Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Sack everyone and everything - South Melbourne 1 Kingston City 4

If I wanted last season to be over because of its brutal length, then surely this season I want to come to an end as quickly and as painlessly as possible. It has been a nightmare on several fronts, with a brief half-earned, half-gifted to us revival which is keeping our head above water, and which for a short period of time brought if not happiness nor peace of mind, than at least

It was a strange week, too, even before we got our caning against Kingston and pulled back down into the heart of the relegation stoush. South fans, paranoid, panicky, and with a 14 year chip on their collective shoulder, are ready to lash out at anyone. The first target was Paul Wade, for his support of the Dandenong A-League bid. It was a reaction from our fans which I wasn't surprised by, but one that I felt was misdirected for a couple of reasons. First, where Wade can be considered to have a coherent and/or consistent policy with regards to what our nation's top tier should look like, he is long ago on record as saying that "broadbased" teams (complete with gimmick nicknames) were/are the future of the game. That was all the way back in 1995, in his autobiography - which I apologise again for not having reviewed in depth, ten and a half years into the blog.

Now it was pointed out (and rightly so) that Wade had also endorsed our bid last year, and that therefore something must have changed for him to do this, and that "something" was money. I wouldn't rule it out - why rule anything out in Australian soccer? - but Wade never seemed to me like the kind of guy who would do something just for the money. Still, that seeming inconsistency in his endorsements goes to another point about how nonsensical the fury at Wade's most recent comments was: and that point is, who actually takes what Paul Wade has to say seriously? Yes, he'll get wheeled out by the ABC from time to time to talk about the Socceroos or the state of the game, but his overblown pronouncements almost always make him seem incredibly out of touch with everything going on in Australian soccer. He is in a lot ways an Australian soccer media relic, one whose heyday was a very long time ago as a player, not that much far removed as a commentator, and it's odd to me that anyone takes what he says seriously, let alone personally.

Once everyone got bored with Wade, it was time to turn on The Age's Michael Lynch. Now goodness knows, South of the Border has hardly been Lynch's biggest fan over the years, but we've mellowed out to the point where my loathing is now muted, and I'm now mostly just plain old distrustful. Lynch, who has found if not a soft-spot for "the old clubs" in recent times, has certainly managed to rediscover at least a peripheral interest in them. As to what prompted that rediscovery, the only wisdom I can offer on that front is typically cynical and a little bit hackneyed: that Lynch and other soccer journos noticed a change in the air, and they thought that maybe their previously dismissive attitudes towards the old clubs might see them miss the zeitgeist.

And when it comes to Australian soccer media, the zeitgeist is all, and anyone who falls outside of that looks naff, old, fossilised, doddering. In this case, Lynch didn't necessarily commit any heinous crime other than putting forward the idea that in his view, and so far as the Melbourne A-League bidders were concerned, behind the scenes it was not South Melbourne that were favoured, but rather the other two bids. Enter a more subdued version of the angry mob that went after Wade, which hadn't necessarily taken the time to think about the situation. For as absurd as the South bid is, and as as absurd as the other two Melbourne bids are, and any A-League bids for a system that needs drastic overhaul (whether pro/rel or plainer reform to its current state), is noting that the powers that be might prefer some over others, and that such attitudes may have been locked in place for a long time, really that absurd of an idea?

Anyway, having amused ourselves by turning onto outsiders, and someone who people had convinced themselves was South through and through by virtue of stuff that happened most recently 23 years ago, ignoring the fact that Wade has had little to do with us since, it was time to lash out at each other. Which, to be fair, is a longstanding South speciality, and in recent times enjoyed by some of our people more than what happens on field. At some point during the under 20s game on Sunday, word was going around about a small group of South fans - perhaps half a dozen - being banned by the club, and/or possibly the stadium trust.

This was odd, in part because at least some of those supposedly banned were already in the stadium, an oversight which it turned out one could put down to the club being too slow to get its act together from the time gates were opened. Eventually had photos of the banned supporters, and prevented them from entering (or re-entering) the stadium. The other odd aspect was no one seemed sure why it was that these supporters had been banned, for how long they'd been banned, and what efforts the club had taken (if they had taken any effort) to inform those banned that they were indeed banned from Lakeside.

That obviously cast a pall over affairs from before kickoff, and eventually most of Clarendon Corner decided to watch the game from outside the ground from behind the fence at the western end of the ground. It's not the best of the view of the ground, but for this banned and their sympathisers, there was an obvious principle involved, and also precedent - let's not forget that members of Clarendon Corner had spent a good portion of our early time at Northcote protesting the banning of some fans following the pitch invasion at the final game at the old Lakeside.

There was next to no chanting from what was left of Clarendon Corner inside the ground, and a lot of chanting from the majority of those who decamped outside the ground. Nothing out of the ordinary was chanted that I could discern from my position inside the ground. Those at the ground who are not up to speed on all these kinds of things must have been very confused by what was going on. At times volunteer marshals spent some time there, as did security, and one stadium trust staffer seemed particularly nervous about the whole affair, though seemingly not doing much other than pacing up and down the stairs in front of his match day office.

While their chants were mostly clearly audible, Clarendon Corner in exile were largely invisible to those inside the ground, except for one character who was quite visible as he climbed on top of the ticket box next to the Gate 1 entrance, and proceeded to walk along the top of the outer fence to the bewilderment of most and even to the amusement of some - including a security guard - who I suppose could appreciate the farce of the performance and the situation that performance was embedded in. As security approached, he jumped down back outside

Me, I acknowledge that farce of what passes for supporting this club on a weekly basis, but I couldn't help find the whole thing exceptionally grim. I wouldn't go so far as to call the past few weeks a truce between disgruntled fans and the board, but as has tended to be the case at South in recent years, a run of good results acts like a sedative, numbing tension for a short time before a bad result or two brings the underlying issues back to the surface. The only odd thing, if one could it even call it that, is that on Sunday we didn't even get to the bad result bit before the unpleasantness began.

