Sunday, 29 December 2013

Off-Season Digressions - Melbourne Aces vs Sydney Blue Sox/Baseball

Proudly brought to you by Penola Catholic College - where 1 part Catholic education meets 99 parts Broadmeadows stupidity.

How boring is the off-season? Yes there's a lot of politics and transfer rumours and uncertainty. And yes, we managed to get out to one meaningless pre-season game featuring the 21s and Selangor. But until things started gradually ramping up when everyone gets back from their holidays in January, there really isn't very much to do. So we decided, for whatever reason, to go to the baseball. Steve from Broady managed to get some free tickets (I don't think they're really that expensive anyway) from one of his contacts at Penola, and me and Gains joined him.

Part of my reasoning for going to the baseball (apart from my usual gimmick sport summer experience) was that as a western suburbs lad, I've driven past the Melbourne Ballpark in Laverton so many times, and never gone in, never seen what it looks like from the inside. It's always seemed to be just a white elephant sitting in the middle of nowhere next to the train line, an unusual landmark visible on your left as you take the shortcut to Merton Street from Kororoit Creek Road, or a little less convenient if the underpass is flooded and you're forced to use the freeway.

The view from along the third base line. The two scoreboards
can be seen in the distance. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
Parking sets me back $5, which is a bit pricey but who's complaining when you get free entry? The venue itself is functional without being anything fancy. The seating - which is limited to the areas behind the plate, and along most of the first and third baselines - is all elevated, with the exception of those areas at the bottom for the corporates. The elevation and hence the sight-lines and viewing angles are quite good, but the protective nets can be annoying, especially as they can make viewing the small electronic scoreboard difficult.

Looking across towards Melbourne Ballpark's 'premium' seating.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
Disappointingly, and for reasons which I can't figure out, the roof only extends to those seats behind the plate, those classed as premium seats. The seats themselves seem to be your standard MCG/Great Southern Stand variety, which as has been pointed out by one of our Twitter friends, were the same as used for the old BJS, Knights Stadium, Heidelberg, Preston, etc. So, if you do for some reason end up heading out to a game at Laverton, and aren't willing to stump the extra few dollars for a premium seat, bring your sunscreen, hat and an umbrella, in preparation for whatever Melbourne's weather throws up.

The game
Of course, rocking up to an Australian Baseball league fixture one is well aware that you will not be seeing the creme de la creme of baseball talent. But as an Australian soccer fan who largely ignores what happens above outside our shores, that doesn't really phase me. The teams seem to be made up of some locals (obviously), as well Americans and Japanese dropped down from the major (maybe even minor) leagues for some extra game/development time during the off-season.

Baseball is a weird game in an Australian context. It's been here for a long time, and the Claxton Shield has been played for 100 years in one form or another. While never a really popular spectator sport as far as I can tell, it did have a niche carved out for itself as a participant sport, especially for cricketers in their off-season, with Bill Lawry in particular extolling the virtues of cricketers taking up baseball in their off-season. There was also of course the old Australian Baseball League which went broke in the mid 1990s or whenever it was. These days the ABL seems to be largely funded by Major League Baseball, who presumably benefit from having a low pressure development league in their off-season, as well as being able to tap into the Australian baseball talent pool, which has provided its fair share of exports down the years.

Like cricket, if you're not on the correct angle, it can be difficult to discern the movement of the pitches. Eventually and rather quickly, once you start getting a feel for it you can be pretty sure about whether a pitch was a ball or a strike, but you won't necessarily be able to tell how the ball is moving through the air. However, perhaps this is at least partly due to my very poor eyesight. Like ice hockey and cricket, there is an auditory quality to the game that is present at a live fixture in ways that would be absent on TV. In cricket's case, it's the crack of willow on leather; in ice hockey, the skates on the ice, and the crashing of players into the glass walls; in baseball, it's the smack of the ball into the catcher's glove.

Some of the outfield play left a bit to be desired. the Aces' left-fielder in particular had a bit of a shocker, but according to one of the more knowledgeable fans there, that wasn't his regular position. There didn't appear to be much depth in the pitching stocks for either side, but especially the visitors. A small roster and being the final game of a four game series probably didn't help, as the Aces' managed a late rally with three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead going into the eighth, eventually winning 4-3.

There were of course American accents, and an American flavour to many of the day's proceedings, from the announcements, to the food (see below), to the presentation style. Normally I'd find that kind of thing really off-putting, but the fringe nature of the experience - like they were Christian missionaries in the remotest parts of Darkest Africa - made it seem less gimmicky than the equivalent Melbourne ice hockey experience (albeit I've only had the national team experience there, not the Ice or Mustangs just yet), and I've also never been to a local basteball game to make a valid comparison there either.

The fact that the crowd was very small - I'd say no more than 300 outside of the corporate areas - also gave it a quaint sort of vibe. With an already limited appeal for all sorts of reasons (standard, location, lack of media, cultural obscurity, unfavourable comparisons to cricket), it must also be hard competing directly against the local suburban competitions which run at the same time.

Women In Sport Day
No other sport does pointless fan gimmickry quite like baseball. Of course, in Major League Baseball there's 160 odd games each team has to play, so a crowded schedule means having to find all sorts of ways to get people in off the street, especially if your team ain't doing too well.  At the Aces for example, there's a tradie's day, AFL day, bring your dog to the game day, etc. Two weeks prior to our visit, the Saturday doubleheader was apparently the multicultural/diversity day, during which I believe there was going to be ethnic dancing - how I miss ethnic dancing at Australian sporting contests. Those were the days.

Anyway, the main slant of trying to promote women in sport was the attempt to raise some funds to get the women's softball team to Japan for the world championships or some such endeavour. To that end, they tried auctioning off some Aces' jerseys and signed bats - none of which did very well. There was also money donated when one of the softball girls did the worm from in front of the pitcher's mound to home plate. It kinda made me feel ill seeing female athletes have to beg like that. There was also a tug of war and some kind of bowling pin hitting activity. All pretty low rent, but kinda charming in its own sincere way.

This is where Steve from Broady's food report was supposed to go
Since he had the most food of all of us that day - and used trips to the canteen as an excuse to not watch a game he was obviously not enjoying - I had delegated the task of reviewing the food at Melbourne Ballpark to Steve. Unfortunately, he has failed to come through on this front, so it's up to me to give you the rundown.

The range of food at the venue is pretty ordinary. It's the usual dim sims, hot dogs, chips arrangement, at slightly less extortionist than normal stadium prices. The main difference to your run of the mill stadium food was the fact that, thanks to a recent sponsorship deal with Hormel Foods, for an extra $1 you had the option of adding some Stagg Chili to your chips or hot dog. I decided to pass on that front. Perhaps the most worthwhile item, even at a slightly exorbitant $8 considering the serving size, were the nachos, which were actually pretty good.

Former South fan watch
We managed to spot the ex-SMFC fan known as Strauchnie sitting in the premium seats. Small world and all that.

Would I do it again?
I wouldn't say no. I'll say this - I enjoyed it a lot more than my experience of one day cricket. I can see how drinking would help enhance the experience of watching the game, especially if you were going to watch a double header, but it's hardly necessary. It was a genuinely relaxed day out, with very low expectations, and I actually kinda had fun.

I have the theory that some games are better experienced live in the flesh, some better on TV, and some even work best on radio (especially cricket). For me, baseball is dead boring to watch on TV, would probably work in the background on radio ala cricket, but is a perfectly adequate game watched live - provided you have a decent seat and a couple of mates to talk crap with for three hours.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Six Solid Seasons Of South Of The Border

Six years. My how time flies. I didn't think I'd last a month when I started this. This year we had two regular and two semi-regular contributors, getting closer to what I'd hope this blog would be when I started it. I think my writing may have also come along just a little bit this year.

For the record I still like these pieces

Those who contributed articles anonymously. I hope you got a kick out of doing it.

Kiss of Death - its output was severely reduced this season due to competing demands, but the work that it did put out was solid. This piece still does the trick for me.

Manny, our resident comic artist. Still don't know who you are, but you added something cool to this project, and something I'd been waiting a long time for.

Costa from Goal Weekly for using stuff from here and commissioning further work.

Mark Boric, for providing encouragement - about time you started your own blog!

Arthur of 442 and soccer-forum, for his guidance on NPL Victoria matters.

Walter Pless, still the benchmark for this stuff.

Pave Jusup for his moral support. Likewise, Bill Vandermey. Hell, anyone that wrote to us, or about us, saying that they appreciate what we do here. Also thanks to the people I met along the way, such as Athas Zafiris and Joe Gorman.

Thanks to everyone whose photos I used at some point.

