Saturday, 30 April 2016

Everybody happy! Or not! Avondale Heights 0 South Melbourne 2

As one would expect, there was only a small crowd on hand to watch this game, with a good deal of South's usual traveling support probably performing part of their one bit of socio-culturally mandated religious duty for the year. So even with three quarters of the ground off limits to spectators, there was still plenty of room to stretch one's legs out at Knights Stadium in its Avondale hosted configuration. Not that this fixture was likely to attract a blockbuster attendance anyway.

Oh Marge, I went to plenty of NPL matches and it never hurt me.
Both before the game and during halftime the host team blared out music at a ridiculous volume, probably in a poorly thought out attempt at creating 'atmosphere', or perhaps trying to reach those Avondale supporters on the other side of the quarry. I'm not much for stadium music as it is, but could we at least keep the volume down to a level so that I could talk to the person next to me without needing to yell?

I thought we got off to a reasonable start. The handball decision which lead to our opening the scoring via the penalty spot seemed harsh - I'm not sure how much the Avondale defender knew about it as he was tracking back hoping to block the cross into the box. The game was fairly even at this point, though I think we looked the more likely to score the next goal. Sadly we didn't help our cause in this matter by resorting to playing corners either short or along the ground, a strange decision considering that opposition keeper Chris May is not the tallest goalie in this league. We also didn't do our cause much good by virtue of one of the most amazing botches of an otherwise certain goal you'll see for some time - the low cross fizzed across the face of goal, barely a metre in front of the goal line, and somehow three of our players missed it despite being in prime position to get us to 2-0. So it goes.

Avondale gradually started getting on top, and while some may say that the removal of Mathew Theodore for Iqi Jawadi during the second half was a catalyst for that, to be honest I think that the rot had already set in well before that. We found it very hard to keep the ball and were camped in our own half during the second stanza for long periods of time; and while we managed to scramble well in defense and repel most of the aerial bombardment, Avondale's poor finishing (and the tidy goalkeeping work of Nikola Roganovic) was as important to keeping the home side from scoring as whatever else happened on the night.

Having said all of that, we did manage to get into promising attacking positions in the second half, even if that was partly due to Avondale committing players forward, but that's the price you pay for falling behind. That need to push forward saw Avondale take more risks than they really needed to, with Chris May flying out of his own area; on one occasion a poor clearance saw him stranded, with the long range shot striking an Avondale defender and triggering calls for another handball, waved away this time by the referee; on another occasion, in May's haste to get the ball as far up the field as quickly as possible, it looked like he carried the ball about a metre outside his own 18 yard area before kicking it. Probably the only people who didn't see this were the officials, as even May looked around wondering how he'd managed to get so far up the field.

We did manage to score again via the last kick of the game, making the scoreboard look more respectable than a dispassionate analysis of the game would warrant. The result left some of us happy because we'd won, while others of us happy because we hadn't played well, and their feelings of vindication will only be magnified when we eventually do crash. Avondale were happy because they outplayed us, which is worth more than the three points on offer if you haven't managed to get those three points - though useless of course if you find yourself in a relegation battle. Massimo Murdocca came off the ground smiling for reasons one can only speculate on. The referees, too, would have been happy to get off the field without copping any abuse from the South fans alongside the players' race, as Roganovic distracted those supporters with a rendition of the trumpet chant. Clever man, that Nikola.

It's interesting to ponder the nature of the team as it has been developed during Chris Taylor's time. Not that the team has only ever played dour, results oriented football under Taylor (I can sense the objections flying in already...), but to some extent it was built to play and succeed in the conditions traditionally associated with Victorian soccer - crap, bumpy, muddy grounds. Think back to the years before Chris Taylor, where ball playing South Melbourne sides would often look much better at home on the usually well kept surface at Lakeside, only to struggle away where the grounds were often in much worse condition. But in 2016 most of the surfaces have been in great nick so far. Life persists in providing such paradoxes,

Like John Cain Memorial Reserve when we had a co-tenancy with Northcote, the surface at Somers Street is beginning to show signs of wear and tear, though it seemed to be far from unplayable. Barring the possibility of being drawn away to Knights or Avondale in the next round of the cup, we'll likely only have the one game left there this year, so we probably won't see it at its worst. Then again, is our team perhaps suited to grounds in poor condition rather than good? And after all the fence mania in 2016 - which seems to have died down already - I finally got to see the newly asphalted car park behind the grandstand. It was very asphalt-y*.

*Keep in mind that it could have been bitumen, not asphalt. I don't know anything about this stuff.

Next game
Melbourne Knights at Somers Street. At this stage the game is scheduled for Friday night, but this could conceivably change to a more traditional Sunday afternoon time-slot, so keep an eye out for that.

Update from South Melbourne regarding incident against Melbourne Victory
For those who have not come across it yet, the club released a statement yesterday providing an update on the investigation and identification of those Victory supporters involved in the attack on our supporters.
South Melbourne FC wishes to update its members, sponsors and the general football public on the recent progress made by the Club in regards to the incident against Melbourne Victory’s NPL team last Sunday 24 April 2016. 
SMFC has so far positively identified 21 individuals connected to Melbourne Victory Football Club that organised an unprovoked attack on SMFC supporters in the designated SMFC grandstand early in the second half of last Sunday’s match. 
Relevant information relating to these individuals, including names, footage and photographs have been given to Victoria Police, Melbourne Victory Football Club, Football Federation Victoria and Football Federation Australia. 
SMFC thanks the many people – including non-SMFC members and supporters – for assisting with information that has helped lead to the 21 positive identifications. The Club continues to investigate the incident as there may be more individuals that need to be identified. 
SMFC wishes to once again praise the actions of the SMFC supporters, who despite the unprovoked attack on them, remained in their allocated section to allow for security, parents, Board of Management, staff and club marshals to de-escalate the situation. 
Senior Coach Chris Taylor, his football staff and the players have all condemned the actions of the Melbourne Victory supporters but have praised the SMFC supporters and give their best wishes to anyone that was affected by this appalling incident. 
The players urge all SMFC supporters to continue their fantastic support of the team tonight against Avondale FC at Knights Stadium.
I think the club itself has done well with its public relations efforts, which is not something you can always say about South Melbourne, especially when an incident like this occurs.

Neos Kosmos
Some South Melbourne fans were wondering how much would be dedicated and how hard Thursday's Neos Kosmos would go regarding this incident, and how it would be spun; especially when compared to some of the criticisms levied at South Melbourne by Neos Kosmos in the past for unruly fan incidents by South fans. For the benefit of the non-Greek readers, in this piece, Elias Donoudis says more or less the following:

  • Donoudis calls these Victory supporters disorderly and hooligans (on several occasions)
  • Makes the erroneous statement that the Victory hooligan behaviour started after Victory fell behind on the scoreboard.
  • Says that eyewitnesses reported to him that the Victory fans (who grabbed banners, threw bottles, etc), created the kind of atmosphere not seen in Australian soccer for some years, especially in the state leagues where the crowds are so small that they know each other by their first names.
  • He claims the situation was eventually diffused by calmer heads and the police (which is wrong, because the police didn't turn up until after the main incident was over)
  • He makes the point of how by the incident making it into mainstream media, those responsible for the incident also damaged the game and served the interests of those who oppose soccer.
  • He mocks (cynically) the fact that Victory, South Melbourne and FFA made press releases on the matter, in a snarky manner adding 'good, we're saved now'.
  • He hopes that these hooligans are already banned from the A-League, and will be banned from the state leagues.
  • With some more sarcasm, he notes that in an era where we're told the game has made large strides, the continuing presence of these extremists will see the game go nowhere.
  • He finishes with noting the irony of Vaughan Coveny (one of the nicest boys and a good footballer) coaching Victory Youth, having worn and done honour to the South Melbourne shirt as a player.

