Sunday, 15 July 2018

Smash. And. Grab. - Bentleigh Greens 0 South Melbourne 1

Let's be honest: at best, all you people were hoping for a draw. I admit that's all I thought we'd get.

Apart from anything else - our struggles, Bentleigh's good form, some sort of masonic conspiracy - it'd not been since Renco van Eeken's header early in 2013 that we'd beaten Bentleigh at Kingston Heath. That's seven games in league, FFA Cup and Community Shield. Think about it - it was that long ago that we had two less state titles under our belts, and Gus Tsolakis was coaching us. So no matter how much motivation there was at hand to beat Bentleigh, and even taking into account that the five year, seven game winless stretch also included quite a few draws, it hardly seemed like us winning was the most likely outcome. And I said that before the game, during the game when it was still level, during the game when we hit the lead, and even now that a priceless three points have been secured.

Speaking of motivation, much was made of a Facebook post by Bentleigh Greens about the then upcoming fixture, which noted that it was the "BATTLE OF THE CONTENDERS: NPL CHAMPIONSHIP VS NPL2". Now let me tell you, that got some people's backs up at South Melbourne, including people with influence - that is, the players - who were going to use it as "motivation" to win this game. Whatever works, right? I would've thought that, you know, Brad Norton's 200th game, our ongoing battle against relegation, even it just being a league game in its own right would've been enough motivation, but I'm just a Monday Morning Quarterback. Of course the post was taken down reasonably quickly, and replaced with something more benign but the damage, such as it was, was done.

As I've noted elsewhere, my main gripe was that it was taken down. Being simultaneously wary of and disinterested in "bants", especially when they come from official sources, my take is that if you're going to play these sorts of games, at least have the nerve to stick to your guns. I will grant that in this case, it seems to have been done without the express blessing of the Greens' hierarchy, and I guess that's enough of a reason to take it down, but still...

Of course South fans having a rather, er, "passionate" social media presence, a lot was going to be made of it, and people may be able to use it as proof of contribution towards something going right on the night, though I'm not quite sure what. I'd put more stock in Bentleigh's team missing some a couple of absolute sitters as being relevant.

Anyway, before all that there was a very long and tedious solo public transport trip to the ground, whose sole highlight was the 20 odd minutes of yacht rock that was on PBS while I was waiting at the bus stop in Cheltenham. Then at the ground, searching for the 20s game, and finding it was being played not the on the synthetic second pitch - which was getting relaid - but rather on another field farther back. Not that I was paying that much attention, almost copping a stray ball to head because of it.

Finally, time for the main game, in front of an ordinary crowd. With four other matches scheduled for the same night, including almost all the other Greek teams, it was pretty much the usual South travelling crowd and whatever Bentleigh normally rustles up on its own, which isn't much. If you were in any doubt, you could tell just from the pro-South noise coming from different parts of the ground who the majority of the crowd were here to support.

The first half was a pretty free flowing affair, though light on for clear cut chances for our part. And that's where the worry was always going to be. We all assumed that if we were going to have any chance of taking the three points it was going to be from a smash and grab effort. Bentleigh had the better of things, but there were also signs that maybe we could do something. Still in amid discussions about Ryan Scott's purple outfit, which led to speculation about whether was indeed a purple Power Ranger (turns out there were three!), we were happy with the 0-0 scoreline, figuring that if we were at least able to keep it to a draw, well that was a point we didn't have before, right?

The second half was much the same, dragging on with Bentleigh again having the better of things, as I watched on nervously with Clarendon Corner from the opposite end of the ground, from where it was impossible of course to tell exactly how close Bentleigh were to scoring.

Then came the twist that few of us dared dream of.

What turned out to be the winning goal was pure 2018 Oliver Minatel Novelty Goal Madness. A South Melbourne free kick too far out for a direct shot. Minatel is called by the South bench to be subbed off, only for him to tell them to hold off a for a bit. The ball is put into the box, Ryan Scott comes out for it, but Minatel throws himself into the danger zone, and the ball hits enough of him in the right place in the right way as he collides with Scott so that the ball ends up in the back of the net. Cue wild celebrations from South fans and players alike, except for Minatel who's still on the ground, and from me because I'm waiting for the ref to call some foul against Minatel in the vein of those "goalkeepers are protected species" fouls.

I watched the replay on my phone several times, searching perhaps to see if there was a hand involved. Any other player I wouldn't have even thought about it, but there's history here... but after more than enough squinting, I'm giving the Oli the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how he got bulldozed by the oncoming keeper for his troubles. It's more than I've done for the club in a long time.

But just on Minatel's goals this season: as was noted by a few at the ground, they've almost all been important goals, which is at least partly due to him spreading them out over a number of games, rather than scoring them all in one-off downhill skiing extravaganzas. Earlier this season I said that Minatel was more than underwhelming, and I stand by that, but there's few who could argue that he has become the team's best player and its most important contributor - sans perhaps the returning Nikola Roganovic - in the side's gradual revival.

Anyway, the goal stood, and we then had 20 minutes of normal time to ride out. Some subs were made, and they did well enough, playing the game on its merits - that is still looking for a goal when there was a chance for one, but also wasting as much time as was possible. Still, I didn't think we'd make it all the way to the end without conceding. Against a team that likes to play wide, we defended quite narrowly, all part of the plan to stay compact I suppose. As much as it helped us by compelling us to keep a certain shape, it did allow Bentleigh a lot of space. Fortunately, their crossing was atrocious. as bad as much of ours has been this season.

Brad Norton chaired on the shoulders of Leigh Minopoulos
 and Kristian Konstantinidis all the way to the supporters at
the car park end of the ground at the end of the game.
Photo: Unknown/South Melbourne FC.
There was six minutes of injury time, in keeping with World Cup trends, and another close call or two, but we got there. We've played better here since 2013 for no result, and we've played better in parts of 2018 too - just don't ask for specifics as to when - but you take what you can in desperate situations. There were also a couple of little bonuses as well. First, those of our players who were on four yellow cards didn't add to their tallies. Second, when things got heated with the officials, and there was the chance for pushing and shoving to take place, our boys stayed out of those situations which have been so expertly exploited by Bentleigh these past few years.

Amid the joy of the three points and what turned out to be a half-step away from the relegation zone, the occasion was joyous of course for being a proper commemoration of skipper Brad Norton's 200th game for the club. I think back to when "Braddles" started with the club in 2012, and how certain folk never took a shine to him. And then through the 2013 player purge - both immediately before and after Chris Taylor's tenure started - and how no one's position was really safe. And then the following season where despite us doing so well in the league, Taylor brought in Shaun Timmins, either to ultimately replace Norton or (less likely in my opinion) to motivate him to do better. Well, six years later, the proof is there for all to see, 200 games, as well as a couple of championships and a Dockerty Cup for one of the most popular players at the club; one who as captain, has always been ready to front up to the supporters at a game or through the club's media channels when things have gone badly, and who always takes the time to say hello when he makes eye contact with the fans.

And South of the Border hopes that there's many more games to come, hopefully in NPL rather than in NPL2, of course.

Next game
On Sunday at home against Hume City.

Relegation/survival prognostication, an ongoing concern
So what's changed over the course of a weekend? Well, despite our efforts, not much. Hume won 2-0 at Bulleen, which is bad for Bulleen (and merely "OK" for us), but very good for Hume (and not great for us). As if to prove how competitive the bottom sides are in 2018, Northcote picked up a win at an admittedly out of form Green Gully. Even Kingston managed a point away to Pascoe Vale, and were perhaps a touch unlucky not to get the win.

Last week we were two points clear of 12th place (Kingston), and now we're four points clear of 12th place (Northcote). So, happy as we all are that we got this unexpected win, it wasn't quite the relegation-near-busting result that it could've been. Next week is huge on the relegation front, not just for our game, but also Kingston at home to Northcote.

There's even those who are looking to the possibility of finals. That's just nonsense talk at this stage as far as I'm concerned, even as we are getting close to touching distance there. More importantly as relates to the teams immediately above us, is that they could be dragged into the relegation scrap, but the onus remains on us doing our bit to save ourselves first, and leave high concept ideas like finals appearances well enough alone.

After all, what good's a win against Bentleigh if we fail to pick up points against our fellow strugglers?

South women roll on
Headed out to Lakeside on Saturday arvo for our NPLW game against the struggling Box Hill United. The first half was surprisingly close. Box Hill looked up for the fight, and also looked to have a bit of quality on field as well. Melina Ayers in particular was well marked, playing out on the left hand side of attack being matched up against a very pacey fullback; I think there needed to be some adjustment in that part of the game plan, but it wasn't coming. Indeed Box Hill took the lead, and while you didn't necessarily have any fear that the game was lost - it was only the first half - it did show that perhaps we weren't at our best, though we managed to go into halftime level. The second half was a rout, with South winning 6-1, as Box Hill faded away into ineffectiveness. There's a lot of uncompetitive and half-competitive teams in the NPLW this season, which must be concerning to FFV. That's not a slight on Box Hill, who've pushed us this season in I think all our games, but more of a general observation about the progress of women's football in this state.

South Melbourne A-League bid information night
The club will be hosting an information night for members and season ticket holders regarding the club's A-League bid, at 6:30PM on Thursday July 26th, in the social club. Could be fun.

Good news, in a very minor way
Google has finally solved the issue of forwarding on comments for moderation to my email account. That should mean a return to former days of much quicker approval for publication of comments.

