Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Scrapbook artefact Wednesday - SM Hellas vs Newcastle BHP, 1993

After initially being a cautiously keen user of the Australian Football Before the A-League page, I'd boycotted it for a few years. Partly because I'm not a Facebook fan; partly because the page was becoming increasingly repetitive and was of poor quality from an artefact and discursive perspective; and partly because the moderators of the site did nothing to curb possibly libellous personal abuse levelled at myself and another user.

But the past is the past. Though some of the discussion on there is still vintage garbage TWGF level in terms of its pitting the past against the present, the quality of the artefacts seems to have improved somewhat, as the page's user base has increased in size. Some people are even posting full programs instead of just newspaper cut-outs!

In amid the usual and the surprising, you occasionally stumble across interesting items like this:

Click to enlarge the image. Credit: Mark Taylor.

It comes from a series of scrapbook notes taken by one of the page's members, Mark Taylor, who has been sharing them on the group's page. The game was South vs Newcastle in February 1993, the home game after the Clash of the Titans. In its own way it's a kinder gentler version of something like this,

Anyway, thanks to the relevant Facebook page, I've also been able to add even more content to South of the Border's match program archive, including the program from the opening of St George Stadium - at present our oldest NSL program on the site, and our second oldest overall. We've also got away to Marconi in 1979, and hopefully soon Marconi away 1980 and 1981.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

More nothing than you can poke a stick at

Even though the pandemic is hardly over, Australia is gradually opening up again, and across the board sports are looking to resume in some form or another. So are is the NPL Victoria coming back this year?

Last week indiscreet murmurings on internet forums suggested that in our division, nine of the fourteen clubs weren't too keen to resume in 2020. Furthermore, the other five clubs, while wanting to resume, were sympathetic to those that didn't want to start again, especially if it meant not having crowds and the associated revenue at games.

But this apparent understanding began coming undone when news seeped out that the NPL 2 and 3 teams were keen on getting their seasons underway. How this would work without promotion to and relegation from the top division is an interesting question.

The whole notion of a detente however was blasted out of the water by Hume City's president Steve Kaya, who railed against the apparently ten NPL Victoria clubs refusing to resume, and noting that his club had resumed training. So, one team named within one faction, thirteen more to go across both. Then Green Gully announced that it was also resuming training, and the question for me was where did South sit?

My hunch - and it was only a hunch - was probably on the side of South being one of those not keen on coming back. That's less because of middling our performances had been, and mostly because our president Nick Maikousis had said at the beginning of the competition's shutdown that he didn't think the competition would return.

But according to Michael Lynch, alongside Hume and Gully, it's our club and Eastern Lions who make up the group of four clubs looking and/pushing for a resumption in play. Though there's some soccer-forum conjecture about Lions are actually in favour of resuming.

Football Victoria, which has been sending out intermittent updates on the situation via email, has a hopeful target of early July for the resumption of NPL senior football. From my isolated locale, I can't tell what's likely to happen.

Do the fans really want play to resume so badly that they're willing to put up with not being able to go to games? Are the players keen enough to come back even though it would mean having to put up with extremely stringent safety procedures on match days and at training? Is there even genuine scope for a return while the corona virus is still active within the community? What's the point of resuming if the whole thing can probably get shutdown with just one case if the virus in a player or official?

As usual, I've got a lot of questions and no answers.

Lakeside to receive funds for renovation
In other COVID-19 related news, the state government is planning to upgrade a wide variety of sporting facilities, as part of a pandemic economic recovery plan. According to this article in The Age, that includes renovation of Lakeside Stadium, whatever that means.

Match programs
Program-wise I've added the "possibly incomplete" Canberra City away 1980, the "I recently bought a copy off eBay" Sydney Olympic away 2004, and the "I was tardy in scanning it" Green Gully away 2019 to the collection. You know where to find these by now.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Tassie All-Stars stun the mighty South Melbourne Hellas in 1981 (via Walter Pless)

Photo of a pennant from the game between the Tassie All-Stars and South Melbourne
 Hellas, sent to Walter Pless by former Tasmanian player Craig Pitt. According to Pitt -
who played  against South for Tasmania in the early 1990s - the likely reason he has this
 pennant is that  he was a ballboy during the 1981 meeting between South and Tasmania.
During the coronavirus downtime, I've been mucking around with a collaborative project set up by Tony Persoglia to create and compile a database for interstate competition and tour matches, which will ultimately be uploaded to OzFootball. It's the kind of information which already exists in a piecemeal format on OzFootball - and in different, hard-to-find print almanacs - but which really needs a comprehensive clean-up so that we have a reliable one-stop shop for this kind of information. Here's a sample page of how this information will be presented once the collective effort is fully unleashed.

Meanwhile, unlike South of the Border, which has been slack with any sort of updating,
Tasmanian soccer journalist and historian Walter Pless has been spending the COVID-19 break putting up a series of fascinating posts on his blog on the olden days of Tasmanian soccer. Our lockdown interests met at the point where I needed info on a Tasmanian rep match from 1965 against an Auckland select in New Zealand.

While digging around for relevant info to help me out, Walter came across some South Melbourne Hellas archival materials, and kindly passed them along - and also managed to write about the Tasmanian state team beating our own South Melbourne Hellas in 1981. Here's the article originally posted by Walter on his blog - which he's kindly allowed me to reproduce on South of the Border. Naturally it's very much from the Tasmanian point of view. I'll have something more contemporary on the blog in the upcoming week.

Walter Pless' article in Soccer Action from October 21, 1981, covering Tasmania's win over South Melbourne.
The article above this one has then Hellas midfielder John Stevenson claiming that "it's Hellas' title in 1982".


Tasmanian coach Steve Darby really put his name, and that of Tasmanian football, on the map when he coached a Tasmanian All-Stars side to a 2-0 win over the highly-rated South Melbourne Hellas at South Hobart on 11 October 1981 before a crowd of 1,500.

South Melbourne Hellas had just finished second in the National Soccer League and their side included Alun Evans.

Evans began his career with Wolverhampton Wanderers and I had seen him play for Wolves in the United States against Stoke City in 1967.

Tasmanian coach Steve Darby. Photo: Walter Pless.
He joined Bill Shankly’s Liverpool in 1968 as a 19-year-old and played for The Reds for four seasons before losing his place to new signing Kevin Keegan.

Evans was the star of the South Melbourne side that came to Hobart but although he went close to scoring several times, the Tasmanian defenders kept him goalless.

Tasmania’s coach, Steve Darby, also had an impressive CV. He had been assistant national coach of Bahrain before coming to Tasmania to coach Devonport.

Darby also played for University and coached New Town Eagles, as well as the State team.

Darby went on to be the State Director of Coaching before leaving Tasmania and becoming a successful men’s and women’s coach in Australia and South-East Asia.

He coached the Matildas and the Vietnam women’s team, and was also assistant coach of the Thailand men’s national side.

The Tasmania All-Stars side was impressive and included former Middlesbrough First Division player Peter Brine in defence.

Photo: Peter Brine (rear at left) back in Hobart in 2018 to
 catch up with Craig Jones (front left), Nick Di Martino
 (rear right) and Denis Payne. Photo: Walter Pless.
The Tasmanian team was: Phil Kannegiesser - Alan Burton, Peter Brine, Darby Conlan, Chris Hey - Steve Kannegiesser, Eric Young, Willy Peters - Bruce Ward, Mark Oakes (Nick Cook 60), Ian Parker.

The South Melbourne Hellas line-up was: Laumets - Boon, Lutton, Xanthopoulos, Traficante - Stevenson, Shirra, Nicolaides, Campbell - Evans, Buljevic.

The Tasmanian side included other imports such as Eric Young (ex-Manchester United), Bruce Ward (one of the most lethal strikers ever to have played in Tasmania),Ian Parker (brilliant left-winger from the UK), Alan Burton (also from the UK) and Nicky Cook (was with Hull City).

The home-grown talent was impressive, too, with Chris Hey, Phil and Steve Kannegiesser, Darby Conlan, Willy Peters and Mark Oakes all playing from the start.

Eric Young (left) and Ian Parker catch up in Hobart in 2008.
 Photo: Walter Pless.
South Melbourne’s coach was former Greek international John Margaritis, who coached Olympia in Tasmania in the 1960s.

The referee was Tasmania’s Norm Johnston, a top-class official who had come to the State from Western Australia. He was here only a few years before returning interstate.

