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.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Is it OK for South fans to like Ange Postecoglou again?

Here's a confused ramble focused on confusion.

So, while waiting for a bad episode of The Simpsons to start, I was watching Ten news yesterday evening, the sports segment to be precise. The first item was on the Geelong Cup, a group three race, whatever that means. Then some racehorse trained by Tom Waterhouse's mother being retired. Then AFL trade news, including Heath Shaw being traded to GWS for Taylor Adams. Then finally, four stories in, the fact that the Socceroos had a new coach. It makes you think that we still have a ways to go yet. Today online on The Age's sport section prominence is given to Bradman and Warne getting a perfunctory honour, and after that a washed out one day cricket match.

But back to Ange - who could have foreseen this situation after that interview on SBS all those years ago? One of the more humorous comments on the matter in the week leading up to Ange's appointment was made by 'Chips Rafferty' on Football Anarchy:

Imagine, Ange the NT coach and Craig still the SBS weather girl.

Some people have talked (vaguely) about his stint in the VPL before making his comeback to the national scene via the A-League - which really, nothing much can be made of, because that team was doomed from the get go. More interesting for me is the fact that, like his 1991 championship teammate Joe Palatsides, he actually tried his hand at coaching in Greece, getting out of the comfort zone of milking a local career, lower league club by lower league club. In our boredom, South of the Border was probably the only English language 'press' (and we use that term lightly) that covered Ange's stint at Panachaiki in the third division, and that was mostly relaying basic progress updates.

What it means to me is that he's willing to take chances, something that became evident as well when he went through the process of creating his Brisbane Roar team. Despite the success he had in his years as South coach, there was always (and still is) talk that he more or less inherited Frank Arok's team, a team that after a tumultuous period would have supposedly come good anyway. And that's no post-A-League sour grapes - that line of thinking existed even among contemporary South fan commentary.

During his A-League coaching career, the attitude of South fans towards Postecoglou has ranged from a certain matter of factness - coaching is his career, and he should be able to continue it anywhere he wants - to calling him a sellout for becoming a part of the system which has relegated us to dealing with an ethnic club glass ceiling (and taking Paul Trimboli with him as well). He's not alone among our former players, sponsors and fans to do this, but he's by far the most high profile.

Postecoglou overseeing South training in Brazil in 2000.
Most though probably never wished him either well or ill, taking a more ambivalent, philosophical approach - he's not at South, so who cares? That's certainly the approach I've taken since he left Panachaiki, a stint I covered more as an oddity than as anything serious. Perhaps those attitudes stem from the way his recent Australian soccer history has shone a light on the general South experience post-A-League, at least from the point of view of those of us in exile from the top-flight. Here's someone who, because of his association with old soccer, the NSL and especially its most powerful (ethnic) club, was thought to offer nothing to the new dawn, who would usher in an era of new players, coaches, methods and history divorced from whatever happened before. Now he's in charge of the goddamn national team, while we've got A-League reject Mehmet Durakovic.

When I celebrated Mitch Langerak's rise to Borussia Dortmund and Socceroos representation, I did so because yes, it's a magnificent achievement, but also because South was a small, perhaps unusual stepping stone on the road to those achievements (which he acknowledged with re-tweet, swoons). Can we then ignore Postecoglou's even more incredible rise? He's one of the few who came through the South system and had a sustained career at the top as a player. The only one involved with all four of our NSL titles. Someone who had been doubted repeatedly, and yet is one of the few players or coaches who left the club both on his own terms and as a success.

The variety of reactions with which South fans have dealt with Postecoglou and others like him, is reflective of the alienation seemingly inherent in being a South supporter these days, at least for those of us who don't split our time between South and an A-League team. Who are we now, compared to who we were? Can we be something like what we once were, in terms of status? What if we never make it back to the top-flight? Just how much has everyone who once supported us moved on from everything? Far enough to forget us completely, or within reach should we ever once again reach where we 'deserve' to be? At least once a year, most often in the quiet of the off-season, I seem to ask this question, and every time I think I get closer to an answer, I find that it's just as elusive as it ever was.


Here's a couple of articles from the mainstream/legitimate press that are worth a look.

Ray Gatt's article charting Ange's coaching career path isn't too bad, including some good South history with David Clarkson.

Ange Postecoglou's path: from near-death experience to the Socceroos

Ray Gatt, The Australian, October 24, 2013 12:00AM

IT was early November 1996, in the days of the National Soccer League, and Ange Postecoglou, a wet-behind-the-ears coach, was conducting a training session with South Melbourne, oblivious to the lynch mob gathering around the back of the stands.

Only five rounds into his first senior coaching job and with just a single point to show, Postecoglou had already come under intense pressure from fans and officials of the Greek-oriented club.

That night was supposed to be his last in charge of the club he had served for 193 games as a player. The committee had made its decision and the president would be the one to deliver the coup d'etat.

As the committeemen nervously shuffled their feet waiting for the president to arrive, they received news he had fallen ill and could not make it. Reluctant to complete the hatchet job without him, they made a hasty retreat and decided to leave him in for one more week.

The rest is history. South Melbourne won its next game 1-0 against Newcastle Breakers and went on a winning streak that saw it climb from the bottom of the table to the preliminary final, which it lost to Sydney United.

Under Postecoglou's positive "follow-me" coaching philosophy, South Melbourne won successive NSL titles in 1997-98 and 1998-99.