Thanks to everyone who reads this blog, especially if you left a comment - in particular this year, Justin Mahon, who provided interesting contributions on the legal arguments of the NPL Victoria scenario, all while dealing with some occasionally hostile banter from others.

Thanks also if you re-tweeted this stuff or spread the word somehow. I write my portion of this blog for me, for the vanity of leaving behind a shonky historical record, but the fact that some people still read it makes it easier to keep coming back.

Huge Thanks
Steve From Broady. My goodness, how quickly did his star rise? From being an occasional source of stupid stories I'd use to pad out an entry, and from him doing stats at Altona East in return for free food and a passing grade in 2012, to writing for me and doing stats, to becoming an official part of the SMFC media juggernaut. Thanks buddy for a great year's work. Will I be able to keep him next year?

Gains, for providing sanity (do I say this every year?), a belief that this club might end up somewhere good, and his match report from the home game against Port, which I missed because I was visiting my brother in hospital. Thanks also for providing one of the more disturbing moments of the year - the admission that he read the horror that was the 2008 season, just so he could live through some of what he missed before he became a South fan.

Ian 'Ivory Tower' Syson.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Monday, 16 December 2013

Sunrise, Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset...

Firstly, congratulations to SMFCTV main man Paul Zarogiannis, who was awarded the Sam Papasavvas Award for volunteer work at the club. Well deserved.

That happened during the Gala Ball last Saturday, which I'm not going to complain about, because I did not pay my for my ticket.

Now, for a couple of ins and outs for 2014.

  • Peter Gavalas, 2013 FFV goalkeeper of the year, due to increased work commitments. He will be missed.
  • Fernando De Moraes, whose retirement has been made official. We'd like to make a big song and dance about Fernando, but hopefully we can do that next year, because we anticipate - nay, demand - that the club hold a testimonial dinner in his honour in 2014.

  • Steve from Broady. Admittedly, this is not South related, but apparently he's landed a job at my very own place of employment. There goes the neighbourhood.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Practice Match - South Melbourne (of sorts) 0 Selangor 4

With apologies in advance to all my new Malaysian internet friends for not being very  accommodating to you, by not knowing who any of your players are, taking some really awful unusable photos, and instead pursuing our usual rambling blog stylings.

Now, this fixture was advertised as being at Lakeside Stadium, last night at 6:00pm, with the private word being that it was a closed doors affair. And all of that was kind of true, except for the parts that weren't.

The match did not start at 6:00. It started at 7:20. The match was closed doors - they kicked everyone who was an athlete out at 7:00 or thereabout - except for all the parents and such of the kids playing in this game, and the odd South official such as Tom Kalas and Andrew Mesorouni. It was also good to see senior coach Chris Taylor keeping an eye on things as he prowled up and down the sideline.

And of course me and Gains, who managed to stay inside by the sheer fact that we got there so early that we blended seamlessly into the crowd. It wasn't quite the epicness of Steve from Broady walking in for free at Olympic Village a few years ago, but it was a start.

Now, I have recently purchased a smartphone, attempting to join the rest of you if not in the present, than at least somewhere in the not too distant past. However, because I am a very cheap person, I went for a phone with a pretty ordinary camera, and thus all my photos of anything further than a couple of metres away were just crap.

The various South juniors in their warm up.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis  (and why would anyone
else want to claim credit for it?)
Now, we had been informed by our friend Steve from Broady (who decided to boycott this match for reasons unknown) that there would be no senior players there, as most were on holiday/not in the country/washing their hair, and when we saw a ton of South under 21s and assorted juniors on the ground, we kind of figured out what was going to happen.

And that was that there would be a lot of different South junior players getting 15-30 minutes on the field. The only exception to this rule was the appearance for the first 30 minutes or so of Iqi Jawadi, who while of course qualifying for this team in terms of age, was also a regular senior player for South during the second half 2013 after his transfer from Dandenong Thunder.

Now, apart from the novelty of seeing a Malaysian team playing against us, I was interested in seeing what kind of style, if any, we would see from the South boys. What was our hotshot academy teaching them? Well, actually for the most part it was rather attractive football with some caveats.

They almost always tried to play the ball out from the back. There were very few long balls, especially desperation stuff over the top of the midfield. They did play some wide passes to the wing, especially the right hand side when there was space available, and generally tried to keep the ball. The skill level of the players was also quite good.

The caveats? Sometimes you just gotta clear the ball instead of piss farting around with in it defence. Selangor were on top in the early stages precisely because of this, and probably should have scored more than the one goal that they had at that stage.

After the first 5-10 minutes however our boys settled down, and started getting used to both the pace and style of their opponents. Several South boys commenting after their on field stint made note of the speed of their opponents.

Now, I'm no expert on South-East Asian football, but from what I have gathered, playing a higher tempo pressing game is not exactly the most effective thing to do in tropical conditions, so it was interesting to see Selangor use that approach. For the most part however, our boys handled that well.

While playing the ball out well, South would often get stuck in the transition between midfield and attack. Partly this was due to ostensibly playing with only one up front, but it was also due to the organised play of Selangor's defenders, who were able to cut off most of the wide attacking moves that we put together - and we had almost nothing going through the middle.

Selangor walk on to the field. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
The thing is though, that against all the different combinations of South juniors, Selangor got very little of note happening in attacking sense - aside from careless South play in defence - until the last 15 minutes or so. Their second goal was their best bit of team work, winning the ball in midfield, and slicing through the middle of the over-committed and overexposed South defence, ending with a nice chip goal. It was interesting as well to see in this phase of play the South defenders lose their nerve and start diving in with tackles instead of trying to slow their opponents down with proper marking.

Part of the problem also for Selangor was their finishing. There were times when they should have just taken a shot, but instead their forwards preferred the extra pass or dribble. Just shoot the damn thing! Which they did for their third goal, an absolute rocket from maybe 25 metres out, which no keeper would have saved.

Selangor added a fourth goal just before the full time whistle. Overall, a pretty intense game for what was not much more than a bit of pre-season kick and giggle. No players from either side stood out, except the South keepers after the first one, and the Selangor player who went down and was actually injured as opposed the stereotypical Asian rolling around after a feather hit them nonsense (there was a little bit of that too, but not much, as it wasn't a very physical game).

To emphasise how low key this was - there weren't even any lines on the field. It would have been nice to be able to stay behind and maybe have a quick chat with Mehmet and some of the Selangor players and personnel, but the very late start kinda made that irrelevant, especially as I was keen to get some dinner at a not completely rubbish place.

No such luck.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

South Melbourne vs Selangor tomorrow night?

Well, this is an interesting development. A little birdy sent us a link to a Facebook page, which included talking about how Malaysian football side Selangor - one of Malaysia's more important and successful teams, currently coached by former South technical director (and champion South and Selangor player) Mehmet Durakovic - would possibly be playing against our very South Melbourne.

The discussion was in Malay, with a lot of slang, so Google's translation tool didn't work all that well, but the indication was that any possible game wouldn't be any time soon. Except that by checking Selangor's twitter feed, it appeared as if they were already here!

Selangor training at Lakeside Stadium. Photo: Selangor twitter feed.

Furthermore, it appears as if Selangor (who will be here until December 16th, as part of their pre-season preparations) have scheduled a match against us tomorrow evening at 6:00PM. Will it be open doors? What kind of team would we possibly field at such short notice? I'm guessing yes to the first question, and probably some cobbled together youth outfit for the second.

So, depending on how desperate you are to see some South action, you may want to head to this affair - with the full knowledge that it may be a closed doors session and of absolutely no consequence whatsoever considering who we'll have on the park, with our actual senior likely not starting pre-season training until some time early in the new year.

My mail suggests this is a closed door session.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Book Review - The Blinder, by Barry Hines

Barry Hines' debut novel The Blinder focuses on 18 year old footballing prodigy Lennie Hawk. Lennie is on the verge of becoming a star in the First Division for his home town team, the representatives of an unnamed northern English mining town, who haven't seen success of any sort since the end of their golden generation some 40 years prior.

But Lennie is not just a great footballer - he's also academically gifted, and a large part of the novel deals with the decision he has to make on whether to take up a full time football contract or pursue university studies. And he has to do this while dating the daughter of one of the club directors, while also seeing the lonely wife of one his teachers on the side.

Written and set in the mid 1960s, Hines describes a football scene on the cusp of entering its modern era - the maximum wage cap for footballers is gone, but players are still by and large ordinary people, being able to walk down the street, have a drink at the local pub, and date local girls without the paparazzi tracking their every move.

Clubs from smaller towns can still make an impact, if not so much in the league, then in the cup. The spectators are split between the haves and have-nots - those who can afford the seats in the stands, and those who must survive the crush on the terraces behind the goals. In a terrifying scene late in the novel, police are helpless to prevent ticket-less fans storming the gates of a sold out match, trampling each other to see the big game.

