Monday, 29 June 2015

Doom, gloom - South Melbourne 0 Bentleigh Greens 1

South's loss yesterday was not for lack of effort. The team had a plan, stuck to it well enough for large parts of the game, but ultimately deserved to lose the contest to superior opposition. That we conceded the decisive goal from another set piece was disappointing, but in truth it could have also come from several other chances which Nikola Roganovic had to stop.

We're at a level of personnel issues that we haven't had to deal with since Chris Taylor took over two seasons ago. Losing Andy Brennan hurt, not because he was quick, but because he was quick, strong and decisive. You never died wondering with him, and unfortunately neither Andy Bevin nor Chris Irwin have demonstrated those qualities as of yet. Irwin at least is a project player, someone for the future, but you have to wonder about the decision to sign Bevin going on his performances for the club thus far.

The recent effects of Brennan's absence were masked somewhat by the good form of Nick Epifano, but without him for at least who knows how many more games while he trials overseas, we've quite clearly had both our wings clipped, and not being a side with big midfielders to storm through the middle, we looked stumped going forward. That quip last week about Lujic not scoring since Brennan left? That was half a joke last week, because he still had plenty of chances - yesterday the supply slowed down to a trickle.

Watching Lujic toiling fruitlessly up front without any support or service took me back to the Trent Rixon days. Yesterday's tactics of containment - which worked for the first half at least - provided little option going up front. The calls for Leigh Minopoulos to be given a starting role next to Lujic sound about as good idea as any at the moment, hell, even the calls for under 20s player Nashir Hussainy to get a go.

Down back the problems continue to mount. Luke Adams missed yesterday's match because of New Zealand Olympic qualifying duty in Papua New Guinea, and could miss as many as six weeks while the team goes on a long tour. Even the qualifying tournament won't be no picnic - New Zealand are scheduled to play five games in ten days in the middle of the day. Brad Norton's red card will see him miss next game, and there is talk that Tim Mala may also miss this week's Heidelberg game having picked up too many yellow cards.

The personnel problems wouldn't be so bad if we were not coming up into a very crowded part of the calendar - there are going to be midweek league games, FFA Cup games and Dockerty Cup matches. Hard decisions will need to be made about which of these take priority. Do we give up the ghost on catching Bentleigh, and just let the NPL national finals place go? Seeing as we've secured a finals spot, and that there's no double chance on offer in the finals, do we focus on the Dockerty Cup? Will we have a competitive team for an FFA Cup fixture?

It's almost absurd to be feeling this morosely about the team this season considering we've only lost twice this season and are just four points behind top spot. There are some positives to think about amid the doom and gloom. David Stirton played about an hour in the 20s yesterday, and Stephen Hatzikostas came on in the last ten minutes of the senior game. How much those appearances were out of necessity rather than desire I don't know. This is going to be a very trying second half of the season for all concerned.

Crowd watch
Our resident counter says 'too hard to count, but probably close to 1,000.

Next week
Another tough game, this time against Heidelberg.

Dockerty Cup news
Speaking of Heidelberg, we've drawn them as our semi-final opponents in the Dockerty Cup. The game will be played at a neutral venue on either July 15th or 16th.

NPL public transport guide updates
Not that we'll be heading out to Galvin Park again this year, but opening of the Regional Rail Link has meant that quite a few timetables have been updated. Thanks to PTV's Peter Parker for letting me know about the new ways to get to Galvin Park using public transport.

While we're on the topic of public transport
These 5:00PM Sunday kickoffs are a nightmare for me in terms of getting home after the game. The final whistle sees me inevitably miss the first tram, so there's 15 minutes waiting at the tram stop, meaning I miss the 7:27 train to Sunshine and have to wait until the 7:57... getting home past 8:20. But you know, I'm sure someone important thinks 5:00PM is a great idea.

Speaking of great ideas
I know I've said this before, but I would like to be in charge of the pre-game music at Lakeside for one week. I could play tasteful selections in any number of genres: post-punk, alternative, shoegaze, dream pop, film and video game soundtracks, IDM, doom jazz, even chip tune. Just no more of that damn dance music. I could even choose some vaporwave. You have my details. Call me.

Around the grounds
Chinese whispers
On Saturday at Sunbury, two separate people asked me the same question: where's Jim? And my answer was, how the fuck would I know? OK, maybe more polite than that. I am usually a very calm and very polite individual. Anyway, if you're struggling to find any sort of emotional investment in a suburban soccer match - perhaps because you have no one to distract you with idle chatter, or because however well meaning the teams are they aren't creating many chances, or because there are only so many five dollar hamburgers and $6.10 plastic cups of cider (the latter from the social club!) you can stuff into your gob - the best thing to do is stand next to one of the benches and listen in to the chatter. This is even better if the home team and visitors benches are a) close together and b) made up of people who know each other. Thus you can take in the banter between the two sides, especially from the coaches, as they try to motivate, psychologise, intimidate and plant ideas into the referee's head from one of the worst spots to try and pull the strings. There's that many ideas and instructions being thrown out that perhaps the players on the opposite side of the field are the lucky ones, just being able to play - unless of course you play in the reserves and you have some parent yelling out constant instructions as if he were a ten year old playing FIFA on the XBOX or Playstation. As for the game, Altona East took the lead when an in-swinging corner went straight in. Sunbury equalised, but East won the game when soon after that one of their boys headed home at the back post from a corner. It took me ages to get home, because the people in charge of integrating buses and trains for Sunbury clearly have no idea what they're doing.