And if everything else going on wasn't making things grim enough, the team itself came out of the sheds half asleep and seldom looked like it was a chance in a game where, had we won, it would've secured our NPL status for 2019. Kingston took the lead early through a penalty (no complaints from me on the decision) and eerily - and not bloody helpfully - Gully had also taken the lead at Olympic Village at the same time. Kingston being a quick side, I just had a feeling that we would struggle to keep them away from goal, and we weren't helped by having an unsettled defensive set up thanks to the absence of Brad Norton.

We did eventually start clicking into gear, and I thought we finished the half reasonably strongly. Marcus Schroen's goal direct from the corner got us level at halftime, just as the Bergers themselves had equalised. So at that particular moment, things were looking a lot better than they had five minutes into the game. I wasn't especially confident about the second half, but I didn't foresee the second half collapse. You could, as some have done, try to put it to the fact of Kingston having the wind in the second half, but it wasn't like they were hoofing the ball down the field. It was all very neat and tidy, and exploiting a slow defence.

Before you knew it we were behind again. By the time we got to 3-1, it was a matter of playing out time and hoping things didn't get worse. They did, of course, but the bigger concern was Schroen coming off injured; along with Oliver Minatel, Schroen has been the other key player in turning our season around from its direst point, and to potentially lose him for further matches would be a massive blow. This is especially the case when we have three tough games to go, including two of the top three side. But all credit to Kingston - they have a smaller budget, they play youth, and they play attractive football. I hate Monday night football, but if we're going to have a surplus of (Greek) minnow teams in this comp, the least that we can hope for is that try to entertain.

As the sun set on another home loss in 2018, and people retreated to their various internet hovels to vent and moan and plan their next moves, some of our people turned their attention towards the spectacle of the Western Melbourne Group's open forum, deciding to scoff and deride several of the key takeaways from that affair. Not that any of that matters, of course, but I guess it's nice to have a hobby that people get some joy from. Goodness knows there hasn't been much joy at South this season.

Next game
At Heidelberg on Sunday afternoon, in a replay of the previously abandoned match. It's the catch-up round, and we're the only teams playing, so there could be a decent crowd. That, and the Bergers can secure what I'm still calling the minor premiership with a win here. Rather than making the game free entry, there will be a cover charge - with the proceeds going to the Greek bushfire appeal. As noble as that sentiment is, I can positively sense the cynicism dripping out of some of our supporters.

The arrangement is going ahead with the blessing of our own club, which makes total sense when you think about it. After all, we are a Greek club; we would be destroyed in the media if we didn't support it; and at any rate, one of our board members also happens to be the president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne.

Apparently you will be able to get a receipt for your donation/entry ticket, if you are that way inclined. I'm just hoping for a win, and no repeat of the nonsense which took place after our most recent meeting. Which, when I put it like that, is clearly hoping for too much.

Relegation/survival prognostication - as stolen from Greekfire's post on smfcfans.com
The following post by "Greekfire" appeared on smfcfans.com, and does a much better job at summarising our predicament than any amount of waffling I could do. All I've changed from it is shortening the team names so they don't stretch out the table template.

I've run the numbers on the remaining games to analyse the scenarios whereby we can end up in 12th and the relegation playoff. There are basically 5 teams in the mix:
  • South Melbourne
  • Kingston City
  • Hume City
  • Green Gully
  • Dandenong Thunder
Before going on to look at the games that matter, there are a few assumptions:
  1. We lose all of our last 3 games - to put us in the worst possible case for ourselves
  2. Goal difference plays no part in the result (i.e. we don't get battered / we lose 1-0 in each game / no one else belts anyone)
  3. Dandenong Thunder is ignored for now - the teams they play (Northcote @ home, Knights away) don't have any other influence on the results of anyone else, so it's not worth analysing every combo of their games
The relevant games are then the games featuring the other 3 contenders:
  • Kingston City vs Heidelberg United
  • Hume City vs Green Gully
  • Hume City vs Pascoe Vale
  • Green Gully vs Kingston City
We're very lucky, at this point, that there are 2 games where 2 contenders play each other.

If we consider that each game can either be a win to the home team (1), a draw (X) or a loss (2), then there are 3x3x3x3 possible outcomes, or 81 scenarios.

Of these, we finish 12th in 7 of them, or in 8.6% of cases (assuming every result of every game is equally likely and independent) - these are outlined below:

HomeAway1234567
Kingston Heidelberg 111XXX2
HumeGullyX22X222
HumePaco1111111
GullyKingston 11X11XX
TeamPts
South Melbourne28.528.528.528.528.528.528.5
Kingston31313229293029
Hume30292930292929
Gully29312929312929

Key things to note:
  • If we get a point from any of our last 3 games, we avoid all of these scenarios as we would move up to 29.5 points and safely above at least 1 other team in every scenario (assuming we still have better GD)
  • Green Gully have to get a result from Hume City in 2 weeks, or else we are safe
  • Hume City have to beat Pascoe Vale on the last day, or else we are safe
  • Green Gully have to get a result from Kingston City on the last day, or else we are safe
In summary, from these 81 scenarios, the team most likely to go down is Green Gully:

TeamScenarios finishing 12th% chance
South Melbourne78.64%
Kingston City67.41%
Hume City2632.10%
Green Gully4251.85%

Of course, if Dandenong don't get a point from their last 2 games, we are safe anyway as they would stay below us on 28 points and lower GD, and all this would be moot.

Around the grounds
Friday night
Sat at home reading Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant while watching Batman, and later the footy.

Saturday arvo
Supermarket duties.

Saturday night
Went to the footy. Was alright.

Final thought
This semester I am in what may be called semi-gainful employment, with the possibility that my workload will increase significantly at very short notice. So, if you've been disappointed by the quality of South of the Border match posts in 2018, the lack of ephemeral material, or even just the deplorable promptness of publication, things are going to be pretty annoying for the next three months or so. Also, I've become quite fond of coming home on a Sunday evening after a game, switching my phone off, and just lying on the couch watching trash TV. So you know, take all of that into account for the next little bit.