For whatever it's worth
The whole post 'botched banner stealing incident' reaction has been interesting. Most Victory fans have condemned the actions of those involved, even if some of those took their time on the matter. Pretty much the only ones not condemning the action have been people close to those allegedly involved, and that's hardly a surprise, though one attempt to turn those Victory fans attacking South's grandstand into the real or at least co-existent victims was at the strange end of those showing a lack of contrition. Still, it was better (and more amusing) than those feeble attempts by some to make both this and last week's incident of a South supporter getting hit by a flare somehow South's fault. I'm not so sure that some of the internet lynch mob efforts by our fans are appropriate, but welcome to the internet I guess - not every place is populated by people as kind and serene as those who read South of the Border. Add to that the fact that so much of this stuff is played out on the internet anyway, where everyone can spin events their own way. Thank goodness this blog has nothing to do with the internet.

The most interesting comment I came across regarding this incident was not on the internet, but rather on the physical plane of existence, demonstrating that the real world still has something left to offer. At Paisley Park today, where Altona East were hosting North Sunshine Eagles, I overheard some North Sunshine supporters discussing last Sunday's incident, with the woman among the group not buying South Melbourne's claim that they had identified 21 people. Now considering North Sunshine's own problems with the FFV tribunal during recent years, including a massive point deduction in 2016 for a pre-season barney with Sunshine George Cross which relied a lot more on eye witness testimony than the documentary evidence gathered in the South-Victory case, you'd think this supporter could be a bit more cautious and/or circumspect with such assertions.

Anyway, best to let the justice system run its course in this matter. Besides which, there were more extra curricular activities which took place today which had nothing to do with us, so this thing now has its own momentum independent of us.

Talking head for hire
Spent some time at Lakeside on late Thursday afternoon being interviewed for a uni project by a couple of budding sports journalists from La Trobe University. Usual drill in terms of questions, not sure if it will get a release beyond the confines of their class. The lads were very professional though - production had the works, discreet microphone, establishing shots (including hokey looking into the distance stuff). I hope they get a good mark, and remember the little people when they become famous journalists.

Match programmes
I got given some more stuff yesterday, late 1990s and early 2000s. Hope to begin uploading that stuff soon.

Around the grounds
Another favourite goes through to the next round. How inspiring.
Found myself making my way out to Port Melbourne on Wednesday night to see the Sharks take on the struggling Sunshine George Cross. Apart from languishing near the bottom of the NPL2 division, Georgies were lucky to get this far in the cup according to those who saw them play Keilor Park. Anyway, the Georgies showed a bit of pluck as you would expect them to do, but as soon as Port scored their second goal, this game was done. Port won it 6-1, and could have had double that, all while barely raising a sweat. Some fresh air and casual exercise walking to and from the ground was about all I got out of this game.

You get what you pay for
I was greeted at the entrance to Altona East's side of Paisley Park with 'hello, Mr Pass Man'. So off to a good start there. To make up for not paying entry I bought a souv (which I usually do anyway), but also a couple of raffle tickets (which I rarely do), and of course I didn't even hear the winning ticket announced. The first 15 minutes saw Altona East and North Sunshine provide some lively entertainment, which must have then buggered off to the pub or something, because the rest of the game was pretty ordinary. North Sunshine bundled in a corner at the back post, and made sure of the points with a goal at the end. Altona East never looked like scoring; even when they somehow beat the offside trap early in the game, the player in possession decided that instead of aiming at the entirety of the goal face he'd put it wide. The only other fun to be had was in spotting the Dodgy Asian Betting guy at the game. It looks like Victorian soccer's version of Where's Wally has infiltrated the state leagues.

Final thought
Clearly the problem last week was that our security measures were too sophisticated.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Trouble Every Day - South Melbourne 1 Melbourne Victory Youth 0

Nick Epifano puts his body on the line. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Like the midweek game against Altona Magic, this was one of those games where we had little to gain other than the win. In the cup game, it was because we were playing a team two divisions below us; yesterday, because we were playing a youth squad of an A-League franchise, one that after a good start to the season has started trailing off and begun flirting with the relegation zone.

Aside from being top of the table playing against a side holding few expectations, there was also the spectre of it being a South Melbourne vs Melbourne Victory game. So even if the opposition we were facing was at best a proxy form of a 'rival' we've never played and may well never play in a meaningful match (except perhaps in an FFA Cup match), there was a sort of 'edge' to this game for reasons beyond the three points on offer.

That we came racing out of the blocks like a bunch of Andy Brennans was both pleasing and worrying, because one knew what one of the consequences of that would be. So while I'm sure we were all glad to see the necessary intensity on display, the fade out in the last 15 minutes or so saw us crawl instead of dash to the finish line, giving Victory's talented youngsters more opportunities towards the end of the game to snare an equaliser.

Milos Lujic makes a somewhat ambitious appeal for a penalty, as he
tumbles over Victory's keeper Spinella. Photo: Dion Fountas.
In a very free flowing game - the officials seemed to prefer to see play continue, letting play run where other referees may have stopped play - we played a high line, and generally played it well enough to catch the visitors offside on countless occasions, including one occasion which otherwise would have resulted in a goal.

But the real story of the game was the huge amount of missed chances by us. We hit the woodwork probably three or four times, had shots fly agonizingly wide or high, and saw ourselves occasionally second guessing ourselves. I'm going to put it down to the implied (or is that inferred?) pressure of the occasion. Symptomatic of that wasteful play in the final third was the People's Champ, who otherwise had a good game, but whose shooting was dire.

After getting injured during the pre-match warm up against Altona Magic midweek, Kristian Konstantinidis was absent again yesterday, with Tim Mala playing at right back, and having one of his best games for a long time. Otherwise the team was more or less back to its usual early season look sans Iqi Jawadi, with Marcus Schroen and Matthew Millar both starting, and Leigh Minopoulos coming off the bench. Jawadi wasn't missed in this game as much as he has been in others, as the youth of our opponents saw even the diminutive Mathew Theodore provide an effective hustling and bustling performance, with our superior strength being a major factor in the outcome and our dominance of general play.

Nick Epifano and Tim Mala square up to a Victory player towards
the end of the game. Photo: Dion Fountas
Despite a couple of moments towards the end of the match where Victory were able to line up shots from the edge of the box, South defended well at the end, albeit having visibly tired. After having five consecutive matches where an opposition player was red carded, it looked like we'd fail to make it to six until one of our boys - I think it was Minopoulos - was hacked down on the wing in front of the South bench. Somehow the offending Victory player only saw yellow, but that incident saw it become the turn of the players to get involved in a melee.

So after all that transpired yesterday, for the players and coaching staff at least there was the relief that we'd got the win and maintained our position of outright top spot for another week. For nearly everyone else, the result unfortunately withdrew into the background due to the rest of the evening's events.

Trumpet Troubles
Before we even got to the stage where the game was marred by the actions of the visiting Victory hooligans, Clarendon Corner had its own issues to deal with, with the trumpet (along with other instruments) apparently being banned for the match as part of an arrangement between South Melbourne, the State Sports Centres Trust, Melbourne Victory and the Northern Terrace. Silly organisers though forgot to tell the people closest to the trumpet - that being Clarendon Corner and its current trumpet player - that this was the case. So after about half an hour, and after the trumpet had already been played several times, we were informed that we were not allowed to play the trumpet as part of an agreement none of us had been privy to. This understandably upset the mood in Clarendon Corner, with some continuing to chant but others losing heart.

