Saturday, 31 January 2015

Notes from the 2014 AGM

Prior to the AGM, there was a letter signed by several people (I was not one of them) asking a detailed list of questions about the management of the club, with particular emphasis on the proposed amendments to the constitution put forward by the club, and particularities of the finances and internal governance of the club. Regardless of what the content of the letter was, I was intrigued by the fact that dissenters from within the club managed to get organised enough for once (which is a good thing), and expected some fireworks.

To that end, I was a little disappointed. The inability and lack of desire of some supporters to stick to the agenda reduced the level of conversation at times to a sort of brutish braying. Others, still, were interested in dredging up events that should have been (and in reality were) settled five or ten years ago. Despite this, most of the meeting was conducted under reasonably edifying circumstances, though in the end I didn't walk out of there with a bounce in my step, more a sense of a lot of hard work needing to be done.

Because of the failure of the board to properly put forward its proposed changes to the constitution - something about merging the management of the SMFC and SMH boards - that debate has been postponed until a future time.

Try as I might over many years, I don't get the way the financials work, but those who seemed to do so managed to get fairly worked up about certain things, like what were our legal costs and why were they so high? Which lead into a conversation about...

The Lease
While the ticker on the blog takes a few liberties with its counting of the days since we last had a social club - for example, there were some minor events held there after re-construction at Lakeside started, and it also doesn't take into account the time spent at Northcote - nevertheless it is still ticking. As yet it does not appear as if construction on the social club has started, despite the deal for the lease apparently being solved with the previous State Government, and the subsequent election of a Labor government which is not supposed to give us as many problems as their Liberal predecessors.

While pondering this question last year, someone on smfcboard came up with the altogether reasonable explanation that it may require a sitting of Parliament to put a stamp on all the details. Since then however, one source has suggested to me that this may not be the case, and that the delay may be due to an entirely different reason. My source indicated that it is because the club is seeking a certain amount of compensation for the time lost due to the Liberals delaying tactics while they were in government, and that local member Martin Foley is trying to help us in this front.

If that is the case, then the delays may not be taken so badly by a good proportion of the membership, some of whom have long sought and/or suggested that as a tactical option for the board to take. Others though, may not be so pleased with this course of action, and may just want the damn thing built already. With regards to the lease, there is also some talk that now that the Labor Party is in power, there may be a restructuring of the State Sports Centres Trust and/or Lakeside's position within that framework. What this kind of restructure or repositioning may mean, I'm not exactly clear on; I don't know what it's like for the other main tenants of the venue, but the relationship between the SSCT and ourselves - and that goes for both the board and ordinary fan - does not exactly seem to be a good one.

The recently joined board member Bill Papastergiadis took control of the lease discussions, talking about how his firm (prior to him joining the board) was responsible with the legal side of the issues, as well his personally rallying influential members of the Greek community to put pressure on the government, and absorbed a lot of the cost that would otherwise have been incurred by the club, which lead to a discussion of...

Need more Greeks
The discussion then turned towards our relationship with the local Greek community, which will be improved one would hope at least at an official/high level by our association with Papastergiadis, the Greek community's president. That there are relationships that can be repaired and utilised there is little doubt, though I'm wary of a full scale retreat to the past. There were enough chirps out there of 'we need to move forward' to hopefully not turn a well meaning sentiment into a reactionary movement. Those asking for the return to the broader usage of the name Hellas in official media unfortunately missed the point that we can't do that, and that the choice to refer to us as Hellas in the Greek press is not ours alone, but more dependent on the spiteful twit who runs the local Greek language sports press. That, and the club has invested a lot time and even money into getting the 'South Melbourne FC' and 'SMFC' names up and going.

I think also that some people have been spooked by the rhetoric which comes out from certain non-South sources, which sometimes don't have our best interests at heart, or which are filtered through their own world views. The idea that we should hold a stall at the Antipodes festival though had me running for the hills. Having said all of that though, there is nothing stopping people outside of the official channels using the word Hellas as much as they want, whether online or during a game day - and there was nothing with one gentleman's desire to be able to one day have a souvlaki with his grandson in a South Melbourne social club again.

Back to the lease
Some of the answers given in terms of we're at, is that the access to the playing area has been secured legislatively. The forty year term for the rest of the deal is likely to be backdated to 2012, not 2009 and not from the hypothetical future completion signing date. The new sports minister John Eren meets with his department in early February, and hopefully this stuff is at the front of the queue when he takes control of that ministerial portfolio. So where are we at? When will it be all sorted out? The vague answer was 'Christmas' - that is, we'd be in a social club by then - but I'm not sure which Christmas they meant. Meanwhile, the board once again thanked us for our patience, and the blog's ticker keeps going up and up. Next year in Jerusalem and all that.

Back to the financials
As far as I can tell, things are pretty steady. Small profits affected by the outlays of the seemingly never ending legal situations we find ourselves in, and the fact that we have to pay the loan we took out to pay for the resolution of the Toumbourou affair. The club anticipates that the latter at least will be paid off in a couple of years time. Some doubt whether the reaming 600-700k left in the social club renovation yet to be handed over to us by the State Sports Centre Trust will be enough for a new social club, or whether social club revenue will be as lucrative as has been speculated. That's an extra step or two into the future though. Gotta sort out that lease first.

Much praise was heaped upon the media crew for the work that they do across all facets of the club's media output. While I have been and will continue to be displeased with the fact that the club is moving off Channel 31 and onto Aurora, the explanation provided went a little way to at least providing a reasonable explanation. The fact is, according to the board, that we were actually invited by Foxtel/Aurora to be on their network, so there's a long term plan of some sort being developed there. The argument that now we'll have national reach is less convincing to me, because we are a Victorian (and mostly Melburnian) club, and being out of reach of the 60-75% of the population that doesn't have pay TV in this state doesn't really make much sense to me. We'll see how it turns out.

Here's an interesting and rare occurrence. A current player was actually in attendance at one of these things, one Leigh Minopoulos. He left the room though by the time this section had started.

While the club was happy in general with the performance of the team in 2014, the fact that we only took out one of the four trophies on offer (out of NPL Victoria, NPL Nationals, Dockerty Cup and FFA Cup, though the last was of course more about commercial reasons than winning it) was deemed as being not good enough. While I disagree with the gentleman who said that we should focus primarily into getting into the FFA Cup, the fact is that the club did lose out by not being there, because unlike a lot of other clubs, we had already a put a lot of preparation in the event that we made it.

The goalkeeper situation was also discussed, with the possible signing of Peter Gavalas a hot topic among some at the meeting. The board's position has been that Gavalas' apology back when the flipping the bird incident happened is enough for them, and that like all playing decisions Chris Taylor is the main person responsible.

The club claimed it was keeping spending on player wages steady, and that it was also not spending as much as some other clubs. It claimed that the additional service it provided to players - the quality of the experience if you will - was also another way to attract and retain talent at the club. The specific example mentioned was the club's fitness program, which tracks fitness different attributes of the players across the season, including via electronic swipe card to accurately measure how much each player was making use of our fitness and recovery programs,

To that end, the club also stated the decision to play most of our home games on Fridays - though some of our games will be moved to Sundays - was in part motivated by the coaching staff's desire to optimise the recovery and training schedules of the players. This is despite 60% (a sketchily provided number) of our supporters responding in an online survey that their preference was for Sunday games. The hope that we would better attract corporate sponsors to attend on Friday nights was also expressed. Overall there was a lot of doubt in the room about the decision, but we'll see how it goes. In this writer's opinion, without the social club Friday nights just won't be a success, but they may as well try something different. Hopefully the games don't clash with Melbourne based Friday night AFL matches.

Finally, on the question of importing Greek players from overseas for guest appearances, a flat out 'no', and thank goodness for that

At times this discussion devolved into personal issues that some people had with their and their sons' experience of the South Melbourne junior program. While there were no doubt valid concerns to be raised on these matters, the nature of the discussion excluded the great majority of people in attendance. It's difficult for people without direct knowledge of the situation to get properly involved. This discussion also included people who countered the negative appraisal of the junior system with how the program is viewed by others both within and outside of the program - that it's actually very highly regarded.