Goals by Ian Parker in the 11th minute and Bruce Ward in the 79th minute did the job for the home team.

I’d love to see the video of the game. It was filmed from the back of a ute parked on the grass at the side of the pitch near the present scoreboard. I know because David Martin and I were the commentators. David, Reg Tolputt and I used to host a half-hour football show on local radio station 7HT on Saturday mornings. Reg was one of the founders of new club Salvos (Salvation Army) and he was also the manager of one of Steve Darby's Tasmanian sides.

My match report in "Soccer Action" [see above] didn't appear until 10 days later because Steve Darby and I had been attending the semi-finals and final of the Under-20s World Cup in Sydney [won by West Germany 4-0 against Qatar].

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Jump! Jump! Jump! artefact Wednesday

Ah, 2007. It was a season which held so much promise. We were fresh off a championship, two years after almost going broke. We had what looked like a good squad, and a good first up crowd against the Bergers at home in an exciting game, followed by a thrilling win against Richmond, which I missed because I was at an Elbow concert. Another win against the Essendon Royals, and things looked promising. And then they didn't. Dean Anastasiadis went down with a season ending knee injury in round 4, and we soon found out that for the most part we were adept downhill skiers, but not much more than that, and the season ended with us missing the finals by three points, amid suspicion from some fans that'd we kinda tanked some games - specifically the 3-0 loss at Western Suburbs - because we had cash-flow problems.

But one could easily point to the uneven draw as a causal factor - though the league had 16 teams, there were only 26 rounds - and the fact that we only played that season's wooden spooner Springvale White Eagles just once. We could point to the mess of the goalkeeping situation once Deano went down. And you could of course point to many calamitous poor results, including the 2-0 home loss to Sunshine George Cross the week before that humiliation at Ralph Reserve. But all that is irrelevant compared to the forfeit forced upon us by Football Federation Victoria, for a home match against Melbourne Knights. But first some background.

2007 was a crazy year on the terraces, hills, concourses, and the streets of Melbourne. There were was the Cros vs the Serbs (and Greek onlookers) at the Australian Open tennis. There was a stolen Melbourne Victory banner which found its way to Clarendon Corner in round 1, and which made a reappearance at our game at Richmond. There were also more ethnic related incidents at the Water Polo World Championships. A combination of these things saw FFV and/or Victoria Police - it's not quite clear to me even now who was exerting the greater pressure - to demand unrealistically expensive security measures. South refused to pay the asking price, and FFV preemptively - that is, days out from the game - awarded a 3-0 forfeit to Knights.

The next week we were scheduled to play against Fawkner at CB Smith Reserve. This is the old CB Smith, with the tin shed along the western wing, and most importantly, an open view from outside the southern end, where there was only a high chain-link fence to visually obstruct spectators. It was a perfect venue to conduct what we called at the time a protest against FFV, which naturally proved futile, and only really served to hurt Fawkner on one of their bigger paydays for the year. The Agitator brought a slab of Heineken, and the game was an awful 0-0 draw - though we could've sneaked a winner late. The most interesting thing, unplanned amid the scarcely planned nature of the whole enterprise, was at the end of the game when the Clarendon Corner stalwart known as "Box" climbed up the very high and probably very rusty fence to chants of "Box! Box! Box!", and then when at the top, "Jump! Jump' Jump!". Thankfully he had a little more sense than that, and climbed back down.

I can't remember where I found this photo, so if it belongs to you let me know. But this was 13 years ago, and my haven't we come a long way since then.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

#itstime artefact Wednesday - #SMFC4ALEAGUE t-shirt

Time has stopped. Time no longer exists. There is no A-League. There is no South Melbourne Hellas. There is no soccer. We exist in the collective individualised state of attempting to engage with the twin voids of chronology and meaning. All we have left is the remembrance of time, and the events which occurred back when things still used to occur. I bought this t-shirt late last year at the Savers outlet in Footscray, for the princely sum of $3.49. I don't remember what the club was charging for these shirts. Not being convinced of the merits of the South Melbourne bid, or the legitimacy of the A-League bid process as a whole - and because I am preternaturally too cool for school - I didn't buy a shirt from the club when I had the chance. We could wonder which of our fans had bought one of these shirts and then lost all hope and abandoned the club after our most recent A-League bid failed. More likely, the shirt belonged to a former casual employee, volunteer, or sundry associate of the club, who would have no reason for keeping this shirt. For those of us still here, it's not an item that's going to end up in the poolroom, but there wasn't much choice for me when I saw it on the racks.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Nick Maikousis on South Radio

South Radio has put up a rather good interview with club president Nick Maikousis. For those not keen on listening to the full 30 minutes, here's a brief summary, though I won't have done the interview justice.

Maikousis notes that all operations at the club have shut down at all levels. Seniors mens, womens, juniors, the lot. Senior players are still training in isolation, under a stressful situation. Some players are entirely reliant on football income to make a living, but all of our contracts are game based.

Maikousis does not foresee the season resuming. That's interesting in itself, because as yet I have not seen anyone in any senior position in Victorian soccer making a statement like that, despite its obvious plausibility. He does throw up a rough scheduling model under which he believes that the 2020 NPL Victoria season could resume, but the time-frame would be tight - and it would be difficult for clubs whose grounds become unavailable in the off-season to maintain access to grounds, should the season be extended.

(largely left out of the discussion is what impact such a catch-up model would have on the condition of grounds having to take up at least two senior and reserves matches a week)

With his belief that the 2020 season is unlikely to resume, Maikousis goes on to discuss modelling of what a season without football will look like for South across the board - in terms of sponsorship, membership, costs, etc. He goes on to make the claim that for South, match day revenue is less important than it is for other clubs - which makes the idea of resuming under a closed-doors system less likely to happen in his opinion. The line that the club's revenue focus is now on sponsorship sits in line with comments made at the most recent AGM, but it is a comment which also downplays somewhat the fretting over lost match day revenues due to both our recent (past two years) poor form, and especially the impact of the live streaming og every NPL game.

While nothing has been settled yet, there is the possibility that those who have already paid sponsorship and/or membership fees, may have their benefits rolled over into next year, especially in the event that the entire season is called off. This would be an interesting move, with quite a few variables. What if a junior player does not return next year? If a sponsor's business is effected so much that they cannot continue into next year, if say, they've only made part payment? Still, best to wait and see what actually happens with the rest of the season, and event what Football Federation Victoria will end up doing with its operations.

The club is working through the ramifications of the shutdown on our various facilities, which includes the Middle Park and Caulfield grounds as well as Lakeside, and the rental and financial obligations related to those. The club will also investigate the various government subsidies which have emerged as a result of the corona virus shutdown. There was no mention of the effects on the sub-lease of the social club operations. Maikousis did note however, that the club's external debt repayment plan - originally slated to be complete by the end of 2020 - would likely be pushed out by three months.

After the broadcast was published, there was going to be a meeting between the various NPL clubs to discuss the situation.

Maikousis also provided an update on a meeting with PFA head John Didulica, regarding the recent accusations of unpaid wages. Maikousis made the point that the issue was not about wages, but rather about end of contract terms regarding players who left during the middle of the season - an issue which is being resolved, or close to being resolved. The president also claimed that the club and the PFA are in agreement about the lack of an adequate dispute resolution process when issues arise between clubs

Thursday, 2 April 2020

NPL shutdown extended

So the pause that was set on grassroots soccer in Australia until mid-April has now been extended until the end of May. Given the way the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, that extension won't be a surprise to anyone.

Maybe because of the tedious way the season had been going, I've not been missing South games as much as I thought I would be, and I suspect that's probably the same for a lot of our remaining supporter base. Still, I do miss some of the people. And it'd be nice to keep busy and get some fresh air and be able to watch people exert themselves for my entertainment. The restricted triangulation of going to the supermarket, the local bakery, and the front garden can get wearisome even for the best of us.

Soccer-forum.net and smfcfans,com have both more or less lost all momentum. There's just nothing to talk about except the thing that everyone's talking about, unless you want to dig into the past. Looking forward, we're probably not quite at the point where the whole 2020 NPL Victoria season will become a write-off, but it must be getting close. Who knows how you'd even resume the competition should the situation be stable enough at the end of May.

