Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Soccer is back for 2018, that's right, it doesn't exist outside our club, everything else is an inferior imitation, accept no substitutes

What did you do over the summer break? I went to the movies, read some books, watched some cricket, went to the baseball, submitted a thesis, went to New Japan Pro-Wrestling, got some fillings done, visited the supermarket, played some video games, and did my usual op-shopping. I even took one of my brothers to a museum. And sure, I went to a few South pre-season friendlies as well, but not as many as I usually would, partly because the scheduling and openness of some of those games didn't work out well for me. But that's OK - there is life outside South Melbourne, as people have told me on occasion down the years.

But the soccer season is upon us once more, and thus life becomes all about South Melbourne Hellas for the next few months, for some of us more than others. Good on you if you can keep your passion in check, releasing it at the appropriate moment during the weekend. Some of us however are beyond redemption, spending every waking hour attached to Twitter or the forums looking for any bit of news or something to take offence to.

The South Melbourne men's season will be dominated by one thing - the after-shocks following the Chris Taylor sacking. Everything is going to exist in its shadow. Off the field, who knows what's going to occur? Will the social club begin to hit its stride? What about the futsal court? Will anyone else step up to organise a rival ticket? Will anyone tell us something tangible about our A-League bid, or will we have to read about it in the press?

Our champion WNPL side is also back in action this week, though like the men's team they'll be away for a good portion of the first part of the year. I do intend to try and make it to more of their games this season. I wish that more of their opponents weren't in monstrously inaccessible locales.

We'll always have those satay chicken skewers at the South Melbourne Christmas party
Apparently off-season signing Darby Dexter has signed over at Hume City. When I say apparently, I mean I read it on this blog in the comments somewhere, not that the club put that info out. Now the question is, who do you trust more? The club's deeply dishonest and manipulative media service, or some anonymous contributor posting to a poorly moderated blog? That's what I thought.

No 'new' teams this year
In the league at least, all our opponents, including the promoted pair of Northcote and Dandenong Thunder, will be familiar to us. The only notable difference will be some of the match days and kickoff times may be a little different to what we're used to.

Oh, and at some point we'll know where Avondale are going to be playing home games this season; they say Reggio Calabria Club, but that's going to need a lot of work, so they'll probably end up at Paisley Park or something. Barring an FFA Cup match up, that won't be a problem for South fans to deal with until very late in the home and away season.

I don't know what the condition of the various surfaces will be like, if lighting has been improved, or whether we'll ever be allowed on the outer side of Port Melbourne ever again, but that's par for the course - most venue changes tend to be more subtle than revolutionary, and as summer becomes autumn and autumn becomes winter, and the grounds get a ton of usage under their belts, things get that little bit more unplayable regardless of how well things started.

Perhaps the most notable change in venue status - aside from wherever Avondale end up - is at the Veneto Club, which has a new synthetic pitch.
Lucky us, we're the first visiting side to try it out.

Who are the teams to beat?
Got me stumped. Despite everything that's happened, we should be competitive - it's still a good squad, although depth in certain areas will always be an issue.

It's probably now or never for Green Gully and Arthur Papas. Avondale has gone off the deep end with its player signings. The Bergers look about the same as last year, albeit with probably no King Kenny for a good chunk of the year. Have heard stuff all about what Oakleigh's done during the off-season. Bentleigh have had a huge turnover in players, and Hume is going for the daring/stupid approach of hiring a captain-coach.

At the bottom end, everyone seems to be saying Northcote, Port and Bulleen are going to be thrashing it out to avoid relegation, with little mention of Kingston being in that mix, but how do you know for sure? What I think we can say for near certain is that overall this season's competition will be stronger if for no other reason then the fact that we've disposed of two very poor teams in North Geelong and St Albans, and replaced them with at least one much more credible contender in Dandenong Thunder. The team that finished third last in 2017, Melbourne Knights, also looks like it's snapped out of its malaise. As for Pascoe Vale, it looks like they've stalled a bit, but all it takes is a good start and early points on the board to overturn expectations.

But really, all this is background noise to the only thing which matters, which is the FFA Cup. Because the Bergers won the national NPL playoffs last year, Victoria gets an extra FFA Cup spot in 2018, though I'm not sure how FFV will go about sorting out qualification in the event that Heidelberg also make it to the final four/Dockerty Cup stage.

It's a Greek, Greek, Greek, Greek World
To bring it back for a moment to the composition of the league, which is now seven Greek teams out of fourteen competitors. Half! We have the president, we have connections, and we've been dominating on-field as well.

  • 2013 - Grand final winner, Northcote, runner up Bentleigh, preliminary final South Melbourne
  • 2014 - (no finals), 1st South, 2nd Oakleigh, 3rd Heidelberg, 4th Bentleigh
  • 2015 - Grand final winner Bentleigh, runner up South (minor premier), 3rd place Heidelberg. South and Oakleigh also in the Dockerty Cup final
  • 2016 - Grand final winner South, runner up Oakleigh, losing semi-finalists Heidelberg and Bentleigh. Bentleigh won the Dockerty Cup final.
  • 2017 - South, Heidelberg and Bentleigh top three, and Bentleigh and Bergers in the Dockerty Cup final.
My dad, oblivious to most things which have happened in Australian soccer since the mid-1990s, asked me when the Hellenic Cup was on this year. The correct answer is of course that it hasn't been held for several years, but the even more correct answer is: do we even need one? Why bother sourcing sponsors and ruining grounds when we have taken over the league itself? All we need now is for all seven Greek clubs to survive, and for Brunswick or Box Hill to come up, and then we can launch proceedings to secede from Victorian soccer.

Assorted social media stuff
The media interest in the lead up to this season has been very subdued, to the point of being invisible  That goes for the clubs as much as it does for FFV and even the Corner Flag site. What has caused this I don't know, but there appears to be a general torpor around promotion of the league. Now regular readers will know that I'm as fond of an existential languor as anyone - indeed, I've inadvertently based my life's philosophy upon it - but you can't help feel it's not exactly what we should be aiming for.

Anyway, some people out there maybe want to keep in touch with league happenings outside the weekend, or wish to enhance their local soccer experience by the use of social media.

For those playing along on Twitter, this year there is no major sponsor for the competition, and thus the #PS4NPLVIC hashtag is dead. For the time being, we've been instructed to use #NPLVIC. There may be a naming rights sponsor signed up eventually, which would see the hashtag change again.

Though the state leagues starting date is still a month away, if you happen to be at a state league game, following the @ffv365 account is the best way to keep up to date with live scores from the state leagues, though the account can be a bit erratic in how promptly it retweets scores. If you happen to be a Twitter user at a state league game, and you wish to note a goal in a tweet to get retweeted by the FFV account, use @FFV365 not #FFV365.

Of course, the best way to keep up to date with NPL and NPL2 scores as they happen is the Futbol24 app. Berate the gamblers as I do, their interest in our leagues seems to surpass that of most organisations. If you find the FFV sites a bit of a mess to use for scores and ladders, the UK soccer pools site Soccer Aust has a crummy, ancient look, but excellent usability.

FFV will once again be broadcasting games on internet radio via the Mixlr app, with games also streamed at mixlr.com/ffvradio/. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but the commentary teams are good, and sometimes there's even a bit of audience interactivity.

As for the Facebook and Instagram people, I couldn't care less about those mediums, so you're on your own there. A lot of clubs seem to prefer Facebook for news and score updates, but I've made my choice of preferred social media tools, and I stick by that decision.

Contribute to South of the Border
As always, the opportunity is there for readers to contribute to South of the Border, in whatever way you can think of that won't get me sued, or which doesn't come across as a sovereign citizen style rant against FFA or whatever - that's what Twitter is for. Ongoing or one-off contributions welcome.

