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.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

We lost. Again. - Avondale 2 South Melbourne 0

This report is late because of reasons. It's nice to know people care, though I suspect one such concerned reader is mostly gagging to go nuts in the comments section against the mysterious Esteban loving "anonymous" user. Whatever floats your boat, dear reader.

Back in the real world, our resident traffic and transportation guru is interested in how I get to games. Well, for Lakeside, that's easy - usually a car to Sunshine station, a train to Southern Cross, and the tram down to Lakeside. 

But for Avondale and the Reggio Calabria Club, that's a bit more complicated, especially last Saturday. Drive to Sunshine station, then a replacement bus service to North Melbourne station, then Upfield train up to Royal Park, then switch to a tram for two whole (admittedly relatively lengthy) stops, then down the hill at Brunswick Road to the Reggio Calabria Club. That explains the how.

(and if that seems excessive and stupid, think about the poor sap who drove around and around looking for a parking spot at that ground)

The why, however, remains somewhat elusive. Short of remaining hostage to the idea that one should remain loyal to something which may not merit that loyally, and hanging out with a bunch of people you would never associate with in "real life" (and vice versa), I suppose there's something in watching the competition's best worst team on a weekly basis.

Undefeated for how ever many weeks, and now two losses on the trot. The "big month that was supposed to reveal the truth about this team" is now halfway through, and we've learned at least that sitting back doesn't work that well after all, especially if you sit too deep against competent opposition. Also, maybe having more than one striker on your books could be a good idea.

Some people say that Harrison Sawyer will be back this or next week. Harrison Sawyer at the ground seemed to think he was at least a few weeks away, and who knows if it's actually worse? Sawyer is gangly, awkward, and in the eyes of a good chunk of our support, also ineffective; but what a baby giraffe shaped hole which has existed since he got injured. 

Some people tried to sell us on the idea that Josh Barresi was a forward instead of an attacking mid, but that line died on Saturday afternoon when we started with Marcus Schroen started up front as a false nine. That almost worked for ten minutes, to the extent that we probably should have been in front either from the shot from, six yards straight at ex-South man Rory Brian, or - and boy, you've got to be careful about how you phrase these things, considering what happened later - from what was probably a pretty good penalty shout waved away by the referee.

It was right in front of me, and right in front of the ref - who was *this* close to blowing his whistle and pointing to the spot - and yet we were probably the only two people in the vicinity who had doubts about whether it was actually a penalty. Me, I guess it's because I'm a reflexive contrarian, but it's also possible that I was trying to figure out what the ref's reasoning might have been. Did he think the Avondale defender got the ball? Did he think Schroen just sort of, I don't know, fell over the defender?

Whatever the reasoning, the net result was that Schroen got hurt and had to go off, our players' feelings - especially skipper Brad Norton's - got hurt, and we picked up a bunch of stupid yellow cards (bye bye Braddles for the next league game), and walked into half time with nothing to be happy about except that it was still 0-0 and that neither team looked particularly superior or inferior, at least in terms of creating chances.

Then during the second half (and a more than passable chicken sandwich, a perfectly fine but also completely overrated cannoli  - but also, cannoli at the football, how marvellous - and charity donuts) 
we looked like a mid-range contender being toyed with by a team for whom it's grand final or bust. We were directionless going forward because we have no idea who the forward is meant to be in the absence of our one obvious forward option. As usual, midfielders posing as forwards is not a solution, and has not been a solution for many years, under a variety of post-Chris Taylor coaches, but short of playing Yianni Panakos from the 21s, this is probably the best we have to look forward to in the short term at least.

Although think of the possibilities if we actually chose to play a smaller, more mobile forward instead of (in the absence of Sawyer) trying to force the issue through ill-suited midfielders options. Think also of what it would mean to promote another youth team player. I mean, Ben Djiba did give away the penalty which set us back last week, but what's one mistake in the long run of finding out that you might actually have talent under your own roof?

