Friday, 31 January 2014

Two games in two days - West Adelaide tonight, Hobart Olympia tomorrow

Tonight, we continue our 3XY Cup campaign with the second of our two group games, this time against West Adelaide Hellas. The match will once again be at Olympic Village. Kickoff is at 7:50.

Tomorrow, at Port Melbourne's SS Anderson Reserve, we play Hobart Olympia in a friendly game. Kickoff is at 5:00PM.

Entry to both matches is free.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

3XY Cup game against Bergers tonight

At Olympic Village, kick off 8:20. There's a curtain raiser match as well, Malvern vs Western Suburbs. I expect these games to be modified, shortened halves affairs. I don't think I'll be able to make it out there tonight. The scores and/or match report, as is my usual custom during the pre-season, will be put into the comments section of this post.

New segment - Social Club Artefact Wednesdays - 1966 West Adelaide pennant

Back during the early part of 2010, I (along with Mr Valkanis, Steve from Broady, and a couple of other people) packed away (in a bit of a hurry I might add, and look how that worked out, sigh) stuff that was in the social club. A lot of this stuff will be familiar to you, my South Melbourne audience, but a lot of it won't. That's because it was often hidden or kept inside small office spaces or alcove rooms.

While the camera I used to document some of these items is not really up to the task, as is my skill as a photographer, I thought I may as well release an image or so a week, just for the sake of it. Hopefully by the time I run out of usable or interesting photos, we'll have our social club up and running, and we can all share in their glory. Over to you Ministers Delahunty and Guy.

For the most part, if the item itself is self-explanatory, I won't be adding too much in the way of elaboration. Chances are that I won't know much about a lot the objects anyway. Some times it won't even be social club objects, but stuff that was lying around all over the place, maybe even stuff that other people have posted on the net, so if you have a weird or unusual object you'd like to show off to the great South Melbourne public, give us a buzz.

I was going to start off with another artefact, but in honour of West Adelaide Hellas' trip across to Victoria for the 3XY Cup, I've decided to go with this one instead.

In a box in one of the back rooms there was a lot of stuff, including a lot of pennants, usually as part of the custom of exchanging pennants after friendly or other matches.

Quite why we have a 1966 South Australian state league championship pennant (see above photo) I'm not sure, and I hope that it wasn't left behind by accident and that the West Adelaide people still have their own copy. 1966 was the year of West Adelaide's first state championship.

As an aside, the material and design bears at least some similarity to the pennant on the left, which I got from one Pave Jusup, a Melbourne Croatia committeeman, who put this up on his twitter feed. The provenance of it was unknown until one helpful West Adelaide person noted that it was from the Australia Cup (a tournament that we always seemed to underachieve in) - the tournament apparently being held at Hindmarsh stadium that year. Croatia probably qualified for the tournament by finishing as runner up in the Dockerty Cup that year to Slavia. But what was the score from this Australia Cup tie?

Update - West Adelaide - Croatia pennant mystery solved, properly this time.
This is where it pays off to do your due diligence in these matters, and for that I apologise. At least one of our regular readers was able to do the hard yards and set the record straight, and we thanks MelbCro for supplying the correct information as to the provenance of this article's second pennant. 

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Australia Day Cup - South Melbourne vs Perth Glory, 2004

It's been almost completely forgotten these days, but today marks the 10 year anniversary of what was the inaugural - and sadly also the last - Australia Day Cup match, as staged between South Melbourne and Perth Glory.

South and the Glory had built up a decent rivalry since the Glory's entry into the NSL, as South tended to do with all leading teams of a given era. Unlike the Glory's rivalry with the Melbourne Knights however, it didn't have the spitefulness to it, for lack of a better word.

Indeed it was built on the back of some great games (the midweek game from 1999 at Lakeside is perhaps the pinnacle for South fans), Con Boutsianis' defection/ouster to the Glory after that incident, and the fact that for whatever reason, South had an appalling record in Perth.

It was a terrific game, with a bumper crowd, which somehow finished 0-0; South therefore retained the trophy. The trophy was kept in one of the glass cabinets in our social club, until we had to put everything into storage. The photo of the trophy comes from that packing away period, when I was also taking photos of some of the items.

There were a whole bunch of festivities planned for the day, as well as a lot of effort put in, which you can read about in this preview from the South official site from back in the day. The trophy was even sponsored by SEN 1116. After the difficult years during the 1990s, with the club torn between trying to transition towards a more mainstream identity, while appeasing the conservative elements of the club, my feeling was that days like this were proof that we were gradually making the transition to something that could be the best of both worlds.

