Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Thanks to everyone for this year, and the ten years so far

I would like to take a moment, as I always do at this time of year, to thank those who have contributed to the blog or otherwise made my South Melbourne experience more enjoyable. Thanks to:

Pavlaki and Chris, especially for driving me around Wodonga and its surrounds during pre-season, as well as anyone who offered myself and Gains a lift anywhere.

Everyone who left a comment at some point, especially all those people who contributed their stories for 'fanatic of the week'.

T. Arvanitis whose contribution within this post got a hell of a response from the public. Savvas Tzionis for his piece on coming back to Hellas, his Allentown reworking, and especially his story of sneaking out for a durry with Roberto Carlos at that ridiculous night at the casino which apparently cost either the club or people connected to the event a lot of money, or so was the word that was going around then. Also Foti and Manny for their point/counter-point piece on the AAFC's Championship proposal.

Todd Giles for sharing his Newcastle vs South match programmes. I'm glad I could return the favour.

Teo Pellizzeri at FFV for renewal of my media pass. Coaches Chris Taylor and Chris Marshall for the occasional chat. Tony for the guided tour of the then still shell of a social club, and for taking that handbag off my hands - oh, and for enjoying the milk carton gag. The people working in the social club for their concern after I joined the broken seat club.

Assorted folk of #sokkahtwitter, especially those who re-tweeted and shared South of the Border materials. Dave for joining that club - I think Savvas and Gains are the only other two members - who had the fearlessness to go back and read this stuff from all the way in the beginning. It starts off bad, stays that way for a few years, then finally starts to become readable.

Cindy Nitsos and all photographers whose photos I used.

Joe Gorman for extending my fame a smidge.

Matthew Klugman for his help with the whole thesis business, and Ian Syson for finally admitting defeat with regards to sentence structure.

And Gains, of course. The Public Transport Faction keeps kicking on.

...and thank you all for ten years of supporting South of the Border
I've thanked a lot of people for various things over the years - dig yourselves through various articles across the past ten Decembers if you want to find them - so this is more of a general thank you to everyone.

Thank you to the people who have come on board late, bigger thanks to those who were here from the beginning, and biggest thanks to those who came here late and went back and read through it all.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed an article, a comment, advice, or shared this material with others.

Thank you to those who have over the past decade offered encouragement and support both private, but especially public, whether you were a public figure or a minor one.

Thank you to those who have understood, and those who have not understood but nevertheless tolerated my flights of whimsy.

I started the blog because I was frustrated at the level of discussion on smfcboard, and because I wanted to practice my writing. I like to think that since then, the quality of dialogue inside the club has improved, and that my writing has come on at least a little bit, and that it would be nice if the blog was responsible for at least part of any of that.

Whatever else this blog has or hasn't achieved over the past ten years, I am most proud of having encountered a selection of South fans who have told me that South of the Border helped them maintain a connection to South Melbourne Hellas, helped them re-connect with the club, or was an element in helping them make their first connection with the club.

Lastly, I said I was not going to thank anyone specifically, but I always do. Gains hates the publicity but his friendship on the terraces, on public transport, and his ability to pick mostly very good and very cheap restaurants is an essential part of this blog, even if the effects of that on the blog are not exactly visible. And of course, Ian Syson, who believes in all sorts of people and their ability to write meaningfully from the margins.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Snippets of news from far off places - Langwarrin 2 South Melbourne 3

I wasn't there, don't ask me for any details other than what already exists in the public domain - namely the scorers, Epifano, Lujic and triallist Amir Osmancevic. Maybe a friendly against Gully on Friday at Gully, check your local guides closer to the date.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Cobwebs - South Melbourne 3 Sunshine George Cross 0

So, here we go again, brushing away the cobwebs and assessing the decay accumulated in the couple of months spent away from the place.

I'm not going to say that the club's in chaos, but there was a dishevelled feel to the place. There are big holes in the futsal court wall above the goal nearest, but more noticeable was the vibe in the social club proper. Phil the social club's venue manager has resigned and until the club sorts out the venue manager situation - and more broadly, how the it runs the social club - regular service may be a bit more erratic.

At least the club is now able to leverage home pre-season games to a degree by having a social club, and last night it was even able to draw in some people from the fun-run that was taking place outside. Things could always be worse on this front. Nevertheless, much as I like (new board member) Skip Fulton - after all, he got his South Melbourne start right here at South of the Border - do I really want him to be the one serving me drinks? On special occasions - like Friday's Christmas party - sure, why not, but otherwise they've got to sort out the social club situation quickly.

As for the match itself, it would've been churlish to expect anything resembling quality, whatever that means, and Chris Taylor wasn't even there. It was the first scratch match after the end of the off-season, after just a week and half or so of commencing pre-season training, and at a temperature of 35 degrees or more, the players were drenched in sweat within minutes. Thank you to Brad Norton for coming over to the supporters after each 35 minute half and sharing some of his sweat with us.

Still, there were a few surprises on field. As rumoured, Iqi Jawadi was back having a go, which is interesting after the way he left. Also back for another attempt at cracking the South senior team list was former youth player Anthony Giannopoulos. No sign of Andy Kecojevic, but one of Matthew Millar's seven brothers played the early part of the game before copping a knock. Youth striker Giuseppe Marafioti played for a bit, and occasional triallist and most recently of Kingston City midfielder/forward Velibor Mitrovic was also having a kick.

Marcus Schroen was present, and at least one person has suggested that Mitrovic would make a sensible like-for-like replacement for the injured Schroen. English recruit Sam Smith was absent - he's apparently sorting out some of his affairs back in the UK. Nick Epifano was there, after strong word that he had decided to leave the club. Maybe he changed his mind, maybe no one else wanted him. No worthwhile news on whether Andy Brennan will be re-joining us as part of the Bentleigh off-season exodus.

The next friendly is against Langwarrin on Sunday, at Langwarrin, kickoff 2:30PM. A fairly traditional fixture now because of Chris Taylor's proximity to all things Mornington Peninsula, even if he apparently won't be there himself. Neither will I for that matter, because it's in the middle of public transport nowhere. Still awaiting notice of a kickoff time for that one.

Also hearing word of a match before Christmas against Green Gully, details to be confirmed on that one as well. I did ask around to see what plans if any there were for a pre-season weekend away, in the vein of the club's trips to Adelaide, Sydney, and Albury-Wodonga in recent years, but there was no news on that front. If they do something, hopefully it's something that accessible by train.

There's impatience from some quarters about the fixtures being released - I think the FFV will be making an announcement on that soon.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Friendly tomorrow vs Sunshine George Cross

Well, turns out the rumours of minimal activity before the Christmas/New Year period have turned out to be a little bit premature. The senior squad started its pre-season training programme last week, and now there'll be a pre-season friendly/scratch match tomorrow against George Cross at Lakeside, kickoff at 7:45pm. See you all there.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

2018 memberships now out

How about this for a surprising turn of events? The new year isn't here, we haven't even had the AGM (well, actually that's not so strange...), and yet somehow the South Melbourne 2018 memberships are already available for purchase. It's a very streamlined affair, with two or three things worth noting.

First, the pricing scheme is basically the same as it was for 2017. Second and related to point one, this time there can be no confusion about what is and isn't included - a confusion which in any case only really existed in the disingenuous mind of president Leo Athanasakis. So, now only home controlled league matches (no finals) and FFA Cup games up until the round of 32

Third, unless you're buying a new membership or perhaps changing membership categories, you should keep your current membership card. Now, if you did throw it out, I don't know what you should do, but I'm sure the club will have a plan for that.

Update 11/12/17
Purchase my membership this afternoon, and got this email.
If you are an existing 2017 SMFC Member, you will be able to use your existing card with all your entitlements being updated based on the level of membership that you have selected.
Also, it looks like the club has ditched the membership portal that they had been using the past few seasons.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Book review, sorta - Walk Alone: The Craig Johnston Story, by Craig Johnston and Neil Jameson

I'll be clear on this. I skimmed/speed read through much of this some time in late 2016, so don't treat this review as some sort of gospel truth. I was mostly interested in particular aspects of this as it relates to one of the chapters in my thesis. But even from a cursory reading, this book is interesting, at least up to a certain point. And then not so very much, at least to me.

