Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Taking a brief hiatus from the blog

Dear South of the Border readers,

Due to my having to take care of some pressing personal business over the next little while, the blog will be going into hiatus for the next few weeks.

I will also be significantly reducing my social media presence during this time.

However, those of you who wish to contact me during this break for whatever reason can still do so through the usual channels, and I will get back to you when I can.

Thanks again for your support over the past 12 years, and I look forward to returning to the blog and to being with you on the terraces sooner rather than later.

Paul


Thursday, 16 January 2020

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood (the ambient noise is Furlong Road)

When it rains, it pours, and haven't we seen that play out this week? Everyone (except me) panicking about a lack of pre-season friendlies, and then: BANG! Two friendlies announced on the same day, and for the same day! Like some ill-prepared undergrad rushing to get their essays in at the last minute, fuelled by the kind of adrenaline created by the terror of imminent failure, the club is going to play two games within hours of each other on Saturday to make up for lost time. The games will see our bloated - and I'm not going to add any mealy mouthed adjectives to sugarcoat that fact - senior roster split into two squads, but don't ask me which one will be the stronger. If this arrangement achieves one thing though, it proves that the club can actually set up a friendly without having to worry about "everyone" having already settled their pre-season schedules. Oh, and the details for those two games? Saturday at noon at Gully against Gully, and later that evening at 5:00 against Magic at Springvale White Eagles. I won't be at either affair, so if someone wants to summarise events after the fact that would be nice, or else I'll be forced to cobble together something from what people say over social media. The next and very obvious step for the club after this is to set up two games at the same time at the same location with two different opponents, but in true hack American sitcom fashion (and that includes you, too, Frasier) having told neither of said opponents of this arrangement, with players and coaches rushing between two adjacent (but also obscured from each other) fields in order to try and pull off the scam, only for the two parties we've been trying to court to become savvy to the shenanigans, and for us to only realise too late who we "really" wanted out of the two, while being left with nothing because of our inherent indecisiveness, and the need for all classic era (read: before the crippling emergence of post-post-post ironic post-comedy) sitcoms to reset before the next week's episode.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Welcome to 2020, belatedly

Hello folks, apologies for the lengthy gap between updates. I'd have written sooner but a) I have been busy with other things, and b) there has been a whole lot of nothing happening in the South front. With regards to the "being busy" factor, I'll say more on that toward the end of this blog post; but as for the whole lot of nothing that has been happening, we might as well begin the year by summing up what has been happening since I last posted.

Squad update
After having being rumoured to have signed with South soon after the end of the 2019 season, goalkeeper Pierce Clark's name was not mentioned except for laypeople asking variations of "didn't we sign/aren't we going to announce the signing of Pierce Clark?".

There was that much radio silence from official and unofficial sources that the people still paying attention to South in the quiet months had given up on getting Clark, and had instead moved on to figuring out which of Scylla and Charybdis would win the starting keeper's role.

And then on Christmas Day(!) the club announced that Pierce Clark had indeed signed for us, and now the speculation is not about who will be number one, but which of Nikola Roganovic and Josh Dorron will be number two.

Irish defender Stephen Folan has arrived after getting married, so I guess pretty much everyone who's relevant is now involved with the beginning of pre-season proper, which saw the squad trot off to Shepparton for the week.

Of course I'm interested in the procedures for dealing with the smoke haze during pre-season, and what effects that will have on the squad and its preparation for season 2020 - something that all clubs will have to deal with.

But of course we're also waiting for friendlies to start so we can hang out hats on completely meaningless observations of pretend actual play in the event that our pre-season form doesn't correlate with whatever happens during the season, while getting our "I-Told-You-So" voices ready for those moments when one of our scattershot January opinions turns out to be true.

2020 SMFC senior squad roster as of 07/01/2020
There just might be too many categories listed below.

Signed
  • Daniel Clark
  • Lirim Elmazi
  • Stephen Folan
  • Chris Irwin
  • Amadu Koroma
  • Perry Lambropoulos
  • Matthew Loutrakis
  • Jake Marshall
  • Josh Meaker
  • Brad Norton
  • Luke Pavlou
  • Harrison Sawyer
  • Marcus Schroen
  • Gerrie Sylaidos
  • Giorgi Zarbos
Played for us in 2019, but now on the payroll in another guise
  • Luke Adams
I'm not any good at putting names to faces, but I've seen them in photos, so I assume they're hanging around 
  • Melvin Becket
  • Nick Krousoratis
Battle to the death to decide who gets to be Pierce Clark's number two
  • Josh Dorron
  • Nikola Roganovic
  • Peter Skapetis
Played with us in 2019 and people are assuming they'll be back for 2020
  • Ben Djiba
  • Zac Bates
Played with us at the end of 2019 but who knows about 2020, though I'm assuming they're gone
  • Keenan Gibson
  • Amir Jashari
'They' say that he's not coming back for whatever reason
  • Kostas Stratomitros
Apparently at Kingston
  • Manny Aguek
Spotted at a training session at Jack Edwards last month
  • Pep Marafioti
Has he even been in Australia since early in the 2019 season?
  • Andrew Mesourouni
Last time anything was heard from him, he was "exploring options in India"
  • Billy Konstantinidis
Out
  • Tom Aulton (Brisbane Olympic)
  • George Gerondaras (Kingston)
  • Kristian Konstantinidis (Northcote)
  • Leigh Minopoulos (Essendon Royals)
  • Will Orford (Western Pride)
Where are the friendlies?
Apparently there's some sort of friendly session with Moreland City tomorrow evening at Darebin - mostly featuring our kids - but I haven't seen anything on the club's Facebook or Twitter, and I don't use Instagram, so I'm going to pretend that nothing formal has been arranged yet.

The lack of friendlies and the super low-key pre-season business from our end has begun causing some angst among our supporters, some of it probably genuine concern and some of it fueled by less noble motivations.

But let's look at it in some context. By this time last season we'd had three December scratch matches, and one in January. By the time we reached the beginning of the season, we'd played another eight friendlies, had no striker, and rocked up to games where we'd be gassed by the 75th minute.

