Now me, I'm at the stage where I see no point in getting excited one way or another about these kinds of articles unless there is something worth getting excited about. Having advanced to a higher plane of Australian soccer bitterness - somewhere above crass 'OMG Hellas is da best' Facebook banter, but below the level which would see me ignore all of this - right now I'm more interested in the 'South has ambition article' genre itself; how it came to be, why we get excited (mostly, but not always, in part because of over-exposure) and what we should perhaps focus on instead.South looking at W-League and NYL admission if A-League ambitions thwarted. Lakeside its biggest asset it says pic.twitter.com/5bcHZdIVpd— Matt Windley (@MattyHeraldSun) January 17, 2016
Over the past ten years or so, South Melbourne has attempted to court various writers and commentators in both the Greek press and the mainstream media. Of course we have always done this, as it is what any even half competent sporting organisation would do; but the difference now is that since the end of the NSL, South Melbourne is no longer as newsworthy as it once was, even as the coverage of soccer in Australia in the mainstream has generally improved (with the necessary caveat that while it has improved for some, it has deteriorated for many, and that the media landscape we live in now is of course not the same as that which existed 15 or 30 or 45 years ago).
The advantages of being South Melbourne are not without merit though. We can point to crowds that didn't taper off towards the end of the NSL, regardless of whatever fair and unfair rubbery figures allegations people like to make. We had and still tend to have a better reputation among the more open minded folks in the New Dawn, even those who are against bringing ethnic or former NSL teams into the top tier, and we've been putting in the hard yards on the public relations front for a lot longer and more effectively than most of our contemporaries. That doesn't necessarily mean that our effeorts have been very effective, but someone comparing the image we have projected of ourselves is probably going to be more sympathetic to the way we seem to want to do things than perhaps may be the case for other clubs. Those things being the case, we have the opportunity to exploit those advantageous circumstances; circumstances not necessarily open to other clubs in our situation.
Another aspect to the problem of how to make ourselves newsworthy is the issue of how to deal with two very different groups of media, in this case the mainstream English language media along with the local local Greek media. Over the past decade, the relationship with the local Greek press has largely been a bust, and not just because of the local Greek media's adherence to the old system of quid pro quo; rather, the problem is that the local Greek media industry is serving a demographic that is steadily losing numbers, as an increasing number of their readership ends up in the paper (in the death notices) rather than reading the paper.
More importantly, while the Greek-Australian demographic has been and will be an important part of who we are, in a sense most of those people have made up their minds about us. They either come to our games (actual supporters), refuse to come to our games (sell-outs and apostates), or are waiting for the 'right opportunity' to come to our games (the occasion needs to warrant the effort - so a grand final, or more realistically FFA Cup match). Still, as stagnant a market as it may outwardly appear to be, it is important to us from a historical point of view, and still a worthwhile source of sponsorships and connections - and there are elements of that demographic which themselves are transforming what it means to be a Greek in Melbourne.
On the other side of the equation, you have the attempts to work with and use the services of writers within the English language press. This is crucial for all sorts of reasons. Most of our supporters, regardless of their background, speak and read English as a first language, and associate with others who do the same. Getting our name and goals out there in the English language press is therefore not just a way of making a bit of noise to be noticed, but an acknowledgement of our present reality. Of course, anyone can look back at the match programmes and other attempts at engaging the mainstream and ask 'if it didn't work then, why should it work now?' - a fair point in an era where we are even more on the margins of Australian culture than we used to be. But for the time being, neither as a club nor as a spectator do you want articles and information about South Melbourne coming only from South Melbourne's media team; as a pleb South Melbourne supporter (unless you're one of those getting shouted coffees by board members), this is because you don't necessarily want the club being the sole source of information about the club; and as for the club itself, because they need to have evidence beyond the boundary of their own content creation machine to show to potential sponsors and other third parties that there is a broader interest in the club, even if it happens to include hostile interest.
So another important aspect of these articles is that while they clearly include our involvement, they are not written by us, but rather presented via the middleman of the journalist. South can, and has, written and published much of its own guff on the same issues, but that will only get the issue going so far in terms of being taken seriously. Going via a journo or esteemed media personality, while risky, is a necessary extra step towards convincing non-South Melbourne people that what you have to say is important. Like every other club at this level, South just doesn't have the cultural or commercial leverage to attract people consistently to its content - and that includes its matches, media and ideas - without outside help. So rather than work belligerently against the system, why not attempt to work if not with it, then at least within the parameters of the contemporary Australian soccer culture in a way that they can understand?
Of course once an article like this gets published, the club loses control of the message somewhat, as must happen in all cases on platforms where they can't simply press 'delete'. But it is this discussion which the club is looking for, despite the club's censorious tendencies on its own social media spaces. And these articles scarcely fail to bring in the contest of ideas that the club is looking for. Considering that for the vast majority of the past decade or so, we have been (along with every other ex-NSL club) considered worse than persona non grata when it comes to the topic of A-League expansion, any public discussion which includes something other than the total denial of our acceptability is seen by the club as something positive to latch onto.
