Thursday, 18 January 2018

Good to be back - South Melbourne 3 Port Melbourne 2

So, back to normal somewhat, the social club open even with its truncated "first day back" menu, and the South faithful were keen to spend a summer's Wednesday by the lake checking out the squad, while putting some money over the bar. Bentleigh Greens coach John Anastadiadis was just one of the interested onlookers at Lakeside last night, watching as former Bentleigh (and of course, also ex-South) player Andy Brennan continued to spend his pre-season time with South.

FFV match commentator Chris Gleeson has noted that Brennan will sign, but you know how I feel when it comes to these things - until a players steps onto the field in a league match, I'm always wary. After all, did we not once sign a player by the name of Jason Hicks, who ended up somewhere else without kicking a ball for us in anger? Did we not once sign Kevin Nelson, whose transfer was mysteriously delayed until after the team lists were meant to be handed in before round 1, 2006? And of course we can add the now incredibly obscure players of days of yore who we had signed but who never fronted up for us for who knows what reason.

For those South fans who have begging, craving, lusting over a need to bolster our forward stocks, last night's hit out had plenty to offer you. Milos Lujic, Leigh Minopoulos, Sam Smith, Amir Osmancevic, Andy Brennan (first half only), Giordano Marafioti and even Kaine Sheppard. Sheppard, most notably in local terms of Heidelberg, and most recently of Finnish club Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho, had been training with Northcote. Does this cavalcade of attacking talent mean - even if Chris Taylor decides to ditch half of them, because where would you put them all anyway - a pending change to the game plan? I would not rule that out.

Defensively, things are a bit more, well, problematic (I will try and make that the last time I use that word this year). As reported in a brief paragraph in last Thursday's Neos Kosmos, our number one goalkeeper Nikola Roganovic has retired. Together with Zaim Zeneli's move to North Sunshine, our goalkeeping combo will be all new in 2018. There was some discussion over the off-season - oh, about a month or so ago - that we were in the hunt for Chris Oldfield, but that doesn't seem to have progressed. Thus we're trialling a few blokes, and are apparently looking to get Alistair Bray as our number one choice.

In front of the goalkeepers we have a few options - Kristian Konstantinidis, Ajdin Fetahagic, Darby Dexter, but new recruit Jake Marshall will be out injured for a couple of months, or so they say. Under 20s right-back Josh Hodes continues to get game time, and if it's true that Tim Mala will be taking a year off from soccer, then that's one less obstacle in Hodes' way to getting a senior gig at South. Those hoping for a holding or attacking midfielder, I guess that situation will eventually find someone playing that role. Maybe we'll just direct everything up the wings as per last season, with the twist of using the right-hand side as well as the left.

As for the game itself... very energetic from most players on both sides, but also very loose, with a lot of space for forwards to have a crack at goal. The finishing could've been better; but then again, the  finishing could almost always be better.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Friendly on Wednesday vs Port, at Lakeside

This Wednesday at 7:30PM, it's a case of getting in while you can - the club has announced an open doors pre-season friendly against Port Melbourne at Lakeside. No need for special handshakes, secret codes, or knowing the bloke on the door. I don't know if the social club will be in operation.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Inside Football Stadium 54-50 - Blue Team 4 White Team 0

On a hunch and with a backup plan in place in just case this adventure falls apart, you venture out without any guarantee that you will find what you seek.

There's an overcast sky, and the route resembles that of another journey you've made hundreds of times before.

Approaching the presumed destination, at the assumed but unconfirmed and unknowable kickoff time, you can hear the thud of footballs being kicked.

Getting nearer to the sound, in the distance and through a fence, you can make out players in blue shirts. This must be the place; this must be the time.

Going against intuition, you try a northern gate; it's locked. Going around to the southern side, you slip through a gate along with people you do not recognise. The gatekeeper does not seem to mind.

There's a game which has just kicked off, but you're not here; this isn't happening. Someone who seems vaguely familiar agrees with you on that point, pointing out that it's 'family only' today.

You make the claim that you are family, but it comes out more like a question than an as a statement of fact. Everything seems uncertain.

Looking around, at first you don't recognise any familiar faces. There's perhaps 100 people at most in the grandstand, but where they've come from and how they knew to be here now, you don't know.

There are a full compliment of officials, but the balls seem flat. You think to yourself that surely the officials cost more than filling the balls with free air. But maybe air on this strange planet isn't free.

A man comes up to greet you, as if he knows you. You think that you've seen his face before, and his voice strikes a familiar tone. The environment has you doubting reality, but you play along.

You think you've seen the team blue somewhere else, in another dimension perhaps, but the team in white shirts and black shorts, you haven't the faintest idea of who they are.