Hines himself played for the English Grammar Schools side, and he ably conveys Lennie's on field joys and frustrations. Where some see Lennie purely as a commodity, Lennie sees himself as something akin to an artist - talented and unorthodox, the latter attribute is useful but also dangerous. It doesn't help that Lennie's also a smartarse, always ready with the quick reply. No one is immune from his unnaturally cool detachment or ready wit.

For much of its duration, The Blinder veers uneasily between social realism and boy's own adventure. Hines (who grew up near Barnsley) throws a little bit of dialect in, but not very much - it's still a long way from Trainspotting or Purely Belter. The most experimental part of the novel occurs when there are several voices in conversation at once, without much indication of who's saying what - but after a bit, the reader become used to it.

Class conflict plays a major role, most notably in the contrasting depiction of Lennie's father, recently laid off from his colliery job, and that of Mr Leary, club director, paper mill owner, and father of Jane, Lennie's girlfriend. But for the most part the working class don't exist in abject poverty, even when they're unemployed or complaining about conditions at the local factories. Indeed, Lennie's father is more in awe of the coaches and staff of the football club than he is of Mr Leary.

Most of the secondary characters have little depth, being mere caricatures. While Lennie complains about everyone wanting something out of him, he also uses and discards many of those around him for his own ends, or his own amusement. Lennie is a problematic hero, one that we want to to cheer for, but whose actions and manners often coerce the reader into wanting to grab him by the scruff of the neck to shake some sense into him.

By the book's final act though, Hines has decided to choose one narrative style over the other, and thankfully the right one - providing both Lennie and the story with a moment of lucid clarity. While The Blinder is often uneven, it's also entertaining and well worth a look.

A Brief Note
I had borrowed this book four or five years ago from Ian Syson. Why it took me so long to read I don't know. Very poor form from me. The novel is long out of print, but seems to be easily obtainable secondhand from online sources.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Co-Sig clubs get their way it seems

While much of the detail remains to be sorted out and disseminated to the general public, it appears on the face of it that Sheriff FFA has ridden into town and sorted out the black hats in the FFV.

All I can make out so far is the suggestion that the re-branding of VPL and state league 1 into NPL 1 and 2 will take place, with the current clubs as is, no zones, and the addition of some regional teams.

Amid the celebrations however, I am reminded of the old Chris Rock bit, where he talks about the African-American response to the OJ Simpson verdict:

We won! We won! We won! What the fuck did we win?

Wait and see, as per usual. The true result will not be felt in the first year, but in the third year, and the fifth year, and the tenth year, and so on.

Still, it's nice to be able to avoid the Supreme Court action, mind. That stuff is expensive.

Monday, 2 December 2013

AGM 2013 - South still with one arm tied behind its back - but putting up a good fight

As usual, I'm conflicted about how much I should spill into a public forum about matters which the general South member would prefer remain in house. Of course, I have my principles about openness, but the process must also be respected. Then again, people will blab anyway.

Membership includes an entitlement to attend AGMs, an entitlement of course denied to non-members. Non-attendance of members complicates the issue - either people had more pressing issues to attend to, or just couldn't be stuffed coming. How do you cater to both? So once again, here are some general thoughts on what happened at yesterday's AGM.

It was good to see, for the first time in several years, a proper membership list and security presence at the door. Unlike previous year, this AGM was not hampered by the board trying to rush through the different points. Indeed, this meeting went to the other extreme, lasting for four hours, with a small break somewhere in there. 90 minutes was spent on the financial statements alone.

It was an exhausting process, but for the most part unavoidable, since there were so many crucial issues to discuss. However, going over old issues, such as the signing of the MOU (which happened four years ago) and the Toumbourou affair (which was settled last year) didn't help matters. Still, this is what the day is for.

A motion was put up by former board member George Kapnias, that in future years the annual financial statements would be mailed out along with the notice of an AGM. The reasons given were that it's not like they're not available from the ASIC website anyway, and that unlike the Melbourne Knights AGM, papers aren't collected at the end of a meeting. The motion was carried.

The lease situation remains much as it was, though I fancy things are likely to come to a head sooner rather than later. If we took the government's offer of a 21 year lease, we could sign tomorrow. But we agreed four years ago to 40 years, and the general consensus around the place is that we have a right to the 40 years as stipulated by the MOU. The intention is to fight for that part of the agreement, and rightly so.

There was an NPL Victoria update, presenting the picture and the possibilities which may unfold depending on several different outcomes happening. This week will be fairly important, with the co-signatory clubs meeting again this week, a further response by the FFA, and a court date of sorts next week.

The board explained the kind of workload they're dealing with, and the way they've split up the different projects among themselves. The double whammy of the NPL and lease issues has meant that resolving the women's team issue, or working on reform of our constitution, has basically been impossible.

With regards to players staying and players going, the big news is that apparently Fernando De Moraes has finally called time on his outdoor career - though I would like to see an official announcement of that before we get all justifiably misty eyed. Nothing beyond that was divulged, though we have apparently signed a couple of players.

There was discussion of the youth program and its alterations with regards to costs and coaching. Mistakes were admitted. Integration of the under 16s and up with vocational qualifications is a welcome development.

Lastly, George Malamas joined the committee. Over the years, Malamas has been one of the more vocal people at AGMs. I often disagree with his positions, but never doubt his passion for South. It will be interesting to see what impact he will have on the committee.

The mood overall was passionate and generally positive, especially with respect to the effort the board members put in, as well as for many of the decisions that they have made over the course of the year. A variety of people asked questions, to the point where afterwards I was told that I wasn't as vocal as in previous years.

One Last Thing 
This was from after the meeting. Looks like the Hellenic Cup will once again not go ahead. Or at least, that seemed to be the chat going around, as little to nothing has been heard about it. There are apparently offers from interstate to go and play a game or two during the pre-season. We'll see how that develops.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

2013 AGM on this coming Sunday

If you haven't heard the news - and that's entirely possible, as apparently not everyone received notice of this week's event - South's AGM is on this Sunday. Every AGM is important, but this one is going to be hard to top for the breadth and complexity of issues that are facing the club at the moment. Indeed, there are issues which normally would take centre stage quite easily in any given year, but which this year will take a back seat to the most pressing issue of them all, the status of the lease agreement.

This is, first of all, an election year. It is the first election year since the club, partly due to the FFV enforced constitutional changes, and partly due to its own maneuvering, has opened the suffrage up to so many people. After we had been promised that the social club wing of the club - the part that controls all the other parts - would remain solely at the mercy of social club members, it appears as if everyone who is a member of the club, including mere season ticket holders of South Melbourne FC, will be able to have their say.

There are always rumblings about people perhaps challenging this committee, which in one form or another has been the only committee to run for office since the end of the NSL. But each time an election comes around, no one else puts their hand up. Whatever my thoughts are on this current committee - and they are admittedly generally favourable from my end - it has always been my contention that the failure of rival tickets to emerge is a damaging prospect for the club long term.

Firstly, the lack of a rival ticket indicates that on the surface at least, there are few other qualified groups looking to take over this club. That may or may not be true, but it's not a good look. Secondly, the lack of a rival ticket gives a certain carte blanche to the current committee. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, even if a hypothetical rival ticket's proposed policies and agendas are backward, conservative, unfeasible, or (Zeus forbid) couched in the rhetoric of 'need more Greeks', at least it would provide a contrast to the agenda of the current committee.

The Lease/The Social Club/Exclusivity
The big item of course is the lease. Four years on from signing the Memorandum of Understanding, two years since we moved back into Lakeside, and we still haven't locked everything away for keeps. Still no social club, no 40 year lease, no football exclusivity, at least in practice. After being promised back in January 2013 that a deal was close, then again in July 2013 that we were a couple of months away from sealing the deal, here we are still waiting.

This is not meant to be an attack on the committee, because I'm sure they're hurting as much, if not more than us, being at the coalface of the matter on a daily basis. In the July meeting, the situation was explained quite clearly, that there were four agreements, and that they all needed to be signed simultaneously. The issue has become messier now, because the State Sports Centre Trust is clearly disrespecting the arrangement that we are supposed to have.

The lack of a social club is one thing. The Trust allegedly going behind our backs and letting A-League franchises use the venue without our permission is quite another. Unlike some South fans, I'm not averse to letting the A-League use the venue for women's and youth games. Apart from the direct income we'd get from their hiring, when the social was supposed to be up and going, there'd be another source of income coming in on a non-South match day. That, and if we didn't let them use the ground, some other club would make the most of the opportunity to make some money. And it's not like we haven't had those teams use the venue in the past.