The economic consequences of the shutdown on local soccer are still yet to be fleshed out, and it's probably too early to know how far-reaching the effects will be. But for South, there's some interesting questions to consider, and I'm interested in how the board will handle them. There's player contracts of course - with South reputedly being one of the few clubs in the competition to have their players on professional contracts instead of amateur, you'd hope that the bulk of those contracts were based on players actually playing.

There's also coaches and support staff, for some of whom South will be their main source of employment, as opposed to it being a weekend thing for a bit of extra coin / lucrative hobby. Oh, and then there's the situation every NPL club will be having to deal with - what happens to their youth programs which will have cost parents a great deal of money, and whose seasons would have barely started. And some of our coaches and at least one of our players must be on working visas. There's also income streams from sponsors, loss of match day revenue, and let's not forget Vic and the folk who lease out the social club space. We're fortunate enough to have the monthly government stipend, but we also have debts that we're trying to clear... it's just so much uncertainty.

On the social side of things, the club itself continues to sporadically provide social media updates. There's the high level personal trolling of me by the club with 'Melvin Mondays'. There's also been a revival of South Radio, which seems to only be available via Facebook at this stage. According to senior team manager Kris Peladarinos, the players are training and keeping fit mostly by themselves at the moment. We'll have to wait until president Nick Maikousis makes an appearance on the show to get more solid information about how the club is dealing with the issues brought about by the corona virus shutdown.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Press Pause - Altona Magic 1 South Melbourne 1

Late, late, late, not that anyone cares, least of all me. There are bigger things to worry about these days, but nevertheless, to the game itself. Oh, dear. A late flurry of activity doesn't make up for the fact that before that it was slop central from both teams. That would've been fine, well not fine but bearable, well maybe not even that, had we not gifted Magic with the opening goal of the game.

Picture this: Daniel Clarke down and injured in the other half of the field for some time, the referee not stopping the game, it's his prerogative I suppose. You assume that the South players are aware that Clark is down, and should at least kill the play, after all, there's only a short time left before halftime, and who'd want to concede at that particular moment?

But Jake Marshall clears up the line instead of out, the ball comes back our way, and if Moses faced a Red Sea made up of South defenders he wouldn't have needed his magic rod or God's help to get through to the other side.

Turns out the only way to get back any sort of dignity is for two unlikely things to happen, most of which involve a short corner. The corner is played short to Melvin Becket, who doesn't trip over the ball, doesn't sky it, and doesn't shank it. Instead he chips the ball expertly to Brad Norton, who the Magic defense treated with due social distancing respect by being nowhere near him. Norton headed it, it went in, and we got a point we were probably due, but geez it felt crap getting it anyway.

And as I realised a little later than I would have liked, here was Brad Norton scoring from a short corner, five a half years after I'd admonished him for taking a short corner in Shepparton.

There must have been some latent belief among some of the players that they were better than a side like the battling Altona Magic, but where was the proof of that on the day? Nowhere to be found, of course, and whatever positive vibes the squad may have brought into the season must've be near gone. So we've only lost one game, gone unbeaten for four games in a row, but damn if we don't make scoring look like an absolute chore, among our sundry other deficiencies.

But that's all by the by now. The real question last Saturday, the one that went more or less unspoken, was should anyone have even been at the game? Was the presence of the two teams and the smattering of supporters who turned up just being selfish, merely kidding themselves that the COVID-19 social distancing recommendations didn't apply to them, or just following orders in the vacuum of decision making created by the slow moving state and national federations?

I admit to feeling selfish being there, as if actually, being at a South game is an optional experience, not a mandatory unless absolutely unavoidable one. Would I have gone tomorrow to Dandenong tomorrow if the game was on? I'd like to think at this stage probably not, but also: maybe? What would people think if I coughed or sneezed. What would I think about myself? It's not a flattering thing to think about oneself, but at least this matter has been taken out of our hands.

Now there's the matter of what happens now, and what happens next. Who's paying the bills, who's due bills, and once we get through the other side of the pandemic, will anyone or at least enough still care?

Next game
Not until at least after April 14.

Final thought
So what do we do now?

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Middlebrow - Port Melbourne 1 South Melbourne

Not that anyone's happy about it, or that anyone should be happy be about it, but given the last two and a bit years, did anyone expect us to be any better than one win, two draws, and one loss at this stage of the 2020 season?

In a battle between an upper-middlebrow side and a lower-middlebrow side, I think you'd be more upset with a draw if you were the former. Neither of these two sides is particularly good, and Hellas fan trademark histrionics aside, neither of these two sides is particularly bad either. It being the case that there are 14 teams and six finals spots in this competition, Port might sneak a finals place by virtue of their being less mediocre over the course of the home and away season than several similarly equipped teams. Not seeing our side as being that capable, I don't believe we'll be a serious contender for sixth, but barring some disaster on a slightly bigger scale than what we've become used to, we probably won't be in the bottom two or near enough to cause us extended angst.

So hooray for optimism and all that. Nevertheless, four games in I am struggling to figure out where the improvement will come from this season. All I can see happening is more shuffling players on and off the starting eleven, and on and off the bench. I used to half joke that it was foolish and unfair to expect better from players at this level - after all, with the odd exception, if these players were better than what they are, then they probably wouldn't be here in the NPL. Sadly, the joke now seems to have been extended to if these players were better than what they are, they would be playing for someone else in this competition.

That's all very cruel sounding from someone like me, who can't kick a ball, jog, or see further than a a few metres. But, to wit - we fielded two players on Friday night that had played for Port last season, one of whom was a bench option for us when we were good, and who now has a starting eleven sport ahead of someone many of us assumed would be one of our rare junior to senior success stories. And the other Port pickup hasn't done much yet either, and I am not counting the Eastern Lions game because they still managed to score twice, and chances are that everyone will beat Eastern Lions this season.

There is no middle of miidfield. Flawed potential saviour Marcus Schroen is injured. Luke Pavlou is serviceable, but serviceable isn't commanding, dominant, or game changing. Melvin Becket, bless his enthusiasm, was so enthusiastic when he came on last week that ran around like an eight year old chasing the ball everywhere, and found it tangled within his legs at the one time he found himself in the actual correct position on the field. Just as troubling is that considering that we have a squad full of wingers, we got torched on the wings, and probably our second most-capable winger (Chris Irwin) got his face cut up so bad he had to come off before half-time. Our most seasoned and one well-credentialed winger (Nick Krousoratis), who came on to replace Irwin, was probably *this* close to being replaced himself for his continued ineffective performance.

Gerrie Sylaidos, trying to make things happen. Photo: Cindy Nitsos. 
Our actual best winger (Gerrie Sylaidos) is being shuffled between number 10 and the wing, with fans complaining about the wisdom of both moves. Yet in the first half, it was he who created and scored our one good chance single-handedly - you'd be generous to give Amadu Koroma an assist credit for his throw in - and when moved out to the left in the second half, looked lively again as we sort of walked back from the cliff edge we peered over during the minutes 15-45. And where's Peter Skapetis? Now without pretending that Harrison Sawyer is the Second Coming of Milos - and these days even Milos barely looks like Classic Milos, and that was against a whole of team effort that was seemingly begging him to score - the service to him has been mostly been dire.

But we didn't lose, and that's what I'm taking out of this. Not one South person is genuinely quibbling about the result or how we got there. As upset as anyone can be for the penalty that was awarded against us - which even with the modified, pro-cruelty handball ball, seemed beyond harsh - Port should've scored at least two or three around that goal. And that extra bouncy ball lifted over Pierce Clark, which took an off-break towards goal, and somehow managed to bounce over the crossbar? There's good luck and bad luck, and we had our fair share of both.

When you were growing up, you probably thought your life would turn out, turning up to three-quarters-dark sporting reserves in the suburbs - seriously Port, are you planning to host witness protection cells in the corners of that pitch? - to watch semi-pro footballers fumble about frantically. Maybe you dreamt of being an astronaut, systems analyst, or military strongman, but we're all in this together until they shut the league down along with the rest of society - assuming of course, that NPl Victoria is considered part of society.

Next game
Saturday evening away to Altona Magic. Some say Magic are a very poor side, close to the same level as Eastern Lions. Others say Magic are not that bad, and are more capable of creating chances, and even producing some solid enough defence. I mean, you tell me what to make of any team after four games, especially one 99% of us haven't paid much attention to. Whatever happens on Saturday, we'll get upset.

