by all, which was it's all about.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

A feeling of hollowness - Avondale 4 South Melbourne 0

- Oh, come on. You complain about them more than anyone.
- Maybe! But I still love them. And I don't think you understand that...

Spent a lot of time this past week and a bit not thinking about this match. 

Started writing something yesterday or the day before. Scrubbed parts of it. Or rather, moved those few parts to an offsite location, where they will fester away until this laptop dies, which seeing as it's a Linux setup, could be forever. 

The question is, of course, where do we go from here? The answer remains unclear. It's all very much complicated by what may happen with the National Second Division. If that gets up and if we're a part of it, we probably saw 90% of the senior men's squad play its last game in this most recent grand final disaster. Up to you to ponder who'd warrant keeping, and who wouldn't be. I had my say on that at Olympic Village late on Sunday evening, long after the game had been won, the medals and trophy had been awarded, and most people had gone home. I think I sacked a lot of people, banished others, and regretfully kept a few because you can't get rid of everyone all at once, at least in theory. And that's just assuming there is no NSD, and we're back in this backwater of a backwater.

But it's not up to me and my reactions based on very sudden post-season blues. I'm just a guy who cares, but not one with any say or influence, and caring without influence is a feeble kind of impotence. Pitiable, really, and the only person more pitiable would be someone with influence and day-to-day involvement who put too much stock into what I thought.

And as for the coach... again, it's not my call. I didn't like the style and have never done so, even if it was more watchable this year on the whole, and even if results were good. But he managed to get us this far two seasons in a row, and was undone, in part, by having his leading striker absent for a second year in a row on the biggest day of the year. What a mess. I knew that the grand final would clash with the final round of this part of African Cup of Nations qualifying, and yet somehow I didn't think Ajak Riak would get the call up this time, if only because South Sudan were out of the running for the next stage, and surely he could be excused for this one club match.

But then while speaking to some knowledgeable non-South people after the women's grand final, they alerted me to the fact that Riak had indeed pulled a 90 minute shift for South Sudan against Mali that morning our time. Blame the club if you must (though some of you don't need prodding on that front) for putting Harrison Sawyer's professional career prospects ahead of the club's immediate goals during last year's finals series. But this time they were stuck - international football takes precedence over club football, and had the club kicked up a stink, South Sudan could have easily barred Riak from playing for us anyway. Who knows if Ajak even asked South Sudan if he could sit this game out to play in the final. Others are suggesting he didn't even inform the club that he was leaving to play in that game against Mali.

At any rate, much as I had us pegged as the underdogs anyway, I thought we were in deep trouble once I learned that news. Say what you will about Ajak as a forward, but he caused Avondale some problems this year, especially in the game at Lakeside. Without him we would have to put in Luka Ninkovic; not quite fit enough, and not quite up to Riak's standard, but at least he was a striker. Last year we had no back-up strikers at all, and resorted to playing an unfit and disinterested Jai Ingham. This year we did have a striker, also unfit, but surely better than the alternatives? But we put together a makeshift forward line made up of midfielders instead. And yet despite this could have had a couple of goals within the first twenty minutes. And then things started falling apart, and once more having the best goalkeeper in the league only meant keeping the score to single digits, rather than getting close.

Copping the first goal didn't help, and neither did copping the second, You're all of a sudden chasing the game, and we are not a good chasing the game team. But the signs were there of a pending defeat, if you looked closely enough. Even before the talent and personnel differences became clear, you could see that we were being outdone tactically. We had no overlapping fullback play. We had no answer and seemingly made no adjustment to Yusef Ahmed dropping from his striker's role into the gap between the midfield and forward lines. The hit and hope tactic which worked well against a shaky Oakleigh defence the week before was not so good this time around without anyone to make a nuisance of themselves the way that Riak did.

But the thing which annoys me most, even now, a week and a bit later, is the difference in method. Avondale moved the ball beautifully, switching play, getting up the field, every chance they created looking like it was planned. For us, though we created chances and squandered so many - unusually so, given our outsized efficiency the past couple of seasons - so much of what we produced still looked dependent on where the ball would fall, and not what we were doing with it. We had a go, but were outplayed by the best team in the league. Sure we were the only team to beat them in the league this year, but when push came to shove, we clearly weren't good enough to hope for anything more than a bit of luck on the day to get a positive result.

Maybe that's a tad pessimistic for a team which finished second, with only four league losses. But the signs were there at different times during the season, and none more so then on the league awards night when our best players (as decided by non-South people) were our keeper and one of our central defenders. We've won titles in this competition with far worse goalkeepers and even worse defences, because we had midfields and attacks that could hold their own, that other teams were wary of. That might just be me being wistful, and forgetting some of the crappier times. 

If the manner of the defeat on the field was fitting and familiar in its own right, so too was its setting - a perfect pitch surrounded by neglect. Rust, cigarette smoke, and more pigeon shit in that grandstand than the stairs leading into Sunshine station - and even Sunshine station has cleaned up some of that bird mess in recent weeks. Unless you happened to be one of those people fortunate enough to be on green grass, Olympic Village was barely fit for human habitation. Oh, it was nice to be allowed into the ground via the gate on Southern Road instead of having to walk all the way around to the Catalina Street entrance, but could people have at least cleaned up the broken glass?

And then, because this is soccer, and because this is soccer in Victoria, multiple people decided to be stupid and/or incompetent. Having doubled their lead, Avondale's players decided to celebrate in front of the stand with all the South fans; they did this despite having considerable support of their own at the ground, including within the vicinity of the goal. Of course a couple of South fans then thought that something should be done about this affront to common decency by confronting those Avondale players, which only made things worse.

At half time, one of our supporter marshals, alert to the possibility of more stupidity, told the hired security that it would not be a good idea to let the Avondale supporters behind the goals walk in front of the grandstand lest more nonsense ensue; so security, instead of telling those guys behind the goal to go around the ground the other way, gave them an escort in front of the stand instead. Cue a small brawl which I still cannot believe did not blow up into something much worse.

