The crowd of 350 (plus George Katsakis and his wife apparently, as well as George Donikian's documentary crew) were treated to an exciting, if unusual spectacle. Exciting because it was a five goal thriller; unusual because the Green Gully side that played last night resembled no Green Gully side I've watched over the past decade. They played fluent football that did not rely upon their trademark bull storming style. Indeed it was South that was repeatedly punished by the referee (himself a massive unit of a bloke who was also a particular stickler for having the throw ins performed at exactly the right spot) for numerous fouls, and once more we collected yellow cards that will hurt us in the long run.
Gully had the better play and the better chances, and it will be interesting to see the progress this team can make over the course of the rest of this season. As for us, there was good and bad. The bad was the sloppiness of much of our passing, bouts of indecisiveness, and a habit of having our midfield sit too deep. The good was almost entirely contained in two players continuing to make their way back from injuries. David Stirton's two goals were well taken, and showed again signs for why we signed him. The other player to shine was Stephen Hatzikostas, who was in the middle of everything, providing the kind of steel we've been missing in the middle since Dane Milovanovic.
The best thing of all, of course, is that we won the game not because we were the better team, but in spite of it. The team kept fighting to the end, and Leigh Minopoulos' pass to Milos Lujic for the late winner was the measure of calmness. Last year Leigh would have taken the shot, and probably scored. This time, out of sorts this season in front of goal, he turned provider and Lujic, who had been treated worse than Travis Cloke by the officials, got on the scoring sheets for a second game running, putting paid to any theories of his 2015 self having an Andy Brennan dependency.
Knights away on Sunday.
It's a good thing we have a social media policy now to deal with these incidents
Around the grounds
The wrong side of the bell curve
Take all of the following with an extra grain of salt. As a favour to a friend... no, favour is not the right word... I don't know what the right word is to be honest... I was finally able to make an appearance at said friend's son's under 16 match NPL West match. The contest was between Brunswick City, near bottom of the table, and Avondale Heights, somewhere near the middle, played on the back pitch at Dunstan Reserve, the one that used to be a footy oval. Now I don't watch junior soccer, and making sweeping judgements about the validity and effectiveness of the NPL based upon one game would be stupid. Certainly that's not my intention here. However, I will say a that I noticed a few things. The coaching seemed substandard. I can understand that at the size of the Victorian NPL - 32 clubs or whatever it is - that there will bad teams, and even poor players. What I did not expect was to see teams that were so robotic and one dimensional. The set up of the teams at the goal kicks - especially from Brunswick - resembled a set up a kick off. The skill level of most of the players was at best, mediocre - again understandable considering the obvious lack of depth of talent for this bloated NPL. Avondale had enough better players that they won the match something like 5-0.
More disturbing than the skill level was the style of game. There was very little fluency from either side, and while that was expected from the struggling Brunswick, even Avondale resorted to making the game into something resembling modern Australian Rules football, where the game had the appearance of being mostly one scrimmage to another. The field, while narrow, was in otherwise good condition, the conditions dry, and yet there were few moments where I felt that I was watching something resembling organised soccer. The toll of an already long and unsuccessful season was clearly visible on the faces of Brunswick team, but even the Avondale players didn't seem to be enjoying themselves. I've seen the bottom tier of women's soccer in this state, and I've followed a mostly struggling Altona East reserves team for years now, and even when they lose, there is still at some level an obvious enjoyment of the game and camaraderie.
That was in scant evidence at this fixture. There was little chatter from the players, and perhaps indicative of something, no usage of nicknames, no sense of familiarity with each other. It came across as if many of the players were lone rangers (someone else's term). There was also some mildly unsavoury business on the sidelines. At one point the Avondale coach abused his team's volunteer linesman for making a bad offside call, at which point the volunteer gave up being linesman. That this happened when his team was several goals up, and that the focus should have been on the development of his players rather than the scoreboard, is troubling. The parents on the sidelines for the most part were outwardly well behaved - a couple were more vocal and veered closer to the bad sports parent stereotype than they'd probably like to admit - but instead you had a sort of passive-aggressive vibe. Mutterings about coaches, about the inadequacies of players other than their own sons. The whole experience was very peculiar to an outsider, but it was just one game, and thus I'm reluctant to treat it as the norm for the competition. It has made me interested in seeing more though.
Every time a team plays South they treat it like a grand final
After watching the NPL junior game it was decided to go watch Melbourne Knights vs Werribee at Somers Street. At the very least I thought that the relegation threatened Bees would put in a spirited, grinding performance, but instead they got done 5-1, which only served to make me angry. Where was this crapness when they played us a few weeks back? Why they were put off by the terrible music being played over the Knights Stadium speakers in a way that they weren't when playing against us? It was a mediocre match, but at least a couple of the kids from the NPL junior game who came along for the ride learned something about soccer simply by watching one competent and one moderately competent (but on the day much less competent) teams do battle.
A huge thank you to Cuddles for playing one of my song selections over the PA, that being Kitchens of Distinction's 'When In Heaven'.