Friday, 16 February 2018

2018 squad finalised

The Tuesday that just passed was the day everyone had to submit their final squads of 20 players for season 2018, and from a South point of view everything seems sorted now, sorta, even though we had to wait an extra day or two to know for sure who'd fill out the last quarter of the roster.

Even before the, er, unpleasantness, the team was set for a decent overhaul, especially in defence. New keepers, new centre-backs, even new wing-backs. Alastair Bray will be the obvious first choice starting out, and Brad Norton the starting left full-back, but the other three spots in the back four will be be up for grabs. Injuries to new recruits Jake Marshall and Darby Dexter mean that it'll likely be Kristian Konstantinidis and new player Christos Intzidis in the centre of defence for the start of the season, and *probably* Matthew Foschini at right fll-back, but who knows for sure?

For everything which has changed however, other things will look stunningly familiar even where we have recruited new players. The midfield suffered few changes; the outs amounted to Jesse Daley, whose place in the starting eleven was all over the place in 2017 (and who disappeared to Perth for trials twice), and Stefan Zinni and Andy Kecojevic who were about as marginal as midfielders could get in a semi-professional squad that plays as many games as we have been in the habit of doing.

And yet two of our midfield pickups are entirely familiar - Andy Brennan and Iqi Jawadi have been here before, the latter for a lot longer than the former, but still, it's not like we don't know what they're like. Oliver Minatel, if he plays in the attacking midfield role, will be where a lot of this year's planning will likely sink or swim. That, and the fact that because we got and then got rid of Sam Smith, the next in line for replacing striker Milos Lujic (should something happen to him) is Leigh Minopoulos and Giordano Marafioti.

One thing which is puzzling me is that, by my very erratic calculations there are 19 confirmed players where we need 20. So, is it Luke Pavlou or Ajdin Fetahagic that takes up one of those spots? Anyone with a better idea of this situation is more than welcome to post it in the comments.

Need more Greeks!
We have signed Greek defender Christos Intzidis. He's a 25 year old journeyman who has spent most of his career bouncing around the Greek second division. My main concern here is that he just doesn't seem to have played very much football for a 25 year old professional, especially recently. And while I could watch the highlights packages and see what he can do, these things seldom if ever show us what a player can't do.

It's an interesting signing in some other ways as well. Obviously as a visa player, he'll need a certain amount of renumeration, which suggests that money is still coming in from somewhere, or that savings made elsewhere have been funneled towards a signing like this. There's also cultural and language issues, but that's to be expected with an overseas signing, especially from outside the British Isles or New Zealand.

I'm also reminded of discussions that were had a few years ago on the old smfcboard, especially following the onset of the Greek financial crisis, that we should be looking at players in the Greek second and third divisions who would quote/unquote kill it in this league of ours. Despite the plethora of Greek clubs in this league however, it's not a recruiting tactic that's been used very often. I think maybe Northcote had recruited a Greek player from below the top tiers, but they got relegated anyway.

It promises to be a fun experiment. When was the last time, guest players like John Samaras not included, that we even brought out a player from Greece? Was it Margaritis Hatzimanouil in the mid-1970s?

What was that about visa players?
We've also signed Oliver Minatel, a Brazilian most recently of the US non-MLS tiers. Again I haven't watched the accompanying highlights package, though someone claimed to be about as impressed by them as they were by Andy Bevin's compilation, which doesn't fill me with confidence. Anyway, the general scuttlebutt non-highlights watching consensus is that Minatel is a left-sided attacking player.

But I can hear you already asking, don't we already have one of those in the form of the People's Champ? Is this an attempt to shunt out the Champ, or was he on his way out in due course anyway? Shurgs shoulders, maybe? I don't know

The other theory is that Minatel will be the more-or-less like-for-like replacement for Marcus Schroen, so something like an attacking midfielder. Seeing as he's possibly the direct replacement for Schroen, I wonder if Minatel can take a set-piece? Not that Schroen himself had much success there in 2017 barring that goal at home against against the Knights, but it has been a long-term problem for us.

Anyway, after an AGM where the board had said it would be very cautious, perhaps reluctant even to sign visa players unless they fit an absolutely obvious need, we've signed two visa players. These things happen I suppose. One day you have a successful coach of four and half years' tenure, the next morning you don't. Likewise, one week you're making noises about a change in signing philosophy, and then another week you seemingly quickly change to another one.

I'm not terribly flustered about this; visa spots are there to be used, and the club felt it had two spots it really wanted to fill either because of a genuine need to do so and inability to find a suitable local option, or because it felt it needed to reinforce the squad for Kolman's and their own sakes. I mean, imagine it all works out?

South Melbourne Fringe Festival
Four youth players have been upgraded to the senior list. Striker Giordano Marafioti, right full-back Josh Hodes, winger Ben Djiba, and centre-back Giorgi Zarbos have all been what I suppose you'd call provisionally elevated into the senior list.

It's easy to be cynical and say that these four players have been elevated to the senior list in part to get the squad underneath the 200 PPS limit, but it's also true. Every club does it, we've got two visa spots filled worth 20 points each, and something has to be done to get us a pass mark.

While I don't doubt that Sasa Kolman wants to use these players - as their former under 20s coach, he knows them better than anyone - the reality is that for most of them, this is as good as will it get. People can talk about youth development until the cows come home, but the higher up you go, the harder it is to put into practice.

Fans and boards want senior success; who's going to risk that on some unknown and untested quantities, whose careers thus far have been spent entirely playing against only players their own age? Anyway, all the best to the lads, but most people will be hoping we won't be needing their services.

Arrivals and Departures
The squad deadline was last Tuesday 5PM, so apart from everyone else already named and shamed, it's worth notung Andy Kecojevic has officially left the club, joining Springvale White Eagles. It never quite worked out the way it should have there, right?

Re-signed/contracted/upgraded

In, then Out
  • Sam Smith (Port Melbourne)
Out
  • Stefan Zinni (Avondale)
  • Zaim Zeneli (North Sunshine Eagles)
  • Michael Eagar (Port Melbourne)
  • Luke Adams (Ljungskile SK, Sweden)
  • Tim Mala (12 month sabbatical)
  • Nikola Roganovic (retired)
  • Jesse Daley (returned to Queensland)
  • Andy Kecojevic (Springvale White Eagles)

Out for injury related reasons
  • Marcus Schroen
Players whose status I'm unsure about
  • Luke Pavlou
  • Ajdin Fetahagic 
  • Bardhi Hysolli
Standalone Friday night games
Friday night NPL matches kicking off at 8:15PM or at 8:30PM, especially in the middle of winter, have been a bugbear for some people for some years now. There's been little that clubs have been able to do about it, as there are rules about the times at which reserve and senior matches can kickoff for night games. Besides which, more and more clubs, both in the NPL and in the state leagues, have been moving their fixtures to Friday nights.

But I see that Melbourne Knights have tried to get around the problem in a way that most if not all clubs have been reticent to try, by playing their reserves/under 20s games on a different day. South has done similar things in order to accommodate women's/men's double-headers, and games like the Old Socceroos vs Copperoos, but this is the next logical step.

So, Knights have moved to try and play some of their early season senior home games as standalone fixtures kicking off at 7:30PM instead. The possible benefits? More attractive to families and people desiring to stay back after a game, and maybe not having to put up with the worst of the winter conditions. Oh, and possibly lower costs on hiring security for matches.

The drawbacks include less time to get across town to a game, especially for the handful of people who rely on public transport to do so. Maybe less revenue from people that get to games early? Look, we're probably well past the point where anything is going to make a drastic difference to attendances, but why not try something anyway?

The question is, is this something you would like to see happen at South games, should we ever consider playing Friday night games again? Is the idea of standalone senior matches something you'd like to see brought in across the board for Friday night fixturing in the NPL?

