Saturday, 27 January 2018

Cue the Roberto Carlos jokes.

Chris Taylor "parts ways" with South! As seen on the club's website
South Melbourne FC can today confirm that the club has parted ways with head coach, Chris Taylor. 
Taylor’s coaching journey at South Melbourne comes to an end after four and a half years, having joined in July 2013 from Dandenong Thunder. 
During his time at the club, he secured the league and entrance into the Westfield FFA Cup, including a run in the competition that culminated in an historic Semi-Final against Hyundai A-League outfit Sydney FC. 
Speaking to, SMFC President Leo Athanasakis thanked Taylor for his efforts at SMFC: “Chris has been an integral part of the club and the Senior team over the last four and a half years. We would like to place on record our appreciation of Chris’ contribution and we wish him well in his future endeavours.”
So Chris Taylor has "parted ways" with the club. This is a very sudden turn of events just a month out from the start of the season. The causes which lead to this shock departure are unknown to me. After taking a break towards the end of last year, Taylor was back in control in January, and from his outward demeanour it looked like business as usual.

The vague language used in the club statement will no doubt give rise to a lot of different theories about what happened behind the scenes for Taylor's tenure to end; after all, we had a friendly as recently as last night, and football director Nick Maikousis was in attendance with a big smile. Nature abhors a vacuum, and thus thoughts will automatically go to some sudden and irrevocable breach of trust between Taylor and the board.

Taylor's stint as South coach will mostly be remembered fondly. There were championships and trophies won after a long drought, and a necessary dose of self-respect reestablished onfield. While he had a budget exceeding many of the coaches who came before him, he made it work for him; and it's worth remembering other clubs competed with larger budgets. Sometimes his ultra-pragmatism, despite the results it achieved, put people off; it wasn't always the most rousing style of play.

Not everyone was happy with the playing style, or Taylor's demeanour, or some of his personnel and disciplinary decisions. After the initial novelty of winning after we hadn't won for a long time started to wear off, people would get grumpy in the South way. But the style was never quite as dour as it was made out to be, and the team tended to score more goals than most, naturally playing towards its strengths of having the league's best goalscorer. And when the team did fire up, Taylor's teams would play sweeping wing oriented football that was enjoyable to watch.

On a personal level, I'd like to thank Chris for his service to the club, and for making time to have the odd chat about tactics and personnel decisions.

As for who's next, and what it means for the players we've signed, the players we'd like to sign, and the rest of the coaching staff... well, we all wait with baited breath.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Notes from the 2017 AGM

The 2017 AGM was destined to be dominated by the linked issues of the social club/bistro/futsal court operation, the club's overall commercial strategy, and the club's finances, and this is what happened. Other issues - membership value, the quality of the team, even perhaps the ongoing issues with the operation of the various Lakeside leases - fell into the background, or did not get any time at all.

The timing and organisation of the event - midweek, 6:00PM, and moved from the social club to presidents room at short notice - was not just "not ideal"; it was breathtakingly poor behaviour for a club owned by its members. I do not understand why the club cannot hold an AGM by late November of the relevant year, on a weekend, and at a reasonable hour so we don't have to rush through everything. That's not an argument by the way for AGMs to go on forever, but the relatively limited time allocated and the tendency of some of our AGMs to descend into shouting matches means that some of the more important and particular issues I would have liked to have seen discussed did not happen.

Having an AGM seven months after the end of a financial year also means that the information provided in financial statements is also woefully out of date. Questions and presentations about the club's financial performance frequently consisted of two parts - the information as it was presented in the financial report, and if not quite "top of the head" answers then at least answers requiring a board member to recall from memory and do mental arithmetic to discuss our current financial position.

I don't know what our quorum is either, but at the start of the meeting it was dangerously close to not being met. A few later arrivals trickled in during the meeting, but it was one of the poorest attendances for many years. Considering last year's attendance was a bumper session - all seats taken up and about a dozen people standing at the back - I can only think that the timing of the meeting, along with the higher price of a social club membership, took its toll on attendance. Most board members were in attendance, except for Bill Papastergiadis (in China) and Nick Maikoussis (personal engagement).

As I've also made clear a number of times over the years, for better or worse, unless a rival ticket emerges to challenge this continually mutating iteration of the South Melbourne Hellas board, we continue to function as a club at its mercy. That doesn't mean we should go easy on the board or adopt a strident and self-serving cynicism (the latter of which is a habit I'm all too aware that I can fall into), but we can't pretend that the situation is any other way.

For this year at least, I'm finding it difficult to separate these issue of the financial position of the club from the futsal court and bistro; indeed, it will probably be impossible to ever separate them again, since the social club is now at the heart of our hopes for future prosperity, unless we somehow end up in the A-League.

The club recorded a small profit (about $17,000) from normal activities, and a much larger profit due to abnormal activity - namely, receiving the remainder of the allocated government grant money for the completion of the social club. To complete the social club however, the club also borrowed close to $700,000 (in various arrangements which I did not completely understand), which brought the total cost of the project close to the $1.5 million mark.

Here is where the majority of the AGM's controversy began. Some members bemoaned what they considered to be excessive borrowing, especially considering we had just managed to pay off our previous outstanding debts (specifically the Toumbourou debt, but also the cash flow issues of mid 2017). The club's argument went something like this - you need to spend money in order to make money, and the extra spending on the completion of the social club was both necessary, and added value to the project.

