Monday, 19 May 2014

Theodore's goal makes it nine wins in a row -South Melbourne 1 Pascoe Vale 0

A Matthew Theodore goal after 25 minutes was enough to give South Melbourne the win over a dogged Pascoe Vale outfit, as well as preserve its perfect start to the season.

Aside from that moment however, South put in its most disjointed league performance for the season, looking flat and finding it difficult to cope with the visiting side's tenacity, and the stop start nature of the contest.

For the first time in several weeks the South starting eleven saw a change, with Andrew Mullet getting his first league start in a South shirt after captain Michael Eagar failed to recover from the foot injury he received late against Bentleigh last week. Brad Norton was captain in Eagar's place.

In the first couple of minutes, South looked to continue where it had left off last week, but soon the game regressed into a series of mistakes from both sides, as neither team was able to settle down into any sort of rhythm. South's midfield in particular looked out of synch, failing to get back to defend quickly enough, as well as delivering poorly to the forwards.

For their part, the 13th placed Pascoe Vale didn't come to just defend, and at times looked the more fluid and dangerous of the two sides. But when Theodore collected a loose ball on the edge of the area after Pascoe Vale failed to clear from a corner, and slotted home a low shot past former South keeper Stefaan Sardelic, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the visitors.

Matthew Theodore's teammates congratulate him on what turned out to be the decisive goal.
Photo Cindy Nitsos.
South settled down after that, and forced two good saves out of Sardelic from long range efforts, but the second goal to kill off the game would prove to be elusive. Nick Epifano, who copped a ball to the face, went off at halftime giving Leigh Minopoulos an extended stint on the field, but even 2014's super-sub - who increasing numbers of supporters had been calling to get a start - was unable to create much.

Leigh Minopoulos loses the ball after a good run down the
right. South fans were furious, as they thought the Pascoe
Vale defender clearly handled the ball in the process of
dispossessing Minopoulos. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Milos Lujic had the best chance of the second half, after a series of headed balls appeared to sit up nicely for him, but he pulled his shot to the left. Pascoe Vale kept pressing, but were generally unable to force Jason Saldaris into making a save. Their best opportunities came from set pieces, but even two late free kicks from out wide were sent out harmlessly.

Not so harmless was a clearance from James Musa towards the end of the match, which sailed high out of the playing area and struck the head of one of the security guards near the players race.

South now finds itself six points clear at the top of the table, after Oakleigh drew 1-1 at home to Northcote, and nine points clear of third placed Heidelberg. A disastrous run for Bentleigh - just one point out of a possible nine in their last three outings - sees them fall well off the pace, even making their game in hand irrelevant. But there's a very long way to go yet.

Next week
Away to an increasingly unpredictable Werribee City, who after a recent poor run - which included a home loss to last placed Goulburn Valley - managed to beat Dandenong Thunder 3-0 away from home.

Dockerty Cup news
Bit of a rough result, being drawn away to Dandenong Thunder, to be played on Wednesday 28th May at 7:30PM. We play them in the league just a few days later, too.

Fundraising ideas
Instead of raffling off the signed balls and/or hampers or whatever else it is they use for prizes, they should offer patrons the chance to select the music for the pre-game fill in time between the end of the under 20s match and the start of the seniors.

Maybe they could even auction it off at the jersey night? If you won, your selection would have to suitable for a family audience, but at least it would be a chance to get rid of that awful house music and raise some money for the club. Maybe someone would even choose to have no music before the game.

Rules for some but not for others? The case of St Albans
There will be many hiccups and bumps on the road as the NPL tries to get its footing in Victoria, and we've just reached a new one with St Albans apparently being docked three points for not fielding an under 13s team in some fixture or other.

While on the face of it the punishment seems to fit the crime, this missive on the St Albans website, written by committee member Joseph Hovanjec - and in all honesty, one of the best pieces of writing I've ever seen from a local soccer club, if only for its clarity and directness - goes into some depth on the matter as seen from their side.

The crux of the issue for St Albans seems to be, that given the short amount of time available from learning that teams were successful in being offered an NPL licence, to actually starting, getting together teams for every age group was incredibly difficult - this is especially so when St Albans is in a very competitive market, with Melbourne Knights, Sunshine George Cross and Green Gully all located nearby.

(Oddly, no one has yet mentioned that junior recruitment difficulty is a result at least in part of the abandonment of FFV's preferred zoning model, though mention has been made of too many teams being offered places in the metro area.)

