Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Some thoughts on Joe Gorman's 'The Death and Life of Australian Soccer'

The book is out now, and is widely available at chain
  and independent booksellers. It's also available as an
 ebook. The paperback retails at about $32 in stores
Warning: this piece contains some minor spoilers. Also, it's not really a review, more of a very ragged meandering through the book's themes and other stuff, partly because I can't hold together a coherent narrative to save myself, but also because I was told (probably rightly) that I couldn't really review a book I was in. Also I've been writing this while holed up at home because I've been sick.

Before I begin there are two clarifications that I need to make about this review. The first of these is for those of you who have not read yet the book, to keep in mind that your reviewer and an element of his writings and ideology is a part of this book, used as a vehicle for explaining Gorman’s thesis. The second point is that I have read this book before; not only in the discussions over several years with Joe which have helped inform and influence it – though to be absolutely clear, what is presented here is very much Gorman’s own argument, based on his own thorough research – but especially its draft form which was a little longer but otherwise near enough to the finished product.

The point of that preface is to say the following: I admit that I was almost in tears reading what would become this book the first time around, and having read it in its completed form now, I grieve again for what has been lost so far and for what will likely be lost soon enough. I also felt that it would upset people, especially on our side of the bitter/new dawn ledger, because unlike in his journalism Gorman does not go out of his way to appease our sensitivities especially regarding our future prosperity and relevance. As for the people on the new dawn side, if they get upset at anything in this book they always have the comfort of being able to revel in Australian soccer now being designed in their image.

For whatever optimism a follower of one of the 'old' clubs might hope to elicit from this book, it is quickly dashed by its opening gambit. Yes, the book’s title tells us this will be the case. Yes, we know the National Soccer League is already doomed, having seen it die (or be murdered, your call) first-hand. But the opening section in illustrating the before and after of Marconi’s rise and fall in as stark a form as possible – in the classic documentarian’s technique of juxtaposing images of a paradise turned into a ruin – there is no getting away from the pall which will only darken over the course of The Death and Life of Australian Soccer’s 375 pages.

The book covers much more than the NSL, looking at what came both before and after it. Rather than seeking to confine itself to the 27 year window of the NSL in isolation it seeks to tackle much bigger fish. To that end Gorman’s main questions are the perennial ones. First, how did ‘ethnic’ become a dirty word in Australian soccer? Second, why has Australian soccer internalised its hatred of ethnicity in this way? These are the nagging questions for both soccer and Australian society at large. They are important for soccer for what happened after 2004 in Australian soccer, and the rhetoric put out that the 'problem' of ethnicity was meant to have been solved once and for all. For Australian society at large, the question is centred on at what point should the rights of migrant communities (especially non-English speaking ones) to have self-determination and control of their own affairs be curtailed.

Though ethnicity has been the perennial question in Australian soccer, and by extension in academic analyses of the game, in recent times new ideas have been pushed toward the middle (especially by Roy Hay) about how the structural flaws of the game's governance were as important as ethnicity to the game's historical woes, and that these structural flaws are an under-appreciated element of the Australian soccer story. Gorman’s book then tilts the scales back to the ethnic question, but in a more sophisticated way than has often been done before. Previous discussions have often been superficial, couched in terms of the self-interested politics of the game itself. Gorman seeks to address the matter of ethnicity as it manifests in Australian public culture independent of soccer, at the same time as it becomes a dirty word in soccer.

We arrive then at the core problem of ethnicity and how Australian society should be organised. Should different ethnic communities be allowed a measure of self-determination, or should they be expected to assimilate? If it is the former, how much freedom should they be allowed? Can they have a presence in national affairs in a scheme and style which does not acknowledge the assumed cultural, economic, and political centrality of Anglo-Celtic Australians, and perhaps even seeks to challenge that dominance? In no other sphere of Australian life has the dominance of Anglo-Celtic culture been challenged in quite the same way as it has been in Australian soccer thanks to its often unrepentant ‘ethnic’ quality. For a game already considered to be foreign to Australia, the ethnic takeover of the game – within the governing bodies, but especially in just sheer numbers on the hills and terraces – doomed the sport to a unique kind of obscurity, one where it was simultaneously popular among its constituent communities and yet invisible to mainstream Australia.

(And in that regard, I am only interested in discussing Australian soccer from after 1945, and if Ian Syson wants his pre-1945 stuff to be included in this debate he should hurry up and publish his book on the matter.)

There is no way Australian soccer can fight back from this position under an overtly ethnic format: not in its early 1960s glory days, not by the late 1970s when the NSL was formed out of fear, not hope, and certainly not through the withering and erratic decline of the 1980s and 1990s. While the formation of ethnic soccer clubs could have been seen as migrants making a commitment to Australia in a different way, instead it was seen as an anti-Australian maneuver. This is an understandable view to take from people outside the game, but the problem was that people within the game also saw it this way.

In some respects this story can only be told by an Anglo who was not a follower of the NSL. Everyone else is too close, and likely being ‘ethnic’, only able to see the issue from the inside. Gorman’s point in the early part of the book that he and his dad, otherwise committed soccer people, only went to one NSL game is the perfect (or near enough to perfect) vehicle for exploring this issue.
It presents a change from Gorman’s usual work in his journalism on soccer. There he was obliged to obliterate or obscure himself as a narrator in the great journalistic tradition, giving off the vibe of neutrality and getting his politics across in the particular manner of choosing which quotes to use and from whom. That gave Gorman an always plausible get-out clause should any interview subject say anything particularly egregious or objectionable or outright insane – an unusually plausible possibility in Australian soccer. Here instead we have a reassertion of Gorman’s own character, playing the role of the de facto or representative Anglo presence.

Goodness knows that putting it like that reveals the situation's deep seated problems of anthropological neutrality, but I've never done any undergrad sociology units, and the sociology books (both pro and anti sociology) I've scavenged over the years have mostly remained on my shelves.

What balances out Gorman's Anglo-outsider perspective more than anything is his framing much of the early analysis through the experience of Andrew Dettre, a man more or less the opposite of Gorman. Where Gorman is young, Anglo and situated firmly in the role of a journalist, Dettre is (by the end) very experienced, foreign-born, and not merely a journalist but an activist. It is an activism not limited to soccer either; Dettre had grand schemes for Australian society as a whole, and hoped that soccer could be a vehicle for driving that social change. This is an important aspect of the work. Dettre had grand and sometimes contradictory ideas about soccer, but these were tied to grander ideas about what the nation could be. They reflected his own political feelings but also his experience as a refugee and migrant. This intellectual outpouring spanned several decades, pseudonyms, publications, and literary styles. Much as Gorman would wish he could write a biography of Dettre’s incredible life, such a book would never sell. Setting a quasi-biography of Dettre within a biography of Australian therefore makes sense.

But as unique as Dettre is as an Australian soccer intellectual, he did not emerge or write from within a cultural vacuum. One of the things Gorman does here is rescue the Hungarians and their contribution as a collective to Australian soccer from under the weight of the more visible Italians, Croatians and Greeks. (It also takes, or rather I hope it will take, at least some of the heat off those latter groups who often get the entire blame for the failure of the NSL and 'holding back' Australian soccer). The Hungarians differ from many of their more well-known rival and contemporary ethnic groups. Their immigration numbers were smaller and they were was based around only two very short bursts of migration. They were also more likely to have been educated, less prone to forming ghettoes, and through St George Budapest, made the sincerest attempts of all the ethnic clubs to broaden their fan base.