It's a pity that we're no longer in the position to continue this fixture, let alone the rivalry. Nor, as one friend noted, were we able to develop the then nascent rivalry with Adelaide United, which also pulled in some great crowds. Another case of what might have been.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Actual 2014 Soccer News (instead of history and books)

Hip, hip, hooray and all that.

I'll Swap You My Rixon Card, For Your Lujic Card
Well, there goes one of the worst kept secrets in the league, and I don't care what certain club apologists have to say. With Luke Hopper pretty much out the door already (visa issues), and with Trent Rixon back to Northcote, we needed a striker or two badly. So, now we have 2013's leading VPL scorer (from the championship winning team no less) and recently discarded Wellington Phoenix temp worker (ah, the perils of the increased casualisation of the workforce) Milos Lujic on our books.

I think that's an improvement, and it's in keeping with our 'Let's buy the cunts that fuck us up from teams that seem to have been doing OK over the past couple of seasons' policy (it's in our constitution, have a look yourself if you don't believe me), as well as our 'Juniors? What are juniors?' policy. So, who's going to partner Lujic up front? Or if we play only Lujic up front, who's going to replace him if he gets hurt? Baggio Yousif? He's gone to Hume. Nick Jacobs? We could always try Gianni De Nittis again.

It's the Hellenic Cup for When You're Not Having a Hellenic Cup (or a Bouzis Cup)
A little while back we mentioned that Heidelberg were planning to have a pre-season tournament, with an assortment of Greek teams, including interstate ones. Well, while details were sketchy then (and for those of us who lived through its horror, we entertained the possibility of having it turn into the farce that was the Bouzis Cup), it looks like this is actually real, and brilliantly broadbased and compelling. Even better, it's sponsored by one of our favourite organisations, media or otherwise, 3XY Radio Hellas. Without looking too far ahead, if we win, they would have to mention it on their sports program, wouldn't they?

Anyway, it looks like it's four groups of three. From the VPL, Northcote is missing. The rumours of Sydney Olympic coming have turned out not to be true, as they'd probably (and rightly) prefer to take part in the NSWNPL pre-season tournament. In their place is Hobart Olympia, though I'm not sure how it will effect their supposed plans to play us.

But more interestingly, back from the grave is West Adelaide Hellas. If you thought (like I once did, before being set straight on the matter), that West Adelaide were dead following the 1999 NSL season, then are you in for a shock. The junior wing of the club survived, eventually re-establishing a senior team, and after many tough years has fought its way back into South Australia's top flight this year.

They've been placed in the competition's group of death along with ourselves and Heidelberg. Click the image for a bigger version, or head to the fixtures page on the blog for our group games. It's going to be a bit of a fucking hike in the middle of the week to that joint, and even the attempt to get home on a Friday night won't be pleasant, but at least it's free entry.

Random Dispatch From The Tenth Circle of Hell
Steve From Broady, back yesterday from his holiday down the coast, where I assume he spent most of his time impressing hot chicks with his radical/tubular/gnarly surfing moves, went down to training and had this to say.

Boys looked good at training last night

Which is all well and good, except that I'm fucking well sick of hearing shit like that. I want them to look good on the field - and by look good I mean score a shitload of goals and strike the fear of (insert your preferred deity here) the hearts of the opposition.

Cool, We Just Saved Ourselves $9,000,000!
So, Melbourne Heart have been bought out. The minority stake (20%) by that Bart Campbell/Melbourne Storm dude, the other 80% by Manchester City. Cue all the jokes about Northern Spirit and Rangers.

New name, new colours, new logo. Goodbye Heart. Presumably goodbye wheelie bins. I'm taking this as a franchise that has folded and is being replaced by something else. If the wheelie bins aren't there, then as far as I'm concerned the very fabric of that organisation has ceased to exist. As one person noted on the interwebs (and which I'm stealing without his permission)

For an organisation that didn't want to sell out their name, colours and identity to another club, they sure were quick to sell out their name, colours and identity to another club.

But maybe it's not up to me to decide. Just maybe, it's for the diminishing support of the Heart itself to make decisions on such things as perceptions of continuity and allegiance - that's if it is a decision, and not something felt, you know, in that now hollow cavity that used to hold their their, ahem, hearts (only time I'm using that joke).

So what I want to know now is, are they finally going to be the team for the south-eastern suburbs? The team for old soccer people? How much are the real Melbourne City from South Kingsville going to extort from the new owners for the name? Can we have two sky-blue teams in the A-League, or will that be too confusing for the children? Will supporters of other EPL franchises be put off supporting

And what of poor little South Melbourne? Have our dreams of a return to Australian top-flight glory just been shattered into a million tiny pieces, again? How many of our small remaining flock are about to run for the exits now that our national league ambitions have been denied twice in the space of a year? Oh the pain, the pain of it all!

