Monday, 26 December 2016

Nine years of people visiting to see if they've been defamed

There were many times this year where I thought the blog was not up to scratch, but that may very well be just your typical self-absorbed writer's self-loathing cry for attention and validation.

And when I look back on the year that was, there were still some good pieces in there, two of which - the Victory brawl post, and the A-League expansion bid musings post - managed to get into this blog's all time top ten list in terms of hits.

Anyway we're nine years in -  and I do include South of the Border's audience in this - and I have no intention of stopping. Next year promises to be an interesting one for the club on many levels, as well as for me personally, but we'll cross those bridges when we come to them.

For now, thanks to the following people:

Foti for helping organise and circulate the petition calling for an EGM early this year. Strange how the AGM managed to be announced within five minutes of the end of that round 1 game.

The Agitator, for providing many South Melbourne match programmes, both from home and away fixtures. Also Mark Boric, Gav, Chris Egan and JJ75. for sharing parts of their own collections. I will try harder to catch up on the massive backlog of stuff that I have borrowed from people.

Joe Gorman for prompting me to go through a trawl of the blog's archives, and for recognising the value of the kinds of stuff I'm looking at for my thesis.

Kon for sending in his memories of a now former house, which prompted some good discussion on Garvey's Baby Blues.

Savvas Tzionis for his piece on what's going on in New South Wales.

Vin Maskell for putting up a version of my last day at Chaplin Reserve piece on his Scoreboard Pressure site.

Shoot Farken for publishing my review of Nuts! (nothing to do with soccer, but a film worth seeing if you can.)

Supermercado for providing the 'People's Champ' moniker.

Mark Bosnich for actually following through with his promise to meet with myself and Pave Jusup. Sorry for the folks at home, but as it was a private conversation, details will not be posted here.

Football Today for retweeting the odd post.

Anyone else who contributed artefacts.

Anyone I stole photos from.

Everyone who voted for Lucas Neill.

Everyone who left comments.

Everyone who shared this stuff on Twitter.

Everyone who gave me and Gains a lift somewhere, including Shouty Mike.

Matthew Klugman, Ian Syson, and Gains.

And Peter Kokotis, if you are out there somewhere, can you please finally send me a copy of that photo of Yarra Park Aias? Thanks.

The things you find when you google yourself.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Notes from the 2016 South Melbourne Hellas AGM (no, not the one from earlier in the year, the other one, the proper one)

Usual necessary disclaimer
This report was done in something more akin to a thematic order rather than reflecting the precise order of the events of the evening. Circumstances on the night made it much harder to take notes in my usual and only slightly more precise manner, as you will see.

Man, we're missin' the Death Blow!
Due to an unfortunate confluence of events, I missed the first 15 minutes or so of the 2016 South Melbourne Hellas AGM because of first, family duties and later, a disappearing tram. What took part during my absence was described as both a non-event, but also as the most contentious part of the evening, as matters of constitutional validity were apparently discussed in a heated manner. My arrival at the AGM coincided with the end of that discussion, where someone from the floor attempted in vain to put up a motion to demand president Leo Athanasakis' resignation. Unfortunately, having not been present for those exchanges, I can't report on them with any reliability.

With regards to the possible need for an election and its attendant bloodletting and turmoil, in the end there was no need for elections. One of the four alleged nominees for the board appears to have pulled out, and thus the other three have joined the board without issue or the need to force an election. How that was organised or played out behind the scenes, I don't know. What I do know is that I am glad that it did not need to come to an election at this point in time. We'll see how it all plays out in practice however.

Should the Democratic People's Republic of South Melbourne Hellas implement the policy of changing to rule by philosopher kings? Philosopher kings say 'yes', low income nobodies say 'no'.
That sequence of events therefore passed almost without issue. One member, towards the end of the night's proceedings, asked that in future we consider setting strict(er) criteria about who should be allowed to sit on the board of the club. While this was probably intended in the context of a strengthening of our board's overall corporate governance expertise and credentials, especially considering the range of sponsor, stakeholder and statutory bodies we deal with, it was taken by some (and not without good reason) as an attack on the status of the club as a member run club; one where any member is entitled to apply to join the board regardless of some esoteric notion of 'qualification'.

For his part, chairman Nick Galatas noted that there were already such provisions in place from the 1977 constitution, but more importantly that the club was looking to modernise the constitution in the future, something which I have been an advocate of for some time. The club that exists now, and the conditions that it exists in now, need to operate under a constitutional framework that reflects that reality. The reduction of the board from 21 to 11 earlier this year was one of those necessary changes.

Still, as a member run club we must be wary of unreasonably diluting the rights of members. Circumstances will seemingly always arise in such entities whereby people, either because of the effects of meritocracy or plutocracy, will come to dominate board positions, and in our late capitalist state of being that's to be expected. But this club is still at least nominally a collective, and it needs to reflect that fact - or at least until such time as the members willingly decide to forfeit their status as nominally equal members of that collective.

It's money that I love/social club progress
The financial report came towards the end of the evening, which was an unusual occurrence - usually it is among the first items dealt with. The consolidated accounts showed a profit of about $16k, up from about $7k from the previous financial year. The president, who as usual provided the report instead of the treasurer, noted that over the course of the past ten years, our turnover has gone from roughly $600k to about $1.4 million. With the operation of the social club, futsal court and the addition of the WNPL/Women's component, the club hopes (expects?) to double that turnover.

On the question of how the social club will operate in terms of management, a venue manager will be hired - and rather than reporting to a general manager (a role which at present does not exist at the club since the departure of Peter Kokotis a year or so back I think), the venue manager will report directly to the board. One of the goals of the board is to gradually delegate the day to day management of the club away from board members and towards paid staff. Apart from lessening the heavy workload currently undertaken by our board members, it would also allow them to focus more on strategy as opposed to the day to day implementation and operation of the club.

Whereas in the past the club had asserted that it would probably take out a loan of about $200k to finish the social club redevelopment, the actual figure that the club plans to take out is about $450k. The confidence in being able to take manage such a loan is based (at least from my understanding) on two separate but related criteria. The first is that an operational social club and futsal centre will bring in money to the club. The second relates to the paying off of the Wellington Investments debt

The paying off of the debenture loan debt is near completion - there are at most two payments left to make on that as of yesterday. Athanasakis sought to emphasise the burden of the paying off of that debt, which was incurred from the machinations of the club's attempt to stave off extinction back in 2004. Apart from managing to erase that debt once and for all, the end of this saga means a debt that added nothing to the club, finally allows the club to turn towards investment and expansion of its operations. On the related matter of whether the club had enough working capital to commence operation of the bistro and futsal centre, the answer was 'yes'.

There have been delays in aspects of the social club rebuild, though the cause of the delays was not specified. It did seem to be confirmed in a circuitous fashion that these delays were the reason we will be playing our opening seven games of the season away from home. The club is optimistic however that the extended build period will allow the build team to complete the task er, completely, as opposed to I suppose having a functional operation that will still require further work even after its official opening.

Intruder alert!
The underused upstairs function space has had a redesign, decreasing the size of the function room space and adding some office space. The club is open to options in utilising that function space, while the newly added office space will apparently be used by the Sydney Swans as part of their Melbourne presence. This presents an opportunity for the Swans and ourselves to liaise - even if only limited to them hiring out or using our social club space - in a manner which has not happened for many years.

Winning is our business... and business is good... but also expensive
Following the end of the South Melbourne Hellas AGM, we went almost immediately into the SMFC AGM, which was very brief, and was more or less a procedural formality. I can't recall if it was during this meeting where the on field aspect was discussed, but I'll put that discussion here anyway. Apart from looking back at the year that was, senior football director Nick Maikousis outlined the signings we have made; the signings we are likely to make; the youth players we're looking to promote; the players who have left; and the remaining players whose status at the club remains up in the air.

Also, it was confirmed that one of our new signings, Ajdin Fetahagić, did his ACL during a training session, and will probably miss most of the 2017 season.

It was noted that the season was by and large a success - after all, we won the title - but that it was also a difficult season, and one perhaps salvaged by coming good at the right time of year. It was noted that, as we had run out of legs in 2015, so did Bentleigh in 2016, and that managing such a lengthy campaign with its increasingly congested schedule is difficult for semi-professional footballers to manage. While there is ongoing consternation among some of our fans for our failure to take advantage of the FFA Cup opportunity, the reality is that the FFA Cup is an unreliable means of getting national attention. One bad game, one difficult opponent, and it's over.

(I will note here as an aside, that despite some talk about the national NPL playoff series being scrapped, this appears to not be the case, and thus there is always the second chance raffle of qualifying for the FFA Cup via that route. Not us, of course, because we'd bugger it up, but I'm speaking from a theoretical point here).

It was noted also that winning in senior men's football in this competition is an expensive business, but since winning is our main business, it can be difficult to contain the costs of wages. Nevertheless, as the board has reiterated at previous AGMs, the club does not believe that it pays as much as some rival teams - especially in terms of signing on bonuses - and more importantly, it is trying to create a sustainable winning culture. Maikousis also noted, I believe in response to a question from the floor, that we wanted to and would continue to aim for winning every trophy that was available to us.