As far as I'm concerned though, the fact that the trumpet came up as part of security negotiations is little short of a betrayal of the history and culture of South Melbourne Hellas, and that would be the case even if we were consulted on the matter. The famous trumpet call has been a part of South Melbourne Hellas since Lefteri brought it with him from Greece in the late 1970s. Now that Lefteri is no longer at games, it has been played by Bruno for some years now, with another fan known as Stathi performing a vocalised version when Bruno is absent. It is the sound of our success. It is a link to Middle Park and to our storied past. It is arguably the most iconic tune and chant combination in Australian soccer, at club or national team level; so much so that when a Heart fan on their forum attempted to argue the case for using it as their own chant, he was quickly shut down by his fellow supporters. It is an indispensable and irreplaceable part of who we are. The actions of our board on this matter are not just a betrayal of those who stand in Clarendon Corner, but a betrayal of everything South Melbourne Hellas stands for. To their credit, the board seems to have admitted that they've cocked up in this matter big time - here's hoping that the trumpet never comes into question ever again at our home ground.

Soon enough however, the playing of a trumpet would become but a footnote to the genuinely criminal behaviour that was to follow.
Two Melbourne Victory hooligans a long way from the area of the
stadium designated for them on Sunday. Photo: Dion Fountas.

Where there's a will...
In the lead up to the game, there was a lot of talk around the place about how big the crowd would be. Some clearly went over the top and stated that we'd get 5,000, ignoring the fact that it was a Victory youth team and not their senior team; that it was a long weekend, with people possibly going away; that there were junior matches on; and that there was even an AFL match on between two Victorian sides which would overlap with our game (and which attracted an attendance of just under 60,000). There was also the fact that, apart from putting up notices on the security arrangements for this game, South had seemingly refused to promote the clash as in any way being a notable affair. At the other end of the scale, there were those who thought that the crowd would be fairly small, and in the end they were the ones proven right, with a crowd of probably just under a thousand, with about 750 in our stand and 250 in the other stand.

The segregation issue split the opinions of supporters on both sides, with those against it worrying about image, whether it was even worth it and in some cases thinking that no great amount of Victory supporters would attend, based on the small numbers which have attended NPL games involving Victory in 2016. This turned out to be half true. The overall Victory support was small, but they had enough active supporters to fill up the small bay closest to Gate 1, easily outnumbering the active support in Clarendon Corner, as one would expect. For most of the game up until the violence occurred, the two sides chanted without much incident (apart from the trumpet fiasco) or even focus on each other, except Victory at one stage chanting 'fuck South Melbourne'.

In the early part of the second half, several Victory fans in casual gear emerged in front of Clarendon Corner, attempting to steal one of more of the banners hanging on the fence on the stairwell. There was a theory that they had perhaps found a way to enter through the service gate in between the Hellas stand and the 1926 stand, but a more plausible theory seems to be that they exited the ground from their end at halftime, and then used pass-outs to re-enter the stadium via Gate 2. If this is the case, then there was clearly a failure by all those responsible for organising the event to set up different coloured pass-outs for the different parts of the ground. The other, most plausible possibility, is that the people responsible for kicking off the whole scenario had been in our stand incognito from kickoff.

The Victory supporters who attempted to steal the banner were engaged in battle by South fans from Clarendon Corner and other parts of our stand, with the South fans holding their own, thankfully receiving minimal injury - and as someone who abhors violence, avoids violence and has no talent for violence, this is not an attempt to seek some sort of vicarious glory; it's more a relief that none of our mates got seriously hurt. Apart from fists, Victory's supporters also threw cleaning products,
one of which, apparently a bottle of bleach, hit a small child. There were also several South fans taking photos and video footage, one of whom was spat at by a Victory supporter. Hopefully all those fans pass along their footage to the club (reports are that this is already happening).

The Victory supporters failed to take possession of the banner or banners they had attempted to steal. Security was incredibly slow to react to the brawl, adding further to the calls of some South supporters for South Melbourne to employ a security firm other than Blue Thunder. Later, after Blue Thunder boss Kosta walked past Clarendon Corner, he was jeered as both an outpouring of frustration with Blue Thunder stretching back some years now, as well as Blue Thunder's failure to properly and promptly deal with yesterday's brawl. While even competent and plentiful security can have problems with handling incidents like these if the scale of a riot becomes too large, so much of what passes for security at NPL venues is little more than security theatre - wholly appropriate with the crowds (and kinds of crowds) most clubs get, but lacking in effectiveness when something serious actually happens, or needs to be prevented.

As the fight continued, with Victory fans crossing over the concrete arc behind the western goal end to help their mates, emptying the bay they had occupied, the game paused for perhaps a minute, but then continued. The question then for me is how was the game not abandoned? Back in 2010 at the last game at the old Lakeside, when South fans invaded the field after Carl Recchia's late equaliser and interfered with Heidelberg's players, the referee on that day rightly abandoned the game. So again I ask, why not here, when the circumstances were far worse? Considering the fact that Victory fans were interfering with the normal operation of a game by kicking balls, dislodging and launching a corner flag (not new behaviour for them in the NPL), and that the ball boys had to scurry away, the fact that the game continued is astonishing to me.

Eventually the Victory fans responsible for the brawl and pitch invasion either left or were ordered to leave by security. A helicopter circled overhead for a bit, and police eventually arrived after everything had died down.
People were asked to spread the word that South fans would be kept behind after the game for ten minutes in an effort to avoid any other incidents after the game. Reports emerged after the game that the Victory hooligans had started vandalising cars in the car park that had South stickers on them. I don't know if this is true, nor how widespread it was if this did happen, but the car of one of South's photographers was reported as being among those vandalised.

We were fortunate enough to at least be able to let off some steam thanks to Milos Lujic's goal, which acted as a release valve for some of the tension

What's the punishment?
The calls for punishment have been coming on strong, even from among other Victory fans. The question is though what is the most appropriate punishment for those involved? For the individuals involved it seems clear cut - bannings all round. But will this include the South fans who were part of the brawl? Even if the court of public opinion is almost entirely on our side on this matter, that may not count for much at an FFV tribunal hearing. And if those involved from Victory's side of the matter include persons who have already been placed on FFA's ban list, then what good will another banning do? Is this where the effects of Lakeside's status of being included under the Major Events Act kicks in? Related to that, one wonders what FFV will make of the security arrangements at Lakeside and our responsibility for that. Again, the court of public opinion is one thing, FFV justice another.

Docking points from Victory's NPL youth side, whether fair or not, would be in line with punishments dealt to community run clubs at this level, as has been the case in recent times for Heidelberg, Sunshine George Cross and North Sunshine Eagles. And yet the Victory supporters who kicked off the violence yesterday probably couldn't give a toss about the fate of Victory Youth's 2016 NPL season. So does punishing those players actually make any difference? Does even a monetary penalty make a difference to such a profitable entity like Melbourne Victory? Is the appropriate course of action to actually target the senior team in the A-League? Not that NPL point deductions and fines are inappropriate in this instance, but a punishment for the senior team (which may have a suspended point sentence hanging over its head) may be the thing to push the public opinion of ordinary Victory supporters and Victory's hierarchy to finally disassociate themselves from these groups. It is perhaps wishful thinking.

Next round Victory's NPL squad are due to host Melbourne Knights at Epping Stadium. Again, without wishing to glory in or revel in such things, MCF - Knights' active support - have a far more fearsome reputation than Clarendon Corner. Epping Stadium, too, is far less capable of adequately hosting a match with these kinds of security concerns, both within the venue but also in its car park. One wonders if it will even be open to the public.

The failures before these failures
This is not the first violent or anti-social incident that this group of Victory fans has been involved in, especially when you broaden the scope to beyond these particular individuals to the overall history of this and related Melbourne Victory groups. There have been incidents at friendly games that Victory has been involved in at state league grounds. There have been incidents at National Youth League games. There have been incidents on the streets, and there have been at least three prior pitch invasions and/or corner flag thefts during Melbourne Victory NPL matches over the past year and a half.

A local, suburban club would not have been able to get away with these actions and would have faced sanctions directed at the club. Whatever has been done to prevent this kind of behaviour by this minority of Victory fans - and there would be plenty across the soccer fraternity that would say that not nearly enough has been done - it clearly has not done the trick. So, it's time for the governing bodies to stop pussy footing around with these groups. Acknowledge that there is a problem, that the problem can't be negotiated with - because negotiations for these types are a justification of their status - and deal with the problem once and for all.