More broadly, considering the upheaval and constant change that's been attached to the junior program - and the administrative framework they exist in - I wanted to know what kind of KPIs (arrgghh, corporate buzzwords) and benchmarks were being used to measure the success or failure of the program. Andrew Mesorouni, whose portfolio this is, more or less admitted that it was very difficult to quantify success or failure on a macro (my word) level, and that the focus was mostly on the individual player's experience. Have we made them better players? Better people? How can you measure the success of the program, when our emphasis with regards to seniors has always been championships first, development second? Is the fact that our five best youth players have been picked up the Victory and Heart NPL programs a measure of (backhanded) success?

And this is a complication that was always going to come up once those two franchises were allowed to have teams in the NPL, that they would collectively suck up 80 players from the rest of the system. The best you can hope for in that situation is that eventually those players will make a big money move overseas (good for the player), and something filters back down to clubs like ours (good for keeping up incentive to care about juniors). The long or medium term hope is that eventually players who will be prospective recruits for the Victory and Heart programs will realise that they're better off training with grown men, and likewise fighting for a first eleven spot against men rather than their peers.

How we end up converting people involved with the junior program - parents and children - into being fans of the club, is something that's going to be much harder to accomplish. Maybe the local coaching efforts in the schools will start seeing us make some headway there. Finally for this section, it's hoped that by aligning the juniors training schedule with Friday night games, it'll make it more attractive for them to turn up to games.

The mystery of the Peter Skapetis training compensation money
Of some serious concern is the case of Peter Skapetis. First off, we should mention that late last year Peter did his knee, and will be out for nine months. My concern here is not with that injury - get well soon, Peter - but the status of the training compensation we're due from his signing by Stoke. While Skapetis was at QPR in their academy, we weren't entitled to anything, but having (I assume) signed a professional contract with Stoke, we should be getting a good sum of training compensation money at some point. Unfortunately it appears we have cocked this up, something which even lower league clubs here know something about. I will give the benefit of the doubt to the board on one detail - my question was one that was asked without notice - but I expect some sort of positive resolution to this by the time of the next AGM. It is inexcusable that we would lose this chance of obtaining rightful income for a player that was in all likelihood always going to be offered an overseas professional contract. I hope for a good outcome, but I think we've fucked it up, judging by the confusing and made up on the spot kind of answer that was provided.

State of the NPL - onward to the future
Next it was Tom Kalas' turn to discuss the NPL and its further development. Kalas - whether because it's in his nature or because it's part of the role - is both an optimist and someone who's attuned to the sales pitch. Where others prefer to wallow in doubt and cynicism, he sees an opportunity. In past years, accompanied by one of his legendary Powerpoint presentations, he would have managed to give hope to the huddled masses yearning to be free. But things have changed a little bit, as one can see from the following comment.
Kalas brought up the changes taking place this year, including the already mentioned introduction of the Victory and Heart to the NPL. In addition to that, the player points allowed per squad has been reduced, but with the alleviation of some of the more onerous penalties that would normally have been applied. The FFV will also soon release a a spreadsheet allowing for an easy to use method for clubs to find out how many points they have, based upon FFA player identification numbers.

Kalas also tried to put a positive spin on the FFA's reform process, particularly their consultations during the Whole of Football talks from last year. Second divisions, promotion/relegation, AFC pressure, Frank Lowy's own words, the progress made under David Gallop - all these were things that Kalas hinted towards as evidence of the opportunities our club must be ready to embrace, in the manner that we met the challenge of the NPL Victoria saga by being seen as a collaborative force rather than as a disruptive one.

In that sense, he's probably right. Being rigidly idealistic might give you street cred, but where does it get you in the real world? Then again, cynicism has its place too. In a private discussion with a certain colourful local soccer identity from another club, I pondered that:
There may not even be a right approach under this regime. Maybe all approaches are doomed from the outset.
And if that's the case, let other clubs do what they will to make sense of the circumstances, while we'll do ours. It's not ideal, but what else can we do?

Not discussed
There was no discussion of the issues with the women's team. This was extremely disappointing, because in the past few years we were able to get at least a token discussion going. But not on Thursday night, so who knows where we're at with that. Just what is the situation with SMWFC? Who is negotiating with them on our behalf? What's holding the possibility of reunification? Is it even realistic, considering that on field at least, SMWFC have had their most successful years since officially breaking from us (though a late 2014 season exodus may change that)? If there is to be no reconciliation, how do we go about reclaiming our trademarks and intellectual property, especially our logo?

No discussion either of some other elements of our future Lakeside tenure. When are we going to get some sort of South Melbourne branding on the place? Are the lights up to scratch for a possible FFA Cup broadcast? (one board member afterwards said yes, and I'd like to believe them, but it's so hard to do). I did get to ask after the meeting whether there were crowd benchmarks that we needed to reach as part of lease - as some outsiders have suggested - and the answer was a categorical 'no'. There was however almost zero discussion of the exact figures of the crowd we've been getting, only vague reference to the fact they've been pretty much the same for the past two years. I think next year I should be asking for that detail to be included (with relevant breakdowns) in advance of the AGM.

Jerry's Final Thought
In discussing the issues with several different people last night, it struck me that much of the dissent, or disagreement or posturing or whatever you want to call it, all comes down to a matter of perspective. The accountants obsess about sums and details those of us without that training and an anally fixated patience for detail couldn't care less for. The lawyers in the room are both trying to get to the detail and bluff their way through, and see how much they can get away with without revealing their whole hand. I don't know what the chemical engineers are doing, but the those of us in the literary field - me - have been conditioned to think in grand narratives, broad sweeps of history.At least, that's the effect of my tutelage and influences.

So while it's always tempting to use AGMs as means of seeing where the clubs is at - and yes I realise that's exactly what they're for - at some fundamental level the perception of where the club is actually is dependent on who you ask. I know that whatever point of view I put across, it will be skewed to my particular way of viewing things. Thinking back to when I first started attending these things in 2006 to where we're at now, there obvious differences. More people ask questions, and more people expect there to be proper answers. The club has moved on. But we can always improve; we must improve. Those on the board must provide better information, must not becomes hostile to ordinary questioning. Those asking the questions and seeking reforms need to not let their emotions get in the way, regardless of how much they love the club.

I don't know. Things could be worse. How's that for optimism?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

2014 AGM tonight

Just a reminder that the 2014 (not a typo) AGM will be held tonight at Lakeside, in the Presidents Room, 7:00PM. Lot of interesting discussion to be had, and what's more, since the surgeon and I agreed to hold off on laser surgery for a couple of months or so, even I might be able to make an appearance.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Some news from recentish times

AGM on tomorrow
Just a reminder that the 2014 (not a typo) AGM will be held tomorrow at Lakeside, in the Presidents Room, 7:00PM. Lot of interesting discussion to be had, and what's more, since the surgeon and I agreed to hold off on laser surgery for a couple of months or so, even I might be able to make an appearance.

SMFC TV one step closer to being a gated community
As some of you have already noted, SMFC TV has moved to the Aurora Channel on Foxtel. While Channel 31's free to air future seems to be doomed, it's still disappointing to me that we couldn't see out the rest of Channel 31's tenure on free to air television. Aurora is basically pay television's community station, and while those who have Foxtel will be able to automatically record each episode, those of us without pay television (either because of cost, not enough interest in their programming, or because Fox own those chemical plants in Syria) will have to make do the with the internet and youtube product.

We're going to Adelaide!
Well, not me, I have other already established commitments. But the team is. They'll be playing West Adelaide Hellas on Friday 6th February, 6:15PM, at Adelaide Shores Football Centre in West Beach, as the first match of an double header, I think South Australia's version of the super cup. Then on Sunday we'll be playing Adelaide Blue Eagles at 2:00PM, at the Marden Sports Complex. Safe travels to all those making the trip over there, and hopefully someone can send in some colourful reports.

Community Shield
We've also been fixtured to play in the inaugural FFV Community Shield game, against last year's Dockerty Cup winner Melbourne Knights. The game will be at Knights Stadium on Friday February 13th.

Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children!
Some wonderfully sensationalist anti-sockah writing in the Hun recently. Basically, Little Athletics had the venue booked well in advance for their annual carnival, but the decision of the State Sports Centres Trust to resurface the grass on the arena and thus put out the Little Athletics people has not gone unnoticed by our citizen journalist, who's managed to rustle up a bunch of surly looking youngsters staring down the barrel of the camera with their arms folded at the injustice of it all.

Now I certainly feel for these kids, because they've obviously been put out by this decision, but the tone of the article which seeks to either directly or indirectly blame it on soccer (and therefore us) is so stupid it's mind boggling; unless of course, the article wasn't written by someone with an anti-soccer agenda. Did South get asked for comment? It doesn't seem like it. So no mention of the club's long tenure at the ground, no mention of the damage caused by the shotput, hammer and javelin on the turf during our winter season, and of course no mention of the fact that we have to share with athletics while Collingwood and Eddie McGuire get whatever they want.