So while I'm no coach and no conditioning expert, and certainly no athlete with any sort of knowledge of what constitutes "match fitness", I'm willing to let it go for the time being. What's the worst that could happen?

Public transport guide updated
I've updated and streamlined my public transport guide. I've gotten rid of the map screen-caps, dispensed with most superfluous routes, and tailored details specifically to myself and any other South fans who may end up taking public transport. If supporters of other clubs find the guide useful, good luck to them.

I've also been brutal in my estimation of some of the grounds and their respective match days, basically telling anyone who'll listen to not bother. Thanks also to the anonymous comment leaver for adding a couple of suggestions.

Match programs and memorabilia
A reminder that South of the Border is still looking for South Melbourne match programs. We're also looking for old footage and audio recordings to upload to YouTube, as well as photos of old memorabilia that we can add to our 'artefact' segment. I know that you people have this stuff.

Contribute to South of the Border
As usual, South of the Border is always on the lookout for new and old contributors, on both an ongoing and a one-off basis. So, you know, if you want to write something for us, send us a message and I'll see what I can do to make your dreams of writing for this prestigious publication come true.

More seriously, without wanting to second guess what's going to happen in the future, circumstances are such that I could be absent from a lot more South games than I usually would - and my usual seasonal absentee record stands at about either zero or one game per season.

That being the case, I'm letting my readership know to get their typing fingers ready just in case - in the past I've had people pitch in and do a splendid job with fill-in match reports. I am certainly already looking for people to write up summaries of whatever South Melbourne pre-season matches they end up going to, because I can't see myself making too many of those.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Has it really been 12 years? Yes, it has.

Let me be blunt - 2019 sucked. I doubt that next year will be much better, but we'll see. Anyway, there are people to thank, so let's get to that.

Thanks to Luke Radziminski and Cindy Nitsos for putting up photos that I was able to borrow for the blog, and to Luke Patitsas for starting his own South blog. Thanks to those from whom we sourced more Hellas match programs.

Thanks to our readers and comment leavers, and the people who gave me and Gains lifts to stupid out of the way grounds which are poorly serviced by public transport.

The one unequivocal positive on a personal level was working on If You Know Your History, and so I'd like to thank again everyone involved with that.

Oh, and big thanks to those responsible for finally getting the pompom beanies done.

As usual, thanks to Gains for being the only other consistent member of the Public Transport and Cheap Eats faction.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Notes from the 2019 AGM

As tends to happen, my recollection of Sunday's events will be based less upon the order in which things happened, but more so via theme.

The two AGMs - South Melbourne Hellas and South Melbourne FC - were held back to back without a break. Proceedings started on time, and finished after about an hour and a half. The mood was neither sombre nor muted, but neither was it particularly combative (except for one gentleman). Missing also from the AGM was any sense of mirth - often times during the Leo Athanasakis years, no matter how riled up the members would get, there'd usually be at least one joke that would come out and leave everybody a little less upset.

But welcome to South Melbourne in 2019, where the AGMs - for the time being at least - are likely to be more serious in form and content.

Elections were held for both boards, and the results were the same for both committees - the same eleven nominees filling the eleven vacancies. There were some new names replacing some old names, as well as replacing a few names I didn't recognise.

There was not a huge attendance, which was as expected considering the timing of the event just a few days before Christmas, but apparently there were enough in attendance to form a quorum for both meetings; though there was quibbling about whether a quorum for a South Melbourne Hellas AGM is a set number or a percentage of the membership, which is for someone to go through and check at some point. For the board's part, it was noted that they had promised the 2019 AGM would be held before Christmas, and they followed through on that promise, despite some self-admitted duress in fulfilling that promise.

There were several notable absentees in terms of our supporters, but there were also a few notable missing board members - I'm thinking specifically here of football director Andrew Mesourouni. Or maybe I just didn't recognise everyone's face. Of the board members present, only president Nick Maikousis, chairman Bill Papastergiadis, and treasurer/secretary Mario Vinaccia were involved in providing extensive reports on their portfolios; even the election returning officer Skip Fulton was heard from more than most of the other board members.

There was a moment taken early on to acknowledge Ange Postecoglou's success in winning the J-League title. The club's chief sponsors were also thanked.

It's a cliche to say so, but 2019 was unequivocally a transitional year for the club. In 2019 we were still coming out from the other side of the Chris Taylor sacking, including shedding even more of the senior players who had been with us during that successful period; the women's team also lost a swathe of experience and talent, and went through a number of coaches; and this AGM came after the first full season since the end of the 11-year presidency of Leo Athanasakis, who was not present at this meeting.

Despite not being officially the club's treasurer during his presidency, in the past few seasons Athanasakis would nevertheless perform the duties of providing the treasurer's report, which certainly had some people asking in the past (and in the present) what was the point of even having a treasurer if Leo was going to provide the report? Anyway, now that Mario Vinaccia is unequivocally the club's treasurer (as well as club secretary, which does seem like one job too many), we received what was promoted as a financial report that was prepared by the named treasurer.

To that end, Vinaccia provided what was perceived by the members as being a 'more' thorough report of the club's accounts than perhaps they were accustomed to. Turnover was down by a noticeable amount, but this also took into account a number of factors.
  • There were fewer functions, and these functions tended to raise less revenue.
  • The impact of live streaming and the senior men's team's erratic form.
  • The fact that the previous season's financial report also included the somewhat artificial boost of the FFA Cup run (which included several home games aside from the Sydney FC one), and the Guangzhou R&F visit and its associated function.
  • The decline in prize money from the lack of the men's team's success.
  • The shift from running the social club ourselves, to outsourcing its operation to an outside operator.
  • The discovery, via a thorough audit of the club's accounts by Vinaccia and the club's long term auditor, of what could at best be called 'previously unknown/undiscovered' debts.
This audit, which took the entire year to undertake, has made the board much more aware of what its financial position actually is. As for the debt taken out by the club to finish off the construction of the social club, the club is aiming to pay that off next year. It will, of course, be interesting to see what the club's books look like without that bank debt, and with a second year of this administration looking after the books.

