Tuesday, 13 November 2018

This, that, something else

Not much going on, but we'll keep an eye and an ear out for anything if it does happen. I think pre-season training starts tomorrow? Anyway,iIn the mean time...

FFA's NCIP survey
For who knows what reason - cheap populism, desire to watch the world burn, sudden appreciation for the Star of Vergina - FFA is holding a survey to gauge thew views of Australian soccer supporters with regards to the National Club Identity Policy. Up to you whether you complete the survey or not. I'm not going to pressure you. Enjoy the loaded questions if you do decide to fill out the form.

I'm on the radio, for now
So Football Nation Radio have commissioned Ian Syson for what at this stage is a pilot run for an Australian soccer history radio show. And of course I've been roped in to help out. We did our first episode last week for Armistice Day, so we talked about soccer Anzacs and such, but we also covered some other stuff. If you've been missing the sound of my dulcet tones, or if you want to learn something about soccer history in this country you can listen here. Or not. No arm-twisting from me.

Well, that's finally sorted then
I'll keep this relatively brief.

Yesterday I received the news that the corrections for my doctoral thesis have been passed.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about the entire process of the thesis, and its extended examination period, except to say that I was relieved and overwhelmed by the news.

I thanked a whole bunch of people in the acknowledgements section in the thesis itself, and I will thank more of those needing to be thanked when I see them. But it would be remiss of me not to thank again my supervisors Ian Syson and Matthew Klugman, for their support across the five years of this project, and in Ian's case, far longer than that.

It would also be negligent however not to thank the South of the Border readership and the broader South Melbourne Hellas community. The blog has hindered my ability to finish this thesis earlier, but without it, I'm not sure I would've finished it at all.

It was through the combination of South and smfcboard.com (RIP) and Ian that I got back into the game, even if it was the only game I'd ever known - career student. Since then in my own slow way, I've made my way through the uni system, culminating in something that only towards the end did I think I would actually achieve - and even then, it was rarely straightforward.

And while it's slightly naff to say it out loud, I dedicated the thesis to South Melbourne Hellas, because it felt like the right thing to do.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Yet another off-season placeholder post

Not much going on at the moment, but it's up to you to decide if that's any cause for alarm. Maybe they're trying to keep it all hush-hush so other teams don't come in and swoop on recruits.

With other teams making announcements on signings, it's natural to get antsy about what it is we're doing or not doing, especially since a player like Oakleigh's Dusan Bosnjak - someone who, even if there was no firm intel that he was heading our way, would still seem like a good fit, and thus his eventual whereabouts the natural preserve of rumourmongers - has signed at Altona Magic. So it goes.

Last week Con Tangalakis was on 3XY Radio Hellas' sports program last week, but I only found this out later, via the South forum, where someone posted a screengrab of a tweet that had been sent to his phone by someone else, with the original tweet coming from SMFCMike. So thanks to Mike for listening and providing the summary, while some of us were listening to jazz noodling on community radio.

So that's Gerrie Sylaidos, and two visa players. Meanwhile, another person has said that we have signed a defender. So, not up to the bare minimum of the seven players required to start a match, but we're getting there.

Of more genuine concern is that when the 2019 fixture gets released, we'll have another ridiculous run of away games to start the season, followed by an equally ridiculous run of home games. So that's something to look forward to.

Monday, 5 November 2018

More Hellenic history

This is a photo of Hellenic that I haven't seen before, found by Mark Boric, I assume in the old Greek sports paper Athletic Echo. The photo's a little dusky, and it'll probably be hard to compare the faces to other Hellenic photos to see if there are any resemblances with hitherto unknown players.

I'm guessing this is an away/alternate strip, but I don't have access to a Victorian soccer yearbook which lists the alternate kits for any clubs. The player listed here as K. Papadopoulos seems to have non-matching socks. I'm not sure what years this is from either, and though the article the photo came with mentions 1956 and '57, they are mentioned within the context of the club playing in the Victorian second division at the time.

Hellenic, 1957(?). The players are Arvanitakis (GK), K. Papadopoulos, George Karakyriakos, M. Karakyriakos, P. Rivans, Alecos Nanos, Costas Tzinis (player-coach), John Tsarouchas, G. Pipis, Luchetti, Antonis Karagiannis.

Some of the names I haven't come across before, while others I've seen but only with an initial, not a full first name, as is the case here. The short extract from article below the photo, notes that G. Kararakyriakos was a George. Ozfootball digging says that along with P. Rivans, there was a separate player named J. Rivans. Missing from the team photo, according to the article, are D. and H. Moshakis (the latter possibly a Haralambos, and Anglicised into Charlie), P. Tzimboglou, G. Papadopoulos, P.  Paleogiannidis (a goalkeeper, also spelled elsewhere as Paleoyiannidis, and finally an initial for him), and D. Karagiorgis.

Of course adapting Greek surnames into English, especially when you don't have access to what would've been the standard Anglicised spelling for each individual, makes things much more difficult. And that's not even getting into the Greek conventions when it comes to the initials used for first names. There are also some non-Greek names, which for the Rivans we can be sure of the spelling; for the possibly Italian Luchetti(?), well good luck with that.

The funniest part of this article is the description of Antonis Karagiannis as a "well-known cowboy", whatever that means! In a part of the article not shown here, playing coach Tzinis is quoted as saying "these boys played for the shirt and for the Greek name. But behind the team was an unspoken hero, who gave his soul for the team, and that man was George Lekatsas".

Cheers to Mark Boric for taking the time to dig this photo out!

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Generic car engine sputtering into life noises

Where was the kaboom? There was meant to be an earth shattering kaboom! 
Like an apocalyptic cult waiting for doomsday, we reached the hour of judgement and... nothing happened. How do we go on with our lives under such conditions? Well, like any good cult with a failed doomsday prediction, we'll reconvene and let everyone know of our revised date at some future point of time.

More seriously, the transition from one FFA board and Congress model to another was always likely to cause issues. The current board of FFA, which has been treading water since Steven Lowy succeeded his father - and which cobbled together a half-hearted expansion process that neither they nor the current A-League teams really wanted - has failed to deliver an outcome to its own purported deadline.

These things happen. And what's more, if we are to believe certain media platforms, there are ongoing concerns about the viability of all six final bidders. Well, duh! I said the same thing when there were three times as many bidders; that there was no magic bullet Wanderers-style bid which would solve (or at least alleviate) the persistent issue of stagnant A-League metrics, while also not requiring new stadiums, suffering from uncertain investment streams, or significantly cannibalising the fan-bases of existing franchises.

The more conspiracy minded of you will no doubt gravitate towards the theory that despite its obvious drawbacks and deficiencies, South is probably the only ready-to-go franchise of the remaining bids, but that there's no way that the authorities or whoever succeeds would let that happen. And I'm not here to disabuse you of that belief; after all, since the only way I could ever see South returning to the Australian top-flight is via an extraordinary case of last resort default. I can't entirely deride a line of thought which bears some relation to the way that I think about these things.

Anyway, even if we kept the receipt, it's not like we're (or whichever director was responsible) going to get our application fee back. We're just going to have be a bit more patent as this farcical process extends into the indeterminate distant future. Not that any of that matters, even if it is frustrating.

Of course there is always that second division and promotion/relegation idea
And if you're interested in such shenanigans, then the AAFC have a treat for you. They'll be hosting a forum for potential candidates for the chairpersonship of FFA. Register here if you'd like to go, though I think Football Nation Radio may cover it as well. I'd like to say I'd be there, but I may be otherwise occupied.

But back to more important things
Con Tangalakis' appointment as senior men's coach is finally official. Now that it's official, what can we say about such an appointment? Purely on a surface level, both on the appointment itself and the way it happened, it seemed like Tangalakis was not our board's first option.

Whether Bentleigh coach John Anastasiadis was serious about considering our offer to him, or whether he was merely stringing us along, there was an offer made from us to him - and it didn't work. Whether the club had anyone else in mind, I do not know. Whether anyone else would've been interested is also a question that you'd hope would be answered in the affirmative, but it could be that we are seen as a basket-case not worth bothering with, a condition working in tandem with free-agents of any worth being vacuumed up by cashed-up clubs.

