Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Seven more days, at least

So, with lockdown continuing for another week, our next two scheduled matches - against Hume tomorrow night, and Dandenong City on the weekend - have been postponed. But you're all smart enough to have figured that out by yourselves.

Friday, 16 July 2021

News to tide you over during the lockdown

Weekend's matches cancelled

I'm sure you're all already on top of this. This Sunday's senior men's match against St Albans has been postponed, due to the current lockdown. Tomorrow's highly anticipated match between South's senior women and Bulleen has also been postponed.

Close contact

The senior women ran into a little trouble on Wednesday prior to their scheduled cup match against Casey Comets, when it was found that a player in the match "had been identified as a secondary close contact through an exposure site". By agreement of the two teams, the match did not go ahead.

New fixture date no. 1

During the week the date and venue for our Dockerty Cup semi-final tie against Hume was set. The date is this coming Wednesday, July 21st, and the kickoff time 7:30PM. Unfortunately, the neutral venue chosen was Kingston Heath Soccer Complex. I was 50/50 on whether it was going to be worth the bother. Now with the lockdown extending until Tuesday, one has to think that this fixture may also be altered. For the time being though, let's assume that it will go ahead.

New fixture date no. 2

Our FFA Cup round of 32 fixture against Melbourne City has been given the match date of August 29th. Unusually, this is a Sunday and not a weeknight, in line with the powers that be seeking to try and branch out from the usual midweek timeslots. Even more unusually, the August 29th date already had a fixture set for it - our round 26 match away against Bentleigh. You may recall that round 26 is the final match of the home and away season, when all fixtures are meant to kick off simultaneously. I'm sure that all involved will figure it out.

Vale John Anderson

Three time state championship winner John Anderson passed away during the week. The Scots midfielder won championships with South in 1964, 1965, and 1966. He also represented Victoria and Australia; the latter included being part of Australia's first World Cup qualifying campaign. Tony Persoglia has written a good summary of Anderson's background and accomplishments on the Football Victoria site.

Vale Chris Christopher

Former long-serving committee member Chris Christopher also passed away during the week. Christopher was president of the club in 1987, but he will likely be best remembered for making a large loan to the club in 2004 which, along with a contribution from the late Tony Toumbourou, helped stave off the club's death from the Australian Taxation Office. 

Vale Michael Christodoulou

Not directly South related, but this week also saw the passing of Michael Christodoulou, aka the Bentleigh peanut man. A fixture at Victorian soccer grounds for decades - at NSL, state league, and A-League - Christodoulou was always good for a chat, and was one of its more well known characters. His death probably brings to an end the era of the local soccer nut-sellers; the others have also passed on or retired, and I can't see anyone emerging to take their place.

National Youth League videos unearthed

Here's an absolute treat. Thanks to George Cotsanis (My World Is Round), who acted as the pivot for getting these two videos from former South Melbourne youth team players Tim Schleiger and Mike Lilikakis.

These homemade videos are from South's 1991/92 National Youth League finals campaign. The club had won the title in 1990/91, and reached the final in 1991/92, losing to a start-studded Sydney Croatia team.

The first video contains almost the entirety of the Southern Division preliminary final against Heidelberg at Olympic Park, and closes with some changeroom hijinks and tomfoolery; several of the players became if not quite National Soccer League household names, then certainly Victorian Premier League mainstays. It also includes quick moments with the training and support staff.

The second video is a more manageable 20 minutes or so. This is a bit different from the first tape, in that it is a compilation of South's three finals matches. It includes the above mentioned preliminary final against Heidelberg; the Southern Division grand final against Preston; and the national grand final against Sydney Croatia. This video, narrated by goalkeeper Mike Lilikakis, also includes trophy presentations.

These are remarkable videos for a variety of reasons. First, for the sheer scarcity of footage from the NYL as a whole. Second, for the videos' time capsule quality - the Olympic Park that is no more; the players that would and would not become household names; the cameos by Eddie Thomson and Ferenc Puskas; the Sade background music, and the banter by the players. Third, the reiteration that such  archival material still exists, and that we must cherish it each time we come across it.

Hit "like" and "subscribe"

So, some of you may have been seeing the videos I've been uploading to my YouTube channel, which is mostly classic South gear. Well, I hadn't quite exhausted the tranche given to me a few months ago, but I'd done just about all the 1980s stuff... that is until I got given another collection of digitised VHS tapes couple of weeks back. So sure, there's bound to be a lot of crossover between the first set and this one, but this second set also seems to have some 1988 match footage that the previous set doesn't have, and which I have certainly not seen before. This new set also includes little set pieces as well - interviews, gimmicks, and the like - which will be interesting to dig out, because that's not the kind of thing that usually gets uploaded to YouTube. I've also started a little project (which will take time to complete, if I actually do complete it) which will aim to track every South match that's available online, classing them as either "short", "extended", or "full" - but that's for the future.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Boking Accident - South Melbourne 1 Green Gully 1

Dear readers of South of the Border,  I have been given a most precious gift; the gift of an epiphany. I wasn't looking for it, I didn't realise that I needed or wanted this gift, but I was chosen to receive it.

Since South of the Border was launched in December 2007, I believed I had the right to voice my own opinions, whether they were right or wrong, fair on unfair, and untethered to popular or official opinion. 

I now understand that this was a dangerous illusion, a devastatingly heretical one. I now understand that not only were my opinions wrong, but so too was my belief in the right to have my own opinions. I cannot express how much I was crushed by the sudden onset of the reality of my long-running egoism! All the lost years spent agonising about what to think and how to think it and how to express those thoughts, when all I needed to do was to look at the status quo, and just sit back and bask in its perpetual and permanent acceptability; no, its divine infallibility, for whatever happens must by design surely be good and right. 

As recently as last week I was like many of you, criticising people at our club who make decisions, focusing my stern judgments on those who have more than nominal responsibility for where the team has found itself this season. Ladies and gentlemen, I now know that it was wrong to feel this way. I don't blame the coach anymore. It is clearly the players' fault that we are where we are. They're the ones not following orders, or following orders too hard - I'm not sure which anymore. They're the ones who need to weather Spanish insults screamed at them for 90 minutes, and being rotated in and out of the match day squad for reasons they cannot comprehend. They need to play with less flair and intent! They need to comprehend better! It's for their own good! It's for our collective good!

But hold on - what if "blame" is the wrong word, too? What if this has been the plan all along? Maybe apportioning blame to anyone is not good enough or supportive enough of the team either? Forgive me; I'm new at this no longer thinking for myself caper. So instead of apportioning blame, let's start apportioning credit. I credit the coach for where we are now. I pay homage to the quality of his management skills, which see a squad capable of more, achieve less. Credit also has to go to the board. It takes a lot of guts to stand up to so-called reality. It's imperative that we South Melbourne supporters also reject this false reality, and substitute it for the one that management sees. My new and enduring hope is that one day those of us left in the crowd who don't agree with the current trajectory of the team, can squeegee their collective third eye and come to the same conclusion. Only then can we become not the bitter few defenders of a rump state, but rather, the discerning few.

This revelation means that I now understand that the last two months of football have been incredibly adequate. Maybe even more than adequate! Why demand excellence, even relative excellence, when you can accept the sweet comfort of midtable, or wherever we end up? Higher, lower, what difference does it make? What sweet release to now see that we are not in competition with other teams, but only with ourselves and our own expectations; even then, the only worthwhile struggle is to stop struggling. to stop having expectations, so that we can finally and genuinely let go of the infatuation of competing. 

You win this year or the next, or you lose this year or the next, what does it matter? And I don't mean what does it matter in the context of no one caring about this club or this league. I mean what does it matter at all what we do, if concerning ourselves with whether it matters only causes more psychological and spiritual torment? I've been going to games and seeing the anguish on our supporters' faces, and not seeing it for what it is; the agony of trying. So why try? Why not just be? Just go out there and do anything, and let the chips fall where they may. Give up trying to understand, give up the idea that South Melbourne Hellas should be doing better. Acknowledge the genius of the strategy, and acknowledge its genius wherever it leads us. 

Ideas of stature and pedigree? Let them go. Consistency? Throw it to the wind. Fluency? Ask yourself why we should make the effort. Come to the realisation that forwards and backwards are actually the same thing. Learn to love short corners. 

Next game

At St Albans away on Sunday. Now I know many of you aren't quite with me yet on the path to "who gives a stuff" enlightenment so I'll phrase this next section in a way that will hopefully gently start you on your journey. St Albans are struggling, but I don't us expect to roll over them; I expect us to walk alongside them, being neither better nor worse. Why make the opposition feel bad about themselves? We have a great chance to make them feel better about themselves - not so much better because they've managed to beat us, but hopefully at least enough to give them the taste of being able to know what it's like to match it with the great South Melbourne Hellas. And you also wouldn't want to win, because you only really need 26-30 points to definitely (probably) avoid relegation, so anything more than that would just be a waste of effort, and of course win bonuses. So, no showboating please, and absolutely no goals unless we need to equalise to keep our draw tally going. 