South of the Border, freeloading once again at an NPL or state league game near you in 2018
Of course it's not completely freeloading. In exchange for the pass, I write this blog about South, and try to get to at least 1-2 other games a weekend in order to write up everyone's favourite "around the grounds" segment. And I usually put at least something back over the bar and bolster the crowds by at least one person.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Pound of Flesh" is not a good movie - South Melbourne 3 Gunagzhou R&F 0

I was not there last night, had other things to do, and none of those people who did attend have put their hand up to do a guest match report. So what you're going to get instead is a patchwork quilt of stuff I've gleaned from he web about this game.

First, it's important to reiterate an important point: this was not Guangzhou Evergrande, the seven times consecutive winners of the Chinese Super League and two-time winners of the Asian Champions League, This was their smaller and significantly less successful city rival Guangzhou R&F. That doesn't mean they don't have resources at their disposal which would put them well outside our reach, but you know, the opponent is not as prestigious as some people may have inadvertently thought they may have been.

It also doesn't mean that this Guangzhou R&F don't have other things going for them.
This was also not the first time we've played Guangzhou R&F this pre-season; we played them last Saturday evening in a behind closed doors game, losing 4-1, with perhaps a mix of senior and youth players from our side, though I can't verify that.
Guangzhou R&F have also been busy playing some other teams; before our last Saturday game, they played Oakleigh two days prior, and two days before yesterday's game they'd played Melbourne Heart, and on Sunday they play Dandenong Thunder. As you can see, it's a crowded schedule, and the squads Guangzhou R&F are likely to be using for each friendly are going to have a high degree of variability.

Someone noted of yesterday's game that our guests used a reserve squad for the first half, and a fuller strength side for the second. The reserves therefore would be made up of Chinese players, whose quality I can't gauge from the comfort of my home office, but. Unlike the A-League teams, Chinese sides seems to adhere to the AFC's 3+1 foreigner rule, but they're still fully professional whereas we're a glorified pub team, a gastro-pub team if you like.

For ourselves, it was a pretty full-strength squad, probably close to what you'd see for round one against Bulleen.
Martin (no first name provided) is a defender, probably a visa slot candidate, unsigned as yet as far as I'm aware. Not much evidence of youth team players there, for those who are going to ride that hobby-horse for superior and/or ulterior motives.

We were 2-0 (Lujic, Konstantinidis) up at the break, and added a third (Brennan) in the second half. From what I can gather from the piecemeal information floating around, we looked good going forward, very exciting, and lousy going back the other way. Those hoping for clues in that description to something of how a Sasa Kolman team might play should perhaps temper their excitement just a bit; even under the late Chris Taylor era during this pre-season, the team looked OK going forward and less than adequate defensively. Nevertheless, one can't be disappointed with the performance, only cautious as to what actual worth can be extracted from it. Some people are born optimists, while others are hoping for some evidence that we are going to be shit-hot after the turmoil of the past couple of weeks.

Of course what's a pre-season friendly win of indiscernible worth without South fans, their current politically adjacent affiliates, and aspiring doyens of the local soccer press going off half-cocked just because they can?
Sometimes South fans are like a bloke who has caught a glimpse of side-boob, getting excited beyond all measure of reasonableness to the point where he's started planning the wedding. In our case, when we see something approximating hope, we rush out to vote for every online poll no matter how meaningless it is
and end up making ourselves feel like dirt when nothing comes of it. There was a solid contingent of Chinese supporters in attendance, many more than South fans. I don't know who they were, how they got there, and whether they'll be back. OK, I don't think they'll be back, but I suppose for those South fans who were there it was nice to see a decent crowd for whatever it was that was happening last night.

There was also this
which I assume lead to the halftime melee that some reported, which saw the ejection of Lujic and Epifano, as well two players from the opposition. Sounds like it was am eventful night all round.

And he's gone
Like Jason Hicks and Francesco Stella before him, off-season South Melbourne signing Sam Smith has moved on to another club without playing a single legitimate game for us and indeed, like the others mentioned before the season has even started. In Smith's case, he's ended up at Port Melbourne. After all our efforts to get Smith - one rumoured attempt before he re-signed at Gold Coast City, and then as Gold Coast City got into an administrative mess we lured him down to Victoria - it seems like an odd decision,

Truth be told, I never saw much in his pre-season form (when I was paying attention) to get excited about. Others were far more critical of his skill level. I'll say this: judging from his highlights package, he looks like a classic out-and-out striker, and during pre-season we seemed to be trying to play him a lot on the wing, hoping as we've done since he left us to find the next Jaime Reed. It didn't work out, Smith would've taken up a visa spot we're apparently keen on using on a defender, these things happen. If that's the worst thing that happens during this off-season, we're doing OK.

In a similar vein, forward Amir Osmancevic, who had been trialling with us (and who did look impressive at times), has ended up at Pascoe Vale. Likewise, Kaine Sheppard has ended up at Avondale, or so people say. Oh, and Iqi Jawadi's back.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

This industry moves so fast

I can't figure out what, if anything, the Australia
 China Football Development Association does. 
Chinese visitors, with caveats
I noted in an earlier post that Chinese Super League club Guangzhou R&F were due to tour Victoria this February (ie, "now") as part of their preparations for their 2018 league campaign. Though there was no firm detail about who they would play while they were here, it looks like South Melbourne is one of the lucky ones. Of course, we'll probably decide to pretend that we're a special case, even though Guangzhou R&F played Oakleigh last Thursday (and against other clubs while they're here), and I think maybe even toured here once before (I just can't find the damn photo I took a few years ago of a jersey on the walls of Dandenong Thunder's social club of some random Chinese soccer jersey).

Some of the hoopla around our connection to this tour is a bit strange. OK, so the club's press release over-eggs the custard a bit, but that's par for the course when Bill Papastergiadis is being quoted. The press release says that Guangzhou R&F will train at Lakeside (makes sense I suppose), but it also includes references to a formal dinner, as well as to something called the "Australia China Football Development Association", which has an ABN dating back to October 2017 but not much else to go on for people relying upon lazy internet searches.

I'd heard from another South fan that the club had hosted some big Chinese soccer organisation dinner in the social club, but I don't recall our interlocutor saying much more than that, and I just assumed it was an independent body with no specific connection to South, just some group which wanted to hire our facility for the night. Which now that I think about it, is horribly naive of me. What's so special about our social club that an outside entity would want to use it instead of another venue?

Anyway, the only other evidence I can find for what the Australia China Football Development Association actually is appears to be photos from the dinner event held I'm guessing in July or August 2017 (the latter at least is when the photos were uploaded to the web).

Left to right: South Melbourne president Leo Athanasakis, unidentified Asian gentleman, unidentified Caucasian gentleman, Victorian Member of Parliament for Glen Waverley (Liberal) Michael Gidley. another unidentified Asian gentleman, and South Melbourne director Andrew Mesourouni, flanking the FFA Cup. Photo: borrowed from Gidley's social media.

As for what it is that the ACFDA do, and what we have do with what it does, I'm not sure. When Papastergiadis says the following:
Our partnership with the Chinese business and football community continues to strengthen and grow each year. Establishing the Australia China Football Development Association has played a large role in this. Our youth coaching staff have recently returned from delivering a coaching conference in Jinshan for seventy local coaches
are we meant to infer that South is directly involved in actually forming the ACFDA, and that we have some material interest in it? If so, should we maybe have been told about this at the AGM?