When combined with scandalous rumours and articles about our perilous cash-flow situation, and 2018's unceasing aura of senior squad disharmony, things aren't exactly looking chipper. Anyway, pre-season training starts in a couple of weeks - or so some of the forum people say - and it'll be interesting to see which players actually turn up. Speaking of which...

Farewell Milos Lujic
It was a fait accompli, some would say from months ago, but it's now official: Milos Lujic has departed the club. Five times our leading scorer, even in 2018 when his commitment levels (and the service to him) wasn't at its best. That's going to be a huge gap to fill, but it probably won't be the only one.

And just in case some of you were holding out hope...
Former skipper Michael Eagar has re-signed at Port Melbourne for 2019. So we're not getting him back.

From a distance, the world looks blue and green (and the snow capped mountains, white)
Mike Valkanis has been appointed as "Head of Football Development", which seems an odd thing to do for someone who fairly recently decamped for The Netherlands to work in football there. So is Mike coming back? Er, not quite.

While the reaction from our own fans on social media was one of unbridled enthusiasm for having a sort of favourite son "come home", the supporters of Dutch club PEC Zwollw - where Valkanis is currently employed in some sort of assistant role - certainly seemed to be confused by the situation.

Valkanis himself clarified that he would, in fact, be remaining in The Netherlands while delegating day-to-day operations to other people. How all that will work is a question best left to those who have made the decision and those tasked with making it work.

Besides, as long as the stream of players from Queensland to Victoria doesn't stop, do we even need juniors anyway? I mean, apart from fulfilling our duties under the NPL licence agreement?

South Radio to return in 2019?
Heard some talk that there's a chance of a South Melbourne Hellas radio show returning to the digital airwaves in 2019. If it happened, it'd be via Football Nation Radio, who are trying to fill out their programing with club specific shows. Not sure if we're likely to take up the offer, though I believe other clubs are keen to grasp the opportunity.

Haven't done this in a while
Match programs! Well, one South one, and one Queensland one. The South one is from our ill-fated first attempt at the FFA Cup national stage - ie, the Palm Beach game. The other is from 2017 NPL Queensland grand final. Many thanks to Garry McKenzie for sending these our way.

I've put the call out Knights fans for what South of the Border is missing in terms of Knights vs South match programs from 2005 onward... we'll see what happens. I'm more hopeful of getting match programs involving South Melbourne and Newcastle's various NSL representatives, though we'll all have to be very patient with those.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Like a little kid waiting for Santa, but much better

So, tomorrow's the big day. Or at least it's meant to be.

It's the day where FFA finally, probably, maybe announces who has won the coveted A-League expansion spots, and we South fans can finally get on with our lives when it's made official that the Team 11/Dandenong bid is FFA's preferred Melbourne bidder.

Then one or both of the political parties vying for election in November's state election can announce as policy the building of a stadium next to Dandenong railway station.

As for me, I'm mostly looking forward to this entire thing being over so there can be one less plausible reason or excuse for the club to be practicing social media radio silence.

It's a slightly perplexing thing though - the club has 10,000 Twitter followers, and 60,000 or so Facebook followers, and yet very few of them seem to care about the club's lack of announcements on signings, the coach, or anything to do with the club's day-to-day operations.

Almost as if those people didn't actually exist, at least not in the conventional sense, but that's another matter entirely.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Carrier Pigeon Express

Hi, how is everyone? I'm doing OK, thanks for asking.

Not much news from me or anywhere else, but I'm posting something quick here just to keep things ticking over. Let's just assume the club is waiting for the A-League expansion decision on October 31st - aka Not That Any Of That Matters Wednesday - before remembering that we have a supporter base that would like some news about anything related to our NPL fortunes,

Anyway, so former general manager of the club Peter Kokotis is now our director of football, or our football director, or something like that. Don't know if that means he's joined the board - I mean, I'm guessing not, but I'm trying to read between Greek lines here. Kokotis does say in the article that it was a mistake to sign Chris Taylor up to a five year contract. Of course the club hasn't announced how long we've signed Con Tangalakis up for, or that we've signed him up at all, but it seems that we have signed him up as our manager.

Further reinforcing the likelihood that Tangalakis is our coach is that Neos Kosmos' Greek pages refer to him as such. Today they noted that it appears that we've agreed terms with Northcote's Gerrie Sylaidos, a signing rumour that's been doing some of the forum rounds and probably the northern suburbs Greek café rounds before that. The article also says that South has reached agreements with a player from overseas and a player from New South Wales, whoever they are.

The journo then goes on to note that the South stints of Milos Lujic, Nick Epifano, Christos Intzidis, Iqi Jawadi, Matthew Foschini, Oliver Minatel and "probably Matthew Millar" are likely over, which is strange on so many fronts. I say strange, because for most of those names a majority of us would probably assume were out the door ages ago, not least because Epifano left during the season. But the Matthew Millar is even more bizarre, because he is - last time anyone cared to look - in the A-League, again something which happened yonks ago.

Well, that's all for now. I've got a ton of marking to do over the next week or two, but I'll try and keep up with whatever news comes up during the next week.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Hmm, I don't remember a bowling alley being there

Last week I remarked at how eerily calm everything seemed to be, and how I didn't want to hear anything to the contrary, if for no other reason than that I was (and am) busy marking essays, making corrections to my thesis, and generally trying to earn a living by pretending that I am an actual productive member of society until the end of October when my sessional teaching contract effectively ends.

Well, starting last Friday the club did a great job making headlines, even if they weren't all part of some greater plan. Now that the dust has settled on a few of these things - and since I have just enough time on my hands to write up some nonsense on all of it - let's recap what's happened over the past week or so.

Hail to the Chief
As reported on the official South website, which has otherwise been near comatose in the off-season - so much so, that by comparison it's made the necessarily semi-dormant South of the Border seem like the proverbial hyperactive kid dosed up on red cordial - we have a new president and a new vice-president. The director primarily responsible for senior men's football, Nick Maikousis, has been elevated to the role of president, while the director responsible for women's football, Gabrielle Giuliano, has taken up the role of vice-president. I'm not sure and I can't remember who the previous vice-president was, and going off the most recent update to the club's board of management web page (see above), it seems like the club was pretty much in the same boat as me. Who is even actually on the board apart from Nick and Gabby? I don't even know anymore. I'm assuming they've got their minimum requirement of seven.

I'm not privy to the behind-the-scenes machinations to know if it was an orderly handover of power; I'm not even sure that really matters. I wish Nick all the best, because there's this vibe around the club that we're in this real deep hole, and someone or some persons have got to take responsibility for what's going on. Anyway, Leo got to thank everyone and wish them well at the presentation night last week, so it can't have been too traumatic an experience. For his part, Leo says he always intended to leave his post at the end of 2018, which might be news to a lot of people. Though he did add this idea into the mix.
“If we do make it to the A-League, I will take a position on the A-League Board, but not as a chairman or in any leadership role there. I will continue on the Board until South Melbourne goes to elections,” he says, reaffirming that another SFMC board member, Bill Papastergiadis, had already put his hand up to be the Chairman of the A-League team.
Not that any of that matters, of course.

That's right, there was a presentation night last Saturday
It wasn't exactly a secret, but at the same time it was barely promoted as well, at least in online places that I visit. Given the events of the day before - and more on that in a later segment - a few people who didn't go to the presentation night later spent their time scouring the club's increasingly elusive social media presence looking for clues as to which senior men's players weren't completely pissed off with us, coming up with no one apart from old reliable Leigh Minopoulos. Later updates at least showed us Brad Norton was in attendance, along with most of the women's team, and... you guys who went need to tell me who else showed up, because I wasn't one of those slinking around social media like a madman looking for clues which would up at the RAND Corporation and the reverse vampires.

Anyway, Leigh won the Theo Marmaras award/prize/medal for our best and fairest, which just quietly, I think is a good choice, not that the club would or should take any advice from me on such matters.

Do we have a coach? And do I have to read the Greek papers to find out?
While everyone has concerns about everything going wrong at the club, some concerns are more equal than others. Those of us with only small barrows to push - or even no barrows at all, because I've either misplaced mine or loaned it to someone and I can't remember who now - only really want to know who we've picked to be the senior men's coach for 2019. It's something that really should be a run-of-the mill decision, and something that probably should've been sorted out by now, especially once John Anastasiadis made the decision to stick with Bentleigh.