Postecoglou's coaching career, give or take one or two hiccups, has gone from strength to strength and today he is the new coach of the Socceroos, entrusted by Football Federation Australia to lead the national team out of the abyss and into a new dawn.

David Clarkson, who won two championships under Postecoglou at South Melbourne, always knew his old boss would climb to the top of the coaching tree.

"Who knows what would have happened had it (the sacking) gone through," Clarkson told The Australian. "But, he got that luck. We won two titles, were Oceania champions and played in the world club championship against Manchester United."

Clarkson said he always saw the drive and the passion for coaching in Postecoglou.

"He was a winner, very intense and a lover of the game. You could see it in everything he did," he said. "Yes he was passionate about coaching, but he was also very passionate about the game and how it should be played."

Clarkson said if Postecoglou had a fault it was "maybe he did not manage players as best as he could back then".

"But it was never personal. He always had his end goal and he'd tell us he would take people on the journey who wanted to be there ... if not 'you can go'," he said

"I was always scared of him, to be honest. Why? Because I was afraid of letting him down. He expected such high standards and I respected him so much that I just didn't want to disappoint him."

Postecoglou did it tough as coach of the Young Socceroos between 2000 and 2007, struggling to come to grips with international football and drawing intense criticism from past players and coaches.

Some might have thought that was the end for him as a coach, but his stint as an analyst on Fox Sports showed he was a deep thinker about the game and the critics did not affect his fierce pride and burning ambition.

Postecoglou has stayed true to his philosophy of playing entertaining football based on retaining possession and playing out from the back, even when under pressure.

He is not afraid to make the tough decisions on players. It is the "my way or the highway" mentality as he showed when he first took over Brisbane Roar midway through the 2009-10 season. Postecoglou was ruthless, releasing Socceroos veterans Danny Tiatto and Craig Moore, and journeyman Bob Malcolm.

Young players were drafted in and while Roar did not get anywhere near the finals that season, he was sowing the seeds of success. And success came quickly.

The Queenslanders won the A-League title the next season then followed up with a second in 2011-12 as he became the first coach to win back-to-back titles in the A-League - something he had already done in the NSL.

Postecoglou will be vastly different to his predecessor, the sacked Holger Osieck, in many ways.

Firstly, he understands the Australian sporting mentality. He won't be as rigid in his thinking and will rejuvenate the team with younger players. No player will be safe from his scrutiny. They will all need to fit within his system.

He will go with what he knows and believes in. It is best explained in an interview he did after he was appointed Victory coach before the start of last season.

"I'm in it to win championships, but what drives me is that it has to mean something. A title must reflect the way we've played, behaved on and off the field. When people went to watch Brisbane Roar, they knew how they were going to play and conduct themselves, win or lose.

"I'm not going to do exactly what I did at Roar, but there will be a strong identity there at Victory."

With eight months, maybe half a dozen friendlies and a couple of camps to the World Cup in Brazil, the odds are that there is not enough time for Postecoglou to impose his will on the squad.

But unlike with Osieck, FFA has given him a mandate to produce talent, revitalise the squad, jettison some of players and set up for the future, including the Asian Cup on these shores in 2015.

Even at Brazil, you wouldn't want to bet against Postecoglou at least turning the Socceroos into the competitive team fans have grown to love and admire.


Joe Gorman's article from The Guardian isn't too bad either, though it probably didn't need the music analogy. The comments on the cultural cringe in Australian football are worth noting.

Ange Postecoglou: the Socceroos' very own Paul Kelly

Like the musician, the new Socceroos coach shows respect and a deep knowledge of the medium in which he works

Ange Postecoglou has graduated from the A-League to become the new Socceroos manager. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

After almost a fortnight of rumour and recriminations, the FFA has appointed Ange Postecoglou as Socceroos coach. When Frank Lowy confirmed last week the next coach would be an Australian, it was always going to be either Ange or Arnie. Both worthy choices, the FFA has put its faith in a local for the first time since 2005.

Melbourne Victory have made the noble decision not to stand in Postecoglou’s way, although not before criticising the FFA for tapping up their coach and baulking at the seven figure compensation package.

In a statement to the media, Victory Chairman Anthony Di Pietro said, “we are disappointed with the process undertaken by the FFA, given the outcomes we tried to secure could never have been achieved within the timeframes offered, which ultimately forced us to accelerate our decision not to stand in Ange’s way.”

As much as the Socceroos are the pinnacle of the football hierarchy, the clubs are also entitled to defend their own patch of turf, as are state league clubs below them. Developing players and coaches comes at a price, and it is not for the FFA to be cherry-picking the best talent without recognising the investment of the clubs.

That said, it is a milestone in Australian football for several reasons. In the ninth season of the A-League, Postecoglou becomes the first coach to graduate from an A-League club to the Socceroos. In doing so, he’ll also become the first Australian coach to take the national team to the World Cup since Rale Rasic, who led the Socceroos to the nation’s first World Cup in 1974. Forty years is certainly a long time waiting, but it is a change that will be welcomed by the vast majority of followers of the national team.

Having an A-League alumnus at the helm of the Socceroos will certainly be a boost for the profile of the competition. After three successive foreign coaches, the football community has been heavily in favour of a local, and now that we’ve gone native, the cycle will likely continue. With so many former Socceroos completing their coaching licences and receiving jobs in the A-League, Postcoglou’s appointment may be a harbinger of change in the selection process.