It is a problem that has blighted Australian soccer for so long, but one which has only grown as the numbers of supporters have grown at the top level of soccer in this country. But because the sport is now mainstream, too many people have fallen into the trap of finding excuses for this kind of sordid behaviour, 'Oh, at least it's not ethnic anymore'. So what? So it was only the veneer of ethnicity that was the problem, and not the violence and anti-social behaviour? 'They're also AFL fans'. That may be so, but would they pull off such stunts at an AFL game? No, they act out in our game, making it our problem. 'They're not real football fans'. Well, they think they're football fans, they go to football matches - you may not like it, but they are part of football's supporter spectrum. 'Boys will be boys/you'd kill the atmosphere without them'. This is the lamest excuse of all, because it is here that we get people coming in to defend these hooligans who should know better. We've spoken about this many times before, but Mike Cockerill's apologetics are as good as example as any.

Perhaps the most incredible thing to come out of the incident, and maybe the match as a whole, is that no flares were lit - let alone tossed into the crowd - though people were packing them.
But what does it all mean?
The mere fact that Victory has a team playing at the NPL level creates a level of confusion about who and why someone would go out of their way to support this team, apart from friends and family of the players. Victory was set up in an era of 'one city, one team', meaning that by default and whether one consented or not, Victory was attempting to represent you as a Victorian soccer fan. Then Heart/City came along and muddied the waters somewhat, but the model was, at least on the surface of things, set up like this - two teams set up to appeal firstly to already existing soccer followers and participants in Melbourne. While there is and will be scope for attracting the more generalist sports fan, most of the A-League's support probably comes from people who are already keen soccer fans

An extreme and understandable reaction from many South supporters - including me yesterday, while the adrenaline was working its magic - is that if you wanted proof that simultaneously being both a South fan and a Victory fan was incompatible (at least in terms of those who had been South first), than you needed to look no further than the attitude of the Victory hooligans, both in their attempts to steal the banners and cause general mayhem, as well as the anti-South chants - and for those of a Greek background, add to that the allegations that there were racist comments directed to South Melbourne from some of Victory's supporters.

And yet, just like it wasn't fair to tar all supporters of ethnic clubs for the bad behaviour of a minority of supporters, so it also isn't fair to blame the majority of A-League fans for the bad behaviour of a minority of their fans. For those A-League fans who still bring up the ethnic violence after eleven years, those people are not even worth bothering with - they made up their minds long ago, and nothing will change. I think most A-League fans, many of whom also support state league clubs, are fully aware now if they weren't before that the 'ethnic violence' line is bullshit. Apart from a few more fringe and combustible elements online, most of the discussion about South, ethnic clubs and the A-League I think has come a long way. And let's not forget, for many South fans the dream (however unrealistic) is to get into the A-League and play against teams like Victory and Adelaide United and whoever else and be in situations where our supporters mingle and sit together throughout a stadium without issues.

There is also the question of the so called 'ethics' of being a casual fan. At least in terms of my understanding, it does not include attacking scarfers or people wearing colours - which includes almost all of Clarendon Corner. Beyond that though, why would they even bother? Apart from its own press releases, and occasional flashes of aspiration which have fizzled out as quickly as they started, South Melbourne has not been relevant to top-flight Australian soccer for over a decade. The supporter numbers are small, our future prospects for getting out of this league vague at best. Neither does Clarendon Corner have any serious reputation as some sort of brawling and scrapping machine. And yet these Victory hooligans thought it was worth their effort to try, despite the fact that many Victory supporters were or are still South Melbourne fans. Does it mean that the South name and a couple of small banners still mean something? And if so, what?

Melbourne Victory fans crossing over from the northern
stand towards the southern stand. Photo: Dion Fountas.
Various other comments and reactions
MFootball covered the game yesterday, and have provided an audio extract of their view of the brawl and Lujic's goal as the events unfolded. The 'Cold War' comment is also an interesting way of looking at the 'rivalry' between two clubs who have scarcely come close to playing each other.

Goal Australia is also reporting that FFV will be conducting an investigation.

If you want to read a simple and direct version of what happened, then I think it will be hard to go past SoccerLogic's post from this thread on FourFourTwo.
I was at the match and want to be clear. 
There were about 250 people watching on the Victory side. Families, general and active fans. There was a large number of active fans who clearly came just to look for trouble and they did. At half time their bay emptied and about 10 minutes into the second half they pulled off what was obviously a pre-planned move. Using passouts about 5-10 dickheads entered the south side and a little into the second half walked towards the South Active fans. The guys jumped the gun and went to nick the South banner, a South fan jumped into grab it back and then the Victory fans who snuck in jumped him. This was during play IN THE STADIUM. Victory active fans ran across the athletics track, some jumped the fence and started throwing punches, others ran to the side and threw anything they could find - bottles and cleaning supplies. 
There were kids as young as 5 in the South Active area and families the next bay over. After the match cars with South stickers were vandalised and the stadium was locked down for 10 minutes after the match while police searched the areas to secure the car park. 
The chanting between the two clubs was typical of a derby match. Every single week South's fans chant to 'score a fucking goal'. This is absolutely. entirely the fault of violent dickheads who claim to support Victory and the under staffed, under prepared security who let these thugs into the wrong stand without first asking to see a membership. 
These dickheads are going to cost the club a points deduction, a hefty fine and possibly see the team relegated - not to mention the prospect of locking out the remainder of Victory matches. It's not bad enough that the team's playing against men, they need to put up with these so called 'fans' to stay up in the NPL.
Ian Syson gave me a ring while I was being given a lift back to Sunshine station. This meant that we had to pause the Prince greatest hits compilation that we had playing on the radio, but Syson makes up for his unintentional gaffe with this tweet,
There was also some dark humour,
the absurd,
and South trending for the wrong reasons,
and an appearance on Channel 9 news which placed all the blame on the North Terrace, including video footage (shot in portrait instead of landscape). Twitter reactions, Dion Fountas' photos and MFootball's radio commentary. The segment also featured a short statement by Melbourne Victory, but nothing by South Melbourne (one has since been released - see comments section). Somewhat inexplicably, the segment showed no footage of the 2005 Preston game and its violent scenes. The report was, by the standards of reporting on soccer violence in Australia by commercial television networks, fairly reasonable, although the concerns of those people - both South fans and non-South fans - that there was little to be gained for South by having this footage and report come out at all has some merit to it.

Unfortunately, there was also the SMFCMike led ranting, which probably did more harm than good no matter how good it felt to vent one's spleen. So it goes. I understand the desire to stick the boot in and express a level of schadenfraude, but the way some people have gone about it is counter productive. Despite that, I get the motivation behind the way people have come out attacking the dominant narrative, even those who aren't South fans but who still understand the feeling. You deal with decades worth of being stigmatised as being troublemakers, of holding the game back - and all of a sudden here is the proof right there in front of you that Australian soccer violence is not an ethnic issue, but a violence issue - that ethnicity is just a smokescreen, and not a very a good one. Of course you'd feel like you'd want to go in with both barrels.

On the Victory forum, the overwhelming response seems to be against the Victory hooligans, being as appalled as anyone else at the behaviour. There have been a small amount of apologists, but they are in the extreme minority, including those who'd prefer that Channel 9 didn't get hold of the footage; but hiding the problem, pretending it doesn't exist or claiming that the incident was not as serious as people have made out will help no one who wants to solve this ongoing problem. For their part the North Terrace has spent a good deal of yesterday and today deleting comments off its Facebook page; its Twitter page has also not been active.

There was a rumour going around that SSCT representatives were so angered by the events that they'd refuse Victory any future access to Lakeside Stadium for their youth and maybe even women's games. If that rumour is true, than I hope that they follow through on that promise.

