Thursday, 2 December 2021

Out / In / Still Here

Out
As the senior men's season has finally come to an end - the senior women's team season persists in their state cup tournament - we arrive at that point in the year where some of our senior men's team players are departing. To start off - Luke Pavlou, Zac Bates, and Gerrie Sylaidos are all officially on the way out. All three were the subject of rumours among fan circles to be on the way out, and so it has come to be. 

The player departure that South fans will be most viscerally unhappy about is Sylaidos, principally because the opinion exists that Gerrie didn't get a proper go under the coaching arrangement we have at the moment. Looking back, that's only half-true; Sylaidos played almost every match in 2019 (initially under Con Tangalakis, and then Esteban Quintas), 2020 was a bust for everyone, and 2021 wasn't a whole lot better than 2020.

And it's not like Gerrie didn't have his drawbacks. He struggled to run out games, and his small frame provided obvious disadvantages. However it's also fair to say that Quintas' frequent changing of Gerrie's role and position, the coach's lineup rotations, and especially his defensive set-ups, did not help to maximise the potential of a player whose best attributes lay in the forward third of the pitch. 

As for the psychology of Gerrie being in and out of the starting eleven, and having other non-winger players playing on the wing instead of him... that's for those closer to the situation to judge, but I can't imagine it helped Gerrie much when it seemed the coach would not or could not place his trust in Gerrie.

Still, maybe some of us on the terraces got too far ahead of ourselves with Sylaidos, and overrated him. But then again, if any of us overrated Gerrie, we were not alone. He was the league's 2018 under 21 player of the year, and had trials with Central Coast Mariners in mid-2019. We were impressed by the glimpses he'd shown, especially against us, and thought that there was much more to come. 

And because Gerrie was (in our minds at least) one of us - a South fan, or at least someone with South feeling - we wanted him not only to do well, but we also wanted to protect him from the opposition who targeted his light frame, from referees who wouldn't protect him those attacks, and from a coach with a game plan which seemed to be geared to getting the least out of Gerrie.

Zac Bates, too, was a player that was in and out of the starting lineup for reasons similar to Sylaidos. Starting eleven rotation policies didn't help Bates' cause, as did his inability to run out games. To that, Bates had the added problem of hamstrings which seemed perennially on the cusp of exploding. 

When he did manage to get on the field, there was a player with speed and the potential to frighten opposition defenders, especially those instructed to play a high line. But like a lot of his teammates Bates' finishing was just not good enough, and in a setup which created few chances on goal, every opportunity missed counted for more.

It would be interesting to see Bates with a proper preseason under his belt, as well as consistent and uninterrupted first-team football. He may just end up showing everyone that he was actually worth a better go at Lakeside. I fancy though that like Sylaidos - who like Bates, has ended up at Northcote - Bates will have become tired of Lakeside even if he was asked to stay.

Defensive midfielder Luke Pavlou has also gone, apparently by his own desire. I'm not sure why we brought him back for a second stint. Some will say he was one of our better players this year, but I don't think he ever overcame the deficiencies that were evident in his first stint - namely his skill with the ball when under pressure. That, and we already had other defensive midfielders who I think are better. 

To the official departures, we can also add two rumours. First, young defender Giorgi Zarbos is apparently out, which would not be a surprise given his very limited first team opportunities. More substantially, Neos Kosmos reported last week that midfielder Daniel Clark has agreed to lucrative terms with Oakleigh, knocking back offers from South and Bentleigh.

And honestly, I'm OK with that. I was never a fan, and that's no secret. A journeyman midfielder of little note from a club of similar mediocrity to our own, the signing screamed of a lack of ambition. Even from the point of view of trying to snaffle a bargain in cost-cutting times, I could not see where the upside was going to come from. And largely, it didn't.

I couldn't (most times) fault the effort Clark put in, but clearly as the player that more than most was designated as "the guy" - the one most relied upon to do good stuff that would lead to other good stuff - it just didn't work. And if you have any doubts that that's the job Daniel Clark was asked to do, think about how many games he missed; he was basically the first outfielder picked every game.

I sympathise to a degree with the predicament he repeatedly found himself in, being asked to be that creative everyman with very little numerical support, because of how far back we sat in most games. But even if you were a fan, or at least recoil from making him the scapegoat for our troubles, one must agree that Clark leaving would open up all sorts of possibilities. At the very least, it means that the fixation on that one player can be dispensed with in favour of something more flexible and dare I say. democratic.

No word on whatever it is that happened to goalkeeper Pierce Clark, and I suspect we will never get a satisfactory answer.

In
As with the departures, almost without exception every 2022 player signing announced by the club had already been foreshadowed either in the press or on the South forum. I've said it before, but the days of the Chris Taylor era vault are long behind us. Also, maybe it doesn't even matter if everyone knows what we're doing, and that getting upset or even defiantly nonplussed are not worth the bother.

So yes, Andy Brennan is back for a third go, but we've already spoken about that. Also coming onboard is Alun Webb, a forward most recently of Melbourne Knights, and defensive midfielder Pat Langlois of Hume. Signing two players from a single club in one go, especially as that club is one of the more proficient ones of recent times - especially as that club still has FFA Cup and Dockerty Cup matches to play - raises all sorts of questions.

Most of those questions to me come back to money - how much we're paying, and how much the relevant opposition club is no longer willing or perhaps able to pay. Hume City's major sponsor (for both front of shirt and stadium naming rights) is in a bit of strife. One doesn't to write off an entire club's short-term future based on one sponsor (potentially) leaving, but it does open the door to speculation.

Attacking player Henri Scott is the real wildcard so far, in that he wasn't someone whose signing was mooted anywhere else before it was announced. That, and he comes from Warragul in the state leagues, which is a baffling origin story, and something more like a (dare I say it) CT-era attempt to pluck one player out of obscurity.

Oh, and another Queenslander, forward Max Mikkola, just because.