The return of Sir Peter, of the Order of the Knights of the Raised Middle Finger
We're apparently considering re-signing Peter Gavalas out of his premature retirement as our first choice keeper. It seemed to be out of him and Nikola Roganovic, and Slippery Pete's may well have done enough to get Taylor's approval. This decision has caused some consternation not only for Gavalas' on field capabilities - is he a great keeper for this level, who managed to be keeper of the year in 2013, or is he actually a bum on the verge of another costly blunder? - but there's also his demonstrated lack of respect for the supporters and the club. Now of course this has set in train discussions about whether one should trust an experienced and championship winning coach to make the right kind of personnel decisions, or demanding the board intervene and overrule the decision. This could be a fun season.

Technical director signed
One step closer to meeting the NPL criteria by hiring a standalone technical director, one Sean Gale.

Some in-season fixtures changed
Among the changes
  • The away game against North Geelong has been moved back a couple of hours.
  • The games against Bentleigh Greens have been switched. We'll now be travelling to Kingston Heath first, and hosting them second.
  • The home game against the Knights, originally scheduled for the Greek Orthodox Good Friday, has been moved to the Saturday afternoon of that week.
  • The Pascoe Vale away game has been moved to Saturday evening.
  • Minor kickoff time changes to other home games.
The word is that there could be more changes, with the club looking to move some games to Sundays at 5pm. The club claims that during their online survey, Friday night games were the preferred timeslot of respondents, with Sunday evenings also being in demand. For my part, I'm in the Sunday afternoon camp, but it'll be interesting to see what happens, and whether the pro-Friday night crowd are proven right with improved attendances.

Then: 2008 seems so long ago. I wasn't even using
a clipboard as a makeshift mouse pad back then.
And now: In 2015, I have a lot of books packed away
due to a pending move to Sunshine, but books
somehow keep proliferating on my work space.
Disappointing news here, folks. My Benq laptop is nearly dead: it was bought by my littlest brother for some ridiculous over the top price nearly ten years ago, probably Centrecom in Sunshine; discarded by him within about 18 months; used by me for much plainer duties than his planned extravagant multimedia pursuits; converted from a dreadful Vista machine into first an Ubuntu, then a steadfast and reliable Linux Mint unit; and now finally, after many years of long service to the causes of education, Hattrick and especially South of the Border, it's time for it to retire to the great recharge outlet in the sky. Unfortunately, like all good players, it's had a noticeable slowdown in recent times; it's not as sharp as it used to be;, it finds itself dawdling where it used to sprint; and even its once sure touch has begun to desert it. And let's not forget the lack of an 'escape' key, after I dropped a book on it and broke it. While of course I've used other computers to write up items for the blog - various machines at Victoria University's St Albans, Footscray Park, Flinders Street and maybe even Queens Street campuses for example - the vast majority of this blog's outpourings of overbearing grief and negativity have been done on this machine. There was a trip to Hobart back in 2011, as well as non-South related trips to Canberra in 2013 and Sydney last year. So fare thee well, Benq Joybook A52. At least you got to go out on a high, with a championship under your belt. A pity that even though you lasted so long, you never managed to see South get back into the top flight. Here's hoping your successor can achieve even half your longevity and service. In the mean time, dear readers, please bear with me as I try to get used to the smaller keys on my new machine (named Charlene. Why? It just is, OK?),

Friendly tonight against Mornington, at Lakeside

Kickoff at 7:00pm, nice to be back on home turf again after a month or so away die to the Asian Cup.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 7 - A tournament well enjoyed

It's a pity that apparently some of our social betters in the government thought that we couldn't manage to host both the midpoint of a grand slam tennis tournament and an Asian Cup semi-final, but full credit to Newcastle and their state government; in this case, the well worn sporting cliche that 'they just wanted it more' appears to be true.

For those of us who attended every Melbourne based game of the Asian Cup that we could, we got more than our money's worth regardless of where we sat, and yet still left wanting more. The atmosphere in the stadium ranged from the parochial (Australia vs Kuwait), to glorious support for the relative underdog (Uzbekistan vs Saudi Arabia) to the raucous (Iran vs Bahrain). The games, with the odd mismatch noted (Jordan vs Palestine and large portions of Japan vs Jordan) were for the most part highly competitive affairs. The play was unusually free of the cynical diving and time wasting efforts we've come to associate with Asian soccer.

The different teams for the most part, even when they were clearly outgunned talent wise, still sought to try and score, which provided a huge amount of entertainment. Many of the games, while lacking a certain tactical cynicism and occasionally awful and foolhardy defending, at least provided plenty of heady attacking moments to savour. Some of the vision and movement off the ball by almost every team was glorious to watch, and Uzbekistan's perhaps most of all, as they went from dizzily uncoordinated defending to scintillating once touch football in the blink of an eye.

The last game at the Bubbledome for this tournament, the quarter final match between South Korea and Uzbekistan had so much of what made the previous six matches so special. A dominant and vocal number of the better known nation in the stands; enough people at opposite end, whether actual supporters of gleeful local hangers on, willing to add a counter voice; and plenty of neutrals just hoping for a great game. And what a game it was, despite the poor finishing from both sides.

While some people left at the end of the regulation 90 minutes in order to get to a television in time for the Australia game, most of the crowd stayed to watch the rest of the game: the inconsolable Uzbek defender who knew he should have just cleared the ball instead of being daring, and the goalkeeper who just couldn't keep the ball from crossing the line, both of which happened right in front of us; the way the South Korean player who streamed forwards and instead of going into the corner to kill off the game, set up the second goal; and palpable joy on the faces of the two Korean blokes sitting behind us, who were in tears with the result. And to think there are a small band of cynics out there trying to downplay the tournament's meaning, just because it's not the Euros.

We've made the semi-finals, so let's all have a parade
Of course going to extra time made getting home in time for the start of the Socceroos game impossible. Sure, I could have watched the game at a pub or something, but by the time I get home from the city, especially if that game also went into extra time... more annoying was when I got picked up at the station by my dad, I tried putting the radio on to the local ABC station in the hopes of at least an update of the scores, hopefully via a live radio broadcast of this important match, only to find that they were broadcasting Lleyton Hewitt's match instead. Right priorities as one particular member of the Twitterati likes to say; and aside from that, whoever thinks tennis on the radio is a good idea, has serious rocks in their head.

The second half was watched on free to air television, as nature intended, and even enjoyed because of Tim Cahill's heroics rather than anything his team mates managed to achieve, as well as the mostly mediocre Chinese opposition; though having to deal with Andy Harper's public orgasms is something I wondered how people dealt with on a week to week basis. One wit suggested alcohol; another a sort of learned selective hearing due to having children. Neither of those suggestions were much help to me. Anyway, the game won it was time to go the panel in between flicking between the two channels showing tennis, because I am such a huge tennis fan don't you know.

At one point during this panel, the reanimated corpse that is Gerard Whateley compared the Socceroos and/or Tim Cahill to now holding as much prominence and/or adoration with the Australian public, especially children as [Olympic hurdler] Sally Pearson and [Test cricketer] Steve Smith. Now Whateley obviously means this to be a compliment to Cahill and the Socceroos, but there's also a problem with this (perhaps offhand) analysis - and that's the fact that the Socceroos and Cahill have long been in the public consciousness as national icons, more recognisable than Pearson or Smith. Regardless of your thoughts on everything that's happened post-Crawford, the Socceroos' sporting stature has been secure since the Uruguay qualification match in 2005, and Cahill's on field reputation was secured soon afterwards.

What irks me about this issue is the need of certain people in the media feeling the urge to anoint the Socceroos as legitimately part of the elite (and therefore mainstream) Australian sporting pantheon. It speaks more to the fact on how far behind the times they are, and how out of touch with the actual sporting interests of the Australian public they are, than any serious consequences of their commentary. With particular emphasis on Whateley, I've always wondered how he gets it so wrong. I say this after years of watching him on Offsiders, where the end of each show is capped off by him doing the rounds of the horse racing news. And I'm thinking, if it wasn't for the twice yearly let's dress up and get pissed events, horse racing's interest lies only with the group of derros that hang out at the Borrack Square TAB (and their type across the country), and those who because they have smartphones can hide their derro-esque nature behind a mid-price label polo shirt, new pair of khakis and shoes that weren't better off being slung over the top of power lines in front of the house that has drugs in it - because everyone knows that's the like the Golden Arches of drugs.