The club also stated that because of the donation of labour and materials, the overall value of the project was twice what it cost us to build, though I do not believe any formal valuation of the work has been made. The main loan has been guaranteed by three of the club's directors, and the club aims to pay it off in three years time (four years overall). Removing the cloud of pre-existing biases and personal grudges that flavoured the discussion, the main point of difference in the discussion seemed to be one of emphasis. Either this was reckless behaviour by the club, or it was necessary to properly finish off the social club space.

Honestly, I'm not confident enough or knowledgeable to take a stand either way. That's not me trying to hedge my bets - I honestly don't know how all this will turn out.

The club characterised the operation of the bistro in its first year as a learning experience. I'd be somewhat less charitable about that, but it's best to move on to some of the specifics. The club decided (by its own admission, without any sign of an obvious plan) to run a full-time restaurant operation, believing that foot traffic from the local area, along with patronage from South Melbourne Hellas members outside match days, would magically happen.

As I have noted elsewhere, one could easily see how this approach was doomed to fail. For starters, compared to Clarendon Street and its surrounds - with its many and varied dining options - the South Melbourne social club will never be a pop-in option for people. Most locals would not know that it exists, and considering that the club or whoever was responsible for promoting it conducted minimal advertising for the social club even to South members and social media followers, how were people outside the club supposed to find the space?

Likewise, most of our members do not live near anywhere Lakeside, making visits to the social club outside match days and club events extremely unlikely. That the club thought it would be otherwise shows an incredible amount of naivety or pigheadedness. Nevertheless, the club has attempted to spin this attempt at a full-time bistro operation as a worthy experiment which did not quite work, but which has at least yielded a certain amount of quantifiable data, consisting not only of sales, but also of consumer habits.

The more successful bistro trading days were specific club nights - especially during the junior season, including gala days - and early on in the social club's life, bolstered no doubt by the keenness of South fans to actually experience a home social club again. The club has decided therefore that "events" is where it's at for the social club, both South Melbourne oriented events and cases where we can hire the bistro space out to outside groups.

It was explained that the leaving of the previous venue manager was essentially by mutual agreement, because the goals of the two sides were no longer compatible. The club will run the bistro for the time being, with the option of outsourcing the bistro to an outside party an option which the club will consider, now that it has some understanding of how the social club space works, and what kind of turnover it can achieve.

Futsal court
The futsal court suffered from similar issues to the bistro - lack of awareness, advertising, foot traffic - as well as some different issues. The club had been made an offer by an outside entity to run the futsal court, which was declined for similar reasons (and on similar grounds of research and planning).

The club's best days for the futsal court were Wednesdays where they had a competition running, and on Saturdays, where the club ran a junior comp involving several different club sides. Outside out of that however, apart from the occasional hiring out of the futsal court to outside parties, the primary usage of the court was by our juniors as part of their training schedule.

Our juniors using the court is obviously one of the reasons the court was built, and it's good that they use it on a regular basis. However as noted by some in the meeting (and previous meetings) the court takes up a very large amount of space, and needs to work hard to earn its own keep. There is still potential for the court's operation to at least be partly outsourced outside of the hours it's used our juniors, but I fancy this will be of limited appeal to an outside operator.

No mention was made of the maintenance costs for the futsal court.

State Sport Centres Trust
The club claims the relationship between itself and the SSCT is reasonably good at the moment. Of course we all know that can change at an instant and under the slightest bit of duress.

More importantly, the club has renegotiated parts of its agreement with the Trust over the costs of ground hire and renumeration. Rather than the previous crowd percentage based payment made to the Trust, the club has moved to a fixed fee payment for use of Lakeside on match days. There was also a similar agreement made in the event that we ever played in the A-League.

As noted last year, the club has also negotiated to take over food and drink service outside the social club area on South Melbourne match days, and on days where parties hiring the venue for soccer (such as FFV) are amenable to us providing the food services.

In order to do this, the club has given up some of the monthly stipend it receives from the government as part of our tenure at Lakeside. Whether this will be a worthwhile move in the short term remains to be seen. In the medium to long term, the stipend will eventually end, and thus getting on the front foot on this matter seems like a good idea.

Among the cost-cutting measures there were two which stood out to me. First was staffing, some of which has been explained in previous posts in passing. This is mostly based around office and social club staffing. A number of staffing re-arrangements have been made. In the office, a sponsor liaison has been hired, while media and events positions have been ended or downgraded. There was no word on whether there were outstanding wages or superannuation due to former and current employees.

Likewise, as the club has moved away from the full-time restaurant model for the bistro, the staffing situation there has changed to I guess what would be best termed as an 'at needs' basis, and there are no plans to hire a full-time venue manager as a replacement for Phil. What this means in terms of the extra match days (the South women's NPL fixture is now completely separate from the men's match days), volunteers/interns, etc, I do not know.

The second cost saving measure was the switch from Puma to Kappa, which is set to save us about $40,000 across all of our teams. No comment on whether merchandise for the fans will arrive on time for our first home game. Each year our merchandise and kit deals get touted as something quite special and full of promise, and each year regardless of whose fault it is, it doesn't seem to work out that way. This is one area where it always comes down to praxis over theory.