By the end of the game, my faith in the club, local soccer, and humanity as a whole was pretty drained. I go to South games to support my team, watch it play some attacking soccer, get some good results, and have a laugh with some people to break up the monotony of my otherwise humdrum existence. What happens when there's no joy on the field or on the terrace? You end up copping it both ways, and start looking forward to the off-season instead of dreading it. It's been nearly twenty years since we were where we were, and even with the NSD being nominally around the corner, it still feels like we're as far away as ever from being in a better place. Deserved or not, probably delusional, but back then it felt like we were halfway to putting some distance between ourselves and the scene we'd grown up in. Now we're stuck in it more than ever.

Next game
Who knows when, where, and perhaps just as importantly, in what competition this will be.

On the other hand
The senior women were very good value for their grand final win. Not perfect, maybe a touch fortunate, but deserved winners nevertheless of their grand final. Most satisfying, is that they did it while playing a pleasing brand of soccer. A bit too counter-attack dependent for my taste, but it was ball on the ground, fluid passing oriented play that made me happy, not just for the result, but also for its method. As successful as our previous championship winning teams were, they also had more than a whiff of brute force about them: an overpowered team, and the get out of jail strength and power of players like Melina Ayers and Lisa De Vanna; from design to implementation, it lacked a certain subtlety.

(to a degree, they were kind of like the senior men's teams of the same time; get the best players, put them in their right spots, and storm over your opposition).

It's a long trek by bus (or tram) to the new Home of the Matildas. I did it by bus from the city, after a brief stop to try and find confirmation of something from early 1990 in the Athletic Echo. I didn't find it. But the Home of the Matildas! It's quite nice, actually. The lighting could be better. They could put more bins out around the place - it's a bit Southern Cross station in that regard. And I didn't go up into the stand to watch the game (because of... reasons), but otherwise what a great little venue. Huge scoreboard, good surface.

Scoring two goals direct from corners helped a lot, even if one of those was a cock-up by the Bulleen goalkeeper. Still, our keeper stuffed up late in the game too, so pretend that it was 3-1 instead of 4-2. Really happy for everyone involved with the women's program, because it's been a rough few years. I didn't watch as many games as I would have liked to this year, and there were times when we were hard to watch. But when it all came together, and when we didn't play against nemesis Calder, it was pleasing to see that an attacking ethos could pay off.

In the mean time
State team football returns this Saturday at the Home of the Matildas, with Victoria taking on Queensland in men's and women's matches. Four of our senior men's players Javi Lopez, Marco Jankovic, Brad Norton, and Patrick Langlois have been selected in the Victorian squad. I might go. 

Brad Norton testimonial, when?
There was some talk of this early in the year. Is it going to happen? I know it needs someone to organise it and round up people. Hope we can do something, not just to celebrate Brad, but also to have a gathering at our club that ordinary punters can attend, something that isn't just about the sponsors.

Final thought
Don't expect much action here during the off-season. I'll hand out some awards at some point and comment on news if there is any, but otherwise I'll be working on some side-projects. 

Saturday 9 September 2023

Grand finals galore!

Let's get the important stuff out of the way first.

Next games
Four grand finals this week, in the following order:

Saturday, September 9th, at the Home of the Matildas
  • Under 21 men, vs Port Melbourne, 3pm (Pitch 5)
  • Under 19 women, vs Heidelberg United, 4pm (Main Pitch)
  • Senior women, vs Bulleen Lions, 7:30 pm (Main Pitch)
Sunday, September 10th, at Olympic Village
  • Senior men, vs Avondale, 3:00pm
Home of the Matildas matches 
  • Free entry
Olympic Village match
  • Adults, $20
  • Concession, $15 
  • Kids 14 and under, free

Back in the big dance - South Melbourne 2 Oakleigh Cannons 1
The size of the crowd will never aain be as big as you'd like it to be. It doesn't matter whether there is or isn't footy on at the same time, or what day it is, or what the weather's like. We have atrophied, and those who are left have aged. But for those atrophied aged there were still nerves and anticipation, and it still mattered.

It's not like we haven't beaten Oakleigh in recent times, but some of those wins have been ugly as sin. Sometimes that's been out of necessity - half a team out earlier this year for the smash and grab, for example. But sometimes it's just a feature of the way we currently play. It is what it is, some like it, some don't, but for the time being I guess we've just got to support the method that has got us this far for the second year running.

Think of everything that has happened to South on the field this season, and this game was it in condensed form. Extended pressure from long throws and corners? Grabbing the lead and then being able to play on the counter? Midfield disappearing for a huge stretch of the game? Our formerly best player (see below) Max Mikkola getting a yellow card and then becoming a potential liability? It was all there.

But again, I refer back to the old maxim: when you do good, I use the green pen; when you do bad, I use the red pen. In this game, I can say that we did most things right, and enough things wrong that the only thing I'm surprised by is that we managed to get the job done in normal time. The good included probably the best round of team selection so far this season, which unfortunately for Morgan Evans meant a third consecutive game out of the match day squad. It also meant Lirim Elmazi on the bench which, considering that Chris Taylor clearly likes his side to attack him, made sense.

I am sometimes critical, more often merely bemused by Esteban Quintas' team selections, but as far as last Friday went, I have no gripes. Neither do I have gripes with the subs that he made, as compared to Chris Taylor who made no subs. It just might have been the thing that got us over the line in the end. That, and not falling behind. It's hard to think that we would have been well equipped to overcome a deficit had we trailed at any point. I'm negative like that, yes. but thank goodness for the early lead.

Prior to this match, we had not score more than one goal in a match against Oakleigh in 15 matches, going all the way back to the 2016 grand final (and we know who scored a double for us in that game). That's a horrendous record, and what's worse, is that in a lot of those matches we struggled to even get that one goal. This time though, we were on the front foot, and we squandered several chances. Layoffs not given, shots going high that should have gone low to exploit an injured keeper's restricted mobility. 

Oh, and Pat Langlois' missed header early in the second half to make it 2-0 from very close in. It was bread and butter stuff for Pat, the kind of goal he specialises in - a free kick sent in, and him running in unmarked, and making good contact. Alas it didn't go in, and that was kind of the turning point for me. Our midfield got tired, and our mentality of sitting back and giving up too much territory made us vulnerable.

The best set piece team in the league scored from a set piece, and things looked bad. But then Marcus Schroen did what I've been waiting eight years for him to do - hit a sweet left volley from distance - and he made everything OK. Marcus continues to be an enigma. Been around a long time, sometimes does very good things in short bursts, and then vanishes for a while. Injuries over the journey haven't helped, but this year... I think he's been better than I've seen him for a long time. Not just with the ball, but also without it, showing a bit more leadership.