Having said all that
It's been a tragedy that this tournament has not been on free to air, except for the very limited and delayed coverage. Here's a tournament that was predicted to be a lemon by impossibly conflict of interest affected media man, it's had a lot of goals and excitement, and had much better than expected crowds to most of its matches - crossing boundaries of old soccer, new football and even non-football people - and yet the interest generally has been low in the mainstream media. Outside the parochial Socceroos interest and the actually excellent writing of those in the print media - even from some of those writers I don't particularly have time for - there's been little traction. Now I can complain and cast conspiracies about the media being behind the times (see above), but there's an element of doubt that creeps in as well. Maybe they know something we don't? Maybe they have access to market data that shows that while soccer may have some worth as a niche product, that it's just not big enough to merit mainstream coverage, and that perhaps Paul Keating's dream of Australia seeing itself as being an Asian country is some time off yet. Or maybe it's the soccer people who are so ahead of the curve that it's going to take a long time for the straight and narrow world to catch up.
That Iran-Iraq game was so much fun to watch. It had everything that a great game should, and generated a lot of interest among people on the net, those who had pay TV, and those like me willing to break the law (a massive crime against the human rights of corporations who have paid lots of money to show the game) to watch the game on a live stream. But what of those who don't have pay television? What about the casual sports enthusiast, the one that may actually be won over by a game like that, notwithstanding my personal belief that it's better off seeing a sport at its most mediocre and then being intrigued with it, rather than getting the big pay off. I don't know. I guess I should be glad that I got to see it at all, and that I should be grateful to those members of the American military industrial complex that made such breaches of copyright possible.

Friendly against Springvale White Eagles today

Apparently our last friendly match on the road before we can get back to the business of hosting these things at Lakeside, following the end of its use as an Asian Cup training venue. It'll be at White Eagles' ground, under 20s kick off at 4pm, seniors at 6pm. Too hard for me to get out there via public transport, so I'm going to take one of my brothers to see relics related to the Confederate ship Shenandoah and American Civil War in general.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 6 - Meh

This was a fairly tedious affair, regardless of some of the quality of players at Japan's disposal. Due to their loss against Iraq, it was a long shot that Jordan would be able to qualify - they would have have to outdo whatever result Iraq was to get against Palestine, and with the overly cautious attitude they came out with, even a workmanlike rather than impressive Japanese side could do the business, even with a couple of disallowed goals. There were times when Japan tried to reinvent the wheel - Honda's awful second half freekick the most notable example - but the few times Jordan got forward, they either dithered or failed to apply the appropriate finishing touch. To their credit, the Jordanians were more expansive during the second half, but I guess they needed to be anyway. It was a relief to me that they were, because it made the second half easier to watch, what with the Japan supporting family constantly leaning forwards to block my view of the north end, and the mother(?) taking many happy snaps of many inconsequential passages of play. The Jordanian end seemed to be made up of a lot of A-League fans having a bit of a laugh, and obviously quite bored in that tried to rip Mexixan wave after Mexican wave; and when the people on the clockwise side had had enough, they switched to going counter-clockwise. Later at Flinders Street, one could overhear some crazy woman having a dumb argument with someone who may well have been Melbourne public transport's famous(?) homeless rapper.

Friendly against Kingston City tonight

Seniors only, McClelland Drive, Frankston, 7:00PM.

Monday, 19 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 5 - Fun!

Sydney FC fans in the northern end yesterday, protesting
their Russian owner's management of their franchise.
Attempts to get a translation of the message from David
Warner were unsuccessful. Photo: Gains.
The pre-match festivities were spent drinking beer, in moderation. Once at the ground, my seat turned out to be the best one that I will have for the entire tournament; close enough to be part of the action, yet far back enough to be able to see the chalk on the sideline, and thus berate the Saudi player who paused waiting for the signal for a throw in which never came, and which I even I could see the linesman got spot on. On the issue of officiating, congratulations are due to referee Ben Williams, who managed to turn what seemed like those parts of the crowd ready to enjoy the game as neutrals, into relatively raving lunatic Uzbekistan supporters with some pretty spotty refereeing during the early parts of the second half. No matter, the right result was achieved, with the Uzbeks pulling through. I have to say, this was the most fun match to be at so far for the on field exploits as opposed to fan generated nonsense. Both teams played with an outdated openness of formation and a bygone sense of joie de vivre. Fancy spin moves, flick passes, ambitious through balls, desperate defending - if you wanted pure entertainment over the boredom of modern ultra-scientific football, the Bubbledome was the place to be. Of course it's easy to say that if you're not following a team in the middle of a turgid league campaign, but that's part of the Asian Cup's appeal, is it not? Unless you have a diasporic connection of some sort, or spent five minutes in a transit lounge at an airport located in one of the participating nations, the main thing to hope for is that a) one of the lesser human rights abusing nations does well, or b) that you see some sort of decent spectacle. And on that latter front, I doubt any one of the 10,000 people at the game would have gone home disappointed.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 4 - Slapdash

Crisis? What crisis?
Upon reaching Richmond station, I realised that I had either forgotten to bring my match ticket, or had somehow lost it along the way. No matter; the issue was sorted out at the ticket booth, and no harm was done.

Oh, Palestine! Also, Jordan was there, too.
I think that enough has probably already been said (and will continue to be said) about the political implications of Palestine being at this tournament, and what it means for the members of their diaspora. Most of it, too, will be far more interesting and better thought out than I anything I could come up with.

Some may even consider it trite, given the way the Palestinian national has been covered during this tournament, to even talk about the playing merits of the team itself, and on any front, I'd be the last person who should probably making comment on that. However, it should probably be something that's at least acknowledged in the greater scheme of trying to figure out if Asian football is actually getting better.

As with the previous Asian Cup, the teams which have qualified for the 2015 tournament include two teams from the AFC Challenge Cup, a biennial tournament for developing nations which grants the winner entry to the Asian Cup proper. Last time, it was North Korea and India who won spots in the final draw; this time North Korea and Palestine.

I'm not quite sure how they sort out which teams are classed as 'developing nations', because for North Korea to qualify via this mode twice, while also managing to qualify for the World Cup seems a little nutty. Further to that, how did North Korea manage to be classed as a 'developing' nation when nations like Syria, Hong Kong, Yemen and Singapore were put into the main draw?

Whether it's actually benefited the other nations - India and Palestine - from a playing level is impossible to tell - my guess would be pretty much no, but there are so many mitigating circumstances for the lack of progress for both nations that one can't just expect one major tournament appearance to change a nation's football fortunes.

Would those teams that were put into the main draw and missed out on qualification, and perhaps the tournament itself, benefited from being given a spot at the expense of the developing nations? Looking at Asian football in terms of the sharp dip in quality of the say top eight or ten teams, probably not. Still, I don't  think expanding the competition to 24 teams, as will be the case for the 2019 tournament, will do much good.

As for the game, there were some fairly skillful players out there, but as has probably been noted already, their penchant for naive play and making dumb decisions was plain for all to see. Jordan were more clinical, showing up the gulf in class between a borderline 2nd/3rd tier Asian nation with one somewhere lower than that. It was nice that Palestine scored, though being 5-1 down at the time they probably could have spared a moment to celebrate with the rowdy contingent of Palestinian supporters behind the goal instead of rush the ball back to the middle.

Diminishing returns/Sphere of influence
This game was of course a grand opportunity for the Palestinian people to make some headway in the public relations stakes, and I think it's fair to say they made a reasonable impression, with one major caveat, which I'll get to soon. The Palestinians mostly took up a bay or two in their designated supporter end, as well as being scattered throughout the eastern side. They had a great visual presence, and made a lot of noise, often with the chant 'Free, free, Palestine'. By the end of the game, even the little Anglo kid in front of me was quietly chanting it.

But one has to wonder how much of difference it will make in the long run. This is not to say that the Palestinian fans (and their leftist supporters in the crowd, including the person with the Scottish flag) should not have taken the opportunity provided to them, especially outside the context of a noisy and angry regular protest, where they'd be framed as ethnic agitators. But how many people did they actually reach? And in a way this is not just a question relevant to this game, but the tournament as a whole, in trying to figure out - albeit in an entirely anecdotal and slapdash manner - how much it's crossed over into the Australian popular imagination.