See you at the games next week folks. Fuck I need to see something resembling soccer being played by a real team in blue*.

*that only fully adopted the colour in a mid-1960s change of, ahem, heart, lol, chuckle, snort. OK, I lied, and I used the same lame joke twice. You try being funny and innovative when it doesn't come natural to you.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The story of Melbourne Hungaria (not very SM Hellas related)

So I went to Melbourne Museum yesterday to check out Melbourne SC: The First Twenty Five Years, the cover of which you can see on the right. Why the interest in Hungaria and what's the relevance to South? I'll get to the latter toward the end of the entry. But as to the former question, since finding about this now extinct club a few years ago, I've been intrigued. They are seldom ever spoken about by the reminiscing Victorian soccer fan. They don't have the same historical/cultural resonance in Victorian and Australian soccer as do their Sydney counterparts St George Budapest, nor did they match St George's success. And yet in their short existence - the club went out of business at the end of 1987, just five years after this booklet was published - they did make an impact on the local scene.

Hungaria's most notable playing product was Attila Abonyi, the Socceroo striker who was at one time the national team's all time leading scorer. While the club had one Victorian State League second place finish (1970), and three third place finishes (1960, 1966, 1972), undoubtedly the club's most successful year was 1967. They not only won the league title that season, but went on to win the Australia Cup as well, beating APIA Leichhardt 4-3 in the final.

Possibly a photo of a young Ernie Tapai playing
for a Victorian state youth team.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the booklet's text is in Hungarian, with only advertisements (almost all small businesses, or pro forma congratulatory pieces from supporters) and a small portion at the end in English. There are many photos, but apart from player names (often surnames only) there are usually no other identifying details. The format is largely a year by year almanac style account, with an interesting deviation in the middle dedicated to junior players and even a women's team of some sort, before returning to the yearly summaries.

Despite a strong early 1970s period, the club had only a small community to draw upon. After being relegated from the state league in 1975, the club bounced between the Victorian second and third divisions for the next decade. and it appears that the lack of a permanent home ground didn't help matters. 

In the late 1950s, they played out of Elwood Reserve/Elwood Park in Elwood, before spending time at Port Melbourne's JL Murphy Reserve, Olympic Park, McDonald Reserve in Gardiner, Elsternwick Park, and even the St Kilda Cricket Ground (aka the Junction Oval, which was also used by Juventus; that venue was rejected as a possible home ground by South in the late 1970s/early 1980s, but that's another story)

The stability issue is perhaps undermined a little by the fact that Hungaria spent the entire period of 1969-80 at Middle Park Stadium, making them the third longest tenant behind Hellas and Hakoah in the ground's post-enclosure era. From 1981 until their final move to Williamstown, they played on one of the adjacent fields to Middle Park, Oval No.7. The last 12 pages of the book, in English, focus mostly on the future that the club's board had in mind.

The board, perhaps surprisingly considering the trends that were already in evidence among ethnic clubs at the time, had some seriously lofty aims. The main find for me is that the club managed to apparently secure some land in Williamstown (near the Rifle Range), and had plans to build both a new ground with a small grandstand (seating 300), as well as a social club. The intention was to supplement their soccer income in order to make a tilt at getting into the national league. Sound familiar?

Neither Melbourne Hungaria's plans for a boutique suburban ground, nor their aim of reaching the National Soccer League came to pass. As usual, apologies for the poor quality of my photos.

The grandstand and social club never got built, as a visit to JT Gray Reserve in Williamstown can attest to. The amenities in the shadow of the oil refinery are limited to the portables that used to be at Paisley Park. Why Hungaria's plans never happened I'm not sure, though we can take an easy guess. Diminishing crowds, diminishing interest, diminishing money. After having made it back to the state league in 1986, they got relegated immediately. In 1987, they got relegated again, and that was that. See the link Mark Boric has provided (in the comments) to a 1985 feature article on the club -

Is there a warning there for us? Without getting too melodramatic I think there is. I think we have some advantages in comparison - a good junior wing, stable enough existence at a home ground, enough corporate and pleb support to keep us going nicely for the time being. But Hungaria's plans and subsequent demise demonstrate the absolute necessity of getting this lease deal done. Not for the sake of some possible attempt at a national league return, or even for the money, but for the sake of the club itself. Here's hoping the movers and shakers are getting closer to finalising the deal.

In the 1952 VASFA handbook (which you can download from here, courtesy of Mark Boric), there is a Hungaria listed as due to play in the fourth division. Unlike its successor team, which played for most of its existence in a completely white strip, except for a one red and one green horizontal stripe, the 1952 Hungaria kit is as listed as being a red shirt, white shorts, green socks.