A word about the women
Mention was made of the on field success of the women's teams in 2016, and the reappointment of Socrates Nicolaides as the senior coach. There was also mention made of course about our successful bidding for a WNPL licence, and the preparation that took place in order to secure that licence - it's fair to say that there was some moderate boasting about the quality of the licence bid document that the club put together for that purpose. There was also much praise for the fact the women are now back in the fold.

There was no mention that I can recall of SMWFC and how it would function from 2017 onwards, nor anything about the relationship between SMFC and SMWFC. Also not very many women in attendance at the AGM either. Just saying.

And here come the procedural complaints, finally
Unusually for these effectively consolidated meetings - two separate groups, two separate boards, but basically one and the same - the whole thing was over in less than two hours. That meant that the agenda was largely adhered to by those in attendance, but it did feel like there could have been more time made for questions from the floor. While several board members did make the time after the meeting to discuss things one on one with members who had further questions - a gesture which I applaud - I felt that the official part of the meeting could have had more time for questions.

On a personal level, I think next year I will make a more concerted effort to get the club to provide membership breakdowns and attendances. These used to be provided in AGMs, but have gone missing over the past five years or so. I see no good reason for the members not to know what our membership and attendance figures are - though of course I could come up with reasons why the board or the club would not want to do so.

Now being armed with an annual list of questions, even in my late rush to compile a list this year (and thanks to 'anonymous' for adding some good ones to the comments at such late notice). it was disappointing not to be able to ask a few more questions. I don't expect to have them all answered, because otherwise we'd still be there now, but I feel like we - perhaps against the usual procedure - rushed through things a bit. Or maybe the absence of Tom Kalas and his 'legendary PowerPoint presentations' (which were noted in the 2015 AGM minutes) made things run much more smoothly.

One hopes that this will be the final time the Presidents Room will ever be used as an AGM venue. Despite the poor delivery of the notice of an AGM and the lousy timing of the meetings, the AGM was very well attended. Indeed, there were so many members in attendance that about a dozen people, including your correspondent, had to stand at the back of the room for the near two hour duration of the meetings - a fact which was made less pleasant by the smell of paint or plaster or some such at the back of the room.

(Arriving late and standing at the back as opposed to sitting also served to direct more attention to myself, which was not entirely a desired outcome. I expected to not have very much to say at this meeting, what with all the apparent discontent among some of the masses; in the end I also ended up proposing and occasionally seconding several of the procedural motions - adopting minutes, approval of the auditor, etc - because it seemed that no one else would, which also became a sort of weird joke. There was also some notable absentees last night, such as George Karantonis.)

Next year one hopes that the redeveloped social club will play host to the AGM, which one also hopes will be held at a more reasonable time of year, and on a more reasonable day. While acknowledging also that scheduling conflicts can occur, one would also like to see the full complement of board members at next year's meeting; on that front the absence yesterday of Bill Papastergiadis and Andrew Mesorouni was unfortunate. While Mesorouni's absence was adequately covered by Nick Maikousis, who shares football director duties with him, Papastergiadis' absence (for legitimate personal reasons) meant that the A-League bid discussion did not have its main figurehead present to discuss strategy and detail with the members.

Overall the club seems to be continuing on a steady journey of consolidating its on and field positions as a leading soccer club in this state. Its members seem to be as engaged as I've ever seen them with the operation of the club, if last night's attendance is anything to go by; that in itself is cause for quiet celebration. Nevertheless the challenges the club faces in this restrictive operational environment will persist, continuing to make it difficult to realise the club's full potential, whatever that may be. One hesitates to fall back on the notion of being too big for this competition, but too small for the next one, for fear of coming across as arrogant, but there is a measure of truth to that.

You didn't think we'd forgotten about this issue?
And so we come in a very roundabout way to the matter of the A-League bid. The club noted last night that it was the lack of a likely creation of a second division that saw the club head towards the direction of formulating a bid. For those hoping for a curbing of the club's, shall we say, 'extroverted' approach to publicity, you're out of luck. For those who are interested in how Lakeside as an A-League venue may look in terms of added (temporary) seating capacity, the Usain Bolt/Nitro athletics series in early February 2017 will provide some guide.

The nature of the bid also, and whether it will be a private/public partnership, has also been thrown up into the air somewhat. Despite previous comments by Papastergiadis that the bid will involve 'several investors' - a claim which the board representative answering my question seemed to deny existed - the board retreated under cover of the line that the club will wait for the bid criteria to be released next year before making further comment on the structure of a South Melbourne aligned A-League licence bid. Because the release of the bid criteria by FFA has apparently been pushed back to some vague point mid next year, be prepared for a lot more idle speculation.

Although there was some discussion, and I may be reading too much into this, that it may be a possibility that South would still be keen an a W-League place regardless of its success/failure to win an A-League licence.

A little bit of offhand theory about future directions
Apart from its A-League ambitions, the club is aiming to take on what some have seen as a risky venture in the operation of a social club/bistro/futsal centre that is as much targeted outwards into the public as much as satisfying the needs of its own members. It is, I think, a risk that must be taken - the last thing the club needs to do is revert to a safe and comfortable introversion. That does not mean that things will necessarily go smoothly, or as well as hoped for. How an organisation deals with failure or obstacles is arguably a far better measure of its resilience than how it deals with success - and within the bounds of our circumstances, this club has had a lot of success recently.

Some of the subjects that I don't remember being broached
Why the AGM mail out was done so poorly - though that may have been covered before I got there.

Likewise why the AGM was being held so late in the year.

Anything other than the most cursory mention of our social media efforts.

Real Madrid 'relationship' and stuff to do with GISS.

BLK fiasco - admittedly not in the club's control for the most part.

Match day experience at Lakeside, in terms of being harassed by security/SSCT employees.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Not looking ahead to tomorrow's AGM

Tomorrow we have the South Melbourne Hellas and South Melbourne FC AGMs. This is a time of year that I usually revel in, because as members it's our one official (and in theory at least, mandatory) opportunity to hold our 'elected' officials to account.

Of course, the more money is involved and the more time is involved and the more effort is involved, the less real say a plebeian member has over the affairs of the club, let alone the opportunity to change the course of the club's direction except as a cog of variable importance in the volunteer collective - and even then, it'll likely take years of graft and patience and careful politicking to even get close to the point where you'll feel like you've made a tangible difference that will actually outlast you.

But I'm not so naive to have ever thought that this was never the case, nor that one lone blogger can change everything or even anything. But since we're all in collective self-delusion together - and much emphasis needs to be placed on the 'collective' aspect - we carry on as if we can change things, because not writing the whole thing off from the get go makes things at least more interesting. 

Oh, it might only only be a very basic format of brief bouts of euphoria contrasted with extended bouts of depression, but the 'soft verse, loud chorus' format worked for Kurt Cobain, and didn't that work out well for everyone?

Look, there's a lot of pompous talk at South Melbourne, exacerbated in recent times because of the A-League expansion guff, about how we're a members club, and how that makes us innately superior to those clubs owned by private citizens or corporations who name their season ticket customers erroneously as members; if that assertion contains any validity as a concept, it's at an AGM where this is most likely to occur, where the notion of 'member owned and member run' finds its truest expression.

Which of course makes it all the more disappointing when members willfully choose not to attend these things, but that's their choice. And after all, who am I to place limits on how cynical people can be? Apart from being accused in recent weeks of having my misery chick shtick reach parody levels, last week I even had to educate people that my miserableness is not monotone, but varies between sullen and animated. 

Anyway back to the revelry (notice the poesy/poetics/playfulness of moving from self-absorbed angst to the potential for joy we mentioned right at the start? That's craftsmanship, friends, albeit at a very crude level). While in general I have been encouraged by the progress made in presentations, questioning and the overall running of AGMs since I first started attending these meetings in 2006, this year I can't say that I am looking forward to the AGM.

Don't get me wrong - the club is winning trophies, it's made progress by finally getting the social club and attendant leases sorted (or so it seems), and we're back in the local women's top flight - but there are issues which continue to undermine confidence in our overall progress, and I won't even start about not being able to stick to an agenda at these meetings.

That these issues include ill-treatment of the membership base as a whole is not something to be taken lightly. Setting the date of the AGM for a Tuesday night in the week leading up to Christmas is, frankly, contemptible, especially for an organisation that likes to sell the line to its members and the wider public about its professionalism on and off the field. 

One could give the club credit I suppose for managing to get the AGM up in a more timely manner compared to last time; but the AGM is still being held too late in the year, too long after the end of the season, and too close to a very busy time of year for many people. People much more cynical than myself would say that the decision to hold AGMs at such inconvenient times and at such irregular intervals is a deliberate action, but I like to apply Hanlon's razor to such things.

Further to the issue of the date has been the mess that's been made of the notice of an AGM. For a club that boasts about its social media and technological aptitude, its efforts in informing its members of run of the mill business leave much to be desired. While I was one of the fortunate ones to receive an email relatively soon after the announcement of the AGM date, others have not received any personal notification either via mail or email. 

The availability of the financial statements have also been problematic. I myself only came to know that they were actually made available via the website (scroll down to the bottom of the screen) via a thread on smfcboard. I even had to ask another member for the password, and in turn I was also asked for the password by other members. One of those is even a very loyal and well liked volunteer!