As far as the senior men's team goes, there is one bit of news that will please many of us - the Spanish experiment is over! There seems to have been a belated realisation of the difficulty of getting a Spanish player that is fit, has enough English to communicate properly, and can adapt culturally to Australian soccer. To that end, a question was cast over whether utilising visa spots at an NPL level was even worthwhile, with the answer being that unless it was someone of the calibre of Jaime Reed, it may perhaps be a waste of time.

It's implied every year that we (fans and board) want more of our own juniors getting a senior gig, but this year that desire seemed a little bit more sincere from the board's point of view. It was noted that while the club would've liked to have promoted more of its own youth, the quality wasn't there in previous years. This year though? Players that have been under this junior system for five or so years were on the cusp of making a breakthrough, or so we're told. The proof is always in the pudding on that one though.

Confirmation that Tim Mala had retired (whether for this year only, or permanently, it was not said), and that Jesse Daley has also left us to go back to Queensland. No definitive statements made about new players signed, though the club was confident of soon securing the services of several of the players trialling with us. (and Neos Kosmos did have an article yesterday about goalkeeper Alistair Bray signing with us)

Gabrielle Giuliano made a brief presentation on the women's teams (NPL and state league) and the success they had in 2017. When questioned about "how much money was wasted on the women's team?", she replied "not as much as the men's", which defused the question but also brought a good measure of laughter to the room.

I asked whether it was true that senior men's team manager Frank Piccione had stepped down/retired, and this was confirmed by Mesourouni. I would personally like to wish Frank all the best, and hope to see him around the club in some capacity, as he's one of the nicest and funniest blokes around the club.

The club continues to make attempts to break into the schools market, offering the services of its coaches (for a fee of course) and hoping to gain the use of some of the participating schools' grounds in return (especially for our times away from Lakeside). One member was angry that the club (according to him) had not made any attempt to get any Greek schools on board for these programs, to which the answer was that those Greek schools approached did not want to pay (or could not afford) the cost of the service being offered; there was disputation on whether any Greek secondary schools had been approached at all.

Playing facilities (outdoor)
The question about access to Lakeside was asked, and why we were again away for so many games to start the season. The answer for this season's predicament provides an interesting example of the complications we have to deal with. As the start of the soccer season starts outside our priority period at Lakeside, as well as coinciding with athletics' major events and the grand prix, this year we worked with the relevant parties at Lakeside to book in the week of February 18th for our first home game.

Unfortunately, FFV decided this year to push the start of the NPL season back a week; and thus with athletics having their major events at the end of February and early March, the necessity of pitch repairs following that, then the grand prix - and then Orthodox Easter - it was almost impossible to hold a game early in the season. No one denies that this is far from an ideal situation on so many fronts, but it seems that there's little that can be done. The women's team is effected in pretty much the same way. (it will be interesting to see how the ground holds up under the weight over senior and reserves men on consecutive days as the season develops).

The club is hopeful of at least having a better situation in terms of its temporary training options this year, but opinions on this will differ. Players and coaches have in the past been quite open with their dissatisfaction with the alternative training grounds provided for them. At least this season, thanks to the World Cup, we are unlikely to see a midyear disruption to our access of Lakeside due to the arrival of any touring teams.

In better news, our allocated turf grounds in Albert Park are apparently in the best condition they've been in for a long time, now that they have proper drainage. Here's hoping that they manage to survive through the season in decent shape. It was also noted that the lights for those grounds are among the worst in the precinct. I'm not sure what action was going to be taken to improve that situation.

I asked the question about how the club was dealing with the Albert Park Master Plan, but I was not satisfied with the answer given, which I found to be vague at best. As one of the biggest clubs (if not the biggest) in the Albert Park precinct, there's a chance here not only for improved grounds, but also perhaps more grounds, should the golf course be reduced from 18 to 9 holes.

A-League bid
The A-League bid is stalled for the time being because of the mess that is FFA, FIFA, and the matter of the National Congress. On this matter, the club remains confident that it can snare one of the expansion places in part due to the belief that:
  • Melbourne and Sydney are the most desirable commercial options for expansion.
  • the board do not believe that Brisbane will receive a second team.
  • the board do not believe that the Victorian Government will invest in building new stadiums for Dandenong and Geelong, preferring to work with and/or improving Lakeside.
In the matter of the Roberto Carlos gala night, it was confirmed that the event did lose money, but it was claimed that the exercise was nevertheless extremely worthwhile. The loss was covered by three of our board members of their own volition; whether this was decided before or after the event lost money, it was not made clear.

Second division
As usual, it's a matter of wait and see. The club says that while it is a keen participant and observer in the AAFC and second division processes, it is not necessarily at the forefront or aiming to be the public face of these things. The club also played down the expectation that we were likely to see at first a second with promotion/relegation to the top tier, but instead were initially likely to see a truly national second tier connected to the state leagues. Wait and see, as per usual.

Closing comments
You have to expect that any South Melbourne Hellas AGM can lose time in personality clashes, statements instead of questions, and argumentative periods. Still, it is what is for lack of a better cliché. I don't know if the club's on the right track or not, and I don't even want to kid myself that I'm qualified to make a judgement either way.

