Monday, 4 July 2016

Have a go, ya mugs! South Melbourne 2 Hume City 2

I'm finishing this off on a Monday because of a brutal weekend spent laid up with a cold, and one side-trip to the bloody supermarket. Through the haze I'm trying to remember what happened on Friday, and I keep returning to one key thing - that the experience of the game was fun.

Now there's lots of ways you can have fun at South Melbourne but watching the team, in particular this iteration of it with its patented Taylor Tendencies (I was going to say Taylorist, but that's something a little different), isn't always one of them. And we know this because our most vocal internet people keep telling us that we are hard to watch, all while many of those looking way up high to where we sit on the ladder wonder how you can be top of the table and not be having fun.

Now people wanted more entertainment, but I'm not quite sure that they wanted it in this way. Chaotic defending, heroic goalkeeping (again) by Nikola Roganovic and spurned chances; end to end football, heart in mouth moments and South being just a few centimetres from a third goal late on which would have torn the roof off the joint.

Sitting at my keyboard tapping this out with a bad cold, and having made the very poor decision to further compound my headache by playing Mr Bungle's Disco Volante album yesterday, somehow I've still come out of this match in an optimistic mood. If nothing else, we may have figured out this one important fact - that as rubbish as our defending can be at times, the defenses of opposition sides are equally prone to making mistakes and looking all at sea - and that maybe all we need to do is be more assertive or forceful in testing the limits of opposition defenses.

A new banner by the bloke behind the Tibbzy FC youtube account. Nice to
have a new banner on hand, even if I don't agree with the message - not just
for economic reasons, but also because I'd rather South get into the A-League
and then burn the drawbridge, locking ourselves inside. Photo: Gains.
That's not how everyone's seeing this, and that's totally OK. I get it. How much more obvious is it that two up front is better than one solitary Lujic? When are we going to settle on what our midfield looks like? Will Iqi Jawadi ever be forgiven for whatever his indiscretions have been? Why are we persisting with short corners to the point where we almost conceded a goal from one on Friday night?

But that's only part of the story. Some have decided that Hume were the better team, with numerous chances to put us away, especially in the first half. But I would counter that with Lujic having his one on one chance saved, and the header that hit the post, with the scramble that couldn't put the ball away.

Like in the game against Richmond, we moved the ball quickly, looking to take advantage of the complacency of sides who feel that you should just sit back and set up, because South Melbourne won't play in quickly (except from a damn short corner). Sometimes this resulted in long ball after long ball, and that would have been hard to watch. But sometimes those long balls worked, sometimes they led to the opposition making errors, and sometimes we even managed to get the ball moving towards advantage along the ground. Whatever else, our last two or three weeks have seen our attacking maneuvers portray a sense of unpredictability and versatility.

At 1-1 at halftime, there's an argument to be had that we were lucky to be level, what with our getting an equaliser via a fortunate penalty. Yeah, maybe, sure, possibly? I don't know. Can you make your own luck? Does it even matter? Are we so obsessed with the how that we forget about the how many? Do we, like, even have a midfield? Maybe. But gathering our thoughts together, we remember, that South Melbourne is about results + style + entertainment. Results is points on the board, entertainment is goals and action, but style in the South Melbourne Hellas sense is about attitude - the attitude that South Melbourne Hellas should fear no opponent in this country and play its football accordingly, if not with perfect technique then at the very least with ambition.

The introduction of Manolo changed the game. Of course it did. All of a sudden the best player available to either side on the night was on the field, and playing forward in support of Lujic. One can gush about his talent on the ball, but what is of equal importance is his zeal for the contest. That cross to Lujic which saw us take the lead wasn't just an example of perfect placement, but proof of the importance of having a red hot go; Manolo is out-sprinting and out-working opponents and teammates alike.

