|Nick Epifano puts his body on the line. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.|
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.
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
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.
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).@GiannakisPaul Yeah the animals ran over to try and steal a banner... threw chemicals at our fans from a cleaners cart. @gomvfc is a joke.— Cindy N (@cindyn) April 24, 2016
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 welcome @VictoriaPolice including the #polair chopper to Lakeside.. Things settled down now. pic.twitter.com/mt8f6ZEaBy— NPL Vic Football (@NPLVic_Football) April 24, 2016
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?@smfcmike @gomvfc fan that tried throwing a punch in my direction can contact me to collect his flare, he dropped it pic.twitter.com/oVdG92ZnGR— Tony Margaritis (@sthmel) April 24, 2016
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.
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,Yes. Loved the way they sprinted from the opposite grandstand . . . Oh you don't mean that https://t.co/SAsbiqOhER— Ian Syson (@IanSyson) April 24, 2016
the absurd,@pavlaki1969 @PaulMavroudis @Ari_Charilaou @smfcmike @Boycey1105 Shocking, usually ethnic cleansing not cleansing ethnics by New Football— Mark Boric (@MarkBoric) April 24, 2016
and South trending for the wrong reasons,@PaveJusup this is why Sydney should stop playing football against the outer colonies and have its own pro league.— Shaun Mooney (@ShaunMooney11) April 24, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.