Soccer Saturday Football Friday
It seems strange to think of now in these days of multiple content streams, but there used to be a time when people in Melbourne  - or at least Australian rules fans in Melbourne - yearned for the days when all or most VFL games were played on the same day at the same time. You'd go to your preferred game on a Saturday afternoon, and rush home to watch extracts from two or three other games on television in the evening.

Those days are long gone of course, even for local soccer. Once upon a time top-tier senior soccer in Melbourne would've been all on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, midweek cup and tour games notwithstanding. But we've long been accustomed to the situation of having some combination of Friday nights, Saturday afternoons, Saturday evenings, Saturday nights, Sunday afternoons, Sunday evenings, and even that most cursed of all timeslots, Monday nights.

But change being the only constant, things keep evolving. And so for a variety of reasons, we've seen more and more teams migrate senior games to Friday nights. Last Friday we had six of the round's seven matches being played at close enough to the same time, mostly staggered (probably by coincidence more than anything deliberate) at kickoffs of 15 minute intervals.

There's not much that Football Victoria can do about this. They set rules about how early or late games can kick off on a proscribed match days, but otherwise leave fixturing to the clubs. Which is fair enough - clubs should have the ultimate say in when they think they'll get their best turnouts, and how best to manage the load and availability of the fields they have at their disposal. Now some people might complain about not being able to get to other NPL games, but if I'm being honest here, that doesn't seem to be the main complaint people have with this arrangement. I mean, one can't simultaneously say that NPL crowds are crap (which they are) and then posit that simultaneous matches are inhibiting attendances for all but the most sick NPL attendees.

(though clubs who have come to rely on fortnightly visits by George Katsakis and his chucking fifty bucks on the bar and canteen might have a more valid complaint - I mean, not even George can visit all six games on a Friday night)

No, the biggest gripe seems to be from and for those poor souls who prefer to stay home and watch the NPL live streams. Switching between two or three games? Easy. Between six? Much harder, especially as NPL Victoria is still well short of being able to produce an NFL RedZone production. But even though the live streams have at least anecdotally hurt NPL attendances, it's hard to know how much of an impact they've had because no one's done and no one's really capable of doing the due research.

But the live streaming is an important thing to consider, because with this national second division that's set to come in some time within the next few years, the people who want an NSD need to get their heads around who's going to come and watch their games, and who's going to pay to watch their product on some sort of screen. And proper fixturing of games, including spreading out games, will become a key element of that, though I figure that an NSD will see Melbourne teams have a lock on Fridays, because the other states generally don't seem to play games on Fridays.

Until I was disabused of my assumptions by someone more in the know, my assumption was that far fewer Australian soccer fans are interested in watching NPL (and even an NSD) than certain groups would like to think, and that goes especially for live streaming. Counting incidental ultra-short-term views on Facebook as having a value beyond their measure seems like a dangerous form of self-delusion. Plucking out numbers without context and comparing them at all as like for like with free to air and pay television seems like a recipe for self-delusion. Apparently however, most of NPL Victoria's viewership - around 80% - comes from Victorian sources.

That apparently changes significantly for Monday games, after gamblers in Asia collect their paychecks. (Monday is apparently payday in many south-east Asian nations). Not being the kind to watch these games on Facebook, I can't say much for the comments left there which might indicate who the audience might be. But recently on NPL Victoria's YouTube streams, the comments have been opened up again after being locked for all of last year, and the results indicate very little local or Australian audience interaction. Like YouTube streams of Tasmanian games, which tend to leave their comments sections open, Monday's standalone NPL match between Eastern Lions and Dandenong Thunder held few surprises in terms of the audience.

And that audience seems to be mostly made up of overseas gamblers taking advantage of games  being played outside the time slots of most football leagues. So apart from the comments that are in Arabic or Cyrillic scripts, most of the rest is easily intelligible. People claiming to have inside knowledge, people alleging rigged games, and people confused about what level they're actual watching, with comments running the gambit from expecting VAR to be part of the experience to the assumption that no one is being paid, and that the league is completely amateur.

These idiots actually go to games. Photo: Luke Radziminski.
To be fair, when you see utes moving around in the background, it can be easy to assume that the competition is amateur, however the cruelty of some of the comments - poor standard, poor players, poor stadiums, poor crowds - is probably not the kind of commentary Football Victoria, the broadcast teams, and even fans of the comp will want to have spread, even if fans of the competition especially already think and post much the same criticism. The live stream is, after all, meant to function as a form of promotion of the talents of the players and commentators and the local game as a whole, not matter how funny it is having some guy going "i have corona virus who wants some" in the comments.

I've noticed that...
The club has put up a notice on its Facebook page that:
"South Melbourne has been working with all stakeholders Football Victoria, the AAFC and Football Federation Australia & more recently PFA to see Australia return to a football structure which embraces and encourages aspirational football. 
We believe the NSD is critical for the development of Football. We are looking forward to continuing our participation in the next phase on this journey, including the submission of South's Expression of Interest, which will enable South to once again play regularly on the national stage."
Which is fair enough I suppose, though you kinda wish they could put something up on their website, not least because the website hasn't been updated since February 24.


Final thought
It was really a very minor thing, but I heard some news about South the other day that was so unexpectedly positive, containing evidence of the club's attempt to be morally upright and legally compliant in a way that any normal business should be, that my first reaction was not joy, but rather shock and disgust.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

That's Entertainment! Oakleigh Cannons 0 South Melbourne 0

Once more, forgive the lateness and brevity and crapness of this report, only some of which can be put down to the grinding boredom of this game.

Consider this: in the lead up to this game, our supporter base was beset by consistent predictions of us going home with a minimum three goal loss. So it stands to reason that after we escaped Jack Edwards Reserve with one more point than most away teams are likely to get there this season, near everyone has maintained their resolutely grim outlook on life.

To be a little fair, when you're up a man for 80 minutes you should at least be getting a draw. You should also be getting at least a couple of shots on target at some point. But as someone who is not particularly confident about this season amounting to anything more (or less) than mid-table mediocrity, I'm happy to take a point from this game and move on, knowing that there's always the possibility of greater and more genuine humiliation just around the corner.

Of course there is the ongoing concern about just how we're going to score this year if Plan A doesn't work. For those who haven't been paying attention so far this season, Plan A is basically to use speed and overlapping play on the wings and wide areas to send in dangerous crosses to our target man, or if things really go our way, somehow dribble the ball into the box from those aforementioned said wide areas.

Plan A depends on a few things to make it work. Speedy wingers and full-backs with decent crossing. Wide grounds to give said players more space to exploit their advantage in speed. Preferably a target of size and talent. And perhaps most importantly in a competition like this, Plan A opposition sides which are ignorant in the way in which we choose to play, or which are so poor that any knowledge they have about our game style is rendered moot.

So far in 2020, the wingers have been speedy, but the crossing - except from the first half corners in the game against Eastern Lions - has been poor. Against Oakleigh, the narrowness and smallness of the ground, and the home side's defensive discipline once they went down to ten men, made the execution of Plan A much more difficult. The target man was starved of service and quality, and his two half chances ended up a) wide, and b) stubbed.

It's also fair to say that in this game, Plan A wasn't really adjusted despite Oakleigh going a man down. A defensive and cautious set up persisted throughout the game, with no obvious change except for what some people consider puzzling personnel swaps in the second half. Plan A on Friday night was to move the ball from one side of the ground to the other and back again, working our way up the ground until such point as there was an overload or overlap on one of the wings.

Who knows if it was meant to be done as slowly as it was, but on a narrow ground against an experienced and disciplined Chris Taylor coached team, this relative slowness of ball movement made things harder than it should have been. Some better crossing would've helped, but for the vast majority of the crosses produced on the night were of poor quality. One can eviscerate Harry Sawyer for what you perceive to be his deficiencies, but just about any forward is going to struggle under the circumstances that Sawyer found himself in on Friday night.

Never mind that there is almost no meaningful play down the middle of the ground by the team. It's ironic that the one time the team did manage to get through the centre channel, Gerrie Sylaidos' through ball to Sawyer resulted in the Oakleigh player getting his marching orders. But like most of his teammates, Sylaidos struggled to create much after that. His super-fans might say his talents are being wasted with him being played out of position - the argument being he's a better winger than number 10, but if you have no other option, Gerrie has to do the job, especially when the squad has so many wingers.

