Sunday, 26 March 2017

Life During Wartime - Oakleigh Cannons 1 South Melbourne 0

It was a week that started off badly, and ended much, much worse. In between those things, there was a soccer match of a moderately pleasing quality, at least in the first half.

The whole of the ball? Impossible to tell. Oakleigh goalkeeper John Honos
 manages to scoop out Liam McCormack's effort on goal, to the satisfaction
of the official - which is the end, is all that matters. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Oakleigh came into the game with players the calibre of Goran Zoric, Dimi Hatzimouratis and Shayan Alinejad sitting on the bench. It also looked like Adrian Chiapetta and Steve Pantelidis had played in the 20s game beforehand. Meanwhile for South, there was no Brad Norton (injury), no Nick Epifano (still suspended), no Kristian Konstantinidis (suspended for six months), and no Leigh Minopoulos (work commitments). Added to that was Marcus Schroen coming back from injury, and not looking exactly right, and things looked grim from the outset.

And yet we almost pinched the lead, after an error by John Honos in goal for Oakleigh saw Liam McCormack's (necessarily rushed) shot from range hit the crossbar. From a distance it looked like it was going miles wide or over, only to fall at the last second - but not by enough. McCormack also had the misfortune of having his header near the goal line scooped off the line - or from behind the line - by Honos, denying him a goal and South the lead. It was rather reminiscent of McCormack's late effort against Avondale earlier this season, where he was denied dramatically by Chris Oldfield.

They were our best chances for the game. Not that we didn't get into dangerous areas - especially in the first half - but that killer cross or final ball let us down - which is as much a sign of poor confidence as it is skill. For their part, even though they hadn't won a league game up to that point, Oakleigh's confidence was very high, and they had shots rattle off the bar from range as well as shots cleared off the line. Overall, Nikola Roganovic had the more serious interventions to make of the two goalkeepers.

The South Melbourne women continued on their winning ways, defeating
Southern United 3-1 out at Langwarrin. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
While several people have commented that the standard was poor, especially by us, I thought the first half was the most skillful and entertaining half of soccer I'd seen all season. It was open, end to end stuff, with daring play. We relied more on the counter, and looked good until the final ball, and sometimes the one before that - the absence of Norton and Minopoulos on the left being keenly felt.

The second half from our point of view was not as good. What were in the first half long balls sent into space and promising numerical situations, subsided into long balls because of no idea what else to do. Or so it seemed. And then Oakleigh's goal came, from Dean Piemonte in the most frustrating manner possible. Well known for his long range thunderbolts, Piemonte was lining up for such a shot, and with South hearts in mouths, a South defender rushed up to block. Unfortunately, because that defender slid down to make his tackle, Piemonte deftly evaded the challenge and chipped the ball over Roganovic and under the crossbar. It was an outrageous effort, and demonstrative of the difference between one team with four points and another team with four points up to that point.

Our chance to get back in the contest went badly wrong towards the end of the game, when a blocked long range shot inadvertently sent Oakleigh's Nate Foster into space, and threatening to go one on one with Roganovic. Luke Pavlou, playing in the left back role, did well to keep up with Foster, but got tangled up with the star striker, receiving a red card for his efforts. It seemed a very harsh decision on first glance, as if Foster had initiated the contact. The replays have not convinced me of Pavlou's guilt, and that at best it was an unfortunate tangle of legs that was no one's fault.

While giving up chances on the counter in our quest to go forward and try and snare an equaliser, it's not like we didn't have the Oakleigh defense scrambling, pressing right until the end. Last year something may have come off - this year, there's no way it would. It wasn't helped by sloppy attempts at play by substitutes Andy Kecojevic and Gavin De Niese - the latter's late attempt at goal was poor in both execution and decision making, being a very long way out and taken while being completely off balance.

In the current situation, with losses mounting up - especially considering our difficulty to put goals on the board - even well fought losses are little consolation. Suspensions and injuries haven't helped, but if that was all that was wrong with the team, you'd just ride out a difficult period and move on. Some have suggested that playing so many games away has hurt, and while it probably hasn't helped, most of those grounds have been in good nick as befits the early part of the season. I'm wanting to believe that there's a way out of this mess, and that it will come soon - but each week that passes, whether we put in the hard yards or not, sees us fall short, with the exceptions of the St Albans and Eastern Lions games.

My frustration is gradually becoming disconsolation.

The lowest common denominator
After the game, there was the usual hyper-negative banter being made by a small minority that the team 'should take their shirts off' and that they 'hadn't even tried'. Whatever one's thoughts on the usefulness of such commentary, on Friday night it was daft in its own right because the team had clearly busted a gut. It was half a team out there, with Schroen on one leg, down to ten men, fighting until the end. I get that people have different points of view on a game, but I can't for the life of me see how one could come to the conclusion that the team didn't put in a huge effort on Friday night.

Unfortunately, the situation moved on from mere banter to a brawl among our own fans. Despite being in the vicinity, I couldn't tell how it escalated so quickly and after that, who was doing what to whom. There has been discussion about what kicked things off properly and who did what in other places - but I am not going to speculate on that. All I will say on the matter is that apart from being disgusted and distraught watching the scene unfold, I give credit to those involved who tried to deescalate the situation, and those who tried to restrain those who were intent on violence.

Because of the seriousness of some of the allegations, I will not be allowing any comments on this post, nor any further comments on this issue in any other comment section of any post. This is especially so because most people choose to post here anonymously, and I have no way of verifying who is who. If you did witness the events and wish to make your view of it known, the best thing for you to do is contact the club directly and provide a statement.

Next game
After being drawn at home in the FFA Cup against Monbulk Rangers, some of our supporters were looking forward to both a relatively easy passage to the next round, and the chance to see a home game with the newly finished social club as an added attraction.

Then the club decided to reverse the fixture, which will be now hosted by Monbulk on Tuesday at their recently redeveloped ground. That did not go down well with South fans, including the self-appointed nomarch of the South Melbourne Hellas Public Transport Faction.

But once one calmed down one could, even if only begrudgingly, see why the club had done this. My guesses are:
  1. Avoid mucking up carefully laid social club launch plans. 
  2. Get the game out of the way.
  3. Get the Peoples Champ's five game spitting suspension over quicker.
  4. Have one day where the team don't have to look for a training venue.
  5. Goodwill gesture to lower league club.
It's not an ideal situation for our supporters, but if this is the worst thing that happens this year, we'll be counting ourselves lucky.

This week's annoyances - wobbly kickoff times
The Oakleigh game started twenty minutes late. I do not know why it started twenty minutes late. What is the point of having a scheduled kickoff time if it is going to be wantonly disregarded? This is of course especially bad for people like me who depend on public transport to get to most matches, and for whom a delay of such magnitude can lead to cascading delays in getting home. it's also not the first time this has happened this year, with me personally experiencing significant delays at five games already this season. Twice at South games (Heidelberg and Oakleigh), twice at Chaplin Reserve, and once yesterday at Castley Reserve. I don't understand what's made this most basic of requirements an issue all of a sudden in 2017.

This week's annoyances - the passive offside rule
Just get rid of it completely and go back to the hard and fast offside rule. This newest interpretation of passive offside is a nightmare for everyone involved.

The dialectics of terrace banter
Former South championship player Iqi Jawadi was playing for Oakleigh, which created debate among some as to whether he should be booed or not, including whether he was worth it. The situation was resolved by people booing him and then shouting 'worthy!', which seemed to be the best solution.

'Bumgate' - Konstantinidis banned for six months
Kristian Konstantinidis has been banned for six months for sticking his finger up a St Albans player's arse. That means his season is effectively over. I don't know if the length of the punishment is warranted - how do you even make a judgment on something like this? - but comparing it to a bad tackle or a fight or any one of the many other things that may happen during a match doesn't help clarify things.