In elevating Postecoglou, the FFA has pushed him into a new realm of prodigal son. As one of Australia’s most successful club coaches with South Melbourne Hellas, Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory, he comes into the job with huge expectations. Despite the Young Socceroos hiccup in 2006, Postecoglou has been something of a King Midas at club level.

When he took over from Frank Farina at Brisbane Roar in 2009, he quickly moved to purge several senior players from the squad including Craig Moore, Charlie Miller and Bob Malcolm, building a new-look team around midfielders Matt McKay, Massimo Murdocca and Erik Paartalu, all of whom he had previously worked with at youth level. After two successive A-League championships with Brisbane – which included a record breaking unbeaten streak – he took up a new challenge at Melbourne Victory.

Postecoglou may have taken a little longer than expected to make his mark in Melbourne, but when the Victory are on form, they play some of the best football in the competition. And as he did at Brisbane, Postecoglou has given young players a chance, putting faith in the likes of Marco Rojas, Nick Ansell, Andrew Nabbout and Connor Pain in important matches. In round one this season, Postecoglou continued this trend by granting the highly rated Rashid Mahazi a start in central midfield in the Melbourne derby.

In this regard, Postecoglou offers the Socceroos a sound knowledge of local players and a willingness to experiment with young talent, two qualities sorely needed in the national team. With the team in serious need of regeneration before the Asian Cup on home soil in 2015, many senior Socceroos will no doubt be uncomfortable about their future in the green and gold with Postecoglou in charge. As the Postecoglou motto goes, "you don't sign players but people". It’s about time players are selected on their current standard, not reputation.

Notwithstanding his credentials, Postecoglou is also a fitting appointment for symbolic reasons. Having grown up a South Melbourne Hellas supporter, he spent his playing career at his boyhood club, before taking them to two NSL titles in the late 1990s, as well as a Club World Championship in Brazil. His has been a career at the coalface of Australian football.

The question of nationality has not been far from the debate about who should take over from Holger Osieck. Sections of the media, particularly Michael Cockerill and Robbie Slater, have been banging on for some time for an Australian coach to be appointed to the national team.

Others prefer to look simply at the credentials of the coaches in question, rather than the passport, with Craig Foster going as far to say that some of the discussion has reeked of “xenophobia” in his Sunday column for Farifax Media. Certainly Foster has a point, although his own Sam Kekovich on Pim Verbeek during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa would suggest patriotism is indeed the last refuge of the scoundrel.

While too much has already been made of nationality in the current coaching debate, the importance of Postecoglou’s emotional attachment to the local game should not be understated. David Gallop expressed his delight that Postecoglou happened to be "someone who’s learned his football in this country and who lives and breathes the mission of Australian football." For too long, Australians have held a cultural cringe towards the game’s history, cultural position and importance to the nation.

In many ways, Ange Postecoglou is to Australian football as Paul Kelly is to Australian music. Where many Australian musicians entrench the cultural cringe through gratuitous imitation, Kelly spent his career chronicling Australian culture through his songwriting. In several columns for Fairfax Media, as well as numerous media appearances, Postecoglou shows the same careful understanding and critical engagement with his surroundings, highlighting both a fundamental respect and a deep knowledge of the minutiae of Australia’s unique relationship with the world game. Like Kelly, his is a reflective nationalism, not the shouty, chest-beating, face-palm kind.

Moreover, when Postecoglou talks about learning from coaching greats such as Kevin Sheedy, Mick Malthouse and Wayne Bennett, as he did when he took over at Brisbane Roar, we get of a glimpse of a man unburdened by the insecurity that blinds many other football fans, coaches and commentators. In appointing Postecoglou, the FFA have found an ambassador for Australian football, not just a new coach.

Monday, 21 October 2013

South of the Border Awards 2013

Hmm. Is it worth doing a season review? Probably not. You can just go back and read about what happened in the usual way.

In a blog full of self-indulgence, this is just about the most self-indulgent of posts. A person who has never played the game, who can barely make out what's going on the field, and even if he could, is usually too apoplectic with rage to make any useful judgments anyway.

Which is just another way of saying it's time for the 2013 South of the Border Awards. For previous editions of this mini-extravaganza, see this link.

Player of the year: It could have gone to Pete Gavalas for his massive turnaround in form. It could have gone to Brian Bran for being our best over the second half of the year. It could have gone to Tyson Holmes for being a thorn in Steve From Broady's side. But this award has never followed any sort of logical decision making process, and we're not about to start now.

Trent Rixon gets my vote in 2013 because when he finally got fit, he showed us not only the form which saw the club bring him over in the first place by scoring several goals, but he also displayed a joyful combativeness up front. For the first time since he made the move from Northcote, he looked like he was actually enjoying being at and playing for South - the highlight being his celebration with statsman Steve from Broady away at Port Melbourne.

Under 21 player of the year: The Cliff Hussey Memorial Trophy (this year selected by Steve From Broady) goes to Baggio Yousif. I'm not going to disagree with that.

Goal of the year: Ljubo Milicevic. Now, unlike last year, there were several brilliant/crazy/timely goals scored in 2013. Andy Vlahos' belter of a free kick at home against Green Gully. Soolsma's free kick at home against Hume City. Holmes' overhead at home against Richmond, or Hopper's excellent control in the away fixture against Richmond. Either of Fernando's goals against Preston in the cup, for the pure emotion of it if not the execution.