There were about 10,000 people at this game. Many of those would have already been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, while others would have been just been there for the football at cheap prices. While the attendances across the country have been very good, the coverage of the tournament in the media as a whole has been mediocre at best, I think. Now this is me talking as someone who doesn't listen to commercial radio or even the ABC, and also as someone who doesn't read print newspapers. If I was to judge from what I've seen so far, most of the mainstream television media has been utterly uninterested in the Asian Cup, with the exception of the Socceroos.

So has the tournament managed to connect with non-soccer fans in Australia, or has it been confined to the already established soccer audience? Certainly the A-League audience has turned up, as have soccer people outside that milieu - every game I've attended so far has had plenty of South people - and there has been good diaspora attendance from most of the teams that can muster up said support (regardless of whether individuals in those groups actually have an interest in the game). But I just can't see this tournament as having crossed over outside of those groups.

Going out for a drink after the game, there didn't seem to be any indication that there was this major tournament happening right now. Sure, pretty much any pub that's not strictly catering to an old man 'dishlicker and pot of VB' crowd would have had the Iraq-Japan game on, but how many would have taken an interest, especially if they weren't even really taking an interest in the Australia vs England one day cricket match on the big screen?

In that sense, even if the games were live on free to air, I'm struggling to see them having made much of a ratings splash. Of course that doesn't include the Socceroos games, which have long since crossed over, at least in the public consciousness, as being worth even non-soccer people's time, at least at important moments.

So complaints about the lack of live free to air Socceroos matches almost threatens to become more of a personal complaint. It seems absurd to me, regardless of the need to pay the bills, that our national team is not accessible to the widest possible audience.

Len: Hey, big fight coming up.
Karl: Yea, you wanna come over to my house and listen to round-by-round updates on the radio?
Len: Oh, yeah, okay. Oh, and then after the fight, we can watch the still photos on the 11-o'clock news.
Karl: Not too shabby!

- Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment
After struggling with a laggy and increasingly delayed illegally obtained Brazilian live stream - at one point it was clear from Twitter talk that South Korea had scored, but five minutes later my stream still hadn't caught up to that moment - I gave up, and decided to try and find a terrestrial radio broadcast. No good on that front either, as ABC local radio seemed to have some regular boring programming on and ABC News Radio had only general sports blather, including a chat while with Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland, though it was of them to let us know that Australia had a throw in at one point. So it was off to the the internet again, for the ABC's broadcast of the game.

And while I know that I could have chosen one of many easier options - just gone and searched for the internet radio stream in the first place, or traipsed down to a local pub showing the game (which in reality is not an option for me, as I don't go to pubs by myself) - I just don't feel it should have come down to this. Is this further evidence of the transformation of the game from a working class game to a middle middle class commodity? Possibly. Or is it a demonstration that soccer is big enough to create a valuable niche product (and therefore ideal for pay TV), but not one that's big enough to be worthwhile for free to air commercial broadcasting?

The continuing adventures of Nutmeg the Wombat

The best part of the evening was...
... that I managed to get home in time to watch the second half of the Red Dwarf episode with the version of Earth where everything runs in reverse.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

South playing Langwarrin today

Out at Langwarrin, seniors at 3pm, reserves/20s at 1pm. Alas, once again I doubt that I'll be able to make it out there.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 3 - Kill the Buddha

I woke up in a foul mood yesterday, which may go some way towards explaining the following post.

Going out for a patented Sideshow Bob 'vigorous constitutional' only made things worse
After finding myself actually enjoying last Sunday's Iran vs Bahrain match, and thus looking forward to the rest of the tournament (at least those parts that I could attend), I decided to look up just for the sake of it who'd be hosting the next tournament in 2019. It turns out that hasn't been decided yet, but one of the bidders happens to be Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia: a nation that does not allow unaccompanied women to do pretty much anything (and of course bans them from attending football matches); a nation that does not allow expressions of any faith other than Islam, and a nation that censors all of its media to the nth degree. And yet how much more advanced are we? Let's use this as an opportunity to blow something minor completely out of proportion. During Tuesday's win by the Socceroos - which I quit watching after we went 3-0 up, because the streams I tried watching the game on became unusable - Tom Juric scored the team's fourth goal, and proceeded to lift his shirt to reveal a message in Croatian/Split dialect/Shtokavian/Serbo-Croatian/Vukovian, which said 'Mama, Tata, Braco' (Mother/Mum, Father/Dad, Brother/Bro - as a believer in the importance of the reader as symbiotic participant in the writing process, I'm letting you take your pick on the formality of the message).

Apparently a minority (or a statistically significant number, depending on who you believe) of people on Facebook and Twitter had a whinge about this - specifically on the fact that the message was not in English - and thus discussion of this filled my Twitter timeline, leading to me making a dick of myself by singling out one person in isolation for semi-confected outrage when it was utterly unfair of me to do so. That person is merely an agent of the problem, not its cause and really, I would have been much wiser parlaying my hard won wisdom into the alternative discussion about ice cream, and how cool was it when you tried to reach for ice creams at the bottom of the fridge at your local milk bar, because they would definitely be the coldest and by definition the best.

The issue remains however, that those who support the National Club Identity Policy (here we go again, boooooooooorrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing) provide a sense of legitimacy to those people in Australian soccer (and by extension Australian society) who use that policy to further their assimilationist ends. Pointing out the fact that messages on shirts other than those things allowed to be put on playing jerseys (whatever that means under our current nightmarish regime) aren't allowed anyway (and liable to be punished by a yellow card and/or disqualification from Australian competitions) is beside the point; neither are offside goals allowed, yet the Socceroos' third goal clearly benefited from a cock up from the officials on that front, and it still counted. Unless you're the editor of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspaper, what has been seen cannot be unseen.

The creator of this images wishes to remain anonymous.
I guess I owe them a frap or beverage of their choosing.
Now while 'the few, the proud, the geeky' among us may have the power of furious and righteous indignity on our side, the great mass of the Australian soccer public could not give a fat rat's clacker. Our 'cause', such as it is, is doomed, due to the combination of both a jackbooted bureaucracy acting on behalf of Dear Leader (and a big 'hi' to all my North Korean readers, yes we do have our own 'Dear Leader' who will soon be replaced by his son) and vast consumerist indifference (and here's a question to consider - is apathy better or worse than indifference? Yes, it could very well be a trick question, but Buddhism needs new koans, so here I am offering something for them at least to mull over).

Ideologues are comparatively easy to deal with, if not in the actual reasoning part, then at least the part where you know where they stand. They put forward their beliefs, you put forward yours, and the age old dance of liberal vs conservative gets played out once more. With those whose main goal is a perverse search for a relaxed and comfortable middle ground, for whom the ends justify the means as long as they're not personally adversely affected, there's little you can do. This makes those comments that more or less state 'well, I think people have voted with their feet, and thus this regime must be doing something right' downright infuriating. I can't think of a way in which one would begin to approach this problem, one which is at the heart of Lowy's 'success'.

In a neat coincidence, one of the right wing people
I'm friends with on Facebook put this up on his timeline
yesterday. Being unashamed (proud?) of my physical
inferiority I find myself disagreeing with the notion
put forward in this picture, but as a vivid portrayal of
Mishima's ideology, it looks pretty sweet.
So now that it's clear that our movement is indeed doomed - and if you think it isn't that's great (really, that's not sarcasm), you won't get much value out of the rest of this section, so you can leave now, because this would otherwise be a waste of your time - what do 'I/we/me/us' do? Now Yukio Mishima may have been a right-wing crackpot alongside being a brilliant writer, but at least he believed in something, even if what he believed in was a fanciful version of the past while fully (probably?) understanding that the values he purportedly wanted Japan to re-adopt were never truly realised anyway, and never could be realised. But who among us would re-create Mishima's end - and I stress here for those familiar with Mishima's end, that this analogy is purely metaphorical, and not just because I don't have a kaishakunin - and at least be able to go out in a dignified (albeit in Mishima's and also Seneca's case, very messy), blaze of glory?