Contrary to Neos Kosmos' otherwise word-for-word rehash of South's press release, the game will not have "invitation-only access to the match for invited community members and South Melbourne FC members and season pass holders." Rather, the game will be open to the general public, with kickoff at 7:30PM, and free entry. And while nothing says you're ready for broad-based mainstream success like operating your soccer club along the lines of Cartmanland, it's too bad that I can't go anyway, what with already having an actual exclusive, invitation-only commitment on that night.

If someone wants to do a guest match report for this game, let me know.

Latest on the Taylor sacking
Interesting Neos Kosmos article on the sacking of Chris Taylor, including direct quotes from both Taylor and South president Leo Athanasakis. Taylor asserts that he's still waiting to find out what exactly contract breaches were which lead to his sacking. He also reiterates the shock of the sacking, as well as noting that so far as he was concerned, the performance benchmarks contained in his contract had been met.

Taylor also notes that it's "obviously going to become a legal case and it will get dealt with in the courts I’d say”. We'll see if it pans out that way. A mediated settlement is usually the aim here, both to keep costs down and to avoid a public spectacle, but that's just my uneducated two cents on the matter, keeping in mind that my legal expertise only runs to Year 12 legal studies (in 2001!) and since then only attending court cases involving South Melbourne Hellas and/or Football Federation Victoria.

If this matter did proceed to a court case, the confidentiality agreement that would likely form a part of any out of court settlement between Taylor and the club would not come into being; interested onlookers with way too much time on their hands (ie, me) could witness (under oath!) for themselves why the club did what it did. Short of any of the parties directly involved blurting it out before then, it's probably the only legitimate way a mug punter would know for sure what happened.

For his part, Athanasakis says that the decision to sack Taylor had unanimous support from the board, but in the article he provides no further specifics as to why Taylor was sacked. The fact that he claims it was a whole board decision and not a unilateral one means that there had to have been a board meeting where the matter was discussed, and therefore this was planned at least some time in advance of the Saturday morning slaying. The questions then are how long ago did the board come to the conclusion that Taylor must go, and what made them come to this conclusion? As one of South of the Border's former contributors used, these are the questions that keep you up at night.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

January 2018 digest

Preface
I've got to warn you, dear readers, that from Saturday morning when the news broke of Chris Taylor's sacking until about some time early yesterday, I was as distraught and confused as many of you were. Maybe not as demonstratively angry as many South Melbourne Hellas supporters, but still very upset by the whole situation. But yesterday, in reading the latest forum and online updates, I could not help but also find the situation incredibly amusing. Don't get me wrong - the treatment of Taylor by the board still seems extremely callous, but it's reached that point now where I've been able to tap into the absurdity of the situation. And it really is so absurd that I'm not sure words alone can do this situation justice.

It's worth noting briefly how my off-season digest posts come into being: I don't write them all in one go, but rather I add stuff to a draft file incrementally and polish off the product on the eve of the scheduled posting date. If something really big happens, I try and write something special about it, and I guess I could've rushed something more substantial out after the initial post, but there was always a chance of more things coming to light or at the whole situation moving along that it wasn't the effort to make multiple posts.

Didn't we have fun doing the crossword puzzles?
Chris Taylor is as stunned as everyone else at the preemptive breakup.
Well, what looked a like a fairly run of the mill, pedestrian, steady-as-she-goes pre-season has been turned upside-down by what looks like the most insane bit of hubris this side of an Athenian tragedy. From outside South Melbourne Hellas' innermost sanctum - which at its most elite levels comprises about three people - it is a decision which makes no sense whatsoever. I wonder if it even makes sense to the people who made it.

Chris Taylor is one of the most successful coaches in the club's history, as well as one of its longest-serving. He was some way into a long-term contract of unspecified length, and which by internet consensus had two years to run; he was sacked in the middle of pre-season, in the process of finalising his squad during its biggest overhaul since his arrival; he was sacked just one month out from the start of the season, a campaign which starts with nine out of ten games away from home, a good deal of time spent training away from Lakeside, and thus a period fraught with the danger of poor morale and continuity effecting results.

And then, on Saturday morning - three days after the AGM, on the morning after an ordinary friendly against Springvale White Eagles - the news was published by the club on its website that Taylor and the club had euphemistically "parted ways". It's a proclamation that's so mealy-mouthed that you have to feel pity for whoever was tasked with writing it up and posting it online.

I'm as stunned by the decision now as I was when it was announced. Having published a brief and sloppy post to mark the occasion of Taylor's departure, I was approving comments on here while pushing a shopping trolley around Coles, and spending much of the rest of the day fielding Twitter DMs, Facebook correspondence, and text messages all asking me the same thing. Why did this happen? It's a question I do not have an answer for, only the rumours and innuendo of the Victorian soccer community trying to make sense of this situation.

I said in that Saturday post "that nature abhors a vacuum", and cliché that it is, it is also true. From the comments section here, to Twitter, to soccer-forum.net, and even to the New South Wales border where Green Gully spent the weekend, people are scrambling to come up with scenarios to explain what happened and why. With only the stony-faced club press release to go on, it was time for the punters to engage in speculation to fill the information void.

So far, there are two theories which stand-out as being more tangible than the rest. One of these relates to nepotism, and the allegation that Taylor would not play the son or a relative (there's some conjecture about the exact nature of the particular familial relationship) of club director and sponsor Andrew Mesourouni. That Mesourouni is the board member responsible for overseeing youth development at the club, while also being one of our main financial backers and one of those directors guaranteeing our loan to complete the social club complicates matters in that regard.

To be perfectly clear: I am not saying that this is what actually happened, only that this is where much of the rumour-mongering has settled on in a variety of online forums. Taylor has in the past made subtle remarks about board interference, but the true nature of that is something that would only be known to Taylor and those board members who dealt with him on a regular basis. It is also the nature of coaching at this level in this country - indeed, it is one of our great traditions as a soccer culture - that the boundaries between the coach of a team and the people putting the money into that team are much blurrier than perhaps would be the case in other places.

The other rumour comes down to finances. The club had cash-flow problems last year when it got into a dispute with the State Sport Centres Trust, when the SSCT attempted to change the delivery time of the club's monthly stipend. While players and staff went unpaid for a short while, the board claimed it had caught up on that shortfall after the situation with the SSCT was rectified. Still, rumours persist about the club falling behind in superannuation payments to various employees. However, the fact that Taylor had returned from his Bali holiday (and time off following the death of his father) suggests that financial issues, whatever their nature, can't have been that severe if he was prepared to get busy with pre-season and setting up the squad.

On Sunday evening, Taylor fronted up for an interview on 3XY Radio Hellas, a show which I unfortunately did not think to listen to. Hey, it was a billion degrees in this room where my computer is, and I was listening to a jazz programme on community radio (but then again, I also forgot to listen to the George Karantonis show on Tuesday night). From what I've been able to piece together from the helpful summaries provided by people who did listen to the 3XY show:
  • Taylor's sacking was done over the phone.
  • Taylor has some time left on his contract, seemingly two years.
  • Taylor is considering his legal options.
  • Taylor doesn't know why he was sacked.
  • He thanked the fans and said he loved his time at the club.
No matter how big of a defender of the club and/or the board you are (with the de rigueur exception of our dear friend Shouty Mike), the optics on this look astonishingly bad. Forget becoming the butt of internet jokes; sacking a coach by phone? It's cowardice of the highest quality, overtly lacking any sense of moral fibre. Even some of the people who hated Taylor (whether because of his tactics or his handling of the Nick Epifano issue) and who are glad to seem him gone are appalled at the way it's been done.

Whatever differences there may have been between the board and Taylor on any number of issues, Taylor generally seemed to do the right thing for the club. He brought back player discipline (mostly, perhaps as much as you can get in a semi-pro environment), he brought trophies and a higher national profile thanks to the most recent FFA Cup run, and he did most of the media stuff that others may have found beneath them or even demeaning. He spruiked for the club's history and ambition, and even played the game of not rubbishing the nonsense Roberto Carlos stunt.