But for the way the planets aligned for Ljubo's own goal, I couldn't bring myself to award it anyone else. His return to Lakeside, finally playing for the club he apparently supported as a kid, South down 2-1 due to some comical defending, and the out of absolutely nothing, Ljubo heads it into his own net, and the South fans start chanting his name. It was a lot of a fun.

Best performance: Hmm. The win against Northcote in the Dockerty Cup was pretty epic. The win against Bentleigh away was awesome. But I'm going to go with Green Gully away in round 1. Seriously, I was happy to have the season end right there and then. We killed them from start to finish and nothing went wrong at all. See in you in another 27 years when it happens again.

Best away game of the year: Melbourne Knights semi-final. It had to be something special to beat our first away win at Gully since 233 BCE or whenever it was. Without any intentional disrespect against all the other clubs, that night against our old foe Melbourne Croatia, it felt like we were in a real league, playing against a real team. They even booed our goal! When was the last time that happened? And what a beautiful smash and grab win it was. Pure joy.

Call of the year:
"Hey goalkeeper, you look like a highlighter!" (David, host of SMFC TV), said during the cup match against Northcote, in reference to their goalkeeper's get up of fluoro green jersey and shorts with black socks.

Runners up:
  • "There are ten players out there for South called 'cunt' and one called 'Andy' (Vlahos)" (Ian Syson, Southern Stars at home)
  • "He went down like he ate a hot dog from Green Gully" (Steve From Broady, during the under 21s game at home to Green Gully)

Chant of the year: "You're supposed to be in church!", Oakleigh home match. There were a couple of other contenders, especially late on in the season, such as:

"Dodgy Asian Betting, Now We're In The Finals!" (Gully final)


"Our social club
Does not exist
Our social club does not exist
It's got no door, and no window
Our social club does not exist" (Northcote final)

But the winner had a certain, je ne sais quoi to it.

Best after match dinner location: Man, I missed a lot of these this season, and there were a lot of disappointing affairs here. Chief among the disappointing places were that trendy ramen place on Lonsdale Street (bland, bland, bland), and the deplorable Coconut House (except for the incredible soy milk). So, almost by default, it goes to Thai Deli again, for their Pad Thai. Good to support a local South Melbourne business as well.

Friends we lost along the way:  The Brunswick City souv. Our FFV media pass holder status.  Our position of being somewhere about fifth or sixth in line for news that 'you can't tell anyone, seriously'. I think we're about 23rd in line now, behind the Cypriot peanut man who they don't let in the ground, but still ahead of Michael Lynch. Small mercies and all that.

Barely related to anything highlight stupidity of the year:  We have to go right back to the start of the season. I'd given Gains and Steve from Broady a lift to Green Gully Reserve, as is my custom. Now, we were all in agreement, based on many previous experiences, that you do not eat the food at Green Gully, except possibly the hot jam doughnuts, because even Green Gully couldn't manage to fuck those up, surely?

So anyway, we won the game, we were all happy, and it was time to go home. Now, if you've never driven Steve from Broady anywhere, you should know two things are likely to happen. Firstly, he'll try and tell enough stupid stories that will make you laugh until you black out and crash into an oncoming truck. Secondly, he will pummel you with so many crackpot theories or stupid questions that eventually you'll just ask him to shut the fuck up already.

Well, we hadn't even got out of the car park yet (an ordeal in itself at Green Gully) before he's already worn my patience thin by asking a really daft question. I abused the fuck out of him for doing so, and then he was very quiet all the way home. So quiet, that I actually felt really bad about the whole situation.

Well, a few months later, upon reminiscing about that drive home in a conversation, Steve casually mentions that he wasn't quiet because of the abuse I'd dished out. No, he was quiet on the ride home because he felt sick as a dog, and was very close to throwing up. And why was he close to throwing up? Because against everyone's experience and advice, including his own, he'd had a Green Gully hot dog.

That's your expert food reviewer right there.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Rain, Hail, Shine, Wind, More Rain, And That's Us Done For 2013 - Northcote City 5 South Melbourne 0

You Get An Inkling It's Not Your Day When...
You cop a goal in the first five minutes. The one thing we'd managed to avoid letting Northcote do in our previous encounter, and we'd botched it nice and early. And to make matters worse, it was from a set piece. Still, it was only one goal, and there was time to pull it back...

You Really Know It's Not Your Day When...
Your keeper catches the ball, gets shoved over the line, and the ref awards a goal. The shoulder charge on goalkeepers hasn't been seen in Australia since about the early 1950s, and we've all become used to goalies now being classified as a protected species. And yet we found ourselves 2-0 down due to the non-decision of the referee, who otherwise punished every push, no matter how inconsequential.

We really needed to have pulled back a goal before half time, for psychological as well as scoreboard reasons. Instead we fluffed our two good opportunities. One shot was palmed away by the off balance Northcote keeper. The second saw a cutback delayed after some good work on the byline, and Northcote's defence managed to scramble the ball away, much as we did last week.

We had several crosses, corners and free kicks in dangerous areas, but for the most part we couldn't get them into the really dangerous areas around the six yard box, where Northcote's defence would be most vulnerable. Their early goal allowed them to sit back and hit us on the counter.

Then the weather turned nasty, the rain hurtled down and the wind decided that it wanted to barrack for Northcote in the second half, as it blew hard towards the Plummer Street goals. Then Northcote scored their third, and we were done like a dinner.