Final thought
You remember how back when Lakeside reopened after the redevelopment, as part of their membership packages South had an option for a social club membership? Because you know, it was coming soon? And that suckers like me bought one? Good times.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Making sense of the National Club Identity Policy - Joe Gorman

South of the Border is delighted to have been offered a piece for publication by friend of the blog, Joe Gorman. And bonus! It's about Gwelup Croatia and the National Club Identity Policy! 

On Sunday evening, a small Western Australian soccer club named Gwelup Croatia were defeated 4-3 by Perth SC. Before the match began, they were warned that if they won and qualified for the final 32 of the FFA Cup, their logo and name Croatia may need to be changed.

It subsequently emerged that Gwelup Croatia were warned by Football West that FFA might consider their name and logo too ethnic. Which was a reasonable assumption from Football West, considering another Western Australian club, Stirling Lions, were forced by FFA to remove the Star of Vergina from their jersey last season.

FFA denied that Gwelup Croatia would have had to change their name or their logo, although continued to leave the word 'Croatia' off their match report (later it was amended to include the word Croatia). They also admitted that the National Club Identity Policy could be applied retrospectively "through certain conduct". And so a fundamental issue remains unclear how ethnic does a club need to be to earn the attention of FFA and their National Club Identity Policy?

The National Club Identity Policy, released a year ago almost to the date, advises that soccer clubs must not have names that contain "ethnic, national, political, racial or religious connotations either in isolation or combination."

But this is not new. The policy is the latest iteration of a phenomenon that has existed since the Scottish migrants first set up their own clubs, and later the Europeans in the postwar period. This recurring theme has been made complicated by the fact that the de-ethnicisation of clubs has often been put forward by those who are themselves of an ethnic background.

For example, in 1964 the NSW Federation management committee voted against a motion from Alex Pongrass (nee Sándor Pongrácz) of the Budapest club in Sydney that all clubs must include a district name as well as a national name. So Budapest went it alone, becoming St. George-Budapest and eventually St. George, setting a trend eventually followed across the country. Some clubs were happier than others to make the change. Some people changed their minds on the issue over time.

In 1965, while he was a club official of Pan Hellenic (now Sydney Olympic), Sir Arthur George who changed his own name from Athanasios Theodore Tzortzatos was against changing club names. Those people harping on about the effects of nationalistic names suffer from a massive dose of inferiority complex, he said. Why should clubs change their names? One out of four people under 21 now in Australia was born elsewhere.

Yet by 1977, he had assumed the presidency of the Australian Soccer Federation, and had banned ethnic names from the national competition. In 1978, he said, soccer is not being regarded as an Australian sport, due to so many of the names being used at present.

These familiar arguments for an against ethnic names continued through the 1980s and 1990s, inflamed primarily by the presence of Sydney Croatia and Melbourne Croatia. In 1996, when Josip Simunic first decided to pledge his allegiance to Croatia, the country of his parents, rather than Australia, the names and logos were seen as proof of ethnic clubs as fifth column. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald asked if Simunic had not played for a club with Croatian emblems on its jersey and which continues to identify with Croatia, would he have opted for Croatia over Australia?

It was nonsense, of course. More Australians of Croatian heritage have played for the Socceroos than for Croatia, and many of them grew up supporting the various Croatias around the country. Mark Viduka is perhaps the best example of this. Yet the truth is nobody much likes the Croats in soccer, sometimes for reasons that are entirely justifiable, and so many fans, commentators and officials have played the man and abandoned the principle. But remove the Croats from this, or indeed remove soccer, and youre left with an ideological position that can only be seen as discriminatory.

Nowhere else in Australian society would would this be acceptable practice. Its a depressing irony Australias first genuinely multicultural sport has internalised the logic of assimilation and unleashed its toxic influence on the few remaining clubs that wish to retain the most visible symbols of their identity.

Ultimately, we need to move away from the idea that this is an issue simply for football. Someone  recently told me the NCIP is for the good of "the whole of the game in 2015". My response was that I do not care for the good of the whole of the game in 2015. I care for the good of people and communities in 2015, and hope to see that expressed through soccer.

As the father of multiculturalism, Al Grassby, said, this has with far reaching effects, not just for those involved in soccer. Its worth re-reading the recommendations in the Galbally Report from 1978, seen as one of the founding documents of Australian multiculturalism. There are some two statements that go straight to the heart of the club names issue. The report reads:
Provided that ethnic identity is not stressed at the expense of society at large, but is interwoven into the fabric of our nationhood by the process of multicultural interaction, then the community as a whole will benefit substantially and its democratic nature will be reinforced.
Are club names such as Gwelup Croatia elevating ethnic identities at the expense of society at large? Perhaps. Many have made the case that ethnic names perpetuate the view that soccer is dominated by ethnic enclaves, and that ethnic names are a harbinger to violence and division at grounds. Others might take the view that "the process of multicultural interaction" is in the playing of soccer against other Australian clubs of various origins.

Indeed the authors of the Report rejected the argument that cultural diversity immediately creates division. Rather, they argued, we believe that hostility and bitterness between groups are often the result of cultural repression. Is FFAs ban on national, political or religious names and logos cultural repression? Absolutely. The logical question arises who here is creating the division?