In the first half the teams go back and forth, the white team relying on counter attacks, getting close on a few occasions. The blue team would've scored had their striker been possessed of a right foot.

There is nowhere to socialise, and nowhere to have a beer or some food. You can't help but feel that  this is not the way things should be, but you don't know why you feel this way.

The second half sees the blues swap over personnel en masse, and then fire four goals past their opponents.

You want to take down notes of notable performers, but many of the blue team's shirts have no numbers. Only haircuts and boots provide distinguishing marks.

Leaving the ground You've never been here before, and you weren't here today. No one was here. Even the betting websites deny the existence of this game. It didn't happen.

With apologies to Edward Packard.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

On the matter of the sudden expansion of a giant ball of burning gas

If there are any South Melbourne Hellas fans left - and I'm not sure that there are - they may be wondering what's going on at their beloved club. Is the club signing any players? Does the senior team have any friendlies coming up? Does the club even exist?

Some of these concerns can be put down to the club's sole paid part-time social media person being overseas on holiday (fair enough), but I assume that there are other people around at the club who could tell us stuff if they wanted to. But maybe they don't want to? Maybe they don't know how to? Maybe they think that if no one talks about the club for long enough, it will cease to exist, and therefore we'll all be the better for it.

Let's look at one curious situation in the lack of 'news'. Jump onto the Lakeside Stadium website and check out the calendar there for a list of upcoming events. In December 2017, within a reasonably crowded month events-wise for Lakeside Stadium, you can see SMFC gala days and midweek exclusive use sessions, used for training and scratch matches.


Moving ahead to January 2018 however...


and there appears to be diddly squat SMFC content. There's South Melbourne athletics, Athletics Victoria, and even a Carlton Football Club exclusive session, which I assume is them trying to prepare for the AFLX thing, or else why waste time hiring out Lakeside? For the running track? To be fair, there appears to be very little official use by anyone for January, but that doesn't lessen my concern from a South Melbourne Hellas point of view.

Is it possible then that the former, glorious South Melbourne Hellas social media presence was actually an example of star death?
When a star like South Melbourne Hellas has burned all of its hydrogen fuel, it expands to become a red giant. This may be millions of kilometres across - big enough to swallow the planets Mercury and Venus. After puffing off its outer layers, the star collapses to form a very dense white dwarf.
In simpler terms, perhaps our social media presence, self-produced media, and A-League bid antics, rather than being a case of a resurgent South Melbourne, those efforts were actually a form of bloated nuclear-cosmic self-cannibalism; the final stages of the lifespan of what was at best only a modest sun, before it collapsed upon itself and becomes a dim white dwarf. Hey, you try and come up with new analogies for this situation after ten years.

On another topic, with the A-League expansion banter fading well into the background, there has been what I would consider a shift in the rhetoric coming from the club, or at least from the president. Where once South Melbourne A-League bid media efforts were totally geared toward A-League expansion, as that issue has moved to the backburner, Leo Athanasakis has been posting comments in favour of promotion and relegation.

The following examples - here, here and here - are just some of the posts which our lovable larrikin prez has made over the past couple months on the matter. This point of view of his may be new or it may be old, but it is not one that has been made by someone at South Melbourne with any official standing, at least certainly not at the levels where I would have expected to have noticed it before.

But back to Lakeside. We're told repeatedly that we're in control of at least some (perhaps key, perhaps not) aspects of Lakeside Stadium, so where is our presence? Outside our priority period during the soccer season (April to September, or thereabouts), do our costs for using the venue go up? Is that why we're scheduled not to be at home in the early part of the 2018 season? Is that why our January presence on the Lakeside calendar is invisible?

What I'm trying to say is, in recent pre-seasons following our return to Lakeside, we have promoted pre-season matches held at Lakeside to our supporters, and attracted interested crowds, and yet for the moment it appears that we're not doing that. Could we even - and I'm shuddering as I type this - could we even be breaking in clandestinely, Alex Dimitriades style, into Lakeside to play and train?

Friday, 5 January 2018

Regarding the friendlies out at Springvale White Eagles...

A bit of a heads up on this: I've been informed that it'll mostly be the club's under 20s who'll be making the trip out to Keysborough over the course of the next three Saturdays, so those who may have been inclined to make their way out to the Serbian Sports Centre should keep that in mind.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Book review - David Hill's The Fair and the Foul

Let's cut right to the chase: no one needs to buy David Hill's The Fair and the Foul, and no one needs to read it either. I can only think of two kinds of people who would end up reading this book:
  1. Older Anglo-Celtic Australian males who received this book as a Christmas or birthday present, to be read on holiday or during a long train trip from regional Australia to see a city-based medical specialist.
  2. Australian soccer people who hate David Hill.
Your correspondent clearly falls into the latter of these demographics, and thus my copy was sourced from a university library. Yes, David Hill will probably get a lending rights royalty in addition to his cut of whatever Victoria University paid for the book, but I'm trying to minimise the damage as much as possible without resorting to treating a bookstore like a public library.

