Sleep was hard to come by the night before the game, but the nerves only really kicked in about 11:30 on Sunday morning as I was on the train on my way to the Limerick Arms for the pre-match drinks session. It took a while for people to filter towards the pub - the late start maybe dissuaded people from getting there at noon - but soon enough there was a good turnout there, with plebs and civic leaders paying due homage if you know what I mean.
There was some good chanting from those who felt like chanting before a game, politeness shown towards the elderly couple who had to make their way through the crowd outside the pub, and hilarious gags such as,
'Hey, we should change our name to Social Media FC - we'd still be able to use the SMFC acronym.'And one other heinous joke about making a movie about South's overcoming adversity in 2016 that's probably not fit for print.
|What's the hubbub? Did Taylor finally get the sack?|
Apart from several moments of skill and close combination play by the usual suspects, I don't think it was the highest standard match - last year's contest had a lot more quality I felt - but it will be remembered within Victorian soccer circles as a classic in its own right for the non-stop entertainment it provided. Both sides hit the woodwork on multiple occasions, forced good saves, had shots cleared off the line and were prone to the kinds of mistakes which made fans of the two sides and neutrals alike feel like a goal was never far away. Otherwise, there was a nervousness to much of the ball control, with players preferring to clear the ball rather than take control of possession in situations where they probably could have done so. Even defensively, South especially looked cautious, and unwilling to go hard at Oakleigh's attacking players, which was concerning at the time - one realises now, with the benefit of hindsight, that probably only part of that was due to the skill and size of Oakleigh's attackers, and that we were being cautious not to give away fouls anywhere near the edge of the box.
|Whoo! South rule!|
Getting that goal could have served to settle our nerves, but instead Oakleigh managed to pull the goal back soon afterwards, after another one of those 'moments'. An out of position Brad Norton, way upfield, instead of holding his ground went in for an all or nothing challenge and came out of that with nothing - less than nothing in fact as Oakleigh exploited the space Norton had left behind to score the equalising goal. At that point - midway through the first half - I was hoping that we could somehow get to halftime level and reboot from there. Credit to the team however that they managed to work their way back into the contest in the final five minutes of the half.
No one thought we'd score from the free kick - we've barely got close over the past five years - but Schroen managed to get closer than I'd anticipated, hitting the top of the crossbar. His curling shot right on halftime also smacked into the post, and should have been at least attempted to be hit back at goal instead of (and I'm not sure who it was of our players) being responded to by turning around in anguish or disappointment.
I thought that we would carry that momentum into the second half, but Oakleigh again were the better team. Yet we took the lead again, thanks to a pinpoint cross by the People's Champ to Marcus Schroen, who nodded home from close range. Schroen will justifiably get the plaudits for the goal, and he did end up winning the Jimmy Rooney medal for his performance as our most important player going forward, but it was a great maneuver from Nick Epifano, exploiting the lack of speed of the Oakleigh defender (and perhaps his belief that the People's Champ would cut in on his right?) crossing on his non-preferred left foot into just the right spot.
Nikola Roganovic was then forced to make two clutch saves, one from long range from Dean Piemonte tipped wide for a corner, and one from a medium range Goran Zoric effort which Roganovic tipped onto the crossbar. The bloke who had almost singlehandedly kept us within touching distance of the minor premiership for far longer than we had any right to stepped up big time when it counted. If it is to be his last game for us - some have hinted he may hang up the gloves - than I am glad that he's been able to secure a championship while playing for us.
Our third goal was from another throw in, although this had a little bit of a sense of a set play about it. Minopoulos' superior game sense - the mere fact of his being on the field lifts the collective soccer IQ of our team by a significant margin - saw him nod the ball down to Schroen who smashed home his own volley. After that we should have absolutely hammered them. One sequence of play which saw at least three attempts from more or less point blank range rebuffed was the height of madness; at the other end, Oakleigh kept plugging away, while we were at times camped in our own half, unable to clear the ball on occasion except in the most comical of fashions. And as much stick as we've all given stick to Tim Mala for his downturn in form this season, thank goodness he was on the line to clear that shot which could have turned things on their head once again.
In this season of red cards in South games it was fitting that the game ended the way it did, with a red card to Oakleigh's Adrian Chiapetta, followed by a late Oakleigh goal which had us squirming for another thirty seconds. Once again, we were scored against by a team with a numerical disadvantage, even in this case where there were just moments left in between the dismissal and the end of the game.