The least interesting parts to be honest are when Johnston is at Liverpool. As a long-ago lapsed Liverpool supporter (it's a long story, not very interesting, even as that experience explains some things about me), I really couldn't care less about the trudging through the seasons, the reminiscences of games and incidents, with the exception of Johnston's experience of Heysel.

What I found most interesting then were the things outside Johnston's time at Liverpool, beginning with his Newcastle upbringing.  If Newcastle (and its southern counterpart in the Illawarra) are often thought to be among the holy cradles of Australian soccer, then what is often seemingly left out of those hagiographic discussions is the ethnic quality of the game there.

And in this case one is not talking about those we usually consider as 'ethnic' in Australia, but rather that invisible ethnicity in the form of the British migrant. It may be true that I will overstate the case for the invisibility of the British soccer character as it applies to the Hunter and Illawarra regions, but I think there's also some validity to the notion that the soccer in these areas is considered far more 'Australian' than the post-war 'ethnic' boom period scene; that Britishness and Australian-ness become conflated ideas.

For his part, Johnston is forthright not only about the British upbringing he had personally, but also about the British character of Newcastle soccer. This is amplified for him by his family history and personal experience. One of Johnston's grandfathers was from Edinburgh; his father, like other young soccer players in the region, went to Britain and tried to become a professional footballer, but failed. Johnston also ties that sense of Newcastle soccer's British qualities to the fact that the aforementioned British character was also bound to a British working class character.

Indeed, through establishing the book's narrative in this way, Johnston is at pains to emphasise his own sense of Britishness, one bound up with the game as his forbears knew it and as he himself experienced it in the Hunter Valley. In that sense there is a pervasive sense of Anglophilia in this book, at least it relates to soccer, It is why there is a skewed and narrow sense of what Australian soccer is to Johnston, one that takes little account of the changes that occurred outside out of the 'heartland' soccer areas like Newcastle, and which transformed the character of the game.

By the time Johnston's career has taken off, he is in England full-time (except for that brief stint for Newcastle KB in the NSL), and thus has very little to say about Australian soccer as a whole. Australian soccer then for Johnston is an experience largely left behind once he succeeds in securing a contract at Middlesbrough.

But Johnston is also keen to emphasise the Australian qualities of his upbringing, especially that of a rural/regional lifestyle, full of activities other than soccer, including skateboarding (he even takes his skateboard to England) and surfing. And yes, Johnston does come to that bit about 'surfing for England', and his explanation has much legitimacy to it, or at least more nuance than the vitriolic response that his offhand comment has seen him endure over the years.

Johnston is a good student, but restless. That restlessness is channeled into his football via a manic commitment to fitness, and relentless pursuit of improving his technique by himself in England. One of the harsh lessons that Johnston learns early on is that in the cold and lonely existence of the wannabe professional footballer, there are few friends, and that it is truly dog-eat-dog. Whatever else one might think of Johnston, one can't fault his determination to overcome his initial failure and his technical limitations as a footballer, and succeed regardless.

(In that sense there are parallels between Johnston's attitude and view of himself as a footballer with Paul Wade, the ironically British born player who came to define and be defined by his utter commitment to Australian soccer).

And then Johnston goes to Liverpool, and apart from the usual tribulations of injury, media, managerial and playing intrigues, Johnston seems to be having a great time (yes, there is an account of how the 'Anfield Rap' came about), living the dream playing for one of the most famous clubs in the world, and one at the peak of its power. So I breezed through those parts, remembering little of them, until the point where Johnston's sister falls ill and he retires from the game in order to help care for her.

It's a little irritating then that the book stops at the end of Johnston's playing career, so we don't get to learn about what happens next - which for Johnston includes a continuation of his pursuit of photography, a run-in with bankruptcy, and his invention of Adidas' Predator boot. But it's a well produced (plenty of photos, excellent page design) and well written book, full of Johnston's personality, and worth picking up if one come across it. I read it in bursts at the State Library, a nice hardcover thing, though I assume there's a paperback version somewhere out there

Monday, 4 December 2017


All the way back in the blog's earliest days, when part of the ethos was to have new content uploaded every day - how quaint! - I posted this South Melbourne Hellas oriented reworking of an AC/DC lyric by then new but now old friend Conya. It seems blog favourite Savvas Tzionis has decided to do something similar with Billy Joel's 'Allentown', broadening his scope to match up the plight of the working class Pennsylvanians with that of those stuck in NPL Hell. It has a taste of the 'seven days of bitterness' about it.

Well we’re living in the NPL
And the football clubs are stuck in this hell
Out in Mooroolbark they’re killing time
Third string imports
Will they survive?
Well our fathers came out of after the war
Spent their weekends at Olympic Park
Took their kids out to the NSL
Left them to watch
But where was the zeal?
Now we’re living in the NPL

But the restlessness was handed down
And its getting very hard to play

Well we’re waiting in the NPL
For the A-League we never found
For the promises our leader’s gave
If we worked hard
But we didn't behave
So the premierships hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No we never learnt what was real
Mainstream Appeal
Lowy Westfield
And we’re waiting in the NPL

But they've ruined all the national teams
And the old fans they just crawled away
Every team had a pretty good shot
To get as far as their ability got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw the wogs out and they kicked in our face

Well we’re playing in the  NPL
And its hard to keep a good team down
But we won’t be going up today

And its getting very hard to play
Cause we’re stuck here in the NPL

Friday, 1 December 2017

November 2017 Digest

I hope you'll all forgive the very slow pace of the blog during the off-season. Even though there's so much I could talk about, being at the pointy end of the thesis project means that by the end of the day I'm pretty burnt out from staring at screens and trying to write. And where usually this would be my space for chilling out, for the first time in ten years I just don't have the mental space for it. One way or another it'll be over in the next two or three weeks, so keep patient and things will be back to normal soon enough.

Or you could submit something of your own to keep things ticking over...

AGM news
No date set yet. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

2018 season schedule...

Starting in the last week of February, which is a week or two later than what happened for the 2017 season. 

In the meantime, if like me you're waiting for pre-season friendlies to start to alleviate your boredom, don't expect anything this side of Christmas. My sources tell me that the team might reconvene for some training sessions before 2017 is out, but there almost certainly won't be any scratch matches held until January.

On the same token
Some of our current (and maybe current) players have been sighted participating in Knox City's longstanding All Nations Cup tournament. Nick Epifano is playing for Italy, while Andy Kecojevic is playing for Serbia. Milos Lujic, who has played for Serbia at this tournament in the past, also looks like he fronted up again this year.

Hashtag news
Sony will no longer sponsor the NPL concept. It's farewell to #ps4nplvic, and hello to... well, no one knows yet.

Arrivals and departures
Still pretty quiet on this front, but things are picking up ever so slowly. The big news was the signing of English striker Sam Smith from Gold Coast City. We had been keen on him, then it looked like he'd re-signed for Gold Coast, but it seems the mess Gold Coast is in off the field has titled things back our way. Nick Epifano has signed on for 2018, while s
kipper Brad Norton has signed on for another two years.

Some 'outs' have also cropped up. Reserve goalkeeper Zaim Zeneli has left South, joining North Sunshine Eagles in State League 1, while Stefan Zinni has signed with Avondale.

For whatever it's worth, the following players are assumed to be contracted for next season.

  • Stefan Zinni (Avondale)
  • Zaim Zeneli (North Sunshine Eagles)

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Help us make a Ferenc Puskas documentary

Here's something to get excited about.

Filmmakers Tony Wilson, Rob Heath and Cam Fink are in the early stages of making a film about Ferenc Puskas' time in Australia. Naturally this will mostly be focused on his relationship and proximity to our very own South Melbourne Hellas.

One of the things the filmmakers want to get across is the bizarre fact of this absolute great of world sport living almost anonymously in a supposedly mad sporting city, so part of this film will be about the parallel world of Australian soccer.

