Wednesday, 30 September 2015

September 2015 digest

Maybe posting this a bit early in the day, but if something interesting happens between now and midnight, let's just all agree to look the other way while I sneak an edit in somewhere.

Social club and Lakeside lease saga

Presentation night
A combination senior/junior event, this will be held on Friday October 16th at Grand Star Receptions in Altona North. $70 adults, $30 children. I won't be there, as I have another event that I have already agreed to attend.

Player movements and contract statuses
It looks like the peripatetic career path of midfielder Dane Milovanovic is set to continue. Milovanovic, who missed much of the season with a knee injury sustained against Oakleigh away mid-season, has joined Hong Kong Premier League side Hong Kong Pegasus.
With Pegasus' season finishing in May, one would think that Milovanovic's time with South is at an end, unless he decided to come back to Australia during the 2016 mid-season transfer window. Meanwhile forward Andy Bevin has joined Team Wellington, and I assume this means he will no longer be at South Melbourne. As reported earlier, Nick Epifano has signed on for 2016, and although he has been rumoured to be trialling with Perth Glory, a transfer away from South looks uncertain. The (known/reported) contract statuses of some our other players and coaches are:
Players signed until the end of the 2015 season.
Players with unknown contract statuses
  • David Stirton (rumoured to be heading to Port Melbourne)
  • Fraser MacLaren
  • Kristian Konstantinidis (possibly until end of 2016)
  • Luke Adams
  • Thomas Lakic
  • Cody Martindale (assume until end 2015)
  • Jake Barker-Daish
  • Nick Morton
Considering that players have left before their contracts have finished - such as Tyson Holmes and James Musa - it's hard to know how are contracts work. In addition if people are aware of the contract statuses of any other players (many of whom I assume are only contracted on a season by season basis, such as Nick Morton), please add them into the comments.

There is also the issue of the player points cap being reduced from 225 to 200. Not that it's ever been policed properly, but you know, it's something to consider briefly.

What is the crowd capacity of Lakeside Stadium? (an ongoing project)
Over the years there has been much debate about the what the exact capacity of Lakeside Stadium is, whether that was the old Bob Jane Stadium (both when it was all open terracing and then had wooden seats installed) and once Lakeside was redeveloped with the athletics track.

Some of the debate has been motivated around our reputation of providing dodgy crowd figures, the seating capacity in the event that we somehow got into the A-League (snicker), or persistent dick measuring contests about who has a better stadium with Melbourne Knights supporters.

So as a beginning to figuring out what the seated capacity is of the stadium, a few weeks back
while back I was watching a South video on Youtube, I decided to do a count of the seats on the other side of the ground, and posted about it on smfcboard.
Not taking into account the empty spaces set aside for disabled seating, the 'new' stand's approximate seating capacity is 2420. This is made up of:
  • 10 bays of 14 rows with 14 seats each (1960) 
  • 2 bays at the ends with 7 rows with 14 seats each (196) 
  • 2 truncated bays with 6 full rows of 14 seats (168), and 8 rows of 6 seats (96), for a total of 264. 
Of course, since we very rarely use that stand, it's not at the heart of the capacity discussions surrounding Lakeside Stadium. At some point someone will have to do a detailed count of the stand that we use, though even then it will not quell all the controversy (such as it is) as the club never releases official crowd figures, and you also have people standing along the fence, at the back of the stand, and of course in the corporate boxes. But a little bit more certainty about certain inalienable facts couldn't hurt.

SMWFC win grand final
While I had intended on going to see the VFL grand final - go 'Towners! - I was offered a lift to the Veneto Club for this final match in the Women's Victorian Premier League, before the competition is replaced by the Women's NPL project. Neither of the two grand final contestants - the defending champions South Melbourne, and 2015's leading team Boroondara Eagles - had been accepted into the WNPL for 2016, so this was always going to be the end of an era as well as the end of the season. Now South Women may or may not appeal their exclusion - who knows for sure? - but in a situation where past or even recent on field performance is not the main criteria for the successful acquisition of a licence, it all comes down to the specifics of the licence application. And if that's not good enough, what can you do? Anyway, about 400-600 people were in attendance for this game, that was of a high standard for about 25 minutes then deteriorated significantly, but at least there were lots of goals, eh? South kept playing these delightful through balls to their forwards, but couldn't make the chances count. Eagles opened the scoring with a shot over the keeper, South equalised in the second half. Extra time saw Eagles take the lead with another long range shot, hit the crossbar twice and concede an own goal. The penalty shoot out saw South reach the stage, only to to have their goalkeeper take the decisive penalty shot and shoot it straight at the Eagles goalkeeper. Luckily Boroondara's next shot sailed over the crossbar and into the next suburb. South won the grand final with its next shot, farewelling the local top flight with its third championship.