It can also be true that there's an instruction to the team to avoid taking players on, especially in the middle of the field. Taking players on, playing more risky passes - all these things are being weighed up against the idea of "what if something goes wrong?". And while the those on the hill screaming obscenities and abuse towards their own team and especially its coach probably have little impact on the game, it does highlight one thing - if we're going to be mediocre, could we at least be mediocre in a way which gives us a chance of achieving something, or of at least being entertained?

For instance, having taking Sylaidos off (a move guaranteed to raise the ire of a good chunk of our fans), why not insert Melvin Becket in his place? Sure, Becket's hardly one of my favourite current players, but things tend to happen when he's on the field. Things tended to look better when Ben Djiba got on the field for Amadu Koroma, which makes some people wonder why Djiba hasn't been in the starting ahead of Koroma.

Defensively, the team was generally solid, and Lirim Elmazi looks like the best pick up we've in the off-season. Still, there were a couple of times when Oakleigh were able to break down the wings because the channels that Taylor-coached teams like to use were not closed down. Of more concern is some of the defensive set ups from set pieces. We've already conceded a goal from a free kick this year, and on Friday night playing against ten men, we found ourselves gifting Oakleigh a great chance by letting them have a free man in the box from a corner.

Ultimately though, it's the coach's prerogative about how a team plays, and if rolling the dice isn't part of the plan, so be it. And for most of the game, the team was disciplined to a fault in a way that South teams over the past couple of years have not been. And as long as there's a steady accumulation of points or at least a trickle, any frustration with this overly cautious approach will be tolerated, until such point that the utter boredom at its heart crushes all our spirits.

Next game
Tomorrow night away against Port Melbourne. Please note the senior kickoff time of 7:45 - there is no curtain raiser, as the reserves game is being played on Saturday.

Final thought
Thanks to Emile for giving me and Gains a lift back to the city.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Nobody happy - South Melbourne 5 Eastern Lions 2

Come on, Pierce, give us a smile! You're playing for South Melbourne!
Photo: Luke Radziminski. 
It was said a few times after this game, but when was the last time we put five goals past an opponent and yet felt this bad? The playing squad's morale might be the best it's been in years, but the fans I'm blessed(?) to interact with are pretty much all doom and gloom. I mean how else to explain being two rounds in and this already being a must win game? How dreadful, how vile, how... sickening. And I mean literally sickening - when we were 2-1 up, and Lions' had a free kick saved by our goalkeeper Pierce Clark, I felt like I was going to have a massive spew. A good thing that soon afterward Harrison (Harry?) Sawyer completed his hat-trick, and the game was pretty much put away.

Before that there was plenty of entertainment for those who'd made the trip to the club's lone Sunday home game for this season. Chris Irwin scuffed an early chance which by his own admission he should've buried, but we got the opener soon enough anyway thanks to what looked liked a mysterious penalty at the time. On replay, you can see the shirt tug on the player attempting to make the run into the box during a corner, and more importantly, you can see the referee looking right at that shirt tug.

You can argue that it was charity, you can argue that it was soft, and you can argue that those sorts of things happen all the time. And if you argued that, you'd be right, but why should it happen at all? My argument has long been that if officials were stricter with punishing that kind of shirt pulling that it'd get rid of it pretty quickly. Now having seen yellow flag after yellow flag thrown in the NFL for holding, and no obvious reduction in players trying to get away with illegal manoeuvres of that sort, my thinking may be more wish/desire oriented than anything based in reality. But even if punishment doesn't act as a deterrent, it at least acts as punishment, which within the context we're dealing with, is a good enough starting point.

Irresponsible treatment of beer. Photo: Luke Radziminski.
Having taken the lead, we were rocked out of our very temporary complacency by Lions equalising with a free kick that didn't look all that convincingly taken at the time. Even looking at it afterwards, I don't know what happened, and why goalkeeper Pierce Clark seemed to latch on to it so late. We retook the lead very soon after, which only settled the nerves ever so much because, as noted above, Lions took another dangerous free kick, this time well dealt with by Clark. After a false dawn and a premature beer shower for a goal called offside, we eventually pretty much finished this game off with Sawyer's third, like his second goal a header from a corner. And the beer shower for that goal was at least legit.

Responsible treatment of beer.
Photo: Luke Radziminski.
Three first half goals essentially from corners then - one indirectly thanks to the penalty, and two direct, which is the kind of thing we didn't see enough of last year. Sawyer probably has a knack for this kind of thing, but by the Lions' assistant coach's own admission on soccer-forum after the game, the away side put in some terrible efforts at defending set pieces. Good delivery aside, and keeping in mind that scoring from corners is pretty much a lottery at the best of times, I just can't see us being marked that slackly for the entire rest of the season. Still, if any future opponents wish to be that generous, I'm happy to let them oblige.

The second half was pretty much a stroll - except for late substitution Matthew Loutrakis, who got a kick in the face from a Lions opponent - just waiting for that fourth goal to really make sure of it. After that came the fifth courtesy of a showboating team manoeuvre, which highlighted how poor Lions were on the day defensively. To their credit, the away team fought it out, but their lack of quality across the park was obvious for all to see. Not to disparage a club which has done exceptionally well to reach this level - nor to write them off after two games - but who were most of their players? A lot of clubs who make the step up end up recycling at least a few blokes who've been around the Victorian top-flight merry-go-round before; but the only names of theirs I immediately recognised were short-term ex-South keeper Keegan Coulter, and former South trialist and firebrand striker Amir Osmancevic.

As for us, it's been only two games, and yet I think we have a pretty good handle on what this South team will be able to do. Certainly not a front-runner, and probably lucky to make finals. Even though you never know what might happen, it's a squad with too much depth to be in serious relegation danger, especially when you have teams like Lions and Altona Magic whose budgets restrict them in what they'll produce. Goodness knows if well be able to produce anything in the middle channel, especially on smaller and narrower grounds - and this is what frightens me - especially if we fall behind. If we manage to go up, and force to teams to open up as they chase the game, we'll probably be the game

Next game
Oakleigh at Jack Edwards on Friday night, beginning our customary run of early season away games. No one's expecting us to win this game, and no one's expecting us to draw, and pretty much everyone's expecting us to get spanked; the idea behind that being, apart from Oakleigh looking good, that we couldn't beat them there even when we were good, so six losses there on the trot will become seven. I'd like to be more optimistic than that, but I'm struggling.


Alternative reality
Why was the live stream initially displaying a backdrop of Central Coast Stadium? For those watching at home, it must've been a confusing affair. I know we did try and take over the Mariners a few years ago, including the farcical proposal to split games between Melbourne and Gosford, but callbacks to gags seven years ago seems a bit of a stretch. What's more, once the stream was sorted out, home viewers had to deal with the commentary stylings of Greg Blake, Australian soccer's one time sort of answer to Aussie Rules' Sam Newman - in the entertainment sense, not the try-hard non-PC gimmick sense.

Mispronunciations of player names aside - and the one person who was upset that Blake referred to South on several occasions as "Hellas" - the audience feedback on Blake's style seemed to be fairly split down the middle. People either loved it, or hated it. While I can see the appeal for some in Blake's schtick, I'm more in the latter mode. But I guess part of the appeal of the NPL live streams for those not of a gambling mindset is the variety of commentary styles - I like Dan Lonergan's energetic style for example, which a few people find too much like listening to footy or horse racing. Still, I wish Blake was quarantined to Heidelberg games.

Claim and counter-claim
I suppose the one good thing about last week's continuing coverage of our alleged wage theft was, if you can frame it that way, that it became so bogged down by claim and counter-claim that even the niche audience that was nominally interested in the story has mostly moved on. And in Australian soccer, there's always something new to latch on to and gawk at.

On an unrelated note, thank you Tony Sage.

But for us remaining South fans, our focus remains resolutely on South. Following on from last week's match report post on the blog, the club released a statement that in the famous words of David Byrne, had both "good points, some bad points". The good points? I guess for me that's mostly in noting that the players are on professional contracts, as opposed to the (implied) pseudo-amateur contracts that other clubs up and down the lower tiers have their players on. There's also the club's support for a more formal process for wage issues between clubs and players.