Sacking such a long-term servant by phone is also the kind of action which probably obliterates whatever trust remains between the board and those few who can tolerate its arrogance. Never mind whether people would want to be paid to work for an organisation which behaves like this; more importantly, would South fans want to volunteer their time for an organisation that treats its staff (paid or unpaid) so shabbily?

On the matter of legal options, two issues come to mind. First, in considering the financial cost of paying out Taylor's two year contract, how much would this set back the club? Already with a large loan to pay off, would the directors seek to avert going to court by paying Taylor out of their own pockets? Second, there is the matter of what it was that Taylor had allegedly done - or failed to do - which saw the club decide that Taylor had breached a part of his contract with the club; a clause so definitive that it would require such drastic action as a brutal summary dismissal. Add to that the idea that the club would be so certain that it would win any case brought against it, and you've got to worry about the possibilities. Contracts are funny things, which can be interpreted in a lot of different ways, but it makes you wonder what it was in the specific agreement between Taylor and the club that the club would dare terminate Taylor's contract with two years left to run.

(It also shows up the inherent risk of committing to such a long-term contract, which appears here to have been a five-year deal.)

Who knows what impact Taylor's sacking will have on the playing group, many of whom will have developed a strong sense loyalty towards Taylor; some of whom would only be at South because of Taylor; and some of whom may even have stipulations in their contracts that if Taylor left, they too would be allowed to leave. It certainly won't go down well with those players who have signed on during this off-season.

Checkmate! The club is always thinking two moves ahead.
From the very limited info I've been able to glean from my trustworthy sources, the sacking has caught Taylor completely off-guard. For those speculating (whether seriously or in devil's advocate desperation) that Taylor might have had another gig lined up, all I can say is that I've heard that it's not true. That's not to say he couldn't find another job quickly if he wanted to - his record speaks for itself in Victorian soccer - but that there was nothing planned in that way.

Well-known local referee James Milloy (who has officiated at most of our Melbourne based pre-season games during Taylor's tenure), posting under his alias of "REDREF08" on soccer-forum.net, posted this about the situation:
Apparently, on Monday before training a meeting was held by two board members and the senior squad. 
One of those two told the playing group, they had been trying to get rid of CT for sometime but with his Father dying, we delayed the decision.
What's interesting here is that one of the things that Taylor managed to bring to the club during his tenure was a new-found and rare - certainly by South Melbourne Hellas standards - level of information or disclosure discipline, plugging up leaks that previously flowed uninterrupted to the wider Victorian soccer community. On this occasion he's been surprised by the kind of information-discipline he attempted to instill at the club.

Of course this only really works if the board had indeed planned to sack Taylor months ago, and not on a spur of the moment decision. Without putting aside the callousness-under-the-guise-of-empathy allegation (which speaks for itself, no matter how well-intended it may have been), the idea that the board had wanted to end Taylor's tenure months ago is interesting, as it brings into question - or at the very least adds nuance to - the borderline conspiracy theories going around at the moment. It's not that one can instantly dismiss concerns about nepotism or money, but maybe there's other things to consider.

As a coach, Taylor was pragmatic; there's no getting around that. Most times when that pragmatism was framed as a criticism, that adjective was directed toward his game-plan, which at its worst could degenerate into dire long-ball. Initially South people were willing to put up with it, because it got results, and results at that time were more important than prettiness. Eventually being purely results-driven lost favour with more people (though I would never be so bold as to call it a majority or to put any number on it which would suggest as much).

If there were questions about Taylor's ability to recruit or bring over desirable players from other clubs, well I'm not sure where the issue would've come from there. For years it seemed, at least from an outsider's perspective, that the board and Taylor were in general agreement about recruiting strategies. Was Taylor not bringing through enough of the club's youth players? By his own admission at the 2017 AGM, Mesourouni noted that it was only in this latest batch of under 20s that there was a real chance of sourcing suitable talent from our youth program, because it's only now that the program has started delivering on its promise.

So, really, I don't know and I can't figure out what it was that triggered this move. A lot of other people have settled on their preferred theories, and until or unless we have something tangible to go on, those theories will have to do.

As for who will replace Taylor, for now the club has settled on under 20s coach Sasa Kolman. Kolman has all the necessary certificates and then some, but little senior coaching experience as far as I'm aware. Will he even be able to receive the trust of the players, or will he merely be seen as a board lackey? He'll also have to change his pedagogical methods, because senior players are very different from kids.

There had been rumours that there would be a "proper" senior coach appointed, with a lot of that talk focusing on Mike Valkanis, but others who professed to have at least some (unverifiable to me) knowledge of the situation claimed Valkanis was not a candidate for the vacant South senior coaching job. Of course not even a week ago no one thought that there would be a coaching vacancy at South, and yet here we are. Perhaps the club did have someone else in mind, but the delay (if Milloy's assertion is true) in getting rid of Taylor made things more difficult to get someone with better credentials in.

So, what next?
WOMAN: I didn't know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective. 
DENNIS: You're fooling yourself. We're living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--
WOMAN: Oh there you go, bringing class into it again.
Even those who loathed the board way before this particular escapade have been thrown off by the board's sacking of Taylor. Some people are considering taking up some sort of action, which is fine, each to their own and all that. But so far the proposals I've come across lack any sort of coherence. A boycott of the social club? Probably won't mean much in the short term, and besides, how will those suggesting such a move get the message out to everyone else who's no so emotionally invested in the politics of the senior wing of the club?

Call for an Extraordinary General Meeting? I can't argue against that - I was involved with calling an EGM not that long ago, as part of the few tools available to members to hold the board to account. While Foti Stavrakis (who worked with me on that petition) got the result we wanted in that it forced the club to call an AGM, the process for getting the necessary amount of signatures was a bit messy, with confusion about whether we needed to get members from the previous year or the current one.

I think with the 2017 AGM having been conducted this time it should be easier to pin it down to 2018 financial members, but which entity would you call an EGM for? The overarching body South Melbourne Hellas Limited, or the South Melbourne Football Club subsidiary? Calling it for the former means a lower turnout, because fewer people take up the more expensive social club membership, whereas the latter should be open to any adult with a season pass equivalent.

Just as importantly however, Foti and I were aided by the fact that we circulated our petition at the first home game of the season, usually our best attended affair and in that case held in round 1. There's no better time to round up supporters for something like that, because some people don't go to away games, people go missing during winter (footy, overseas, can't be bothered), and pre-season games, even at Lakeside, tend to attract some people but not others.

An EGM also needs a specific goal in mind. Do people just want an answer to the question of why Taylor was sacked, and if so, would the club even be at liberty (especially if there are legal proceedings pending) to disclose that kind of information? Or do people want to go further, and table a motion of "no confidence" in the board or specific individuals? If it's the whole board, are people banking on some in the board splintering from the dominant faction, and discarding the president? If the rest of the board don't abandon the president, and the board is dumped en masse, who or what will replace them?

I suppose we could try setting up an anarcho-syndicalist commune, though it would mean some drastic changes to the club's constitution (which in any case, is way overdue for an update). We could take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week. All the decisions of that officer would have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting, by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more external affairs...

OK, I kid, but only a little. Unless you want to go all Souvarine (everyone's favourite narratively anachronistic fictional anarchist) by blowing up the joint (sorry for the spoilers for the people here who were going to read Emile Zola's Germinal some day) on the assumption that whatever replaces the current regime could not help but be better, people will want to have some idea of what changes could possibly or would actually occur as the result of any member initiatives. Which is a just another way of saying that by all means, exercise your power (and if you want an EGM, you've got my signature), but some co-ordination and coherence would be nice.