Thanks to whoever the anonymous poster was who left all the questions in the comments. I'd done zero preparation for this AGM, thinking to maybe type up a quick list on the day of the AGM, but it was easier to just copy, paste and print what you'd provided. Funny how a great deal of the questions seemed to coincide with what the board covered, though not everything got covered. Where was the mention of Skip Fulton joining the board? Oh well.

Anonymous' question regarding the "South in Business'\" coterie unfortunately didn't get a run, and the board did not bring this up. This was particularly disappointing in light of that I didn't get to ask (in the meeting; I did get to have a very brief chat later) about what if any efforts the club had made to make use of the Australian Sports Foundation. Soccer does very poorly when it comes to making use of the ASF, and while FFV has made some attempts in recent times to get its clubs to get on board that programme, it's disappointing that South is apparently not one of those clubs.

There was also an absence of membership questions, discussion about how to make Lakeside (the arena area and the social club) feel more like home. The lesson from that is (and one which I have neglected) that in future if one wants to have a topic covered, they better submit it for general business in writing in the weeks leading up to the meeting after the AGM is announced.

I'll try and do better next time around.

If I've forgotten anything, or if you were there and wish to prompt me about something, feel free to add your two cents in the comments.

Springvale White Eagles 3 South Melbourne 5

I wasn't there, don't shoot me.

Matthew Foschini and Leigh Minopoulos got one each, and mystery triallists had the other three goals. There was no Milos or KK. That's close to as much as I was able to glean from the club's Twitter updates.

I don't know when the next friendly is on. I have heard that we may be doing another Albury/Wodonga pre-season bonding trip, but I don't know when this would be scheduled for in the event that it does happen.

Chinese club Guangzhou R&F are due to tour Australia, including playing games against NPL teams, but I have not heard anything about whether we would be one of those clubs.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Last night - South Melbourne 0 Northcote City 0

A rather energetic affair. I've already forgotten most of happened.

Next friendly tomorrow night against Springvale White Eagles at the Serbian Sports Centre.

As for the AGM write up, probably late tomorrow.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Tonight's AGMs moved to Presidents Room

As per today's notice from the Club.

Tonight's Annual General Meeting will take place in the Presidents Room at Lakeside Stadium. Full voting members can access the Presidents Room via the 1959 Bar and Grill (Social Club).

Monday, 22 January 2018

2017 AGM / Northcote friendly

How's this for creative fixturing? Wednesday sees a unique South Melbourne Hellas double-header, with the 2017 AGM (naturally held in 2018) followed by a pre-season friendly against Northcote. Even better, the AGM is going to be held in the social club, at the same time as the social club has been advertised as being open to the hoi polloi prior to the Northcote fixture from 6:15PM onwards.

There's so many problems with this approach, who knows where to start? Are we seriously going to have food and drink service during the AGM? The last and to the best of my recollection only other meeting we had in the current social club was this informal session, which had a small attendance but which had a bunch of juniors making a lot of noise and making it very hard to hear. Goodness knows it will be like with the terrible acoustics if we have a much larger attendance and a whole bunch of non-members in the room.

Speaking of which, AGM attendance for the South Melbourne Hellas portion of the club (and not its SMFC subsidiary) is and should remain the preserve of those who are currently members of South Melbourne Hellas - in other words, social club club members. Are we seriously going to have a whole bunch of people in the room observing the meeting who should not be doing so? Vigilance of non-social club members at South Melbourne AGMs is often not as good as it should be, but this seems mad even by our own standards.

Anyway, as per usual the AGMs (South Melbourne Hellas Social Club 6:00PM, SMFC 8:00PM) are the one official chance that members have to question the board on its performance and on its future plans. That doesn't mean that anything good will come out of these meetings, but you've got to take the opportunities you're given; after all, not all of us have a direct line to the top brass.

There's a lot of issues to get through, and while holding the AGM on midweek in January is a piss-poor effort on so many levels, we don't really have a choice in that matter. Speaking of not having any choices, while I'm sure there will be people going in all guns blazing, the chance of something changing due to those efforts is close to zero. Significant change (for better or worse) can only happen if there is a rival group - not one or two individuals - who are willing to form a ticket to challenge the current iteration of the board, which has been in charge of the club in one form or another since the end of the NSL, mostly under the presidency of Leo Athanasakis.

That needs people with a lot of spare time, as well as the requisite business and football connections, and where you find enough of those kinds of people that still support South I do not know. I don't make this point out of some sense of vengeance, but rather as a statement of fact. Yes we are a member run and owned club, but the situation is such that even if a plurality of our membership wanted to dislodge the board, who would we replace them with? That is the question that has hovered over the club for the past decade, and in some respects was true of the era before that. Once a board gets set under a figurehead president at South Melbourne, it can be very hard to dislodge.

Anyway, my main concerns this time around the operation of the social club and futsal court, which seemed to have been done with so little planning that it has undermined others areas of the club, both in the short term (in terms of being unable to maintain paid employees at the club) and in the long term (what happens when the government stipend ends if we don't have a profitable social club business?). There's also the ongoing issues with the State Sports Centres Trust, and the constantly moving goalposts set up to hinder our business. Additionally, there are the usual governance issues - AGM timing, financials, and why Leo feels he needs to do most of the presentations - hopefully every board member is there this time.

My feelings on South AGMs are pretty well known. After the first couple I attended, I was disappointed enough with the lack of questions and information that I decided it eventually time to do some preparation of my own; nothing major, just enough to show someone cared. That lead to better AGMs and better prepared board members, and more . As jaded as I am about the potential for further improvement of South AGMs at the moment, it's still important to take them seriously.