Circa 2021/2022, the club's annual stipend from the government is due to be reduced, and thus progress will need to be made to make up the shortfall that will eventuate. Nevertheless, the board emphasised the control of signage at the ground, and its renewed efforts to attract more sponsorship and corporate support, as part of the club's overall efforts to remain fiscally healthy. The club has also seemingly made a more sincere effort in applying for grants, and it is investigating the possibility of what might be achieved via the Australian Sports Foundation.

In terms of the club's operating structure, it was mentioned that all board members will also now be directors, though for some reason I was under the assumption that that was meant to be the case anyway. Another element of the club's pivot away from the Athanasakis-era Triumvirate style operation is a proliferation of sub-committee and advisory type arrangements. There were several well researched questions asked from one member about lax record keeping at the club in terms of governance structures, as well as associated regulatory compliance - this line of questioning was good in that it was not merely accusations of poor internal mechanisms, but also letting the club know where and how it could improve, what needed to be remedied.

As had been noted at an earlier members forum held by the club, Football Victoria's live streaming has cost the club significantly on the match day revenue front. While there have been some minor cost savings in our media department because of the live streaming, they have not been near enough to making up for lost match day revenue.

Cutting the costs of hosting during senior men's match days is part of the rationale of moving our games to Fridays and Saturdays, and the under 20s out to Darebin. The SSCT staff costs, as well as that of security, accrues significant penalty rates for weekends, especially Sundays. However, another part of the rationale for the shift in days is an attempt to attract more corporate support.

The club begun the process of holding more frequent member information nights and forums, and the plan is to hold the next one around March. It is arguable that these non-AGM sessions also cut down on the time spent at an AGM, and hence in part the short duration of this meeting. There will be a renewed focus on club functions, miniroos, and attempting to restart/revive a past player association. These elements are important not just from a revenue raising standpoint, but from the point of view also of trying to revive the sense of South Melbourne being a 'club' in the true sense, after years in which it could be argued that these matters had been left to deteriorate to an unacceptable degree.

Among the other things discussed. The departure of senior women's team coach Mick Gallo was explained as being more or less due to irreconcilable differences - in this case the club had one view of what Gallo's role should be, and Gallo had another. A Dorothy Dixer from the floor asked what money the club had spent in its A-League bid - with the answer being, for the record, 'zero' - the bid was funded by several board members of their own volition.

Apart from the need to rejuvenate our Miniroos component, there were no reports on the health of our youth system - with the exception of noting that we were close to securing some kind of deal with Parks Victoria with regards to the pavilion near fields 18 and 19 in Albert Park.

There was no discussion about prospective player signings for either the men's or women's team. There was a question about the process that led to Esteban Quintas being appointed senior men's coach for 2020, with the answer being that the club considered that he was the best available to the cub at this point in time. Discussion on the appropriateness of hiring the inexperienced (from a coaching point of view) Luke Adams as an assistant coach more or less went around in circles.

 There were no firm commitments as to where the club hoped to finish on the table next season. There was little talk of the proposed second division and/or promotion and relegation. Maikousis stated that it was the board's aim to hold the next AGM by the end of November next year, in line with constitutional requirements, legal requirements, and the expectations of members.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Help identify the opponent

The folk at Heidelberg have unearthed some old footage of South Melbourne at Middle Park from the mid-1970s. They've posted a snippet online, but the identity of the opponent (in the blue shirts - South is in the white) is unknown.

Can you help identify them? The only clue as to the date is that the game was played in either 1972 or later, because Winfield cigarettes - whose sponsorship is viisblenin the background - were launched in 1972. It is possible that the game was a pre-season or other sort of friendly, or a some sort of minor cup,
My guess, based on the limited research one can do on these things, is that the opponent was Box Hill, who had jerseys like the mystery opponents in this clip in 1970; and it is possible that they used them again later on as an alternate or spare strip. But that's just a hunch.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

A casual reminder

That the AGMs are on this Sunday. If you have not received any notification from the club on that front, you may want to get on to that, pronto.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

If You Know Your History site is up and running

While we're waiting for something South Melbourne related to happen, this is just a post to note that I've set up a little blog that's more or less an annotated episode guide to If You Know Your History, the Australian soccer history radio show I've been co-hosting for just over a year now on Football Nation Radio.

The radio show is not something I've spoken about at length too much on here, but we're up to 31 episodes now, so if you want to dip into the archive and download some old episodes, it should be easier to do now than was previously the case by having to rely on FNR's sites.

And if you have any ideas for the show or topics you'd like to see discussed, drop me a line in the usual places.

Monday, 2 December 2019

2019 SMFC and SMH AGM dates announced

The annual general meeting for South Melbourne Hellas has been announced for Sunday, 22nd December, at 11:00am, in the social club. This will be followed by the South Melbourne FC AGM at 11:45am.

It remains unacceptable that the AGMs will once again be held so late in the year; insult has been added to this case, by seemingly just 45 minutes being made available for the first meeting. 

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Late-November mutterings to oneself

AGM news
No sign of a South Melbourne AGM on the horizon, although there's enough time yet to sneak one in before Christmas. Someone said on social media that news of this would come soon. It might.

2020 fixture released
Not too long ago the clubs sat down at Football Victoria HQ to work on the fixture for next season, and it's already out. Remember when we used to have to wait until a much later date than this to see the fixture? How times changed the last few seasons.

There are three surprises for the senior men's fixture. The first very pleasing surprise is that we've managed to score two home games to start the season. Can you believe it? It's been several years now of, at best, being able to squeeze just one home game in at Lakeside, before the grand prix sees us wandering across Melbourne for a few weeks. So, I think most of us will be happy to get a couple of games of summer soccer at Lakeside under our belts before the point in the season where everyone stops caring.

(though I have seen one complaint about the round 1 game being scheduled in Valentine's Day).

The other surprise is a far bigger change. As the seasons have rolled on in the top couple of Victorian divisions, we'd become a rare breed of club - one that would play almost all of its home games on Sunday afternoons. Out of what might be called the old guard of important enough ethnic teams, only a handful had held onto that tradition with any sort of consistency (us, St Albans, Preston), and in recent years even Heidelberg and the Knights had moved to other days.

