Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Well, there goes this season - Bulleen Lions 1 South Melbourne 1

It was short sleeve weather for most people last night, for Bulleen's now annual early season payday against. At least they put some of that to good use by seemingly cutting down some of the tress and bushes at the southern end, possibly having the effect of improving the lighting on that side. I don't know, I'm no scientician. But they've also installed a new synthetic pitch in place of the old one.

While sporadically watching the under 20s curtain raiser, you could tell that this was a much better field than the former offering. The bounce was much truer, albeit probably keeping a little low, but at least it was predictable. So there goes Bulleen's unique home ground advantage, right? Well it certainly seemed so during most of the first half. Players like Braedyn Crowley aside, Bulleen aren't expected to do particularly well this season, and as for us... well, new coach, a few new players, the common sense consensus would be that it would take time to gel. But we looked pretty damn good. Good, but also different.

Now I don't think I've seen anything of our senior team since Chris Taylor got the sack - not that I would've been paying enough attention in any case - so I can't say with any certainty what Sasa Kolman's tactical approach would be. And going off the Bulleen game provides only a very small sample size, against what was pretty ordinary opposition. But if this is going to be the new normal, it's going to be a lot of fun.

Not that the Taylor era wasn't fun - winning lots of games and titles and cups after not winning crap for years is a hell of a lot fun - but Taylor's "love it or loathe it" pragmatism wasn't for everyone, and it had its own drawbacks, especially when it came to taking risks. Kolman's style is seemingly based around keeping possession, but also moving the ball around the middle of the park with short passes. A key part of that last night was Iqi Jawadi, who apart from his bread and butter breaking up of opposition play, was also in the mood to draw defenders toward himself when in possession, and move with the ball in different directions rather than always play the ball quickly backwards or sideways.

When both Leigh Minopoulos and myself are in short sleeves at a game, you
know it's warm night. Photo: George Kouroumalis.
But it wasn't just Jawadi keeping the ball or taking chances. The fullbacks, especially Matthew Foschini, would often go very high up the pitch. The work rate and teamwork between Foschini and Andy Brennan was working very well from the start; the left hand side, with its unaccustomed paring of Brad Norton and Leigh Minopoulos, is going to need some time to work itself out, though our goal did come from that side.

Against a better side, especially one that's better at pressing, this short passing, possession based, risk taking game plan could backfire, but last night it looked promising, not least because Nick Epifano, playing centrally instead of out wide, worked his backside off in midfield. Whether that's because of a gradual improvement in his defensive efforts over the past year, or because he was playing at his old junior club only time will tell.

Defensively we looked solid enough, with Kristian Konstantinidis and especially Christos Intzidis impressing as our centre-back pairing, though you fancy that there'll be much toughter assignments for them than Bulleen's forward line. Intzidis' performance in particular won the favour of South fans. The goal we copped had some so much luck going for it, that it's understandable that we lost our way for the last ten minutes of the first half. In this case losing our way meant deviating from the game plan, reverting to hopeless long balls, not looking up, and generally looking dejected as all hell.

We recovered in the second half, and once again played Bulleen off the park. We got our equaliser, with a bit of luck of our own - Milos Lujic, on the goal line and in an offside position, attempted to get a foot onto Millar's shot, but fortunately was adjudged to have missed it. It was a stinker of a performance all round for Lujic, who squandered every chance he had, even the ones which would've been disallowed for offside. Here's hoping it was just a bad night and not a sign of things to come for this season.

The most disappointing aspect of last night, apart from not picking up all three points, was the serious looking leg injury sustained by Alastair Bray, in a stupid attempt at a challenge by a Bulleen player. Depth is also going to be an issue this year. Kolman made just the two subs last night, and I'm not sure we were in a position to make many more. You can't predict when injuries will happen, but we at least have to get out of the habit of picking up stupid yellow cards. Apart from whatever other cards we picked up, Brennan was lucky to get away with a huge shirt pull in the first half.

Apart from Bray's injury, there are kinks to work on and weaknesses to manage. Andy Brennan, as good as he was last night, was gassed out by the 35 minute mark of the first half, and while he recovered in the second half, he couldn't run out the game. Is this a pre-season fitness issue, or something more permanent? Millar's shooting was wayward again. Epifano was in charge of all our set pieces, which is a step sideways as much as anything from what's been on offer the past few years. We didn't get to see enough of Oliver Minatel to say one way or another what his contributions will be like.

