As an FFV accredited freelance media human, I was asked to apply if I wanted to attend the game. I did, and eventually got the email saying that I was in, including notification of the time and location of the match - but publication of such details was essentially prohibited, with media being asked to show discretion.
Fair enough I thought, seeing as how they'd gone to all this bother to make sure nothing could go wrong. But it does make you wonder, at least on the surface of things, how bad things have gotten when 40 odd delinquents and their hangers on and supporters can cause this absurd situation; that Victory, like so many Australian soccer entities before it, doesn't know how to resolve the problem; that a soccer team with more resources at its disposal than almost any other in the code's local history has allowed or seen things get to a point where a match involving its youth team can't be played safely unless the most drastic security measures are taken.
Thus after performing a sort of radio silence on the matter in the days leading up the game, on the day of the match I tried to play it all mysterious
But really, there was no point. Everyone who really wanted to know where the game was going to be held, and at what time, pretty much knew everything there was to know. If there were any people planning on causing chaos, they didn't bother to show.South of the Border's chief correspondent is on the way to the rendezvous point... #MVvSM #PS4NPLVIC— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) July 24, 2016
(I did see one bloke on the train towards the city with a Victory cap on, but whoever they were they did not end up at the Bubbledome)
Outside the ground, there was almost no evidence that there was an event of any sort was taking place at the Bubbledome - only a couple of security personnel and an unusually large amount of vehicles in the car park. Considering that parking in the Bubbledome car park was apparently $30, it's doubtful that any of the people who had driven to the Hawthorn vs Richmond game would have parked there, when they could have managed to use the MCG car park for $10
(for the record, one attendee parked near the Yarra; another possibly past Richmond station, like my dad used to do for Olympic Park matches back in the day; me, I took public transport, of course)
Entrance was via Gate 5, which so far as I can tell, is usually reserved for corporate visitors and such. Names and photo IDs were checked off, wristbands allocated (pink for independent media flunkies, blue for South Melbourne associated flunkies) and even metal scanners were used. I suppose if you were going to sell the event as one containing security overkill, you may as well at least try to look the part.
Had I spent less time working on my thesis this week, I may have been able to have some more pre-prepared joke material on hand. As it was, I could only really manage to get the completely obvious Green Seat Elite joke out of the way
And one ad lib (is that even possible on Twitter?), which seemed to resonate more with the general soccer public - another hint to stick to my day job, whatever that is.#PS4NPLVIC game played behind closed doors, or Melbourne Heart match? #boomtish #imhereallweek #tellyourfriends pic.twitter.com/PscGXQ5N5H— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) July 24, 2016
It was, as you'd expect, a very bare bones event. There was a little bit of PS4 NPL Victoria signage behind the goals, but the rest of the sponsor boards - I assume from Melbourne Storm's game the previous night - had been covered over with black plastic. Neither scoreboard was in operation. There were no announcements made over the PA. There was no ball kids. There was no food or drink. There was a fourth official though.So this is what's it's like to be in a league without proper benches. #PS4NPLVIC #mvvsm pic.twitter.com/ZBmeMgAhd8— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) July 24, 2016
Considering there had been a rugby league played just the night before, the ground looked in much better condition than you would have expected - most of the rugby league lines were gone, as were the on field sponsor logos. Generally the surface looked good, although the length of the grass (hi, Johnny A!) meant that balls that would have otherwise kept rolling out of play ended up stalling inside the lines; both team seemed to adapt to this fact fairly quickly.
There were some patches of the ground that were less conducive to good play than others, especially a large patch near the two Bunnings chair furnished bench areas. There were also times where players lost their footing in other parts of the ground. Still, the surface was in much better shape than its Olympic Park counterpart for the 1999 grand final.
Predictably, almost the entire ground was off limits. There was a very narrow space allocated right in the centre of the middle section of the western stand, where all the dignitaries get to sit for important games, cordoned off on both sides. Some media folks wandered around a bit - like Les Street, who got the chance to explore the venue, and some photographers who set up camp behind the goals - but otherwise the 40-50 people in attendance (I didn't do an official count) had enough room to snare a corner for themselves and not have their private conversations overheard by anyone.