Women's news

In all seriousness, despite playing against an obviously inferior opponent, I was pleased with what I saw on the live stream on Saturday by our senior women against Alamein. Granted, Alamein didn't push as high up the field as say, the Bergers did the other week. But I think we moved the ball around well in midfield, and seemed more in control of the tempo of the match, even in those moments were Alamein had a decent spell. Big game at home against Bulleen on Saturday though, to show how far this team has really come.

Final thought

At least the last half hour of the game was kinda entertaining, if you're into that sort of thing. But if you are into that kind of thing, I must warn you, because it's a hell of a drug, and you're going to be chasing that high for the rest of your days if you're not careful.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Oakleigh Cannons 0 South Melbourne 0 - South win 6-5 on penalties

Let us begin our now customary report for the transport engineer.

Drove to Sunshine station, as only the main car park was closed. Missed the first available train by mere seconds, had to wait a little for the next one. Got to Flinders Street in reasonably good time, and had Pakenham train waiting on platform 7 ready to depart within a minute. Sadly the departure of this service was delayed by quite a few minutes, because of an operational matter further down the line somewhere. I don't know what it was, someone maybe chasing a dog onto the tracks? Train eventually leaves Flinders, and makes good pace down to Huntingdale station, after which it is a short walk by myself to Jack Edwards Reserve through the relatively poorly lit industrial backblocks of Oakleigh, with cars and truck trailers blocking the footpath, and then there was the bit where there's no footpath near the ground.

I was fortunate that as a media pass holder, I was able to skip the queue outside the ground and head straight in. I overheard some people being frustrated with there being no eftpos facilities at Oakleigh (still!) but as far as I'm concerned, if you're going to a suburban ground, you just have to bring cash. I suppose it tends to sort the wheat (those who go to local regularly) from the chaff (those who do not).

A bigger crowd than you would usually get for a league game here these days between these two sides, but not as big as you might have had in the past. Maybe it was too cold, maybe the pandemic still puts people off from attending sporting events, maybe even the FFA Cup has lost a tiny bit of its sheen. God, I hope it's the latter.

Onto the game. This fixture provided irony upon irony, and cliché upon cliché, as well as the chance to revive some of old favourite lines. Not many expected us to win this fixture; not neutrals, and not our own fans. Some of our own fans thought we were going to get buried, based on Oakleigh's recent goal scoring run, and our own flailing efforts where the one (mostly) unquestionably good thing we'd had going for us - our defence - had also gone down the gurgler. 

That wasn't my thinking by the way, the getting buried part I mean. Certainly, I thought we were going to lose because:

a) we were in the middle of a wretched run of form, and

b) I generally think we're going to lose most games, even when we have a very strong team and good form

But getting buried? I didn't think that would happen; or at least not nearly as fervently as some other South fans seemed to think. But props to some of my fellow South fans for fully embracing doomism! 

In retrospect, if there was one game where an overly defensive and cautious set-up could work, it just might be a knockout cup game where no-one expects you do anything good. The morbid joke on the terraces last week was that Esteban Quintas sets up his team to win games 0-0, but a knockout fixture allows you to progress to the next round doing just that, assuming everything falls into place.

And in this case, it kind of did. Though they had a day's extra rest from the previous round of league matches, they'd also had a more congested fixture thanks to the multiple postponements of their previous FFA Cup fixtures. So, you'd hope that fact, as well as the matter of some of their important players being well on the wrong side of 30, would help us.

Additionally Oakleigh's narrow ground provides diminished opportunities for playing the ball into wide spaces. Credit where credit is due, we limited Oakleigh's ability to get wide and behind our back four or five or six players. Granted, the dimensions of the ground - being both short and narrow - make that easier, but the frustration of our fans wanting some of our defenders to step up and press the Oakleigh midfielders sometimes missed the point - that being to keep them at a collective arms' length.

The proof in the pudding was that Oakleigh struggled to get through the defence's middle channels, and were rarely able to get behind us out wide. Often times, when I thought they had the chance to move the ball wide away from the places we'd overloaded our defensives stocks. When they did, things looked terrifying,. but thankfully there was usually no one there to meet the cross in the six yard box. I can't say what the stats said at the end of the full 120, but after 90 minutes Oakleigh had had just one corner for the game. Considering how dire our defending from corners has been of late, that was just sensible risk mitigation.

As for the old line that was revived? It was an old forum chestnut, when critics of Chris Taylor would note that his teams and his methods, were not built for big games. It was, largely, an unfair criticism, because we won two league titles, a Dockerty Cup, and had a deep FFA Cup run 2017 - but it's a criticism that's stuck. It stuck because of notable failures especially in knockout games - against Bentleigh in the cup, in a final, and in the grand final - and of course the calamities of the losses to Palm Beach and Hobart Olympia.

That it came to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out was also fitting, because part of Taylor's reputation for failing at South comes down to penalty shootout losses. Again, that's a little unfair, because there were only two penalty shoot outs during his time with the club, which just goes to show that more often than not his teams got the job done well before it came to the point of needing a shootout to resolve a situation.

(as for Taylor's dislike of practicing for penalty shootouts, I tend to instinctively agree with him that the anxiety of the actual shootout can't be replicated in training; still, here's an opposing argument backed up by some sort of legitimate science; and there's something to be said for the chat some of us had at the game that it was practicing at least for the sake of making our players be comfortable with a penalty taking routine)

But the penalty shootout was still a long way away from happening during the game. We'd set up a tight defence which made it hard for Oakleigh to score, but also made it even harder for us to score. Poor Daniel Clark was left floundering up forward like Brodie Mihocek under Nathan Buckley; an undersized forward being asked to do too much against too many, without nearly enough support.

Chances were few and far between for both sides. We had two good chances - one sequence of play with a header onto the crossbar and a follow up attempt cleared off the line, and Henry Hore hooting the post from a tight angle. Oakleigh managed to get behind our defence and around Pierce Clark, only for (I think) Luke Adams to clear off the line. 

If this was not a cup game, with the knowledge that one team would win, and one would lose; that one team's prize would be the national stage, and the other's a return to the drudgery of the league; if all the tension built up in the crowd creating an atmosphere of expectation; without any of those things, this game would rightly have been called a dour, frustrating, and poor spectacle of local football. 

There's no way of getting around that. It was not a good game to watch. I commend the players from both teams for giving it all their all, especially ours, but it was a difficult game to watch as a piece of entertainment, as a showcase for what teams in this league can achieve. A good thing for all concerned that that's not what people are going to remember then.

What they'll probably remember is atmosphere in the stands, and the no quarter given on the pitch, and even some of the back and forth between South's fans toward former Hellas boys Tyson Holmes and Matthew Foschini. The fans might also remember a pretty ordinary and one-sided performance from the referee, which saw us collect yellow cards at will (and in the manner and rate in which we were collecting at the start of the year), while Oakleigh seemed to get away with a lot more.

(And as has been noted to me elsewhere, when will Victorian referees finally tell Holmes that he is a not referee, and to just piss off? And Foschini kissing Oakleigh's cartoon cannon badge was just bizarre theatrics)

But what they'll remember is the penalty shootout, taken to the railway end of the ground, which started well for us, until it was almost scuppered by Gerrie Sylaidos' smashing his penalty - which would have won us the tie - against crossbar. I don't blame Gerrie for his miss, in much the same way I wouldn't blame anyone for missing a shot in a shootout. I felt sick just watching the shootout preferring to sit down instead of getting a dizzy spell and losing my bearings.

And I don't even blame Gerrie for taking the shot the way he did; maybe it was a correction against the penalty shot he had saved against Avondale earlier this year, but he's entitled to try and score anyway he likes - and if that means a powerful blast down the middle that'll be strong for any keeper to save should they even avoid diving left or right, then so be it.

As it was, we got into the sudden death element of the shootout, with Lirim Elmazi's squib of a shot trickling underneath the Oakleigh keeper, and then Pierce Clark comfortably saving Oakleigh subsequent and just as squibbish shot. And there it was. the cup tie won, and onto the next stage of two tournaments to much rejoicing. And maybe, whether by accident or design, it was revealed that this team is one built not so much for league success, but for cup runs. Maybe all it needs to prove its worth is a Dockerty Cup title; or somehow sneaking into the finals, and grinding its way through three do-or-die fixtures.

Again, credit where it's due - this has been our most difficult cup run to date in combined opposition calibre, certainly at least since the FFA Cup was attached as the main thread of knockout of football as opposed to the Dockerty Cup. Aside from the terribly youthful Werribee City, we had to face three NPL opponents in a row, when in other seasons we'd had difficulty getting just past one. And while Eastern Lions aren't one of our division's better teams, they still put up a good show in most games.

And winning two ostensibly "rival" games to get to this point is not worth sneezing at either; we'd overcome Knights, who knocked us out of this tournament two years ago, and who prize our scalp above all others; and this was our first "win" over Oakleigh (however you want to define it) since 2017, and against them at Jack Edwards since 2013.

That's not to say the journey has been anything close to aesthetically edifying, though it's had its moments of moral schadenfreude. Apart from the six goal Werribee romp, we won the remaining games by scoring just three goals, two of them penalties. In two of the games we played football that was beyond dour,. and most troubling, those were the recent games; but we won, and thus we are expected to be in nothing other than a good mood.