It is true that the Croats will continue to create the most noise about the National Club Identity Policy, and most of the clubs of ethnic origin have simply moved on, happy to be known simply by their district or nicknames. This is their right and their prerogative. But just as Essendon Royals are unlikely to revert back to Unione Sportiva Triestina, no club should never be forced to change in order to justify their existence.

A spokesperson for Gwelup Croatia told me there was no way they would have changed their name if asked by FFA. Although FFA assure us its not the case, it feels as if a battle may have been narrowly avoided. Still, it remains fundamentally different for the membership of a soccer club to decide to change their name, logo or jersey in order to seek broad based approval than for that change to be forced upon them arbitrarily by a administrative body they did not elect to be governed by.

During the recent Asian Cup, soccer-mad Australians of Iranian, Korean, Iraqi and Palestinian heritage support their national teams, bringing with them all the colour and passion that makes soccer the world game. Many of these communities have quietly begun their own clubs and federations independently of FFA. Theres Chinese, Lebanese, Somalian and Iranian soccer associations, just to name a few, and many of the people involved in these are aware that FFA dont want them to form new ethnic clubs. Is this the message that FFA wants to send to the wider community? And as soccer fans, are we complicit in endorsing this message?

At some point, lest we argue about this for another 50 years, were going to have to accept that in a multicultural society Croatia is not foreign, nor is Maccabi Hakoah, nor is Al-Tira Stars for that matter. Once people arrive here and set down roots, their cultural inheritance becomes part of Australia. Even if we hate the Croats, we are all Gwelup Croatia. 

Monday, 22 June 2015

Discordant - South Melbourne 1 Werribee City 0

This will be a relatively brief post.

First of all, commiserations to Gwelup Croatia for failing to make all our bitter dreams come true by losing their FFA Cup qualifier against Perth SC 4-3.

Anyway, despite the awful time slot, the 350 people in attendance - including about a dozen or so Bergers and Bentleigh onlookers - were treated to an exciting contest, albeit of an erratic and mostly middling standard of play. Some of the reasons for the game turning out the way it did must go down to our customary lethargic middle portion of the season shenanigans, but also due to Werribee playing a lot higher up the field than I, and I suspect many other had expected them to.

Lest I be accused of being willfully difficult or negative, I will say this: we looked a lot better in this game than we did against Dandenong Thunder the week before. Now the necessary disclaimers to that factoid are that we looked better going forward, while making little to no improvement in our defending, but it was a step in the right direction. It was a pity that we could not have been more clinical with our finishing, with Milos Lujic being the key offender, missing several excellent chances, but on the other hand, Werribee missed a ton of chances themselves, so let's all be grateful that Nick Epifano managed to put his chance away in the first half.

Someone made the point yesterday that Lujic hasn't scored a league goal since Andy Brennan left, which while being a clever and witty observation, was an observation so cynical that even  had to baulk at endorsing it. That's right, I've gone soft, but it's only been two league games, and it's not like Lujic didn't have plenty of chances - including another botched penalty attempt - to score a hattrick yesterday. Maybe the A-League recruiting guys were right all along.

Quite why we gave Werribee so much time and space on the ball is anyone's guess, and the less said about our inability to deal with long balls the better. Nikola Roganovic had a blinder in goals - the only way he could endear himself any more to the South fan base would be to somehow get his store's doughnuts on sale at Lakeside. If I had to give a 3-2-1 for this game, it'd be Roganovic three votes for saving our arses repeatedly, Iqi Jawadi two votes for working really hard in the midfield, and Epifano one vote because he scored and seemed to at least cause the opposition problems.

Next game
Bentleigh at home on Sunday. Could not imagine a 1st vs 2nd contest with this much disparity in form. This could turn out very good. More likely it could turn out very bad. Here's hoping for very good.

McEpifano/Choose your own adventure
The word on the terraces (via one of the Enosi 59 kids) yesterday was that Nick Epifano will be off to trial with Dundee United, and subsequent discussions seem to say that this is true, and that because of of this he'll miss the Bentleigh game, and I assume also the Heidelberg and Green Gully matches.

If you want the encourage Epifano at all costs (except calling for second efforts) reaction, turn to page 72

If you want the cynical 'fuck the cunt off' reaction, turn to page 43

Oh no he didn't!
Simon Colosimo says 'hi'
A reluctant word about chanting
Really discordant for large parts of the game yesterday, with some people going too slow considering that Clarendon Corner tends to go a little quicker, but it mostly sorted itself as the game went on. Not huge numbers by any strange of the imagination, but a good mix of old and new people.

Around the grounds
Gomer Pyle unleashes the full might of Charlene on the enemy
I eschewed a trip out to the Moreland Road derby for Altona East vs Cairnlea, because the food is better at Paisley Park and it was clearly less hassle to get to and from. East scored a penalty early on, received for one of the home team's players having his nose obliterated from his face. Then it was pretty even for a while, and Cairnlea scored from a penalty of their own early in the second half. Then Altona East responded via their forward who looks like Gomer Pyle from Full Metal Jacket, who only has a left foot and no other redeeming qualities (even his nickname of 'Chippy' - because he likes chips - is kinda lame) scored with a well placed shot from the edge of the box (his second goal of the day), and then with the game in the balance, and with his back to goal and with three defenders around him somehow weaseled his way out of that rabbit hole and put in the most delightful cross for 3-1, and then after that it was all a bit of a rout, finishing 5-1.