The timing and conduct of the AGM process thus far has also been less than stellar in what is an election year. There are apparently four nominations for the board, and depending on who you believe, three vacancies. This means that unless someone from the board resigns, there ought to be elections. And this is where it has been getting messy.

On the one hand, those close to the current board claim that one of its board members has willingly chosen to resign. The prospective incoming faction (or elements thereof) on the other hand is claiming that this resignation is being forced by the current board to avoid an election.

The possible conduct and consequences of an election are also under dispute. One source close to the current board claims that elections would not be able to take place until into the new year, putting a halt to work on the social club and other elements of club business, as the board would be operating in caretaker mode. A source from the other faction claims that elections could be held on the night of the AGM, with no need for an elaborate or elongated process where competing tickets are formed.

All this is complicated by the existence of long running personal animosities between members of the two groups, current board members being related to members of the incoming faction, and the failure of the club to even note that there are nominations for the board. 

Being as I am on all things South Melbourne Hellas an unreconstructed Third Way advocate - the worst of all the 1990s political movements - my hope is that the two different factions can resolve their differences prior to Tuesday's meeting, so we can eliminate the need for a violent bloodbath. It's not a possibility I believe to be likely, however.

I haven't been contacted or spoken to about these matters for a few days, so I'm not sure what the latest status of all these things is. One of my correspondents hung up before I could say 'keep me updated if anything changes', and the most recent correspondent who called me while I was sweeping out the garage (and I continued sweeping while we chatted) didn't necessarily tell me much that I hadn't already been told by others, though I do appreciate being kept in the loop, even if my phone manner apparently leaves a lot to be desired.

But now on to other matters. In more recent years I have made a habit of sorts of drawing up a list of questions on here that I'd like to see asked and answered at the South Melbourne Hellas AGM, and last time I even had you, the audience, contribute questions. 

This year because of time constrains and non-entirely related to South Melbourne Hellas anxiety attacks (OK, abject apathy, too, and maybe some of recognised truth acedia's blackest hole if we want to be melodramatic about things), I really haven't been able to do any sort of meaningful preparation. Also I really wanted to go to the movies to watch the Japanese dub of a film I've already seen before, so there's some sulkiness as well.

It's enough perhaps this year that instead of listing a whole bunch of questions, I at least put forward some of the things that happened this year, and what I hope will be covered aside from the internecine politics.

For instance, while I'd like to ask more things about the financial statements, as I've said before I'm more or less functionally innumerate in these matters. Therefore it's up to others who are better acquainted with the accounting world to makes those questions. Every year I ask (or hope to ask) about debt levels and sponsorship and sustainability, but I always find myself getting swamped on these matters, or having my questions brushed aside.

Something more tangible for me to be concerned about is improving the fan experience for South Melbourne fans of Lakeside Stadium. I know that this is inordinately dependent on the social club being opened, which will improve the conception of Lakeside of being our home ground, but what of the game/arena side as well? Harassment of supporters not so much by security, but by rogue(?) employees of the State Sports Centres Trust continues to be a problem.

Add to that the dismissal of Blue Thunder Security after the Victory incident - to what I believe is an SSCT preferred security company - and the club all of a sudden has less control over the operation of match day than it did previously; what Kosta's other faults, he was at least a collaborative type, rather than the remote/austere type that we have now. Of course one can't simply ignore the fact that supporters need to mind and manage their own behaviour at games - as the mess of the away trip to Bentleigh Greens in the league showed. 

On the social media front, it gets frustrating to not have any idea of what the plan is. That's not from a blogger/former insider of sorts' point of view, but from the point of view of trying to figure out what the club's end goal is with this stuff. Does social media bombardment merely constitute the cheapest option available to the club for promoting itself? If so, is that the reason why its use seems to be the predominant advertorial tool of choice? Are there any internal goals or benchmarks which the club hopes to achieve? And apart from hitting internal benchmarks, is there some way of measuring how many people convert to South based on these scatter-shot salvos?

There are things, too, which it must recalled are outside the club's control. One of the things that comes up often is the availability of merchandise. The club signed a deal last year with BLK, which promised both stability and savings for the club, and accessibility for fans. The deal was a failure on all those fronts because of BLK itself (and we weren't the only ones burnt by that) but will the new Puma deal sort those issues out once and for all?

We also haven't heard very much about Genova International School of Soccer for awhile. It'd be nice to know what's happened to that arrangement, not only for the effect on the senior team, but for the effect on the juniors, and whether these Spanish trips are really worth the cost and effort.

And then of course there is the issue of A-League expansion. I hope to write more on a certain aspect of this in the near future, but that's not for now. To be blunt, the club has put out mostly blather on the topic so far. Now several, perhaps even many South fans seem OK with this, and in the long run it may very well have no effect on the final decision one way or the other. But the blather and bluster has annoyed me, and is starting to wear thin among those non-South fans who may have initially been sympathetic. Is there an actual media strategy that's being followed?

It would also be nice to know as members of what will probably be the largest stakeholder in such an enterprise (even in our almost certain role as a minority investor) what we're being asked to sign up to. We will even get a chance to vote on this? When will we actually get more information? Scaffolding or standing room? What percent would we exactly? Will we need to sacrifice only our male firstborn to the vengeful FFA god Ba'al-Gallop, or the female firstborn as well?

Lastly (as often seems to be the case), there is the matter of the women's teams. That we're 'back' in the WNPL is good for us I guess, even if it's not necessarily in the best interests of women's soccer in this state (at least according to pretty much every comment I've read from people in the local women's game who aren't connected to South). But how do we maintain control of the now definitively independent SMWFC? And will they have to change their name?

Mind you, a lot of these issues are merely things that concern me, and there's no accounting for what bothers other people. To show you how even I can be human, a few weeks ago I was wondering where all the angst would come from, because everything seemed to be going great. 

Well, now that that's all written, I'm turning my phone off for the night. Not for fear of having upset anyone mind you, because this only offends on a literary level, but because it just seems like the civilised thing to do.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Last hitout for 2016 - Brunswick City 1 South Melbourne 1

Yesterday we had our final pre-season session before everyone goes off to undo all their good work over the Christmas/New year break.
Clifton Park was the venue. It was very windy. We fielded a reasonably strong series of lineups. Three by thirty minute periods. We scored first, they scored second, their goal being a lovely long ranged curled effort out of reach of Zaim Zeneli.

Some things to note. I'm led to believe that one of our Queensland signings, defender Ajdin Fetahagić, did his ACL during a training session. Also Francesco Stella was at this friendly yesterday. There are more signings yet to come. I don't know if that will include anyone that can hit a free kick properly.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Disheveled pre-season report - South Melbourne 3 Kingston City 1

Wednesday night, we had a hit-out with Kingston City, we scored three goals, they scored one. There's talk that A-League mercenary Nick Ward has been seen around the joint, along with such names as Andreas Govas and Gavin De Niese, the latter of whom has been sprinting up and down the athletics track as part of getting back into the swing of things. And people criticise Lakeside having an athletics track!

Our next pre-season match seems to be against Brunswick City on this Saturday at 11:00, at the Clifton Park synthetic pitch located in between Victoria and Albert Streets. Of course, if this turns out not to be true, you can't hold me entirely responsible. Just to make sure at least one of us looks like an idiot, I'll be heading out that way.

Some other stuff that happened? We signed a couple of players that are ex-Brisbane Roar youth. Both are midfielders. The initial report that Mathew Theodore may have retired is apparently premature, and apparently it's only a sabbatical.

The fixtures got released. Lots of away games to start the season. What's that about I wonder? Anyway, I've added them to the 2017 fixtures tab. Monday night public transport trip out to The Grange, hip hip hooray.

Oh, and I will try and get an AGM preview of sorts up some time I hope by Monday evening. It's not only that I'm totally strapped for time (if we believe in the nonsense human idea that time actually exists, and even more importantly that it matters; look, my el cheapo watch broke or something a while back and I no longer wear it, so now people can't make fun of my mannerism where I shake out my wrist from my sleeve to check the time and instead they can focus on my habit of not smiling which is sometimes deliberate and sometimes not and that other habit I have where I push my glasses up from my nose, hahahaha), but also because I am totally over this AGM business already, yes me who always looks forward to it, me who was part of a duo collecting signatures earlier this year to make the last overdue one actually happen.

Look, there's a lot to discuss on that front, and I need to get my head around it.

Also, there's about 20 seats allocated for carers of disabled persons at the bottom of our grandstand. Not sure if that should be added to the final seating tally, but worth nothing that they are there.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Pre-season game tomorrow, South vs Kingston

Tomorrow at 7:00PM 6:45PM at Lakeside, South will be having a friendly session with newly promoted Kingston City.

It might be your last chance to watch South in action this year.

It might be your last chance to watch South, ever.

I might go, not sure yet.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Pre-season friendly, South Melbourne 7 Dandenong City 1 + Facts? Sure, why not!

I ventured out to Lakeside this morning for a sparring session between South and Dandenong City. It started a bit later than apparently scheduled, and I was busy responding to a tweet directed to me so I missed the first goal.

