While waiting at the tram stop in between Flinders Street and Federation Square to catch a tram to the pub (as it turned out, no one else turned up, so that was a bit of a waste), a Yarra Trams employee on the platform started chatting with me about South and who we were playing. I mentioned 'Croatia', and he asked me about what kind of crowd the game would get. I said probably 1000-1500. It turned out that my new mate was a lapsed South fan - who else would reply to my hopeful crowd estimate with 'but we used to get 8,000 for this game'?
How do you respond to that assertion with anything resembling good grace? Here was a bloke bemoaning the fact that South crowds had gotten smaller, while not acknowledging that he himself was part of the problem. After I somehow made that point to him without directly implicating or blaming him, he then wished me a happy Easter, to which I said 'not for me'.
'Why not?' he said.
'I'm not a believer' I replied.
'You should go anyway' he responded, before I clambered onto the No.1 tram towards South Melbourne Beach, and he went on to help out some other commuters.
The tension mounts (on with the body count)
A Saturday afternoon kickoff, up against just about every other senior men's soccer match in Melbourne - not exactly the most ideal kickoff time, despite the horribly pristine and un-winter-like weather. Upon entering the ground I picked up my 2014 championship pennant souvenir, which was in a soccer style, whereas my idea had been for a baseball/Happy Days style horizontal triangle, in part because of some people at South calling me Richie Cunningham; no matter.
The apparently newly relaid turf was described by one person who had walked on it as having been left long, as well as being both sandy and moist; somehow later in the day, I thought I'd heard overheard someone chanting to themselves 'Epifano walks on quicksand'.
An early detour
Speaking of Nick Epifano, he was both there (in that he was on the bench), and not there (in that he didn't seem to celebrate the winning goal, nor did he get subbed on). I have been told and I have read from the more sympathetic side of this issue that Epifano wants to be at South, and that he had made that decision before the season despite receiving several better monetary offers, combined with denigration of South from persons involved at other clubs.
If that is true, and I don't doubt that to be the case, then he has an awfully strange way of showing it, for example by remaining expressionless on the bench when we do something good, or being the first to leave the ground after a game. That's not a crime in and of itself - the bloke's probably an incurable introvert - but it does cut against the grain of expectation in a vocation where overt and obvious physical and emotional expression is expected as standard.
After last week's episode of rank stupidity, the club went into lock down, and while my initial feeling was that Epifano would have been sacked, every day that went past seemed to make this less likely. What was the hold up for? Why had there been no comment from the club, even if it was only to acknowledge that the incident had happened, and that more news would be released later?
As it turned out, the club went on an atypically 'thorough consultative process' to try and figure out what the best solution would be to this scenario. They even engaged stakeholders across the club, including some members. And in the interests of openness, I was one of those members consulted. Without going into too much detail about that process, my recommendation was that the club sack Epifano, because while I believe that there is a substantial player welfare element involved here, that we as a club do not have the capacity to deal with that problem, as well as being doubtful of Epifano's remorse, especially considering the behaviour of some of those people in his camp.
Whatever the motivations of the club - and they may genuinely believe that this is a player welfare issue, and not merely be seeing it as a case of Epifano being a very talented player who'd they'd rather not let go - it takes a fair amount of guts to take it down this direction. That will sound wrongheaded to a few people out there, who will more naturally equate this is being a sign of weakness and indecisiveness. But undoubtedly, this is an attempt if not to implement than to at least mimic the 'professional' solution a top tier sporting club would apply in the same or similar situation.
The word that I've received on the matter is that within all levels of the club - coach, board, player leadership group - failed to adequately deal with the initial Facebook comment issue; so that while Epifano can't be nor should he be absolved of taking responsibility for his own actions, at least some part of the problem was in the ineffective and inadequate response from the club itself to the initial fuck up. Of course those in charge are well aware that this could all blow up in their face spectacularly, but as far as I'm concerned on this matter, if they can somehow make this work for the benefit of all involved, it would actually demonstrate an increase of maturity and professionalism in the club.
I don't think it's going to work for all sorts of reasons, but it'll be very interesting to see how this all plays out. What's already surprised me is the response from many of those on smfcboard.com - and I don't mean those who are only protesting we keep Epifano because of his talent, because that's no surprise at all - but those who have provided measured, nuanced responses outside the Kiss of Death's 'knee-jerk hard arse' response and the SMFC Mike brand of 'how much deeper can I crawl up the board's arse' response binary.
OK, back on track now
There was also some sort of camera crew attached to someone who looked like George Donikian (wearing his ground access pass on a Melbourne Heart lanyard) who, as far as I could gather, were filming some sort of feature on Australian soccer, starting with community clubs, then NPL, then A-League. Someone bemoaned the fact that they turned up to a fixture that was likely to have a poor crowd, but why not capture the true spirit of forcefully inflicted mediocrity that we've succumbed to? The mood lightened somewhat when the camera crew started filming Clarendon Corner, and we started singing 'We only sing when there's cameras!'.