Junk Time Blues
The last 40 odd minutes was an exercise in futility. At 3-0 down, Soolsma sliced his volley, and that was about it for us. Rixon picked up a stupid yellow card for a challenge on the Northcote keeper, which would have ruled him out of the grand final had we somehow made it that far. Heads dropped, the wind blew back every ball of a certain height, and Northcote picked us off for a couple more goals. There's little doubt that they were the better team on the day and over the course of the year, but a five goal difference between the two sides? That's a little harder to stomach.

End Of Season Stupidity (or Why Pitch Invasions, No Matter How Well Intentioned, Are Never A Good Idea)
Well, at the end of the game about 30 odd Northcote supporters jumped the fence yesterday and even went up the players race to celebrate with their team. Of course this lead to stupid scenes in the players race (not helped by some of the Northcote players deciding to turn their focus towards the South fans instead of just making their way into the changerooms).

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this, as it was actually rather hard to tell what the hell was happening there at the end, except that a large green plastic bin lid was thrown towards the players race. Like that was ever going to do any damage. There are allegations of spitting by both sides, which is just great. Still, considering the punishment we got (in my mind, justified) for our pitch invasion against the Bergers all those years ago now, what will happen to Northcote will be worth watching. Also, it was well noted by one of our forum peoples that Blue Thunder Security really dropped the ball on this one, by having all their attention focused on Clarendon Corner, with none on the equivalent Northcote group.

Peter Tsolakis, Luke Byles
Were happy that we lost. Good for them. Whatever helps them sleep at night.

A couple of late contenders for chant of the year

Our social club
Does not exist
Our social club does not exist
It's got no door, and no window
Our social club does not exist

Where this chant falls over though is that, when we did have a social club, most of the people who were chanting this ditty preferred to drink away from the ground before a game. Still, some marks have to be awarded for the cleverness of the lyrics, which is more than can be said about the sharing our ground with Victory chant. Newsflash, we did that even before the reconfiguration of Lakeside.

There was also the 'your nose is bigger than your dick chant' directed to the Northcote player who had also been re-christened 'Gonzo The Great' (he had a large protective covering on his schnoz, after having broken it against in our previous meeting; he even managed to cop another blow to his nose during yesterday's game).

The 'What Were They Thinking' Department
Now I have nothing against Port Melbourne as a venue (if I did, I wouldn't go and watch games as a neutral there), but once a match attendance reaches a certain point, it is clearly not a suitable venue for a game.

Quite why the FFV decided to use this ground for a game of this stature is anyone's guess. There was one ticket booth, meaning that even 10-15 minutes into the game, there was a still a significant line waiting outside the ground.

The ground also has limited shelter and poor sight-lines. The latter was not helped by only opening up a small portion of the outer side - apparently due to some incident two or three years ago which no one can remember - which would have improved the viewing experience considerably.

Of course the weather, which had been wavering between comfortable and slightly unpleasant, turned to absolute crap at the start of the second half, and Port's limited shelter was unable to cope with the demand. Others, seeing no way back for South and not wanting to deal with the wind and rain, just upped and left. The fans who braved those conditions deserved better.

There were surely more suitable options available. Knights Stadium, Kingston Heath, even Epping Stadium or Olympic Village. Hell, I would have happily allowed Northcote to host this match.

Next Year
Who knows what's going to happen there. NPL Victoria? State League 1 South? If there is a VPL, we can be safe in saying that Heidelberg United and Werribee City will come up, but who will go down? What will happen to Southern Stars? I know that the only constant is change, but this is getting out of hand.

Around The Grounds
Got there early enough to watch the second half of the Sandringham - Heidelberg WVPL preliminary final. Sandy were up 1-0 at halftime, went 2-0 up after a nice cut in and strike, before the Bergers pulled it back to 2-1. There it stayed, with the Bergers probably unlucky not to pull it back to 2-2. Very tough conditions, and not a particularly impressive game.

As For The Blog
Our usual winding down process begins. At some point a season wrap and awards. In December, our usual birthday/thank you spectacular. Some news as it trickles through. Which players will stick around? Who'll be out the door? New faces?

We have the prospect of elections - will a rival ticket finally emerge? Will the entire current committee stick around? We also still have the protracted social club and lease issues to sort out. After two seasons back at Lakeside, it's gone beyond a joke.

I'll also provide as much NPL Victoria news as I can stomach. It's already been a draining experience covering that issue, not just for its complexity, not just for cutting through the competing narratives, but especially in the way it has infected everything that's happened this season.

And maybe the odd book review here and there to inject of bit of culture.

Final Thought
Now what do I do with my weekends? Join my brother's Dungeons and Dragons group?

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Preliminary Final Preview - Northcote City vs South Melbourne

Wouldn't it be nice if we could make the grand final? It won't be easy, of course. But in addition to the chance to win the whole damn thing, there's also the carrot of playing at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, which is a very lovely venue to watch a game from, and for crying out loud, isn't it about time South played a game there in front of everyone so we could all have a legitimate excuse of going to that venue?

Anyway, at best I can only pretend to know what I'm doing when I start waffling on with regards to tactics and such. As it is, the first two of our games against Northcote in 2013 have been made irrelevant by the fact that the South team that rocked up for those games no longer exists. So what can we take out of the most recent game, played just a few short weeks ago?