Luckily there were several more goals were that came from, to the point where I lost count - I didn't even realise that Dandy City had scored. They didn't really threaten too often, while we looked fairly sharp, or at least Stefan Zinni who is hoping to impress I guess, did, because most of the good stuff was coming from his side on the right.

Shouty Mike wasn't in attendance, but if you went by his Twitter account he still probably got a better handle on the game than probably most people there, who were having a good old fashioned chin wag.

Across the three 30 minute periods we seemed to field fairly strong lineups, as opposed to trawling through an endless amount of triallists as can be the case this early on during the pre-season.

You build 'em, I'll count 'em department
Last year as part of the pointlessly elongated task of establishing exactly how much seating capacity Lakeside Stadium currently has, the "new stand's" approximate seating capacity was established as being about 2420,
  • 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. 
But of course that was the least controversial aspect of all this. The long running mystery and/or matter of contention has always been on "our" stand. I've long believed that the seating capacity has been around 2,900, while others have been of the belief that it gets close to as much as 4,000. Anyway, here is the breakdown.
  • 2 end bays of 17 rows with 12 seats each, for a total of 408
  • 1 bay affected by the players race, which has 12 full rows of 19 seats (228), and 5 rows of 10 seats (50), for a total of 278
  • 1 bay which has 14 rows of 19 (266), and three rows currently partly occupied by a gantry in place of some seats (seat total of those rows is 28; the number of seats 'missing' is 29) for a total of 294
  • 6 complete/full bays of 17 rows each with 19 seats, adding up to 1938
All of which of adds up to a total of 2918 actual seats in "our" grandstand. I'm not counting the capacity of the corporate boxes, or taking into consideration of the potential for seating or sponsor boxes to be placed along the balcony, just the actual seats that are actually in the grandstand.

Those 2918 seats along with the 2420 seats in the newer stand = 5338.

I hope that puts paid to any more wildly errant speculation on this matter. While no doubt people will use this info for discussing the merits or otherwise of Lakeside as an A-League venue, this count was not motivated by discussions around that; mostly it was conducted out of frustration at the uninformed arguments being made about what Lakeside's seating capacity is, and by extension what our better crowds are.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Friendly tomorrow morning at Lakeside

I have been told that there will be a sparring session tomorrow at Lakeside, at 11:30 in the morning, with NPL2 side Dandenong City.

Now since the club is making no effort to publicise this (I don't know why), you turn up to Lakeside at your own risk tomorrow.

I'm going to go anyway, because I'm going to finally resolve the question of the seating capacity of our grandstand, a problem which has plagued mankind for centuries.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Book Review - Garry Nelson's 'Left Foot Forward'

That's the trouble with decisions: You make them and they don't seem to have any relevance to what happens next. That, of course, goes a long way to explaining why football is so popular.
Garry Nelson, Left Foot Forward
Left Foot Forward is a book from all the way back in 1995. It's a diary of the 1994/1995 English football season, as experienced by the forward/left winger Garry Nelson of Charlton Athletic, who were then in the second tier. Beginning during a family holiday in the United States and running through an entire season of mediocrity punctuated by the odd up and several downs, Left Foot Forward's mission is to show the punters out there what it's like to be a professional footballer of moderate ability in England.

Most will never play in the top division. The average length of a professional footballing career (at that point in time) is eight years. Wages in the second tier are above the average punter's, but not brilliant. And you're always one injury or red card or disagreement with a coach away from being thrown on the scrapheap.

At 34 going on 35, Nelson was near the end of his career, and during the book he is readying himself for the inevitable transition to life away from football. Unlike others, he's trying to get himself set up for that future, but knows it won't be easy. Still, he counts himself as one of the lucky ones, having been able to make a career out of football for 16 odd years.

Other players we encounter in the book are not so fortunate or forward thinking. Other older players haven't done that planning. Injury cuts others down in their prime. Scores of youngsters on the youth team get cut. As a PFA representative, Nelson tries to do his best to help out those players, but more often than not there is little he can do to overcome the egos of players - the youngsters think they're always going to make it - or the cost cutting of smaller clubs, or widening gap of the haves and have nots.

And while there are a lot of interesting moments in this book dealing with the mundane, workaday nature of being a professional footballer - the injuries, the bus trips, the commutes, training sessions, video sessions, recovery sessions, games in the reserves, long goal scoring droughts - the most interesting parts for me were those which dealt with the economics of football and Nelson's role as a union shop steward. As a snapshot of the professional game in Europe just before the onset of the Bosman Rule (Bosman's then ongoing case is discussed) and before the English Premier League really took off into the stratosphere as an entertainment product, this book is fascinating.

Nelson counts himself lucky to be at that point in time at a good and fair club, having been put through hell at some of his previous teams. Still, having lived through the transition of the Taylor Report and its mandating of all seater stadiums, and with free transfers just around the corner, Nelson is not overly optimistic for the future of the game. Some will get richer, but most will not. Job security will be flimsier. The fact that Nelson plays for a London club but finds it more economical to make a 90 minute commute says it all really.

Having said that, it's not all doom and gloom. Nelson loves the game, and loves playing the game. When things go right, when the team plays well, when luck runs your way, the game is a joy to experience. There is a camaraderie within the industry, though whether it's because Nelson is playing at non-elite level is hard to gauge. Nelson also has a knack for being completely wrong about big name player transfer of the time, and it's details like that (which will be appreciated by keener followers of English football than myself) that add a sense of levity.

When Nelson goes off on philosophical tangents, the book can drag a little, but the diary entry nature of the book means you quickly move on to the next entry. An interesting and not inconsequential read about a not inconsequential pursuit.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

November 2016 digest

Friendly vs Box Hill United
On the Monday that just went past the club had an informal hit-out against now regular pre-season sparring partner Box Hill United. Three by thirty minute periods. Box Hill United scored the only goal of the affair, from a goal mouth scramble. They had only one other clear cut chance, a free header straight to the keeper. For South, the squad was made up of many of 2016's regulars (except those that have left, and Luke Adams who is playing for Eastern Suburbs in New Zealand), some fringe/youth players, that Zinni kid and some other blokes I couldn't recognise - not that that matters anyway, because my recognition skills are not good. The outing was high intensity, and the South bys controlled most of it albeit the end product was rubbish. So it goes. At one point Milos Lujic poleaxed an opponent and himself in a bizarre challenge, but he got up eventually and resumed playing.

I don't know when the next friendly hit-out will be. If I get more forward and definitive notice than I did for this one, I'll try and post something somewhere.

Social clubs news
Earlier this month they were putting the floor in,
And progress has been steady since then.

During mid-November I was fortunate enough to be invited to the club to take a first hand look at the progress being made (sorry, no photos allowed) and to ask some general questions. Any chance of that visit being conducted relatively incognito was scuppered because several board members - some of whom are working on the project in a hands on manner, lending their expertise to the project - also arrived during my visit.

Upon entering the space (with mandatory hi-viz safety vest), one still had to imagine what it would look like when it's finished and how everything would fit together. Suffice to say that one already feels that it will be a drastic improvement on the increasingly decrepit former social club space.

One of the key differences will be a lower ceiling, creating what one hopes is a more intimate atmosphere. There are plans to try and get more natural light in there as well, though I'm unsure how that will come about. When there weren't big numbers in the old social club, its dankness and degradation became increasingly noticeable - one expects that this time a bit more thought and care will be put into the design. Another difference will be the bar, kitchen and dining areas all being on the same level, as opposed to the raised bar/lowered dining areas arrangement of the old social club.

There will be several television screens of various sizes around the space, as well as museum space dedicated around the room as opposed to being concentrated in one area. The museum space will also have, it is hoped, a multimedia component. For the futsal court, apart from the court itself there are plans for a raised viewing area behind one of the ends (I'm thinking of perhaps something like the upstairs behind the goal area of the Icehouse, or a squash court), as well as of course new changerooms.

The office space will be an open plan set up, and integrated with the former boardroom space into one large room. I am led to believe that the old, massive board table has been dispensed with - which on the one hand is sad, because it was a beautiful table and a part of our history, including alleged mythical sordidness - but now that we don't have the constitutional scope for 21 board members it probably doesn't need to be that big.

Those who have been to recent AGMs will be relatively familiar with how all of this will actually function. Chief of those concerns is whether management of the space will be outsourced or kept in house, with the club preferring to keep it in house at this time. The club of course hopes that all will be ready in time for the first home games of the season, which will be some time in February.

AGM news 
The date for the 2016 AGMs (SMH and SMFC) have been announced. They will be held on Tuesday 20th December in the Presidents Room at Lakeside, SMH at 7:00PM, SMFC at 8:30. Those members who have not received any notification via mail or email by I suppose the end of next week should probably contact the club.

While I am pleased that the AGM is being held in a more timely fashion this time around, holding it in the week before Christmas is a bit lame, as we noted of the last occasion that such a thing was done back in 2011.

With so many things apparently going very well for the club - lease sorted, trophies being won, women in WNPL - one wonders what kind of trajectory the meeting will take. At the very least one hopes that apart from the usual deal of finances and football updates, that members will get an update on the progress of the social club, as well as some explanation on the mechanics of our A-League bid.