If you were in a more generous mood than I, you may also say that the club managed to pick up on the vagueness of the allegations made in Tom Smithies' article. An annoying aspect of that vagueness is that it was picked up on by some of our fans, who have pursued the I suppose logical extension of "why don't the players pursue the matters via legal channels"; an idea easily refuted by the fact that lawyers cost money, and for young players especially that's money they don't necessarily have at hand. And considering the relatively small amounts being alleged (admittedly not small to the players themselves), likely to be swallowed up by any legal action.

The bad points? The digressions into the allegations of conspiracy, which plays well to parts of our membership, but makes us look deranged to outsiders. The demand for a journalist to reveal his sources, which I guess someone drafting this press release must have thought was a good idea. The not coming out outright and saying that the club do not owe former players any monies, leaving that as an assumption rather than as a definite statement of fact. The club instead noted that it was "very comfortable with its position regarding all past and current players", whatever that means. I'm not good at reading between the lines.

Anyway, Smithies followed up his first article with another one, which notes that:
... it [Professional Footballers Association] is involved in "a number of disputes with South Melbourne" and that it is seeking the involvement of both FFV and Football Federation Australia after previous attempts "to resolve the matters amicably" had not worked.
Who knows how true this all is, nor who the relevant players are. As much as some of us would like to heap scorn on the committee, it is possible that everything is actually legit. Like the claims by former player Liam McCormick from a couple years ago that he was owed wages - this could all be a result of the current relevant players signing what they thought was simply a standard form with some boilerplate clauses, not realising what they were signing - even though the forms are pretty clear as far as I can tell. Because McCormack decided to put his name to his claim when this issue flared up in 2018, the club - apart from knowing it had the law (technical or otherwise) on its side - clearly felt comfortable in leaking McCormack's player release forms, damaging the credibility of both McCormack and Clement Tito, the journalist who wrote the article at the time.

This time none of these players has come forward, and thus it makes it harder for the club to just come out and use the same tactic, assuming that the relevant players have in fact McCormacked themselves, and assuming that the club is even sure who the relevant three players are. And surely a journalist with the seniority and experience of Smithies wouldn't make such a rookie error as Tito did, by trusting the word of the players without corroborating evidence.

What's strange and slightly counter-intuitive about this situation is that the real, original, and genuinely noteworthy story - Chris Taylor's win at FIFA, pending an appeal from us - has receded into the background. Taylor's successful (so far) litigation is, without knowing what's owed to anyone else that may be owed any sum of money, by any stretch of the imagination a much more tangible and newsworthy event than the (so far) small sums allegedly owed. Like the Avondale senior team wage spreadsheet leak from last year, this story offers a peek into the kinds of money being paid to run a senior team at this level, the kind of detail that mug punters almost never get to see. In that sense Smithies' article, which on some level appears to be an (understandable) opportunistic follow up story pushed by representatives of the ex-South players who allege they are owed money, is a much messier and "he said-she said" kind of situation.

As for fan responses, they seem to have generally fallen into three categories. Those who've used the story as an opportunity to bash South, and occasionally by extension the proposed national second division and/or ethnic clubs; those who have sought to defend the club, mostly South people but not always, seeing a witch-hunt and conspiracy against South, and occasionally by extension any notion of a national second division and/or ethnic clubs; but there's also a third faction, made up only of South fans - and most of whom seem to be on smfcfans.net - which while not completely trusting media reports on these matters, also do not trust the board and are unwilling to give the board and its version of events the benefit of the doubt. For them, having lost most of their faith in the trustworthiness of committees, it's going to be a long way back before they believe anything that comes of a South committee person's mouth.

If You Know Your History is back
Mine and Ian Syson's little radio show on Football Nation Radio has resumed for 2020. This year we're on Tuesdays at 8:00pm, but you can always catch up with whatever is we've been doing by checking out our blog.

Final thought
Wild scenes when one of Ian Syson's sons has been to a South game more recently than the old man.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Journey to the centre of the earth - South Melbourne 0 Heidelberg United 3

Photo: Luke Radziminski.
For those people who were worried that there'd be drastic changes to the South Melbourne experience in 2020, this game was endlessly reassuring.

Isolated striker? Check.

More wingers than you can poke a stick at? Check.

Blokes playing out of position? Check.

Gerrie Sylaidos getting subbed off too early, and thus any chance of central corridor play being used to get back in the game? Check.

Melvin Becket having high energy but no end product? Check.

No end in sight to our goalkeeping issues? Check.

Copping a goal and falling behind early, and having increasingly diminishing ideas about what to do to score after that? Check.

Now there were things about this performance that I did like, mostly from the first half hour before we conceded the opening goal. I think the wingers we have on hand are faster than we had last year, which at least gives you a tactical option independent of skill. Provided he aims for raw power over swerve, Stephen Folan looks dangerous from free kicks. Harry Sawyer works hard, and I want to see him in a team that looks more organised before judging his skill. Lirim Elmazi was very good in his South debut, and looks an excellent pick up.

But everything else was all too familiar. After several successful seasons, Heidelberg are in a transition period, having seen much of their regular squad depart and a lot of new faces arrive. And by a Berger insider's admission (made while we were having a chat on the tram after the game), it was the worst or weakest Heidelberg side for about a decade. And their own performance never reached any particularly great heights, except for their finishing.

Someone piffed a flare over the fence near Gate 1 towards the end of the
 game. Who knows why they bothered. Photo: Luke Radziminski. 
But tactically we were outdone once again. Once Heidelberg took the lead - somewhat against the run of play, not that that makes things better - they were content to sit back and absorb our increasingly flimsy attacks. Once Sylaidos was subbed off around the hour mark, things got worse as we retreated exclusively to the wings, and the Bergers were happy enough to squeeze us onto the touchline. We got past the squeeze on occasion, but then our crossing let us down.

So it might have been a bad day, a bit of bad luck conceding the first goal, and a scoreline made worse as a result of having to chase the game. These things happen, and maybe 2020 won't be a replica of the last two years. A couple of inclusions to the midfield spine, like Luke Pavlou or even Marcus Schroen, and maybe we won't be so one-dimensional and reliant on Sylaidos having to do everything in the middle. Maybe some better crossing.

Oh god, we're one game into the season and I'm already into "if this" and "if that" scenarios.

Next game
Eastern Lions at home on Sunday. Were it not for Avondale's point deduction, these two teams would be last and second last, but as it is, Lions are ahead of us and out of the relegation zone by virtue of alphabetical priority.

Digging deeper still
While some South fans on social media have rightly caned former supporter of the club (and now cursed apostate) George Calombaris for the wage theft proclivities of his businesses, the old wisdom of "be careful what you mock, lest you become it" has sprouted its head again -  and because it seems that they're not cognisant of the fact, that goes for fans of other clubs too, who are enjoying this bit of schadenfreude.

Because over the past week or so our own alleged shoddy behaviour when it comes to paying wages has come to fill out newspaper column inches, and all you can do is hope that it's all very, very wrong, and that the players who are still with us or especially those who have rejoined us are incredibly naive or know something that we pleb fans don't.

But past examples like Kevin Nelson and Adam Van Dommelle successfully claiming moneys owed to them by us (and perhaps others who were naive enough to sign a waiver when seeking a transfer out) don't fill me with much confidence that the club has learned anything from prior experiences.

First up is the still(!) ongoing matter of Chris Taylor's sacking. At various points since Taylor's dismissal in early 2018, South Melbourne Hellas supporters have been told by the club that Taylor was owed nothing more than the week's notice he was paid out upon his sacking; and furthermore, that Taylor's attempt to take the club to a FIFA tribunal (if the club admitted that such a thing was actually happening) was unlikely to succeed.

Well, news came in last week that Taylor had won a FIFA tribunal case which states that he must be paid out approximately $80,000. The article does note that the club is considering taking the matter further, but boy, what another dent to whatever's left of our reputation. To be fair, we weren't the only club named in the article - Sydney Olympic also got its comeuppance with a coach it had sacked - but at least Olympic were able to say that they'd won a championship in part because of that decision.

Meanwhile, we've floundered in a mess of our own making, with high player turnover, poor morale, and no discernible middle let alone long-term on-field direction. Now maybe the decision to sack Taylor was absolutely necessary, even though those of us outside the board meeting which made the decision will probably never know either way. But it does show the perils of giving anyone, even someone as capable and as successful as Taylor, a five year deal in the first place.

