Thursday, 19 May 2022

Brute Force - South Melbourne 4 Avondale 3

Home responsibilities meant that I missed this game in the flesh. It was the first time I'd missed two games in a row since... I don't even know when. Not happy about that, but not much to do be done about it.

There was an almost satisfactory alternative in the form of the live stream service, but there is no substitute for actually being there. So while the few hundred that were at the game will have a story to tell for years to come (assuming there are indeed years to come), most of what I can do is relay what it was like watching this game from home.

In a nutshell, a lot like the other times I've had to watch a game by myself at home. Not unemotional, not detached, but also not quite attached. The stream running on delay behind social media means that I couldn't watch it alongside say, Twitter. Having to go out to pick up my brother at a certain point meant that I had to let Dave (who was messaging me on Facebook) to pause with the interactions, because it'd just mean spoilers. But at least there's a pause option now, which I suppose we should be glad of.

Of course, what was there to spoil in the first half? That was a fairly ghastly opening 15 minutes or so, for reasons which I don't think anyone's really looked at in the wash after the eventual comeback. It's not like we didn't create our own comparatively inferior chances during that time, or during the first half as a whole, but each Avondale goal was concerning because of its repetitive nature. Each time we were picked apart with ease. They kept the ball, moved it around, moved us around, and eventually worked their way into a situation where they had people lining up for easy shots.

It was devastating to watch. The only assumptions one could make about what was likely to follow on from that start, was that we would lose 7-0 or win 4-3. I'll let the gambling community opine on what would have been a more likely outcome at 3-0. 

It's not like there weren't signs that we couldn't score a goal. But every time the ball went up the other end, it almost looked inevitable that Avondale would score. It should put paid to the idea that we're some of awesome defending machine, because we're not. Our opponents have often been stupid when playing against us, or profligate, or both. Thanks to the heroics of our goalkeeper, Avondale didn't score any more goals, and we managed to brute force our way back into the game.

And while this brute force lacks the more violent aspects, the process reminds me somewhat of Gully's teams under Ian Dobson. No one ever said of those sides that they played pretty football, but they managed to bully and force their way into winning positions through solid fundamentals. Set pieces, physicality - in our case that physicality manifesting itself pace, rather than strength - and creating contested situations. 

Avondale were all about avoiding contests. Ball possession, teamwork, short passes. When it works, it's glorious. When it doesn't, how do they reliably win the ball back, except by virtue of poor passing from their opponents? Which, to be fair, we were excessively guilty of in the first half.

The aesthetic ugliness of our style even extended to our goals. Two deflections, a penalty, and a power free kick as opposed to a curling/precision based one. If that sounds like a lot of whinging for the sake it, it kinda is. I want my team to score goals but also play something a bit more aesthetically pleasing than this style. But all goals count the same, and as the momentum shifted, one could not help but be drawn in to the spectacle.

Being at home meant that the spectacle also had to be shared with the commentary team. I'm not one who likes to criticise mostly young guys (and occasionally gals) doing commentary for very low pay, but if there was anything which reinforced my wishing I was at the game, it was the standard of commentary. Lots of yelling and screaming, lots of cliches, and an unbearable number of references to Ange Postecoglou. 

Look, I get it. Like us, these guys have just witnessed a miraculous comeback, and they feel like they need to put their stamp on it. But it was like listening to two Simon Pijacas, and it was unbearable. It's made watching the highlights near impossible for me, to the extent that I wish the club would release a a highlights clips with ambient crowd noise from the go-pro and sideline cameras.

And another thing, which is not just a problem with this game. Please, whoever's in charge, if it's going to be two people hosting, make it so it's one match caller, and one special comments person per game, as nature intended. Having two people trying to fight to get on air to do commentary is not working. I don't expect it to be like the days of NPL radio, where Teo Pellizzeri's match commentary was interspersed with analysis and conversation. But I do expect it adhere to successful soccer commentary templates. 

Anyway, there's Harry Sawyer at one end, Javier Diaz Lopez at the other, holding together two ends of whatever is in the middle. On Friday they put a dent in Avondale's 2022 minor premiership ambitions, as well in the Avengers' (snarf) hopes of winning the 2021 Bespoke title. I tried my best (sort of) to keep with that, but it's over to you guys to keep proper tabs on what's been dubbed by Mark Boric as the Bespoke Choke.

Next game
Bergers away on Sunday afternoon. A chance for all the people who love Sunday afternoon soccer to show up in big numbers.

Final thought
Congrats to the senior women for picking up their first win of the league season last weel.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

I'm voting for apathy - Dandenong City 0 South Melbourne 1

Sincere apologies for another short and late post. I'd blame work, but work actually pays for things, whereas following South only tends to cost me. Better to learn this later rather than never, perhaps.

I didn't venture out to Endeavour Hills for this match, and I was so much the better for making that decision. Hiking out to the middle of nowhere, standing in the pouring rain, eating another chevapi roll. It's been done.

Instead I decided to go and visit an old South supporting friend who hasn't been able to go to games as of late. Watching the live stream with someone else sure as hell beats watching it by yourself. And no problems getting a gin and tonic.

Nevertheless, even in good company, a stream is not as good as the real thing. That's especially true when the stream doesn't even work. And waiting to see when or even if the stream will start, isn't all that fun. Cue a photo of said "stream will resume shortly" making its way to social media, only for the commentary to focus on the shocking state of my friend's cable management, with people thinking that it was my room and my TV and my cables!

Also, I didn't realise how much people cared for cable tidiness.  

Sitting on my mate's couch, waiting for something to happen on the TV, and then seeing that on the phone app, the stream and the match had started, and the just waiting for the TV stream to catch up the minute or so it was behind some version of reality. 

We got there in the end, though as the match went through its ebb and flow, you couldn't always tell who was the ladder leading team, and the team that very much nearer the other end of the table. Post-game people bitched and moaned about this, and I suppose I can't really get too crestfallen about that, because I've done it, too. 

But last week I was just, do you even remember where we were not that long ago? Farcical, flukey, or otherwise, it's still just nice that we're in a good place ladder wise, even if people think were not that hood, or the competition's even worse, or that it'll all fall apart sooner or later. That could just be more contrarianism from me though.

Yet, really, so what if Dandy City stuffed up several chances, and that we had to rely on former South championship player Shaun Timmins putting the ball in the back of his own net, or if some of our players were arguing among themselves post-match. Take the last as evidence that they care, if not about South, than at least about playing the game, which is something to latch onto in these apathetic times.

Next game

A 2021-2022 six pointer against Avondalet at Lakeside on Friday. Maybe with a sea of green and white, the likes of which we have not seen since the Bohemians visited in 2014, but probably not. Not even sure I'll be able to make it. Hope that I can, of course.

Final thought

I'd make an observation about some conditional changes recently made to the operation of the no. 12 tram when the footy's on, but I'm the only South fan on that tram most times, so forget it.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Forgot to add a title - South Melbourne 3 Port Melbourne 0

All gripes about poor crowds and cruddy scheduling seem to miss a crucial point - and that point is that South Melbourne Hellas has reached its nursing home stage. Our best years are behind us, the food is sometimes iffy, but most importantly, our nearest and dearest only come to visit sporadically. A handful of times a year is probably too much. A celebration (read: grand final) or Christmas (read: opening game), sure, that might get the relatives to come around and visit. 

Most of the time though, there's a million and one excuses about why people don't come anymore, all of which are an attempt to avoid saying the bleeding obvious - you're old, and no-one likes you. The club's children and grandchildren are basically ingrates who occasionally visit out of a latent sense of filial piety, and it doesn't really matter if it's Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, there's almost always something better to do.

Now having said that, and without actually doing anything resembling a count, there were about 100 more people there than I would have expected, even if this game was played on a Sunday. They got to see another ridiculous match in this ridiculous run. Sure, last year's opening 12 or so games were ridiculous, too - remember how we were somehow on top of the table despite genuinely not being very good? - but this year is something else.

2022 has so far been the season where we have been pretty good for about 15-30 minutes each game, pretty ordinary for the rest of it, and where that has somehow managed to be enough to be well clear on top of the league. This includes gradually losing players to various injuries, which now includes the aging Brad Norton, the perennially injured Josh Wallen, the apparently hurt himself why trying to do a scissor at training Andy Brennan, and our favourite utility Perry Lambropoulos. Also Marcus Schroen was out.

You'd think we were ripe for the picking, but Port did it its best to throw this game away in the first ten minutes, and just about succeeded. Harry Sawyer hit the post, then Port tried to Nuna its way out of defence and that was 1-0. 2-0 was two minutes later, when someone from the back line hit the best long diagonal pass they will ever achieve, and Alun Webb ran through the middle of the too high Port defence to score. At some point Max Mikkola threw a huge bomb to Sawyer, who only had to nod the ball down into the back of the net.

The next 60 odd minutes were then pretty much what we've come to expect. South had the lead, and we did our best to invite the opposition to eat into that lead, to no avail. Port had ample opportunity to score, but could not. Sometimes it deadset looked like we were letting them walk through to Javier Diaz Lopez. More of the same included Mikkola not finishing a game, and Jai Ingham not playing a complete either, this time coming on as a sub again.

Still, top of the league, so enjoy it. I am. Even the burger was more than tolerable this week, though they could ease off the ridiculous amount of chips provided. Which might also mean that they wouldn't run out of chips so fast, but goodness knows how they run out of chips anyway. Also, running out of gas for the drinks, also not a good look. 