Apart from losing one of our most important players due to a completely unnecessary act - one which I think most would struggle to justify - I have been disappointed by another aspect of the fallout, and that has been the targeting by some of our fans of Dion Fountas, the photographer who captured the moment. The justifications for targeting Fountas have been bizarre. A match photographer takes a photo of something that happens during a match, a match being played in front of hundreds of people - and somehow he's been targeted under some nonsense idea of censorship, and even been threatened with being banned from Lakeside.

Mind you, many of those same people targeting him now were happy to make use of Fountas' photos from the Victory game last year, praising him for taking and uploading his photos. Those same fans were happy to send videos to the commercial networks of the Victory hooligans. The same thing has happened in regards to radio broadcasts of games. When MFootball narrated the Victory incident, and made it abundantly clear to the audience that it was Victory fans at fault, our fans were stoked. But if the shoe is on the other foot, will some of us take umbrage of coverage of our own bouts of misbehaviour? Is it the act that is the problem, or merely the perpetrator? If it's the latter, it becomes hard to legitimately take the moral high ground on anything afterwards - you've effectively made it an issue of self-interest or self-preservation.

Aside from all of that, the idea that it was a brain fade by Konstantinidis doesn't seem right to me - this doesn't seem to be the kind of thing you do on a whim. If it was, he was horribly unlucky to be caught in the act in the only time he had ever attempted the maneuver. Of course, when the story was published by some major media outlets, the comments went through the roof. Probably not the kind of metrics the club was looking for though.

Social club news
Put it in your diary: 2017 SMFC Jersey Night, April 7th, 7:00PM. Venue...


Contact the club directly if you wish to go. If you can't make it or choose not to, there'll be a family day the day after.

Around the grounds
An orange ticket for the man with the orange hair.
Westgate's pavilion is being torn down and replaced with a new one, so in 2017 they're playing their home games at Castley Reserve, which probably hasn't senior soccer for a very long time. Nevertheless, it's good for me, because it's within two minutes walking distance of my place. Yaraville took a 3-0 lead into the break, and looked to be cruising past a borderline inept Westgate. The second half saw Yarraville take its sweet time finishing the game, waiting until Westgate had pulled two goals back before making sure of it with a 4-2 win. I didn't win the raffle.

Final thought
This was one of those weeks where I regret having part of my self-esteem attached to the fortunes of this club.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Fanatic of the Week no. 5 - Marshall Sayer

This is the last one of these I could find that was still in working order. Maybe some more digging another eight years time from now will unearth some more of these. 

If you would like to add your name to the gimmick, I'm happy to receive emails answering all the questions below.

Welcome to our sixth 'Fanatic of the Week'. This week’s fanatic is Marshall Sayer from St. Kilda who hasn’t missed a South Melbourne match in Victoria for three seasons.

See below for full fanatic profile:

NAME: Marshall Sayer

AGE: 17

SUBURB: St. Kilda

INTERESTS: Soccer, music, socialising with friends, footy

South Melbourne, Arsenal, Fiorentina

Of course

14 years old

The two Grand Final wins in 1997/98 & 1998/99

Against Melbourne Knights in 1998 (2-2), when Bill Damianos hit a beautiful 40 yard strike into the top corner

Michael Petkovic

Paul Trimboli

The team performing the best in the country, development of complete multiculturalism amongst supporters, the complete turn around from last season, and the boys in the administration offices


No way

I could never support any other team simply because I love South Melbourne just that little bit too much!


Sunday, 19 March 2017

Typical - South Melbourne 2 Eastern Lions 0

Even with a four o'clock kickoff, the heat of the day tended towards being oppressive. Quite why anyone was dumb enough to spend any time out in the sun, including but not limited to Clarendon Corner and quasi-affiliated persons, is a mystery. At least CC decided to move into the grandstand in the second half, which helped preserve certain persons' pale skin from getting burnt. The two teams required to be out there were not so fortunate - but they are nominally there for our amusement, not their own.

What can one say of the various performances yesterday? Milos Lujic seemed to just cruise through this game, putting in the bare minimum of effort - more worrying is the state of his finishing, with two first half headers he'd normally at least get on target being sent wide being particularly troubling. Jesse Daley's wonderful crossing exploits from last week went down the tube yesterday (relatively), but he was still one of our better players. Kristian Konstantinidis again played well - but for how long he'll be a free man remains to be seen. Leigh Minopoulos did OK, Matthew Millar provided little more than a physical presence, while the defence overall handled itself well, even playing out of the back with more confidence - although the opposition's tendency to sit too deep did make things easier on that front.

We didn't use a photo of Brad Norton avoiding a tackle in last week's post,
because we just knew there'd be another one this week. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Skipper Brad Norton seemed to find his crossing range in this game, sending in some decent balls into the box, including one in the lead up to our first goal. A good switch of play from Carl Piergianni to Norton, who in turn sent an early ball which found Minopoulos deep in the box, who in turn cut a low ball in front of goal which could have been raffled by two South players, Lujic getting the crucial touch. Lions' defensive efforts weren't great in any part of this sequence, but credit must go to the decisive and accurate passing efforts of our players to make something happen here.

That goal saw Lujic became the first South player other than Minopoulos to score from open play for us this season, unless you're counting Lujic's goal in the Community Shield, which doesn't change the argument in any meaningful way - it's still Milos and Leigh doing all the heavy lifting on the goal scoring front. One could not possibly credit Jesse Daley with the second goal yesterday. His harmless free kick - not a cross, not a shot, not anything really - was heading safely towards the grasp of the Lions goalkeeper, when a Lions defender intervened to slice it spectacularly into his own net. That just about sealed the game. Nikola Roganovic had to make one low save, after our defence went to sleep from a free kick, but not much more than that during the second half.

Our finishing let us down again. After withstanding the best that Eastern Lions could throw at us, we should have won by more than the two goals that we did. But when you start from the low base that we have this season, you take the win and move on. One thing we seemed to do better in this match, and to a lesser extent last week, is move the ball around quicker than we have been doing. After watching the highlights of a certain higher profile fixture which took place last night, and the speedy ball movement in that game, clearly we have room to improve on that front. But it is getting better.

Looking forward to the next round of the cup, and while the draw hasn't been done at the time of writing, the odds of us being put up against an NPL team seem pretty good. Despite a couple of close shaves, every NPL team progressed except for the strugglers North Geelong (see this week's 'Around the grounds') and St Albans. As per Chris Taylor's post-game interview (complete with over the top gesturing in the background), we're going to have to play a lot better to make the inroads we're expected to in both the league and cup.

Next game
Oakleigh Cannons - who didn't seem to have any trouble putting away NPL 2 West's Brunswick City - away on Friday night. Just two away games to go before we head back to Lakeside. Speaking of which...

It is worth noting...
That this pending return to Lakeside is not only a matter of playing at home - but also the small fact of the players being able to train at Lakeside, instead of cutting a nomadic trail across Melbourne looking for any scrap of passable dirt on which to practice. It has not been an uncommon practice over recent years for the team to be away from Lakeside in the early part of the season, but this year has been particularly bad on that front. It's not the be all and end all of our struggles this season, but it's not not a factor either.

Social club rumours
No photos this week, but apparently progress is still going well. It's been suggested to me that the launch will effectively be a three day affair - the jersey night on the Friday before our first home game, then a family day on the Saturday, and our first home of the season on the day after.

Great moments in 'I guess you just had to be there'
The hill behind the western goal at John Cain Memorial Park is gone, flattened to make room for a new pitch. The mess of a scoreboard that was on the far corner of that hill is also gone. The bandwagon that attached itself to Northcote circa 2011 is, as we're all aware of, long gone. But the lemon tree out the back of the grandstand is still there. When they get rid of that - and the 'no smoking' signs in the grandstand which no one seems to pay attention to - that's when Northcote City Hercules should just fold.