Final thought
Our last three league matches have been against North Geelong (14th), Dandenong Thunder (13th) and Werribee City (12th). Next two weeks are Bentleigh (1st) and Heidelberg (3rd). I think we're going to learn a lot about where we're at very quickly.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

FFA Cup, hooray, I guess - South Melbourne 6 Frankston Pines 1

In front of a crowd of about 400 (rounded up by our counter), we did the business against a plucky but outclassed Frankston Pines side. The upside of all this is we're into the semi finals of the Dockerty Cup as well as, I suppose more importantly for some, back on the national stage for the first time since the NSL (if one discounts last year's NPL national finals adventure).

The downside of that is that I'm not sure how much further we can go playing the way we're playing at the moment. Now even taking into account such things as only being able to beat the opposition put in front of you, some of our outs with players playing in unusual positions, and the fact that in some ways we're in a transition phase mid-season, we weren't very good. There were players that should have seen this game as an opportunity to really make their mark, but failed to do so - and I'm not counting the junk time last twenty minutes when Pines were more or less dead on their feet.

Conceding that late goal from a corner did no harm within the game, but showed once again that we've got a real problem in defending set pieces. And as one forum scribe noted, playing the way we did in the first 30 minutes against one of our league's better teams will do us no good at all. But climbing back from the ledge for a moment, we know this year's team can play better than they have been in the last couple of weeks, that they have the possibility of lifting a gear when needed, but I suppose the point is you'd rather not have to be in the position where you need to do that.

Anyway, the vibe was good at the game especially after we finally got the first couple of goals, with some good chanting, good humour, and with South fans clapping off Frankston Pines - though I'm not sure what 2-3 of the Enosi boys thought they were doing when they went over to try and taunt some of the women supporting Pines after we scored our first goal. Luckily someone sensible from Clarendon Corner sorted that out; we really don't need that kind of stupidity. Equally stupid were the people that used a back gate or far side gate to get into the ground - were they caught and evicted? I'm not sure. Neither am I sure if they were the same people as those who were later seen hanging about outside the fence on the Clarendon Street end with some sort of banner I think. Some people claimed they were Frankston/Victory fans, but who can tell for sure?

Next game
This Sunday at home against Werribee City, at the stupid, stupid, stupid time of 5:00PM. Why not 3:00PM? Are they worried that if we play when it's slightly more pleasant that it may mean 20 more people might turn up?

Dockerty Cup and FFA Cup news
As noted earlier, we're into the semi finals of the Dockerty Cup, but the draw for those games won't happen until next week's other quarter finals are completed. Oakleigh made it through last night, beating South Springvale 2-1. As for the FFA Cup, the draw for the round of 32 will be made on July 1st, once all 32 qualifiers become known.

Final thought
Yes, I'm aware that on field things could be going much, much worse!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Life after Brennan - Dandenong Thunder 0 South Melbourne 1

'You have to listen to the notes she's not playing' someone once said, that someone being fond of the kind of obtuse jazz misdirection that only the dedicated and most initiated claim to understand. Me, I like my footballers to be more straightforward. In other words, I miss Andy Brennan, and I'm not sure the team will be able to adjust and cope to life without him, which is a horribly over the top kind of observation to make about a bloke who played just a handful of games for us. But I should probably stop before this becomes a full blown love letter, and talk a little bit about the game,

Someone made the point about last night's fixture that we never win easy at Dandenong, and that's true enough; but that doesn't mean we couldn't start doing so. Instead what we got was not so much a grind, but a hanging on for dear life experience. Having said that, our first half was better than our second, and we sort of managed to wrest the game back a little in the last ten minutes or so, so it's not like it was one monotonous onslaught. Still, quite how we managed to get the win is one of the great mysteries of life (except for the fact that good teams around the world win ugly every week and no one really bats an eyelid except the most hopeless chinstrokers).

Fraser MacLaren, fresh from his 90 seconds of cup action the week before, started his first South game for the suspended Nikola Roganovic. He was also our best player, as an increasingly overwhelmed midfield struggled in preventing Thunder from dominating possession and territory. forcing MacLaren into making many, many saves. Being at the other end of the field in both halves meant that it was sometimes very difficult to tell what was going in our defensive third, but it all looked very concerning nonetheless.

The other notable inclusion was at the other end of the field. Kiwi Andy Bevin made his debut for the club, playing about an hour's worth of the game. While he looked comfortable on the ball, let it be quite clear that he is not even remotely a like for like replacement for Andy Brennan. Where Brennan's primary weapons were speed, strength and a willingness to have a go, Bevin looks slower, smaller and more likely to use on the ball trickery to achieve his ends. To that end, he'll likely end up playing a more Jamie Reed style of game dragging defenders away from Milos Lujic, while also hopefully becoming a handy six yard poacher sort of forward.

This means that Leigh Minopoulos will likely get more first team starting opportunities, as he did in this game playing out wide on the right. It also means that we should be prepared for at least some short term pain as the forward half of the field learns to adjust to the the new post-Brennan style of play that will be required from the team. Milos Lujic spent a good deal of the night being visibly frustrated at the sketchy service and lack of synchronisation.

Because Brennan played along the wing as well as up front, the midfield will also have to adjust to life without its biggest body, after already having lost Eagar from the short lived defensive midfield position that he occupied at the start of the year, and which he had to give up to return to centre back after Kristian Konstantinidis' injury. For his part, Eagar, back this week after missing a couple of games because of his botched attempt at collecting a yellow card against Oakleigh, managed to get a yellow card for time wasting in this game, which will see him miss the midweek cup match but also belatedly wipe clean his yellow card slate.