But even though they provide much of the intellectual and conceptual heft for soccer and the NSL to move forward, Dettre is not exactly like the other Hungarians. He intellectualism crosses over into an elitism that creates a distance between himself and his audience, including other journalists. The broadness of his thinking, the depth of his feeling, and the scope of his ambition is at times overwhelming. The social marginalisation of soccer further curtails his ability to transform Australian society, and it is no great accident that he has his greatest (albeit qualified) successes when he works for the Whitlam government.

There may be those while reading this book who will attempt to trace what effect if any that Gorman's reading of Dettre's work and speaking with the man himself has had on this book. Gorman may think otherwise, but I don’t see much if any stylistic influence resembling Dettre’s in Gorman’s work. That is unavoidable in a sense, not just for the length and dedication of Dettre’s career to this cause, his intellectualism, and Dettre’s learning English as a second language; but it is also because Dettre was never only looking back but also always looking forward. When Dettre ceases looking forward with any optimism, it effectively marks the end of his involvement with the game. To that end the most visible influence Dettre has on Gorman is in declaring an end to things. In the 1980s Dettre writes obituaries for the game, for the soccer press, and for the hope that ethnicity and soccer might create a pluralist Australia. Gorman writes the obituary to end all obituaries, seeing a sort of end of Australian soccer history. What else is there to write about in Australian soccer, especially in terms of the present anodyne, Anglicised arrangement?

As the book comes to a close, Gorman becomes outwardly sentimental. Not that he has treated everything that has come before it as simply matter of fact, but there is a further disintegration in the veneer of objectivity. Among the tragedies for Gorman is that individuals initially left behind by new football could be reintegrated into the new world, but not the cultural and organising structures that created those individuals. This affects not only those who were affiliated with those past structures, but also those who currently belong to groups which resemble in their self-organisation – mostly accidentally – the structures of the past. If Gorman writes an elegiac 'end of history' for ethnic soccer in Australia, knowing that the Anglo establishment and those who have joined them have quashed any hope for even a minor revival from new migrant communities, he does not fall far from Dettre's late era manifesto.

But it is worth remembering that many of those who ran and followed the ethnic clubs were in some important ways not so different from their mainstream Australian sporting counterparts, in that they were bound to a safe and conformist conservatism, something which must have frustrated Dettre immensely. Because for all the praise (if that's the right word) you can give to the NSL for its diversity compared to other sports, for large periods of time the NSL itself was at best only a narrow multicultural experiment, limited mostly to clubs formed by migrants from central and southern Europe. While on the field it had a truly global diversity, off the field it had limited interest to people not directly connected to the scene. While there were enough people from those constituent ethnic communities to sustain them, this was not an issue; but soon enough those communities started drifting away.

In time the greatest betrayal of the ethnic clubs, if one can use such a provocative term, comes not from their own or the governing bodies' incompetences, nor the disinterest of the general public who had no obligation to follow them, but from those younger supporters who turned their back on their fathers’ clubs. It is a provocative assertion, and I do not believe Gorman is making it as strongly as I am, but there is more than the suggestion that without the intervention of ethnics inside the game towards change, things may not have ended up in the direction they did. The sons of the immigrants left the old edifice to die, either by leaving the game completely or joining in the new world.

This is the most profound demographic shift of them all, and it is my assertion based upon reading this book that it is more important than the hordes of juniors and their parents, the midweek indoor and futsal players, and the silent majority who even now show no interest in local top-flight soccer preferring instead late nights and highlights packages from overseas leagues. For all the failure of the ethnic clubs to tap into new audiences - including the spectacular failure of St George, who tried harder than anyone to branch outwards - the inability of the ethnic clubs to hold on to their core support is what ultimately dooms them; growth for most of them is non-existent, and even for the best of them only incremental.

Gorman doesn't put all the blame for this on the ethnic clubs - there is much in Australian soccer and Australian society that they cannot control, and the self-loathing of those governing the game also drives people away - but nevertheless the crowd numbers speak for themselves. Without the ethnic communities growing out of their clubs and the ethnic scene, without those supporters jumping across to new broadbased franchises or moving towards mainstream Australian sports (or leaving the game entirely), it would not have been so easy to dislodge the preeminence of the ethnic clubs. The desire of soccer to mainstream itself was tied to the desire of migrants to mainstream themselves, a funny thing in itself considering persistent political and media fear mongering about ethnic ghettoes.

(As an aside, one observance and one unrequited desire. The observance is that perhaps summer soccer was the greatest mistake ever made by Australian soccer authorities, because whereas when the various football seasons overlapped people were forced to choose which one they would attend, when there was no overlap it became easy to have one's cake and eat it too. The unrequited desire is for someone to write a book on the cultural history of Saturday morning foreign language schools, which would include reference to being hotbeds of street soccer.)

The arrival of Perth Glory showed what was possible in a previously unrepresented market; Adelaide United cemented the idea, because it sprouted from the topflight corpse of Adelaide City Juventus; Melbourne Victory colonised its market in a way no other team has; and Western Sydney Wanderers finished off the job, bringing Australian soccer's migrant heartland over en masse to the A-League. Some would interpret this as evidence of the migrant soccer fans evolving to the next stage of becoming Australians, but it can also be interpreted as them assimilating and subsuming their differences into a larger amorphous whole.

It also does not take into full account those examples where broadbased clubs fail, with my thoughts on this usually going toward Brisbane Strikers. Some of the blame is put onto the notion that it was wrong to expect a league with any ethnic representation to succeed, the comparison being made by Lou Sticca of the ethnic clubs being dirty water that only serves to pollute the clean water of the broadbased clubs. I guess he only came up with this analogy after the clean water of broadbased Carlton SC got dirtied by its association with the dirty water of the footy club. But if there's one thing which comes through, is that as rubbish as the management of most of the clubs ethnic and non-ethnic was in the NSL, it was the ethnic ones which survived and still survive, whereas most of the non-ethnic ones carked it quick smart.

Oh Joe, why not something about Morwell Falcons? There's so many nooks and crannies to discover about Australian soccer, and you talk about Australian soccer moving away from a democratic and meritocratic paradigm, but the Falcons only get passing mention in your book! They came from a town of fewer than 20,000, built a nice boutique stadium and social club, earning their way through the league system while other people - you know who you are - were and still are banging on about some dump called Geelong and when it will get its act together. But I digress.

Then there is the intervention of the players. Many of them were born and raised within the ethnic club system at the game’s most prestigious clubs, and thus they understand intimately the cultural framework of the game. The players become militant after being exploited for too long, and quickly become the best organised, the most professional, and the most ideologically consistent faction in Australian soccer. If there is an argument to be made about structure predominating over ethnicity as a means of examining the fortunes of Australian soccer, it is via the players becoming a new force which disrupts the decades long tug of war between the governing bodies and clubs.

There are plenty of moments in this book which will generate debate. Among them is Gorman’s belief of the sheer folly of promotion and relegation and a second division, assserting them to be anathema to Australian sporting culture. Gorman also says, more or less, that promotion-relegation cannot happen because the A-League was not just an attempt to make a successful sporting competition, but about overturning an entire system of being. Gorman argues that before the A-League was even formed, it was a ‘state of mind’, with the idea being that it would transcend, but not reflect Australian soccer; that all the rough edges would be smoothed out, and that the game would be gentrified. For a sport which had spent so long not doing what it was told, this is the ultimate victory or betrayal depending on which side of the side of the debate you come from.