He seems to have a thing for playing against Oakleigh, a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. Even when it doesn't work out, he seems to put in a little extra effort. Seems to happen against Altona Magic and Avondale, too, so here's hoping he's got something special in store for tomorrow. It's been a long journey - two appearances for us as a 17 year old in 2010, a few years away, then back with us and the 2016 grand final brace, and then the injuries and coaching turmoil. But all I ask from him, and from everyone else out there for us tomorrow, is one more effort, one more upset.

On the streams
Who's next?
Got caught out by the fact that the Avondale vs Knights match started at 2:30 and not at 3:00. Oh, well. I still caught the last hour or so of this meh game. Maybe they did some stuff in that first half hour that was worthwhile, but in the last hour Knights didn't do too much. In the second half Avondale started opening them up like they did to us a few weeks back, but failed to make the most of it. Then the Knights gifted the home side the winning goal, in the way that's become a cliche for them in 2023, playing out the back at all times, regardless of the situation. There's such a thing as picking your battles, and your moments. 

Junior soccer is not real soccer, and yet
On the train on the way to the city, I chucked it on our under 21 boys (men?) against Oakleigh, and found that I'd missed most of the good stuff. 3-3, two injury times goals, a red card. Yet when I tuned in, it was only to see a very tepid, tired extra time period. But our boys (men?) came good in the penalty shoot out, so like their under 19 girls (women?) counterparts, they're through to their grand final on Saturday.

Senior women also into the big one - Boroondara Eagles 1 South Melbourne 2
While we're on the topic of pedestrianism and walkable cities, Saturday was the first time since the pandemic started that I visited the Veneto Club in Bulleen for a soccer match. In the past it was always a bit of a hassle walking from the Sandra St bus stop just off the freeway to the venue because there's no footpath, no safe crossing point near the venue, and no pedestrian access into the car park area itself.

And because I live in the west and rarely visit the north-east, I didn't know about all the roadworks and blocked paths, so I was climbing over and around things and hoping that cars wouldn't veer into the sometimes closed/sometimes not closed bike lane in the dark. Then there's the need to enter the complex via the car park itself to get to the stadium. Made me realise that unless you drive or you're a passenger in a car, you cannot be a member of the Bulleen Lions soccer club, unless there's some kind of riverside access I'm not aware of.

Someone was kind enough to give me a lift to Heidelberg station after that match so that I didn't have to go through all that on the way back to the bus stop on the freeway. Not sure that I'm young and dumb enough anymore to take public transport to the Veneto Club ever again.

Anyway, it was great to see the women play well enough to win, especially as our nemesis Calder was knocked out earlier in the day. That's not to say that minor premier Bulleen will be easy, but I know who I'd rather play against just for the sense of knowing that even if we threw everything we had at Calder, fate would prevent us from winning. 

Well, blow me down with a feather
Having fully embraced the decrepit geriatric stage of my life, I fell asleep on the couch at about 9:00pm on Tuesday, woke up in a daze two hours later, and checked my phone to see whether the world had ended during that time. As it turns out, it almost had! Our very own Jake Marshall had been awarded the Gold Medal for Victoria's player of the year. A defender winning the Gold Medal, and a central defender at that! What is this, the early to mid-2000s? Anyway, Jake's win makes him the third South Melbourne senior men's player to win the award, following in the footsteps of Fernando De Moraes (2010) and Milos Lujic (2014).

Much less surprising was the winner of the competition's goalkeeper of the year prize, which went to Javier Diaz Lopez for the second season in a row. He joins Dean Anastasiadis (2005 and 2006) as a two-time winner of the award while at South. Some might say having the best goalkeeper in the league in the same team as the league's best and fairest in the form of a centre-back says something quite obvious about the aesthetic qualities of your team. I could not possibly comment on that.

Me, I'd rather know who Esteban Quintas voted for in the coach of the year award, which was split between Avondale's Zoran Markovski, and Melbourne Knights' Ben Cahn. I don't need to know, mind you, and what with it likely being a confidential affair, that's fine. Just curious of course.

Final thought
It used to be that you would get the news about a Football Victoria CEO, president, or general manager resigning from soccer-forum.net - the fact that I didn't probably means we should just shut it down, put it out of its misery.

Tuesday 29 August 2023

The coming week at South

Senior men
At Lakeside, Friday night, 8pm, against Oakleigh. Winner gets through to the grand final. A South membership doesn't get you in, but ticket prices remain at the $15 mark for adults, and $10 concession.

Senior women
At the Veneto Club, Saturday night, 7:30pm, against Boroondara Eagles. Winner gets through to the grand final. 

Men's under 21s
At Jack Edwards Reserve, Saturday afternoon, 3:00pm, against Oakleigh. Winner gets through to the grand final. 

Women's under 19s
At Lakeside, Saturday afternoon, 2:00pm, against Calder. Winner gets through to the grand final. 

NSD news
At the time of print, the following groups had apparently confirmed that they had submitted official bids for a place in the National Second Division.

Sydney Olympic, Sydney United, APIA, Preston, South Melbourne, Avondale, Wollongong Wolves

Marconi apparently posted confirmation to its socials, but then deleted it.

Source: Joey Lynch.

Thursday 24 August 2023

Finally, the real stuff begins - North Geelong 0 South Melbourne 2

Well, the weekend overtime work that I was apparently getting, that got cancelled. So it goes. Didn't even really think of heading out to Lara for this game, or watching it at a friend's house. The latter would have been a lark, though, sitting on a mate's couch, watching nothing happening because NPL TV had gone bung across most of the streams on one of those weekends when more people than usual would be looking to use it. Some streams were working most weren't, and ours had a funny, old school Netscape Navigator-esque broken image thing going on.

The NPL TV "match centre" key moments videos were working, but that was about it. The social media team (person) wasn't there (ill), there was no radio option, so all we had was a teamsheet, and the good old Futbol24 app. So where there shouldn't have been any angst, what with this being a nothing game (for us), there was indeed angst because we couldn't see what was going on, and whether something cripplingly stupid was going to happen.