Going up, going down
Well, we already knew that Dandenong Thunder and Werribee had been relegated. Now we know that North Geelong are also gone, having lost 2-0 to Melbourne Victory's NPL side in a playoff last week. Joining us therefore in NPL next season will be Richmond, Bulleen and, Melbourne Victory's NPL team. My immediate thoughts are that Friday nights at Richmond despite the limited cover ain't so bad; that the good food and atmosphere under the shed at the Veneto Club doesn't make up for abysmal public transport connections and likely Monday night games; and Victory's promotion to NPL may cause a dilemma for some of our younger friends from a certain supporting sub-faction and their potential allegiances.

Some quick thoughts on four hours spent at the MCC Library looking through the Soccer Action collection
After my first time using the research facilities there, I can say that the MCC Library is a very quiet, and very comfortable place to do research, and I highly recommend soccer researchers make use of the soccer collections housed there. As usual though, to avoid having an aimless session there, make sure you already know what it is you want to research, and avoid making digressions unless its related to your immediate research interest. I spent some time there looking at Soccer Action to the point where my head started hurting, but I did notice a few tropes.
  • The ethnic names vs mainstream names debate will end at some point, but like the iconoclasts vs the iconodules in the Byzantine Empire, it will take several generations to resolve itself.
  • The ethnic language segments - in Greek, Spanish and Serbo-Croatian - are interesting, although they can't possibly have been understood by everyone. The Spanish language stuff is interesting, as with its focus on West Melbourne, West Brunswick and Burnley, it provides a peek into Hispanic soccer before Laverton Park and Melbourne City.
  • Because the paper shut down every year between early November and late January, so much stuff has not been covered - transfer rumours, tours from overseas, etc.
  • The level of detail in match reports can vary wildly between editions and between years.
  • Minor soccer events, like a schools final, would sometimes get promotion but then no follow up match report.
  • While mergers were not an infrequent occurrence, I lost track of the amount of articles dealing with mergers involving Albion and Sunshine City.
  • Always a rumour about some team set to tour. Usually never happened.
  • Women's soccer got extremely short shrift. While the odd (usually earlier) years will include match results, in most years you're lucky if you can get the end of season table and a cup final result.
I went in there mostly with a plan to check up a couple of details, and look at the wider paper in a more scatter shot fashion. Next time I go, it will be with a focus on taking better notes and focusing on one year at a time. I'll have to find a way of getting Roy Hay or the MCC library to make a compile list of everything in the Hay-Desira collection.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

What does VIP stand for? artefact Wednesday - 2006 grand final field passes

This Friday marks nine years since South won the 2006 VPL grand final against Altona Magic. It had been seven years since we'd won our last league title - and eight more years would have to pass before we would win our next one, though who knew the travails we'd have to deal with then? - and though it was no national league championship, it still meant a lot to those who were there. My feeling of the day was that, give or take the odd person on board for the bandwagon, this was a title that was best shared with people who'd done the hard yards during the season, who'd stuck by the club in its most desperate hour of need. But back to the artefacts. In the lead up to the game, a group of South fans had made a run through banner for the occasion, South fans had of course had an old irregular habit of creating run through banners for games - 1991 grand final, last game at Middle Park - so this was something of a revival of that habit.

Unfortunately, years of know how as to how to make these banners had disappeared, and so our run through banner was less than impressive in both size and construction. The elements, too, didn't help our cause, as the strong winds on grand final day threatened to rip apart the expression of our love before the players themselves could even get to it. Thankfully, they made it there just in time, tearing apart the banner if not in an expression of fearsome hostility, nor even respect for the effort, than at the very least out of pity. Now to be allowed on the field in the first place to hold the banner, one needed a special pass granted by the FFV. Having volunteered to be one of the banner holding up people, I was lucky enough to be one of the people allowed on to the field, and thus become the recipient of one of these passes. And while certainly the memories of the day, and the camaraderie of those that were there are precious in their own right, a little bit of memorabilia is also a nice thing to have.

The funny thing is, I don't even remember what the banner said.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Σκέτο Ρεζιλι - South Melbourne 1 Hobart Olympia 2

If people have been wondering if I am still in shock, well, yes I am. I think many of us are. After the game I went out for a beer. Then I went home and fell asleep watching the Davis Cup. Yesterday I went to my first Williamstown footy match since they lost the grand final to Port Melbourne in 2011. Those three things I think are indicative of where my head is at the moment.

Congratulations to Olympia, in particular Jake Vandermey and family, Shae Hickey (even though he got himself sent off) and president George Mamacas. Olympia has come a very long way from the pre-season mauling we gave you back in 2011, and even last year. While we were far from our best on Saturday, the fact that Olympia played with no fear was a treat to witness, even if my appreciation of it is necessarily muted because of the fact that they played against my club, which put in a such a sub par performance.

No Roganovic (failed to recover from last week), no Iqi (suspension) and losing Eagar to some fucked up ankle injury in the pre-game warm up would by necessity make things harder, but surely not when it came to being switched on and hungry to win. OK, I get that it's been a long season, that the loss to Bentleigh in the grand final was a colossal drainer, but at some point you've got to shake yourself out of it, or at least be shaken out of it once Olympia took the lead.