Unlike other clubs however, there is no home ground listed - the only reference I can find to their existence in The Argus on Trove is in the round 1 results for 1952. Their match against the RAAF side is listed as not having been played, with no reason being given, unlike in other games where ground (for example) is listed as the reason for no game being played.

After checking with fellow Victorian soccer historian John Punshon, it appears that they pulled out early on, and teams due to play them got a bye. This was noted in the 'Secretary's Notes' section of the April 26 1952 edition of Soccer News.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Another year, another Tasmanian triallist

From Walter Pless' blog, news that South Hobart's Cameron Williams, a 20 year old left back with a bit of a temper but also the ability to score goals, is trialling with us. You may recall that last year Simon Strang of the Glenorchy Knights had a go as well, but didn't make it for whatever reason. Still, good to see more Tasmanian players try to make a fist of playing in a higher quality state league, even as their own league begins to improve following the move back to a state wide competition.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Lakeside Stadium/Social Club situation has gone beyond the pale

It's no secret that we are all unhappy with the social club situation, both board member and pleb fan alike. Board members at least have the chance to represent our club directly to the authorities on our behalf. But what can the pleb fan do?

The only thing I can think of doing in order to help the club at this present moment is to embrace my inner disgruntled senior citizen and start writing letters, both directly to the Minister For Sport, Hugh Delahunty, and his shadow counterpart John Eren.

If you would like to help, and I encourage all South supporters to do their bit, here's how to go about it, the details of which I've collated from several different sources, but mostly from this excellent site.
  • Include your name and address.
  • Keep it brief - one page will do.
  • Use your own words, not someone else's (this is why I have not provided versions of my letters).
  • Handwrite, or type and sign, your letter and post it via physical mail. Emails get deleted easily, and are far more likely to be disregarded. Physical mail is the next best thing to a face to face meeting.
  • State the topic clearly.
  • Start with a clear statement of purpose.
  • Ask the person you are addressing to take concrete action.
  • Ask for a response to your letter - this is very important.
  • Personalise your letter.
  • Personalise your relationship.
  • Be polite - which is common sense, surely.
  • Thanks is as important as criticism.
  • Keep the irritation factor low.
  • Sign off with 'yours faithfully'.

Lastly, here are details about how to address different members of parliament, both on the envelope and in the letter. While I won't write the letters for you, I am happy to take a look at drafts and make suggestions and corrections that people send to me. My email details are under the 'contact us' tab.

Friday, 10 January 2014

2014 season getting closer! Hurrah!

I'm Bored, You're Bored
This week has seen the senior squad begin the long road to avoiding our longest league title drought - in other words, pre-season training has started. After missing out on the supposed seven year itch omen last year, our record of the eight years it took to win a title after leaving the state leagues in 1976 stands to fall if we don't pull our finger out this season.

Player Points System Is Here!
Well, well, well. Here we go. We get 275 points this season, fewer in subsequent seasons, unless the PFA pull their finger out and do something major. Once again, here's the gist. Everyone is worth 10 base points, and then gets points added or taken away based on a whole bunch of criteria. In a nutshell, here's what's 'good' and 'bad'.

Players you'll tend to want include:
  • Those who came up through your junior system.
  • Local players.
  • Players who are 25 or under.
  • Players you already have.

Players you don't want as much:
  • Players brought up through the junior wings of other clubs.
  • Foreign players.
  • Players over 25.
  • Players from other clubs.

Now, a very important addition to all this is the fact that you will now only be able to have two visa players. They'll cost you 20 points at a minimum. The FFV's explanatory PDF says:
Any player who is not an Australian Citizen, or does not have Permanent Residency status, is considered a Visa Player.
Which should make things easier and more lenient than I expected. There;s also scope for what they call a 'marquee' player, who is described as"
who was playing in a fully professional league the previous season, and subsequently signs for an NPL club.
Lastly, you also get bonus points in your cap for having players get promoted to the A-League or an Australian based pathway. It does not appear to count if your player gets sold overseas first.

So, Who's Gonna Save Us? (and will we come in under the points cap?)
Well, pinching a whole bunch of Northcote players didn't work. Pinching a whole bunch of Thunder players didn't work, though it did get us closer. How about getting players from both of those teams!