'Pull your finger out' sweeps
Around about the 80th minute. Let's be honest, someone had to say it at some point.

Little lamb, you're lost in the great big world / Runaway, findin' streets so cold. 

Around the grounds
There were a lot of goals in this game. It was 2-2 at the end of the regulation ninety, 3-3 at half time of extra time, and 4-3 to Northcote over North Geelong at the end of the game. I was entertained. I was bored. I was distracted. In other words, it was an above average game of football entertainment wise, which fluctuated wildly quality wise. The truth of the matter is that Northcote should have won this in regular time. They had the better chances and looked more conistently promising in attack. If they were more intent on playing the through ball early instead of watching a teammate stray offside, they wouldn't have needed the extra 30 minutes to make sure of things. As it was, North Geelong weren't bad, but they created less and relied on two free kicks - one well placed, one stunning - to keep them in the game. Eventually North Geelong ran out of gas and ran out of time.

If nothing else, going to Olympic Village after our game proved that there is a such a thing as too much soccer. Heidelberg United vs Moreland Zebras - if not the chance for an upset, then perhaps at least the chance for a competitive game? Nope. Heidelberg controlled this game from beginning to end, and two goals in each half did the business for them. Crowd? Maybe 200 at a pinch, but not much more than that. Atmosphere? Flat as a tack, except for 10-20 Zebras fans who were more intent on blaming the ref than their own team for doing so badly; one chant of 'A-A-Lexandros' late in the game; and Heidelberg Harismidis running up and down the outer wing. All of which goes to show that, unless it's a marquee affair, the FFA Cup is hardly a panacea when it comes to resuscitating interest in the lower leagues. Still, like FFA and its friends in social media circles when they count the same participant three times for their participation metrics, my attendance at three games yesterday did its bit for artificial inflation of the metrics of spectator interest in Australian soccer.

Final thought
South of the Border was saddened to hear of the death during the week of Paul Henning, the father of SMFCTV host (and friend of ours) David Henning. It was always a pleasure of mine to have even the shortest of chats with Paul at a South game, whether the topic was footy, the vagaries and minutiae of teaching at a tertiary level, or even (gasp!) rugby union. My deepest condolences to 'Dubs' and all those close to Paul Henning.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Fanatic of the Week no. 4 - Nicholas Haddad

This is an interesting one - one where a little kid has been roped into the segment. This one actually had a photo as well, though we'll refrain from publishing it.

Welcome to 'Fanatic of the Week'.

This week’s fanatic is young Nicholas Haddad from Rowville who has been a member of the Trimmers Club since he was born just over two years ago.

See below for full fanatic profile:

NAME: Nicholas Haddad

AGE: 2

SUBURB: Rowville

INTERESTS: Soccer and Hi-5

South Melbourne

Yes - Trimmers Club Member

One year old

Watching players with their little children

Going to my first game

Paul Trimboli (Trimmers)

Paul Trimboli (Trimmers)

Happy people and the jumping castle, blue flags waving and saying "Go Blues"

Fires are bad (Flares)



Monday, 13 March 2017

Small sample size - St Albans 0 South Melbourne 2

In the week leading up to this game there was the threat of storms both literal and metaphoric. Instead we got unseasonable warmth and a tough win by South to momentarily ease the pressure incurred by picking up only one point from its first four games, and not scoring for three consecutive matches.

The tight confines of Churchill Reserve, an effect amplified by the high fences around the ground, give a side out of form - and especially players not willing to go all in - little room to hide.

There's not much room to hide for spectators either, with the sun beating down, and a mixture of complicated sight-lines forcing people into the sun there were some novel improvisations - one old bloke who I assume had forgotten his hat took to grabbing a fallen branch with some leaves to shield his eyes from the sun.

(Being on the other side of the media gantry of a group of vocal Dinamo fans who ran the gauntlet between performing a chant to the tune of Kelis' 'Milkshake', to the desperately old and unbelievably and exponentially awful 'I'd rather be an Abo than a Greek', was also aesthetically and morally unpleasant. At least their heckling of Chris Taylor overshadowed most of what could have been mustered up South's fans.)

The last time St Albans were in the Victorian top flight was 2011 - and having just been promoted, they went straight down. In that sense they were both the best and worst opponent we could have faced given our current predicament. At least we got them early before the ground got chewed up by overuse. Apart from some timid attempts on goal, South at least came out in a determined fashion, bossing the majority of the game against a side already likely to go down.

St Albans goalkeeper Chris May cuts a forlorn figure as South Melbourne
celebrate Milos Lujic's goal. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
The out of form and moon-boot wearing Marcus Schroen was out, after having picked up an injury during the Heidelberg game last week. He was ostensibly replaced by Leigh Minopoulos. Luke Pavlou was dropped to the bench, replaced by the more attacking Jesse Daley for his first starting appearance, with Luke McCormick taking up the central midfield role.

Former skipper Michael Eagar had his kit with him, but did not start, with the coaches preferring to keep Luke Adams and Carl Piergianni as the central defensive pairing. More importantly, Kristian Konstantinidis started the game, replacing Tim Mala at right back. Konstantinidis may have started more games this year - or at least, one would have hoped he would have - were it not for him missing a large chunk of the pre-season because of an overseas holiday. His inclusion yesterday provided a bigger and faster option at right back, as well as a welcome attacking option on the right hand side.

Jesse Daley, making his first start for South Melbourne, had an impressive
match on the right side of midfield. Photo: Cindy Nitsos. 
Jesse Daley was good. He was  a menace down the right hand side during the first half, and while he fell away a little bit during the second period - an obvious lack of match fitness affecting him - he was probably our best on the day. At the very least, his corner taking was consistent enough to suggest that he may offer a solution to our longstanding problem on that front. Keep in mind though that it was one game, on a small ground.

Leigh Minopoulos was quiet in the first half - though to be fair, the ball did not often go out to the left during the first 45 minutes - but came into his own during the second period, being dangerous along both the wing and along the byline. And although some of Leigh's shots were poorly directed, he managed to ice the game with a stunning long range goal.
It was pleasing that one of our players not only found enough space outside the box to take a shot, but actually followed through with it. The quality of the finish (keeping in mind that Leigh is the only South player to score from open play this season; yes, yes, small sample size) overshadowed some of the poor finishing during the rest of the day.

It would have been nice had that goal been scored ten or twenty minutes earlier, which would have eased the nerves a bit and prevented our supporters suffering irreversible heart damage. I suppose we should be grateful we got it anyway. In any event, no one's getting carried with a win like that, against the only team that was lower on the table than us. St Albans struggled for most of the game, and look like they're going to struggle for the rest of the season especially away from the tight confines of Churchill Reserve. It's a good thing that St Albans butchered two golden chances either side of our goal in the first half - a better team (not us, at least not at the moment) would have put those chances away, and the game would have been different. Otherwise, Dinamo rarely threatened.

There are still concerns for us. Through passes were often over hit, as they have been for most of the season thus far. Even given the smaller dimensions of the ground, those adjustments weren't made - though to be fair, we seemed more daring and accurate when sending long balls to Lujic. There were times, too, where we lost our shape and composure in midfield for periods of time that were quite noticeable. There were still too many instances where poor communication saw clearances - both on the ground and in the air - made  in such a rush that possession was gifted back to the opposition.

We got more numbers in the box than we have most of this season, but still too often Lujic would have to wait for support to arrive. Lujic's finishing is off, but he did well to win the penalty. Some or even all of these issues are par for the course at this level, but the point is to cut down on them as much as possible. While there were two or three standouts on the day, most of the rest of the team can't be said to have reached any great heights. A late collision with a St Albans player saw Nikola Roganovic on the ground for a long a period of time, but he played out the match.