The People's Champ, who has improved in that regard (albeit from a very low base), could learn a lot about what it takes to be a professional footballer, but also a South Melbourne Hellas style footballer, from Manolo's example. There were, again, too many petulant moments where his body language magnified his lack of effort and apparent self-loathing. All this while Taylor's attempts in 2016 to play the People's Champ more centrally have started bearing some fruit. Passion and effort aren't enough though, and there's something to be said for keeping your head. Even given Hume's penchant for scoring soon after conceding, giving up the equaliser straight for the kickoff was a horrendous moment. Not much better was Tim Mala's straight red card. What was the point of that exactly?

That last ten minutes was the best football we have played for some time. Three glorious chances to score, scuppered alternately by Hume's defensive desperation, imprecise finishing and finally the woodwork. It is fair to say we have been waiting all season for Marcus Schroen to hit a shot like that, which I suppose is much easier for him to do if he's in front of goal instead out wide. It may have been unjust to have snared all three points, but there are bigger things to focus on. The team, possibly because of the humiliation of the Bentleigh FFA Cup, clearly has some fight left in it. As important has been the change in attitude. Whether it has come from Taylor or from the players themselves, there is clear evidence now that we would rather attack than sit back.

That of course doesn't mean there isn't huge room for improvement. The team set up, with Mala at centre-back, and some of the very shoddy defending on Friday night, won't be as fortunate in future matches, but you've got to start (or in thus case, re-start) somewhere. But remembering some of the most important things about what made this club great in the first place - the willingness by its players to have fun, to display a zest for the game and show no fear - will at least give the team a chance.

Next week
Bentleigh away on Friday night, without Lujic (five yellow cards) and Mala (for the straight red). Does this mean that Koroma gets another go t right back? Will Taylor (or his stand in for the night, Chris Marshall) start Michael Eagar? Is Kristian Konstantinidis any closer to making a return? And who's going to play up front?

Those wishing to use public transport to and from Kingston Heath should be aware that there are significant disruptions to the Frankston line as part of the removal of four level crossings. Take that into account when planning your journey to and from the ground.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and you know what, I traveled down both of them, just because I could (and that made absolutely no difference)
Last week we asked what the deal was with the split path carpet shenanigans leading out of the players' race. We got no answer. This week, in addition to still wondering what the deal with the split paths is, South of the Border is asking what was the deal with the two teams taking the same branch on Friday night? Was that because of the night's charity theme? Has inspiration for the split paths been taken from somewhere else? Are we channeling or satirising Robert Frost here?

Is the honeymoon over?
The new security mob who have replaced Blue Thunder have had very little to do with Clarendon Corner thus far, but they did come by for a visit on Friday night during the first half. I don't know what was said during the heated conversation, but people weren't happy. Whether it was because of an official instruction from the club (I thought the recent pre-game warnings on anti-social behaviour were new, but others assure me they are not) or done of security's own volition I do not know. There was also an altercation of sorts on the other side of the players' race in the second half, but I'm not sure who was involved with that or what it was about.

Victory tribunal decision
Well the tribunal result finally came in, and there's a sort of resigned sense of disappointment at the outcome. A six point deduction for this season, a 12 month suspended six point sentence, and no fine.

Some have attempted to frame the disappointment and anger about the perceived leniency of the tribunal decision as being about 'bitters vs the new dawn', and it would be foolish to deny that there's not an element of that embedded in the reaction. But it's more complicated than that, and to limit it to the confines of a niche ideological skirmish misses the broader picture - which is what is the place, function and treatment of a top-flight, wealthy and privately owned team like Victory in FFV competitions, especially when compared to the treatment meted out to community owned clubs?

Rightly or wrongly, the perception among at least some of those interested in senior men's football in Victoria is that over the years Victory have a received a very fair deal from FFV. Branding, co-operation, advertising - with the most extreme notion being that FFV has seen promoting Victory as the easiest way of promoting its own operations - while those at community clubs still wonder what their annual fees - and fines - go towards when they themselves have to pay for refs and facilities, as well as performing functions such as filling in scores, self-promotion, etc.