And yes, I will be putting up a post-AGM post.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Good to be back - South Melbourne 3 Port Melbourne 2

So, back to normal somewhat, the social club open even with its truncated "first day back" menu, and the South faithful were keen to spend a summer's Wednesday by the lake checking out the squad, while putting some money over the bar. Bentleigh Greens coach John Anastadiadis was just one of the interested onlookers at Lakeside last night, watching as former Bentleigh (and of course, also ex-South) player Andy Brennan continued to spend his pre-season time with South.

FFV match commentator Chris Gleeson has noted that Brennan will sign, but you know how I feel when it comes to these things - until a players steps onto the field in a league match, I'm always wary. After all, did we not once sign a player by the name of Jason Hicks, who ended up somewhere else without kicking a ball for us in anger? Did we not once sign Kevin Nelson, whose transfer was mysteriously delayed until after the team lists were meant to be handed in before round 1, 2006? And of course we can add the now incredibly obscure players of days of yore who we had signed but who never fronted up for us for who knows what reason.

For those South fans who have begging, craving, lusting over a need to bolster our forward stocks, last night's hit out had plenty to offer you. Milos Lujic, Leigh Minopoulos, Sam Smith, Amir Osmancevic, Andy Brennan (first half only), Giordano Marafioti and even Kaine Sheppard. Sheppard, most notably in local terms of Heidelberg, and most recently of Finnish club Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho, had been training with Northcote. Does this cavalcade of attacking talent mean - even if Chris Taylor decides to ditch half of them, because where would you put them all anyway - a pending change to the game plan? I would not rule that out.

Defensively, things are a bit more, well, problematic (I will try and make that the last time I use that word this year). As reported in a brief paragraph in last Thursday's Neos Kosmos, our number one goalkeeper Nikola Roganovic has retired. Together with Zaim Zeneli's move to North Sunshine, our goalkeeping combo will be all new in 2018. There was some discussion over the off-season - oh, about a month or so ago - that we were in the hunt for Chris Oldfield, but that doesn't seem to have progressed. Thus we're trialling a few blokes, and are apparently looking to get Alistair Bray as our number one choice.

In front of the goalkeepers we have a few options - Kristian Konstantinidis, Ajdin Fetahagic, Darby Dexter, but new recruit Jake Marshall will be out injured for a couple of months, or so they say. Under 20s right-back Josh Hodes continues to get game time, and if it's true that Tim Mala will be taking a year off from soccer, then that's one less obstacle in Hodes' way to getting a senior gig at South. Those hoping for a holding or attacking midfielder, I guess that situation will eventually find someone playing that role. Maybe we'll just direct everything up the wings as per last season, with the twist of using the right-hand side as well as the left.

As for the game itself... very energetic from most players on both sides, but also very loose, with a lot of space for forwards to have a crack at goal. The finishing could've been better; but then again, the  finishing could almost always be better.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Friendly on Wednesday vs Port, at Lakeside

This Wednesday at 7:30PM, it's a case of getting in while you can - the club has announced an open doors pre-season friendly against Port Melbourne at Lakeside. No need for special handshakes, secret codes, or knowing the bloke on the door. I don't know if the social club will be in operation.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Inside Football Stadium 54-50 - Blue Team 4 White Team 0

On a hunch and with a backup plan in place just in case this adventure falls apart, you venture out without any guarantee that you will find what you seek.

There's an overcast sky, and the route resembles that of another journey you've made hundreds of times before.

Approaching the presumed destination, at the assumed but unconfirmed and unknowable kickoff time, you can hear the thud of footballs being kicked.

Getting nearer to the sound, in the distance and through a fence, you can make out players in blue shirts. This must be the place; this must be the time.

Going against intuition, you try a northern gate; it's locked. Going around to the southern side, you slip through a gate along with people you do not recognise. The gatekeeper does not seem to mind.

There's a game which has just kicked off, but you're not here; this isn't happening. Someone who seems vaguely familiar agrees with you on that point, pointing out that it's 'family only' today.

You make the claim that you are family, but it comes out more like a question than a statement of fact. Everything seems uncertain.

Looking around, at first you don't recognise any familiar faces. There's perhaps 100 people at most in the grandstand, but where they've come from and how they knew to be here now, you don't know.

There are a full compliment of officials, but the balls seem flat. You think to yourself that surely the officials cost more than filling the balls with free air. But maybe air on this strange planet isn't free.

A man comes up to greet you, as if he knows you. You think that you've seen his face before, and his voice strikes a familiar tone. The environment has you doubting reality, but you play along.

You think you've seen the blue team somewhere else, in another dimension perhaps, but the team in white shirts and black shorts, you haven't the faintest idea of who they are.

In the first half the teams go back and forth, the white team relying on counter attacks, getting close on a few occasions. The blue team would've scored had their striker been possessed of a right foot.

There is nowhere to socialise, and nowhere to have a beer or some food. You can't help but feel that  this is not the way things should be, but you don't know why you feel this way.

The second half sees the blues swap over personnel en masse, and then fire four goals past their opponents.

You want to take down notes of notable performers, but many of the blue team's shirts have no numbers. Only haircuts and boots provide distinguishing marks.