Without even taking into account the fact that more and more clubs right through the divisions have been moving games to Friday or Saturday nights when they have the lights for it, last year we were the only team of the NPL1's 14 teams to play on Sundays. In 2020 this changes, as the club will play just one home game on a Sunday, the round 2 match against Eastern Lions.

The rest of our home games will be split between Friday nights and an assortment of Saturday time slots. The Friday night games will be kicking off at the early-ish time of 7:30, which must mean that Football Victoria has relaxed its rules about how early games can start on Fridays. I was under the assumption that previously 8:00 was the earliest allowable kickoff time for Fridays, with special dispensation given to Knights to begin at 7:45.

It's also worth mentioning Knights in this discussion because they've been the pioneers of instituting Friday night kickoffs at the "normal" kickoff of sometime before 8:15/8:30, by dispensing with the under 20s curtain raiser, and moving said reserves game to a different day. It looks like a couple of other clubs are also looking to earlier Friday night kickoffs, including Port Melbourne and Green Gully - the latter seemingly going back to Friday nights in 2020 from Saturday afternoons in 2019 from Friday nights in 2020.

The hidden 'surprise' in all this is what will happen to the under 20s games. Well apart from being played on a separate day from the seniors, it appears that not only will the under 20s games not be played at Lakeside, they won't even be played in the Albert Park area. Rather, they will play the majority of their games out of the Darebin International Sports Complex. The exception to those games scheduled at Darebin are a couple of home 20s fixtures scheduled after the seniors game, taking a leaf out of Hume's book.

I suspect that this move is in part a cost-cutting exercise - the cost of fielding two senior teams (men's and women's) and their respective reserve teams across multiple days at Lakeside just not being financially worthwhile, despite the hope that such a move would have seen us extend our footprint at Lakeside across more of the calendar. As for why Darebin and not our grounds in Albert Park, I guess it's got to do with a preference with natural grass over a synthetic pitch?

It's not a great look in terms of the ongoing stability of our presence at Lakeside. A 40 year lease is fine and all, but if having to traipse across Melbourne to host regular season fixtures seems a bit... off. On the one hand it's a strength to have multiple options in terms of grounds, including Lakeside, Albert Park, and Caulfield, but we also ended up having games at Darebin last year (women's and probably some men's 20s), Knox (women's), and that senior men's game at Northcote against Gully.

I hope that at least we are able to cut down on the number of games that the women have to play at Knox, and that the women's senior team gets to play all of its home matches at Lakeside. The NPLW fixture isn't out yet, but it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that given the men's under 20s are being farmed out to Darebin, that we could see a few more men's/women's double headers on our Saturday fixtures.

(I also wonder if we could see more youth gala days at Lakeside now that Sundays at the ground have been vacated by the seniors...)

The other thing to think about, especially with the Friday night games, is whether the social club will be able to cope with dinner service. Our crowds on Sundays this year were noticeably poorer than usual. A combination of having only occasionally good results, the colder than usual weather, the arrival of the live streams, and an increase in all-round battle fatigue all seemed to contribute to an obvious erosion in our attendances. Yet even with that, food service for those who didn't turn up a couple of hours before the game was often notoriously slow. Now that the club is moving half its games to Friday nights, you assume people will be turning up to games hungry - and you just hope that the social club's food service operation works a bit better than it has for the last three seasons since we reopened the social club.

I suppose we should at least acknowledge that the club is trying to do something on the fixturing front. If Sundays no longer work for us for all sorts of reasons, than why not at least try and not succeed on a different day? The last time we had any noticeable change to our normal home game days was in one of the later Chris Taylor seasons, where we played a handful of games on Friday nights for the ostensible sake of player recovery during the congested mid-season period where the midweek FFA Cup games came into play. This change seems to come from an altogether differet place.

Is this it? Probably.
Only a couple of squad changes have occurred since the last time we spoke, and one was not even really a change. Kristian Konstantinidis was already out the door, but now he also has a new destination - which is really an old destination - in Northcote City. The other change is the departure of Will Orford to Western Pride in his home state of Queensland. I guess with the way Orford's 2018 season ended that some of us would've expected to have seen a little more of him in the senior team in 2019. That didn't happen, and yet I'm still sad to see him go.

The other thing is - and I feel this is an observation worth making - is that assuming that we have 20 odd players signed up already, that we're not likely to be seeing a lot of trialist types during the upcoming pre-season period.

2020 SMFC senior squad roster as of 16/11/2019
Signed
  • Daniel Clark
  • Lirim Elmazi
  • Stephen Folan
  • Chris Irwin
  • Amadu Koroma
  • Perry Lambropoulos
  • Matthew Loutrakis
  • Jake Marshall
  • Josh Meaker
  • Brad Norton
  • Luke Pavlou
  • Harrison Sawyer
  • Marcus Schroen
  • Gerrie Sylaidos
  • Giorgi Zarbos
Played for us in 2019, but now on the payroll in another guise
  • Luke Adams
Previously signed until the end of 2020 - or even beyond - but you know how these things can go
  • Melvin Becket
  • Josh Dorron
  • Nick Krousoratis 
  • Peter Skapetis
Reputedly posting on Instagram about getting ready for 2020, but who knows for what club
  • Nikola Roganovic
Played with us at the end of 2019 but who knows about next year
  • Keenan Gibson
  • Manny Aguek
  • Ben Djiba
  • Amir Jashari
  • Zac Bates
'They' say that he's not coming back for whatever reason
  • Kostas Stratimitros
On the proverbial knife's edge 
  • Pep Marafioti
Has he even been in Australia since early in the 2019 season?
  • Andrew Mesourouni
Last time anything was heard from him, he was exploring options in India
  • Billy Konstantinidis
Out
  • Tom Aulton (Brisbane Olympic)
  • George Gerondaras (Kingston)
  • Kristian Konstantinidis (Northcote)
  • Leigh Minopoulos (retired)
  • Will Orford (Western Pride)

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Book Review, The Little Professor of Soccer - Leo Baumgartner


Among Australian soccer history aficionados, Leopold Baumgartner's The Little Professor of Soccer holds a special place as being the first notable published biography of an Australian soccer player, even if Baumgartner was an Austrian first, and only later an Australian.