We were also under the pump going back, because we sit so deep, and once we copped the goal (these things happen, even to the most miserly defence in the league), it was a case of good luck making that up. Things only got worse when we actually managed to get a penalty of our to match the one Avondale scored from, only for Gerrie Sylaidos' shot to be saved by Brian. Then 2-0, and all we could hang our hat on was a Norton shot (which might have been a pass, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt) that went wide, more s***t c*****s, and the relief that we didn't get beaten by more goals.

Speaking of penalties, remember that season - I think it was the first Gus Tsolakis season - where we couldn't get a penalty to save ourselves, and yet here we are in 2021, with this terrible, defensive set up, and still picking up penalties like no tomorrow. Port (Sawyer, saved), Magic (Sylaidos, scored), Werribee (Panakos, scored), Knights (Jakovic, scored), Avondale (Sylaidos, missed)

Still, we lost, and copped grief from Avondale's subs warming up near us, Rory Brian getting away with time-wasting over and over (except for that belated one time), and the relief that we didn't get beaten by more. I also had to climb up that damn hill to get home. Then the tram flew by before Gains and I could get across the street to catch it. Which again brings back to mind the question of "why" instead of "how", a question which will probably remain unanswered for the foreseeable future.

Next game
At home on Saturday night against an in form Bentleigh, to close out the first half of the season. The senior women play the curtain raiser, in the first of several men's and women's double-headers. Then the club will have a DJ, which scares the crap out of me.

FFA Cup fixture news
It looks like our cup fixture against Eastern Lions has been scheduled for Wednesday June 2nd. That places it in between our home league game against the Bergers, and our away league game against Eastern Lions.

They finally sorted it out. Good for them. 
Thanks to my new temporary job - taking the staples out of decades-old civil aviation safety dossiers - I completely missed this bit of news. After the match was postponed so that all the parties involved could work on "maximising the enjoyment of the fans", the Oakleigh vs Preston FFA Cup match will be played at Lakeside next Tuesday. Will we make any money off this? Will we get the blame if something goes wrong? Does Oakleigh really need the help of several new signings in order to beat a team two divisions below them. Some people may care about the answers. I'm more interested in how to remove staples more easily.

Final thought
Someone asked me (eventually) if we have our NSL Cup (not league) trophies somewhere, because some bloke is trying to track down the whereabouts of all the NSL Cup trophies. Quite a few of them are missing - I know Brisbane City's and Newcastle (Adamstown) Rosebud's are nowhere to be found; not sure about Collingwood Warriors, I assume the Bergers have that stashed somewhere, I don't know if ours are in storage, or missing like so many other things, but it will be nice to find out, eventually. I know we have the Charity Cup, which we won against Olympic, in a match we qualified for because we won the NSL Cup back in 1990.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

That's a shame - Melbourne Knights 1 South Melbourne 0

There's lots of ways to look at a result like this. Tiredness after a short break from a cup tie three days before which went for 120 minutes, on top of a league game three days before that. The opposition was tired, too, and had its injuries, and the theory is that with our superior squad depth that we should have done better. I'd argue that we did do better in this game than our opponents, but a toothless attack on the night came back to bite us on the arse. Overall though, the game did not reach any great heights. It wasn't unwatchable by any stretch of the imagination, but it lacked any zazz, zing, zork or kapowza.

You could put it down to another overly defensive set up from the coach, who has a safety first approach that's held him (and us) in surprisingly good stead so far this year. The superlative cliché is that a solid defence is the foundation for a championship, but you've got to score goals as well. Or something like that. But he's also a strange kind of tactician, not just a cautious one. The tactical rotation policy made more sense this week than others, but the three subs at once thing was a tad more than baffling. That's a lazy FIFA video game player stunt if ever I've seen one. And why take off Perry Lambropoulos, who's barely played this year, and who was our best player by some way during the first half of this game?

Maybe it was just one of those days. Lambropoulos playing on the right wing put in enough good crosses in the first half, but there was no one there to meet them. Gerrie Sylaidos had a shot tipped wide, and Marco Jankovic had a header saved likewise. Those were the pick of our chances, as we struggled to connect with anyone in the box, or take meaningful shots from outside the box or from its edge. Left footers whose right leg is only good for standing on were the culprits later on, but the lack of two sided shooters didn't help earlier in the game either. 