But as I'm fond of saying, if they were better than what they are actually are, chances are that they wouldn't be playing here. And that goes for every other team in this league as well.

Where’s my souva?! - guest match report by Savvas Tzionis
Having written some pieces for South of the Border, I thought it was time to finally write a South Melbourne match day report (my only previous match day report was for Sydney Olympic vs Blacktown in relation to my trip to Sydney).

What helped prompt this was the fascinating situation where five of my friends, from my days growing up in microcosmic (in relation to Australia’s demographic breakdown) Blackburn, had developed a rabid interest in local NPL soccer. (Interesting to note that they are all primarily Australian Rule supporters).

This stemmed from various sources, such as their knowledge of the old NSL, and South Melbourne’s place in it, and a handful of them having attended some remarkable games in recent years (Heidelberg’s 4-2 come from behind win against Bulleen in 2016, and last year's FFA Cup match against Sydney FC).

So, without me having to cajole anyone, there we were at the Veneto Club, having a few beers in the bistro. A mix of married, divorced, but mostly single blokes, from various ethnic backgrounds including my Italian friend whose parents were from the Venice region itself! Ironically the only other Greek was a Heidelberg supporter, whose claim to fame was that he and Damien Mori played on opposite flanks during their junior days at Box Hill.

The weather was near perfect for such an occasion, and we eventually made our way to the outer side in the grandstand, near the scandalously understocked (in relation to beer and Canadian Dry!) canteen. This became a bugbear for my friends who couldn't understand why Bulleen didn't cater for the typically big opening round crowd against South Melbourne. I mean, this was the third year in a row and they knew what to expect! Perhaps the semi professional nature of the NPL, especially amongst the slightly lesser clubs, induces such ‘unprofessional’ situations.

The game itself had the frenetic start you would expect from an opening round fixture in front of a large crowd (I am no good with picking crowd numbers but it appeared to be as big as two years ago, and bigger than last years crowd). The play was so electric that it elicited comments from my friends that “This is better than the A League”. We were so close to the action you felt like you part of the game. There is no other ground like Bulleen in that respect.

South was clearly the better team, but had no finishing touch. South’s play, especially initially, was expansive; long accurate passes and plenty of speed and strength. But I remarked to a friend at the 30 minute mark that we were starting to get a bit bogged down, and soon after Bulleen scored.
We didn’t start the second half in any better shape than we ended the first. Again, I made an observation, this time that Minopoulos was, as is often the case when he starts a game, not very prominent. But then soon after he was heavily involved in our equalizer, which was engineered by the player that impressed my friends more than any other on the pitch, in Andy Brennan.

Whilst hoping for a sting in the tail, unlike previous years, it was not to be, and both teams had to settle with sharing two points, instead of the hoped for three points on offer. I think Bulleen will struggle this year. They were clearly the inferior team, and with the league set to be an improvement on last year (North Geeling and St Albans having been replaced by the expected to be better Northcote and Dandenong Thunder), they will probably be in a relegation dog fight.

I was very impressed with Christos Intzidis. Whilst he wasn't challenged by Bulleen’s midget like forward line (have they ever had a forward even close to being six-foot tall?), he was very comfortable to the extent I felt he indulged on the ball towards the end, when he could have easily back passed to the keeper. I have a feeling he is too good for this league. Could it be that the emigration of vocationally talented Greek’s from Greece is now including Soccer players?

Whilst I didn’t think the game was that great, my friends were fully satisfied with the whole experience. They have voiced interest in other games, asking about other grounds and where they are in relation to Blackburn. I told them this ground, Bulleen’s, is the closest they will get. Which got me thinking about how things have changed for South Melbourne in this regard.

In the NSL days, traffic was not as hectic as it is now. Our supporter base could travel from anywhere to watch us, and have time to spare. Traffic conditions have changed now. The constriuction of freeways has made it easy to travel to certain places in much less time. For instance, the Peninsula, but for travelling within the suburbs of Melbourne, it is a far more difficult exercise. It’s no wonder some people have found it easier to attend games at grounds of the Greek clubs that they live near, such as Oakleigh or Kingston.

