Tuesday, 12 September 2017

This Sporting Life

Before we begin working backwards (preface for Maurice Bisetto)
By all means, have a go at Lakeside as a modern multi-purpose sporting stadium; but if you happen to be the president of a soccer club that plays in a mud pit, while also working for an A-League bid in the form of Geelong's Victoria Patriots - whose desired rectangular home ground doesn't even exist - maybe you should be a bit more circumspect about such things, eh?

Monday morning
Frozen tundra of Soldier Field
Upset at the Seahawks' offensive line for not protecting Russell Wilson properly, and Aaron Rodgers for not throwing to Devante Adams enough, but the Galloping Gazelles were rescued this week in part by a seven sack and one defensive TD effort from the Steelers. Let's be honest, that kind of good luck won't last, and in the end the main thing is to have the best avatar and the best and most accessibly obscure television referencing team name.

There but for the grace of God go I
So it'd come to this, Melbourne Knights playing in a match to avoid being relegated to the Victorian second tier. Their opponents were Dandenong City, the upstart Croatian team from the other side of town. The story circulating around some quarters weeks in advance was that this game was fixed in favour of Knights, with City to defer to the prerogative of the standard bearer of local Croatian soccer to maintain its place. I think that's being a little melodramatic in what would have been a 50/50 game at the best of times, and more so in favour of Knights after Steven Topalovic got red carded last week, and Shaun Kelly out with a broken leg. But Daniel Visevic starting on the bench? That would have those looking for suspicious motives raising their eyebrows in a kind of 'I told you so' fashion.

The plainer truth of the matter is that the game was pretty timid for the most part, on the field and in the stands - the crowd wasn't as large for this first game in the double header as some have been making out, maybe a solid 800-1000, and they were very quiet. That's understandable, insofar as there was no right answer for the non-neutrals in the crowd. I was hoping for a good game first, and if Knights were to be allowed to stay up, to at least be forced to be earn it. On the former point, it did not live up to any sort of competitive or quality hype one would have hoped for. On the latter point, the fact that Kym Harris, who had done nothing all year - and as I pointed out to anyone who cared to listen, I saw enough games to make that judgement - scored a hat trick, said something about the nature of this game.

It was just as well Harris did pull his finger out, because there was no Tom Cahill for Knights. If the game was fixed, it was disguised well enough, though Dandy pulling two goals back late perhaps made it look a lot more suss considering that for most of the game they were incredibly limp going forward - a couple of headers over the bar in the second half when the game had already slipped away, and a free kick which hit the post in the first half were as close as they got. So far as Knights are concerned perhaps, 2017 as a whole was a hard lesson learned with the fortune of not needing to learn it next year in NPL 2 with a cash splashing Altona Magic to fight against.

In all honesty, I have no strong feelings either way as to whether it would've been good to see Knights go down. It wouldn't have made our lives significantly better or worse. There would have been a momentary or temporary period of schadenfreude, but that kind of thing only serves to distract one from one's own mess. Most of the Croatians who had come to see this game left after its conclusion, I suppose wanting to put the whole unseemly business behind them as soon as possible. Who can blame them?

As for me though, the whole thing felt like compromise ending to Pretty in Pink. Did you know that the in the original ending, Molly Ringwald's character is meant to end up with Duckie? But test audiences apparently reacted badly to that ending, so they instead had her ending up with the rich snob. Here, too, it seems we had a whole film pointing us towards a certain conclusion, only to rip it away from us at the last moment for no good reason whatsoever.

At least us public transport types were saved* from having to go out into the middle of nowhere police paddocks out the back of Endeavour Hills or wherever Dandy City play.

*Pending a possible FFA Cup trip out there.

May the best team win on the day we decide that it all counts
The grand final itself arrived, and proceeded to be if not a dire affair, than a rather unmemorable game nevertheless. The game was tight, chances were few. Some say that Bentleigh had the better of the midfield battle, but I reckon the Bergers created the better chances throughout the game in spite of 'King' Kenny Athiu being marked out of the game for the most part. The first half finished 0-0, probably should have been 1-1, but so it goes.

The second half was better. In part this was because Bentleigh opened the scoring through a dreadful error by Heidelberg captain Luke Byles, not the first time he's provided such a moment this season (see his horrendous under-hit square ball against Knights at Somers Street) or for a certain other team he used to play for. Bergers got a penalty to push it to extra time. Lambros Honos apparently scored a wonder goal to win it in extra time, I didn't see it and I don't have any regrets on that.