Blue and white, it's in your blood
Although I think the scenes were distressing for all those who witnessed them - and especially those who found themselves in the closest proximity to the violence - for some the most disheartening aspect was seeing at least one young ex-South fan, one whose blood was thought to course royal blue and white, among the group which crossed over from the northern side. These are strange times we're living in.

Next match
Avondale Heights on Friday night, in the first of two consecutive trips to Somers Street. One wonders how many South fans will be there, seeing as many will be at Orthodox Good Friday services. In these situations, I thank God I'm an atheist.

Match programmes
Thanks to The Agitator, we've added a whole bunch of South Melbourne home match programmes from season 1997-1998, nearly completing that season. There's also some Carlton fanzines and a Northern Spirit fanzine in the library, for those interested in those kinds of things.

Around the grounds
Sitting in the royal booth
Of all the possible football options on Friday night, I decided against Pascoe Vale vs Bentleigh because of its distance; against Port Melbourne vs Avondale out of some indistinct spite; and ended up choosing Melbourne Knights vs Oakleigh for not much more reason other than it was the closest of the three games and there was an intangible something to be said for the fact that this match would be the less important of the consecutive matches these two teams would be playing - with an FFA Cup match due this week at Oakleigh. I managed to persuade one of the parking lot attendants to let this 'reputable member of the media' (close to actual words) to waive the $3 parking fee - she's surely getting the sack - and proceeded to spend that savings bonanza on a can of Coke.  Goodbye parking fees, hello diabetes. Parking myself in the stand behind the Knights bench, I soon found myself surrounded by half of Knights' starting eleven, either injured or suspended. The game then followed a very predictable path, as Oakleigh dominated the first half leading 3-0 at the break, despite the Gus Tsolakis mantra of moving the ball forward slower than necessary. Almost nothing of note happened in the second half until Knights pulled one back.

Final thought
Apologies to all those who have waited patiently for this post. I'm not sure I have done the issue justice, but hopefully by making reference to some other sources, you'll have got some value out of it.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Paul can't come and out play right now, come back tomorrow

You're probably here right now because:
  1. You were either at the game, saw some stuff happen and wanted to see my take on it, or
  2. You weren't at the game, but heard about some stuff that happened, and wanted to see my take on it, or
  3. You're a gambler who takes an interest in the form of teams competing in the National Premier Leagues Victoria competition.
Sorry to say, that apart from the fact that there is so much to go over, I really, really can't be arsed tonight. I've just had dinner, and am now going to mostly just kick back and enjoy that my club, South Melbourne Hellas, is still top of the league.

Maybe come back tomorrow night or something.


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Dimness - Altona Magic 0 South Melbourne 3

I was playing the part of one of South's designated supporter marshals during this fixture.

Find a calm lake and wait for the twilight in silence! There, existence will visit you with all its magnificence! The existence of the Existence can best be felt in the presence of dimness and in the absence of crowds and noises!
 - Mehmet Murat Ildan

First Intermediate Period
Things started off dim at Paisley Park last night,
then proceeded to get darker,
and all this before the game had even kicked off - a kick off which was delayed a few minutes because of the lights needing to be turned back on and get up to the maximum lux setting, or something like that. As I remarked to a one time contributor to the blog, it was a bit early for Δεύτε λάβετε φως for the mostly at least nominally Orthodox Christians in attendance.

Finally underway... but mostly Magic, not so much us.
Even with the lights on though, things would just continue to head down a murky path for the rest of the evening. For example, Kristian Konstantinidis was named in the starting line up,
but didn't seem to be on the field, replaced by Luke Adams. It seems that 'KK' may have injured himself during the warm-up, but we'll need official confirmation on that. Otherwise the lineup was reasonably strong - still mostly made up of players who had recently won championships and were part of the side that was top of the Victorian leagues - but one wondered whether the changes would both unsettle a side that had finally seemed to get in sync last Sunday against Oakleigh after several wonky weeks, but also would it be of sufficient quality to withstand the efforts of a very capable Altona Magic outfit.

The answers to those questions seemed to be 'yes', and 'not really', as South not only failed to mount any meaningful attacks during the first half, but were lucky not to be down by a couple of goals at half time. Magic, who were particularly keen on exploiting our right hand side, were undone by Nikola Roganovic on the hand and their own profligate finishing on the other. The only obvious solution for us seemed to be to make some changes and bring on some more of our A-Listers, but instead we persisted with the same lineup after the break, hoping they would come good.

And somewhat surprisingly, that's actually what happened. Chris Irwin, part of that problematic right hand side in the first half, came out a changed player, tormenting the Magic defence. It was he who burst through the lines to find himself one on one with the keeper, only to be fouled in the box and have his shot trickle wide. Confusion reigned for a minute or so, as clearly referee Lucien Laverdure had given a card to the Magic defender responsible for the foul, but had not given a signal for the penalty - had he paid the advantage instead? As it turned out, Laverdue did award the penalty, and then the lights went out again.

Second Intermediate Period
The crowd was pretty good for a Wednesday night, with most reasonable estimates ranging from 800-1000. Alongside Magic's usual supporters and their juniors, there was quite a healthy number of South fans, as well as a group of Preston fans - the 'Preston Makedonia' chants seemed to give that one away - though at least one person on the forums contended that Magic have their own active supporter crew, which makes a kind of sense insofar as that chanting group was standing behind a banner containing an Altona Magic logo.
Whoever they were and however they identified themselves, one hoped against history that they were there for the spectacle and the possibility of an upset and humiliation of a rival, and nothing more than that. Unfortunately one coward from that group couldn't help himself, coming up behind a cluster of South fans and throwing a lit flare into said cluster, hitting a young woman. She received medical attention - and I assume she is OK, but again, have no confirmation of that - and one felt that things were about to kick off. How could they not, considering the proximity of those Preston/active Altona fans to the travelling South contingent?

Somehow, despite the combination of the obvious anger of the South fans, the close proximity of the supporters to each other, the darkness and the empty spaces behind the hill, as well as the security force which seemed less than well prepared for such an incident, things didn't escalate beyond words. At least some of the credit for that has to go to those South fans who managed to keep their more aggrieved mates in check, as well as the Altona Magic marshals, who were unequivocal so far as I could tell in getting the relevant 'home' support group to move away from the South fans (even if not quite far enough for some tastes), as well as telling others to just go home.

There were reports that the flare thrower was identified, but as with many of the specifics of the incident, I have seen no official confirmation of that. A police car did arrive, but what exactly they ended up doing, I don't know. With regards to the collective identity of the group that the flare thrower came from, it was interesting in that Magic themselves put the following up on Twitter,
as well as
It will be very interesting to see what comes out of this. One hopes of course that the flare thrower was identified, and will have the full force of the law come down upon them. It will be interesting to see also what punishment Magic will receive and how FFV will handle this. One interesting thing which occurred during the game in the online sphere - a sphere I did not have access to because of my marshalling duties - was the categorisation of the scenes as 'chaos at Paisley Park'. I think that tends to gild the lily somewhat - while there was much confusion due to both whether the game would get called off, as well as the aftermath of the flare incident, chaos did not break out as far as I'm concerned, even if the potential for it to do so was certainly there.

The game itself emerges out of stasis
The game resumed, with Marcus Schroen putting away the penalty in less than convincing fashion - but the important thing is that he did put it away, and now the game could be played on our terms. Magic had to push forward, and had a penalty shout called a dive, but when Milos Lujic bundled home a goal mouth scramble from a corner, we were pretty much there. When Magic's Bozinovski was sent off after receiving a second yellow card - Magic had received a free kick, and Schroen a yellow card himself for unnecessary shirtfront-esque attempt at protecting the ball, with Bozinovski than grabbing and throwing Schroen to the ground - our progress to the next round was official. Lujic's injury time tap in made the score look a lot more flattering it should have been.