The match ends, and you leave the ground and know instinctively that you've never been here before, and you weren't here today. No one was here. Even the betting websites deny the existence of this game. It didn't happen.

With apologies to Edward Packard.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

On the matter of the sudden expansion of a giant ball of burning gas

If there are any South Melbourne Hellas fans left - and I'm not sure that there are - they may be wondering what's going on at their beloved club. Is the club signing any players? Does the senior team have any friendlies coming up? Does the club even exist?

Some of these concerns can be put down to the club's sole paid part-time social media person being overseas on holiday (fair enough), but I assume that there are other people around at the club who could tell us stuff if they wanted to. But maybe they don't want to? Maybe they don't know how to? Maybe they think that if no one talks about the club for long enough, it will cease to exist, and therefore we'll all be the better for it.

Let's look at one curious situation in the lack of 'news'. Jump onto the Lakeside Stadium website and check out the calendar there for a list of upcoming events. In December 2017, within a reasonably crowded month events-wise for Lakeside Stadium, you can see SMFC gala days and midweek exclusive use sessions, used for training and scratch matches.

Moving ahead to January 2018 however...

and there appears to be diddly squat SMFC content. There's South Melbourne athletics, Athletics Victoria, and even a Carlton Football Club exclusive session, which I assume is them trying to prepare for the AFLX thing, or else why waste time hiring out Lakeside? For the running track? To be fair, there appears to be very little official use by anyone for January, but that doesn't lessen my concern from a South Melbourne Hellas point of view.

Is it possible then that the former, glorious South Melbourne Hellas social media presence was actually an example of star death?
When a star like South Melbourne Hellas has burned all of its hydrogen fuel, it expands to become a red giant. This may be millions of kilometres across - big enough to swallow the planets Mercury and Venus. After puffing off its outer layers, the star collapses to form a very dense white dwarf.
In simpler terms, perhaps our social media presence, self-produced media, and A-League bid antics, rather than being a case of a resurgent South Melbourne, those efforts were actually a form of bloated nuclear-cosmic self-cannibalism; the final stages of the lifespan of what was at best only a modest sun, before it collapsed upon itself and becomes a dim white dwarf. Hey, you try and come up with new analogies for this situation after ten years.

On another topic, with the A-League expansion banter fading well into the background, there has been what I would consider a shift in the rhetoric coming from the club, or at least from the president. Where once South Melbourne A-League bid media efforts were totally geared toward A-League expansion, as that issue has moved to the backburner, Leo Athanasakis has been posting comments in favour of promotion and relegation.

The following examples - here, here and here - are just some of the posts which our lovable larrikin prez has made over the past couple months on the matter. This point of view of his may be new or it may be old, but it is not one that has been made by someone at South Melbourne with any official standing, at least certainly not at the levels where I would have expected to have noticed it before.

But back to Lakeside. We're told repeatedly that we're in control of at least some (perhaps key, perhaps not) aspects of Lakeside Stadium, so where is our presence? Outside our priority period during the soccer season (April to September, or thereabouts), do our costs for using the venue go up? Is that why we're scheduled not to be at home in the early part of the 2018 season? Is that why our January presence on the Lakeside calendar is invisible?

What I'm trying to say is, in recent pre-seasons following our return to Lakeside, we have promoted pre-season matches held at Lakeside to our supporters, and attracted interested crowds, and yet for the moment it appears that we're not doing that. Could we even - and I'm shuddering as I type this - could we even be breaking in clandestinely, Alex Dimitriades style, into Lakeside to play and train?

Friday, 5 January 2018

Regarding the friendlies out at Springvale White Eagles...

A bit of a heads up on this: I've been informed that it'll mostly be the club's under 20s who'll be making the trip out to Keysborough over the course of the next three Saturdays, so those who may have been inclined to make their way out to the Serbian Sports Centre should keep that in mind.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Book review - David Hill's The Fair and the Foul

Let's cut right to the chase: no one needs to buy David Hill's The Fair and the Foul, and no one needs to read it either. I can only think of two kinds of people who would end up reading this book:
  1. Older Anglo-Celtic Australian males who received this book as a Christmas or birthday present, to be read on holiday or during a long train trip from regional Australia to see a city-based medical specialist.
  2. Australian soccer people who hate David Hill.
Your correspondent clearly falls into the latter of these demographics, and thus my copy was sourced from a university library. Yes, David Hill will probably get a lending rights royalty in addition to his cut of whatever Victoria University paid for the book, but I'm trying to minimise the damage as much as possible without resorting to treating a bookstore like a public library.

Anyway, this book's problems are numerous. Hill flits between thematic and chronological approaches, occasionally inserting personal anecdotes. This prevents a coherent narrative emerging, while also undermining the book's sense of purpose; it's a real mess of a book, often little more than a bunch of populist generalisations which zip by. And as Tom Heenan points out in his review, there are far too many factual mistakes for a book which aims to be on at least some level an authoritative reference to Australian sport, regardless of its generalist scope. (though Heenan's review also has a key mistake, claiming that Hill was chairman of Soccer Australia from 1987-1995)

All of these failures point to slack editing. The book has an index and reference list, though it does not include a reference for the one quote that I really wanted to chase up on behalf of someone else.  There are even moments where Hill feels the need to explain things which don't need explaining: after quoting cricket writer Gideon Haigh's assertion that Australian cricket authorities in the 1970s were a conservative gerontocracy, Hill goes on to say what Haigh meant by that statement.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that Hill spends much of the book talking about the heroes and villains already familiar to most Australian sports fans with some historical knowledge, a few themes carve an accidental course throughout Fair and Foul. Hill tells us that Australians are often too forgiving of their sporting heroes when they screw up; that Australian sporting clubs and bodies, when given the choice between money and ethics, will almost always choose the former; that in the battle between those seeking to professionalise sport and those seeking to keep a sense of antiquated 'purity' alive, neither group had athletes' best interests at heart.