And has not South of the Border talked about the wilful embourgeoisement of the game in Australia? Some of it has been done on an individual level (fees, extra coaching, making little Johnny/Johnette feel special), and some of it has been done on a macro level, for example moving to modern stadiums that the teams cannot afford but which look good. And always linked to that, the attempt to shed any links to the past, including the self-loathing of soccer governing bodies' past and present and their revulsion of being linked with SBS. Not that SBS is an ideal commercial partner for any sport execept those like the Tour de France, but much of the commercial limitation come from them being associated with ethnicity and the game's past by sponsors, the 'mainstream' and worst of all, Australian soccer fans.

Under such a framework, finances and commercial viability are almost of secondary concern. Those arguing for promotion and relegation have to not only successfully argue that the idea stacks up financially, they also have to argue convincingly that the current system as it has been set up can and must be overthrown, and that soccer need not follow what the other Australian sports do. Considering how hard so many people have worked to make Australian soccer as much like the other 'traditional' Australian sports as possible, this will be no mean feat. It would be, as Gorman argues here, a case of soccer returning to its old guise of trying to change Australian culture instead of fitting in.

Another lesson to be learnt is that soccer in Australia expects the momentum of goodwill to sustain it, and when it does not, it starts acting reactively. Bursts of interest due to World Cup qualification (now considered a fait accompli process rather than a do-or-die event) or cream of the crop touring teams disguise longer bouts of stagnation. Spurts of heightened interest and engagement do not have the same value as consistency of interest, the kind which sustains the two major codes of football. And while the NSL was certainly not immune to acting haphazardly to its rotting stagnation, neither is the A-League and the current FFA regime safe from its own inability to truly entrench itself among the likes of the NRL or AFL, as opposed to transient competitions like the NBL or Super Rugby, whose teams have no little to no local connection and no consistency of feeling, and more precipitously, no communal corporeality. Gorman raises doubts about the meanings of many of the current A-League franchises, implying a soft underbelly which would not be able to survive truly testing times.

I have long argued however that this vagueness can actually be a strength and an appealing quality for many. There is just enough clarity about who these A-League franchises are – usually the team from ‘here’ – and more than enough ambiguity so that ideological and emotional connections are free to be construed in any which way different supporters like. People are free to adopt a level of commitment that for the most part is theirs and theirs alone own, and not dependent on a greater whole. And while one could point out the fact that should these entities run into trouble that they would cease existing rather than carry on in a lower league, even though the ethnic clubs have often continued, for most people who care to think about these things they too have stopped existing. 

Gorman is right to suggest that the ability to decide for oneself how committed one is to a cause means that at any moment one may simply choose not to be as committed. A book such as this by its nature is interested in those who are engaged with the game in ways aside from its recreational aspects. Thus you have among the many players, administrators and journalists people like the statistician Andrew Howe, and the late zine editor and agitator Kevin Christopher, whose presence also plays at adding colour to the Anglo spectrum. But it is missing the great mass of people, the silent majority, those who make home economics style decisions - insofar as their decision making is based around the allocation of their limited leisure time and money - about how they will follow the game.

While those people are essential to the success of any mass sporting entertainment product, those people do not spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing about what Gorman has long considered the most niche of topics in Australian soccer, discussions which take place in equally niche environments: the abandoned terraces of state league clubs, and the dank corners of #sokkhtwitter. It is upon this that the success of the commercial paradigm over democratic and meritocratic principles which underpin professional sport around the world, at least in places with closed professional leagues, but even those which favour (say) two teams within a league or pyramid over the others.

Me having lunch with Joe Gorman somewhere in Ballarat earlier this year
 One of the things which will probably go unremarked about this book is
 Joe's use of literary depictions of Australian soccer. While I can't take credit
 for anything else which appears in this book (except the bits where I get
quoted or paraphrased, which is mostly stuff from here anyway) I will
take credit for introducing Joe to that literary material. Even better though
was Joe using other stuff that he found in Soccer World, including
work by Dettre, former Socceroo Ray Richards, and children's writer
David Bateson. I do hope it prompts people to read that kind of work,
especially David Martin's The Young Wife. Photo: Ian Syson.
So while I may have some qualms about my portrayal in this book, leaning as it does towards an almost untenable miserableness, I can nevertheless understand my being included on this book. Gorman’s interest lies in two types of people; those who were involved with running the game, whether they felt something for it or not; and more importantly, those who have thought and written deeply about the game, whose emotional devotion is much harder to question. But I am wary of being depicted as a victim, because if indeed I am one, I am not the only one.

In that sense my inclusion in this narrative is validation of two things; that I have thought deeply about the game and written about it in that way; and that I have felt deeply about the game, that whether I am right or wrong on the matters which I discuss, there is a purity to whatever agenda I may have. That purity of feeling is not exclusive to me though. Still, seeing yourself in print in any format, let alone what is likely to be praised as a landmark book on Australian soccer history, is enough to make one feel a little anxious. It is an anxiety based not just around what strangers will think of you, but also what those who know you will think of you. In my case, the worry is that I will be interpreted (through no fault of Joe's, really) as being the definitive voice of old soccer in its current guise.

The bit where I come into the book has largely gone
unremarked upon so far, except for a friendly bit of
banter relating to my resembling one of those guys who
 loses interest in a band he likes when the band becomes too
 popular. Without arguing too vociferously against such
 a portrayal, because there's probably some latent truth to
it, it did remind me of a bit in Simon Price's biography of
the Manic Street Preachers. When the Manics break through
commercially with their fourth album Everything Must Go,
 
their concerts start attracting boorish Oasis and Britpop

listening types in addition to their then loyal and very
alternative audience. Basically the two types can't stand
each other, and eventually the feather boa wearing, zine
writing original fans, who had supported the band through
 thick and thin up to that point start drifting away.
It's a great book by the way, I highly recommend it.
Lest anyone get ahead of themselves on that front, I have made it clear on many occasions here and elsewhere that I have never sought to claim such a mantle, and that South of the Border has always been about offering a place for any South fan to put pen (or cursor) to paper (or screen). That South of the Border has had limited success in that is beside the point - we have published a diversity of voices, including non-South voices - and have attempted to solicit contributions from the South public, mostly to little avail. So it goes.

Problematic then for me within this analysis however is that amid Gorman’s gentle evisceration of Anglo-Celtic Australians (especially those of a pro-multicultural bent) for their refusal to engage with ethnic soccer, the absence of the British migrant is perplexing. It is all the more confusing because of oblique references made to the Englishness of Perth Glory’s Shed – the acceptable kind of ethnicity for many of those in Australian soccer who otherwise wanted to purge ethnicity – as well noting the flood of British players who were involved in the early parts of NSL. But British migrants and especially the English, whose numbers collectively outnumbered every other migrant group combined after the war are otherwise nowhere to be seen.

Likewise those people who ran the clubs and especially those first generation migrants who followed those clubs are also greatly under-represented. Indeed one of my fellow South Melbourne supporters noted upon purchasing the book that I was in the index far more than long time South Melbourne Hellas president George Vasilopoulos. Though it fits in with the way Gorman has decided to tackle his subject, it feels like a massive lacuna that will never be filled. Players, younger supporters, journalists, administrators are all there, as are those who went on to found the ‘broad-based’ clubs during the NSL, but not those who were there at the beginning of the ethnic soccer club phenomenon. Some of these guys are dead, and I suppose that's a reasonable enough excuse. 

