Monday, 30 March 2015

Need more gas in the tank - Heidelberg United 1 South Melbourne 1

Took one of our reader's suggestions and used the route 250 to get to the ground, and though the walk to the ground was all downhill, it did take longer than I'd anticipated, and of course the ancient turnstiles at the front of the ground weren't working. At least the bus ride allowed me to meet Tim McGlone, one of the newer faces in the ever expanding South Melbourne media team. There was a minute''s silence for a Heidelberg member who had passed away, and then the Greek national anthem for Greek national day (NCIP!) and the Aussie one (crackling badly through the PA system), all combined with the smell of the rankest cigarettes I've smelled for some time, and then we were off. Also, 3XY and Michael Lynch were there.

We started off a bit slow, but eventually got on top and started bossing the game, pulling together some wonderful passing play. The lineup was the same as the one that started the second half against Bentleigh the week before, including no substitute keeper again. This arrangement didn't last very long, as Cody Martindale had to come off early with an injury, and on came Andy Kecojevic. Soon enough we took the lead, Milos Lujic hitting a wonderful shot after some excellent lead up work.

Later on in the half Brad Norton was viciously cut down, and soon after half time Tim Mala had to go off with injury as well. Unlike last year, where we managed to keep most of our starting eleven players on the field for the entire season, this season, while not being quite the disaster on that front that it could be, has been a challenge. Dan Heffernan didn't play for the Bergers which helped our cause, as his replacement Kenny Athiu kept finding himself offside. Still, our defensive stocks at the moment are thin, and it will be interesting to see how we cope once we hit the more crowded part of the schedule where we have to play three games in a week.

The second half saw the arrival of a persistent problem this season - not enough gas in the tank. Last season we were able to win games in part because we were better able to run out matches, including often making substitutions quite late in the piece. This season, even with early subs, we look unable to run out games convincingly. I hope this is all part of the plan to help us peak later in the year, and that once we hit our stretch of Friday night home matches, that our recovery and fitness plan kicks into action and gives us some kind of edge. Until that moment arrives however, we are looking particularly vulnerable.

While last season we started off well and became tired towards the end, it's still not a good look to be struggling the way we have been. Having said that, had we scored the goal that we should have in the second half to make it 2-0, this probably would have been game, set and match. As it was the Bergers took it up the other end and scored immediately, and then proceeded to dominate proceedings. Andreas Govas hit one of the hardest shots I've seen for some time from long range - thank goodness that we have Nikola Roganovic in goals this season - he's been doing an outstanding job, and looks safe as houses in the air as well.

Injuries and lack of fitness aside, what made matters worse is that we lost all composure on the ball. Nick Epifano got himself into good position on a couple of occasions, but failed to make the most of his opportunities. Several players were guilty of making horrible, rushed passes, as well as bombing the ball long to the increasingly isolated Lujic. Leigh Minopoulos came on and added a bit of spark and pace, as well as level headedness - the problem there is that we appear to be heading into a problem we had several seasons ago, that we have a lot of players that look good coming off the bench, but not as many who can start and finish a game off well.

Milos Lujic still looks ominous, but he needs a reliable friend up front. David Stirton didn't start this game, nor was he used off the bench. Andy Brennan, the player Ian Syson and I had come to see most of all, worked hard but was visibly tired even in the first half. He also learned that the space he was accustomed to in Tasmania, as well as the tricks he could use to beat an opponent one on one, are not as reliable in Victoria; still, I think there's huge upside, and that it's all part of the learning process for him. I also love Leigh Minopoulos, but I have my doubts about whether he could be as effective as a starting player. The midfield for the most part battles hard, but they're undersized, and where we should be using Michael Eagar or Dane Milovanovic in defensive midfield as an enforcer, defensive necessities and lack of fitness respectively are leaving us scrambling for makeshift options.

In the end, while the officiating didn't help us - and I say that as someone who usually enjoys Lucien's relative finickiness, as long as he's being even handed and accurate - we were a little lucky to get away with the point, Still, we also had our chances, and if we can get our fitness right, and figure out the exact starting eleven that we want to settle on (injuries notwithstanding), we have a lot of upside to come, which I'm not sure can be said for a lot of the other teams around us at this point in time. To only be playing 25-30 minutes of good football, against mostly the teams likely to be in the finals race, and still be picking up points - that's the positive that I'm going to take out of this opening part of the season.

This sucks
This also happened to Preston late last season at Keilor Park. Someone on Twitter said that there are actually FFV rules that the change rooms must be locked, but even with that, surely it would be common sense to lock the rooms anyway? I don't know, this just seems like something that's so easily preventable.

No substitute goalkeeper again comedy commentary piece
Our officials saw there was a problem and they fixed it, didn't they?

Next week
Of course our charmed run of results - if not quite personnel issues - could all come crashing down this week, when we play Green Gully away on Saturday afternoon. Another difficult game to be sure, but at least it's our last away game for this stretch before we get back home to Lakeside.

Jersey night
Having just missed the 96 tram to St Kilda, I waited patiently for the next one, only for the driver to let off passengers, pick up almost no one and then bolt off. At least I handled the situation slightly better than the bloke who swore out loud and thumped the side of the tram, scaring some children inside of it - his own admission, made somewhat shamefully. I eventually made it to the venue, where I tried to psych myself up for some classic cynicism.
Seriously, how churlish can you get before the event even starts? Anyway, many famous people were there. Kimon Taliadoros, always on an insatiable quest for power; Mal Impiombato, the latest FFA bureaucratic heavy hitter we're desperately trying to woo; Tara Rushton, something, something, hot chick, something, something, where's Mel?; Martin Foley, the local member of parliament, who's stuck his neck out for a bunch of Greeks who mostly don't live in his electorate; and Santo Cilauro, of various projects including one where they let Sam Pang boast about the fact he knowns nothing about the game - mind you, that's someone else's interpretation, because I don't watch the relevant show.

There were also the usual sponsors, board members and sprinkling of ordinary fans, thrust into the back corner, and the firm establishment of an SMFC media team cartel, minus one very important member - and no, it wasn't me! Thus, mingling was made very difficult, and created a sort of sullen mood in certain areas of the venue. Nevertheless, it was nice of Chris Taylor to pop around, while the movers and shakers were busy trying to schmooze people with money and influence.
If this was a Greek wedding though - and I use Greek weddings as the example only because they're the only ones I've ever been to - there'd be much complaining that no member of the committee came around to thank us for attending and ask us how we were faring, apart from collecting our money. Speaking of money, the player auction was of course a central feature of the night's proceedings. It was a more muted, but evenly spread affair this season, no ridiculous over the top amounts, but none of the lesser players went for the measly sum of $500. Kosta from Blue Thunder Security of course bought Matthew Theodore, while Nick Epifano - despite his absence on the night - managed to get the equal top amount alongside Michael Eagar. A pity that us ordinary fans were too disorganised and/or poor to be able to buy someone. Maybe next year.

Anyway, as was the case last year, local MP Martin Foley got a chance to have his say, opining on the frustrations that the Lakeside lease still hasn't been sorted out yet - especially given that he had promised March 15th of this year as a deadline.
One of the people inside the tent had a more detailed version of Foley's commentary, as posted on smfcboard.
Foley essentially said that it will all be done and dusted in the next few weeks by the latest with the deadline set by government April 29th. George Lekakis (Multicultural commission) has been appointed to oversee the process to ensure we get what we have been promised, while the senior ALP members have sent a formal directive to the department to also ensure the above happens. 
He also went on about how South has acted in good faith in the past 5 years and how badly they have been let down by government. While he couldn't control what Liberal did, he did apologise on behalf of the ALP.
But what's another arbitrary deadline between friends? Then it was time for the football panel discussion chaired by Tom Kalas, which touched on prospective FFV president Kimon Talidoros' desire to align the states with what FFA was doing, something to do with promotion/relegation, and pointing out how awesome South was or is. I think SMFCMike enjoyed this segment a lot more than I did.
The meals were a step down from last year's efforts.
This sparked some Twitter discussion at least about the merits or otherwise, of Greek lentil soup, The chicken for the main was quite good, even with the creamy pasta side dish shenanigans. On the other hand, dessert was a disaster.
And that's even leaving out the pathetically small pieces of cut up cherry ripe slice and lemon slice. What happened to the pannacotta from last year? It was good to meet FFV media dude Alan Delic at the end of the night, where I commended the recent work FFV has been doing in the media area. I also mentioned how I'm a big fan of FFV giving the NPL clubs cameras to film their own games, which I know is not necessarily popular with some people because of the low quality of some of the filming, and 'more urgent priorities'. Overall, it wasn't the most enjoyable night, and I'd had more fun in other years at this event. Swings and roundabouts and all that.

Πολύ γκρινιάρης δεν είσαι?
Nick Epifano fan abuse issue borrowed comedy commentary piece

I am very interested in seeing how this will be dealt with - on a purely intellectual level of course.
Final thought
I might be a cunt, but...