The rumour had been going around that Con Tangalakis has been offered a three year deal. In true South Melbourne fashion that rumour had been reported as hard fact by a few people, showing that we'd learnt nothing from the previous week's antics. Other people have said that it has actually been reported in the Greek press, but it certainly hasn't come up in our club's once legendary social media presence. I guess the club must have lost its social media profuseness somewhere between a couch cushion in the last couple of months.

Though my Greek is getting rustier by the day, I think somewhere in this article is confirmation that Con Tangalakis has been appointed as coach... but you know, wait and see and all that.

And you want to be my A-League franchise / And you want to be my hard-hitting Australian soccer news-breaker 
Late on Friday afternoon a news report was published with the eye-catching headline accusing the club of wage theft. The story quoted former player Liam McCormick, a former employee of the club in Despina Donato, and an unnamed current player. The club, via outgoing president Leo Athanasakis, claimed that the allegation that staff and players are owed money is false.

(As an aside, I wonder if Leo made that comment with the endorsement of the rest of the board, or felt that he could do so in his capacity as president even as he was soon set to leave the post. Eh, it probably doesn't matter.)

Some people say you shouldn't laugh at things like this, and I won't. But I will note a few things which I find hilarious, in that grim, clenched teeth kind of way. First, Clement Tito, the journalist who wrote the story, was attacked by some South fans for doing his job, as opposed to our fans asking relevant questions of the club. Now where have I seen that kind of behaviour before? Oh yes, the time a young photographer was hauled over the Twitter coals for taking a photo of Kristian Konstantinidis jamming his fingers where he shouldn't have.

I mean, I get the innate desire to defend the club - and there are times when we should be doing that - but there are ways of going about this which are more effective (and ethical, if that's a relevant consideration - it probably isn't) than others. Our normal online fan behaviour in such situations tends to be of the foaming mouth rabid dog variety, but every now and again people surprise you - like here, where one pseudonymous supporter provided evidence contradicting McCormick's claim that he was owed money.
That such information was posted online by a pseudonymous character is a bit of a concern - where did they get the document from? It has to be either someone from the club, or someone connected to the board. It doesn't seem like the best way to play the game, especially when board members have often been critical of the anonymous posters on this blog - but why should I apply my own flawed notions of ethical purity onto others? It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and since I prefer the aloofness of cats, it's probably not my place to cast aspersions.

Though another possible interpretation is that McCormick was owed money at the time of his departure, but agreed to waive his rights on those matters in order to get a clearance to different club which, by the dubious sources I rely upon, was going to pay him a lot more than what we were doing anyway.

Still, the line being run by some people that the article was part of the great masonic anti-South Melbourne Hellas conspiracy was, as usual, a bit over the top. Tito was accused by some South fans of writing the article in order to damage our reputation and by extension our A-League bid (not that any of that matters), and taunted him and the website which published the piece with the threat that he'd be sued. Tito didn't do himself any favours by not actually standing up for his work (at least on Twitter). Maybe he has better things to do than hang around on social media all day and argue with people, and good luck to him if he does. But my feeling on these things is that if you're going to post incendiary material like that under the guise of being a professional journalist (as opposed to the hackiest of hack bloggers, such as yours truly), you should probably be prepared to defend your work, especially if your mates come to your defence and you kind of leave them hanging.

Unless of course Tito has another article up his sleeve, and wouldn't that be fun to read?

Insofar as the wages and benefits owed to Donato (who is no longer at South Melbourne) and other staff members and volunteers (who are still at South Melbourne) it is pretty much an open secret that various staff have been or are owed money or benefits, though I'm not as up to date on these things as I used to be. Maybe all those issues were sorted out ages ago. I do know that former and current staff members have taken different paths in dealing with these issues, and it's not my part to judge how they go about collecting what they're owed, if indeed they are owed anything. Suffice to say that Donato and any other staff member owed money is fully entitled to be paid what they are owed according to their contracts and the law, and if the club is in the wrong, then it deserves just about every bit of grief it receives.

As far as what the players may be owed, since I don't talk to them about such things - and unless personally approached, I never would - it's always going to be rumours as far as I'm concerned. McCormick's pisspoor attempt at getting back at the club aside, the fact that another, current player has spoken out (albeit under the promise of anonymity) should be cause for concern. As a general rule, whatever players say to each other in private about wages, they rarely come out and talk about such matters in a public forum, especially in cases where they could be theoretically identified. That they have done so here should be ringing alarm bells.

The situation with regards to the player payment situation takes me back to the comments section in this post from just over a month ago, where an anonymous poster claimed that "Players have not been paid in over two months. PFA has been contacted apparently. This season is turning out to be a nightmare for the club." Another anonymous poster responded with "What a pathetic rumour to post, well done Paul." for my approving the original comment, but with nothing more than competing allegations/points of view, it was pretty much a case of the irresistible force against the immovable object cancelling each other out. Until Tito's article came out anyway, and then the club responded, and then nothing happened. I'm not saying it's a letdown, just an anti-climax.

The funniest thing though by the length of the straight is thinking back to the A-League information night a few months ago, and the pleas from Bill Papastergiadis to the fans to not do anything stupid which would embarrass the club. Well our fans being who they are, some of them did engage in some less than stellar behaviour - at least according to the club - and were banned from Lakeside for various indeterminate lengths of time. But even the worst of those fans would have been doing well to drag our club's name through the mud in the way it has been here. Still, there's always new depths to plumb.

As alternately horrifying/comic as this situation turned out, it is also worth putting things in some perspective. Most clubs in Victoria who pay players go through periods where they struggle to resolve their wage bills. Some clubs end up making the difference at the end of or after the end of a season, and plenty of others never even get that close. Some players have enough street-smarts, or have been around the block enough times, that they know how to work around the issue, or are content to cut their losses and move on. A special few talented players know precisely the value of their on-field worth, and can wield their reputations both to collect their owed moneys and move on to another club to start the process again. Probably everyone else is content enough to move on with whatever they've managed to squeeze out of clubs, considering that below the NPL2 level players aren't meant to be paid at all, except for expenses.

It's easy to target South Melbourne, because who cares what "insert other no-name brand club" does in this matter? But people should care. Wage inflation in Victoria has gone bananas, and since a good portion of clubs in our fair state are supportive on a second division - and wages will be an important part of the increased costs of such - it would be worthwhile actually having a mature debate on the probably untenable salaries being paid to part-time footballers playing in front of very few people, and bringing in very little revenue. But again, some people who promote the pro-rel argument also promote the live and die by the sword manifesto as it applies to soccer, and the idea that there'll always be some club available to replace one that fails. If that's the driving philosophy, then let the wage recklessness continue.

But just because these things happen on an all too regular basis across the state leagues, it doesn't mean that it should happen. It especially shouldn't be happening at a club with top-tier aspirations even if the vast majority of funding from any A-League bid attached to South would be provided by private interests. And how stupid did those internet heroes look trying to make out as if this would actually have any bearing on South's A-League ambitions, especially when they already claim to believe that we're no chance anyway. It also doesn't even matter if these things have happened in the A-League with their own alarming regularity. South boasts of its on and off-field professionalism, and even the suggestion that it fails to live up to those boasts doesn't do the club any favours.

I'm not enamoured either of the idea put up by some fans - even if it was an idea largely made in jest - that because the players didn't do well this season, that they don't deserve to be paid anyway. That's a crock. The fact is we've made legal commitments to players in the form of professional contracts, and we are obliged by the law if not common decency to honour those commitments. Any other response is flat out immature.

The club did eventually release a more formal response to the article, hinting at players breaching contractual obligations, as well as accusing Clement Tito of declining the opportunity to check the club's accounts in person. But really, the biggest mistake Tito made - apart from relying on McCormick as a source - was getting the article published on the same night Usain Bolt was pissfarting around against park footballers. Who cares about South Melbourne Hellas' sideshow antics when you have the three ring circus in town?

Also, geez man, if you come at the king, you better not miss.

Preparations for 2019
If I understand some of the things I've read correctly, we've been invited by Newcastle's Hamilton Olympic to go up there for a preseason game, though I can't see if we've actually accepted that invitation. Seemingly more certain is that we're doing a preseason game in South Australia early next year against West Adelaide. Whether we have a team to take up to either locale is another wait and see proposition.