Anyway, this book's problems are numerous. Hill flits between thematic and chronological approaches, occasionally inserting personal anecdotes. This prevents a coherent narrative emerging, while also undermining the book's sense of purpose; it's a real mess of a book, often little more than a bunch of populist generalisations which zip by. And as Tom Heenan points out in his review, there are far too many factual mistakes for a book which aims to be on at least some level an authoritative reference to Australian sport, regardless of its generalist scope. (though Heenan's review also has a key mistake, claiming that Hill was chairman of Soccer Australia from 1987-1995)

All of these failures point to slack editing. The book has an index and reference list, though it does not include a reference for the one quote that I really wanted to chase up on behalf of someone else.  There are even moments where Hill feels the need to explain things which don't need explaining: after quoting cricket writer Gideon Haigh's assertion that Australian cricket authorities in the 1970s were a conservative gerontocracy, Hill goes on to say what Haigh meant by that statement.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that Hill spends much of the book talking about the heroes and villains already familiar to most Australian sports fans with some historical knowledge, a few themes carve an accidental course throughout Fair and Foul. Hill tells us that Australians are often too forgiving of their sporting heroes when they screw up; that Australian sporting clubs and bodies, when given the choice between money and ethics, will almost always choose the former; that in the battle between those seeking to professionalise sport and those seeking to keep a sense of antiquated 'purity' alive, neither group had athletes' best interests at heart.

Hill also pulls up a great unspoken thread of Australian sport - that of the interaction of class and sport. There are the egos of men like Alan Bond and Kerry Packer, the immovable elitism of amateur sporting bodies, and the uncaring administrators of football codes who disregard the emotions of fans as being a burden to progress. Then there are the athletes themselves, especially those from working class or disadvantaged backgrounds, for whom having talent is not enough, and who have to overcome barriers of class in order to reach the top.

As much as these threads and others like them are inherently interesting, they go largely unexplored. In detailing the folk heroes/legends of Australian sport up to the end of its amateur era in the 1960s and 70s, Hill never explains what if any relevance that era has to contemporary audiences. Do Australian sports audiences care for the Lithgow Flash and Les Darcy, or for Herb Elliot and Harry Hopman? One of the great Australian sporting truths is that what appears to be a shared national sporting culture is often anything but. Across gender, race, class, and geographic boundaries, the Australian sporting experience is, if anything, an incredibly fractured one. Individuals or teams which manage to escape the confines of their particular demographic are the exception, not the norm.

Despite the way they disrupt whatever narrative momentum he manages to create, Hill's personal experiences are the highlight of the book. Whether you love or hate Hill, he's had an interesting life, and a large part of that includes his proximity to sport. For Australian soccer fans, Hill's controversial tenure as chairman of Soccer Australia comes first to mind, but Hill was also a good rugby league player (offered a place in North Sydney's first team squad, he opted to play second tier instead), was president of Norths for three years, was involved with the anti-tobacco push in sport, and in broadcast deals as part his tenure as chairman of the ABC.

Among the worthwhile sporting nuggets Hill provides are his being invited to Kerry Packer's private television room - the one that had global satellite feeds, and from which Packer programmed Channel 9; the insights into the hold the tobacco industry had on Australian sports bodies through the 1980s (with clear parallels to the gambling industry today); being invited to a big cricket shindig because the organisers have him mistaken for a more prominent and successful namesake; and that the process of getting Terry Venables to become Socceroos coach started with an English backpacker who was working as an admin temp at Soccer Australia.

But these moments are few and far between, and their scarcity only serves to make them feel at odds with the rest of the book. Even worse, the fleeting nature of these personal reminiscences means that the chance for reflection and insight on Hill's behalf is almost non-existent. For example, while praising himself for the Venables adventure, Hill fails to mention that Venables also cost Soccer Australia its Coca-Cola sponsorship (Venables signed up with rival beverage company Schweppes).