Final thought
I was over the Simpsons World Cup memes almost before they even started, but this is so beautiful.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Bobbin' up! - South Melbourne 5 Melbourne Knights 1

Does our fate lie in the hands of our youth? Manny Aguek, Pep Marafioti,
and the back of someone's head celebrate a goal. Photo: Mark Avellino.
The scene was set for another disastrous Sunday afternoon. Northcote had lost. Hume had lost. Kingston had lost. Even those recent form finders Bulleen had lost, thanks in part to a Michael Eagar header, which shows that at least someone out there still likes us. So there we were, another opportunity to get out of the relegation zone, just waiting for us to screw it up.

That's not taking anything away from the Melbourne Knights, who despite their own limitations have been hovering around the fringe finals places for most of the season, as opposed to where we are. But neither are they anything special. The idea among South fans, if not quite the belief, was that by our own low standards this game against the Knights were certainly winnable; and if we didn't win it - so the more extreme verbosity went - we were goners.

And why not? We'd still have Bentleigh, Gully, Avondale and Heidelberg away, and the Bergers at home as well, fixtures about which most assume - with some justification - that we'll probably get nothing from.

So at best we went into this match with a threadbare list - no George Howard (who somehow only got two weeks for his crazy tackle the week before), no Ndumba Makeche (probably out for several weeks with a hammy), no Milos Lujic (sunning it up in the Greek islands), and no Matthew Millar not only for this week but also for every week thereafter. Thus the notion that Knights fielded a depleted line up - probably true - should've been met with the response of, "yeah, and, so, what?". We've been fielding depleted lineups the whole damn year.

One thing we had an advantage in was the Knights personnel or at least some members thereof having probably stayed up or gotten up very early to watch Croatia's World Cup quarter final appearance, but who knows how many players from both sides had been clubbing the night before? At any rate, sleepiness can only excuse some of the nonsense play that Knights dished up. The bad throw from the keeper which led to Marcus Schroen being fouled on the edge of the box? Sleepy. But the appalling wall set up in front of the free kick from which Schroen scored with a grubber shot? Very bad, much as Knights set up a shocking wall last year for Schroen to bypass.

"KK" sounds like a court transcript identity given
 to a crown witness testifying against the mob.
The second goal came from a corner, which I suppose was our tribute to the 2018 World Cup and/or It's Coming Home. I guess since we never really even put in enough decent crosses from corners most of the time, Knights can hardly be blamed for falling asleep and letting Kristian Konstantinids float in unmarked for an easy header from the first flicked on effort.

The third goal, which for most other teams would seal the win, even before halftime, was even crazier for its combination of defensive sleepiness and carelessness. How Schroen was given that much space on the right is anyone's guess, but even better was that abysmal attempt at a clearance which by going backwards set up an otherwise offside Oliver Minatel for his sixth goal of the season, and yet another goal in his novelty tally.

There's probably some mathematical formula for how big a lead this South Melbourne team needs in order to win a game, involving complex formulations based on score, time left, rating of an opponent. While I'm not qualified to create said formula, it's fair to say that the gut feel about the place while happy with the 3-0 lead - how could one not be? - was also not really convinced about its impregnability. That's no false modesty on our part, because it's after halftime in most of our games where things have gotten particularly bad.

And the second half started off in much that vein, as we gave too much space to the Knights. It was a good thing that their end product was not nearly up to the standard of this season's leading sides. Eventually our compact, simplified game plan worked to our advantage in terms of shutting this game out, with Pep Marafioti winning a penalty and converting it to seal the win. The goal we coughed was not good, a mostly unforced defensive error gifting the Knights a goal if not much else.

But then we added a fifth from another counter, debutant Manylauk "Manny" Aguek nodding on a ball to Schroen, whose cross was met well and stylishly by an unmarked Marafioti. It goes to my opinion of Schroen that there's no real middle ground in terms of his performances: they're either brilliant or somewhere at the other, less reputable end of the scale. Marafioti's finish here (despite its lack of pressure) as well as his spectacular finish against Northcote, suggests to me that he should perhaps be the undisputed spearhead for the rest of the season, or at least until Makeche and/or Lujic are genuine options. Leigh Minopoulos slugged it out for 75 odd minutes, but you worry about how much each extra minute beyond a certain amount diminishes his fitness and chronic injury status.

The use of the under 20s players - and further to that, the whole three substitutes available - warmed the hearts of the fans, because they had a go and looked OK. Much as some of the senior players aren't happy to be subbed - Minatel looks especially annoyed when he comes off early - it makes sense in situations like this because we don't want him picking up extra yellow cards which could see our first or second most important player (after Nikola Roganovic) miss a game because of something which had no consequence on a match already won.

I'm not going to go overboard with the praise for Aguek and fellow debutant Will Orford, because the game was won by the time they came on, and the opponent wasn't really switched on. Still, it makes you wonder why some of these boys, or others like them, couldn't have been used earlier in the season even if they weren't considered quite ready yet. After all, sometimes inexperienced but fresher and fitter players are surely better than experienced but hobbled players? But that's one of the recriminations we'll return to at the end of the season, hopefully having secured another season in this tier of the Victorian NPL. Until that time, we make do with what we have - perhaps acknowledging that we have a little more in available playing stocks than we thought we did - and do our best until we can reset properly next year.

Relegation-survival prognostication
No point in including the teams immediately above us, let alone the ones in
finals contention. As you can see (click to enlarge), we still have much to do.
So after all of that, a fifth win for the season and more importantly, jumping out of the relegation zone by a whole two ladder positions.

There's a prognosticating arithmetic game going on among some fans about how many more points we'll need to avoid the drop, but there's still too many games to go before we can forecast those scenarios with any certainty - though when it comes time to doing so, there is an online tool on the NPL results pages that will let you speculate to your heart's content.

Here anyway are some unsolicited data points to keep in mind in terms of the number of points required to stay out of relegation since the onset of the NPL in Victoria in 2014, keeping in mind that 12th is the playoff spot and 13th and 14th are the automatic relegation places.

12th place finishers
  • 2014 - 28 points - Werribee finished behind 11th placed Port Melbourne on goal difference.
  • 2015 - 21 points - North Geelong finished five points behind 11th placed Oakleigh.
  • 2016 - 23 points - Richmond finished two points behind 11th placed Bulleen.
  • 2017 - 24 points - Melbourne Knights finished three points behind 11th placed Port Melbourne.
As you can see there's great variety in the number of points that the 12th placed teams were able to accrue, and how far behind they finished behind the next best side. There's also notable variance in terms of each season having weaker or stronger teams finishing in the bottom three as a whole, where it might be useful to look at the point tallies of the bottom three sides for each of those seasons.
  • 2014 - 65 points
  • 2015 - 54 points
  • 2016 - 53 points (this doesn't include Victory's six point deduction)
  • 2017 - 49 points
The 2018 points tally for the bottom three teams right now, with seven games to go, is already at 47. That tells us that this season's relegation dodgers and even the 12th placed playoff teams are probably going to have pick up more points than usual to achieve safety. Disregarding whatever points the bottom five teams may pick up against opponents higher up the ladder - or whether teams like Dandenong, Knights or Oakleigh could somehow be dragged into the scrap, though I think that's unlikely - there are also five fixtures where the bottom five teams are set to play each other:
  • Round 20, Hume vs Bulleen
  • Round 21, South vs Hume, Kingston vs Northcote
  • Round 24, Northcote vs Bulleen, South vs Kingston
Each current bottom five side gets two shots at beating at a fellow relegation rival, which says that as important as picking up points against everyone else will be, there are likely five season defining matches whose importance cannot be overstated - and the fact that we haven't managed to pick up wins against Northcote and Bulleen this year could well come back to bite us.

But let's not forget goal difference, and the game in hand we that we have. Though we hope that it doesn't come to that, at the moment we have significantly better goal difference than every team in the relegation battle; but a couple of heavy losses coupled with a couple of big wins to a relegation rival could also negate that.

So yeah, beating the Knights and getting out of the relegation zone? Great! Getting complacent about our chances of survival? Not on your life.

Next game
Bentleigh Greens at Kingston Heath on Friday night. We weren't winning there against the Greens when we were good, now that we're not very good I anticipate even greater struggles. But Bentleigh play the Bergers in the Dockerty Cup final tonight, so maybe they'll destroy each other by accumulating a ton of straight reds, injuries, and taking the game all the way to a penalty shoot out which keeps going into the following morning. Even then, I'm not expecting any miracles.

Farewell Matthew Millar
It's official: after a three week trial in Gosford, Matthew Millar has signed a one year deal with the Central Coast Mariners. While I will continue to be mystified about why it took the Mariners three whole weeks to figure out what Millar's all about as a player, I guess this is good news for him. While (probably) far too many players get immediate second chances in the A-League, there are not so many that can bounce back after getting dumped back to the state leagues for a season or two.

It's less than good news for us though, as whatever we South fans may think of Millar's deficiencies as a player, he was more than serviceable for us during his time with us, and it's one less experienced - and as importantly, fit - senior player available to us for the rest of the year. All that we get from it is some bonus points in the player points system that no one monitors anyway, maybe some minimal compensation (who knows?), and no chance (I assume) to replace him with any current free agents.

At least it's certain now that those damn inflatable apples will never see the light of day again at a South Melbourne match.