This approach manages to upset people in a very predictable manner. Part of that I feel is because there is a perception from some South fans that the achievement of the articles being published is the goal in itself - and what else could it be, since by themselves these articles appear to achieve no tangible outcomes? What needs to be understood here is that the goal is to get people talking about South Melbourne in the comments section of a website or on social media. More comment equals more traffic; more attention means a better chance of attracting better and more diverse sponsorship, instead of having to dip back into the same old social connections, which rely more on the notions of goodwill, guilt and favours than on the idea that the club is worth sponsoring because the sponsor will be able to get a tangible increase in business from it. It's part of an overall media plan (yes, it does exist; this blog was even in that media strategy at least once a few years back, but I don't think that ever mattered in any material sense) which the club uses as part of its overall corporate strategy (vomits a little inside). There is also the hope that, whether after reading that article or by attrition over time, people previously hostile to South Melbourne will soften or change their stance. By itself that change in attitude may not make a great deal of difference, but it is part of a plan to reposition the club as something other than the bogeyman of Australian soccer.
Whatever the good intentions and long term planning involved in getting these articles out there though, it doesn't always turn out for the best. I've already noted the issue of over-exposure to these articles, but there are other bugbears that people have with them as well. First, these articles upset people from within the club, who would rather see more immediate and day to day concerns addressed as a matter of importance, like the lack of resolution to the lease and social club issue. Second, it upsets people from our club who see any attempt to curry favour with the mainstream as a betrayal of the club's values, however they may interpret those. Third, others become upset at the appearance of the club seemingly whoring itself out in desperation for any sort of mainstream attention.
And then there are those from outside the club. Knights fans have latched onto the not entirely implausible idea that South Melbourne is looking after South Melbourne first, and not the greater good - which then brings in the proponents of promotion/relegation and the second division, of which Knights fans are the loudest supporters. Some A-League fans have brought up the ethnic angle, while others have been more considerate and at least tried to consider the practicalities of South's A-League ambitions including, but not limited to, the club's ethnic background. And then you have the Hellas apostates, who are the most rabid when it comes to rubbishing the club, in their own desperation to prove their allegiance to the New Dawn.
My favourite trope though in this mess is an idea - one I've long considered in private, but which has only in recent times been expressed in public by others - that South Melbourne are preparing a sort of Trojan Horse attempt to get into the A-League. That idea by itself manages to upset people in two different ways (and has some form in more recent times in a different situation), and is inescapable when you're Greek and seen to be pulling a shifty. The first demographic that uses the Trojan Horse trope are those who think that if they let 'pleasant enough' South Melbourne into the A-League, that it will then only be a matter of time before all the really bad clubs come in as well - I leave it up to you to decide, dear reader, as to who they might mean. The second manner of making people upset in this area, is the idea - or rather perhaps the fear, so feel free to take your pick - that South will get into the top-flight, and rather than helping to break down barriers between old soccer and new football, that South will shut the door behind them, and bolt the door down for good measure. 3200 years on, and Odysseus still has a lot to answer for.
The thing here is that they pretty much all have valid points. The social club issue is important. It does often seem like the club is desperate for attention (I am particularly annoyed by this), Yes, it looks like the club is looking out for numero uno. Yes, this approach doesn't really help the idea of a second division or promotion and relegation. The sell-out Greeks are still concerned that their apostasy will come into sharper focus. There are also a billion good reasons why a club like South should not be let anywhere near the A-League, and just as many as to why they should, but all those things get lost in amid the competing agendas.
And for some of those not entirely in favour of this tactic - and I tend to count myself among those - there is the worry that apart from the perception of a lack of any tangible benefits or even progress for our ambitions, that rather than the discussion creating goodwill and positive momentum in the broader soccer community, that the tendency for these kinds of articles to attract the very worst of Australian soccer humanity en masse to these discussions actually does our cause a disservice. That goes for those folk on both sides of the 'South in the A-League' equation. For those opposed, their rabid hostility could be interpreted by casual onlookers as evidence of a market not just unready but unwilling to accept a club like ours. On the other hand, some of our supporters have little sense of shame, decorum or the ability to be anything other the worst kind of Hellas stereotype; the kind that thinks we not only deserve an A-League spot, but are owed one.
|If we can change just one person's mind to be for us, is all|
that effort worth it? Don't ask me, I'm just a girl.
Right at this moment what I want to hear more about is not what Knights or other non-South fans think about us (because they'll tell us anyway if they feel like it), but more on the very possible and/or tangible attempts by South Melbourne to weasel its way into the NYL and/or the W-League. No one really seems interested in that at all, despite it coming up both in these latest batch of articles, and in a Mike Cockerill article from last November, which we discussed in our November 2015 digest. My humble opinion is that NYL participation seems a far more likely occurrence at this stage for South (and other clubs) as opposed to getting into the A-League, especially if FFA are planning on creating a split division format in order to cut down on costs.
But back to the topic at hand. Yes, what a world it would be if we could somehow marry these two approaches; an appeal to the heart and to the head, but that's not where we are. (perhaps with the exception of the promotion/relegation crowd's appeal to the somewhat specious idea of 'that's what everyone else in the world does'; specious, because it refers to an idea that in some cases may only be continuing because for the time being it is too hard for those who want to discard those systems to do so. Who's to say that if they were starting a competition from scratch that they would do it the same way?). As distasteful as these efforts are to all right thinking South Melbourne Hellas supporting humans, it may be the case that they are a necessary evil - and as I've mentioned before, neither the right way or wrong way to go about these things, especially if neither co-operation nor belligerence is successful in the long run.
That doesn't mean we shouldn't still complain about them, and hope for a day that they are no longer seen to be required, but the same could go for the more belligerent approaches, too. Acknowledging that these articles and the relationships which see them created are not the only thing the club is doing to improve itself - regardless again, of the actual effectiveness of the bigger plan - will at least remind people that the articles are part of a longer game which has no guarantees either way. The conclusion, for now, is yet another South of the Border 'neither endorsement nor denouncement' piece. And I hope that upsets everyone in equal measure.