But no, with a couple of notable exceptions (Chris Irwin ran himself ragged), we decided to rock up only after half time and even then only really once Olympia were down to ten men. Our defending was comical (that second goal, oh my), our midfield (especially David Stirton) a mess, and the forwards apart from Milos Lujic (cracking header for our goal) so out of sorts one wondered why they'd bothered to show up at all.

Nevertheless, despite putting in an abysmal performance by our standards, we sill had bucket loads of chances. We must have had 15-20 corners, plenty of free kicks around the 18 yard box, a couple of shots off the woodwork and one cleared off the line; but it was those moments when all someone needed to do was to be at the right spot at the right and take a damn shot that was on target that were the most dispiriting. Panic set in, and somehow the numerous comeback wins we'd achieved in 2015 were all forgotten.

I'll leave it to the readers to decide if it was a wasted season. We won some trophies, played some great football at times, scored many memorable wins; but we also fell short when we thought we could, nay, should have done better. Grand final, FFA Cup, NPL playoffs. The one saving grace is that Saturday showed up a few players, and while we know that most of them are not as bad as their performance against Olympia, that it provides the board and coaching staff the justification needed to look for replacements or competition for those spots next year.

Andy Bevin's already gone, I can't see how Jake Barker-Daish will survive, and Stirton must be on the thinnest of ice. Then there's also the players who are perhaps likely to leave. Nick Epifano signed on for 2016, but there are rumours he will be trialling for Perth Glory this week. The board will be hoping like hell he'll get signed. One wonders whether Iqi Jawadi will finally be given a chance on an A-League roster, if not immediately than perhaps during the January transfer window when those teams need depth players. Will Fraser MacLaren stick around if he's only going to be no.2? There are also players to come back - Kristian Konstantinidis' return will necessitate the movement of someone out of the back four (Tim Mala?), while a fully fit Dane Milovanovic, should he stay (and I only say that because by his own admission he's had a very peripatetic career) will shove out someone from midfield. Andy Kecojevic will be given more game time next season. I like Matty Theodore, but has he done enough this season to cement a starting eleven spot? And will his work commitments continue to get in the way?

As for the off-field guff - we have a whole off-season to discuss that, and I look forward to doing so. As per usual with the end of a season, the blog will slow down a bit. There will be some artefacts for the history heads, there may be book reviews if I can bother reading a book worth reviewing for the site, and there will be news and updates collated into monthly digests. Within the next fortnight I'll put up my annual awards, and I'll probably end up going to the women's grand final this week just for the simple fact that SMWFC are in it, and it will be their last time there for at least a few years. At some point later in the year I could up end up boarding a Greyhound bus and ending up in Canberra, which will have drastic consequences for no one, but could be fun anyway.

And while I thank you all anyway at the end of the year, let me finish by saying thanks for sharing the season with me, and that I hope that you will continue reading through the off-season.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Bummer - South Melbourne 1 Bentleigh Greens 3

It doesn't usually take me two days to get a post up after a game, especially if I don't have many other pressing issues to deal with, but what do you make of a game like that? The whole experience has actually left me somewhat bewildered. Not exhausted, not even angry, just bewildered. Rather than feeling absolutely gutted, I felt flat, especially knowing that despite losing it was not yet the end of our season. Maybe it's because we've had so much success these past couple of seasons. Maybe it's because Bentleigh so thoroughly deserved the win. Whatever the reason is, I just haven't been able to put my finger on it.

In the end it was one step too far. Having dragged ourselves off the metaphorical canvas after the FFA Cup loss to win the minor premiership, and then beat Pascoe Vale deep in extra time after trailing, it was probably too much to expect that we could muster the ten straight wins it would take to win both the NPL Victoria grand final and the national NPL playoffs. Maybe we won't win the latter either, but it would have been a Herculean task to win both.

Bentleigh were the superior team from almost beginning to end. Only their woeful finishing - apart from the screamer to give them the lead during regular time - kept us in the game for as long as we did. Granted, many of those shots came from range, as we stepped off and let them have space up the field, but they still looked the most likely team to score. Our chances came at random rather than at regular intervals, and while we had some glorious chances - especially that early chance in extra time which would have given us the lead - it would have been one of the more brazen heists even by our standards.

Would we have had more success if we stepped up and tried to pressure Bentleigh, as opposed to playing a sort of rope-a-dope kind of game? Who knows. What that approach did do however was allow Bentleigh time on the ball, with no one near enough to provide pressure when they slipped up. It meant Milos Lujic was isolated up front, as we pitched long ball after long ball at him in the vain hope he could create something out of nothing.

We were also beaten physically. While we tried to give as good as we got, Bentleigh took advantage of the lax refereeing in a way that we could not. Their attacks on our goalkeepers went unpunished, and in that regard their approach reminded me a lot of our semi final loss to Oakleigh in 2011. Losing Roganovic to injury made things harder for us not because he had making several great saves (he'd hardly had to make any), nor because Fraser McLaren was poor (he was as good as could be expected having not played for ages, and was not at fault for any of the goals), but because it robbed us of the chance to make our full quota of outfield substitutions. Iqi Jawadi's red card in regular time more or less sealed the deal. With no subs left to make and one player down on a warm day, and already being outplayed, it was Bentleigh's game to win.