South gets another red rose in A-League Expansion Bachelor(ette)
Well, well, well. After some people said last week (and don't people say so many things) that the FFA had decided who they wanted to be their A-League expansion franchises, and that it wasn't us, Ray Gatt noted yesterday that the Wollongong and Ipswich bids had been turfed, and that the
Not that of any of that matters, because apart from clearly just being strung along for laughs and/or an insurance policy in case the FFA and A-League's preferred bidders turn out to be hollow nothings, will expansion even happen next year? There's plenty of talk (always so much talk) that the FFA or whoever ends up running this process is going to Honey Badger (why do I even know what that is?) the process and not pick anyone, or make them wait another year.

Which is fair enough in my opinion, because like a puppy, an A-League franchise is not just for Christmas, although most puppies probably have a better anticipated lifespan than some of the A-League's former and possible future franchises.

Lastly, good to note this particular extract from a recent Vince Rugari article on all these things.
"It's believed some A-League clubs would view their (@smfc) inclusion as a retrograde step for the competition. The proximity of their home ground, Lakeside Stadium, to AAMI Park is also a concern." 
That sounds a lot like something you'd read on the FourFourTwo forums or from a columnist on The Roar. Which is not having a go at Vince by the way (and congrats to him on getting the Sydney Morning Herald gig), who like others obliged to cover these events is only reporting what he's being told. It's just an observation on the kinds of things being fed to journalists, and the ways in which they sometimes seem to align with tropes used on popular discussion boards populated by people even less credible than South of the Border's chief correspondent

Unless... what if those forums were also being used by people connected to competing bids, extant A-League licence holders, and/or FFA? Hmm, I'll have to consult the positions of the sun, the moon and the stars, and maybe read the φλιτζάνι to see the likelihood of that being true. Not that any of that matters.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The latest from the off-season procrastination corner

Judging by the deafening silence from official sources regarding almost all things South Melbourne, I have to say that everything must be going really well, and I have no interest in hearing otherwise. I've got my hands over my ears, I'm singing "lalalalalalalalala", and all I can see is you people's mouths going up and down, your tongues twirling and teeth shifting from side to side, and your hands gesturing wildly in some vain attempt to get my attention, I assume in a vain effort to tell me that, actually, we're all doomed.

Well, I'm not having it. Everything is going to be fine. Relax ρε, etc. And even if our 2019 season - our 60th anniversary season - is a bigger failure than 2018, well, so what? As the middle-aged Clarendon Corner kids like to say, "we had a good run", and isn't that true?

I can see already that what's left of the regular South of the Border audience might be a bit suss about this new-found positivity, and I sympathise. But maybe I should try being big-hearted and open-minded about things, and just let the universe do as it pleases. To that end, rather than scoffing at every transfer rumour, I'm going to choose life and believe everything posted on soccer-forum and at least half of what gets posted on the current iteration of the South forum, especially the stuff that contradicts the other stuff. I could be cautious, but since when that has that got me anywhere?

Months ago we had a big info session about our A-League bid, one of whose elements included the promise and/or threat that there would be more information released to the general public, and yet here we are months later, with almost no new information about the bid. Some of that delay has to be put down to a rare case of South's board exercising some proper restraint, what with us being in danger of relegation for a good chunk of that part of the year; but even after that pitfall was avoided we have still heard diddly squat, other than to note that we had indeed submitted our bid.

Not that of any of this matters anyway, but assuming that the whole expansion process isn't effectively delayed for another year because of the changes in the FFA Congress and the A-League licence holders getting their dirty mitts on the mechanics of expansion, do we - or rather our anonymous financial partners - even have the $15 million now rumoured to be the asking price for a licence fee? And who are these mystery bottomless pits of money? Is it the Chinese, who will eventually be forced to bow out by the Communist Party? is it Harry Stamoulis, formerly of the Tasmanian A-League bid, former Victory shareholder, and former possible maybe South fan? Anyway, all the leading journalist boffins have said that we're not anywhere near the frontrunners for one of the two available licences, so what does it matter, except now we have other anonymous self-declared insiders blathering away on social media that we're actually in a good spot, and it is other groups which have failed to impress, and you can apparently take to the bank.

Speaking of money, I look at the absurd wages and sign-on fee figures being bandied about for the NPL next year, and I just have to laugh, before remembering that we have to believe that all of it is true. Like Altona Magic offering $40k a sign on fee and $1.5k a week for the nonce formerly known as the People's Champ, and I call him nonce for obvious reasons (boo hiss etc) but what if he is going to get that money? Who's the fool then? Certainly not him unless he fails to declare it on his taxes and the tax man comes calling, but how likely is that to happen anyway? Victorian semi-professional soccer players are all very diligent in declaring their earnings from football, especially the stuff that they get in brown paper bags out in the carpark every second Thursday after training.

And look, if clubs are dumb enough to hand out that kind of cash, then who's fault is it if players take it? Players are only human after all. But when most places have two men and a dog following them, are they even actually clubs any more? Because let's be honest, the vast majority of the time it's not clubs funding the players wage arms race, it's money-men and the occasional money-woman, for purposes that are best known to them and their accountants. Now every level-headed person knows that soccer is a bad investment, and our local leagues are an especially pertinent example of that. And yet we here are, with wages and the like still escalating, even as people still cry "but the prize money for winning the championship is stuff-all!", as if the people chucking in the money don't know this, or that even most successful FFA Cup runs are largely a bust.

But like I said, here we are, where tens of thousands are squandered each week by clubs in order to win games played in front of nobody. Now if there were crowds and media attention and sponsors to be impressed, I'd understand, but there aren't, and because I don't understand and because I have no money, I probably never will understand. That's OK, understanding is overrated anyway. I've tried ignorance, half-ignorance, half-knowing, and with full-knowing being out of the question, I've come to understand that as far as these matters go, ignorance is best.

Back to us for a moment though. Last week or thereabouts the whole South world was abuzz with the news that Johnny A hadn't quite said yes but also hadn't quite said no to us, and therefore we had people saying it was a lock and/or imminent that he would be our next coach as soon as Bentleigh's FFA Cup run was over. Therefore because of the certain fact that Johnny A was going to be our coach, certain folk had to start doing the mental gymnastics needed to accommodate this return of a newly re-minted favourite son because of the, er, unpleasantness, which had come to pass us lo this past decade. For the sake of being able to get a coach with some pedigree of success and good football - and more importantly

And then whether because we couldn't stump up the necessary money or because he's some twisted genius, Johnny A signed up with Bentleigh for another season, leaving us with our pants around our ankles. But while we don't have a coach as other clubs start making signings and begin thinking about pre-season, and we have no idea if Con Tangalakis hasn't been insulted enough by our bypassing him for this long after he saved us from relegation, we at least get to boo Johnny A again assuming we have a club next year.

If you believe what's been said around the traps, we're not going to have any players left anyway, that we'll be starting from an even worse position than our return to soccer in 2005 after our long lay off, and that even long-serving players are considering their options and shopping themselves around. Now half the rumours around that include the notion that we owe players two months wages, the other half being rumours that we only owe them four or five weeks wages - which if true is still bizarre and horrific considering how rarely we had to pay for win bonuses in 2018 - and further to that, that we're being taken to the PFA, and FIFA, and the United Federation of Planets. But who cares if some of these players are leaving, because according to dark corners of the internet, some of them tried to get us relegated anyway.

So like I said, it's going well. At least I have other things to distract me now.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

South of the Border awards 2018

As usual, I put in zero effort with these.

Player of the year: Leigh Minopoulos. I was going to give it to Oliver Minatel for his novelty goals and shift into defensive midfield which yielded temporary positive results. Then I was going to give it to Marcus Schroen for being a sort of mid-season boom recruit. But I give the award this year to the guy who showed the biggest heart throughout the whole of the season.

Under 21 player of the year: The Cliff Hussey Memorial Trophy goes to Ben Djiba. It's a shallow pool, again. Though there were numerous young players dropped into the side during the year, and most of them showed something, there were few if any who were given extended time invthe seniro side. But among those who were used, none was thrown into the deep end quite like Ben Djiba, and I give him credit for this - he coughed up the goal in the first ten minutes against Port, but he was nowhere near our worst player on that day, and went on to settle and look like maybe belonged on that field.

Goal of the year: Four way tie between the three goals Kingston scored against Gully in round 26, or Pascoe Vale's equaliser against Hume in the same round.