Re-signed/Apparently sticking around
  • Dimi Tsiaras - despite getting increasingly limited game time, has re-signed. Will provide decent cover even if he's not in the starting eleven.
  • Nick Epifano - fell away badly toward the end of last season, so will be interesting to see if he finds the form that initially made him one of the more valuable mid-season acquisitions.
  • Tim Mala - probably the weakest of the Dandenong acquisitions in 2013, but beggars can't be choosers. 
  • Tyson Holmes - signed a two year deal. Steve from Broady will be happy.
  • Brad Norton - has been signed up for our 2014 plans.
  • Iqi Jawadi - apart from being one of the Dandenong Thunder boys, played in the friendly the 21s played against Selangor late last year.
  • Shaun Kelly - will need to adapt to a new partner. Did well again last season, but Bran going will mean that perhaps more attention will be paid again to his performances

New players/invited to train/rumoured
  • Michael Eagar - defender from Northcote. Dual citizenship helps his and our cause when it comes to visa spots.
  • Matthew Theodore - midfielder from Dandenong Thunder. This was apparently a done deal last season (or as much as deals can possibly be done back during that period of time, which resembles more the primordial ooze than anything concrete and stable). Young, lots of experience at this level.
  • Anthony Giannopoulos - after having spent the second half of last year at Sunshine George Cross in state league one, where he apparently played well predominantly as a left back (as opposed to his usual under 21s forward position), he's apparently been training with the side. Whether he'll be able to make the step up is anyone's guess.
  • More players of unknown provenance.
  • Kieran Gonzalez - Green Gully's goalkeeper has been thrown up as a possible replacement for the retired Peter Gavalas.
  • Milos Luic - Northcote's star forward had been thrown up as a possible acquisition, pending him not being picked up by an A-league team. While his initial attempt to get on Sydney FC's books didn't work out, it looks like he's got at least a temporary spot at Wellington Phoenix.

Who's gone so far? (and who else may be going?)
Remembering that it is pre-season, and that there are new rules to play by this season, it's a scenario that's been complicated beyond the usual 'can we afford him/does he want to play for us/is he under contract' shenanigans.

Now we also have to deal with a 275 player points cap (which will probably be reduced in the coming seasons), which penalises teams who recruit heavily, rely on visa players, and generally favour older, non-own club products to younger, crafted by your own hand players.

Definite outs
  • Bryan Bran, supposedly to FC Chabab, an ethnic Moroccan team playing in the Dutch third division (which is a recent attempt to bridge the gap between amatuer and professional football there, or so Wikipedia says.
  • Trent Rixon, gone back to Northcote. A shame, but not entirely unexpected.
  • Alan Kearney - apparently to Dandenong Thunder. For whatever reason, looked like he was falling out of favour once the new signings came in during last year's mid-season transfer window. The limit of visa spots has not helped his claim I would think.
  • Peter Gavalas, retired, a big hole to fill, whether you rated him or not.
  • Fernando De Moraes, retired. Fare thee well, Nando.

In the maybe/likely/fucked if I know pile
  • Luke Hopper - with only two visa spots available (and one of those being taken up by Shaun Kelly, the other probably to Nick Soolsma), he looks like the one that will miss out. Or will he? 
  • Carl Recchia - supposedly going to Pascoe Vale - disappointing as he was allegedly paid throughout 2013 despite missing the entire season due to his knee injury. Though quite how much value he'll provide a season after a serious knee injury and at his age is anyone's guess.
  • Renco Van Eeken - almost certainly gone back home. His chronic osteitis pubis problem is probably where our downward slide started in the first half of the season.
  • Nicky Soolsma - the info on this keep changing, but the assumption at the moment is that he'll stay
  • Chris Maynard  - I'm hearing disturbing things related to a shit attitude towards training. I hope this is not true, as a) we need a keeper b) I would rather have one of our youth products make the grade if he's good enough and c) I think it's fairly well known what Chris Taylor's attitudes to a slack attitude to training are.
  • Rhys Meredith - Have heard he's gone back to Queensland. A pity, and a little bit of a surprise I think. At one point I thought that if either of the two Queenslanders was going to win a spot here, it would have been Rhys over Tyson, but the latter's late season form really turned a corner.
  • James Karvelis - the young defender got a few games last season and actually did OK, but if he stays it looks like he'll be a back up player again.
  • Nick Jacobs - despite my love of this player, have the gut feeling he's destined to be remembered as a future SMFC trivia question for his winning goal against Southern Stars in 2012. Still young though, so hopefully he's still deemed worthy of overcoming his injury problems and giving it a real crack.
  • Matko Budimir - the big defender probably should have got more game time last year, but for whatever reasons didn't. Not sure what his future holds. Would like to see him given a chance, but I'm not sure it's in his best interests to stick around.
  • Baggio Yousif - apparently left for Hume. Scored a ton of goals and seemed to take up a lot of the on field leadership slack after Giannopoulos left the 21s last year. While 21s football is not senior football by any stretch, I'm actually disappointed to see him go.
  • Erdem Ozcagli - assume he will be staying.
  • Andrew Cartanos - got more senior game time than most from the 21s last season, but I'm not personally convinced by him. Would love to be proven wrong.