When we weren't struggling to regain and retain possession, there was space for the wingers to move in, even if they lacked Brennan's decisiveness and too many attacking moves became undone because of it. As ineffective as we were for much of the game, Iqi Jawadi's decisive goal into the top corner and well out of the reach of Zaim Zeneli was something worthwhile to take out of the game, not just for it being the winning goal, but because it's another notch on Iqi's belt as far as goal scoring is concerned. While no one really wants or expects to shoot at will, the fact that he's put away a few goals this season means that the monkey that he carried on his back last year of not scoring goals is now done with.

Anyway, we got the win, I saw a (Brisbane) Easts Rugby Union bumper sticker on a car, and I avoided food poisoning. On exiting the ground, one of the locals scoffed at our being top of the table, and he maybe had a point, but we had three more to add to the 36 we took into the game, so he can stick that in his pipe and smoke it. Geez, that's a little harsh and unsporting. A more circumspect way of summarising it would be to say that, from our point of view, it was a pretty forgettable game apart from the goal, and that we move on to the next game.

Dockerty Cup news/Next game
We have drawn Frankston Pines in the quarter finals of the Dockerty Cup, which also doubles as the last stage of the FFA Cup state based qualifiers. Without meaning any disrespect to Pines, this is the best result we could have hoped for. The game has been scheduled for this Wednesday at Lakeside, kickoff at 7:30.

You still say hello!
There was a faithful dog that was eagerly awaiting a greeting and a pat on the head from its master, but which became sullen in the way that poorly treated dogs do when it didn't get one; the aforementioned dog then got upset at me for making a minor major and hilarious deal out of it, even after had I opened his can of Solo, because that's the kind of guy I am, always doing nice things for people.

Contractual obligation segment
It came to my attention this week that the one or more of the Enosi 59 crew have created their own web space of sorts, and it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge its existence at least on this one occasion; after all, I did even mention SMFC Mike's podcast that one time. I'm not a fan of the ultras scene or mentality, but for those who are more sympathetic to those kinds of angles, the link has been placed among the South links here.

But before I go, I will make one comment. Now I readily acknowledge that people are free to make their own choices in life, but a brotherhood with Sydney Olympic fans? Really? I don't know about that fellas. That's the generation gap for ya though.

Great missed opportunities in Nick Epifano-Simpsons gag crossovers

Around the grounds (guest spot by Manny)
Not sure if this is cheating or polygamy but it feels good.
I didn't plan to go anywhere on Saturday - exams supposedly had me locked into study this weekend, but as they often do, plans fell through and I found myself somewhere I wasn't planning to be. That place was Dunstan Reserve to watch Brunswick City take on Melbourne Victory.

Being a five year member of Melbourne Victory as well as the fact they were topping the ladder in their first NPL1 season made me feel obligated to check them out at the park around the corner. 'Park?' I hear you ask. 'This is an NPL venue... blah, blah, blah... FFV standards... blah, blah...'. Yeah well, for those who haven’t been there, Dunstan Reserve is a park. A great state league venue but a perfect example of the infrastructure shortage 'elite' state clubs suffer, or perhaps a perfect example of the FFV’s lax entry requirements. I’ll let you decide on that. Anyway, Dunstan Reserve is a park - but what a park. The club rooms are full of trophies and memorabilia and the limited terraces on the corner of the pitch outside the clubrooms scream a club that wants to be bigger. It’s a club I played for and despite my many, many issues surrounding club management/coaching/administration/culture it’s a club I support.

So there I am, chatting to my mate as he lazily officials the match, and surrounded by my small group of cousins and friends who also dropped by to watch our relative in the under 20s. I’m wearing my South scarf to a game against my junior club and the club I’m a member of... what a confusing mix for everyone.

Brunswick have had a tough year to put it lightly... (refer to above issues surrounding club management/coaching/administration/culture) and Victory take the game away, scoring four goals in the opening 15 minutes to put the result beyond doubt. Despite the embarrassing result for ‘Leonidas’ I look towards the Victory fans with disdain, to the modest club rooms proudly, and am there to support Brunswick. How could a member who has poured hundreds of dollars and invested hours of time into a club turn his back on them? Well, like just about everyone I support multiple clubs but unlike many people it just happens that this year those clubs are in the same league.

I'm not the only one. With the introduction of A-League teams in the NPL and the FFA Cup many fans are having their loyalties challenged and the results are surprising. More often than not I find people are choosing their local teams and that choosing an A-League team to support is partly just to be part of the fun of a national league.

Most fans have the luxury of not enduring the internal conflict that happens when their teams compete against each other. Often these loyalties cross international borders and occasionally sport codes so that these conflicts just about impossible. People live through sport. They use it to seek community and success and diversifying your investments mitigates the risk of going all in on one team, in one league, in one sport.

Next year however will be interesting and challenging for many. With Victory likely to be promoted, a match up against South Melbourne is inevitable. Although not as heated as a senior match up would be (in the FFA Cup for instance) there will be conflict nevertheless, especially given the all too complicated context such a much will be played against.

Can a South fan also be a Victory fan? I know I am, but unlike other supporters it was actually Victory that introduced me to soccer supporter culture and South that stole me away. I’ll be supporting South when we play Victory and that'll be for many reasons some of which I know, some of which I can't quite explain. What I can say for certain is that I can’t wait for that match to happen.