Party like it's 1969
The best bit about the game - apart from nonsense chants - was that if you weren't at the game, then you missed all the good action. You see, despite having their cameras and commentary in place, someone at Football Victoria or Cluch scheduled the stream for Sunday instead of Saturday, meaning that viewers at home did not see the majority of the game, and certainly not the best part which was the first ten minutes. It was a bit old fashioned, really - even at the ground, you actually had to pay attention, because there was no NPL TV replay function either. Should have handed out complementary flat caps at the entrance.

Other things
You may or may not have seen the Knights vs Oakleigh game abandoned after 20 odd minutes because of unplayable conditions. I went to the Knights FB page to see people lining up into the "they should have/should not have played" debate, and instead could see only tons of posts by irate gamblers, and people trying to sell tickets to the eventual replay.

These people have made reading Facebook NPL comments sections impossible. No amount of moderation and deletions and key word and phrase shadow-banning can keep ahead of this scourge. Why would any normal human being want to engage meaningfully on these pages looking for discussion or information when it's full of this crap?

So our club, and I suppose a few other clubs, are in that nursing home stage, and the only people making an effort to talk with us are grifters and conmen. Fantastic. As Knights president Pave Jusup said, we should get rid of Facebook and go back to forums. At least you knew that the idiots who populated bulletin boards cared about the local scene enough to tailor their vitriol and trolling to local tastes and customs. 

The other thing which happened. Following on from last week's brief discussion about commentators not being up to speed with the rules around certain states of play, I asked the question on Twitter about whether at NPL commentary induction (if there was such a thing), whether there was actually anything about correctly identifying the way rules are actually applied, as opposed to how people think they are or should be applied. I only got the one response, in a private message, basically saying  "what induction, lol" and that, no, there was no coverage about how to deal with that aspect of a match.

So, maybe something for the comms team at Football Victoria to consider. Or not.

Next game
Dandenong City away on Saturday afternoon/evening. I doubt that I will be there, but I will hopefully be catching up with the fixture via a working stream.

Final thought
You see, my wife, she has been most vocal on the subject of the second division."Where is the second division? When are you going to get the second division? Why aren't you getting the second division now?" And so on.

Friday, 29 April 2022

In case of emergency, break "set piece" glass - Altona Magic 0 South Melbourne 1

Used to be a time that South playing at Paisley Park meant an almost certain loss, no matter how well we played. Nowadays it's kinda the opposite, though of course one must take into account the relative merits of the Victorian Premier League era Altona Magic, and the one from the National Premier Leagues Victoria era.

Then again, there used to be a time that volunteers ran canteens at this level, and service was relatively speedy, even if the food options were rather basic. Nowadays either nobody wants to sit inside a hot canteen booth for several hours while others enjoy the game, or there's actually no one left to take up the role. So private operators step in, service tends to be slower, but if you're willing to wait (possibly forever) you can get 12 hour slow cooked brisket, or an overpriced chevapi roll. 

Another thing which has changed, or is at least something I've never seen before, is a coach passing notes to his players during the game. Not vocally relaying instructions to a player who then informs teammates further away from the coaching staff. Actual instructions written on actual paper and passed along from player to player. I would say that I've never seen anything quite so strange, except that the change it wrought seemed to be even stranger, in that the team that was already copping a bath on both wings and had no midfield, reset its formation into a doughnut scheme that was even worse than what had preceded it.

Not that whatever preceded it was going well, but I'm not sure that moving Patrick Langlois to right back was quite the masterstroke that the brains trust thought it was, because the doughnut remained, and Magic waltzed through non-existent resistance. Thank goodness their finishing was absolute rubbish, and that they failed to convert even one of the four very, very good opportunities presented to them in the first half.

But it wasn't just the doughnut shaped formation that was the problem. Our passing from the back line into said doughnut midfield was also dire. Even in situations where the players recognised - at least theoretically - that we were all over the shop and needed to reset was only useful in theory. To wit: stand Marcus Schroen, standing is as captain for the injured Brad Norton, exhorting his teammates late in the half to stay focused, keep a clean sheet with a minute to go in the first half and reset in the second, soon afterwards finding himself in possession in midfield, making a blind pass square across the field, which was easily intercepted.

He wasn't alone in producing this kind of garbage, but it was the most egregious example. The only way to overcome the problem was to long balls to Harrison Sawyer, who was once again employed in the largely thankless task of having to fight for and chase long balls, which were the only way we were reliably getting forward. Of course when it's one against three or four, there's only so much any player can do. Even worse when the selected line up had no one willing or able to win a ball in the midfield, so we ceded possession and territory on a terrifyingly frequent basis. Very good way to expose an inexperienced left-back as well.

Nevertheless, that we managed to go into the break not 4-0 down was a victory itself, even if it was hardly a moral one. Second half, Lirim Elmazi was introduced into the middle, and things changed. I was critical of Elmazi's game against Oakleigh, but here his mere presence changed things for the better. All of a sudden there was a ball-winning midfielder playing in midfield, and the mere sense of there being an anchor set things right. Then it became a case of waiting for our goal, though it took its sweet time getting there.

When it did arrive, it came via... you guessed it, another set piece. And not even the first really good set piece opportunity, which was a penalty saved by Chris Oldfield. 

But first, a necessary digression.
From my viewing angle, I'm not even sure it was a penalty. But that's beside the point. Oldfield was penalised for his foul with a yellow card, which then led to several South fans asking for a red because Oldfield was "the last man".

So I tried to set the record straight at the ground (with some success!) and I'm doing it here again. In the first part, there is no "last man" rule. The rule is about denying "a clear goal scoring opportunity". But more importantly, under rule changes designed to rule out "double jeopardy" punishments - where a penalty is awarded and a player sent off - Oldfield s "accidental" foul now only warrants a yellow card at most.

People at the ground were asking me when did this rule come in, and I said at least 2-3 years ago. Well, even I was way off, because it was actually back in 2016.

So what counts as a "deliberate" foul then? According to the rules, a deliberate foul is:
Those include holding, pulling or pushing, not playing the ball, serious foul play, violent conduct or deliberate handball in order to deny a goalscoring opportunity.

None of which Oldfield got near to achieving. So, when you hear more guff at a ground about "last man" and why someone isn't being sent off for a foul in the box, educate them! The worst thing that could happen is a punch in the face. 

Anyway
Saved penalty and follow up gone, 0-0 looked the most likely outcome. Until, well, you know the rest. Someone swung in a corner, Sawyer timed his run well, and we scored another set piece goal. For keeping tabs at home, this is the 2022 set piece goal tally so far:
  • corner vs Heidelberg
  • corner vs Bentleigh
  • penalty vs Bentleigh
  • long throw vs Knights
  • corner vs St Albans
  • penalty vs St Albans
  • long throw vs Hume
  • penalty vs Gully
  • long throw vs Gully
  • free kick into box vs Thunder
  • corner vs Magic
11 goals from set pieces. We only scored 19 goals total in 18 league games last year.

How long we can keep that run up, I don't know. Should be fun finding out.

Next game
Port Melbourne at home on Saturday night. Women playing against the Bergers in the curtain raiser.

Living in the past is the best kind of living
You wanted it, and now you've got it. The boffins at Football Victoria's competitions department have managed to find a way to get the 2021 Bespoke Solution ladder up and running, and it is a thing of beauty. 

Well, almost.

Unlike Avondale's recent attempt to keep track of this nonsense, FV has included Port Melbourne's pointless 18 point penalty. Yet the Bespoke Table says South have three "2021" games left, when we should have four - I reckon FV has mistakenly counted our game away against Oakleigh as part of our tally, when only our home game against Oakleigh should count. Under this format South should still games against Avondale (Round 13 at home), Eastern Lions (Round 15 away), Oakleigh (Round 22 at home), and Dandenong City (Round 25 at home).

Hopefully someone sorts out the inconsistencies and mistakes by the end of the 2022 season.

Final thought
Credit to the Altona Magic physio, who spent more time upright on the field than most of Magic's players in the second half.

Friday, 22 April 2022

About time - Oakleigh Cannons 2 South Melbourne 1

Because our resident transport infrastructure reader likes to know
The trip from Sunshine to Huntingdale was quite good. Train into the city not too crowded, because the vast majority of the footy crowd would have taken earlier services than the one I was on. From the city, the Cranbourne/Pakenham lines have such frequent services you don't tend to worry about missing one train, because another will arrive soon after.

But the real bonus was my first time catching a new HCMT. Very spacious inside. Seats a bit stiff and a bit too upright, probably designed by eminent posturologists, so slouching isn't quite as easy. So many screens to look at with relevant information. Doors take a bit of getting used to. Overall, a pleasant experience. It's also easy to forget that Skyrail was even such a big deal.

Anyway...
In amid all those games where next to no one gives a stuff, here was one of those games where next to no one gives a stuff, with the addition of a few neutrals, and the host club wheeling out its entire junior program to buttress numbers. I'm not criticising Oakleigh for doing that by the way, because pretty much everyone pulls this stunt at some point during the season - and what better time than a non-Orthodox Easter Monday public holiday coinciding with school holidays to do it?