It's also an environment where an increase in fines was used not only as a draconian deterrent for poor behaviour, but also as a means of correcting a dismal financial position at FFV. Seen within this context, you can see why people in the lower reaches wanted to see a very specific outcome in this tribunal case - one which was as near as possible equivalent to that received by Dandenong Thunder for the troubles at the 2012 grand final. That would mean not only a large point deduction,but also closed door matches and a massive fine. Instead, FFV limited themselves to the point deduction, for a team already staring down the barrel at relegation following a long run of poor results.

But how FFV's tribunal got to that decision is what's most important. We need to remember, first, that FFV's tribunal does not use precedent as part of its decision making process. That in itself means that there is a large amount of leeway available to them when making a decision.

For instance, in this case, the tribunal has cited the co-operation given by Victory and its guilty plea as a mitigating factor, as compared with Thunder's inability (or refusal?) to name the relevant culprits. This line of thinking is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, there is talk - which has been claimed to be from those in attendance at the tribunal hearing - that Victory initially pleaded 'not guilty' to the charges, and then changed their plea (is this what is referred to when "After an initial discussion with the panel"?). Second, they get credit for identifying those persons responsible for the attack on the South Melbourne fans - this is despite the fact that South Melbourne had already done much of the legwork in identifying the culprits - including compiling a dossier.

Now it's possible that Victory had done its own homework in identifying those responsible, but there are also question marks about that. Those supporter marshals of theirs in attendance at the Lakeside game - would they not have known the identities of at least some of those responsible? Would they have been able to identify the culprits without the services of the surveillance equipment at Lakeside, as well the the work of the South fans and independent journos who took photos and footage? And what would have happened had this occurred at a ground - such as Epping, for argument's sake - where those surveillance facilities were not available?

The delays in dealing with the matter have also caused consternation. Knowing that a repeat of the violence at Lakeside was possible at the following week's Victory vs Knights game at Epping, FFV did not create a closed door situation, and in part this lead to violent incident which occurred at that game - an incident which has no yet been dealt with by FFV - and has served inadvertently as a free hit to those people who wanted to act up this and potentially any other game which followed the Lakeside game but before the tribunal decision was handed down.

(As an aside, it also makes you wonder why Victory's matches against South and Knights were played in consecutive weeks. The thinking may have been to get them out of the way in as short a space of time as possible, but that probably should have been measured against the potential of violence at either of those fixtures. This is not to say that violence should be expected at such fixtures, but clearly the potential for it to occur was factored into the security arrangements at the Lakeside match. Why not then space those games out, so that in the event that something like this did occur, there would be sufficient time to deal with it both in a tribunal setting and in time for the next 'high risk' fixture.)