Around the grounds
That's it, back to Winnipeg Geelong!
My first time attending an Altona East home game this season. Blame scheduling conflicts? There's a bit of that, though hanging out at a couple of Kensington City games wasn't the sharpest idea in the shed. Blame the standard? I've watched a fair few other state league two games this year, and a couple of state five games. Blame the distance from Sunshine to Altona North? A very lame excuse. Blame the footy? Yeah, maybe. At any rate, it took long enough for me to get out to Paisley Park this year that I didn't even bother using my media pass to get in, just chucked the gate attendant a fiver and headed straight for the canteen,. PAOK's opponent on the day was Geelong Rangers, a team performing very much like PAOK this season: not good enough to be pushing for promotion, far too good to be in the relegation zone. I spent most of this game chatting to a South fan I met for the first time that day, not a bad conversation about many different things and people, which was a pleasant distraction from the not terribly inspiring match. Rangers took the lead in the first half, deservedly so, and it wasn't clear how an Altona East side that's hardly free scoring was going to work their way into the game. Well, 25 yard top corner screamers and curling shots from the edge of the box help. By full time it was 4-1, and Rangers like the rest of us must've been wondering where East managed to pull out that kind of football from. Makes you want to go there again to watch more of that style.

Final thought
We will fund our A-League enterprise by playing Croatian matches at the 2018 World Cup on loop in our social club, attracting local Croatians to our bar like moths to a flame.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Brain snaps - South Melbourne 1 Northcote City 1

Apologies for not writing anything sooner. Wanted to see if the club would spontaneously combust, whether or not there'd be more news about the club associate playing area invasion, or whether - and this was a real long shot - something even stupider would happen which would make any post redundant immediately upon publication.

The great thrill of this season, if you can call it a thrill, is wondering what will go wrong next. it's one bad thing after another, to the point where you wonder whether people are trying to fail. That's dangerous thinking with nothing to gain from it, so let's just focus on what went wrong against Northcote.

No Brad Norton, who had gastro, meaning that where one would've probably expected Christos Intzidis to replace Jake Marshall at centre-back, Intzidis had to go to right back to contend with the dangerous Gerry Sylaidos. And what did we do to make it easier for Christos, not the quickest player in the team? We played in a such a way which that allowed Sylaidos acres of space from counter attacks. Intzidis actually did pretty damn on several occasions, but there's only so much any defender can do in those circumstances.

There was also no Matthew Millar, on trial for a third week at Central Coast Mariners. Without wanting to delve into conspiracy theories involving jilted third parties, how long does it take to evaluate the merits of the player some-of-us-but-not-me call "Apples"? He can run fast, he can run all day, and his end product is frequently questionable. Look, maybe there's "he's prefect for the Mariners" joke there that I'm not aware of, but Millar's absence has been hurting us a lot, if only because we cannot run out a game for the life of us, which makes you wonder about the pre-season preparations.

Northcote had no end product, and that was their main issue for most of the game. The first half saw them open us up pretty easily, but the final touches were lacking. We weren't completely out of it, but we looked a mess going backwards, huge gaps opening up exposing the back line. That being said, we were at least able to craft chances of our own, and even took the lead for the second week in succession, Ndumba Makeche's cross met by a spectacular finish from Pep Marafioti, the only thing of note that Pep's done for us in his short South stint so far.

Sadly, Mekeche limped off soon after with a hamstring injury, adding further to our 2018 playing stock woes. Two goals and an assist are the visible stats of Makeche's productivity, but that obscures to a degree his work rate, often tracking back to provide extra coverage. Leigh Minopoulos came on earlier than many would've liked, considering Leigh's injury and fitness issues. But at least we had a lead, right?

Unfortunately, things went very badly in the second half from the get go. We couldn't get the ball, and it only seemed a matter of time before Northcote would equalise, and they did. The sheer number of chances that the visitors had created meant that there was a strong likelihood of them scoring eventually, but the manner in which the move began was heartbreaking. Marcus Schroen in his attacking half, going backwards, getting tangled up, and the ball flying up the other end for the goal. In its conception it was uncannily like a goal we conceded against Avondale last season.

At that point you had the sinking feeling that we would cop another one, but before that point we had the latest example in our spectacular 2018 brain fades when George Howard - who had been lining up opposition players all day - finally saw his chance to strike. After a couple of Northcote challenges in front of Clarendon Corner which should've been free kicks to us, Howard threw himself studs up and all in the kind of sick challenge which will see him miss several weeks.

If Howard's recklessness was the end of the affair, that would've been bad enough in our position: in the relegation zone, thin on available players, now with probably ten men to fight out the rest of the match before conceding. But because one stupid thing follows another in 2018, in the ensuing on field melee there came the involvement of a small contingent of what people from outside the playing area, jumping over the fence and getting involved in the fracas. My immediate thought was, "is this Northcote people?", not out of any desire that it was Northcote people, but only because why would a South person get involved when it was a Northcote player that was violently felled?

Sadly, one of the offenders seems to have been injured youth team player Giordano Marafioti, and thus now you wonder what punishment the club will suffer and whether that could include a points deduction. The consensus among some fans, including this one, seems to be that there really is no option but to throw Marafioti to the FFV wolves and hope that the broader club will be spared. Security seemed to move in fairly quickly, escorting away the people who weren't meant to be where they were, but you never know how these things will turn out when they reach the tribunal - especially since there's no such thing as precedent in FFV tribunal hearings.

Then came the "sack the board chants", and the "sack the board" banner, and it's amazing how all hell didn't break loose. In amid all this it took several minutes for a lot of us to realise that one of our players had been sent off. Incredibly, while we could've conceded another goal in the remaining time, we also had the chance to get all three points, as undeserved as that would've been. Minopoulos' back post header should've been better, but we can just add that to the list of things gone wrong this season.

We're not doomed yet - we're still only in third last place - but we're running out of games where we can reasonably consider ourselves having a chance of winning. Having picked up only two points out of a possible twelve against Northcote and Bulleen, we're left with games against only Kingston and Hume where we can take points off fellow relegation battlers. We still have games against Bentleigh, Avondale, and Gully away, and two games against the ladder leading Heidelberg. Being at home has made little difference overall to our prospects of success, and we keep losing players for one stupid reason or another.

The way things are going, it'll be a hell of an escape. I'm not optimistic.

Next game
Melbourne Knights at home on Sunday. Apart from adding to our death spiral, it's a chance for Knights to beat us twice in the same home and away season since 1995. Still, South picking up a win is more important than obscure statistical anomalies.

NPLW team keeps rolling on
Sick as I am of watching our women's team play against Bulleen this season, I nevertheless did make the decision to head out to Lakeside on Saturday ahead of two or three other options. And as usual, it was well worth the effort, the senior women putting in a good performance to finish up 5-1 winners, moving to first on the ladder, a point of Calder United who have a game in hand.

Always a bit more relaxed at women's games for me, which is no disrespect to the women's team who obviously take things seriously. Usual gin and tonic in the social club for me, where I was told by Tegan who's been working the bar that the night before an English futsal hiring had drunk about $3,000 worth of booze, including going through more gin than she'd ever seen before. Got to watch the first half in the match day operations booth, with a relieved George Kouroumalis at the helm, after the scoreboard malfunctions of the previous weeks necessitated repairs by the Trust. These kinds of situations are also good for a bit of scuttlebutt and rumour-mongering, not least that there had been an unusual spike in membership purchases during the week, getting in before the end of financial year cut off date.

Anyway, we were told by one insider that there would be a different style of play that afternoon, with South looking to press high up the pitch, and that proved to be the case early on at least. A very early 1-0 lead bucked the trend of much of what the NPLW side has done this season, which is fall behind and need to wake up and rally from that position. Here though there was the opposite, with the women controlling the game, mostly, and even doubling their lead albeit with a bit of luck from Melina Ayers' not exactly sweet finish. But the side also has a habit of defensive lapses, and copping a goal just before halftime wasn't ideal. Still, the second half was an improvement on the first, and I think the final scoreline does justice to the progress the team has made across the season.

That's a shame, etc
So Nicholas "the People's Champ" Epifano is gone. You could say something frighteningly obvious like "it had to happen", but you'd likely only follow it up with some equally obvious line like "it had to happen years ago". Rather than ramble on and recount the whole complicated history of this player and his time at our club, I'm keen to keep the obituary fairly short.

Along with several Dandenong Thunder players, Nick Epifano joined South Melbourne in mid-2013, during that time when Chris Taylor was appointed coach. The club had the opportunity to sack Epifano after he racially abused the club's own supporters - on multiple occasions - three years ago. Instead it decided to follow Chris Taylor's recommendation to help Epifano deal with his issues - whatever they were - rather than cut him adrift. That the club decided to do just that makes them come across as uncharacteristically noble and progressive, especially when you consider you're talking about South Melbourne Hellas here. Of course people would've also been operating under the idea that Epifano was a talented player that could help us win a championship. Thus followed a few years of South supporters watching Epifano ply his trade for South mostly through gritted teeth, feigned indifference, or with the assistance of supremely ironic emotional distancing. That facade broke apart at last against Pascoe Vale.

To sum up: Nick Epifano is a moderately talented soccer player who is, at best, an Australian second tier talent. Some people think he's got more talent than that, and that it's only character that's held him back, but I'm not convinced. On more than one occasion he was pivotal to our success in our good recent years, but he was just as prone to becoming a liability both on and off the field. He's signed up for North Sunshine Eagles in the state leagues for the rest of 2018 - the state leagues being the only place he can sign for now that the NPL transfer window is closed - and will likely end up back in the NPL somewhere next year, with Taylor's Oakleigh the obvious candidate. Whether we're there for our paths to cross again next year is another matter entirely, and of course the more important thing.