Now here's where you can come in. This is a call for items such as footage, photos etc. To that end the kinds of things the filmmakers are looking for include:
  • Any home or personal video footage from that era that people may have. They're not looking for official footage taped from televised match broadcasts - though if you can point the documentary team toward interesting moments contained within such footage, that would be good. Apart from the copyright issues associated with using broadcast materials, the filmmakers are looking for homemade footage because it will assist in telling the story they want to tell - that of a period of time that was as much about the fans who experienced Puskas and his time in Australia from their own point of view.
  • Ditto for photographs.
  • Ditto for artefacts, match programmes, etc
  • Anyone who has a good personal story to tell about their experience of Puskas' time in Melbourne, or who knows someone who does, and who would be willing to be interviewed for this project.
  • Anyone who may have been connected to Parkmore Soccer Club at the time Puskas was supposed to have been there.
Of course the filmmakers are rounding up the players and so forth that played under Puskas, and they'll be chasing up as many officials and such as possible, but it's also true that many of those people have drifted away from the club in recent years. But you, the South Melbourne Hellas community, certainly do have those networks, so please discuss this project with people you think may be interested.

So if you can help in any way, shoot me an email me at blackmissionary@hotmail.com, or contact Tony Wilson at tony@tonywilson.com.au or call him on 0416 100 645

The link below is for the film's Documentary Australia page

https://www.documentaryaustralia.com.au ... melbourne/

And here's an article by Con Stamacostas of Neos Kosmos


Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Point - Counterpoint: The AAFC's 'The Championship' proposal

A week or so ago, after the AAFC released its sort of plan for a national second division, I remarked on Twitter that because I was busy and because I didn't particularly want to write on the topic, that it would be great if some other people would like to write something for South of the Border on the matter. There was also the desire to see both 'pro' and 'con' positions taken, and if it were left up to me I would've ended up writing something pithy and nihilistic.

While I didn't make a point of this in my initial request for submissions, more than anything what I wanted were two pieces that could work as opposites while also acting as a sort of time capsule from South fans' perspectives. While initially I had the idea that the two writers (working independently of each other) would come up with something completely opposite to each other, the difference that emerged ended up being one of attitude - Manny's optimism versus Foti's scepticism. While holes can be picked apart in both pieces, it's that difference in emphasis that's most interesting to me. Thank you to Manny (Point) and Foti (Counterpoint) for their contributions.

POINT - A piece on purpose and leadership
In spite of the supposed ‘staleness’ of the A-League, there has never been more to talk about in Australian football. In light of the FFA’s current governance reform crisis just about every issue in the game has been discussed. Junior fees, player development, aspirational football, A-League expansion – and although these issues have always been around, it had only been in light of governance reform that the conversations about them have become linked. People are starting to realise the importance of managing a football ecosystem rather than managing problems in isolation - even A-League expansion discussions, all to often reduced to TV rating and attendance speculation now incorporates everything from infrastructure, to junior development. This change in the conversation can only be a good thing for Australian football, although despite all the chatter, surprisingly little has to do with actual football.

It should never have come to this. Only a few years ago FFA released the much publicised ‘Whole of Football Plan’ that boasted big statements and bigger numbers, unashamedly aiming to make football the biggest sport in Australia. The ‘plan’ was missing a massive component - never does it answer why football should be the biggest sport in Australia. The Whole of Football Plan to me is the most obvious symptom of the sickness this sport carries. It chose to accept a reality defined by others rather than accepting the reality of its own identity. In doing so, the past decade has seen the game’s stakeholders lacking leadership and common purpose, allowing the rogue inertias of different parts of the game to move in different directions, pulling the sport and FFA apart in the process.

Moving forward we need to understand purpose and question things in the context of a greater goal. Why do we need big attendances? Why do we need TV ratings? Why do we need to fish where the fish are? What is all this leading to? These are the kind of questions that stakeholders have been left to answer themselves, and it is the reason a body like the AAFC has to exist.

I’m sorry Paul, and I’m sorry to the readers expecting a debate about the purpose of a second division. Although there will be elements of that discussion we need to realise that there is no steady state. Australian football has gone though and will continue to churn though different systems and clubs. I see promotion and relegation in one form or another as an inevitability, and a second division as imminent. However the likely form of the coming second division will be dictated by state league clubs and it is more important that we understand their incentive and their search for purpose so that we can best challenge it and align it with the greater goals of Australian football, whatever they may be.

Make no mistake, state league clubs have been forced to create this AAFC to have a real discussion. For too long technocrats at national and state level dictated curriculum, league structures and conditional licensing to clubs – but let’s be clear, not all clubs but rather the top state clubs, the competitive state clubs, the ambitious state clubs who have been suffering under the weight of their own competitive identities in a system that does not support them. So let’s have that discussion what the hell do they want, what does ‘The Championship’ want and what could it mean for Australian football.

The Championship Strategy
The AAFC’s Championship proposal firstly points out that it is just that, a proposal. It is not a breakaway league and the proposal is open to debate and change. The plan was delivered in October 2017, as promised, and whereas the FFA have pushed back the release of an expansion framework twice over the past year alone – effectively derailing that conversation – the AAFC has taken steps to offer an open constructive dialogue.

A National Second Division for Women
The first thing that hit me when reading the proposal was the intention to create opportunities for men and women. How this will work with promotion and relegation is yet to be explored. Will club results be stapled? Will a women’s team that is promoted to the W-League work with a men’s team relegated to the state leagues? Women’s second tier football is a surprising new dimension to the football pyramid discussion, however where will clubs find the money for a national female second division? Beside riding the new wave of female sports corporate sponsorship I don’t believe it's viable. In a world where women’s teams and men’s teams are packaged together you may be able to create a valuable product but not one that will work in an open pyramid as supposedly intended. I’m sceptical of these joint team ventures in anything other than a closed system and have to wonder whether the AAFC is just using women’s football as moral capital or if this is a sign that an open pyramid is even further away then we hoped.

Bridging the states and the A-League
The AAFC also hope the competition brings a higher standard of opportunity for men and women. The gap between the state leagues and the A-League needs to be bridged and a second division will help this. Too often we see state league players unable to break into the higher level and a second division will help scouting and development by offering a more competitive environment than the current state leagues. Importantly though, what about players falling from the A-League? Losing an A-League contract is often the end of a career as the likely destination (the state leagues) offers neither the cash, prestige or development opportunities for players to rely on to help them restart their professional careers. Even mediocre A-League players suffer in the current system. They are often wasted on the bench, becoming A-League journeyman. A-League clubs trust A-League experience and state league clubs often need to stretch their budgets to access it. Without somewhere for these players to leave the system they continue to take spots on the bench from younger players, and mature aged state league players, they continue to never push their team mates or the competition. Surely they would be better dropping down to make way for new blood and test themselves with the responsibility that comes playing at a lower level to lift the players around them and prove their worth for a second shot. In short a second division will bridge the gap that Australian football is suffering from. If the AAFC clubs are brave enough and ambitious enough to fund it themselves now good luck to them, because it will happen one way or another, eventually.

Commercialisation of the Grassroots
The AAFC also stated their proposed competition will improve the commercial appeal of the game, although considering other second tier competitions in Australia such as the National Rugby Championship, this certainly hasn't been the case – although isn't necessarily a problem. If the league can serve another purpose (developing players and clubs) and remain financially viable, it doesn't need to grow the size of the pie but it would mean that we are getting more out of existing resources. Considering the asset rich nature of our sport, dozens of upgradable stadiums, hundreds of thousands of players, volunteers and administrators, it could be possible that filtering all of this wealth and expertise into nine clubs may not be the optimal strategy – and in fact I would argue has not been!

In the 13 years of A-League what lasting benefits have we gotten as a football nation? I’ll tell you – 6. AAMI Park, the Mariners' centre of excellence, a rebuilt stand at Perth Oval, Adelaide’s training ground, the City Football Centre, and the soon to be redeveloped Parramatta Stadium. The strategy in the past 13 years has generated tgree football managed resources. Our biggest club – Sydney FC is nomadic, with no permanent training ground. Meanwhile our state clubs languish without leverage for council money or private investment all while sitting on self-managed facilities at the height of the property boom. This is the real commercial opportunity of the game because it is commercial opportunity with purpose. By opening the football pyramid we can create a multi-million dollar national football facility boom like weave never seen.