In the end, because of both the way the team had performed in the first half, as well as the flare incident during the lights out period, one came out of this match as a South fan with relief at having progressed as well as not been part of a much larger and more violent incident. It was our first win at Paisley Park in since we beat Moorabbin in the Dockerty Cup in 1996, and our first win against Altona Magic at this venue since the 1993 Dockerty Cup, a record which sounds pretty until you remember that our only extended run of games there was from 2005-2010. One could have hoped for a more dull affair, but it's nice to also get that monkey off our backs.

Next game
Melbourne Victory youth team at Lakeside on Sunday. This game will be subject to changed security and seating conditions.
SMFC members and supporters will be required to enter Lakeside Stadium through the traditional Gate 2 entry point and base themselves in the traditional SMFC grandstand as normal. This includes all SMFC players (all ages) and parents, as well as FFV and FFA accredited pass holders. 
Melbourne Victory (NPL) supporters will enter through the Gate 1 entry point and be based in the opposite grandstand. 
All patrons are reminded that any anti-social behaviour contravening the Football Federation Victoria (FFV) and South Melbourne FC Code of Conduct will not be tolerated. There are several CCTV security cameras operating in and around Lakeside Stadium that will be used to identify anyone engaging in anti-social behaviour. 
With a large crowd expected, SMFC is working closely with Melbourne Victory, FFV, Blue Thunder Security, the State Sports Centre Trust and Victoria Police to ensure a great afternoon for everyone at Lakeside Stadium on Sunday afternoon. 
Sunday’s main match kicks off at 5pm, with our Under 20s match commencing at 2.30pm. SMFC will also be honouring the memory of the ANZACS in a short ceremony prior to the main game commencing.
Around the grounds
Science of the Cup
Of the three FFA Cup options available on Tuesday night, I decided to take a punt, or perhaps just chose the closest option to my place and headed to Somers Street for Avondale Heights vs South Springvale Aris. Things did not begin well:
But to the ground announcer's credit, he was at least an equal opportunity butcher.
But then Avondale proceeded to throw away any sympathy by doing this:
Now South Springvale had a reputation of getting above their station in this competition in recent years, so one hoped perhaps that lightning could strike yet again. This was not to be the case, as they were outclassed from the start. Yes, some Aris players had some nice close control, but when it came time to actually control possession, the best they could usually do was three or four passes before bombing it long to an isolated forward. Avondale were getting frustrated with their inability to open the scoring, but eventually broke through seconds before half time and as far as I was concerned, they may as well as have ended the game there. The goals piled on in the second half, but to their credit Aris kept pushing on and managed to get one goal back from the penalty spot, but one goal is fewer than five, and we ain't using no golf handicap system here. Overall, I felt a bit annoyed that I'd bothered to get dressed for this.

Final thought

Monday, 18 April 2016

Run of the mill - South Melbourne 4 Oakleigh Cannons 1

Meanwhile, our women were away at Ballarat Eureka Strikers.
The most interesting thing about this game was how little enmity there was shown towards Oakleigh by the home crowd. Historical small-fry they may be in the greater context of Australian soccer history, but over the past decade there has been at least some (and often much) feeling, and a genuine sense of rivalry between us. Now, even with certain infamous characters like Steven Topalovic and especially former coach Gus Tsolakis making returns to Lakeside, there wasn't really anything resembling the antipathy that I'd expected. Yes, there was the odd comment, but not nearly the level of abuse one had become accustomed to in games between these two sides - hell, not even close to the level of abuse Gus copped when he was coaching us back in 2012 and 2013! The win felt like just another solid win against a midrange opponent, which in its own way is a relief - not every game needs last ditch heroics in order to be classed a success.

There were a couple of changes for this game, but we'll only know for sure at the end of this week if they were due to form, tactics or this week's crowded match schedule. Tim Mala was on the bench, Marcus Schroen was out of the squad altogether, while captain Michael Eagar made his first start for a few weeks and Leigh Minopoulos got a now rare starting role. It was great to see Minopoulos get an extended run, and score two goals for his troubles as well. The first, a looping header from a corner served to settle the nerves after Oakleigh had pulled it back to 2-1, while his second was classic goal poaching, cleaning up the crumbs to seal the deal. Overall, that right hand side of the field, with Kristian Konstantinidis slotting in at right back, looked to be at its most dangerous for a long time.

Meanwhile on the left hand side, far less endearing was the attitude of the People's Champ, who put in one of his more petulant performances for some time, after a period of what one could call 'lesser' petulance. One has come to expect his tendency for dropping his head at the slightest whiff of misfortune, even his unwillingness to feign interest in tracking back; but his refusal to pass the ball to players in much better positions than himself, instead opting for yet another attempt at replicating his famous goal in the cup against the Melbourne Knights from last year, reached new heights of absurdity yesterday - and that criticism is made because we all know that it doesn't have to be this way, and can't be this way if he wants to fulfil his dream of playing in a better league, in front of more people and making more money than he does now.

Before we move on, it is time to bust the myth of the magic of 'that' goal. This does not mean that the goal was not good. It does not mean that the goal was not important. It does not mean that the goal was not memorable, emotional, or whatever other epithet you want to attach to it. But the goal was not as good as people like to remember, and certainly not the way the People's Champ seems to remember it in his quest to make it happen again. Here is the angle that must be focused on, to be watched with the sound off, taking away the roar of the crowd. He thinks he is being skillful, but all he does is hit the ball straight, and fortunately for all concerned, has the ball hit the post and go in. There is no curve on the ball, no dip, no sign that this was the shot of a player whose skill sets him well apart from the rest of this league. The slightest breeze blowing towards the main grandstand that night and the ball would have gone out for a goal kick.

South's women managed to come away with another win, this time 4-2.
It was actually good that he didn't score from one of his myriad low percentage shots yesterday, because had he scored it would have justified his effort and intent. Meanwhile, in yesterday's game and nearly every other game the People's Champ is involved in, Brad Norton slogged his way up and down the wing, trying to bring other players into the game and then having to run back to make sure his left back position is covered because the People's Champ is above such concerns as tracking back and covering for a teammate. Despite his excellent run of form in the second half of 2015, next to no one is under any illusions about Brad Norton being a superstar meant for better things than the state comps, but no one can fault his attitude and desire to put the good of the team above his own individual glory.

For their part, Oakleigh have some capable players, but other than a couple of short bursts of attacking football, they performed poorly. Considering the fact that they have knocked off some of the better teams in the league this season, including reigning champs Bentleigh, one expected something a bit better than what they dished up yesterday. Going forward they were not so bad, but defensively they were very suspect. Some better decision making from our part, and even some better shooting in those dangerous positions we found ourselves in, could've seen the score blow out even more. Then again, scoring first and scoring early tends to make things easier for yourself. Philzgerald Mbaka even got a run, giving us a taste of the kind of player he is, albeit against defeated and demoralised opposition. Mbaka seems to have no gears, no sprinting power, gliding at a single pace across the field - but he looks calm on the ball, and his distribution was by and large first rate. With a bit of luck he may have even managed to snag a goal, too, late on in the piece.

Overall, South's performance was heartening and enjoyable, albeit soured by Chris Taylor's dismissal from the technical area. What appeared to all and sundry - except the referee, and the linesman who was right on the spot - to be a blatant handball in the box by an Oakleigh player, saw Taylor's complaints escalate to the point where he was sent to the stands. One can harp on about the severity of the punishment in comparison to how other referees and coaches behave (see this week's 'around the grounds' segment), but in these situations it's entirely up to each referee to make up their own minds on the matter, with coaches either having to play it by ear and take the risk of being sent away, or learning to just behave themselves at all times. The latter is perhaps easier said than done when your sporting livelihood depends mostly on the players on the field and the decisions of the officials.