Still Here
Brad Norton has signed for an eleventh season, putting him in the esteemed ranks of our longest serving players by number of seasons, with only players such as Paul Trimboli and Steve Blair ahead of him. Marcus Schroen is also coming back next year, as are Harrison Sawyer and Marco Jankovic. Fullback and winger Chris Irwin is also onboard for 2022, after missing the entire of 2021 with injury.

And one more thing
How's the homegrown, young talent plan going?

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

2021 South of the Border Awards

Player of the year: Henry Hore. He did some nice things. More impressively, he managed to escape this hellhole. 

Under 21 player of the year: The Cliff Hussey Memorial Trophy goes to no one. Not one young enough player got anywhere near enough senior game time for me to award a prize this year.

Goal of the year: Harrison Sawyer. That goal against the Bergers at Jack Edwards. It fell on his head/shoulders/neck/back, and barely made it across the line. It was shit. It was glorious.

Best performance: I think Gully away. We actually looked good. We actually went on the front foot.

Best away game: Oakleigh away. Every away game sucked, but they were our toughest opponents, and we didn't lose, so let's go with that.

Call of the year: Shouty Mike making the passionate claim after the penalty shootout win against Oakleigh that I should apologise to Esteban Quintas for my being appalled by Quintas' ultra-defensive style. Make of that what you will.

Chant of the year: "We're gonna win nil-nil." It's apt. Apt!

Best pre-match/after match dinner location: The days of comparatively exotic cheap eats are seemingly behind us. I blame covid, and other semi-affiliated lifestyle changes. So the default winner in another bastard of a year was the social club's calamari salad. Was it pricey? Yes. Was it worth the price? Probably not. Was it easily a few notches above being merely edible? Yes. That's good enough in times like these.

Friends we lost along the way: Griff. If you're out there buddy, I hope you're well.

Barely related to anything stupidity highlight of the year: Winning not one, but two penalty shootouts, on route to a glorified pre-season pseudo-testimonial game for players that weren't even here for that long really, that's going to keep the club afloat for at least a few more months.

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Been there, done that - South Melbourne 0 Melbourne City 3

As it turns out, just about every thought I had about Friday night's game, I already had in 2017, to the extent that I'm actually a bit stumped about what to write.  

I suppose I could note the major difference between then and now. Back then, there was a sense of desperation, eagerness, anticipation, and hype. We had a good team with an imperfect build-up to the game, and an A-League bid in the works. On a number of fronts we had made ourselves the centre of attention, to the extent that the entire experience felt like an audition in front of the entirety of Australian soccer.

Of course we were never actually a legitimate chance to succeeding at that aforementioned audition no matter how well we did; but there's no mistaking the fact that the entire club, from top-to-bottom, treated the game against Sydney FC as a matter of life and death for the club. The ensuing years have since shown that like any club, we are just as likely to hurt ourselves as be hurt by others. Oh, and then covid happened as well. 

As it happened, the 2017 effort didn't make an iota of difference to either our short or medium term prospects. We were trying to prove the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time. Perhaps what the focus should have been on was proving to ourselves that we could rise to that level. What 2004 and its aftermath did was not just gut the club of fans and finance, but also of know-how. We had to start from the start, so to speak, on the field and off it.

It's not like the 2017 game didn't have its issues with ticketing and organisation, but it went well enough. If Friday night showed anything, it's that the club has really nothing much left to prove to the small cartel of people who control top-flight Australian soccer. Everyone with any influence knows what we can do, what we can offer, what we're about.  All that was left to do was to demonstrate to ourselves once more that we can hold events like this at a professional standard, and that we have over the course of the past 17 years accumulated some experience about how to run an event at this scale.

And thus dutiful preparation from our behind-the-scenes people aside, Friday night seemed to lack 2017's sense of danger. There were no outsized concerns about whether our crowd would be big enough, or whether people would behave, or even if the team would get completely crunched. 

Again, covid provided some cover on all those fronts. The official crowd of 4,219 was apparently just short of the venue's covid capacity limit of 4,500. Anyone getting upset or choosing to mock the fact that we didn't reach that limit would be better of acknowledging that it is rare for capacity at any sporting to be reached, ever, even for the highest profile games. A recent example was the 2021 A-League grand final, where AAMI Park's 30,050 capacity was reduced by 50% due to covid, but managed a crowd about 1,000 short of the 15,000 cap.

Having a near (conditional) full-house didn't make stumping up $25 for a ticket that much more palatable for many people, especially with a lack of kids and concession offerings. But one must also acknowledge that the club has so few chances to cash in on games like this, that it must be hard for the people in charge not to try and leverage the situation for all it is worth. At least this year members had the chance of getting complimentary tickets, unlike last time.

The crowd was majority South, but admonishing the lack of a Melbourne City fan turnout seems a bit harsh. Doubtless some of their regular ordinary mum and dad fans would have baulked at the ticket prices; more likely, many of them would have been unaware the game was even on. More surprising was that City's active support couldn't even fill out a bay in the northern stand; considering how little of their team they've been able to see in recent covid affected years, it was a bit strange.

On the field, I was prepared for the worst. Funnily enough, I was both pleasantly surprised and genuinely appalled. Surprised and pleased that we didn't ship more goals. Appalled that from the beginning we didn't even pretend that we had any intention of getting the ball and trying to possess it, maybe even launch an attack. Some have made the comment that apart from the exaggerated scale of City's dominance, in general the South side on the park didn't look that much different in tactical approach to the one that was dominated by Eastern Lions during the earlier rounds of the cup.

Still, apart from the coach, I sympathise with almost everyone else involved on the game side of things. In 2021 we were the 9th best team of a second tier competition that got cancelled several months ago, with a match-day squad made up of semi-pros and a bench filled out by kids. Just be glad that we only lost 3-0, and instead get upset the at things that really matter - like that ridiculous decision to take a short corner during that three minute burst of goodness in the second half. 

Everything else I could make allowances for, but that decision was just astonishing. I could not believe it. It made no sense. I'm getting angry again just thinking about it. Maybe it's time to make an adjustment to the club's constitution to ban short corners, except when killing the clock at the end of a game. Tactical approach aside, I couldn't fault the effort of the team. Given they had so little of the ball, they ran and ran and ran, and did what they could. Ben Djiba stood out above all our players, defending stoutly throughout the game.