Afterwards at the Limerick Arms, among the players, coaches, board members, families and those supporters who could muster up the time and courage to not go home straight away, the mood was relaxed but sombre. The feeling seemed to be that while an opportunity had been missed, on the day we had been beaten by the better team, a team that perhaps had been better than us all season. Indeed, they were the only Victorian team we had failed to beat all season.

You can point to the table which saw us finish top on goal difference, all while remembering that Johnny A pointed to the head to head record. Ideally, neither goal difference nor head to head should count, and there should be no finals. If two teams finish equal on points, have a playoff match, ideally at a neutral venue to decide the champion. In the end, we found ourselves close enough to those circumstances, and on the day were found wanting. We can complain about refereeing and injuries and such, but on the day, we were the inferior team, and we lost. Maybe if we played under Sheffield Shield rules, and finished at 1-1 after a regulation 90 minutes, things could have been different, but we didn't, so here we are.

For the high standards many South fans have of their team, this loss means that the season in a sense is almost a bust. The FFA Cup run was botched, we failed to rise up to the challenge of Bentleigh in the final, and the Dockerty Cup is little consolation to many. A winning end to the season with regards to the NPL national playoffs will probably rescue the season in that respect, especially for those whose self-esteem is (somewhat understandably) wedded to the FFA Cup and national limelight.

On the other hand, it's worth remembering where we are now compared to where we were. Two and a half years ago, we were at our absolutely rudderless worst. In mid 2013, we not only hadn't won anything since 2006, we had scarcely looked like doing so. Within half a season, we were one game away from a grand final appearance; the next season we won the title; and this season in the state we collected almost every trophy at our disposal, despite injuries, player departures and the ongoing problem of what to do with Nick Epifano.

That's not me trying to find a way of saying losing the grand final is acceptable, but a reminder that not so very long ago, on the field things were a lot worse than this. I'd much rather be hurting over losing a grand final than sitting at home during the finals because we were stuck in mid table mediocrity. While the end result is the same - no title - I'd rather be in there with a shot.

Necessary brickbats
The promotion, coverage and presentation of the grand final was often poor. Bentleigh has limited resources on that front and realistically limited support despite their FFA Cup bandwagon from last year. South tried to promote the event as much as it could, and was rewarded with an excellent turnout from its supporters.

The FFV however dropped the ball. There was little vigour or feeling in their promotion of the game. I did not see any attempt to offer prizes of free tickets to the game, as many organisations would do for similar events to drum up interest. The fact that the contest also clashed with scores of junior games - both NPL junior and community league junior finals - was a disgrace, and would have been a disgrace no matter which two teams were playing in the final. The $20 entry fee for adults (plus $4 Ticketmaster fee) was also absurd. The equivalent game in New South Wales was only $15 for adults.

Having everyone in the one stand may have looked good for the cameras, but to a certain extent it compromised spectator comfort. Instead of using the whole stadium (which would have provided more shaded areas for spectators, on what was a very warm day), everyone was forced to use the amenities available only on one side of the ground, where there was only one food outlet.

The live stream, too, was in many ways a bust. While understanding that FFV had a sponsorship arrangement which compelled them to use a particular video streaming service instead of Youtube, the lack of complete instructions as to how get access to the stream of the grand final saw at least some viewers wait until almost halftime to get their service working. Who knows how many just stopped bothering after a couple of futile attempts?

While I did not expect any mainstream media coverage, because we've been over and over that disappointment before, I was still disappointed that the only coverage we seemed to be able to get was digital coverage (preview and match report) in the Herald Sun (please let us know if anything got into print). In The Age, nothing. The World Game? It seems their interests in Aussie soccer shuts down between A-League seasons. Not enough interest said one of their writers. He meant readers, but I think the lack of interest could easily be his own, which he has projected onto the supposed audience. There were enough angles to pursue in this fixture in terms of the ambitions of the two clubs and many and varied stories of the players and coaches involved, but in the end sheer laziness has reared its head for most of our soccer media.

On the other hand, credit must go to the Corner Flag people, who provided both informed and irreverent commentary on the fixture. Still, if it all falls down to them and other low level soccer media, as well as complete minnows like myself and SMFCMike to promote the game, to the point where we're recognised as doing far more than the organisation which stood to benefit the most from a bigger crowd, then we're in bigger trouble than I thought.

Hobart Olympia, 2015 NPL Tasmania champions. Former South Melbourne
defender Jake Vandermey is the third from left in the back row. 2016 South
recruit Luke Eyles is the furthest right in the front row. Photo: Walter Pless
Next game
At home against on Saturday afternoon against Hobart Olympia in the NPL national playoffs. Should we win this game, we'll play the winner of the West Adelaide - Bayswater match.

Because this is an FFA, not FFV event your South membership will not get you access to this game. 