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Ten blog posts that will probably never see the light of day

In lieu of Kiss of Death's absence this week - and I'm disappointed, because you know KoD would've had something good for derby week, if only they had the time - here's a self-indulgent piece from me instead.

If you think most of what gets put up on here is crap, then you've obviously never seen what doesn't make it to publication, and is just sitting there in draft form waiting for some attention. So here's a list of some of the half baked ideas, poor attempts at humour and victims of 'never found the time to finish', sitting in the South of the Border vault. Thank goodness most will never come to fruition.
  1. On Modernity - an earnest, and perhaps over earnest, piece about the whole Against Modern Football movement, and how its faulty nomenclature in particular betrays a self-interested and broken sense of nostalgia. Some of the ideas are rock solid, but when even I choke on the earnest tone of a piece, you know it's best to just let it go.
  2. Les Murray as Paul McCartney - a smidgen of an idea at best from several years ago, where I would discuss how everyone hated Les Murray rather than Johnny Warren because Warren, like John Lennon, was dead, and we show a lot more respect to the dead than the living. The article never got very far - just a few hackneyed paragraphs - and eventually I came to despise Murray as much as the next bitter. Good thing then that I never even got close to finishing the piece.
  3. 10 possible reasons Peter Kokotis is no longer general manager - Oh dear. A 'humourous' piece, this one is actually complete, but just very unfunny, in the way that a non-humourist like myself writes it and thinks it's funny, and then five seconds after finishing it realises that it's clearly not funny. 
  4. Is Blogging Enough? - last year maybe, someone - probably Dean Rosario - had a crack at the thinkers and writers of the Oz Soccer world, especially the bitters. That prompted some brainstorming on my part about the worth, effect and role of blogging and writing on the game as opposed to getting your sleeves dirty in some more traditional, authentic and 'practical' manner. Everything I would have said in the piece would have been in defending what I (and others) do, but these people have their own axe to grind anyway, and besides, who wants to hear writers talk about writing?
  5. Match report in Hattrick style - Hattrick is an online football management game whose games, played in real time, are entirely text based. It has its own very particular style of reporting on a game - only significant events are reported, and sometimes there just aren't a lot of them - and I wanted to experiment with adapting Hattrick's style to real world football, and then write about it for Hattrick's internal press site, I tried this once with the 2-2 Southern Stars game from a couple of years ago, with help from Gains while taking notes, but too much happened in that game to make it workable then. I would love to revisit this idea, though it would need a duller game and someone to help me point out the precise players doing significant things.
  6. South Melbourne matches or yearly reviews based on celebrity/guest reviewers - Like the Hattrick match report idea suggested above, I would have used the style of particular types of reviewers to liven the experience up for myself. Potential imitations included Robert Christgau (already done sorta in my Heavy Sleeper stuff), David and Margaret and reviews (good and bad) from Amazon customers. This could be revisited as a gimmick at some point, but who knows if I'll ever have the gumption, or the requisite self-discipline.
  7. The search for the ultimate South Melbourne player - Born from times when we were in a bad patch and the supporters would twist themselves into ethical knots about what kind of players we should sign (loyal, Greek and Greek Orthodox, not traitorous dogs, young but experienced, and who would play for free). The fact that I couldn't draw did not help this article's case, but as you may well have guessed, that was only part of the issue..
  8. It was and always will be our fault - Defeated and defeatist - but still fighting - piece aimed at Paul Daffey of The Age and Footy Almanac. Back in 2010 Daffey had a go, as so many of his ilk have, about how our South has destroyed the Lake Oval, while ignoring the facts that a) South Melbourne footy club left the place in 1981, and b) our South lost its traditional home of Middle Park due to a stupid car race, yet still had a desire to remain in the local area. In the end, the points that I made in the relevant comments section were far better than the apoplectic ramblings I had metaphorically scribbled into the draft page here.
  9. Steve from Broady's 2015 Asian Cup diary - No one got into the Asian Cup like Steve, and I mean no one. He followed the Socceroos up and down the coast, watched games from other teams in the relevant cities, managed to squeeze in some tennis and one day cricket along the way, and at one point even make a tray of lasagne. He told me once that he'd completed the first six days, but I haven't seen it, and I'm not optimistic that I'll see the rest either.
  10. Annotated review of Tony Wilson's 'Australia United' - I didn't like this book for all sorts of reasons, and I was all ready to put it up a review at some point late last year or the year before - I can't remember exactly when - but I sent it to someone else first for perusal. They said it was good, but mean, and that discouraged me from putting it out. Following a reading of Stewart Lee's autobiography, which included annotated transcripts of three of his shows, I gave the same treatment to my review. I think it actually turned out pretty good (if still self-indulgent), so the reason this isn't getting published here is due to aesthetic grounds rather than content - it needs to be in print to project the full effect of annotations. Sadly, unless something miraculous happens, it'll probably never see a print run.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Speaking of which... - Bentleigh Greens 2 South Melbourne 2

Well, we matched it with them for about 20 minutes, and then we didn't, and we copped two goals and we looked done like a dinner, And then we somehow dug our way of that, not without a bit of luck, and almost snatched it.

Some of those banners are not very NCIP friendly. A good thing that it was
'erase racism' round. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Nick Epifano is a hell of a frustrating player. In the first half he was nowhere near it really, and was directly involved in the first goal we conceded, after he dithered in midfield and lost the ball, from which Bentleigh countered and scored while we had numbers committed forward. What was worse was that the danger from such half-heartedness was already apparent, after Milos Lujic had earlier stopped dead waiting for a referee's whistle that never came, sending Bentleigh on their way.

To be fair to Epifano he was not playing in his more suited wide positions, and neither did I think he that had the capacity to pull himself out of his lacklustre performance - and to be even fairer, he was hardly alone in the slack arse stakes in the first half. The whole side picked up their work rate, and the performance improved considerably, and Epifano was a huge part of that, so credit where it's due.

Less credit to David Stirton who hasn't quite lived up to my expectations yet. I've been defending him over the past few weeks despite his sluggish form from the attacks of my favourite hill and terrace loud mouth, but last night Stirton had a shocker. Subbed at half time - as part of an atypical Chris Taylor early double sub roll of the dice - his replacement Andy Brennan if nothing else provided the kind of grunt work that Stirton would not. Whether Stirton gets a reprieve for next week is anyone's guess.

Lujic is beginning to annoy a section of the supporters - this writer included - with his tendency to now play for fouls and not play to the whistle. The aforementioned incident was a perfect example, and even the penalty that we got was in that realm. Looking at the replay, he does get clipped, but the possibility that he was milking it has now entered my mindset and it's going to be hard for me to shrug off. Of course for others this is less of an issue, and they may even applaud Lujic for winning the foul, because there was contact and he made the most of it to the benefit of the team. And what of last year's game, where we were denied a much more obvious penalty? Swings and roundabouts.

Epifano's equaliser - which was well worked, though I think Alistair Bray could have done better if he'd just stood his ground - set up a show stopper of finale, where the Greens were denied a goal late on for reasons I'm not aware of, Tyson Holmes didn't score against us, and Lujic seemed to pull up with cramp just as the ball sat up for him to snatch the winner in the last seconds of the game. Both teams can play better, but I think we have more improvement left in us than Bentleigh, and more than the point we got out of the game, that's what makes me happiest - despite being very unhappy with our performance for large chunks of the game.

Next week
Heidelberg away.

Could we have had Eagar earlier?
Overhead a story yesterday that prior to joining us last year, Michael Eagar had previously trialled with us in 2013, only to be rejected.

Wavelength: 495–570 nm
My, wasn't the Kingston Heath surface looking particularly verdant last night? Maybe because someone - either the local council or the home team themselves - had it painted green! It seems as if South's team manager Frank Piccione has had a horror time trying to get the green paint off the white uniforms. Brad Norton has claimed that even after three showers, he still looks like the Grinch! More seriously, why was there paint on the field? What was the paint on the field? And who's going to reimburse us in the event that the paint has left permanent stains on the uniforms? Speaking of things green and not being what they claim to be...

Truly, the most overrated of foodstuffs in the league
Ten dollars doesn't get you very far in the south-east. Oh, in parts of the west it can get you both a meat filled roll and a soft drink, but out there in the middle of nowhere, you're left with no change from a tenner after you purchase your meat and bread product. But that's OK, as it's part of the experience of travelling to overhyped football tourist spots like FoxSports Souvlaki Stadium. What's less than acceptable is being charged ten bucks for what is essentially a bread pocket half filled with lettuce so devoid of flavour that it felt not like I was eating discarded grass clippings, but instead munching on leftover parts of the synthetic turf they used for the second pitch. Speaking of which...

Segment rescinded due to ongoing investigation
Because sometimes you gotta sure make of a few details before going off half-cocked.