In a fair and just world, Heidelberg would have been crowned champions this year by virtue of finishing well clear on top of the table. Likewise for Bentleigh last season, and to a slightly lesser extent for South in 2015. While we're not going to be rid of a finals system BECAUSE STRAYA, could we at least get a nominally fairer finals system? I nominate the McIntyre Final Five.

Learning from past mistakes, mostly
After last year's mess of a grand final day, when FFV grossly underestimated the walk up attendance, yesterday there were far fewer issues with how the day went. The northern stand was opened up early on, including it seems the northern ticket booth, and patrons did not seem to take long to purchase their ticker and enter the venue.

Our social club was open, but it took a little while to sort which side to have it open from. Initially the plan seemed to be let people in from the futsal court entrance - that is, from outside the venue entirely - and allow people to enter from the arena side only if they had already purchased a ticket via the use of a pass-out system. At some point this was changed, and the outside door was locked, with people being able to come in and out from the arena side as they pleased, provided they didn't take any liquor outside

This is interesting in terms of what's been happening at Lakeside since we moved back in, whereby if there is not a South Melbourne match event in progress, than the door which leads from the social club to the arena is supposed to be locked, with an alarm going off should anyone try to access that door. The reasons for this seem to boil down to a combination of whatever agreements we live under as well as the continuing pettiness of the Trust.

The social club seemed to get more action once the entry switch was made. I don't think it was packed at any stage, but it seemed to be doing OK up until the last point I checked in, which was in the time between the two games up to just before kick off in the grand final. That it had to compete with the food outlets outside, including a Nando's truck, didn't help its cause, but things could have gone worse. That's my take on that anyway.

By the time grand final started, I'd estimate the southern stand was about 2/3 to 3/4 full at most. There were few people behind the goal ends, and not many standing alongside the fences or on the concourses. All up about 3,700 people turned up across both games. If I absolutely had to hazard a guess, the grand final itself had about 2800-3000 spectators. As expected there were few Bentleigh people in attendance.

There was a good smattering of Bergers support, but also a lot of neutrals. The Bergers fans made little noise, apart from a repetitive drum. The snake charmer I heard only once, the Ah-ah-lexandros chant only after the Bergers equalised. I didn't expect South Melbourne/Clarendon Corner levels of effort and relative co-ordination, but the lack of banners and flags surprised me, as on carnival days the Berger fans are at least good for that much.

The most irritating thing about the event as a whole was whoever was put into ground announcing duties. As I noted on Twitter, they were one novelty branding iron away from yelling 'OPEN WIDE FOR SOME SOCCER!'. It really was too much, and the crowd did not respond to his calls 'to make some noise' in any event.I didn't stick around for the post-game ceremonies, and wouldn't have done so for either team. It was only on the day itself that I committed to sticking around for the second game at all, my overwhelming interest being in the curtain raiser.

One thing that comes up consistently
If there's one thing which delights me about Lakeside Stadium above all others it is its status as a non-smoking venue. This rule isn't always adhered to by patrons, but for the most the smoking ban means that the air at NPL matches at Lakeside is a lot more breathable than at pretty much every other venue. This of course upsets smokers, especially those who are at best irregular visitors to Lakeside and who are more used to puffing away at will at suburban grounds. Apart from some smokers' indignant propensity to shout 'POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD' in such situations, I think part of the problem is people not realising that legally Lakeside Stadium is treated no differently to other major sporting venues in this state, despite the incongruity of most of its football matches being not very major events at all.

To which I say, suffer in your jocks.

If there's one thing Oz soccer struggles with, it's in sourcing
stickers that are hard to rip off wherever you've decided to
stick them. You can't go cheap and local and buy them off
the local sticker place selling 'fuck off we're full' designs
at the local trash n' treasure market. You've got to make the
effort to source stickers from wherever European ultras
groups get their stickers done.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis
With apologies to the South women, but I'll see you in the finals
Last day of the home and away season for the state leagues and for WNPL, I could - should - be at Lakeside watching the South women winning what I call the minor premiership, but I've made a promise to go see Clifton Hill once this season. Fuelled by the righteous indignation of someone arguing that we bend reality to our own will just like that, I settled in to watch a pair of dead rubber matches. In the reserves Clifton Hill held out Mooroolbark 2-1. The seniors was even more pointless, Clifton Hill out of the title running, the Barkers already relegated. The first half was even enough, 1-0 at the break to the Hillmen, but it was mostly close because the home side couldn't finish properly. They fixed that in the second half, running out 6-1 winners. The most notable moment was not one of the goals, but a low drive from way out by a Clifton Hill player, a shot whose laser-like qualities managed to hit one of his own teammates who failed to get out of the way; the shooter declaring in frustration 'oh, now you win finally win a header'. As expected the souv was mediocre, undressed salad and not much meat.