As for the book's soccer content, it's largely limited to two chapters, one about our more recent world cup qualification history, the other about the game's status as the 'sleeping giant' of Australian sport. The 'sleeping giant' chapter spends much of its time focused on Tony Labozzetta and Marconi, and the outcomes of the Bradley report, Stewart inquiry, and NSL task-force report. There is almost nothing new here, and frustratingly considering his proximity to that era, almost nothing you can't find in more depth elsewhere, such as in Ross Solly's Shoot Out. Neither does Hill mention the ABC's abandonment of the National Soccer League part way into its broadcasting deal while Hill was ABC chairman.

Most gallingly for those of a particular political persuasion in Australian soccer, Hill does not apply the same set of standards to ethnic soccer supporters as he does for rugby league fans. Hill reiterates that his expulsion of Heidelberg United, Parramatta Melita, and Brunswick Juventus from the national Soccer League in the mid 1990s was necessary for soccer to shed its dead-weight of ethnicity to move forward into the mainstream. Hill points out - not without merit - that if the 10,000 strong crowd protesting that decision had actually turned up to games, the clubs and the game would have been healthier (or at least have made it harder for Hill to argue for the removal of those clubs).

But when rugby league's Super League war and and its aftermath occurs, Hill is much more sparing of the feelings of the fans of some of rugby league's struggling clubs. (as a rugby league novice, I found Hill's explanation of how the Super League war played out from beginning to end to be a useful primer on the subject). For his own side, Norths, which ended up in a disastrous merger (and later de-merger) with Manly, the blame is placed entirely on Norths' board at the time. For South Sydney, who were expelled from the league at the end of the ARL/Super League split, Hill addressed a crowd of (apparently) 50,000 Souths' protesters telling them to not give up the fight for reinstatement to national competition.

Why he was more supportive of Souths' fans than the ethnic soccer supporters is for the reader to infer. But a look at Souths' average crowds since the Rabbitohs' return to the national competition in 2002 shows no significant increase in attendances. Of course the situations are not exactly like for like - rugby league had a media profile and corporate support that could be exploited whereas soccer in its ethnic setup did not - but there's scope to see inherent contradictions in Hill's support of one group and not the other.

Hill finishes his book by comparing the future outlooks for the four football codes. For everyone other than the AFL, he foresees problems. Rugby union's crowds and player pool are, as they always have been, incredibly limited, and its dependence on very select demographics continues to stifle its chances of increasing its national footprint. Rugby league's player pool, even in its working class heartland, is under stress, its crowds have been slow to increase, and when combined with league's tiny global footprint, rugby league is an increasingly difficult position. This is notwithstanding Australian rugby league's healthy income from its broadcast rights (and unhealthy cowering to those broadcasters in terms of fixturing), and its willingness to make changes to the game to increase its attractiveness.

For soccer, while the A-League has manifest itself as the league that Hill wanted but could not create in the 1990s, its status as a backwater in terms of soccer's global empire holds it back. Meanwhile Hill has almost nothing but praise for the AFL, the most stable, wealthy and progressive of the Australian football codes, unencumbered (apparently) either culturally or economically by its limited global reach.

Despite some interesting if largely unexplored narrative threads, and the occasional interesting personal anecdote, The Fair and the Foul is content to rehash the usual stereotypes of Australian sports history and culture, This probably fits in with Hill's oeuvre of populist history writing - I've not read his other history books - but the book adds little to update or challenge assumptions about Australian sport. Should Hill ever decide to write a proper sporting memoir, going into detail about his experiences in rugby league and soccer as a player and administrator, and his dealings with various sports while chairman of the ABC (Fair and Foul includes a good one about lawn bowls, the ABC, and a Mazda sponsorship), that will be a book worth reading. But for now he seems content to faff about with disposable output.

Monday, 1 January 2018

December 2017 digest

Puskas documentary
Remember the Puskas documentary that Tony Wilson and friends were making? Well the crew managed to get their most important interview subject on tape!

But as Tony notes in his tweet, they're still looking for Puskas photos, film, artefacts, stories, so if you have anything, get in contact with him, or get in contact with me and I'll act as the middleman. 

AGM
The 2017 AGM date has been announced, and it's Wednesday 24th January, in the social club. The two meeting times are set for.
  • 6:00PM South Melbourne Hellas Club Ltd
  • 8:00PM South Melbourne Football Club Ltd
If you are a member and you didn't receive notification and the relevant attachments via email, check your junk mail folder - that's where my email inexplicably ended up.

Friendlies
Three friendlies - against Kingston, Oakleigh, and Dandenong Thunder - have been booked over consecutive Saturdays in January, all out at Springvale White Eagles. The Public Transport Faction does not approve. Check the 2018 fixtures page for details.