Well, they either know it for that reason, or because of its distinct green and black cover.

Either way, even those familiar with the book likely haven't read it. Published in the late 1960s, the book is long out of print, and available only in a scant few libraries in Australia; in other words, you really will have to have gone out of your way in order to have read the book.

When finally accessing a copy, you'll find that the book is rather short (just over 100 pages), making it the kind of thing you'll zip through - although I am curious about the book's provenance. Who decided that an autobiography of a foreign, but not-world famous soccer player - one who spent about half his career in Australia - was a worthwhile venture? And who helped Baumgartner write the book, considering Baumgartner's self-admitted not exactly exemplary knowledge of the English language?

Anyway, the book covers Baumgartner's life from his early days in Austria, until near the end of his playing career in the late 1960s. The first half or so of the book focuses on Baumgartner's youth and pathway to professional soccer in Austria - which was still a semi-professional pursuit. So even before you get to the commentary on 1960s Australian soccer, you get some good information on what it was like to become a professional player in Austria in the 1950s. Baumgartner covers training, internal politics, transfers, and the hard yards - including securing a job outside your semi-pro football gig - that had to be put in while rising through the ranks of youth and regional football, until Baumgartner makes it to FK Austria.

What's interesting about this part of the book is its relative naivete. Just about everyone in 1950s Austrian football seems good-natured and easy-going, and Baumgartner's narrative has almost a childlike wonder about it - the post-war poverty, the joy of watching the crack teams of Austrian football on a weekend as a kid, and the sheer fun of being involved with football. The combination of all these are factors make the book come *this* close to being cloying, were it not for Baumgartner's sincerity.

Perhaps the best example is when Baumgartner represents Austria in a youth tournament in The Netherlands. The team travels by train, stays in a nice hotel, and has a lovely time mixing with the players from the other nations, even if they can't understand each other. It doesn't even matter too much that the Austrians get knocked out of the tournament early by England - the experience was worthwhile for its novelty, and for the opportunity of pitting yourself against Europe's best, and finding out that you still have a long way to go to improve. Baumgartner is clearly appreciative of the opportunity to experience what he has.

(as an aside, I'm reminded here of Danny Kelly from Christos Tsiolkas' novel Barracuda, who when competing at an international swimming meet in Japan, feels a palpable sense of awe and wonder at the experience of international travel that his wealthier, yet more insular teammates, do not)

Later when he's secured a senior team position at FK Austria, there are also tours of South America, where cross-national bonhomie and the exoticism of touring compete with the very obvious signs of grinding poverty he encounters in Latin America.

But there's also the Australian tours, and it's these which eventually lead to Baumgartner and players of his ilk migrating to Australia permanently, in order to play for clubs like Sydney's Prague and Hakoah clubs. This leads to the mess of Australia being kicked out of FIFA for not paying transfers to the European clubs, an issue which Baumgartner largely ignores in this book. But the imports at least bring advanced tactics, better preparation (to a degree) and skill to Australia, as well as boosting crowds.

Baumgartner plays for a variety of clubs and undertakes a variety of roles, though he never settles at one club for too long even if they've had success. When playing for Prague, Baumgartner notes the lack of overall professionalism from his mostly European teammates. At Canterbury, he manages to elevate and guide a young, Australian-born/raised cohort (including players such as Johnny Warren) to unexpected success, but he doesn't stay for long here either, moving to South Coast for what turns out to be a short stint due to pressing personal money problems. (it's annoying that he doesn't talk much about his and his family's life - and their adjustment to Australia - away from football)

Moving back to Sydney to play for APIA - with whose fans he's had a combative relationship - the fun times don't last long here either. Baumgartner once more unwillingly gets drawn into board squabbles. Indeed, Baumgartner doesn't think very much of the supposed soccer knowledge of club administrators, especially from the ethnic clubs; but he doesn't spare the shambling incompetence of federation officials either, especially when it comes to organising the basics such as competent youth training.

In amid the banquets, the barbecues, and the assorted social gatherings, it may well be that Baumgartner himself is not quite the easy going character he likes to portray himself as. He clearly has a low patience threshold for the various characters involved in Australian soccer, perhaps with good reason, but it's also clear that at some point people cease to listen to him. Like a smattering of voices of the time, Baumgartner believes that the late 1950s/early 1960s standard in Sydney was much better than that of the late 1960s, suggesting already that there was a downturn in Australian soccer - but also that no one seemed particularly keen to take the necessary action to arrest that decline.

Thus a book that begins so full of naivety and hope, ends with the sobering warning that Australian soccer in the late 1960s is already on the brink of difficult times. It's a bit of a let-down then that the book doesn't go beyond the 1960s, as Baumgartner remained engaged in soccer in various guises for the rest of his life, especially coaching junior soccer, and it would've been interesting to see him explain.

The lasting impact of this book is a strange one - the cultural memory of the culture that this book talks about is gone. Many of the clubs are dead; even the strongest of those that remain are a mere shadow of what they were. It's not even a matter of immediate relevance - but if a modern Australian soccer fan was asked about this time in Australian soccer (and specifically in Sydney), there will be little to no knowledge of this era. Baumgartner is not just an ancient figure in Australian soccer terms, but also an increasingly obscure one.

It's incongruous to an extent because soccer in this era – especially important games – was very well attended. Thousands packed suburban grounds and chaired off winning teams; and now, it’s like it never happened. Even between this period and the start of the A-League, it’s arguable that something culturally important was already lost. But did that short-lived period of optimism and ascendancy in Australian soccer last long enough? Or was it the fact that much of the experience remains sequestered what are now redundant languages and cultures?

It's possible to argue that had two Baumgartner admirers - Johnny Warren and Les Murray - not been at the forefront of Australia's soccer media for as long as they were, that the cultural memory of Baumgartner and what he brought to Australian soccer may have faded even earlier than it did.