Apart from all our other shortcomings and disadvantages, we were playing the well-drilled champions of Australia, who were fitter, more skillful, and more coordinated than any South team has been since 2017. As with the 2017 match against Sydney FC, the difference in speed of movement and speed of thought was immediately apparent. Drop some of City's players down to our level, surrounded by players who weren't quite good enough to make it, give them day jobs, and irregular life schedules, and see what would happen. While you may still see moments of individual class, it'd be a lot harder to single-handedly bring up the standard of those around you.

Of course that's just a rinse-repeat of one of the good arguments for a proper second division, but that's a story for an interminable future. While we South plebs wait for that day to arrive or for someone with more clout to make it happen, we have to deal with our team and our league as they are. Here's to 2022 then.

Monday, 1 November 2021

Ticketing information for upcoming FFA Cup game released


Pre-season 2022 (or what some of you are calling FFA Cup 2021) rolls on.

The club has signed a new keeper, one Javier Diaz Lopez of Bentleigh Greens, a Spaniard. Diaz Lopez will be eligible for the cup game against Melbourne City, though his signing does beg the question: what's the situation with Pierce Clark? Lot of rumours flying about - well, two that I've seen - which you'll have to go digging for yourselves. 

For the announcement of Diaz Lopez, the club tried to do one of its traditional social media big bombshell at 6pm angles, but were beaten to the punch by Neos Kosmos journo Alekos Katsifaras. Katsifaras also notes that South has signed forward Alun Webb, most recently of Melbourne Knights, and Andy Brennan, most recently of Hume City.

Neither player will be eligible to play in the cup game, but more to the point: Andy Brennan, again! Again! Now I like Andy, have done so for a long time, and I still think he could do a nice job at this level, but come on! Can't we just move on? Or is the angle we're playing the classic South move of signing a guy because he scored against us recently? Anyway, the putative signings of Webb and Brennan indicates a big shakeup at season's (eventual) close of our attacking stocks. Let the speculation begin, in your own free time. Or in the comments section, whatever.

As part of preparations for the cup game, the team has of course been training, and even managed to have a closed doors hit out at Lakeside with another 2021 FFA Cup aspirant, Avondale. We won the game 2-0, Yianni Panakos and Jake Marshall the scorers. Gerrie Sylaidos also played in that game, as did a player it took a little while for be remember the name of. Take from all of that what you will.

More importantly I suppose, ticketing information has been released for the cup fixture, and for South members and season ticket holders it's a mixed bag. Any financial South Melbourne member or season ticket holder- that is someone who has paid for a membership or season ticket in 2021 - will not be charged for entry to the game. 

That's a fairly big gesture on behalf of the club, considering that they had already provided discounted 2021 memberships for 2020 members. 

The catch however is that eligible members and season ticket holders must pick up their tickets from the club itself, of which further details will be released by the club in the coming days. That could be a pain in the arse for those who work or live nowhere near Lakeside. 

For regular punters looking to attend the game, tickets will be available online only from 3pm today, with no tickets being sold on the day of the game. 

The other thing of course, is that the game will only be open to those who have received two doses of a covid vaccine, and can of course provide proof of their double-vaccinated status on the day.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

FFA Cup fixture date confirmed, again

Friday November 12th. More specific details yet pending, because of, you know, *waves hands with half-exaggerated exasperation* everything.

One assumes South members will get priority to what will likely be limited tickets, due to the aforementioned "everything".

Now, seeing as how

a) we are likely to get crunched in the match itself
b) there is nothing left to prove in terms of crowd and atmosphere or spectacle, and
c) even doing anything or even everything perfectly in order to prove our top-flight worthiness is absolutely pointless,
 
I am now more interested in the logistics of the event, insofar as I am curious to see if any kind of Neos Kosmos Facebbook page covid/vaccine article commentary slips into the discourse in the lead up to the match.

Monday, 4 October 2021

Western United blocked from using Lakeside

So the news came in late on Friday afternoon: South had successfully blocked Western United from using Lakeside for the upcoming A-League season. Thus ended the week-long saga that saw much energy expended by a lot of people, with just about everyone involved ending up more or less where they started from. South doesn't get an A-League intrusion at Lakeside. Western United will end up playing those seven home games designated for Lakeside at AAMI Park. And the Trust which manages Lakeside Stadium will continue scratching its head trying to figure out how to make soccer work at Lakeside.

Despite all parties involved seemingly ending up back at square one, one tangible change in the dynamic is the realisation that South's veto rights over football at Lakeside are actually quite real. This is a lesson - perhaps the only genuine lesson learned from the entire situation - that's been learned by both the online anti-South brigade, but also by South fans themselves. Otherwise, pretty much everyone who contributed to the public discussion on United's attempt at play at Lakeside, and South's thwarting of it, hasn't budged from their starting position of what they think about South Melbourne Hellas as a valued (or otherwise) member of the Australian soccer body politic. 

I don't know what the anti-South brigade thought about the veto's legitimacy - as Mark Boric noted, maybe they thought that because the most "excitable" online South fans kept bringing it up, that the veto must be a figment of those South fans' imagination. Combine that with South not being the owner of Lakeside, and I can see how some people came to that conclusion; but even as other comparatively non-hysterical South fans noted the veto's existence, the blindness caused by the anti-South cohort's visceral hatred for South meant that only the successful application of the veto itself could make it real.

For South fans, who have been used to hearing about the existence of the veto, it was a relief for to see that not only is the veto real, but that invoking it has real-world consequences. Considering South has long allowed W-League and Y-League games at Lakeside - which is not something some staunch South fans are happy with - we have seldom if ever seen the veto used in practice. The exception to that is a now ancient and maybe even apocryphal refusal to allow Melbourne Heart to use Lakeside, before they became Melbourne City. In contrast, the deployment of the veto means that its existence is now public and verifiable, and a marker for all future discussions on the topic, even if most of the specifics remain confidential.