But there are still guys who are alive and kicking who probably should have been included in this. For a book that was going to end up with narrative and thematic gaps no matter how much was included, this is a major omission. Ironically, this fits in with Gorman's thesis of the Anglo rejection of non-Anglo culture, in that non-English language news sources and interview subjects are mostly absent from the book. One can't blame that on the author's monolingualism, because one would need reading proficiency in several languages to get across the thousands of column inches; either that, or a well paid research team to sift through the ethnic papers of record.

There are unavoidable issues in the book, based around treating each state and region fairly, the experience of Indigenous Australians, and the story of women’s participation, or just as often, non-participation. As much as there is an ethnic vs non-ethnic issue which dominates our thinking on Australian soccer’s past, there is also a state vs state issue; the experience of the game varies so much between regions, and it is difficult if not impossible for people to feel they have a shared connection. Some of the sojourns Gorman takes to cover this stuff works well – I am thinking here in particular of the Queensland State League section – but others seem occasionally to be tacked on, or not to fit exactly, as if Gorman is trying to cram in as many things as possible. 

To an extent Gorman agrees with this, arguing early on that there is no possibility of writing a point-to-point history of Australian soccer, and he does well to include as many parts of the national soccer experience as he does; but one cannot help but feel that there were times when some states or regions or experiences which were not covered in depth or at all. And since most of the NSL was based around Melbourne and Sydney, it makes sense if more time is spent there.

Even though they are of value and worth including, the parts dealing with women's soccer can only hope to provide a taste of that experience. This is frustrating, because women's soccer, like other women's sports both in Australia and overseas, deals with many of the same issues of assimilation and self-determination; should women's sport work with or separately to men's sport? Does women's sport lose the chance to forge its own identity if its proximity is too close to men's sport? These are questions however for another writer to confront more fully.

The book is as much about what came before and what happened after as it is about what happened during. Therefore it scoots along at some points, while being more detailed in others. There are lacunas which will frustrate people, especially those who feel that their experience or their region is not covered in enough depth. Some people will want more of the specific car crash details of bad soccer governance and outrageous incidents, but the risk is that those will be seen as the main point of the story with the bigger issue of soccer's cultural positioning being lost. Focusing too much on these risks turning any analysis of Australian soccer into a freak show, which is fine for idle internet banter but less suitable for a serious book of history.

Of course the book could be twice as long, even more formidably detailed, and better for it in my opinion. But there is also the advice Stephen Hawking's editor gave him prior to publishing his bestselling A Brief History of Time: namely, that for every equation Hawking would put in, the potential audience would be halved. Thus a book written this way is also more accessible, written not only for the initiated and already interested, but for those for whom the NSL and the world which sustained it mean little more than folklore.

Dealing largely with documentary evidence and interviews, the book does not engage much with academic debates. It helps with the book's accessibility, but there were moments when an engagement with other books, such as Ross Solly's imperfect but important Shoot Out would have been welcome, if for no other reason than more explicitly tracing different political party relationships to the game; from Dettre and Whitlam's progressivism, to the NSW Labor Right faction's ethnic bloc backing Tony Labbozzetta (which vanishes when ethnic clubs need the most support), to the Liberals changing the game and its ethnic character into something more like their own ideal of the national character.

But the book does most things very well. It nails soccer's contradictory nature; its tendency for being both ahead of the curve (Dettre/St George/Canberra City/Newcastle KB) but also behind the curve (pretty much everyone in the game at some point). It gets that the conflict of sport has never been just business, especially not in Australian soccer, whose raison d'être was one of primarily self-proclamation and actualisation. It gets the conservatism of the ethnic clubs, and their reluctance to cede the one major bit of power and cultural influence they have in Australian, but mostly their desire to be left alone.

Its selection of quotes is very good, from Mark Rudan’s 'it was their job to fit in with us'; the description of David Hill as being to the right of Genghis Khan; the lead up to the 1997 grand final being like 'the wogs against Brisbane'; and Jesse Fink's denouncement of Ange Postecoglou when the latter became Brisbane Roar coach as offering nothing because Postecoglou is 'old soccer'. But even within the structure of the book, there will be quibbles about who was interviewed and why, and I think many of those quibbles could be justified. Remo Nogarotto gets much more time than Tony Labbozzetta. Kimon Taliadoros gets interviewed in his guise as the vanguard for the establishment of the player union movement, but he does not get asked about his later time as South Melbourne general manager, which would have yielded interesting information about South's late struggles to move between its past and an uncertain future. There is almost no mention of Tony Ising, which whether you consider him one of the great prophets or the most unnecessarily bitter man in Australian soccer, seems like a large oversight.

The early reviews have been positive about the book, albeit largely thin on detail. Australia’s most noteworthy soccer historian, Roy Hay, writing his first impression of the book has largely lauded it, with his necessary caveat about the lack of emphasis on the organising structures put in place in the early 1960s. Others have focused on Gorman’s belief that the idea of promotion-relegation and second division is folly, and that there are lessons to be learned from the NSL’s haphazard attempt to implement the former. Adam Howard has gone into much greater depth on that particular matter, arguing the point that while history can provide a guide and a warning, on this matter Gorman has misappropriated the details for his own defeatist narrative.

My stance being well enough known on the promotion/relegation issue, it is not for me to continue a debate I have little interest in, preferring to let that run its own course. But Howard's point about Gorman's apparent defeatist tone is worth picking up on. Because of its sense of finality, and its desire to declare a definitive end to the past, this book leaves the reader without any sense of how things might change for Australian soccer in the future. The history of Australian soccer has been one of constant upheaval, and yet there is an assumption made in this book that that process has ended, at least in ways that we have known.

Recent events in the form of wrangling for control over the game and its future direction have shown us this is not quite the case; and while I do not think that the ethnic clubs are or could be the main drivers of any future change, to present them as likely having no meaningful future is too forceful of an assertion. But that is also very much a personal take, as I would like to think there is hope, however outrageous that hope may seem, and that our resilience in the face of all obstacles could one day yield a new direction. Maybe Gorman refuses to speculate for the sake of speculation, but the lack of optimism in the book rather than creating an empathy (the feeling that we are suffering together) for soccer migrants old and new will likely only engender a hopeless sense of sympathy (feeling bad for someone's plight, but not feeling that their burden is yours as well) .

It is the kind of thing which makes me wonder who is going to read this book, and what wider impact it will have. After all, how many reviewed and discussed the Hay/Murray magnum opus? The discussion on matters of books and history among the soccer community seems intermittent at best, and for the most part these discussions are reflective rather than inspiring a call to arms. It is unfair to demand something else from Gorman here, because while he is at pains to not try and diminish the ongoing survival of the old clubs, he cannot lie and say that they have a thriving existence. The dwindling few followers of the 'prominent' ex-NSL clubs who will read this book will be able to change little about the situation.

To be clear, no one doubts the sincerity of their - our - passion; after all, it takes a certain kind of moral hard-headedness to keep following a state league club in the way that we do. In the epilogue in particular, which finishes with a rewriting of a blog post I made - a post that I know back then struck Gorman as extraordinarily poignant - there is little hope. For those with the intestinal fortitude to keep following the old clubs, that moral certainty is also matched up with what is also a rare sense of duty. While I tend to think in the book Gorman’s tone is more realist than defeatist, those two adjectives when deployed in the way they have been here are not so far from each other. The fields have been sown with salt. There will be people who will rail against that view, possibly ignoring the argument’s nuances, but Gorman is at pains to point out the violent excision of one of Australian soccer's core attributes, its ability to harbour new migrants who bring their numbers, playing talent and novel organisational attributes. Neither is there any hope that another Dettre could emerge. From which community? From which medium? To say what, exactly, and to whom? It is remarkable that an Andrew Dettre even existed in the first place.