Best performance: Dandenong Thunder away. Downshill skiing? Maybe, but it was 9-0 and utter domination from start to finish.

Best away game of the year: Bentleigh away. Positive attitude, positive result.

Call of the year: "We should let Sasa coach the first half of games, and CT the second". It almost seems quaint now, but it showed that the team wasn't completely trash.

Chant of the year: I really shouldn't pick any of the perennials for this, but "sack the board" became the standout. Apologies to "Sideshow Bob / Kill Bart", and "call it off!".

Best pre-match/after match dinner location: Even though the MSG lobby says there's no scientific evidence that their product causes the headaches that MSG is rumoured to do, I got a massive headache the day after eating at some Laotian joint whose meal was otherwise very good. So the prize goes to some Afghan chicken place in Dandenong.

Friends we lost along the way: A South Melbourne umbrella. Table service in the social club. Dignity.

Barely related to anything stupidity highlight of the year: South supporters reputedly betting successfully against their own team, exploiting outrageously mistaken odds in order to help fund their own world cup trips.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

One final lot of disappointment for season 2018

Another delayed round up of recent events.

Hopes were high on Sunday for all sorts of reason, but were dashed mercilessly in both games I was privy to seeing. Having battled through illness during the week, I pushed through and made it to AAMI Park for the women's grand final. I arrived at the ground early, intending to catch the promotion-relegation playoff between Green Gully and Moreland City. Green Gully, who hadn't won a game in about four months, were facing their first relegation since being demoted from the NSL in 1986, and their first ever relegation in the history of their state league participation which could have seen them in the Victorian secnd tier for the first time since 1976.

Meanwhile Moreland City were trying tio make their own history. The result of an elongated merger of three clubs - Moreland and Park Rangers, and later Coburg - the merged entity has never been in the Victorian top flight, basically battling around two or three levels below that for most of its post-merger history. The last time any of the constituent clubs was in the Victorian top-tier was Moreland all the way back in 1962, making this the most important in the pre and post Moreland merger history since Moreland won the Dockerty Cup in 1957.

Now I may be blind, but one thing that was obvious upon entering the - in my case, via the media entry in Gate 5 - was that there were more than a few purportedly neutral onlookers from other clubs in attendance, to my mind hoping for a Gully loss in order to pick apart the choicer elements of that carcass. I mean, some of them may have been there to watch a game, see a bit of history, but isn't it better to be pragmatic about these things? The crowd for the first game of the day was mostly Moreland City people, a very small amount of Green Gully people, the odd curious onlooker, and the rest was filled with vultures and hyenas.

These aren't always the best games to watch from the point of view of a good standard of play, even if there is usually the obvious effect of tension due to there being so much at stake. Moreland City had the better of the first half - and not just because they took a 1-0 lead into halftime - but Gully were far from out of it, and probably should have had a goal of their own had they been a bit more willing to pull the trigger with both shots and crosses.

The second half between minute 45 and about minute 91 was all Moreland. A lot of that was not because Moreland were really any good, but rather because Gully were worse than bad, like they were barely there, like their players didn't even care. There was no urgency, no feeling that there was even pride on the line, whether that was the club's or the players' own. Under such circumstances, Moreland scoring their second goal just before injury time was probably the worst thing that could've happened to the NPL 2 side. They celebrated like mad (as you would), and then seemingly promptly forgot that the game hadn't finished yet.

Gully got a goal back soon afterward, and then incredibly got a second before full time. I've seen a few hokey comebacks, but this one took the cake. In almost every other nonsense getting off the canvas kind of win I've seen, there's at least been a sign of life, no matter how fragile - something like a renewed desired, taking risks, someone getting fired up. There was nothing to suggest Gully even had half a goal in them for almost the entire second half, but we found ourselves heading to extra time, and if I must say so - and I did - Gully were now the more likely to win. And they did, scoring extra-time's only goal, with Moreland having no answers, in part because they'd made their time-wasting subs during regular time, but probably mostly it's just that Gully had better players who finally decided to pull their finger out.

Suffice to say that from my point of view, this is a result that we didn't want. While there's no guarantees that Gully will sort out all their problems from this season, you wouldn't think they'd have as much of a horror run as they did through the latter two thirds of 2018. With big spenders in Altona Magic and Dandendong City coming up into our division, and a revitalised Gully, 2019 is going to be a brutal year with no obvious candidates for relegation, except for someone like Kingston who wouldn't have the budget capacity of everyone else - and even they've been able to punch above their wight with some good coaching and recruiting.

Further proof if you needed any that finals systems do not work for soccer
Time eventually for the women's grand final. About a dozen or so Clarendon Corner and affiliated persons parked at the northern end of the ground, adjacent to a group of teens who seemed to be cheering for both sides, before they chose to support Bulleen. To be fair, that mostly the work of one very loose unit.

Not great news to start off with for South, with senior goalkeeper Beth Mason-Jones out of the game because of... well, I'm not sure. Thus the 19s keeper, who had played the day before, got a grand final starting berth, and while I was assured that she could do the job, hindsight would show that while she hardly cost us the game, the defensive reshuffle put in place to help her out unsettled our set up.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves. We had not lost to Bulleen in the NPLW era, and had looked good in beating them 3-2 - it could've been so many more - to win the premier's plate a couple of weeks ago. Yet on Sunday, the team looked a bit off, and even if Bulleen weren't exactly brilliant, they were the better organised and more in synch of the two teams.

Still, we made it to half time level, and to my mind had the chance to improve significantly on what we'd produce, and with some good subs we should've been able to improve our general build up play. No dice. We copped the opening goal from a very dubious penalty, were soon 2-0 down, and just about cooked then and there. I know that we had a habit of coming back from deficits in 2018 - and hadn't we just seen Green Gully play much worse and still get a result? - but it never looked likely.

One of our supporters made the comment during the course of the match that the South team looked like eleven good players who'd never played before, and there's some validity to that comment. Communication wasn't right almost from the start, and not even the appearance in the second half of Lisa De Vanna made much improvement on that front. There was no meaningful movement off the ball, few decent overlaps, and nothing going right for us anywhere.

Then we went 3-0 down late, and that was that. Sure, we finally put in a decent cross for Melina Ayers ti head home, and then hit the crossbar soon after that, but it would've been the greatest of highway robberies to win this game that we never really looked like winning even when we had the nominal upper hand.

That the Bulleen keeper won the player of the match award tells you a bit about how this game - we created enough chances but were held out by determined Bulleen defence led by their keeper. Take nothing away from Bulleen though, they were the better team, and certainly more clinical, while we struggled to produce our usual levels of quality both in terms of crossing and certainly in terms of finishing.

Despite what was reportedly mentioned by president Leo Athanasakis on radio some weeks back - that Con Tangalakis would be coaching us next year - no announcement has yet been made on this matter. Maybe the board reshuffling has delayed things? Maybe the club is waiting to see what all the available options are? Maybe there's a review being undertaken of what went wrong? Who knows. It's early days yet, so I'm not pressing any panic buttons

On the signings front, it looks like we've lost the race to sign former junior Peter Skapetis, who has signed at Dandenong Thunder. People seem very disappointed about this, for obvious reasons, and are wondering if we're already on the back-foot for regenerating the team for next season.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

South Melbourne NPLW side through to grand final

South's NPLW side overcame Alamein and a torrential downpour to reach
another grand final. Photo: Rachel Bach.
Unfortunately, competing commitments kept me from attending last night's NPLW semi final between South Melbourne and Alamein at Lakeside. I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't get to see South in the grand final this season, mostly due to the combination of a daft finals system which offered no double chance to the lading sides, and also Alamein having been a troublesome opponent for us this year.

Keeping tabs on the affair via Twitter, it seemed like the first half had its fair share of nervy moments, but it all worked out rather nicely - a big win in difficult conditions, and another trip to grand final day. Arguably, we've got our preferred choice of opponent in Bulleen, who crushed Calder in the other semi final. Of course, having finished top of the table, we're the favourites, but (famous last words) I think we match up better against Bulleen than we do against the physical Calder. We've beaten Bulleen in all three of our league meetings in 2018, and in a Team App Cup meeting which we later lost as a forfeit due to playing an ineligible player - while they're a more than competitive team with some speed - which might become a factor on the wide open spaces of the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, I'm confident that the women can take out another title.