The language used by FFV is also problematic. Take this for example.
Mr Robson, the club Chief Executive gave evidence about the attitude of the club to the behaviour. He was a credible and respected Chief Executive of a sporting club that is in an unfortunate and difficult position. He said that the violence that occurred was abhorrent to Melbourne Victory. It was and is a successful football club with many more supporters than those who misbehaved. It has a turnover of in the vicinity of $19 million and spends “a significant six figure sum” on security at its games. 
It almost seems as if the tribunal is falling over itself to separate the conduct of Victory's management from its supporters. This is an approach that is so rare (almost to the point of fawning), that it is hard to imagine it ever being applied to community owned clubs, many of which have had onerous fines placed upon them due to the actions of rogue supporters or individuals. As I noted on Twitter last week after first reading the judgment, the tribunal's reasoning to leads one to the conclusion that,
The reasons for the lack of a fine are also somewhat bizarre,
We have elected not to fine Melbourne Victory for what occurred for four reasons. First we accept the credible evidence of Mr McLeod and Mr Robson that fines will have no detrimental effect.
So has the tribunal elected not to fine Victory because Victory is so wealthy that fines have no impact on them, or because the supporters involved don't care? If it is the former, then that is a case of discrimination based on how much money a club has. If it is the latter, then why bother giving Victory's youth team any punishment? After all, those responsible clearly couldn't care less about the impact of their actions on Victory's youth team. Neither would Victory's management be particularly fussed about the point deduction, because they were probably on course for relegation anyway.
Second, Melbourne Victory took all reasonable steps to prevent that which ultimately occurred.
It is hard to know what happened here, as little information is provided, beyond the existence of meetings in the lead up to the game. It is likely we will never know what 'all reasonable steps' means.
Third, it is their staff members who are responsible for gathering the evidence that has led to 17 spectators being banned from the game.
As we have noted already, South Melbourne had already compiled and submitted a dossier of many (20+ names) of those involved in the incident, which included some ex-South Melbourne fans and people banned from South matches, and yet South Melbourne's contribution to this gets scarce mention, if any mention at all in this ruling. The reasoning for the six point deduction is also strange:
As a matter of deterrence, and to support the objectives of the GDT, if supporters of clubs see that clubs will be penalised for violent supporter behaviour then supporters will exert social pressure on each other not to misbehave and particularly not to be violent. If their fellow spectators know who they are, they will hopefully identify them for the benefit of the FFV and the Victoria Police. To do otherwise might penalise the team that they support. Presently, it is only due to the hard work of the Club that 17 wrongdoers have been identified. If the supporters knew that the conduct of the unruly supporters might affect the team that they all support, then they might assist the FFV and Victoria Police in stamping out this behaviour. If the supporters were aware that their behaviour might cause the team to suffer a penalty then they might calm each other down rather than winding each other up and inflaming the situation, which is what occurred
It is strange because as we have noted earlier, those responsible and their friends have little concern about the league fate of this wing of Victory. They had misbehaved in several other matches subsequent to the incident at Ballarat last year, including dislodging corner flags (and therefore interfering with the match and match day operations), and yet little to nothing was done by supporters, their own club or FFV to stamp out this behaviour and weed out the troublemakers.

In addition. point deductions as a deterrent may work for community clubs, in at least forcing them to get rid of those responsible for bad behaviour at games, but within the self-described 'ultras' segment of football support that the guilty Victory fans have found themselves in, it is likely to have no impact at all. That group defines itself by its (supposed) rigid independence from the club and their support for Victory as being far more meaningful than that offered by other supporters. Most Victory supporters, who have nothing to do with and no interest in their NPL team, are probably oblivious to what has occurred.

In that sense, neither docking Victory's NPL team points nor fining them nor having them play games behind closed doors will have any meaningful impact. In which case, why not impose all three punishments, as happened to Dandenong Thunder? To my mind, the only punishment that could possibly create an impact is to go after Victory's A-League team, by docking that side points (they are, I believe, already on a three point suspended sentence there). Of course that was always extremely unlikely to happen, but that is the only hope of things changing: that these supporters do enough damage to the one thing that matters to all of their supporters - the points tally of the A-League team - that the vast majority of sensible supporters say enough is enough.

Further adding to the confusing nature of this result are the lack of charges thrown towards South Melbourne and our supporters. Whatever one's thoughts on self-defense - its applicability, where one may draw the line into what is self-defense and what isn't - the usual procedure, or perhaps better worded as 'the usual outcome', is to go hard after both sides for an incident such as this. Yet the tribunal was at pains to emphasise that one side - Victory - was the aggressor, and that the other - South Melbourne - was the victim, to the point where the premeditated nature of the attack is acknowledged,
Some of the spectators must have known that the South Melbourne banner was to be stolen (as this was approximately 150 metres across the pitch from where they were sitting) and that their support could be required. Many of them had clothing and sunglasses to cover their faces. The game was played in warm conditions and at night. There was no need for sunglasses or clothing to cover faces. This meant that the process of identifying the wrongdoers has been made all the more difficult.
This is not the kind of outcome or reasoning that one sees very often in FFV tribunal decisions. Given that the acts of violence and theft were premeditated, one would have hoped for a more significant punishment.