Those picking up the book who never experienced the NSL or ethnic soccer in full flight might better understand how we got to now, but soon enough they will probably be back at the A-League, that competition dreamt up not just to rehabilitate soccer in a benign sense, but to cleanse it. If the idea of ‘cleansing’ has potentially volatile and incendiary overtones – especially within an Australian soccer context! - it is hard to argue that this is not what has happened. Damnatio memoriae it may not be, but it is as close as we can get.

My chief concern with the book then is not with its content, which I broadly agree with and which I think has been written very well. Rather it is with what will follow it? Will people merely praise the book, cherry pick certain sections out of it, and then discard its lessons and deeper message about using soccer as a means of understanding Australian society? After all, while it is a book about Australian soccer it is also a book about ‘us’ as a nation. Gorman throws down the challenge to the current generation of soft-headed multiculturalists, but will they engage with this book in the way I believe they should?


The Death and Life of Australian Soccer is not a hagiography of the NSL or ethnic soccer. For those hoping for a celebratory tome about the NSL, its great matches, players and clubs, this is not that book. Gorman writes that he hopes that in time those stories will be written – but in the meantime he emphasises that something has been lost, and there is empathy in that emphasis. It is hard to pin down what exactly may have been lost – perhaps it is the large scale generosity of spirit from the true believers, those who literally built their clubs from scratch, not dependent on wealthy benefactors; perhaps it is the chance for a different Australia to be promoted. If Gorman is not exactly channeling the grief of those left behind, he is at least channeling Dettre's disappointment.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Unnecessary Anticlimax Blues - South Melbourne 2 Kingston City 3

Putting aside the fact that the season hasn't actually ended yet, this was a disappointing way to end the season. Everyone came into this game thinking that there was no way Heidelberg would lose their game against Bulleen, and therefore whatever we did wouldn't matter so much.

And that's kinda what happened. Heidelberg did win their game, our result became meaningless in the greater scheme of things, and we all went home if not content, then at least not miserable. If only it were that simple.

FFV and their accomplices having botched the simultaneous kick-offs, our game started later than most of the others, and soon enough the Bergers were 1-0 down, then 2-0 down. Then we were up! It was the best five to ten minutes of the season, everyone feeling joyous and wonderful. Then it all started falling apart.

Iaconis scored a belter of a long range goal for Kingston, Heidelberg started making inroads into their deficit, and we fell apart. Pushing numbers forward looking for goals, keeping an eye on the other game as we fell behind, everything turned a bit nasty in the stands,

Then as Heidelberg first drew level then stormed into the lead in their game, and the helicopter was firmly planted in Bulleen, the mood softened just a little. Kristian Konstatinidis' long range goal at least gave us something to cheer for, and the scoreboard had erroneously put us ahead.

Having lost the game, the debate rages on to other things. Like, considering where we came from - second last place after seven or eight rounds - to where we ended up, second place, was a pretty damn fine achievement.

Now one could say that we should never have found our way into that situation in the first place, but considering some of our Negative Nancy pundits had us not only missing the finals, but getting relegated to boot, it's not such a bad outcome.

Of more legitimate complaint would be that we've seemingly hit a bit of a form slump, Especially at home in more recent times. Losses to Gully, Avondale and Kingston, and only a win over Edgeworth (last minute) and Bentleigh (dead tired) in our last five games.

Even there I would note that the Gully game was months ago, and the Avondale game hardly a game we were overrun in. But some people invest a lot in the Fortress Lakeside myth, and that includes the coaching staff and players, so this erratic run of home form isn't ideal.

The usual concerns also remain. What to do for goals when Milos Lujic is marked out of a game. What to do to bolster the central midfield with a bit of experience without sacrificing effectiveness on our right hand side by moving Matthew Foschini. How to change things up when Marcus Schroen goes missing in game, especially now that we don't have Jesse Daley as an option.

Oh, and the persistent problem of mid-season recruiting and the monstrous folly of this Spanish experiment. The good news is that we only have to win two games to win the championship.

Meh, we probably would've botched the national playoffs anyway.

But what does it all mean?
So we've finished second on the table, but what happens now?. First of all, it means we get a week off before hosting the highest ranked winner from this week's finals matches. That means if Avondale win their game against Oakleigh, we'll host Avondale. If Avondale lose however, we'll be hosting the winner of Green Gully and Bentleigh.

If we even dare to look further ahead, should we make the grand final, the game will apparently be played at a neutral venue, and not Lakeside Stadium. But we'll cross that bridge if and when we arrive at it.

Minor statistical anomaly of no importance
It doesn't make any difference whatsoever to what happened yesterday, or what will happen in the immediate future, but this was the first time we'd lost our final game of the home and away season since 2006. Considering some of the very mediocre seasons we had between then and the Chris Taylor era, that's quite the little run. Of course we went on to win the championship that season, back when there was no confusion about 'premiers' and 'champions'. Not that I'm looking for omens mind you.

If I may be so bold as to be a little bit optimistic...
For a game that offered little hope of realistically securing first place before we started, and considering we also had to keep fresh for Wednesday, I'm not even sure one could take much of out of this and see some sort of pattern. The game started off slowly, almost as it were a pre-season game. The atmosphere was flat until it was enlivened by the planets seemingly coming into alignment, and it was our own misguided and foolish optimism that made things feels worse than they already did..

Yes we would've expected to beat a recently promoted team that had achieved its primary aim of avoiding relegation but wasn't going to play finals, but having to chase the game - and goals - created a situation which suited Kingston and their ability to hit teams on the counter. The argument that our team mentally capitulated doesn't wash with me. Hopefully that's not what the message was from the movers and shakers if they visited the changing rooms after the game.

We had enough chances to score more than our two goals, and failed to do so. It's not the end of the world, let alone the end of the season. If any of our players are foolish enough to read this nonsense, I'd want them to remember that they've put together a pretty good season overall, and that there's still time to make it better.

Next game
FFA Cup at home against Sorrento on Wednesday. Please note that kickoff for this one is 7:30PM, not 8:00PM as per the last FFA Cup round.

And yes, the average mug punter has access to the social club from early on this time around, with the corporate stuff being held elsewhere. It's your social club, use it!

Speaking of which
Where was everyone yesterday before the game? You missed me beating Griff 1-0 (PAOK vs Socceroos) on FIFA 15 with a shot from outside the box that rolled under Mat Ryan. It was magic.

Minor updates
I've updated our 2014 post about the Paul Wade statuette.

Also match programmes - 2011 minor semi-final against Oakleigh; 2011 women's grand final against Sandringham.

Final thought

Monday, 14 August 2017

Suffer for your crimes! - South Melbourne 2 Bentleigh Greens 0

SMFC TV boss and self-styled active support maestro 'Doc' attempts to corral
the monkeys of Clarendon Corner into producing a coherent performance.
There are some weeks where going to Lakeside feels like you're visiting a terminally ill relative in hospital. You spend the week or day or hours leading up to the visit feeling like crap, knowing that the patient feels worse, and feeling worse because you've made it all about you. Then during the visit you make an extra special effort to be cheerful for the sake of the invalid, and it sometimes kinda works if the sun is shining and the team manages to pull its finger out and pull off an unlikely or not entirely expected win. And after having spent your time putting on a brave face and consoling the poor unfortunate soul, you then leave and return to the coldness of the real world. But enough with the cheerful opening.