But it has to be on our terms. If this is a big game of chicken that the Trust is playing to see if we'll blink and take them to court to sort out these matters once and for all, then I hope that we do. If the club is confident in its case, then they should go for it - of course how many legal cases can we take on at once is an issue we must also consider. If Athletics Victoria is also being treated poorly, we should seek to find a way to work with them to take on the Trust. If the Trust is also not treating its other tenants with respect - remembering that it also controls venues such as the State Netball and Hockey Centre - then we should endeavour to work with those groups as well.

There were four or so big ticket items within the lease. The guaranteed income, the football exclusivity, the social club and the 40 year lease. This is what was offered to the club by the government. This is what the club and its members agreed to. This is the least what we expect out of the situation. After finally securing that deal, then we have to work on making Lakeside feel like our home ground. The social club will be a big part of that - but externally, there must also be signs that we belong there, that it is our turf. And again, there should be ways of working with Athletics Victoria so they can make the venue feel like their home as well.

For the record, my mail is that the final sticking point is the lease. Everything else is apparently ready to go, but as we are no doubt aware, leases on Crown land are set at a 21 year limit - thus this government or the Trust trying to weasel their way out of the deal. There has already been pressure put on Hugh Delahunty, the Minister for Sport, and Matthew Guy, the Minister for Planning, by a range of organisations. Whether the situation has deteriorated since then, I guess we'll find out this week.

NPL Victoria
Lest we forget that we are still in the middle of this process. After supposedly being 'in the tent' with the FFV, then out of the tent and now leading the charge against them, it'd be nice to have further clarification on what's going on. Is the 60 odd club co-signatory group going to be happy if the scenario eventuates where South and a handful of other clubs, happy with what they've managed to wrangle out of the NPL deal, break away? What will be the consequences and costs of going to the Supreme Court? Are (us and the rest of the co-signatory group) going to follow through with the threats of not handing over affiliation fees to the FFV? And can we get a stright answer on what's going on with the supposed dealing with the FFA?

Juniors shakeup
Underneath the big ticket items, there have been significant changes to the way the junior wing of the club will operate. After reforming the junior wing, seemingly getting rid of the influence of the old Caulfield mob (unless I'm reading that completely wrong) and attempting to prepare for a tilt at the NPL as the FFV was going to run it, we've now changed things a fair bit. Coaches have gone. The lower level age groups will have more teams added, costs to players will be reduced, and the higher age groups won't have to pay a cent. There would be some who, not without reason, will see this as a cynical ploy of getting money from younger players to fund the higher age groups - unless of course these younger players are given priority over potential imports from other clubs...

Then there's other issues which need to be clarified. The team of course. What news there? What's going on with our A-League ambitions, if they still exist? Have we given up the ghost on ever reconciling with the women's team? Is it coincidental that their most successful period on field at least has come after they've officially split from us? And what the hell happened with this?

What I'm hoping for this week
  • Proper meeting attendance/roll call taken. If you're not a member, you shouldn't be allowed in.
  • Good questions from a variety of people.
  • No putting down of new members, just because they're new.
  • From new members, respect for the emotional attachment for the club held by the long term supporters.
  • No shutting down of sensible debates. We need enough time to discuss the matters concerning our club. Yes, people get tired at these things, and yes, the debates can often drag on, but winding things up quickly for no good reason does no one any good.
  • No disregarding the concerns of our supporters with a 'she'll be right' attitude.
  • Respect for other members, even if you disagree with their point of view.
  • People coming up with solutions, as opposed to just complaints. I know I don't have the best track record on this front - but there must be something that we as members can do to help. The committee does a lot of the day to day work, it's true. But the committee alone are not the club - the members as a whole are the club. Isn't this what we keep bragging about as the difference between ourselves and the franchises?
See everyone there.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Green Gully Soccer Club: 50 Years - Book Review (reprise)

This review of mine originally appeared on the now defunct Das Libero site, probably some time around 2007? Who can remember now. Here it is for posterity's sake.

A Tale of Two Gullys

Peter Desira with Richard Curmi, Green Gully Soccer Club: 50 Years, Sports and Editorial Services Australia in association with the Green Gully Soccer Club, Teesdale, Victoria, 2006, 258 pages including 16 in colour.

When you beg, borrow, steal or even possibly buy Peter Desira and Richard Curmi's Green Gully Soccer Club: 50 Years, you don't just get the history of one club, you get the history of two. Of all the many themes running through the narrative - the early struggles, their steady rise through the divisions, their National Soccer League stint, and the overcoming of its great rival George Cross - one theme stands out: how a club founded and run for 35-odd years on a shoestring is almost instantly transformed by the introduction of poker machines, thereby ensuring financial stability for years to come. Yet in this book, it is perhaps the most overlooked moment of the club's history.

The most fascinating part of the book for Gully and non-Gully fan alike is the club's early struggle in the literal nowhere of 1950s St Albans, a condition that defies the modern Gully stereotype of stability and plenty. That Gully has been run professionally for many years is without doubt; but to read of the early days when they had no running water, electricity or sewage is quite a shock. This isn't just for ‘new football’ noobs to digest: it is also important for the supporters of the once (and in some cases still) bigger clubs who were founded with the assumption that their particular ethnic community would fund them to the hilt and for perpetuity. There were few such luxuries for Gully in the early days, and the particular efforts of the club's founder Henry Moakes and volunteer Frank Kolbl are inspiring. This is the book's greatest achievement. It reminds everyone of Gully's other side, away from the club’s brilliant facilities and consistent success of recent years.

The club's rise through the league divisions is a story within itself. When they finally come face to face with their de facto biggest rival George Cross after 22 years of living in their shadow, they not only match the efforts of that one-time giant of Victorian football, but they surpass them. Yet I found something irritating about the way the authors told this particular tale. Occasionally they seem almost apologetic about the club having a support base comprised largely of people of Maltese background. I don't know whether this is a particularly Green Gully trait, or whether it's a reaction to the 'ethnics under the bed' campaign waged over recent times, but it comes across as quite jarring at times.

The club's rise into National Soccer League ranks is also fascinating not least for it being the scene of Socceroo captain Paul Wade's national league debut and simultaneously that of semi-famous actor Costas Mandylor. While some love to reminisce about the good old days, they like to neglect the teams at the bottom of the heap. Conversely, those who disparage the old days based on the sometimes massive gulfs in class between the top and bottom often do not pay enough respect to the difficulty poorly supported and funded clubs had in surving not just in the NSL, but also the sometimes terminal struggle after relegation. The promotion, demotion and in some cases extinction of clubs across the country due to their participation in the national league is a neglected part of the Australian soccer story. Gully managed the difficult job of survival, when other supposedly better-supported clubs such as Footscray JUST and Brunswick Juventus folded. Crucially, Green Gully accepted that they would never again reach national league ranks. Here lies a topical lesson for some other clubs.

And yet the yin to that yang, the introduction of pokie machines, is not discussed with the same vigour. The authors avoid the negative side of gaming machines. They fail to acknowledge how some other clubs rejected pokies on wider social grounds – or through keeping in mind that they were a soccer club first and foremost and that the introduction of pokies would mean becoming the sort of club that exists north of the Victorian border: high on memberships but low on actual attendances at games. Perhaps I'm being harsh here, but it is part of Gully’s stereotype among supporters of rival clubs.

The result for the neutral or non-Gully reader is that the story of the club's recent success doesn't quite have the same feel good vibe as that of the earlier triumphs, even taking into account the long wait between drinks and the post-NSL struggle to survive. Perhaps this is an inherent problem with club histories. Written or informed by insiders or fans, they almost always see the club's story as an overwhelmingly positive one, not through any deliberate bias but mainly because their story is viewed through the supporters’ prism. This book can't avoid that pitfall and is probably never meant to. Books of this sort are first and foremost for the initiated. Any outsiders who pick it up will of course already have their bias detectors on. That is the the nature of the game and its supporters’ culture after all.

It's a sad fact of Australian football historiography that apart from the odd unpublished thesis or pet project of some club obsessive, there aren't many books dealing with Australian soccer clubs. Apart from Juve! Juve!, Gilberto Martin's look at Brunswick Juventus published all the way back in 1990, and rumours of unfinished or in progress works on South Melbourne, Melbourne Hakoah and the Melbourne Knights it's slim pickings – especially in comparison with works based on the Socceroos or Australian players. Which is why Green Gully Soccer Club: 50 Years is a more than welcome addition to the Australian club genre. While the book has its inevitable flaws, it is an impressive and much needed work. Hopefully one of its effects is to inspire the production of works written about other clubs, so that the fullest picture of soccer in this country can be presented.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Soccer Boom: The Transformation of Victorian Soccer Culture 1945-1963 - Book Review (reprise)

This review of mine originally appeared on the now defunct Das Libero site, probably some time around 2007? Who can remember now. Here it is for posterity's sake, sloppy typos and grammar included.