While I have noted that the book is long out of print, you can download a sneaky scanned copy here.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Step by step

Mid-November mutterings to oneself
No sign of a South Melbourne AGM on the horizon, although there's enough time yet to sneak one in before Christmas.

The new season, as per recent custom, is going to start around mid-February. It's been said that the first game will be against Heidelberg, but who knows? I expect, though have no immediate knowledge of, some very low key friendlies to be arranged by some time before Christmas.

Elsewhere there hasn't been much buzz around the rest of the competition so far as I can tell - it's all been very low-key. Hume have re-signed a lot of their players. Oakleigh has also re-signed the bulk of their 2020 squad, and added Tyson Holmes, to create a bit of a Dad's Army feel. It seems like Milos Lujic is probably on the way out, mostly likely to Port Melbourne, who have been re-signing at least some of their squad, as well as acquiring Ross Archibald from Altona Magic.

Reigning champions Bentleigh have both re-signed a lot of their title winning squad, as well as added a number of new players, including Alex Canigilia and Damien Iaconis. Altona Magic have been notable for the players they've lost after one of their chief backers departed their club. Heidelberg's squad looks it's in the middle of a renewal period, with a few people moving on including ancient centre-back pairing Luke Byles and Stephen Pace.

The following clubs have been quiet in terms of squad updates, at least on social media. Dandy Thunder have made a handful of signings, and begun some fitness work; no news of note from Knights, St Albans, Green Gully, Eastern Lions, Dandy City, and Avondale.

Is this it? Probably not, but who knows?
As for South. the club has come out with a little social media summary the other day noting the new players that we've signed up so far. The list includes players which have been signed up since I last updated, including former youth team player Josh Meaker, and current youth team player Giorgi Zarbos and Matthew Loutrakis.

From the ten 'new' players, we have two current youth team players, four former players, and four actually new players. None of the ten is a goalkeeper, which has some people a bit concerned, even though the start of the new season is three months away.

Not announced by the club, but announced via other media channels, are the departure of defender Tom Aulton to Brisbane Olympic, and youth team utility player George Gerondaras, who is joining his brothers at Kingston.

The only major thing I've rearranged in my squad list is noting which players had been signed to contracts in 2020 from before either the 2019 season started or during the mid-season transfer window.

2020 SMFC senior squad roster as of 16/11/2019
Signed
  • Daniel Clark
  • Lirim Elmazi
  • Stephen Folan
  • Chris Irwin
  • Amadu Koroma
  • Perry Lambropoulos
  • Matthew Loutrakis
  • Jake Marshall
  • Josh Meaker
  • Brad Norton
  • Luke Pavlou
  • Harrison Sawyer
  • Marcus Schroen
  • Gerrie Sylaidos
  • Giorgi Zarbos
Played for us in 2019, but now on the payroll in another guise
  • Luke Adams
Previously signed until the end of 2020 - or even beyond - but you know how these things can go
  • Melvin Becket
  • Josh Dorron
  • Nick Krousoratis 
  • Peter Skapetis
Reputedly posting on Instagram about getting ready for 2020, but who knows for what club
  • Nikola Roganovic
Played with us at the end of 2019 but who knows about next year
  • Keenan Gibson
  • Manny Aguek
  • Ben Djiba
  • Amir Jashari
  • Will Orford
  • Zac Bates
'They' say that he's not coming back for whatever reason
  • Kostas Stratimitros
On the proverbial knife's edge 
  • Pep Marafioti
Has he even been in Australia since early in the 2019 season?
  • Andrew Mesourouni
Last time anything was heard from him, he was exploring options in India
  • Billy Konstantinidis
Out
  • Tom Aulton (Brisbane Olympic)
  • George Gerondaras (Kingston)
  • Kristian Konstantinidis (time to say goodbye)
  • Leigh Minopoulos (retired)

Friday, 8 November 2019

Book Review - Trevor Thompson's Playing For Australia

ABC journalist Trevor Thompson had previously written One Fantastic Goal, one of a slew of books that were commissioned (or were reprinted) during the time the Socceroos had made the 2006 World Cup. And I must admit, I wasn't a huge fan of that book.

Apart from its general tone, which was (naturally) celebratory of what had been achieved in a very such short space of time under the Lowy regime, I also felt like the book was rushed out to the market by an opportunistic publisher looking to cash-in on the Socceroos' moment in the sun, and that the book was therefore released in a manner which did not to the author justice, feeling a bit underdone, with many parts of that book repeating themselves.

I am glad to say that I enjoyed Thompson’s Playing for Australia: The First Socceroos, Asia and World Football far more and I'm glad to recommend it to readers, albeit with a couple of necessary caveats.

Playing for Australia came out late last year via Bonita Mersiedes’ Fairplay Publishing. Its main focus is the early days of the Australian national team, long before they were the Socceroos, and long before they were entering international competition - with a couple of exceptions, we’re largely talking about the inter-war years from 1922 through to the early 1940s.

What we get from Thompson about this era (and the years immediately preceding them) is informative and lively, and just as importantly, highly accessible. At its best, Thompson is able combine the narrative with interesting anecdotes. Playing for Australia's greatest strengths lie in the little details that Thompson regales us with, such as the “Ego yah!” chant. Here, Thompson notes the attempt by Australia's soccer players to establish their own version of the All Blacks haka, during a tour of the Dutch East Indies in the 1928.
Ego yah, ego yah! The Emu, The Wallaby, The Kangaroo, The Wombat; Who are, who are, who are we? We are the boys from the Southern Sea, Bonza Cobber, Dinki Di, Best of luck to you and I, We'll not fail her, young Australia, Ego Yah... Boska!
(although Thompson is not quite correct about the chant being created by the players for this tour; variants of the "ego yah" chant existed prior to the 1928 tour).

The book covers the various touring teams which visited Australia, including by Chinese, Indian, Czechoslovakian, New Zealand, Jewish, and English sides. These tours were both a boon and a burden to Australian soccer. When the touring teams were of good calibre, they provided excellent entertainment - but if they were too good, they made Australian soccer look second-rate. Just as often, the visiting teams were not what they were advertised as, with the promoters - often private financiers - who funded the tours marketing the tourists as being national teams when they were more likely to clubs sides. Australian crowds, too, were a fickle lot, at least when it came to value for money. They wanted to see visiting teams partly on novelty grounds (such as the Chinese touring sides), but attendance for novelty's sake is something that quickly wears thin.