One way to get by in times like this is to do other things, usually burying oneself work. I do my studies as a matter of course, and I try to find things that aren't soccer related; last week I went to a session at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and I've got three more sessions planned for this week; I read my books; I cultivate my cult on Twitter. And sometimes you need a reminder that the things which seem to happen by themselves every week at South actually require work. After the implied (or is that inferred?) turmoil of the past week or so, it seems that a good deal of the more transient (uni intern) volunteer base disappeared, and things reverted to requiring a bit of old fashioned doing things ourselves.

Thus after having a beer and a so-so burger in the social club, I found myself being called upon to help with the utterly manual task of putting up the advertising boards. This wasn't new to me per se, but it had been a while since I'd done it, and it brought back memories of taking down the signage after a Clarendon Corner vs Original Melbourne 21 game back in the day; of moving rugby posts with George Kouroumalis and a surprisingly athletic George Koukoulas; and moving those toblerone-style ad bags back into the deteriorating though still yet to be gutted social club during our early days of our return to Lakeside.

Tiff Eliadis competes for the header, while Chelsea Blisset, promoted
 from the 18 waits for the spill. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
At least we had the use of several pairs of hands, and the golf cart with the wagon at the back. And when we weren't focused on the job at hand, which was most of the time, we got a pretty good close up view of the South women in action against Alamein, they of the choo choo song. Despite having a penalty saved - which is what regular women's team watcher Pavlaki said would happen when we got the penalty - we won the game 4-2, putting us five points clear on top with three games to play, and second placed Calder having a game in hand.

Eventually the time came around for the senior men. No Milos Lujic, suspended. No Jesse Daley, gone, maybe, to a better a place. No Michael Eagar, on the bench for reasons unknown. In their place, Leigh Minopoulos, Luke Adams, Tim Mala, and a reshuffle seeing Matt Foschini back in midfield. Would it work? Well the answer is 'sort of'. We got the win, generally looked the more dangerous, could have had another goal or two, and looked by Johnny A's own admission the hungrier and more lively of the two teams. And beating Bentleigh is its own reward, certainly from the players' perspective, what with having struggled against them so much in recent years.

Having said that, as one of our more astute observers of the team has noted, it wasn't just that Bentleigh looked fatigued, but that we also won the ball further up the field. In his post match comments Johnny A noted much the same - errors at the back giving us the chance to punish his team. But that's the risk that a team that likes to knock it around the back always takes - if it's not working on any given day, turnovers will happen much closer to your own goal.

Leigh Minopoulos wheels around to celebreate his second goal.
Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Of course turnovers close to goal are easier to punish when you have a more mobile forward line, and Leigh Minopoulos - who doesn't always have the best track record when starting games as the principle striker in this set up - had a great game. It wasn't just his opportunistic goal poacher's double, but the way he was able to harass and corral the Bentleigh defense, running himself to a standstill. I've argued before that there is the possibility, if not always the actuality of us being more mobile and unpredictable as an attacking unit when we don't have Milos in the side. This was one of those times when it worked, but it's never a sure thing, and of course no matter how much I love Leigh (my favourite player in this squad) you'd always rather have the bloke who has the incredible amount of runs on the board.

It was free flowing even if it wasn't always pretty; it was energetic where one didn't know for sure how the team would come out to play; and no one really played a bad game for us, including Zaim Zeneli, who came off the bench after Nikola Roganovic seemed to injure his arm during the late stages of the first half. It was impressive even if we were playing against a tired opponent, who were also experimenting a little bit - they played the underdone Nick Ward, who had trialled with us during the pre-season, and brought on Andy Brennan only for the last half hour despite him only playing 60 minutes during the middle of the week.

Other than that, the biggest issue was the seagulls deciding to deploy missiles in the uncovered parts of the grandstand, forcing people in those areas to retreat further back. If getting crapped on by a bird is the worst thing that happened on Sunday, then the day mus not have been too bad. But not being of those people that received the seagulls' lucky prize, I would say that wouldn't I?s

Next game + and calculations
Kingston City at home, in the final round of the home and away season -- keep in mind that the kickoff time is 3:00PM thanks to the simultaneous start for the final round.

Barring some incredible disaster, we'll finish the home and away season in at least second position. To finish first and secure the national playoff position however, we need all of the following to happen:
  • We need to win our game against Kingston.
  • We need Bulleen to beat Heidelberg.
  • And we need the goal difference tally to work its way into our favour.
The Bergers are playing at Bulleen and the synthetic pitch, but I don't think that will cause them too many problems, and besides which, they only need a draw. The goal difference tally - their +25 to our +22 - is also an issue, but I figure that if the Bergers do lose, than we should be able to make up the difference and more, if things go as we'd like them to.

I can't see it happening, but you can always hope.

FFA Cup news
We have been drawn at home once more, this time against Western Australian side Sorrento. Apart from someone saying that they play a hoofball oriented style of soccer, I know nothing about them.

Goodbye, Jesse Daley?
Apparently been picked up by Perth Glory or their youth team, or maybe not, but who knows for sure? Anyway, so much for Kenny Lowe feigning disinterest in our man.
Or maybe I inadvertently made Kenny aware of Jesse? Heaven help Glory if they're making recruiting decisions based off my tweets. Anyway, I noticed that one of my retweets of a South tweet was retweeted in turn by Daley,
which is odd because I don't remember Daley pretty much ever tweeting anything (it turns out he has a measly 14 tweets). Let's just put it down to being supportive of fellow Queenslander and Brisbane Roar youth team-mate Luke Pavlou.

Good grief
As noted in a rather oblique post (with a link to funny poem by a dead junkie) earlier during the week, there was some chatter doing the rounds about the club being in crisis. I didn't post much more about it then, because I didn't know enough then to go off even half-cocked. Well after a few sessions of speaking to various intermediaries but no one of Capital I 'Importance', what did I learn? Probably not much more than you guys.

The problem, or perhaps more accurately the majority of the problem, stems from the State Sports Centres Trust. The SSCT, which is apparently once again under new management, had decided that rather than stick to the agreement of dishing out our allowance on a monthly basis, decided instead to give us our money as a lump sum... and later in the year. Now that's obviously going to cause cash flow problems, though it's probably a debate for another time as to whether we should be dependent on this cash or whether it should be seen as a bonus.

That saw the Trust withhold our monthly stipend for three months. Anyway, that situation has been sorted out, and the money due paid to us in full. Not that this was done without some damage to confidence in our management, from a public relations point of view at least. And not without the club going through either a forced, half-forced, or totally planned all along restructure of its front office staffing. Two people were let go, and then one of them brought back in a reduced capacity. It doesn't seem from an outsider's point of view to have been done particularly smoothly.

As for the more serious allegations, including players leaving and players not being paid, I'm little the wiser. For the former, as usual one has to wait until the end of the season to see what manifests itself as true. On the latter, I can't say with any certainty how long our players went unpaid for, but the Bentleigh supporting peanut man told me at Paisley Park that it was six weeks, so that seems to be the story which exists outside of the club. Whatever the amount, the fact that the story made it out of the confines of the inner sanctum - when the club has been much better at plugging leaks in recent years - is also of concern.

Anyway, for the time being at least it seems as if the ship has been righted, but there seems to have been a jolt put through the club. And the more serious issues with the Trust, the profitability of the social club, and the bigger issue of volunteer and staff continuity - that is, expertise being spread throughout the club as opposed to being contained solely within individuals - remain problems to be dealt with.