This will no doubt upset those who recall that the 2015 South membership originally included these games as part of the membership package, and the club should be castigated for making a promise that it has failed to deliver upon. Nevertheless, you can pre-purchase tickets at this link.

There is some talk that Iqi Jawadi's red card in the grand final will see him suspended for this game. I'm not sure about that, but if Jawadi is suspended, it will be interesting to see with whom he'd be replaced as I believe (and I'm willing to be corrected) he has played every game this season. Would Dane Milovanovic, who has been playing some games in the under 20s as he works his way back to full fitness, be risked in this game? There's also of course the question of whether Nikola Roganovic will be able to recover from his injury last Sunday. Fraser McLaren seemed to play the game out well enough despite copping his own knock.

After many years of under achievement, Hobart Olympia (or Olympia Warriors as they are also known) won their first senior title since 1996, back when the Tassie league was split into northern and southern competitions. Despite stumbling late in the season with losses against South Hobart and Hobart Zebras, Olympia was able to take advantage of an unexpected South Hobart loss to win the league title. They also put the doubters to rest - especially from their biggest rivals, the Zebras - by also winning the end of season finals series, which unlike our arrangement did not count as the senior title. Olympia's league win ended seven years of South Hobart domination.

While we will be expected to win, and probably to win comfortably, we must be wary of being complacent. While we have played Tasmanian opposition, including Olympia, on several occasion over the past fives years and never lost, this is of course not a friendly fixture but a ridgy didge game. We only have to go back to last year's game against South Hobart to know that a flat performance from our end can give the opposition. Still, we have the cattle on the field and the home ground advantage to be considered overwhelming favourites. However with nothing to lose, and the wide open spaces of Lakeside to play on, Olympia may just come into the game with a the mentality that they have nothing to lose.

Hobart Zebras' Dwayne Walsh about to launch himself into a tackle on
Olympia's Luke Eyles. Photo: Walter Pless.
South fans will perhaps be most interested in Jake Vandermey and Luke Eyles. Vandermey of course was a former South junior who played three matches for us back in mid 2011, before being loaned out to Hobart Olympia. Later he would play for Pascoe Vale, before relocating to Tasmania to continue his teaching studies, and while there resume his Olympia career. Last year he won Olympia's best and fairest award and finished third in the league best and fairest award behind South Hobart's Brayden Mann and Andy Brennan. Vandermey, having completed his teaching degree, will be retuning to Melbourne next year and will be keen to impress whatever onlookers are out there for next season. For his part Eyles is a promising midfielder who has become an established part of the Olympia starting eleven.

A South player evades a tackle.
Photo credit: unknown/South Melbourne Women FC.
Around the grounds
Oblivion delayed for at least one more week
On Saturday I decided to break my habit of having nothing to do with the South Melbourne Women's team, and I attended their semi final fixture against Heidelberg United at Lakeside. My absences from SMWFC fixtures had nothing to do with antipathy towards women's sport, or women's soccer, but rather the fact that since they decided (as was their right) to no longer have anything to do with us, that my time could be spent more productively, by watching mediocre men's state league football instead, or worse, NPL juniors. I was drawn back to seeing SMWFC by two things - one, needing to fill in some time before Sunday's game and two, being there perhaps on the occasion of SMWFC's final top flight match for at least the immediate future; South Women having had their WNPL bid rejected, and thus seeing them banished to we're not quite sure what kind of league yet. Entry to Lakeside was free, but strangely the venue operators had decided that the entire grandstand to the left of and including the players' race was to be out of bounds to spectators. I couldn't really see the point of the decision, but it was made the two small supporter groups ended up sitting in two adjacent bays; the Bergers with flags and and a drum, the South folk with the odd pompom. Also George Katsakis, Bill Papastergiadis and Leo Athanasakis were there. The game wasn't great, but South dominated the first half creating several chances, ands finally took the lead right on half time. The Bergers controlled the second half, but couldn't create any clearcut chances until they found space to lob the ball over the keeper. I was dreading extra time as I wanted to be able to get home for dinner, so it was a good thing that South ended up pinching the win at the end; a long range shot hit the crossbar, and rebounded off the diving keeper into the back of the net. So, the Bergers were out, though they'll be back in the equivalent competition next year; South survived another week, though think of it a stay of execution more than anything else. A pity that their next game is scheduled for Saturday at Kingston Heath.

Final thought
Despite the loss, that flare aside I did enjoy the colourful displays of the South Melbourne faithful, including these efforts from outside the usual crew.
More of it I say.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

2015 NPL Victoria Grand Final details

This is how it is at the moment. If things change, or new information is released I will update this post.

Time, date and location
The grand final will be played at Lakeside Stadium on Sunday 13th September, with kickoff at 3:00PM, with the gates opening at 2:00PM (ticket booths at 1:30PM). There will not be a curtain raiser.

Ticketing and admission
The cost of admission to the grand final is $20 for adults, $10 for concession, and free for children 13 and under.