Apart from the many other issues which will be discussed, this year also happens to be an election year. I don't suppose any new tickets will emerge to challenge the board which has in one form or another been running the club for most of our post NSL years, but you never know.

Season schedule
The 2017 season will starting in mid February, on the week ending Sunday 12, which is a bit earlier than the 2016 start. The Community Shield, which South Melbourne will be participating in for a third consecutive year, will be held two weeks earlier than that.

Arrivals and departures
As per last time, the following players are known to be contracted for next season.
Players who have left the club.

A number of names have been posted to a certain forum, but unless it comes from the club itself (and even then, after the Jason Hicks situation...), take nothing as gospel.

A-League expansion murmurings
So after the explosion of expansion news across the past two weeks, things have settled down a bit - though we're still getting press for not doing very much other than repeat ourselves. But South Melbourne Hellas is at this point in time for parts of the press a valuable commodity, and since both our objectives are apparently being met by this pseudo-cooperation, one can't really complain. We even got some positive, albeit generic, coverage in Neos Kosmos.

A more concrete bit of news was that FFA would visit Lakeside as part of this process some time this week, although of course the expansion criteria have not been released yet. Still, it's nice that our interest in being an expansion side seems to have at least garnered some reciprocal interest from FFA, as opposed to the Southern Cross bid where we had to cry to the press for attention, and the Heart/Mariners takeover bids in which afterwards one felt South had been used for the sake of drawing out other interests.

It's so hard to tell which other bids out of the myriad that have appeared in the past fortnight are actually anything more than thought bubbles, apart from the Tasmania bid and Third Sydney. Something unusual about all of this has been the lack of anything to do with this on the official website, but I suppose one can put that down to the main website person not being in the country during this part of the news cycle.

South gets a mention in a book
Les Street found this mention of South and assorted other Australian soccer clubs in a book about 1000 clubs from around the world.
It's nice to be acknowledged I suppose.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Ten more South rumours I'm starting just for the hell of it

Many years ago I came up with ten South rumours just for the hell of it. Apart from the usual suspects, few read them. In that spirit then I present ten more South rumours just for the hell of it.
  1. A single post on smfcboard can slay an entire A-League licence bid in one fell swoop.
  2. A South Melbourne Hellas A-League team would not cannibalise support from other Melbourne A-League teams.
  3. South Melbourne Hellas needs more Greeks.
  4. The Cros can no longer access smfcboard.
  5. My enemies list is not made up of people who choose to merely 'like' instead of re-tweeting my posts on Twitter.
  6. I did not recently re-discover a photo I took of a whiteboard upon which the South Melbourne Hellas board was doing rough sums, during the period we were looking to take over Central Coast Mariners. 
  7. The South Melbourne Hellas social club will be ready in 2017.
  8. A Twix from a Victoria University vending machine is a totally healthy and legitimate breakfast option.
  9. I am SMFCMike.
  10. Blogging about South Melbourne Hellas provides me with a lucrative income, as well as access to fringe benefits such as invites to exclusive yacht parties, with like, um, super-models and stuff. 

Monday, 21 November 2016

South Melbourne Hellas A-League bid musings (not that any of that matters)

The probably very bad arguments contained here could have been refined, but writing this has already taken up too much of my time as it is. Destroy it as you see fit.

I thought about the hours wasted
Watching TV, drinking beer
I thought about the things I thought about
Until immobilized with fear
And all the great ideas I had
And how we just made fun
Of those who had the guts to try and fail
Ben Folds Five - Regrets 
Let us be clear on one thing first: any post about a South Melbourne Hellas A-League bid must be read with the proviso - even if we must suspend all disbelief - that such a bid has any chance at success. If you don't believe that South has any chance whatsoever of becoming an A-League participant, I hold nothing against you. Truth be told, 99% of the time, I'm one of you in that regard.

So having put forward that disclaimer, as well having interspersed disclaimers throughout this piece, here are several thousand unreferenced words of no value to anyone except Joe Gorman (and he's already submitted his manuscript, so it's too late for even that) which sum up some of what I've been thinking over this past week and several years.

In the depths of forum hearts
I have been scouring the forums, Facebook and Twitter trying to gauge the reaction to this latest announcement. All of this is anecdotal, mind you (not that any of that matters), but most of the discussion seems reasonably reasonable. Indeed, the discussions on this particular matter have become more reasonable over time from the part of current A-League fans. Whether that is because of the security they feel in having had their competition last this long (as well as the attendant success of FFA, national teams, etc), or because they are becoming bored with a stale and stable league, or just the passage of time taking the edge of these discussions, the tone of the conversations nowadays tend to be very different to what they used to be.

There is one notable exception to this: Facebook. Because very few South Melbourne fans use forums or Twitter these days, much commentary by South Melbourne fans on this matter is done on Facebook, and because the debates there haven't developed in the way that forums/Twitter have done (because unlike a forum or Twitter community where different posters get to know each other over time, there is often little continuity in Facebook discussions) we still see the 'overly-exuberant' type of South fan, who is often passionate, and often arrogant. These people are often matched up against the most hostile of A-League fans. Rather than one group emerging because of the other's existence, these groups have existed from the start of this long running old soccer/new football debate; in effect, their existence is symbiotic, as they egg each other on to greater heights of passion and hatred.

[As an aside, what is remarkable about this trend is that just about everyone attaches their names to those comments. We have been told repeatedly that the anonymity afforded by social media has allowed people to become more hateful and spiteful, and yet on this issue I have found that, in general, by far the least civil discussions are being conducted by people who have chosen to waive their right to anonymity.]

Anyway, over the course of many years of observation, I have become aware that of those who oppose a South Melbourne Hellas aligned bid being awarded an A-League licence, that they are not of a uniform mindset. Indeed, they run the full gamut of both the sensible and the ridiculous. Here are some of the different types out there:

The Racist: No explanation needed.

The Assimilationist: whether openly assimilationist or hiding beneath the guise of multiculturalism, the assimilationist can't handle a pluralistic form of multiculturalism. The openly assimilationist person's emphasis tends to be on exclusion - if there are people who do not wish to conform to the largely Anglo-Celtic norms of behaviour and forms of cultural expression (this goes for soccer as much as other parts of the public sphere), they should be ostracised and vilified for choosing to actively pursue their own culture; this is especially the case if the assimilationist believes that the practice of said culture is in direct opposition with the dominant mainstream culture.

Those who support the proxy form of assimilation that is multiculturalism tend to emphasise the point of inclusion - that because of the obvious mainstreaming efforts of FFA, more people than ever before are now included as equals in the current arrangement - even if, again, by doing so they are conforming to the imagined notion of a shared cultural centre. Still, in terms of raw numbers, they've won the argument. Pluralism as a whole has been rejected by the Australian public, and that includes its application to top flight soccer.

[and let's not use the argument which compares attending an 'ethnic' restaurant with supporting an ethnic soccer team - eating a bowl of pho or dipping your kafta bi sanya into your labna is not equivalent to giving over your heart to a week-in, week-out lived in the flesh passion.)

Let's be clear - I don't like either of these approaches. In this matter I like to think that I am a pluralist - but I'm not so stubborn as to think that it is not a minority point of view.

A comment on this aspect I found interesting was posted on 442's forums, in particular regarding the 'opening the floodgates' line of thinking should South somehow be allowed in. Trying (I suppose) to allay the fears of those who worry about an open slather approach to ethnicity, 'Benjamin' argued that rather than opening the floodgates to other, especially more overtly ethnic teams than South, the inclusion of South would actually make it harder for those other ethnic teams to join.
I'd argue the contrary - South wouldn't be getting in because of the ethnicity, they would be getting in because of the strength of their bid.  This in turn would demonstrate to ALL older clubs that ethnicity isn't the issue, and force them to put-up-or-shut-up - improve facilities, finances, etc., and put a serious bid together.  South coming in = proof of no prejudice.
South Melbourne getting into the A-League would change that competition's ethnic/mainstream dynamic, turning it away from the very rigid ideas of 'inclusiveness' that we have now. But it would not be the complete victory that the pluralists would want. A successful South Melbourne A-League bid would occur in no small part because South has shed (whether naturally or otherwise) its rougher edges (and for some within the club as well outside of it, a measure of its authenticity), therefore emphasising that it is South which has had to change more than the A-League/FFA have had to change.

Now my preference has always been for South to get in and lock the gate behind us. But one interesting development of a successful South for A-League bid would be to see how other disgruntled entities would respond to the challenge.  For those who care about the give and take in such matters, and the consequences of that process even outside the scheme of Australian soccer, there's a really good sociological thesis to be written about this.

The Apostate
The Apostate is of course the former South fan, who has abandoned us for 'the future'. They have used many reasons for doing so, and formulated many rationalisations. Without going into those reasons, we should note that some of them are even valid reasons! However, there are some apostates who rather then move on gracefully having left the few hundred regulars left to fight the good fight, have decided instead that they need to demonise the club and those who still follow it.

Thus we have probably the most passionate anti-South for A-League push coming from those who were once of us. They display the need to, as a convert, prove their worth above and beyond what others more naturally born into supporting new football would be asked to do; they often end up pushing themselves into a crescendo of hate. The most extreme example of this is of course the ex-South supporter of Greek descent - thus you tend to see these people emerge especially on the Neos Kosmos Facebook page.