The famous Buddhist koan - at least within the East, not necessarily here in the West where we tend to obsess about the sounds of trees falling and one hand clapping - asks us that if we see the Buddha on the road, to kill him, and that goes for Nansen's kitten as well I presume. What then must we as 'bitters' destroy in order to get out of our cycle of romanticism, self-righteousness and self-pity, all while those whom have contributed to our relative destitution continue as they please? Can I even go to my local manoush joint any more, now that they're putting up posters for Salafist speakers? Do any of us have the stomach to transform this movement of five or six people on the internet to become something transcendent and therefore meaningful beyond our little circle? Can our beloved anger become useful, or is our fury, however justified by the circumstances, a hindrance? Is this sense of irrevocable apartness that I feel from the great mass of soccer's support in country a terminal condition? Am I destined to become another one of 'those people', the kind whose support of the national team - which I hitherto held if not as sacred, then at least as separate from the poisonous atmosphere of the current political situation - is reduced either to apathy or bilious hatred?

Saudi Arabia vs North Korea
Approaching the Bubbledome on Wednesday evening I was filled with intense moral quandaries, because both of these nations are evil, and therefore one could not possibly support either of them; and yet there would be people supporting them. Now in the case of the much maligned (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) Iran, this problem could conceivably be ameliorated via the perspective of ethnicity and the affection the diaspora has for the homeland, without necessarily having the tacit approval of any of the policies of said nation state.

For Saudi Arabia and North Korea, this is complicated by all sorts of things. In Saudi Arabia's case, because it's not even a real country as we know it today, just the parts of the Arabian Peninsula ruled by the Saudi family since the 1930s. There were quite a lot of Saudi fans at the game yesterday, but not many women as far as I could tell. Still, the Saudi fans managed to hand out quite a few flags to a lot of people who would probably be revolted with the way that country is run. For the North Koreans, run by an equally hideous regime, there were as far I could tell (or reasonably expect), no actual North Korean fans from North Korea in the stadium. Instead their supporters end at the northern end of the ground was taken up by various members of the Melbourne Victory's active groups.

A good clue towards establishing that they weren't real North Koreans, even from my spot in the good seats, is that the chants (all in English, and all largely taking the piss, eg. North Korea is best Korea, or some such), is that they kept referring to North Korea, which the real North Korea would never do, since they (like the South) consider themselves the real Korea. Speaking of real Koreans, that is people from the Korean Peninsula, there were apparently some in the crowd, I'm guessing sitting well away from the 'North Koreans'.
There were also apparently people wearing Kim Jong-Un masks in the northern end, and when security went in to confiscate them, they were jeered by those North Korean sympathisers, who didn't seem to appreciate the gesture made by stadium management towards creating a genuine North Korean experience.
Closer to home in Aisle 4, Row D, we were more concerned with not getting crushed to death by the ceremonial flags hanging off the rafters.
As the patrons in the relevant area were moved across into the neighbouring bays without too much fuss, one had to wonder though: what was the cause of the problem? While the half filled stadium (attendance at a touch under 13k) allowed patrons to be moved to adjacent bays, what would have happened had the stadium been filled up, say, for a Socceroos match? And who's going to be held responsible for this debacle?
Of course, because no one was killed or injured, there was also a lighter side to the flag situation.
Can you believe that lighthearted comment spiralled out of control into a Bitter vs New Dawn argument? Of course you can, it's the internet.

Now friends, there was also a match being played, and it was pretty damn fun and frustrating to watch in equal measure, as both teams pinged the ball back and forth as quickly as possible. The North Koreans looked the more likely to score in the beginning and they did, but surprisingly perhaps the Saudis didn't collapse in a heap, and actually ran over the top of their totalitarian counterparts, while looking quite stylish at the same, though their finishing could do with some work.

The most bizarre thing about the North Koreans though, apart from their coach apparently being on a direct line to Pyongyang, was the overly physical approach they brought to the contest. They copped a yellow card within the first couple of minutes for a pretty savage tackle, and after a few more bad tackles interspersed throughout the game, they finished it off with a brilliant shirtfront which somehow managed to avoid receiving any sort of card. Of course, if you did that in the AFL these days you'd get suspended.

Epilogue mode stolen from Gillian Rubenstein's Beyond the Labyrinth
If you rolled six or under:

Not that it matters anymore, but where is the social club? Since the only acceptable way to socialise in Australia is with booze, and goodness knows no one can possibly have fun without it, it'd be nice if we had some place of our own to have 'fun'.

If you threw over six:
A week or two before Christmas, someone at Victoria University did a bit of a ring around to all the relevant people (except me, and possibly others who I am not aware of) looking for ways to contribute to finding connections to the Asian Cup so Victoria University's academics could be at the forefront of writing on the tournament, thus reinforcing our reputation as the 'sports university'.

After being included (eventually) via being CCed into an email, I did get a phone call asking me what my expertise was exactly, and how would that fit into what the project was about. Well I tried to put forward what my angle is, difficult as it was considering I don't really conduct interviews, and nor does my research have an utterly direct and completely obvious connection to the Asian Cup, and neither did this person really explain what it was that they wanted, but could I at least email him some examples of my work for him to see.

I did so, and never heard back from him. After looking back at this post, it was probably for the best.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

South vs Pines tonight

Tonight South plays Frankston Pines out at Monterrey Reserve, with kickoff at 7:00PM. If you're not heading out to the Asian Cup like I am, it might be worth a look.

Monday, 12 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 2 - A Greek in the Persian Empire

Breakfast TV (we've got a long way to go; or conversely, the mainstream media doesn't know what's news and what isn't)
Now the ever so slightly churlish point about this is that the Asian Cup seems either to have made little to no impact among Australia's sporting public - which the crowds at thus far at least show not to be the case - or that the mainstream press still doesn't get it, and perhaps never will.

Having said that however, the reason I was channel surfing across the spectrum in the first place is because I had not seen any of the goals or action from the previous day's matches. Now of course I could have stayed up late to watch the highlights on the ABC, or could have used an illegal stream (not an option with my internet screwing up, whatever the dubious legalities), and I was also interested in seeing if, or how the local broadbased television services would cover the matter as opposed to just taking the relatively easy way out and looking for highlights online - because the issue is not whether someone already interested in the tournament could find information online themselves, but whether those with at best a passing interest could end up in the position of being unable to avoid it.

'They take hundreds of magazines, filter out the crap, and leave you with something that fits right in your front pocket.'
Then again, highlights packages, whether of a solitary goal in a news round up or in a dedicated program can only go so far. I recall many years ago, back when SBS still had the EPL highlights show and I still had some sort of allegiance to Liverpool. Come Monday evening I would be watching the show, getting high on a sugared up dose of all the good bits minus all the fluff, until one realises that (in my case at least) that there's actually something to be said for the live in the flesh experience itself, as well as all the attendant bits - travel, meet, greet, bad/good food, lining up, atmosphere - that one just doesn't get from watching something on TV.

I say this because I saw some old woman on the train from Flinders Street to Richmond with a copy of Readers Digest, and aside from the horror that they've nabbed another unsuspecting old person to a subscription via their sweepstakes scam, I could not believe that there are people still reading that junk. And it served as a reminder of what the live in the flesh (or whole game) experience of a football match entails; the fact you won't only be served the cherry picked highlights, but also a fair bit of slop. But that slop is what makes the cherry even sweeter when it does come, and provides a more complete experience.

Neutral venue is not neutral
Both around the stadium and at the Corner Hotel (avoid the fish), where several people (me, Steve from Broady, Joe Gorman and Shoot Farken's Athas Zafiris) were spending pre-game, there was already evidence of a very strong Iranian contingent. Not necessarily a lot of football jerseys in evidence, but certainly a lot of colour and excitement, and a fairly even split between the current Iranian flag and variations which were certainly not the current Iranian flag.

Once at the ground and on Level 3 on the eastern side (with the requisite setting sun in the eyes), we (me, Gains and his housemate) found ourselves in the middle of a huge Iranian contingent, who basically dominated that side, as they did the Olympic Park Boulevard end of the ground. Not many, if any, Bahraini fans visible.

Being amid this huge group, I was neither Xenophon on the run to the sea, nor Alexander set to conquer, nor Memnon of Rhodes giving advice that would be ignored until too late, but just a bloke enjoying both the tension on the field and off it. Neither were the Iranian fans hostile in any way, ala the Fearless Iranians From Hell. If anything (and not that I should sound surprised), the vibe was super friendly and reminiscent for me of the following:
Now of course as was pointed out in a reply to this statement on Twitter, the Iranian fans did not have their own Lefteri, and the airhorn they had soon got confiscated, but the family vibe and the passion on display sent me instinctually back to the old NSL finals days. Now whether many of the Iranian fans actually had much awareness of what was going on is another matter entirely, as they cheered the several clearly offside goals and went nuts every time their keeper made a regulation save, is a moot point. They were loud, they were passionate, and they were a lot of fun to be around.