I'm not prepared to throw these three points back into the ocean, mind you. It was a win that couldn't have come any sooner for us.

Next game
We enter the FFA Cup this week. We have been drawn against NPL 2 side Eastern Lions. The game has been scheduled for this Saturday as:
Saturday 18th March, 4:00PM, South Melbourne vs Eastern Lions, John Cain Memorial Park, Thornbury
It is part of a double-header which includes Northcote City vs North geelong kicking off at 1:00PM.

Some people are discussing whether those who have purchased memberships will be allowed free entry. My information is that while we are the nominal 'home' team for our fixture, as it not a home controlled fixture at Lakeside, a South membership will not get you free entry into this game.

Ticket prices for this round of the cup are set at a maximum of $8 for adults.

This week's game will be also be streamed live on Facebook by the club.

Social club update
Things seem to be progressing at a fair clip now.
On the other hand...
While we're on the road for seven consecutive weeks (and probably eight with the cup match) to start the season, the AFL gets to use Lakeside to continue trialling its bollocks short format AFLX concept.
Even taking everything else into account (grand prix, possible desire to make full use of completed social club), it's not a good look.

Caption Competition
If any reader can come up with a better caption than West of the Quarry's effort, I will purchase them a drink of their choice at our next game.
Do they do that every week?
I wonder - do non-Greek teams in Victoria pull out the lamb gyro every week, or do they save that up for visits by Greek teams? I might have to do a more scientific study of this, but it does seem to be the case.

Nonsense verbalised thought bubble of the week
When players are obviously not communicating properly on the field, the call will invetiably come from the coaches and supporters yelling 'TALK!'. I know I've done it. But is talking enough? Would it be better to yell 'CONVERSE!'? Isn't what we're really asking for a 'MEANINGFUL EXCHANGE OF COMMUNICATION OF IDEAS, AND THE APPLICATION OF THOSE IDEAS INTO EFFECTIVE PRAXIS!'? Frankly speaking, I'm not sure talking is enough.

The women's NPL team made it two wins in a row, coming from behind to
beat Calder United 4-2 out at Keilor. I really should have gone to this match
instead of the Altona East game. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Around the grounds
The search for the mysterious Spicemarket goes on
Tossing up between watching the South women and a trip out to Paisley Park, I chose the latter. Ah, regrets. The fixture was an FFA Cup tie between Altona East and Rosebud Heart. The game was held on Altona Magic's side of Paisley Park, because East's side has had its surface relaid, and a new fence installed. This was not much of a game - Rosebud (newly promoted to State League 4) ran out of gas after twenty minutes, and East (grimly hanging on to life in State League 1) are dreadful. It took East until early in second half to score (a shot rebounding off the post into the path of a striker facing an open net), not that they looked much like scoring before that. When East got their second (shallow cross to the near post headed in a by diving player), I thought that would open the floodgates. It didn't. Rosebud managed pulled a goal back with about five to play (lobbed shot over stranded keeper), but couldn't muster enough energy to pull another one back. So in summary, East for relegation for sure unless something amazing happens - which could be as simple as Bendigo coming last in NPL2, their senior team folding, and therefore whoever finishes second last in State League 1 North-West might get a lifeline. How's that for optimism?

Final thought
After all that, we're still in the relegation zone, by virtue of being in the playoff spot.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Fanatic of the Week no. 3 - Manuel Bouw

After doing a little bit more digging, I'm am temporarily resuscitating this segment which first came to light (so far as I know) on the official site in 2001, and then became a short lived segment here during 2009. It's nice to add this and the ones that will follow to both the 'Fanatic of the Week' collection, but also the 'What South Means to Me' collection.


Welcome to 'Fanatic of the Week'.

This week’s fanatic is Manuel Bouw from Mooroolbark who likes the club because it has an exciting team with cheap membership.

See below for full fanatic profile:

NAME: Manuel Bouw

AGE: 20

SUBURB: Mooroolbark


FAVOURITE SOCCER CLUBS: South Melbourne & Liverpool

I was last season, but this season I'm not, because I spent my $ on travelling overseas to watch the English premier league, but I'll be a member for next season!

18 years

Andy Vlahos doing a somersault off the sideline advertising after scoring on his debut

When we pumped the Knights 3-0 in November of 1999

John "the headmaster" Anastasiadis

Paul Trimboli (I never saw Paul Wade play, so I can't comment on him)

A good stadium with seats close to the ground, an exciting team, cheap membership and roasted peanuts for $1

Getting on the tram after a match that doesn't go all the way through to Collins Street

Never ever

Having been to watch the soccer at Olympic Park, the MCG, Highbury & White Hart Lane in London, as well as many other grounds, South Melbourne is the only team which makes me feel welcome, and at home.


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Disgusting - Heidelberg United 1 South Melbourne 0

That performance was disgusting. Second efforts poor. Second to the ball so often it made a mockery of our midfield made up grinders, there to break play up. Worst were the comical errors. Misplaced through ball after misplaced through ball. Letting Harry Noon free on the edge of the box at least four times from set pieces in the second half alone. Letting players cut in to shoot, instead of forcing them wide.

After not scoring for two weeks, and after getting just one point from our opening three games, we were promised at least the consideration of tactical and personnel changes. The personnel changes amounted to Matthew Foschini returning to the squad after missing last week's loss against Avondale due to an interstate wedding, with Nick Epifano making away after being suspended for five games for spitting at a Bentleigh player during the Community Shield game. Meanwhile the tactical changes seemed to deviate from our long term plan of lobbing it to Lujic, changing it yesterday to just lobbing it anywhere.

While not nearly as dire as last week, the first half wasn't much to write home about for both teams. We occasionally looked better than we had at any moment since the first half of round 1, but we really only created something of note after a late half wrestling bout between Milos Lujic and Heidelberg goalkeeper Chris Theodoris-Petropoulos. Having said that, Heidelberg looked the likelier to score in a game that was threatening to veer out of control because of the obvious spite between the two teams, and the officials refusing to clamp down on the nonsense early enough. If there was some hope based on the way that we ran out the first half that we could get a result here, it was snuffed out very quickly when a much improved Heidelberg came out for the second half, and we could at best offer only meek resistance.

Nikola Roganovic was clearly our best - he stopped the score ballooning out to something where Heidelberg's second half superiority in particular would have been reflected on the scoreboard. Without due cover when going forward, and without the relationship forged with Epifano, Brad Norton is neither as effective as he should be, nor as we know he can be. The central pairing of Luke Adams and Carl Piergianni did well in the air, but were burnt repeatedly on the ground by Kenny Athiu. Piergianni especially is a problematic case - he has clear talent, being a strong aerial presence at both ends of the ground, but his lack of pace has been a concern from the start.

Tim Mala's attacking capabilities, never stellar, have become reduced to taking throw ins in the attacking half. Matthew Millar needs to get over his alleged revilement of playing as a full-back, because as a midfielder he has been well below the standard expected, even last year. The signing of Liam McCormick has been bothering me from the beginning - by any way of looking at it, it was a strange signing. He did not create any impression during the pre-season, and so far during the season proper, apart from obviously contributing a certain amount of hardness, has added little quality wise.

Luke Pavlou and Matthew Foschini are there to work the midfield grind, but when the 'creative' players go missing, they have failed to add their own attacking capability. To that end, I have been very disappointed by Marcus Schroen so far in 2017 - considering how he finished off 2016, and the way he played during the pre-season, he has been depressingly ineffective. Milos Lujic's body language is as petulant as ever, but there's little else he can do - there is so little support for him from the midfield, and the delivery to him has been so poor, and the marking so tight, that Plan A is more than just on the ropes.