When Push Comes to Boom

Association football in this country has been viewed as a foreign game for as far back as anyone can remember. For those opposed to the sport, this foreignness is amongst the game's chief evils. It's played by people who aren't from here; many of its customs are seemingly borrowed wholesale from overseas; when we do have decent players they are taken to foreign leagues and lands; when we have decent national teams, rules dictated by foreigners make the task of our team compiled of players playing in foreign lands all the more difficult. Those who love the game often lament Australians’ lack of appreciation of the sport, attaching to it a lack of worldliness; they denigrate the standard and players found here; or they complain that people in this country don't understand 'real' football culture, which can only be found overseas or – in an opinion held by some people in the more recent era of the game's boom – only among those who looked after the sport before it was cleansed and made mainstream.

Thus the immigrant influence has also become the dominant way in which the game has been viewed academically. John Kallinikios' Soccer Boom: The Transformation of Victorian Soccer Culture 1945-1963 is an important book because it diverts from that view. It attempts to cover soccer's change by minimising the 'ethnic' factor and instead focusing on the processes by which an amateur participant sport became a (semi) professional and spectator-orientated sport.

At the beginning of the era the book seeks to cover, the local game is in stasis. It is strictly amateur (to the point where even player transfers between clubs are rare) and most clubs play on open parklands. Tactics used are perhaps 20 years behind the rest of the world and the game’s Anglo-centric administration only has eyes for the English FA and the very occasional favours bestowed from the Old Dart. And then a sea change, primarily driven by immigrant clubs and administrators. New playing styles are adopted, spectators who demand victory necessitate enclosed venues, and players are being paid good money – sometimes more than their Rugby League and VFL contemporaries; Australian football after hibernating for 20-odd years suddenly has an ambition to be part of the world football community.

This narrative is not a major revelation. However, the originality of Kallinikios' argument lies in the contention that this wasn't done as part of some deliberate and exclusively 'ethnic' takeover. Rather the changes were necessary and occurred as part of a push to bring the game up to speed with the rest of the world, to professionalise it. Almost overnight clubs, players and administrators with the experience of participating in professional and semi-professional setups, who felt they could do a much better job than the incumbent administration, had arrived on our shores.

To demonstrate his overall point, Kallinikios delves into the varied problems of soccer's expansion. One of these is the issue of crowds. Following the post-war influx of soccer-loving migrants, match attendances rise rapidly; through this process Victorian soccer inverts from a participant-based sport to a spectator-oriented one. This generates immediate needs: identifiable boundaries between fans and players, spectator comfort, the means to collect money from spectators to facilitate these developments. Ground availability is another problem, particularly with regards to the infringement on local sporting traditions. Kallinikios elaborates on the search for a venue in Footscray, showing that the councils' reluctance to give soccer access to enclosed grounds was not solely a product of attitudes towards the ‘New Australian’ character of the clubs and the game, but also a reflection of the self-interest of Australian Rules officials (sometimes as members of the council making the decision) and fear of the backlash from the community – despite the financial benefits and the logic of making better use of council facilities.

Among the things Kallinikios does very well is put soccer in its place. The game was not merely an island enclave but part of society as well. When he draws parallels between the changes in Victorian soccer in the 1950s and the VFL breakaway of 1897, the realisation is that change is not merely that of an ethnicisation – though that is one its net results – but one of professionalisation. The administration of the time and a great number (though not all) of the traditional clubs were often unwilling, slow and sometimes simply unable to move with the times, to their eventual everlasting detriment. The fact that no winner of the league prior to 1952 won it afterwards is ample evidence of the speed and thoroughness of the old regime's decimation. The last time an 'old' club won a major trophy was in 1957 when Moreland took the Dockerty Cup.

Particularly noticeable were Kallinikios’ frequent self-references to how this work was shifting the debate, part of a new revisionist trend amongst soccer historians in this country. The suggestion is that academic soccer writers in seeking to understand the game's local history via the immigrant lens have overlooked and pushed to the margins other ways of looking at the game. Unfortunately, because the migrant influence is presented as a main theme in soccer histories the game gets further tied to that post. This argument taps into wider community notions of soccer as a foreign game. Kallinikios demonstrates this point by citing examples of soccer journalists who feared the game's takeover by migrants would be viewed negatively by the wider Anglo-Celtic population thereby reducing the game's appeal. Interestingly, their solution was for migrants to assimiliate into the existing clubs – one which bought into the broader contemporary ideology of assimilation and presaged much of the justifying rhetoric surrounding the ethnic cleansing of the A League.

While the book does a fairly good job of covering the era from a different view point of view – especially in the way it parallels the past with the present – it is not without its problems. One of these was the omission of facts which might contradict some of the key arguments. For instance, Kallinikios claims that Camberwell had no soccer tradition when there was in fact a Camberwell club in the 1930s (whether they played in Camberwell is another matter).

More significant is the minimising of the ethnic factor in regards to violent incidents and the understating of notions of national pride, avoiding such examples as George Cross only allowing members of Maltese background to join and Greek-Australian newspapers advocating the separate Greek clubs should unite for the 'glory of Hellenism'. (This eventually happened when Yarra Park merged with Hellenic, with the new entity taking over South Melbourne United soon after primarily to gain access to their Middle Park ground.) Kallinikios' assertion that this sort of thing mainly came about in a later era is where his argument falters, as there appears to be sufficient evidence to the contrary. This is partly because even though the book claims to cover the era up until 1963, in reality it falters well short, leading to the book's other main drawback, its lack of a post-script. I was disappointed that is no mention was made that Schintler Reserve, the long sought after ground in Footscray, is now gone and on its long-since faded line-markings sit shipping containers. And with so much of the book’s focus being on Juventus and Hakoah, the former's decline is ignored even as it was surpassed by South Melbourne Hellas, George Cross and Polonia. In Juve's case in particular, failure to mention their eventual demise 30 years on largely through their lack of a home should be considered an oversight.

Despite these shortcomings, Soccer Boom is still an essential read for anyone interested in the game's history in this country, especially for those looking for a different perspective. Its clarity and accessibility also make it more than suitable for someone not completely familiar with the game's past. It will be interesting to see what responses it will generate from the more traditional historians challenged by Kallinikios, as well as what will follow in its wake from among the revisionists. And as added bonus, you get an Australian soccer book not obsessed with New South Wales. Surely that makes it all the more worthwhile.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Con Harismidis, Tony Ising, Chips Rafferty and Online Petitions From Days Of Yore

A twitter discussion earlier this year on the greatness that is Con Harismidis got me searching for whatever was left of his internet presence. I didn't find much that wasn't already on this blog - if someone can find his mainstream press appearances that would be good.

What I did find was this petition from an unknown pre-A-League date. It was a simpler time, when people still believed that online petitions could make a difference.

Dear Soccer Australia or whichever body of authority this petition may concern in the future,
We, the undersigned, the fans of Australian soccer, are excited about the prospect of a new, quality premier national competition.
We believe that an independent, quality and fully professional premier national soccer competition is essential to the success of Australian soccer, both on and off the field.
The creation of such a competition is critical if the game's most important stakeholders, the fans, are to truly embrace Australian soccer.
You owe it to yourselves, to the players, to the fans, to all Australians past, present and future, to thoroughly consider the hard work and efforts of the Australian Professional Footballers' Association and go about implementing the appropriate strategies in order to establish a league that truly embodies the gigantic potential for soccer in Australia.
We wish to express our support for the PFA's proposed Australian Premier League by signing our names to this petition.
The future is in your hands, we sincerely hope that you take full advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity and make your decisions carefully and wisely.

There are 225 signatories to it. Rather than include all of the submissions, let's take a look at some of the more worthwhile entries.

  • Make of this post what you will.
The NSL club you currently support: Pert GloRi
The International club you support:Engerland
Birthplace: Oztraliya
Comments : I waiting 26 yr 4 a fu.c.king no ethnik klub in melboun!!

  • It was followed hot on the heels by this:
Birthplace : Melbourne
Comments : Soccer just isn't an Aussie game. Get over it.

  • Younger audiences of Australian soccer forums may not remember when the poster known as Chips Rafferty was all for draining the pond.
The NSL club you currently support: Northern Spirit
Comments: The wogs hijacked the domestic game in 1957 . Now it's time to take what's rightfully our back.