I'm not sure any other team's fans will create as good a vibe at a Melbourne game, but the Asian Cup, whether for the on field stuff or off field, has been fantastic so far, and I'm really looking to the remaining five games here. If you do end up at a game though with what's likely to be decent crowd, try and pre-purchase your tickets, as that will save you a lot of hassle on the day.

Some boys take a beautiful girl/And hide her away from the rest of the world
The Iranian theocracy could learn a thing or two from both Cyndi Lauper and the Iranian diaspora.

The actual game itself, because there are no prizes awarded for best atmosphere
And while that's certainly a cutting remark to make, the standard for large portions of the game, especially earlier on, was poor. The decision making and first touch of the Iranians in particular was particularly bad (though I liked both wingers for Iran, they had a bit of skill and like to take players on, always good to see wingers have a go). Bahrain seemed to have the better of it initially, and probably should have scored the first goal, but eventually the Iranians came to boss this game.

When Iran eventually did get going, they weren't helped by having Iranian Archie Thompson - and even if it was actually several different players, it's easier and more edifying for the narrative to combine them into one personage for the sake of the joke -  constantly being caught offside. When the opening goal did come, it was worth it, because whether or not it was mis-hit it was a peach of a goal, and that's all that matters in the end.

What was most disappointing was that once they fell behind, Bahrain actually did very little to rectify the situation. This was further emphasised when they went 2-0 down - and really, if this tournament has taught us nothing else, it's that there is genuine value in having someone at the near and far posts while defending set pieces - they remained stagnant, committing few players forward. My hope that the Bahrainis would score two late goals - not out of some desire for vengeance for 1997, because nothing will ever make up for that, but more so for the calamitous emotional distress it would have caused.

To further illustrate the point made earlier
This morning on Sunrise: Federer's 1000th win, Michael Clarke injury concern, Packers beat the Cowboys in the playoffs.

Yes random person on Swan Street who apparently saw my hat, South Melbourne Hellas still exists
- Ζει ο βασιλιάς Αλέξανδρος;
- Ζει και βασιλεύει.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 1 - Self-Perpetuating Nostalgia Blues

Seeing as I have tickets to seven matches of the 2015 Asian Cup (along with Gains and his housemate), all in Melbourne. I really wanted to write something that was akin to the greatness of my World Cup pieces for Shoot Farken, but that's not going to happen. In part this is because if you don't have pay TV, as I don't, the tournament may as well as not exist, but also inspiration just hasn't struck. So instead please enjoy or disregard the following, the usual dose of moroseness.

First stop was the Precinct Hotel to catch up with Steve from Broady, because he reckoned that the Cricketers Arms, where the Green and Gold Army was planning to set up, was a hole. Let's be honest though, the Precinct is also a dump. Eventually we did wander over to the Cricketers Arms - but not before bumping into now former South player Shaun Timmins on the way there - in order to meet up with a South supporter who is not completely disillusioned and/or cynical with whatever it is that the Green and Gold Army is meant to be these days.

Aside from inexplicably watching Australia vs India during the 2011 Asian Cup at the Celtic Club - an event which somehow did not make it to this blog in any form - my one and only other close up experience with the Green and Gold Army was back in 2009, which I wrote up in a hyper jaded manner on this blog. The ensuing years have made it harder to hate the Green and Gold Army though. Stripped of relevance by pretty much everyone, replaced by the one game wonder of Terrace Australia [sic], but still kicking on, who am I to kick a dog while it's down?

I must admit that on face value the Cricketers Arms is perhaps an odd choice for such a meet and greet. Apart from its close proximity to the ground, both the interior and the beer garden out the back were liberally decorated in VFL, AFL and cricket paraphernalia. Apart from re-telling unpublishable South gossip, the only other significant thing to do was to become complicit in someone's alcohol problem. But I suppose that's what going to a pub is all about anyway.

Steve from Broady wanted to head to the ground early for some unknown reasons. On the way there we spotted a suited up Alan Davidson talking to someone, before we crossed over into Gosch's Paddock (named after some long dead Melbourne City councilman) and tried to get a handle on what the pre-match festivities consisted of; as it turned out, it was mostly a handful of tent booths with skill games for the kids, and a merch stand.

Outside the Gate 2 entrance at the Bubbledome, there was ethnic dancing of a sort, though I didn't hang around long enough to notice if it was a generic (or specific) Levantine dabkeor something altogether more Kuwaiti. If it indeed was a Kuwaiti folk dance, one wonders if they'd have been allowed to do it in Kuwait proper, where dancing (among other 'fun' things) is prohibited. And of course, my thoughts turned to the NCIP and all that, before being distracted by the white line on the concourse with the attendant instruction 'no smoking beyond thus point', as if the cigarette smoke and the wind could read, much less care where they would end up. But back to the NCIP for just a moment, how good was it that Asian Cup organising committee managed to choose a meat pie as our national dish? It's one of those things that in reality is almost entirely inconsequential, but because of that in-consequentiality manages to rankle my feathers even more. For the record, I would have gone with stale bain marie dim sims.

Once inside, Steve and I did a lap around the inside of the ground to kill time. I bought a scarf in part because it was going to get colder and the threat of rain, and because my green with one gold star Hattrick t-shirt wasn't going to cut it on that front. We bumped into two fellow South fans as well, which just goes to prove that we're not all Socceroo hating, old soccer Nazis. It was my first Socceroos game for a year and a half, the last time being a forgettable (in that I'd forgotten about it entirely) World Cup qualifier against Jordan at Docklands. The last time I was at the Bubbledome was for a Rebels game. The last time I saw a soccer match at the Bubbledome was for another, earlier World Cup qualifying game against Saudi Arabia. It was interesting to see all the elements of the normal Bubbledome stripped back, by which I mean the sponorship boards, but there was also a very large expanded media space on the western side of the ground. Otherwise it was pretty much the same place.

Now it's true that unless you're shoved into some corner, there are not really any bad seats at the Bubbledome, but it was probably a bit dishonest to class the seats we had as 'category A' seats, considering that we were behind the line of the goal - surely that definition should have applied more strictly to areas including only more central bays. At least we could get a good look at the scoreboard from where we were, which became became more necessary in the second half as the bloke next to me was an unnecessary leaner, meaning that we, too, had to lean forward every time the ball went down toward the Olympic Boulevard end.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott made an appearance and was booed by large sections of the the crowd, unlike the time I saw him make an appearance at Brookvale Oval in 2014. Of course back then he was in his own electorate, and accompanied by a sick child as well. Frank Lowy got a much kinder reception though, except from me. If you're going to have a chip on your shoulder, you may as well be sincere about it.

The opening ceremony was all a bit ho hum, some strange inflatable set up, three artists I knew next to nothing about - one song I recognised from some ad campaign on television - and music played at an earth shakingly loud volume, which jarred with the tolerable volume of the pre-game entertainment before that. It probably didn't help that I was seated right behind some massive pitch side speakers, covered in plastic I assume to protect them from any possible deluge, but because of this also making a huge distorted rustling noise. If anyone can make head or tail of all the people running around and doing backflips and cartwheels, good to you. Opening ceremonies are for television audiences anyway, not for people in the stands with obstructed and only one view of the action.
Oh yes, as warned in an email before the match, there was also audience participation by way of what the organisers called a 'tifo' - which was really getting a coloured card out from the back of your seat and making sure you flipped it at the right moment. We even went through a taxing practice run; taxing in that we flipped the cards several times during that warm up, while it only required one flip during the opening ceremony itself. More on those pieces of cardboard later.
The first 30 odd minutes was pretty mediocre stuff from the Socceroos, the goal conceded from the corner being the highlight of said mediocrity. A close runner up however was the first corner we took which was played short RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! Aside from whatever irrational hatred I have of short corners, we have this guy called Tim Cahill, who even though he's a self-aggrandising, right wing nut job associating shill, has a magical forehead onto which every lofted ball we can send into the area should be sent to.

Nevertheless, as was expected but not assured, we managed to run over the top of them. As we all rose up to celebrate the Socceroos two first half goals, I got accidentally elbowed in the side after each time by the Unnecessary Leaner in bis excitement, which took the edge off the celebrations for me. Further injury was avoided because for the third goal everyone was standing up in anticipation of the penalty, and the the fourth goal was a such a junk time effort there was no real point in celebrating it anyway.