Your South Melbourne membership will not get you into this match, and neither will your FFV season pass. FFV media pass holders will be OK.

Tickets are available for purchase online via Ticketmaster. Despite the booking fees attached, it will provide the least problematic way of getting into the ground.

Keep in mind that purchasing tickets at the gate at Lakeside can be a very slow affair, so if you are planning to buy your tickets on the day, allow yourself ample time to purchase a ticket by arriving early. Hopefully FFV, having now had ample prior experience with this venue in its current incarnation, will have instructed the venue operator to pre-print tickets.

FFV has stated that only the one grandstand will be open on the day, but don't let that dissuade you from coming - hopefully more than enough people turn up that they will be compelled to open the opposite side. 

Live stream
For those who can't be there, FFV will be providing a live video stream of the game. Visit this link for further details.

Final training session
The final training session will not be open to the general public.

Before the game
As per usual some South fans will be gathering at the Limerick Arms on Clarendon Street. We'll be there from 12:00 until 2:00, and all South fans are welcome to join the regulars.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

On to the grand final - South Melbourne 3 Pascoe Vale 2

This match swung back and forth so many times that there was little time to be jubilant before feeling sick to my stomach, only to then go back to being jubilant again. Speaking to a fellow South fan the day after this match (we both found ourselves at North Port watching Collingwood's magoos), we ended up agreeing on this one point - that before the game we perhaps felt we wouldn't have been devastated to lose this game, what with the national NPL playoffs still to play for, but as the game wore on we found ourselves sucked into the occasion beyond our control. Even if it would require us winning ten successive games (we're currently on a six game winning streak), we want to and justifiably feel that we can win both trophies left on offer.

The crowd's mood reflected that emotional roller coaster, excitement mixed with nervousness mixed with despair mixed with relief. Relief because while we could be happy with having won the game, we know that it's not the ultimate prize, for which we play this week. Relief, because while doing reasonably well going forward, we could not make the most of those opportunities that we did have from open play, with our crossing in particular being at its worst for months. Relief because defensively we were often all over the shop, being torn apart on the wings in particular. And while it would be easy to take aim at Chris Irwin, who struggled at right back in place of the suspended Tim Mala (who'll be back this week), neither did Brad Norton have a particularly good game going forward or back. Relief, too, that Milos Lujic not only started the game (even if that caused its own 'is he/isn't he right?' apprehension), but proved useful as well, and managed to last the full 120 minutes despite one moment where he fell and one wondered whether he would be able to shake off his limp.

Hell, just relief that we managed to pull through despite putting our flattest performance for several weeks and still finding a way to get the job done. Credit to Pascoe Vale. They threw everything at us and often dominated periods of a game that ebbed and flowed throughout the night. They played good, attacking football (as has been the case for many years now, even going back to their state league 2 days), and were in no way reliant solely on counter attacking play. What I will say though is whatever their team's and supporters' thoughts on having played 'the better football', the reality is that every goal, whether sloppy or stirling counts exactly the same, and that the most wonderfully worked maneuver that ends with a shot being cleared off the line always counts for less than a sloppy goal bundled in by accident by a centre back who probably didn't even know what he was doing.

That we scored off three set pieces was to me a remarkable feat, even more so for the following reasons.
  1. Even disregarding the horror of the corner that lead to our first goal. I'm not sure how much Luke Adams knew about the shot he deflected into the goal.
  2. Geez, not that Pascoe Vale's Pavlidis is the most highly rated of goalkeepers in the competition, but he really didn't with that free kick for our equaliser well at all - what's more, we actually had multiple players running in for the crumb and not just the eventual scorer Andy Kecojevic, who was pivotal in extricating us from the deficit.
  3. Not only did Michael Eagar score the winning goal, and just weeks after his first goal, but like that other goal once again not actually looking at goal before having a go.
Pascoe Vale also brought a decent sized and noisy group of support along with them. Sadly not all of their fans managed to behave themselves.
The lighting of the flare was a surprise in and of itself - as it always is when it happens to come from fans of 'smaller' teams - but it was the throwing of the flare on to the running track (luckily it bounced onto the grass) that could have really been dangerous, as it probably only narrowly missed some of Pascoe Vale's own supporters who were standing along the fence. Nevertheless, we as South fans keep complaining that other clubs don't have fans, so we shouldn't get too upset when teams do start bringing them along to Lakeside.

Indeed, since we have the best stadium in the competition, we have a golden opportunity to market the ground as the away fixture to attend for opposition supporters (easier to do once we get our social club up and running...) in a similar way as what Brighton and Hove Albion have done in England. That doesn't mean forfeiting the right to make your home ground feel like a fortress, but more games like this one, with the excitement on the field and the atmosphere off it can only be good for the league as a whole. And I get that it's easy to be magnanimous after a win like that, but if Pascoe Vale are a sign of what some of the smaller teams can bring to the table when it comes to generating a bit of interest in this competition, then maybe this league isn't quite as moribund as we (I?) make it out to be.

But now on to more serious business.