Whilst waiting for the Metro to be built (which will give Lakeside its own station so to speak) South Melbourne could cultivate a stronger support base from areas which can easily travel to our ground. This would require some nuanced marketing. Just a thought.

To finish off, the funniest thing, other than the many attempted insults my friends directed towards number 4 of Bulleen (Hair Bear!) and the linesman (get a suntan!), was the pre game discussion about one of my friends' utter disappointment that Bulleen offered no ‘sou-ver-LARRKI’!! Maybe he heard that this league is sometimes referred to as ‘The Souvlaki League’ and expected them to be served at every ground?

Next week
Saturday night away to Dandenong Thunder who, at least according to the radio broadcast I was listening in to last Thursday, were matching Bentleigh Greens until goalkeeper Fraser MacLaren got himself sent off early with Thunder leading 1-0. Also, the time I had listed initially in my fixture list was wrong, it's not an 8:00 kickoff, it's 7:00.

Just quietly...
Was anybody else compelled by the ticket sellers at the Veneto Club to purchase an adult ticket for people who were eligible for a concession ticket? I got in with my media pass of course, but I was told by one South fan that the Bulleen ticket people refused to sell him concession passes for the two high schoolers he had with him.

That's made my season, there's nothing left to do, see you all next year.
During the second half one of Bulleen's defenders, who had a very boofy hairstyle, was dubbed Sideshow Bob, followed by chants for "Kill Bart" and "Die Bart, Die", which pretty much took away any anxitieis I had about the rest of the game. Until I got back on the bus to go home again, but small mercies.

Hot on the heels of Matthew "Apples" Millar, last night saw the debut of "Cakes" for Kristian Konstantinidis. I'm boycotting that one as well, as well its subsidiary "Nikos (Cakes)" nickname.

Nick Galatas steps down as chairman
Those who listen to 3XY Radio Hellas' Sunday sports program have passed on the message that club chairman Nick Galatas has stepped down from the board. That's been confirmed by the club on the official website, with the official line being that Galatas wants to focus more on his AAFC duties.

This South of the Border correspondent thanks Nick for his eleven years on the South board, and the occasional chats we had about various off-field issues, the highlight of which was attending court proceedings South was involved in where he was representing us or the rebel/anti-FFV NPL model clubs.

Should former South player Dane Milovanovic be serving a suspension in 2018 for something that happened in 2015?
A keen-eyed reader of the blog asked this question late last week:
The incident in question related to a contentious bit of referee interaction on Milovanovic's part at the end of that game. I was initially confused as to why Davey would bring this up at all; it's a South game we'd rather wish was obliterated from our collective memory, but Davey explains that Milovanovic has signed with Gully. Here's the FFA tribunal report, a very lengthy and detailed document (with photos!). The relevant part of the punishment handed down is as follows:
46. In these circumstances, the sanction the Committee imposes has two elements: 
(1) The period of the sanction is at least four months from the date of the
(2) The player must serve a 12 match suspension during a period in which
matches are played in the 2016 Victorian Premier League season. 
47. The consequence of the sanction is that if the four month period does not begin,
because of a non-playing period provision (or similar provision), until the
commencement of the 2016 Victorian Premier League season, then the sanction
will run for four months from the date of commencement of that season and in
effect will run much more than 12 matches of the 2016 Victorian Premier League
season. On the other hand, if the sanction (due to administrative rules)
commences with effect on 19.09.2015, it is the intention of the Committee that its
sanction must not conclude until the expiry of the 12th match of the 2016 Victorian Premier League season.
This was confusing to me, but I think I've got handle on it now... and I think it means that Milovanovic is allowed to play from the beginning of the 2018 season. Of course my grasp of things like this is always prone to faltering. It seems odd that a player can get around the problem of a serious suspension like this by plying their trade overseas for several years, but it could be that the suspension applied only to an Australian context, which if true, would mean that Milovanovic has served his suspension, even if he didn't really spend any time serving it at all.