The most frustrating part is that these hostile apostates often claim an agency that is not their own, not admitting that they began following the A-League/Melbourne Victory because it was the 'in' thing, and a choice made possible to them only or mostly because of the exclusion/omission/absence of South Melbourne Hellas from the top-flight.

They may also claim the team they support now is what they always wanted South Melbourne/Australian soccer to be. Thus the apostate may also retrospectively claim that they were never really South fans, and that they only went to South Melbourne matches to support soccer (it is strange that their support of soccer didn't extend to going to watch other Melbourne based clubs play, not that any of that matters). And all the things which allegedly plagued South or the NSL back then seem to matter so much more now to them than they did back then. Which, to be fair, is not a crime in itself - people and their values can and do change over time. But it is the dishonesty in their motivations that really sets these people apart.

To be fair, some apostates are more open about their own position, admitting that should South somehow get back in, that they would be faced with a moral quandary over who to support. They have left us (or in some cases remained with us) and joined an A-League team because the very idea of South being let into the A-League under the conditions it exists is absurd. I don't agree with that decision, but I understand.

The Not Yet Theorist
Whether because of the ethnic factor (let's wait until absolutely everyone's moved on), or because they want to see a second division up and running first, this person is not against South Melbourne joining the A-League per se; they only ask that it be done under extremely precise circumstances - circumstances which never seem to arrive.

The Sacrificial Lamb Theorist
This person does not necessarily hold an abject antipathy to South. Rather they believe that of all the ethnic, metropolitan NSL clubs, South was the best placed to make the transition to new football. The unfortunate thing is, according to them, that to allow South into the A-League would be impossible on two fronts (keep in mind that these two ideas are not necessarily held in tandem). First, they adhere to the idea that admitting South (or any ethnic club) would jeopardise the 'clean break' with the past, and that the proof of that approach (however unpalatable) is in the pudding. Second, that to let South in would be to potentially open the floodgates, giving hope to 'worse' ethnic clubs than ourselves. I'm not at all sure who they could possibly mean....

The Melbourne Croatia fan
Like all other South Melbourne Hellas news, Knights fans are attracted to South Melbourne Hellas A-League bids like (insert your favourite cosmic law of attraction). They follow our progress on AGMs (or lack thereof), on the social club (or lack thereof), and apparent delusions of grandeur (or lack... no wait, we have that in abundance). One wonders what Knights fans would talk about if South didn't exist.

Many people who have spent years reading the comments section on this blog, or who have observed the points of view of Knights fans online should by now be very familiar with their view of themselves, of us, and Australian soccer more generally (and while South of the Border has good reason to suspect that their discussions away from the public eye are much more diverse, their collective online ideology is quite uniform).

The reasons they oppose a South Melbourne bid come down to two broad ideas, presented in no particular oder of preference: first, they believe that it is traitorous to the greater cause of promotion and relegation and a second division; second, that we are selling out our traditions, a claim which extends to our club's evolution in general.

All of these things are perfectly understandable if you agree with some of those claims, or more to the point, if you agree with their view of what an ethnically aligned Australian soccer club is, and how it should conduct its business. To be fair, when reading the revisionist claims of some South fans about how our club was founded and the purpose thereof, one can sympathise with this point of view. To be blunt: South was founded as an ethnic club, for the Greek community of Melbourne, run by the Greek community of Melbourne, and it became a club which discarded the Anglo elements of the merger at the earliest possible opportunity.

On the other hand, that founding was almost 60 years ago. Those who made those decisions, who set the course of the club's cultural direction, are mostly no longer with us - either because they are dead, or because they are no longer at the club in any capacity. In addition to that, those who now look after the club (and I include here not only the board, but also those who have volunteered their time for the club) and who have done so over the past 15 years or so - have increasingly come from younger demographics better integrated with Australian society. Now knowing many of these people, I know that they genuinely respect the traditions and culture of South Melbourne Hellas, but I say that as someone who sees the potential of culture to evolve; indeed, that to stay still leads almost inevitably to atrophy no matter how noble the intention.

The point I'm trying to make though is that we are not the Melbourne Knights. They have their way of doing things, and we have our own. This insistence (whether from them or some of our own) that we run our club the way they do theirs is at times mind boggling, not for any personal problem I have with the way Knights are run, but because we are two different clubs. Our members decide which cultural direction the club wants to head towards. It may not please everyone at South, but there is more or less a consensus that the cultural direction South Melbourne Hellas is moving towards is one supported by most of its fans. At times it seems as if Knights fans are more upset about South becoming (or at least trying to become) more mainstream than South fans are.

Now if you are dedicated to maintaining the ethos of the 'founding fathers' as closely as possible (whichever club you're aligned to), you're more than entitled to do so. But as far as I'm concerned soccer clubs are for the living. I have no interest in tending to a soccer cemetery. I am on record as having written posts that in the soccer environment we live in, there is no correct approach and that indeed there may not be any correct approach for ethnic clubs/old soccer to somehow become part of the mainstream revolution. To each their own, and good luck to both (not that any of that matters).

The Geographer
The person (usually a resident on 442's forums) who sees Lakeside as being too close to Docklands and the Bubbledome, and therefore unable to meet some bizarre condition of the laws of space and time which only seem to apply when discussing Australian soccer. See the 'People who don't know Melbourne' section below for further elaboration.

The Far and Wide advocate
Sort of like the Geographer, but usually more measured, their argument is not usually against South Melbourne, but rather geared towards reaching areas not already represented in the A-League. So, that means more regional teams, Canberra and Tasmania, etc.

The Other Places Need Derbies First theorist
These people believe that before further sides get added to Sydney and Melbourne, second teams should be added to Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth to create derbies. It's an idea which tends to ignore the difficulties in getting people to stump up the cash for markets where the available number of A-League fans has pretty much been tapped out.

The Lakeside Stadium hater
The one for whom the current Lakeside Stadium, with its athletics track, should be an automatic deal breaker.

The Current South Melbourne fan
Hard as it may be to believe for people outside the club, there are current South fans who would be or are against an attempt to join the A-League. Many (if not most) of these people hold what I would consider conditional opposition to South participating in the A-League. These conditions include:
  • member ownership and control of any such entity
  • continuance of name, colours, history
  • control of intellectual property
  • concerns about continuities should any possible investor bail out, or should the club itself no longer be able to continue as a partner in a public/private partnership. 
Others meanwhile are against any South bid which achieves the goal of A-League participation without needing to prove itself on the field via promotion and relegation or the mechanism of a second division. I have sympathy for some of these conditions, but not all. There are even some South fans who are happier (all things considered) to be in the NPL, because at least there they know that everyone going to South games is a hardcore South fan, and not a bandwagoner, many of whom would have been apostates or deserters of one form or another.

In summation
While all those people still exist, and are deserving of various degrees of repulsion, we should take stock of the fact that the amount of people who outrightly deny us the right to even try are far fewer than they used to be. More importantly, most people involved in the A-League as spectators do not waste their time on forums and the like commenting about the A-League, let alone expansion. These are niche discussions.

This is an important point I feel needs to be made again and again. The discussions around the future of Australian soccer which take place online are very niche discussions. Within those discussions there even more niche discussions, which while promoted with quantifiable passion, make no ripple whatsoever on the greater whole of Australian soccer. Promotion/relegation, second division, NCIP, the NYL - like those people who keep making petitions to bring back Toobs or the KFC tower burger - their enthusiasm and its attendant clamour more often than not obscure the fact that there are not actually very many of them: it's just that they're louder.

I'm not saying that these discussions need to stop, nor the anger or ideas - what would this blog be without that as a driving factor? - but they are discussions that one needs to view in their proper context.

Dude, you're not helping (not that any of that matters)
All that carefully applied PR of Bill Papastergiadis got thrown into the bin somewhat when people started acting like pork chops on social media. And while the antics of SMFCMike are such that there is no one who takes him seriously as a representative of the South Melbourne Hellas cause (treating it as all a bit of a laugh), it is a bit of a concern when officials start weighing with their ill-conceived two cents (not that any of that matters).

So we had our lovable larrikin president trash not just the Geelong bid on Twitter, but by extension the Central Coast Mariners, too, as part of the perceived ill-conceived regional A-League experiment. Now whether Leo was right or wrong (not that any of that matters), it's just a bad look for the president of our fine organisation  - especially an organisation that is not part of the competition that they want to be in - to be trashing an actual member of that organisation; in particular an organisation that is run as a cartel.

I mean, on the one hand, I admire the buffoonery chutzpah candidness of the remarks, but the emphasis in this matter should not be about smashing down a bid rival whose existence at this stage may at best be only nominal; rather the South bid should, as Bill Papastergiadis has been doing, emphasising what a South Melbourne Hellas backed or aligned franchise would add in terms of value to the A-League and FFA's metrics, without reference to any other real or imagined bids.

Take my word on these matters, because I know about PR. I once did an undergrad unit called Writing for Public Relations and Advertising, which I passed (not that any of that matters), and never mind that I spent most of that semester arguing about the lack of discussion about ethics.