Of more immediate concern is what this means for the club in terms of its finances and its alleged liabilities. Much was made at the recent AGM of the deep audit made of the club's books, and the plans to pay off the club's debts. Now here's another one, to be paid for how? With more director loans? And if you believe even some of what's being said out there, there's possibly another coach looking to be paid what they're owed, as well as persistent talk about players being owed money, and who knows who else.

In the Daily Telegraph it's being reported (behind a paywall which I'm not sure how I circumvented this time) there are at least three players seeking money they believe is owed by us. Just as concerning is that in terms of the comments made by public officials from various angles on this matter, there's no way of getting around that what the club is saying doesn't match up with what representatives from Football Victoria and the Professional Footballer's Association are saying.

While South president Nick Maikousis is (according to Tom Smithies' article) claiming that "Our governing body, the FFV, has not made any comment or contact in relation to these matters, nor has the PFA" the PFA and Football Victoria CEO Peter Filopoulos are on record as saying that the opposite is true. And matters aren't being helped when Maikousis attempts to turn this issue into one where the club is the victim rather than the players who are owed their rightful wages - which Maikousis unhelpfully says add up to "a relatively small amount". If the amount owed is that small, then why not pay what's due and avoid this drama?

Now there's little doubt that we are the only club at this level that will fall behind in wages at one point or another, while other clubs are paying wages far beyond what is appropriate and sustainable for this level. But until we enter a league or competition with some semblance of cartel discipline and a sustainable operating model, all we can do - all that we should do - is make sure that we operate our own business in a proper and dignified manner that avoids such things becoming an issue.

And if that's not possible in this post-shame world, than at least start backgrounding journos off the record about the shonky behaviour of other clubs, and get them into the limelight as well. The next members' forum should be interesting.

Reaching new depths
On field, off-field, in the kitchen - is there anything this club can do right at the moment?
I'm not one to dedicate too much time to the food that clubs offer, so long as it's relatively prompt and more than nominally edible. Now I can't see the former being solved any time soon at South, but at least the burgers have been good enough. But the souvs? The souvs have been ordinary for a while now, and I made the same mistake that local soccer commentator Chris Gleeson made last week by ordering one. How could they get everything about it so wrong?

The souv was so bad that we've sunk beneath the old "don't eat at Green Gully" level. The bizarre thing is that a solution to their problem of mushy pita and indistinguishable meat content is right there in front of them - ditch the pita except for those ordering a plate meal, and use bread rolls instead with the lamb skewers on the menu instead of whatever it is that was passed off as meat last week.

Maybe we should hire Calombaris to work in the kitchen - it might not solve the wages issue, but it might at least solve the food issue.

Final thought
I find it funny - but not "haha" funny - that after all the effort that went into pushing the A-League bid and trying to draw attention to ourselves, often in the most shameless ways, that we'd complain about someone writing an article about us because they're out to "get" us.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Death and its malcontents

I'm tired of the old shit 
Let the new shit begin
Eels - Old Shit/New Shit
I had begun writing up a post about last week's final friendly, but it was maudlin and stiff to the point of self-parody. Normally that would only bother me a little bit, but there are times when I feel like I've pursued that angle as far as it will go, and that I need to lay off it lest the blog becomes emotionally monotone - especially when there's a whole season to go, where we can all be as pantomime miserable as we like.

So before re-writing the sections I'd already written, I thought I'd write the thing that I should have been writing about in the first place, that being the reason for my break.

Three weeks ago, my father died.

He had been battling pancreatic cancer for the better part of a year, and for most of that time was holding up relatively well; but as was explained to me by the oncologists in what turned out to be the final couple weeks of his life, at some point the body can no longer fight the fight. The blog's hiatus came on the day before his death, though at the time I only knew that his time on this earth was limited, and not necessarily that his end was imminent. So it goes.

I could write about my father's life in great detail, but my telling of it would be incomplete, and besides which, this is not really the place for it. Suffice to say, he was born and raised in difficult circumstances, worked a series of back-breaking jobs throughout his life, and spent most of his life - 49 out of 72 years - in a country he never was able to quite get his head around. It's a story a good chunk of my readership will be all too familiar with.

But there was joy, too, and one of the things that brought my father joy was soccer. His village in Greece, now close to collapse from population decline, was large enough then to have its own soccer team, and in one way or another dad's interest in the game remained for the rest of his life.

Arriving in Australia in 1971, the football scene he saw here was past its 1960s state league peak, but was still healthy enough for there to be good players and good entertainment. Dad picked Alexander as his club not because he was from the north of Greece - though that became more important later on - but because when he first arrived in Melbourne he lived in the inner-north, in Collingwood. It was about as good a time to get on the Alexander bandwagon, as for the next decade or so they would be at their peak. Later the combination of distance (it's a fair hike from Altona North to Olympic Village), work and family commitments (my brothers have no interest in sport), and off-field politics (Macedonia issue, NSL and Soccer Australia bull-crap, internal club stuff) which gradually wore down not just the Bergers as a force, but also my dad's diminishing optimism about the game's prospects.

Thus he gradually drifted away from the local game; never completely losing interest, but never doing much to reverse that trend. When I came back to South in 2006, dad came with me for a few games, but eventually for all sorts of reasons - not least because I'd managed to attach myself to Clarendon Corner and the smfcboard bunch - his attendance at the soccer became minimal. He would still keep up to date via the Greek papers and radio, but most of his interest in soccer regressed to what was available on free-to-air TV. For a while there in the early-to-mid 2000s, I was headed much the same way, but turned that around in a story I've related in a number of places already.

My love of the game exists both because of, and in spite of, my father's relationship to the game. It exists because of his love for the game, because the game as it was for a good chunk of his first twenty years in Australia, contained a language he understood both in terms of what was happening on the field as well as off it. It's not that he didn't like Aussie Rules, but he had no cultural connection to it. I only went to one footy match before I was 18, and that wasn't with my dad. When we went together to see a sporting match, it was inevitably a soccer match.

So we went to soccer matches. At Paisley Park initially, where we saw Altona East win the Hellenic Cup on its home turf. Then to Middle Park and Olympic Village and Olympic Park, and even after the Bergers were kicked out of the comp, he would take me to South games at Lakeside. Dad the habits a lot of his generation had. Park miles away from the ground and risk a parking ticket instead of paying for parking; never pay for a grandstand seat; always time your run to get to the ground five minutes from kickoff, and always start getting ready to leave five minutes before the end of a game, regardless of the score. So many of these things infuriated me, and still do, but it's just the way he was, and none of my nagging was going to change things.

Besides which, I had found my own way to annoy him. I became a South fan instead of a Berger because I saw the 1991 NSL grand final on TV, and because the team did well after that, too, and because there were enough nearby relatives at the time who were also Hellas fans to keep me attached to that. The novelist Christos Tsiolkas relates the story of how the first time he disappointed his father was when he chose Aussie Rules over soccer, and I guess my picking Hellas over Alexander was something dad could never quite get over.

Dad kept that feeling buried pretty well though, still taking me to South games when he could, and using the line (that was only a half a lie) that watching a good game of soccer, and watching talented players, was more important to him than his team winning. He'd use the examples of someone like Ulysses Kokkinos, or Branko Buljevic, or Dusan Bajevic when he came out here with AEK. The Bajevic example he loved to roll out a lot - on that day the Olympic Park pitch was a mud bath, and yet Bajevic came off the field without having gotten dirty at all. Why? Because Bajevic refused to make an idiot of himself and chase balls when people should have been playing the ball to his feet.

But when I say it was only a half a lie that dad preferred entertainment and quality over the glory of victory, it was because deep down my dad really was a Berger tragic. In 2008, the Bergers' 50th anniversary season - and probably the last proper Bergers game my dad went to that I can remember - the home team came from behind and beat South 2-1. As their second goal went in, he smiled in a way that I hadn't seen him ever do, and he even did a little fist-pump. I didn't even know that he had a fist-pump in his gesticulation repertoire. The ride home in the station wagon from the Village to Altona North was almost unbearable for the smugness in that Kingswood station-wagon, the years of being humiliated by South during the 1990s melting away for him during the trip back.

But our trajectories as followers of local soccer nevertheless drifted further and further apart. He had a passive aggressive tendency, too, with my attendance, especially because I would take public transport most places. He both wanted and was happy for me to to go all sorts of soccer games; but there were also times when he was befuddled by the notion of my taking a lengthy public transport journey, which would see me return from the other side of town in the early hours of the morning. "Why do you need to go, when there'll be other people there? Does the team specifically need you there?"