It beats me how players can get to this level without being able to shoot on both sides of their body, but my catchphrase of "if they were as good as we think they should be, then they wouldn't be here" has become so worn that people at games are quoting it back to me in real time. I should probably get new material; but then again, if I was a better writer, then I probably wouldn't be here either. 

There was also the pact with the devil made by multiple people on Tuesday night, whereby we bargained for the cup win at the expense of a league loss. That deal made sense at the time - we were top of the table, well clear of the relegation zone, so it's not like we really needed a league win. Knights' players and supporters treated the victory like it was a major event, which I suppose it may have been for them. After a heart-breaking loss three days before, and playing with ten men in the closing stages, it could well be read as a morale booster. Still, their keeper grabbing his genitals and gesturing towards us Hellas fans behind the goal after the final whistle was a bit much. Each to their own I guess.

I think for us the loss was more disappointing than tragic. What it all comes down to is inevitability. While it's not like we ever had to lose another game ever again, the nature of statistics, chance, random number generators - in a nutshell, the universe in its tumbling nihilistic glory - means that we were likely to lose a match at some point. That point happened to be Friday night, but it could have been the Tuesday before. It could well happen again on Saturday afternoon.

As is customary among the fickle, or at least those persistently death-riding this team from within, this loss has opened the door to calls of imminent doom. The doomsayers may be proven right, because having lost the first in a series of four tough (and apparently season defining) league matches, we are told that we are likely to lose all of them, thus proving that we are more terrible than the other teams competing for finals, who vary in esteem to these commentators from "pretty good" to the "almost as terrible as we are, but not quite, because pathological self-loathing means I want us to be worse".

Look, whatever floats your boat and keeps you coming back for more I guess. Some people like positivity, some people like negativity, and some people (probably me) like floating around aimlessly between both extremes, with a dose of contrarianism and giving into whatever the dominant bandwagon is at that point.

It's a very tight season, so any slip up holds the risk of seeing a team tumble down the standings. The Bergers dropped two points to St Albans, and Avondale had to dig itself out of a deep injury time hole to get a point against Hume. That leaves us tied on 22 points with those teams, and just two points ahead of fifth placed Bentleigh. The top five sides have just one loss between them in the past five weeks; the bottom four no wins in five, and the bottom no wins in the last three. 

We've made hay while the sun shone, and now we're heading to a difficult part of the season. I'm neither terrified nor looking forward to it.

Next game

Avondale away on Saturday afternoon, a huge blockbuster first vs second clash. We'll probably lose.

FFA Cup draw news

Yesterday, Football Victoria held the draw for the sixth round of the FFA Cup. We have been drawn against fellow NPL1 side Eastern Lions. The outcome of the draw could've been worse for us - some of the other all NPL1 match-ups are pretty rough - but we also missed out on being drawn against any of the three remaining state league teams. So, all things considered, this is something in the middle.

The fixture will probably be played in between either the Bentleigh and Heidelberg matches, or in between the Heidelberg and Eastern Lions league matches. Much squad management to come.

Around the grounds

Life in other soccer jurisdictions

The other week I was up in Wollongong for a wedding (all the best to Nick and Seonne!), and favourable scheduling allowed for a trip up the highway to Balls Paddock for Bulli vs Bellambi. Of course I could've taken the coward's way out, toed the party line, and been less of a football hipster, and just gone to the NRL game near my hotel with everyone else. But because I am a soccer historian of sorts, and because I don't like rugby league all that much, and because I am prone to being wilfully difficult, I decided to do my own thing.

Turns out that the main reason I was even able to catch a Sunday game - most Illawarra games are played on Saturdays - is because of a referee shortage.

Now, here's the thing - I know of Bulli and Balls Paddock because of If You Know Your History, but until you see the ground in the flesh a lot of that book learning doesn't quite get fleshed out. Walking down the hill to the ground (which used to be in a slightly different location), and setting foot there, the picture of Illawarra soccer history starts coming together. The northern end hill with massive gum trees; the shed behind the southern goal which was transported piece by piece from somewhere else; Mt Keira and its coal seams in the west. 