I'll probably end up re-posting this later in the week as a standalone post when more details become finalised

Time, date and location
The grand final will be played at Lakeside Stadium on Sunday 13th September, with kickoff at 3:00PM. I am not aware if there will be a curtain raiser of any sort.

Ticketing and admission
Your South Melbourne membership will not get you into this match, and neither will your FFV season pass; media pass holders will be OK.

Though the ticket booths seemed to work reasonably well on Friday night (boy, I could not have been wrong about this, thank goodness other people paid more attention), at this stage I do not know if tickets will be available for purchase online, nor whether both sides of the ground will be opened. If the online option does become available, I will post the details on the blog.

Those hoping for a relatively large crowd may want to keep the following in mind - apart from the AFL scheduling the Richmond-North Melbourne elimination final on at the same time, NPL junior matches - including those involving South Melbourne's teams - are also at this stage still fixtured for Sunday.

Final training session
As of yet there are no details from the club about the team's final practice session before the grand final. As per the online ticketing, should the club announce something, I will post the details here.

Live stream
While of course I would love to see all South fans at the ground, for those who can't be there FFV will be providing a live video stream of the game. Visit this link for details about how that will all work.

Our opponent
Bentleigh Greens took advantage of Hume City having only a three day break, beating them 2-0 on Friday night. Despite a recent downturn in form, they are still a quality team with a chip on its shoulder from having finished second to us on goal difference (despite us not beating them in our two league meetings in 2015), as well having lost a grand final two seasons ago (incidentally against some of the players they'll be playing against on Sunday, who were then at Northcote). Whether it makes any difference to them playing against us at Lakeside as opposed to some neutral venue I don't know. Did it make any difference in the old VFL when most grand finals were played at the MCG, while most of that competition's teams still played most of their games at their suburban venues? Nevertheless, good luck ascertaining a favourite for this game, which is about as even money a game as you could possibly get this season.

Crowd counting makes people angry
I get it. Why obsess over this detail, especially as the focus should be on the team, which has managed to reach a grand final? Well, I sympathise, but the thing is that it is of some considrable interest to the club's health as a whole and for shining a light on the kinds of people and how many are turning up to South these days after we've spent eleven years in Australian soccer oblivion. Now we could hope that the club would be bold enough to provide genuine crowd numbers, even if that would undermine the social media number angle, but that's not going to happen. The estimates for this game varied considerably. My 'realist' crowd counter provided a wide range of 800-1000, with the 800 to me seeing quite a low estimate. The FFV's report said about 2500, which is jumping off the deep end. Many fans thought about 1200, possibly up to 1500, and I think somewhere within that range is the right number.

South Melbourne Women miss out on WNPL licence
The following was posted on the South Melbourne Women's Facebook page after the eight consortia selected for the WNPL were announced.

WNPL Announcement
Earlier today the FFV announced the eight teams which will form the Womens National Premier League in Victoria from 2016. We are shocked and disappointed that South Melbourne Women's Football Club has not been selected by FFV.
The club has alerted FFV to concerns it had with the procedure adopted by FFV in assessing its WNPL application. FFV has offered to mediate the club's complaint by appointing an eminent QC to conduct the mediation within the next two weeks.
The club is considering whether to accept this proposal or to exercise its other rights, including taking legal action, as the best means to have its concerns properly addressed.
An announcement about next steps will follow in the next few days. In the meantime, the club would like to acknowledge all those who have already expressed their support and solidarity.

The successful WNPL applicants were FC Bulleen Lions, Galaxy United (Geelong), Heidelberg United, Melbourne United (Ashburton), Box Hill United, Keilor United, Bayside United, Southern United (Greater Frankston area). Southern United are a Mornington Peninsula based consortium using the resources of a number of local clubs, including Casey Comets. Bayside United apparently involves longstanding WPL club Sandringham. Ashburton will be continuing to run a community club with that name while also operating the Melbourne United licence.

Without knowing the ins and outs of the selection process, on the face of it it does seem a bit odd that South Melbourne Women, not just one of more the successful women's teams on field but also one of its more stable clubs off field - with access to Lakeside Stadium, mind you - has missed out. Now I'm not a lawyer, but I don't like their chances of finding a way into the competition via the courts. It will be interesting to see how this plays out both in the short and long term, and not just at South - already Melbourne Knights have sent a letter to FFV and Ashburton about the use of the name 'Melbourne United', which as some of you may recall was the name of the A-League bid which had some affiliation with the Knights (though the requirement to come up with three different names in the application should see that issue be resolved fairly quickly).