2018 fixture released
As with 2017, another brutal start to the season with six away games to start, and nine of the first ten away. Some other things worth noting
  • The WNPL fixture hasn't been released yet, so I've no idea about men's/women's double headers.
  • While most of our home games have been kept at the Sunday 4:00PM timeslot, three fixtures differ. There is of course the simultaneous 3:00PM kickoff in the final round, but against Oakleigh and Pascoe Vale in June, we have a Saturday 5:00PM game and a Sunday 7:00PM to act as lead-ins to Socceroos World Cup matches. Convenient!
  • Orthodox Easter week falls on the first week of April, which for our purposes coincides with our entry into the FFA Cup qualifiers.
  • The Veneto Club's synthetic pitch is being relaid. Somehow we'll still end up with another 2-2 result there.
  • Green Gully has moved its home games to Friday nights.
  • Our away game against Port Melbourne seems to have been scheduled for a Saturday evening.
  • While Avondale have apparently struck a long term to play out of the long out-of-action Reggio Calabria Club in Parkville/West Brunswick, our away fixture against Avondale hadn't been updated on FFV's site when I did this update. Word is that the place needs a lot of work to get up to scratch.
If you want to see the current state of the Reggio Calabria Club's soccer field, this tweet by Chris Gleeson gives you some idea of how much work needs to be done to get the ground into shape.
Check South's senior men's fixtures here, as per usual, if I've screwed anything up let me know.

Arrivals and departures
Some more 'outs' were announced early in December, most notably former captain Michael Eagar.  Confirmation from the club also that David Barca Moreno, Zaim Zeneli and Stefan Zinni are also no longer at the club. But you already knew that.

 It had been strongly rumoured Eagar was on the way out through parts of the 2017 season. Eagar's omission from the starting XI throughout the second half of the season especially confused a lot of fans, as there seemed to be no clear reason for it, and indeed, we seemed to play better with him in the team than out of it. So it goes.

Luke Adams is also out, which means that our central defensive pair will be undoubtedly new next season. To that end we've signed young defender Darby Dexter from Port Melbourne, and Kristian Konstantinidis has re-signed for two more seasons. Matthew Millar has re-signed for 2018.

For whatever it's worth, the following players are assumed to be contracted for next season.


Out

  • Stefan Zinni (Avondale)
  • Zaim Zeneli (North Sunshine Eagles)
  • Michael Eagar (Port Melbourne)
  • Luke Adams ('overseas', whatever that means)

Centre Forward is online!
Four years ago I did a hasty review of a North Korean soccer flick that I'd seen at the Melbourne International Film Festival. It turns out that since then someone has actually uploaded that film to YouTube, so you know, if you're looking for something a little different, you can watch it or something.

Goal weekly archives now available!
A nice bit of news for those into the Australian soccer archive business. Goal Weekly has put up its entire back catalogue online in pdf format.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Thanks to everyone for this year, and the ten years so far

I would like to take a moment, as I always do at this time of year, to thank those who have contributed to the blog or otherwise made my South Melbourne experience more enjoyable. Thanks to:

Pavlaki and Chris, especially for driving me around Wodonga and its surrounds during pre-season, as well as anyone who offered myself and Gains a lift anywhere.

Everyone who left a comment at some point, especially all those people who contributed their stories for 'fanatic of the week'.

T. Arvanitis whose contribution within this post got a hell of a response from the public. Savvas Tzionis for his piece on coming back to Hellas, his Allentown reworking, and especially his story of sneaking out for a durry with Roberto Carlos at that ridiculous night at the casino which apparently cost either the club or people connected to the event a lot of money, or so was the word that was going around then. Also Foti and Manny for their point/counter-point piece on the AAFC's Championship proposal.

Todd Giles for sharing his Newcastle vs South match programmes. I'm glad I could return the favour.

Teo Pellizzeri at FFV for renewal of my media pass. Coaches Chris Taylor and Chris Marshall for the occasional chat. Tony for the guided tour of the then still shell of a social club, and for taking that handbag off my hands - oh, and for enjoying the milk carton gag. The people working in the social club for their concern after I joined the broken seat club.

Assorted folk of #sokkahtwitter, especially those who re-tweeted and shared South of the Border materials. Dave for joining that club - I think Savvas and Gains are the only other two members - who had the fearlessness to go back and read this stuff from all the way in the beginning. It starts off bad, stays that way for a few years, then finally starts to become readable.

Cindy Nitsos and all photographers whose photos I used.

Joe Gorman for extending my fame a smidge.

Matthew Klugman for his help with the whole thesis business, and Ian Syson for finally admitting defeat with regards to sentence structure.

And Gains, of course. The Public Transport Faction keeps kicking on.

...and thank you all for ten years of supporting South of the Border
I've thanked a lot of people for various things over the years - dig yourselves through various articles across the past ten Decembers if you want to find them - so this is more of a general thank you to everyone.