It did however accentuate the vibe that the game itself was somewhat of a sideshow. Oakleigh may as well have hired a ferris wheel, merry-go-round, and petting zoo to entertain the crowd, because there was that much distracted and idle chatter during the match that it may as well have been an exhibition game. Even Clarendon Corner, which was otherwise engaged with the match, was nevertheless reduced to the status of a rump state, not even able to scare away children and their parents from the far end of the grandstand.

Even the taunting of former players like Tyson Holmes and Matthew Foschini was more about pissing off the person in our midst who didn't want to give oxygen to the fact that there were former players of ours out there. Still, at least Oakleigh's updated logo means that Foschini no longer has to kiss a badge with a cartoon cannon shooting a soccer ball when he wants to be a smartarse towards us.

For those that did pay attention, I think the match was a bit of a fizzer. Undefeated (and more attacking than in recent memory) South coming to Jack Edwards to play an in-form Oakleigh set this up for something much better than what was actually served up. Which is not to say that it was a bad game, and not to say that it lacked action - but rather, that neither side put its best foot forward either in attack or defense. 

Just as importantly, there were no definitive answers about which team was actually the more likely to kick on from this game with an enhanced reputation. Both teams will probably make the finals, and they may well meet each other there, in which case we'll have a final answer about who was the better team out of the two; or at least the luckier.

And if you enjoyed the game and thought that it was actually rather good, that's fine too, but you're probably watching a lot more lower league stuff than I do these days.

Oakleigh had the better of the first half, and we had the better of the second. All three goals scored were in part due to soft defensive errors. Oakleigh opened the scoring when South's defenders seemed to dawdle at just the wrong time and place. South equalised when Marcus Schroen hit a shot from the edge of the box that went underneath the goalkeeper, like me trying to field in Super Mega Baseball 3. Then an unmarked Daniel Clark got hit by a rather ordinary corner at the near-post, which gave Oaks the 2-1 lead, and eventually the win.

I will say this though - there were things in the first half in the way that we played that I was concerned about. Oakleigh - by which I mean, Chris Taylor - like to play channel football, figuring out where the specific weak point is, and putting most energy into dismantling that. On Monday, especially in the first half, that weak spot was the Bermuda Triangle between right-back Ben Djiba, right-winger Andy Brennan, and defensive midfielder Lirim Elmazi. Elmazi in particular was struggling with whether to come or go, and it caused all sorts of problems on that side of the field.

But maybe I say this mostly because this was the predominant action that was right in front of me during that first half.

Second half was better from us, but how much of that was that due to Oakleigh deciding to sit back and take the chance that we wouldn't do anything of note? And yes, I get the irony of making it seem like it was possibly a smart tactical decision from the home side, when every time we've done it this year it just comes across as stupid. As it happened, we had enough of the ball, enough territory, and enough set pieces - which have been outlandishly good to us so far in 2021 - that only our inability to put in a decent ball for 90 minutes prevented us from creating meaningful chances to score.

Oddly enough however, I didn't find myself too disheartened with the loss. Bad crossing, wonky defending, and some questionable substitutions and team selections - what exactly are the circumstances where Jai Ingham is fit enough to start one week, and not the next? - only served to demonstrate to me that we're within the championship discussion. That's not the same thing as saying the competition is of a particularly high standard; only that I see us being more than competitive for the rest of the season, bar some streak of outrageous fortune.

I mean, it could happen, but those of you playing the "eight more points until we definitively avoid relegation in 2022" game, should probably enjoy it while you can.

Next game
Altona Magic at Paisley Park on Anzac Day. 

Look, women's matches! Two of them!
The new era of senior women's soccer continued last Saturday our in the 'burbs, with South taking on Alamein. I watched this on the stream, and I have to say that the best thing about the game was the commentator. Even if she was a bit new, and struggling a little with the names, she was also unafraid to be critical of elements of the game - namely how much time the ball spent out of play.

As for the match itself, it appears we are all going to have a be a little bit patient with the new regime. Anyone looking for the overloaded glory hunting teams of recent years will be disappointed. I don't know if we're actually going to go with our own youth, or just more young players from wherever we find them, bit clearly there's going to be an adjustment in expectations.

Among the players who have remained, some would have been fringe players in the past, carried by the stars. Now they've got to lead, and if the results and quality of play aren't where they need to be yet, that's just the way it is. Playing short, simple balls, instead of resorting to kick and chase will be a good start. Getting more than forward into position will be a nice addition. 

Which is not to say that we were completely outplayed by Alamein, and in the end, it was only the one goal that separated the two teams. But the home side had that extra bit of polish across the board, and you could hardly begrudge them their win.

Much better - though there was no stream to verify the totality of the effort - was the team's 5-1 cup win on Tuesday against a lower league Moreland Zebras side that apparently featured former South players Alex Cheal, Laura Spiranovic, Jess Au, and Lisa De Vanna. Maybe experienced players carrying a team isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

Final thought
The venue switch for this match means that our scheduled 2021/2022 six pointer against Oakleigh won't happen until later in the season. Not that anyone cares about this, of course.

Friday, 15 April 2022

Late Late Late Late Late - Dandenong Thunder 1 South Melbourne 1

At some point life becomes a treadmill of filling out forms and going through countless e-learning modules. I hate e-learning with a such a passion that it borders on the psychotic. What happened to learning the old fashioned way? Either sitting dazed and confused in a classroom, or on dazed and confused in a gurney in a hospital ward because you had the temerity to do something stupid, which nevertheless gave you real world experience? Anyway, enough about my Thursday evening. 

Pretty much everything keeps getting a little bit smaller, and I don't just mean the blog posts. Home crowds are smaller for almost everyone, and that goes for even the "good" crowds, of which this was one. Travelling support is smaller, and no-one complains too much, because who's left to complain? Expectations are smaller, which is hard to imagine considering how small we already thought they were. You watch the coach of the South Melbourne senior men's team have an argument with the head of Blue Thunder security, and instead of trying to be a sticky-beak, you just sort of shake your head and move on, because does it actually matter?

For the record, I think the argument was about access - perhaps too much of it - to the away team's changerooms, and on the other side of the equation, something about a lack of respect. We also learned that the coach's tendency to duck out at certain parts of a half during a match is probably to do with a sensitive bladder. At least that's what eye witnesses said of last week's brief absence from the technical area.

Anyway, this whole competition is hanging on to dear life while waiting for three things, only one of which may happen in the next three years, or ever. First, that all three of the remaining classic ex-NSL clubs (South, Knights, Bergers) in this competition might make the finals at the same time, thereby creating some sort of temporary "buzz" about the league. Second, the arrival some day of the National Second Division. Third, the eventual return of Preston, the one club which seems to have its shit together on and off field.

Which of the three above listed items is most likely to happen is really anyone's guess, and I'm not seeking to influence any answer. You may as well write it down on a piece of paper and send it to your local member of parliament in the reply paid envelope many of them will shoot your way over the next couple of weeks, hoping that you respond to their kind offer of a postal vote application that they'll sort out for you, so that they can mine your data or whatever it is they think they're achieving using this scheme.

How much more moribund this whole thing can get we'll just have to wait and see. On the train and bus trip over, which was thankfully both smooth and punctual at all interchanges, I tried to watch some of South's women's team play against Bayside, and I was shocked at how slow our play was. Also disappointed. I accidentally saw a clip of Adelaide City's women's team, and it was like a different sport. One should not be too harsh though, because things have changed there, and it will take time to adjust. 

Getting to the ground at what I later learned or figured out was just after half time in the under 21s, I take a seat in the stand, and watch the proceedings. Our youth team scores one just on my arrival, then there was a drinks break after sunset I assume for the benefit especially of any players participating in Ramadan, and then we piled on several more goals, because why not? Was any of it impressive? I suppose some of the finishing was OK, but the build up play - especially when looked at on replay - saw a team essentially dissecting an opponent by merely going through three defenders, rather than an opponent whose defensive mindset was that of defending as a unit.

Such is life, that somehow players who have come through the elite pathway system for several years now are so lacking in the basics of shape. Pity their opponents, too, who aren't having to work as hard for their goals as they should be, and thus likely not learning to apply higher grade adaptations of whatever it is that they've been taught.

I'm also concerned about two other things. First, the lack of action on Thunder's electronic scoreboard. I mean, it was on, and it had a bright white patch like the blinding high beams of a truck about to smash into you head-on, but the clock wasn't working, and I don't think the score was working either. Which I suppose should make us glad that it wasn't Earth Hour or something, and that they weren't wasting precious electricity by having it on at all. Unless of course, the scoreboard is powered by renewables, in which case, please continue to use the scoreboard as extra lighting if nothing else.

Which brings me to my second point. Our insistence on wearing our dark royal blue kit against teams wearing dark home kits. With the notable exception of Bentleigh because of the painted grass fiasco, and even though I hate the Carlton SC looking away get-up (though I have been educated and/or reminded as to the practical sensibilities of why the navy shorts have been chosen over white), I can't understand why for night games, at poorly lit grounds like this one, we don't just go for the predominantly white kit. If not for anyone else's benefit, than for mine, and my worse than Samuel Pepys eyesight.

The senior match comes, and there are changes to the lineup which may make sense. I don't know. Slightly sluggish start, but eventually get the better of things. Some players aren't so good at passing, while other seems less than fond of passing. Things look more promising on the left, but for no reward. These things happen, and by "these things", I also mean players blasting high over the from six yards out. Second half, and it's a bit messier. We score a goal from another set piece I forgot the number my preferred local media darling Josh Parish told me before the game (and after he changed out of his Preston polo), that our xG (is it or isn't it a fad? I don't know) was off at some extreme unsustainable point, and that was because (in part, large or small) of the ridiculous number of set piece goals we'd been scoring.