Final thought
Farewell drinking bird, long live grumpy at Richmond.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Six years since my last 'old' Classico

This is a guest post by Perth Glory fan Chris Egan, who was at the game last week. Six years ago, Chris wrote this piece after seeing this game.

There was Mark Viduka, lines that stretched back to Clarendon Street for souvlakis and a game that continues to hold traction for a sad and dejected lover of Perth Glory.

The images and sounds were heightened, the same 'against modern football' signs I saw in '09 were back. The men behind them saw the purple scarf of my fellow Glory fan and expressed a somewhat passionate outrage for modern football, which is defined within our colours. Our club brought modern football and it remains a source of antagonism to wear our colours in their vicinity. 'What are you doing wearing a Glory scarf, they are not even playing'. As we were in the souvlaki line, Victory and Western Bulldogs fans mentioned the special attention that purple scarf had over their fellow 'modern' football compatriots.

Our name and club has not been forgotten, nor have we forgotten the Knights. Part of the problem of the 2001 elimination final at Sunshine is that it blocks the other remits of our rivalry. The signing of Vinko Buljubasic as the Glory's first full time player before the 96/97 season was a sign that new football as private enterprises had the cash to splash that a members run club couldn't compete with. There are many elements of the rivalry, not just those three fingers of Bobby Despotovski.

I still see the envy in my mates eyes when I can recount our dominance in Perth over Hellas, which stops it being a rivalry of any significance. However it remains the largest 'official' crowd to be played at Perth Oval in 1998 when 18,067 pack into the ground. There are credible murmurs that some games in the late 90s were pushing crowds into the 20-25,000. Even with a tantalising match up with Perth Glory to think of, this game had no other team I could barrack for. In a rivalry that goes back to December 1996 when the WA media excitedly declared the Glory 'WA's' team with a last minute goal against Melbourne Croatia or the outrage the Knights had over Tana calling Sunshine a 'cow paddock' before the last game of the 1996/97 season. I was South Melbourne for a night. It had nothing to do with anti-Croatian sentiment.

Now I have defined my support of South Melbourne as not about being anti-Croatian, the game was of top standard and reminded me of the old Freo derby. No longer the most dominant and biggest teams in town, but it still holds meaning. Beating the other team is more than just three points. This was about pride and history of being the biggest and best team in Melbourne a rivalry that etches along from the period of history. Four red cards, an all in punch up, reports of flares prior to the game. The clubs are pariahs of Australian football. Not modern or corporate enough for the Lowy machine that brought in the Glory in 1996.

I have seen a drastic transformation in culture of the 'old Classico'. The crowd on Friday night was double what I saw on a cold Sunday in June '09, the rivalry much more fierce. Indeed, as the second goal fired in off the post the man in the next row excitedly pronounced 'That is South Melbourne' to his younger colleagues as he leaped with excitement. Four words said in passion which define the resistance and power of the club in 2015. Words that were not heard of in '09 as the struggles of adjusting to a new league was heartfelt.

However, tonight in 2015 I see a club finding its identity, accepting its path forward and seeking out national representation in the FFA Cup. For myself, the six years have past and my club is still in crisis, still direction-less and still unable to process its movement away from the top dog status it used to have. The passion and culture of the 'old' Classico is drastically different to the feeling of hopelessness of our situation out west. An owner who doesn't care contrasts sharply with these community clubs that so many people still care about and if they had not they would no longer exist. 

My fellow football fans, the six years have shown that the old Classico has grown in prestige and passion. The pessimism of the past has been driven to acceptance. For my club, the six years have driven more fans away, caused more anguish and it was only a few months ago our club had the blackest day in its history. We are now the problem child of modern football...

Sunday, 7 June 2015

One for the ages - South Melbourne 3 Melbourne Knights 1

The FFA Cup is a scam, little more than a tokenistic lottery based gesture to alleviate new dawn guilt. What's the long term worth of one good crowd for a game if the other 13 home games, for say a club like Bentleigh, get 50 people, and they bring no one to their 13 away games? Now the movers and shakers will point to the fact that over the past couple of seasons, that FFA Cup qualifying game last year was the one key time we failed to beat the Knights and that it cost us a ton in exposure and sponsorship, and that is the reason why they are movers and shakers and I am just a regular fan. My thoughts were more focused on the previous time we'd played, a come from behind win in the league, and before that where we snared the inaugural Community Shield with a come from behind win, and before that with a 4-3 win at home in the league last year, and prior to that cup loss, a 1-0 win at Somers Street with a super Lujic goal, and before all that of course a memorable finals smash and grab in enemy territory, and on and on it goes.