And no food worth fetishizing to speak of. I had my back turned ordering a sausage in a roll (and a beer) when the underdogs Bellambi - who had had not won a game after five rounds - scored after ten seconds. Bulli applied the pressure after that. but found themselves 2-0 late in the first half from a counter attack. Bulli pulled a goal back early in the second half, but the visitors withstood their woodwork being hit three times, and six minutes of injury time, to win the game.

After the game I was driven around the northern suburbs of Wollongong by local soccer historian Travis Faulks, groundhopping to Tarrawanna, Balgownie, Woonona, Corrimal, and Bellambi among others. Lots of talk explaining the history of the grounds, the waxing and waning fortunes of the various clubs and the game, the power held by the leagues clubs, and the way in which the local scene works - who can afford to compete in their top division and who can't.

Very educational, very informative, and an afternoon much better spent than watching a rugby league game. 

Final thought

Kids, marriages, grey hair. Lots of people on Friday night wondering where the years have gone. Same place they usually do would be the glib answer, but I get what they were driving at. You stop for a moment and find out you're middle-aged. Worse, that you spent a good chunk of your youth watching state league football. 

Thursday, 6 May 2021

South Melbourne 1 Melbourne Knights 1 - South wins 4-1 on penalties

This derby is an anchor; amid the meaningless chaos of the rest of our days spent playing against opponents who struggle to come up with meaning, the fact that people still care about both South and Knights, gives matches between our two clubs a weight that is scarce within our league. Looking at an NPL fixture list and searching for games with a weight of history and feeling leaves most people coming up short. There's games against Knights, games against the Bergers, and little else. 

Now not every game and every opponent can and will have equal meaning, let along significant meaning. But clearly we all look forward to some games more than others because, as South Hobart blogger Richard Rants wrote about when we played his mob in 2014, it feels like somebody cares. Depending on the day and despite the best efforts of our behind the scenes team, so much of what we do nowadays feels like a chore, or going through the motions, or as a social gathering.

But the league games between these two sides over the past 15 years or so (the results of which heavily favour us) have hardly set the outside world on fire. No matter how good the games have been - and there have been several good league games between the two sides in the post-NSL era - few of them have had any meaning in regards to final placings, or been finals themselves. That's not helped by our erratic appearances in the finals, but especially Knights - in fifteen completed post-NSL seasons, they've made the finals just four times.

Say what you will about our bouts of mediocrity, but we've made the finals eight out of fifteen seasons, and won an additional title when there was no finals series. Apart from that one blessed moment when we stole that finals game in front of that Cro Tourney inflated crowd in 2013, we've barely been in the same postcode when it comes to competing for league honours. During that same time, we've had multiple finals matches against Heidelberg, Gully, Hume, Bentleigh, and Oakleigh, but this so called "OG Derby" has been a letdown in terms of the league.

But that's where the cup comes in - specifically the FFA Cup, and not the Dockerty Cup, much to my ongoing chagrin. Because cup matches allow for one off and focused moments of success, and because the FFA Cup brings (or at least used to) with it all that garbage of national stage, relevance, promotion and relegation, and that brief moment to be able to exploit national and nostalgic attention. As thoroughly sick I am of being matched up against them in the cup - that ridiculous four times in seven years - it is nice to have that attention on this fixture in a way that we used to.

Still, that didn't mean the crowd turned up in proper droves on Tuesday night. Knights had their pockets, we had a stronger than usual contingent, and we were boosted by enthusiastic South junior players to Clarendon Corner's left. But it wasn't an earth-shattering crowd. For every person that turned up, there were far too many clicktivists who tagged their mates into the event on Facebook in the usual way, and were never going to show.

So while I feel sorry for those that genuinely couldn't make the game having to make do with no livestream, and while I feel bad for our media team that we couldn't get a large stream audience to accentuate their promotional efforts, I also kind of feel like for the rest of the stay-at-homes and we-shoulda-gones that they got their just desserts. 