One that will pay dividends for years to come – and one that is not possible through the narrow nine-professional teams or a centralised national body. I feel as though the AAFC are right if this is what they mean by commercial appeal of the sport, however if they are limiting this commercial conversation to broadcast content and private backers who can only be relied on to provide short term financial assistance mark my words – the competition will only provide the short term transient benefits and much like the State Leagues today will spiral out to unsustainable player payments and reliance on benevolent private interests. The commercial benefits of the League need to be thought of in the long run.

A final thought on the AAFC’s intentions
There’s no doubt the AAFC and their member clubs are ambitious. We need a second division in one form or another for our players but I hope they are genuine in their intention to open the football pyramid, respectful in the development of the women’s game and are thinking long term about the commercial benefit of the league.

COUNTERPOINT - I want to believe, but...
I do not follow the A-League and I have never been to a match. I have watched bits and pieces of a handful of games on TV only because my friends chose to watch matches at get-togethers/gatherings (while I would disengage and “tune out” on my smartphone) when there is no AFL on. These friends like to mock me for following South Melbourne in the Victorian soccer wastelands every week instead of following Victory or City in the A-League. Luckily for me, it is hard to take their mockery seriously when in the NSL years they attended a handful of Lakeside/Middle Park games each year, and now attend at best one A-league fixture a year. They also don’t swear allegiance to a particular A-League team so the “bandwagon supporter” tag fits them perfectly.

Like many that have witnessed their beloved NSL clubs drop to the State League, I too yearn to see the day where my club will return to the top-flight and compete for the top prize in this country. For many years I have believed that the only way a fifth star could be added to the “Hellas” crest while keeping South Melbourne in the hands of the members would be via the creation of a second division along with promotion/relegation to the A-League. It seemed like the perfect solution that would fix the sport’s structural problems and also reverse the decline of the Socceroos’ talent pool. However, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that a second division wouldn't be financially viable.

The Championship
Over a week has passed since the AAFC released its blueprint for a national second tier competition to be known as “The Championship” consisting of 12-16 teams and beginning in 2019. While most of the “NSL bitters” on #sokkahtwitter were excited by the proposal, I couldn't help but feel that the structure had quite a few flaws. (If you haven’t already seen it, you can view the proposal at http://www.thechampionship.com.au/).This is why I decided to write this piece when Paul Mavroudis put out a call for submissions for South Of The Border. I am not a writer, so please excuse me if this is boring and hard to read (This is probably the longest essay I have written since I was at university 14 years ago).

Playing Rosters
In general I am against restrictions on player rosters. Just like with the NPL’s Player Point System, it appears as though this league is being created as a pathway for players into the A-League. When you place quotas/salary/age caps/restrictions on squads, you are limiting how strong squads can be, and therefore limiting or slowing down player development potential. Young players will never become develop football smarts if they don’t come up against experienced players that have played at higher levels. It should be up to each club to decide whether it wishes to field a team of ex-marquee players in the twilight of their careers, focus on promoting youth from within, striking a balance between the two, or employing another philosophy. Allowing freedom and diversity will achieve the best results.
One last thing on this, if there are going to be playing roster restrictions, they should at least be in line with those of the A-League clubs so that relegation doesn't force them to clean out their squads completely.

Criteria – Men’s and Women’s teams
I didn't know there were plans for a women’s second division and it seems absurd that they are creating one at a time when each W-League franchise has a salary cap of $150,000 across their whole squad. (That is an average salary of under $7,500 per player). Surely they shouldn't be thinking about a national women’s second division until women’s salaries in the top flight rise to a level where they can be considered full-time professionals.

The criteria mentions that clubs must field men’s and women’s teams with matches to be played on the same day (with one to be played after the other). While I can see the benefit in this, it makes no sense to insist on it given that the prospect of promotion and relegation will mean that the men’s and women’s leagues will eventually consist of different clubs. The Mariners don’t have a W-League club, Canberra United doesn’t have an A-League club. Should a marketable NPL women’s club with great facilities and development setup miss out on applying for The Championship because it has no men’s team? Are the Melbourne Knights ineligible to apply for a place because they don’t have a WNPL club? (On second thought maybe this criteria isn't so bad :-D ) But seriously – the men’s and women’s competition should be separate legal entities. It shouldn't be up to one to bankroll the other. Let each one stand up on its own merits.

A view to expanding to 20 teams by 2024 and Promotion/Relegation by 2024.
For any competition to survive, it needs crowds. More spectators will translate into more sponsorship and TV broadcasting revenue. One would normally expect a second division to attract higher crowds than what is achieved at NPL level. What causes this crowd increase? I guess it is the excitement generated by rivalries, a greater possibility of showdowns with big clubs and playing for a more “meaningful” prize.

The fact that promotion/relegation will not be available from the beginning will minimise the crowd increase that one would expect from entering a national second tier competition. While the crowd in a local Heidelberg or Knights derby game might be a bit more than what we currently achieve, we would expect fewer travelling fans from interstate clubs as the gimmick of playing an interstate club quickly wears off, and supporters will be selective about the few away games they might be willing to travel to each year.

If the second division is to be marketable and attract interest from TV broadcasters, the average crowds must be at least FFA Cup size. As an example, South Melbourne vs Edgeworth achieved a crowd of 2,500 in the FFA Cup round of 32 this year. Sadly, without promotion/relegation being immediately introduced, The Championship crowds for South Melbourne vs Edgeworth would be unlikely to achieve even half of that and our crowds would be on par with what we get in the Victorian NPL.

In 2017 South Melbourne’s NPL crowds ranged from 400-2500 people depending on fixture time, opposition, and weather. If you regard South Melbourne as one of the benchmarks at NPL level, and assume that crowds such as these are as good as it will get for the other participants of The Championship, will sponsors stick around till 2024 to finance The Championship’s minimum $1.6 million travel and accommodation costs? (A 16 team competition would mean that annual travel expenses of at least $83,000 - $115,000 would be needed for each participant). Even if The Championship survives that long it is unlikely that promotion/relegation will be introduced in 2024 as A-League clubs will never lend their support to being relegated to a league with such small crowds.

Unfortunately, when it comes to sport in Australia, crowds are part of the product. If people see empty stadiums on TV they won’t want to go. If the football is mediocre but if there is a great crowd and match day experience people will want to return and form a bond with a club.

Random Thoughts:
  • I am always skeptical of nice round numbers (eg $1,000,000 salary cap, $2.5 million budget) How did they arrive at these figures?
  • Is it possible to have a 20 person squad of full time professionals under a salary cap of $1,000,000?  
  • Is a $2,500,000 budget feasible?
  • The AAFC has been banging on about promoting “football culture” yet this competition has a finals system, and they want the winner to qualify for Asian Champions League.
  • If South Melbourne, Heidelberg and Melbourne Knights were to leave NPL and join The Championship, what is the impact on the NPL if promotion/relegation doesn't exist for a while? 
  • Perhaps fan base, stadium and location should be the only criteria?
  • How do you fairly offer promotion/relegation in a way that will prevent the possibility of all teams coming from one major population centre and therefore minimizing TV rights revenue?

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Migration of smfcfans.com complete

The migration of smfcfans.com to a new server is now complete. There's some added functionality for users, who can choose between 'forums' and 'discussions' tabs in how they view the threads. There may be some tinkering to come, but the main obstacle is now over.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

October 2017 digest

Whinge, whine, woe is me, thesis writing is hard, blah, blah, blah. Did you know that I removed 100 cases of the word 'not' (from around 600) from my thesis in order to make it come across as more assertive?

Anyway, here's a quick round up of some stuff that has been happening during the off-season. I did not include my trip to the rugby league world cup opener, or the screening of that PAOK doco at the Greek film festival. Maybe some other time, but probably not.

AGM news
No date set yet.

Futsal court news
Well it looks like the club have admitted defeat in running the futsal court themselves and have outsourced its operation in part at least to the Australian Futsal Group. I guess at some point we'll learn more about this arrangement.

Arrivals and departures
Early days. Or late. Whatever.