Of course, some people have different interpretations of all these things. It's not that I'm going out of my way seeking a middle path, only that there seem to be very adamant people on both sides of the ledger about how things actually played out and how things should be interpreted.

Trivia Night!
There's a trivia night being hosted at the social club on Friday 25th August. It's been so many years since the club hosted one of these, so I'm looking forward to it. My table (Secret Seven, if I recall our name correctly) did not do well at the last one, and the one before that I hosted in lieu of a sick board member. Oh, and there was the famous women's team trivia night in 2007 (pre-blog days) which my table (Team Cindy) did win, but at which I had to stay behind after everyone left the pub because the West Coast-Collingwood final went into extra time. My other appearances at trivia nights were a Melbourne Uni political interest club night (Shane Warne Appreciation Society; I was the only one in the very large room who knew the answer to who the only English pope was) and another Melbourne Uni one, this time a fundraiser for left-wing student politics. My team (PPPC, don't ask) would have won if they had more than two sport questions.

Anyway, it's not about winning or losing, it's about spending time in the social club among fellow South fans, putting more money into the club, and having a good time. Though if I don't win, I will probably have a big sook.

Around the grounds
Penance
15 years ago - or thereabouts - Altona East (coached by Chris Taylor!) and Preston played off in the Victorian Premier League finals. Fast forward to 2017, and Altona East is just about to drop out of the Victorian third tier into the fourth after several dodgy escapes; meanwhile Preston is pissing money up against the wall for goodness knows what reason considering they let Altona Magic get a five or six game head start. But Preston are still in better shape than they were about three years ago when they only brought about 20 odd fans to this same fixture; this time they brought a lot more, and a couple of banners and a drum. As for myself: I dithered about going to the Altona East vs Western Suburbs game the week before, and decided to skip it and go to the supermarket and the 'Pies game in the evening instead. Not exactly sterling behaviour in a crisis. I inadvertently made up for it during this game by ending up helping out at the gate for about an hour and a half. Not that I deserve an award for this example of accidental atonement of sin, and besides, it helped impair my view of a pretty ordinary game. An early goal in each half settled this otherwise mediocre contest in Preston's favour. Next week I'll be at Melbourne International Film Festival watching anime instead.

Final thought

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Les Murray on Laszlo Urge, and non-linear academic discovery

This is something I started last year but never got around to finishing. Seeing as how Les Murray the soccer pundit passed away this week, and seeing as how South has a week off, it's about time I fished it from the depths of my drafts folder, finished it off, and got it out of the way. I liked what was going on in this a lot more back then than I do now. A more useful version will hopefully end up buried in my thesis' literature review in due time.

This is the story of both the sometimes tedious and arcane nature of academic research, but it's also a story about the meeting of two parts of Australian culture that have little do with one another. If, as the popular notion seems to suggest, that sport and the arts in Australia are inherently irreconcilable pursuits, whose meetings are at best rare and awkward, then perhaps nothing quite encapsulates that cultural schism quite like the existence of Australia's two Les Murrays.

For perhaps most of Australia, even that which is not particularly enamoured with soccer, Les Murray remains the better known of the two Les Murrays. As the face and voice of Australian soccer, and by extension also the face and voice of SBS and a certain strain of the Australian multicultural experience, Murray's fame exists outside of the narrow trench of Australian soccer; this is best typified by the Australian public's familiarity with that strange, untraceable accent, which famously prompted TISM to ask 'What Nationality is Les Murray?' - a song which would not have worked quite so well had people had no idea who Les Murray the soccer pundit was.

Then there is the 'other' Les Murray, often lauded as Australia's greatest living poet and among the finest living poets writing in the English language, but whose work most Australian have probably only come into contact with by accident and most recently twenty years ago (unless they teach poetry in schools; do they still do that?) as the co-author of John Howard's preamble to the Australian Constitution which was attached to the republic referendum. For a minority of Australians, those who might be classed as too educated for their own good to care too much about sport and popular culture, as the poetry editor for the right wing literary and cultural magazine Quadrant, Les Murray the poet is a figurehead of one of the two sides waging perpetual cultural wars against each other.

So how is it that these two Les Murrays would have anything to do with each other? Many years ago while I was still an undergraduate, I seem to recall - though this could just be me inventing a myth of my own - that some now indistinguishable person told me, probably somewhere in the imaginatively named Building 8 at Victoria University's St Albans campus, that Les Murray the poet had written a poem about Les Murray the soccer pundit. Not knowing where to start looking for it, and not having much help from either the person who must (or may?) have mentioned it, the notion of trying to find the poem died quickly. This was before I had even decided that my honours thesis let alone doctoral thesis work would focus on soccer and its relationship to Australian literature; before, too, my ending up teaching some of Les Murray the poet's works in the Australian Literature unit that we teach to second and third year students at Victoria University.

After laying dormant for so many years, the re-ermergence of this apocryphal poem owes as much to the accidental happenings one experiences when travels Melbourne in the style of a flâneur, as it does to the inner suburbs of Melbourne still having enough bricks and mortar bookshops so that the act of finding one is less a freak accident than a statistical probability.

After meeting with my mate Chris Egan in the city, and conducting another piece of historical detective work at ACMI, we decided to head towards Lygon Street for lunch. Taking the tram up there from Federation Square, we - probably mostly me - had stopped paying attention to where we should have gotten off, went several stops further up Lygon Street than we had intended, and then kept walking in the opposite direction to where we were supposed to be going. By a happy meeting of statistical probabilities, we ended up outside Red Wheelbarrow Books, a small independent bookshop. While we could have turned around and just caught the next tram back, there in the front window were an assortment of books by the anarchist poet Pi O, so of course I decided to enter the store.

After discussing Pi O with the store's proprietor and being offered a returned/secondhand copy of one of Pi O's Selected Works for $15 (as opposed to $35 for a new copy), we somehow moved on to discussing my current doctoral work on Australian soccer and literature; the chance to discuss one's thesis work with interested parties who happen to be people other than one's supervisors being an opportunity few PhD students can afford to miss. The catalyst for this was I suppose my making a remark on Pi O's lack of interest in sport, especially soccer, despite his extensive work covering (whether incidentally or not) the lives and language of migrant Europeans during the 1970s and 80s.

Indeed, one couldn't help but note the sole poem where Pi O does discuss soccer, a piece called 'Soccor', which still barely manages to discuss the topic of soccer at all. From there the proprietor of the bookshop managed to make a couple of suggestions about other literary Australian soccer texts, including Peter Goldsworthy's Keep it Simple, Stupid, which I was already well aware of, but he then recalled that Les Murray the poet had written a poem about Les Murray the soccer pundit.That he could recall no further details of its content, title, year etc was now far less of an issue than it would have been in the past. For nearly a decade on, I was now armed with the resources of the AustLit database and duly went off to search for the database entry on Les Murray the soccer pundit, and works which were about him.

Alas, there were no poems listed as being about Les Murray the soccer pundit. What to do? After noting my disappointment on Twitter that the existence of this poem may have merely been an urban myth - a poem by one Les Murray on the other Les Murray, surely it was too good to be true - someone working diligently and anonymously behind the scenes at AustLit came to the rescue.
As it turned out, according to people at AustLit the poem had never been published either in a literary journal nor in a collection of work by Murray, but rather in one of the supplements of the Weekend Australian in October 1991. So, after a detour to a university bake sale, it was off to the State Library of Victoria to search through the microfilm, sifting through generic right-wing commentary and classified jobs for professionals, until there it was - in all of its if not quite unfortunate mediocrity, then its being something quite different to what I'd expected.