Lead singer: No there's no substitute for you.
Backing singer: No substitute, no substitute!
While it escaped my attention during our last league game away to Werribee, last night while looking at the team sheets on Twitter it became very clear that we did not have a substitute keeper listed. My mind immediately went back to the 2000 Scottish FA Cup final, where Aberdeen played Rangers, a task made much harder for Aberdeen due to the fact that they had no substitute keeper. Well what do you know, their keeper Jim Leighton went off injured and they had to use one of their outfield players in goal. It didn't turn out so well.

Now when Roganovic went down heavily in the six yard box yesterday, it looked like we were in big, self-inflicted trouble. Now I had overheard that under these quite plainly unacceptable circumstances, Kristian Konstantinidis would be the outfield player to take up the gloves. But of course he's out injured. So what was going to be Plan Z exactly? Poor organisation by the club on all fronts on this matter, thought its comforting to know that we've reverted to our habit of signing 101 midfielders. Luckily Roganovic managed to get up and continue. But speaking of Gonzo...

Kristian Konstantinidis out for season?
It looks like Gonzo's out for the entire season now, or at least a huge chunk of it. Since much of our plan for this year seemed to hinge on Michael Eagar playing a central defensive role, what would be the back up plan if that couldn't be arranged because Eagar needed to played in defence? Perhaps new recruit Dane Milovanovic could fill in that role - but is he even fit? Murmurings around the ground suggest that he is not.

Dockerty Cup opponent
We've been drawn against the plucky cup outfit North Sunshine Eagles. North Sunshine have a habit of punching above their weight in the cup, most recently eliminating Sunshine George Cross on penalties after their game finished 6-6 after extra time - including coming back from 6-4 down with nine men.

Hey Martin Foley, where's the social club? (via smfcboard)
"He said the wheels were in motion, but there was no motion. He's a very bad man"

Around the grounds
Three times is a trend
This week was the first game of the league season for the state leagues, and I ventured out to the Paisley Park derby. Neither of these two sides had apparently shown much during the pre-season. Altona East were lucky to avoid relegation last year, thanks to Moreland City accepting promotion to NPL. 2015 hadn't started much better, being bundled out of the Dockerty Cup by lowly Riversdale. For their part, Altona Magic had reportedly recruited heavily with a view to getting into the NPL, only for that door to be shut by the FFV for this year. Magic, too, had been bundled out of the cup by Berwick. The game started in typical derby fashion, with a lot of strong tackling, but eventually Magic went on to take control of the match. That they ended winning this game because of pretty much scoring the same goal three times doesn't reflect well on Altona East. Each time the ball was lofted into the area, each time confusion reigned in the East defence, with the keeper and defenders at sixes and sevens. OK, so the second of the third goals was an own goal, but that was the only outlier. East did pull it back to 2-1 early in the second half, but never really threatened again after that. Echoing last year's 'Robin Egg Blue' fiasco, Ian Syson decided that the colour of Magic's away strip was 'banana yellow' (as in the skin, not the flesh), whereas I argued it was the colour of an egg rich custard. It was that kind of day.

Oh, and my hair has apparently changed colour again. I blame the sun.

Final thought
There was some, er, 'arousal' in among the crowd there last night. Perhaps it's best to leave it at that.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Kiss of Death, round 5, 2015

Friday 20th March, 8:15PM, Bentleigh Greens vs South Melbourne. Kingston Heath Soccer Complex
South to regain their rightful place on top of the table. Everyone praises Bentleigh. Bentleigh this, Benteigh that. They had a run last year in the FFA Cup, but never played anyone of note until the end. Yeah, that’s right kolofardoi, you played NO ONE. But you will be playing someone better than all those teams put together. SMFC Team of the Century. SMFC doesn’t lose to shit teams like Bentleigh. No Kristian Konstandinidis, he’s out for the season. Tim ‘shame on you’ Mala should be back after last week's break. Bentleigh to as usual, make out they’re a powerhouse. Fools! Bentleigh Greens 0 – South Melbourne 2.

Friday 20th March, 8:30PM, Melbourne Knights vs Dandenong Thunder, Knights Stadium
The Knights are on a roll, and I'm not talking cevapi roll either. Unbeaten in all competitions so far, this is their best start in a while. Dandenong was knocked out last weekend in the FFA Cup, and will be looking to bounce back and get something from the Knights. They won’t be able to. The Knights will be too good. Barisic on fire, there’s nothing stopping them now (until they play South). Melbourne Knights 3 – Dandenong Thunder 0.

Friday 20th March, 8:30PM, Pascoe Vale vs Oakleigh Cannons, CB Smith Reserve
Pascoe Vale vs the 0-12 vs Corio Oakeigh Cannons. What a machine of a team. What a world beater. The Galacticos. Six points away from the finals series, and ten points away from the championship, they can already write off the season. They score 12 against Corio in FFA Cup, but in two NPL games they have zero points. Emergency situation down at the Cannons now. They have been called, ‘Le Bleu’, ‘Chelsea’ and 'Galacticos' by those ignorant fools in the Greek media. The constant daisy chaining, gloryholeing, and overall bukkakeing of this team by some people is a disgrace. They have won zero. Pascoe Vale is also sitting down the bottom, last actually, but I'm leaning towards them, because so far, they have scored more goals than Oakleigh, and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?  
Pascoe Vale 1 – Oakleigh Cannons 0.

Saturday 21st March, 3:00PM Avondale FC vs Heidelberg United, Doyle Street Reserve
This one should be an exciting match. Bergers are doing well, and shouldn’t have an issue discarding of Avondale. Avondale FC 0 – Heidelberg United 2.

Saturday 21st March, 5:00PM, Northcote City vs Port Melbourne Sharks, John Cain Memorial Park
Ahhhh, Northcote, Northcote, Northcote. Struggling big time boys, eh? What’s the problem this year? Is it the coach? Is it the committee? Is it the lack of funds? Are you in a rebuilding phase Ummm, what other excuses can we come up with, eh? Leave us alone. The consensus in the Greek footballing community is that Northcote has had its day and are now on the decline. The glory days of a few years ago are over. Start thinking of, I dunno, anything but football. How about becoming a backgammon club or something? Port Melbourne, wow. This derby is of two teams which I absolutely do not have time for. The crowd will be in the vicinity of about 67 people. These two teams have nothing to do with the history of themselves prior to 2004. Northcote City 1 – Port Melbourne 2.

Saturday 21st March, 6:00PM, Hume City vs North Geelong Warriors, Broadmeadows Valley Park
Tasty match this one. North Geelong is causing surprises and have probably the hardest start to the season for any newly promoted team. They aren’t too bad as I predicted in my round 1 review. Hume is doing pretty poorly considering their signings. Hume City 1 – North Geelong Warriors 3.

Monday 23rd March, 8:30PM, Green Gully vs Werribee City, Green Gully Reserve
Green Gully will be too experienced for Werribee. Now some of you smartarses will say, they were also too experienced for North Geelong, but they copped six. Yeah, that’s true, but North Geelong is a quality outfit with a bright future. Werribee is not. Green Gully 3 – Werribee City 0.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Notes from the 2015 Worlds of Football academic conference

A combination of flawed recollections and shoddy note taking, interpolations of my own thoughts merging with the words actually said, resulting in the inevitable: a busted chronicle from an unreliable narrator.
First, I would like to apologise for putting this up so long after the conference actually happened, and for any lapses in memory resulting from both the time that has passed and the indecipherable  nature of my note taking. Corrections and additions are most welcome - I've probably especially mucked up my review of Desiree Barron's presentation, which was outstanding.

This is the third of these Victoria University conferences that I've attended, and the fifth or so academic conference I've gone to overall. In some ways then, while not being an out and out veteran of these events, I've been to enough of them to get to know different people, and also move up the scale of seniority even if I haven't presented at most of them, as I didn't here. While I was writing these reviews as a relative novice, the complex networking relationships that needed to be negotiated didn't really occur to me - but as an unofficial quasi-historian (and in this case, de facto official chronicler) of these things now, one has to by necessity tread a little more carefully, avoiding the bluntness that may have characterised some of the previous reviews of these conferences.

(for reference, you can view my reports of the 2010 Worlds of Football conference here, and the 2012 one here.

The overall theme of a conference is usually there only as a guide, and conference programs are notoriously difficult things to set up. While often times you can put together sessions where the different presenters will share much in common, often times the outliers will end up in a hodge podge session, interesting for their diversity and idiosyncrasies, but harder to build a cogent narrative out of. This year's theme, of 'football in the Asian century', only made things more difficult, especially for the often narrowly focused (when they're not suffering from self inflicted tunnel vision) Australian rules people.

The opening night panel session included Satoshi Shimizu of the University of Tsukuba; Jennifer Curtin of the University of Auckland; Matthew Klugman from Victoria University; and Seongsik Cho – Hanyang University.

Much of what Shimizu had to say was covered in his keynote the next day, and thus I've decided not to include his remarks here.