I don't care what people say - for me, the proof in this fixture's popularity, or lack thereof, lies not in minutes watched at home, but minutes watched in person.

So, you know, if you squibbed attending this game because it was too cold (it wasn't) or made only half-hearted noises about maybe possibly thinking of being interested in attending: well, fuck you. There's a handful of "meaningful", old school rivalry games each year in the NPHell and its affiliated competitions, so if you're complaining about missing on a livestream because you decided to stay home, that's on you.

Our clubs need bums on seats, not couches. I get that not every game has the same appeal, not every opponent brings the same vibe, and not every timeslot suits everybody. But if not this fixture, than which one? An elusive grand final between one of the current NPL's NSL Three of South, Knights, Bergers (with apologies to Gully)?  

The best thing about it is, all those stay-at-homes missed an absolute cracker of a game. Missing out on a classic like this won't mean that they'll up to the next game, but it did bring a smile to my face when I was reading the Facebook comments later. That was an old-school vibe - either you were there, or you weren't.

And what a game it was, end-to-end, ebb and flow, and no shortage of drama; another chapter added to this strange generational rivalry which is both ethnic (because in the Australian soccer scheme, we are inevitably ethnic), and not ethnic (because our ethnicities share no obvious hereditary animosity). It is a rivalry founded on two teams who once excelled at the same time, and then became the default remaining Melbourne-based national league teams, and finally two of the few teams left that everyone who's moved on can name.

I thought we had the better of the first half, but it wasn't like Knights were far off the mark. You could feel a goal coming from somewhere, some mistake, one piece of luck, one stroke of brilliance. Both teams were looking to attack, and if the skill level didn't quite match what the players would have liked to have done, it was still a very watchable affair. Then we conceded a corner early in the second half - Knights first for the game - and fell behind.

I was ready to concede the game at that point, not because I thought we couldn't make our way back into the game - but mostly because I thought we'd had a good run this year, and it was bound to end at some point. Losing would be disappointing, but not disastrous, nor even shameful. And besides, considering we had a day's less preparation and our best three attackers on the bench, it;d make sense if we lost. I'd made my peace with the eventuality.

Strangely though, rather than maintain a sort of moderate attacking focus, Knights decided to try and kill the clock from the 60th minute. Dangerous stuff as far as many of the people around me were concerned, all that going down injured, taking extra time to take free kicks, goal kicks and throw ins. I mean, if it works, you look like the master of shithousery. If it doesn't, it looks like what it did on Tuesday night - simultaneously arrogant and insipid.

So credit to our team for admittedly doing what was necessary and fighting and pushing to the end, and riding its luck to get the game at least into extra time. Credit to the South crowd, too, for helping push their side when the players were showing clear signs of exhaustion. I'll say this - despite some of our misses, the team didn't get disheartened.

I suppose it helps when Matthew Breeze - the focus of much mirth and mischief on the night - slammed what clearly should have and would been the sealer - against the crossbar from Pierce Clark's mistake. And it helps when the referee (who I felt had a good game), had the guts to make the right call on Harry Sawyer being dragged down by Nikola Jurkovic.

And my goodness, the placement of Marco Jankovic's penalty, and the (what I learned later) lack of shenanigans about who was going to take the penalty, considering Sawyer and Gerrie Sylaidos have taken them this season, and Marcus Schroen is always on hand to have a go as well. I remember Chris Taylor telling me back in the day (I think he did, anyway) about penalties being best left to those who want to take them. Still, we had that situation a couple of years ago when too many players wanted to take a penalty, which almost left to fisticuffs.

So while at 1-0 I was happy enough to take the loss on the chin and move on, at 1-1 I was rady to be appalled and heart-broken if we lost. Into extra time, and with the allowance of a fourth substitution meaning we could back to a back-four after having to chase the game with a back-three, we really should have won the game before penalties. I wish we had, because that way there's clearer moral clarity about the final result.