A-League shortlist news
Last Friday the announcement came from FFA HQ that the South Melbourne bid had made the shortlist stage for A-League expansion. Made up of ten out of the rumoured fifteen bids, it's a pretty long list.
  • South West Sydney
  • United for Macarthur (Sydney)
  • Southern Expansion (Sydney region)
  • Team 11 (Melbourne)
  • South Melbourne 
  • Western Melbourne Group
  • Brisbane City
  • Ipswich Pride
  • Canberra & Capital Region
  • Wollongong
If I were to attempt to discern some sort of logic as to the selection process thus far, it seems that the shortlist fits in rather neatly with the desire for expansion in bigger television markets - ie, David Gallop's "fish where the fish are" manifesto. Missing out are the Fremantle City, Tasmania, Gold Coast, and West Adelaide bids, and the rumoured but media silent Belgravia bid which no one seems to know anything about.

One could speculate in all sots of ways about why some were kept and some were left out, but that would be a waste of digital ink, and besides, in between now and the final announcement on October 31 there's bound to be all sorts of crazy commentary and shenanigans. Not that any of that matters.

Final thought
I get it now - getting relegated and spending our 60th anniversary in NPL 2 has been designed as a tribute to our 1960 team, which of course played in what was then the Victorian second tier. Coincidence that it was split into two sections back then? I think not! All we need to do is lobby for the east.west split to be refashioned into a north/south one.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Going, going... South Melbourne 2 Pascoe Vale 3

The less said about the 7:00PM kickoff the better; about the only good thing about it was getting to see a mediocre game of footy beforehand. There must have been some serious turf preservation issues, as neither the under 20s nor the women's teams played on the Lakeside surface over the course of the weekend. The scoreboard was also on the blink, which lent the whole affair the unmistakable air of serious decay.

Oh, and we started the game in the relegation playoff spot, after being jumped by Hume City on Friday night after they beat Knights 3-2 at Somers Street.

As for the match itself, it started off reasonably well, and ended up in a much worse place. The proviso for most of our season has been that if we take the lead we have a chance, and that if we fall behind we're stuffed. That we were at first in front, then behind, and level again deep into the game showed at least some character. Then came another very special moment from everyone's favourite heel, and whatever positives we could've gotten out of the game - even just the measly point to get us out of the relegation zone - were soon forgotten.

Without necessarily creating too many clear cut chances, we gave a good account of ourselves early on, and did our best to keep Davey van 't Schip in check; well, as much as any team in our situation could be expected to do. As noted, we even took the lead and managed to carry the lead into the break, Ndumba Makeche putting away one of the better crosses we've put in this season. George Howard was having his best game since he joined us, and Oliver Minatel, who continues to be a minor revelation in his new role. But the second half wasn't as crash hot, and we counted off the time until we were due to concede.

I can't understand the subbing off of Makeche, who seemed to be lively and causing at least some problems for the Pascoe Vale defence, as well as of Pep Marafioti even though he was less effective. The Ndumba subbing was particularly strange, as apart from his attacking efforts he also put in a lot of defensive work on the left hand side of the park, sometimes coming up even into our half to offer extra coverage. The reshuffle seemed to unbalance the team, but at the same time it wasn't like we were far and away the better team - with a bit more luck Pascoe Vale could've been in front long before they actually were. But we were still in the game because most of the team were at least putting in a decent effort.

But Paco got there eventually anyhow, with some truly shoddy defending and clearance work, and our usual lapses in concentration. 2-1 down with just over ten to play, I didn't see us making any sort of comeback, but credit to the team they did well enough to get us back level, Leigh Minopoulos setting up Oliver Minatel for the latter's fifth goal of the season. There was at that moment even a hint of optimism among the crowd. That didn't last very long. Sadly in pushing for the win, we gave up even our nominal point in spectacular fashion. Deep in attack on the right, Nick Epifano was dispossessed when he may have copped a stray arm to the face. Perhaps expecting a free kick that never came - and the incident occurring on the referee's blindside made that call less likely to go our way in any event - or perhaps just as likely putting in one of his customary displays of on field petulance, he showed no interest in chasing his opponent back down the field, and the sequence of play ended up with what what turned out to be the winning goal to the visitors.

Epifano was booed by large sections of the crowd before the ball even made it to the halfway line, let alone into our net. And to be clear, he was booed not for losing he ball, but for making no effort whatsoever to chase back. He shushed the crowd and later performed a small fist pump celebrating the visitors' goal. Every time he touched the ball after that he was greeted with anger from the crowd. It being late on a Sunday and preferably wanting to get home before that evening's World Cup coverage started, I left as soon as the final whistle went. It didn't help my overall goal - the transport situation worked out so that I got home at 10:30 - but at least I got to avoid whatever post-match nonsense may have taken place. At this point in time there is no official word on whether Epifano is still at the club. There have been some rumours about him ending up somewhere in the state leagues for the rest of the season - the only place he can go now that the NPL transfer window is closed - but who actually knows? It would be easy to assume that there is no way he'll be allowed to come back, but how many times has that been said before? Before publishing the obituary for his colourful South Melbourne Hellas life, we should make sure it's dead first.

The only positive for the team's fight against relegation is that Bulleen thumped Kingston on yesterday, which while it brought the Lions to within a game (and much worse goal difference) of our position, it at least kept Kingston within touching distance for us rather than let them get away from us completely. It gives us something more than the illusion that survival is possible.

Sasa Kolman resigns as senior coach
Sasa Kolman is officially no longer the South Melbourne senior men's coach. It had been rumoured that Kolman had offered his resignation earlier in the season on one, or perhaps even two occasions, with that offer(s) rejected by the board. It was clear that the board had - for probably noble and ignoble reasons - a lot of faith in Kolman, but the circumstances have proved them wrong.

Kolman has and will cop stick for being the guy who knew beforehand that Taylor was going to get ousted, and that he himself was the one earmarked to replace one of the club's most successful coaches on short notice and to the surprise of pretty much everyone at South Melbourne outside the board. Hamstrung to a degree by the incredibly late move of the board to sack Taylor, as well as recruiting decisions made by the board and/or Taylor before Taylor's sacking, I have some sympathy for Kolman. It is not a sympathy that will be shared by many supporters, understandably so. He will be viewed as disloyal, which would've been more tolerable had the club done better than it has done. He will also be viewed as inept, a youth coach getting in over his head.

Kolman started off the season confidently, a good pre-season result against Guangzhou R&F and a solid first couple of league games giving him the chance to get some clear air. But bad luck (the goalkeeping mess, poor discipline by players, especially regarding concentration and suspensions, and his own two dismissals) and his own backing away from his high pitch, high energy pressing style of game have lead to a poor run of results, where each good result and passable performance is followed by two or three poor ones. His lack of confidence in his initial game plan was later mirrored by his disappearance from the club's media avenues.

It also saw an erratic shuffling of the playing decks from week to week, no two lineups ever quite being the same even when there was the chance to follow up on a winning effort. In defence and in midfield, it was impossible to tell what his preferred structure was once he abandoned his high press. Player positions changed, mostly to no improvement - except for the move of Oliver Minatel to defensive midfield - and morale obviously crashed. Some of the poor morale is on the board as well, obviously, and clearly at least some of the players have little enough respect for Kolman or for the board - leaking posts from their senior squad's private Facebook group is just one sign among many at the collapse in discipline and morale within the playing group.

And Kolman's use of the bench - or just as often, non use - was also inexplicable. I understand that he may have thought that the youth players he had there were not ready to step up, but there were situations where an inexperienced but nevertheless fit youth team player was seen as far inferior to a crippled senior team regular.

Con Tangalakis has been appointed the senior coach for the rest of the season, which was always a likely outcome once he was brought into the fold a few weeks ago. At the moment I'm hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. here's to being proven wrong. Please, prove us all wrong.

Next game
Northcote at home on Sunday, in the club's most important game in 14 years. I know I've said something like that across the past several years, but is it any less true this time around? It could be the start of something good, or just the continuation of the very bad thing we already have.

No word on whether Matthew Millar will be back from his trial at Central Coast Mariners, though the word on the street was that it was a two week stint of which last week was the second week. No word yet either on whether Iqi Jawadi will be fit enough to take part in any way this week.

Around the grounds
At McKechnie Reserve in St Albans on Saturday arvo  for the state league 2 north-west Greek derby between Westvale and Altona East. Hadn't been to Westvale for a few years now, but times there seem pretty damn tough. Very low attendance, and not much support or even volunteer culture - when you have an elderly bloke with obvious hand tremors making the souvs, it's not a great situation out there. (An OK souv at a good price by the way, which makes me wonder why South can't do something similar). Westvale on field are also in big trouble, just the one win so far this season, in second last place, and almost certain to go down to state 4. Altona East aren't crash hot, but their lower mid-table position means they're safe from relegation even at the midpoint of the season. To Westvale's credit they put in a solid shift throughout this game, and perhaps deserved to lead at the break. Altona East were better in the second half, which doesn't mean they were good, but this game had a bleak hue to it, and the increasingly dark skies - this game finished in near darkness - created a portent that this was going to be hard-fought scoreless draw. Which is exactly what happened.

Final thought
During the game someone found what appeared to be discarded membership card in Clarendon Corner, and the vibe seemed to be that someone had had enough of everything South Melbourne related, and who could blame them. I was given the card, recognised the surname scrawled in texta on the back, and having contacted the card's owner, I can relay to you dear reader that it was not "discarded", only "lost". So, one very minor saving grace from last week's mess of a match day.