Anyway, we've made our first signing, 19 year old central defender Jake Marshall from Brisbane Strikers. This is an interesting pick up, because it suggests that one of our many existing central defender options may be on the way out, with everyone who's willing to take a stab it suggesting that Michael Eagar is on his way back to Northcote. Either that, or we're to going to go for a 5-4-1 formation with three centre-backs. 

Apparently Marcus Schroen's knee injury is a full blown ACL scenario, so he'll be out for nine months or however long it takes to get over a serious injury like that. One of the defenders we signed last year, Ajdin Fetahagic, is apparently training again after having done his knee during last year's pre-season.

For whatever it's worth, the following players are assumed to be contracted for next season.
Socceroos vs Honduras screening
The club will be screening the Socceroos vs Honduras World Cup Qualifier Playoff 2nd leg in the social club, so put November 15th in your diary to make a trip down to Lakeside if you're into that kind of thing, don't have a TV at home, or just get really lonely during the off-season. No, I am not projecting.

New sponsor
The ambulance chasers that sponsor pretty much every soccer club in Victoria are now also sponsoring us. Good news I guess.

Children, the times they are becoming quite different
Apart from being busier than usual in my 'day job', things have been moving at a pretty decent clip on the Australian soccer 'will it/won't it implode front'. Frankly anything I'd have written even five minutes ago is likely to end up as out of date as Joe Gorman's end of history magnum opus potentially has. 

The short and sweet of it for those who don't slavishly keep up with the news for whatever reason is firstly that the AAFC has released its proposal for a second division, and before their end of October 2017 deadline no less. 

I've had offers from two different people to write the pro and anti sides based on their own analyses, and hopefully they come through with the goods so we can have a good point-counterpoint session, even if won't be able to match The Onion's classic 'humidifier vs humidifier' piece.

Everyone knows I have severe reservations about the prospects for a viable second division and promotion/relegation set up, but good on the AAFC for getting the ball rolling by getting the framework of a proposal into the public sphere. 

Reiterating the caveats that anything I have to say on this is based on zero expertise, a fundamental slavery to Dr Phil's self-help homily 'that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour', as well as adhering to the rule that all good list jokes should contain three items, my main point of difference with AAFC is a matter of attitude.

The AAFC and those who support them - even those who may be doing so only under the guise of a trojan horse/fifth column initiative - are all dedicated in some way to the idea that Australian soccer still has tangible untapped potential which can and needs to be exploited now, and not twenty years down the track of FFA's Whole of Football Plan roadmap. They believe that their plan can tap into latent investment, crowds and the frustrated ambitions of second tier sides hamstrung by the current state based arrangement. They also believe they have at least the start of a plan that will provide more opportunities for Australian players, especially younger players, and that they have the support of the PFA and at least some A-League owners. 

But here at South of the Border, which is 99.9% me, we prefer pessimism. In this case, I'm of the opinion that rather than untapped markets, we're much closer to a zero sum situation as far as Australian soccer goes, even as far as Australian sport goes. I'd also like to see the states actually come out and, er, state their support for this, and I want to hear about contingencies for what happens if things go wrong, because this is Australian soccer and thing goes wrong a lot. AAFC also claim that they're confident about a broadcast deal, but some of the specifics they've released about how this will run has me very sceptical, especially because it seems that the form of cartel discipline that is being asked of potential second tier participants is dependent on a level of co-operative self-discipline that is quite alien to Australian soccer outside the A-League.

I'm also intrigued that a women's competition is meant to be a part of this second tier, and I'm sure people in that field will be interested in more detail on that also. That, and how promotion and relegation will be worked out, especially if the teams are going to be going up and down while crossing over from winter to summer and back to winter seasons. Don't say it can't happen, because it was a brutal experience for Heidelberg in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

(And the less said about the demand for an AFC Champions League spot for the winner of this second tier, the better. I'm reminded of the Martin/Molloy 'Bag of Sawdust' skit, specifically the exchange 'and bring back semi-automatics' 'yes I think that might've been added by the chap who pushes the wheelbarrow, have you noticed it's in a different handwriting', so I'm thinking that someone stuck in that suggestion surreptitiously)

The other thing which happened relates to the ongoing saga of the mandatory reform of FFA's congress set up. At the moment it's limited to nine state bodies and one A-League representative, with the debate centred initially on which of two proposed reform models - FFA's, or their opponents - will get up, and later on whether FIFA will step in anyway to 'normalise' the situation and make us more democratic, because at this stage our federation's democratic breadth is apparently even worse than North Korea's.

The latest development is that after somehow finagling himself into the position where he had the deciding vote on whether to support current FFA chairman Steven Lowy, FFV president Kimon Taliadoros must have remembered that David Gallop stole his marble rye and decided to opt against supporting the Lowy faction - for now.

Being a pleb like most of you, I've not deluded myself that I can possibly have anything interesting to say on these matters, taking up the rather nihilistic position we're all doomed whichever way things go; indeed, that we've always been doomed. At best it might be nice to be spat on from a great height by a new bunch rather than the current regime.

Even so, this saga and especially the dovetailing of the second division proposal with the congress issues has thrown the cat among some pigeons, and that's been kinda fun to watch play out. There's been the odd person threatening to walk away from the game should 'our types' ever get back in the building, and while that's been a well-worn trope over the past decade, what makes it interesting now is that the claim comes less as an idle threat than one informed by a genuine panic.

And If you'll indulge me a ridiculous flight of fancy, how funny would this all be if it was actually part of some grand South Melbourne Hellas/Old Soccer plan like some people have implied? Get the Knights and Gully to do the heavy lifting for the NPL revolt before coming in and taking most of the credit. Get former board member Tom Kalas to form what appears to be a ramshackle collective designed to proffer pie in the sky dreams more than anything else. Get 'one of our own' into the FFV presidency, and have him maneuver himself into having the deciding vote. And best of all, never get the club talking about a second division or promotion and relegation, focusing instead on winning a licence in an A-League bidding process which doesn't even exist, all while having Bill Paps make up increasingly bizarre claims about our club's ability to function at a fully professional level.

I mean, it wouldn't make the past 13 years in the wilderness worthwhile, but destroying Australian soccer from the inside with such a madcap plan would be funny. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

An important message for users of smfcfans.com

This is just a quick post to note that at some indeterminate point in the next two weeks, the smfcfans.com forum will be migrated to a new server.

When this occurs, the forum will be offline for a short period of time.

It is possible there will be issues which will arise from the changeover.

Therefore the forum's administrator will use South of the Border to post updates about the migration of the forum to the new server.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

South Melbourne Soccer Club Stadium permit artefact Wednesday

This post is more to keep up radio contact than anything, a sort of New Horizons green light to let everyone know we're still alive during this mostly dormant stage.

This is a planning permit (click the image to enlarge) for improvements to the South Melbourne Soccer Club Stadium, by which I assume was meant Middle Park, as signed in December 1993.

There'd been plans of sorts around the early 1990s about improving Middle Park, and it looked like finally, after decades of fighting against councils, planners and especially the locals, South would finally get on to the task of improving what was a dilapidated ground.

Of course Jeff Kennett brought the Formula 1 Grand Prix to Melbourne from Adelaide soon after this, and things were never quite the same again. So it goes.

Monday, 16 October 2017

South of the Border Awards 2017

Player of the year: Nick Epifano. The People's Champ missed the first five games, but was one of the two catalysts - along with Michael Eagar - for our turnaround in form after the poor start to the season. His performances were more even across the season than they have been in the past, and his effort on the defensive side of the game also improved a lot. Here's hoping that this season is a launching pad to an even better season next year.

Under 21 player of the year: The Cliff Hussey Memorial Trophy goes to Matthew Millar. Two years in a row, thank goodness he turned 21 in August so he can't win it again next season.

Goal of the year: Milos Lujic vs Knights at home. Yes it was a great goal, an atypical one for six yard box specialist like Milos, but its timing - after a half where we'd been pretty well outplayed and should've been down 2-0 at least - adds to the magic.

Best performance: against Heidelberg at the Bubbledome. Played them off the park from beginning to end.

Best away game of the year: I didn't go, but apparently the trip to the Gold Coast was pretty wild.

Call of the year: 'Come on Laura, miss it for South!' - me, at former South player Laura Spiranovic as she was taking a penalty in the shoot-out for Geelong Galaxy in the grand final against South. Laura missed.