If one doesn't particularly care for the fate of SMWFC, the following press release indicates the relevance of SMWFC's failure to acquire an WNPL licence.
On Tuesday evening the FFV announced the eight teams which will form the Womens National Premier League in Victoria from 2016. South Melbourne Womens Football Club applied for a licence but was not selected. 
South Melbourne FC is shocked by this outcome. SMWFC has been at the forefront of Women’s football in Victoria for almost four decades and in the eyes of most is one of the leading women’s clubs in the State. SMFC did not apply for a licence in its own right, having agreed that SMWFC would do so on behalf of the South Melbourne football family with the intention the clubs would operate their NPL teams as one club. 
Prior to the announcement by FFV of the successful applicants, SMWFC and SMFC alerted the FFV of serious concerns they had about the process adopted by FFV in receiving and assessing SMWFC’s application and related matters. 
FFV has offered to mediate the complaint, proposing the appointment of a senior QC as mediator. SMWFC is considering whether to accept this proposal or pursue its other legal rights. We expect SMFWFC will make an announcement shortly. SMFC fully supports SMWFC and will continue to do so through this process.
The co-operative nature of the bid implies that we have invested some time and effort into this process, and that a level of reunification of the two groups was to take place. I wonder what the ramifications will be for that process should this bid for WNPL status ultimately fail?

Little Susie's growing up
All the way back in July 2014, I made note of the talk that some Melbourne Knights fans would start a blog of their own, called West of the Quarry. Instead, we got a Twitter account using that name, and an account on the now defunct on which to post blog like posts. The forum fell over, but out of those ashes West of the Quarry has finally made it to true blog form. As with the Sydney Olympic blog, South of the Border wishes them all the best.

Things could be worse!
This coming Sunday will also see the final of the NSW NPL take place, possibly with two teams from western Sydney taking part - so why wouldn't the Western Sydney Wanderers schedule a friendly against Wellington Phoenix for that day?

Well if we aren't going to have a social club...
Could we at least get Martin Foley to pay for an ad board at the ground? He does it for Port Melbourne in the VFL..

Final thought (dedicated to Ian Syson)
You know you're in Melbourne when you can be at a soccer final, but someone still brings along
a portable TV so they can watch the footy during half time. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

One match away from the grand final...

We'll be playing Pascoe Vale for a spot in the grand final, after they disposed of Heidelberg via a penalty shoot out. The match is scheduled to be played at Lakeside this Friday, with kickoff at 7:30. Unusually perhaps, I don't have any great moral objection to this, though I am typically troubled by the fact that Bentleigh Greens have managed to also have their semi-final on Friday, despite Hume City playing last Friday as well as having a midweek FFA Cup match on Tuesday. Anyway, your South membership will get you entry into this game - how's that for value? Pretty sweet if you ask me. If you're not a South member, there's always the ticket booth I suppose.

Without wishing to overrate them, Pascoe Vale are a good team, with some good attacking options at their disposal, as well as being a persistent threat at set pieces. Will Milos Lujic actually play in this match? Is Timmy Mala suspended for this game? If so, who will replace him? The tension is almost unbearable.

No (read, some) rest for the wicked
In preparation for this week's game, last Friday our boys had a very low key and probably meant to be closed doors game against North Geelong at Lakeside. North Geelong have to wait something like 4-6 weeks to find out who their opponent will be in the promotion/relegation playoff; meanwhile they have to keep busy somehow. Despite being a closed door game, one of South of the Border's many eyes and ears in the real world managed to get into Lakeside to watch the game. Our agent reckons that we fielded a largely second string squad, and that we won the game 2-1 - provided that there were no goals scored before our agent managed to get to the ground. No idea who scored. Also apparently Dane Milovanovic was spotted having dinner on Clarendon Street afterwards. All other information gleaned on the night will remain in Dyson Heydon's inbox.

Around the grounds
Believe. Fight. Lose.
Given the choice of going to watch Geelong vs Collingwood or heading to Somers Street for Knights vs Hume, I decided that due to South probably being likely to play one of these two teams the following week, I made my way to Knights Stadium. The first half was some of the most awful football I have ever seen, but where was Mark Rudan to see and appreciate any of it? Knights would have been happy to have the game play out this way, especially since they had a 1-0 lead and Hume looked like they were having an off night - the sitter they missed to level the score just before half time being proof positive of that, to the relief of those people who had gone to the canteen early to avoid the half time queue (and in turn becoming the genesis of the halftime line). The second half was much better, because Hume turned up to play, and they duly took the lead after some typical Melbourne Knights 2015 clusterfuck defending at the back and some tidy finishing. Theo Markellis was targeted by one Knights fan, who had moderate success in getting Theo to bite back in response to comments like 'Valencia reject cunt', which while not very creative, at least summed up in three short words how low Markellis has fallen. Knights, looking as if they would bow out in a similar manner to the 2013 finals - a season built in part on a formidable home record, only to cough it up with home losses when it really mattered - managed to get back on level terms, thanks in part to some uncoordinated defending from the Hume defence. But sensing that their chance to self-implode was still there for the taking, they got one of their number sent off and Hume, not willing to put everyone out of their misery as the cold came in during a turgid extra time period, forced everyone to go through the lottery of a penalty shoot out; lottery being the operative word here, as Knights had about as much chance of winning a penalty shoot out as of winning a division 1 jackpot. They managed to have all four of their penalties saved, which I thought was hilarious, with the necessary caveat of 'be careful what you mock, lest you become it'.