Lastly, it is interesting to note also that Blue Thunder security, the security company in charge for the day, get no mention whatsoever in the tribunal report. Security gets very little mention at all in fact, though there is the odd nod towards security failures,
Notwithstanding the agreed increased standards of security, the banned spectators
gained entry and other spectators were not safe
How those banned supporters managed to get into Lakeside is not elaborated upon in the tribunal's report. One is left with the feeling that, as much as what took place on the day was important, how things got to that stage was not considered as important, except where the tribunal could find ways to mitigate Victory's responsibility.

How much any club can control every single one of its supporters, regardless of whether they are players, coaches, frequent attendees or once in a blue moon trouble makers, has always been the question at the heart of such matters. That there could have been more effort made to prevent certain people from attending this match for instance, is without doubt - but would that have necessarily prevented others from acting up on the day? Or the next week?

But this is the environment that the vast majority of teams at this level live in. They are considered responsible for any (usually spontaneous) trouble caused by rogue supporters, or by anyone even vaguely affiliated with one of the teams. Thus the attempts by FFV to be seen to not be critical of Victory,
A superficial reading of this decision might lead to a conclusion that we are critical of Melbourne Victory. We are not. 
are perhaps the most troubling aspect of the whole experience. So many clubs attend tribunal sessions already feeling that they have already been found guilty. That once in the tribunal space, their side of the story is not given any respect. That the actions of sometimes unknown individuals (for example in the cases of those who light flares, often in - ironically - poorly lit and poorly patrolled venues), can have consequences for a club as a whole, with scarcely any sympathetic noises being made by the tribunal. The feeling is that by pleading guilty, even when you think have a legitimate case, that at least you get out of there quickly and on to figuring out how you're going to pay the fine.

And then you see the FFV tribunal seemingly falling over itself to find excuses and platitudes for an organisation that is better organised and better resourced than almost any soccer team in the state, and thus surely able to defend itself far better than most. To have those 17 supporters from that team be tried and banned, and the results initially posted without any mention as to which to team they were associates of, until - perhaps coincidentally - attention was brought to that fact.

The tribunal's decision, based on their reasoning, may have been technically correct. But justice also has to deal with the matterof  perception. If the general Victorian soccer public perceive that one group - whether that's an A-League team or NPL team - is getting more favourable treatment from the tribunal than another group, then that is not a good look for the game in this state.

Final thought
Harry Lookofsky's album Stringsville is not jazz. Discuss.

14 comments:

  1. Good work, Paul.

    But, I read a rumour on twitter earlier today/last night that in NSW they are EXPANDING the top division from 12 to 14.

    Whilst the VIC top division is already at 14, and therefore will nearly certainly remain at 14 rather than increase to say, 16, it makes you wonder ever so slightly about the merits of ONLY applying a points penalty.

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    1. As always, it will be interesting to see how the parallel universe of NSW soccer handles high profile/highly combustible fixtures in future - though given the more ready use of the behind closed doors/members mantra in Sydney, there's a good chance that nothing will happen at all.

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  2. I forgot to mention Taylor making a very uncharacteristic early double substitution in this match. An interesting move.

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  3. The franchise comment that it turns over 19 million and spends 6 figures on security.
    If they are spending 6 figures on security why were they unable to prevent such morons from attending at Lakeside(surely the marshals could have identified troublemakers when gaining entry to Lakeside)? Given the small numbers they have attending NPL it should have not been an issue. Perhaps the biggest indictment on there so called fans is that they were not allowed in at the home game against Knights.Says it all really.

    If i was Dandenong Thunder i would be baffled and hoping for a refund and some compensation for lost revenue.

    The FFV need to stand up and f@ck them and Heart(or whatever they are called this season)off out of the Victorian football pyramid.

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  4. Rock Banyon taught me jazz men don't need to do no strings record.

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  5. At what point does South publicly call out MV and FFV?

    When do the other clubs jump on and condemn this farcical tribunal finding?