Taylor's dismissal saw him go towards the food truck for a feed. The question that remains unanswered at this point, other than how many games he will miss, is did he ask his senior football adviser about whether to go for the kransky or the souv? That's maybe a question best left for the next AGM, at this stage provisionally scheduled for sometime during the year 3918.

Next game
Away to Altona Magic on Wednesday night for FFA Cup.

Social club news
Prior to the match I was shown a photo of a person or persons allegedly taking measurements inside the social club. The photo was on a camera phone, and it was difficult to make out the details because of sun glare, but it was good to see that something was perhaps maybe happening, sorta.

Fine, not fine
Meanwhile, the brains trust at South attempted to appeal the fine levied on the club following the flare lit by someone - as yet unidentified - in amid the area occupied by Clarendon Corner at the Veneto Club. It did not go well. The FFV's tribunal system, working as it does in these matters in the manner of the inquisitorial judicial system - that is, guilty until you prove yourself innocent - saw us pushing what was perhaps a legally and morally sound argument, but not one that was likely to work in these circumstances.

The arguments that a) how do you know it was a South fan who lit the flare? b) what good does it do and how can it possibly be fair to the club if an individual decides to go rogue by launching a flare? c) where is the responsibility of the venue manager and security in all this? and d) seeing as how South's management does not approve of flares and has form in notifying the FFV of people who have lit flares at Lakeside, what more could they be expected to do?, are all very good and sensible lines of argument, but doomed to fail nevertheless.

What is concerning about this is the possibility being put up that if it happens again with the culprit not being identified, we could be in line to be docked points. So let's look at a possible scenario which may occur this week. We rock up to Paisley Park for a night game. Entry to the ground is mostly done via driving into the ground, meaning that bags and persons can't be checked. South scores a goal, and in amid the chaos of a post-goal celebration and the gloom of a night game someone rips a flare - security doesn't see who ripped it, perhaps no one sees it, and all of a sudden we're in the situation where someone's random act of stupidity, an act not even tacitly condoned by the club, sees us in line for punishments beyond the $1,500 levied per flare lit.

This is not even just a South problem, because at least at Lakeside we have security cameras and such to act as a dissuading device against such behaviour, which takes care of the issue on the half of the season that we can kinda control. For the rest, the older heads in Clarendon Corner can and have repeated the message to the younger fans that stand in that area on a regular basis that for the sake of the club, flares are not on. But pity those clubs who don't have even security theatre levels of prevention at their disposal, and have a collection of new fans, randoms or whoever, who are determined to do something stupid.

Dredging up the past
A friend is working on an Australian soccer project of sorts, the results of which we'll hopefully see towards the end of 2016 or maybe early 2017. To that end, this friend asked me to go through my blog's unwieldy archives (I've even reinstalled the calendar gadget on the right hand side of the blog) and find posts relevant to that project. I have previously on occasion gone back and re-read some of the old material (over 1800 posts now, including guest contributions), but never on a scale quite as large as this. All I can say is, that while I still like some individual pieces, one has to give credit to those who visited and stuck with South of the Border in the first four or so years. I hope that the quality has improved enough to warrant the loyalty of those readers.

International Year of the Fence
Around the grounds
立って, 座って
Another Friday night, and another chance to get out of the house and watch some soccer. I had thought about going to Port Melbourne vs Northcote, but changed my mind when halfway to Flinders Street and decided to go to Richmond vs Green Gully instead. Richmond may not have the most luxurious spectator facilities, but what it does have is two benches and technical areas which are very close to each other, and also very close to the perimeter fence. For people like me, who like to watch neutral games from those kinds of spots, with a chance to observe coaches in action, there's no better place to a watch a game from - even if a scoreboard or marshal or fourth official can obscure views at times. This decision paid off even as early as the under 20s match, with a priceless reaction from the Gully coach to one of his players being violently fouled.
And that was after the linesman on that side had attempted to clam him down using his smooth English (South London?) accent. To that end, it was good also to catch up with Green Gully senior coach Arthur Papas, that half-forgotten wunderkind of Australian soccer coaching, for an all too brief chat before the game. The match itself was a high energy affair of at best middling quality, scrappy and hard fought. Richmond, despite having some capable players, lack any sense of structure and rely too much on winning 50/50 balls and one on one battles. That's great when you win those battles. but less good if you only break even, or indeed lose the overall count. Richmond had the lead, but a Green Gully side without main marksman Liam Boland, managed to somehow get in front, and stoutly defended Richmond's mostly feeble attempts to find an equaliser. George Katsakis (or one of his clones), would have learned much I think from this match when his side plays Richmond next week.

The fourth official and the linesman on the far side of the field were kept busy all night by a shortage of seating on Green Gully's side of the benches seeing far too many people standing up. Some of the excuses used to justify included not being given enough seats for everyone on that side compared to Richmond and Arthur Papar not being able to crouch because of his bad knees. Of course the Gully crew weren't afraid to point out that Richmond, too, also had too many people standing up. Admittedly, it was hard to hear them over the protestations of Richmond's technical director Micky Petersen, as he was haranguing the officials on that side and generally making a nuisance of himself.

Final thought
Which local football food critic was taken to task by a Bulleen official, for his giving of a low score to Bulleen earlier this year on his radio segment? If someone offers you an eclair that looks too good to be true, please don't eat it!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Horror start to the season continues - South Melbourne 2 Bentleigh Greens 1

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, we won again.

Eternal optimists, merchants of doom, Johnny A: everyone came out of this match with something to hold on to, which when you think about it, is just good business by South Melbourne - I mean, why limit yourself to pleasing just one demographic? It's all about metrics and leverage these days, and leaving out people just won't do. Best of all, we left everyone wanting more - repeat customers!

But Johnny A though. Devastated by the loss, and claiming in his post-match interview that 'we are so far ahead of South Melbourne as a football team, it's not funny' - this from the coach of a team that spent most of the game just bombing it long. Where was the patented Bentleigh Greens sexy-time football? Man, if I want to get played off the park by the best in the business I don't want it to be by a team passing the ball around the back, then hoofing it long to the forwards.

Still, one had to admit that we didn't always handle the aforementioned long bombs with, er, aplomb. The goal we conceded in particular, I mean, come on! Loose men everywhere in front of goal in that most dangerous of situations? That's state league one reserves stuff. And the lack of pressure on those defenders hoofing it long, we clearly gave them too much respect and time on the ball. Nikola Roganovic certainly thought so in his post-match interview, making the case that after we went ahead, we again fell back to the habit of falling back as it were.

And it was then, and really only then, that Bentleigh started actually playing the way they purportedly play every week. And while, yes, we had the man advantage for the second week running, and often looked like we were the man down for the second week running, it is also important to remember that we also had the lead going into the final twenty minutes for the second week running. Maybe it's a fitness thing? Maybe we're behind the eight ball on that front, still, two months into the season proper? If so, that's a big concern, but we were somehow good enough to get into the right position to win the game.

And as important as it is to focus on the negatives and what needs to be improved - and there is so much that needs to be improved, but remember the majority of these players are  at this level for good reasons - how about enjoying the win? Yes, we shouldn't have been in a position where we had to rely on Roganovic making two penalty saves, but what about those saves! Huge! So we only got one shot on target in the first half? So did Bentleigh, with their other attempt hitting the post. Was our first goal offside? I thought so at the time, but the video footage is less clear on the matter, and none of the Bentleigh players called for it. Was our second goal lucky to be bundled in? Sure, you can see it that way - but what about Bentleigh's failure to clear the ball from their own area?

But back to the concerns for just a moment. The wing backs are out of form, and out of touch. Crappy crosses aside, calling for the offside and letting opposition players glide by? Criminal. Being nowhere near being in the game for the first 25 minutes? Awful. Bombing it long to Milos Lujic while he was being marked by three players, without anyone being at the fall of the ball? Really? The fact that we managed to get into the game despite our deficiencies, the usual appalling refereeing performance by Bruno, and get on top even before the dismissal of Dion Kirk? Encouraging.