Albert Park Master Plan update
Another keen-eyed reader saw this in the paper - basically, the state government or Parks Victoria or whoever has backed off the idea of reducing the Albert Park golf course from 18 to 9 holes.  Not that I've been able to glean much information from either government or club sources about the Albert Park Master Plan means for South Melbourne Hellas, but clearly taking a reduction in the size of the golf course off the table means there's a huge limit to what can be achieved in terms of opening up the park to different groups.

SMSCMaster YouTube collection gone
Apparently this happened late last year, but I only came across this fact when I was looking for that video of South players during training under Ange Postecoglou playing a footy-style game with a round ball in the wet at Lakeside. It looked a lot like AFLX to be honest...

Anyway, it's sad that for whatever reason the channel's owner has taken down all those videos, not just the South stuff but also the other soccer videos and assorted Australiana. Hopefully they'll reconsider their decision at some point in the future. I just wish now that I'd downloaded stuff from there; the lesson here is, as it is always, to never assume something is going to be on the internet forever.

Around the grounds
It's not everyone's favourite segment, and I'm aware that this is the part where some of you skip ahead to the end. And this section is unusually long this week, probably because I haven't got bored and disillusioned with the season yet.

We are all blind men touching different parts of the same elephant
The big question coming out of this game seemed to be 'what game were you watching mate?', and by 'you' they mean of course 'me'. It's only round one, so it behooves us to forgive people their sins, even if part of that forgiveness is couched in the selfish hope that they will forgive you yours. And being 'only' round one, everyone gets a bit excited about soccer being back, the weather still being warm, the size of the crowds looking good, and the hope that this season will be better than the one that came before. For Knights fans, surely this season could not be as bad or even worse than 2017? Even if someone like me, who has doubts about the positive prospects of everything, still doubts that Knights will be a force in 2018, faith in a better tomorrow is what sustains the lives of others.

Oakleigh look like they've reinforced their squad with some good inclusions, and they started this game like a house on fire. They could've had two or three goals in the first ten minutes, but had to settle for one. No matter, they still had the better of the first half, but as the game evened up, their one dimensional game plan - long balls from defense into space for their wingers to run onto - got found out. You know every slur directed at Chris Taylor's ultra-pragmatic attacking tactics? People should really be directing that vitriol at Cannons' co-coaches Tsolakis and Tangalakis, whose side became aesthetically bankrupt once things tightened up a bit. To be fair, Oakleigh did suffer the unfortunate situation of being forced to make two substitutions in the first half, with both starting centre-backs having to come off. They also got themselves into trouble with some stupid challenges which saw them rack up a few yellow cards. But Knights only rarely seriously threatened in the first half, and assuming that Oakleigh would re-compose themselves for the second period, I wasn't really seeing an obvious Knights comeback.

Cue then the less obvious comeback. An early second half free kick whipped in and headed home for the equaliser, and the game changed. Then as the two sides try to find the leading goal, with Oakleigh unable to implement either their long ball game or a shorter passing game through the middle, a chance presents itself to the Cannons to retake the lead. They stuff it up, the ball scoots up the other end for a like-for-like chance to Nate Foster, who puts Knights in front instead. That's soccer in a nutshell, it's why we love and hate the game in equal measure, and every other cliché you want to throw in the mix.

The pivotal moment, if there is such a thing, came when John Honos committed an all-time-great goalkeeping howler. My view was a bit obstructed (also I can't see very well), but one observer with keener eyesight and a better attention span tells it like this:
My own delayed appraisal of Honos' blunder, with my trademark rhetorical flourish, went like this
Oakleigh got a goal back late, and could've/should've equalised, but didn't. So Knights picked up three points, and a lot of people were not only pleased, but also impressed. I seem to have a reputation of sorts for not being so easily impressed

Now some have taken my remarks on Twitter on this game to imply that Knights were not the better team, and that they did not deserve to win this game. On the contrary, they did deserve to win, probably. Perhaps my reserved feelings on the quality of the game overall, or my putting the result of the game mostly onto Oakleigh's deterioration over the 90 minutes than on anything Knights did to adjust, has confused some readers. These things happen.