Leigh Minopoulos, so often the man counted upon by South supporters and perhaps the coaches to turn a game, especially off the bench, looked as lost as anyone when he came on. He had little effect on the game - though he was in good company on that front - but often wandered around the right hand side seemingly unsure of where he was meant to be. Jesse Daley came on even later than he did last week, and put in a good corner. There's a few supporters hoping, perhaps even demanding, that he be a key part of the revival, believing that his quality corner taking (from an admittedly minuscule sample size), and their desire for a Number 10, can be answered by Daley.

I'm not averse to that theory, if the thinking behind it is that Daley can perform the role that Matthew Theodore used to provide. Meanwhile, Andy Kecojevic, who could conceivably also play a similar role, continues to rot on the bench. Whatever one's thoughts are on whether Andy is a good prospect or not, surely it's time to either play him or let him go.

If all this sounds too negative, then the flip-side to that is that most of this team is still made up of players that (somehow) got us up to third place last year (look it up, it happened), and a grand final win. Some have pointed the finger at a good run at the end of 2016 saving face for all concerned, but even at our lowest ebb last year we never looked this bad for this many weeks in a row. I mean three scoreless league games in a row, which hasn't happened since...

Rounds 9-11, 2011
A quick scan suggests until this scoring drought, this was the last time South went three leagues games without scoring. During that run we had a 5-0 loss at Hume where everything went wrong, a depleted squad securing a fortunate 0-0 draw against Thunder, and the same depleted squad copping a 5-0 hammering against Northcote. I'm obviously disregarding the 14-0 romp against Yarraville in the Cup, which fell in amid that dismal league run.

Let's keep this sophisticated
I can't and don't condone everything our supporters say, but they are entitled to be frustrated and angry with how the team is playing at the moment. If some of our players are upset by this fact, rather than the specific content of a hostile comment - and I don't recall anything particularly stupid/offensive uttered last night - then they're at the wrong club.

Having said that, it's hardly an edifying experience to see players and supporters hurling abuse at each other. At least yesterday this was done at the comical distance of about 100 metres between the main parties. It will be much worse if the same happens at next week's venue.

Next game
A bottom of the table battle against St Albans at Churchill Reserve. They're not doing well, but at least they've managed to score more recently than we have.

Robert Stack was the stuff of 90s kid nightmares. Then you
saw him do a cameo on BASEketball and everything was cool.
Unsolved Mysteries
Does anyone know why the kickoff was delayed by 15 minutes? There was no massive line outside waiting to get in - actually the crowd was kind of rubbish. And not that I'm blaming the kickoff delay for us losing, because we managed that well enough on our own thank you very much, but not telling the relevant South people that there had been a delay until very late in the piece is pretty dodgy.

People's Champ suspended for five games
As noted above, Nick Epifano has been suspended for five games after being found guilty of spitting by the tribunal during the week. It is my understanding that the club is planning an appeal.

'Let's practice set pieces'. Also assorted nonsense directed at the fourth official who couldn't decide whether he wanted to put a jacket on or not.

Well done...
To the Women's NPL team for picking up their first win of the season, a 2-0 result against Heidelberg. I saw the second half of this contest, and while I can't say it was a terribly good game - the team played much better the week before, from what I gather - they did well to grind out the win in stupidly hot conditions. Melina Ayres picked up both goals, though the serial killer stare she has in the her 'animated goal video' is scary as fuck.

Well done also to the male 20 side, who have a perfect four from four record this year. Some reasonably/relatively talented players in this group, worth watching.

A-League expansion criteria delayed
When I said somewhere (fucked if I can find it now) that the expansion criteria would be delayed beyond February - an opinion I based around this December 2016 article, which had David Gallop claiming 'before July' - some South people said 'no way'.

Well, not only did FFA drop hints here and here that the criteria would be delayed - then came the kicker that by FFA's own admission that franchise model as it exists is stuffed, and that expansion even by two teams would financially cripple FFA and its A-League franchises.

So here we are. While expansion won't happen before 2018/19, which we knew anyway, have fun waiting for the criteria to come out, eventually, and for Red Bull Ballarat to be given a licence anyway.

Around the grounds
Elvis Kamsoba will destroy us, even if he does nothing else
The Melbourne Knights team that beat Bentleigh the other week must have still been waiting for a flight from Moorabbin airport, because the Knights side that turned up on Friday night for their game against Kingston City was pretty ordinary. Kingston aren't great, but they surprised me by not relying solely on counterattacks. The first half was kinda interesting, and then not. Kingston won a stone-cold, clear as day penalty early in the second half, which they converted, and survived some terrible finishing on their part, as well as a very dodgy penalty call against them - one time 'blink of an eye' South recruit Jason Hicks smashing the penalty against the post and across the face of goal. Former briefly South man Slaven Vranesevic sealed the points for the visitors with a beautiful free kick from range, which gladdened the heart of this spectator, until he remembered that a former South man had just scored a beautiful free kick from range, and South hasn't had someone who could do that with any consistency since 2011 in the form of Daniel Vasilevski - as I was reminded by still bitter Knights after the game. 2011 was such a wild year.

Final thought
If this team was built with the A-League in mind, then they must have been preparing it for a competition with no relegation.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Kids, you noticing all this plight? Avondale 1 South Melbourne 0

Even if one acknowledges the limitations of the competition, one doesn't necessarily see the sense in just kicking it for the sake of it. When required, one tries to find the good and defend the competition from those who try to classify it as merely park football. After all, we (mostly and/or usually) don't play in parks anymore!

There are good teams in this league, who can play good football, and in general the style has improved from the dark days of 2011 when Ian Dobson's brutish Green Gully side were the benchmark; when two thirds of the grounds were minefields, sand-pits or mud-heaps by round three instead of round fourteen.

In this game, played on a decent surface, with a non-bothersome breeze, we had two worthy combatants. One team was the reigning champion. The other team was the only one left with a chance of having a perfect record after three games. And yet what they dished up was utter, irredeemable garbage.

Now I know that South Melbourne has problems, and we'll get to those. But first things first - that was putrid. The first half especially was so unwatchable you couldn't even enjoy it on an ironic 'so bad it was good' level. It was just bad. 

During the game I pitied those who had to pay to get in, until I remembered that the reason I didn't pay to get in was because I've invested so much into this project. One could almost pity the players, were they not getting paid very, very well to be very, very bad. Some had been A-League players. Many had spent a good decade in this league. Some had aspirations of breaking out and upwards.

Almost all of them utterly, utterly hopeless.

[I could've throw some more 'utterlys' in there for emphasis, but I need to save those up to torment Ian Syson in a future thesis chapter draft. That's a little poisoned in-joke you don't need to concern yourselves with.]

To refer to some of the abysmal sequences of play as pinball would be an insult to those who have mastered the realm of the silver ball. To note that, at times, the fact that 20 players were bunched together chasing the ball like it was an under 10s game, would be an insult to children everywhere - the kids would at least have better touch.

It was a half in which Avondale, not for lack of talented players, could barely muster any meaningful possession in their attacking half. Meanwhile, South's rare moments of attacking half competence were undone if not by poor passing, then by players in their prime not understanding the basics of the offside rule.

In the second half, things were a bit better, but like last week our domination of possession amounted to nothing. Another maddening goal conceded, which brings to mind, apropos of nothing, some interesting questions, such as:
If we can't take proper set pieces, how do our defenders learn to defend set pieces at training?
If we can't defend set pieces, how do we know those attacking set pieces we try out in training are working?
Even when Leigh Minopoulos came off the bench, his best chance to do something was scuppered by Milos Lujic passing inside instead of out. There were some bad offside calls, too, but were they the difference between us winning and losing? Not in any meaningful sense.

After Avondale scored, the game opened up as we committed numbers forward and the nominal home side had another couple of chances to seal the deal. In the end, they didn't need those - they only needed goalkeeper Chris Oldfield to pluck out our one (very late) effort on target from almost underneath the crossbar and tip it over the bar for a corner.