  • This person was more interested in self-promotion.
The NSL club you currently support: South Melbourne
The International club you support: South Melbourne
Birthplace : Australian Soccer
Comments : I love

  • Cropower sums up the discussions that were happening at the time, in both tone and content.
The NSL club you currently support: Sydney United
Comments : Whats wrong with the NSL ?? Too many wogs is that it ?

  • I think you'll pick up the problem with this post without too much help.
Daniel N
The NSL club you currently support: South Melbourne
The International club you support: Red Star Belgrade
Birthplace: Melbourne
Comments : APL should go ahead only with non racial backed teams. Soccer is a sport for all nationalities. Good to see scum like Melbourne Knights out. HELLAS OLE!

  • Anyone ever been to Bollawonger Canyon?
Australia S
The NSL club you currently support: Butt munch
The International club you support: Liverpool
Birthplace : Bollawonger Canyon
Comments : Lets face it guys we're crap at soccer. Leave it to the English.

  • The man himself, Con Harismidis
Con H
The NSL club you currently support: Hellas
The International club you support: Hellas
Comments : Hello everybody. I am Con Harismidis. My favourite player is Con Boutsianis. My other favourite player is John Anastasiadis. Hellas is best team in league. There is no Hellas there is no league. Hellas is best.

  • Jason, born in Melbourne, supports Liverpool, but didn't feel welcome at NSL games. How do you argue against things like this?
Jason F
The NSL club you currently support: none cos i didnt feel welcome at any
The International club you support: Liverpool
Birthplace : Melbourne

  • Simun has a few ideas on what should have been done.
The NSL club you currently support: MELBOURNE KNIGHTS & SYDNEY UNITED
The International club you support: HAJDUK SPLIT
Birthplace : perth
Comments : ..what this country needs is a competition not an auction, I thought that the best team was the one that always won, not had the most money..if this APL is going to succeed it needs to have more advertising , I hate to say it but like the AFL, turn on any channel and theres a AFL add right there, thats why AFL have 40,000 spectators to an everyday round game not just at a final..we need to start showing the people of AUSTRLIA why its called THE WORLD GAME and why we can travel all over the world to play it unlike AFL where you need to learn a totally new sport verse another nation(aka IRELAND)

  • John sounds like a charming fellow.
Comments : Soccer is a poofs game AFL RULES

  • Chris sees a difference between people and stakeholders. What odds he has a job at the FFV these days?
chris p
The NSL club you currently support: Northern Spirit
The International club you support: Glasgow Celtic
Birthplace : Sydney
Comments :soccer belongs to the people not stakeholders.

  • Manny supports Olympic, but doesn't want Olympic in a national league. I wonder if he's still following them in the NSWNPL?
manny k
The NSL club you currently support: Sydney Olympic
The International club you support: Man U & Leeds
Birthplace : Sydney
Comments : can't wait for the new APL to start....i've waited for over 15 years for the ethnic clubs to disappear so that the comp could be city vs city..just remember...more kids play soccer than league, union & afl put together

  • Bryce nails down not having the NSL on console games  as the burning issue.
Bryce M
The NSL club you currently support: Brisbane Strikers
The International club you support: Arsenal FC
Birthplace : QLD
Comments About time that a change happended in ozzie soccer. Im sick of being ashamed of our australian league. There is a reason why console games forget to include our league.

  • Not the first time Tony Ising used a less than orthodox manner of promoting his Melbourne Victory idea - but that story's for another time.
Tony I
The NSL club you currently support: Melbourne Victory
The International club you support: Socceroos
Birthplace : Melbourne
Comments : Let's all support the APL.

  • I'm with Nick, I still don't consider it a real league. I just hope Nick is still around South somewhere.
Nick S
The NSL club you currently support: South Melbourne
The International club you support: Celtic
Birthplace : Melbourne
Comments : It wouldnt be a real league without the most successful Australian side, its like the premier league without ManU, Liverpool or Arsenal

Monday, 11 November 2013

Farewell to GeordieHellas

A bit of sad news this week, with one of our favourite blog readers and recent South converts GeordieHellas revealing that he and the family are headed back home to the UK. It was always a pleasure to chat with Andrew on the terraces (and hear his catch cry of 'Howay The Hellas!'), and seeing his young son Harry grow up at Northcote and Lakeside.

A proud Newcastle United fan, Andrew was also heavily involved with the local Australian Newcastle United supporters group Aussie Mags, who I'm sure will also miss him. On the plus side, he'll get to see his beloved Toon in the flesh again, as well as watch them at a decent hour.

South of the Border would like to wish Andrew, Vanessa and Harry all the best back in the old country.

Hello lads and lasses,

Sadly the missus and I would like to tell you all we won't be at Lakeside Stadium next season as we are heading back home to Newcastle upon Tyne to live.

The missus and I went to our first South Melbourne FC game in 2007 for three very simple reasons, we liked football, we wanted to be able to walk (we lived in St Kilda at the time) to games so we could have a drink and because I'd heard of SMFC prior to moving to Australia in 2005.

I especially very quickly fell in love with watching SMFC, the missus liked the banter and the beer mainly to be honest, and so did I too but it also filled the void I felt from no longer going to watch Newcastle United games live.

Our son was born in July 2011 and he attending his first game at 3 weeks old! The last two years we've had family memberships, and actually relocated to South Melbourne, making walking to home game even easier.

We been to Richmond away, Bentleigh away, Melbourne Croatia away and Northcote away (and home numerous times of course!).

So we'd like to thank you all for being brilliant Hellas supporters, for being very welcoming and we wish you good luck in season 2014 and beyond. We will be following events from overseas and hope one day the club creates a overseas membership and streams the games live, just an idea!?!

Kind Regards.


Friday, 8 November 2013

No NPL Victoria in 2014

In a classic case of be careful what you wish for - remember how I got fed up with all the NPL Victoria talk, and just wanted five minutes of space so I could discuss our finals campaign? - well, that turned into a solid few weeks of eerie silence post-season, unnerving everyone with its lack of detail and information.

A week or two back, the FFV, FFA and the co-signatory clubs had a marathon 10 hour meeting, as a part of a last ditch effort to avoid the pending Supreme Court action. The FFV tried to claim the moral high ground on the matter, claiming that it was more or less their idea, but I doubt anyone bought that line.

The usual leaks and rumour mongering didn't happen, adding further tension to the situation, and perhaps led to the situation were people were predicting a break in the unity of the co-signatory clubs, and then suggesting all sorts of comprises had been made to get the new format up and going in 2014.

Well, the FFV came out today and settled at least one matter, announcing that there would be no NPL Victoria in 2014, with the leagues to run as per the usual model. So first off, welcome back Heidelberg to the VPL after an absence of one season, and also to Werribee City for the first time since 1995. Secondly, 'the we're stuck in the fucking VPL' chant lives on for another year, which is great.

But all jokes aside, the FFV have again tried to claim the moral high ground, painting the co-signatory clubs as recalcitrant. Its timing could have not been more devious. Releasing your press release at 5:00PM on a Friday? The old 3RRR show The Spin (which focused on media and PR trickery) had a name for that - the five o'clock dump.

Already we had the situation where one of the key co-signatory representatives, Box Hill United's Nicholas Tsiaras, was excluded from the discussions by the FFV. Now the talk is that the FFV had more or less agreed to a compromise solution with the FFA and the co-signatory clubs, but later reneged on that deal. It seems like the concept of good faith has gone completely out the window.

So are we headed to the courts now? Who's going to foot the bills? Who has the staying power? Will the FFA finally come down like a tonne of bricks onto one of the two sides? One mess cleaned up, temporarily. A whole new can of worms about to get started.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

2013 AGM date announced

The 2013 AGMs (and elections) for South Melbourne FC and South Melbourne Hellas have been announced. And in a pleasant change, the date (December 1) is neither

  1. Late
  2. Two days before Saturnalia
  3. On a long weekend, when a certain rotund stats man goes surfing on the coast.

Don't you love progress? Onwards and upwards, as they say.

Oh, the date for the 2013 gala ball - I still don't know why they don't just combine the informal best and fairest night with the gala ball - has been set for December 14th, at what used to Albert By The Lake. $120 if you want to go to that. I'll probably end up going, but I'd rather spend that money on books.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The South Melbourne Hellas Hymn!

Everyone knows about Frozen Tears' legendary mid 1990s club song. However, fewer people know about the Hellas Hymn, a Greek language club song I'm guessing dates from some time in the 1980s, or perhaps really early 1990s.

I must apologise for the poor audio quality on this track - the mp3 was inherited from someone else several years ago, and I really should have insisted on them making a better copy. Then again, you may argue that the distortion on the track only adds to the cheesiness of the affair. Suffice to say, this is not my cup of tea. But if anyone has anyone details about this song and how it came about, or even if you just want to say that you remember it, drop us a line in the comments section.