In the post on the recent AGM, I failed to note that the board was keen to have a members forum within the next few months of its own accord. I'm wondering now not only whether they would dare to do so under the current circumstances, or whether any proposed EGM action would precede before

Arrivals and departures
Who knows how this situation will be affected by the Taylor's sacking, but here is a rather general look at some of what's happened over the past month on this front.

Andy Brennan is back, which will please some and annoy others. Not everyone was a Brennan fanatic when he first started with us in 2015, but he won quite a few people over in his short stint with South before moving to an ill-fated two year spell at Newcastle Jets. Others continued to see a donkey or, at best, someone who managed to have a handful (if that) of meaningful good performances coinciding with A-League scouts being in attendance. I admit, I was a fan from before he turned up, having been aware of him from his South Hobart days, and thus like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I am glad that Brennan is back not only because I think he is a good player, but also because I thought he was dead (in the metaphorical sense).

Meanwhile, Nikola Roganovic has retired, personal commitments finally getting the better of the situation there. From my understanding, it has been a season-by-season decision with Nikola, and it was possible that he could have played on this year if he deemed it absolutely necessary. Tim Mala has also stepped away from the game, though I had heard talk that Taylor had tried to get him to stay on. In conversations during 2017, I came across the idea that Mala was one of the best in the squad to have around for morale purposes, so even if his on-field performances of late drew only mixed reviews from the fans, there were other qualities which Mala brought to the club which ameliorated

Me, I'm mostly sad that this looks like the final nail in the coffin of the Minute with Mala segment.

Goalkeeper Alistair Bray had been reported by Neos Kosmos to have signed with us, but the club has made no announcement at the time this post was published. Instead and for the time being, Box Hill United Pythagoras goalkeeper Keegan Coulter has been signed up as our number one choice between the sticks.

Last time I saw South in action about a week ago, there were still a lot of players trialling, and who knows what the coaching changeover will mean on that front. Not that Kolman hasn't had some input into the senior scene at Lakeside, but his contributions would pale in comparison to those of "senior football advisor" Chris Marshall (who I assume is gone along with Taylor), who had taken the senior coaching reins in the past when Taylor was absent or suspended.

One thing I neglected to be specific on in last month's digest was centre-back Luke Adams departing to Sweden's lowest professional tier. It was no secret that Adams had been looking for a full-time professional football gig. You can read (and translate in your own time) an interview Adams had with a Ljungskile SK supporters site where they get him to try some of the local delicacies.

Update 3/2/2018 
Goalkeeper Alastair Bray signs for two years.


Out


  • Stefan Zinni (Avondale)
  • Zaim Zeneli (North Sunshine Eagles)
  • Michael Eagar (Port Melbourne)
  • Luke Adams (Ljungskile SK, Sweden)
  • Tim Mala (retired)
  • Nikola Roganovic (retired)
  • Jesse Daley (returned to Queensland)

Public Transport Guide mostly updated for 2018
I've updated the public transport guide to NPL grounds. What's new:
  • Return of two convenient grounds in Northcote and Dandenong Thunder.
  • Added a train and bus option for Hume City.
  • Basically writing off Gully and Knights as viable PT options because there's no sensible post-match public transport options for Friday nights at those grounds.
There's nothing yet for Avondale because nothing has been officially updated on the FFV's fixtures.

Women's NPL fixtures released
As hinted at last year, our women's team fixtures have moved away from the men's/women's double header format to having their own separate days. This will have several effects. First, our men's under 20s and women's under 19s getting season long time at Lakeside instead of one of the substandard pitches down near the pit buildings. Second, it will hopefully mean a streamlined and more sensible gate operation on men's match days. Third, it will give the club a bigger footprint at Lakeside, which hopefully also means more traffic into the social club. South's WNPL side looks like it will be playing a lot of its home matches Saturdays at 4:15PM, which is a bit of a bummer for people like me who like to watch state league men's action, but I do intend to make more of an effort to watch SMFC WNPL home games in 2018. Of course this will mean an adjustment to the ways we use paid and volunteer staffing, including media, and it'll be interesting to see how the club copes with that.

NPL National Finals Series news
Despite Sony ending its Playstation sponsorship of the NPL concept, it looks like the NPL national finals series - the end of year competition for the teams that finish top of the table in their respective NPL leagues - will continue in 2018. The "minor premier" of NPL Victoria will travel to Tasmania to play their representative, as per the draw that was conducted earlier this week.

Match programs
Thanks to the Agitator, I've added a few VPL era items, most notably Gully away 2009 and Fawkner away 2008. You know where to find them.

Albert Park Master Plan
Did you know there was an Albert Park Master Plan in the works? I didn't until a couple of weeks ago. While South Melbourne Hellas' presence in Albert Park comes mostly under the auspices of the State Sports Centre Trust, we do have grounds which fall under the stewardship of Parks Victoria or whoever is in charge of maintaining the rest of the precinct. From what I can gather from a quick scan of the website, our meagre footprint is not going to be affected in any major way - it's mostly the patrons of the golf course who are upset, with the possibility of the 18 hole course being reduced to 9 holes in order to increase the space for other sporting grounds.

Albert Park is an interesting case study of many competing agendas over the course of its 140 year odd history. These include:
  • Local residents vs those who come from elsewhere to use the park.
  • Sports users of the park vs people who want the park to be a free form recreational space.
  • People against enclosed venues vs those who want to carve out territory. 
  • People who hate South Melbourne Hellas/soccer/wogs vs us.
  • The grand prix vs everyone who values the amenity of the park.
It may be worth doing a post in these issues at another time, but the list above gives you a taste of how hard it is to make everyone happy, especially now that inner Melbourne is gentrifying, experiencing a increasing population density, while also having more children and young people in suburbs which had shed a lot of that demographic. Hey, also the rise of women's sports, which we kinda have an investment in.

I just hope that our board is on top of this matter, though they might be a bit busy at the moment.

Mandatory Nell Yoa Closer
Always finish on a joke.
Yoa was still trying his luck with association football as well. Chris Taylor, coach of the South Melbourne Football Club, gives a sense of what this period was like. He received Yoa’s footballing CV sometime in 2016. “I had a look at it, and it listed Nelly as playing at Melbourne Knights in 2009. Well, I’d coached Melbourne Knights in 2009, and I’d never heard of the guy. You do get these bullshit ones now and then.”

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Cue the Roberto Carlos jokes.

Chris Taylor "parts ways" with South! As seen on the club's website
South Melbourne FC can today confirm that the club has parted ways with head coach, Chris Taylor. 
Taylor’s coaching journey at South Melbourne comes to an end after four and a half years, having joined in July 2013 from Dandenong Thunder. 
During his time at the club, he secured the league and entrance into the Westfield FFA Cup, including a run in the competition that culminated in an historic Semi-Final against Hyundai A-League outfit Sydney FC. 
Speaking to smfc.com.au, SMFC President Leo Athanasakis thanked Taylor for his efforts at SMFC: “Chris has been an integral part of the club and the Senior team over the last four and a half years. We would like to place on record our appreciation of Chris’ contribution and we wish him well in his future endeavours.”
So Chris Taylor has "parted ways" with the club. This is a very sudden turn of events just a month out from the start of the season. The causes which lead to this shock departure are unknown to me. After taking a break towards the end of last year, Taylor was back in control in January, and from his outward demeanour it looked like business as usual.

The vague language used in the club statement will no doubt give rise to a lot of different theories about what happened behind the scenes for Taylor's tenure to end; after all, we had a friendly as recently as last night, and football director Nick Maikousis was in attendance with a big smile. Nature abhors a vacuum, and thus thoughts will automatically go to some sudden and irrevocable breach of trust between Taylor and the board.