And, St Albans' argument follows, unlike other prospective NPL teams from around Victoria, which just assumed that they were 'in' (Surf Coast, anyone?), St Albans are effectively being punished for doing the right thing by waiting until their application was confirmed which, seeing as apparently all the 2014 VPL teams were assured of NPL status as part of last year's peace deal, was a situation teams like St Albans could not take advantage of.

The issue even made it to radio (and thanks to one of our readers Skip, who sent us a reminder to listen in), where St Albans president Robert Colina called up to chat with FFV's NPL head honcho Liam Bentley. It's about 25 minutes in, and well worth a listen to hear one man absolutely on the edge of his tether, and the other man trying to respectfully answer the questions while still upholding his duty to his employer and the overall direction of the NPL.

That call was followed up soon after by Box Hill United's Nicholas Tsiaras, one of the spearheads of the co-signatory group which took on the FFV over the NPL last year, who said that everyone knew what they were getting in for, and that everyone is and must play by the same rules. Tsiaras' point of view has also made it to, where the debate has continued.

What this situation has highlighted are the differences in expectations and behaviour within the NPL Victoria licensee constituency. Where a club like St Albans expects if not outright lenience from the FFV, than at least practical acknowledgement that they've done everything in their power to get their player and team quotas filled, other clubs are expecting no such favours.

Where St Albans are looking for assistance from the FFV, the attitude from other NPL constituencies is that FFV should be a 'small government' administrative body and not an interfering body, an attitude most strongly put forward last year by another co-signatory figurehead, South Melbourne board member Tom Kalas.

Others meanwhile, including myself, have asked the question about why leniency is not being shown in this area, when leniency in other areas - the big one being facilities failing to meet NPL criteria - seems to have a foothold.

On soccer-forum, Tsiaras provided a reasonable explanation for this, mentioning the fact of the game's poor cousin status in this state compared to other sports meant that it would be difficult for many teams to meet those requirements straight off the bat.

The counter argument to that is that clubs like St Albans have put in the hard yards with regards to facilities over a period of decades, while other clubs chose to spend money on players and the short term goal of winning championships, as opposed to establishing long term soccer infrastructure.

But whichever argument one chooses to side with in the facilities debate, one thing appears to be certain - that if teams don't improve their facilities by the end of the three or so year leniency period - there will be consequences, with FFV soon to begin the process of auditing facilities:
As mentioned in the previous NPL Delegates Meeting FFV will be conducting Facility Audits of all NPL clubs’ facilities. 
As you can understand getting to all 28 clubs is a big task and as such we have allocated a time and date for each club, we ask that you make one person from the club available to open doors, gates etc. No decisions or recommendations etc will be made on the day, this is simple an exercise in gathering information to give us a picture of where each club is at as well as provide a foundation for your ongoing facility planning. 
This will be a top to bottom report on what each club does and does not have, as well as sizes and other issues which should take around 45 minutes in total. 
We will be providing each NPL club with the report within 7 days of the inspection including at what level ( Class A, B etc) each area of their facility meets."
- extract of an FFV letter to NPL clubs, as posted on by Nicholas Tsiaras.
And the consequences of those audits could be far messier than a three point deduction.

Around the grounds
'So I've been watching a lot of Victorian soccer lately, and you know what I've discovered, Dr. Katz?'
'No, what?'
'I need a girlfriend.'

So, Port vs Hume, that huge blockbuster between two teams who won't win the championship but won't get relegated either (I realise that's a very early call to make), and a suitably large crowd was in place for this one - it's always a good sign when a goalkeeper has to jump the fence to fetch their own ball for their goal kicks. My first observation was this:
which became slightly more topical to this blog's general theme (South Melbourne the soccer club) when this was tweeted in response:
Then the game started, but not before the farce that is the pre-match huddle
The first half was completely frantic, but with almost nothing of note happening except for a late Port goal and Kamal Ibrahim sooking about the refereeing. The second half was just as frantic, but more interesting, as both sides started creating actual chances, most of which they stuffed up. Hume pulled one back from a free kick that was headed in, and then followed that up with a short corner. As I observed that night:
Port missed some one on ones, and Hume missed a volleyed shot from close range after the Port keeper had made a save. Bentleigh coach and South Melbourne Hellas legend Johnny A laughed at it, knowing that he would have scored that. The match finished 1-1, I watched the match alone, and the 11:00 train to Werribee from Flinders Street got cancelled due to 'operational requirements', an example of management jargon so vague that it could mean just about anything.