The Australian teams (whether local, state, or national) cobbled together to represent the country against these touring teams, or to venture across to New Zealand or South-East Asia were scarcely able to avoid controversy in their own right. National teams and their selection policies were fraught by questions of amateurism of professionalism, national team vs state club loyalties, New South Wales dominance, and the “necessity” of playing Victorian and South Australian players in the national team in their home states, even though those states were weaker. Along with splits in the national bodies which created a weak base from which to evangelise the game, and the failure to maintain meaningful interstate competition, Thompson's overview is a useful way of seeing how soccer's lack of a dominant administrative centre has a long history.

But politics aside, there is also the matter of Australia’s slavering devotion to England's Football Association, as Australian soccer throws its lot in with a body (the FA) which cares little for soccer's fortune's in the Antipodes. The longstanding and persistent lack of moral, financial and logistical support offered by England towards Australian soccer, and at times even hypocrisy of British sporting authorities should have rung alarm bells for Australian soccer years before the penny dropped. Yet the Australian soccer authorities, even as they became ever more aware of this lack of support, nevertheless remained devoted to the FA, even as Australia remained a subsidiary member of the FA on the same level as the Elementary Schools Association.

The book also detours into chapters about contemporary Indian, Indonesian Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Kiwi football. Some of these nations obviously had interactions with Australian soccer, either via tours to Australia or by Australia, but the main point of Thompson’s summaries of those neighbours of ours is to show how differently they approached international competition – not friendlies – and in some cases the differences in their relationships with their own colonial masters (East Indies/Dutch) or as colonial masters themselves (the Japanese in Korea and Manchuria). A point that the book seeks to make is that Kiwi soccer was especially poor by the 1930s – and that as a consequence of this, an inward looking Australia lacked meaningful competition among its own Empire brethren.

While I enjoyed the book, it does still suffer from some of the issues that Thompson’s previous book did, as well as some other issues. The book jumps around very quickly at times, and it can be difficult to follow the central argument and/or narrative. That’s because the book is at times underwritten, in that some chapters feel they're one anecdote or point of interest following another in a heady rush. That may be the case here because it’s a bit under-edited, an issue which can be put down to what is still in many ways a production of a fledgling small publisher finding its way.

Of more concern is the complete lack of footnotes as well as a bibliography or reference list. I understand that on one level the book isn't meant to be an academic treatise, but clearly there’s been a fair bit of research undertaken by Thompson to write the book, and I think it would've been valuable for people to see the sources that he’s relied upon, especially where it presents information that may new to researchers. Overall however, I really enjoyed the book, and recommend it to anyone looking for a history lesson on the early days of the Australian national men’s team, and the era and conditions under which they played.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Environmentally Friendly

Our off-season recruiting does resemble is a case of pick your own cliche. Is it "everything old is new again" or "we're picking off the carcass of the deceased"?

Defying those definitions are the signing of midfielder Daniel Clark (Port Melbourne) and centre-back Stephen Folan (various Irish clubs).

But as for the rest? There's clear scavenging of newly cash-strapped clubs (somehow even more than us...), with the signing of defender Lirim Elmazi from Altona Magic.

There's also former players scavenged from the same newly cash-strapped club, in the form of defender Amadu Koroma.

There's also former players scavenged from recently relegated clubs, in the form of defender Chris Irwin.

And then there's former players returning to Lakeside under who knows what circumstances, in the form of defensive midfielder Luke Pavlou.

Apart from the wisdom of the recruiting in general (the fruits of whose labour will only be judged when there's actual meaningful contests), one will continue to wonder what the recruiting methodology in use during this off-season means in terms of keeping wage spending under control (if it ever was in control), and what all of this could possibly mean for the hoped for youth policy (which may or may not exist). I suppose the one thing we could say is that these recruits, along with the better remnants of the 2019 squad (and probably a goalkeeper), should see the club be able to field a competitive starting eleven next year.

2020 SMFC senior squad roster as of 4/11/2019
Signed
  • Daniel Clark
  • Lirim Elmazi
  • Stephen Folan
  • Chris Irwin
  • Amadu Koroma
  • Perry Lambropoulos
  • Jake Marshall
  • Brad Norton
  • Luke Pavlou
  • Harrison Sawyer
  • Marcus Schroen
  • Gerrie Sylaidos
Played for us in 2019 but now on the payroll in another guise
  • Luke Adams
Played with us at the end of 2019 but who knows about next year
  • Tom Aulton
  • Keenan Gibson
  • Peter Skapetis
  • Nick Krousoratis 
  • Manny Aguek
  • Ben Djiba
  • Amir Jashari
  • Will Orford
  • Zac Bates
  • Josh Dorron
  • Melvin Becket
'They' say that he's not coming back for whatever reason
  • Kostas Stratimitros
On the proverbial knife's edge 
  • Pep Marafioti
Going... going...
  • Nikola Roganovic
Possibly already moved on to Kingston
  • George Gerondaras
Has he even been in Australia since early in the 2019 season?
  • Andrew Mesourouni
Last time anything was heard from him, he was exploring options in India
  • Billy Konstantinidis
Out
  • Kristian Konstantinidis (time to say goodbye)
  • Leigh Minopoulos (retired)

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

All Greek To Me artefact Wednesday - 3XY Radio Hellas' Oceania Club Championships final broadcast

This week's artefact pays tribute to two anniversaries, although I was more aware of one than the other when I started writing this piece.

It seems kinda sad that - so far - the club's 60th anniversary has gone by without too much fanfare, but that the back-to-back championships and the Oceania triumph have also slipped by. Maybe there's something in the works to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the club's peak, but we'll see I suppose.

2019 marks twenty years since South won the Oceania Club Championships, although this post also missed the boat by a good month. Closer to the mark - in fact, being celebrated right now - is 3XY Radio Hellas' 25th anniversary, the Greek-Australian radio station which has been both friend and foe to the club, depending on who (and when) you ask.