Thank you to the people who have come on board late, bigger thanks to those who were here from the beginning, and biggest thanks to those who came here late and went back and read through it all.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed an article, a comment, advice, or shared this material with others.

Thank you to those who have over the past decade offered encouragement and support both private, but especially public, whether you were a public figure or a minor one.

Thank you to those who have understood, and those who have not understood but nevertheless tolerated my flights of whimsy.

I started the blog because I was frustrated at the level of discussion on smfcboard, and because I wanted to practice my writing. I like to think that since then, the quality of dialogue inside the club has improved, and that my writing has come on at least a little bit, and that it would be nice if the blog was responsible for at least part of any of that.

Whatever else this blog has or hasn't achieved over the past ten years, I am most proud of having encountered a selection of South fans who have told me that South of the Border helped them maintain a connection to South Melbourne Hellas, helped them re-connect with the club, or was an element in helping them make their first connection with the club.

Lastly, I said I was not going to thank anyone specifically, but I always do. Gains hates the publicity but his friendship on the terraces, on public transport, and his ability to pick mostly very good and very cheap restaurants is an essential part of this blog, even if the effects of that on the blog are not exactly visible. And of course, Ian Syson, who believes in all sorts of people and their ability to write meaningfully from the margins.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Snippets of news from far off places - Langwarrin 2 South Melbourne 3

I wasn't there, don't ask me for any details other than what already exists in the public domain - namely the scorers, Epifano, Lujic and triallist Amir Osmancevic. Maybe a friendly against Gully on Friday at Gully, check your local guides closer to the date.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Cobwebs - South Melbourne 3 Sunshine George Cross 0

So, here we go again, brushing away the cobwebs and assessing the decay accumulated in the couple of months spent away from the place.

I'm not going to say that the club's in chaos, but there was a dishevelled feel to the place. There are big holes in the futsal court wall above the goal nearest, but more noticeable was the vibe in the social club proper. Phil the social club's venue manager has resigned and until the club sorts out the venue manager situation - and more broadly, how the it runs the social club - regular service may be a bit more erratic.

At least the club is now able to leverage home pre-season games to a degree by having a social club, and last night it was even able to draw in some people from the fun-run that was taking place outside. Things could always be worse on this front. Nevertheless, much as I like (new board member) Skip Fulton - after all, he got his South Melbourne start right here at South of the Border - do I really want him to be the one serving me drinks? On special occasions - like Friday's Christmas party - sure, why not, but otherwise they've got to sort out the social club situation quickly.

As for the match itself, it would've been churlish to expect anything resembling quality, whatever that means, and Chris Taylor wasn't even there. It was the first scratch match after the end of the off-season, after just a week and half or so of commencing pre-season training, and at a temperature of 35 degrees or more, the players were drenched in sweat within minutes. Thank you to Brad Norton for coming over to the supporters after each 35 minute half and sharing some of his sweat with us.

Still, there were a few surprises on field. As rumoured, Iqi Jawadi was back having a go, which is interesting after the way he left. Also back for another attempt at cracking the South senior team list was former youth player Anthony Giannopoulos. No sign of Andy Kecojevic, but one of Matthew Millar's seven brothers played the early part of the game before copping a knock. Youth striker Giuseppe Marafioti played for a bit, and occasional triallist and most recently of Kingston City midfielder/forward Velibor Mitrovic was also having a kick.

Marcus Schroen was present, and at least one person has suggested that Mitrovic would make a sensible like-for-like replacement for the injured Schroen. English recruit Sam Smith was absent - he's apparently sorting out some of his affairs back in the UK. Nick Epifano was there, after strong word that he had decided to leave the club. Maybe he changed his mind, maybe no one else wanted him. No worthwhile news on whether Andy Brennan will be re-joining us as part of the Bentleigh off-season exodus.

The next friendly is against Langwarrin on Sunday, at Langwarrin, kickoff 2:30PM. A fairly traditional fixture now because of Chris Taylor's proximity to all things Mornington Peninsula, even if he apparently won't be there himself. Neither will I for that matter, because it's in the middle of public transport nowhere. Still awaiting notice of a kickoff time for that one.

Also hearing word of a match before Christmas against Green Gully, details to be confirmed on that one as well. I did ask around to see what plans if any there were for a pre-season weekend away, in the vein of the club's trips to Adelaide, Sydney, and Albury-Wodonga in recent years, but there was no news on that front. If they do something, hopefully it's something that accessible by train.