And like a lot of the older generation, if it was raining, so much the worse! Why would someone deliberately go out and get wet for no good reason? And don't get me started on what he thought about anyone who would be stupid enough to volunteer at a club, and especially anyone who trusted anyone on a committee, ever. At some level, what my dad would've considered as my crazy and now decade-plus renewed dedication to South Melbourne Hellas and soccer - in terms of attending, writing, and thinking - is my attempt to make up for lost time, and to avoid becoming so jaded that I stop caring about something that matters to me so much. I'm trying to make up for all those games I didn't get to see during the NSL years, for all the soccer friends I didn't have in the 1990s and early 2000s, and for the culture I was not as connected to as I wish that I was.

It's also my attempt to not fall into the trap of self-defeating cynicism that my father fell into. My friends and readers will know that I love to complain, that I instinctively first see how things could go wrong instead of how things could get better, and that I am prone to being openly caustic; but I've seen the alternative, and I'd rather be attached to the glorious mess of Australian soccer than be apart from it. In other words, unlike my dad and so many of his generation - and later generations - I'd rather be mumbling to others at a ground that things will never get better, rather than sitting at home mumbling to myself that things will never change.

But we still talked about all the off-field and on-field happenings, and we would still watch most of the major world tournaments at our disposal. I remember him taping Greece's first World Cup game in 1994 against Argentina, and then when I woke up and asked about it, him telling me it was not worth watching because we'd been smashed. I remember sitting in my uncle and aunt's lounge-room in 1997, where in the only time I ever believed he had any clairvoyant ability - because he'd make these kinds of predictions often, whether one way or the other - he picked Iran's coming back from 2-0 down.

We were both stoked when Australia finally qualified for the World Cup, and like everyone else we watched the Socceroos with awe in Germany, and le,ss awe in later World Cups. But the best time was probably the 2014 World Cup, where we stayed up late and woke up early and I watched far more of a World Cup than I ever had before, and my dad became a sort of ancillary character in my sleep-deprived narration of events, waking me up for games, and supplying me with tea and biscuits.

The final confluence of our soccer interests was the most unlikely set of circumstances I can think of. Throughout my extended career as a university student - a botched stint at Melbourne University in 2002 and 2003, and a much more successful stint from 2007-2018 - the things I was studying almost never came up in discussion. When I was writing my doctoral thesis on Australian soccer literature, for the first three or so years of that he must've just assumed that I was doing "something", but who knows what. But one day he asked what it was that I writing on, and after I'd explained it his face lit up and he started talking about his own poetry.

Now I knew that he had once fancied himself a poet, and that he had been published in Neos Kosmos in the early 1990s, writing poetry on a variety of subjects - such as the commercialism of the modern Olympics, and the Macedonia issue - but the key here was that he remembered that he'd written a soccer poem, an ode to Heidelberg United Alexander while they were having a difficult season. Not only that, but it had been published in Neos Kosmos in an abridged form, and a Bergers committee member had seen it and was so moved by it that my dad was offered a double pass to their next home game.

But that wasn't the whole of it - dad had also written a poem on what he saw as the unjust sacking of Jim Pyrgolios as Hellas coach and Pyrgolios' replacement by Frank Arok; as well as a lengthy poem on Altona East PAOK's Hellenic Cup win in 1992, which was printed and placed on the window of the wooden portable which was then PAOK's social club space. The Pyrgolios poem and the PAOK one survived in draft form, but the Bergers one I was never able to trace down a complete version of, except for a couple of stanzas in a draft. Maybe when Neos Kosmos completes its digitisation I can finally find the rest of the poem.

Now to be honest, the quality of dad's poetry was firmly in the category of doggerel; but since one of the points of my research was its focus on what existed in terms of Australian soccer literature, rather than the quality of what existed, I was stoked to learn about his soccer poems, and that some of them had survived. I transcribed the remnant drafts, transliterated them, added them as an appendix in my thesis, and cited the poems as works and my father as a writer in the main body of my thesis. I used my dad and his work specifically as an example of how hard it was to find examples of Australian soccer literature by non-English language writers, but also how important it was when one did find examples of them.

Passing my doctoral thesis was an ordeal - I had wildly disparate examiner's reports - so the day that I got notice that the third examiner had passed me with minor corrections, I was more relieved than elated. But the day I graduated was a joyous moment, because I got to share that with my dad, having written a work which had him in it. Like many of the people who followed soccer in this country, my dad's experiences, memories and thoughts of the game will soon be lost. It's in Australian soccer's DNA that we keep forgetting the past, and keep attempting to re-build Troy on top of the rubble and ashes of the cities which preceded them. And the nature of most theses is that once they are finished, they will soon fade into irrelevance or insignificance - but knowing that I was able to preserve my father's work and part of his life in some format was reward enough for the effort.

As for last week's friendly...
Returning for my first bit of South Melbourne action for the 2020 campaign - or more correctly, preparation for the 2020 campaign - I felt that not much had changed in the months since I last watched a South game. The greeting at the door before I pick up membership pack was the same.  There were the same old faces sitting in the social club, and later watching the game, in this case a friendly against NPL2 side Northcote. Not everyone was there - more will be back this week - but there were no unfamiliar attendees except for the subbuteo faction on the futsal court, and even they've been there before.

If there were changes to be noticed, they were subtle ones. The complimentary scarf is longer than usual. The faces behind the bar are a little different, but they're still pouring spirits somewhere between a shot and a free-pour. The burger is much the same, including the wait time. At one point, social club manager Vic had Clutch(!) on the social club's stereo system. Outside, the sun-and-rain-bleached blue of the athletics track has been touched up to be of a more robust royal blue hue, while the city skyline to the north was clouded in smoke.

But the meaningless of the hit-out, bushfire relief aspect notwithstanding, was much the same. Whether pre-season form is magnificent or disastrous, there is no oracle which can reliably predict what it will mean for the season proper. But I asked those who had been to more pre-season games than I had this year to offer their assessment of what they've seen anyway, even if I knew that the answers would be non-committal. The most optimistic refrain was that it seemed that at least the team no longer hated each other and themselves which, if true, would be a step up from last season and the season before that.

Then again, give it five minutes and anything could happen. It's a very long season and a very large squad, and all the woodfired pizzas in Shepparton might not be able to prevent internal schisms should things go wrong.

On the field, I don't think it was a full-strength line-up for us. Peter Skapetis was out there, and initially at least he ran harder than I'd seen him do at any point for us last year. Chris Irwin played further up the field, as a pure winger, than he usually did during his previous stint with us, where he was much more likely to be used to as a wing-back. Harrison Sawyer is big, runs hard, and has spindly legs that I predict he will repeatedly trip over, Melvin Beckett looked exactly the same as last season, a lot of sizzle and not much steak. Marcus Schroen was not out there, so someone else was taking corners, free kicks, and penalties.

The tempo was high throughout the friendly, but you know what I think about high tempo at this level - that it's the Max Power Paradigm - not the right way or the wrong way, but rather the wrong way just faster. Both sides created a ton of chances in part because of this high tempo, which has freaked out the kinds of people who treat pre-season friendlt games against lower tier opposition in which we don't run them into the ground (with what I assume is nowhere quite near our likely starting eleven) as an ominous portent of doom for the coming season. Of course, had we belted our NPL2 opposition, the calls may have been that it was not a real hit-out against a comparable opponent. I say let's just wait for the Bergers to bury us on Friday night before we get legitimately panicky. 

Aside from what has been happening on the field, it has been as low-key a lead-up to a Victorian top-tier season that I can remember, apart from the bizarre Avondale points deduction which happened very late. There is no buzz. It's not just us, either - pretty much the whole league, and the federation, too, has approached 2020 as if there is nothing to get excited about, nothing to look forward to. Of course it doesn't help matters that most teams in this competition have no fans to get excited about anything, but even those clubs with what might be classed as "actual supporters" have mostly been quiet.

So is this it? Is this the end, the point where everyone finally, genuinely acknowledges the futility of state league football? One can only hope, though we'll have probably have to wait until after the game against the Bergers to be sure.

It's official
I am glad to say that I am once again officially accredited by Football Victoria to provide the public with South Melbourne Hellas nonsense. Also other nonsense, too, I assume, but I'll have to check the accreditation agreement.