As it turned out, after about 35 minutes the stream came on, and we got to watch the tedium play out, complete with a few 21s players sprinkled in for the sake of player development. Two or three more credentialed players thrown on towards the end to get the three points, which got the job done. 

So now finally on to the finals, the only thing that matters once you get bundled out of the cup. Minor premiers can keep their plate, and the relegation battle is still only theoretical because of the theoretical second division, though you can still smirk at Bentleigh going down if that's your thing; I think Brunswick Juve going own (theoretically) to NPL 3 is even funnier though.

Next game
Unclear at this point. We have a rest in the first week of the finals. After that we get to play the highest ranked winner from the first week of the finals. So, one of Oakleigh, Melbourne Knights, or Port Melbourne. 

Grand final venue news
No mucking about this year - the senior men's grand final will be at Olympic Village. That venue in Plumpton must have been double-booked.

The women's grand final will be at the new home of the Matildas at La Trobe, as a standalone event. Our senior women also get the week off, before playing a sudden death elimination final against Boroondara at Bulleen I think it is.

Final thought
Overheard a phrase this week while listening into court proceedings - that time is the great deflator. You get old, time passes by, and suddenly your reserves of rage aren't what they used to be. And I've to come realise rage was one of the things which used to feed this blog.

Thursday 17 August 2023

Possibly a little bit consequential - Heidelberg United 2 South Melbourne 1

Good first 20 minutes or so. Cue in the rack for the hour after that. Then everyone tuned into the Matildas' match, and a few idiots like me stuck around for the final 15 or so minutes that overlapped with the World Cup match, watching us cop what we deserved. Which is fine, nothing much was riding on this match, regardless of people still trying to sell the minor premiership as something substantial. But Marco Jankovic's straight red card was pretty dumb. Here's hoping he only misses the one game.

Next game
Saturday afternoon away at North Geelong. Hoping for no injuries and no stupidity. North Geelong still have an outside chance (assuming there is no national second division next year) of surviving relegation.

Final thought
Some bloke sent me a private message on Twitter asking me what I thought the odds were for the game. So that's apparently still a thing.

Tuesday 15 August 2023

Largely inconsequential - Avondale 2 South Melbourne 1

You want to win every game, but it's just not possible. And not every match matters equally. Case in point, this one. Sure there's a moral standpoint, you want to try your best, and you want to finish on top of the ladder, but since it gets you nothing, there's no point in stressing about it. I suppose there's the bonus that you'll avoid Oakleigh in the semis if you finish first instead of second, but someone's got to beat Oakleigh at some point; then they probably have to play Avondale again after that. So, make sure no one gets hurt, make sure Max gets his yellow card to avoid finals suspension (done), and move on. 

Both teams played well, and still have room for improvement. I still think Oakleigh and Avondale are the teams to beat, and nothing about this game changed my view. When we pressured, we looked good. Marcus Schroen should have at least one goal, but once the pressure rating fell away, we were vulnerable and less effective. Having said that, we also clearly held something back, so again, hard to get to an accurate read on things. 

Hard also to get a read on things because of the weather, which started wet, got wetter, and ended up drenching pretty much everyone. Avondale's little portable stand is still out of commission because of a lack of permit, my umbrella decided it didn't want to stay open, and by the end my glasses were a mess because of the rain. I couldn't see squat even more than usual. Good thing someone scored for us right next to where I was standing so I could indeed verify that it happened.

Having lost this game, we are basically set in second place; Avondale only needs to get a point from its final game to finish first. Third and fourth are also set, and because Gully lost to the Bergers last week, the top six is also set barring the order of the last two positions; incidentally, Port and Magic, the two teams in those slots, play each other this week.

Next game
Tomorrow night against the Bergers. This is the postponed and rescheduled match-up from earlier in the season, which will now be kicking off at 6:15PM to accommodate people who want to watch the Matildas-England semi-final. I wouldn't have been at tomorrow's match in Matildas or otherwise, but I doubt that this timeslot is going to be prove conducive to anyone who doesn't either live around the corner, or who plans to stick around Olympic Village to watch the Matildas there. There's probably a good reason why this game couldn't be moved back to next week, but I'm not aware of what that reason is.

Final thought
Very annoying that I won't be able to get to either of our last two games, but what can we do? I'll see you in the second week of the finals.

Saturday 5 August 2023

Finals can't get here quickly enough - Altona Magic 1 South Melbourne 4

Thank goodness there's a week's break, and that we get another one in a few weeks, too.

Another week, and another result where one need not be fussed with how any of it looked. The home and away season trundles on towards its conclusion, and we have secured a top two spot with two and/or three games to spare. We're even a chance for top spot, if that matters to you. It doesn't really matter that much to me, because finals. But I suppose some people have more pride than that.

The first half, especially the first 25-30 minutes, was awful by us. It wasn't great letting a youngish but still talented side boss us around to the point that their mouthy substitutes were having a grand old time taking the piss while they were warming up in front of Altona Magic Harismidis (or Harismovska, as the case may be). 

Coulda/shoulda been 3-0 down, but we weren't thanks to, once again, profligate opposition finishing and the heroics of Javi Diaz Lopez. This time he even added a penalty save into the bailing us out equation. After that, we gradually worked our way into the game, though my goodness it was ugly to watch. Just pure constipated grind.

One mad minute in the second half, and it was as good as ours. Ajak Riak scored his goal while horizontal, and then right after that a turnover in midfield and we were home. The other two goals were unnecessary, but nice to have nevertheless. Completely different team after the break, like someone unclogged an intestinal blockage, and things just worked again, as they should.

Other than that, not much to say, except that I should've worn a different pair of shoes (it got a bit dewy); that the Magic canteen has ditched the fancy menu in favour of reliable (and affordable) standard fare; and that the refinery next door being nowadays merely a storage facility means that the old vibe of a Paisley Park night game is not what it was. 

But then again, nothing is what it was.

Next game
The senior men have the week off. Our next game is away to Avondale on Saturday the 12th. At the moment, the fixture lists the match as being played at the Reggio Calabria Club. Seeing as how this is a Women's World Cup training venue though, it'd be wise to keep an ear out for any sudden changes.