But it's not how, but how many, right? Unfortunately the how many turned out to be just one, which turned out wasn't enough to get us all three points, as our right hand side, which involved a particular unbalancing substitution which left our right-back frequently isolated against fast opponents, saw us concede an equaliser. Then we woke up and tried to score again, but it was all rather a bit too late. At least the draw took the weight off our shoulders of having to maintain a perfect run of league wins. Next up at some point, our undefeated run will have to come to an end as well. 

Next game
Oakleigh Cannons away at Jack Edwards Reserve on Monday evening. By now everyone should know that the fixture has been reversed away from Lakeside, because grand prix infrastructure will still be too obtrusive. 

More fixture changes
There's been an adjustment made to our Lakeside lease, but I don't
know what it is or what it means. It's probably not that important.
Some people were wondering about how the senior men could possibly be playing out of Lakeside on Saturday, considering that the senior men's fixture scheduled for the same day had been reversed. Well, the senior women's scheduled match against Alamein has also been reversed. 

But that's not all. The following week's senior men's match against Altona Magic has also had a fixture change, from the Saturday to Monday, aka Anzac Day. 

And there it is
South of the Border noted last week that there was talk about changes to the senior women's set-up, and so it has come to pass. Gabrielle Giuliano has indeed stepped down as head of the women's football department, replaced by Theo Cronis, a long-term sponsor of the club and (according to the club's blurb) someone who is passionate about women's football. How things will change in practice will be interesting to keep an eye on.

Final thought
I don't know what this is all about, but it might be something to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Moving on - South Melbourne 5 Eastern Lions 0

Though long since mentally broken by this club, I was still surprisingly in no mood to watch this game. I even contemplated going to the footy instead, but seeing all my friends swayed me to Lakeside. Besides, South still needs it more than Collingwood ever will.

One of the handful of people who still reads this guff wanted it made clear that not everyone agrees with my take on the Avondale/Australia Cup calamity. Fair enough, his objection is noted. Another reader suggested that my report was written as if I'd actually been there. A mighty compliment, but I defer to the South forum, from which I pieced together several items into a seemingly coherent and tangible whole. 

Quite a few of the few who were there, seemed already to have moved on from the shambles of our cup exit. Maybe they are genuinely that open minded and forgiving of those things that they cannot control. Maybe they are even more screwed up than people like me who are going to hold on to this and several other grudges until the end of time.

But as much as "get over it" seemed to be the catch cry of the night, I could not get over it. You can't make me feel things that I don't want to feel, or some such assertive psychobabble. So I watched this match in a state of emotional distance, which is quite something for someone who gets animated while watching pre-season matches of little consequence.

I've joked over the past few Esteban Quintas led seasons that we try to win 0-0. Well, I might not have liked the style, and it might not have been very effective, but despite the aesthetic atrocity that was the lowest scoring South team since about 1986, I never thought that we were trying to lose games. This year seemed different, too, because we were doing well enough to keep picking up wins, often doing so by scoring multiple goals.

And then last Wednesday happened and... it's going to take time for me to trust the collective brains trust managing the senior men's wing again. I spent most of the time chatting with a fellow ex-academic about my exit from the academic world in early 2019, and to be honest, it was just nice to chat. I mean, I've told that story too many times, and it's three years and a still ongoing pandemic ago, but we were 3-0 up after half an hour or some such, and it just didn't seem to matter. 

The performance didn't validate the decision, by whoever was responsible, to effectively tank against Avondale. Maybe if we lost to Eastern Lions, or had only a narrow victory it might have been able to read something different into the week, but Lions were so, so poor. Not allowed the freedom of previous recent encounters to start attacks from well up the field, they didn't fire a shot. Their man getting sent off at 3-0 for no good reason would have summed things up perfectly, except for former South goalkeeper Keegan Coulter getting benched at 4-0 down and five minutes to play summing things up even more perfectlier. 

Meanwhile we could have probably scored twice as many as we did, but that would have perhaps been greedy. Post-match most people seemed to be in a good mood, especially those celebrating Thunder's upset win over Avondale which saw us go six points clear at the top. I'm sure I'll join everyone else in that good mood place eventually.

Record matching

Sawyer's four goal haul saw him become the tenth (known) senior men's South Melbourne Hellas player to score four goals in a league match. He joins the following players in achieving that feat:

  • Ernie Ackerley, vs Melbourne Hungaria, VSL Round 8, 1966
  • Tom Clarke, vs Box Hill, VSL Round 16, 1971
  • Charlie Egan, vs Newcastle Rosebud United, NSL Round 17, 1984
  • Kimon Taliadoros, vs West Adelaide, NSL Round 7, 1991-1992
  • Ivan Kelic, vs Wollongong Wolves, NSL Round 16, 1995-1996
  • Con Boutsianis, vs Northern Spirit, NSL Round 30, 2000-2001
  • Michael Curcija, vs Kingz FC, NSL Round 11, 2003-2004
  • Goran Zoric, vs Preston Lions, VPL Round 3, 2009
  • Gianni De Nittis, vs Hume City, VPL Round 8, 2010

Now there's probably a good chance that one more South players achieved (or surpassed) this feat during the 1960 season, but good luck scrounging up the specifics on that.

Next game

Away to Dandenong Thunder on Saturday night. Please be aware that kickoff for the senior match has been pushed back from 7:00PM to 7:45PM, one assumes to better accommodate the Ramadan/iftar observances of many of Thunder's supporters and volunteers.

Fixture change

Our upcoming round 9 fixture has also had a change. We were supposed to host Oakleigh on Saturday April 16th, but the fixture has been reversed, and the game will be played at Jack Edwards Reserve on April 18th, Easter Monday. This is apparently because relevant grand prix infrastructure will not have been packed away quickly enough.

The NPLW match scheduled for April 16th, against Alamein - and which was meant to be the curtain raiser to the NPL match - at this stage still looks like it will proceed as scheduled. 

Women's team

Speaking of the senior women, I caught a chunk of the second half of their season opener against Bulleen on the screens in the social club, and it seemed like an improvement on whatever happened in the first half to see them 3-0 down at the break. Now it's always a bit of a wonky affair across the board while waiting for A-League Women players to have a rest from the close of that season before they jump into state league duties, but... what's this I hear about perhaps not so many W-League players coming back to Lakeside?

Some chat going around last Saturday that Gabrielle Giuliano, the board's driving force behind the club's women's component, will be scaling back her involvement with the club. Likely related to that, there was also vague mention made of a change in direction for the women's program, whatever that means.

Someone made a tweet - since deleted - making an interesting assertion about what that change in direction might mean. But that could have also been a huge fever dream on my part. 

Final thought

The club really has to sort out its multiple booze problems. No booze outside last week, and no one able to find the gin inside.

Friday, 1 April 2022

I can't even - Avondale 4 South Melbourne 1

Some games you know you've got to avoid the socials for a while after a game. This was one of those games.

I wasn't there, and I'm glad that I wasn't. What would be the point, to be disrespected in such a way? I feel awful for those of our fans who went out to Westmeadows expecting if not a win, then at least the best effort possible. Instead each one of those fans there was personally insulted by the decision by someone to tank in a cup game. 

Sitting on my couch, I saw the team list with its nine changes to the starting lineup - including two debutantes, one bloke playing his first game in over a year, and a smattering of youngsters - and I could not understand what was going on in people's minds. Several social media updates later, we're down 3-0, and it still made no sense.

I understand that this year, the league is more a priority than the cup. That's been made clear by the board. That's fine. But there's a time and a place. Six games into the new season, we are six wins from six, and clear on top of the table. We're not playing perfectly or up to our complete potential, but we're doing well. We have room to stumble in the league without it being disastrous, our squad seems to have good morale, and the expectations of our fans have changed from worrying about relegation, to thinking about finishing in the top two or three positions in the league.

Our opponent in the cup was a team that had beaten us eight times in a row, with us never even really getting close in any of those games. The upcoming league opponent was Eastern Lions, who have just one win from six matches, and even that win was due to grand theft football. Logic, common sense, the plain facts of the upcoming week as presented to anyone, would say that if you wanted to rest some senior players, and rotate some fringe players into the starting lineup, you'd do that in the league game against the side that's second last on the table.

Instead we made the decision to do it against the best team of the last two and a bit seasons, whom our fans believed that we could give a run for their money. This was a chance where even if we did not win the tie, we could at dent their confidence, reset the dynamic between the two clubs where we could prove that we could be competitive against a recent title contender.

Someone made the decision to essentially sabotage the season. We were feeling good about ourselves, we had turned a corner, there were even five slots in the Australia Cup for Victorian sides this instead of four, so you could even afford to screw up later and still have a chance of making it in. But someone decided to kneecap our chances of even that.

Now I hate the Australia Cup, don't get me wrong. I hate the way it distorts attention, money, and feelings of worthiness. But I still want to win as many games as possible, in every meaningful competition. I want our club, when it is playing in serious fixtures, to try and win them. Like, actually, genuinely try and win them. 

This whole thing makes no sense. Even board members at the ground nearly coming to blows with each other. How did we get to this point? It's enough to make you give up the ghost on this club, because clearly there are people involved with running the team who have pretty much given up themselves. It's easy to say that these people should not be allowed near the club ever again, but what force could make that happen?