At half time the sprinklers either turned themselves or were turned on by someone for the same reason (which escapes me at this moment) they were turned on before the match. Either way the photographers had to make a bit of run for it. The second half was entertaining at least as we peppered the goals, but the Kuwaitis were also able to break through the offside trap on a handful of occasions and barring some good work by Mat Ryan in goal, it might have been a tighter finish. Instead the crowd grew bored as the Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! chant started going through the crowds, and the pieces of cardboard used for the opening ceremony were crafted into paper planes. A handful were well crafted enough to make it onto the field; most seemed to make it as far as the space behind the ad boards, while a good few didn't even get that far, managing only to collide with the back of people's heads, reminding me of the time I got hit in the head with a coin at a Victory game.

At the end of the day, the man of the match was clearly the referee, who bucked the trend of all referees being rubbish all the time,  what with having an excellent game all around, especially in not falling for pretty much any of the diving antics of the Socceroos. Remember the days when we were all self-righteous about the diving and feigning of injuries of Asian teams? Well judging from last night's match, that's gone completely out the window now, as we have now become the petulant equals of our region's finest in this matter. Welcome to modern Australian football.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Friendly against Dandenong City on Saturday

This Saturday we'll be playing our first pre-season match for 2015 against NPL1 side Dandenong City, at the unfortunate time of 10:30AM, at the even more unfortunate location of Somerville Secondary College. While your correspondent would love to be there, the Stony Point line does not provide a good enough service on Saturday mornings for me to get out there. If someone is foolhardy enough to get out there, feel free to send in some sort of report.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Totalitarian theocracy artefact Wednesday - Saudi Arabia FA pennant

With the Asian Cup starting this week, and what with the Saudis even visiting Melbourne next week to play North Korea (in a totalitarian theocracy derby, how apt), this seemed like as good as time as any to post this piece of history.  Three years ago now, the Saudi Arabian national team used Lakeside as a training base in the lead up to playing what was for them, a must win game against the Socceroos in the course of World Cup qualifying. That stint included a warm up match New Zealand which turned out to be open to the public, a fact however that was announced too late for me to make use of. Anyway, I assume this was presented to us as a token of their thanks to us infidels for using the stadium. Is the drawing of the footballer on the pennant classifiable as a graven image? What about the date palm? I don't know; I'm no theologian. If you're anywhere near me in the good seats during the Melbourne based Asian Cup matches, come around and say hello.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

December 2014 digest

Memberships are available
The usual deal. Head here to make your purchase. Support your club. Good to see that entry to all home league and potential Dockerty and FFA Cup games is included.

Dane Milovanovic, most recently of some mob in the Maldives.

and out...
general manager Peter Kokotis. Or at least that's the word on the street. Interesting to see if they choose to replace him, and if so with who. And to think I still haven't managed to get that Yarra Park Aias photo with the team list off him. Score that as a failed KPI target.

and no word yet...
On who'll be keeping for us. Will it be Peter Gavalas? Nikola Roganovic? Chris Maynard? And what about who'll be the technical director. Because you can't have your senior coach also be your technical director.

In case you missed it... 
The fixtures for the 2015 season are out. Here are some of the issues of slightly lesser importance. First, finals are back, which is good for people who get bored when their teams are out of the ruuning five minutes into the season, but bad for those people who hate finals in soccer. Worse, FFV have inexplicably decided to use the A-League top six model, which is a straight knockout affair, with the only benefit to the top two teams being a week off. That just ends up making the finals series even more of a who's in form at the 'right' time of the season lottery.

There's at least a couple of new venues to visit this year as well, of a sort. We'll be visiting North Geelong Elcho Park for the first time (as far as I'm aware) in round 2, and in round 23 we'll be playing at the revamped CB Smith Reserve for the first time (as well as the first time at that venue since the 'why' game in 2008), as Pascoe Vale have moved their senior matches there for 2015. Avondale Heights - who have re-branded themselves as Avondale FC, which I won't use - are listed as playing out of Doyle Street Reserve, which falls well short of the requirements of the NPL for senior matches, so it will be interesting to see how that pans out.

For some inexplicable reason most of our home games are on Fridays, which without a social club seems to be a rather daft decision, but one that's still apparently subject to change. The club even held a survey asking for feedback about preferred times. I reckon Sunday 3:00PM is best. It will be interesting to see what arrangements are made for the home game against Melbourne Knights, which reportedly falls on Orthodox Easter week.

But back to the social club for a moment...
The fashionably late 2014 South Melbourne AGM will be held on Thursday January 29th, at 7:00PM in the President's Room. Unfortunately, your correspondent will almost certainly miss the affair. The reason for this is that around that time I'll be having laser surgery to remove a blister on my non-functioning left eye, which I anticipate will see me out of action for a few days at least. If anyone attending would like to do a write up for the blog, please get in contact with me.

Adelaide trip 2015
Which doubly sucks because it's been said that we'll be going to Adelaide in the first week of February to play one or two games as part of the pre-season, with one of the games definitely being against West Adelaide. Let's just hope they get around soon to booking the tickets and accommodation.

OK, here's the problem
I will be attending seven Asian Cup matches during January, as well as a local academic sports conference, eye surgery and whatever else may come up during January and February. This will mean that I will miss several South Melbourne pre-season friendly fixtures. So I'm looking for people that will be going to these and related events to maybe pitch in and provide some short reports, otherwise the quality of the South related content during January may well and truly suck more than usual. Send all your inquiries to the usual address. Especially keen on someone covering the prospective Adelaide trip.

The house (aka Eddie McGuire) always wins
So the Socceroos won't be training at Lakeside, but rather at the hollow shell of what Eddie 'sometimes I love soccer, but most of the time I don't because it's played by wogs' McGuire turned Olympic Park into. I think Lakeside might be hosting Uzbekistan instead. If someone could get me access to the latter's training sessions, that would be nice.

Some thoughts on getting ahead of ourselves (but not really)
I was going to write some sort of brief spiel about the ramifications of the move away from small markets in the A-League and what that might mean for us, but then I figured that since we're never going to be in the A-League anyway, that the point was probably moot.

Nick Jacobs, Memphis Tiger
An interesting post was recently made on smfcboard - and then followed up by George Kouroumalis on the official site - alerting people to the fact that former player Nick Jacobs, who reportedly retired from soccer following a long lay off with injury, has surfaced in the US playing college football for the University of Memphis Tigers, where he is also studying engineering.

It seems like the guy who used be to the punter for them, the highly rated Tom Hornsey (another Aussie), had been drafted by the Dallas Cowboys (and since released as a free agent), and that Nick has managed to dislodge Hornsey's replacement as the first choice punter.
Jacobs has been averaging around 33 yards per punt (with a season long of 42), which isn't great (I think NFL punters aim for around 45 yards net gain?), but on the other hand Jacobs hasn't had to make too many punts either, which is generally a sign that the offence is doing its job - and those punts he has made have invariably ended up inside the 20.

Now I'm hardly an expert an college football - the bowl election process and the random ways One HD would show games made it terribly confusing - but Memphis appear to be one of the more minor teams in the top NCAA divisions. Still, they've done well this season going from a 3-9 season in 2013 to a 9-3 record in 2014, and even reaching a bowl game, which is a rarity for them and a fair reward for their reversal in fortunes. Their conference record of 7-1 saw them win a a share of the conference championship, their first championship of any kind since 1971.

Memphis won their bowl match against Brigham Young University 55-48 in double over time, a game which also included a massive on field brawl. It was Memphis' first ten win season since 1938.

Mandatory Frank Lowy succession comment
Here are some of the things that are bothering me about this process.
  • People using legalistic arguments as opposed to ethical ones in order to justify the potential hiring of Steven Lowy as Frank's successor.
  • The continuing and fervent apologia hinting at, or openly appealing to the abstract notion of 'the greater good'.
  • The fact that we apparently have such a lack of capable people to call upon in the game that Frank's boy seems to be the 'most obvious' candidate, even as we conduct another patented Australian soccer world wide search.
The moment where FFA does or doesn't choose Steven Lowy as Frank's successor is almost irrelevant. It is the process which allows that to even be a possibility that's a concern. But what to do about it?

Labored analogy based upon an old review of Eels' Daisies of the Galaxy album.
Sometimes I feel like my writing on the game has becomes so insular that I can't come out, and that only the existing members of my hard won and loyal audience can possibly continue traveling with me on this mildly eccentric faux indie ride.