Chant of the year: A-League or NPL / It doesn't matter to us/ The only thing that really matters / Is South Melbourne Hellas. Honourable mentions to 'Bill Paps is on fire the truth is terrified', and,'Sing us a song you're a Hellas fan', even if only like three of us actually

Best pre-match/after match dinner location: The social club wins by default. It'll have to lift its game next year though.

Friends we lost along the way: The social club count up clock. Smfcboard.com. Paul Henning. :(

Barely related to anything stupidity highlight of the year: I mean, where do you start? Misplaced fingers? Alleged spitting? Players going on holidays during the season? The visa player who spent most of his time in the 20s? Me beating Big Griff on FIFA 15 in the social club by having some random PAOK player's shot dribble underneath Mat Ryan? My image being plastered all over Windsor station by a bunch of kids?

I could go on. But I think the award should go to the West of the Quarry Twitter account, which a few rounds into the season was having a right old laugh at our very poor start to the season, only to see the tables turned pretty quickly.
At least they admitted their mea culpa. Going to so many of their games this season was almost as enjoyable as going to our games. Too bad that it seems they've got their act together for 2018.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

An impossible situation - South Melbourne 1 Sydney FC 5

As usual, forgive the unnecessarily elegiac tone.

Yesterday there were people trying to convince me - or perhaps more so themselves - that I looked happy. Some of those people were at the ground, others merely catching a glimpse of me smiling on the Fox Sports broadcast just before the start of the game. Whatever floats their boat I guess. I was with my mates, and it was almost certainly going to be our last game of the season. A long, long season.

My happiness or at the very least not miserableness was the natural response to being at a game of no consequence, no matter how anyone tried to dress it up. The lead up to the game from many of our people was understandable. A chance to capitalise on a rare and imperfect opportunity. Ticket prices set, food organised, and the club even putting out notices about public transport options. The fans made their banners and flags, invited as many people as they thought would come, and kept tabs on the weather in an obsessive manner. I hated the commercial television networks' use of eight day forecasts before this game, and I hate them even more now.

The final crowd of 5,747 was neither disastrous, nor earth shatteringly brilliant. You can blame the midweek slot and the interstate opponent, or the Socceroos and Ange Postecoglou sucking up all the limelight in the lead up. You can blame the impending bad weather, or the $25 entry charge. But maybe after being out in the cold for 13 years in the manner that we have been, this is all that we have left. It's not exactly been like starting from scratch, but at times it hasn't been too far from it. Sometimes it has been worse.

As much as I would love to go to town on Bill Paps and his talk of selling out the ground, the harsh reality of the situation remains. No crowd would've been big enough, no scoreline good enough, no atmosphere electric enough to make the game mean anything more than what it was; we, suffering but still afflicted by pride, having to face them, not Sydney FC specifically, but an entire soccer and mainstream Australian culture that has no place for us except in such rare and strange circumstances.

Take out the financial viability questions because only a few people will ever know for sure whether we could cut it in this state or any at all. Take out even the ethnic equation of things for just a second, because as a club we've largely moved beyond that, with last night being the best example of it so far. From my point of view at least, there was no cringe factor. Yet the experience as a whole was antithetical to the way top flight sport is done in Australia, by which I mean that despite the general professionalism of the way the event was handled as a whole last night, at no point was it slick. It was, to use those words now tainted by hipsters, artisanal, organic, handmade, at times even rustic.

General admission seating and a lack of oppressive security all round helps a lot in that regard, but at no point did the atmosphere at the ground, both before the game and during, feel forced or predetermined or pre-approved. It was, for want of a better term, a boutique experience in the best possible way, different from just about anything you get in top flight sport in this country. That in itself though, much as I would love to see it sold as a highlight and as a strength, as a beautiful point of difference, can only be seen in our era as encapsulating the shortcomings of being small, of not being exactly like everyone else. So it goes.

On the field, pretty soon the gulf in capability was made apparent. This wasn't simply a case of the best team in the country taking on a second division side; they were taking on a second division side from one of eight second divisions, and a side that had played one competitive fixture in about seven weeks, missing one of its more important players. Sydney's speed of thought, speed of movement on and off the ball, and their surer touch was always going to bring us undone at some point. The fact that we didn't completely sit back and try to absorb pressure was admirable, but also more liable to see us punished.

Not that it would've likely made any difference in the long run, but for a team like ours, missing Brad Norton unbalanced the whole thing. Our players were initially overwhelmed by the occasion and the lack of space afforded to them, and they often second guessed themselves. Mistakes that would lead to nothing in our league veered closer to life or death situations here. Nothing unexpected about that for anyone involved, but it's one thing to know it and quite another to experience it. Perhaps if they could bottle those moments where we took the initiative and showed no fear, there may be something worthwhile that we could take into next season.

Our team, like others at a similar playing level - and there's so many of them - is largely made up of those who have reached the A-League but have been discarded by it, and especially those who will never reach its ranks. Often enough, despite whatever gnashing of teeth there may be about lack of opportunity, there are good reasons for this. The players at our level are too slow or too small or not polished enough. It's not for lack of heart though. Matthew Millar is a prime example. Last night he was one of our best, for mine especially in the first half (though others will point to his second half) as he got into dangerous positions on the byline on a few occasions; but the quality in the form of an end product was just not there.

An extended dose of professionalism or even a consolidated second division would improve things, but establishing either is not within my capabilities; at best I'm here only to note the mostly obvious shortcomings of any attempt to establish such things. There is also something to be said for the notion that in FFA Cup games between A-League and state league opponents, the A-League team should be allowed to field two visa players, the same amount allowed to NPL teams as per their ordinary league business. Certainly it's been a thought bubble that a few have simultaneously had on and offline, and I'd be for such a move. Still, one must also acknowledge that even if such a rule was brought in, the calibre of visa player available to an A-League team easily outstrips what's available to a state league club.

It doesn't help either that Sydney's first goal was offside. You need all the luck in the world to get close, and we didn't get ours. 2-0 down at half-time, and despite having looked OK at times, there was no sense that there was any way back. But then Leigh Minopoulos scored that goal, and for the next 20 minutes all things seemed possible.
There was little chance that it could last, certainly not without an equaliser. We almost got there - Millar's long range effort after their keeper was caught way off his line would have brought the house down had it gone in -  but as the match wore on you could see the tiredness not merely creeping in, but storming in. The equaliser didn't come, and we ran out of gas. Some of the goals we let in were especially poor. But what a 20 minutes it was. It didn't all of a sudden make the struggle of the past 13 years worthwhile, but it was enjoyable, joyous even. There'll be plenty of chances next year and the year after and the year after that to wallow in the miserably meaningful; yesterday was about enjoying the absurd inconsequential.

After the Sydney goals rained in and the margin blew out, I got tired of chanting and of having an obstructed view thanks to hands and flags and people standing on seats, and worst of all, the score of opened umbrellas, so I went down to the concourse area. As the rain kept coming down, I got a good view of Clarendon Corner, the only full bay left in the ground, singing, chanting and enjoying themselves. What surprised me most though was how many people throughout the ground stayed to the end. The result was done, the weather was stuffed, there was no good reason for pretty much anyone apart from the usual people to stay. Yet they stayed.

That rain was something else. I guess we all knew that there was going to be heavy rain on the night, but I can't remember a Lakeside game that had a storm like that for some time. It was initially blown in from the north, chasing a lot of people out of the southern stand around to the northern side. Then the wind changed and moved it around so it blew into the northern stand. The running track threatened to turn into a lake, but the ground itself seemed to hold up well. Most surprisingly perhaps, our boys seemed to handle the conditions better than the Sydney players, especially during our best period, with even long passes to the wings being perfectly hit on several occasions.

All I wanted from the night was that we would avoid embarrassment on the field and off it. In my opinion we managed to avoid both, if not comfortably then by enough. Oh, and we scored a goal. Leigh Minopoulos, the player that gives me the most joy of any player in this team, wrote himself into a little bit of South Melbourne and Australian soccer history. Almost 18 years ago, John Anastasiadis bundled home the first Australian goal at a Club World Championship. Last night Minopoulos became the first player to score for a state league club in an FFA Cup semi-final. They're trivia questions that no one outside the dedicated few of us will be able to answer, but that's part of the story, too.