The senior women are aiming for a fifth title in a row in various formats and official alignments with the South Melbourne Hellas parent body. In 2014 we beat Heidelberg 1-0 in the grand final, and followed that up with a penalty shootout win (after the game finished 2-2) against Boroondara Eagles. In 2016, having missed out on entry to the NPLW competition and placed in State League One North-West, South edged out University of Melbourne by a game, and thrashed South-East winner Boroondara 4-0 in the state league grand final. Of course in 2017, officially back in the Hellas fold, the women won another grand final penalty shootout, this time against Greater Geelong Galaxy, after that game finished at 3-3.

Now onto next week. The grand final is at AAMI Park on Sunday, kickoff at 3:30 - which is frankly a great time. If you get there early, you can watch the men's NPL promotion/relegation playoff between Green Gully and Moreland City. If you really want to, you can watch the NPL grand final afterwards - that's your own business. More importantly, whether you're a regular, intermittent, or never-was supporter of the South women's teams, it would be great to see as many South fans as possible at the game. They're a good side to watch, and they fight 'til the end. And how many chances do you get to watch any South side at AAMI Park? Exactly. I'll see you there.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

NPLW (Minor) Premiers - Bulleen Lions 2 South Melbourne 3

 No idea if FFV chartered a chopper to fly the plate between Keilor and Bulleen.
 Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
Trundled out to the Veneto Club last Saturday to see the South Melbourne NPLW side take on Bulleen Lions in the final round of the home and away season. At stake was what I still call the minor premiership, casting me as a walking talking anachronism in that regard, because it's all about premier's plates nowadays. The situation was that South had to win the game in order to finish the regular season on top of the ladder - and with second placed Calder United playing Heidelberg and likely to win that game comfortably, anything other than a win would almost certainly consign the senior women to a second place finish.

After doing the requisite meet and greets with various movers and shakers, I parked myself in the grandstand up toward the southern end where we ended up shooting in the first half. The first forty minutes by us wasn't great. Erratic play, no cutting edge, nothing seeming to be working. Bulleen making the most of a bad defensive error to take the lead, and even though Bulleen are also finals bound, I know we are favourites in this game and it's been such a let down so far. The last five minutes of the half look a bit stronger, but still we were down, not up, and that's not where we wanted to be with Calder doing the business against the Bergers.

The second half started off better, We leveled! And then we conceded, from a blistering counter attack exposing a vacant left hand side. Then Lisa De Vanna came on, and while not the catalyst for everything that came afterwards, her appearance didn't hurt. By that time the pattern was already set anyway, with our girls pressing hard onto the Bulleen defense, who couldn't handle the pressure, struggling to play through the high South press. But there was always that risk of the counter attack, and it was one of those classic scenarios, the team leading but fading, their opponents raining shots and chances on their goal, all of it coming down to who would land the next decisive blow.

It was us! Then we took the lead, and good luck to Bulleen after having to chase the game. Full time whistle went, and time for celebrations! Everyone seemed happy, except for the security guard who didn't want people going on to the field after the game, and I guess he was doing his job and all, but in the context of things he was still being a bit of a killjoy. I slipped on my media pass and acted like an official journo person for my one token moment of any given calendar year

Now onto the finals, this Saturday at Lakeside against fourth placed Alamein, with a 4:30 kickoff  - there are also under 19 and under 16 curtain raisers involving South. For some reason the top two don't get the benefit of the double chance.
One wonder why you even have a finals series under such circumstances, really.

Leo Athanasakis announces retirement from South presidency and board
What is it about South Melbourne Hellas and Saturday morning bombshell announcements in 2018? First we sack Chris Taylor while some of us were still munching our corn flakes. Now we get this big announcement while watching Saturday morning cartoons in our pyjamas.

So what to make of it? Was he pushed or did he leave of his own volition? Theories will abound, but I'm going to go with exiting unwillingly, due to pressure from within the board, but that's on the increasingly few mumblings I'm privy to. There had been murmurings about such a thing happening or at least needing to happen for at least a couple of years, but since nothing happened, it was all idle talk. But now one way or another, it has happened, or rather will happen - Leo is staying on until the next AGM which the club claims will be held this December.

From what I gather, Leo joined the board sometime in the late NSL era, and became president at probably the club's lowest ebb at the end of 2007, unless you think the club;s lowest is right now, a not entirely unjustifiable position to take. Back then we'd gone through three presidents in more or less three years. The naive idea of the VPL being a way to get some crowds to watch the old derbies and such didn't last long. The even more naive hope that winning championships would be the key to bringing back crowds, or proving who knows what else, didn't materialise. Lakeside as a venue was in an increasingly dilapidated state, and the lease was running out. The club's playing arms - seniors, juniors, women - were in three different pieces.

Anyone coming into fix that situation was on a hiding to nothing. Leo's listed what he believes his achievements are on the club website, and on the face of it, its pretty impressive. People have and will continue to question that legacy, but that's only fair and natural. When you're in charge for eleven years, you get enemies, people get cynical, but you also get things wrong enough times that that's what people will remember.

The expectation seems to be that Nick Maikoussis will take over the presidency, and some will be satisfied by that, while others are baying for more blood. I could go through a huge list of the things that annoyed me about board actions under Leo that have pissed me off, but I'm too tired to fight right now. One can't help but feel that the old me, that is the younger me, would have raged harder on here, done a presidential retirement spectacular. These days I'm amazed the club actually still exists.

Farewell Tony Margaritis the board member, welcome back Tony Margaritis the ordinary supporter
More board resignations than you can poke a stick at. Also, who are all these people poking sticks at things? Anyway, word on the street is that after ten years Tony Margaritis will be stepping down from the board. What can you say about Tony's time on the board? Whenever there was something that needed to be fixed, Tony was always there to do it, or at least organise someone suitable to do it. He was responsible for our merchandise, and worked the merch booth for years. His work on the social club was immense, giving up huge amounts of his own time and labour to complete the job. At a club known for its longstanding tradition of having its board full of suits, Tony provided a necessary dash of blue collar.

Most importantly, Tony has looked after me in so many ways that I know of, and probably in countless ways that I don't. He even bought a handbag off me one year, and even though all of that money ended up back in the club, I appreciated the gesture. I haven't always returned that favour in kind, which is partly because of the nature of writing South of the Border, but mostly because of inexcusable character failings on my part. But even if it's selfish of me to do so, I think it's better to choose to remember the better times, of which there were many and hopefully more than enough to redeem those times when I screwed up.

Maybe there aren't, but this isn't about me, it's about Tony's contribution to the club in an official capacity over the past decade, and unofficially for years before that. So here's to Tony's retirement from the board, and his return to the plebeian existence of the mug punter.

A few brief comments on FFA announcing a review into their National Club Identity Policy
There was intermittent discussion a week or two ago about FFA announcing a review into its National Club Identity Policy, and all of a sudden I found myself back in 2014, sitting in a theatre somewhere in Jeff's Shed or the Melbourne Convention Centre - and based on that stunning lack of suitable recollection, good luck to any future Heinrich Schliemann types looking for the site of such a momentous occasion three thousand years or so from now.

I remember sitting through so much nonsense, my cynicism unleashed to the fullest for no good purpose, waiting for the chance to get my hands on the microphone being passed around for audience Q&A. I did get that microphone, and I then made a bit of an idiot of myself (in the manner of my outrage if not quite in the complaint's content) by questioning the FFA panellists on the National Club Identity Policy. The rest is history, so to speak. People agreed, people disagreed, nothing changed. Was there even any minor valour in taking a small stand? Could it be that one small voice doesn't count in the room?

Anyway, I think most of what I've written and said over the years about the FFA's introduction of the NCIP over the years remains valid, though as with other issues I have mellowed over the years. That's right, I used to be cool, now I'm just old. It happens. I still despise any restrictions on what ethnic paraphernalia an Australian soccer club can use to identify itself with, but more so I despise the culture which created the possibility for this kind of ideology to take hold. Most of that resentment is directed at mainstream Australian society, with a small bit leftover for specific members of the ethnic soccer fraternity, who over the years weren't able to be mature or disciplined enough about such matters, and gave everyone who hated them every excuse in the book to try and ban this stuff.