Is there a curtain raiser?
Yes, assuming that the senior match is played as currently fixtured. However, the under 21s are listed as kicking off at 12:15, so not exactly worth the effort of getting to the game early

Around the grounds
It takes all kinds
Yes, I went to the Matildas vs Canada match. Observed a displeasing trend of teams at this tournament struggling to break down teams that had set up ultra-defensively. Had to deal with more nonsense VAR. Got seated next to a woman who knew all the ins and outs of the Matildas (with very strong opinions on the coach and the merits of certain players), while I of course was there as a much more casual spectator. Meanwhile, said superfan apparently lived right behind Monterey Reserve, but knew diddly squat about the Frankston Pines soccer club. A chance then to educate, and bore. Pointless trying to gatekeep the diverse kinds of enjoyment of the game at such a micro level.

A goal would have been nice
Brazil vs Jamaica, my fourth game, and another match where a stacked defence outlasted a blunt attack. It was so much of a stalemate, that VAR didn't even make an appearance. Two more games left for me to attend. 

Final thought
My memory has turned to mush. Couldn't remember the names of Jamie Reed, Luke Hopper, or Jai Ingham last week.

Saturday 29 July 2023

No stress whatsoever - Port Melbourne 0 South Melbourne 4

Waited like a chump for the 234 at the usual stop at Banana Alley, for buses that would never arrive; at least not until after 7pm, apparently. I figured this out  eventually with a a fellow South fan by the name of Sam, after what should have been two scheduled buses failed to appear. A bit more signage would have helped. Maybe not having to exit the app to get to the website. Maybe a lot of things.

Walked down to the next best available stop for said bus - five minutes walk down the road - hoping that some bus would turn up in time. That wasn't happening. Started thinking might be worth turning around and going home. Contemplated a cab, but thought better of it. Tried calling a mate who lived nearby to watch it at their place, but no answer. Bus eventually shows up, gets stuck in traffic around the back end of the casino, all very predictable.

Got to the ground with about ten minutes having elapsed, but no score. Who knows if anything major or interesting had happened before I got there. but within minutes it was 2-0 to us, as utterly shithouse set-piece defending from the home side gave us a very solid foundation. After that, it all becomes a bit of a blur. We scored a couple more goals, gossiped a bit about the state leagues, about work, enjoyed some banter with the Port goalkeeper who was having one of those days, and added three points to the tally.

Insofar as I paid any attention to the game, it was to observe that while he's copped a lot of not completely undeserved stick over the past few seasons (including from your correspondent), Marcus Schroen is having a pretty good year. Playing a different role to what we're used to seeing from him, more than a few times this year he's been the one to win the ball or create the turnover which leads to a goal, which was never previously a strong part of his game. 

So, that's nice I suppose. Brad Norton up to 295 matches by count. Oakleigh lost to Altona Magic last week, and drew with Avondale last night, which helps us get one step closer to a top two spot. One more win will do it.

Next game
Altona Magic away on Saturday night.

Is there a curtain raiser this week?
Yes! The under 21s match takes place before the senior fixture.

National Second Division guff
So Melbourne Knights are taking their ball and going home. Apparently Football Australia is being intransigent with its demands. The NSD is on the verge of collapse before a ball has been kicked. For their part, FA put out something very vague about intending to do things next year as planned, kinda. The worst part of this, apart from having to re-join the anti-NSD faction (because it was never going to work, and you're kidding yourself if you ever thought otherwise), is having to emotionally recommit to NPL Victoria. More of the same! And not even Preston coming up to add some media vulture interest. 

Around the grounds
Slightly perverse
Weren't you supposed to be at work, or school? OK, if you are a northern hemispherean, or a retiree, or otherwise on holidays, I get it. But what was everyone else doing at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on a 12:30pm on a Friday? Sure, I was also there, and I do have a job of sorts which I don't get paid for if I decide not to turn up for whatever reason. It's like when I first moved to Sunshine eight years ago (and even now, really), and I'm at the main shops on Hampshire Road on a weekday, and there's a full car park and people everywhere, and it's the same question - don't you people have somewhere else to be? Anyway, Canada vs Nigeria was a strange contest, not so much for what happened on the field, but what happened off it. It's not that Australians are averse to supporting the underdog, but their wilful support of the vintage Green Gully VPL tackling (no colour pun intended) Nigerians was wild. Poor nice little Canada. You win one Olympic gold medal, and everyone turns against you so they can support the heel team. Good game, though, thorough entertainment during that 65 odd minutes Nigeria weren't stacking everyone behind the ball, reminiscent of a certain team which doesn't wear green.

The world got itself in a big damn hurry
Finished work on Monday about three o'clock. Too early for the game, but too late to go home and come back into town. So I walked slowly down William Street to eventually have a quiet meal somewhere, and figure out how to kill two and a bit hours afterwards. Ended up instead helping some guy who'd just finished a six-year prison stint find the nearest branch of the Commonwealth Bank. No, it's not what you think. Probably. Chatting with him, of course he notices the things that have changed about the city and the world as a whole in the time he'd been locked up, things that seemed normal to those of us on the outside. Well, I got him to where he needed to get to, and then I got called back to work, which ended up going all the way to six o'clock. Damn judge. Managed to make it from Flagstaff to my seat at the stadium with five minutes to spare. Germany vs Morocco. Well, Morocco to their credit didn't try to sit back, and looked good in patches and moments, but never quite good enough. Thus there were lots of goals, and so many VAR moments. And this is the thing: somewhat like our ex-con friend, I get disoriented whenever I dip into a tournament every few years after a diet made up exclusively of non-VAR leagues. So now it seems refs and assistants are not even calling blatantly obvious fouls and especially offsides, because there's a machine somewhere which will let them know. 

But here's the thing - most of the crowd doesn't seem to care. So me, in my bad position and with my even more decrepit eyesight, I can still tell (or feel that I can tell) that a goal is not going to stand several seconds in advance. So what looks to me like a situation that should be called offside instantly, the sequence of play instead continues, a goal is scored, the crowd goes wild, and I just wait in my seat. I can't get excited, or upset, or anxious, or even interested, because my instincts for what a game should look like and how it should be officiated are stuck in the past. I've got tickets to four more games, and it just doesn't feel right. The way we - or rather, they - watch the game has completely changed. They've turned it into rugby league.