One didn't expect one of Murray the poet's more stunning efforts, but even so, I could not help but be underwhelmed by the poem's style as well as its content. To begin with, even a quick overview reveals that the poem is not about Les Murray the soccer pundit at all, but merely dedicated to him - and even then, not to Les Murray the soccer pundit, but to Laszlo Ürge, the identity the soccer pundit had left behind at the start of his television career.

Without knowing of the existence of any possible prior interactions between the two Murrays, the motivation for Murray the poet writing this poem and dedicating it to Murray the soccer pundit is hard to fathom. At the end of the poem, Murray the poet affirms that 'I'm Les Murray', but it is hard to read between the lines of whether this signing off is meant to be playful and linked to the opening gambit in the dedication itself, or whether it is instead some sort of pointed attempt at reclaiming the rights to the Les Murray name - and if so, what would be the nature of that resentment?

The poem then seeks to describe, in the semi-abstract, various sports played by Australians - among them rugby union and league, Australian Rules, soccer and basketball - but with a kind of dismissive attitude. These sports seem to Murray to be fueled by an anger and relentless trudging and sense of aimless, furious activity; worse still are those who aren't participants, but who live vicariously through the athletes making those exertions. In that sense the poem's tone is entirely consistent with Murray's oeuvre so far as I'm familiar with it - an innate distrust of modernity, and also of the speed and lack of space for thought and contemplation that is attached to that notion of modernity.

It is strange then that as an Australian bush nationalist of sorts, that one of Murray's preferred sports at the specific time of this poem's publication is not cricket, especially as it may manifest itself in those idyllic John Harms-ian forms played in the Australian bush, but instead what he calls American cricket - in other words, baseball. This is strange in the context of Murray's politics because as Michael Manley has noted, whatever elements of idleness, rest, anticipation and craft are shared by cricket and baseball, cricket in its purest essence is an agrarian and time-less game, while baseball was moulded very early on into becoming an essential part of the ordered and regimented cycle of life in the modern industrial north of the USA.

Strange also are Murray's interpretations of those sports, especially the various football codes enjoyed by Australians. Here Murray plays the accidental historian, placing the rugby codes first in order of genealogy but re-interpreting in a sense the origin myths of union and league, and therefore rugby as a whole itself; while one can perhaps sense Murray vaguely alluding to the class split which saw league split off from union, at no point does Murray place rugby union's origins in the English public school system, nor allude to the inherent link between industrialisation and the professionalism of rugby league. Instead we have 'poachers in blue', who one supposes may be members of the upper classes or the military, playing for a time at least either with or alongside - it's not clear to me which Murray deigns to mean - 'farmers in brown'.

The depiction of Australian Rules in this poem is typical of the generic response someone from the northern states may make of the game - the comical appearance of the players in their sleeveless shirts and tight shorts jumping on top of each other, and the near incomprehensibility of the large crowds who are there to watch them. Murray's familiar dislike of crowds and fear of their encroachment on his personal space gets doubled down in the depiction of soccer - the implied barbarity of the kicking of heads among caged foreigners, with little definition of who is being separated from whom. Aside from this however, Murray the poet offers little more on soccer than this scene of stylised allegorical violence and the crowds of foreigners who watch the game - an unusual step to take when dedicating a poem to a soccer man.

For the rest, basketball gets short shrift, as does tennis and the grunting efforts of its players. But the point seems to be that those watching either in person or drowsily watching on a TV screen, combined with the furious exertions of the players, are suffering form a kind of madness. For Murray, for whom crowds are a form of madness in their own right, the sporting machine is not a benign illness. It's almost as if Murray sees modern professional sport - such as it was in 1991, and goodness knows it's only gotten worse - as a corruption of both work and play. the idea being that play should be left alone, untainted by commercial interests, for when play is turned into work, work too loses its own nobility. Modern sport and professional athletes begin to less resemble people participating in a vocation or ritual attuned to the rhythms of nature, becoming instead automatons.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Lambchop delay nightmare - South Melbourne 0 Avondale 2

Forgive me if there are any mistakes in this posts or if it seems to lack my usual sterling effort but I busted one of my index fingers in a door and it hurts to type and worst of all it hurts to tweet but this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started 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goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because

But seriously, it just seemed to take forever to start and forever to end. Having finished my dinner before the game - how good is the social club when you're allowed in there? - the lights went out in the social club, and then it turned out the lights outside were off as well and even the surrounding area. It got sorted out quickly enough, but the end of the 20s game took longer to finish and though it finished early enough to get the seniors out there for an 8:30 kickoff, we ended waiting until well after that for the start. A strong starting eleven saw us carve out some good chances early, but having not taken them we were soon on the back foot. A well taken Avondale corner to the near post at the edge of the six yard box was met an Avondale player unchallenged by any South defenders, and soon we were down 1-0. Everything kind of deteriorated after that, but worse was to come in the second half.

At 1-0 down in the second half, a possible turning point arrived. Our team having done enough from a slightly chaotic penalty box entry to get the ball on the verge of crossing the goal line, an Avondale player on the goal decided or was driven by instict to use his hands to prevent the ball from crossing the goal line.
Despite certain interpretation changes to 'denial of goal scoring opportunity' decisions, handball was not one of those, so it was baffling to see the Avondale player responsible for scooping the ball off the line given only a yellow card instead of being dismissed.

Baffled as we all were by the ref's decision not to red card the Avondale player, up stepped Milos Lujic to draw us level and he went on to do this:
Which brings me to another point. Putting aside this miss which, under the current arrangement is not even the first time this has happened to us in recent times, it once again brings to mind one of the worst problems with the laws of the game. Most notoriously, it is the Luis Suarez vs Ghana World Cup variation of this phenomenon. Currently a certainly goal bound shot can be deliberately denied by a handball, and the worst that can happen is a dismissal of the relevant player and a goal conceded. Yet penalty attempts are hardly sure things, and the risk reward balance seems completely out of whack, we being in the ridiculous situation that we still have this loophole where defenders can take the risk of preventing a certain goal in favour of conceding an uncertain attempt. For mine, the obvious solution seems to be introducing the concept of a 'penalty goal' ala rugby league's penalty try. The situation would be rare and limited to situations where the referee deemed that a player had handled the ball in a situation where a goal was otherwise inevitable. Indeed, it is a suggestion being considered by the rule-making bodies.

Back to our situation. Having not scored from the penalty we proceeded to run around like headless chooks, and suffered the ignominy of conceding a second goal. Taken from some distance, it appeared as if Nikola Roganovic should have had not trouble getting his hands on to the shot, only for the ball to seemingly go straight through him or something. But still the game would just not end. Extended injuries to Avondale players meant that there was a long bout of injury time. All the more time to watch our increasingly erratic efforts going forward.

The team has not only run out of gas, it has also run out of ideas. A compact schedule, the high of the FFA Cup win, the drop in form of some key players - all of it has seen us seemingly throw away our chance at snaring what used to be called the minor premiership and qualification for the national playoffs. Yes the first seven games away from home have hurt us, as have results like Green Gully away, and even probably the postponement of this fixture from early in the year to now. Maybe we just weren't good enough in the long run. Still, the season is not a complete wash. We have the finals series coming up, and at least one more FFA Cup game. Maybe this nine day break will refresh the side for one more push for this season.

Next game
With the end of this compressed part of our schedule, we now have a week and a half off before taking Bentleigh at home on Sunday week at Lakeside. No Milos Lujic for this one apparently, having collected his fifth yellow card.

Final thought