What to do with our good fortune
There's an episode of The Simpsons - atypically, I've forgotten which one - where the kids of Springfield are lined up outside the Noiseland Arcade, being shaken by a bouncer/security guard to see if they have enough loose change in order to be allowed inside. One hopes that the overpriced souvlaki (just like a proper top-flight stadium experience, as one wit noted), the $25 entry price for most patrons, and the $10 charge for social club members in direct opposition to the promises made by this board, have all raised enough money to pay off our debts to players, as well as current and former employees, with whatever's left over going towards paying off the loan the club took out to finish off the social club.

South of the Border off-season mode begins
There'll be awards no one cares about, and the usual periodic round up of news. There'll also be an AGM to discuss. And book reviews. I also have some other business to take care of and finish, so don't expect too much from me unless something dramatic happens.

Missed it by that much
There was some chatter out there that we had signed Gold Coast City striker Sam Smith. Smith, a 27 year old Englishman who didn't play against us in the FFA Cup due to injury, has instead re-signed with Gold Coast City.

Thank you
To the bloke who noticed that my keys had fallen out of my pocket during the second half.

Final thought
The season is finally over, thank goodness. See you all back in a few weeks time for the start of pre-season.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Odds and ends leading into our FFA Cup semi-final

There's news things which I could link to, but you're all pretty tech savvy individuals, so this is more of a filler piece, with some general advice about what to expect on Wednesday.

If you believe such things, ticket sales have been going pretty well for our FFA Cup semi-final, at about 3,000 pre-sales. That augurs well for a decent crowd, which will depend somewhat on what kind of hype (if any) will be built in the remaining few days, and if the relatively fine weather we've been having holds up.

At any rate, whatever the specific crowd number will be it's fairly certain that it will be one of the bigger crowds at Lakeside for a South game for many years, and thus there will be some common sense which will need to be applied on the night.

For starters, the car parking situation around the ground will likely be atrocious. So either get there early if you can, park further away, or seriously consider taking public transport. The no.12 tram goes right past the ground, while the no.1 stops two blocks away, on Clarendon Street or Moray Street. You could even take the no.96 down to MSAC.

Apart from pre-purchasing your tickets online, getting to the ground a little earlier should (though I make no promises on this) make all the difference with regards to getting into the ground in a timely manner. Whether you're new to Lakeside or have merely forgotten what it's like to have more than 200 people turn up to one of our games, it's worth remembering that our people have a tendency to turn up to games at the latest possible moment. I assume both gates will be open, which should make things easier.

Our regulars of course know this, but it's worth noting for 'occasional' and new visitors, that Lakeside is a non-smoking venue.

In terms of food and drink, if you're not a social club member, you may find it difficult if not impossible to get into the social club on the night. I am told however that there will be other food and drink stands open around the ground, and that these will be under operating under the auspices of the club. It also seems there will be a loosening of the up to now very tight liquor arrangements. All this is part of a hoped for general improvement in what South can offer on a match day.

I don't know if there will be any significant range of merchandise. If you're into that kind of thing, you know the drill already: bring your wallet, bring your credit cards, and hope that there's enough stock to satisfy your longing for stuff.

It might rain on Wednesday, it might not. If it does, the best places to be will be under those small parts of both stands which provide shelter. If it starts getting windy, that sheltered areas is diminished further, If you're out in the outer, bring an umbrella or poncho. Fox Sports will apparently be filming from the northern stand, which will reduce the capacity of that stand by a little bit.

If you choose sit in the bay in which Clarendon Corner locates itself, especially in the rows immediately behind them, you're more likely to have an obstructed view. Clarendon Corner will be standing and they will be waving flags and arms and such. If you are sensitive to swearing for whatever reason, this might also not be the best place to locate yourself. A good thing then that the whole venue will be open, right?

If you are not a regular in Clarendon Corner, but choose to stand in there on the night, there's some pretty basic protocols. If you're going to stand right in the middle, you should do so on the understanding that you will be expected to chant. If you're not a big chanter, stand somewhere to the edges. No flares. Don't be a dick. Pretty straightforward.

There will be no segregation at the game. I don't know if Sydney FC fans will bothering to turn up in such numbers as to be creating any sort of organised atmosphere. My advice for those of them that want to congregate somewhere is to take up a spot in the northern stand or on the terracing behind the goals. As for any other Sydney fans attending, sit or stand pretty much where common sense says you should. Most of us don't bite.

One hopes that the atmosphere will be jovial and relatively lighthearted. Of course we South people want to win this game, thought realistically our chances are fairly remote. Hopefully the boys can do well enough and have enough good fortune so as to at least make a game of it. If things go bad, it's not a reflection on us specifically, but mostly on the stark inequities of the situation as a whole.

That's not much as far as inspirational speeches go, but that's never been my bag anyway. For those able to enjoy South matches, enjoy it. For those who have more trouble enjoying games with any measure of importance, you know best how to deal with it.

In other news...
Not unexpectedly Nick Epifano won our best and fairest award for season 2017, at a low key awards night last Saturday in the social club. How low key? Pretty much no one outside the players and committee knew it was on. Natalie Martineau took out the equivalent women's award.

Monday, 2 October 2017

South claim WNPL title over Geelong Galaxy in dramatic grand final

Despite the senior men starting pre-season in late November 2016, the 2017 South season just doesn't end, and so we - the few, the proud, the geeky - found ourselves out at Broadmeadows for WNPL grand final day. I got there early enough to see almost all the under 18s final, which South lost 2-0 to Calder United. It was an uphill battle for most of the game for the South girls, who trailed 2-0 at the break and took a long time to get going in this game. They were up against the bigger bodied opposition which didn't help matters, but they fought their way until the end and had they snatched a goal late, things may have have ended up differently. As it was, Calder were the better side by some margin

The bombshell news before the senior grand final was that the league's golden boot winner Melina Ayres would be out, reportedly at the behest of the national youth squad selectors who did not want her playing and further aggravating a calf injury she had picked up while training with them. It left a sour taste in the mouth, but one had to have confidence in the rest of the squad which had done so well this season. And besides which, we had the services of the Matildas' all time leading scorer in the form of Lisa de Vanna.

Lisa De Vanna shields the ball from a Geelong opponent. De Vanna was a crucial element of the championship win, even if at times her teammates went all mid 1990s Collingwood with her by looking to pass to her at every opportunity, as did those Magpie players of that era with Nathan Buckley. Photo: Mark Avellino.
After a sluggish start from both sides, it was De Vanna who put us ahead early on when she smashed a low cross from Natalie Martineau into the roof of the net. Still better was to come, with De Vanna setting up a shot for Jamie Pollock, only to have that effort sharply diverted with a header into the back of the net by Martineau. 2-0 is never a done and dusted scoreline, especially only half an hour in. This is perhaps especially true in the women's game at this level where shifts of momentum can be quick and devastating.

And thus in the second half, Antonia Niteros gave away an unnecessary penalty which was converted by former South player Laura Spiranovic, and soon enough Geelong were level when South keeper Molly-May Ramsay misjudged her positioning and saw a shot curl around her from distance into the far corner. Times like that you think the game is going to slip away, but the introduction of Caitlin Greiser off the bench, along with renewed resolve from the South players saw us get on top in the final ten minutes of regular time.

Caitlin Greiser tries to win the ball from a Galaxy opponent. Photo: Mark Avellino
We hit the woodwork four times. We should have stormed over the top of them. And while Greiser was the main culprit, missing one sitter in particular, saying something like we would've won easily if Ayres was playing is a bit of a misnomer - the chances were there were to be taken, and we didn't do it. So the game went into extra time, and this time Greiser found herself at the back post and made no mistake. 3-2 up early in extra time, and looking good, only to cough up another equaliser. So as it was two years ago when South last played in and won a women's Victorian top flight grand final, the game was off to penalties.