Taylor's stint as South coach will mostly be remembered fondly. There were championships and trophies won after a long drought, and a necessary dose of self-respect reestablished onfield. While he had a budget exceeding many of the coaches who came before him, he made it work for him; and it's worth remembering other clubs competed with larger budgets. Sometimes his ultra-pragmatism, despite the results it achieved, put people off; it wasn't always the most rousing style of play.

Not everyone was happy with the playing style, or Taylor's demeanour, or some of his personnel and disciplinary decisions. After the initial novelty of winning after we hadn't won for a long time started to wear off, people would get grumpy in the South way. But the style was never quite as dour as it was made out to be, and the team tended to score more goals than most, naturally playing towards its strengths of having the league's best goalscorer. And when the team did fire up, Taylor's teams would play sweeping wing oriented football that was enjoyable to watch.

On a personal level, I'd like to thank Chris for his service to the club, and for making time to have the odd chat about tactics and personnel decisions.

As for who's next, and what it means for the players we've signed, the players we'd like to sign, and the rest of the coaching staff... well, we all wait with baited breath.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Notes from the 2017 AGM

The 2017 AGM was destined to be dominated by the linked issues of the social club/bistro/futsal court operation, the club's overall commercial strategy, and the club's finances, and this is what happened. Other issues - membership value, the quality of the team, even perhaps the ongoing issues with the operation of the various Lakeside leases - fell into the background, or did not get any time at all.

The timing and organisation of the event - midweek, 6:00PM, and moved from the social club to presidents room at short notice - was not just "not ideal"; it was breathtakingly poor behaviour for a club owned by its members. I do not understand why the club cannot hold an AGM by late November of the relevant year, on a weekend, and at a reasonable hour so we don't have to rush through everything. That's not an argument by the way for AGMs to go on forever, but the relatively limited time allocated and the tendency of some of our AGMs to descend into shouting matches means that some of the more important and particular issues I would have liked to have seen discussed did not happen.

Having an AGM seven months after the end of a financial year also means that the information provided in financial statements is also woefully out of date. Questions and presentations about the club's financial performance frequently consisted of two parts - the information as it was presented in the financial report, and if not quite "top of the head" answers then at least answers requiring a board member to recall from memory and do mental arithmetic to discuss our current financial position.

I don't know what our quorum is either, but at the start of the meeting it was dangerously close to not being met. A few later arrivals trickled in during the meeting, but it was one of the poorest attendances for many years. Considering last year's attendance was a bumper session - all seats taken up and about a dozen people standing at the back - I can only think that the timing of the meeting, along with the higher price of a social club membership, took its toll on attendance. Most board members were in attendance, except for Bill Papastergiadis (in China) and Nick Maikoussis (personal engagement).

As I've also made clear a number of times over the years, for better or worse, unless a rival ticket emerges to challenge this continually mutating iteration of the South Melbourne Hellas board, we continue to function as a club at its mercy. That doesn't mean we should go easy on the board or adopt a strident and self-serving cynicism (the latter of which is a habit I'm all too aware that I can fall into), but we can't pretend that the situation is any other way.

Finances
For this year at least, I'm finding it difficult to separate these issue of the financial position of the club from the futsal court and bistro; indeed, it will probably be impossible to ever separate them again, since the social club is now at the heart of our hopes for future prosperity, unless we somehow end up in the A-League.

The club recorded a small profit (about $17,000) from normal activities, and a much larger profit due to abnormal activity - namely, receiving the remainder of the allocated government grant money for the completion of the social club. To complete the social club however, the club also borrowed close to $700,000 (in various arrangements which I did not completely understand), which brought the total cost of the project close to the $1.5 million mark.

Here is where the majority of the AGM's controversy began. Some members bemoaned what they considered to be excessive borrowing, especially considering we had just managed to pay off our previous outstanding debts (specifically the Toumbourou debt, but also the cash flow issues of mid 2017). The club's argument went something like this - you need to spend money in order to make money, and the extra spending on the completion of the social club was both necessary, and added value to the project.

The club also stated that because of the donation of labour and materials, the overall value of the project was twice what it cost us to build, though I do not believe any formal valuation of the work has been made. The main loan has been guaranteed by three of the club's directors, and the club aims to pay it off in three years time (four years overall). Removing the cloud of pre-existing biases and personal grudges that flavoured the discussion, the main point of difference in the discussion seemed to be one of emphasis. Either this was reckless behaviour by the club, or it was necessary to properly finish off the social club space.

Honestly, I'm not confident enough or knowledgeable to take a stand either way. That's not me trying to hedge my bets - I honestly don't know how all this will turn out.

Bistro
The club characterised the operation of the bistro in its first year as a learning experience. I'd be somewhat less charitable about that, but it's best to move on to some of the specifics. The club decided (by its own admission, without any sign of an obvious plan) to run a full-time restaurant operation, believing that foot traffic from the local area, along with patronage from South Melbourne Hellas members outside match days, would magically happen.

As I have noted elsewhere, one could easily see how this approach was doomed to fail. For starters, compared to Clarendon Street and its surrounds - with its many and varied dining options - the South Melbourne social club will never be a pop-in option for people. Most locals would not know that it exists, and considering that the club or whoever was responsible for promoting it conducted minimal advertising for the social club even to South members and social media followers, how were people outside the club supposed to find the space?

Likewise, most of our members do not live near anywhere Lakeside, making visits to the social club outside match days and club events extremely unlikely. That the club thought it would be otherwise shows an incredible amount of naivety or pigheadedness. Nevertheless, the club has attempted to spin this attempt at a full-time bistro operation as a worthy experiment which did not quite work, but which has at least yielded a certain amount of quantifiable data, consisting not only of sales, but also of consumer habits.

The more successful bistro trading days were specific club nights - especially during the junior season, including gala days - and early on in the social club's life, bolstered no doubt by the keenness of South fans to actually experience a home social club again. The club has decided therefore that "events" is where it's at for the social club, both South Melbourne oriented events and cases where we can hire the bistro space out to outside groups.

It was explained that the leaving of the previous venue manager was essentially by mutual agreement, because the goals of the two sides were no longer compatible. The club will run the bistro for the time being, with the option of outsourcing the bistro to an outside party an option which the club will consider, now that it has some understanding of how the social club space works, and what kind of turnover it can achieve.

Futsal court
The futsal court suffered from similar issues to the bistro - lack of awareness, advertising, foot traffic - as well as some different issues. The club had been made an offer by an outside entity to run the futsal court, which was declined for similar reasons (and on similar grounds of research and planning).

The club's best days for the futsal court were Wednesdays where they had a competition running, and on Saturdays, where the club ran a junior comp involving several different club sides. Outside out of that however, apart from the occasional hiring out of the futsal court to outside parties, the primary usage of the court was by our juniors as part of their training schedule.

Our juniors using the court is obviously one of the reasons the court was built, and it's good that they use it on a regular basis. However as noted by some in the meeting (and previous meetings) the court takes up a very large amount of space, and needs to work hard to earn its own keep. There is still potential for the court's operation to at least be partly outsourced outside of the hours it's used our juniors, but I fancy this will be of limited appeal to an outside operator.

No mention was made of the maintenance costs for the futsal court.

State Sport Centres Trust
The club claims the relationship between itself and the SSCT is reasonably good at the moment. Of course we all know that can change at an instant and under the slightest bit of duress.

More importantly, the club has renegotiated parts of its agreement with the Trust over the costs of ground hire and renumeration. Rather than the previous crowd percentage based payment made to the Trust, the club has moved to a fixed fee payment for use of Lakeside on match days. There was also a similar agreement made in the event that we ever played in the A-League.

As noted last year, the club has also negotiated to take over food and drink service outside the social club area on South Melbourne match days, and on days where parties hiring the venue for soccer (such as FFV) are amenable to us providing the food services.