Me though? I prefer the linearity and subtlety of league season over cup football, which is for the excitable and the easily distracted fan, who can't commit to an ongoing storyline with depth; cup football is the pay per view event of local soccer - you come for the endless high spots, and forget about the graft that's needed to keep things going on and off the field for the rest of the year.

But that's just me I guess, a man renowned for taste in all things subtle and sophisticated.

One more thing

The day after the game while I was at home, my brother picked up the phone; he mumbled something about "Hellas", then passed the phone to me. It was my mum calling from her work - a customer in her shop was a mostly lapsed South Melbourne supporter from days of yore, asking to find out whether we'd won the cup tie the previous night. To which I replied that, yes, we'd won the game on penalties after the game had finished 0-0, but that geez it was very hard to watch.

Which when put like that, is a much shorter version of everything that I'd written before that paragraph, so sorry if you had to wait until here to get the summarised version.

Next game

Back to league action, against Green Gully at home on tonight. I wonder if we tried to get this game moved to the Saturday? Anyway, here's hoping the team don't feel the pinch too much from 120 minutes of effort, as well as last Saturday's game. Here's hoping also that at least some of the bandwagon from last night turns up as well.

FFA Cup draw

The draw for the national stage of the FFA Cup was held last night, with its new and not so national zoning system. I'm not sure if the zoning system is a pandemic related change, or something more permanent; then again, who knows what's permanent anymore? This greatly reduced the range of possibilities for a match up, making it more likely that we would get an NPL Victoria team as opponent. Except that's not what happened, with us getting Melbourne City instead. 

There are, broadly, three schools of thought on what an ideal FFA Cup match up is once you reach the national stage. One stream of thought suggests that the best course of action is to avoid an A-League team for as long as possible, which allows you the best chance to go deep into the tournament; people in this camp are divided about you want to play more home games (to maximise crowd revenues). The second stream of thought is that it's best to get an A-League opponent first up (ideally a local one), which will get you the biggest chance of a full-house, and the best chance of winning a game against an underprepared and understrength top-flight team during their off-season.

The third stream of course, is your correspondent's island of one position that the FFA Cup is a horrible competition wholly without merit.

But under the circumstances, a game against the current A-League champions is probably the best draw we could get. For those who'd prefer to travel, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc thanks to sudden border closures and lockdowns. And considering the suddenly increased workload Tuesday's night win has brought forth - at least one FFA Cup game, one Dockerty Cup game, to add to the three catch up games lost due to the lockdown - how deep do you expect our players to go? How many games do we expect semi-pros to be able to play in a short amount of time?

And for those who don't care about the FFA Cup

A reminder that our Dockerty Cup semi final will be against Hume City, after they beat Monbulk Rangers 3-0. No date or venue has yet been arranged for this fixture, but if recent practice is any guide, the semi-final venue will likely be a neutral venue.

Final thought

Thanks once again to Johnny for the lift back to Footscray.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Hello, Nuna! Dandenong Thunder 4 South Melbourne 1

So, for the transport engineers out there, here was Saturday's method for getting to the game. Both main car parks at Sunshine station closed, so decided to take the bus up to the station instead, thinking I would get a cab on the way back because buses stop by the time I would get back. Instead of getting the bus from my nearest stop (about 50 metres away), I walked up to the next stop (about 300 metres up the road), because my nearest stop is a bit of a mess thanks to extensive road and footpath rehabilitation works.

The wait for the rail replacement bus wasn't more than a few minutes, a stopping all stations effort to North Melbourne. Once at North Melbourne the task was to get on a train to somewhere in the city to change to a Pakenham or Cranbourne service. That didn't take more than about five minutes, getting on a train to Frankston.

Oh yes, there's this thing which still throws me off sometimes, that a train from Werribee towards the city might nowadays come under a "Frankston" designation on the screens, because Werribee trains often run through to Frankston after reaching the city. So I took the Frankston train to Richmond from North Melbourne, and changed at Richmond to a Pakenham service, which again, I didn't have to wait long for. That went pretty smoothly, and then I got to Dandenong Station.

It was freezing, and there was a 20 minute wait for the 901 bus, so what else to do but keep watching the stream of the women's game against Heidelberg at Lakeside. The NPLW can be such an unsatisfying competition to watch because of the lack of depth and its inbuilt imbalances, but the South women this season... I don't know, there's also something annoying about the way they play. It's a bit showboaty, it's a bit pull finger out only when necessary, and more than a bit careless. Heidelberg are an OK team, but we made them look a lot better than they are - at least during the first half - because there was little desire on our part to play meaningful football in the middle of the park.

Sure, there was the dangerous (and pointless) backline passing around, which attracted pressure for no good reason. But midfield proficiency? It's been a problem for much of the season as far as I can tell, where the all the caution and possession based style of the back third becomes all about booting the ball into space and hoping Melina Ayres (mostly) can run on to a loose ball and smash the ball past a helpless keeper. But where's the midfield panache, the evidence of stylistic and player growth? Hard to see where I'm watching from, but hey, we e3nded up crunching the Bergers 7-0, so everything's good, right?

Finally got to the ground, super early - because if I'm going to hike it all the way to Dandenong on public transport, I might as well get as much football in as possible - and caught most of the reserves game, which we ended up losing 4-2. One tolerable but nevertheless overpriced chicken roll was not enough to ward off the cold, and double-socked or not, there was no chance that my feet weren't going to freeze on standing on cold concrete or on dewy grass. I was disheartened also with a conversation with one of the few former South players that still comes to our games, who wanted to place most of the blame for our recent poor run of results on our injury toll, and none whatsoever on the coaching methodology. Well, we all see the game differently; we're all blind men touching different parts of the same elephant.

Still more time to kill, and not many South fans in sight, because pretty much everyone's given up, possibly for good. Having ditched the Futbol24 app some time ago because there just isn't the space on my phone for more apps, I am nowadays checking up on NPL scores via flicking over briefly onto NPL Victoria YouTube streams. Do I like what I see? Not really. That's because I see good and mediocre teams punish the poor teams in ways that we could not, even when we were "good". So you see Hume cracking four past Eastern Lions, Oakleigh crushing Dandy City, Green Gully smashing Altona Magic - with my three seconds of live viewing of that match being some goal from 30 metres out - and Port crunching St Albans. All very good, very reassuring only insofar that there should be just enough bad teams in this league that they won't all be able to catch up to us in our current mediocre state. 

And then there was Avondale vs Bentleigh, which finished 3-1 to the home side, after they trailed early on. Now, apart from the observation being made that not only does Avondale have good footballers (which costs money, I admit), there's also the fact Avondale also play good football (which doesn't cost any money, really); the kind of football that you'd like to see your team play, whether your side has the kind of resources that Avondale has, or merely half of them. It's a question of attitude, to a certain extent. And I get it - sometimes situations cause you to play more circumspect football, sometimes you need to deploy a more defensive state of mind.

But Avondale, after trailing early on, against what is a defensively suspect but otherwise pretty decent outfit in Bentleigh, amassed 21 shots on goal, and 13 on target by the end of the game. Against Altona Magic last week, a team who had not won a game all year, and whom we trailed (and eventually lost to) 2-1, we could manage three shots on target, over 90+ minutes of football. Against Thunder, we had two timid shots early in the half, to 13 on goal and seven on target from Thunder. Of course numbers don't tell the whole story, because by the end of last Saturday night's game we had more shots on target to Thunder, but that only goes to show that if want to play attacking football that we can. 

Of course the instruction to our players is obviously to play awful, boring, dispiriting football, in the hopes that we will win 0-0; which will only happen if the opposition is stupid enough to play a suspended player. But what we witnessed on Saturday night would have got most coaches sacked. Hell, I would've had the coach sacked at halftime, or even 30 minutes in if that was an option. Apart from a moderately promising opening five minutes, the team spent the rest of the half basically camped in its own half, gifting the opposition possession and territory. Thunder have good some players, they're no mugs, but they're also no world beaters, and yet we could not get possession of the ball in the opposition half. 

1-0 down, and then 2-0 down, both goals coming from corners - which is three goals conceded from corners since lockdown ended - and probably lucky not to be further down. And despite all of that, we continued to try and do the stupidest things imaginable under the circumstances. Down and out, under siege, we invited even more pressure onto ourselves by trying to play out the back from every situation. The goal kicks were the worst of it. Pierce Clark, seemingly not trusted to just belt the ball long under any circumstances, would inevitably play the ball left or right (usually to his left), no further than the edge of the 18 yard box, whereupon usually Brad Norton would pass the ball back to Clark, who would be rushed upon by Thunder forwards who knew exactly what we we're going to do all along, and then good luck hoping that we wouldn't concede.

The lack of situational awareness from anyone on field or on the bench was astonishing. In a game of soccer, there's skill level, there's tactics, and there's psychology. Our skill level is good enough to be competitive against almost any team in this competition, but our tactics are dire, but we've already said that. But our situational awareness is also completely shot. You have an opponent that is fired up, is in the ascendancy, and looking to press high up the field. They want the game to be played at the same high tempo that's benefiting them at that moment of time. So instead of taking the sting out of the game, we try to match that tempo, try to knock the ball around right on our goal line, and keep playing the game on the opposition's terms.