The photo of the chipped case was taken during an inventory of the social club (recognise the table?) a few years ago, when I was asked to help pack away our club's valuables so the club could get started on the social club redevelopment. I think that was sometime during the Bronze Age.

I believe that Heidelberg also had their own Greek language club song (they also had a Frozen Tears song of their own - or was that for Collingwood Warriors?), and from memory, it was actually OK.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Has Mehmet Durakovic left for Selangor (again)?

Mehmet Durakovic (left) with Selangor teammate Jeff Hopkins
during the mid 1990s. I stole this photo from the
online  edition of the Malaysian newspaper 'The Star'.
Here's an interesting story I came across thanks to the much maligned poster known as 'mario' on soccer-forum (though really, if I wasn't focusing on my scholarship application today, I would have seen it first on Jakarta Casual).

There are reports flying around (see here and here) that South's technical director Mehmet Durakovic has signed up to be coach of Selangor in the Malaysian league. If true (and it appears to be so), this will be the second time Durakovic has left South for that club, after joining Selangor following the first of his two playing stints at South. Does this mean that we'll have to be on the look out for a new technical director? I still don't know what technical directors do, but get your coaching licences out people, there could be a job opening available at Lakeside soon.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

In defence of 'old soccer'

This post was originally published on The Supermercado Project by Supermercado/Adam 1.0.

The truly unique thing about Australian soccer fans is that they’re one of the few groups to despise the history of their own sport. Yes that's 'soccer', which is what people called it before the word was outlawed as part of the drastic re-imagining of the game in this country a decade ago.

Nobody seemed to care what the game was called then (and there were far more offensive terms for it than 'soccer' let me tell you), and in most places around the world they still don't, but it seems these days that the only time you’ll hear the ‘s’ word is if somebody’s giving what’s fashionably become known amongst fans and detractors alike as ‘old soccer’ a kicking. Throw in a few references to ethnic warfare and a body count higher than the Crimean War and you’re cleared to use it, but only in a negative context unless you want the crowd to boo you.

In the blind rush to reclaim the game from 'the ethnics' the virtual outlawing of the word was taken to with glee by the same people who have gone on to ransack their entire 'terrace culture' lock, stock and barrel from Europe. The violent hatred of nearly everything that came before 'year zero' has confined not only several generations of teams, fans and players, but also a perfectly reasonable term for the sport to an historical red card. But why?

When people lament the evil that is ‘old soccer’ I know exactly where they’re coming from. They’re talking about Footscray JUST and Sydney Croatia ‘fans’ butchering each other in a car park in 1987 for reasons best known only to themselves and their grandparents, or the night Australian ‘fans’ arranged themselves in the shape of a swastika as the Socceroos played Israel in a 1989 World Cup qualifier.

What these people represented was not ‘old soccer’ but pure, white hot racism and hated. To hold them up as representative of soccer from the 1950’s until Nick Mrdja won the last National Soccer League Grand Final for Perth Glory (‘broadbased’) against Parramatta Power (‘no fans of any ethnicity’) is the laziest stereotype in Australian sport, but one which has achieved pandemic levels in the last few years.

History is obviously written by the winners, which is why the treatment of Nicky Winmar by the crowd at Victoria Park is now spoken about as a horrible chapter in our racist history but what supporters of long dead soccer clubs did in the 1980's is still relevant today. That Australian society has come a long way on all fronts in the last 20 years is undeniable, and the racism and generally horrible behaviour of the past is treated as it is from the past - unless it happened in the stands of a National Soccer League match.

It's simple enough to lay the boots into sides which have already been nearly wiped from the face of the earth, but the truth is that by the time the NSL was (quite rightly) put to sleep the ‘ethnics’ were in the minority and very much on the run. The 2000-2001 season had just six of 16 teams backed primarily by one group, and the political parties masquerading as football clubs had been long removed the national scene and either relegated to state leagues or obliterated entirely.

The problem was that none of these 'Aussie' teams was any good, and consequently without anything more than token television coverage nobody went to watch them. Even Carlton, held up briefly as the next big thing in Australian football after making a Grand Final in their first season, failed eight games into the year. One of their final matches was delayed because nobody remembered to bring goal nets along.

Carlton had briefly been the saviour of 'broadbased' football in Melbourne. In that first season when they'd played in the Grand Final against South Melbourne the two teams had even been afforded the honour of a pre-match parade down Swanston Street. That no more than a handful of people turned up is hardly the point, but let the record show that in one bright shining moment for 'old soccer' that Paul Trimboli got to sit in a slow moving vintage car, waving at bemused people who were simply trying to catch the tram from outside Melbourne Central.

It was also probably the only Grand Final where the winning goal was celebrated by somebody tearing off their team shirt to reveal Macho Man Randy Savage merchandise, but that was as good as it got for the NSL in Melbourne after that. Channel 7 even managed to run a positive story about the match instead of concentrating on the, ahem, boisterous (AKA bin throwing) celebrations by fans afterwards.

The NSL had always been Australia's premier competition for those who enjoyed a rotating cast of clubs. Even once relegation and promotion from state leagues had been abolished sides would still crop up and fold at the drop of a hat. Who could forget Collingwood's partnership with Heidelberg that started the season with big crowds at Victoria Park and ended with the team playing in front of empty stands at the same venue?

Though they already had the numbers by the turn of the century, the 'locals' further solidified their control of the competition in its last few years despite clubs representing 'Australia' dropping like flies. Carlton were the first to go, and the Eastern Pride (nee Morwell Falcons) also failed to complete the 2000-01 season. The Canberra Cosmos at least managed to struggle through the year before being euthanised. Preposterously the league managed to get through two whole seasons (2001/02 and 2002/03) seasons with exactly the same sides participating, but the long term prospects for the competition were almost nil.

A last ditch attempt at introducing some buzz around the competition in its second last year by introducing a finals series where six teams would play a ten round home and away competition as well as a Grand Final came to nothing as: a) about two weeks in 75 per cent of the matches were dead rubbers and b) the only TV coverage they could get was on some obscure Optus channel which showed Homeart ads whenever there wasn't a game on. The league didn't even bother playing one game between Northern Spirit and Newcastle. That 38,000 turned up to see Perth Glory win the title said more for the long-term prospects of the club themselves rather than the league they were in.

So I'm not here to try and pretend that this was a sensibly run and professional competition with mass public appeal in all markets across the country, because as keen as I am on revisionist history that would be a terrific lie. But what is most certainly was not by this point was an ethnic war zone where ancient scores from across Europe were settled in the stands by chain-wielding teenagers on a weekly basis.

By the time the league folded in 2004 the balance had swung conclusively towards the ‘locals’ with a majority of eight from 13, and the last time fans had disgraced themselves on racial lines had been three years earlier. Somehow though, in the rush to take ownership of football out of ‘ethnic’ hands, we were suddenly pitched into an alternative universe where every match had been Pratten Park 1985 no matter who was involved.

In my experience that was anything but the case, and at the risk of being banned from attending any major football event in this country for the next decade I come in defence of the much maligned NSL and the brand of ‘old soccer’ that it has come to represent.

I’d grown up on highlights of the English game every Monday night in the days when you were grateful just to see your team in a five minute highlights package. Every once in a while you might stumble across local highlights on SBS, but to me the references to South Melbourne Hellas on Acropolis Now may as well have been about a team playing on the moon.

It wasn’t until I’d grown up and suffered the heartbreak of seeing my side relegated from the Premier League (and worse) that I took a chance on the local game and fell in love. For three brief seasons I was an NSL aficionado, and it was magnificent.

Was it meant to be confronting that South Melbourne fans called their side Hellas? After five minutes of the first game so did I. That's who they were. Not that it was compulsory; you didn’t have to swear allegiance to the Greek flag before being allowed in. In fact, to prove how ‘Aussie’ they were the NSL made you stand for the national anthem before kick-off. Even the A-League isn't insane enough to try that.

In all this time the only ethnic rivalry I ever saw was a half-hearted Hellenic power struggle between South Melbourne and Sydney Olympic, and even then that was practically identical to the rivalry which exists now between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC with the added bonus of better sounding offensive chants in a foreign language. Who knows what they meant, but we joined in anyway because it was fun and that's what you do when you follow a team - you adapt to their culture. New Victory fans join in the chants which have become popular over the years, we did the ones in Greek which said something horrific about the opposition fan's mothers.

The argument is obviously that it's better if a side's culture isn't 'ethnically' based and everyone can join in but that was the point of bringing in at least one 'open' side for people who were into that sort of thing. Australian football might have ended up in a totally different place if the authorities had created proper 'broadbased' clubs like the Victory and Sydney FC instead of shacking up with footy sides and instantly turning off anybody who wasn't already a Carlton or Parramatta fan. Still, at least it wasn't (as some would have you believe) Croats vs Serbs, Israelis vs Palestinians or Hutus vs Tutsis by that point.