The final whistle for some was the time to celebrate, but for me it was a chance to feel some relief. It has been a chaotic, sometimes exhilarating but mostly frustrating season. There were huge wins, especially early in the season which gave us a sense of false hope; theheavy losses, some of them absolutely devastating - Richmond away, Heidelberg away, Bentleigh away twice, Avondale at home where we looked desultory; the three point deduction, no FFA Cup run, the fact that we had not beaten a top six side for the whole second half of the year until we beat Gully in the last round.
Added to that was the fact that we were playing awful, ugly football, which we had accepted two years ago because it by and large worked and because we had been starved of success, but which we were now over because it was slightly less successful and we wanted to be entertained and to have two up front as a minimum. To his credit Chris Taylor made the necessary adjustments, managed the interferences and the egos and got the team clicking at the right time of the season. Beating the Knights and Pascoe Vale, then knocking off four finalists in a row, and snaring the title could only have realistically come about with a change in mindset, or as Nicholas Tsiaras said, Taylor embracing his inner gambler.
So apart from the satisfaction of winning the title, Taylor gets the joy of knowing he has overcome his detractors, some of whom clearly had no idea what they're were talking about. Although to be fair to people who can't remember all the way back to July 2016, I did hint at the possibility that things could get better, and that a more attacking, risky approach would pay dividends in a season where finals would be the final (ahem) arbiter of the 2016 champion.
While we can enjoy the anarchic spectacle of a Chris Taylor side actually playing attacking football (and try to convince ourselves that maybe this approach will pay off in the finals)Which just goes to show that if you hold every opinion possible at one stage or another, even though you'll always be wrong, you'll always be right, too. All of which keeps the universe in balance.
Apparently not quite as many managed to get into the change rooms for the celebrations as in 2014 - probably for the best to be honest, as things got very claustrophobic that night.
|Suitably blurry photograph of the post-match celebrations.|
Photo: Paul Mavroudis. But seriously, why would anyone else want to claim it?
No social club and a late finish meant that once again celebrations after the game at the Limerick Arms were fairly low key, before I assume many of the players, coaches, board members and support headed out to a nightspot or two.
Speaking of a lack of a social club, even our replacement social club the Limerick Arms almost failed us, when a dishwasher caught fire, forcing the temporary evacuation of the premises.
.@smfc just no luck with even makeshift social clubs - Limerick Arms dishwasher is on fire #ambivalent #ps4nplvic pic.twitter.com/EfI14VzfXv— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) September 11, 2016
Although the fact that the harebrained rumour that managed to take hold, that someone had thrown a flare into the dishwasher, causing said fire, doesn't say much for the gullibility of some people. To be honest, the less said about how staff members allegedly tried to put out the fire, the better. Drink service resumed, though the kitchen was out of action. A trip down the road to a local Greek restaurant and sponsor of the club for a takeaway souv also saw us come up short. At least one could find comfort in having won a record tenth Victorian title.Firefighters dousing a dishwasher outside the Limerick Arms #SMvOC #PS4NPLVIC pic.twitter.com/AEX6yNr1YM— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) September 11, 2016
Match day operations fail / Neutral venue chat
Once the venue for the grand final had been announced, and especially once it was known that South would be one of the two competing teams, most people without a rampant hatred of South Melbourne or who sought to play down the significance of the grand final as Victorian soccer's 'showpiece event' (blecch) were begging FFV to open up the northern stand to spectators. They didn't listen, they didn't organise with the State Sports Centres Trust to do so, and didn't that make them look like fools on the day.
But even before that there were massive issues outside the gate with long lines and the return of the tedious Ticketmaster ticket sales process, who were reportedly printing off tickets one by one instead of having a whole stack of them pre-printed and ready to go. That dire process as well as having too few ticket booths open meant that there were scores of people who didn't get into the ground until 20 minutes after kickoff.