It was astonishing stuff, watching South Melbourne psychologically capitulate to the extent that no matter how many times it failed, that our players would robotically perform Nunawading "Evolution of the Idea" playing out of the back. Sure, there had already been the robotic qualities earlier in the season with our retreats from midfield back to the keeper, but on Saturday night the situation had become deploringly bad. It was, dare I say it, Southern Stars 2013 bad, and I don't use that comparison lightly.  It was a gut wrenching, soul destroying, club destroying spectacle. Two subs made on the half hour mark only served to show that Quintas had got the starting line-up badly wrong, and that he has no switch-up from Plan A (whatever that means in a non hit it long to Harry Sawyer world) to whatever else he might have up his sleeve.

That we came out in the second half in a more positive frame of mind, pulled a goal back, and almost levelled the score was even more dispiriting. Clearly we have the talent on our books to play imperfect, but still generally good attacking football. But let's say for arguments sake that we did equalise. Let's even say for argument's sake that we somehow went on to win the game. That would only prove the point that we are being coached horrendously, and that just about anyone else in this state could do the job better. At this stage of the season, it's barely about personnel anymore. Tactically and psychologically, we are shot. No one out there playing for South is enjoying the game anymore, you can see that at least half the senior squad is beyond fucking miserable. It's been a grind for the whole season, salvaged only by a ridiculously fortunate unbeaten run to start the year, and no amount of Shepparton bonding trips and renditions of Sweet Caroline can make playing this kind of football under this manager feel worthwhile. 

Apparently on 3XY Radio Hellas on Sunday, the sports program read out a message from president Nick Maikousis that Quintas will remain as South coach for the rest of the season. You can read that in classic "he's got the full support of the board" style, which means he'll be sacked soon, but the reality is that we probably can't afford to pay out his contract. Why this is the case when we were told that Quintas' performance was tied to certain KPIs is anyone's guess, but it seems we are stuck with him until the end of this year, unless he falls on his own sword. 

So what's left to do? Hope the players perform a quiet mutiny, by taking over control of training and matchday themselves, completely cutting out management? 

(Big hint to any of our players stupid enough to read this blog - you should totally do this) 

I mean, what could possibly go wrong with such an approach that would be worse than the last two months worth of performances, and the misery you have (and we, the supporters) have been forced to endure?

Next game

FFA Cup qualifier tomorrow night against Oakleigh Cannons at Jack Edwards. A win here gets us into the national stage of the competition, and into the Dockerty Cup semi finals. No one expects us to win though.

Final thought

Big thanks to Johnny for giving me a lift back to Footscray, and to Kartsi for offering to give me a ride back to somewhere approximating civilisation. Then when I got back to Sunshine station on the rail replacement bus at about 10:30, there were no cabs in the vicinity, so I walked the kilometre and a half home. A tiptop end to a tiptop day.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Calamitous - South Melbourne 1 Altona Magic 2

You wait a few weeks to get back to Lakeside, and you get served that rubbish. Maybe one or two shots on target in 90 minutes, against a side that hadn't won a game all year.

Once again, I get that we have suspensions and injuries, but a good chunk of this terrible run of form (especially after the lockdown break) feels like chickens coming home to roost.

The constant rotations on and off the field remain mindboggling, How can any player feel secure, when they are in and out of the side, on and off the field, and played in several positions, with little sense of rhyme or reason?

How can the team as a whole feel confident about scoring goals, when the default set up has them playing so deep, that even mediocre opponents feel confident in taking the ball up field, knowing that they will not be pressured?

I know that it's not 1966, or 1976, or 1984, or 1991, or 1998, or 2001, or even 2014. And I know that sometimes as a coach you've got to deal with the hand you've been dealt (or the one you've dealt yourself).

But there is still room for mythology, and an acknowledgement of the club's history: that this club was built upon entertainment, and that a desire to score goals is in the club's DNA. It is an indispensable part of what this club represents to its supporters.

What happened to the South team that, just a couple of months ago, pressed the Knights, and Gully, and Bentleigh, and looked like a million (NPL equivalent) bucks?

If the coach and anyone else with a say about how things are done on the field doesn't want to do things the South Melbourne Hellas way, there are plenty of other clubs they can go to where they can be timid.

Next game
This Saturday night away to Dandenong Thunder.

FFA Cup draw news
Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, for the next round of the FFA Cup we've been drawn as the away team against the winner of tonight's Oakleigh vs Green Gully match. The game is due to be played next Tuesday or Wednesday. The way we're going, they only advantage we're likely to have against either opponent is that they'll have played a rather more congested schedule than us, especially Oakleigh. 

Things could not really have gone much worse in this draw. I mean, we could've got Avondale, but this ain't much better. It does kind of feel like all roads will lead to a Chris Taylor (and Foschini, and Matthews, and Holmes) vs South clash for the national stage, as some kind of massive let's see who was right after all these years.

What I wouldn't have done for another match up against Monbulk; but one has to admit, we've at times had a blessed run in this competition. While we've done quite poorly in FFA Cup qualifier fixtures against NPL teams (two wins, four losses), we'd never lost against a lower league opponent (something like fourteen wins) even though we struggled in more than a few of those games.

And notwithstanding how overpowered Dandy City were for an NPL2 side in 2017, in that year we didn't face a single foe from our own division in qualifying. So if this is the universe righting itself after a number of years, than I suppose we can't complain too much about finally getting a difficult run to the FFA Cup national stage. And who knows, if we actually do manage to make it through to the FFA Cup nationals (and the Dockerty Cup semis), we'll have really earned it this time.

Women's chat
I watched the first half of this game against Box Hill United in the social club, and the second half outside in the grandstand. After smashing Bayside last week, and getting off to a very fast start here, I was expecting another avalanche of goals. It did not happen that way, and that can be put down to some untidy finishing, but also to Box Hill's tenacity throughout the game, never throwing in the towel. But the South women did get the win, and they remain on top of the table.

Merch chat
How good did those retro bomber jackets look in the pro shop? Now if only they made them in adult sizes.

Food chat
Had the salt and pepper calamari, with salad. Calamari was a bit too much salt, and not enough pepper, but otherwise it is a significant improvement over the chicken burger.

Final thought
Just behind Row H, someone made a comment so obvious and insightful, that it'll be carved into Esteban Quintas' coaching tombstone: "he tried to win games 0-0". 

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Painful - South Melbourne 2 Eastern Lions 1

Gerrie Sylaidos aims to keep the ball in play. 
Photo: Gold Leaf Creative.
At home, yelling at the television. That's not a way to live, not for the NPL. But enough on that. we all know what that's like. 

What this game revealed is that there's something to be said for the mentality you take into a match. Eastern Lions came to Lakeside looking to try and win the game, and South... I'm not sure South went into the game trying to win it. When they took the lead, when they were down to ten men, and then chasing the game, Lions were trying to win the game. It may not have been the smartest thing to do in every situation, but as a fan of a team which is cautious to a fault, my goodness it was invigorating (and infuriating) to see a team that no one in our league really rates, having a go because quite clearly their coach believes in the talent at his disposal.

And while ordinarily I would use the term "limited" next to the word "talent", it would be a misnomer to a certain extent, because in this league every player's talent is limited. Even the talent of a squad as a whole is limited. Some are more limited than others, but at this level the standard of individual players is such that individually and collectively there are faults and weaknesses which are glaring. That's fine, we all know what we're watching and who we're watching.

But these players and teams also have strengths, and credit to Lions, they seem to focus more on what they can do rather than what they can't. Can I say the same for South Melbourne? Maybe those closer to the team can, but I can't. Maybe the emphasis is slanted toward a method I can't discern. Maybe the coaches believe the greatest strength of the team is not in its individual and collective talent, but in its adaptability; not in terms of changing its approach to a game based on different circumstances presented to it, but rather, every player should be able to play within a variety of positions within the rigid philosophy set by Esteban Quintas; a philosophy which seems to be, play almost no one in the same position two weeks in a row; that nearly every player belongs in the starting line-up; and that we should sit as deep as possible, and hold on to the ball for as long as possible, and take as few chances as possible.

We move the ball back and around, back and around, sideways and backwards, and only pass the ball forwards at "obvious" moments where it's not likely to come back the other way. I could talk about taking more chances in midfield, but that would be too obvious. But here's the worst of it: we pass the ball back to the keeper when there is no material benefit in doing so. So on Wednesday, Lirim Elmazi (but it could be any of our rotating cast of centre backs), will collect the ball on the edge of his own box, pass the ball back maybe a metre or two to goalkeeper Pierce Clark, who then passes it back to Lirim. An eternity passes by in the meantime, as the playing system which seeks to instil an abject deferral of responsibility to someone else at all times comes into play.

Thus we are trailing, and there is no urgency. Urgency is different from panic; panic is wayward, agitated, scattershot. Urgency is alert, aware, and proactive. We are not proactive, at least not nearly as much as we should be. Is there open shot on offer? Let's hold on to it. Is there a pass that could be made? Let's hold on to it  Should we put in a corner directly into the box, to our tall timber, against a small and inexperienced back up goalkeeper? Let's play it short, and hold on to it.