In order to do this, the club has given up some of the monthly stipend it receives from the government as part of our tenure at Lakeside. Whether this will be a worthwhile move in the short term remains to be seen. In the medium to long term, the stipend will eventually end, and thus getting on the front foot on this matter seems like a good idea.

Cost-cutting
Among the cost-cutting measures there were two which stood out to me. First was staffing, some of which has been explained in previous posts in passing. This is mostly based around office and social club staffing. A number of staffing re-arrangements have been made. In the office, a sponsor liaison has been hired, while media and events positions have been ended or downgraded. There was no word on whether there were outstanding wages or superannuation due to former and current employees.

Likewise, as the club has moved away from the full-time restaurant model for the bistro, the staffing situation there has changed to I guess what would be best termed as an 'at needs' basis, and there are no plans to hire a full-time venue manager as a replacement for Phil. What this means in terms of the extra match days (the South women's NPL fixture is now completely separate from the men's match days), volunteers/interns, etc, I do not know.

The second cost saving measure was the switch from Puma to Kappa, which is set to save us about $40,000 across all of our teams. No comment on whether merchandise for the fans will arrive on time for our first home game. Each year our merchandise and kit deals get touted as something quite special and full of promise, and each year regardless of whose fault it is, it doesn't seem to work out that way. This is one area where it always comes down to praxis over theory.

Football
As far as the senior men's team goes, there is one bit of news that will please many of us - the Spanish experiment is over! There seems to have been a belated realisation of the difficulty of getting a Spanish player that is fit, has enough English to communicate properly, and can adapt culturally to Australian soccer. To that end, a question was cast over whether utilising visa spots at an NPL level was even worthwhile, with the answer being that unless it was someone of the calibre of Jaime Reed, it may perhaps be a waste of time.

It's implied every year that we (fans and board) want more of our own juniors getting a senior gig, but this year that desire seemed a little bit more sincere from the board's point of view. It was noted that while the club would've liked to have promoted more of its own youth, the quality wasn't there in previous years. This year though? Players that have been under this junior system for five or so years were on the cusp of making a breakthrough, or so we're told. The proof is always in the pudding on that one though.

Confirmation that Tim Mala had retired (whether for this year only, or permanently, it was not said), and that Jesse Daley has also left us to go back to Queensland. No definitive statements made about new players signed, though the club was confident of soon securing the services of several of the players trialling with us. (and Neos Kosmos did have an article yesterday about goalkeeper Alistair Bray signing with us)

Gabrielle Giuliano made a brief presentation on the women's teams (NPL and state league) and the success they had in 2017. When questioned about "how much money was wasted on the women's team?", she replied "not as much as the men's", which defused the question but also brought a good measure of laughter to the room.

I asked whether it was true that senior men's team manager Frank Piccione had stepped down/retired, and this was confirmed by Mesourouni. I would personally like to wish Frank all the best, and hope to see him around the club in some capacity, as he's one of the nicest and funniest blokes around the club.

The club continues to make attempts to break into the schools market, offering the services of its coaches (for a fee of course) and hoping to gain the use of some of the participating schools' grounds in return (especially for our times away from Lakeside). One member was angry that the club (according to him) had not made any attempt to get any Greek schools on board for these programs, to which the answer was that those Greek schools approached did not want to pay (or could not afford) the cost of the service being offered; there was disputation on whether any Greek secondary schools had been approached at all.

Playing facilities (outdoor)
The question about access to Lakeside was asked, and why we were again away for so many games to start the season. The answer for this season's predicament provides an interesting example of the complications we have to deal with. As the start of the soccer season starts outside our priority period at Lakeside, as well as coinciding with athletics' major events and the grand prix, this year we worked with the relevant parties at Lakeside to book in the week of February 18th for our first home game.

Unfortunately, FFV decided this year to push the start of the NPL season back a week; and thus with athletics having their major events at the end of February and early March, the necessity of pitch repairs following that, then the grand prix - and then Orthodox Easter - it was almost impossible to hold a game early in the season. No one denies that this is far from an ideal situation on so many fronts, but it seems that there's little that can be done. The women's team is effected in pretty much the same way. (it will be interesting to see how the ground holds up under the weight over senior and reserves men on consecutive days as the season develops).

The club is hopeful of at least having a better situation in terms of its temporary training options this year, but opinions on this will differ. Players and coaches have in the past been quite open with their dissatisfaction with the alternative training grounds provided for them. At least this season, thanks to the World Cup, we are unlikely to see a midyear disruption to our access of Lakeside due to the arrival of any touring teams.

In better news, our allocated turf grounds in Albert Park are apparently in the best condition they've been in for a long time, now that they have proper drainage. Here's hoping that they manage to survive through the season in decent shape. It was also noted that the lights for those grounds are among the worst in the precinct. I'm not sure what action was going to be taken to improve that situation.

I asked the question about how the club was dealing with the Albert Park Master Plan, but I was not satisfied with the answer given, which I found to be vague at best. As one of the biggest clubs (if not the biggest) in the Albert Park precinct, there's a chance here not only for improved grounds, but also perhaps more grounds, should the golf course be reduced from 18 to 9 holes.

A-League bid
The A-League bid is stalled for the time being because of the mess that is FFA, FIFA, and the matter of the National Congress. On this matter, the club remains confident that it can snare one of the expansion places in part due to the belief that:
  • Melbourne and Sydney are the most desirable commercial options for expansion.
  • the board do not believe that Brisbane will receive a second team.
  • the board do not believe that the Victorian Government will invest in building new stadiums for Dandenong and Geelong, preferring to work with and/or improving Lakeside.
In the matter of the Roberto Carlos gala night, it was confirmed that the event did lose money, but it was claimed that the exercise was nevertheless extremely worthwhile. The loss was covered by three of our board members of their own volition; whether this was decided before or after the event lost money, it was not made clear.

Second division
As usual, it's a matter of wait and see. The club says that while it is a keen participant and observer in the AAFC and second division processes, it is not necessarily at the forefront or aiming to be the public face of these things. The club also played down the expectation that we were likely to see at first a second with promotion/relegation to the top tier, but instead were initially likely to see a truly national second tier connected to the state leagues. Wait and see, as per usual.

Closing comments
You have to expect that any South Melbourne Hellas AGM can lose time in personality clashes, statements instead of questions, and argumentative periods. Still, it is what is for lack of a better cliché. I don't know if the club's on the right track or not, and I don't even want to kid myself that I'm qualified to make a judgement either way.

Thanks to whoever the anonymous poster was who left all the questions in the comments. I'd done zero preparation for this AGM, thinking to maybe type up a quick list on the day of the AGM, but it was easier to just copy, paste and print what you'd provided. Funny how a great deal of the questions seemed to coincide with what the board covered, though not everything got covered. Where was the mention of Skip Fulton joining the board? Oh well.

Anonymous' question regarding the "South in Business'\" coterie unfortunately didn't get a run, and the board did not bring this up. This was particularly disappointing in light of that I didn't get to ask (in the meeting; I did get to have a very brief chat later) about what if any efforts the club had made to make use of the Australian Sports Foundation. Soccer does very poorly when it comes to making use of the ASF, and while FFV has made some attempts in recent times to get its clubs to get on board that programme, it's disappointing that South is apparently not one of those clubs.

There was also an absence of membership questions, discussion about how to make Lakeside (the arena area and the social club) feel more like home. The lesson from that is (and one which I have neglected) that in future if one wants to have a topic covered, they better submit it for general business in writing in the weeks leading up to the meeting after the AGM is announced.

I'll try and do better next time around.

If I've forgotten anything, or if you were there and wish to prompt me about something, feel free to add your two cents in the comments.