Monday, 18 June 2018

From sucker punch to ordinary sucking - South Melbourne 0 Oakleigh Cannons 1

Apologies for this one coming out a little late, and for it being relatively short, and thus almost a placeholder piece than anything else. As you'll see later, I've been sucked in to some other writing duties, plus there's all the the other writing things that I would like to finish, etc.

Look, if there's one certain thing about South Melbourne in 2018 it's that if we fall behind, we're not going to win the game, and we'll be lucky to draw. We're not the kind of team that can break down tight defences which are happy to sit on a lead - at least not until Iqi Jawadi comes back from his injury, and even then - and we're going to rely a lot on getting the first goal. Of course getting the first goal is always the main er, goal, if you like, and if we do manage that and we can coax our opponents to come out and try take us on, I think we might be able to do something in a game.

Last Saturday though, well, 40 minutes of dominance in general play was worth diddly squat when Oakleigh opened the scoring, and speaking of doing diddly squat, thank you very much Andy Brennan for that goal, like a dagger in the heart. Anyway, after that goal we did our other customary thing, which is fall to pieces mentally or near enough to it, and Oakleigh looked like if not world beaters, which they aren't, than at least they resembled something competent. We recouped a little bit, but the taking off Clarendon Corner's new favourite (though I'm still holding off for now) Oliver Minatel for Tim Mala and a strange reshuffle kinda screwed everything up.

Mala gave away a penalty, but it was probably too late by then anyway, and Nikola Roganovic saved it anyway. Not that we would have scored anyway no matter how much injury time was played, but how the referee came to the conclusion that only three minutes of injury time was to be played was anyone's guess. Still that doesn't compare to his decision to do absolutely nothing to dissuade Oakleigh from making stupid tackles early on, which lead to them committing behind the scenes transgressions which also went unpunished.

Anyway, as well as our midfield still being a mess, the forward structure was also wonky. Ndumba Makeche was being played as a lone striker, which is fine, that's the style of the time, but he is not a Milos Lujic type who can hold up the ball against two or three defenders. Makeche is clearly the type of forward who needs to be fed balls to run onto, especially in situations where he can quickly take a shot - something which he seems very keen to do.

The loss was a missed opportunity get away from Northcote and Hume, who both lost on the weekend; we're still only two points ahead of both of them. Conversely, Kingston seem to have found a bit of form, and their win against Port over the weekend saw them go above us.

Next game
Pascoe Vale at home on Sunday, at the unruly time of 7:00PM. That timeslot has been chosen so as to link up better with that night's World Cup broadcast, which kicks off at 10:00PM, and which it is hoped you will watch in the social club. I won't be sticking around for that because public transport dies in the arse after midnight, but at least I might be able to also make the Collingwood-Carlton game beforehand. Probably not the club's intention, but when life gives you lemons, well, you know the rest.

Women's team
Before the men's game, the women took on Alamein. I was still on a tram somewhere along Clarendon Street when the rain came bucketing down and the game had started, and thus missed the first goal which came about 50 seconds into the game courtesy of Melina Ayers. I did get to the ground in time to see Alamein equalise. The game got a bit messy after that, though I wasn't as disappointed by the standard in the first half as some people may have been. Alamein probably should have been in front, but they skied one over the bar from six yards out. The second half was harder to watch, but Ayers and Lisa De Vanna got goals to put us up 3-1 late on, and even a late Alamein goal wasn't going to be too much of an issue to hold out against. The result sees us sit in second, four points behind ladder leaders Calder. The women's next game is against bottom of the table Southern United at Lakeside on Saturday afternoon.

Some very brief thoughts on the quality of the food in the social club
I know that it's not a like-for-like situation, but the food served to those who had booked tables for the Socceroos was light years ahead of the usual canteen fare. Not that it was uniformly superb (except for the roast goat, which was outstanding), but it was a clear step up from the standard menu items. Even the very basic home style food offered on Thursday's social club nights - $20 all you can eat - is better than what you get on a match day, though to be fair, last Thursday I hung around long enough to sample the rather good spit roasted pig cooked by board member Andrew Mesorouni for the non-Muslim and carnivorous members of the squad..

And yes, the club will be showing the Australia-Denmark game on Thursday; not sure about any spit roasts for this week though, but you never know.

Heavy Sleeper 2018
Yes, despite much reluctance on my part, the Heavy Sleeper World Cup diary is going around for another tournament. Check out the Shoot Farken site and its affiliate social media accounts for updates.

Vale Fred Villiers
We forgot to talk about this last week. Sad news, of course, though Fred had a good innings. Later in life Fred's mind had started to wander, including on the one occasion I got to meet him back in 2009. But he still got some crucial points across, about how if we want to get soccer stuff out into the public sphere, we have to be prepared to do it ourselves and we have to be prepared to make the arguments for soccer, because there was and is a status quo which makes assumptions about how little people care about soccer, or how difficult it is to leverage, when half the battle is in overcoming the assumptions of the gatekeepers of our sporting culture.

Around the grounds
Too cold, stayed home and watched Batman and the footy.

Final thought
North Preston and North Heidelberg, oh you wacky kids.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Bold and the Hellas - South Melbourne 4 Dandenong Thunder 0

After Saturday night's results, there was not much sleep to be had. While nominally a good result for us, in that they took points off each other, the draw between Northcote and Hume saw us drop down into the relegation slots. Even worse, Kingston pulled their finger out against a lacklustre Avondale, and jumped up a few spots at our expense. So there we were on Saturday night, and into Sunday, sitting in second last spot, with a game in hand, but nothing else to latch on to.

Then when you rock up to a game and you hear so many different squad and lineup configurations that you have no idea what's real and what isn't, that doesn't fill you with any confidence either. No Matthew Foschini seemed pretty certain, he being suspended with five yellows. No Schroen (still suspended) and no Jawadi (still injured) was also something to bank on. But what of everyone else?

Previously, word on the street was that Milos Lujic had made his one appearance in between serving his five match suspension and leaving for Russia, so we were going to see Ndumba Makeche start... no! Milos was due to start, and Makeche on the bench. Jerrad Tyson was meant to be off to India, having received an offer too good to refuse to play there. He would be replaced by Zaim Zeneli (currently of promotion to NPL2 hunting North Sunshine) and/or Nikola Roganovic (currently or recently filling in at Richmond), except Tyson started this game and who knows for sure when he'll go exactly and who will replace him.

There were reputed doubts about Brad Norton';s fitness for the match, but that rumour was at least put to bed when he told me that he would be playing. But the surprises kept coming. Kristian Konstantinidis was reputedly struggling with personal issues, and likely to start on the bench, replaced in the starting lineup by... Tim Mala! Well, that turned out to be half true. KK started the game and played most of it, and Timmy Mala came on later on.

Such "getting the gang back together" shenanigans smacked of the end of Golden Gordon or every hokey American sports movie you can think of - minus the reformed outsider delinquent. Actually, speaking of reformed outsider delinquents, what of the People's Champ? He didn't play last week. He was gone from the club. He was, finally, a former South Melbourne player. Except that didn't happen. Somehow, through the reputed magical intervention of mediation, new coaching assistant (or something like that) Con Tangalakis, and a team bonding barbecue(?!), everything was sorted out well enough that everyone's *redacted* player was back in the staring lineup.

It was me, Clarendon Corner! It was me, all along, South Melbourne!
No doubt this whole situation has been handled incredibly poorly for so many years by so many parties, but having tolerated it for long enough until it finally broke of its own volition, everyone immediately concerned could have at least come up with a more creative way of doing things. For instance, would it not have been better for the club to make an announcement that Nick Epifano had left Lakeside, only to be replaced by a new player (El Boyo Loco or whatever) from "parts unknown", wearing a mask or some sort of disguise, who would play brilliantly over the course of the second half of the season, before finally revealing his true identity for the purposes of finally going over with his face-turn or, even better, going for a monster-heel double-down. Look, we're in the entertainment business, and I'm just trying to help.

If you wanted even more surprises, there was no Christos "Patrida" Intzidis in the starting lineup, with the returning-from-Scandinavia Luke Adams taking his place in central defence, and surprisingly perhaps Intzidis not even used in the role of defensive midfield. With Luke Pavlou departed, and Foschini suspended, that role was taken up by... Oliver Minatel! Oliver Mintael, reputed winger who's barely played on the wing (his apparent preferred position) due to the injury and suspension situation of the club. Oliver Minatel, who even when he has played as a winger, has showed little. Oliver Minatel, whose almost entire worth to the club thus far has been four goals of varying degrees of novelty value.

And yet, he was actually quite good in the role. I'm not going to go over the top and say that it was a transformative experience - he could be found out next week for all we know - but for this game it worked well enough. Minatel seems to read the game well, but more importantly, being in that position meant he was in the game a lot more whether he liked it or not. (And for whatever it's worth, he did apparently volunteer for the role). Being much more in the game rather than being stranded up front or out wide meant that he was able to influence a game in ways that he has not been able to do so previously in 2018.

The sputtering at best midfield of last week became a lot more fluid as well, the new jelling with the old in promising ways, albeit mostly from counter-attacks. Again, small sample size and all that, but we were counter-attacking well and smoothly, transitioning quickly from defence to attack. Of course counter attacking is much easier to do when a) you have a lead and b) you have a lead in part because you haven't conceded after seven seconds. It was probably just an accident that the scoreboard didn't kick in properly until about 15 seconds into the game.