Monday, 6 August 2018

More to do - Green Gully 2 South Melbourne 3

Oliver Minatel's scored a few novelty goals this year; now he's taking novelty corners.
I only visit Green Gully Reserve once a season if I can at all help it, and thus I always have to remember that McIntyre Road becomes Sunshine Avenue at some point, and that I need to keep going straight instead of looking for some irrelevant turnoff. Anyway, I'd love to know the reasoning of whoever it was at Gully who thought it was a good idea to host games on Friday nights. At other clubs, I can understand - they want to have a separate day for seniors and juniors, and they may want to attract a younger adult demographic with the promise of being able to drink.

But Gully has never been a club with a history of great attendances, and on a cold night which threatened rain, this was one of the lower crowds between these two sides at this ground that I can remember. Still, perhaps they got their wish for at least one person to spend more money at the ground, with a couple of South fans venturing into the Gully social club/pokie barn to have some dinner. Didn't know it could take that long to make a pizza, but you learn something new everyday.

Back outside in the real world, the under 20s were finishing up a 1-0 win, and then it was the seniors' turn. Things did not get off to a good start, as Gully waltzed through our right-hand side to open the scoring. Issues with our right were going to be a recurring theme across the first half. I can barely remember Gully getting any penetration down our left during the opening 45. All told, they should've scored one or two more goals, but they didn't, so more good fortune to us.

Even more good fortune for us was Gully apparently having no idea about Marcus Schroen's complete lack of a right foot, because they kept letting him get onto his left for shots and crosses. Eventually that came back to bite them, as Schroen equalised with a ripping left foot strike across goal, after Gully coughed up the ball cheaply in their own half - itself a recurring theme. Their situational awareness was often atrocious; otherwise capable players I assume under instruction to take risks even in areas where the rewards for successfully pulling them off were negligible.

But hey, if other teams want to self-immolate against us, that's fine with me. Besides, we've been far too generous to other teams this year. Playing into the breeze in the second half seemed to work better for us, our crosses and through balls holding up inside the field of play rather than floating out or to close to the Gully goalkeeper. Leigh Minopoulos' cross to Milos Lujic - who was starting in place of Pep Marafioti - was excellent, the only thing better about it being how Lujic got down low to guide it into the net.

Cue the fence run down the hill - oh, did you know Gully got rid of the nonsense mesh behind the goals ends, and that they've also planted trees which in 20-30 years time will provide a sort of actual windbreak, maybe, and they also got a new kickarse scoreboard - and then the panting middle aged huff and puff climb back up the hill and out of breath chanting. We're getting too old for these kinds of antics.

Somewhere in between Milos' goal and Schroen's second, there was one of the great novelty misses by Oliver Minatel, who took a fresh air swing at the ball when a less grandiose gesture would have sufficed. Oh yes, Schroen's second goal, well he made Jason Hicks look foolish by dispossessing him in his own 18 yard box. Poor Hicks, I like him as a player, but somehow he's ended up going from being useless in a relegation scraping team (2017 Melbourne Knights) to useful in a good team (top three 2018 Bentleigh Greens) to being useless again in a relegation scraping team (2018 Green Gully).

Oh, but get this. Apparently you can give the opposition crowd the double bird - twice - ala Harry Noon, and not get a yellow card, but celebrate with your own supporters, and that's worth a yellow. See 'around the grounds' for worse behaviour. Anyway, more problematic is that Brad Norton finally collected his fifth yellow card, so that should be him out for this week's game. It had to come eventually, and it's a miracle it took this long to come, but it's something we're just going to have to deal with. Of course it'd be a little easier if there were obvious options other than putting Kristian Konstantindis at left-back, not the worst solution in the world but not great for the other problems it brings up.

And someone tells me that Iqi Jawadi is off on holiday? And Christos Intzidis has gone back to Greece to see his infant child, which was born while he's been at South and he has not seen yet? And that he may have contract offers in Greece?

But back to this game, because it's not like 3-1 is a safe score for us this season, and that's not even remembering that last year with a 'good team' we were 3-0 and 4-2 up and still cocked it up. No surprise that Gully pulled it back to 3-2, they're not that bad and we're still not very good even if we have improved from our worst efforts. The coach brought on Manny Aguek and Will Orford for fresh legs, and credit to the lads, they did more than just chase and harass. I'll say it again, not sure why more trust couldn't have been put into lads like these earlier in the season when we had nothing on the bench and cripples on the field. If Aguek was the standout of the two when they made their debuts, it was Orford's time to shine against Gully. He showed no fear, taking players on and putting Gully on the back foot, but he also made the right decisions almost every single time in whether to go on the attack or to hold the ball and kill time.

It was a game where we did enough to hold on, my umbrella finally carked it, and we kept our head above water for another week. Things could've been worse. They still could be.

Next game
At home against Kingston on Sunday.

Relegation/survival prognostication, yes, it's still an ongoing concern, and don't try and pretend that it's otherwise
The only positive result from this weekend's action on the survival front was ours: we won, and in doing so we also beat a fellow relegation scrapper. Who would've known that Gully's run of results would become so bad that we'd eventually overtake them and put them closer to the relegation playoff spot? But even as we're in our highest ladder position for months now, we're not really that much closer to safety.

Things looked much worse though early on Friday night though when we were 1-0 down and Kingston were up 2-0 at home to Bentleigh, which lead to me putting forard conspiracies about teams laying down to get us relegated. Eventually things righted themselves enough that Bentleigh came back to draw 4-4. It's a result that could've been worse for us had Kingston been given a pretty obvious penalty late on - even Johnny A thought it was a mistake by the ref not to give it.

Meanwhile Northcote earned a point against Port Melbourne, keeping their slim survival chances alive, but it was a result nevertheless that will make it nearly impossible for them to catch us. Only us losing every game by some margin, and Northcote winning all three of their remaining game could see them overtake us. I'm calling it now - it ain't happening.