I'm not against rotating players, horses for courses when it's necessary or obvious, nor in giving young players a go. But where's the method to how it's done here? Where is the method anywhere? Without going back and harping on our last period of success four years ago, because the circumstances were different then - a much bigger budget for a start - there is one thing we can say about the Chris Taylor era: that for all his drawbacks as a coach, he had a method. It isn't even about the method working or not, but I would like to know what is the exact thinking that goes into team selection, team arrangement, team philosophy. Of course Quintas doesn't really do interviews, and his English isn't crash hot either, but still... what's the method?

Say we get to a stage where we have our next FFA Cup against an NPL opponent as opposed to Monbulk Rangers (and let's hope that it is Monbulk Rangers in the next round). Or let's say that we are in a finals match. So, a game in which, if we lose, our participation in the competition ceases. What is our best team? Who is in our starting eleven? How are they arranged? What does the bench look like? I don't think anyone, not the fans, not the coach, nor the players, can honestly say what that starting eleven looks like.

Anyway, we haven't scored from open play for several matches (against Hume was the last time), and since then we have scrounged whatever results we have thanks to penalties, and on Wednesday a set piece (a corner). Maybe it was a case of Daniel Clark playing 5D chess when he rounded Keegan Coulter and didn't take the initial shot; he probably would have missed, or it would have been cleared off the line, or something would have gone wrong. And not even because it was Daniel Clark, though he's had a torrid time in front of goals the last couple of games, but because we just do not seem to remember how to score.

Even the young lad (was it Sasha Murphy?) who was teed up by Henry Hore (the only player who seemingly takes the game on with any consistency in forward positions) and blasted a gimme goal wide. Luckily for all concerned, Clark's eventual shot (which may have ended up going on to hit the post) was saved by the hands of a diving Lions outfielder. It was a remarkable sequence of play which changed the game on several fronts. One, we scored from the penalty (thank goodness) and equalised; two, the Lions defender got sent off; and three, Coulter injured himself in trying to prevent Clark from getting to the ball first.

Even so, Lions did not go into their shell and try and grind out the match. They played to win, and made us look silly in the process. And it wasn't even like those cliched "ten men firing up against eleven" moments - they were outplaying us tactically. Sitting deep and using the false nine set up (because we have no strikers) was not going well. Thank goodness that we finally decided to put a corner directly into the box, which Elmazi scored from, because otherwise we were going to be riding our luck for the the rest of the game. Which we did anyway, because we took off Elmazi straight after his goal, which must be a sign that Quintas has supreme confidence in the team, much more than I could possibly have.

Skipper Brad Norton chaired off in his 250th game.
Photo: Gold Leaf Creative.
Unable to finish them off - even three on three chances were ruined by repeated poor touches - we managed to get away with it, as Lions failed to bundle a late goal home from very close range. The whole experience reminded me somewhat of that Dockerty Cup quarter final from 2013 against Preston, Makeshift line up against an inferior opponent, and needing all the luck in the world to get through. I suppose we should be happy that we did, but my goodness it was hard work watching this game. Centre backs playing defensive mid when your defensive mid is on the bench. No strikers, and the bloke you recruited and called a striker (but who is really an attacking mid) not able to run out a full game (or so it seems).

And I just can't wait to go and see and complain about it all the in flesh again.

Next game

At home on tonight against the winless Altona Magic.

Final thought

Congratulations to Brad Norton on his 250th game for the club.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Drifting toward the void - South Melbourne 0 Port Melbourne 1

The email from Football Victoria came in at about 5:21 on Friday evening. It said that FV just wanted to clarify that while venues were closed to crowds for the resumption of games in NPL Victoria, media would be allowed in, though it would be best to check with the host club first. Well, ordinarily I would've jumped at the opportunity to head to a South game, but alas! I had made other plans! By which I mean, it didn't seem right to leave loved ones in the comparative (and not really that inconvenient) lurch at such short notice.

Also, given the lack of due notice that accredited media would be allowed in, there was just no real time to make an official application of my intention to attend. I mean, there kinda was, especially if I wanted to back channel things with my South insider people, but wouldn't that just reek of "don't you know who I am" antics, and I'm clearly not about that. Usually.

So instead I decided to do (more or less) what many of you would have done on the night, and watched this game from the comfort of a loungeroom in suburbia (in my case, on YouTube on my Xbox One); after watching Argiro Barbarigou with my mum, of course.

Fair to say, and I know it's obvious and cliched, but when it comes to watching South Melbourne Hellas,  that compared to being there in person, streaming just ain't it. The quality of the camerawork is good, the commentators for our game were good, and the production values were good (sans the persistent lack of replays). But it's not soccer as I think it should be.

And that's not to say that being there on Friday night would have been some transcendent experience, because it wouldn't have been. Closed door games suck whether you're there or not. I know, I've been to one, and while it's preferable to not being there, it's still a less than ideal experience. What I'm trying to say is, that under normal circumstances, you'd prefer to be at a game - even one with a horrendously low attendance - as long people have the choice of attending or not attending.

Competitive, organised football at a level where spectators are part of the equation, is meant to be a social and civic affair.  Furthermore, it doesn't matter if anyone shows up or not (well it does, but humour me for a moment for the sake of the argument I'm going to try and make), and whether those that do show up show anything like being interested or amused or entertained by the spectacle. Being part of a collective experience that's entirely based on intermittent digital interactions with people during spectacle doesn't quite do it for me. 

Watching a stream together, in a shared space, also isn't ideal, but it can have its charms. And it's not like I don't watch my fair share of Collingwood matches on television, and tweet about them. But that's somehow also quite different from the local soccer experience. Collingwood, and the AFL, are very, very big in this culture. You can be classed as a supporter and participant in the culture, even if your actual involvement or engagement is very small.

Sure there's a difference between the hardcore who buy reserved seat memberships and those who mainly read about their teams in the paper or make idle chat about the footy in the office; but there's enough depth to the supporter culture in footy to make a range of supporter experiences and approaches appear at least notionally valid; you can go to games regularly or not go at all, and still be part of something much larger than yourself.

Soccer  - likely throughout Australia, but more specifically at our level, and even more specifically South's situation - does not have that luxury of supporter depth and cultural embeddedness; where the culture of competitive, organised, spectator oriented soccer is so embedded that the game can make do with "enough" people turning up to make up for all the people who claim to take an interest but then don't actually go to that many games of senior soccer.

It's not just that you need people at games to pay for player wages and other costs. You need people at games to demonstrate that there's a purpose to this club that transcends creating content for media conglomerates and the gambling industry; otherwise you may as well just either shut the whole thing down, or hand over control of senior soccer to a betting company. 

Every game with a low attendance makes people wonder if the whole South Melbourne Hellas thing is a going concern, not just or even primarily economically, but culturally. Every game like this, with no attendance except a very strict limit on barebones staff and designated drivers and/or guardians, chips away at the feeling of being connected to something bigger than ourselves, even if it is not very big. Every closed door game also just kicks the question of what the future holds for this club, in a shared community sense, a little bit further down road.

During the game we played maybe 15 minutes of good football, and apart from that, looked generally clueless as to how to score. It looked cold. It rained. The players that I have no faith in screwed up their moments, and the players that I had some faith in didn't do much better. The coaching staff keep messing around with line-ups and positioning. And the team is being found, or so it seems, for the board not having signed a striker, nor for finding a way to encourage those responsible for team selection and organisation to pick a youth team striker to have a go.

And while we could have lost by more than we did, it felt fitting to lose to a solitary goal which will also probably be the goal of the season. That we spent the last half hour in utter cluelessness trying to figure out how to score a goal from open play was the cherry on top. All of this would have been experienced with much more anguish and anger and self-loathing if we could have watched it together at Lakeside. And again, I understand why we couldn't, but that last half hour for me wasn't even shared online.

At about the 58 minute mark, I had to drive up to Sunshine Marketplace to pick up my youngest brother from his job. So I paused the YouTube stream, and drove the five minutes to the shopping centre. I had the footy on the radio. I waited two minutes for my brother to come out of the shops, then drove back home. By the time I got back onto the couch and resumed the stream, I was 17 minutes behind the present.

I avoided the socials until the match concluded in my own reality's real time, and I avoided fast forwarding through the action... mostly. I say mostly, because when it became clear that Port were going to slow down every stoppage in play to the nth degree, I was able to move the cursor ahead by a few seconds each time. Eventually I made up about four minutes of differential; it could've been more had I started doing that earlier.

But even being able to have that choice to do that, destroyed the feeling of being part of something other than watching something to kill time on a Friday night. When you're at the game, you can't fast forward or pause. You can make nonsense comments like "gee that half just flew by" or "this half has been going on forever", and they'll be perfectly valid statements of your perception of the temporal experience, even if they're completely wrong. Devoid of the shared experience, the whole thing loses much of its  accumulated meaning. Without the journey to and from the game, there is a lack of a framing device. Without other voices, without the chorus of the crowd, it's just you and an increasingly oblique for why you care about this thing. 