Further to the confirmation of the veto's power, is the surprise and delight among many South fans that the South board actually decided to use it. Thanks in part to the clumsiness of United's attempt to barge into Lakeside without even wiping their feet on the welcome mat, we will never know if the South board would have decided on a different course of action had United's request been made with more tact. The immediate and overwhelming opposition from South members might have it impossible for the South board to agree to United using Lakeside anyway, but the manner in which the situation unfolded gave the South board little choice but to say "no".

Moral grandstanding aside, for South the opportunity seemed to be there for some sort of financial gain, as well as improvements to Lakeside's amenities. On arguments about generating goodwill, I'm less convinced about that than I was last week. After all, what would be the long-term benefits of being good public soccer citizens to any member of a self-interested cartel? Key members of the A-League cartel - now almost completely a law unto itself in terms of its governance and operation - have made it clear they do not want South Melbourne in their clique. I mean, City and Victory didn't even want a third Melbourne team of any sort to be part of the A-League. Yet even as key parts of the national league cartel, whose goal should be the self-interest of the cartel as a whole, and not just the narrow self-interest of individual cartel members, City and Victory helped contribute to this mess by not allowing United to use AAMI Park for the upcoming season in the first place.

Sure they're rivals, but being part of the same cartel - and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense, it's just facts - it was ridiculous there wasn't any evidence of cartel discipline or solidarity until someone in (I assume) Australian Professional Leagues (the A-League's governing body) forced the hand of City and Victory. It's the least they could do for the team whose licence fee, in at least some A-League fans' opinion, is helping keep several struggling teams afloat.

Of course most of the anti-South squawkers seemed to miss all of that. Asking why South copped so much grief for the situation United has found itself, and why more of the blame wasn't being directed not just at United, but also at Victory and City, is really a very rhetorical question. Those people will squawk about South "showing its true colours" with regards to helping Australian soccer (as well as itself in the short and long term), but the reality is a likely more cynical affair: that most of that squawking was done by people who have no time for South anyway; are in no position from which to turn any goodwill gesture from South into something which will tangibly benefit South; and even if they were, they would be just as likely to move the goalposts should South get even close to achieving its aim of a return to national league soccer.

Speaking for myself, as probably one of the few South fans who was nonplussed about United using Lakeside, I'm a little disappointed that South won't be able to cash in materially on the opportunity. Still, I understand the general elation from our supporters at the board's conduct and the overall outcome. Whether it was the right decision by the South board or not, the way things panned out they had little option other than to invoke the veto. 

United had been scratching around for months for a suitable venue, had come up short for a variety of reasons, and ended up falling onto Plan Z: Lakeside. 

The problems with this plan were myriad, but also contained elements specific to United's reason for existing. One of Victorian soccer's oldest problems has been a lack of suitable infrastructure; United promised to ameliorate that infrastructure deficit by building a new soccer only stadium, and an associated soccer precinct. A few years down the track, and next to no visible progress has been made on their promised solution. Thus we end up in the situation where United apparently trawled Australian Rules venues, tried to get government funding to improve a private soccer venue (not even their own) in the form of Knights Stadium, and then tried to stowaway on the good ship Lakeside.

And perhaps more than most venues they considered, Lakeside has its particular quirk as a moral choice for Western United: United didn't just win its A-League licence (at the expense of several other bids, including South's) by promising a new soccer specific stadium. During the bidding process for that licence it was also made very clear by a variety of people, including people affiliated with United's bid, that Lakeside was not a suitable venue for national league soccer. Somehow all of a sudden Lakeside, with the addition of some very simple improvements - better lighting and wifi - became a more than suitable venue.

Even those who saw this as a good opportunity for South to cash in financially, infrastructure-wise, and in building goodwill, could not ignore the moral heart of the matter. United and a whole bunch of people in high and low places had said that Lakeside Stadium was not good enough for national league football. The implication which followed on from that belief is that because Lakeside was not good enough for national league football, that South Melbourne was also not good enough for national league football. And yet there were a lot of people who got very mad that the club they said wasn't good enough for national league football, wasn't going to allow Western United to use a stadium that they themselves, as well as Western United, said was not good enough for national league football. That United tried to get into Lakeside by not even giving South a courtesy call until very, very late in the matter turned this strictly into a moral matter instead of one that also had a commercial element (though the South board was at pains to emphasise the commercial aspect). 

I'm happy to acknowledge that United may have genuinely been blissfully ignorant of the existence of South's Lakeside veto. I'm even willing to acknowledge that United took the right path officially by calling up the Trust first, the Trust being the venue manager after all, to start the process of trying to sort out their fixture problem. But having known that they were going to embark on this process, United could surely have contacted South much earlier than they did; and even with the pressure of a fixture deadline needing to be announced, not gone public with their announcement until the South board had had time to consider the situation.

(One also has to wonder who at the Trust who met with United - meetings which reportedly included senior figures and not just low level bureaucrats - forgot to mention to United that South has a football veto.)

The end result, so far as I'm concerned, shows South merely exercising its hard-fought for legal rights. United meanwhile continue to flounder about not just in terms of sorting out its ongoing stadium problem, but also in the basics of local soccer diplomacy and courtesy. For an organisation which has boasted about the bona fides of its core staff being football people - and which went on Greek radio no less to talk about their respect for South as a club and institution - their approach to making friends in the local soccer scenes came across as graceless at best, and arrogant at worst.

Some punters spun United now being allowed to play this set of matches at AAMI Park, as what United wanted all along. That's possibly true; but if it is, what an awful, circuitous way of getting to this point. For South, the end result is a moral victory in the short term. How that short-term victory plays in financial terms, and in the relationship with the Trust, remains to be seen. 

Still, at least it was something which helped pass the time.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Henry Hore departs for A-League

It was being talked about around the traps, and now it has officially happened - South Melbourne midfielder Henry Hore has joined Brisbane Roar.

It's a pity for South, as he was one of our better players this season - and it'd be nice to have him in the team when we take on Melbourne City in the FFA Cup - but it's exactly the result Hore would have been aiming for when he made the move to Victoria from Queensland.