Of course, one can note the advice given to pre-purchase tickets
but the reality is that not everyone reads this blog (hard to believe, I know), and most of those in attendance yesterday only visit Lakeside when a big crowd is expected, which is seldom the case these days.Worth the $5 booking fee? I think so. pic.twitter.com/reall7L451— Est1959 (@Est1959) September 11, 2016
Credit to FFV president Kimon Taliadoros for fronting up and apologising, and throwing the gates open, but it makes one wonder how we even got to this point. Were they going off last year's crowd of about 3,500, when Bentleigh Greens brought almost no fans to the game? Did they not take seriously the idea that Oakleigh may try and bring some support of their own to this game, or that there may be a lot of neutrals, especially leftover from the curtain raiser?
So, far too many people were squeezed into one stand - and in front of the stand - when there was a perfectly good stand on the other side waiting to be used. Eventually they let patrons use the concrete terracing behind the goals at the scoreboard end, and finally during the second half managed to get organised enough to open the other stand.Amazing crowd at @nplvictoria GF tonight. 👏🏻 to all who attended & to many more who watched online. #PS4NPLVIC pic.twitter.com/lx5oWDvrGg— Anthony Grima (@anthonygrima) September 11, 2016
That didn't make up for the absurd lines for food and drink (again, greatly underestimating the crowd, and to make matters worse, the loukoumades people didn't turn up either like they said they would). As noted by the Heidelberg supporting 'redboots' on soccer forum:Sense prevails as other side is opened! #FANSGRATEFUL @KimonTaliadoros @footballliam! #ps4nplvic #aleague #SMvOC pic.twitter.com/OcYYJhJuAu— Mike (@smfcmike) September 11, 2016
Surely at an event like this you invite people to either bid or tender for the placement of their food vans... For fuck's sake, Melbourne is the King of man bun wearing food vendors and even one other van would've made a world of difference.... A spit going with gyro would've made a difference...Apart from FFV losing a huge chunk of cash - the 'official' crowd of 4,211 would have been nowhere the real crowd number (perhaps only 80%) considering how many people were let in for free - but also a lot of goodwill, too. The large crowd - which included a fair amount of neutrals - at least put those in their place who, however jokingly, suggested that Kingston Heath or Broadmeadows would have been a more appropriate venue.
Now whether the match should have been played at a neutral venue is another matter - and Gus Tsolakis let FFV board members and staff know his opinion after the game - but underselling the importance of the grand final by playing it at second and third tier venues, with limited shelter, limited seating and poor viewing angles is the last thing we need.
But with most suitable venues - and there really are only three suitable venues, being AAMI Park, Lakeside and at a pinch Knights Stadium - needing to be booked in advance, what happens if they do step up and host the game at AAMI Park, and we have another game with two minnow teams in terms of support? People will be lining up to kick FFV for wasting everyone's money. And what if they played the game at Knights Stadium and the surface was stuffed?
Short of a marquee fixture like a combination of Knights-South-Heidelberg, Lakeside is on most occasions the most appropriate place to hold the NPL grand final. Seeing as that is the case, the point is then to not skimp on the extras when using the venue. Designed for crowds up to 10,000, it can comfortably hold 5,000+ plus patrons as long as you don't try to squeeze them into the space of 3,500.
Finally, the game is not played in the stands, or on paper, it is played on grass - and in Lakeside's case, a regulation sized field - which to be fair, may be alienating for sides that don't have grass or a regulation sized field. Quite where the advantage for South is supposed to come into it, I don't know. It's also true that Oakleigh has beaten us just once in our designated home games in the league and cup since 2006, including venues as disparate as Bob Jane Stadium, Lakeside Stadium, Northcote and Kingston Heath; but let's not forget, this is the club that once forfeited a game against us for spurious reasons.
Some brief thoughts on the atmosphere
Felt better last year, probably because last year's crowd was almost entirely South fans, whereas this year was much more mixed, with a healthy neutral attendance. I didn't like the fact that some people kept trying to start anti-Oakleigh chants - they were the underdog in this game, so why the reference to them choking? - and besides which, isn't it better if we try and support and pay attention to our team? There was a decent cheer for the Oakleigh goal, and the chanting from Clarendon Corner often had a disjointed, nervous quality to it, probably in reaction to the nature of the contest and the context of the season. But I prefer that compared to non-reactive monotonous chants that seem to have no connection to the game as it's being played out. Best chant was 'thanks for beating Bentleigh', which probably contradicts a point I made earlier within this paragraph, but at least it had a self-referential honesty to it.