More goals than the average AFLW game; that's not a good thing on either front by the way
Believe what you want: I'm going to maintain that I went out to Somers Street for a second time within 24 hours, while the rest of you can believe that I slept in the car in the car park. Georgies are playing out of Knights Stadium this year, and they were hosting the overclocked Altona Magic. Rubbish game this for a good part of the first half, Magic content to try and beat the offside trap, while Georgies were doing I'm not sure what. Magic went ahead about a half hour in, ushering in a flurry of goals and action, as Georgies levelled with a sneaky set piece, fell behind again, then equalised with a corker of a half volley from the edge of the box into the opposite top corner. All of a sudden this was a cracking game. Then Georgies imploded in spectacular fashion. A red card, conceding a goal within 30 seconds of that red card, and then another before half time, and yet another just after half time, and this game was cooked. But it was going to get much worse: another red card, and a lot more goals conceded. It finished 9-2 to Magic, in a game that went from bore-fest, to ring-a-ding-ding battle, to "stop, stop, he's already dead" over the course of 90 minutes.

Final thought
There was a bloke walking around the Veneto Club with a Carlton SC shirt, and only much later on (like, when I got home) did I realise it was journo Joey Lynch. And there we were saying things like, "gee that shirt would be worth some money", but also "geez, and people tell South fans to move on".

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Soccer is back for 2018, that's right, it doesn't exist outside our club, everything else is an inferior imitation, accept no substitutes

What did you do over the summer break? I went to the movies, read some books, watched some cricket, went to the baseball, submitted a thesis, went to New Japan Pro-Wrestling, got some fillings done, visited the supermarket, played some video games, and did my usual op-shopping. I even took one of my brothers to a museum. And sure, I went to a few South pre-season friendlies as well, but not as many as I usually would, partly because the scheduling and openness of some of those games didn't work out well for me. But that's OK - there is life outside South Melbourne, as people have told me on occasion down the years.

But the soccer season is upon us once more, and thus life becomes all about South Melbourne Hellas for the next few months, for some of us more than others. Good on you if you can keep your passion in check, releasing it at the appropriate moment during the weekend. Some of us however are beyond redemption, spending every waking hour attached to Twitter or the forums looking for any bit of news or something to take offence to.

The South Melbourne men's season will be dominated by one thing - the after-shocks following the Chris Taylor sacking. Everything is going to exist in its shadow. Off the field, who knows what's going to occur? Will the social club begin to hit its stride? What about the futsal court? Will anyone else step up to organise a rival ticket? Will anyone tell us something tangible about our A-League bid, or will we have to read about it in the press?

Our champion WNPL side is also back in action this week, though like the men's team they'll be away for a good portion of the first part of the year. I do intend to try and make it to more of their games this season. I wish that more of their opponents weren't in monstrously inaccessible locales.

We'll always have those satay chicken skewers at the South Melbourne Christmas party
Apparently off-season signing Darby Dexter has signed over at Hume City. When I say apparently, I mean I read it on this blog in the comments somewhere, not that the club put that info out. Now the question is, who do you trust more? The club's deeply dishonest and manipulative media service, or some anonymous contributor posting to a poorly moderated blog? That's what I thought.

No 'new' teams this year
In the league at least, all our opponents, including the promoted pair of Northcote and Dandenong Thunder, will be familiar to us. The only notable difference will be some of the match days and kickoff times may be a little different to what we're used to.

Oh, and at some point we'll know where Avondale are going to be playing home games this season; they say Reggio Calabria Club, but that's going to need a lot of work, so they'll probably end up at Paisley Park or something. Barring an FFA Cup match up, that won't be a problem for South fans to deal with until very late in the home and away season.

I don't know what the condition of the various surfaces will be like, if lighting has been improved, or whether we'll ever be allowed on the outer side of Port Melbourne ever again, but that's par for the course - most venue changes tend to be more subtle than revolutionary, and as summer becomes autumn and autumn becomes winter, and the grounds get a ton of usage under their belts, things get that little bit more unplayable regardless of how well things started.

Perhaps the most notable change in venue status - aside from wherever Avondale end up - is at the Veneto Club, which has a new synthetic pitch.
Lucky us, we're the first visiting side to try it out.

Who are the teams to beat?
Got me stumped. Despite everything that's happened, we should be competitive - it's still a good squad, although depth in certain areas will always be an issue.