Historically, those prohibitions were applied differently across state lines and across different football governing bodies. They were rules applied to some clubs and not others for reasons that were sometimes obvious, and just as often not. In some ways, you can see why FFA wanted to implement a policy that would standardise and supersede the contradictory and piecemeal regulations, even if I doubt that anyone really thought it was necessary.

Then the FFA Cup arrived, and there was all this good feeling around bringing the old and the new together, and for some reason FFA decided this was a good time to introduce their policy. They can claim all they like that some obscure and never-to-be-named Western Australian soccer official asked for it, but the timing of the announcement of the FFA Cup and the introduction of the NCIP were just too close together.

And yet still nothing was definitively resolved. Melbourne Croatia tried a sort of punk manoeuvre with that chief sponsor on their jersey, and I think when we're all old and grey it'll still be stuck in the Human Rights Commission inbox. Gwelup was sometimes Croatia, and sometimes not. Hakoah always got be Hakoah for some reason. Journos old and new called us Hellas, Hellas fans chanted Hellas, but we were not allowed to display Hellas. This year the historically least likely Victorian Italian club to ever be half relevant was forced to black out an Italian tricolour on the back of the shirts, while the same basic pattern in their logo was fine. Little Charlestown Azzurri tried making waves.

Even FFV came out and said the NCIP was a junk policy, though did they mention what existed in their own state before the NCIP came in? If they did, I must've missed that. And that perhaps that many of the big players involved in FFV and all sorts of other similar places now would've argued for de-ethnicising policies back then to be trendy, or out of necessity?

Look, who knows what lies in human hearts at any given moment, and it's quite possible that decisions made at one time are just as right as rescinding those same decisions twenty years down the track when most people are no longer really sure how we got here. What we can say is that FFA's self-proclaimed search for procedural consistency has been a demonstrable failure, though since failure has seldom been something alien to Australian soccer, is that really such a thing to be worried about? It failed on two fronts.

First, consistency - as noted, the application of the policy, in part because of the tacking on of a non-retrospective clause, meant that all sorts of anomalies worked their way through into the public eye, most of which were handled badly, because since when do handle matters of ethnicity well in Australia? Exactly. Second, demand, or rather the lack of it. No one actually wanted this. Of all the things that were happening in Australian soccer at the time the policy was brought in, this would've seen so low down the list of priorities of anybody remotely sane. But then FFA made it an issue, and it's burbled away when really it should not have existed. Most ethnic soccer clubs had accepted their fate of being publicly neutered of any visible intellectual property oriented signs of difference, and powerless because of irrelevance, had chosen to stew in a bath of their own impotent resentment.

But here we are anyway, where things are being "reconsidered", whatever that means. Some people have asked here, if the policy and its affiliates were abandoned, would South fans want South to go back to being Hellas, or would they prefer to be SMFC? And it's a question which would be applied across quite a few clubs. I would say, really, it's up to the supporters of each club to decide for themselves. And it would be their decision. Would I go back to South Melbourne Hellas? Sure, but not for the reasons some might think of. I'm no nationalist, but I respect the club's heritage. Also it's a really beautiful name, one that has poetic quality that SMFC just doesn't, But would I be upset if the club didn't go back of it had the chance? No.

What I would love to see in the event that the policy is rescinded is choice, and maybe the acknowledgement that many clubs have more than one identity. One from the past, one from the present. Maybe some days, like om special occasions they want to remind themselves and others of their origins, and for the rest of the time they're happy to exist in a less-confronting public relations manner. Is Australian soccer mature enough for that kind of reasonableness? History says no, but if we've learned nothing else, it's that stranger things have happened.

Nothing in particular
I stopped listening to 3XY ages ago. I quit most forums except the South forum and soccer-forum.com, and even the former is a bit of a slog nowadays. I rarely visit Facebook anymore. I don't follow almost any of the soccer podcasts, and on Twitter I seem to mostly only follow funny people rather than angry people. And I tell you what, it's been good for my mental health. It's helped me calm the fuck down a bit, but it does mean that I'm more out of the loop than I've ever been with whatever the latest outrage or conspiracy is doing the rounds. And since I no longer get drip fed info like I used to - those days are so far back in the rear view mirror, that nowadays it feels uncanny that I ever even actually knew anything - just about anything that happens at South behind the scenes is as surprising to me as it is to most of you, if and when we ever find out about. So where we end up from here, I can really only blindly speculate, and what's the point of that? And really, what's the point of writing this section down anyway? I don't know, but don't mistake it for resentment, perhaps just the sense that South of the Border should periodically note where it sits in the pecking order of things, which has always vacillated between low importance and lower importance; which is how I like it to be honest. I'm not good with confrontation, as I think I've mentioned before.

Final thought
Sometimes it's only right to go back to the beginning and remember the moment when someone decided to put their hand up...

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Safe - South Melbourne 0 Port Melbourne 1

Having looked for it in a few places since I first read it several years ago and come up empty, the following anecdote is possibly something I've made up. When the late Les Murray  published his memoir By the Balls, he joked that he wanted to use the title The Great Poison instead, alluding to the hold that soccer has on its most dedicated supporters. And whether my recollection is true or not, the trope of football fans joking about how their support of their team is like an illness is a well-worn one anyway.

Usually we laugh when we talk about such things. In the first place, it's because it's just an absurd thing to say. In the second place, it's because when we say such things we seek to establish a sort of self-valourising and self-justifying aspect to it; we add a moral dimension to our support of the game and our particular club, clothing ourselves in the idea that we are making a noble sacrifice, both misunderstood and not understood by those poor souls who exist outside that cultural milieu. The more dour the experience, the worse the results, the more obscure and downtrodden the club, the more football fandom karma we accrue if not quite the benefit in the next life, then at least the ability to be smug in this one. What would those other people know about loyalty, dedication, and good old fashioned sticktoitiveness?

But there is of course the other side of this fable: that the unconditional attachment to this kind of cause can be very unhealthy. Thus I put it to you, dear reader, that South Melbourne Hellas' 2018 season consisted of little to no nobility, honour, valour or whatever other lofty epithet you want to attach to it. Indeed, it probably actually made people sick. Proximity to the abomination that was this season made just about everyone who came into contact with it much worse off mentally, socially, and in some cases maybe even physically.

Things were bad enough as they were leading into the game, and worse when we saw Sunday's squad weakened by the absence of Luke Adams with injury, Then when Tim Mala got himself sent off a minute and a half into the game with one of the dumbest challenges you'll ever see, all thoughts turned towards waiting to see how much worse it could get, which didn't take long: youth team debutant Ben Djiba, thrust into the left-back position as a starter, gave Sam Smith - one of Port Melbourne's many ex-South players taking the field that day - the perfect chance to give Port the lead and thrust them towards the finals, and send us toward relegation.

At that moment I just wanted to leave, or throw up. I've had nervous spells and felt dizzy at football matches, I walked out (as far as the social club) once, I've had my arms go numb, but the only other time I ever wanted to spew was round one, 2010 in the AFL, when Collingwood dodged a bullet by beating the Demons by a point when some Melbourne plonker dropped a mark with about two seconds left. Thankfully for the patrons in the top deck of the Great Southern Stand that day, I was able to collect myself and not chunder across the row in front of me.

What made things much, much worse on Sunday was that all things considered, we actually started playing well. Sure we were shaky or less than competent across different areas, but we weren't nearly as bad as we had been at times in 2018. One felt that Port were the more likely to score next, but it was not the fait accompli that the previous two weeks had been. At times we even outplayed Port, though you knew the goal was never going to come, and thus we had to do that thing where half our time was spent watching our phones for updates of other games. Hume had taken the lead at Pascoe Vale, but Kingston were doing well against Gully, and thus despite being down in our own game, things were looking up.

Apart from a couple of near miss free kicks, our great moment came late in the first half, when Pep Marafioti squared the ball to an unmarked Marcus Schroen on the edge of th six yard box and right in front, only for Schroen to blast it over the bar. Realistically, we weren't going to save ourselves, and some atrocious refereeing didn't help, as the game threatened to flare up into several scuffles. The worst decision was none of the three officials seeing one of our players getting potted by a Port player behind play in the middle of the field. Not that any of that mattered. Kingston went up 3-0 late in their game, and for good measure Paco equalised late in their match. So, without having to do any heavy lifting of our own over the last four games, we survived thanks to the kindness of strangers - and that 3-2 win against Gully before things fell apart well and proper for the last month of the season.