On the other hand, the Dockerty Cup is a 100 year plus competition, with the trophy being the end in and of itself, and not just some gimmick; devalued and thrust aside, for mine this is still where this fixture was historically situated, in the middle of a complex and evolving rivalry. There's a legacy here of epic encounters even in the years of our mutual exile and decline, as our clubs have tried different modes of trying to stabilise and rebuild. It's something that has not gone unnoticed even by those who have tossed us onto the hard rubbish heap on Australian soccer's nature strip.
West End   
Fantastic atmosphere at Lakeside last night. Hadn't been back at BJS for a considerable time. The first thing that struck me is that the South crowd was quite youthful. I was sitting in the main grandstand and next to me were a local (anglo) family from Albert Park who came to their first South game!! - AND all decked out in SM gear. Quite a few familiar faces from the NT as well - I'd say quite of few South\Victory fans and also quite a few neutrals. I have been critical in the past - however these are encouraging signs for the Club. The chants from the Clarendon Corner were quite witty - and didn't really feel (if I can say) "Greek". As for the Knights....still mostly stuck in the past. It really is chalk and cheese when comparing these two clubs. Given SM have a great chance to qualify for the FFA Cup next stage they should really capitalise on continuing to promote the Club to the Bayside community. When pitted against A-League opposition - this is a golden opportunity to show the FFA and public that they *can* be a broad-based Club and that their focus is purely on football and building great football culture. Build on their rich history. Well done SMFC for a great evening.
In more naive times for this blog, back in 2009, I posted thoughts on the different trajectories each club appeared to be taking, while being very careful (while also meaning it) to say each club had the right to choose its own way of doing things. In that sense, regardless of the somewhat odd commentary of South 'selling out' from all sorts of different angles, that idea of different trajectories is something which has cut through to the general observer, both within and outside of our clubs.
Whilst some will tell you south has sold out its own heritage, the reality is the greek community turned on the club first, at first it annoyed me but now I say good riddance, it's nice that we have a more diverse mix of fans now (by npl standards), walking along the grandstand and even seeing Asians with south scarves is awesome. The new young crew that have jumped on board this year have added plenty to the atmosphere of games and a much needed numbers far as I know they're all victory fans as well from your NT.  
In saying that I have no real issue with the knights being more "ethnic", if they wanna chant in Croatian and feel that's the type of support that works for them then good luck to them I say, being one of the few Cro clubs in Melbourne I guess that aspect of it is important, where as at south we no longer represent the greek community as a whole anymore and haven't for a very long time, knights are basically the equivalent of someone arriving from Croatia post world war 2, they're more "authentic" and fiercely proud, even the kids,they haven't changed and that gives them a community edge, where as south seems to have followed a natural generational shift as the years have passed, the reality is it's not about being greek and shoving that in everyone's face, it's about respecting the heritage and the people who started it all 50+ Years ago but also realising it's 2015 and that the club simply can't be what it was decades ago, not to please the FFA or chase some deluded A league dream, but simply because that era has passed, and the new generation trying to return to that era would be fake. 
Last night was a win for south melbourne, not for greeks or the greek community.
A fixture like this then, even if doesn't guarantee national exposure like last year's equivalent game because there's still one more round to go on that front, is a chance for each club to put forward its public face for the general public's consideration. And as much as South can be said to be persistently desperate for national attention, as part of its fading hopes for inclusion into the A-League - which now probably hinge mostly on former South goalkeeper Jack Reilly making a successful run for the soon to be vacant FFA chairman's position - the Knights also see the chance to unapologetically remind everyone of who they are and what exists underneath the gloss and the glam of the top tier. I'm not about to begin a lecture on the right way or wrong way of doing things. As I once said to a fellow bitter traveller.
There may not even be a right approach under this regime. Maybe all approaches are doomed from the outset,
But maybe in the end, it all boils down to this - some people love to be loved, and others love to be hated. The crowd of approximately 1500-2000 people saw a game both on and off the park which attested to at least that much.

As an aside
They tell me that Mark Viduka was in attendance, and while he was happy to have his photo taken with the kids in attendance, he also unfortunately missed out on a souv, probably because FFV media man Alen Delic had got there first.
You've got to, ahem, risk it for the, er, biscuit
The beginning of the game resembled bad rugby union, and since even good rugby union is more or less unwatchable, this was not a pleasing thing to see. Lots of balls hoofed long and out of play, and lots and lots of fouls. When the game settled down, Knights were the better side, playing a mid 1980s VFL style of soccer, running in numbers and hunting the ball in packs. That's not to say that we didn't have our own chances, but generally Knights had the better of it.

That they took the lead early in the second half was hardly unjust, even if it came from a corner, which we can no longer defend in 2015 for various reasons. What happened after that was a little odd. Having justly taken the lead, Knights then proceeded to more or less shut up shop with more than half an hour left. With 15 minutes to go, I can understand, but the game was there for the taking, and instead they retreated into time wastingAs the second half wore on, unlike several terrace pundits, I felt we had a goal in us somewhere, but that last ten minutes came out of nowhere. Giving up the initiative the way they did, when the game was being played on their terms, cost the Knights the game as much as anything.

Still, when Leigh Minopoulos passed to the offside Lujic instead of taking a shot himself, it would take something unusual to get us back on level terms. Thankfully that something unusual happened, as a Knights defender's clumsy attempt at a clearance struck his arm, and the referee callously blew his whistle for a penalty. It was the second dodgy penalty we'd received against Knights at Lakeside in 2015. Lujic made no mistake, and the ledger was squared. Still, I was nervous about the ending because even if we made it to extra time, our lack of defenders, benched in a sacrifice to make up the one goal deficit, would leave us vulnerable. But then 40 seconds later...

To get to Duff Gardens FFA Cup, I'd ride with Satan himself!
It just had to be Nick Epifano who would score the go ahead goal. What's more, his brilliant effort was a variation on something that Milos Lujic has been trying to pull off during his entire South stint.