But in a victory for people power or the invisible hand of the market - choose your preferred ideological paradigm - the chocolate bars at Port's canteen are now $3, down from their original $4. I bought a Cherry Ripe in celebration, and probably also because I'm reading a book about Macpherson Robertson, the inventor of the Cherry Ripe.

How the other half live
It's not often I find reason to head out to watch soccer in the south-eastern half of the state league divide, and yet on Saturday I was faced with two choices to indulge myself on that front - head to Clifton Hill vs Noble Park, or Malvern City vs Langwarrin (happy 50th anniversary by the way). Well, my heart had been set on the latter, and despite some momentary dithering I ended up in Kooyong, at an open park located between a footy ground, a baseball diamond and a freeway.

Why Malvern? Because there were several ex-South under 21s players playing for the seniors there, coached by former South 21s and 18s coach Gus Caminos. I tried to stay low key, but was eventually spotted by a couple of people, though at least I got a free souvlaki out of it and those people seemed enthusiastic to see me, which while enjoyable is always a little bit unnerving.

The crowd wasn't massive, but there were some noticeable differences compared to my north-west experiences:
  • The average age of the supporters was about ten years younger in the south-east compared to north-west.
  • There was more club merchandise being worn in the south-east.
  • You're unlikely to see someone wearing this shirt in the north-west.
  • In the north-west you're also unlikely to see (for the time being at least) someone turn up in a Scotch College (or similar) soccer kit
  • The north-west still makes better souvs, even if what they're making is actually a gyros instead of the diced meat on a stick business.
Somehow, despite dominating the early proceedings, Langy found themselves 3-0 down before a little bit of a gift of a penalty just before halftime saw them pull one back. Malvern however managed to slot away another three goals in the second half to win in 6-1, done by sitting deep, countering effectively and defending well enough when called upon to do so.

Much debate was had about the future of South and the social club, the future of Australian soccer and the future of Australian soccer players. What happens to players who don't make it through the NPL junior ranks and become senior players? It's OK to say to some of them, take a step down a couple of leagues and play senior soccer but:
  1. They may not get that opportunity if older players are pushed down due to the NPL points system.
  2. Who's going to actually get down there and watch them? 
On point no. 2, I remember being heckled (in a semi good natured way) when I asked this sort of question at a South AGM, about why I never see South movers and shakers at VPL or state league games. Because if the only people who end up watching lower level senior soccer are club committee members, the occasional parent and the reserves players who haven't inexplicably left after their match has finished (and other dateless wonders), does that mean players are finished if they're not famous by 18?

Is Nunawading City's Great Leap Forward/Cultural Revolution style effort to build up a production line of soccer playing robots the only way forward? Is South attempting to mimic that (probably badly)? What happens to those clubs and players that get left behind? In the future, will anyone actually play the game above State League 1.5 because they like the game, and not because it's some sort of career path? Why are Glen Waverley line trains so much cleaner than corresponding lines going to dodgy suburbs?

Well, I at least got to talk about my thesis with someone who seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing. In this humanities student bashing culture, that was a pleasant experience.

Final thought
FA Cup final at 2:00AM? That's way past my bedtime.


  1. Interested to learn other people's views on the quality we are seeing in the NPL Victoria. To me it appears that the standard has deteriorated somewhat from the VPL. I went yesterday and it was a good win, however, I was underwhelmed with the quality on the park.....I also noted that our Under 21's team lost. I thought that we had a 'kick-ass' junior / youth development program which was meant to produce exceptional talent and yet we lose to Pascoe Vale. It appears that we have been unable to get this Under 21 team right which requires us to recruit more and more outside the Club. What does this tell us?

    1. Yesterday was pretty ordinary all round, but other games have been better to watch. Hard to compare at this early stage of the season, though the lack of depth in squad now that the visa player restrictions are in place is becoming evident.

      As for the youth system, I can't say much because I don't know much about the 20s team, but even though they lost 3-1 yesterday, they completely dominated the second half without being able to get more than the one goal. A lot to work on though judging from some of their other performances.

  2. Gus Caminos here. Happy to hear that you chose to see Malvern v Langwarrin this past weekend. A 6-1 win for us (Malvern) hopefully provided some entertainment to you and our supporters. For your readers interest, we started with 4x players that played for the SMFC teams I coached. I've had at least another three from SMFC play snrs this season.
    Hope there's a next time you come to see us again. When you do, get the guys to let me know you're there so I can say hello to a familiar friendly face. Cheers.

    1. Thanks Gus, I'll try to make another trip out there later this season,

  3. Maybe they will deduct points based on the facilities audits?


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