Final thought
Who knows how many actually pay to watch a game in NPL Victoria these days, but there is this: Port Melbourne issue numbered tickets specific to individual matches. They also break them down by adult and concession categories; no cheapo stubs for them. Last year, rocking up early to the equivalent fixture, and having forgotten my media pass, I was concession ticket no. 90. This year, arriving ten minutes late, and no longer bothering to apply for a media pass because clearly I am less than half-arsing this thing these days, I was adult ticket no. 30. Makes you think.

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Whatever - Bentleigh Greens 0 South Melbourne 2

The team having secured a home final of some sort several weeks ago now, and then seemingly having put the cue in the rack until such time as the finals series begins, it befits your correspondent to also not give too much of a toss either. With five games left, as long as no-one does something wildly stupid getting themselves an inconvenient suspension, and as long as none of our opponents decide leg-breaking time is just around the corner, I'm content to not get too worked up about anything that happens between now and week 1 (or potentially week 2) of the finals.

Nothing that I saw on the live stream at a mate's place last Saturday gave me any reason to think we were likely to re-find our one patch of annoyingly watchable good form from midway through the season any time soon. Even Jake Marshall's wonderful goal was only possible because of two horrible attempts to get it into the box in first place; first, the corner which barely reached shoulder height of the first defender inside the box, then Jack Painter-Andrews' wayward ball off the side of his boot which just so happened to land on the chest of Big Jake, who channelled his inner Big Luke for 1-0.

The starting line-up was weird again - Ajak Riak on the bench? - but whatever. I'll grant that the team showed more pressing intent, and that it didn't look quite as poor as it did against the same team that made it look second rate back in our first meeting in 2023; but that's also down to Bentleigh also not being quite as dynamic on Saturday as they were back then. Still, the Greens had enough chances to scrounge a point at least. Quite how they stuffed up some of those chances has got me beat. I don't even really feel like looking back on the final stats to find out how many shots we had on goal.

Time to pivot
So now that the rest of the home and away season doesn't mean much to me anymore, we still have to find something to care about until the finals start. Turns out the perfect thing has been sitting under our noses the entire season. Brad Norton, who started the season on 280 competitive fixtures for this sometimes great club, is now up to 294. So the maths is pretty clear. Brad needs six games to get to 300. There are a minimum of six matches left for us this season, being five regular season, and one finals match. Brad has to play in every game to reach the mark, because we assume he wont' be back next year. (I wonder how the testimonial plans are coming along...)

Our record keeping being sketchy as fuck, reliably I can only come up with two players who have definitely reached the 300 mark for us, they being Trimmers and Steve Blair. Horsey may have got there, but some of the data from cup matches early in his time with us is not quite complete, so for now he's nominally stranded on 296.

So that's what's going to keep me occupied South-wise over the next few weeks.

Next game
Port Melbourne away on Saturday evening. Another chance to see if the school camp the Port Melbourne Plebs went on a few years back in 2018 has finally finished.

Is there a curtain raiser this week?
No. The under 21s match is scheduled for after the senior match.

Eight days a week

So not too far back, looking ahead to the rescheduled Heidelberg game set for a Wednesday, I wondered if we'd ever actually had a season where we'd played on every day of week. My instinct said that surely we hadn't, but a spare Sunday afternoon waiting for pirated sumo highlights to be uploaded afforded me the chance to go over the files and demonstrate that instinct sucks. 

I found five seasons where we'd played on each day of the week, including two within the last decade. Well, they do say that if you remember the Chris Taylor years, then you weren't really there. 

There were also several seasons with games on five days of the week, and a few with six. Usually the days not played on were Tuesdays and Thursdays. There are a certain set of conditions you need for this phenomenon to occur. You need lots of games, so a cup tournament or two helps. You also usually need to go on deep runs in those cups. Postponed and rescheduled matches are also good to have. You especially need floodlights; no floodlights means less chance for midweek games. And the big one you might not think of, public holidays. Anzac Day, Boxing Day, New Year's or Australia Day falling midweek can help you get across the line.

For the record, the five seasons are 1989, 1992/93, 1996/97, 2016, and 2017. Soon to be joined by 2023.

Final thought
Success! Random security-guy at a job-site I was at this week recognised that it was a South beanie, not a North one. Turns out he's an up and coming ref, relatively new to the local scene. Trying to explain even just the nonsense that happened last year with the grand final venue means recalling a lot of niche cultural detritus that makes one question one's life choices.

Friday 14 July 2023

Looking ahead - South Melbourne 2 Hume City 2

Apologies for the very late and very short thing.

In just one week we went from arguing with volunteer parking attendants, to being able to park anywhere, and kids with homemade dirt bikes blowing dust into the air. The souv was good, and that's about as good as the two-week Yarraville stint was. It wasn't Yarraville's fault, mind - we've just gone back to being garbage, and borderline unwatchable. Borderline, because there are still people watching the games. More fool them. 

After taking an early lead thanks to confusion in the Hume defence more than anything we did, it was back to getting absolutely swarmed. They say why would you stand behind the goal that we're attacking, a pretty ordinary view. Well, that way you're a least further away from whatever's going on at the other end. Who can understand the lineup decisions, the sub decisions, who is liked, and who isn't. 

Anyway, we got a point. Just trudging along to the finals. Get two (or more likely now, three) stupid wins then, and no-one will care about whatever preceded it.

Next game
Bentleigh away on Saturday afternoon. My attendance at this game is unlikely, for reasons other than my disgust at recent performances.

Upload news!
Super thanks to Nick Guoth on the Australian Football Memorabilia Facebook page, who uploaded the pages of the program from the 1965 Australia Cup semi-final first leg match between South Melbourne Hellas and APIA. I have collated those pages into a PDF, and made that document available here.

Women out of the cup
Well, look. I can't say that our senior women didn't give it a good shake. Dominated the first half, had pretty much all the good chances - how many point blank chances can you have saved? - but in the end, it was a familiar story; Calder, in the cup, the end. A real shame, because in that first half, this team played as well as I've seen them play for a while now. 