I now dread Saturday, and I now also dread the rest of the season.

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Cobbling together wins and blog posts - Green Gully 0 South Melbourne 2

Someone wants the perfunctory report straight up, while others want actual genuine detail about the game. 

So here's the perfunctory report: have you seen the five matches prior to this one? Well it was more of the same. Thirty minutes of good stuff by us, followed by sixty minutes of slop. Gully were alright once we let them into the game, certainly a notch or two above several opponents.

Not entirely unlike last year, we are hanging on to top spot and undefeated run, with increasing unease about when it will all come crashing down. To be sure, this year is looking better, which is to say, we are winning games instead of drawing and winning. In addition, our good bits this year look more convincing than our good bits at the equivalent stage of the season last year. But we are still stuck in the same ideological mire, in the sense that even while we have scored an impressive amount of goals, the astonishingly quick deterioration of our midfield once we retreat to protect a lead is really bloody worrying.

I suppose we should be glad, even as our fears last season were a bit of an overreaction, that in 2022 we are in no way shape or form relegation candidates. And yes, we didn't win a league game for about a three month stretch last year, but we probably had enough points on the board to go around again in NPL1. But still, the same problem remains, and in some cases you can only really tell how bad it is when standing behind the goals - for it's when you can conduct an extended discussion with the opposition goalkeeper, without any fear that it will be interrupted by an attacking move your team, that you know you're in a bit of strife.

Meanwhile, 110 metres or so away at the other end, you see a purple blur bouncing around making all sorts of audacious saves to keep your team's clean sheet intact. On those few occasions the ball did come to our end of the ground in the second half, we had to deal with the ignorant petulance of the Gully players, who apart from trying to intimidate the referee, also asserted that that assistant referee had no right to make any calls that the referee night have missed.

"Stick to your job" I believe was the line, which I did note to the Gully players was actually anachronistic. While assistant referees are not meant to replace the main referee when it comes to making the vast majority of decisions, they are to be encouraged these days in making calls when the central referee is blindsided, or when the central referee gives a subtle indication asking for confirmation of something he may have suspected to have happened.

But back to conversations with opposition goalkeepers. I must say those few of us behind the goal really let ourselves down on that front. We had done no preparation of material or talking points. We managed to figure out that Liam Driscoll was 22 years old, and thus ripe for some "banter" (ugh), but we hadn't done any homework. Which better clubs had he played at? What was his stance on Australia's dominant preferential voting system vs Hare-Clark? What is the meaning of life? Instead we had to resort to "let's see what's in the news" gags. Had he seen the Hume keeper's stuff up? Did he want some near undrinkable vodka mixed in with Powerade? Things of that nature. 

Being neither that kind of drinker, nor a 14 year old trying to make unpalatable alcohol taste just that bit less unpalatable by being mixed in with other garbage, I did not imbibe, but each to their own. Planning for this trip started all the way back when we found out we were playing this match in Ballarat instead of Green Gully Reserve, without ever knowing quite why it was being played 95kms (or thereabouts) west of Keilor. In the time since, I've narrowed it down to two possibilities of how it came to pass:
  1. Green Gully genuinely wanted to take a major fixture of theirs on the road to regional Victoria, hosting it in an otherwise underused soccer specific stadium. If it went well, it might be the start of more such adventures to regional Victoria.
  2. The Green Gully Reserve pitch was getting a necessary touch-up, and while Gully had requested that we swap our fixtures around - with us playing this match at Lakeside, and reversing the later fixture - South Melbourne, remembering Gully's refusal to accommodate us in a similar request in 2019, told them to stick it.
It could really have been either of those, but who knows for sure?

Anyway, fifteen years ago a long range trip like this would have attracted a good chunk more people for a train trip except... maybe it wouldn't have? I remember the 2014 trip out here, and I'm pretty sure it was just me and Gains on the train to and from Melbourne. OK, so that eight years ago, rather than fifteen and the days of Frankston train trips and Canberra bus trips, but maybe the occasion just wasn't big enough then or now. Maybe only interstate trips for FFA Cup games is what people care about, and can limit themselves to now that a good chunk of Clarendon Corner is in its mid-30s and having babies and responsibilities.

So there were four of us, thinking of taking the 12:!4 out of Southern Cross, and hitting a Ballarat pub for an hour or so before the game. Good luck with that. Rail replacement buses made one of our quartet miss the 12:14, which meant all of us sticking around for the train in a further hour's time, by spending that hour at the bar inside Southern Cross station. Also, there's a bar inside Southern Cross station, who knew?

So an hour later we're on the rails, admiring the scenery when it's visible. Some people who hadn't traveled west of Harvester Road in Sunshine since 2015 wanted to see what remained of Chaplin Reserve, not realising (where it was it actually located in relation to Sunshine station), and not understanding that thanks to the massive trench through which trains heading west from Sunshine now travel through, that you could not see anything of the (not very much left to see anyway) remains of the former home of George Cross.

Arriving in Ballarat around 2:45, my fellow travelers wanted to find a pub, even though it would have been cutting things a bit fine in terms of making it to kick off. As luck would have it, the pubs around the station seemed to be closed because of covid-related under-staffing, or because they weren't serving drinks until 3:00. Walking down to Sturt Street, because Google maps said we had to do that to catch a bus down to the ground, even though apparently (and logically) we could've caught a bus from the station, we waited for the number 25 bus that either came earlier, or was incredibly bloody late.

While waiting for the 25 we got asked by some kids about what we were chanting, and whether we were going to a soccer match. We ended hitching a ride on the 24, which unlike the 25 which dumps you on the front side of the Morshead Park precinct on Pleasant St, instead dumps you out the back on the western side, necessitating a walk around the back of the trotting club. Also, on the way there we saw another match day at Trekardo Park, doubtless full of persons oblivious to greatness that was soon to be on display down the road.

The reward for trudging through the back lots of Ballarat was a Gully match program, a six dollar burger turned into a five dollar burger because they didn't have any change, and a fence you could safely place a drink on without worry that it would fall over. Oh, and another win, marred only by having to watch us scrap and scrape in defense for an hour, and Josh Wallen getting what looked like a serious hamstring injury.

On the way back two of the blokes watched rugby league, I watched juryo day 14 of the haru basho. A good day all around.

Next game
Australia Cup against Avondale, at Broadmeadows Valley Park, on Wednesday night.

All information available at present indicates that this match will not be live streamed.

I'll be giving this game a miss for various reasons, but mostly because of competing commitments at home. 

Final thought
Thanks to Johnny for giving us a lift back to Ballarat station.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Seventeen - South Melbourne 5 Hume City 0

Perfunctory match report
First half, quite good in terms of taking down an opponent likely to be near the bottom third of the table.

The second half was pure slop.

How old is seventeen really?
This post is late because I wrote about 1700 words of self-indulgent junk trying to figure out what the hell happened on Friday night, and what should happen next. That was 1700 words where I'd maybe only got halfway through writing the damn thing. This extended thought bubble is also strictly about male football, because female sport - and the cultural infantilisation of such by various parts of the media and the public sphere - is a whole other kettle of fish.

To be honest, it's probably better to fret less, and get to the point. We were 1-0 up early against Hume, and then Marcus Schroen, the scorer of that opening goal, took a shot which was well saved by the Hume goalkeeper Lucas Trenkovski with his legs. The ball remained in play however, and the South attacking move continued until striker Harrison Sawyer hit a low and relatively tame shot from the edge of the box, which was easily gathered by Trenkovski in the six yard box. 

The crowd's attention momentarily drifted away from the scene, as the save allowed for a natural moment of pause, one of many where a football crowd is not obligated to be as focused as they might be at a more pivotal moment. As Hume's defenders turned around, and as South's players turned their backs to the ball in order to retreat toward their own half of the field, Trenkovski attempted to get up from the ground after his save. As he did so, the ball slipped from his grasp and fell back across the goal line. 

One Hume defender saw this happen, his hands going to his head in shock. The South Melbourne ball-boys behind the goal reacted the same way. Instinctively, Trenkovski reached across the line to collect the loose ball and turn up field,  running past the edge of the six yard box almost as if nothing unusual had happened. The referee was alert though, and ruled for a goal. The time which elapsed from Sawyer's muddled shot to the referee's whistle for the goal was barely seven seconds.

The South players celebrated, and the crowd slowly caught on to what happened. Clarendon Corner began fumbling through the NPL TV app on their phones searching for the footage that we missed in person. Just four minutes after conceding that goal, an angled shot from Andy Brennan appears to go through the hands of Trenkovski, with the scraps tapped in by Schroen.

At least that's my view from Clarendon Corner, a view partially obscured by the congestion of the players in the 18 yard box. It's also a viewing position which is separated from the goal at the lake end of the ground by about 100 metres of grass, a ten-lane running track, a concrete concourse, and about eight rows of grandstand seating. In actuality, Brennan's shot was somewhat mishit. It bounced awkwardly in front of the goalkeeper, who managed to parry it away - ineffectively as it turned out - onto the chest of the oncoming Schroen, who in all honesty would have had zero time to react to the ball hitting him after the save.

Those two suspect goals in four minutes lad to what would, in any normal league with semi-organised and vocal supporter groups at every ground, an entirely expected reaction: chants and commentary directed at the goalkeeper and his nightmare of a game to that point. Now most of the clubs in the Victorian top-tier don't have anything resembling "active" support, and so a bad day at the office would ordinarily be limited to banter from the odd keen supporter daring to supply witty comments, or a player seeking to further humiliate a vulnerable opponent, in the hope of seeking a further psychological edge.