People who don't know Melbourne 
Let's cut to the chase - most discussions on A-League expansion (this one included) are not based on anything resembling reality. These are discussions undertaken by people with no business knowledge; no meaningful background in sports administration; no meaningful background in advertising, media, public relations; people with warped views of ethnicity (are there any other kind?); basically no one of any use to the people making the decisions whatsoever.

Stock photo of 442 forum member vetting future Melbourne A-League teams.
But the one thing that gets me riled up the most (not that any of that matters) are the arguments based around geography. People see maps, and their imaginations run wild. The great Australian suburban sprawl for these people is not made up of actual people, let alone actual demographics, but is instead viewed as a blank canvas. Worse, it is viewed as some sort of real life game of Risk, a giant zero sum game where we just plonk down our plastic soccer armies without any sense for local feeling just because we can, and because if we don't some other army apparently will.

Thus because of the success of Western Sydney Wanderers, we now have people (who are not from here) perpetually looking for the Victorian 'Wanderers'. In part they do this because Heart have been an incoherent mess in terms of creating any sense of deliberate difference from Victory. They also do this because if Melbourne sporting associations do not work on geography, then maybe that means South Melbourne becomes a more viable option in people's heads, which is not something everyone is comfortable with.

So we have people spewing forth nonsense about south-eastern corridors, dumping a team out somewhere in the western suburbs 'for the west', and even contorting themselves into saying that if South Melbourne were to get an A-League licence, that it could/would/should focus on Melbourne's south-eastern sprawl - as if that was South Melbourne's natural constituency, as if there is such a thing as an untapped market of soccer fans waiting to be won over and which somehow haven't been won over yet, and as if South Melbourne could possibly be the franchise that makes it happen out in the far south-eastern reaches.

We've reached the bizarre stage where even the South Melbourne bid advisory group have started pointing at things like that. The reality is, that except during the years when South Melbourne was filled with Greeks, South Melbourne has barely ever even represented South Melbourne the suburb, let alone an imagined geographic area. Some of that is down to South's own negligence in nurturing or even caring about its local area, some of it is because of the hostility of the Anglo-Celtic locals, but so much of it is because what happened to South Melbourne Hellas is what happened to a lot of the VFL clubs - in that what may have started as a local gathering eventually became a conceptual existence.

So just as footy fans of most clubs made their pilgrimages from all corners of Melbourne and beyond, first towards the inner suburban stadiums, and later towards the two rationalised stadiums, so too did South fans make the journey from the outer north, the inner west and the sprawl of the south-east towards Middle Park and later Lakeside Stadium. For those outside of Melbourne, especially Sydneysiders (who have a fear of leaving their enclaves and journeying over the hill to the next village, let alone the one after that), this may be hard to understand, but it is second nature to Melburnians.

I'll finish this section with an anecdote based on someone's interpretation of actual evidence. Once, sometime during the days of the Melbourne Heart/Southern Cross/second Melbourne licence nonsense, or maybe sometime after that (not that any of that matters) I asked someone who had been intimately involved with Melbourne Victory in its early days whether there was any geographic bias in Melbourne Victory's membership season ticket holder base. The answer was clear: there was none, or at least nothing that could be meaningfully construed as such (not that any of that matters).

If nothing else, it points to people wanting to set up an A-League shop in Melbourne needing to think differently from how such a thing would be done in Sydney. The team itself needs to mean something different beyond geography, because geography is still a secondary concern for Melbourne sports fans.

Unless that's somehow changed in the south-east of course. I'm not from there, so it's possible I don't know about them as well as I'd like to think I do.

People who don't know South Melbourne Hellas
It is incredibly frustrating to be talked about without ever being spoken to, let alone be heard (see, I did learn something from the compulsory post-grad ethics unit I had to take).

One of the things that has bothered me mightily have been those people who talk about South Melbourne as if they know the club intimately, when they clearly have no idea what they're talking about.
They know nothing about us because they're:
  • Not from here.
  • Have never been to one of our games.
  • Last went to one of our games circa 2004/1999/1995/1991.
  • Rely on and take as gospel hostile media reports from media organisations they only now consider to be hostile towards soccer in Australia, and even then only because they themselves have something on the line now.
  • They get their view of the club from SMFCMike.
You want the clearest example of people not knowing anything about South Melbourne as it exists now? There are people who claim that South Melbourne needs to drop the 'Hellas' tag. Drop it from where exactly? From the club's on field name? We (and other clubs like ourselves) have not been able to officially call ourselves 'Hellas' or 'Croatia' or 'Basil the Bulgar Slayer' for 20 years. If the fans continue to chant Hellas, there is little that the club let alone anybody else can do. There are people who are claiming that we're still bringing Greek flags to games. Again, something banned for decades, and which happens so rarely now that one is surprised when one does see such a flag at our games - usually brought by people who attend very infrequently.

And to be clear, I don't have an issue with our fans or our enemies calling us Hellas. Whether for good or ill, it is who we are (not that any of that matters).

This kind of rhetoric is linked to the general phobia of the NSL or the continuing fad of trashing the NSL because it is what is expected by the whole old soccer/new football dichotomy.

What people like this often miss is that just because people's teams were in the NSL, it doesn't mean that they themselves liked the NSL, its administration, or Soccer Australia. Some people may have a fondness for the counter-cultural aspects of the NSL (I am on record as being one of those people), but that doesn't mean they liked the seedier, violent or corrupt parts of the competition.

As I noted on Twitter earlier during the week, there were indeed violent incidents in the NSL. Some of those are well known, whereas other (sometimes worse) incidents and examples of poor behaviour are far less well known. None of that matters however when the people discussing the ethnic and/or violence angles are only able to bring up or argue against the same 2-3 incidents.

(And yes, a very similar argument could be made for the A-League, where violent incidents happen with a frequency they are not usually given credit for; but because these incidents tend to happen outside of and away from the stadium, they are not as well known. Likewise, the discussion around the use of modern stadia being a contributing factor to reduced occurrence of bad behaviour within the stadia, especially the way any such incidents are now largely contained to one portion of the ground, is an angle rarely remarked upon. Quite a different thing having a whole group leave one of end of AAMI Park (for example) and migrate incognito to the other side of the ground, to being able to run around (or walk casually) to the other side of a ground made up three quarters of terracing or a grass hill. Just as pertinent is the attitude of those who, like their NSL counterparts, want to downplay the frequency and severity of incidents.)

Neither are those discussions helped by trying to downplay the seriousness of the Bonnyrigg-Sydney United and South Melbourne-Preston incidents in the intermediate period between the end of the NSL and the beginning of the A-League, which were absolutely perfect examples to everyone who was arguing for the A-League and against the NSL on these terms.

FFA's David Gallop interrupts bi-hourly meeting of typical suburban
 Australian soccer club. This meeting centred on whether Aldi tomato sauce
 was an acceptable canteen condiment instead of name brand tomato sauce.
In search of the elusive anarcho-syndicalist collective soccer club; or the soccer club run with citizens initiated referenda; or failing that, via polls on the Herald Sun website.
There have been some people - including South people and frightened mischievous Knights fans - who have made a point about how all this is being done without the express written permission of the National Football League South Melbourne Hellas membership base.

To which I say: phooey! That's right! Phooey!

Phooey, because a board is elected or at least in our case performs a self-perpetuating existence because no one dares to challenge them (not that any of that matters) to do board things. If and when the time comes for the club to enact a plan so major that it changes the course of club's history (whether that is constitutional change, approval of an MOU with the government, or a decision on what kind of taps we want for the toilets), then the club will consult with the membership accordingly.

Without in any way measuring it scientifically, there is broad consensus from the current members of this club that they want their team to be in the A-League. Certainly the question of A-League aspirations seems to come up often at AGMs. Therefore, the board has the right to explore all options available to it in order to make that desire a reality. That mandate doesn't extend to proceeding without the approval of the members, but the board does have a mandate to put in place procedures which will ultimately give the members the chance to vote on plans that actually exist, and not on figurative, pie in the sky propositions.

If we're being honest with ourselves the reality is, and I'm going off gut feeling anecdotal observation here (not that any of that matters), the vast majority of our supporters would give up their firstborn (or even more significantly for some, collection of vintage Iron Maiden t-shirts) for the club to get into the A-League.

Seeing as that is the unadulterated truth, surely the thing to do is to be bold! Strike while the iron is hot! Not wait until it is absolutely too late! If it isn't too late already for course, which it almost certainly is (not that any of that matters).

OK, let's speculate just a little
So far we've only been given a little bit of information about what a South Melbourne A-League team would look like and how it would function. As noted earlier this week, the team would play in blue and white, with the red vee heritage strip as an away kit option; it would play most games out of Lakeside, which has a purported break even point of 1500; it would start a W-League team; and there is also the claim that the bid has the financial backing required to get going as early as the start of the next A-League season.

