Monday, 11 May 2015

Wake - South Melbourne 1 Avondale Heights 0

You can divorce your spouse, change your religion, and sadly these days even change your soccer team, but one thing that should remain a constant - as long as its feasible - is the bloke who cuts your hair. I've been going to the same barber for 28 years now, a bloke named Chris who really only knows how to cut hair in two styles: a buzz cut, and what one of my brothers calls 'the Hitler'. I had the Hitler (or variations thereof) up until I was about 15; then he went overseas for a bit and had another barber take over his shop for a few months, and she convinced me to try a buzz cut. Nearly 17 years later I'm still here: I chose my haircut when I was 15, my fashion sense when I was 18, and have barely deviated since.

If anyone can explain why back in the day South fans had a
chant for the English medley pianist and singer Mrs Mills,
I'd really appreciate it, because it's got me baffled.
I bring this up because my barber, as all good barbers should, likes to talk about sport. Sure he knows next to nothing about the topic, but as a living example of the changes in Australian sporting tastes, he's as good as anyone. There used to be a TAB outlet across the road, and the local Greek bums would go back and forth between the TAB and Chris' shop with the radio, and the shop's copy of the form guide going from hand to hand. Chris was also once the first aid man at Doxa Yarraville; he even has a signed Mark Philippousis photo from when the Scud decided he'd do a pre-season there during the Hellenic Cup one summer. The shop being located midway between East Altona PAOK and Doxa Yarraville meant that you'd get all the local goss about those two sides. And sure there was always talk about Liverpool, Olympiakos and Footscray, but the centre of it in my flawed recollection was that there was always local soccer in there in amid the dirty jokes (told around a ten year old with a nod and a wink), perving on attractive women who walked past the shop, all done to a soundtrack of easy listening, the races, and Greek radio only when there were no ξένοι in the shop, or no races on.

The TAB outlet closed, and most of the bums moved on. Our conversations over the years became harder, now that I was at the centre of them, with no or fewer distractions from other people. As I became estranged from watching local soccer except for Hellas (when I could), then as my support for Liverpool evaporated, my fleeting interest in Greek soccer succumbed to apathy, and as he moved towards watching the A-League and I moved away from it and fully back into the local scene, all that was left was a ritual repeated for the sake of obliterating the silence. Yarraville would have high hopes but do nothing, while Altona East would plod along a division higher, and we would discuss the reasons why they wouldn't merge. Even if I had an interest in Liverpool or Greek soccer or the A-League, the lack of pay television would have made all these things redundant. And thus while he gives me my $10 haircut ('only for you Paul, because I've known you for nearly 30 years'), we stumble through a haphazard conversation, where if I spoke in English he would answer in Greek, and if I spoke in Greek he would answer in English.

When he asked me on Friday if I was going to the soccer that night - meaning the Victory-Heart game, for which he allegedly had a ticket - I said yes, I'm going to watch Hellas. He asked who we were playing and I said Avondale Heights, a team Yarraville would have once been accustomed to playing against in the middle tiers of Victorian soccer. But then he said something weird to me, and I assume it was based on my saying that I was going to Lakeside instead of Docklands: 'The reason I like you Paul, is because you don't have any friends'. He then went on some bizarre spiel about friends betraying you, an eye for an eye and all sorts of guff, but that line really got me thinking. Is that the reason I go to South?

If that's a long-winded way of eventually getting to the bit where I discuss the game, I think it still fits neatly enough into how the night was passed. At the pub, which had reputedly only bought a few weeks worth of sponsorship, and thus we were not obliged to drink there from now on, much of the time was spent in lament in terms of where we were, and where we had been. This in and of itself was not a first, and most of it was still centred on humour, but the wistfulness of remembering some of the long lost faces and voices, who had either given up the ghost, or would now prefer to go watch the game up the road, along with some of the players who had disappeared into thin air had a certain fatalism attached to it.