There are those who say that all this - our one dimensionality, our inability to mount meaningful attacks from set pieces, our inability to properly deal with set-pieces - was all there last year, and that when push came to shove in 2016, we managed to hit form, ride our luck and change things enough to get by and win what is still called a championship in these confusing times.

If that's the case, how have we gone about strengthening and improving over the off-season? So far, it has been, with the exception of Luke McCormack, to only use our new players out of necessity, and not it seems out of desire - maybe they're not ready yet? If that's the case, that's a concern for a pre-season that started sometime in November.

Defensive issues aside, set piece issues aside, one man up front issue aside, tactics and matters of personnel issues aside, we don't even look like scoring from every mediocre team's best friend - the counterattack. The only positives that people seem to be clinging onto from this game was Jesse Daley, who came on as a sub, managed to hit two decent corners late in the game. You've got to start from somewhere I suppose.

From the 'what was that all about?' files
There was an unusual post-script to this game. After the match finished, Avondale goalkeeper Chris Oldfield decided to get smart with those South fans situated behind his goal - albeit from a considerable distance away.

It was unusual in that, apart from one or two misplaced smart-arse comments about Oldfield's short lived tenure in the A-League - misplaced because, duh, it's not like South's actually made it to the A-League - there seemed to be much less hostility directed towards him than one might have expected.

Much more hostility was being directed towards the team and the officials. I'm not sure what set him off.

The time spent marveling at the genius of how humankind launched hundreds of tons of steel and fibreglass into the air, and what's more, did it with some measure of grace
On a lighter note, it has been reasonably enjoyable watching the under 20s so far this season. They played their game on the weekend on the outside pitch at Somers Street. Because of this, no fewer than five different people asked me upon their own arrival whether we were playing on that ground, confusion added to the fact that Avondale were running the gate the car park entrance rather than the usual stadium entrance. The South 20s butchered a lot of chances during the time I was there, but managed to get a deserved 2-1 win. Of note was the relatively close proximity of Avondale parents to South parents, and the impassioned support for both teams - most notably from a couple of women still dressed in their work clothes, which happened to be air stewardess costumes. People did momentarily wonder whether there was some sort of sponsor gimmick going on, but the banal reality is that they had parachuted down to Knights Stadium which makes sense because, as far as public transport goes, incoming flights to Tullamarine are probably your best option when traveling to Somers Street.

Next game
Saturday night away to the Bergers. Oh joy.

People's Champ in trouble?
That melee after we pulled a goal back in the Community Shield loss at Kingston Heath a few weeks ago? There had been allegations made that Nick Epifano had spat at someone, and it looks like the matter is coming to a head at the tribunal this week. One suspects that if he's found guilty, he'll be out for a while.

Social club update
Always nice to get an update without twisting someone's arm.
There were some (though not many) more photos on the club's Facebook page.

Don't look at it children!
Meanwhile, at the Festival Formerly Known as Antipodes, South Melbourne has been circulating an A-League advocacy t-shirt, which for reasons of social propriety, we at South of the Border will not reproduce here. Suffice to say, for some of us still actually attending South matches 13 years after our last national league stint, this kind of nonsense is slightly irksome to the senses. Even more reassuring are reports that South's A-League bid team leader Bill Papastergiadis told the audience at the Festival Formerly Known as Antipodes that the FFA Cup is the only thing that really matters for us at this time (not that any of that matters).

Around the grounds
No canaries
Hours after seeing this game, or maybe even the next day, I remembered that I had wanted to see this fixture two years ago, and was foiled by the weather. Oh, how times have changed. Having never seen The Cult edition of Nunawading City play before, this was all sorts of the wrong time to do it for the first time. For starters, they have (out of necessity) deviated from the Master Plan, because relegation is now a very real possibility. Thus they have put in big cash for hired guns, flights and accommodation - though one of those hired guns, Jason Trifiro, was not in attendance on Friday night, possibly due to injury, maybe due to not being able to get a flight of Sydney on time, who knows? Papa Ange was there, or at least some bloke who looked a lot like him. Probably looking for the next Socceroo bolter. While Nuna's team looked young, their opponents and hosts, Richmond, didn't look much older. Mind you, there was a kid out there during wearing number 10 who myself, Mark Boric, and two former Richmond presidents all assumed was the Nunawading child mascot for the day. Turned it was Nuna's captain. Nuna raced out to a two goal lead, but Richmond pulled it back to 2-2, and looked the likelier to go on to win. Not so, however! Nuna's heavily front-loaded team scorched Richmond's brittle defense, and showed that, whatever other weakness they have - and they have plenty down back - that against defensively suspect weak opposition like Richmond they have the firepower to put teams away. Those hoping that Nuna will go down this season may be in for year of disappointment, 

Final thought
A good thing this wasn't streamed to the multitudes at Lonsdale Street like some people wanted to.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Everything in its right place - some overdue thoughts on the Ferenc Puskas statue

Ferenc Puskas bust at Real Madrid
training ground, Valdebabas, Spain.
Here is another post which would have been better off shorter and presented in a more timely fashion. So it goes.

Some of the photos of the various statues on this page were sourced from 'From Ptich to Plinth: The Sporting Statues Project', a quite interesting website with a fair bit of academic content as well. 

In retrospect, it made a lot of sense to walk from Flinders Street Station to Gosch’s Paddock along the Yarra. Yes, I had gotten into the city too early for the scheduled start of the unveiling of the Ferenc Puskas statue, but it was a nice day for that walk anyway, along the shaded path, just before it got too hot.

Along the way, I came across a broad spectrum of Melburnians. There were those making their way up to the tennis centre for the Davis Cup doubles tie; tourists; joggers; cyclists at various points along the Lycra-wearing spectrum; families out for a stroll; rowers on the river.

Statue of Collingwood champion Bob Rose, outside
Collingwood's Holden Centre headquarters.
Coming up to the revamped and renamed Glasshouse, now occupied by the Collingwood Football Club and re-named the 'Holden Centre', I saw the statue of Collingwood champion Bob Rose, captured in mid-baulk, and thought about how far away he was from home, both geographically and chronologically. How much would he recognise of what Collingwood had become? Would he wonder why his statue was not at Victoria Park, the scene of his greatest triumphs?

I then walked past Olympic Park, or what remains of it after Collingwood’s annexation of the stadium. This is where Puskas’ crowning achievement during his involvement in Australian soccer took place, the onetime de facto – and democratic – home of Victorian soccer. It had hosted Socceroo matches, National Soccer League matches and Victorian finals ranging from top-tier and Dockerty Cup deciders to amateur cup finals. Of course you would not know that if you looked at it now, but some peoples' histories are more important than others.

Statue of John Landy helping up Ron Clarke,outside what was once
Olympic Park.
Then it was past the statue of John Landy helping up Ron Clarke, which at least provided a sign of athletics’ past at the venue. At this point I was joined by an older, grey-haired gentleman wearing a suit - a bit too for me much considering how hot it had become already - complete with an embroidered Melbourne Victory jacket. We pooled our efforts into trying to find where the Puskas statue was meant to be unveiled. I never caught the man's name, and he didn't learn mine, even though he had attempted to tell me about his connection to Puskas.

We then went past the Bubbledome where keen Bruce Springsteen fans had already camped out hours before the gates were due to open for The Boss' concert. My grey-haired companion then saw some people he knew exiting the car park, and I left him to it. I proceeded around the eastern side of the Bubbledome, to the back of a Melbourne Storm training ground to where a couple of small marquees had been erected. The caterers had arrived, but not many others as yet.