Jennifer Curtin made some strange assumptions about the audience's familiarity with the women's rugby union world cup, and by extension I think with how much Australians knew or cared about rugby union in general. This hampered her presentation somewhat. Her overarching argument that women's sport should be treated more fairly by sponsors and the media is a noble and fair one, but it failed to address the issue of quality. What if women's sport is broadly inferior to men's sport, because women can't run as fast, kick as long, or be as strong as male players? What if the highest level of a men's version of a sport is simply more aesthetically pleasing, or played to such a punishing level of professionalism where the game becomes dull, surely a sort of high watermark for sporting excellence? Framed like this, I think, it doesn't become only an issue about gender inequality - though that surely exists, in terms of support and opportunity for female athletes - but something applicable even in male sports. There are reasons more people in Singapore (for example) follow the EPL rather than their local leagues, and one of those reasons is the playing standard. It's likewise why many people from Western Australia and South Australia, rather than ignore the West Coast Eagles and Adelaide Crows and instead follow their local clubs, instead followed the newly founded de facto state teams to the detriment of long standing local sporting institutions. How women's sport overcomes these non-gender specific institutional barriers is something that also needs to be addressed when discussing the gender imbalance in support and funding of women's sport.

Matthew Klugman's point that professional sports leagues and organisations are now primarily media content providers was one of those things that I really should have already known, but had in my own way never been able to articulate; indeed, it's an issue that I've somehow avoided talking about as a specific phenomenon, rather than as a consequence of other influences. Much of Klugman's point is about the NFL as the market leader in this, going back into the 1970s, but the implications of that philosophy are both apparent for all to see, and yet also simultaneously not yet fully realised. What would happen to these leagues in the event that free to air and/or pay television - a crucial funding source of the massive salaries of the athletes and teams in these competitions - is no longer relevant? What would happen if television remained important, but to the expense of people attending matches to the point where they stopped attending in numbers? Do television audiences also implicitly demand that there be crowds and atmosphere on their screens? Do audiences of different sports react differently to uneven competition, and for those that expect a relatively even playing field, does a lopsided competition decrease interest to the detriment of the 'product? Conversely, does too much interference by the governing body to ensure a level playing field also put people off? And if the European footballing giants managed to create their own league, would their overseas fans jump off the bandwagon if an English giant (say Liverpool), got nowhere near winning the competition for a decade?

At the other end of the scale, if the top tiers are media content providers, what does that make lower tiers? While we can conceive that the lowest tiers of sport will still be mostly about social competitions, there's a middle tier - say, a place like where the NPL clubs are, or the VFL/VFA teams - where the clubs can't be sustained merely by the social aspect; nor are there enough funds to make it something more than a development league. In some ways, this can be extrapolated even to the experience of teams in top leagues who happen to be mid-table also-rans, with next to no hope of ever winning a championship.

Seongsik Cho's discussion on the status of South Korean soccer was interesting, at the very least because despite the increasing official/top-level engagement of Australian soccer with Asia, our knowledge for the most part in terms of the common person is extremely poor. Cho's assertion that South Korean soccer still lagged behind baseball (with the exception of the national soccer team) for example would probably be news to a lot of Australian soccer fans. Cho added that despite club soccer trailing the relevance of baseball, the national soccer team evoked a sense of identity in a way that baseball did not, and that naturalisation of foreign players into the South Korean national team elicited different attitudes - in this case, much more xenophobic/nationalist -  in soccer compared to other sports; Cho's assertion being that a foreign born naturalised footballer would be far less acceptable to South Korean society than an equivalent athlete in another sport.

Day 2
Satoshi Shimizu provided the day 2 keynote address, on 'The Transformation of Asian Football Cultures in the Last Two Decades: A View from Urawa, Japan’ Shimizu is a softly spoken academic, but unlike one colleague of mine who boycotted this because he thought he wouldn't be able to understand Shimizu, all it needed was a little bit of patience. Shimizu provided a sprawling presentation, veering from the micro to the macro and back again, but never failing to be less than engaging.

Shumizu's analysis of the stagnation or plateauing of the J-League provided interesting insights not only into the state of Japanese domestic football - which like Korean football, still lags behind baseball, despite Japanese baseball's own long term problems - but also into Japanese society as a whole. In that respect, Urawa and the Urawa Red Diamonds are both an anomaly because of their status as a regional soccer hotbed prior to the establishment of the J-League; but also typical in that elements of the problems Japan is facing as a society, especially as regards to racism, xenophobia and the ageing population.

While the J-League has had occasional spikes in attendances since its establishment in the 1990s, these were mostly linked to the opening of new stadia and the occurrence of big events, the effects of which did not last long. Now the thing that I think people are having difficulty figuring out, is whether this plateauing of support is a strength, in that they are not losing fans, or a weakness, in that the halt of growth signifies the point where eventually the sport will begin to decline. This is of course not a problem unique to Japan; but where other countries may be able to ride out a whole series of peaks and troughs regardless of the short term alarm that may be on display, Japan's significantly demographically aged population offers less hope for renewal.

That the Japanese as a whole are wary of immigrants and of diluting their racial and cultural purity only adds to the problem. While hardly at the forefront of the overall problem, the way this has manifested itself at Urawa Red Diamonds is a neat example of the kinds of issues Japan is facing. Where once Urawa were at the forefront of good relations with overseas clubs - the example Shimizu gave was of an Asian Champions League match against Shanghai Shenhua, where after the match the Chinese were so impressed with the Urawa fans' support that they shared drinks with them and attempted to emulate their kind of support. A few years later though, and the Urawa fans became embroiled in controversies over xenophobic banners and chants.

That in a heavily self-controlled social polity like Japan, where displays of personal expression and deference to hierarchy are paramount (at least in daylight hours; at night things are often different), it's important to note that the football stadium is perhaps the last regular, organised democratic intermediary space in a late-capitalist society. Behaviour which would clearly not be acceptable in everyday society, especially if conducted within the guise of a large mob, all of sudden has a space allocated weekly for people to vent all sorts of frustrations.

Finally, I was intrigued and largely unaware of Japan's attempts to promote its domestic football throughout South-East Asia. In this case, it must compete against several different factors. Firstly, the popularity and reach of the EPL, La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. Secondly, disinterest from potential markets in Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore for their own leagues, let alone a Japanese league. Thirdly, not even taking into account the fact of the bitter historical prejudices which still exist, the potential influence of a more assertive or aggressive Japan in alienating potential support away from the J-League.

Hunter Fujak's presentation (with Stephen Frawley, who was absent) ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ A Longitudinal Analysis of Football Attendances and the Australian Population' was a great example of both the necessity and the pitfalls of trying to see into the future of Australians' interest in the different football codes. Readers of this blog will almost certainly know that I'm wary of statistics at the best of the times, especially as they get extrapolated from small samples towards building up a bigger picture - regardless of the mathematical models which can demonstrate how it's a perfectly legitimate way to measure things. Still, there will always be that bit of me, and I think many others who will always feel an instinctive reticence to give in to mathematics while we still trust that oh so much more reliable judge of data, the gut feeling. Fujak's presentation was completely the right kind of provocative, entirely evidence and methodology based, but still leaving enough room for people to be able to point out the possible blindspots and assumptions made. Whether Fujak has accounted for changing media landscapes I don't know, but the perceptive analysis - already being seen in the EPL for example - first, that the average age of season ticket holders is likely to get older; and second, that relative to population size, Australian football crowds are at a much smaller percentage of the population than they used to be, should be of some concern to all of football's governing bodies. The question that follows on from that is this - have we hit peak football?

When the title of your paper is 'The Demise of the Australian National Soccer League, 2000-2004', you've by necessity set up a powder keg just waiting to go off; but even by that hyperbolic assertion, I don't think young researcher Goce Risteski could have quite anticipated the response that his presentation would receive. First things first - you have to admire the chutzpah of Ristevski in trying to cover such a huge topic in the 20 minutes allotted to most of the presenters. Unfortunately, Ristevski's relatively shallow analysis of the financial mess waiting to happen that was Carlton (and its ripple effect across the league), or the Despotosvki incident - in other words money, ethnicity and violence - was met with incredulity by certain members of the audience. Chief among these was Roy Hay, who delivered a brutal assessment of the presentation: 'You've set the course of Australian soccer research back 20 years'. Thankfully another soccer academic, Mike Pierce, came to Ristevski's defence, telling him to ignore Hay and his pet theory about the issue of the governance structure in Australian soccer being the key impediment to the long term success of the sport, and to keep pursuing the angles he wanted to. Later on, I was informed that Hay had apologised to Ristevski for the blunt manner of his criticism. My problem with Ristevski's paper was more straightforward - I simply felt that it offered almost nothing new to a topic that has been raked over countless times by journalists, academics and public servants alike. That's not to say there aren't new angles worth pursuing - the individual histories of the clubs and major parties involved in the transitional period; comparisons to the way that suburban NSL teams often had similar problems to suburban rugby league, Australian Rules and basketball teams, similarities often obscured by the obsession with Australian soccer's ethnic question; and the effects on those supporter groups who have stayed loyal to their former NSL clubs, while their then fellow supporters moved on. These are questions which seek to tackle specific cultural, sociological and historical issues, rather than a broad and generic overview of history that has more or less been settled.