There's impatience from some quarters about the fixtures being released - I think the FFV will be making an announcement on that soon.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Friendly tomorrow vs Sunshine George Cross

Well, turns out the rumours of minimal activity before the Christmas/New Year period have turned out to be a little bit premature. The senior squad started its pre-season training programme last week, and now there'll be a pre-season friendly/scratch match tomorrow against George Cross at Lakeside, kickoff at 7:45pm. See you all there.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

2018 memberships now out

How about this for a surprising turn of events? The new year isn't here, we haven't even had the AGM (well, actually that's not so strange...), and yet somehow the South Melbourne 2018 memberships are already available for purchase. It's a very streamlined affair, with two or three things worth noting.

First, the pricing scheme is basically the same as it was for 2017. Second and related to point one, this time there can be no confusion about what is and isn't included - a confusion which in any case only really existed in the disingenuous mind of president Leo Athanasakis. So, now only home controlled league matches (no finals) and FFA Cup games up until the round of 32

Third, unless you're buying a new membership or perhaps changing membership categories, you should keep your current membership card. Now, if you did throw it out, I don't know what you should do, but I'm sure the club will have a plan for that.

Update 11/12/17
Purchase my membership this afternoon, and got this email.
If you are an existing 2017 SMFC Member, you will be able to use your existing card with all your entitlements being updated based on the level of membership that you have selected.
Also, it looks like the club has ditched the membership portal that they had been using the past few seasons.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Book review, sorta - Walk Alone: The Craig Johnston Story, by Craig Johnston and Neil Jameson

I'll be clear on this. I skimmed/speed read through much of this some time in late 2016, so don't treat this review as some sort of gospel truth. I was mostly interested in particular aspects of this as it relates to one of the chapters in my thesis. But even from a cursory reading, this book is interesting, at least up to a certain point. And then not so very much, at least to me.

The least interesting parts to be honest are when Johnston is at Liverpool. As a long-ago lapsed Liverpool supporter (it's a long story, not very interesting, even as that experience explains some things about me), I really couldn't care less about the trudging through the seasons, the reminiscences of games and incidents, with the exception of Johnston's experience of Heysel.

What I found most interesting then were the things outside Johnston's time at Liverpool, beginning with his Newcastle upbringing.  If Newcastle (and its southern counterpart in the Illawarra) are often thought to be among the holy cradles of Australian soccer, then what is often seemingly left out of those hagiographic discussions is the ethnic quality of the game there.

And in this case one is not talking about those we usually consider as 'ethnic' in Australia, but rather that invisible ethnicity in the form of the British migrant. It may be true that I will overstate the case for the invisibility of the British soccer character as it applies to the Hunter and Illawarra regions, but I think there's also some validity to the notion that the soccer in these areas is considered far more 'Australian' than the post-war 'ethnic' boom period scene; that Britishness and Australian-ness become conflated ideas.

For his part, Johnston is forthright not only about the British upbringing he had personally, but also about the British character of Newcastle soccer. This is amplified for him by his family history and personal experience. One of Johnston's grandfathers was from Edinburgh; his father, like other young soccer players in the region, went to Britain and tried to become a professional footballer, but failed. Johnston also ties that sense of Newcastle soccer's British qualities to the fact that the aforementioned British character was also bound to a British working class character.

Indeed, through establishing the book's narrative in this way, Johnston is at pains to emphasise his own sense of Britishness, one bound up with the game as his forbears knew it and as he himself experienced it in the Hunter Valley. In that sense there is a pervasive sense of Anglophilia in this book, at least it relates to soccer, It is why there is a skewed and narrow sense of what Australian soccer is to Johnston, one that takes little account of the changes that occurred outside out of the 'heartland' soccer areas like Newcastle, and which transformed the character of the game.

By the time Johnston's career has taken off, he is in England full-time (except for that brief stint for Newcastle KB in the NSL), and thus has very little to say about Australian soccer as a whole. Australian soccer then for Johnston is an experience largely left behind once he succeeds in securing a contract at Middlesbrough.

But Johnston is also keen to emphasise the Australian qualities of his upbringing, especially that of a rural/regional lifestyle, full of activities other than soccer, including skateboarding (he even takes his skateboard to England) and surfing. And yes, Johnston does come to that bit about 'surfing for England', and his explanation has much legitimacy to it, or at least more nuance than the vitriolic response that his offhand comment has seen him endure over the years.

Johnston is a good student, but restless. That restlessness is channeled into his football via a manic commitment to fitness, and relentless pursuit of improving his technique by himself in England. One of the harsh lessons that Johnston learns early on is that in the cold and lonely existence of the wannabe professional footballer, there are few friends, and that it is truly dog-eat-dog. Whatever else one might think of Johnston, one can't fault his determination to overcome his initial failure and his technical limitations as a footballer, and succeed regardless.