And aside from his clumsy effort with regards to the second penalty, Kristian Konstantinidis has been huge in his two appearances this season, and he's making it very hard for Michael Eagar to get back in the squad. Of course there'll be a door opening with a busier schedule coming up and Luke Adams going off on national duty, but how great is it that we can bring in someone like Konstantinidis for the struggling Eagar and have him be near man of the match across two games? Pretty good. OK, I suppose.

Even the People's Champ put in a killer slide tackle near the end of the game. Somewhere out there, there's a scientist working furiously on solving the riddle of how we can both suck so hard, and be top of the table. The secret of cold fusion will probably be in there somewhere, too, like Homer Simpson accidentally proving that there is no God while working on his flat tax proposal.

Next week
At home against Oakleigh Cannons. The return of Gus Tsolakis. Going to be batter flying all over the place.

Over and over, we flatten the clover (with apologies to XTC)
One thing that Johnny A decided was worth complaining about was the state of the Lakeside pitch. His complaint? That it had too much grass. That the grass was too long. Now, to be fair - and when have I ever not been fair? Don't answer that question - he did also say that it was a pity for Chris Taylor and his team that they also had to play on that surface, but one can still damn well appreciate the irony of the coach of Bentleigh Greens complaining about a field that was too lush - after all, this was the team that actually painted the dirt on its field to make it look as if it was grass! Still. there is a part of me that actually hopes that it was a deliberate ploy on our behalf to get the State Sports Centres Trust to leave the grass a bit longer, in homage to that episode of King of the Hill where Hank cuts the turf on the high school football field to combat the opposition's strengths, i,e, longer grass on the edges for teams with good wide receivers. Please don't interpret this quasi-random pop-culture recollection as an endorsement of King of the Hill, it really was a very dull show.

Not quite the fourth official
Let's be honest - the implementation of a fourth official at NPL matches in 2016 is like being eight years old and getting a pair of grown up slacks with a 'smart' woollen pullover, after you specifically asked Father Christmas for an XBox. But just as everyone was somewhat getting used to the fourth officials being there, we had the bloke yesterday who almost flat out refused to turn his electronic board around so the paying public could see who was being subbed and how much added time was going to be played. The most horrific outcome of his failure to point the board towards anyone but the one person sitting in the opposite grandstand, was an attempt by some in Clarendon Corner to chant 'turn the board around' to the tune of this disco classic.

Lists for the sake of lists
Since Bentleigh have returned to the VPL/NPL, the following players have been sent off in games hosted by South Melbourne against Bentleigh Greens:
  • George Goutzioulis (2010)
  • Kliment Taseski (2011, at John Cain Memorial Park)
  • Dimi Tsiaras (2012)
  • Peter Gavalas and Iqi Jawadi (2013)
  • Iqi Jawadi (2015, grand final)
  • Dion Kirk (2016)
Probably just a coincidence that the two Bentleigh players listed above - Goutzioulis and Kirk - were also former South players, and that Gavalas was a former Bentleigh player.

Apologies for the lack of a video montage. 
It's now six years since we left the old Lakeside, and for all intents and purposes left the social club behind. Anyone else notice the clock on this blog going wayward by a few hours? I think it might be due to the cumulative effects of daylight savings over the years. That, or they're not linked to the atomic clocks like they should be.

Apparel sponsorship turning into a nightmare
So the deal with apparel supplier BLK, which was going to cost us a lot less money and cause us to have fewer problems than what we had with Adidas, has turned pear shaped. Problems with the online store, problems with the supply and quality of the merchandise, and problems with the women's team even getting a kit. It's not been a good start to this relationship, which is due to run for three years. I suppose that at least they have time to sort out the problems.

On the plus side
The hooped socks were back, baby! Did they help us win the match? Let's not get too excited, but they did look good out there.

Further FFA Cup news
Our next match in Shaun Mooney's patented crap-shoot tournament, against Altona Magic, has been scheduled for Wednesday April 20th, kickoff at 7:30, at Paisley Park Soccer Complex in Altona North.

Jersey presentation night 2016
A mostly dull and underwhelming night. One could handle the increased price ($50 to $70), but the $5 booking fee per ticket seems like someone's (at this point unidentified) just trying to gouge someone (me, and others as well I suppose). The food, which arrived very, very late - in fact the whole evening seemed to start about an hour late - was serviceable (Greek mezze and Italian antipasti combination), mediocre (steak so overcooked and dry that even I cringed), and OK I suppose (desserts fished out from the storeroom and cut into bite size pieces, though a better selection than last year, in that half the items weren't rock-hard and over-sweet cherry ripe slices).

At least this time, either due to more judicious use of space or due to a reduced number of attendees, we - that is the povo fans that weren't going to sponsor anyone, and therefore needed to be kept out of sight - managed to get seated indoors, and on the couches no less. That I was seated with Internet Celebrity SMFCMike is not as horrible as it sounds, because this seems to be the usual arrangement at South Melbourne jersey nights, and besides which, he and the others on the table were good company.

After last year having Tara Rushton perform the hosting duties, this year we had Stephanie Brantz, who really didn't do very much and wasn't very interesting when she was up there, though El Presidente did note that she was the first host in years to pronounce his name right, which I suppose is money well spent. More interesting was who was there and who wasn't. Yes, it's true. the People's Champ was actually there! Philzgerald Mbaka was not! Is Mbaka putting in his own bid to be the new People's Champ? He's got a long way to go to be honest. Mbaka, despite his non appearance, managed to rank up one of the highest auction bids, as Andrew Mesourouni ended up performing an elaborate gimmick with president Leo Athanasakis to raise the bidding. On the other hand, it was good to see that each player started off with a minimum guaranteed bid, avoiding the embarrassing moments of previous jersey nights where the auctioneer would have to beg the audience to bid for less popular players. This tactic also helped speed up the whole auction process somewhat.

Perhaps most tragicomic of all, standing in for Mbaka and consequently being more involved as part of the senior team than he has been on the field in recent times, was captain Michael Eagar. He also managed to pull in a good bid in his own right, as did everyone's new favourite 'need more Greeks' player, Kristian Konstantinidis. Mbaka, Eagar and Konstantinidis all hit the $5,000 mark. Unfortunately, the women's team were auctioned off as a collective, dashing my slim hopes of buying a woman. They were bought for about $10,000.

The highlight of the evening was on the tram on the way up to Beachcomber, overhearing a conversation between some kid and his dad about the classic arcade shooter Time Pilot. What a relief to know that there are kids out there who still search for, and appreciate, quality video games.

For the record, SMFCMike won the raffle's major prize, a thousand dollar voucher for tyres, which he passed on to his dad. People are harder to hate when they're not being dickheads.

International Year of the Fence
Owing to the segment going walkabout last week, here's something from the archives where you can sort of see a fence.
This is part of a collection belonging to Mrs Weinstein, lent to me by Ted Smith. More photos from this collection will be uploaded eventually, but the uni scanner hates black and white photos for some reason.

Final thought
On February 26th, 2006, as Gianni De Nittis celebrated scoring what would be winning the goal against Preston, I high fived some random kid sitting next to me in the grandstand. The kid belonged to one Ian Syson, and over the course of that season Ian and I became friends. Eventually he convinced me to go back to university, after eight months of persistent nagging and a comment on smfcboard (since long gone) taunting me with 'and you say you can't write' after I had posted something or other. I got a degree, I worked on books, he rescued my honours thesis, I've been published as a bona fide academic, I've presented at conferences, and I've taught and tried to pass on the lessons in self-belief that I've learned in my time as a student, to the next generation of a demographic that hasn't been taught that it belongs at a university. At the very least, without Ian, I likely never would have ever thought about starting a blog, which has now run for over eight years. Sure, my grammar is still stuffed, but nevertheless here's to the next ten years of a quality friendship.