Unfortunately for Trenkovski, his bad day was at a venue and a club with a vestigial element of active support. There was the usual, unimaginative stuff, like "pass it back to the keeper", and elevated excitement any time the ball got anywhere near him. There was also stuff more specific to local soccer history, especially the Southern Stars match fixing scandal of 2013, and the ongoing interest of foreign gamblers who pollute the social media pages of local teams when they lose their bets.

There was nothing particularly remarkable about the chants and commentary. There wasn't anything particularly offensive. Whether it was even funny was perhaps in the eye of the beholder. There was certainly nothing personal in it, because we didn't know the bloke in goals for Hume. But at half time, a woman (who we later learned was a parent of a Hume player) came down to Clarendon Corner to berate us for targeting the goalkeeper, which caused a shouting match between the woman and members of Clarendon Corner. Her main point was to leave the player alone, because he's only seventeen years old, and the backup goalkeeper is only sixteen.

She was eventually convinced to leave the area. Within Clarendon Corner, there was bemusement at the incident, and also anger. Anger, because people felt that we hadn't actually crossed any lines. Anger also because we have been the victims of much more than merely verbal abuse at the hands of people associated with Hume City, on more than one occasion. But there's also laughter at the absurdity of the whole exchange, and mocking consideration of her request. I took it a little more seriously, suggesting for the sake of not causing further issues, because there's nothing to be gained from further humiliating a seventeen year old - and seeing as we were 4-0 up at halftime - that we ease off on the issue.

Besides which, we have a pretty ordinary track record of accidentally (and sometimes less accidentally) upsetting friends and relatives of players and coaches in this league, both from South and from the opposition. Which, when you think about it, is not such a hard thing to do, when a good chunk of an NPL Victoria is friends and relatives of players and personnel.

The self-declared attempt at abstention from making comment on the goalkeeper worked for a while. But the second half was complete rubbish, and boredom and distraction set in. The game not providing suitable entertainment, we searched for ways to entertain ourselves. And so the earlier "banter" is adapted to the newly acquired knowledge about the keeper's age. "You can't drive!". "You can't drink!". "You can't vote". The adaptation of the usual "you're shit" chant from goal kicks into "you're seventeen". And of course, renditions of songs about being seventeen, like this classic.

The game ended on one more farcical note. Bumbling defending saw Trenkovski come out of his box to make a harried clearance. It was not a good one. South won possession in midfield, and Harrison Sawyer strolled through near non-existent pressure from Hume, and scored with the final kick of the game. After the final whistle, Sawyer, Brennan, Schroen and Alun Webb all went over to speak briefly to Trenkovski, and that appeared to be that. A bad day for the goalkeeper, and a bad day for his team.

Post match in the social club, there appeared to be no carry-on or after effects of the whole affair. Some Hume players stayed back for a meal, but most did not. Attention turned, at least for me and those I'm speaking with, to looking ahead to next week, and trying to get someone to put the footy on on the big screen.

That should have been the end of the matter, except that I haven't really been able to stop thinking about the incident from halftime. More specifically, I haven't been able to stop thinking about the particular choice of argument the woman chose to use: "he's only seventeen". What does "he's only seventeen" actually mean? Is there an implication that his age makes him more fragile, and less resilient to such banter than a more experienced player? Is it that he's too inexperienced in the ways of the senior footballing world to comprehend, understand, contextualise, and deal with the attention being paid to him by opposition fans?

And let's then take the implication of her argument one step further - at what age is it OK for a player to be heckled by opposition supporters? Where do you even start with this question, and how much are the possible answers informed by probably faulty notions of common sense? So seventeen is out. Is 20 OK? In 2019 when he was 22 and we were standing behind his goal, because we were spectacularly unenthusiastic about our team on the night, then Hume City goalkeeper Michael Weier begged us to throw some shade his way, We had been doing that since he was about 20. At no point did we know his age. It didn't seem important I suppose. 

Oh, I understand that a 17 year old playing senior football - and especially a goalkeeper - is likely to be under more risk of failing to live up to the grade than a more seasoned player. That goes for the mental, as well as the physical and technical aspects. And I see where the argument comes in - we should be supporting player development, and we should be more aware of mental health matters.

But we must also remember that until halftime, Clarendon Corner had no idea who Lucas Trenkovski was, except that he was the opposition goalkeeper. We didn't know his history, and certainly not his age. We didn't even know his name after the game. When we first dropped back into the state comps, your average Clarendon Corner fan knew a lot more about the identities of opposition players. That's mostly because a not insignificant chunk of them were either former players of ours, or notable rival players from the NSL. Nowadays, unless they're once more a notable former player who almost inevitably left our club on bad terms, we have next to no idea who most of the blokes running around for the opposition are. 

Turns out Trenkovski is just some kid making only his fifth start in senior football. Quite why Hume is banking on a seventeen year-old keeper is anyone's guess. Maybe he's actually not too bad of a goalkeeper? I don't know. But people out there - maybe even me, sometimes - they'll use the line if you're good enough, you're old enough. And added to that, if you're good enough to play, you're old enough to take the hits on the field, and the commentary off it.

Of course, there used to be far more up for grabs on the heckling front. Racist abuse persists, but is largely frowned upon nowadays. Sexist abuse is more prevalent, and persistent. Homophobic abuse is still going to be with us for a long time unfortunately. But even so, those three categories are at least the subject of regulations within rules of the governing body. But making fun of a player having a bad night, in such a manner that someone might consider it a mental health issue? Is that the next frontier? In which case, is there any place for booing, jeering, or condemning the play of an opponent?

Maybe. But back to the original question. Assuming that there is an age where you can start mocking an opponent, what is the formula for figuring out what the appropriate age is? How many games does the player need under his belt before he becomes fair game? Does the level of competition influence when you can "go"someone? And should the player's position have any bearing on the matter? 

One of the arguments made within Clarendon Corner was that since it is senior football, that any player taking the field should be aware of the possibility of receiving disparaging remarks about the quality of his play. So we have an ethical demarcation already - in junior sport in Australia, where youth sport is in theory at least primarily about player development, companionship, and not entertainment for spectators, such conduct from supporters would be less acceptable, perhaps even unacceptable.

We can take that argument further. The game being played on Friday night was not only of a senior level, but it was, in an Australian context, a comparatively high level affair. Compromised though the Australian soccer second tier is by being split eight or nine different ways, this was still in effect a second division match. Furthermore, players in the Victorian division of this fractured national second-tier are playing in the best or second-best of these second-tier competitions. 

The players also get paid, usually quite well considering the paucity of income they generate for their clubs or the league as a whole. Yes, payment for their services is due in terms of the high level of commitment players must make to training (including pre-seasons) and playing, effectively across about nine-to-ten months of the year. So the players are, even in their semi-professional state, professionals. And there is, I think, an unspoken acknowledgment that if you're getting paid to play, you're also getting paid to be cannon fodder for spectators.

That sounds awful when we actually spell it out like that, but it's not a new idea. Not everyone is onboard the bandwagon of integrating hate alongside love in sport, but it's been a persistent theme since sport's day dot. Can we excise hate out of competitive sporting contests? Or should we just cut our losses and strap on P Plates onto young and/or inexperienced players? Not that that stops certain fully-licenced drivers from having a go at learner and probationary drivers.

Being perhaps just a couple of steps short of phrenology, we should also be careful into how much we read into how Trenkovski's body language during and immediately after the match. This is not only because the vast majority of us have no expertise in such matters, but also because - again - we don't know him. t various times during the night he's angry - with himself or his teammates - or inconsolable, like he wants the earth to swallow him up. Any one one of those things could be indications of a faltering mental state, but equally they could also be perfectly normal reactions to playing a shit game?

We could say that his inexperience and/or his mistakes are due in part to the overestimation of Trenkovski's abilities by Hume's coaches. Or that the reaction to his mistakes by Clarendon Corner is because we didn't know he was just a kid. But Hume's coaching staff... OK, so you chuck a young player in to play who may or may not be ready. Until you do it, you may very well not know. Maybe he has four solid games, and you think this is going well. And then he has a stinker. I mean, he his whole team has a stinker, but he makes the worst play of the night.

Some of his teammates rallied around him, and at the end of the game, so did some of his opponents. But maybe that attention only further served to remind him that he played poorly. Even keeping him out on the field, though it could be seen as an attempt at reinforcing trust in him and building his resilience, could be interpreted as psychological tokenism. Goalkeepers have enough to worry about without having to second guess whether their own team trusts them to do a job.

Perhaps the final word should go to Brandon Galgano, who was one of the commentators of the live-stream on the night. Galgano - a goalkeeper himself in his playing days - noted that seeing as Hume were keeping Trenkovski out there, the best thing to do would be to stay on your feet and keep going. I remember watching Galgano playing for Moreland City, where the final score of 1-0 to Brunswick City was due in part do a Galgano error. On the video, you can even hear one Brunswick fan yell out "Hey Galgano, put that in your highlights reel". 

People, and sport, can be cruel. Maybe the point is to be a little less cruel when we can. 