So yes, going ahead early makes the opposition have to come out and chase the game and therefore makes counter attacking easier, at least in theory. What was astonishing about the early lead we took is that the Dandenong player didn't get a yellow card for that vicious tackle but also, considering how our season has been going, that Milos Lujic didn't miss the penalty. Indeed, he put it right into the top corner. The second goal was a good finish from the People's Champ after being released on the break. The third goal, almost unseen, came from a short corner, and thus I'm not comfortable with it being counted in the first half tally.

Three-nil at the break would suggest we were all over Thunder, but that was not quite the case. It was a far more free-flowing, end-to-end, and much more competitive affair than that. Thunder probably struggled to create as many clear cut chances as we were doing, but they could've scored, and had they done so you wonder how the game would've gone, what with our penchant for rapid self-immolation this year. Thankfully, that never came about. We only added one more goal in the second half, Ndumba Makeche tucking away an easy back post chance, and everybody was happy to get out of this game with all three points, and out of the relegation zone.

It was a terrifying 18 or so hours in the red zone - and there's no guarantees that we won't be back there again soon - but the wash up of the win on Sunday was that we actually distanced ourselves ever so slightly from two members of the chasing pack. What's more, we got ourselves back into positive goal difference, which in dire situations like this, is worth a half a point by itself. Oh, and there seemed to be renewed effort and desire in the squad. No one's sure if that newfound lust for battle will last the first test of true adversity, but it was exciting to have it back for at least 90 minutes.

Next game
Oakleigh at home on Saturday evening. For those who concern themselves with such triviliaties, it will be Chris Taylor's first game at Lakeside since his sacking, and his first game back after his mid-season trip to Europe. Of course, it is also worth noting that after the game, the social club will be screening the Socceroos vs France World Cup match, for which he club has said you will need to book tables for if you wish to sit down and watch the game instead of stand - that's $50 per head, and you get meal platters, etc. It's also worth noting that rather than the under 20s curtain raiser, our NPLW side will be playing against Alamein, with kickoff at 2:30PM.

Shortlist shenanigans
Those hoping for closure on the matter of the A-League expansion process will have to wait a couple more days at least. Today was the day - yes, I know it's a public holiday, but this is Australian soccer after all - where there was meant to be an announcement of the shortlist for the A-League expansion hopefuls.
That kind of make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is of course remarkably reassuring, as are rumours that the licence fee will be $15 million. Not that any of that matters.

Around the grounds
...and if you're in jail, break out!!!
As promised to no one in particular last week, I headed north across the wrong side of the tracks to the catch up game between Westgate and Whittlesea United. Yes, Tansel Baser was there for the visitors, but that mattered not when Westgate opened the scoring after two minutes. But then Whittlesea took the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring three goals in the next 20 minutes. The pick of the bunch was the equaliser, which was a solo effort with the player in question dribbling past three or four opponents and slotting his goal just inside the post. Considering the usual standard of this league, it wasn't just beautiful, but transcendent, a distillation of everything good about football. At 3-1 it looked like Whittlesea were going to run away with it, but the first half settled down after that. After halftime Westgate were much improved, but they were wasteful in front of goal. They got one back, which made the game really interesting, but that's all they got.

Final thought
Safe travels to all those heading to Russia for the World Cup.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Dire situation - South Melbourne 1 Bulleen Lions 2

Yes, it's true. I have done everything in my powers to push the writing of this post to whenever the latest possible moment was. I read a novel from start to finish for the first time since January. I went on ridiculously long bus trips with one of my brothers so that he could order some new glasses. I watched a hell of a lot of TV that even I'm embarrassed to admit that I watched - though I stopped short at the Denton interview of Gene Simmons. I even read the letters pages of Royal Auto, where people who like going on car trips to see lighthouses or complaining about less than stellar driving by their fellow motorists go because they haven't discovered the black hole of social media.

Spoilt as we have been these past few years with something approximating relative success, being now mired in something very much more akin to complete and utter suckage makes being a South fan less tolerable. The suddenness of that transformation adds to the misery. At least when we sucked in the years 2007 to (June/July) 2013, that sucking felt like a warm blanket: yes we sucked, but in the VPL years it became basically all we knew, and on some level you could justify turning up to watch mediocre season after mediocre season. After all, the club was probably going to cark it soon, so what did it matter if we won or lost?

But winning changed the feeling, made the real or imagined post-NSL death spiral of the club feel less real. But winning has gone, so here we are, back to the old feeling, but much worse. Lining up with what could be considered a makeshift midfield at best - no Schroen, Epifano, Jawadi, Brennan, Pavlou, and instead fielding newly signed and probably out of position Howard and Marafioti, and a busted up Minopoulos - expectations were low. Sure there was a returning after five weeks' suspension and before he leaves for Russia next week Milos Lujic, but that was probably just as much down to new striker signing Ndumba Makeche's international clearance not coming through as anything. Unless of course Makeche actually isn't very good, and we were going to start Milos regardless.

Of course none of that mattered in the slightest because we conceded a goal after seven seconds. SEVEN SECONDS! I can only remember seeing such a thing happen in the flesh once, and even then it was a state league two reserves game and there were mitigating circumstances of an absolute fool of a referee who made a big deal before kickoff about the colour of the long sleeves worn under the jerseys, and despite that there were still no real excuses for copping that goal. The blokes who copped that goal for us on Sunday are experienced, well-remunerated, and any number of other positive epithets you can choose to use. You can point to discord and disquiet, low morale, poor coaching, any number of things, but you should still never cop a goal within seven second of play.

At least wait thirty seconds! That implies that there may have been some neat passing, or a piece of stunning bad luck, or at least some semblance of someone trying to provide an obstacle to conceding the goal. The only obstacle to us conceding was a hopelessly stranded Jerrad Tyson in goals, and what he could seriously do when seeing that blue and white Red Sea open in front of him except hope for the absolute best while expecting the absolute worst?

After that, we put in some effort to try and get back that goal, but it was rather like the proverbial dirty, slimy, airborne pig. No amount of rationalisation could convince anyone that it was still any good. Brad Norton, the one man seemingly willing to front up and take any responsibility for what has been going on this year, did his best; but as for the rest, whether new signing or old hand, nothing clicked, nothing worked, and nothing looked like working. And when you're going through a dire run of form, all the things which work out when you're going well - opposition mistakes, referee decisions, a cleared ball landing in or at the edge of the box with one of yours ready to hit it home - all goes the window, making things even harder.

I mean, there were neat touches, and lots of crosses and corners, but rarely any of these things in consecutive order, and thus rarely a moment where there seemed to be any coherence in our path towards goal. Everything seems forced and predictable now. And then the ball gets turned over, and then the other side of problem comes out, players out of position, players being played out of position, and players making fundamental errors of skill and concentration. Sure we lasted more than seven seconds without conceding after halftime, but the goal we copped three minutes into the second half was little better than the one we copped in the first. If there was any doubt that we were going to get back in this game, it was extinguished then and there.

Late on we actually managed to score, Oliver Minatel bundling home what we hoped but did not dare believe could be the goal that would kick start a comeback, and it turns out that it didn't. This is not 2017 after all. Sure we pumped balls forward, but never really got close, just as we hadn't got close for the rest of the game. Now, critical as I have been of Minatel this season, I will give him this much credit - even though his four goals in 2018 have been the arsiest collection of goals in a South shirt since Kevin Nelson's half season with us in 2006, at least he's managed to get them! While everyone else fiddles while Rome burns or wallows in their own misery, Minatel has something to point to as a contribution. Call it clutching at straws if you like, but in a shipwreck situation you try and grab onto anything you can to stay afloat.

I can't even say Bulleen played that well. They looked like the bottom of the table team that they are, but they still created three or four genuine chances compared to our measly half chances of crosses met by no one or players off balance or caught easily by the Bulleen keeper. And I don't mean to sell Bulleen short, because they did the job they came to do, but even out of form the calibre of players we had out there shouldn't have let the situation deteriorate so much. But we are so much less the sum of our parts at the moment that anything resembling competence from our opponents makes things seem impossible from our end. Indeed, the last game we won, against Kingston, was as much due to Kingston's incompetence in the two goals they coughed up to us as it was due to anything we did ourselves.

Where improvement will come in the short term, let alone the rest of the season as a whole, is anyone's guess, but I don't think anyone's particularly optimistic. At some point Marcus Schroen will come back into the side, hopefully a fit Iqi. Maybe this Ndumba guy will show us that the Malaysian third division is a step up from the NPL? We're somehow still outside the relegation zone, but that won't last - indeed that could happen as early ads Saturday night if Northcote and Hume play out a draw. There's half a season's worth of games to go for us, but seemingly no one inside the club who knows how to "dig up, stupid".

Next game
Dandenong Thunder at home.

Mid-season ins and out
There are a lot of rumours flying around about who's in and who's out, and those rumours are getting increasingly extreme as befits our current crisis. Among the factual elements:

  • Luke Adams (miscellaneous frozen tundra) 
  • Giuseppe "Pep" Marafioti (Oakleigh)
  • George Howard (APIA, not the insurance company unless he has a day job there)
  • Ndumba Makeche (Malaysia)
  • Andy Brennan (Oakleigh)
  • Luke Pavlou (Oakleigh)
  • Keegan Coulter (dunno)
  • Ajdin Fetahagic (*shrugs shoulders*)
After that though... I don't know. There have been persistent rumours that night club proprietor and recently ousted Oakleigh Cannons co-coach Con Tangalakis will be coming in as an assistant or mentor or something for Sasa Kolman. That hasn't happened yet, it may not ever happen, or it could happen really subtly and one day he'll just happen to be there as if he was always there.