The really nasty result was Hume convincingly beating a limp and disinterested Bergers outfit at Olympic Village, so that Hume remain just two points behind us. That means that the two point buffer we had from the playoff spot is now three, plus our superior goal difference.

A month or so ago I put forward some amateur calculations about what it would take to survive, based on a very small sample of years (2014 onwards), and being conservative about how many teams were going to be drawn into the relegation battle. I calculated back then that the highest combined points tally for the bottom was achieved in 2014, with a tally of 65 points (currently at 59 points in 2018, with three/four games to go!), a year which corresponded also with the highest playoff finisher total of 28 points. Right now it looks like anything less than 31 points is very unsafe.

At the time of putting together that loose forecast, my attention was only on Bulleen, Northcote, Hume, Kingston, and ourselves as likely to finish in the bottom three spots. Yet here we are with teams on 28 points - and one on 29 points - who are in a dangerous position. And yes, because this season is so competitive, many of those relegation threatened teams could also end up in the finals with a bit of luck and goof form.

Table excerpt sourced from socceraust.co.uk. 
So even as we've shed Bulleen to almost certain relegation, and Northcote to at best probably the playoff spot, other teams have been added into the mix. Green Gully, Dandenong Thunder, and even Melbourne Knights are now all in danger of finding themselves in the relegation playoff match.

As per last time though, we note that a lot the bottom sides are due to play each other over the coming weeks.
  • Round 24: Northcote vs Bulleen, South Melbourne vs Kingston
  • Round 25, Hume vs Green Gully, Thunder vs Northcote, Bulleen vs Knights
  • Round 26, Green Gully vs Kingston, Knights vs Thunder
All we know is that the end of the home and away season is going to be chaotic, and that any finals dreaming needs to be put aside until we secure our NPL status for 2019.

Around the grounds
Hard rubbish collection
A rare Sunday afternoon with no competing commitments, so I decided to make my way down to Ralph Reserve for the first time this year. The walk to the ground coincided with the local council's annual hard rubbish collection. Thus the deserted streets of Sunshine West resembled the neatly ordered ruins of a post-apocalyptic society that seemed to collect, more than anything else, reasonably modern furniture that still seemed fit for use. At least we're getting to the end of hard rubbish day meaning nature strips full of cathode ray tube televisions. At the ground, I watched the reserves game a 4-4 shootout. I took my seat in the stand, next to the bloke on Dodgy Asian Betting Guy duties. Soon, too, some strange fellows took a seat near us, from what I could gather some sort of acquaintances of Iqi Jawadi and Nick Epifano. They discussed in vague terms the kinds of money players get at this and other levels of the game, and assorted nonsense. Suburbs, who were in deep relegation trouble, had the aid of the significant breeze blowing their way, and scored early on. They looked better than their lowly position, but these things never last. North Sunshine, with a slim and fading chance at a championship and possible promotion, equalised thanks to a keeper error.

I moved to the other side in the second half. Going into the breeze I didn't give Suburbs much of a chance, but they started off well and looked good for 15 minutes or so. But they got tired, had only one sub left after making two in the first half, and gradually North Sunshine's bigger enemy became the clock and not the home side. Oh, and they'd say the officials too, and I know everyone gets mad at refs sometimes, but coaches going out of their way and out of your technical area repeatedly to abuse and swear at the officials? If FFV are serious about clamping down on referee abuse, they could do worse than look at a repeat offender like North Sunshine. Anyway, first minute of injury time, the ball falls kindly to Epifano who slots it for the winner.

Final thought
Always wonderful to go a ground who play music over the PA system that's just as bad as that played at Lakeside.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Not ideal - South Melbourne 1 Heidelberg United 3

Got there early enough to buy a burger and watch the women's curtain raiser. Within ten minutes it was 3-0 to South, and the game was as good as done. It was only 4-0 at the break, but after having chatted with people throughout the first half, I'd decided I'd seen enough. It's not the fault of our women's team, it's just that there are so many uncompetitive teams in their league. Besides, you can't buy gin and tonics in the booze tent outside the social club, and I was hoping someone would have the good sense to put on the women's game that was being streamed on Facebook on the screen inside the social club. No dice, but at least they won 7-0.

Onto the men's game, about which I had no grand expectations, hoping at best for a draw. Other relevant results across the weekend were mixed, and Kingston were beating the Knights, so even in there were good vibes in the stand from a bigger than normal crowd and the feeling that this was a game we could win, did anyone think we could actually win this game? Our recent results had been good, but our form doing so was sketchier than we'd perhaps like to admit, even if the attitude and morale had clearly improved.

Playing with a gale force wind in the first half certainly helped us, but to be fair, we also actually looked as good as we have for long time. We looked to open up, we looked good in moving the ball up the field, and kept the Bergers to a minimum of chances. There was that one moment where Nikola Roganovic had to make a good low save, but apart from that we had taken the game up to the best team in the league, and looked good in doing so.

That we took the lead was a joyous but also a deserved thing, Marcus Schroen finishing some actually pretty good lead up play. But then Pep Marafioti squandered two great chances to put us up by two or three goals at the break, and playing against a superior opponent, with the wind at their backs, and having probably withstood the best of what we could throw at them, I didn't feel great about our chances of getting win, and even a draw wasn't something I'd have bet on.

That's not to blame Pep, he's scored some nice goals since he came to us, and he helped set up Schroen's goal, but he should've buried at least one of those chances, certainly at least got them on target. As it was, it didn't take long for us to concede in the second half, and then when the second one went in... I don't like to say we were cooked then and there, but the odds were so stacked against us I couldn't see it happening. The third goal was the killer, obviously, and while we battled to the end there's no complaining about the merits of the result - although I would like to see if Heidelberg's second goal was scored by a player in an offside position.

Despite being a less than ideal result, especially when coupled with some of the week's other results, the performance and the attitude that spurred it on were pleasing, and something which I hope can be carried into the final games of the season. We may not be able to play with so much freedom in those games which are pretty much six-pointers, but it's reassuring to know that the squad will fight it out to the death if need be, though we all hope it doesn't come to that of course.

