Talk about anticlimactic.
And if there is one lingering frustration with Wednesday's result in amid all the relief and joy, it's that this is exactly what we should have done to Palm Beach/Gold Coast City two years ago. Give or take one or two players, we had a better team then, but it is what it is, and one should not take for granted what we actually have compared to what we lost.
If that's too many cliches for a Friday morning, consider it a warning for what's about to come. The circus is about to come to town and every idiot with a pathological hatred of us, and every South fan with an axe to grind is going to come out swinging with so much confected outrage and bile that certain sections of the internet may well collapse from under their weight. And that's not including whatever the club decides to put out in the public sphere. Indeed, they've already begun.
Unlike the apparently 300 odd travelling supporters, your correspondent was located in our social club, arriving early enough for happy hour drinks, $7 burgers, and what looked likely to be a less than stellar turnout. Thankfully numbers arrived close to kick off, and the place was fullish albeit comfortable - not many people bumping into each other, if you know what I mean. Fatalist that I am, I had already written us off in this game weeks ahead of time. Contrarian that I am, I still got instantly got nervous once the game begun. Like most of you, I'm only human. The first goal did little to settle my nerves, and if anything it made them worse. The second goal didn't help much either. 2-0 up within ten minutes? Plenty of time to screw that up.
Can I also say that the young lad who announced the fact that we were 2-0 up before the stream had caught up to that fact - I assume he was being messaged from a mate or checking an app - may have thought he was doing us a favour, but he snuffed out the instinctive joy of that moment.
Under the circumstances, the lineup was fine. Michael Eagar was back in the starting eleven, though his absence in several lead up matches continue to confound. Luke Pavlou filled in at left back, but unlike every other time that move was tried and found wanting (including with Liam McCormick), nothing happened, Gold Coast simply failed to exploit that or any other situation available to them, Getting two goals up early helps a lot, but it looked like - and I agree with our resident tactically aware friend - Gold Coast set up absolutely the wrong way to play us.
We had so much time on the ball. It was mad. If there is one thing we are good at as a team, it's feeling comfortable when we are given acres of space. There was no shutting down - Lujic was given more room in this match than he has been all season in the NPL - and everything seemed to roll around in slow motion. Even in that part of the game from about 20-40 minutes, where the match was more even, City did little to make me feel like they had a way of getting back except by accident. Of course we all know that such accidents are possible, and that they can lead to chain reactions, but Jesse Daley's goal finished it off, For once we found the space on the edge of the box, and for once we took that shot. I don't even remember anyone yelling 'shoot!' like they would at a South game; I was already celebrating the goal before it had even halfway reached the net,
The second half was pure farce. Milos finishing off what should have been a much easier goal from four or five shots and passes before that. Stefan Zinni scoring with his first touch after coming off the bench. Millar's icing on the cake, nodding home the header from a tight angle after the City keeper made a mess of his attempt at a chip pass or clearance. 'If in doubt, kick it out' is what the rugby pundits say, and at 5-0 down what harm could there be from just conceding a corner? Each goal was celebrated, but with less gusto as the game wore. The social club descended turned to idle chatter in between goals. The crowd noise from the TV seemed less intense as the match wore on. Do you make a big deal of celebrating putting goals past a team which played like a pub side? Taylor not only made early subs, he made all his subs. That's how comfortable it was.
Reaching this stage of the tournament, albeit via the 'designated mandatory NPL side in the semi-finals route of least resistance' helps ease some concerns, and introduces others. Of those things which have been soothed, the idea that this season was close to being a bust. No league success, no finals success, no post-season success, no Dockerty Cup success, not even a Charity Shield! Well, this has made everyone very happy, because even though in reality we've won squat this year, this is the thing that everyone cares about, both for 'relevance' and the money it'll bring. (Not everyone agrees that merely reaching this stage is a marker of success however).