There were the usual array of banners, including a couple of small throw over ones, but I liked this Super Mario one best, even if I think a Sonic the Hedgehog who is naturally blue would work better.
Lucky me though
I had forgotten my media pass at home, but luckily Tony came by the pub with some complimentary tickets courtesy of his connection to St Albans Dinamo.
Some folk were concerned that perhaps we could get fined for the flare that was ripped late in the affair in the north west corner of the ground (possibly thrown over the fence?), but my sources say that won't be the case.A bit of colour at the final whistle at Lakeside Stadium. #PS4NPLVIC #SMvOC pic.twitter.com/2ct27lridZ— Les Street (@official_lesdog) September 11, 2016
Media coverage - it was actually good!
In times past when our club mattered beyond the feelings of its own supporters, one of the great joys of winning a match was digesting the post-match news feeds. Of course over the past decade we have been starved of this joy, even following championship wins. This grand final however had what was for Victorian soccer some pretty decent mainstream coverage, especially after the fact. The oft-maligned (not least by South of the Border) Michael Lynch got in three pieces in The Age - one on the game itself, one on Jimmy Rooney medalist Marcus Schroen, and one with Chris Taylor about the staleness of the A-League and its recruiting. The Herald Sun's David Davutovic also got a report in on the game.
As for Neos Kosmos, their traditional early deadlines have seen them so far only put up a perfunctory summary in Greek online - one would expect more material in the Thursday print edition. I don't have a copy of the Neos Kosmos edition which reportedly had a photo of Clarendon Corner/South fans away at Oakleigh from earlier this season, which reportedly had the caption claiming they were Oakleigh fans.
There was also a live stream provided by FFV on Facebook, which managed to get about 1,000 viewers apparently. I don't know what the quality of the stream was like, but one complaint was it should have been in Youtube, like the NPL NSW grand final, which would have made it more accessible. A fair point, I reckon.
Gold Medal night round up
Last week we managed to pick up some awards. Matt Millar won the young player of the year award, Milos Lujic was officially presented with his golden boot prize, while Jimmy Armstrong was inducted into the FFV Hall of Fame. Nikola Roganovic missed out on goalkeeper of the year to Chris Oldfield, which I'm a bit surprised by.
That concludes South of the Border's usual in-season programming for 2016. Coming up is the now usual South of the Border off-season blog mode which will include:
- pointless awards post
- monthly digests
- occasional match reports from assorted quasi-random sporting fixtures
- hopefully an AGM
- news, if it exists, on the construction of the social club (starting 'soon', apparently)
- maybe an artefact segment here or there
- the odd book review (Alex Duric has a book out!)
- breaking news if it's important enough to consider as such.
Around the grounds
For whom the bell tolls
Headed out to Paisley Park for the final round of the state league season, and a relegation deciding match between Altona East and Cairnlea. East had the advantage in terms of ladder position and goal difference - Cairnlea would need to win by three goals to overtake East - and so this was if not quite a dead rubber, than one where the odds were heavily stacked in one team's favour. Unlike the usual state league procedure of people trying to scam their way into the ground for free, or pretend they're a concession holder or pensioner, or demand change back to the cent, most people seemed to be in a generous mood, happy to leave change behind as a donation to the club. Small South contingent in attendance as well, getting some 'inconsequential' football out of the way before our grand final, but also there to see ex-South junior and friend Anthony Giannopoulos strutting his stuff for East. The first half was pretty 'meh' to be honest, neither team able to offer much. In the second half a Giannopoulos pass inside set up East's first goal, and safety from relegation was secured. A second goal was merely icing on the cake. Long serving (albeit across multiple stints) Cairnlea captain Mustafa Mustafa (and let's not forget one time fringe South player) was chaired off the ground in his final game with a guard of honour, a nice gesture.
Relegation brings with it its own heartache, as does retirement. Avoiding relegation on the final day brings relief, but pretty soon leaves you wondering how you got yourself so deep into the mess in the first place.All Class! Guard of honour for our loyal captain @Musti_Mus. What a career. We will miss you #CairnleaArmy pic.twitter.com/1AfmMhQypp— Cairnlea FC (@CairnleaFC) September 10, 2016
The next to last final thought
Happy birthday to Tony Margaritis for yesterday. I think he got what he wanted.
How much better are finals than first past the post?