Warning! The next bit contains silly theorising by someone who has never played the game. If that kind of thing offends you, please skip the following paragraph

In Lujic's case, it's seen the ball at his feet with his back to goal, cutting left (and therefore onto his right), and trying to curl the ball, now half to three quarters of a stride ahead of himself and three quarters to a stride ahead of his defender, into the far side of the goal, preferably off the inside of the post. Epifano's was of course much more of a midfielder's effort, and with little in the way of any sort of guile - as he was running towards goal, it was quite clear what he was going to try and do. The only obstacle in his way was his own poor finishing this season, something he has admitted himself he needs to work on.
Focusing on my finishing is one thing that I have been lacking recently so I’ve been trying to improve that as much as I can.
OK, it's safe to read stuff from here on
I celebrated the goal, because no matter what I think of Epifano and this whole messy saga two things tend to override everything else.
  1. It was a cracking goal, and more importantly
  2. The guy playing for the team in blue scored against the team playing in red and at that moment instinct takes over, and rational judgement gets thrown out the window.
Neither of those two things is anything to apologise for, so I won't. But it did highlight the ethical rift that exists among South fans on the matter. One bloke came up to me and asked 'so, do you still hate him?' to which the obvious answer is that a shit bloke can still be a good player who can score a great goal. And if Nick Epifano is going to be out there then he may as well make himself useful. As satisfying as the goal was, what was even better were the defensive efforts he pulled off on occasion during this match, which is the minimum anyone at this level wants to see, and that had he done more of that earlier in the season we wouldn't have ended up in this preposterous mess in the first place.

The game, now turned upside down, saw the now tired Knights desperately try to reverse the momentum they'd willingly conceded after taking the lead. It was all in vain, as Andy Brennan stormed forward on the counter and laid it off for Epifano to make it 3-1. That wasn't quite the end of the action, as Knights captain Tommy Uskok and South keeper Nikola Roganovic managed to get themselves sent off. Fraser Maclaren was subbed on for his debut at the expense of Brennan (we'll miss you, Andy!), making Maclaren the third father-son playing connection in South history, following Tsolakis and Salapasidis. Maclaren took the free kick, and the referee, having seen enough, blew time on the game a little earlier than he might have otherwise done.

Everything worked out / What a happy end! / Americans and Canadians are friends again
Hey, you're that guy that writes that thing!
It was good to meet Nick Vertsonis before the game, even if it's slightly disconcerting that this blog has reached such relative critical mass that I am being recognised in public because of it. In this case, it was a good thing.

Oh mainstream (and other) media coverage, how I've missed you
There was also MFootball's coverage, and this thing by Ari Harilaou, and even Michael Lynch was tweeting positive things vuia his personal as opposed to work based Twitter feed.
It's not newsprint or even digital newsprint, but at least he's engaged.

Next week
Dandenong Thunder away on Saturday night.

Around the grounds
Canadian Graffiti 
Apparently, when a frequent visitor to Melbourne has seen everything of value that our fair town has to offer, they go to Geelong; and once you've seen everything Geelong has to offer - so basically Moorabool Street and the wool museum - you go to a local soccer match, in order to be surrounded by people wearing Geelong footy merch. Since the train ride into Geelong is one of the dullest you can get, my main thrill was finally getting to see some graffiti in Geelong.
What kind of town is full of skate punks but has no graffiti? Anyway, we ended up at Hume Reserve in Bell Park, a large field with spartan spectator amenities, in time for the reserves fixture. Roy Hay, who was there during the first half of the seniors mostly to catch up with Perthite Chris Egan, noted that the field was in much better condition than during the years it suffered with a fungal infestation.
Getting there early also allowed for time make note of the town planning that went into creating this working class precinct - the ground is surrounded variously by a school, housing, industry and a bocce court - as well as have a look around at a particular aspect of the decline of ethnic soccer in Victoria.
Having had lunch in town - for the record, rather good pulled pork rolls - I wasn't in the mood for food from the Corio canteen, but knowing the Hungarian reputation for delicious cakes, I chanced my hand and asked if they had any, and ended up with a very nice piece of lemon slice.
I noted last week that Corio are struggling this season, and so it was in this game. Corio had enough of the ball, but looked clueless once they got it into their front thread. Suburbs for their part were more dangerous and efficient, and scored one in each half; well, at least that's my assumption, because...
The highlight of the match for Corio was when one of their players nutmegged his opponent right in front of the most boisterous section of the home support, who seemed to abide by the mantra that more booze equals more banter. As their slab of VB was whittled down to empty cans during the game, one could not help but agree with their manifesto, nor also help but agree with their collectively derived assertion that going to the gym is pointless if you're going to follow it up by eating ten Big Macs.

Final thought
Fuck you Blogger for deleting my my post when I was three quarters done.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Mehmet artefact Wednesday - Selangor FA pennant

Oh, so many fond memories of Selangor's tour of late 2013. I suppose it all started before they'd even thought of touring, when former South Melbourne Hellas championship player Mehmet Durakovic quit his post as South Melbourne FC director of football or technical director or whatever it was that he was doing with us, and took up the gaffer's job at Selangor, where he played in the 1990s. Then news filtered through that Selangor was in Australia as part of their pre-season schedule, and were using Lakeside as a training base. Would South Melbourne play them in a friendly? Would it be open doors? Would someone from the club say it was closed doors even it wasn't? Yes, yes/no/kinda and yes, but with appropriate caveats! And thus Gains and I went to this game expecting not very much and getting it. All of which is a very long winded way of saying that this week's artefact is the pennant Selangor presented us with prior to the game, and which was last seen somewhere in team manager Frank Piccione's dungeon. You know, because we don't have a social club and stuff.
Selangor FA pennant from our friendly kick about with them in December 2013. Also
partially visible is an 'I Love This Club' sticker from the 2010 season. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.