So when do we get to start seeing them in action?
No firm dates for friendly or trial matches have come forth yet, though some other clubs are apparently getting into gear. But on that note. here's what one of the peoples on the old smfcboard posted recently:

George Katsakis interviewed by George Karandonis on Rythmos 1656 just before where he stated Heidelberg are conducting a tournament that starts on Sunday Jan 26th.

Confirmed teams:
  • South
  • Heidelberg
  • Oakleigh
  • Bentleigh
  • Port
  • Sydney Olympic
  • West Adelaide 
 Nearly confirmed:
  • Hobart Olympic 
Declined to participate:
  •  Northcote City

Further to that information, my mail is that Hobart Olympia will not participate in this tournament, but will be heading down to Melbourne to play a couple of games against us. Another chance for Jake Vandermey to show his worth against his old mob?

It's a pity we don't get an interstate trip, as was mooted towards the end of last year, but since Melbourne is the centre of the Greek-Australian universe, it makes sense for everyone else to come to us.

Of course, this hasn't been confirmed as of yet beyond the radio broadcast, so expect some changes. One of the Football Anarchy Sydney Olympic fans has pointed out that the NSWPL pre-season cup starts in the first week of February.

Quite why they're proposing to start on Sunday 26th - instead of say, starting on the night of Friday 24th, taking advantage of the whole of the Australia Day long weekend is anyone's guess. The Groundskeeper Willie of smfcboard has also noted that Olympic Village's turf is not in good nick.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Book Review - Jonathan Tulloch's The Season Ticket

Teenage friends Gerry and Sewell don't have much. They're not at school. They don't work. Their family lives are a mess. They barely have enough to eat, and spend most of their time chroming or smoking. All of which, according to then debut novelist Jonathan Tulloch, are not unusual circumstances to find yourself in when living in Gateshead, located across the River Tyne from Newcastle.

The one thing they seem to get any joy out of is supporting Newcastle United - the irony being though, that living below the poverty line as they do, Gerry and Sewell will probably never see a game in the flesh: Sewell hasn't been since he was a small child, and Gerry has never been at all. High prices and limited stadium capacities, a result of the English game being taken over by middle class interests, have forced out the working class from top flight football.

But Gerry has an idea - what if they gave up all their vices, and saved every penny for season tickets? Then they could go to every home match, in reserved seats, and drink their tea, and no one could do a thing about it. Thus the story moves on to detail the several daft schemes the boys come up with in order to earn enough money for season tickets.

Some of these attempts are quite funny, even as the reader can see the inevitability of the boys' failure. Starting off with an attempt to become scrap metal collectors, each scheme becomes more and more absurd. Some of these sections work well, most notably a social worker's attempt to bribe Gerry into attending two weeks of school, with the promise of two tickets to a cup match.

But others aren't so successful - an unintentional trip into the woods, and the boys' final scheme feel out of place and frankly, quite unbelievable. The novel also interrupts these comic sojourns with occasional 'hard-hitting' social realist chapters. Gerry's mother is sick, his sister Bridget is missing, and his father is a deadbeat alcoholic. Sewell's situation isn't much better.

While Tulloch's background can indicate an authenticity in his portrayal of Gateshead - he was a teacher there - too often it feels like he's overdoing it, making Gateshead seem like just about the worst place in the developed world. If there was some sort of nuance to his descriptions of the town and its social calamities, it'd lessen the sledgehammer effect a bit.

Like Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (an obvious influence) there's also liberal use of dialect, in this case Geordie. I can't speak as to its authenticity, but for the most part there's no difficulty understanding the lingo, give or take a couple of words of local slang, mostly related to drug use.

Indeed, the entire novel feel like a case of Irvine Welsh lite. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and this book is still good enough to entertain in its own right. But it lacks the high level craft of Welsh's masterpiece; its playing with narrative reliability, its different voices and accents, and a city populated with several characters all of which add depth to the story.

A worthwhile comparison can also be made to Barry Hines' The Blinder, which we also reviewed on this blog, set 30 years previous to the events in The Season Ticket. There, the protagonist is both academically and physically talented, and his working class background, while an obstacle to his success, is nonetheless not an insurmountable one. Working class patrons can still attend matches with relative ease. Players are not removed from the lives of the communities they represent. In The Season Ticket, just about all of that has changed.

