- The arcane machinations of state and national soccer bodies
- A now seemingly permanent second tier status
- Media obscurity except in the most unusual and desperate of situations
- The assimilation/absorption oriented nature of Australia's Anglo-Celtic centric form of multiculturalism
- The club's own intermittent or frequent (your call) bouts of incompetence
- Modern difficulties of managing work/life balance
- Neos Kosmos, Neos Kosmos English Weekly, Ta Nea
- State Sport Centres Trust
- A-League hooligans
- Opposition sides
- Negative bloggers
I am talking of course about that broad collective which contains former and especially latent South Melbourne Hellas supporters. Now, most of us have dealt with the defiantly former South fan, and their myriad of mostly retrospectively contrived reasons for no longer supporting us. Frankly, I'm not in the mood to deal with those folks right now. But the latent as opposed to merely treacherous fan tends to fly under the radar. Oh, we talk about them a little bit - more so in the past - when we need them to perform one of two symbolic functions.
The first of these functions sees reference made to The Great Lost and Wandering Tribe of Hellas when we talk about all the fans that will come back to Lakeside once we re-enter the A-League. The second instance is when we talk about their absence as it affects us in our guise of misery inducing second tier status. 'If only a quarter (or similar number) of the 6,000 odd regulars of the NSL era who have left us would come back, we'd be better off in so many ways on and off the park' is the somewhat mangled mystery meat combination lament.
Unlike the deliberately and self-consciously trendy infidels who now support 'other' teams and who boast about their disloyalty towards South, the latent fan is harder to find. You may find an elder gentleman sitting at a barber shop, kafeneio, or perhaps in a cemetery. But there are also younger and more tech savvy variants who are easier to find by use of a simple device: the posting of South Melbourne Hellas pictures or videos of our glorious NSL teams and players. Do that on Facebook and to a much lesser extent Twitter, and watch them metaphorically scurry out from underneath the proverbial fridge, only to disappear once the business of South Melbourne Hellas as it exists now comes to hand.
Now I can empathise with these people. The NSL was undoubtedly awesome, especially if you were a South fan. You watched one of the league's most popular and successful teams, which played in one of the competition's better stadiums, and the club you supported carried about itself an air of invincibility and cockiness that likewise added a spring to your step.
But nowadays the club is - as this blog has talked about in far too much depth - something you no longer recognise or wish to recognise as the club you spent so much time, money, and emotion supporting. Your heart is broken by seeing South become re-associated with clubs that it had left behind. Watching the club play every second week in industrial zone paddocks, and every other week from behind the running track, is a torture the now latent fan cannot bare.
[Let's also not discount the problem of your mates or relatives no longer coming to games - it makes motivating oneself for the grind that much harder if you had a social group you were involved with and which is now no longer interested. People attract people, a crowd attracts a crowd, but once you slip underneath a certain critical mass, attendances, interest and relevance can dissolve very quickly.]
And let's not get started on the standard of play! So they stay away, and cloistering themselves at home, or at the footy, but especially in the soft, warm cloak of nostalgia. Meanwhile, those South fans still attending games rationalise the behaviour of latent fans as soft, or weak, or even as irresponsible. Me, I probably think all those things and more when I think about these latent Hellas fans, but at the heart of the matter, I understand the compulsion to stay away. I don't agree with it, but believe me, I do understand.
The same issues that keep those types away don't just magically disappear for those of us that still do attend. Every car trip into a suburban outpost, every long multi-modal and poorly serviced public transport trip to some ground that doesn't have an elevated view or even a concrete terrace, every loss to a team that five minutes ago was playing three or four divisions lower - all of it takes a toll on those still going to games. The flip-side to that is that there is also a camaraderie among the fans, especially those that do the business week in and week out; there is joy, there is comedy, and there is also victory, compromised as it may be by our circumstances.
So because I understand their reasoning, when I see these latent fans reminiscing about the 'good old days', I don't jump in and judge them. It doesn't do any good, and is certainly not likely to get them to come back. I'd rather set the example via my own attendance and this blog, where I contribute to the general South experience in order to do my small bit to keep the club as a going concern.
Recently however on Twitter, there was a passionate but also hilarious discussion on South's A-League bid shenanigans, especially some of the very loose handling of facts by certain members of the bid team. During that discussion, one of these self-confessed latent Hellas fans - one notable not only to myself but also to others for his tendency to only talk about South as a historical instead of ongoing concern - accused some South fans who were discussing and disagreeing with the conduct of South Melbourne's A-League bid team as exhibiting 'disreputable' behaviour.
One assumes this scalding (and for that writer, also quite uncharacteristic) epithet was directed to persons like myself, and possibly to folk like T. Arvanitis of Murrumbeena, who posted what was otherwise considered a very worthwhile bit of commentary on South's A-League bid media strategy on this blog. My normal response to such a provocation would be to remain in character, play a straight bat, and ask a question along the lines of 'disreputable how?'.
Instead of doing that - maybe because it was getting late and because tolerance to latent fans had worn thin - I responded with a hastily cobbled together response (including a choice typo) which played the man and not the issue. One could see it as giving back what I'd received, but it still felt a little unbecoming. The response to my riposte was to accuse me of having an agenda, whatever that meant to the particular person making that accusation (there was no follow up explaining what my agenda may be).
I don't know how he read something so sinister into my Twitter oeuvre, but if I were to admit to having an agenda, as a South fan it would be: to go to as many games as possible in order to support the team; to add a dry, curmudgeonly wit to the general atmosphere; and to lend my assistance to the club where I reasonably can. As a blogger, my aims are to do what I've always done: to provide a source of South news, opinion and assorted nonsense that is independent of South's official media channels; to increase the level of South fans' interests in the club's off-field operations; and to present a different public front to non-South fans about what this club is about. Sometimes this will compliment the club's efforts, and sometimes they will take an oppositional tone.
Ultimately, the club exists for the living, not the dead. It's all in or not in at all. Lastly, it's never too late to come back - others who have drifted away have come back - even I've done it. It's not all bad.