Around the grounds
Spirit of the game
The spirit of the game is threatening the opposition coach that you're going to come across and break his neck. The spirit of the game is both coaches relentlessly abusing and undermining the officials. The spirit of the game is players arguing with spectators behind the fence. The spirit of the game is, apparently, Harry Noon getting paid who knows what to run around the fifth tier of Victorian soccer (north-west section), bang into people like an old school footy sniper, and barely touch the ball. Depressing, really.

Final thought
Thank you to JJ for noticing an error in my fixture list page.

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Well, it's probably time to give up on the season - South Melbourne 0 Oakleigh Cannons 2

Boy, did this whole outing just suck from almost start to finish. Since I do not live that far away from McIvor Reserve, I didn't think it would be necessary to get to the ground super early (and it's not like there was a reserves game before the seniors), and public transport to that venue being what it is (shithouse), it seemed like a no-brainer to just drive. That was a great idea until your correspondent was obliged by a volunteer car park attendant to park in an exact spot, all while I somehow got into an argument with said attendant about my very poor parking abilities (thank you, bung left retina), and I remembered why I stopped taking driving lessons with my old man back in the day. The upshot of being in that particular spot was that at least one regular South of the Border reader was able to pick out my car from the mass of steel, thanks to the classiness of the stickers on the rear windscreen. 

The trauma of the car park having been overcome soon enough, it was time to wander in and wonder when we would be better off going next door to watch the hockey, a sport I otherwise don't think much of. Turns out, not very long. If you were being kind, you'd say we just had an off day coming off the faux-bye, and that one bad outing (during the regular season) against an accomplished opponent doesn't undo all the good things we've done in 2023. If you were being less kind, you'd basically write off the rest of the home and away season, and just pray for two (or if necessary, three) games in a row of complete arse to get state title no. 11, before we can finally bail on this decrepit league.

The first half was so, so bad. Like, "half a season ago, before we briefly emerged from our turtle shells bad". There was no pressure on the Oakleigh defenders when they were in possession. Like, zero, nada, zilch. Pat Langlois having to be told by a teammate to at least jog towards the Oakleigh left-back who had the ball. Instead, time and again, Oakleigh were allowed easy passes out of defence, under no duress. A little bit of carrying the ball up the field, a couple of passes, and Oakleigh's very good forward line was provided with ample opportunity to do its worst; luckily for us, they had an off day in front of goal.

You may think Chris Taylor is a great coach at this level, or merely a middling one who happens to know how to use a big budget. On Sunday, it didn't matter, because we forfeited all the initiative to such a degree it wouldn't have mattered who was coaching Oakleigh. If there is one thing I hate about the way our squad plays when it's at its worst, it is exactly that - letting the opposition dictate the nature of the contest by default. Oakleigh want the ball. They want to keep it, recycle it, move it around. We are a counter-attacking team, and that's fine - but without pressing up the field, without actively trying to win the ball back as opposed to just waiting for opposition mistakes, we are not going to have much luck against opponents who aren't borderline incompetent.

That win of ours against Avondale earlier in the season? It was good not because Avondale had a bad day, but because they actually played pretty well. They played well and still lost, not because of dumb luck favouring us, but because we went out there with a positive plan, and didn't just wait for them to gift us goals. But on Sunday, Max Mikkola was all alone on his left wing, looking a lot like Gerrie Sylaidos all alone on his left wing, no forwards to pass to, and no midfield to play with. Ajak Riak, having to go all the way back to midfield to get any taste of the ball. Fifteen shots on target to one by the end, because for some reason on a small ground we decided to have almost all of our ball and personnel in our defensive third.

That we came out in the second half trying to get back in the game with fireworks and big lineup changes reeked of desperation, not method. Of the two new acquisitions, Yagoub Mustafa looked much better than Luka Ninkovic, but neither player was going to be the solution to the underlying problem of philosophy; we came out hoping not to lose, they came out hoping to win. The nature of the performance carries the possibility of having done serious damage to the belief of the playing squad. I don't know what skipper Brad Norton said to the side after he held them back on the field following the final whistle - it probably doesn't even really matter - but that he felt the need to do that should be of concern on its own. Second on the ladder with a game in hand, one bad day at the office shouldn't need more than a quick "well, that sucked, let's shrug it off and move on".

Next match
On Sunday at McIvor Reserve against Hume City. This will be our last "home" match of the home and away season.

Is there a curtain raiser?
No. Once more, the under 21s will be playing their match at 6:30PM, a good hour and a half following the conclusion of the senior match.

Around the grounds
24 hours earlier, three and a bit kilometres west
Finding Duane Reserve in Brooklyn - a ground I'd never been to before - was very much like finding a secret passage in a video game. You inadvertently turn left instead of going straight, follow some winding path which the developers made longer just for the sake of added mystery, and all of a sudden there you are, in a little suburban soccer oasis. Like any good oasis, there was a fresh water supply - in this case, a leaky pipe which made one side of the field muddier than you'd like, and which forced the linos to run along the left-forward wing instead of their usual place on the right. Altona North an old off-shoot of Altona City, formed by some Maltese blokes who couldn't get a game at the latter. Most of their history has been undistinguished, strictly lower league and even more obscure; now they find themselves in a league playing against teams with brief Victorian Premier League tenures, including today's opponent, Altona East, who once went within a game of a VPL grand final. As for the game, the first hour was a grind, but East got on top in the last portion of the game, and ground out a deserved 1-0 win, in glorious Saturday afternoon Melbourne winter light, as I discussed the demographic reasons for the decline of Australia's ethnic clubs from the 1960s to today. Then I did it the next day, again.

Food for thought
After the match I bought a souv. I had to wait a little bit, it cost $15, but it was more than adequate. Not award winning, but more than good enough. It was the kind of experience that makes you wonder about the possibilities about a certain other venue's comparative food offerings.

Final thought
Had a wonderful discussion post-game the other day about music, football, and one particular football book. I hadn't gone back and read this rambling review for some time. I think the book's "end of history" vibe is going to get a challenge soon. The future lasts a long time, and such.

Saturday 24 June 2023

Half-arsed - South Melbourne 4 St Albans 0

There's not enough data to make it a thoroughly resilient trend, but let's go with it anyway. When we play St Albans during one of their often fleeting Victorian top tier stints, it usually goes like this: the first game, usually away, usually early in the season, is a bit of a grind, but we get the job done. They're still enthusiastic, have earned a few points, and maybe put in enough credible performances that people think they won't suck as much as they're prone to doing. Then we turn up, get our win, and it starts going south for them (no pun intended). By the time they rock up to Lakeside for the return fixture, they're disheartened, weakened by defections, and either in or just above the relegation zone. Then it all comes down to whether we give enough of a toss to go full on and completely humiliate them.