As others have noted, the covid interrupted season meant we didn't get to see the best of him at South. To covid, I'd also add the very conservative playing style deployed by our team as also hindering Hore's proficiency. 

Still, brief and interrupted as it was, I'm sad to see Henry leave, but wish him well.

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Report on Lakeside / Western United situation, as heard on 3XY Radio Hellas

I'm not sure if they did a coin toss for who got to go first on the night, but it was our own president who was first cab off the rank. 

Nick Maikousis, South Melbourne president
South Melbourne were approached by Western United for discussions several months ago, which did not end up happening for reasons Maikousis was not clear about.

In the past week, Western United were advised by South Melbourne not to make an announcement about playing their games at Lakeside. They did anyway. South then exercised its legal rights to prevent that from happening. The process of getting a formal response from the Trust is ongoing.

Maikousis noted that Victory and City have also locked out Western United from AAMI Park, and that if fellow A-League teams are not going to look after each other, then its certainly not the place for South Melbourne to look after A-League teams. Also, weren't they supposed to build their own stadium? Isn't this the reason why they got picked over South?

There was also note made that training will resume for our senior men's side tomorrow for the FFA Cup, as that is classed as professional  sport.

Chris Pehlivanis, Western United CEO
Attempt at a conciliatory and collegiate tone throughout. Noted that the scheduled (but never held) meeting mentioned above was cancelled due to covid, but was not going to be about using Lakeside; rather it was about establishing good relations with all Victorian clubs. Pehlivanis then set up the framework under which the situation arrived at this point: lack of suitable soccer infrastructure; changed A-League season window; covid, etc. 

United were not locked out of AAMI Park because of Victory and City directly, but rather because the trust that operates that venue was concerned about overuse of the pitch due to the A-League season now having more crossover with the NRL and Super Rugby seasons. Also because Victory have moved their allocation of Docklands matches to AAMI Park. At least that's how I understood the situation.

Pehlivanis seemed to also insist that at all times Western United's discussions were conducted with the relevant Trusts for AAMI Park and Lakeside, without any knowledge of what tenancy rights were due to the extant leaseholders.

Alternative venues were not suitable for a variety of reasons: being used by other, primary tenants; resurfacing of turf; covid related seating capacity limits; limited time to implement necessary improvements to venue before start of season, and lack of government support to do that. Pehlivanis contested the claim in a recent Melbourne Knights press release that no stadium audit had taken place for Knights Stadium.

With time running out for Western United to sort out venues before the A-League fixture was released, they then decided to pursue Lakeside as an option. They approached the Trust, and had negotiations with the highest level within that organisation. The stadium audit revealed that Lakeside's lighting needed improvement to adhere to A-League standards (which the Trust was willing to do), and some minor improvements to media facilities. They got approval from the A-League governing body.

A meeting with Nick Maikousis took place, where Maikousis said he'd discuss the matter with the South Melbourne board before providing a formal response. With time running out before the fixture announcement, and before the South board could make a formal response, Western United announced that Lakeside would be one of their venues for the upcoming A-League season.  

South have exercised their legal rights to the stadium football veto, and are waiting a response from the Trust. United still intend to play those seven games at Lakeside.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

The ironing is delicious / making hay while the sun shines with edit



Near everything below is now redundant, carry on as you were.
In this current environment of not very much South news, something popped up today which will intrigue and enrage South fans in unequal measure - namely, the announcement that A-League team Western United will be adding Lakeside Stadium to its home venue repertoire for the next A-League season. 

Quelle horror, and such.

Of course you may remember Western United as that property development enterprise which took the form of an A-League expansion licence bid, whose bid centrepiece was the promise to build a new soccer stadium precinct in Melbourne's western sprawl. More pertinently as it applies to South Melbourne Hellas, it was a bid which was successful at winning an A-League licence at a South related bid's expense. 

(the Western United bid also won at the expense of that Dandenong/South-East/Team 11 whatever thing, which is neither here nor there for the purposes of this discussion, and which is now literally not here, there, or anywhere anymore because that south-east angle was absorbed into the City Group empire, and the latter's future plans and schemes)

The Western United licence was won in large part because of that promise to build that stadium and accompanying precinct, thus attracting hoards of soccer fans in the western suburbs to its cause.

To some people's surprise and to the confirmation of many people's cynicism, that promised stadium hasn't yet materialised. Seeing as I am not a member of the construction, government, town planning, or civil engineering fields, I assume the reasons for this are both pandemic and non-pandemic related, but I'm not willing to take a guess as to the exact reasons it hasn't happened, because frankly I'm a coward; but also, what if I'm wrong? There's too much misinformation going about these days as it is, and we don't need obscure, half-moribund blogs covering obscure, half-moribund soccer clubs adding to the ongoing crisis of a lack of trust in media.

At any rate, Western United say they're about to start their stadium build for real this time (even if it's just the construction of a dirt road), and for whatever my opinion is worth, that's probably true. But whatever the truth may be, their promised stadium is still some time from actually existing, let alone being functional.

But one stadium which does exist, imperfect as it may be for national league football - or apparently was until at least a few hours ago - is Lakeside Stadium. On top of its inbuilt imperfections - its lack of corporate spaces, limited seating capacity, the running track around the field, and its suboptimal media facilities - many people (lay and otherwise) at the time of the most recent A-League expansion bidding process also objected to Lakeside Stadium's mere proximity to the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, extrapolating from that fact that the South bid was geographically too close to the main (shared) home ground of the extant Melbourne A-League licence holders.

That people from outside Victoria could make such generalisations about the geographical particularities of Melbourne's sporting culture was forgivable, albeit irritating. That some people within Melbourne also tried to use the same arguments was less tolerable, but regardless of my feelings, time moves on. And South of the Border has spieled at length on this matter in the past anyway, so there's no need to go over it again.