(though that aim of being ready for next season seems unrealistic to me, and even by extension FFA, who have said that they'll release the expansion criteria - whatever the hell that means, and won't it be fun to see regardless - some time early next year. That seems to suggest a 2018/19 season expansion, which makes eminently more sense, not that any of that matters)

The exact nature of that financial backing has not been expanded upon very much. We have a member of the bid advisory committee, Luisa Chen, with no known connection (so far as I can tell after having done absolutely no research) being touted as an investor, with no detail however as to what the arrangement would entail. In a more recent Michael Lynch article however, we have a little bit more information of the sort which may not appeal to the desire for some (many?) South Melbourne Hellas members to maintain control of such an entity in our own right,
"We have large amounts of capital to support this bid," Papastergiadis says, citing investors who will all pump in a minimum of $500,000 each. 
The club is confident that it will raise capital of some $7 million for the start-up phase and then prove an attractive proposition to potential sponsors
So, almost certainly a sort of public-private partnership rather than people willing to stump up the necessary cash as part of the push to join a reformatted South Melbourne Hellas board. Fair enough - under these circumstances, the reasoning would be (and I doubt it would be far wrong) that there is no way any member owned club has the cash to stump up for an A-League bid, operating under the conditions that exist in the A-League now (and not some imagined future where there is no salary floor, playing out of stadia that don't meet the high standard and high costs of those FFA seems to demand and which the public expects). The costs are, for too many reasons, too high for member run clubs to withstand.

The usually erudite 'DoubleKreas' on smfcboard summed up what may be the best case scenario for South Melbourne Hellas in terms of ownership of an A-League franchise licence,
Can we have South Melbourne Hellas Ltd own 50+1% of the A-League entity and the other 49% owned by private investors fronting up cash for an equity stake.  
Hellas equity in the license deriving from its lease on the stadium, junior team set up, womens etc
For those that would reject this scenario out of hand, it must be remembered that by and large top flight clubs worldwide - including those that many Australians support overseas, even if mostly from the comfort of their lounge rooms - are not owned by their fans, nor is their success funded by the fans except via the gate, merchandise and (indirectly) via pay television subscriptions. When there has been (say in England) a recent trend of supporters trusts come in to take control of either the entirety or a portion of a club, it is usually because all other means of finding someone to bankroll their club as a hobby have been exhausted.

A 50+1% ownership (along the lines of what the Germans do) may be the best scenario for those Hellas fans who desire an A-League side with some measure of membership rights and ownership. If someone were to vote against that on principle however, one should not hold it against them. Neither should it be held against those who would find such an arrangement acceptable - after all, as a member owned club, ultimately it would be (at least I really hope it would be) the decision of the members as a collective that will decide the future of the club one way or another on this issue.

Of course at such time apart from the matter of the proposed licence ownership structure, there will be concerns about control of our intellectual property; the prospect of the club eventually buying those investors out or being able to have some role in vetting who invests; and what safeguards are put in place should things go pear-shaped for the A-League bid, in order that South Melbourne Hellas is still protected, and related matters (not that any of that matters).

Second division and  promotion/relegation
As far as I'm concerned a second division with promotion and relegation is simultaneously the noblest of sentiments (provided that it is not actually some sort of fifth column attempt to derail Australian soccer) and the filthiest, stupidest idea that I can think of. If that sounds like an argument for promotion and relegation in Australian soccer - at least from the point of view of the sheer anarchy that it would cause, and I will admit from that angle it does have an apocalyptic charm about it - then so be it.

But let's be realistic - it would require an overhaul of the A-League of such radical proportions that it is hard to imagine any of it happening. Apart from likely dismantling the salary cap and salary floor, it would need a drastic reconfiguration of the apparently imminent new broadcast deal and the Australian sporting business notion that markets across the country need to be covered (not for nothing do 442s geographers keep looking for supposed untapped and suitable markets). It would also need a drastic renegotiation with the current licence holders, which FFA would be loathe to do because whether you agree with how things have been run or not, those people are the ones who have kept the competition going.

The A-League also runs on and in some respects is successful in part because of the illusion of prestige that it puts out to the public. Even if the quality of the play is not up to scratch, the presentation around the game - the use of modern stadia, marketing, broadcast arrangements - lends to it in the minds of the general public a measure of credibility. While this projection of prestige does not come cheap, and is also the cause in large part (especially regarding the stadia) of the financial difficulties many of the teams are facing or have faced, it is not something that can be dispensed with for the sake of a romantic suburban terrace.

That kind of approach may work in small doses in the FFA Cup, but over the long haul people attending sporting events in the Australian top flight want their creature comforts - comfortable seating, easy access to venues by car or public transport, etc.

(The exception to this is the NRL, whose public is split between those who go to games - and who are happy to put up with suburban grounds at least some of the time - and those who watch on TV.  Either way, they are often funded not only by television rights but massive leagues clubs, giving them a measure of independence from the controlling body.)

Whatever other faults the A-League has, it has had a stability that has put its predecessor to shame. It has maintained and increased its broadcast appeal. It has maintained most of its teams, even if luck was sometimes more involved than good governance. If the apparently soon to be signed broadcast deal is a good one, it is conceivable that even the struggling licensees will be better off than they have ever been.

Don't get me wrong - I understand the appeal of promotion and relegation, both from the 'romance' aspect but also the 'merit' one. It is a problem that exists in Australian soccer because in recent years despite the existence of salary caps and salary floors, the same teams end up near the bottom, with no obvious negative consequences for poor performance (apart from economic ones, I suppose). But stability has been one of the things the game has craved for years, and it is has by and large achieved that. I can't see FFA or any members of its cartel being willing to dispense with that after the obstacles they've had to overcome, especially if it is to please a loud but very small minority of clubs and their supporters.

Australian sporting supporters are also not accustomed to relegation. Even Australian soccer supporters, especially those who follow overseas teams and competitions, are not accustomed to relegation. In part this is because 95% of them follow clubs in the major leagues of Europe who will never get relegated. The charm and romance of promotion and relegation is for them at best an abstract notion. Comparisons with Leicester are bollocks. Whatever other deficiencies Leicester faced against its more affluent rivals, Leicester still had ten of thousands of people supporting them in a cornered market. In other words, they still had far more than the bare minimum to create at least the possibility of doing what they did.

The notion that 'they do it everywhere else' (or at least in places that count, however you quantify that) is a misleading line of argument. One could easily argue that they (whoever they are) only do that because it's what they always done; had they started again, today, from scratch, would they definitely do it in the same way? Are not many of the leading clubs (who many people in Australia follow) that play in those leagues interested in leaving that system?

Despite many false dawns on this issue, people can still be made to believe that the construction of a second tier based on a combination of untested, remote markets and teams that began their terminal decline 20 years ago, is not only imminent, but also eminently desirable. Even this week we went from a story about positive noises coming from FFA on promotion and relegation, to the idea being (forever) delayed again within the space of about three days.

Even if a second division were to be created that would/could one day lead to promotion to the A-League, it would not necessarily bring forth the bounteous harvest of support and sponsorships some people think would happen. I get the appeal of the romantic storylines; I get that there are clubs and people who believe that not enough is being done to make the most of soccer's talent and resources that exist below the top-tier, and that the lower tiers are ignored by FFA; but I am yet to be convinced that the economics stack up, that there is a genuine desire beyond the limited sphere of #sokkahtwitter and similar outlets for such a competition or arrangement.

Now we all know that being stuck here in this state league cesspit (all of us with real and genetically inherited memories of happier times in higher places, not just South people) is not ideal, to put it politely. But waiting for the FFA to make something happen on this from, or hoping that FIFA or the AFC will make something happen, is the height of naivety.

If that is the case, start making the case, and do it properly. Having proposals pop up here and there from various bloggers and others associated with quote/unquote ambitious clubs is fine, but these ideas need to be machine tooled to within an inch of their life into a proper proposal; not only that, such a proposal needs to be one that is understood in the terms of those who will have to give it approval to go ahead.

Whatever other issues the A-League has had with financing, the path to getting there didn't happen only because the government of the day decided to step in and make things happen. The PFA, disgruntled at the mess that was Australian soccer and the NSL, put up serious amounts of cash to do research and draw up plans.

Now with South constantly trying to go it alone, clearly we're not much help to this cause on this front either. But if a second division and promotion/relegation are such good ideas, then they don't need South to make them work - every other consortium clamouring for a second division and/or promotion relegation should be able to come together and start the process of nutting out an economically responsible/feasible plan.

This is one of the reasons why South Melbourne keeps making A-League bids. Yes, it is borne of ego, of delusions of grandeur, an insufferable bout of arrogance almost inherent to the way the club operates. But surely part of the club's reasoning is waiting for something to happen means nothing will ever happen. You have to make your own destiny. If that means trying to join a cartel league, and putting the behind the scenes work over the past decade to make that happen, that's what they'll do.

The most laughable aspect of this whole thing at this present time
The belief (or at least the rhetoric from the bid advisory committee) that South Melbourne in the A-League would not cannibalise support from the other Melbourne teams.

The two funniest things that could happen
1. FFA accepts a South Melbourne aligned bid for the A-League, and South Melbourne Hellas members approve.

2. FFA accepts a South Melbourne aligned bid for the A-League, and South Melbourne Hellas members reject it.

Final thought
I make no apologies for referring to ourselves as South Melbourne Hellas (not that any of that matters). It is the name of the SMFC parent company anyway (not that any of that matters).

The other final thought
The construction of our new social club is kicking along nicely. Not that any of that matters one little bit.