The Victory players' parents and assorted flunkies generally sat to the left of the designated seating area, while the South contingent and its flunkies generally sat on the right, although for the second half some of us stood in a 'no standing' area in between. There seemed to be very little interaction between the two groups, except for one Greek speaking dill from the Victory side and one Greek speaking dill from the South side trying to get into an argument for who knows what reason. A stern word put an end to that nonsense pretty quickly.
A few of us managed to have a good, albeit brief post-game chat with the father of Victory's scorer John MacLean (an ex-South junior, among other teams). In general though, the atmosphere was neither that of a pre-season friendly, where people feel free to chat and move about freely, nor that of a ridgy didge match where one could chant, yell or cheer without feeling that you weren't transgressing some unspoken limited bounds of acceptable conduct. Applauding the goals or calling for a handball or card was about as far as most people tended to venture. Even clapping the team off the field seemed to be done more out of habit than overwhelming enthusiasm, though the mediocre performance may have had something to do with that.
(While you couldn't hear the crowd from the MCG, you could hear clearly hear the sirens from there, and from the VFL match at the Punt Road Oval. The seagulls also turned up, but there was nothing for them to eat, so there weren't that many of them.)
As we were leaving - or trying to, at any rate- there were some people visible outside the ground, perhaps looking for Pokemon, only to be told...
Which wasn't true!Security were telling some people walking past Bubbledome at the end of #MVvSM that 'there's no pokemon here' #PS4NPLVIC— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) July 24, 2016
In summary, it was the kind of thing that was fun (barely) to do once, and never again. The one saving grace was not having to deal with Harry the Drummer (who I understand is busy taking the matter to VCAT), but everyone else that should have been entitled to come to this match was sorely missed. There's a time and a place for novelty, but events conducted like this set a bad precedent. Let's hope we don't have to deal with such a situation ever again.@PaulMavroudis there was an Aerodactyl! I caught it! 😆 I have NO idea about Pokemon, but I like trying out apps. pic.twitter.com/LTjjtsRKPv— Michael Dimoudis (@dimoss) July 24, 2016
Though of course, if I can score an invite, I'll still attend.
The match itself
A good deal of you would have seen the game via the stream and thus have at least some part of the experience filtered through the limiting lens of the camera and John Kyrou's commentary, but having not watched the stream myself (yet - I may watch portions of it later), it'd be interesting to see how much the post-game autopsies match up between those at home and those at the ground.
One uncanny similarity which both those at the ground and those at home were the references to last year's Palm Beach FFA Cup loss. Going ahead (even in a similar manner), and getting equalised by an inferior team off pretty much their only attack for the half, with even Chris Taylor's at best uninspiring body language - the parallels were troubling.
Our crossing was again woeful. During the first half, we had so much more of the ball, and so much more territory, that we should have been in a much better position than 1-1 at the break. Victory had stacked their defensive numbers in front of the six yard box, making shots from directly in front of goal hard to get away without being blocked. Had we been able to cross the ball better, this would not have been so much of an issue, but this is how it is for us so far in 2016.
There were times, too, when we managed to take advantage of some sloppy attempts at playing the ball out of the back by Victory, which should have in theory meant that we could test their keeper out without so many numbers in the way; but for whatever reason, we didn't do well on that front either. Victory improved considerably in the second half, making our ramshackle defense look well, even more ordinary than usual all things being equal, and we were fortunate again that we had Nikola Roganovic in goal.
A good thing that we were able to weather that period of mediocrity long enough to finally put the game out of reach - Leigh Minopoulos getting on the scorer's sheet for doing little more than smashing the ball hard and on target and through Victory goalkeeper Spinella's legs; Manolo for cleaning up the scraps after Spinella's save ended up on the edge of the six yard box; and Milos putting away a penalty he was perhaps a little lucky to earn in the first place.
Putting aside the slightly self-righteous notion of the club's reputation in these matters, what was disappointing (and illuminating) were the sub par performances of some of those who in theory have elevated credentials. Some of our players have played A-League, even if briefly; some have ambitions to play in the A-League or higher up. Matt Millar tries hard - if there was an award for player most likely to be mistaken for a crash test dummy, he'd be a lock for the prize - but hasn't produced a match winning performance since very early on in the season. Brad Norton didn't have one of his best game either, but at least he kept trying and was crucially involved in the third goal.