The league itself was always going to end with a whimper rather than a bang, but having walked in just as the party was ending I found myself right at home at Bob Jane Stadium. In that last season of a rapidly dying competition the idea that a brand new league would turn away a side who had drawn crowds of more than 10,000 without a dash of television coverage seemed bizarre. It was hard to believe that the people trying to lift the game off the bottom of the ocean would turn away the club who'd have made the perfect foil to the Victory in the battle for Melbourne.

They did and it still hurts today. While nobody can argue Victory’s success (despite the belated introduction of the pretty much moribund Melbourne Heart), it hardly seemed fair that New South Wales got one club in each of Gosford, Newcastle and Sydney while there was no room the team who had represented Australia on the world stage four years earlier. All of a sudden they were relegated to playing Altona Magic instead of Perth Glory.

To be fair clubs like South hadn't done themselves any favours over the years, so desperate for anybody to pay their money at the gate that they'd let pretty much anyone in no matter how impure their intentions were. I remember standing in the Bob Jane Stadium clubhouse talking to the head of security for the club about a fan who had been banned 'for life' for some reason or another, when said outlaw fan scanned his membership at the door and walked into the ground within touching distance of the guard. He continued to go unchallenged for the rest of the season and still watches the club now.

I have no doubt that many of the isolated incidents which have now become football folklore could have been stopped if the clubs had any interest in enforcing bans or if they had access to the same sort of security and surveillance which clubs do in modern stadiums, but who knows if it would have helped when the stereotype had been well and truly embedded in Australia's psyche whether it was true or not. Play my patented NSL Superquiz and humour the next person who tells you how horrible the ethnic riots were 'back then' only to then ask them to name their top five racially based conflagrations. If they can get past Despotovski vs the Melbourne Knights you may as well declare them a winner.

How foolish it seems now to have stood under, and I think held it up at one point, a "No South, No APL" banner at the club's last NSL match against Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium. Not only because the FFA made the message irrelevant by changing the name of the competition, but also the fact that we thought that we were so indispensable that the competition couldn't possibly succeed without us. The truth was that the club needed the competition more than the competition needed the club, and South nearly went out of business almost immediately after they were excluded.

Perhaps they'd have had more chance if they’d bought the licence for a team in Auckland. After all, the New Zealand Knights were admitted as the successor of a club which had attracted 950 people to its last NSL match. I suppose nobody can accuse a team with no fans of having been responsible for any crowd trouble.

Over the years I've thought about the process that severed my brief but thrilling connection with Australian top flight soccer many times. Usually it's while I'm half-heartedly watching the A-League and going for Wellington Phoenix in an equally half-hearted fashion just because in my mind they don't represent the same people who gave us the boot. In these moments of reflection I like to think that the fact that a perfectly viable but ethnically based team was excluded was more to do with the FFA wanting to clear the decks for 'their clubs' than anything else, but the blanket expulsion of any side which had more than a tenuous connection to 'old soccer' has given rise to the greatest urban myth in Australian sports.

You can see it in any story hinting at football’s past. When it was revealed that South Melbourne was trying to buy Melbourne Heart the same themes cropped up in articles and comments alike. Mentioning the “bad old days” and “old soccer” was almost compulsory, and the insinuation was clear: the return of a side which drew much of its support from the Greek community would herald a “return to ethnic violence”.

Who exactly would this violence be between? Did I miss a brief, bloody conflict between Greece and New Zealand which would cause games against the Phoenix to end with the stadium blanketed in tear gas? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and the insinuation that violence is bred purely by ethnicity is hardly compatible with A-League fans being king hit in the stands or attacking police.

You wonder why Melbourne Victory fans who seem as keen as mustard for a proper local rival with more than a handful of fans can't see that instead of holding the ethnics at bay and acting like they solely own the game in this city they should be welcoming a proper rival. These are the same people who have adopted all sorts of macho bullshit 'ultra' stuff from Europe but who simultaneously perpetuate all the myths about the past while complaining about the treatment they receive from police and the media. Perhaps most of what they know about the 'evil' of the past was similarly beaten up by the press?

The NSL’s reputation gets worse every year, but how can fans behave as if the isolated violent acts in their 'new' league are somehow less offensive because there’s no ethnic background to them? A few thrown coins are dismissed as nothing much, but the behaviour of fans in the mid 90’s is still held as hard evidence against entire clubs today. Again, who are 'we' going to fight with now? Sydney FC, West Sydney Wanderers or Melbourne Victory? There doesn't seem to be any shortage of potential clashes, but if a fight happens at the soccer and it doesn't involve ethnic rivalry did it really happen?

When did it become so fashionable to put an ethnic twist on sporting violence? Imagine if 25-year-old Cameron George Frearson of Gymea had known in the mid 90’s that one day everything terrible which happened before 2004 would be blamed on nationalism. He’d have come up with a far better excuse for letting off a flare at a World Cup qualifier than "Because it creates a good visual effect when a goal is scored".

As I stood in the pouring rain watching South get thrashed 5-0 by a pub team a few weeks ago I finally came to terms with the fact that there’s no way they’ll ever be allowed back in the national competition in any meaningful fashion. Even if Heart were willing to sell, the FFA would be scared to death of a backlash from its stakeholders and would at best allow them to be called South Melbourne Heart, Melbourne United or something equally generic.

Their league, their rules I suppose, but nearly a decade on from NSL’s death it’s time that we stopped racially profiling clubs and accept that the popular stereotypes were for the large part just that? That unfortunately soccer seems to attract a proportion of dickheads no matter where you watch it, and that the first priority should be to find these people and kick them out permanently. If clubs wither and die because they've got a higher proportion of arsehole fans than others then bad luck to them.

That the 'ethnic panic' is complete bullshit is hard to argue, but the point then becomes whether South could even do better than heart. Lacking a proper geographical reason for anybody to follow a second Melbourne club was there any point in bringing one in to start with? Probably not. Would the handful of supporters who would come back from Victory contribute to a decent following? I seriously doubt it, but if the 11,000 who turned up to see South's first match back in the Victorian Premier League (tellingly the total plummeted to just over 4000 the next week) showed half an interest in seeing the club play top level football again it would be a good start.

If you were a Heart fan wouldn't you have wanted this to happen? Sure you might have to buy a new shirt and perhaps not follow a team with the pansiest nickname in sport, but your 5000 fans plus our 5000 is a start. We'll build from there, abusing Victory fans all the way. You bring the A-League spot, we'll bring the legitimate dislike for their club. You could go on as you are now, but your club's just going to go broke and you'll be left with no other options but to either skulk back to Victory and try to ignore the embarrassingly forced rivalry of the last couple of years or to give up altogether and wait for the next fool to come along asking to be parted from his money by launching a 'broadbased' Melbourne club.

That there was perhaps 1500 South fans at that Victorian Premier League preliminary final a couple of weeks ago would seem to indicate that there's no coming back for the FIFA Oceania Club of the Century. I can certainly understand that viewpoint, but there's a big difference between playing on the largest stage in the country (where we belong) and against Northcote at at a park in Port Melbourne.

Admittedly I'm not exactly doing my bit for the club these days, it was the first game I'd bothered to go to all season myself. What's the point in following your team through a mickey mouse competition every week throughout winter? I'd done it for a few years and enjoyed myself but the chronic mismanagement of the league (not to mention the rampant corruption) is enough to grind you down eventually. There's still life in the club, just no reason at the moment for it to be revived.

All the while as we're looking on with jealously the A-League continues to grow. Plenty of us sneered at the idea of it taking off, but it seems to be doing just that. I'm still not sure investing your money in a team is any more sensible than buying an NBL side or giving your credit card number to a Nigerian prince but the crowds in most venues are well above what might have been expected a few years ago, and other than a couple of hastily created expansion teams (as well as the Knights who were practically dead before they'd even began) most clubs appear to at least be keeping their head above water. The FFA are even happy to bail out major market clubs who fall over and help them back on their feet.

Yet while all this is happening a generation of fans sits on the sidelines waiting for a chance at redemption, looking at A-League fans waving banners that read 'against modern football' and falling about laughing at the idea that they know anything about hardship. It's fun to play the victim, and we're still doing it almost 10 years later, but the idea of once again having a team to spend my summer following is enough to make me pay more attention to the A-League now than I have in the last few years.

If we're going to be kept out please at least let it be for the right reasons, that we don't have the appropriate financial backing and have shed most of our fan base, not because of some antiquated racial notions of what European people are likely to do at a soccer game.