Well, that we can match them, and even dominate the fixture. That we'll have to be really careful with our offside trap. That we're going to have to lift our game somewhat, as the tight confines of Port Melbourne don't really suit us, though they may make it easier to defend our wings which have been a problem for a while now. The tighter confines will also hopefully mean that Bryan Bran doesn't get found out of position as much as he was last week. As terrific as he was with his intercepting play against the Knights, watching the various videos posted also showed that because he was prone to heading up field to make those interceptions, there was a lot of space behind him after the fact - meaning that it's not much good him doing all that work if we don't win the second ball as well, or turn it over straight away, before we can reset the defence.

I'm also not expecting Northcote to put in the kind of performance that they did against Bentleigh last week. Frankly, both teams were garbage, but we know that both are capable of much better performances. And as poor as their performance was, Northcote, perhaps uncharacteristically had more possession than their opponents - for the most part, they just couldn't make anything of it count. But both these teams will probably know each other inside out by now. If I had to pick a weakness for our opponents, my uneducated guess would be the defence. Get enough half decent balls into the six yard box, and they won't handle it too good.

As much we'd like to claim the underdog status, and the fact that we've come a long way in a very short space of time, there will be no moral victories after this game. Lose, and there'll be all the usual recriminations about what could have been done better etc, and the usual haha you lost jibes. That's to be expected. If we win, there'll be the mandatory Northcote were the real best team this season, South just bought their way to a grand final, yadayadayada. All of which should concern not one jot. Our job is to win for South's sake, and not worry about what the others may think of such a victory - and that includes the quite stupid discussions revolving around what we should do at the A-League after the VPL grand final if we make it.

Surely if we made it that far, after the game we'd be too busy commiserating a loss or celebrating a win? It just goes to show how small South has become in the view of some of our own fans, which is a pity. Time was we used to be the centre of the universe. While I can understand how and why people might react that way, it's all a bit sad. The situation was made funnier though, when someone explained that we'll all be kicked out of the game anyway before the Heart game starts.

Looking ahead with as little hubris as possible, there's also another issue. The boys from SMFC Radio claim that Bryan Bran, Tyson Holmes and Trent Rixon are all at risk of missing the grand final (should we make it that far) if any of those three players gets a yellow card against Northcote.

Reports suggest that the outer wing at Port Melbourne will be opened up, which is good news for everyone, except probably Clarendon Corner, who will probably do what they usually do anyway and pick the absolutely worst spot on the ground. Their call I guess, and weren't they meant to be dead anyway? One suggestion I will make is bring an umbrella, because if the weathermen and/or weatherwomen are right, then it could rain on Sunday, and there's very limited cover at Port Melbourne - and if it's windy, you probably don't want to be stuck behind the Plummer Street goals either, just in case a random branch falls off one of the trees and cracks your skull. Seen it happen there once.

For Those Planning On Driving To The Ground
At such a small ground, with what's expected to be a half decent crowd, parking will be a bit of hassle. In addition, due to the Melbourne Marathon, there will be several road closures, which may affect your journey. For more details, see this link.

Or, you know, you could catch the bus to the ground.

Something To Do With The NPL
It appears as if the clubs had a bit of a win in the courts on Monday, getting their case moved to the Supreme Court and also having their injunction against the FFV continuing the NPL upheld. I may or may not have something in this week's edition of Goal Weekly on the matter. Probably out of date already.

You Know It's Getting Serious...
... when even your students are asking about how your team is going.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

One Step Closer - Melbourne Knights 0 South Melbourne 1

On Friday night, a nervous crowd of close to 5,000 spectators - achieved despite almost zero promotion in the mainstream press - saw the Melbourne Knights fritter away several good chances in what was an often scrappy affair, to bow out of the finals in straight sets. It was the Knights' third loss in a row, all at home, after also having lost to Oakleigh in round 22, and Bentleigh Greens last week.

Conversely, Trent Rixon, a player not particularly rated by several Knights fans (mostly due to his apparent struggles against them over the years), ghosted in unmarked at the back post on 67 minutes, as a cross from the right eluded the clustered Knights defence, and with his first time finish sent South through to the preliminary final, its first appearance in that game since 2005 (remembering that in 2006, we skipped the preliminary final courtesy of our 2-1 win in the major semi final against Altona Magic).

After its near catastrophic mid-season slump, South has now lost just one league game out of its last 10 (to the Knights away), and is just one game away from a first grand final berth since 2006. Standing in the way are Northcote City, the deserved minor premiers who will be out to avoid a straight sets exit ala the infamous 1995 Port Melbourne team.

It was also South's first win against the Knights since 2011, and our first win against the Knights at Somers Street since 2010 (though that wasn't our last win there - that honour went to this dead rubber win against George Cross). It was also, somewhat remarkably, our third consecutive clean sheet after months of battling to even get near one.

Watching the video below by MFootball, you'd think we were comprehensively outplayed for the vast majority of this game. In reality that's only half right.

While we weren't great on Friday night, I reckon we still had the majority of possession in the first half, and a couple of chances as well. But possession football without much meaningful end product isn't very telegenic. The Knights squandered several gilt-edged chances, with their ultra direct style of play - directed mostly into the deep wing areas - seeing South put onto the backfoot almost every time after we turned the ball over.

Brian Bran soars high to win another header. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
The three players who stood out for us were Brian Bran - who was immense - but also Pete Gavalas and Shaun Kelly, who did much of the scrambling defensive work that was needed throughout this game. Trent Rixon and Luke Hopper, while not as effective as you'd want them to be, still did a good job of holding the ball up, and the Knights defense found it difficult to mark them both out of the game. Iqi Jawadi was good in the first half, though he faded a little little in the second.