(In that sense there are parallels between Johnston's attitude and view of himself as a footballer with Paul Wade, the ironically British born player who came to define and be defined by his utter commitment to Australian soccer).

And then Johnston goes to Liverpool, and apart from the usual tribulations of injury, media, managerial and playing intrigues, Johnston seems to be having a great time (yes, there is an account of how the 'Anfield Rap' came about), living the dream playing for one of the most famous clubs in the world, and one at the peak of its power. So I breezed through those parts, remembering little of them, until the point where Johnston's sister falls ill and he retires from the game in order to help care for her.

It's a little irritating then that the book stops at the end of Johnston's playing career, so we don't get to learn about what happens next - which for Johnston includes a continuation of his pursuit of photography, a run-in with bankruptcy, and his invention of Adidas' Predator boot. But it's a well produced (plenty of photos, excellent page design) and well written book, full of Johnston's personality, and worth picking up if one come across it. I read it in bursts at the State Library, a nice hardcover thing, though I assume there's a paperback version somewhere out there

Monday, 4 December 2017

Allentown

All the way back in the blog's earliest days, when part of the ethos was to have new content uploaded every day - how quaint! - I posted this South Melbourne Hellas oriented reworking of an AC/DC lyric by then new but now old friend Conya. It seems blog favourite Savvas Tzionis has decided to do something similar with Billy Joel's 'Allentown', broadening his scope to match up the plight of the working class Pennsylvanians with that of those stuck in NPL Hell. It has a taste of the 'seven days of bitterness' about it.

Allentown
Well we’re living in the NPL
And the football clubs are stuck in this hell
Out in Mooroolbark they’re killing time
Third string imports
Will they survive?
Well our fathers came out of after the war
Spent their weekends at Olympic Park
Took their kids out to the NSL
Left them to watch
But where was the zeal?
Now we’re living in the NPL

But the restlessness was handed down
And its getting very hard to play

Well we’re waiting in the NPL
For the A-League we never found
For the promises our leader’s gave
If we worked hard
But we didn't behave
So the premierships hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No we never learnt what was real
Mainstream Appeal
Lowy Westfield
And we’re waiting in the NPL

But they've ruined all the national teams
And the old fans they just crawled away
Every team had a pretty good shot
To get as far as their ability got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw the wogs out and they kicked in our face

Well we’re playing in the  NPL
And its hard to keep a good team down
But we won’t be going up today

And its getting very hard to play
Cause we’re stuck here in the NPL

Friday, 1 December 2017

November 2017 Digest

I hope you'll all forgive the very slow pace of the blog during the off-season. Even though there's so much I could talk about, being at the pointy end of the thesis project means that by the end of the day I'm pretty burnt out from staring at screens and trying to write. And where usually this would be my space for chilling out, for the first time in ten years I just don't have the mental space for it. One way or another it'll be over in the next two or three weeks, so keep patient and things will be back to normal soon enough.

Or you could submit something of your own to keep things ticking over...

AGM news
No date set yet. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

2018 season schedule...

Starting in the last week of February, which is a week or two later than what happened for the 2017 season. 

In the meantime, if like me you're waiting for pre-season friendlies to start to alleviate your boredom, don't expect anything this side of Christmas. My sources tell me that the team might reconvene for some training sessions before 2017 is out, but there almost certainly won't be any scratch matches held until January.

On the same token
Some of our current (and maybe current) players have been sighted participating in Knox City's longstanding All Nations Cup tournament. Nick Epifano is playing for Italy, while Andy Kecojevic is playing for Serbia. Milos Lujic, who has played for Serbia at this tournament in the past, also looks like he fronted up again this year.

Hashtag news
Sony will no longer sponsor the NPL concept. It's farewell to #ps4nplvic, and hello to... well, no one knows yet.

Arrivals and departures
Still pretty quiet on this front, but things are picking up ever so slowly. The big news was the signing of English striker Sam Smith from Gold Coast City. We had been keen on him, then it looked like he'd re-signed for Gold Coast, but it seems the mess Gold Coast is in off the field has titled things back our way. Nick Epifano has signed on for 2018, while s
kipper Brad Norton has signed on for another two years.

Some 'outs' have also cropped up. Reserve goalkeeper Zaim Zeneli has left South, joining North Sunshine Eagles in State League 1, while Stefan Zinni has signed with Avondale.

For whatever it's worth, the following players are assumed to be contracted for next season.

Out
  • Stefan Zinni (Avondale)
  • Zaim Zeneli (North Sunshine Eagles)