The statue prior to its unveiling. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
I mention the existence of all these people not just to set the scene (which is a literary weakness of mine anyway), but to note the complete and utter obscurity of the unveiling of this statue as an event in its own right. Not that statue unveilings are usually big events in Australia, let alone for a soccer player, but that all added to the unnatural feel of this event even before it had properly got underway.

The statue was sitting underneath some trees almost in a grove, covered by a black cloth, out of the way of most foot traffic likely to approach the Bubbledome. On that matter, I found myself in polite disagreement with Roy Hay, who felt that there would be plenty of foot traffic that would come across the statue where it was situated. But more on that later.

Because before the statue could be unveiled, there was the necessity of enduring the official proceedings, which I assumed would be relatively short, so we could get to the business of seeing the statue and taking our share of the complimentary food and drink on offer. How wrong I would be on that front.

A small crowd gradually built up, a mix of elements of the local Hungarian diaspora, assorted official flunkies of the government and sporting worlds; a small official South Melbourne Hellas contingent; Australia’s preeminent soccer historian in the form of Roy Hay; South Melbourne Hellas fan and local Greek sports journalist George Karantonis; and me. Oh, and those who were due to speak as part of the day's formalities.

Les Murray opened up proceedings, discussing Puskas the player and what he meant to Hungarians of that era, followed by a video montage blighted by the kind of rousing, over-the-top symphonic montage music we should have all become de-sensitised to by now. Then for reasons that I still cannot fathom, Mark Bosnich was asked to speak. Bosnich had never played for a side coached by Puskas, nor played (so far as I’m aware) against a team coached by Puskas, and yet there he was, asked to be the day’s equivalent of Bob Newhart being asked to speak at Krusty the Clown’s funeral.
Peter Tsolakis, Mehmet Durakovic, Kimon Taliadoros and Joe Palatsides.
Photo: Roy Hay.
The most poignant part of proceedings soon followed however, when four members of the South Melbourne Hellas side that Puskas coached to the 1991 NSL title were given the opportunity to reminisce. Peter ‘Gus’ Tsolakis was first, and he provided perhaps the most profound insights into Puskas’ soccer idealism. Tsolakis recalled playing on the wing and tracking back to defend during a training session, and subsequently getting told off by Puskas: ‘that’s the full-back’s job – your job is to score goals’.

A statement like that reflected Puskas’ idealistic but also antiquated views on how to play football, one in which there was little room for cynicism, let alone tactics. Tsolakis went on to recall another simple instruction from Puskas: ‘show me what you learned as a child’, thus giving licence to his players to be creative, and to enjoy themselves, and to remember that the crowd is there to be entertained, that the game is about goals, but also that it is a players’ game, not a coach’s one.

Ferenc Puskas statue, Obuda (Budapest), Hungary.
Scuplture by Gyula Pauer and Dávid Tóth,
The statue was 'conceived the idea from a photograph of Puskás
 enthralling a group of children with his ball control
 at the Toros de Las Ventas square in Madrid
Mehmet Durakovic recalled being re-united with Puskas when Durakovic was captain of Selangor, and Puskas was there to coach the Hungarian national team against them. Puskas slapped Mehmet in greeting, shocking the Asian onlookers, who had very different rules of etiquette around physical contact.

Current Football Federation Victoria president Kimon Taliadoros recalled practicing free kicks with his non-preferred left foot, and being castigated for it by the notoriously single-sided Puskas. When Taliadoros scored a long-range bomb with his left foot for South against Melbourne Croatia at Somers Street, he ran to Puskas to let him know all about it – only to be greeted by Puskas wielding a doubled-handed mountza, the Greek hand gesture of insult descended from the Byzantine practice of smearing ashes over the faces of criminals.

Ferenc Puskas bust, Zala County, Hungary.
(For reference, there is also of course the recollection by Paul Wade in his autobiography Captain Socceroo, of Wade initially interpreting the mountzes he would receive from the crowd as a variation of a high five.)

Then it was time for one-time South Melbourne sponsor, then Melbourne Victory shareholder, and now Tasmanian A-League bid backer Robert Belteky to speak. As the Australian delegate to the Puskás Foundation Board of Trustees, Belteky was apparently instrumental in getting this statue commissioned and brought to Melbourne. Unfortunately, while Belteky spoke for a while, most of what he said was inaudible to those not underneath the marquee. This was not due to any technical malfunction, but rather due to Belteky mumbling his way through most of his prepared remarks.

Ferenc Puskas bust, Kobanya-Kispest traffic junction, Budapest, Hungary
Then it was the turn of a representative of the Hungarian government to pontificate for a while (a quick google says it was Zsolt Németh, chairman of the Hungarian parliament's foreign affairs committee) saying nothing of importance, while those members of the audience not fortunate enough to have snagged a spot under the marquee tried to avoid becoming roasted by the heat of the day.

Then another speaker in the never-ending cavalcade, a public servant or state government flunky of some sort standing in for the Victorian Minister for Sport John Eren (turns out it was Liberal state upper house member Bruce Atkinson). The aforementioned flunky at least managed to pique my interest as we sweltered in the shade, after what was almost an hour and a half's worth of speeches and formalities, by somehow bringing in a connection to Melbourne Victory and the Bubbledome, and throwing in the line that roughly went, 'wasn't it wonderful that South Melbourne had contributed to soccer's growth in Australia by bringing over Puskas, but wasn't it even better that we had now subsumed that tribalism and moved forward with the A-League and teams like Melbourne Victory.'

Ferenc Puskas statue, Pancho Arena, Flecsut Hungary.
It bears a striking resemblance to the statue unveiled in Gosch's Paddock.
Sculpture by Béla Domonkos 
Missing from the reminiscences of Puskas’ time in Australia was the story of how he got here and how he came to coach South Melbourne Hellas, regardless of whatever conjecture there is around that story. One can understand and forgive leaving out the controversies, while still feeling if not aggrieved, then at the very least disheartened by the lack of acknowledgment of the Greek community’s experience during this celebration of Puskas’ time in Melbourne.

If, as was acknowledged on the day, Puskas’ time in Australia went unnoticed by Australian society, then why was so little attention paid to those who did pay attention – in this case, one thinks specifically of Melbourne soccer’s community and the local Greek soccer community in particular who would flock to training sessions to be near Puskas?

Ferenc Puskas statue, Szentes, Hungary.
Sculpture by László Csíky
Photo: Dr László Csíky
If nothing else, Puskas' time in Australia was a supreme exemplar of what soccer was like in this country at the time. It was a pursuit that was followed madly by its adherents, but which was nigh on invisible to the rest of Australia society. One of world football's greatest was here for three years, living here in almost total obscurity - except, importantly, for those who knew and understood. It many ways, Puskas' time mirrored that of those who watched him, especially those of the predominantly central and southern European migrants involved with soccer at the time - both subaltern, and existing in a parallel cultural world to that of mainstream Australia.

There is little doubt that Puskas’ tenure at South had at least something to do with Puskas’ tenure as manager of Panathinakos in the 1970s. Because Puskas could speak Greek, but very little English, Ange Postecoglou, who was captain of that Hellas side, would act as the de facto translator. There were no South Melbourne Hellas office holders or supporters of that era asked to speak, nor any Greek-Australian soccer journalists of that time.

Instead, apart from those former South Melbourne players, the emphasis of the day was more on Puskas the phenomenon, to the point where even his managerial career was being extolled, when the record shows that he was in fact a mediocre manager at best.

Ference Puskas statue in Gosch's Paddock, Melbourne.
Photo: George Donikian.
Then finally, the statue was unveiled, and I must say I was underwhelmed. Keep in mind though that I'm at best an armchair art-critic when it comes to the visual arts - but I think there is something to the idea that soccer is a difficult sport to capture effectively in marble or bronze. With the exception of a goalkeeper making a save - something much better suited to photography than sculpture - the game's most poetic moments are embedded in movement, not in moments of stasis.