It has also helped further diminish the notion of failing in 'big matches', especially under the Chris Taylor League Grinder method, so prone - apparently - to getting results in the workaday world of NPL Victoria, but less good at getting the job done in winner takes all affairs. Of course there's been a ton of luck involved with this run, but who I am to argue that it's a well overdue correction for all the luck that went against us in the past. Maybe this run of good fortune will be corrected in due course with some particularly amazing piece of stunning bad fortune.
After the game, we all waited for the result for the other game to be decided, and there was some trepidation that Blacktown City would get up over the Wanderers, something which might end up jeopardising our big payday. Unfortunately for the Demons - the best second tier team in the country across the past decade, maybe more - they couldn't get the job done. Which ended up with us getting drawn at home against Sydney FC, at a date yet to be decided upon.
What kind of preparation can the team do in the meantime? The A-League teams will probably have sorted out their schedules, and certainly closer to the date they'll be in their own season. An A-League youth team perhaps? Our WNPL team? Syria? Everyone on the ground seems relaxed about things, so much so that Chris Taylor is off on holidays for three weeks. That'll mean he'll hopefully miss most of the off-field nonsense that's going to build up. We've had already had Bill Papasteragiadis promise to sell out Lakeside, I assume with a crowd mostly made up of sellouts. To be a little fair, if you talk a big game like we do about ambition and latent and dormant support, you're going to be judged on your crowd. But promising a sell-out already seems to suggest that we're going to be in a for a long few weeks.
For the men, a home FFA Cup semi-final against Sydney FC some time in October.
For the women, a grand final appearance on Sunday week against either Calder or Geelong.
For me, probably some state league promotion/relegation playoffs on Saturday out at Port.
Hellas Ain't A Bad Place To Be/Highway To Hellas/Hellas Bells
Something strange is happening. There has been a gentle reemergence of a word which we had perhaps thought was banished to the historical vernacular.
Of course, the emphasis here is that in the vernacular, it didn't disappear. Our supporters have never stopped calling the club Hellas. Clarendon Corner, its Greeks and non-Greeks, still chant Hellas The club because of modern bylaws and constitutional necessity calls itself a different name - South Melbourne FC - and adapts that marketing angle for most of its social media product. Thus SMFC TV, smfc.com.au, @smfc etc. But the club has never abandoned the Hellas name. There are the retro 1991 style S. M. Hellas shirts. The club's business name is still officially South Melbourne Hellas. Our enemies use the term, and it sits along the short-form 'South' as a term of convenience and easy recognition."No nerves from Hellas from the start, scoring after 90 seconds."— Ante Jukić (@a_jukic) September 20, 2017
*head explodes* #FFACup pic.twitter.com/dDEgOQbivD
Sure, some people use 'Hellas' out of spite, as 'proof' that we are not a broad-based club, a club not fit for the A-League, not even a club fit for Australian society. But that's for the comments pages of newspapers and the dumpster fires that are internet forums, not the mainstream media. Here's another one.
Once upon a time it was absolutely normal for journos and commentators to avoid saying the 'H' word on air, and we became accustomed to it. Nor did we expect to hear it said or written, except in very particular circumstances, usually in the past tense, sometimes searching for the romantic. Of course there were always outliers. The late Laurie Schwab was famously recalcitrant in his disobedience, refusing to buckle down under the weight of governing body edicts to erase ethnicity. More recently, Ante Jukic has dabbled with using the old nomenclatures. But people like that are the minority.How this for a headline from a Brisbane Paper pic.twitter.com/lfsX3W4jhW— Pablo (@pavlaki1969) September 21, 2017
So what do we make of this small, probably unintentional tear in the fabric of the Australian soccer cosmos? My feeling is that it's mostly older people in the journo game, who are out of habit with what to call us because we've been irrelevant to them and everyone else in their world for so long. On the ground, the situation seems to have remained much the same.
But that's Australian soccer for you.You can make us cover that foul word "HELLAS" on our banner but you will never ever stop us singing it,discrimination @ it's best #smfc4life— Nick Vertsonis (@NickVertsonis) September 21, 2017
Call us Hellas a million times, I don't care; just please don't refer to us as 'Souths'.