The loss and our performance and attitude were only half the story of the game though. What was at first pantomime hostility and humour gradually built up into something much more stupid. It began with Clarendon Corner taking the piss out of players falling over or being fouled and staying down - including South players - by chanting "call it off", in reference to the last time these two teams met, a match aborted due to the Bergers' Harry Noon suffering a serious injury courtesy of his collision with a corner flag. It's the kind of thing that's funny only because Noon has made a stunning recovery from the injury, and to a lesser extent also his excellent run of personal form.

When the Bergers scored their goals, while briefly acknowledging their own rather quiet support on the right hand side of the grandstand, Noon (among others) decided to direct to flip the bird towards Clarendon Corner on more than one occasion, including the double bird. Some have argued that  he should have just kept it as a "shush" gesture, or nothing at all, but for what's it's worth I'm not offended by the gesture though I get how others were. For mine, it was so childish, and so... haven't we seen this kind of thing directed at us so many times before by opposition players?

You can say that players should act more professionally, and they should seeing as they are professionals, but it's also in its own cack-headed way a compliment to South fans that these guys would rather turn their attention towards us rather than their own fans. That's understandable in cases where players are representing teams in this league with no fans, especially no travelling support, but the Bergers scored all their goals at the end where their supporters were, and yet their attention was still on us, and that we are to some extent living rent free in their heads.

Still, whatever the feelings between ourselves and opposition players, one thing that is interesting is that opposition players continue to get away with deliberately trying to incite South supporters. Again, we should be used to it by now, but Noon's double bird crossed a different line. So much noise is made about abuse and players showing proper decorum on the field, to the point where even bouncing a ball hard into the turf after a foul has gone against you can lead to a yellow card. So why no punishment here? Players have been yellow carded (and sent off because of those yellow cards) for all sorts of nonsense conducted during goal celebrations; would not such flagrant and repeated offensive behaviour warrant at least a caution from the officials?

Who knows to be honest, and I was pretty much over it even as it was happening. It prompted the tone of Clarendon Corner's chanting to go a bit lower, including reminding Noon that his injury was self-inflicted. All of that contributed to some unsavoury scenes at the end of the game on the other side of the players race (and well away from Clarendon Corner), where who knows what was happening, and who knows who was inciting who. All I could tell from my vantage point was that security had moved in, and competing chants occasionally broke out from supporters, and that this lasted for about ten minutes. Then the situation calmed down enough as people went home, or back into the social club, and I'm none the wiser for what actually did happen, leaving me to speculate wildly that George Katsakis (who was in the stands, having been suspended for several games following an incident in the recent Dockerty Cup final) and his consumption of one too many cans of Red Bull (for an excitable person like him even one can being probably one too many) had something to with it. But as I've noted, that's just wild speculation on my part.

All I can hope is that by the next time we play each other - in just a few weeks time when we replay the aborted fixture from the earlier in the season - that everyone comes back to their senses a little bit, and there's no repeat or worse of what happened on Sunday. Also, that we win, because that would also be good.

Next game
Green Gully away on Friday night. Freezy fun for the whole family.

Relegation/survival prognostication, very much still an ongoing concern and not likely to be put to bed this week
There was marginal good news and a lot more bad news on the relegation scrap front this week. The good news? Bulleen, Northcote, and Green Gully all lost. That means Bulleen remain ten points behind us with just four games to play, meaning it is highly unlikely they'll be catching up to us. So I think we can safely say we won't be finishing last in 2018, unless someone gets us docked points for some reason, but let's not dwell on that possibility just yet. Northcote's result sees them remain seven points behind us, and while not without the chance to make up the difference, you'd like to think that they wouldn't be able to catch up to us.

So putting our cautious optimist caps on, the worst we could finish is in 12th, aka the relegation playoff spot. And on that front, last week was not a good round for us. For starters, we lost. Then there's the fact that Kingston beat the Knights, closing the gap to us from four points to one. Hume also snagged a late equaliser against Thunder to earn a draw - incidentally Thunder's first draw for 2018 - and closed the gap to us from three points to two. So the four point buffer we had between ourselves and the playoff spot is now just two, and that dreaded nauseous feeling is back again after a solitary week where we could feel just a little better about our situation.

These results, and Gully's free fall in form and/or results (which sees them level on points with us, but behind on goal difference), means that the next two weeks for us are huge. It's Gully this week, and Kingston next. Picking up four points from these two games would be good, six points even better obviously, but failing to win either of them would be not good at all.

Tribunal tribulations
So, yes, we did end up at the tribunal for the stupid, stupid, stupid melee that took place in the game against Northcote. How did this happen, after the incident was already apparently dealt with some weeks ago? Well, the original report was compiled by the referee, and since that painted a relatively benign picture of the whole affair, with George Howard getting three weeks for his part in the affair, cut down to two for a guilty plea. But then FFV was apparently given several pieces of footage, so that the issue was brought to the tribunal.

In the end, we were fortunate to get away with a small fine for the club and a suspension for Giordano Marafioti. So how did we get off relatively lightly? My understanding of it is as follows. First, by the sheer dumb luck that Marafioti had an Access All Areas pass by virtue of being a senior/under 20s player. Second, by the incident taking place on the running track, and not the field of play (though who knows if that was actually taken into account). Third, as noted in the tribunal notice itself, that South had imposed its own five match suspension on Marafioti immediately following the incident, to which FFV has added two more games. Lastly, by the video itself (as provided by SMFC TV), showing no clear evidences of punches being thrown by anyone, and thus putting this incident at the lower end of the violent incident scale.

It has been noted that FFV are apparently seeking to clamp down on corralling of the referee by players, as well as melee push and shove nonsense. This is good of course, as long as it is applied consistently too many clubs have been getting away with these kinds of antics.