Not that it was any of our business, and it may not even become relevant regardless, but I always wondered how a co-coaching arrangement worked. I mean, co-captains is a stupid enough arrangement, but unless you're in a sport like cricket or rugby union where captains have some tangible responsibility aside from deciding which end to kick to, captaincy is probably a fairly overrated concept in sports; though I say this with no first-hand experience of having had to serve under a captain in any sport. But co-coaches? Who is ultimately responsible for success or failure? Typically, my mind goes to toward Andorra's dual-prince arrangement, though even there I assume that's mostly ceremonial in function.

As for the rest of the transfer window, I don't know if there are any other players lined up for entry or exit. A lot of that probably depends on the fate of the matter below.

A Gannon Television production, for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The whereabouts and fate of the People's Champ against Bulleen went largely unremarked upon, surprisingly. I suppose when you cop a goal within seven seconds of starting, trivial things like that seem to matter a lot less. Still, there are no official reports of what the ultimate fate is for Nick Epifano regarding his tenure at South. The overwhelming consensus of the rumour mill is that he is no longer at South, or that he is on his way out of the club. Somebody told me or I read somewhere that his name was taken down from his locker, but I have no idea if this is true or whether the players even have their names above their lockers.

While agreeing that he is out of the club, the various rumour mongers can't agree on just where he will or where he has ended up. Oakleigh to reunite with Chris Taylor? Avondale, whom he reputedly was set to join up with after the end of the 2017 season? Heidelberg, with his mate Andrew Cartanos? At the time of print, no one seemed to know for sure. Neither does anyone know whether these or any other potential destination clubs have room in their PPS caps - assuming anyone's still bothering to tally those up - or whether potential destination clubs even want him, seeing Epifano a disruptive and needy dressing room presence that they could do without, regardless of his talent.

And then of course you have those of our fans who view these things pragmatically and/or vindictively, who suggest that as an unwilling but nevertheless contracted player, the People's Champ should be made to play out the rest of the season in the under 20s especially if we can't get a decent transfer fee for him. I get the logic of that kind of sentiment, but... actually there is no but. Surely we should do what's in South's best interests here, right? It's coming across all very high school at the moment. Considering Epifano's inability to bust out a convincing highbrow pro-wrestling style face-turn, such a development in the storyline probably suits the low-rent Australian teen soap-opera the whole Epifano saga has actually resembled.

Andrew Howe's Socceroos Encyclopaedia
Last Tuesday, Andrew Howe's national tour to launch his Socceroos Encyclopaedia made its Melbourne stop, in our very own social club. It being a Tuesday (training) night and the proceedings getting underway at about 6:00PM perhaps made it difficult for people to attend; nevertheless to my mind the turnout was disappointing. At about 30 odd people, there was a distinct lack of South fans, general Australian soccer and Socceroos fans, and especially former Socceroos. Look, I get that it's a book launch, and not exactly the hottest ticket in town in Australian soccer circles, but when we complain that we don't get enough positive press and that we don't get enough of our stories told, and then we refuse to support those who are doing some of the heavy lifting - and in Howe's case, some of the heaviest lifting over a considerable period of time - then how surely we lose some credibility as a self-righteous and always indignant soccer culture.

Anyway, that little rant out of the way, let's turn our attention to the festivities at hand. Bonita Mersiadies, (the publisher of the book via her Fair Play press, a new player in the local soccer publishing scene) was overseas, so it fell to former South Melbourne Hellas board member and current AAFC spruiker Tom Kalas to introduce the book, who did a good job. Then it was time for the man of the moment to do his thing. Howe provided a shortened version of the presentation he gave at the PFA's history conference a couple of weeks before (and I will get to finishing that write up, I swear), discussing trends of migration and ethnic origins of the Socceroos, as well the national men's journeys across the world over the past 96 years.

Then several Socceroos in attendance - Heidelberg's Jim Tansey and Gary Cole, South Melbourne's
George Christopoulos, Jimmy Armstrong, Alan Davidson, Con Boutsianis, and Ted Smith -  recounted brief highlights and recollections of playing for Australia. This can be seen below in George Cotsanis' video of that portion of the event.

Afterwards, I appreciated those Socceroos present - later joined by a late arriving FFV president and former Socceroo Kimon Taliadoros - taking the time to sign the books for those fans who had made the effort to turn up for the launch. I'm not usually an autograph hunter or prone to fan boy antics (except for one particular example from many years ago, but that's another story), and usually the author's signature is more than enough. But I made sure to go around collecting all the signatures available. I also enjoyed the conversations had with some of the players, especially about Middle Park and trying to identify the characters in South's Team of the Century painting.

As for the book itself... it's a beast of a hardcover, retailing at around $70. I'm not a fan of hardcover books myself, but I've no regrets over my purchase. It's beautifully presented, plenty of colour photographs, and the kind of thing that should find its way into every public library and into the home. Along with the biographies of each Socceroo, the book also included statistical and demographic analysis, and special features on four World Cup captains, which don't shy away from the personal toll that role can take on a player.

A Matildas version is also in the works, set for publication next year, which will tell a very different but equally important story. If the quality of that production comes anywhere close to this book, it'll also be worth purchasing. One feels also that with the 100th anniversary of the first Australian national team game coming up in 2022, that there could be a bumper centenary edition coming up.

Comment moderation issue
I'm slower in approving comments on here lately because they're no longer being emailed to me for approval. That's a Google issue, which I hope is sorted out soon.

Around the grounds
Shiny swinging metallic balls
Sometimes if South is going really badly or has lost an important match, I don't have the heart to go to other matches. And sometimes South is going so badly, that going to another match, one I can watch as a neutral, is actually kind of pleasurable. I don't mind the cold when the sun disappears behind a cloud or some trees. I don't mind the dewy grass, or the bracing winds. I don't even mind the dire football likely to be on offer. I don't even have a formula for deciding whether to go or not when I'm in one of these moods. At best it's a Newton's cradle; sometimes the metallic misery balls swing one way, and then another. So, after doing the weekly supermarket trip on Saturday I decided to drive to Ardeer Reserve for Westgate vs Corio. I hadn't seen Westgate play since they moved back to the newly renovated Ardeer Reserve this season, after spending last year playing home games around the corner from my house. I hadn't seen Corio for three years.

I bought my cevapi roll, resisted the urge to buy a "Косово је Србија" wristband, and settled in to watch the game. I got chatting to the Whittlesea United assistant coach who was there to watch Westgate - they play them this week in a catch-up game - and learned that Tansel Baser is still kicking arse for Whittlesea at 40 years of age. Corio took the lead from the one indisputable moment of quality in the game; a brilliant through ball cut up the Westgate defence, and the poor touch of the Corio forward actually saw the ball slip out of reach while also making the home side's keeper collide with said forward, giving away a penalty. The penalty was saved, but the rebound tucked away, and thus we settled in for about 80 minutes of Corio sitting back, soaking up pressure, and Westgate not really having any idea how to break that down. Oh, they got close a couple of times from set pieces - and one disallowed goal had the locals in a frenzy, which then ended up in a bizarrely amicable discussion between the crowd and the officiating linesman on the outer side - but they could've played for another 90 minutes and still not have found the equaliser.

Still, I look forward to seeing Tansel in action there this week.

Final thought
The loukoumades people couldn't even organise to have crushed walnuts on hand. End times are nearer than even I'd imagined.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

So it's come to this - Port Melbourne 4 South Melbourne 2

You don't want to read it. I don't want to write it.

But the fact is, you guys have a choice in the matter, whereas I at least am unable to find a good enough reason not to write this.

Fourteen years ago the club looked for all money as if it was going to disappear into the history books, assuming there were going to be history books, which at that time would have probably been a fanciful idea. Then a year later, having survived, 12,000 people [citation needed] turned up to watch us, and things looked good. And ever since then, despite the odd spike in interest for mostly stupid reasons, things have been leading to this moment.

Sure we won a few championships, the odd cup, and got the odd bit of media notoriety, but this moment had to come sooner or later: a relegation dogfight. Whether it was self-inflicted (and there's no arguing there's a lot of that to blame) or whether there's a been a ton of bad luck (and we've had our fair share there, too), this moment is here. Other notable ex-NSL brethren have danced with the relegation devil, some have succumbed, and there's no reason why we should be immune.

At the halfway point of the season, we have three wins, three draws, and six losses. Our few saving graces? That we still have a functional goal difference compared to our fellow relegation battlers, thanks to the Dandenong game three months ago. That we have a game in hand, albeit against a title contender. And that we still have good players in the team, and the potential to recruit some useful players in the transfer window - or at least I hope that we do.

I could add the fact that we have ten games at home to come, but since we've only managed one draw and one goal for from our three home games so far, it's not something I'd want to wager the house on.

The club is beset by infighting, as everyone - except perhaps skipper Brad Norton - tries to point the finger at everyone else for this dog's breakfast of a season so far. But that's for another time, because we're not doomed yet, just well on the way there.

Yesterday's loss was familiar because we've seen elements of it throughout the previous five losses in the league. An inability to take what chances are presented to us early in the game? Check. The tendency to let the opposition play out of the back without nearly enough pressure? Check. The whole group dropping its head when we concede, and the inevitable disastrous 10-15 minute period where it all goes to hell? Check. It's not even singling out individual players or the coaches or the board, because the failure is a collective one. They'll either succeed together, or fail together. For now, I'm just hoping that we can mediocre together, middling enough to win ourselves safety and a chance to reboot for next year in this division, rather than keep up these kinds of performances and have to deal with the unspeakable but increasingly plausible alternative.