Too bad we don't replay cup matches anymore. And I hate penalty shootouts, not just because of their moral ambiguity, but also because our history with them is not good - like 30 years not good. Knights fans might say much the same on the later point. We handled the situation much better that our opponents, and everyone was free to revel on the eerie and hilarious similarities between this game and the 1991 grand final, whence we snatched an equaliser from the jaws of defeat, squandered the chance to win it in extra time, and then won the thing on penalties.

Almost thirty years to the day it was, too. The crowd went nuts, there was much smiling and playing of the trumpet, and we move on to the next round to get knocked out by a team of much lower historic pedigree than Knights, that of course being the magic of the cup. I can't say anyone played poorly for us; even the players I don't particularly like played well, or at least better than I usually expect of them. Not in that category was Ben Djiba, who is coming along very nicely thank you very much. A super game in the back-four and back-three setups, and some clinical one-on-one wins at very crucial moments.

So, yes I left this part of the game well pleased with the quality of the game, the generally lively atmosphere, and the result.

But also, I am over this shit

Some people cannot help themselves it seems. There was an admittedly small amount of South fans which stormed down to the players' race at the end of the game to heap abuse on the departing Knights players, instead of celebrating with their fellow fans or with our own players. Who knows what motivates those kind of antics. We'd just won a thrilling cup tie, there was nothing to be upset about, and yet these people's attention was unnecessarily sent outward to undeserving (in the sense of they do not deserve our attention) targets. 

Worse though were reports of an isolated pocket of what I assume were now very irregular attendees of South games, spewing political and sundry comments that were once more common, but which had otherwise all but disappeared from South games. Some similar bullshit came from the Knights fans, as is often the case. This nonsense continued after the game outside the social club, when for some reason a couple of our fans - I assume the same fans as those mentioned just before - and a few of theirs decided to aggressively taunt each other in the dark of the car park.

It being well known that some Knights fans hardly need any excuse to fight opposition fans, the antics of our supporters were just stupid - not for what would happen to them necessarily, but what would potentially happen to innocent bystanders (like yours truly) caught in the crossfire as an easy target. Credit to those trying to get their mates to pull their heads. No credit to our idiot fans trying to start shit for no possible conceivably good outcome; especially when they come to realise that, actually, they parked in the opposite direction to the one in which they were heading, meaning me and a couple of others had to go back into the social club to kill some time instead of taking the risk that we'd get jumped in the dark for someone else's malakies.

Most of us just want to turn up to games, hang out with our mates, support our team, feel bad about after a loss, feel less bad after a win, and then get home in one piece like a normal human being. Some of us might even be good enough to accept a loss with good grace with an opposition supporter, or even be something other than smug and fuckwitted after a win. It's not too much to ask for.

Next game

Back to league action, away to Melbourne Knights on Friday night. Keep in mind that this game kicks off at 8:15, not the Knights now customary 7:30 kickoff time. The curtain-raiser however is not the under 21s fixture, but rather Knights senior women taking on Preston.

Final thought

Apart from the spirited chanting from Clarendon Corner, the most pleasing aspect was the chanting from our youth team players, including their "where is your hair" chant toward Matthew Breeze. Simple, funny, delivered with no malice. Good to have them along for the ride.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

South Melbourne 2 Hume City 1 - guest report by Gains

 

Owing to my absence last weekend due to attending a wedding in Wollongong, this week's match report was written by Gains - thanks mate! I would have had it up sooner, but... well, it's a long story, and I'll save it for next time.


I honestly still cannot believe we are top of the league at this point in the season. Before the season started I believed we would miss the finals based on what I saw last season, short as it was. I'm happy to be proven wrong but I was still cautiously pessimistic heading to this game due to my own personality and the congested fixtures. 

 

The game being on Orthodox Easter weekend saw fewer people attending. with row H usually the spot for Clarendon Corner completely empty until just before kick-off, despite it being a warm and clear Saturday. 

 

As we are going to be playing three games in less than a week the squad rotation, though a bit excessive throughout Esteban Quintas' coaching, was necessary this time. The main question of whether Harrison Sawyer would be fit for the whole three games were answered by the introduction of Josh Barresi who debuted seemingly behind Henry Hore in the starting line-up. There were seven changes in total from the Dandenong City game - notably captain Brad Norton left out, with Perry Lambropoulos replacing him at left back, and Marcus Schroen wearing the captain's armband. 