While time has indeed moved on, Western United have spent the past whatever number A-League seasons (two, I think, but it's all such a blur), wandering aimlessly and unsatisfactorily from the CBD, to footy ovals, to country towns, to Tasmania, and even to failed (irrespective of whoever was primarily responsible for that failure) attempts to get access to Knights Stadium.

And now here we are, after so much failure from Western United to settle in anywhere, much less build their promised stadium. Here we are, after so much objection to Lakeside being deemed a suitable national league venue for men's soccer, and thus by at least some logical extension to South Melbourne being a suitable club for the national league. Here we are, in the situation where Western United will play seven games in the upcoming A-League season at Lakeside, the little venue no-one wanted.

And I, for one, am OK with that. As long as the price is right - that is, we get significant compensation for doing so - we would be mad to decline the offer. Remembering that our monthly government stipend is due to permanently reduce in size very soon, that we have had negligible income from home games for nearly two seasons, and that sponsorship under pandemic parameters is very tight, I think we should take the money. 

It's just good business. At some point in the not too distant future, our government stipend will reduce even further. At some point Western United's stadium will be built, and they won't need to even consider Lakeside. At some point we should actually make use of our veto over competing soccer usage at Lakeside for the purposes of creating a subsidiary, non-South match day dependent income, instead of using it as a means to feel momentarily good (read: smug) about ourselves and our place in Australian soccer.

You would also hope that such a move would lead to at least temporarily improved relations with the Trust, and maybe some investment in the stadium from the government, but that's by the by really.

Seeing as we have the veto over soccer usage, clearly this is a decision that has been made possible by our board. Western United would have approached either the Trust or the club or both, some negotiations would have taken place, and our board would have then made a decision agreeing to this situation, I assume because the offer made was too good to refuse.

Of course this decision has enraged a good number of our fans, as you would expect, and it would be nice if they came out with their reasoning to the membership sooner rather than later. Club boards of all sorts sometimes have to make decisions that will piss off their supporters. And look, for better or worse it's a member run and owned club, and people have a right to their air their grievances on the matter. So you know, sack the board because they're sellouts and such. Still, I doubt that the board would have expected a different response from our fans in making this move. 

But then again, what's the alternative? 

Sack the board (who at least partly fund the club's ongoing existence through their sponsorships) and replace them with who? Reject the deal, and replace that possible income stream with what? Would people rather we wind up the club? I mean, I'm OK with that if that's what the members want, because we've had a good run, and I'm sure that once the current lockdown ends and autumn and winter swing around again, there's other things we could all be doing if South ceased to exist, even if we would miss it. 

For those people still pining for the old days and the prestige and clout that South used to have, all I can do is defer to Slim Charles on such matters. And distasteful as the entire situation may be, think of it this way: the Australian soccer public will get to see Lakeside functioning as a legitimate national league venue (outside the more limited reach in public consciousness of Lakeside's intermittent usage as a W-League venue) - which may in turn help push along the legitimacy of the cause of the national second division, and thus our own cause - and we get to enjoy the short term irony of those who promised big on the stadium and have yet to deliver, paying us for the privilege of using the ground they said wasn't good enough.

Just make sure the cheque clears before they play on the ground though.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Time capsule ticket artefact Friday

Back in 2016 we won our tenth state league title. I wrote about the experience here, but one thing I had forgotten to add to that piece was a scan of my ticket for that day - which is fitting, because I shouldn't have even needed a ticket in the first place. But I had forgotten my FFV media pass at home, and thus was seemingly compelled to head early to the ground to purchase a ticket like a member of the hoi polloi. Fortunately, while some of us were drinking at the Limerick Arms, huge South fan Tony Samaras rocked up, and courtesy of his connection to St Albans Dinamo - who were playing in the NPL2 grand final curtain raiser - was able to hand out complimentary tickets to people who needed them. People like me, as it turned out.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

At last, Football Victoria calls off (most of) the 2021 season

Ordinarily I'd apologise for the long silence, but frankly there is nothing to apologise for. Nothing was happening until Friday afternoon, so there was really nothing to report. But now there is, and the news is pretty much what we have all expected - the 2021 metropolitan season has been called off for everyone.

For our senior men, that means that the only thing we might have left in 2021 is the remainder of our FFA Cup run, and hopefully some sort of payday against Melbourne City. Assuming that this fixture and the competition as a whole are even a remote chance of going ahead, goodness knows what physical shape our squad would be in. But since the likelihood of the competition progressing still seems very remote, I'll deal with that when it comes.

For our senior women, Football Victoria has held out the possibility of completing the women's state knockout competition. Again, I'd not want to get ahead of ourselves, but it would be nice for them to win something this year, seeing as how they were the best team up until the cancellation of the league season, my complaints about their playing style notwithstanding.

And yes, there have more meetings and chat the national second division, but nothing that I think merits writing about.

In closing, I would summarise this shambles of a year and hand out my meaningless awards, but I'm going to wait until our 2021 season is finished off for good, which should be any minute now. In the mean time, I'll continue to busy myself South-wise by uploading retro South videos - currently my channel is cleaning up the 1993/94 season, and I have enough weekday material to last until early December. Some good stuff coming up in November especially.

Monday, 16 August 2021

Tall tales, short stints, and meeting the cast of Neighbours

Here's a lighthearted diversion to kick off the week. Around early June, former Raith Rovers striker and now Scottish radio football pundit Gordon Dalziel wasn't particularly impressed with Celtic signing Ange Postecoglou as their new manager. Granted, it was a left field choice, but Dalziel also hazily recalled that he'd come across Ange as an opponent during their respective playing days.

Now considering that Dalziel's shtick appears to be at least partly dependent on being the tall-tale telling drunk at your local pub, his co-hosts back then figured that he was probably just talking out of his arse. 

Well, as it turns out, Dalziel's memory wasn't completely off the mark - except for the fact that he played with Ange, not against him, as his co-hosts pointed out on the weekend. Dalziel played two games for South, both as a substitute: a 4-3 loss against Melbourne Croatia in which Ange actually scored; and the next week in a 1-1 draw against Melbourne City JUST. Sadly, no footage seems to have surfaced of either game.