One got the feeling of an immense injustice about to take place, but we worked our way to a two goal buffer in the shoot-out; only to try and Melbourne Croatia 1991 grand final our way out of the game by botching our chance to finish Galaxy off. When De Vanna stepped up to take our fifth penalty, it just looked wrong. Galaxy keeper Emily Kenshole had been doing a good job in the shoot-out, and she easily saved De Vanna's tentatively placed effort. Skipper Alex Cheal stepped up in the sudden death round, and though among some of the watchers in our behind the goals group thought that this would be another Michael Eagar/Palm Beach 2015 moment. But Cheal put her penalty away, and then Geelong had their next effort saved easily by Ramsay.

120 minutes and still no winner, so now into the shoot-out. No one here seems particularly confident. Photo: Mark Avellino.
It was fitting but also pleasing that Greiser scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out. The striker has been understandably overshadowed by Ayres' goal scoring feats this season, but got into enough good positions to win the grand final on her own and yet came away with just the one goal. Credit to Greiser though, she held her nerve brilliantly and placed the ball out of reach of the goalkeeper, who had done a good job of guessing where our penalties were headed. And thus South won the title, adding 2017 to our previous wins in 2011, 2014, and 2015, and the enforced State League 1 title from 2016 - although to be fair, the 2011-2015 titles were done under the auspices of the SMWFC.

Tiff Eliadis was awarded best on ground, and she was a worthy recipient. She was important at first in midfield, and then in defence later in the game. It also wouldn't be a South championship without the trophy coming apart upon presentation, and that was the case again yesterday as the base came free right on cue. Later on the team and some of its well-wishers returned to the social club. The kitchen was closed, but the bar was open, and there were pizzas from Blue Room up the road, and later unfortunately from Pizza Hut. Nevertheless the vibe was good, and why wouldn't it be? You'd just won one of the most dramatic grand finals by the skin of your teeth.

But all's well that ends well! Trophies, pennants, and big smiles all round for a fine season. Photo: Mark Avellino.
It's in the nature of women's football (so far as my observations go) that at this stage of its development that teams are less cynical in their play than the men, and are always looking to attack rather than defend. Even so, this South team from what I've seen of it is even more obsessed with scoring goals over not conceding than even that stereotype of women's football allows. Some of the keener watchers of this team put that down in part to the coaching of Socrates Nicolaidis, and I like to think that somewhere in that influence is a bit of the old, classic South - the one which sought not just to win, but to attack, to fear no team. If the men's team under Chris Taylor has understandably taken on a more pragmatic approach during its run of success, then it's at the very least pleasing that in the women's teams and in the juniors, the old South ethic of winning and winning well is kicking on.

The grand final win however will no doubt annoy many of the other teams. Few if any of them wanted South included in the WNPL this season, crying both for lack of depth in the local women's game as a whole, but also for what they perceived as favourable treatment from FFV in us getting in at all after we missed out on the inaugural WNPL intake in 2015. For those who kept the faith, especially those players who remained with South during our short WNPL exclusion period, yesterday's triumph will be especially gratifying.

Just quietly, too, this grand final was a cut or two above that 2015 decider at the Veneto Club, a messy and mistake riddled game. Geelong had given our women a good run for their money throughout the 2017 season, twice drawing 3-3 with us and losing the other game we played in circumstances which could've easily led to another 3-3 draw. While I think we deserved to win this game both on the balance of the day and on the balance of the season, Geelong would be devastated knowing they that threw everything they had at us and it still not being enough. Still, those of their supporters in the crowd were good sports about the whole thing, and there was a great feeling after the game at the entertainment which had been provided by both teams.

Those who weren't there missed an entertaining game of a good quality. Those who were there maybe just for the day for a bit of fun, saw themselves perhaps being surprised by how much they cared by the end.

FFA Cup semi-final ticketing news
Details have finally been released by the club.

If you haven't received an email about it yet, head here for a rundown of what's been announced so far.

Please keep all comments about ticketing for that game in that thread and not in this one.

Around the grounds
Double dose of joy and despair
The Saturday before last I headed out to Port Melbourne for a couple of state league promotion/relegation playoffs. These are my favourite fixtures in the Victorian soccer calendar. There's something on the line, and you get two sides playing against each other, on a neutral venue, who are of a roughly equivalent level but who may seldom if ever meet because of geography. And unlike a similar meeting in an FFA Cup game, the rewards are a bit more tangible, if modest. For clubs at this level, it's not the wishy-washy 'promise' of the impossible getting to the FFA Cup round of 32, but rather the more tangible and hard-earned slog of getting promoted up the Victorian soccer pyramid.

First up was Ashburton against Dingley Stars. Ashburton had been relegated to State League 4 under the stewardship of former coach (and one time South player) Steve O'Dor, but had done well enough to earn their way through to a promotion playoff. For Dingley - the old Southern Stars, who were in turn the old Dingley - a loss would mean another relegation. First things first - the temperature was up in the high 20s, which was going to play havoc with the fitness of both sides, especially if the game was going to go the distance into extra time and penalties. Secondly, it's not often you get two sets of bantering, chanting supporters to a game at Port. Usually it's the 50 old blokes who are hanging on to Port for grim life and maybe whatever of Clarendon Corner or MCF decided to turn and try and create some atmosphere. No aggro here, just good old fashioned passion.

I'm not going to pretend the skill level was the greatest, but at least the two teams got to play on a pretty decent surface and provided a very entertaining contest, and well with the $5 entry fee - because the weather was so nice, I'd left my media pass at home in my good jacket, but no gripes from me. Ashburton looked to attack on the wings, Dingley with balls over the top. It was one of those balls over the top that gave Dingley the lead, as the lofted through ball ended up being misjudged by the Ashburton keeper and bouncing over him into an empty net. In the second half Ashburton had the breeze and appeared to be taking control of the game. They drew level thanks to a deep cross to the back post, and that moment it looked like momentum was such that Dingley would get overrun.

But Dingley worked their way back into the game, and the game went into extra time. If one was to say who deserved to win it in normal time, it'd have been Ashburton, but they didn't take their chances. Yet it was Dingley who found the breakthrough in extra time, a cut back from the right being bundled into the back of the net for an own goal. But Ashy wasn't finished yet, and managed to get another equaliser, from a corner if memory serves me correct, their many corners before that point being almost all garbage. The penalty shoot out saw both teams supporters congregate behind the Williamstown Road goals. Dingley were the better team here, winning the shoot-out 4-2, leaving Ashy to wonder what if - but at least they were good sports about it. Just a pity that I don't think anyone was there to film this game.

The second fixture was State League 4 Sebastopol vs State League 3 Fawkner (the seniors of the junior wing, not the original senior wing which ended up at Mannginham). This game was a major let down after the previous one. Both sides were ordinary. Sebastapol had the better territory, but were ineffective in attack. Fawkner were solid at the back, but couldn't really get the ball forward. About 25 minutes in, Fawkner finally managed to get the ball upfield, and scored a very easy goal. That didn't improve the game in any way, and it took a dog's breakfast of a goal for Sebastopol to get level midway throough the second half, a series of headers from an uncleared corner ending up with one being looped over the Fawkner keeper.

Fawkner went down to ten men, and then survived an almighty keeper mistake to send the game into extra time. Not much happened in extra time, unless you count Sebastopol also going down to ten men, Fakwner cracking a shot into the crossbar from six yards after the keeper spilt the ball, and Blue Thunder doing a lousy job of preempting the problems that would arise from the rowdy Sebastopol support behind the goals which was liquored up and launching unceasing vitriol at certain Fawkner players. You can bet that if that was Clarendon Corner they would've had the security teams out there from the start, but for some reason it took one of the Fawkner defenders getting into slanging match with the Sebastopol support for security to cotton on the issue.

The game went into penalties, and Sebastapol won the shoot-out 4-2 to win promotion to State League 3. Unlike the earlier game, which was finished in a very sporting manner, the Sebastapol supporters and certain Fawkner players almost came to blows on the non-social club side of the players race, with security reacting very slowly. I'm not quite sure how it didn't kick off, but credit to those who few people from both sides who managed to assert their authority and eventually calm the situation down.

Final thought
Trivial as it may seem, and loathe as I am to finish on a sour note, it was disappointing not to see any members of the senior men's team in support of the senior women.