Trumpet troubles
Every year it seems that someone from the State Sport Centres Trust tries to get the trumpet or drums banned from Lakeside. Now admittedly, neither is brought out often these days, but yesterday was a special occasion if not for the fact of the derby itself, than for the fact that Clarendon Corner's only know competent trumpeter Bruno was in attendance; Bruno living quite a distance from Melbourne these days, the trumpet doesn't get as much of a workout as we'd like, which might mean someone else will have to go and learn the basics.

Anyway, the famous trumpet sound was played, and then security rocked up to tell us that the drum was fine, but the trumpet was not. To be fair to security, they were very good at explaining themselves and the situation, and eventually what happened is what always seems to happen in these situations - a board member, in this case as per usual Tony Margaritis, goes up to the SSCT booth, lays down the law/calmly explains the situation and the important cultural heritage underpinning the use of the trumpet, and everything is right again with the world and we move on.

Until the next time it happens, I suppose.

A-League bid info night meeting thingamabob 
Last Thursday there was an information session for South supporters - and I suppose anyone else that wished to turn up, because it wasn't like there was a door bitch checking memberships - to let people know some more detail about the club's A-League bid. Those in attendance, about 40 people, were treated to just over an hour of South Melbourne board member and A-League bid team leader Bill Papastergiadis giving a presentation on various aspects of the bid, reading from the bid book while slides were put up on the social club's projector.

Papastergiadis did not want to be quoted on specific elements of the presentation, but the truth of the matter is that there was little new information provided. That doesn't mean that I'm unappreciative of the gesture to hold the meeting, but for those expecting something revelatory to emerge from the meeting, they would've been left disappointed. It also means I'm comfortable writing about what was said on the night, because it was as much about how it was said as what was said.

We got what Papastergiadis believed were the selling points of the bid. Among these were the club's history, not as something to be deferred to as some sort of token gesture or PR guff, but as evidence of the club's success and the fact that it has survived as an ongoing concern; in other words, the club has a longstanding continuity. This was backed up by testimonials and references provided within the bid book by past and present players of the club. For the present, this included male and female players, emphasising the club's commitment to gender equity, as well as its commitment to youth development, with the revelation (if one were to use that term) that the club currently has sixty scholarship places for youth players.

I was less comfortable about our claims regarding Socceroos produced, and I will continue to blanch at those claims; but I suppose when the Southern Expansion bid makes historic claims to Socceroos, we look almost cute doing it by comparison; at least all those players we list played for us, and many of them played for the Socceroos while they were at South Melbourne even if they were not our own juniors. Still, like the internet popularity polls, much of this stuff is about optics rather than objective reality. At least, that's what I hope.

But as Papastergiadis noted, this bid wouldn't have a chance if not for the stadium and our ongoing lease. The stadium's mere existence is our foot in the door; without it we'd be nothing. To summarise points on the night and which have made here and elsewhere often enough, Lakeside Stadium exists (#ItExists) whereas the stadiums the other Melbourne bids wish to use are just "artist's conceptions" at this point in time. The deal we have at Lakeside means that we will apparently be able to pull profits on crowds much lower than what current A-League teams do at their stadiums. The point was also made that while we already have good public transport connections to the ground, these will only be improved once the Metro Tunnel is completed; again, this is a project which is currently under construction, as opposed to the planned but still almost hypothetical future stations on the Regional Rail Link line.

However, it is worth noting a few things in regards to these matters. While the club claims it has bipartisan political support, it's not like the other Melbourne bids don't have their own supporters within government (and opposition) ranks. Likewise, just because we may believe that either side of politics would be unwilling to fund a Dandenong stadium, or rush through planning approvals for the Western Melbourne group's Tarneit idea, it doesn't mean that they won't change their minds. In the same vein of thought, the idea that we're at an advantage because governments now prefer centrally located stadiums is tempered by the idea that the state government spent money on refurbishing a Ballarat football oval so that Footscray could play three games a year there.

Again, it all comes down to points I've made here before. The FFA's choice will be between boutique options (whether in Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, or Wollongong) or big dream options (Southern Expansion, Dandenong, Western Melbourne). In our case, there is a also a counterintuitive scenario which has revealed itself: for so long South Melbourne Hellas has been judged to be a risky proposition, and yet if the numbers stack up, and FFA's need is such that it needs a bid that's likely to provide the full package (stadium, women's, youth, etc) sooner rather than much later, then all of a sudden we look like a much more reasonable and agreeable proposition than we have for a long time, especially when compared to bids which have a lot more unknowns surrounding them.

I know I'm hammering away at the same point but it does seem to be that simple: FFA making a decision between "what is" and "what might be". That gives us advantages in some regards, but the flip side of that is that if we screw up in some way, these are screw ups which can only happen to us because we exist and the others do not. Thus the FFA Cup semi-final last season was, whether anyone liked it or not, a trial run for what a South Melbourne match day might look like on the big stage. It was an opportunity to show what we can do, to learn about higher end FFA match requirements, and a chance for us to screw up.

There was no information provided on who the private backers of the South Melbourne bid are, nor was there any public commitment to a specific ownership/partnership model. There was reiteration that it would be in effect a public/private arrangement, but supporters would have already figured this out long ago, because there is no way that a member-owned soccer club in Australia can finance an A-League team on its own. There was no information provided on what an A-League licence would ultimately cost. There was no information provided to those in the room on potential branding, colours or a name, except to say that so far in this bid process the club has been unashamed to use current logos and the name South Melbourne in its pitch to the FFA and Deloitte.

There was acknowledgement also of the FFA's current Congress crisis, and what effect that might have on the process, an effect that is unknowable. That admission solidified the sometimes Rumsfeldian feeling coming from Papastergiadis during his presentation. As much as the bid team (and the club as a whole) has sought to cover as many bases as possible, there is still so much that is unknowable and intangible until those things manifest themselves; in our case, whenever the FFA take

So given that there was not much new information provided, what was new and interesting about the night - to me at least - was seeing Papastergiadis in pre-prepared lawyer mode; not forced to ad lib or provide those infamous sound bites. Here he was in his element, creating a narrative for the club's bid, and reiterating the same points throughout the night in different ways. He also did the political stuff well, paying credit to those who had come before, both prior custodians of the club as well as those who had worked on previous A-League bids. The point was made by Bill on the night, as it has been made to me in private on other occasions by others, that though the club has failed to win an A-League licence up until this point, it has nevertheless learned much from each attempt to do so; not just about the political obstacles which need to be overcome, but also about the operational and financial requirements needed for participating at the highest level.