Hill also pulls up a great unspoken thread of Australian sport - that of the interaction of class and sport. There are the egos of men like Alan Bond and Kerry Packer, the immovable elitism of amateur sporting bodies, and the uncaring administrators of football codes who disregard the emotions of fans as being a burden to progress. Then there are the athletes themselves, especially those from working class or disadvantaged backgrounds, for whom having talent is not enough, and who have to overcome barriers of class in order to reach the top.

As much as these threads and others like them are inherently interesting, they go largely unexplored. In detailing the folk heroes/legends of Australian sport up to the end of its amateur era in the 1960s and 70s, Hill never explains what if any relevance that era has to contemporary audiences. Do Australian sports audiences care for the Lithgow Flash and Les Darcy, or for Herb Elliot and Harry Hopman? One of the great Australian sporting truths is that what appears to be a shared national sporting culture is often anything but. Across gender, race, class, and geographic boundaries, the Australian sporting experience is, if anything, an incredibly fractured one. Individuals or teams which manage to escape the confines of their particular demographic are the exception, not the norm.

Despite the way they disrupt whatever narrative momentum he manages to create, Hill's personal experiences are the highlight of the book. Whether you love or hate Hill, he's had an interesting life, and a large part of that includes his proximity to sport. For Australian soccer fans, Hill's controversial tenure as chairman of Soccer Australia comes first to mind, but Hill was also a good rugby league player (offered a place in North Sydney's first team squad, he opted to play second tier instead), was president of Norths for three years, was involved with the anti-tobacco push in sport, and in broadcast deals as part his tenure as chairman of the ABC.

Among the worthwhile sporting nuggets Hill provides are his being invited to Kerry Packer's private television room - the one that had global satellite feeds, and from which Packer programmed Channel 9; the insights into the hold the tobacco industry had on Australian sports bodies through the 1980s (with clear parallels to the gambling industry today); being invited to a big cricket shindig because the organisers have him mistaken for a more prominent and successful namesake; and that the process of getting Terry Venables to become Socceroos coach started with an English backpacker who was working as an admin temp at Soccer Australia.

But these moments are few and far between, and their scarcity only serves to make them feel at odds with the rest of the book. Even worse, the fleeting nature of these personal reminiscences means that the chance for reflection and insight on Hill's behalf is almost non-existent. For example, while praising himself for the Venables adventure, Hill fails to mention that Venables also cost Soccer Australia its Coca-Cola sponsorship (Venables signed up with rival beverage company Schweppes).

As for the book's soccer content, it's largely limited to two chapters, one about our more recent world cup qualification history, the other about the game's status as the 'sleeping giant' of Australian sport. The 'sleeping giant' chapter spends much of its time focused on Tony Labozzetta and Marconi, and the outcomes of the Bradley report, Stewart inquiry, and NSL task-force report. There is almost nothing new here, and frustratingly considering his proximity to that era, almost nothing you can't find in more depth elsewhere, such as in Ross Solly's Shoot Out. Neither does Hill mention the ABC's abandonment of the National Soccer League part way into its broadcasting deal while Hill was ABC chairman.

Most gallingly for those of a particular political persuasion in Australian soccer, Hill does not apply the same set of standards to ethnic soccer supporters as he does for rugby league fans. Hill reiterates that his expulsion of Heidelberg United, Parramatta Melita, and Brunswick Juventus from the national Soccer League in the mid 1990s was necessary for soccer to shed its dead-weight of ethnicity to move forward into the mainstream. Hill points out - not without merit - that if the 10,000 strong crowd protesting that decision had actually turned up to games, the clubs and the game would have been healthier (or at least have made it harder for Hill to argue for the removal of those clubs).

But when rugby league's Super League war and and its aftermath occurs, Hill is much more sparing of the feelings of the fans of some of rugby league's struggling clubs. (as a rugby league novice, I found Hill's explanation of how the Super League war played out from beginning to end to be a useful primer on the subject). For his own side, Norths, which ended up in a disastrous merger (and later de-merger) with Manly, the blame is placed entirely on Norths' board at the time. For South Sydney, who were expelled from the league at the end of the ARL/Super League split, Hill addressed a crowd of (apparently) 50,000 Souths' protesters telling them to not give up the fight for reinstatement to national competition.

Why he was more supportive of Souths' fans than the ethnic soccer supporters is for the reader to infer. But a look at Souths' average crowds since the Rabbitohs' return to the national competition in 2002 shows no significant increase in attendances. Of course the situations are not exactly like for like - rugby league had a media profile and corporate support that could be exploited whereas soccer in its ethnic setup did not - but there's scope to see inherent contradictions in Hill's support of one group and not the other.