And then there was the People's Champ. Having had enough of the ball in the first half but for not much useful outcome - admittedly not alone on that front - in the second half he took a free kick from the right hand side and some distance out, with the goal of launching it into the mixer. Having failed to get sufficient elevation on the kick, it went to the lone Victory defender in what you might call 'the wall', and Victory counter attacked from that side with the People's Champ performing a customary sulk.
At the time, I was mostly glad that we didn't concede a goal from that situation, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to confirm to me that the People's Champ, like so many other players in our team and at this level - and we have noted it of other players, so it's not just him - have found their level. This far and no further, and all that. Here he was, still I assume holding an ambition of playing at a higher level, playing against a selection of players mostly 2-4 years younger than him who've been specially selected because they want to do the same, and he failed to make his case.
As one smfcboard based observer who watched the game via the club's stream noted, the People's Champ couldn't even blame a hostile (or encouraging!) crowd for it this time. All this while Manolo sits on the bench and waits to come on and clean up the mess in his 20 or so allotted minutes. On the other hand, Matthew Foschini was our best by a mile, reading the play better than just about anyone out there. At some level, superior experience and strength were enough to win the day, and we should be glad for that. We have played better than this in previous weeks and had nothing to show for it; even ladder leading Bentleigh only managed to beat this Victory outfit (or a version thereof) only 2-1.
It must have been strange for Foschini and Millar to be out there playing in a venue where they'd played before so many times, and yet now with just about no one there. It must have been strange, too, for the handful of South people there, who because of their much stricter than mine anti-FFA ethos and with no interest in the other sports that use the venue, were visiting the Bubbledome for the first time.
Some aspects of the performance can be put down to personnel issues or the strange environment, but a lot of it was also strangely familiar so far as this season is concerned. I suppose we should be glad to have earned the three points, maintained second, and kept ourselves still visible as a speck on Bentleigh's rear view mirror.
The best seats in your house
From all reports the live stream provided by South's media team was a success, with a reported reach of 600k (which is pretty good for such short notice), though I have no idea of how many people were actually watching.the game. Judging from the club's Facebook page, it was at least a reasonable amount, whatever a reasonable amount may actually be. It even included some mock chanting!
Standing outside the media box, it was hard to tell what was going on in there, or whether the crew were having problems getting the stream to work in any way, with the booth being more or less soundproof. Communication, if not conducted by phone, was done via the person outside speaking through a bona fide hole in the wall.
I actually regret not taking a picture of the hole in the wall.
Avondale at home on Sunday arvo. I hope to see all of you there now that you are all free to attend again. Because you will be there, right?
For the record
The person responsible for throwing the flare at South fans during this year's FFA Cup match against Altona Magic, has been banned from playing or attending matches for one year.
Around the grounds
Say no to endless reruns of post-Golden Age Simpsons
Saw a tweet about the catch up game between Avondale and Northcote, and after only momentary hesitation about whether it was better to stay inside a warm house watching repeats of stuff that I barely cared about the first time around, I decided to head out to Knights Stadium. I mean, it's only a short drive from my place, and I hadn't been there for so long, and this was a game that could've opened up the relegation battle a bit more. I also thought that maybe They could use an extra person in attendance, even if I didn't pay to get because of my media pass, but on that point the crowd was actually rather good. I mean, rather good by Avondale vs Northcote standards, and more or less what you'd expect even if this was a weekend instead of a weeknight clash. All that was left to ruin the night was a disappointing game, but even that didn't happen. Northcote had the better of most of this game, should have scored when the keeper was stranded - instead hitting the post - and even managed to find a second wind in pursuance of its pressing game through astutely timed substitutions. All that effort was almost for nothing though, as they saw numerous low and high crosses fail to be converted. Avondale for their part looked OK at times, mounting the odd counter attack and looking dangerous from set pieces; but on the whole they were poor, unable to play out from the back or maintain possession for long periods of time. Still, the point earned for them here is probably worth more than Northcote's point.
Can it really be considered a genuine top tier Victorian league match if there's no Dodgy Asian Betting guy reporting on it? If the DAB rep was there, he was doing a good job of hiding, though not so good a job of reporting the goalscorers.