On September 26th, 1999, after a gruelling run in which they played four games in about eight days, South Melbourne Hellas were crowned the inaugural club champions of Oceania; an honour which saw the club win the right to represent the Oceania confederation at the first World Club Championships in Brazil the following January.

South had qualified for the tournament by virtue of winning the 1999 National Soccer League grand final against minor premier Sydney United. The fact the minor premier didn't qualify for this tournament probably sticks in United's craw to this day, but doing it via grand final winner is the Australian way. Still, an administrative bungle by Soccer Australia could've - in theory at least - have seen United go to Fiji in South's place, as seen in this August 1999 article by Michael Cockerill in the Sydney Morning Herald.
South must win the Oceania club title before confirming their passage to Brazil, but that seems a formality, despite an amazing administrative blunder by Soccer Australia. 
A fax bearing the signature of NSL general manager Stefan Kamasz and sent to the Oceania Football Confederation in Auckland on July 27 nominated minor premiers Sydney United as Australia's representatives, instead. Kamasz is in Greece on holiday and unavailable for comment.
Anyway, the Oceania Club Championships were played in Fiji, in tumultuous weather, difficult pitch conditions and occasionally, as in the final, in front of large, boisterous, crowds. The tournament also seems to have been marred by an overly physical style from some of the Pacific Island teams, the occurrence of which took its toll in particular on the team that South Melbourne would have expected to play in the final, New Zealand's Central United. United were so beaten up by the schedule, that not only did they lose their semi-final, but the third place playoff was called off because of their injury toll.

So South went on to play Nadi of Fiji in the final at Prince Charles Park, in front of 10.000 locals

The South Melbourne squad on the day was:
Milan Udvaracz, Steve Iosifidis, Fausto De Amicis, Robert Liparoti, Con Blatsis, David Clarkson (George Goutzioulis 67'), Steve Panopoulos, Vaughan Coveny, Paul Trimboli, Michael Curcija (Jim Tsekinis 55'), Goran Lozanovski (Anthony Magnacca 46').
(One of the heroes of the previous two grand final wins, John Anastasiadis, missed the final because of injury.)

There were apparently only about 70 South fans present for the final. The rest of us probably had to make do with either waiting for reports to be published in the print media, or if they were too impatient for that, listen to the 3XY Radio Hellas broadcast of the game. I was never a big fan of listening to the 3XY broadcasts of our NSL matches. I mean, if you didn't have a choice in the matter, you tuned in regardless, but the signal quality was often crap, and as for the quality of the commentary... let's just say that it could be ages before the commentators would update the score.

But at least I understood enough of the Greek that was the predominant language of these broadcasts! It must've been much worse for fans of ours with a sketchier or non-existent knowledge of the Greek language. During the NSL, there were sporadic updates provided in a heavily accented English, but this was years before livescore apps. And what else could you do, if you weren't at the game or didn't have subscription television? I suppose if you were ahead of the technological curve at the time, you could've used a mobile to call a mate a the game. But that was probably not an option for this game, what with it being in Fiji and all.

Anyway, when I was cleaning out the old social club back in the day, one item I took with me rather than allow to be packed into storage was an audio cassette with the label:
OCEANIA CUP FINAL 
Sunday 26 September 1999 
PRINCE CHARLES PARK, FIJI 
NADI (FIJI) 1
STH MELB (AUST) 5
I don't know who the person was who recorded the broadcast, nor what the circumstances were, nor if they're even still South fans. You'd like to think they're still with us, but the past 20 odd years have done a number on the club and a lot of its supporters,

Back in the day I was dabbling with transferring some JJJ Live at the Wireless tapes (The Strokes, Something For Kate, Pollyanna) onto my computer, ending up with huge WAV files and not much knowledge about what to do with the material after that. And that's kinda what happened with this tape, albeit a few years later. A couple of chunky WAV files, converted into appalling quality MP3 files, and then no real idea about how to get them to the stage where they could be uploaded to the internet, especially in an era when YouTube still restricted you to very short

That, and for the longest time I couldn't really bother listening for long enough to figure out which side had which half of the game, and what the hell was actually going on. So, a mea culpa on my part for exaggerated slackness. But here we are, finally, with this little artefact now available for all to enjoy.

The recording begins about four or five minutes into the game. The chief commentator is Kostas Paterakis, a long time contributor to both 3XY and its sports content, who while commentating on the game, also liaises with "Aleko" back in the Melbourne studio.

Apart from calling the game, Paterakis also makes observations about the weather (heavy rains the previous two days); the state of the pitch (muddy and soft, but at least no longer the rock hard version of earlier in the tournament); the nature of the local crowd (a party atmosphere, ala Brazilian football); the attempts by someone to steal the match ball as a souvenir during an early part of the second half; an observation that Fiji is first a rugby nation, and then a soccer one; and that the Fijians are a very devout Christian people, with many of the crowd leaving the game early to attend evening church services..

The audio quality isn't the best, but is mostly clear enough to understand what's going on.
The recording on the tape is also incomplete. Apart from missing the first few minutes, signal problems mean that the first two minutes of the second half are missing, and of course there's also a small amount of time missed when the tape is flipped over to "Side B".

There's a very brief English language summary midway through the second half, but the overwhelming majority of the game is broadcast in Greek. At the end of the game, Paterakis corrects an early mistake he made, where he credited Steve Iosifidis with a goal that belonged to Fausto De Amicis. It would've been Iosifidis' first goal for the club - I'm not sure Steve actually ended up scoring any goals for South.

Post-match there's a summary of the game and its meaning; speeches and the trophy presentation in the background; a brief chat with Steve Iosifidis; relaying the congratulations of then Victorian state Liberal MP (and later WA state Liberal) Peter Katsambanis;  a chat with "Eleni" and her husband "Vasili" - Eleni had assisted Paterakis during the week; and a chat with some random from Greece named "Dimitri" before the tape ends.

So, while not nearly as good as video footage, for those with the language skills and patience to listen to its lo-fi entirety, it's a worthy artefact in its own right.