The notion also came up and was developed that, Tiamat willing the A-League fell over and we needed to get a new national league going, that first dibs on entering should go to Mooroolbark. They could of course reject formal participation, but like Greece leading the parade of nations at modern Olympic Games, there'd be no harm in offering a symbolic gesture on that front.

Friday or Saturday...
Famous production line
South under 20s forward Giordano Marafioti has been picked for the Young Socceroos squad going to Qatar for some reason or another.

The Glamorous Lives of Professional Athletes
On a whim I decided to head out to Traralgon with Chris Egan to watch the Perth Wildcats play the Adelaide 36ers in a pre-season tournament in Gippsland. It was only my second time in Gippsland, my only other trip out there being a trip to Morwell. Fair to say that Traralgon isn't impressive by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems like a slight step up from Morwell. Believe me, you don't go there for the architecture - even the walking tour sheets they hand out at the local tourist centre seem to refer mostly to buildings that have been knocked down. I suppose that's why the people in the information office were shocked that anyone came visiting by train.

ASIC building in Traralgon. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
After visiting one of the local bakeries (above average sausage roll, average chocolate eclair)  we did walk around the town for a bit. Visited the library to see what kind of local history section they had (not my idea of fun, but go with the flow), and noticed that their footy book display had references only to AFL books and nothing about the local scene. But there was this (see right), the amazing federal brutalist (is that even a correct term?) government building that turned out to be an Australian Securities and Investments Commission building. What was ASIC doing having an office in Traralgon? What were ASIC doing having an office in Traralagon in a building like that? I don't know the history, but I'd love to know the history. Went to a local bare bones pub, then an oddly designed and rather dull Catholic church (my first Catholic church visit, got nothing on the Orthodox).

Traralgon is also strange in how little it seems to make of being the birthplace of a Nobel Prize winner. There's a small bust somewhere in the town's CBD (I think outside the too fancy by half post office), and a room named after him in what may be the council chambers, but nothing else visible so far as I can remember. Maybe it's because some of his later views bordered on being eugenicist. 

Looking towards the south/south-eastern end of the Traralgon showgrounds.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
We then walked out of the compact and dull CBD area (yes it still has a Sanity outlet, but that's hardly a real attraction) which meant we eventually reached the combination Traralgon football ground and showgrounds. I was taken back to a time during the mid 1990s when the then floundering VFA/VFL was looking for regional teams to help fill out the space left behind by most of the VFA's teams going broke over the preceding decade. Traralgon (along with North Ballarat and Bendigo Diggers) was part of that attempt at regional expansion, and on face value that made a sort of sense - Traralgon were a very strong club in the Gippsland region. But of course it didn't work out, with the Maroons winning only four and a half games over two seasons. Possibly, too, there was not so much interest from locals in rivalries with Melbourne based clubs they knew little of and cared little for.

Entrance to the Traralgon showgrounds, with the decorative gates
installed fir the 1988 Bicentennial. Photo: Chris Egan.
But I wouldn't want to be too bold in my assertions, because my entire experience of that period of history was occasionally seeing this ground on ABC TV on Saturday afternoons after I'd finished Greek school.The ground was open to the public, so we had a bit of a wander around. There wasn't a great deal of cover or seating, but the scoreboard had a clock going up to an hour, instead of the usual 45 minutes that most footy grounds have. There were also semi-elaborate gates out the front, installed as part of the 1988 Bicentennial.

The north side of Traralgon City's club rooms. Around the corner on the
left hand side were City's grounds. Around the corner on the right hand side
were Olympians grounds. Photo: Paul Mavorudis.
Wandering up further north, we ended up finding what could be considered Traralgon's soccer precinct, though when arriving there it didn't seem to register as such. From the angle we walked in from, all we could see was Traralgon City's grounds and small club rooms, with no seats. Walking around the north side of the club rooms however was revealed an interesting sight: the home ground of Traralgon Olympians, with separate club rooms.