Matt Harvey's 'Rebels with a Cause: The Melbourne Rebels – Rugby in the Heartland of the AFL', while entertaining due to Harvey's half serious, half parodic presentation style, in the guise of the boorishly insular and ignorant Victorian sports fan for whom little other than footy exists, was not even borderline academic, and there's really no way of getting around that fact. Harvey's assorted musings on why the Rebels even came to exist, jokes about nomenclature and the kinds of people that the team attracts in Melbourne, were all undone not only by the lack of evidence and academic rigour on show, but even by the simple fact that Harvey had not even been to a single Rebels game. On the plus side, it did a good job of alleviating the tension in the room.

Jorge Knijnik's 'They Will Never Understand Us: An Ethnographic Study of the Western Sydney Ultras Fandom Culture' is the kind of paper I would naturally be suspicious of, it being about ultras, the A-League and people who I perceive to have an incredible sense of self-regard. For better or worse, I wasn't won over by Knijnik's method; maybe I have an innate distrust of the kind of immersive anthropology he's involved in, especially as he is also a supporter of the Wanderers and someone who stands within the RBB not only as an academic, but also as a fan; and I say this as someone who covers similar territory in terms of writing about South Melbourne and the behaviour of certain supporters, albeit not with the same official academic lens. Not having much of a background in anthropology - a few years ago I did one semester's worth of an honours unit looking at a range of theoretical problems; I was forced into a PhD unit looking at ethics in research; and I've seen all of Star Trek: Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, which deal substantially with the problems of anthropology - makes my judgement less than useful here.

At times I was concerned with the way Knijnik seemed to portray the RBB as a far more homogenous group than it probably is; while his emphasis on the way a group like the RBB, as part of the broader Wanderers' philosophy (or marketing strategy) promoted inclusiveness, improved socialisation and harmony between different ethnic groups, I wanted more on what the different groups within the RBB were, and how they related to each other; who's the boss, and how are cases of violent incidents both within and outside of the ground dealt with? How and via who are relations with police, the club, the FFA and the media organised? Is everyone who stands with the RBB equal, or are some supporters more equal than others? Does the group dynamic of the RBB imply a sense of obligation rather than one of spontaneous chanting?

On a more positive front, considering my persistent criticism of the way that various presenters at this conference have often (whether intentionally or not) conflated the experience of one city or state as being equivalent to a national experience, it was good to get a perspective on Sydney that acknowledged the fact it's at the very least two different cities, if not three or four. Of course a topic on the Wanderers makes this so much easier, the Wanderers and their supporters perennially reinforcing their otherness or apartness from what they perceive Sydney proper and by extension Sydney FC to be, by emphasising real and/or imagined differences and fissures. Loyal vs fickle; multicultural vs cosmopolitan; workers vs the upper class; born of the people as opposed to being funded and operated as a rich man's plaything; standing for something specific and tangible, both communally and geographically, as opposed to something far less tangible. How valid any of these binaries are is something certainly worthy of discussion, even if it in some ways falls outside the what Knijnik is looking at.

To hear Knijnik in his own words, visit Brogan Renshaw's Behind the Game podcast series, where Renshaw interviews Knijnik about this and other topics, including Brazilian football.

I was keen to see the presentation by Andy Fuller (with the absent Fajar Junaedi) 'Supporter Groups in Indonesia: Trajectories in Fandom, Politics and Soccer Activism', principally because of my interest in the Jakarta Casual blog, which tries to make sense of South-East Asian football for an English speaking audience. Fuller's interest in the topic differs from Jakarta Casual's though, in that the emphasis was on the members of PSIM, a club from Yogyakarta, and their attempts to negotiate the perilous world of Indonesian football fandom, and doing it by getting close to the locals speaking in their own language. In some ways, this presentation is related to Brian Moroney's look at the ultras scene at Lazio, which was covered at the previous conference.

Indonesian football, to put it bluntly, is a mess. The league structures are erratic at best; interest from anyone other than the lowest classes is more or less non-existent, with the possible exception of the national team, and those who can leverage the sport for political purposes; most of the stadiums are well past their use by date; the clubs are run exceedingly poorly; referees treated appallingly, the players somehow worse (some have died for lack of wages and medical care); the police routinely prevent games from taking place in a club's host city; and yet despite this, there are still often good crowds for games, and diehard supporter groups will travel across the country any way they can to cheer on their team - though as Fuller noted, not always the heads of the supporter groups, who have bounties on their head from other supporter groups.

The interesting part of the research was the attempt by some members of PSIM to start detailing the history of the club. Media coverage of the sport has been poor, but the internet age allows for the possibility of fans taking matters into their own hands. In a country where local football seems to exist outside the bounds of polite bourgeois society (who are more interested in the fortunes of foreign leagues, especially nowadays the EPL) -  the government itself has little to no interest in fixing the endemic corruption in the game, and occasional national team success in the ASEAN tournaments is viewed as the pinnacle for Indonesian soccer - it's almost inevitable that a grassroots effort in recording the history is the only way it's going to happen. Whether this will translate to something will move across to other clubs, I'm not sure, as the supporters of Indonesian clubs often have fierce and violent rivalries with each other.

You can see an unrelated post of Fuller's on Shoot Farken on match tickets as memorabilia, and in this case as mnemonic artefact of the 2015 Asian Cup.

Tony Ward's paper - whose title escapes me, as like nearly everything else, the conference programme booklet is packed away in some box as I prepare to move houses - focused on the long term (20 years or so I think) analysis of the popularity of various football codes as conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The data seems to show that the AFL does a good job of maintaining fans throughout the years/various age groups; the NRL not so much, losing fans over time (whether this is terminal, and not part of a cycle, was not clear). One crucial point of difference between the two codes is that in the AFL, women continue to patronise the competition at every age, while in the NRL women's attendance drops away significantly after their early 20s. Likewise, when looking at the two competitions, and their principle cities, Melburnians were more likely to attend other sports in addition to Australian Rules, whereas for Sydneysiders, Ward's analysis seemed to suggest that they tended to exchange sports and sporting allegiances rather than add to their collection. Sadly, due to government cutbacks, this kind of data will no longer be collected.

Ian Syson's 'Losing Contact: Soccer's Place in Post-World War I Melbourne', continued on with his recent efforts in researching the effects of World War I on Victorian soccer culture. This paper focused on the relationship between soccer and Australian Rules in the 1920s through to the 1930s, which starts off well but soon deteriorates as the Victorian Football League in particular becomes more insular and xenophobic. Syson demonstrated that in some cases in the early 1920s, Australian Rules bodies and journalists were more sympathetic, even cooperative, with regards to soccer. By the late 1920s however, the VFL had turned the other way, belittling soccer and pressuring its clubs (and the relevant venue managers) to no longer allow soccer to use their facilities. While the downturn in soccer's fortune's in Melbourne in the late 1920s and early 1930s were partly self-inflicted - a disastrous split destroyed the growth of the game at the time it should have been solidifying its recent growth - the onset of the Depression, and the fact that few enclosed grounds were available to them for big games also took its toll. How much soccer was hurt by its inability to secure its own enclosed ground and some sort of headquarters, was perhaps only properly realised in the 1950s, when the code managed to secure Olympic Park as its premier venue.

Despite its unwieldy title: -'Annual General Meetings Newspaper Narratives Showing How Different Victorian Football Association/Victorian Football League Football was in the 1890s' - Abdel Halabi's presentation was one of the more surprising (for me at least) papers of the conference, looking at how Australian Rules football club AGMs of the 1890s were more than merely formulaic procedural sessions, but also events which brought communities together. Apart from the specific issues relating to the club, which saw the club's performance and finances discussed, the AGMs were a social event unto themselves. This could mean that town halls would be hired to accommodate the huge numbers of people seeking to attend, prizes would be awarded, songs would be sung, entertainment provided etc. What I suppose astonished me about this was not only the large attendances,. but also the depth in which the media of the time covered these events. The difference with AGMs these days couldn't be more different - relatively low key, and in the case of a club like South, attended by only a very small percentage of the membership base. Usually I frame attendance at a South AGM as both a moral duty of sorts for our members, but also as a means of making use of and reiterating one of the key differences between our ownership model and those of the privately owned franchise system. In many ways, while this approach is well intentioned, it also shows how limited the AGM has become as an event in itself compared to what it used to be; and that would equally go for the AGMs of AFL clubs. In these days of the increasing commercialisation and privatisation of sport, with the ordinary fan increasingly relegated to the role of faceless wallet, the AGMs of the past show how a more democratic, inclusive and plain old fun event could perhaps lead to a revival of people power in sporting clubs. Something to ponder, no doubt.