As our survival was secured well before full time, there was time to ponder things half relevant. Like if we got into the A-League, how good would it be to have Clarendon Corner located in the few surviving spectator amenities of the 1926 Stand? It would fulfil so many of our requirements - in the best Clarendon Corner tradition it would be the worst spot in the ground to watch a game from; it would be perfect for making sure we were nowhere near the returning bandwagon; in a few decades there'd eventually there'd be just a couple of people left, leaving two lucky fans the chance to live out a real life Statler and Waldorf fantasy.

Some people broke out some chants, willing us to score to get Kingston into the finals as payment for rescuing us. Milos Lujic got benched, to his disgust. Everyone has the feeling that he's on his way out, probably to Oakleigh and Chris Taylor. We can talk about ignominious ends, but there almost no one came out of this year clean. You looked out onto the field, at the players who took part on the day and even those who weren't there, and wondered how many would be back next year. Brad Norton, probably. Leigh Minopoulos, if he feels his body is right, perhaps. Kristian Konstantinidis, if his head's screwed on right. Luke Adams if he wants to settle down in Australia permanatently. But the rest? Makeche, Howard, Foschini, Jawadi, Mala, Marshall, Minatel you'd all assume our likely to be gone.

Will we keep one or either of the Marafioti brothers? Pep did well enough I thought to earn another season; Giordano was meant to be the great white hope of the youth system, for whom so much was sacrificed for, but injury and insanity meant his season was a wash. Will the once implausible but now perhaps merely unlikely happen, and Nikola Roganovic stick around? We went through four goalkeepers this year - one injured, one discarded, one flew in and flew out, and the last came back in our hour of need but can he commit to something more substantial? What's the fate of the several youth players we tried once Sasa Kolman left? As promising as almost all of them looked at some point, did anyone of them do enough to warrant anything more than fringe bench spot next year? Next year, eh? What a luxury to be able to say that without a complete and overbearing sense of shame.

Those who still listen to 3XY say that they heard president Leo Athanasakis had re-appointed Con Tangalakis as our coach for 2019, but as usual with these things, I'll believe it when I see it. A strange coaching decision at the start of the season set all of this in motion, to the point where we were two bad results away from a relegation playoff, and our now on the verge of a player exodus the likes of which we haven't seen since the end of the NSL. Now maybe the sacking of Chris Taylor was necessary, maybe it wasn't - regardless one gets the feeling that things were coming to a head one way or another behind the scenes for reasons that probably have as much to do with interpersonal dynamics between Taylor and the board than any issues of competence.And even if his sacking was executed brilliantly from a Machiavellian, didn't see that coming point of view, clearly everything else to do with that decision was done so poorly, that one wonders if people actually thought this through properly.

At the end of the day and at the end of our season, there was relief, and time for a rum and coke. But there was also the feeling for me that had this season gone on any longer, then I would have had to follow in the footsteps of Julianne Moore's character in Todd Haynes' 1995 film Safe, and remove myself to an igloo in the desert, where none of this mattered, or even existed.

But, please, South, don't drive into that chasm!
Now a lot of this next segment originally made its appearance on Twitter, so if you've already seen it there, you can skip to the bit.

As much as South Melbourne's car crash 2018 season was (rightly) the focus of many people's attention, let's not let it obscure Green Gully's remarkable decline. After round ten, where Gully had crunched us 3-0 at Lakeside, Gully sat in fourth spot with six wins, two draws and two losses. They were eleven points clear of us, and in a good position you'd think to make a finals run, and certainly not be considered a likely candidate for (provisional) relegation. Yet Gully picked up just one win and three draws in their final sixteen games. For a club with a stable income, no obvious external sponsor and supporter expectations to live up to, as well twenty years of alternately successful/competitive teams, it's quite an astonishing situation.

Gully also have some quality players - who many clubs will be circling in the event they lose the playoff game - played some decent football, and seldom got belted (especially in the way that did). One shouldn't write them off in the upcoming playoff, of course - but you have to wonder how they of all clubs ended up in this situation. The on again/off again affair with Arthur Papas hasn't helped; and for a coach touted by some as part of a young generation of up and coming Australian coaches, that should put a solid dent in what's left of his local reputation.

Part of the word on the street is that Papas shared at least one trait with fellow young full-time coach Sasa Kolman, in that his expectations of semi-professional players - especially the time they could reasonably be expected to give to their soccer careers - were wildly optimistic. I'm talking extra training sessions, before work morning sessions and the like. Now well may we say that for the money players in the NPL are getting, they should be doing more than what they do (especially since their ability to draw cards is negligible at best), but as long their chief source of income comes from a day job, that's not going to happen.

Alongside playing in a second tier cut up into a dozen pieces, we are all aware that the differing levels of professionalism between the A-League and the aforementioned second tiers is one of the most-significant barriers to Australian players making the step up to professional ranks. As we all know, there are people working on fixing at least one part of that issue, by virtue of getting a national second tier up and running, but one wonders whether it'll be worth it if the players are full professionals. But that's for the optimists to figure out.

In summary, this is another warning that in NPL Victoria you don't even have to completely sabotage your own season like we did to find yourself in trouble - just the slightest complacency in a tight season, and you're in the relegation playoff. And it's only going to get tougher next year with Altona Magic and Dandenong City getting promoted. For the moment just be grateful that were at least three teams worse than us in 2018, remarkable as that might be..

Off-season winding down mode, pending...
Usually when the senior men's team season ends, South of the Border goes into our half-arsed off-season mode. In recent times that's meant at least a few more weeks of blog action, but since this will be the first time since 2012 that the men won't be involved in any post-season antics, we find ourselves in the slightly anomalous situation insofar as the blog is concerned. That's because even though our men have greatly disappointed all of us, the senior women's teams are still very much alive and kicking, and looking to add several pieces of silverware to their collection.

This week they're aware to Bulleen on Saturday afternoon, hoping to clinch what I still anachronistically call the minor premiership, and after that they will be embarking on a finals campaign which will hopefully see them make an appearance at AAMI Park on grand final day. It'd be great to see a few more people at their games, because they are worth watching, and lopsided as the NPLW can be, at the business end of the season things get a lot more competitive.

Now that's all well and good for those who have an interest in our women's teams, but I get that's not a sentiment shared by everyone at South Melbourne. As noted ad nauseum recently (OK, twice), I'm a bit busy with work and stuff at the moment, and I don't expect that to let up until early November. Nevertheless, along with the women's stuff, there'll eventually be the usual off-season winding down of South of the Border. So that means the usual patchwork awards, book reviews, maybe some historical guff, and possibly drawing into the archives for draft pieces that maybe should see the light of day at some point.

There will also be some A-League bid news (not that any of that matters), and I assume there'll be an AGM at some point. So, there'll be enough to talk about: just gotta find the time to do it all.

Speaking of the A-League bid
The club has confirmed that it has "submitted its formal bid to join the Hyundai A-league in season 2019/20". Some have mocked the "60 years in the making reference", though I'm not sure why. If anything they should be congratulating the club on at least making the sensible decision to post the notice after we had avoided the relegation playoff, rather than putting it up beforehand.

Final thought
It's well before my end of year round round up, and it'll sound typically self-pitying as I write this, but I feel as if in a lot of ways I've let down the South of the Border readership this year with my writing efforts. There are some personal reasons for this - which I can hopefully let you all know about in due course - but mostly it comes down to me being utterly depressed and demotivated by the experience of watching and attending South Melbourne matches this year.

That goes for almost the whole experience - the performance of the men's team, the often self-serving and self-preservation antics of the board, the decline in quality of the social club (I'm leaving out manager Tegan, and Noula the cook, who did the best they could with the resources given to them), and the sometimes (often) embarrassing antics of the fans, myself included. The things that kept it all together? The fact that enough players gave enough of a stuff for just long enough to get us over the line, showing us that there was at least some residual pride left in the squad; the persistent camaraderie of the ramshackle operation that is Clarendon Corner, including some of the younger boys; lastly, the fact of what else are you going to do when there's a South game on?

Here's to the hope that this is a serious wake up call to the club that a half-arsed approach to running and supporting South Melbourne Hellas is going to end very badly. Here's to the hope that 2019 will provide us with a much better season on the field than the rollicking shambles that was 2018.