At the ground the self-declared Ultras group Enosi 59 were nowhere to be seen, and thus chanting took a while to get going, what with being relatively miserable as we collectively stared into the face of Australian soccer oblivion. Andy Brennan's cross to Milos Lujic for the game's only goal livened things up a bit, and even as the standard of play deteriorated, there was a sort of joy restored to the situation even if it was mostly a celebration of mediocrity. Thus chants on being aspirational, about Frank Piccione wearing a sports bra (originally intended for Griffo), 'we're gonna breakaway/fuck the FFA', 'we only chant for promotion (but also relegation)', and a whole series of handbag related chants that had nothing to do with the Ladies Night theme but were there nonetheless.

VPL legend and current South goalkeeper coach Bojo Jevdevic, in action
during the halftime penalty shootout match day experience gimmick.
Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
At halftime one of the sponsors was giving away a prize of a cosmetics pack to a lucky lady who was good enough to win a penalty shootout competition with Bojo Jevdevic in goal. That went on for probably 15 minutes, and probably ten minutes too long. The second half was largely forgettable muck from both sides. The visitors hit the crossbar, and had a goal disallowed for offside, but that was about it. Everything remotely useful seems to be going through Brennan and Lujic at the moment, while the rest of the team responsible for attacking maneuvers flounder. Nick Epifano was back in number seven, but was otherwise a non-entity (it's also being rumoured that he'll be flogged off overseas somewhere during the upcoming transfer window). Iqi Jawadi is not at the level he was last year, while others struggle with fitness and/or form. And yet we're still picking up points, we're still undefeated, and we still could make some good signings during the transfer window to liven up the side. I just hope the team finds its bearings again sooner rather than later - but things could definitely be worse!
Next game
Tuesday night at home against Dandenong Thunder, at the spiffing time of 8:30PM even though there won't be an under 20s curtain raiser.

Edit:
They may be a curtain raiser held after all.

Vale Fotis Antipas
The following is taken from the South site's article.
South Melbourne FC is in mourning after learning of the recent passing of founding member and club volunteer Fotios Antipas.
Mr. Antipas played for Hellenic in the 1950s, with history showing that Hellenic merged with Yarra Park and South Melbourne United to form South Melbourne Hellas in 1959.
When his playing days were complete, Mr Antipas volunteered at South Melbourne FC and was a very proud supporter and life member.
SMFC President Leo Athanasakis added that “on behalf of everyone at SMFC, we extend our condolences to the Antipas family on the recent passing of Mr Fotios Antipas, a man who has been involved at our great Club ever since it was formed over 55 years ago. We have also lost a link to our history as well, with Mr Antipas being involved with one of the three pre-merger clubs in Hellenic. We mourn his loss.”
Our thoughts are with his family at this very tough time.
Antipas is in the team photo of Hellenic in this post. Former general manager Peter Kokotis, whose family was involved with Yarra Park back in the day, informs me that Antipas was originally from Panachaiki, and that Yarra Park had tried to sign him, but that Hellenic via Antonis Karagiannis (also spelled Carayiannis) managed to get him first.


Around the grounds
Only the lonely (Dum-dum-dummy doo-wah)
While not a Western Suburbs fan, I'd still been to Ralph Reserve on several previous occasions, but yesterday was my first match there as a West Sunshine local; conveniently, it was against my pseudo-genetic-geographically allocated state league side Altona East. The souvs in the social club are still only $7, and they also had a wide range of pastelia on sale. Being probably the only person left in Victoria who gets a craving for a pasteli at the soccer, I was appreciative of the gesture, even if it's likely that most of them have been sitting there for a decade. In amid the motley mix of Greek music and classic hits being played over the PA system to the crowd of 50 people or so (I blame Mothers Day for the diminished crowd), they also played Kurtis Blow's 'The Breaks', thereby almost completely redeeming the concept of playing loud music at a sporting venue.
The view from between the benches at Ralph Reserve, as Western Suburbs
and Altona East prepare to kick off . Photo: Paul Mavroudis
I couldn't figure out where to watch the game from, but eventually settled for the outer side in between the benches. The media box was out of the question, not only because I did not bring my media pass with me; nor for the isolating experience it would be being in there by myself; not even for the hilarity of having anyone bother to make the appearance of writing a genuine match report on this fixture; but also because I know the day I actually legitimately get into a media box, that a little part of whatever street cred I have left will be annihilated.