 

With these changes in mind, the initial expectation was to not lose considering Hume City had comfortably won their cup fixture, and were free to field a strong line-up. This was not the case. as we started the half strong and took the lead before ten minutes. A good build up on the left side of the attack saw Gerrie Sylaidos finding Lambropoulos in the box, who passed the ball to Barresi, scoring on debut with a sliding finish. Barresi himself proved to be a worthwhile alternative attacking option by being able to switch positions between himself and Hore, compared to Sawyer being a clear target man. In fact South was in control for most of the first half, with passes and long balls down the flanks being very hard to handle by the Hume defenders and South being more solid in the midfield; Luke Pavlou in particular showed improvement from his previous games. There were some defensive lapses near the end of the first half, one being a clearance by Jake Marshall after James Burgess was lobbed by the Hume attacker but the lead stayed at half time. 

 

Hume started stronger in the second half and created some dangerous chances which were then neutralised by several South substitutions to bolster the defense and being mindful of the next fixtures. Daniel Clark came on for Zac Bates at the beginning of the second half to support Luke Adams on the right side, and Lirim Elmazi for Schroen to strengthen the defensive midfield. During this time and after Sawyer was introduced to replace Barresi, South had at least four chances to seal the game with the notable one being Lambropoulos through on goal shooting straight at Michael Weier. With ten minutes left South fans were almost expecting the team to be punished for all those missed chances, but Hume's Andy Brennan and substitute Theo Markelis also failed to convert their chances. Just before stoppage time Sawyer received a long ball, and after controlling it hit a powerful low shot which crept underneath Weier and past the goal line despite the keeper's desperate attempt to retrieve the ball before it crossed the line, and South seemed to have the points secured. 

 

That unfortunately did not happen, as Burgess was late off his line trying to punch a long ball and Bingham headed the ball over him to pull a goal back for a nervous finish. South however held off for the 2-1 win and four points clear on the top of the table before Heidelberg's win later in the day. 

 

All in all, I am happy to continually be proven wrong and with the squad looking more cohesive, hopefully this will lead to a strong end to the first half of the season. 

 

Next Match 

 

Back to back matches against Melbourne Knights, first tonight being the Dockerty Cup/FFA Cup qualifier match at Lakeside (note: South members still have to pay the $10 entry fee) and then on Friday night the away league fixture at Knights Stadium. Others may disagree but I personally consider Melbourne Knights fixtures as the one I look forward to the most every season, as a person who has never been to a single NSL match and started attending VPL matches in 2009. Too bad the Knights cup match wasn't a Dockerty Cup final but sadly it's a more important fixture. 

 

Ideals and Reality in a Competition Name 

 

I share Paul's dislike of the name change from Dockerty Cup to FFA Cup Qualifier, the former being relegated to the semi-finals and final of the competition. It devalues a cup competition with a very long history and prestige to merely three matches. Unfortunately this seems to be a view shared by a minority as I do remember the numerous first and second round forfeits when it was called the Dockerty Cup to the point of Oakleigh Cannons not realising the competition serves as a qualifier for the FFA Cup basically played a weakened team and lost the match/qualifier when Miron Bleiberg was coaching the team. 

 

It seems amazing that the name change magically has teams willing to participate, making it a slim chance for a potential money making chance rather than an early season distraction. I find it a questionable way of thinking though since if these teams forfeited their fixtures during the time it was called Dockerty Cup, what would make them think they can compete against teams at a higher competition level with the same eye on the financial incentives? Sadly that is how the world works and as much as I want the Dockerty Cup name, the FFA Cup qualifier name will remain. 

 

I still dislike the concept of the FFA Cup itself without the presence of promotion/relegation but it's a discussion for another topic and time. As much as I hated it, I want South to win in every competition and though it's pretty much impossible, the FFA Cup is also a competition that we can participate in.