And yes, that is my tweet they're reading out on air, though I must give the credit to club historian John Kyrou and his spreadsheet covering every South player (that we know of) with extraneous notes like:

"Used as a substitute twice, failed to attend training in third week and sought a quick return to Scotland as he was expecting to walk straight into the first team."

And if, like me, you were wondering where such an assessment of Dalziel's brief time in Australia may have come from, it was probably the July August edition of Aussie Soccer magazine - thanks to Mark Boric for fishing out the relevant chunk from that publication. Shoddy as his memory and punditry may be, for his part Dalziel seems to have been a handy player, including scoring in a Scottish League Cup final, which Raith won against Celtic.



Friday, 13 August 2021

South Melbourne Hellas vs Sunshine George Cross, April 1985

Another day, another week, another round postponed. But no sooking today, because we have a bit of a treat. 

As regular readers will know, I've been uploading old South videos on YouTube, usually one each weekday, over the past few months. There's been some great content in there, and there's still at least a couple of months' worth of uploads to go.

Today's upload is seventy minutes' worth of South Melbourne Hellas vs Sunshine George Cross at Middle Park, from the 1985 National Soccer League season.

I suspect that the footage is an original recording by SBS, intended for use in highlights packages (with possible commentary overdubbing) and news reports, and thus the reason for there being no live commentary (or TV graphics) on the video. 

It is also an unpackaged video; that is, it is not trimmed down to key highlights. This video begins midway through the first half, thus it is missing South's first goal by Charlie Egan. (it is also missing the lap of honour taken by ultra-marathon runner Yiannis Kouros before the game, a week after winning the Sydney-to-Melbourne race)

Unfortunately, there are also two glitchy bits embedded in the source tape which desynchronise the sound and vision. After the first glitch, the sound is ahead of the vision by about six seconds; after the second glitch, the sound is ahead of the vision by about 15 seconds.

But considering how much Australian soccer material has been lost over the years, it is remarkable to come across something as lengthy and as unadulterated as this. Just one camera, no intrusions from commentary, just the vision of the game and the ambient noise of the crowd. 

It's a slight shame that the sound isn't a little crisper to make out more of the discussions taking place within earshot of the camera position. All you can really make out are occasional comments by some kids (including one asking to get chips from the restaurant), occasional berating of the referee in Greek and English, and some conversation in Greek about "ψωμί με σάλτσες, με αλάτι και πιπέρι λένε πολύ". (basically, something about "bread and sauces, with salt and pepper, many say")

External to that, you can hear Lefteri's trumpet playing his regular tune, as well as the Last Post; classic/basic chants from South's younger fans, including ye olde "dig a hole" and "here we go", belying the British influence of "active" culture in Australia back in the 1980s; and you can also hear the ground announcer read out the halftime scores from the other round 7 matches. And yes, there are novelty horns and vuvuzelas in there, too.

You also occasionally get the thunderous sound of stomping and thudding on the grandstand, and the roar of the crowd when it goes in. Most times though, the quality of the atmosphere is social, cheerful, and communal, like people are out at a picnic. And I suppose on a nice day like that, it makes sense that it comes across that way. It feels almost antique; the crowd rises and falls of its own accord, but mostly ebbs at a low hum; but at the time is not disinterested in the game, with key moments eliciting the appropriate response of joy or anger.

Visually there are all the usual markers of Australian soccer from the early to mid -980s - a lack of shirt sponsors, for one, as well as the dress sense of the crowd when we get a look at them. But also the general attributes of soccer from back then, most obviously the backpasses to the goalkeeper, which are still jarring to me no matter how many of them I've seen through the course of uploading these videos. 

And you get a pretty good view of Middle Park and the city skyline as well at times. Anyway, it's a long video, and I don't expect anyone to watch the whole of it, but it is a valuable piece of archival footage nonetheless.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

The Sound of Fear - Hume City 3 South Melbourne 2

This is no way to live. Yes, there's a pandemic on, and we're in and out of lockdowns, and that sucks. But along with that, watching this South team is hard work, and that's saying something, because being a South fan for the last (insert your own timeframe) has been hard enough work as it is. 

What is of greater concern, and I've said this a number of times before, is just how long can our remaining people endure this? And I mean all of this. The lockdowns, the watching the games at home, the watching a team that, in all honestly, has scarcely looked like winning a game in the last two or three months when they've actually been allowed to play. And beyond, the lack of any hope on the horizon.

Massive apologies to those who are still clinging on to the hope that a second division will be created, that we'll get in, and the entire future of the club will turned around for the better.

We've had lean periods before; apart from the inexplicable non-losing (as opposed to winning) run at the start of the 2021 season, it's been pretty damn lean on the good times front since late January 2018. Only some of that can be put down to sacking Taylor, because we've also hired coaches who weren't up to it, and the money's drying up, and we're playing youth, and we do things like sign only one striker, and a million other things on top of that.

What was troubling about last Wednesday night was the utter cluelessness. I mean, there was an opponent that we could take on, and that was defensively suspect, and that we even punished on a couple of occasions that we got forward on the night. But the first instinct which has been drummed into the squad is fear and trepidation, so it looks like even when we are good, even when we manage to score more than one goal, I don't think any of our honest fans thinks we're going to win a game.

And that's really sad, this idea that we can only feel safe about winning a game if we take the lead by breaking the deadlock with a couple of minutes left to play. So Henry Hore scores a goal within 15 seconds of kickoff and all I can think of is, great, how are we going to lose this now. And I'm not thinking it in a classically doomist, typically contrarian manner - you know, my signature pessimist schtick - but rather because it has been beaten into us by the entire method that this team has been built on

Now there's no guarantee of success in this business no matter how much money you chuck at the problem, and in any given year there's going to be one league winner, one cup winner (sometimes the same team), and twelve teams which have pissed their time and money up the wall for no gain at all, except for the players who get overpaid for their time considering no club gets close to making its money back at the gate. 