The home team's jerseys had player names on the back. The away team had strips where some of the jerseys had thick stripes, while others had thin ones. Suburbs had three or four African players, a smattering of Brazilians, former South player Andy Bourakis, and Terry Antoniadis as coach, who avoided getting Altona East relegated when he coached there in 2013 and 2014 mostly because of the NPL sucking up teams to a higher division. Altona East had a Japanese forward, a Turkish captain, a Welsh midfielder who sometimes barked like a dog at his opponents, and a Neighbours tour bus worth of British players of varying degrees of mouthiness.

Panellinios: Honoured the Greek name.
Everyone to Middle Park on Sunday!
Hellas - Brisbane City.

Suburbs started the stronger, but soon East began getting behind the home team's defence, and the pattern of the game was set. The Fernando de Moraes of State League 1 (complete with black gloves) was ineffective, Suburbs players got too physical for the referee's liking, and Antoniadis got more abusive to everyone as the half rolled on. For their part, East's coach (who seemed to be the assistant taking over for the regular guy, probably due to suspension), spent most of his time quietly giving instructions and telling one of his players ('Robbie') to shut his mouth.

East eventually worked out how to a score a goal following some comical finishing before that, as the little Japanese bloke Honda (one of the blokes nearby made the reassuring comment that Honda was fast) squeezed the ball home. Just before half time, as the referee was busy talking to a Suburbs player, a loud thwack was heard, and the linesman in front of the social clubs started waving his flag. A few metres away, an East player was down on the ground, and the inference was clear - he'd been decked by an opponent, who got his marching orders. Antoniadis was filthy, thinking that that player had just cost him the game.
The view from Ralph Reserve's stand. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
But early in the second half when Suburbs found themselves clear on goal, an East defender pulled the attacker back, and while the ref played advantage, the failure of Suburbs to make the most of the chance saw the foul called back with the East player sent off, and numerical parity restored. East scored a goal from a free kick which was called back for offside I assume, but then the rain came down, and since I only act hardcore for South, I decided to go into the stand.

The combination of long grass, flat balls, the sun poking through, the fine mist of rain swirling around like Jamie Oliver scattering herbs from a great height (most of which are destined to miss the plate), made the game hard to watch - and that's not even taking into account the relatively poor standard of play. But the one on one duals, the physicality, the ebbs and flows of the match, the small crowd made up of old men, reserves and assorted dateless wonders, and of course the struggle against the elements all gave the game a sort of backhanded sense of nobility. It wasn't pretty, but there was endeavour. The game had minimal meaning, but it still meant something. Suburbs fought back and took control, but could not manage an equaliser. As I was leaving I saw a likeable but opinionated South fan I knew stuffing his face full of hot chips, and maybe that's what the game meant - a chance for the lonely to go outside of their homes, and find something to eat in the alleged company of familiar faces. Maybe my barber was right, but it's maybe not just me who doesn't have any friends, and the question then becomes 'where would senior men's soccer in Victoria be without us?'

Final thought (courtesy of FS)

7 comments:

  1. (Heavy wog accent) "Paul, I likes you because you have no friends. Friends are bastards. They take your money, they take you woman. Bastards!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, kinda like that, minus the women part.

      Delete
  2. Father Nickolas11 May 2015 at 22:50

    The church is your friend Paul. You are always welcome there. You are part of the flock.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Πάτερ, but I'm cool.

      Delete
  3. Despite the poor position of the sun Western Suburbs have one of my favourite local stadium set ups. Also Westvale - great hill on the wing to watch the match from.

    Manny

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I don't mind either of those grounds. Westvale's bonus is excellent parking and public transport connection, better plane spotting as well.

      Delete
  4. Before I forget, our crowd counter estimates that the crowd was made up of between 260 and 300 persons.

    ReplyDelete

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