It is so frustrating knowing that at any given moment, no matter how well we've been playing, the longer the score remains at 0-0, the better the chances are of the other team doing the business. In the not so distant past, it was so often the other way around. Having no striker doesn't help, it hasn't helped for several weeks, just as our goalkeeping troubles early in the season also contributed to our stuttering start to the campaign. But there are issues of structure, of desire, even of hope which need to be addressed by someone, but which yet remain unresolved. Marcus Schroen looked keener than most out there, but his keenness got him sent off for a reckless challenge. Leigh Minopoulos provided a measure of structure and desire when he came on - and a goal! - but he's clearly not injury free and not a full match-length proposition.

As for the rest of them, what can one say? Some clearly want out, and we're at the stage where if we can replace them, we should. Hell, some may not want out, but their performances have been so shoddy, that we've really been left with no choice. So, farewell to all those leaving the club, thanks for your service, hopefully you don't become embittered by your time and exit from the club, but it's probably best for everyone that you move on. Seeing ex-South players - Eagar, Koroma, Ibrahim, Stella - do the business, of course hurts even more, but that's another issue entirely.

There are tons of rumours about who's going to stay, go, and be signed up. Famous, respected Greek journalists; mug punters; complete randoms; all of them are saying that this or that player is leaving, that there's big swaps in the works, and that we're even signing an ex-Victory player from APIA that our dear random interlocutor can't remember the name of. As usual, I would say wait until not only these players are named, but also until they take the field for whoever it is they're allegedly playing for before getting excited.

Brace yourselves: it's going to be an interesting second half of the year, but probably not a very enjoyable one.

The positives
I got a free drink from the canteen, thanks to a χωριανό of my dad's running the canteen. We got to go on the outer side again. That's about it.

Next game
Relegation six pointer against Bulleen at home on Sunday.

My word is my bondage
So on Thursday the club held a members forum to discuss things. I was told in very blunt terms that there was to be sensitive information, and that I - and the other people in the room - could not divulge that information on social media. OK. I can keep a secret, and not willing to make a scene, I hung around and listened to what was said.

Christ on a bike! When they said sensitive information, they meant it. In fact, I am confused about the whole experience on that level alone. There was a very small turnout (for reasons which I won't go into now, but which may become apparent in due course), but one wonders that if there was an AGM sized crowd in attendance (say 50-60 people) how the board would've compelled everyone keep all the information dished out secret? Especially if it was filled Greeks, the world's worst keepers of secrets.

The discussions ranged from Taylor's sacking, to operation of the futsal court, to our networking efforts with different bodies, to junior coaching (both our own and other groups), to our A-League bid. That's almost all I can say on these matters, not just because I was specifically asked not to publish what was said, but also because we were told things that in my most honest opinion we should not have been told. I mean, of course I'd like to know, I'd like to know everything, but do I need to know everything? This isn't (yet) an anarcho-syndicalist collective where all the decisions of that week's executive officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of internal affairs, and a two-thirds majority in the case of external affairs.

Though we do have a lake nearby from whence some moistened bint may lob a scimitar at the one she wants to anoint king.

Regardless, anything specific I could say about the meeting would not be enough to quell the anger of those who are increasingly determined to do something about this board, not only because of our results, not just because of a lack of transparency, but because in these supporters' minds the board has removed itself so much from the concerns of supporters (whatever they are) that there's no reconciliation possible whatsoever.

Walking and chewing gum at the same time
For the most part I don't take part in online Australian soccer debates anymore, especially its asinine culture wars, because I've done my tours of duty; if they ever have a memorial day for this this war, I'll keep my medals for valour on several forum battlefronts inside the bottom drawer, and let those who think they were there carry on the flame. These days I prefer to take the role of Australian soccer's Thucydides, someone who will claim the moral high ground in describing the full horror of the carnage, while also making up a whole bunch of stuff because everyone's going to die eventually and who'll be able to contradict me? Exactly.

Anyway, as mentioned the other day, we have submitted our expression of interest for an A-League expansion bid. What can I tell you about it? Like everything else from the Thursday meeting, almost nothing. There is a bid book. I saw it from a distance of a few metres away. It's in colour. It looked professional. The board members present skimmed across the book and explained elements of the bid. This included what government support we'd need or have, what improvements Lakeside would need, the barest hints about investors, etc. Of course they talked up the bid; everyone (except Brisbane Strikers) talks up their bid.

What can I say about it? It looks good. It looks like they've put a lot more work into it than what had happened with the Southern Cross bid, and it looks like the club has learned a lot about what it will need to do to succeed in a top-flight environment from its dealings with the Mariners and Phoenix. Even if the bid fails, one can argue that it still serves the club well in its attempt to return to the big time by providing valuable groundwork for what will be needed to run a team in a hypothetical second tier, or in the event that Wellington's licence isn't renewed and FFA need someone to fill out the numbers.

Being a classical contrarian, even though I think we have no chance of being selected, I'm not one of those people who thinks an A-League bid is a complete waste of time, or that the club shouldn't pursue it because it takes attention away from everything else going on at the club. What kind of board would it be if people could only do one thing at a time? Don't answer that.

Anyway, we apparently have fourteen rival bids to contend with, in a process that's both long overdue and conducted on the fly. It's a process that's as much about FFA trying to outrun the second division/promotion-relegation/FIFA Congress tsunami as it is about actually trying to grow the game. It's a process where even for those who have planned for this moment for years, its details remain frustratingly murky.

Among the rivals bids are applicants from across the country. Some have made their intentions and plans clear, while most have preferred to hide in the shadows: no website, no media, and if anything preferring Gabbo-esque shenanigans. Most haven't talked about women's soccer at all.
Best of all, at least from a Victorian perspective, every bid is going to claim - either in private or especially to its media mates and whoever else will listen - that its bid is the best in town, how much HQ is impressed, how much the Victorian government is blown away by it, and that in a just world they'd be a shoe-in for selection. Good for them, good for everyone. There is of course no justice in Australian soccer, and thus you and I and everyone else has about as much idea about who's going to make it in as the next person: diddly squat. What we can safely surmise is that, among the various bids vying for an expansion slot, there are clear distinctions, and it is those that FFA will have to decide on.

At the forefront of that is TV. Fox Sports fund this league, and they want derbies, which apart from finals games is the only thing that consistently rates. Romantics can talk about the regions (Wollongong) or the chance to get into largely empty sporting markets (Canberra, Hobart), but they won't increase the ratings bottom line. So FFA is going to go with two teams in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne, right? Well, some of the franchises that already exist in these markets aren't already stoked about that. Sydney FC flat out does not want a new team in what it considers its territories, and Melbourne Victory wouldn't be happy to share either, and especially against us.

(And further to that, since Victory's season ticket holders come from all across Melbourne, any team that gets put into Melbourne will have to take supporters away from them, and I still don't buy that we have those same Sydney style geographic divides.)

Ultimately though, it'll be up to FFA (and Fox Sports) to decide between two very different models, especially in the Victorian market. They can go with a boutique, ready-to-go option, which will never become a behemoth like Wanderers, but will still provide something different from everything else that's being done in the A-League. Or FFA can go for one of the much more ambitious, lots-of-assembly required options, which could either succeed in much the same way as the Wanderers have, or fail spectacularly because a lot of people will have misread the local sporting market.

The ethnic question has always made South seem like a risky option when it comes to A-League expansion, and that idea obviously persists. But in a lot of other ways, South is also a safe option compared to a lot of the competing bids, because what South is offering (stadium infrastructure, women's and junior pathways, etc) is here now, whereas the other bids are talking about what they would like to do, build, and create.

While remembering that arguing about this stuff on Twitter and other, lesser forms of social media makes no difference - and the less said about those damn internet polls, the better - I will step down momentarily from my ivory tower and offer this piece of wisdom for waging this internet war. If someone complains about Lakeside's smaller capacity and less than optimal spectator vantage points, just use this hasthag: #ItExists. It is astonishing how many people who denigrate Lakeside as a possible top-flight venue are more than happy to talk up venues that do not exist as anything more than an artist's impression.
It really is the FourFourTwo forum's "pin the A-League licence on the donkey" game on steroids. Even funnier is the assertion by some people that any failed bids be grouped into a second division immediately, as if there is the money or the plan (from FFA at least) to do that, and is if any of these bids are preparing for anything other than participation a closed-shop first division.

And as comical as much of the politicking and media stunt work is, along with the pie-in-the-sky nonsense from people with way too much trust and optimism in Australian soccer's potential, this behaviour also obscures one very important detail, namely the incredibly difficult situation that faces FFA: that in reality, none of the bids are perfect. All have serious flaws in either conception, infrastructure, investment, public sentiment, public transport, or some combination of these and many other factors. Add to this that FFA has a floundering A-League licence model which its current franchisees want to see changed, and no coherent plan for how that would be resolved, let alone firm criteria for the league's expansion or how the teams hoping to join up will judged.

And in June or July - I forget which, not that it makes any difference - the fifteen bid hopefuls will be cut down to a shortlist, serving only to concentrate the madness of speculation on those bids which are in all likelihood probably not really any good, just less crap than the ones that will be left behind.

Not that any of that matters, of course.

Final thought
Somebody asked me about where the PPS tallies are, and to make a big fuss about them, but nobody cares, not FFV, not me, not you, no one. Let's just admit that's a it's a sham, that we should've stuck to the simpler measure of restricting visa players, and forget whimsical, self-policed regulatory systems no one understands nor wants,