Even the early Knights goal didn't sink people's enthusiasm, perhaps because we always looked likely to score. A large part of this was due to Andy Brennan, who was given hectares of space to run into on the right hand side, and which he duly used to take apart the inexperienced and/or substandard Knights defense. When he got past them, he put in several good crosses; when he failed to get past an opponent, the result was usually a foul, often with a yellow a card to the offender, though it took some time for the ref to get to that point. Having seen (via videos) the kind of space Brennan was gifted in Tasmania - usually way too much - I was surprised to see him allowed to roam the way he was on Saturday. That's not a complaint mind you, only an observation, in that less space was one of the issues I thought he'd have to deal with in Victorian soccer.
|Placed here just in case you've never seen this|
While that allegation was later shown to be false, the immediate result was the referee blowing his whistle for halftime, and a scuffle between the two teams as they headed off towards the tunnel. Whatever Lujic did, and however much we've copped from opposition players over the years, I'm not a fan of celebrating in front of the opposition; but then again, I'm not one for outlandish goal celebrations anyway. Under normal circumstances, my personal goal celebration preference list is:
- Thanking the player who passed the ball to you.
- Celebrating with your supporters.
- Dedicating the effort to Jesus/Buddha/Allah/recently deceased person/currently ill person/new born person/your high score playing as Questor the Elf on Gauntlet
- Only carrying on like a complete pork chop if you've scored an absolute cracker or decisive, season defining goal.
The second half saw us more or less pick up where we left off. Brennan continued to take the piss, and got his due reward when he battled hard, caused a turnover and received the resulting through ball which he slotted home. It was a little ugly, but damn was it effective. The rest of the game saw us alternately try to ice the game - a Chris May double save made that part harder - and try to weather the visitors' attacks. There were a few of those, mostly from the air where we didn't look that comfortable, but we held on and that's what matters most.
As the game wound down to its tense finish, I casually remarked how nice the ground now looked with its new signage; if only it had more people to appreciate what the club is doing these days; and if only the signs were perhaps a metre further back, because they looked pretty close to the touchline. One last thing on the game itself. Now, I'm going to completely disregard whatever the exact rule may be, but how Chris May's blatant and deliberate handball miles outside of his area - and the follow up pretence of being hit in the face - got only a yellow card, when Tim Mala missed two games for calling Kieran Gonzalez a dickhead is beyond me.
On the tram back towards the city, a Knights supporter with either his dad or his grandad bemoaned Hellas' diving tactics. Me, I tried to persuade Steven Chang of the virtues of Frozen Tears' club theme song, to no avail.
Deluxe Ultra Crowd Estimator Segment 3000
Due to a certain amount of demand, here is the beginning of a new crowd estimator segment - and maybe the end, too, because new segments on South of the Border are never guaranteed to last. To be honest, I hadn't even thought about this last week, but one of our readers came up to me during the game and suggested what he considered to be a 'realistic' number. While I was trying to come up with a catchy name for the segment - which as you can see, didn't happen - another fan wearing a Manowar hoodie also provided a 'propaganda' number.
So in an effort to spread the love between both factions, and in lieu of the club actually releasing genuine attendance numbers unless you happen to be in the car with El Presidente at the time, here are both possible answers.
Inflated South propaganda: 1800
If you would like to participate in this segment, please see me at any South game in order to provide your answer.
Next game, holy crap, that's on tonight!
Dockerty Cup action against North Sunshine Eagles at Lakeside. The game is free for members, but not free for the general public, after a stadium issue arose making the previous announcement from the club that it would be free for all, redundant.
A Magyar homecoming at Melbourne’s Greek Derby
It's been a fairly hectic few weeks for me of late. One of the downsides to this chaos is that I haven't been able to keep up with my reading as much as i would have liked, and that includes stuff on the net. Nevertheless, I finally got around to reading Engel Schmidl's latest piece on Shoot Farken, and it was well worth the wait. It's set during the most recent Heidelberg-South derby game, which is the angle I'm using to justify promoting it. Do check it out.
Next year in Jerusalem
Did you know that the 'no social club' clock on the blog doesn't come up in the browser on my crappy mobile phone? Anyway, thanks to the good people on smfcboard.com who noted that we've notched up five years without a social club, except for some casino night and the doomed from the start attempts to make Beachcomber Cafe a temporary replacement of sorts.
Around the Grounds
So it's come to this
I went with Steve from Broady to Port Melbourne vs Heidelberg, and apart from picking the worst spot on the ground to view the game, it kinda felt like old times, before 'Griffo' became a massive Victorian soccer celebrity, at the same time as the amount of non-South games he watched decreased dramatically. No matter. I was expecting big things from this game, what with both teams doing well this season. Alas, I was left disappointed. The Bergers scored a goal in the opening couple of minutes, and finished off the game with a second goal in the 91st minute. In between all of that, very little of note happened, except for Port skying the odd chance way over the bar. Slightly more interesting was Port's canteen, which was serving cans of Fosters, and the linesman who before each half thought that it was a matter of great importance that the goalkeeper's water-bottles were on the outside of the side netting rather than on the inside. Heidelberg goalkeeper Griffin McMaster, who received the lesson just before the start of the second half, could only comply with a look of utter disbelief, while exclaiming that he'd never come across that request before.
After 28 years, it's farewell to Altona North, and hello Sunshine West. Where did the time go?