And yes, haha, we're all idiots for watching this stuff, and it's hilarious, except when it comes to the point where it's not. Shared joy is shared, shared grief is shared, but shared indifference doesn't really exist. You can't not care together, because not caring exists on the level of the individual; and if we're all individuals watching this club, then I don't know what it is, but it's not a club anymore. 

The price of long-term and widespread indifference is death, and boy is there a lot of indifference about at the moment. Even worse, when people deign to complain about the obvious sub-par performance and joylessness of the team, apparently that's a bridge too far for some people. Well, fine. They're entitled to their opinion, too, I suppose, even if they don't think you're entitled to yours. 

Watching the team this season, when we have been able to, has not been a completely joyous experience, but it's not meant to be. But it is meant to be something you as a South fan would like to do. You shouldn't even be thinking, "am I emotionally connected to this?". But all I can see when I do go to games is increasing rationalisation of the experience, instead of just feeling the experience. There's a lot more trying to understand why we're here, instead, of merely taking it for granted that everyone who's left wants to be there.

Everyone's process for going to South games is a bit different. Some eschew away games entirely, some people have other commitments that also need to be met, and which may take precedence. My experience is as follows. I go to South Melbourne senior men's team games, as many as I can reasonably get to. The team's fixtured matches are inserted manually into my crappy phone's calendar when the fixtures are released, and modified as the season progresses and changes are made. Within my schedule of personal and family commitments, attendance at South Melbourne senior men's matches is my allocated almost non-negotiable time just for me. 

(If I can get to South senior women's games, I like to do that, too; I don't get to go as many as I would like. For the purposes of this post, I'll be focusing on the senior men's team.)

I usually take public transport to games, which means the journey to a game can sometimes take hours. At a game I like to socialise with people, South fans and non-South fans, pleb fans and non-pleb fans, and am happy to chat with anyone who is willing to discuss any and all matters in good faith. Sometimes what I write here comes up in discussion on a match day, but usually it doesn't, and that's fine. My main goal as a South fan, much as it may surprise people who are familiar with my general disposition and this blog's oeuvre, is to enjoy our games. 

And as for the game itself? I watch some of it intently, and much of the rest distractedly; both of these are done through impaired vision, which excuses some of what ends up on here, though not all. I watch our games as a South fan, not as an emotionally detached chinstroker. When I am at my most motivated, I watch and write about our matches more as a cultural observer than I do as a match reporter. If the writing sometimes comes across as disinterested or impersonal, or less passionate - especially when put up against the more obviously emotional output of some of our fans - it's probably because of a personal writerly affectation of trying to appear fair.

Sometimes I confuse being honest with being fair. It is a longstanding failing of mine, one I have to remain vigilant of. I am not usually ashamed of what I write, because if I was, I wouldn't print it. Sometimes I overstep the mark, which causes me incredible psychological anguish; these moments are often compounded by my initial tendency toward being oblivious, and by my personal obstinance in not wanting to be seen at diluting my personal ethics. The funny thing about moments like those, is that oftentimes some of my readership thinks I should have gone in even harder, and dug my heels in even deeper. 

If I am ashamed of anything with this blog - apart from of moments of supreme lack of judgement - it is those times when I don't put enough effort into writing these posts, which of late has been an increasing issue. Part of that is a reflection of where I am in my life, but part of it is also, I think, a symptom of the general malaise the club has found itself in the post-Taylor, post-A-League bid era. We have not made the finals since 2017 - indeed we have barely looked like it for most of that time. There is no obvious way out of this NPL hole, as our repeated A-League bids have failed, and the promise of playing at a mooted national second division remains at best a few years away.

We have weathered sixteen years of humiliation and waning interest, broken up by intermittent successes which always fail to lead to renewed growth in the club, whether due to natural causes or our own club's ability to sabotage its own good fortune. We lack generational renewal, and our supporter base continues to atrophy. Under such circumstances, all I want - apart from a competitive team - is football that adheres to some notion of what this club has stood for over the past 62 years. Attacking football, fearless football, football that entertains, football that is about goals. I have no miraculous expectations about the ability of the players to replicate the heroics of our greatest teams and players, but I do have an expectation that we at least try and play in a style befitting the club's pedigree and former sense of self.

And while I acknowledge that there is often a time and a place for pragmatism, the manner in which we have played this year has not been noticed and critiqued only by myself. It has also been noted by other South fans, and by people outside of South. And the commentary, regardless of how much it varies in where blame (or responsibility) lies, often comes back to this point - that the way we play now, is not the way South Melbourne Hellas should be playing.

I don't want to comment any further on the quality of writing here, because that would be self-indulgent. But if I were to talk about the content for just a moment. The great strength of this blog is that it is not an official blog. It is so unofficial, that in the past I have refused assistance from the club to gain media accreditation. It is so unofficial that - apart from my disinterest of interviewing players and coaches - it has no interest in talking to any of our players and coaches.

Every player and coach that comes through our club, to me, is a transient. While they play in blue and white, and adhere to the general values of the club - at the least better parts of it - then I will support them. Once they leave the club, they become someone else's concern, or more usually, no one's concern at all.

The problem that exists now, is that the South team I watch barely resembles South at all. And if South doesn't play that many of us think South teams should, than what's the point? Call it fantasy - I certainly have - but if you're a player or coach who is looking to be part of the self-delusion that is the ongoing existence of the South Melbourne  Hellas Soccer Club, than you have a duty to play into that fantasy. 

That fantasy doesn't just mean the silly, absurd rhetoric about being a big a club; it's the fantasy that the club was built and and maintained on certain on field principles, which include fearlessness. 

But I fear that's gone for good.

Next game

Who knows.

Final thought

Congrats to the women's team for making it through to the next stage of their cup tournament. 

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Ugh

So more covid cases in the community, and we're locked down again for who knows how long.

I assume it's safe to say that there'll be no games for at least the foreseeable future. 

Here's hoping the footy at least keeps going somehow, to keep those of us who are entertained by that, something to look forward to.

I will do a write up of the Dockerty Cup loss eventually, hopefully by tomorrow night.

I am keeping busy cutting up, uploading, and scheduling classic and not so classic South videos.