At home, and mostly alone, time elapsed during a soccer match becomes nothing. Fast forward it. Pause it. Turn it off. Go to bed.

Next game
Eastern Lions on Wednesday night, in the rescheduled FFA Cup fixture. Once again, due to covid restrictions, you won't be able go! What you will be able to do, is tune in to the game via South's Facebook page. No idea yet if the game will be streamed through a streaming service that I prefer, like YouTube.

A quick word on the senior women
I assumed their return to action (also behind closed doors) against Bayside United was going to be on the Sunday, and then all of a sudden I see on the old socials on Saturday arvo that there were line-ups being posted and all sorts of things of the nature of "they're actually going to play very soon; like in a few minutes". And what do you know, within mere minutes of the kickoff they're 2-0 up, and then it just didn't dry up.

After that advance notice of South dismantling their opposition, I didn't stream any of it, not out of slackness or spite or carelessness, but because the whole thing seemed macabre. As the season rolls on, South's senior women add more and more top-shelf talent, and sides like Bayside end up being treated like Southern United.

Ten-nil it finished. South is completely entitled to crush any opposition it faces, and it would kind of be remiss of it not to flex all its muscles when it can. But, also, poor Bayside. What good does a result like this do for them, and for player development in local women's soccer? It probably does as much good for them as it does for Southern United, who no longer have senior representation.

Not sure what good it does for the development of the South players either. But I suppose they'll be happy to take the three points and move on to the next game.

Final thought
Here's hoping that we can get back to games by the weekend. I miss watching games in person, and I even miss some of you.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

This week's game is going ahead, but you can't go

So the news - as it currently stands - is that tomorrow night's senior men's game at home against Port Melbourne will be going ahead, but that fans will not be allowed to attend.

I don't expect that arrangement to change any time soon, but keep your eyes tuned to official channels just in case something miraculous happens.

The game will be live streamed as has been customary these past few years, so at least there's that.

This is obviously disappointing on so many levels, but these are the times we live in. Also, while not a direct factor in why Lakeside specifically is out of bounds to crowds (because every stadium in metro Melbourne is supposed to be out of bounds), have you seen how many exposure sites are in and around the South Melbourne area?

People have suggested that the clubs would have preferred to wait another week, so that crowds could be welcomed back, but I guess Football Victoria thought the backlog in the schedule was already getting out of hand.

Still, it's not just about the desire of fans to get back out there, or even the gate and canteen money that will be lost, but also whether the players will be match fit after this break. Of course every club will have had its mid-season injury toll, which this break would have alleviated to a certain extent, and here's hoping for us that Josh Wallen at least has been finally given the all clear to resume playing.

Quite how games played in what are essentially public parks will be policed is another question, but not something that concerns us terribly much.

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Puskas doco update - Ange at Celtic - NPL getting back into action?

Ferenc Puskas documentary update

Some of you may have seen the recent Neos Kosmos article on this matter, but the Ferenc Puskas in Australia/at South Melbourne Hellas documentary being put together by Rob Heath and Tony Wilson is progressing well. I have recently seen a rough cut of the full film - about which I cannot say very much at all - and it's not too bad. Some truly surprising moments. Several funny moments. Many moving moments.

With more support from the public, the filmmakers believe the film could be even better. I know I've banged on about this a bit, but I will continue to bang on about it. If people have homemade footage, or even footage off the TV, which includes prominent, or even incidental footage of Ferenc Puskas in Australia, you should get in contact with Rob (heath@vicbar.com.au).or Tony (tony@tonywilson.com.au), or even me (blackmissionary@hotmail.com). 

If you have photographs or footage of Middle Park from that era - the ground, the social club, the celebrations following the 1991 grand final win - get in contact with us. If you have photos of Ferenc from that time, or from his time coaching juniors out in Keysborough before he joined South, get in contact with us.

Huge thanks to the people who have already made their personal collections available to Tony and Rob. You know who you are, and you're all champions.

There are also people out there who have made promises to look through their materials, but who haven't done so yet. I get it - you get excited, but it slips your mind. The pandemic and lockdowns haven't helped. But this is another prompt from me, on behalf of the filmmakers, to dig out the VHS tapes, the Betamax, the photo albums, the scrapbooks, the Super 8 and 8mm.

The people who have this stuff may or may not read this stuff. Maybe you, dear reader, know someone though who has this material. If you fall into either category, do what you can to get those materials to Rob and Tony. Because of its subject matter, this is a film that has the potential not only to be seen in Australia, but throughout the soccer loving world. Imagine that - the ephemera of soccer loving Australians, gathering dust in a cupboard or box or garage, seen by people all around the world.

Here's the other thing the filmmakers need: financial support. They need money for purchasing film rights, and for production costs. To that end, Rob and Tony have a set up a fundraising section on the Documentary Australia Foundation site. You can check with your accountant, but donations may even be tax deductible.

His stint with Yokohama F Marinos saw no revival of CC Japan, but does Ange's Celtic move mean the return of the SPL thread on the South forum?

Congratulations to Ange Postecoglou who is now the manager at Celtic. Is it a step up or sideways? It's a curious question for Australians to ask, because in this country Celtic were last considered a "big" team in Australia back when SBS still used to have its World Soccer program, which would include highlights from mid-ranking leagues like Scotland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. 

Of course now we're at that stage of civilisation where SBS is basically soccer-free, and just as likely to torch its The World Game digital archive along with its soccer tapes. Anyway, even after SBS stopped its World Soccer program, we would still get occasional bouts of Celtic on free-to-air thanks to Celtic's participation in the Champions League, and every now and again you'd get a news report of the goal scoring exploits of Scott MacDonald and Tom Rogic. Even that though seems like a long time ago to me, even though Rogic is still there.

Certainly a long, long time ago though, was when this blog used to take a sort of strange interest in the life and times of Ange Postecoglou, in particular as it pertained to his wilderness years following his run with Australia's national youth teams, but before his career revival with Brisbane Roar. More specifically, South of the Border was probably the only English language outlet anywhere to take any regular interest in Ange's attempts to revive his coaching stocks in the Greek third division with the then Con Makris owned Panachaiki in 2008. 

That's not meant to sound like aggrandisement of this blog - even back when South of the Border mused on Ange's ascension to Socceroos coach, we noted that our interest in Ange's Panachaiki stint was covered "more as an oddity than as anything serious". I had space to fill, and a yearning desire to post relentlessly in the early days. That was a long time ago, for both Ange and myself. I've already written about the accomplishment of Ange digging himself out of a football coaching grave - in no small part not just because someone at Brisbane Roar thought it would be worth taking a chance on him, but also because he was willing to take chances himself.

Since the beginning of his career revival, so many words have been written about Ange, and there'll be many more to come. One day, hopefully, he himself will write the full version of his story, discussing not just his well known achievements and failures, but also Panachaiki and Whittlesea Zebras, and the very first coaching gig - and his last playing gig - at Western Suburbs. Celtic will be a challenge of course, something more regular viewers of Scottish football will understand better than me. It's also an opportunity though, not just for Ange, but should he be successful, for other Australian coaches as well. It took decades for Australian soccer pioneers to break down the playing doors of European football; now we may see the first big blow struck for Australian coaches.

Let's not forget though...

Congratulations also to Joe Montemurro, who became the manager of Juventus' women's team during the week. Blimey, South Melbourne related coaching trailblazers wherever you look these days. 

Return to football coming soon?

Now that lockdown restrictions are being tentatively eased, are we likely to see a return to football soon? Seems to be a suggestion that the competition could resume next week, but that may be hard to do if the 25 kilometre limit, as well as limits on public gatherings, are in still in place. Of course things could change again for better or worse between now and next week. Probably best to keep tuned to better sources of information and news than South of the Border. 

Friday, 4 June 2021

Some thoughts on the Greek episode of Optus' Football Belongs series

Well, some people were certainly underwhelmed, confused - and perhaps even a little miffed - with the Greek episode of Optus Sport's Football Belongs series, which was released the other week. Since I was also underwhelmed, confused, and miffed, I feel it warrants a now rare non-match report spiel from me on South of the Border, if for no other reason than it's better than me posting vaguely that "it just wasn't very good" on Twitter.

For those unfamiliar with the concept: Optus Sport's Football Belongs series focuses on European migrant communities in Australia, and their connections to Australian soccer. The series is made up of short episodes (usually around five minutes), with each episode focusing on a different ethnic group. Originally intended to act as a promotional tie-in for Optus' coverage of the Euro 2020 tournament, with Euro 2020's postponement until 2021, half the episodes were released last year, and the second half are being released now. 

Apart from Optus seeking to dip its toe into a variety of Australian soccer history projects - there's a number of video stories they've done on players, as well as John Didulica's Australian soccer history podcast series - it's a project that's been made possible by recent changes to the local soccer cultural landscape. The most important of those changes has been the emergence of the FFA Cup which, even with the patronising tone of the broadcasters and organising body, began dismantling to a certain extent the ethnic boogeyman trope of Australian soccer.