Day 3
Jennifer Curtin's keynote address kicked off day 3, looking at the complicated history of women's involvement with rugby union in New Zealand, including anti-apartheid protests, their involvement as players, and as supporters of men's rugby. It seemed to be the case that while rugby union in New Zealand is clearly the dominant sport, it also contains an element in its make up that elevates it above the station of other sports that may have an equivalent level of dedication - and that element is that rugby union has been at the centre of key moments of New Zealand civic history.

Rugby in New Zealand is an essential element of Pakeha (white European) identity, male identity and national identity. Women's participation in this culture though has often been sidelined by patriarchal imperatives, whereby women becomes invisible participants in the culture. Because of this, women were discouraged from playing rugby, and instead funnelled towards netball. Thus women choosing to play rugby despite the cultural and structural impediments is unavoidably a political act. Women were accepted as supporters of men's rugby - as spectators and someone to do the laundry, but discouraged from playing. What was interesting about this is that Curtin seemed to suggest that gender stereotypes were more prevalent in the Pakeha culture than in the Maori culture.

The net effect of all this though is that many women in New Zealand who have an interest in rugby have a love-hate relationship with the game. This perhaps reached its peak during the controversial Springbok tours of the 1980s. Feminist groups who were involved with anti-Springbok tour protests were often described as being anti-rugby, and by extension anti-male and anti-New Zealand. For those involved with the protests, it was a difficult tag to shake off. Any attempt at contravening the conservative 'invisible' roles allocated to them makes visible, shocking the patriarchal rugby world.

That these kinds of issues are manifest across the world when it comes to women's participation in sport is not surprising in the slightest - what this keynote showed however is how much more clearly the obstacles facing women in sport are via the example of New Zealand, a country with a small population and particular focus on this one game, with all that extra cultural and imperial baggage attached.

Tim Hogan's presentation, 'Reading the Game: Documenting the Text and Art of Australian Rules Football', saw Hogan discussing his continuing work of cataloguing Australian Rules football material, including various literature, and even songs, but also looking onwards to choosing websites to preserve. Quite how the selection process works for that, should a website exist outside the parameters of the Wayback Machine project, I don't know. While I'm aware of some efforts in Australia to preserve different websites of note, their publicity departments could do with a bit of a kick in the pants.

Trevor Ruddell's 'A Future for Footy Books?' looked at the history of Australian Rules books, especially the increase in production, and what the future may hold for that genre. Prior to the 1980s, there were few books looking at Australian Rules. Since then there has been substantial growth in that market, but there are also potential problems related to both the status of the book industry but also the status of Australian Rules. Australian Rules, having probably already reached its peak spectator/audience/interest level, has basically nowhere else to go; thus it relies a lot more than say soccer or cricket on being able to exploit the audience it has. With the larger and wealthier clubs (especially in Melbourne) also looking to cash in on this area, often with elaborate and expensive coffee books, what are the chances that eventually the target markets will suffer from merchandise fatigue? I also wonder how many of these kinds of books are bought and treated more as an ornament than actually read? And how much of these histories are an attempt to mask the fact that the clubs are largely bland copies of each other nowadays?

Having gone through parts of the Victoria University PhD system with Julian Ross, I was looking forward to seeing what stage he'd reached with his work via his presentation. 'Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer and John Newman: A Content Analysis of Football Life, 1967-1976'. Ross overall project is looking into a biography of Sam Newman, putting forward the interesting notion that the Sam Newman persona has little to do with the private John Newman, and another persona which Ross claims to exist alongside those two. I'm interested to see how this comes about, in part because I come from a literary background, including having done some work on the auto-biography - inherently relevant here as Newman has carefully gone about cultivating two very different characters, keeping them as separate as possible - while Ross comes from outside the literary tradition. The relationship of Graham 'Polly' Farmer then, Newman's footballing mentor and immediate predecessor as number one ruckman at Geelong, seems to be a pivotal part of the picture that Ross will have to cover. Unfortunately, Ross' presentation covered little of what the title suggested it would, instead becoming mostly a digression into some of the specialist football newspapers and magazines of the time, that existed outside of the mainstream newspapers media, and very little on the relationship between Farmer and Newman. A missed opportunity.

An example from the marketing campaign seeking to put pressure on the
Washington Redskins to change their name and logo.
Desiree Barron's 'Playing Against the Chief: American Indian Representation and American Football in the Twenty-First Century' was perhaps the must see presentation of the conference, one of those events where woe betide the person who happens to be presenting in a parallel session. Barron discussed the not just the issue of the Washington Redskins, and the increasing pressure from activists and the general public for them to change their name and logo, but what the wider implications are of this debate. Barron discussed the history of Indian related names became a part of the culture of American sports (and by extension, the military) from the top level to the grassroots. One theory is that it was a way of European immigrants to 'Americanise' themselves, as part of their efforts to disassociate themselves from their British and European histories.

Barron also highlighted a crucial element that has been overlooked. Yes, the logos and names are racist, and would be completely unacceptable if it depicted other ethnic groups in such a way. But the issue is also one of sovereignty. These images challenge the right of Native Americans to control their own imagery and cultural property, a problem which extends into all areas of their lives. Barron discussed how American high schools have begun to gradually change their logos and names where they cause offence, but the big money in the big leagues - and the supporters of these teams - are resisting hard. The solution Barron argues, especially in cases where Native American groups and their non-Native counterparts seek to work out a middle path, need to be seen as authentic and meaningful to both groups. In a later discussion after her presentation, I asked Barron about what the situation was in Canada, where some similar names and logos exist (though not nearly to the extent of the US), and the fact that some native groups have residents on both sides of the border, and the answer she provided was interesting - that it was less of a problem in Canada, not only because of the smaller prevalence of these kinds of names and logos, but also because the Canadian Aboriginal population was far more socially and politically advanced than their US brethren; thus the former come from a position of relative strength that the latter are yet to achieve.

Matthew Klugman's presentation ‘We Already Hear the Sneerers Talking About the “Football Mania”’: Using the Emergence of a New Phrase as a Historical Window into the Emerging Mania for Football in Britain' was a brilliantly entertaining look into the way that religious and secular institutions attempted to deal with the emergence of mass footballing culture in late 19th century England. While football was played socially and relatively informally for centuries, the emergence of the codified, organised form of football caused a great deal of distress among certain elements of British society. A useful context I think for understanding those concerns is the fear of crowds that governments and religious authorities had at the time, especially if they were not able to control them for their own ends. Manias, too, - not an exact psychological term by any stretch of the imagination, but for an example of the kinds of phenomenon relevant to the discussion, see this link - were never far from the forefront of the Victorian consciousness. Perhaps what troubled the governments and religious authorities most was that the football mania actually endured, and thus the fervour, emotion and sheer waste of time on something so trivial and outright common. Even while football as a spectator sport, despite several peaks and troughs, has become subsumed into the capitalist framework - and after all, wasn't that inevitable as soon as players became professionals, and the spectacle leveraged for profit? - one can see still see the distrust from the authorities for the game, as it relates to the point from Shimizu's keynote address: that in a late-capitalist society where the individual has been socio-physically cleft from his fellow members of society, the football stadium may be the last point of mass democratic dissent; dissent not in a necessarily violent or political manner, but as simple as a contained moment of joyous anarchy.

You can read a version of Klugman's presentation on the Shoot Farken site, which is much better than my ad hoc summary.

I'm sorry to say that Sarah Oxford's presentation, 'The Gender Paradox: Young Women’s Inclusion in the Sport for Development and Peace Movement', is one that has suffered greatly from my delay in reporting back. The presentation was about using sport in developing and/or third world nations, in this case Kenya, to achieve a number of positive humanitarian and development outcomes. Using the example of a project in Kenya promoted at women and girls, Oxford discussed how the stabilising effect of sport, and the routine it can provide, can lead to other positive outcomes, especially for NGOs working in these areas. Thus via such programs, NGOs can provide better access to health and education services, as well as breaking down conservative gender roles. But this is where it gets tricky, because there are all the usual issue of cultural sensitivities that need to be dealt with as well - when does the quest for improving gender equality turn into cultural imperialism?

Final thoughts
I think I must have a mind that's set towards trying to force together narratives out of disparate voices and stories, but I think I got a few things out of this that may point to a few trends.

Firstly, that the way fans react to change is often largely based on their mistaken ideas of the history of their sport - specifically, that the way they've grown up following their sport is the same as it has always been, and that even the fact that following a sporting team at all in organised competitions has a longer history than it actually does (aside from examples like Byzantine chariot racing).