Next game
Green Gully on Saturday, in Ballarat. Don't know why this is in Ballarat, though it would be nice to know. I'll be taking the train and then a bus to the Ballarat Regional Soccer Facility at Morshead Park. I assume that, partly because of covid protocols, and partly because of inherent lack of fan interest, that the club will not be providing a supporter bus option to this match.

Australia Cup news
The fixture details for our Australia Cup match against Avondale have been confirmed. The match will be at Broadmeadows Valley Park (Hume City's ground), on Wednesday March 30th at 7:30PM.

Some basic ideas from improvements to the social club experience
Working beer taps.

Souvlaki that comes in a roll, rather than a panini.

Non-cardboard buns for the burgers.

A souvlaki open plate option, which seems eminently doable.

Footy on the TV screens after a match.

Final thought
You know, I don't even know if Trenkovski registered any of the crowd noise.

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

Solid Sunday Entertainment - St Albans 1 South Melbourne 4

Churchill Reserve being probably the second closest NPL venue to my house, I decided to get there super early on Sunday. I even drove there, because that would only take about 15 minutes, whereas the equivalent public transport trip would take close to an hour, which does not seem ideal for a seven kilometre trip. Plus if you get there early enough, there's a nice parking spot in the shade on Fox Street. Then again, if the price of petrol keeps going up, I might as well walk to games like this.

I got to the ground in time for the under 21s, and parking myself in between the two benches, I must say that I was left asking myself a lot of questions. First, whose bright idea was it to have our away kit look like a Carlton SC away kit? Frankly, it was a little sickening, and having to see that for the rest of the year isn't going to be easy.

But more questions, this time related to junior development. Now granted that on any given topic, there's always someone who knows less than you do, I'm still somewhere near the bottom of the knowledge pyramid when it comes to junior or youth soccer. But there's always a chance to learn more, even if that attempt at gaining knowledge is limited to a couple of games a year.

Do we place enough emphasis on the difference between being robotic and being automatic? I ask this, because I have come across complaints about youth players under various methods (often attributed to this or that "curriculum"), and the tendency to create robotic players who are unable to adapt to unfamiliar or especially to dynamic situations. 

And the micromanagement of the players by the coaches! I understand that they are youth players, and that they need instruction, but at what point should players in this age group (under 21s, so say about 16-18 year olds) no longer need to be constantly told where to stand, where to run, and what pass to make? At what point do not only the individual players themselves take charge of their own positioning and decision making, but also certain players adopt leadership roles to help implement whatever game plan the coach has them playing under?

I won't make much if any comment on things like the quality of first touches, or when's the right time to play back to the keeper, or decision making as it relates to playing on a small ground that has more ups and downs than a vinyl oval from the Test Match board game that's been gathering dust in a cupboard for the past 25 years. 

One thing I do know, though, is that it's never a wise idea for match officials to get involved with banter with the hoi polloi standing behind the fence. I mean, you can usually answer a rudimentary question about something that just happened without too much harm, and maybe at a more social level the whole experience is a bit more relaxed. But that young man running the line would have done better to not take the bait of arguing with a mouthy St Albans fan (and self-declared NPL player), because nothing good will come of it.

An attempt at a well-thought out post on the senior match held last Sunday is pointless if you were standing on the outer side of Churchill Reserve. That ground has to have some of the worst sight-lines in Victorian soccer, with only the social club wing affording anything approaching near unimpeded views. And of course I didn't stand on that side of the ground, but instead on the Fox Street wing, where my view was blocked by fencing, media scaffolding, poles, metal benches, and lots of people. Imagine a finals match played there, with say, double the crowd of Sunday's match?

But let me first digress a little further. If you did not attend because you are slack, not only did you miss on another great victory for Hellas, but you also missed out on one of the worst attempts at mowing a lawn you've ever seen. While our view of the game was poor, South of the Border had a first class seat to watch a shambles of an attempt at mowing a nature strip. Not sure why the bloke living across the street decided that kickoff was the right time to start mowing a lawn, but each to their own I suppose.

Initially I thought the rumble in the background was the generator being used to keep the batteries running on the camera for the live stream, but a quick look behind us saw our man in his hat, hi-viz, and gloves wielding his machine like he was trying to stab the grass. Now I'm no lawn mowing expert, but I'm pretty sure the general idea is to just mow one lane of grass, and then go back the other way slightly to the left (or right) of whatever line you just mowed?

This bloke looked like he was a devil of a time, though he did get one bit right, when he tossed a small branch onto his neighbour's nature strip. We've all done that, because you know it will come back to your side eventually, and there's nothing malicious in the act. It's the kind of entertainment you wouldn't get in a national second division loaded with proper grounds.

The senior match seemed to go the way most of our games have gone so far this season. Fair start, messy middle, reasonable finish. That whole messy middle bit is an ongoing concern, especially when we come up against better teams. Again, there were signs of panic and an inability to wrest the initiative when under sustained pressure. The small ground however meant that in this case, flailing long balls to Harry Sawyer were automatically more dangerous than they would be on a larger ground.

Improved set piece taking - and decision making - has been a boon so far this season, and so it proved again on Sunday, with corners and such helping bail us out when we needed it most. Credit to Pat Langlois and his surely unsustainable run of headed goals. Credit also to Max Mikkola, Jai Ingham, and sub for this week Alun Webb for at least showing that we'll be a consistent counter attacking threat this season. In 2021, we scored just 19 goals in 18 leagues matches. We're already up to 12 from 4 games in 2022. 

Once we get Sawyer not trying to jump too high to connect with crosses he could really just walk to, we might be even stronger. Sometimes I'm not sure that he realises how tall he actually is.

The real hardcore cynics out there, in an attempt to outdo themselves, are still stuck in a 2018-2021 mindset, counting down the points needed to reach 30 in order to claim safety from relegation. Half-joke it may be, but I think this season's personnel make relegation extremely unlikely. If this team doesn't make finals, it'd be an astonishing failure. 

There are defensive issues, issues with tactics, issues with giving up initiative for long periods of time, and of course the possibility that we haven't exactly come up against the strongest opponents as of yet. But for the most part the 2022 team has not been a side cobbling together undeserved points, but rather one that has deserved, clearly, to win at least three of its four games so far. It might not yet be time to believe that good things will inevitably happen, but it might soon be time to start things that bad things inevitably will.

Next game

Hume City at home on Friday night. This is an ordinary match, for an ordinary three points. How dull.

In case you were wondering

That's four from four from our eight twenty-twenty-one six pointers for twenty-twenty-two. 

Here at South of the Border we're going to track this novelty as it relates to us, though good luck to anyone trying to keep tabs on how the entirety of the bespoke solution is going. Our revised 2021 points tally is now 37 points, well clear of the hypothetical relegation placings; and with Port Melbourne being docked 18 points for 2021, we're also in with a real shot at a hypothetical finals place.

For the record, we have four more bespoke six point matches to go:

  • Round 9, at home against Oakleigh
  • Round 13, at home against Avondale
  • Round 15, away to Eastern Lions
  • Round 25, at home against Dandenong City

Australia Cup news

The Australia Cup fourth round draw was conducted last week, and we were drawn against away to Avondale. Oh well, we had a good run. Just for the record, Victoria has been granted five spots in this year's national stage of the cup. Because there was no national NPL championship last season - of which the winner would receive a place in the Australia Cup as a reward - Victoria was granted that extra spot because the state's superior performances in FFA Cup tournaments past.

NPL TV app updates 

The other week on the steps outside the social club, a fellow Hellatzi noted that the Cluch app on his Android phone wasn't working - furthermore, it was asking for an update which didn't seem to exist in the Google Play Store. Whatever the issue seemed to be, it had not yet caught up to my ancient Nokia - but South of the Border eventually reached that point on Saturday while trying to catch up with some of the overnight goals. 

An uninstall/reinstall maneuver only managed to turn my phone's Cluch app into the soccer-less, and largely pointless version of the app that's been available on Google Home devices. Not ideal. A search for NPL TV in the Play Store did unearth an NPL TV specific app however; so if you came across the same problem of your Cluch app carking it, it seems like we are being migrated across to a new app.

Now, it does seem like that there are incremental improvements being made to the product, like the ability to go back and forth in ten second increments, as well as rewind in some games, but I haven't really had the chance to check it out fully. I'm not even sure if they've added the ability to pause matches. Still, what we wait for most is a smart TV app so we're no longer casting from PCs.

But I'm told it's still a much better product than whatever Paramount+ is offering for its A-League coverage, so apparently I shouldn't complain so much.

Final thought

Oh boy, those Dinamo kids behind the goal with those firecrackers. Someone could blown a finger off, or an ear drum out, or... well, since no security or marshals cared on the day, I probably shouldn't either.

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Notes from the 2021 AGM

South Melbourne Hellas members are now well used to AGMs being delayed for unorthodox reasons, but the pandemic is the unimpeachable get out clause for everything these days. Attendance from committee members was poor, but that of the members was worse. A lot of regular faces at these things did not show up. Why, I do not know. Indifference? Covid? Inconvenient time-slot? Heaven help us if the senior men's preferred match day discussion ever gets combined with this topic.

And goodness knows where the armada of junior parents now eligible to attend such meetings was - thanks to Football Victoria constitutional changes some years back - because they weren't there, and have seldom ever attended since they have bee able to. Well, maybe they were at junior games. Still the meeting went ahead, and some useful information was parlayed to the small audience. 