Now being an Altona East follower of sorts means that I'm used to having two clubs share a common club room facilities while having separate fields, but I could not think of (off the top of my head) a situation where two clubs in Melbourne were so close to each other while having entirely separate facilities. It was all a bit small scale Dundee and Dundee United, for those familiar with the proximity of Dens Park and Tannadice to each other.

Looking south-east from the Jim Fkiaris Stand at Traralgon Olympians'
ground. Note the plentiful cover, terrace standing room, as well as
comfortable seating. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
It's fair to say that while it's not really much of a difference, Olympians have the better facility. The Jim Fkiaris Stand caters to everyone's needs: plenty of room for standing, but also half a dozen or so long wooden benches with plenty of leg room, all undercover. It's the thing that should conceivably be within the reach of any suburban club that has a space with adequate cover and elevation to achieve, let alone for local councils to be able to implement. Of course the latter are more interested in elaborate and arty designs which provide neither shelter nor seating these days. So it goes.

Of course some of the more trainspotter types out there will recall that Traralgon Olympians did participate in a couple of Hellenic Cups in the mid 2000s, though if memory serves me correctly they were never in one of South's groups. If anyone's willing to tag along for the train ride, I'd be more than up for a day out at the Traralgon derby next year, provided the fixture was one being hosted by Olympians.

Traralgon Olympians' match day canteen menu. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
Just don't expect any miracles on the catering front though. While the offerings are cheap and cheerful, Australian soccer food tourists looking for regional souv action will be left disappointed if the menu (see right) is an accurate reflection of what's on offer at an Olympians match day.

Eventually came time to head to the Traralgon basketball centre, which didn't require a bus trip but we made use of one anyway. The facility was pretty much one expected, at least in terms of the main court, except for there being seating on both sides. Oh, and there were Wildcats fans other than Chris Egan in attendance. I've been to two basketball matches before this, and fair to say that the sport is not my cup of tea. One was a Melbourne Tigers (remember them?) vs 36ers game at Hisense Arena I think, after a spare ticket became available in a party of four. I didn't end up writing about that because things got a bit congested on here during February of I think it was 2014. All I can remember is that the standard was poor, especially the shooting, and that there were a lot of families in a solid crowd, which made me wonder why they bothered re-branding later on. Oh, and I also went to a Dandenong Rangers WNBL game.

This game was as you'd expect from a pre-season affair, a heady mix of free-flowing and sloppy, with not much pressure on the shooters (and consequently what seemed like a decent field goal rate) but also a lot of fouls off the ball. The highlight of our time there was a half time competition where fans got to take a shot from the half way line to win $1,000. A red-headed lad managed to get the prize with the very first shot, and I felt good for him, but also a little concerned. What if this was the highlight of his life and it was all downhill from here? And how unlucky in a sense that he nailed this shot in Traralgon, where the best he could hope for would be $1,000, and not somewhere in the state where the potential prizes could be worth a lot more.

Walking out at three quarter time because of my mistaken perception of what I thought was the last train back to Melbourne, we at least got to see the Sydney Kings pile out of a couple of rental vans, which kind of made the boast in the tournament programme that the NBL is one of the world's leading basketball leagues seem a little hollow. The realisation once we reached Traralgon station that we could've watched the game upset my OCD need for closure sensibilities, but at Chris pointed out, at least we got back to town early enough that I didn't have to deal with any obnoxious Richmond fans after the footy. Still got to see a nutbag arguing with staff at the Elizabeth Street KFC, the aftermath of which we avoided by going across the road for bad pizza instead.

Friday, somewhere on the way to, or in, Traralgon
Somehow Travis Kelce only gets five catches for forty yards in a game the Chiefs rack up up 42 points in.

Thursday, about 1:30 in the afternoon
After being sucked in to filling out the league slots in an NFL fantasy league, I found myself in the Vic Uni library participating in a serpentine draft with pick no. 2 instead of doing thesis work. I had only half an idea of what I was doing, ended up being ranked the worst ranked team. Missed out on all the good running backs, or even the ones that will have to make up for being on teams with lousy quarterbacks. Oh well, as long as I can get Danny Amendola on waivers later...

Thursday, or maybe Wednesday
Keep Australia Beautiful
I peeled off a North Terrace Boys sticker off the bottom of a gantry at Footscray station.

Final thought
The highlight of the week was during the Knights-Dandy game, when two little girls walked through our row and meowed in the direction of Big Griff.

The less said about industrial strength mineral water and the people who drink it however, the better.

1 comment:

  1. First its y-ville now the hillmen. Kinda makes you hope to get relegated doesnt it? :/


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