The reaction to those changes then, at least among a certain section of the population, is to go back. When the lay person does this, either by retreating from over commercialised sporting experiences or by wholesale escape into the fantasy of reminiscence, it is often done without remembering all the bad things that existed during those eras. The academic sports historian is also not immune to those tendencies. Indeed, I believe there is a tendency (and I'm certainly not immune to it), to if not create a hagiographic view of the past, than to at least insert a sort of wistful tone to it, smoothing off the rough edges, and creating the sense that much of what was done back then was actually planned, adding a sense of historical prescience via our values to what those people were trying to achieve back then,

Moving from the past towards the future, I'm innately wary of those attempting to future proof their sports, especially from a commercial standpoint. Looking 10, 20 or even 50 years into the future, and trying to plan accordingly seems to those folk to be necessary - and I can understand why - but it also seems incredibly hubristic. Seeing as how often times these projections and plans are based around the success of the top level, one wonders what the consequences are for those groups who fall outside of those commercial imperatives - and what will happen if or when the television funding model, the integral source of funds for most important leagues, changes or collapses?

Within that, the health and well being of athletes has often taken a back seat. In the future, will our treatment of the professional athlete class be seen as an equivalent to slavery and the base gladiatorial contests of Rome? There's also the undercurrent, which is seldom openly acknowledged but always there, that at some point having turned top-flight sport into a commodity primarily about entertainment, that audiences will get bored. And if that should ever come to pass, what happens then? Is the resurgence of the football stadium as a means of collective identity, as opposed to a setting for an individualised and predominantly televised product, a way of saving football from itself?

In that sense, the conference danced around the theme of mediated spaces. The control of space is fundamental to sport - the mastery of a designated environment, and especially in the football codes, is where codified sport starts from. Outside of the field itself, there are the arenas around the fields themselves, where we see the competing demands of economics, capacity, comfort, ownership and expression negotiate some sort of middle ground; then there's the media space, struggling with the consequences of the digital age, as leagues, clubs, players, established media, new media and the man and woman  on the street all fight to sway the still developing format one way or another - some of out of fear of losing control, others because they see an opportunity long denied to them of being able to speak back to the machine; the competition between sports for attention in an increasingly crowded and competitive market, as once isolated markets becomes opportunities for bigger and wealthier organisation to expand their colonies.

In many ways, that kind of questioning harks back to essays that I would write as an undergraduate. They would manifest themselves as expressions of doubt and uncertainty, even in the conclusions, where our western argumentative tradition demanded finality and resolution, and a firm position taken within the bounds of academic style. It's been a constant struggle for me to overcome those rhetorical tendencies, and yet this issue of mediated space in sport seems to me to be something that's so fluid at this point in time, that I'm voluntarily drawn back to this old trope of mine.

To finish, a quick thought on the conference topic. Quite how Australians deal with Asia, both within and of sporting contexts is still something that we clearly don't have a good grasp of, except to say perhaps that we don't do it very well. Natural demographic change may mean that this will change naturally of its own volition, but in the mean time one of the things brought up in the opening night's discussion may be worth considering - that by re-framing what we see as our distance from Asia - socially, culturally, even geographically -  into something more like proximity; the fact that we are economically and geographically closer to each other than any place else, and that this relative shortness of distance will in time be able to overcome our tendency to be both Euro-centric and stuck in the Anglophone world, despite the historical processes which created our sense of place and culture.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Much as you'd expect - Whittlesea United 0 South Melbourne 5

Scarf draped loosely across my shoulders, along with Gains I head out on a day that was clearly not made for scarves. In Thomastown, we walk along Main Street, and I pause for a moment to look at a house I lived in as a small child nearly 30 years ago, a house I can't remember, where a cat would walk along the top of a short brick fence. Not knowing which side of the creek to go on, I choose the western side, and we end up walking past a practice match on a footy oval. The left footer taking his shot for goal about 35 out on a 45 degree angle hooks his kick to the right, knowing he's missed as soon as it leaves his boot. The rusted scoreboard shows no signs of life. Crossing over to the right side of the creek, we find the ground we're meant to be at; it turns out that we inadvertently dodged the bloke collecting money on the other side, but I attempt to make up the difference by buying a kofte roll and can of drink combo, good value at $10. Andrew Mesorouni accidentally begins his order at the canteen with 'three keftede, er, kofte rolls'. The game itself is much as you'd expect, a slightly weakened South side doing most of the attacking, though United manage to scrape the crossbar while the scores are still level. Eventually the home side concedes, and the game is more or less won there. Milos Lujic and Andy Brennan score before the break, while Matthew Theodore, Luke Adams, and Andy Kecojevic score after it. There's a photo of Kecojevic celebrating his goal, and deep in the background I'm also pictured, arms aloft; it's 5-0 in a relative canter and I'm celebrating, cynical façade abandoned. At the end of the game, the Hellas fans applaud their team, but not before applauding Tansel Baser, on the other side today, but still loved. We take a different route back to the station, past a TAB with an old wino drinking out of a brown paper bag. The station's steps look ominous from the other side of the street, so we take one overheated elevator up and one air conditioned elevator down, and head back home.

Next week
A really big game away against Bentleigh Greens on Friday night.

Around the grounds
Empires of Dust
A late decision to go to this game nevertheless resulted in me getting to the ground on time. Richmond's technical director Micky Petersen may think that being on the spectators' side of the fence grants him some sort of protection from being able to abuse the officials, but he'd be wrong. Richmond dominated the midfield in the first half with physicality and desire, going into the break 2-0 up but a keeper down, as he was stretchered off after a collision. Bulleen improved in the second half, but left their run too late despite pulling a goal back. When The Smiths wrote 'How Soon Is Now?', were they looking into the future when Melbourne would have screens at tram stops telling you that your tram was there 'now', but actually nowhere in sight? Anyway, I missed the 10:00PM Werribee train, and thus spent the next half hour eating dark chocolate M&Ms,

Mandatory 2015 FFV election commentary
Ripping off Mark Boric's column on this issue, I will attempt a modicum of transparency. I had lunch a couple of times with outgoing president Nick Monteleone, as part of historical committee functions. If nothing else, he's frank and forthcoming. I met Nicholas Tsiaras once at Wembley Park. He was wearing a high viz vest and got me free beer. I met Tony Ising once a long time ago at a social kick about, and probably left no lasting impression. I've spoken to Kimon Taliadoros briefly once or twice over the years, as happens if you move within certain circles. I uncharacteristically choose to disassociate their internet personas from their real life selves. The other candidates I know nothing about. Like ancient Athens, this democracy is limited to a select few. Where's my vote Crawford? What point would any sort of advocacy on my behalf achieve?

I'm fucken great/Behold your bitter avatar!
A small group of well meaning people have been posting unsolicited posts of bewilderment and praise of my writing, specifically my Heavy Sleeper World Cup reviews on Shoot Farken last year, wondering how I wasn't nominated for the Football Fans Down Under (FFDU) awards. Here's one example.
I was going to ignore all this, but I've already made comment on this previously on Twitter, so why not again?
I have no idea who the hell the FFDU are, and why people give them so much credence - their website mostly seems to be interested in the local fan clubs of several UK football clubs - but it's seems mostly like a bit of harmless fun, and a good way for people with more ambition than myself to get their names out there as well as get some more publicity for their work. When canvassing for last year's awards came up, I had this to say of one of the nominees
Which shows how seriously this whole thing should be taken. And yes, I did nominate myself (along with other people I liked; Joe Gorman the only name I can definitely remember) once for these things, but I never bothered with the canvassing for votes. And then at some point during the week, I had one of my trademark moments of delayed clarity.
To fish? To bait? To accept the title allotted to me, and surrender to the partisan seas? Or to remember the hard lessons learned several years ago, and choose my own path. Whatever happens, I'm sure it'll manifest itself as a suitably insular and humourless experience.

Final thought

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Spoils of war artefact Wednesday - St Kevin's College witch's hat

During an away trip to Richmond - I forgot which year, but research indicates it was this game in 2012, where I lost a beanie - this witch's hat, or traffic cone for the more politically correct among us, was 'liberated' from St Kevin's College, which is of course near Kevin Bartlett Reserve. Apparently the relevant liberator of this artefact was pretty drunk on the night when this action was taken, and was actually surprised to find it in his bed after waking up, notifying me via the rather appropriately surprised message, 'Dude I woke up this morning with a orange cone in my bed WTF'. I've actually been asking for a photograph of this object for some years now, only recently actually getting a photo after the big fellow re-found the object at the bottom of his wardrobe. The sticker on the cone is from the same set of five or so stickers as the two in this post, commissioned by a member of Clarendon Corner.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Just made it - Werribee City 1 South Melbourne 2

Waiting in the car park for 20 minutes for the delayed Steve from Broady at Newport station meant getting to the outskirts of Galvin Park with only about five minutes until kickoff in the senior game. Parking a good half kilometre down the road was made worse when one South bloke known to us here at South of the Border managed to rock up and nab a space near the old front gate. At Galvin Park itself, once we walked past the various cricket finals being played, it looked like space had been cleared and fenced off for the construction of something new, but I'm not sure we needed to be forced to go around an extra 50 metres to get in to a makeshift entrance. One bloke looking to pay to get in almost handed me ten bucks by accident.