Since then we've also had the dismantling and/or adjustment of the National Club Identity Policy, which means that now we can stop pretending that ethnic clubs aren't ethnic clubs - and that we may even want to celebrate the cultural variety and difference that exists within Australian soccer. Thus Football Belongs is also an attempt at remedying the specific kind of "ethnic club" bashing and erasure of history that Australian soccer took part in for the better part of the last two or three decades.

Within that context, you have the emergence of a series which seeks to celebrate the contribution of migrant European communities to Australian soccer. It's been an interesting diversion of a series, with many issues. There's the near total lack of women players interviewed, with most women interviewed being - at best - ancillary members of the soccer community; the lack of almost anyone from outside the specific ethnic groups covered discussing their place within the specific ethnic club structure they find themselves in; and (in general) the lack of people who had been involved with those ethnic soccer clubs, who ended up moving away from that particular scene for various reasons, without the requisite explanation as to why that happened.

There are also a lot of technical and philosophical obstacles to making a series like this, not least making an all-encompassing series which condenses into very small packets the often decades long experience of migrants to Australia and their soccer lives. Each ethnicity covered also provides its particular quirks and challenges. How do you avoid talking about politics, when the foundation of many of these clubs is overtly political? How do you make a club and culture based on self-evident minorities - when their mere existence upsets a good chunk of Australia that doesn't want ethnic minorities? How do you make a small, self-sufficient, even insular community, not come across as being so insular that they come across as unsympathetic? How do you approach a community whose younger generations have withered away entirely as a distinct Australian soccer ethnic group, or whose sense of self has changed so dramatically due to political developments that their former selves are no longer recognisable to their current selves? 

And with particular reference to this episode - how do you condense the experience of an Australian soccer ethnicity which is so large, so diverse, and spread across every state and dozens of clubs? These are questions which are hard to answer, especially in a five minute burst format. It's probably even outside the remit of the project to answer those questions with any sort of depth. And to a degree much of this is understandable - the series is meant to be a short, punchy, quietly celebratory look at communities which have nurtured soccer in Australia in difficult circumstances. 

I've found many of the episodes up until this point to be quite enjoyable, with a whole range of caveats (which you can hear about in the last segment of this episode of my history podcast from last year), but the Greek episode was not a good outing. This wasn't just noticed by the Greeks, but also by people from outside the Greek soccer community. 

But what the Greeks noticed first up (apart from Nick Giannopoulos; more on that later) was a film that ended up being neither very much about Greek-Australian soccer or about South Melbourne Hellas specifically, even as South featured more prominently than the other clubs featured. There was talk about Lonsdale Street, and Oakleigh's Greek precinct, and an erroneous statement by George Donikian about who was Australia's first minister for immigration. 

There was barely any mention of Sydney Olympic, apart from a very quick grab with Peter Katholos. Almost nothing about Heidelberg, apart from footage of them from our round one meeting earlier this year, There was nothing at all on Greek-Australian soccer from Tassie, Western Australia, Queensland, and most unforgivably, nothing about West Adelaide at all. I get that there are budget and time restrictions, and that there are a bajillion Greek backed clubs in Australia, and that the pandemic has made a mess of being able to travel especially for a Melbourne based production crew. But leaving out West Adelaide seems very wrong in this context.

There was some good content in there. There's Ange Postecoglou, no doubt the Greek community's most important soccer product, who makes the kind of comments on this topic you've heard him make before; there's Katholos and Con Boutsianis talking about how difficult it was playing for a Greek backed club, at least in terms of the expectations of the supporters. Unlike other episodes in this series however, there's no current supporters at all; even Football Australia chairman Chris Nikou, who makes an appearance in this film, makes the point that he is a former supporter of South Melbourne. And that's pretty much it. 

Oh, except for Nick Giannopoulos. Now I'm not a fan, but I get that people out there were, and still are, especially those generations that grew up with his comedy. And that's fine, because different strokes for different folks and all that. And I'm not here to eviscerate Giannopoulos and his brand of comedy, because that's been done by far more capable people. But here's the problem as far as Giannopoulos' appearance plays out in this episode. A major part of Giannopoulos' schtick is authenticity - his belief that in his comedy, he tells an authentic story to both the demographic he emerged from (second generation migrants, especially Greeks), as well as to those outside that demographic, in this case principally those in Anglo-Australia.

Authenticity is also an important angle for this series. The producers are striving to present real people, real clubs, and real supporters. In contrast to the focus grouped, marketing spin, corporate backed A-League, this series seeks to relate a much more organic Australian soccer story. Authenticity is a tricky thing though. When you play around in generalities, you can get away with a lot more than when you deal with specifics. When dealing in generalities, the broadness of (for example) a comic stereotype is easily recognised by everyone watching. It's easy, it's cheap, but it's also artistically safe. 

But when it comes to making specific claims, that's where things get trickier. If your specific claims are laden with errors, the members of the audience from outside your demographic will likely struggle to recognise them. That's not the case though for those members of the audience who are "insiders" to your claims of authenticity, and whose ability to connect to the authenticity of your cultural product is dependent on your being much more precise.

Giannopoulos starts off badly with the claim that the Greek word "passatembo" is the word for "pistachios". It is not. Passatembo (a derivative of the Italian passatempo, meaning "pastime" or "diversion") in Greek refers specifically to pumpkin seeds. Eyes were already rolling at Giannopoulos even being in the film, then he makes that error, and finishes it off with his "compensaysho" bit. One of the stylistic challenges for a series like Football Belongs is to avoid having your subject - in this case Australian ethnic soccer communities - come across as fossils. And yet here we are in this episode, with a fossil comedian front and centre, dredging up gags that weren't that funny when he made his name with them thirty-five years ago.

But away from whatever specific details Giannopoulos gets wrong, or how tired his shtick is, the most dumbfounding thing for many current South fans watching this episode is that he was even asked to appear at all in a documentary about Greek-Australian soccer. Social media was awash with people trying to remember the last time Giannopoulos was anywhere near a South game; not only that, people were trying to remember Giannopoulos even attending South matches during the NSL.

More evidence, if you needed it, that Giannopoulos has little to no interest in local soccer, is the almost complete absence of soccer references in his social media presence. He seemed to be a Victory fan about six years ago, but has barely posted about them since. That's about as much soccer content as you get out of him online. References to South Melbourne? None. References to the Essendon Football Club? Plenty, especially if you want to dig in to Giannopoulos being a Hird Truther.

To be fair, it's probably the case that the producers just didn't know any better. They made an error in judgement in thinking that Giannopoulos would have something worthwhile and relevant to say on the topic of Greek-Australians and soccer, and so they approached him to appear on this thing. Having made that mistake, the onus should then be on Giannopoulos to say "sorry fellas, I'm flattered that you've asked me to be in this film, but I have nothing to do with soccer in Australia, let alone any local Greek clubs, and haven't for a long time - best to find someone closer to the scene".

Instead, over a quarter of the very short running running time - which all up, is just four minutes - is taken up with Giannopoulos, with a good portion of that consisting of his "ethnic" minstrelsy. That's time that could've been used to talk with a lifelong volunteer or supporter of any Greek-Australian club, or a player (like Boutsi or Kat) who understood what it meant to play for a Greek backed club, or to feature something on Heidelberg or West Adelaide.

The whole thing felt like a fundamental misreading of Greek-Australians and soccer. The joke was even made on the South forum that the only way it could've been worse, was if George Calombaris made an appearance as well; and perhaps the only thing preventing that from happening is the fact that for the time being at least, Calombaris remains a social pariah. Unlike other episodes, there was little about specific about any clubs. The references were so dated, that the film inadvertently raised the question of whether we are living clubs and a living culture, or just a memory of one.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Next two matches postponed

With a seven day covid lockdown in place in Victoria from midnight tonight, our next two scheduled matches - the men's and women's league double-header on Saturday, and the senior men's cup game on Wednesday - have been postponed. 


Wednesday, 26 May 2021

You win some, you lose some, you draw lots - South Melbourne 1 Bentleigh Greens 1

There is an important issue facing South at the moment, and I don't think it is getting the coverage that it warrants. No, it is not the lack of a striker in the squad, as we struggle to score any goals from situations that are not penalty related. Neither it it the impending doom facing South as our fanbase becomes ever more blasé about their connection to the club, and even the hardest of the hardcore begin drifting away from the club.

(And here's a newsflash from early 2006 - rather than come up with reasons why they no longer want to support the club and then leave, most people leave and then come up with reasons for why they no longer come. Good luck trying to reason with people who take that approach.)

No, the most important question facing South Melbourne right now is whether we should get the Trust to fix one of the defective PA speakers in grandstand. On the one hand, it's a matter of professionalism and service - if something in the arena part of Lakeside Stadium is defective, then it's the Trust's responsibility to fix it. On the other hand, it's made the generally terrible pre-match and half-time music played in the grandstand that bit more tolerable. Tina Turner's version of "The Best" sees her voice disappear into the aether, turning the song into a karaoke tune; B2K's lascivious "Bump, Bump, Bump" has almost all its singing obliterated, leaving only "Yeah!" and "Bump, Bump, Bump". It's like a real time episode of Classic Albums, where a version of the mix is being played without the vocals; except you don't have Lindsay Buckingham, Butch Vig, or Brian Eno there to fiddle with knobs to bring up the vocals.