The Season Ticket isn't a masterpiece, and it's not up to the standard of Hines' excellent, though flawed debut - but having said that, if you do chance upon it in a secondhand book store or are wondering what to purchase next online when you do your book shopping, give this novel a go. Or you could just bypass it entirely, and watch the novel's film adaptation, Purely Belter.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Off-Season Digressions - Boxing Day Test Match

After the pleasant surprise that was our baseball adventure, and still needing things to do during off-season, I decided to take up the opportunity and recommendation to finally make my debut at a test cricket match. You may recall that my live in the flesh cricket experiences are quite limited - the most notable example being the descent into Dante's cricketing hell that was this entry from February 2013.

I had been told that test cricket was different, and that I should go at least once to make a fair comparison. Then again, I keep getting told to go to A-League matches in order to make valid sociological statements based on 'actual experience' rather than whatever it is people think I'm relying on, but as I've said many times before, I've been there and done that, so I don't really see what the point is.

The first problem seems to be this. It's an event with a possible length of five days, so which day do you choose to go to? The first day, with all the sheeple who are there as much due to social convention as for the contest itself? Day two or three where the contest may or may not be still in the balance? Day four where one team has gained the ascendancy and is striving for the kill? Day five where, depending on the previous four days, the result may be decided in the first hour or peter out in a draw?

So therefore, do you go to one day, or every day? If you only go to one day, you miss out on most of the contest, which just seems like a bizarre thing to do. If you go to several days, the cost - unless you're an MCC member who brings their own lunch - ramps up considerably. At $24 for a concession ticket and $40 for an adult for the cheapest seats, and who knows how much food and drink you'll buy over the course of the seven hour day, a full suite of test match cricket attendance is a very expensive endeavour to undertake

Day 1
Stayed home. Watched some bits on TV, listened to a bit on the radio. Doesn't seem like I missed much.

Day 2
Day 2, looking from the Great Southern Stand across to the
Ponsford and Members stands. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
The plan had been for me and Gains (a first time cricket attendee) to meet Steve from Broady and his cousin Johnny in the Southern Stand. Turned out it was all allocated seating however, and besides that Steve was in the Ponsford anyway.

The first thing I noticed was that Bay 13 people were over at the bottom deck of the Punt Road End, thus we had an OK view of their antics, and the ability to see patrons gradually being tossed, some more forcibly than others. Unlike my trip in February, it was a lot harder to see what was going on exactly.

What it means also is that the crowd around us was also a lot more civilised, which is an entirely different thing from being sanitised. They watched the game, were generally appreciative of what was another very boring and slow day of test cricket. As slow as Chris Rogers was, at least he scored some runs. I'm not quite sure what George Bailey was seeking to accomplish with his approach.

That post really should have got a few more re-tweets.

After tea we went over to meet Steve in the Ponsford, who'd informed me that he hadn't has his bag checked as he came in, among catching me up with all sorts of other gossip, include the Victory-Wanderers brawl in the city. At least now having a smart phone and a plan to go with it (thank you scholarship) meant I could keep up with events on Twitter. Eventually the day petered out into an Australian batting collapse and the decision being made to come back again the next day. I'm not sure how much Gains was enamoured by the experience. I think I liked the baseball more.

Day 3
A nightmare public transport run into town due to massive signal failures on the Werribee line was alleviated by my old man giving me a lift into the city. At Flinders Street Station while waiting for Steve to get out of Boost Juice, I met Julian, one of my PhD coursework unit classmates, and so we discussed our respective works.

Eventually we got to the ground late, and missed Brad Haddin notch up his fifty, thought at least we were able to watch it via some kid in the line, who had it streaming on his phone.

Day 3, looking from the Ponsford stand across to the
Olympic and Southern stands. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
Inside the ground we ended up at the top of the Ponsford again. This time it was England's turn to put in a tedious batting effort. That tedium also included a spineless burst were they lost four wickets for not very much. Early in the day, there was a 'justice for the 96' banner in the sparsely populated top deck of Southern Stand which was next to the new scoreboards, unfortunately too far away to take a proper photo of. The police and security quickly stepped in to get it taken down, though from our admittedly distant vantage point, it didn't look like it was a willing acquiescence from the English patrons.

By the way, those new, larger scoreboards are indeed fantastic and wonderful. However, there is a caveat. Their size now means that the protective framing around them, as well as the railings from the Southern Stand, mean that from certain viewing spots, they are obscured by very large pieces of metal. Not a problem sitting where we were on days 3 and 4, but on day 2 while sitting in the top deck of the Southern Stand (in what would normally be a good viewing position) it was obvious that someone hadn't really thought it through.

Day 4 - A lot of waiting, and an early finish.
Unlike the previous day, we managed to get to MCG early, and into the line outside the Ponsford stand ticket booth by 10:05. Finally got our tickets at 10:45. Forty minutes. The lines were absurd, but were made much worse by the dithering of so many patrons who would rather spend an eternity selecting where they would like to sit, rather than just being happy enough to take the first option and actually getting inside and watching the damn game.