In that sense, as much as the club clearly wants to succeed in achieving its goal of returning to top-flight Australian soccer through this bid, not winning is not a complete waste of time as it would be for most of the other bids. This is because the reconnaissance made from each sortie is something that can be used for either a future attempt at entering the A-League, or at the very least in preparation for a second division should that ever get up and running.

Finally, Papastergiadis did note that there would be some more announcements made by the club soon, so we wait for those moments. Discussions with Deloitte, FFA, government, backers, and all sorts of bodies are ongoing. Not that any of that matters.

Statue of Swans champion Bob Skilton outside what used to be the Lake Oval.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis. 
Bob Skilton statue
There's now a Bob Skilton statue outside Lakeside Stadium, pretty much right outside our front office. Speaking of the office, there's now Sydney Swans branding out the front wall which seems to indicate that they have an equal presence to us at Lakeside, so that's reassuring. Or I suppose we could look at the positives of being considered as having equal cultural footing with one of this nation's more successful sporting brands.

True story - when I moved into my Sunshine West residence a touch over three years ago, I found a small amount of Swans memorabilia left behind into a built-in wardrobe, which included a card of some sort signed by Skilton. I sold all of it on eBay, and probably spent the proceeds at Hellas; either that, or squandered it.

There's probably some foot traffic or aesthetic or grand prix related reason why the statue couldn't be placed in front of the 1926 stand, but that's the least of my concerns here. Anyway, what's fun to do is stand on the statue's plinth and realise how short footy players were back in the day, before clubs started recruiting former basketballers for every position; though I suppose we have to take into account that Skilton was a rover. Just watch out for Skilton's left boot as you walk past the statue - I'm shocked at how something that in these OH&S and public liability times that something like that could be positioned as it is.

Now, who's going to stump up the cash and grease the political wheels for an Ange Postecoglou statue outside the ground? And do we want skinny player Ange, bad 90s tracksuit assistant coach Ange, Ange, suit wearing coach Ange, or sweaty coaching the Socceroos in the Persian Gulf Ange?

The intangible quality of Saturday afternoon mid-winter Melbourne light
 makes some people reach for the thesaurus to describe its beauty.
Me, I can take it or leave it. It's nice I guess. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
Around the grounds
No profundity to be found here
Decided against going to the footy on a Saturday arvo, instead spending the money which would've ended up in the cost of a reserved seat and the privilege of printing my ticket at home on gate entry and a souv at Altona East instead. East are stumbling erratically towards the season's end, safe from relegation (probably), safe from any threat of promotion, occasionally picking up the odd surprise win, just as likely to drop points with mediocre performances. That's still a lot better than the doomed Diamond Valley United, who had yet to win a game after sixteen rounds. That Valley's reserves also lost 4-1 in the curtain raiser didn't bode well for an exciting or even contest in the seniors. And yet for the first 50 minutes or so, these teams provided enough entertainment to justify attending and not wishing nuclear holocaust on everyone. Valley created a couple of great chances in the first half, and East had the better of play, a disallowed goal, and enough momentum to suggest that they were the likelier to score. East created two great chances within the first minute of the second half. Then the game deteriorated by degrees, players got tired, coaches got frustrated, and the game increasingly had 0-0 written all over it, and I had my keys in my hand and was almost to my car by the time referee ended a game which promised nothing and ended up delivering, 

Final thought

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Luck's a fortune - South Melbourne 2 Hume City 1

As badly as we have played this season, it is fair to say that up until three or four weeks ago, we've also had our fair share of rotten luck. Suspensions, injuries, vacations, open goals squandered: you name it, we've had it, as well as some things we can't name. So, while we can commend the squad for its new found resolve, and new coach Con Tangalakis for setting the side up for the relegation battle, let's all give a massive round of applause to the goddess Tyche for finally giving us a bit of a hand.

We had our bit of luck the other week against Bentleigh, the but the good fortune was coming out of our ears on Sunday. Of course it didn't quite seem like that at first what with not having turned up for the first half or hour or so, and giving away what looked like either a very soft or very avoidable penalty in just the kind of position where there's no life or death need to do so.

But then we managed to wake up a bit and for the last 15 minutes of the first half at least we created some chances and such. Still, Pep Marafioti's goal, while admittedly well placed, relied as much upon the good fortune that such flick headers rely on, as well Hume keeper Michael Weier getting himself into a bit of a tangle trying to figure out which direction he was meant to be heading in. It was probably a touch fortunate as well that Leigh Minopoulos wasn't called for offside at the point Marafioti headed the ball. Maybe the linesman didn't see it, maybe he didn't think Minopoulos was interfering, either way it counted, and we were in with a chance of doing something we'd not done yet in 2018: win a game after going a goal behind.

Speaking of real and imagined offsides, the first half had what looked like two of the worst offside calls I've ever seen, one where Minopoulos was called offside when he was about three of metres onside, and one where he was called onside despite being two metres on the wrong side of the ledger. Anyway, such is life, but geez they looked like terrible calls at the time.

Now some people are saying that that 15 minute patch in the first half was all the quality that we were really able to produce during the game, but I think that's a bit harsh myself. I agree that we were outplayed, but I don't agree with the idea that we did nothing at all in the second half. Having said that, throughout the game Hume squandered about four or five clear cut chances that should've consigned us a to a loss. Our defending was not up to scratch, in particular knowing when to press, and even more in particular being able to track the runs off the ball that Hume's attacking players were making. They were excellent on that front, perhaps the best of any team I've seen this season, but unfortunately for them, they didn't have a striker up front to make the most of any of the chances they created. Nikola Roganovic didn't have to make a save off any of them, so wayward were Hume's shots on goal from otherwise point-blank range.