Hill finishes his book by comparing the future outlooks for the four football codes. For everyone other than the AFL, he foresees problems. Rugby union's crowds and player pool are, as they always have been, incredibly limited, and its dependence on very select demographics continues to stifle its chances of increasing its national footprint. Rugby league's player pool, even in its working class heartland, is under stress, its crowds have been slow to increase, and when combined with league's tiny global footprint, rugby league is an increasingly difficult position. This is notwithstanding Australian rugby league's healthy income from its broadcast rights (and unhealthy cowering to those broadcasters in terms of fixturing), and its willingness to make changes to the game to increase its attractiveness.

For soccer, while the A-League has manifest itself as the league that Hill wanted but could not create in the 1990s, its status as a backwater in terms of soccer's global empire holds it back. Meanwhile Hill has almost nothing but praise for the AFL, the most stable, wealthy and progressive of the Australian football codes, unencumbered (apparently) either culturally or economically by its limited global reach.

Despite some interesting if largely unexplored narrative threads, and the occasional interesting personal anecdote, The Fair and the Foul is content to rehash the usual stereotypes of Australian sports history and culture, This probably fits in with Hill's oeuvre of populist history writing - I've not read his other history books - but the book adds little to update or challenge assumptions about Australian sport. Should Hill ever decide to write a proper sporting memoir, going into detail about his experiences in rugby league and soccer as a player and administrator, and his dealings with various sports while chairman of the ABC (Fair and Foul includes a good one about lawn bowls, the ABC, and a Mazda sponsorship), that will be a book worth reading. But for now he seems content to faff about with disposable output.

Monday, 1 January 2018

December 2017 digest

Puskas documentary
Remember the Puskas documentary that Tony Wilson and friends were making? Well the crew managed to get their most important interview subject on tape!

But as Tony notes in his tweet, they're still looking for Puskas photos, film, artefacts, stories, so if you have anything, get in contact with him, or get in contact with me and I'll act as the middleman. 

The 2017 AGM date has been announced, and it's Wednesday 24th January, in the social club. The two meeting times are set for.
  • 6:00PM South Melbourne Hellas Club Ltd
  • 8:00PM South Melbourne Football Club Ltd
If you are a member and you didn't receive notification and the relevant attachments via email, check your junk mail folder - that's where my email inexplicably ended up.

Three friendlies - against Kingston, Oakleigh, and Dandenong Thunder - have been booked over consecutive Saturdays in January, all out at Springvale White Eagles. The Public Transport Faction does not approve. Check the 2018 fixtures page for details.

2018 fixture released
As with 2017, another brutal start to the season with six away games to start, and nine of the first ten away. Some other things worth noting
  • The WNPL fixture hasn't been released yet, so I've no idea about men's/women's double headers.
  • While most of our home games have been kept at the Sunday 4:00PM timeslot, three fixtures differ. There is of course the simultaneous 3:00PM kickoff in the final round, but against Oakleigh and Pascoe Vale in June, we have a Saturday 5:00PM game and a Sunday 7:00PM to act as lead-ins to Socceroos World Cup matches. Convenient!
  • Orthodox Easter week falls on the first week of April, which for our purposes coincides with our entry into the FFA Cup qualifiers.
  • The Veneto Club's synthetic pitch is being relaid. Somehow we'll still end up with another 2-2 result there.
  • Green Gully has moved its home games to Friday nights.
  • Our away game against Port Melbourne seems to have been scheduled for a Saturday evening.
  • While Avondale have apparently struck a long term to play out of the long out-of-action Reggio Calabria Club in Parkville/West Brunswick, our away fixture against Avondale hadn't been updated on FFV's site when I did this update. Word is that the place needs a lot of work to get up to scratch.
If you want to see the current state of the Reggio Calabria Club's soccer field, this tweet by Chris Gleeson gives you some idea of how much work needs to be done to get the ground into shape.
Check South's senior men's fixtures here, as per usual, if I've screwed anything up let me know.

Arrivals and departures
Some more 'outs' were announced early in December, most notably former captain Michael Eagar.  Confirmation from the club also that David Barca Moreno, Zaim Zeneli and Stefan Zinni are also no longer at the club. But you already knew that.

 It had been strongly rumoured Eagar was on the way out through parts of the 2017 season. Eagar's omission from the starting XI throughout the second half of the season especially confused a lot of fans, as there seemed to be no clear reason for it, and indeed, we seemed to play better with him in the team than out of it. So it goes.

Luke Adams is also out, which means that our central defensive pair will be undoubtedly new next season. To that end we've signed young defender Darby Dexter from Port Melbourne, and Kristian Konstantinidis has re-signed for two more seasons. Matthew Millar has re-signed for 2018.

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


  • Stefan Zinni (Avondale)
  • Zaim Zeneli (North Sunshine Eagles)
  • Michael Eagar (Port Melbourne)
  • Luke Adams ('overseas', whatever that means)

Centre Forward is online!
Four years ago I did a hasty review of a North Korean soccer flick that I'd seen at the Melbourne International Film Festival. It turns out that since then someone has actually uploaded that film to YouTube, so you know, if you're looking for something a little different, you can watch it or something.

Goal weekly archives now available!
A nice bit of news for those into the Australian soccer archive business. Goal Weekly has put up its entire back catalogue online in pdf format.