Well, humiliation it was for the first half on Tuesday. Performance wise, it was nothing remarkable. It wasn't built around super build up play, neat passing, flashes of individual brilliance. It was just a case of a team with some talent grinding an opponent with a talent deficit into the dirt. There wasn't much pretty about it. The penalty shot for the opening goal was struck a solid arm trying to save it, and still went in. Two of the goals were bundled over the goal line after scrambles in the six-yard box. Only Jake Painter-Andrew's shot into the roof of the net was worthy of highlight reels, though I suppose there's also people who get a kick out of unicorn goals like Lirim Elmazi scoring from a short corner.

So 4-0 up the break, and even the ground announcer makes the call that South has won the game 4-0. Too bad there was a whole second half still to play, as seems to be the custom nowadays. And what a pointless second half it was, as we failed to add to the scoreboard. Still, good to get some run into a few fringe players, including youth team player Cooper Halfpenny, and wing recruit Kosta Emmanuel, who has spent most of the year injured. But overall, the whole vibe, especially in the second 45, was of a glorified pre-season friendly.

Finals secured for 2023
The win against St Albans means that the senior men have managed to secure a finals berth with eight games to spare. The highest points tally that seventh placed Dandenong Thunder can achieve is 47 - which could only happen if they won every remaining game of theirs. Since we've already reached a tally of 49 points, all that's left to decide is where within the top six we'll finish.

Barring any changes due to external administrative cock-ups, we are also pretty close to securing a home final of some sort. Port Melbourne, the team currently in fifth place, would need six wins, a draw, and a calamitous collapse from us just to reach our current tally. 

As for securing a spot in the top two and the near negligible benefits that brings, it's a still little bit early to get into that. Better trying to do those sums after our next match.

Next game
Oakleigh on Sunday, July 2nd, at our latest home away from home, McIvor Reserve. 

For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting this venue, prepare to be underwhelmed. There should be ample parking for the expected crowds for this game, as well as the match the following week against Hume. Public transport options for this ground are inconvenient at the best of times, and will be worse considering the school holiday scheduled shutdowns of all train lines heading west from the city. Luckily this is one of those venues that's within my driving range.

There is some shelter, but very little seating. The social club/pavilion, where all the shelter is, faces east. If you want to stand on the opposite side of the ground, where the benches are, bring your sunnies and a hat, because you will be staring directly into the sun. Away from the pavilion, there is very little elevation. For those watching the games at home, well, here's hoping that someone bothers to hire a cherry picker, because otherwise you, too, will be watching the game from a sideline view, possibly directly into the sun, as was the case with the match that our senior women played there earlier this year.

As for the food... look, I'm willing to be surprised, but from my experience the souv at Yarraville is pretty ordinary.

Is there a curtain raiser?
No. But also yes.

So there's nothing before the senior men's match at 3:00PM, but the under 21s are playing after the seniors, kicking off at 6:30PM. Reminds of what Weird Al Yankovic noted when his band toured with the Monkees, "We didn't open for them; they closed for us."

As was rumoured
Danny Kim, the wrong player for the wrong club at the wrong time, has transferred to Green Gully.

South women through to semis of the cup
As messy as the league season has been in terms of trying to find any sort of consistency or clear front-runner, we also have the cup which, not quite as nuts. Three of the semi-finalists are fairly obvious. First placed Bulleen, third placed South, fifth placed Calder; but there's also mid-table Victorian Premier League side Casey Comets, and that's probably who you'd want to get drawn against in the next round if you were one of the other remaining teams. To get to this round, South had to overcome fellow NPLW side Preston, who after a promising start to the season, seemed to have slipped a bit. I watched this from the couch, and again, these South girls make hard work of winning. They pulled their finger out in the nick of time to get out of jail this time, like they did against FV Emerging in the league the game before this one, but it's frustrating to watch.

A better division 2, eventually coming for you
What does this even mean? So we got the news of the progression from the 32 odd expressions of interest getting cut down to 26 well over a month ago (bonus floodlight content in there for those who want to revisit it), and it's only now that the remaining bids actually getting the paperwork for making their bids? This is even shoddier than the organisation within Vic Uni's research department, which allowed me to skate through with extensions I probably shouldn't have gotten.

Anyway, final bids are due sometime in early August, and successful bids - and whatever the format will be that we'll be proceeding with - will be announced around Octoberish, maybe. And then the whole thing will be starting in March 2024, if you believe that. 

Around the grounds
For old time's sake
Last Saturday, for probably the first time since the chaos unleashed by the pandemic, I managed to get to a non-South match. I blame the pandemic a little bit for this, but I also blame changing home responsibilities, and I especially blame that season where South and seemingly most other NPL teams changed their schedules to be playing mostly on Saturdays. But also, even I managed to get suckered into streaming games instead of attending them. Well, now that South's back to not playing games on Saturdays, and every other planet aligned, I managed to stroll down to Ralph Reserve for Western Suburbs vs Altona East, a near-enough to top of the table clash. Remembering old days, an with only large notes in my wallet, I had my mum break a fifty for me. Turned out there was no gate charge. Turns out also that Suburbs are accepting card payments in the canteen. The souv was OK; not great, not awful. Perfectly acceptable, really. Served quickly, too. Seemed like an easy enough process, which one specific club could possibly learn from. Quite a large crowd, actually, maybe about 200 people, about two or even three times what I expected, and what I'd experienced before at this ground and between these two teams. Crowd included the brother of an ex-South and current Altona East player, who seemed somewhat incredulous that I hadn't realised he'd been in Greece the past four years. My answer could only be, how am I supposed to keep track of everyone that's stopped attending South games over the past 18 years? Anyway, the wind made the game itself a grind to watch. Playing with its benefit in the first half, Suburbs went into the break 2-0 up, scored a goal against the wind to make it 3-0, and then coasted home to win 3-1.

Final thought
Everyone's looking a bit jaundiced, but apparently that's just a trick of lights.