While we were bumbling about when in defence and sending balls forward trying to find a goal, we made a whole bunch of subs, one of which included a tanned Milos Lujic. Standing next to me, Dave - who is becoming quite the terrace wit of late - posited that it would be about 33 seconds before Milos took a dive. Well, Dave's estimation was about 15 seconds too generous. Now, maybe when the replay comes out, the EPL assistant calibre English referee here to teach us many things will be proven right and that Milos was indeed bundled over illegally by a Hume defender. Anyway, Milos stepped up and scored it, we survived the remaining 20 odd minutes one way or another, and got three very valuable points. It wasn't particularly convincing, but so what? We're getting back toward having all of our senior players available, and the team more often than not now looks up for the fight.

Next game
Heidelberg United at home on Sunday afternoon. The men's match will be preceded by the NPLW senior match, also a South Melbourne vs Heidelberg affair. How convenient is that? The women's game kicks off at 1:30.

Tribunal shenanigans
So apparently we are going to the tribunal after all for that brawl against Northcote. I'm told it's not because Northcote pushed for it, and it's not based on any extant footage, so who knows what the hearing is going to be based on.

Bad taste chants
Bad George, bad George, what you gonna do?
What you gonna do, when he stomps on you?

I'm happy to lay off my persistent desire for a pom-pom South Melbourne
 Hellas beanie, if we can get branded accountant visors instead. Surely South
 has enough accountants on the board and in the stands to make this worthwhile.
Relegation/survival prognostication, still an ongoing concern
In regards to our chances of survival, the past week was a bit of a mixed bag. First, the good. Just in case you skipped ahead to this section: we won! And we beat a fellow relegation battler! That's three points we've got that they don't, and thus three points ahead of Hume with a much better goal difference. The other good news is that Bulleen lost, meaning that we are now ten points and significant goal difference ahead of the last placed Lions. Realistically, with five games to go, they ain't catching us.

In slightly less good news, Kingston beat Northcote last night in a match we would've preferred had ended up in a draw. That result means that Northcote are now in second last, seven points behind us, and again with a significantly inferior goal difference compared to us. You can't write them off though - after all, they have Bulleen yet to play - but you'd rather be where we are than where they are. Sadly, because Kingston got the win, they're still only four points behind us, making the game between us in a few weeks even more important.

Throwing a curve-ball into the works of all things relegation is the steep decline of Green Gully over the past two and a bit months. Our recent good run of results - ten points from a possible twelve over the past four weeks - means we have overtaken Gully, whom we play in a couple of weeks, on goal difference. Gully also have Hume and Kingston to play in their remaining games, completely upturning whatever half-arsed musings I made on this relegation situation a couple of weeks ago.

For those of us more inclined to be of a positive frame of mind - and let me make it clear that I am not one of you - our good run of form, if you want to call it that, has seen us keep up with the top six, maintaining the four point gap between ourselves and the current sixth placed side, which is Melbourne Knights. But that's for others to dream about. I'm only so bold as to say that we won't finish last, that we probably won't finish second last, and everything after that in this horror show of a season is a bonus. Quite obviously, we are not safe yet.

Vale Jim Postecoglou
Sad news this week that Ange Postecoglou's father has passed away. Ange has written a moving piece on what his father meant to him, which is well worth the read. The details for the funeral are below.
A-League meeting
A reminder that the club is hosting an information session for members and season ticket holders this Thursday evening on the club's A-League bid. The all-you-can-eat buffet meal service will also be running, along with I assume the half-price drinks.

"I can't believe a convicted felon would get so many
 votes and another convicted felon would get so few.".
Oh my God! The dead have risen and they're voting South Melbourne Hellas!
Speaking of the A-League bid, in their clickbait wisdom the good folk of FourFourTwo conducted a poll the other week, asking their readers which of the ten remaining A-League bidders they would like to see be included as part of the A-League's imminent expansion phase. This robust and unequivocally scientific poll was narrowly won by our very own South Melbourne Hellas over the Wollongong bid, both some distance ahead of the next best Canberra bid, and all three a very long way in front of the other land and property development firms masquerading as Australian top-flight soccer operations.

Anyway this result sent some of the very small amount of people who care and put value into these things into a bit of a spin. mostly those who hate South Melbourne, ethnic soccer, etc. "The result changed once South Melbourne shared the poll on social media!". Well, what did you expect them to do, sit there and let another pointless yet easy to exploit positive media opportunity go to waste? "The poll must have been corrupted!". Well, look, you know what? It probably was. Internet polls are an enormous waste of time, not least because of their easy corruptibility. But - and here's the kicker - if that was the case, still the only people who could be bothered to corrupt the poll apparently did so in favour of South Melbourne, and probably the other two vote winning bids. Why? Because they're the only bids with enough people that care, yet.

For all the talk about groundswells of untapped interest from the more nebulously conceived consortia, the only groups who have come out in support of them are local councils and assorted state politicians, and to a lesser extent some clubs - though these last are usually grouped together in an amorphous mass. Not that any of that matters of course, because this is just a playground optics game, but my word it is fun to watch the cat among the pigeons.

Ian Syson book launch
Here's something a few of us - OK, maybe just me - thought might never happen. Ian Syson, one of South of the Border's dearest friends, is holding a launch party for his new book, The Game That Never Happened: The Vanishing History of Soccer in Australia. This has been a work long in the making, and we'll be talking about that a bit on the blog at some point in the near future I hope, when I do a kind of overview of what this is all about.

The details for the launch are as per the flyer on the right. Understandably, being held in the middle of the working week in the middle of the working day isn't convenient for those outside the layabout university and professional sectors, but for those who can spare the time, it'd be great to see you there. If you do intend to show up, please RSVP to the MCC Library, because they need to put your name down so that security will allow you inside the building.

The book should be available in the usual online and bricks and mortar locations. If it isn't, you can contact the publisher or distributor directly, or give me a bell and I should be able to arrange something.

Final thought

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.