Even if there was no sign of the stand they're planning to build on the outer side - and who are we to judge, we who've been missing a social club for nearly five years now - at least the scaffolding was already set up by the home club this time. A couple of blokes recommend the chicken schnitzel burger, which while not containing any mayo, is apparently a nice thick piece of bird, with a flavourful crumb - and best of all, no need to wait, as they have them ready and waiting. Ten minutes later Gains and I are still waiting for them to make the schnitzel rolls, so at least they're fresh, but watching the game through the canteen's window, covered by a protective metal grill, is hardly ideal, but useful as training run for when my one remaining working retina decides to give up the ghost.

It was nearly impossible to tell what the hell was going on for those first five or ten minutes, but at least the roll once made was good, even if it wasn't as herbed and spiced as I'd been lead to believe, which could have been another in the long list of life's disappointments, except for the fact that it only costs $6 and chicken schnitzels rolls are usually terrible, having sat in a bain marie for five hours with the crumbing going soggy and the processed chicken tasting like a discarded piece of rubber.

Getting to a game late throws me right off its rhythm, and it took me a little while to realise that Tim Mala had gone off injured in the first five minutes, replaced by Andy Kecojevic who went into midfield while Bonel 'Bones' Obradovic slotted into Mala's right back spot. Apparently we'd been on the back foot early on, but we seemed to have wrested control of this game from that point on.

Now short corners, Yes, we scored off of one, and I tell you one of the reasons this happened - because unlike our usual routines of making it completely obvious that we were going to take a short corner - usually playing to just in front of the corner flag - it was played quickly to the edge of the 18 yard box, where Iqi Jawadi's shot managed to somehow elude everyone and go into the back of the net for hist first goal in an official South game.

Fantastic, great result for both Iqi and short corners. Of course, as Homer Simpson once noted, a short corner is more like a beer. They smell good, they look good, you'd step over your own mother just to get one! But you can't stop at one. You wanna drink another short corner! So of course we tried another of these later in the game, same routine and all - unfortunately we coughed the ball up, and because we had over committed players forward, had only ten fit players on the park anyway, Werribee shot the ball down the other end when it would have been better for us to play more conservatively.

But all that happened much later. Nick Epifano who was working hard got fair fair reward for effort when he was fed through on goal and chipped the ball over the keeper with a first time shot. A goal from a short corner and someone scoring for us without needing to take fifteen million touches. What a day this was turning out to be. 2-0 up at the break and all sorts of miraculous things happening. Unfortunately Kristian 'Gonzo' Konstantinidis had to go off with an in jury he picked up late in the first half, and thus Michael Eagar had to go back from defensive mid into centreback.

While we managed to keep creating breaks going forward, we started tiring - a persistent problem which we all hope will be gradually overcome as the season wears on, with us needing to peak later this year rather than right at the start - and Werribee starting winning the midfield battle. Leigh Minopoulos was brought as fresh legs but struggled, Obradovic started to lose his way a bit in his unfamiliar role, and Kecojevic started cramping up with no subs left and 20 odd minutes to play.

The home team scored to make things worse, and if not for Michael Eagar's heroics in defense, clearing time and time again, we wouldn't have been able to hold on for all three points. Even with with Eagar's desperate efforts though, we had to rely on the crossbar to save us in the 94th minute of the game, with the relevant Werribee player first exultant and then devastated that his effort failed to hit the mark.
Considering the injuries we copped, the re-shuffling required, and effectively playing with only ten men for the last 20 minutes or so, I'm stoked we got the three points. Fitness is still an issue for the tine being, but there was more evidence that the team is beginning to gel. I was especially pleased to see how Kecojevic scarcely looked out of place in a senior game.

Next week
We enter the Dockerty Cup - or FFA Cup qualifiers to those of you who are part of the FFV (and lizard people, natch) conspiracy to deflate the importance of the Dockerty Cup. We'll be playing State League 3 team Whittlesea United, who pulled off a 3-2 upset against State League 1's Clifton Hill. The date and time are yet to be confirmed, but this will be an interesting affair not only to see which depth players get more of a go, but also because former South NSL and VPL championship winner, the much loved Tansel Baser, is the Whittlesea United captain.

Teach a man to fish...
There's been a little bit of discussion recently over the FFV's decision to provide video cameras to every NPL club in order for them to film their games and provide the footage for a weekly online compilation. Those on the negative side seem to be of the opinion that as the footage from most of those games comes across as unprofessional, that rather than enhancing the product for luring potential sponsors, it actually damages the game.

I can certainly see the validity in such thinking. The footage provided so far in the NPL1 highlights packages in particular varies from the very good to the abjectly dire. A lot of this is clearly down to who's operating the camera on any given day, and I would have hoped (though I don't know for sure) that merely giving the cameras to the clubs was not the end point, but that FFV may also supplement that with some sort of training. But some of the problems with the quality of the footage fall outside individual camera operators. How many times have even those clubs who have funded their own video productions (South, Knights, Hume, etc) been hampered by the lack of suitable media facilities, such as basic scaffolding creating an elevated vantage point? Or being unable to get clear footage - and this goes for photographers as well - because the lighting isn't up to scratch?
While some have called for the hiring of professional videographers to undertake this task, I am of the opposite opinion. By giving the clubs the basic tools - and that would ideally include some training - it provides the opportunity for the clubs and some of their members themselves to learn new skills. This is not merely about outsourcing the problem to someone else, but getting the clubs to take responsibility for their own promotion. The clubs that take the time to make the most of the opportunity will hopefully get the most out of it, while those who don't will mostly be hurting themselves.

Finally, the call for a return of a weekly live video streamed game, while well intentioned, seems to me to miss the point. Regardless of how much you publicise a live stream, the audience will be minuscule unless it's for a very high profile contest, something like last year's FFA Cup games. And whether or not live streaming actually manages to get an audience, the focus at this level of competition should be on getting people to games, paying money at the gate and spending at the canteen. More people at games also creates its own better atmosphere, encouraging people to come back the next time. Few people want to spend a couple of hours at a game with only a bunch of old men and the odd relative of a player; but if more people go to games, it by itself creates a more homely and exciting experience.

Around the grounds
They tried to make me the new Steve from Broady and failed.
The plan was to go with Cuddles to the Pascoe Vale – Northcote game at the revamped CB Smith Reserve with its infamous light tower in front of the grandstand, but when we heard that that Richmond was hosting Nunawading, we decided to head to Kevin Bartlett Reserve instead. The reasoning behind this decision was that we wanted to see whether all the stories about Nunawading – playing out from the back at all times, and not taking any shots – were true, and whether former South player Anthony Giannopoulos – a player who loves to shoot at first sight – would stick out like a sore thumb.

Well when we got to the parking area at Richmond, it started raining, and not wishing to risk having to stand in the rain all game, or hide on the social club, we decided to hoof it to Fawkner instead, and if we missed the first ten minutes, well, we probably wouldn't miss much would we?

Wrong. After slogging through Sydney Road with its pervasive smell of gyros and kebabs, getting through a Friday night booze and drug bus operation that was still setting up, but which had taken out two out of three lanes, and circling around for ten minutes trying to find a parking spot, updates on Twitter, Futbol24 and via a friend already at the ground, we found out that we'd missed not only the first four goals of the game – two each to Pascoe Vale and Northcote, both times the latter equalising – but also Giannopoulos giving Nunawading an early lead.

At least we got to see the fifth goal of the game which gave Northcote the lead for the first time that night. I'm not sure what's going on down there, with Hercules not even managing to get a front of shirt sponsor, but first and foremost it's about scoring goals, and Northcote did that better than Pascoe Vale in a thrilling game which completely died in the arse once Cuddles and I got there. I spent much time next to Kristian Konstantinidis in line at the canteen, and considering the rather good crowd decided to get a cevapi roll instead of wait forever for a pizza. Having finished said cevapi roll however, Andrew Mesorouni's kid and Leo Athanasakis' kid rock up with several boxes of the famous woodfired pizza, and I somehow ended up scoffing down most of one, and being saddled with another. But a man has to know his limits!

It was also to good to finally meet Pascoe Vale president Lou Tona in the flesh, who was surprised that I wasn't fatter. Yes, South of the Border, the Australian soccer blog most dedicated to the cause of the wallflower, can also occasionally find itself among the movers and shakers. But never fear, we are still of the people! For the people! By me, and whoever else wants to write for us! The key to selling out of course is to sell when your price is high. Only time will tell whether a ride to and from Lara and a few boxes of pizza - and a can Pepsi, we can't forget that - was worth the price, or whether I'm just a really cheap date.

Final thought
Those shotput people at Lakeside can heave those balls a fucken long way.