As per usual, this is not a complete account of the AGM, because I did not take such detailed notes; nor should everything be made known to people who did not attend the meeting, or so I'm told. Then again, some people don't like any AGM details making their way into the public domain, but that ship sailed a long time ago.

There were two key presenters on the day, treasurer Mario Vinaccia, and president Nick Maikousis. At times the meeting resembled a conversation rather than a one-way information session, with the odd spiky exchange. But we get but one formal opportunity per year  (on average) to grill our representatives, and one would be wise to take it. 

Insofar as the treasurer's report went, there was generally good news in regards to the club's financial position as it ended at June 2021. The club made a profit of about $160,000, a good result considering the difficulties created by the pandemic with regards to sponsorship and match day revenue. The club is also on target to clear its external debts by June 2022. 

The club's business structure was once again explained. Essentially, the South Melbourne Hellas Club acts as the umbrella for a set of subsidiary organisations. Half of these are for profit businesses (the Bar & Grill, the Futsal Court, etc), and the other half are the various teams and clubs we operate (NPL and NPLW teams, miniroos, state league women's teams).

The assertion was made by the board that contrary to popular wisdom, it is the finances of the senior men's team which fills in the budgetary gaps (if and where they exist, though most teams break even) in other parts of the football business. How one gets that message out to a soccer public which takes as gospel that junior money funds senior wages (across many clubs, not just ours) is a difficult task. Because much more of the 2021 season was played compared to the 2020 season, there was less damage done in terms of refunds of fees to junior players due to the cancellation of the season.

The Bar & Grill more or less breaks even on match days, but does much better on special events. Of course, club hosted special events and the hiring of the function room by the general public have been hindered by the pandemic, but one hopes that will change as things open up again. The club's leasing of the futsal space to the Combat Institute of Australia for use as its National Performance Centre, which became official in January 2022, will see the club receive an annual six figure sum in rental fees. I think most of us will be glad that that space is finally earning its keep, albeit in an unorthodox manner. 

On the question of why no Sunday matches, it was made reiterated that much of the cost savings achieved by the club in recent times have been due to avoiding hosting Sunday matches, and especially the staff penalty rates that make Sunday games unappealing from a financial point of view. The four senior men's Friday night matches in 2022 are also being used as part of the attempt to garner and maintain sponsor networks.

Sponsorship is in a strong position, with the number of principle partners increasing substantially, as the club continues to leverage the business links of the current board. What might happen to that generosity should those members of the board - especially in the financial services sector, which we seem to have a focus on - depart, is a question left to the future. This approach is a variant of the construction industry funded teams in our league. Realistically, there would be few clubs in Victoria who can get by predominantly on gate takings, and in that sense we are not an outlier.

In short, gate takings and membership dues play second fiddle to sponsorship and other business ventures. While the club made a reasonable sum on the 2022 Melbourne City FFA Cup game given the circumstances, restrictive pandemic related trading circumstances diminished what could have been a higher taking. Still, it's nice to know that the club has a not insignificant item for its next financial report. Also to be taken into account for next year, is the already improved takings from merchandise sales. 

Though hampered by Lakeside Stadium being under the control of the state government rather than a local council, the club has improved its accessing of government grants. Most of these grants are relatively small, but collectively they help offset costs across our various football departments.

The president's report had some crossover with the treasurer's report, but also included other matters as you would expect. The relationship with the regular, match day staff of the Trust is currently good. However, the high turnover of bureaucrats at the Trust continues to make the management of that part of the relationship more difficult.

There was some discussion about further cementing our presence at some of our other locations, and the hope that there would be funding made available for the relaying of the synthetic pitches at Middle Park, among other improvements to our amenities.

With regards to Lakeside being used as a training venue for the 2023 Women's World Cup, there was little concrete news as of yet. There is the possibility of minor improvements being made to player amenities. It is also possible that the venue may be unavailable for several weeks, but otherwise there is scant detail on what the 2023 Women's World Cup will mean for us in an operational sense. That's something to keep an eye on for next year.

There was also discussion on the prospects of a National Soccer Division, but precious little of certainty to latch on to. There remain many open-ended questions about whether the NSD would be held during a winter or summer season; how long inaugural NSD clubs would be given to settle in, without the threat of being relegated themselves; how quickly full-time professionalism would be introduced; and of course, about how many clubs could realistically be expected to participate.

There was an acknowledgment that there would be need to be significant increases to membership, sponsorship, and attendance in order to the transition to an NSD work, with the club needing a large increase in turnover from its current position. The board however asserted confidence in its ability to make a successful transition to an NSD. In addition, the board was confident that the club could participate successfully in an NSD regardless of the ultimate format of the NSD,

Those members in attendance, while sharing the club's ingrained ambition to play at the highest level possible, generally had a more a wary disposition on the matter. Having said that, there are a wide range of opinions within the South community about the merits of an NSD, and the course of action the club should take. Thus it was disappointing not to have a greater attendance to have the range of those views considered. One hopes that the next AGM, which will hopefully see more concrete details released on the actual NSD format, will attract more interest from members.

A full-time sponsorship person has been hired.

The membership database issue is still an ongoing matter. 

Medium term, if the circumstances allow, the board is interested in re-aligning AGM dates and financial reporting to match the senior men's season, rather than going by the financial year.

At the end of the meeting, it was announced that Mario Vinaccia would be stepping down as treasurer, due to increased family commitments. The change will happen as soon as a suitable successor for the treasurer position is found. The membership thanked Mario for his efforts not only in cleaning up the club's books, but also for his efforts in changing the club's culture around transparency on these matters.

Monday, 7 March 2022

The Dying Derby - South Melbourne 2 Melbourne Knights 0

Another week, another six points, and that's all you can really ask for if you have low expectations combined with a sense of the absurd. Football Victoria's bespoke solution rolls on, but good luck trying to find an amended and in-progress 2021 table keeping tabs. It's not much easier finding a commentator on the match streams willing to bring it up as well, though I have come across it once.

Somehow no one at a South game seems quite sick of this nonsense arrangement yet, but what else is there to talk about? The National Second Division? Still not quite worth the digital paper its been pixelated on. The social club trying to stuff loose souvlaki-like meat into a Turkish panini instead of an ordinary, but nevertheless structurally sound bread roll? The lack of Knights fans who turned up?

On that last point, I think everyone noticed it. Maybe they were there and didn't make a sound, but if so, that doesn't say much good about their enthusiasm for all of this at the moment. It's hard enough getting any away supporters to Lakeside, so seeing another formerly half-enthusiastic visiting cohort become further diminished lessens the appeal of these so called derbies.

It's not like we haven't done the same in recent seasons, but that's usually been when we've been poor, we're away from home in the middle of winter, and not usually where this so-called derby is concerned. Maybe the Knights fans have adopted the styling of a middle-aged homebody, which is their prerogative I suppose. Maybe it's all about the near inevitable cup match ups these days, which probably makes sense on a whole range of levels, not least Knights having been largely rubbish in league competition for the better part of the last 25 years.

The game itself provided few great moments. A Marcus Schroen free kick looked good, but was saved in no small part because it was hit where the keeper should have had it covered anyway, but otherwise he'd have been more useful on patrol with the coppers trying to prevent non-existent trouble. Harrison Sawyer was reliving the worst moments of the past two seasons, when in one of our now standard phases of playing without a midfield, he was trying his best to do it all himself. He got some help in the second half, and helped set up a goal. Andy Brennan was sent chasing long diagonal ball after long diagonal ball, being reduced to the role of a dog let loose at an off-leash park. After his customary hour of doing that he was done, but credit to him for putting in some good corners.

Alun Webb didn't have a great one, and while I liked things that Max Mikkola did, getting pinged for a dive wasn't one his better moments. Still, you keep him on because he does nice things, and he can throw the ball a long way, which came in handy on Friday when Patrick Langlois headed one of those long throws from the edge of the box, had the ball bounce, and sneak in at the back post. It was an absurd goal, it won't ever happen again, but it was nice to get, especially if you're not going to be scoring more goals.

This giving up of momentum, combined with an inability to retrieve the initiative within a match until the opposition has been gifted several opportunities, doesn't fill me with much confidence about the other 23 league matches to come. We should have been punished harder last week, and this time around too, but the Knights were gun-shy to the extreme, even when staring the gift-horse in the mouth - and those were just the moments when your defense and your goalkeeper can't figure out who's meant to cover what angle. When your otherwise competent goalkeeper tries his second failed superman impersonation in as many weeks.

Nevertheless, if the opposition doesn't want to score, that's on them. We managed to get up to the other end of the ground and Jai Ingham - one of five substitutes, because that's how we still roll in pandemic times - found himself with a half-time warm-up caliber opportunity on the edge of the box. Give him  credit on two fronts - first, that he got the ball on target, and second, that he hit the ball hard.

Two-nil still didn't feel quite secure, but Knights could only manage a disallowed for offside goal. Unless their enthusiasm was tempered by seeing the assistant referee's flag go up before the ball went in, even that bit of action failed to raise a stymied response from their fans. Meanwhile over in Clarendon Corner, it was chants for more throw ins, and top of the league (for now), and six points. 

At least someone was enjoying themselves - even better that it was us.

Next game

St Albans away at Churchill Reserve on Sunday, in a top of the table clash. Get your head around that.

Final thought

During the week Port Melbourne was docked 18 points for the 2021 minor premiership race, for reasons only a select few know. You can't even call it a retrospective decision, because that title race is still going.