In that sense, cricket and footy have significant advantages when it comes to presenting heroic moments of stasis: for cricket, a batsman captured at the end of of his follow through on a batting stroke, or a bowler at or just after the moment of release; for footy, the high mark or the booming kick.

With the exception of the aforementioned diving save, soccer's most significant moments are not about stasis, but movement. The dribble (could you sculpt a nutmeg? perhaps.), the interplay of a string of passes with the requisite movement off the ball, and of course the swerving shot, which at its peak exists purely in the realms of applied physics, independent of any player.

Ferenc Puskas during his stint as South Melbourne Hellas coach,
resplendent in a trademark ugly jumper.
Having said that, such observations do not seek to elevate the aesthetics of one sport over another, as was attempted - and irretrievably badly at that - by academic Stephen Alomes at the 2012 Worlds of Football Conference held by Victoria University. Nevertheless, having set up the parameters of soccer's most pleasing aesthetic moments in this way, this statue (to me if seemingly not to anyone else at the unveiling) seems lumpen and lacking in grace.

There is of course, also the incongruity of having a statue of Ferenc Puskas the player in Australia as opposed to the manager, despite Puskas having never played the game in Australia.

Yet to be completed Ferenc Puskas statue.
Ultimate destination unknown.
Sculptor, László Csíky.
Now despite the strong desire of what has been dubbed Australian #sokkahtwitter - including your correspondent - that Melbourne's Puskas statue be of the overweight, bad jumper wearing Puskas, or the tracksuit wearing Puskas, or at least the suit wearing, grand final day Puskas, one had to be realistic. Yet, all the same the fact the it was a statue of the playing Puskas as opposed to a managerial Puskjas  was disappointing - the statue of a playing Puskas is utterly alienating, existing outside of almost all local context.

If the most poignant of reminiscences on the day were about Puskas' kindliness, humility and gentlemanly conduct while he was a football manager in Australia, this statue fails to get anywhere near that feeling. It was noted at the unveiling, almost as an aside, that this will be one of four Puskas statues around the world. Did they mean based on this mould? Or did they mean overall? If it is the former, then it hardly makes our statue unique. If it is the latter, it is not much better, as busts and statues of Puskas have sprung forth in many places, especially in Hungary. All the more reason then that our statue should have been of the Puskas that we knew.

The statue's position at the back end of a rugby field also separates Puskas from where he did his greatest work here. To a very large extent, this is unavoidable - Middle Park Stadium no longer exists; Olympic Park also no longer exists, if we're being honest; and for whatever reason (see later notes on this), the Hungarians and the Puskas Foundation, who funded this enterprise (along with a regional tour of the FIFA Puskas Award and a gala dinner on the Friday night before the statue's unveiling), didn't feel like placing it outside Lakeside (which would pose its own historical-conceptual issues, ala the Bob Rose statue, but at least it would be closer to where South Melbourne Hellas currently lives).

Soccer players statue at Australian Institute of Sport.
Scupltor, John Robinson.
Photo: Philip Abercrombie. 
The path that the statue sits alongside is very much out of the way - the majority of the mass of people that will head to the Bubbledome for its various sporting and musical events, or heaven forbid, Olympic Park for a Collingwood VFL game, will not come across the statue, as most people who visit those venues tend to come from Richmond station, or via the tram, or if they're feeling particularly fit, from along the river from Flinders Street. The people most likely to come across the statue are cyclists, who probably won't stop, or a Melbourne Storm player collecting a stray ball during a training session.

Sporting statues in Australia seem to me to be a fairly recent phenomenon. Before that, when it came to erecting statues we probably did much as the British did - when we commissioned sculptures, it was of soldiers, politicians, explorers, and maybe the occasional scientist. In more recent years, as sport has started catching up not just on the merits of history in its own right, but especially the propaganda value that it can elicit in the hearts and minds of the general public, various sporting bodies have seen the cultural heft that can be achieved by neo-classical tributes to sporting icons. Thus footy statues have sprung up in all sorts of usual (MCG) and unusual (Braybrook Hotel on Ballarat Road) places, and even tennis has chimed in with the cheaper alternative of using busts of its champions at the tennis precinct. (the only one of which was immediately recognisable was John Newcombe, because of the moustache).

Johnny Warren statue outside the
Sydney Football Stadium.
Sculptor, Cathy Weiszmann.
Photo: Johnny Warren Comnunity.
Aside from this Puskas statue, there are three extant soccer statues or sculptures in Australia that I am aware of. One of these is at the Australian Institute of Sport, and is of a generic soccer scene, with anonymous players. There is also the statue of Johnny Warren outside the Sydney Football Stadium. And lastly, there is the statue of the late Dylan Tombides outside Perth Oval.

In their own way all of these statues - including the Puskas one - represent some crucial aspect of the Australian soccer experience, even if that was not the chief intent of each of the sculptors. In Tombides, we have the personification of the young Australian soccer player venturing overseas, to Europe and especially England, seeking their footballing destiny an fortune. In Warren, we have the supreme archetype of the Australian soccer evangelist - noted more for those efforts rather than the exploits of their playing career. In the statue of the anonymous players, we have the anonymity of the game and its participants. And in Puskas, we have the overseas guest, a giant of the sport living almost anonymously in a town which was and still is alternately oblivious to soccer's existence and envious of soccer's global reach. But the net effect of all of them is to remind Australians of soccer's sense of displacement within Australian culture. Even Warren, whose club career was entirely spent in Australia, is more notable for his efforts to create a place for a global game in this most crowded and parochial of sporting nations.

Now one can, as is often the case with my writings, take all of this pontificating with a large dose of salt. I am almost by nature drawn to the farcical and absurd in situations such as this, unwilling to accept the prosaic and straightforward nature of such projects. As nonsensical as I find the statue's placement to be, it will apparently be joined in future by other statues in what has at least been informally dubbed an 'avenue of champions'.

I am told that there had been an attempt or an offer made by FFV to the people behind the Puskas statue project to have it located outside Lakeside Stadium, but that the decision to locate it at that particular part of Gosch's Paddock had already been made.

Stature of Dylan Tombides
outside Perth Oval..
Sculptor, Robin Hitchcock.
Photo: Perth Glory
If this 'avenue of champions' does actually come about, one wonders who will pay for it, and what hope there is of soccer getting any more statues as part of such a project. (I will leave the question of which Australian, or especially Victorian, soccer player would merit open for now). This statue of Puskas reputedly cost $75,000, and was paid for by Belteky; though to cast doubt on that, there are various media reports which suggest this was all done by the Hungarians, who plan to unveil three more statues of Puskas around the world; even this monument then is not unique, but instead intended to imply instead a message of ubiquity.

(I should note that of the four Puskas statues to be created, I don't think any of the photos of the Puskas statues I've included here, apart from the Gosch's Paddock one, are part of that project. I have searched for a Puskas statue in Madrid, but I do not think one exists, and thus I assume that one of these four planned statues will end up there.)

It has been intimated to me that the Victorian Government initially didn't even want the statue, but after much negotiation eventually came around to the idea. As part of one of the most extended quid pro quo agreements I can think of, this whole thing is being done at the behest of the city of Budapest's bid to host the 2014 Summer Olympics. Apparently, when Melbourne was bidding for the 1996 Olympic Games, Ferenc Puskas had acted as a sort of ambassador for the bid.

In its design, procurement, placement and veneration, the statue is more about Hungarians' ideas of Puskas than of what his Australian tenure meant to those who experienced it first hand. Later, I would attend the Moreland City vs Werribee City game at Campbell Reserve - apart from those at the game who had also been at the statue unveiling, such as George Donikian, no one would have been the wiser that a Ferenc Puskas statue had been unveiled on the same day. Why would it?