The wings were once again were we were most vulnerable - Mala and Kearney not helped though by lackluster performances by Nick Epifano and Nicky Soolsma. The former was subbed off for Rhys Meredith in the second half, with Soolsma moving to the left and looking a little better for it, with Meredith putting in an industrious performance on the right. Tyson Holmes too, put in the hard yards - if only his long range shot had crossed the line! (and according to the Knights fan known as Mumbles, it did).

The celebrations on Quarry Hill at the end of the match were short and sweet, as the crowd was compelled by security to exit quickly. The organisation of the match was very good, with entry into the game compounded not so much by not having enough ticket sellers, but more by the sheer volume of people coming to the game and the nightmarish traffic situation outside the ground. Credit to the Knights for charging a flat $10 rate as well.

Players and fans celebrate the win, separated only by Somers Street's
 famous prison camp fencing. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
The crowd was boosted by being held at the same time as the Australian-Croatian Soccer Tournament, being hosted by Melbourne Knights due to it being their 60th anniversary. Some clueless South fans have fobbed it off as a bit of a gimmick, even though we can't even get a Hellenic Cup going consistently using only Melbourne based teams, let alone sides from across Australia and even New Zealand. I managed to catch a couple of minutes of one of the games on the outer fields - I saw a penalty won and then squandered when the keeper made a diving save to his right.

The Only Stat That Matters
Goals: Trent Rixon, 67th minute.

Around The Grounds
Part 1 - Going Up, Going Down (and let's just ignore the ramifications of the NPL and Southern Stars debacles for now)

Got to Port Melbourne early to watch North Geelong take on Avondale Heights in a promotion/relegation playoff. North Geelong were the State League One team hoping to stay in that division for one more year (hence the chant from their fans of "one more year"), while Avondale Heights were looking for consecutive promotions. North Geelong had a decent amount of support, including a chanting group, though Avondale Heights also had their own support as well.

The first half was complete balls. I think it took about 25 minutes for the first chance of the game, which the North Geelong player chipped over the bar. After that, there was a little of goalmouth action at the other end of the field, but nothing to write home about. 0-0 at halftime and everyone hoping for something more substantial in the second half.

Avondale Heights picked up their game, getting some through balls going and forcing the North Geelong defence into scrambling. North Geelong were also a little better in the second half, but the spoils had to go to someone, and in the end the right team won. With about 10 minutes to play, Avondale Heights won a free kick on the edge of the box, which was curled over the top of the wall, skimming a North Geelong head, and grazing the outstretched arm of the keeper as it went into bottom right hand corner.

North Geelong had one glorious chance to equalise after that, but instead their recent status of being a bit of a yo-yo club continues. On a side note, the souv yesterday was crap. Eight dollars for 5 pieces of meat surrounded by doughy pita? Ridiculous.

Part 2 - Who's Next? (Two usually good teams serve up inedible slop, which they wouldn't dream of doing to us next week)

Northcote vs Bentleigh promised so much, and delivered so very little. Admittedly, I was only there because we had won the night before, otherwise I would have been far too miserable to go to this match. So while looking for an enjoyable night out, with hopefully a lot of injuries and cards, and a draining, bruising extra time period, both these clubs (and Bruno the referee) did their best to disappoint.

No cards, because while it was wasn't a very physical game, Bruno in his usual fashion didn't bother handing out any cards, even when one Northcote player was chopped from behind. Few injuries, because most of the turnovers were created not by crunching or physical challenges, but by the shocking passing games of both teams.

There was maybe one half-chance to Northcote late in the first half, but that was about it. The second half was little better. Both teams struggled to create meaningful passages of play, struggling with the tight confines of the ground, The defenses did their job, marking tightly and staying disciplined, but it would have been nice to see them under some genuine pressure as well.

Bentleigh opened the scoring with about 10 minutes to go, when De Vries was left wide open at the back post. Northcote won a penalty straight from the re-start, to send the game into extra time. Bentleigh took the chocolates with a headed goal by De Vries, sending their 50 fans completely mild.

The obvious concern is that both these teams can a play a lot better than that, and that they'll certainly lift when they play us.

Next Week
Against Northcote this coming Sunday Saturday Sunday at Port Melbourne. Shades of 2011 much? There were rumours of other grounds being used - most notably Epping - but instead we'll all be crammed into SS Anderson Reserve. Hopefully they'll open up the outer wing, otherwise no one's going to be able to see anything. The goalmouths at each end also need some love, because they're a right mess at the moment.

Also, if we win this game, then we better hope that Bran doesn't pick up another yellow card. One more, and he'd miss the decider, if we made it that far.

Old Man Bus Stop Chat
Waiting for the bus home, got talking to a Northcote/South supporting old bloke. Another person who has noticed the nonsense being peddled by Elias Donoudis about present day South bearing no relation to olden times South.

Final Thought
When the number of titles won by a team are counted, they're never split into the 'good ones' and 'shit ones'.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Kiss of Death, Under Duress - Knights vs South Preview

Off to Knights Stadium we go!

I have been requested to write something about this Friday's match. Not sure if any of you have noticed, but ever since I stopped writing, South has gone on a roll. If we lose on Friday, direct all mail/complaints to Paul. I write the below under duress.

After playing cat and mouse with Green Gully last weekend, Hellas was rewarded with a 1-0 win in the 90th minute courtesy of Tyson Holmes. HNK Melbourne Croatia on the other hand was drilled a new asshole by the Bentleigh Greens, in a 2-4 demolition. My sources tell me it could’ve/should’ve been more.