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    1. 1. I think never, in part because I think South did well out of this case itself - because regardless of whether someone thinks they had no charge to argue, the usual practice is to go hard after anyone involved in a brawl such as this.

      2. Also never.

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  6. Good dissection, but then... nothing? I think the conclusion your reaching is a bit of a 'gloss over' on the general behaviour of the FFV to clubs like hellas. A state federation set up by structure to support a particular club ahead of others is beyond laughable and if interest in our league wasn't so pitiful and the clubs had a slightly larger following, then we'd have the energy to mount a good case with authorities in both football (international) and in society (legal system). Alas, it's not likely and they know it. However, in the case of this blog which I certainly expect to be somewhat of a bulwark, it seems there's an element of growing immunity towards the blatant and constant unfairness. Studs up Paul.

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    1. I understood while writing this that it probably wouldn't satisfy those looking for something with a bit more bloodlust. And there's probably an article that could be written that would tackle the issue from that angle. Maybe I'm in a jaded place, but I also think that a fire and brimstone approach would be a bit too kneejerk, a bit too 2007,

      But one of the things that I got out of this process was the sense of futility among the soccer community in the wash-up. We expected a crappy result, we got one, life goes on. With regards to Victory and Heart being in NPL at all, there's little that FFV - even with a board that's less sympathetic to them - can do to oust them, because their inclusion is part of a broader FFA initiative, with consequences for not including those franchises in the state comps.

      I also don't agree that the current FFV board would be happy with this result, but the tribunal is meant to be independent, regardless of former CEO Peter Gome's chats with Ian Robson prior to the tribunal hearing. (and I have it on good authority that he was let go not for any intimation of improper conduct on that front, but because FFV, having emerged from a dodgy financial period, is genuinely looking to go in another direction and felt that a different CEO would be better for that).

      Rather than a structural issue in terms of favouring the Victory, I think what has existed at FFV has been a cultural reflex to please them. Management especially perhaps saw Victory (and pleasing Victory) as an easy way of promoting the game.

      I think there's also an aspect in which South itself would be pleased with elements of this result. Putting our biases and arguments about self-defense aside for a moment, I think had something like this happened at a lower league game, then the tribunal would have found a way to go after both sides.

      If that sounds like I think this tribunal decision has the whiff of contrivance, that's because I do. But it's the contrivance of a number of parties, and not just one.

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    2. I agree 100% that this is all to be expected and there is certainly no reason to lose sleep over it. As you say, life goes on. But likewise on the flipside life should go on the same for us and we stay militant.

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  7. And, where/what was it from which The Mack returned?

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    1. I don't know! But I bet if you put that question on a t-shirt, you could make a mint selling it to ironic nostalgia obsessed millenials and assorted hipsters.

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  8. Agree with your sentiments Paul regarding the Victory tribunal decision. Any Thunder supporter would be livid with the punishment that was handed out to the franchise. Fortunately, the Club was able to navigate its way through this quagmire, and not be dragged into this mess.

    As for the Hume match, it was great to see the intensity and energy levels of the South players. It was something that had been missing for the last few months. However, that said, our defensive effort at times was embarrassing. To conceded so quickly after going ahead in the second half was down to pathetic and non existent marking and loss of concentration.

    The referee from the Hume match completely and utterly lost control of the match and was actually not only frustrating the fans, but the players as well. He belongs in the Sunday morning suburban kick arounds, officiating Under 9s matches.

    Paul - your thoughts on how we will fare on Friday - No Lujic, no Mala, no CT. Can we pull off the great escape?

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    1. I'm not one for making match predictions. I tend to expect the worst, hope for the best, and attempt to make sense of the carnage after the fact.

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While I like people commenting on the blog, it would be useful if different posters could at least leave some sort of nickname to make it easier to sort through all the different 'anonymous' posters. If your post doesn't get approved straight away, it's probably because I haven't seen it yet. Lastly, just because I approve a comment for publication does not mean that I endorse its content.