When me and Steve finally got to the front of our line, I was prepared with exact money, proof of concession, my order and was ready to get out of there as quickly as possible. But no, the ticket seller had to keep asking me what I wanted - did I want to be in the sun, did I want to be in an aisle seat. Like I gave a stuff about an aisle seat! Tedious transaction dealt with, and already 25 minutes of play missed, at least we had the small time saving grace of Steve once again managing to get in without a bag check.

Once in the ground, we all had to deal with the fact that England's captain Alistair Cook seemed to have no understanding of the concept of the third man fielding position. And thus Chris Rogers - who earlier in the test had made a torturous innings of 60 odd - was able to cut deliveries repeatedly to that boundary. Since I don't have as much invested from an emotional standpoint in the fortunes of Australia's cricket team, and had a more old fashioned desire to see a good contest, I was disappointed by this elementary lack of competency. But that's sport for you.

Lunch time saw more lines. More lines! My goodness. For some reason whoever runs the MCG felt that they didn't need to open almost any food outlets on the top deck despite the very healthy crowd. After seeing that the only food outlet on the top of the Ponsford stand had a line a mile long, it was decided that we would walk around to the more sparsely populated Southern Stand to see if anything was open there. It was not. It was appalling organisation and all to save a couple of bucks on wages.

After standing in line at the only open canteen booth on the wrong side of the MCC gate tracks, it was obvious that of the two main options - chicken schnitzel roll or pork bun (not the steamed Asian dish, but rather a pork patty in a roll) it was obvious that everyone was waiting to get a schnitzel roll. Being far too hungry to give a damn about waiting for the chicken option, I decided to take the a pork bun off the shelf (the boxes being identical except for a handy little sticker saying 'pork bun' on them) and be done with it.

Of course, back at my seat upon opening the package, it was of course a chicken schnitzel roll, which is what I wanted in the first place, though of course not what I had expected. I had had the reverse happen to me at the footy once, so I suppose this was a kind of karma. Bad luck though for all the people who forked out $10(!) for either option and ended up with something they didn't like.

The match, which I had expected to possibly go into a fifth day due to the very slow run rate of almost the entirety of the previous three days didn't even manage to get to tea, with the main thrill being Shane Watson again not managing to reach his hundred, albeit this time because there weren't enough runs left for him to be able to do so. Quite why we stayed for the speeches and man of the match awards I'm not sure.

Day 5
Stayed home and watched the NFL on TV. Too bad the first two games were largely inconsequential and lousy (should at least have had the Bears-Packers game), but at there was no avoiding the Cowboys-Eagles game.

The Barmy Army
Sure their team has sucked these past couple of months, which has possibly thinned out their numbers and consequently their enthusiasm over the course of the tour, but I still don't see what the fuss is all about. Throughout most of the three days I spent at the game, they were pretty much a non-entity, providing not much more atmosphere than other parts of the ground. The end of day 2 I think it was they managed a very long period of chanting, as the cool breeze came through and their side was in the ascendancy. But one gets the feeling that a lot of the hype about them is due to the novelty to mainstream Australian audiences of a group like that even bothering to sing. Seems like pretty standard European football behaviour for me. Still, they did better than the Mexican waves and 'you are a wanker' fare of the relocated Bay 13. It is what it is.

Do you like cricket? If you only want to to turn up to one day, it doesn't really matter. If you want to go to more than one day, surely there's better things you can be doing.

Test match cricket - despite the six hours of 'value' you get - is a very expensive hobby if you want to go to more than one day, unless you have an MCC membership, in which case cost doesn't really come into it. And if you have an MCC membership and you don't go, you're probably one of those people who I despise who have an MCC membership primarily or only for AFL matches - why not just get an AFL or club membership then?

You're probably better off just inviting your mates over to your place with a slab or two, maybe have a barbecue, set up the TV somewhere suitable. How much of the game will you actually watch? I suppose it depends on how many drinks you have, how many toilet breaks, how many any number of variables, including if you're there more for the social aspect than the game. If you don't have a slightly elevated seat over the bowlers arm or behind the keeper and first slip, how much can you perceive the ball swinging or spinning?

Admittedly this problem is magnified for me due to my atrocious eyesight, being  barely able to make out the ball at all from the pace bowlers, and therefore depending more on the reactions of the batsmen - that auditory quality I mentioned.

After having my cynicism undermined by the baseball experience, I had it rekindled by this one, not so much that I would never go again, but now with a whole arsenal of reasons at hand as to why one wouldn't.