A brief version of events that unfolded on Sunday vs Gully. Firstly, pretty much every single Gully ‘ultra’ entered Lakeside with an FFV finals pass. This means that:
  • a) they only have 20 or so fans, or
  • b) they were passing them through the gates. I saw 'b' with my own eyes.
Secondly, they have to be the tightest ‘ultras’ going around. I counted four bags full of food and beverages coming through the gates. Absolutely tight, tight, tight. Thank fuck you are out of the finals. (for the back ground to this phenomenon, see this entry from August 2009 - Ed.)

Thirdly, Bradley Norton. *shakes head*. Woeful. You had about nine minutes on Sunday, and even that was too much. I expect you will warm the bench also on Sunday, and for fuck's sake, no more penalties for you my friend.

Fourthly, the goal was the cause of absolute pandemonium at Lakeside. Haven’t seen it like that since we won the grand final in 2006. Absolutely awol. Crazy shit.

Fifthly, there were many new heads at South. For those of you unaware of how the Greek community works, here is a short rundown. Pretty much they only support shit when it suits. A disgrace of the highest order. Blasphemous to say the least.

So off we trod to Knights Stadium on Friday night at 7.30pm. I like to call the place by what it should be called “Hrvatski Sportski Centar – HNK Melbourne Croatia”. They have the Croatian soccer tournament on this week as well, which means plenty of Croatians at the match hopefully. This match is worthy of an NSL atmosphere. Nothing beats the “Croatsia, Croatsia, Croatsia” chant on a Friday night. The bars should be stocked up with some pivo, the cevapi and raznjici should leave a waft in the air, the gulash and mixed grill should bring people to the social club, and the eye candy should be of export grade quality! (ooohhh yeahhhhh).

The Knights have been exceptional in their home and away games, but Bentleigh caned them last weekend. I sms’d a mate of mine down at the Knights and once again told him “the fish rots at the head, Marth's gotta go”. He replied with “LOL”.

Anyhoo, we are the form team of the finals series. Yes, Croatia should fear Hellas on Friday. HNK Melbourne Croatia 0 – South Melbourne Hellas 3.

I dunno what else to write. Looking forward to Friday night something vicious. Haven’t slept for days. Getting my tifo ready. Pfft, tifo. Thinking deck myself in South colors or go ‘casual’. Car pool, or park car in dark street nearby (public transport is non-existent)? Eat before I go, or eat there? Sit in grandstand or on the ‘Hellas’ wing? These are some of the dilemmas I have for Friday night. I’m hoping some of you can help me out.

Back To Paul With The Latest NPL Victoria Guff
Well. Today the judge presiding over the case of whether to grant the Anti-NPL group's injunction has been delayed until Monday, when the motion to love the case to the Supreme Court will also be made. In it's own way, that's a pretty common sense attitude to take.

While that all seems very straightforward, sadly I was unable to make it out to the courts today, so I'm in no position to be able to verify the very explosive claims being made around the Victorian soccer internet community, first put out by the people from the Locker Room on their Facebook page:
Court update (with thanks to Tom Kalas):
The FFV has stated to the court today that it (the FFV) is "prepared to see the dissolution of all the traditional clubs" and is "in favour of zonal Consortia"
However, Donald Sutherland of MFootball, who was at the court proceedings, has hotly contested this version of events, claiming that no such comment was made. Neither is there any mention of it in his article on the day's proceedings, which also talks about the possibility of NPL Victoria being delayed until the 2015 season.

On the flipside, Nicholas Tsiaras, one of the spearheads of the Anti-NPL group, has backed up the comment attributed to Tom Kalas (while also acknowledging he was not in court today).
For its part, the FFV has put out its own statement discussing the status of the court proceedings and its announcement of the successful bidders - but it has made no comment on this claim.

Someone here is clearly not telling the truth. Either the FFV did say these things in court, or they did not. If they did, and MFootball did not report it, then that is incredibly negligent and unprofessional from their part.

If these comments were not made in court, then someone from the Anti-FFV group may have started something they wished they hadn't - and while it may please their own rusted on supporters, it may not play out well in the wider Victorian football community, who already have reservations about some of the conduct of the Anti-FFV group, as well as their motives.

By that stage the mud may have well stuck anyway - as these comments were also rumoured to have been made during the mediation process. It's a game of life and death between the two sides, and the notion that the ends justifies the means is well and truly alive.

I've seldom had the ethical stomach for that approach. All I can do is urge caution and restraint, even though that bird has flown.

Grand Final Venue and Time
While we're not quite there yet, the FFV have set the date and time for the final. As with last year, it will be part of a double header with a Melbourne Heart game, on October 19.

Unlike last year's final however, this time the game will be played as the curtain raiser to the A-League match. And here's where it gets absurd - the game will start at 1:00PM.

Who the hell starts their grand final at that time? Do the FFV have such little regard for the competition that they're willing to make it play second fiddle to another event? If we're going to have this absurd nonsense of trying to boost the Heart's crowds, can we at least put the VPL final on where it should be - as the main event?

Not that it effects me this year, but I wonder what kind of restrictions they'll have on media this time. Last time all media pass holders had to apply for limited tickets and space in the media box. Those who didn't gain accreditation were denied access to the event, and had to pay at the gate - even though most VPL media personnel are well capable of doing their match reports from out on hills and terraces of the VPL.