Anyway, the situation is like this. Our only recognised, fully-fledged senior striker (Harry Sawyer) is out for the next six weeks, at least. Our next best senior option, Josh Barresi, isn't a striker. Our best option after that (and this is really a guess as to who that might be), is Marcus Schroen, who'll probably be having surgery in a couple of weeks to fix up the mess his upper body's in after copping that somehow unpunished tackle against Avondale. For whatever reason, Yianni Panakos, starring in the under 21s, is not considered ready to go yet in the seniors. Every other possible option - Gerrie Sylaidos, Henry Hore, Marco Jankovic, Zac Bates - is not even close to being a genuine forward. And yes, there is a difference between players whose job includes getting forward, from those whose job it is to be a forward.

Speaking of which, does anyone have the phone number for 2012 club golden boot winner Shaun Kelly?

But given that no one expected us to be this high up the ladder or even remotely this competitive; and given that we go into pretty much every game thinking a point would be good; and given the fact that this has become a season of draws across the league - why is everyone so disappointed when we come away with a point against opponents who we all think are much better than us? It is that great paradox of 2021 South Melbourne Hellas that we are somehow worse than all the good teams in this league, who are also bad and/or overrated; that being in the top three at the midway point of the season, when few of us had any expectation that we could manage more than scraping into sixth place, is also a terrible place to be. It's classic having your cake and eating it too, which is stupid of course, but also shows that some people still care enough to work themselves into all sorts of crazy knots about this club.

I won't bore you with blow-by-blow details of last week's game. It was entertaining, we were the better team except for our utter impotence up front, and we once again played around with the starting lineup. So what did we learn from this week's experimentation? That we have multiple players that can take players on, that can dribble. Hore, Sylaidos, and Perry Lambropoulos, all moving forward, attacking opponents, putting them on the back foot. It helps that Bentleigh are an attacking team, and comparatively weak at the back, but still - how good was it to see a South team showing no fear, or at least less fear?

It helps in this particular case that without a big forward like Sawyer to lump it forward to, that the tactic of lumping it forward was dead in the water from the start in this match. It forced the team to play the ball on the ground, and to move the ball more methodically up the field without the safety valve of a long-ball option. Would that possibly work with Sawyer in the team? You'd like to think so, but it requires courage to take that chance that your boys can actually play. 

I know that defence is important, and that some people (the coach included) would be happy enough to create a solid enough base, and therefore to grind out results, but what if... we didn't have to be so extremely defensive? And what if the answer to scoring goals lies not exclusively with whoever's unlucky enough to be our one forward, but with several players getting into advanced positions?

(and how do we know that our defence is actually any good, if all we do is stack so many players in it and put them so deep that their sheer weight of numbers makes them hard to break down?)

And Perry Lambropoulos - what a revelation (maybe)! I know it won't be like that every week, but think of how many coaches he's had over the past few seasons across three different clubs. Were they all burying him at a full-back position instead of playing him regularly on a wing? 

It sucked that we conceded from Bentleigh's first chance after we had so much of the play, but we pushed on and scored from the penalty spot, maybe found a legit free kick taker (Hore), and maybe should have had another penalty. In a just world, where there still is such a thing as accidental handball, that was not a penalty; but in this modern world, where everything is handball, it's kinda surprising that it wasn't given. So it goes.

The last ten minutes was a cavalcade of chances at both ends. Daniel Clark stuffed up a great one on one chance. Kieran Dover smashed the ball against the crossbar from point blank range for Bentleigh. And right on full time, Daniel Clark had a shot from about eight yards out right in front, which he ended up hitting low and hard right at the mess of players on the goal line, instead of into the back of the net. And then it turns out it wasn't Clark, but rather Henry Hore, from whom I expect better.

Some people were reminded of this game from 2012, and that's fair enough, but at this point we're half way through the season, in a better spot on the ladder than I think even the most optimistic of us ever thought we'd be, and we don't have semi-famous somebodies telling us to bring our brand of passionate support to an A-League team. Maybe that's because our passion is not what it was, or there's no longer the veneer of there being enough to bother trying to cajole us into boosting the pathetic or otherwise numbers of our local A-League franchises.

Of more immediate concern is that the bar in the social club needs to sort itself out just a smidge by having an ample selection of essential drinks on hand. That would be good. How do you not know where the dark rum is? Why is there no raspberry cordial on hand for those who want a raspberry lemonade? If the club's going to die from loneliness, they could at least have the drinks the few of us left enjoy.

Next game

It's meant to be Heidelberg at home on Saturday night; yet the latest covid outbreak and its attendant restrictions on public gatherings may scupper or alter those plans, and possibly the FFA Cup fixture against Eastern Lions the week after as well. Check your local guides for details I suppose.

Women's report

So, I'm asking for forgiveness in advance for the comparative spitefulness of this report. I did not watch this game in the flesh, for reasons which will become clear soon enough. I had a late lunch at home, and jumped on the train towards Southern Cross. The train went through the loop instead of direct to Southern Cross, which normally irks me, but here it was a blessing of sorts, because it meant that I could watch more of the South senior women playing against Alamein on the live stream, before having to pause the stream so I could get to the tram stop on Collins Street, because who wants to be one of those pedestrians walking around the city while staring at a screen? 

Now I don't know much about Alamein this year, except to say that I don't think they're one of the contenders for the championship; certainly that's not a term I've seen attached to them as this year. South's women meanwhile, as the senior men were for a little bit until recently, are sitting on top of the table, without having set the world on fire. How that's happened I'm not exactly sure, because I've watched less of them, and paid less attention to their league this year than I would have liked, but it is what it is. What I do know about the South senior women (thanks to social media) is that they keep bringing in new players (some returning, some genuinely new), so that it looks like whatever youth development policy may have been put in train recent times (can we even say that after they didn't play for more than a year?) has fallen by the wayside.

With that much talent and experience and firepower on the books, you'd expect South to comfortably win games against mid-range opponents (no disrespect is meant) like Alamein, and to do so with a style befitting the quality on the park. Well, that first half was awful to watch from us. The team looked slow, sluggish, unfit, sloppy, and one dimensional. We played with a back three, which I assume was done to overload the midfield and overwhelm the opposition with numbers going forward. Instead, very poor passing and the one dimensional game plan of hitting the ball long toward the corners, saw us create almost nothing of value in the first half. We even fell behind, when the plucky visitors scored a penalty, after having already tested Melissa Barbieri from long range.

Then came the one good bit of work from us in the first half, where we played the ball through the middle with some good passing, ending with Reona Omiya levelling the score. By the time the second half was starting, I had reached the ground, but I heard the death cries of a wounded walrus coming from the arena, and so I decided to stay in the social club and watch the second half of the game on the stream in there, while drinking and being briefed on ongoing club matters by the president. From what I could tell, the team looked a little better in the second half, and scored a couple of goals from tidy one on one finishes - but they'd want to be a lot crisper if they want to stay at the top of the ladder.

On the streams

Scrapping together complex narratives based on about five minutes of footage

I care less and less for the rest of this league, but sometimes you're at a loose end in terms of, I don't know, you have this magical e screen at your disposal with limitless (OK, not limitless, limitless for all intents and purposes) entertainment and educational possibilities, and instead of watching Law & Order (original version) clips, you decide to branch out into the wonderful world of NPL livestreams. Some of you may do this without even putting a bet on one of the games, instead just watching it to cease the thoughts racing in your head, wondering if you're one of the likely candidates working at the private security compound who is going to get sacked from your job taking staples out of old documents. (Spoiler alert: you will be). I can't remember exactly what I was doing at the time. Maybe I was parked in a loading bay at Sunshine Marketplace waiting to pick up my brother after he finished work. I switched on to a livestream, checking into see the live scores, hoping for a good finish to a game, and as many favourable results for our ends as possible. 

The good finish at whatever time it was at the time was Knights vs Eastern Lions. The Knights looked mediocre, which is absolutely their right - after all, they can't play us every week, and it's hard to get motivated for games against teams that aren't South. It's hard enough apparently for South fans to care about games involving South, so I suppose we should be glad that someone cares about us. even if it has to be non-South fans. The Lions also looked mediocre, bless their hearts, but they fight and scrap, and they're on a budget likely several order of magnitude lower than pretty much everyone else in the competition, which will make it extra embarrassing for us should they beat us in our cup tie next week, covid permitting. And what a finish out of nowhere for Lions to win the game here away from home.

In another example of trying to make "You Can't Play South Every Week" the league's official slogan, on Sunday evening I was made aware of former South goalkeeper Rory Brian - he, currently of Avondale, and of the one handed penalty save heroics against us the previous week - making an absolute howler which led to Heidelberg equalising, and eventually splitting the points. Go and find it. Find it and try and make sense of it. I saw it, and didn't even laugh; rather I was sickened by it, and in turn sickened by this whole shambles of a league. 

Final thought

Preston - I knew it was them! Even when it was the Knights, I knew it was them! 

Anyway, keep up with the QR code sign-ins, mask up where necessary, and get tested if you have any covid symptoms.