It's probably now or never for Green Gully and Arthur Papas. Avondale has gone off the deep end with its player signings. The Bergers look about the same as last year, albeit with probably no King Kenny for a good chunk of the year. Have heard stuff all about what Oakleigh's done during the off-season. Bentleigh have had a huge turnover in players, and Hume is going for the daring/stupid approach of hiring a captain-coach.

At the bottom end, everyone seems to be saying Northcote, Port and Bulleen are going to be thrashing it out to avoid relegation, with little mention of Kingston being in that mix, but how do you know for sure? What I think we can say for near certain is that overall this season's competition will be stronger if for no other reason then the fact that we've disposed of two very poor teams in North Geelong and St Albans, and replaced them with at least one much more credible contender in Dandenong Thunder. The team that finished third last in 2017, Melbourne Knights, also looks like it's snapped out of its malaise. As for Pascoe Vale, it looks like they've stalled a bit, but all it takes is a good start and early points on the board to overturn expectations.

But really, all this is background noise to the only thing which matters, which is the FFA Cup. Because the Bergers won the national NPL playoffs last year, Victoria gets an extra FFA Cup spot in 2018, though I'm not sure how FFV will go about sorting out qualification in the event that Heidelberg also make it to the final four/Dockerty Cup stage.

It's a Greek, Greek, Greek, Greek World
To bring it back for a moment to the composition of the league, which is now seven Greek teams out of fourteen competitors. Half! We have the president, we have connections, and we've been dominating on-field as well.

  • 2013 - Grand final winner, Northcote, runner up Bentleigh, preliminary final South Melbourne
  • 2014 - (no finals), 1st South, 2nd Oakleigh, 3rd Heidelberg, 4th Bentleigh
  • 2015 - Grand final winner Bentleigh, runner up South (minor premier), 3rd place Heidelberg. South and Oakleigh also in the Dockerty Cup final
  • 2016 - Grand final winner South, runner up Oakleigh, losing semi-finalists Heidelberg and Bentleigh. Bentleigh won the Dockerty Cup final.
  • 2017 - South, Heidelberg and Bentleigh top three, and Bentleigh and Bergers in the Dockerty Cup final.
My dad, oblivious to most things which have happened in Australian soccer since the mid-1990s, asked me when the Hellenic Cup was on this year. The correct answer is of course that it hasn't been held for several years, but the even more correct answer is: do we even need one? Why bother sourcing sponsors and ruining grounds when we have taken over the league itself? All we need now is for all seven Greek clubs to survive, and for Brunswick or Box Hill to come up, and then we can launch proceedings to secede from Victorian soccer.

Assorted social media stuff
The media interest in the lead up to this season has been very subdued, to the point of being invisible  That goes for the clubs as much as it does for FFV and even the Corner Flag site. What has caused this I don't know, but there appears to be a general torpor around promotion of the league. Now regular readers will know that I'm as fond of an existential languor as anyone - indeed, I've inadvertently based my life's philosophy upon it - but you can't help feel it's not exactly what we should be aiming for.

Anyway, some people out there maybe want to keep in touch with league happenings outside the weekend, or wish to enhance their local soccer experience by the use of social media.

For those playing along on Twitter, this year there is no major sponsor for the competition, and thus the #PS4NPLVIC hashtag is dead. For the time being, we've been instructed to use #NPLVIC. There may be a naming rights sponsor signed up eventually, which would see the hashtag change again.

Though the state leagues starting date is still a month away, if you happen to be at a state league game, following the @ffv365 account is the best way to keep up to date with live scores from the state leagues, though the account can be a bit erratic in how promptly it retweets scores. If you happen to be a Twitter user at a state league game, and you wish to note a goal in a tweet to get retweeted by the FFV account, use @FFV365 not #FFV365.

Of course, the best way to keep up to date with NPL and NPL2 scores as they happen is the Futbol24 app. Berate the gamblers as I do, their interest in our leagues seems to surpass that of most organisations. If you find the FFV sites a bit of a mess to use for scores and ladders, the UK soccer pools site Soccer Aust has a crummy, ancient look, but excellent usability.

FFV will once again be broadcasting games on internet radio via the Mixlr app, with games also streamed at mixlr.com/ffvradio/. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but the commentary teams are good, and sometimes there's even a bit of audience interactivity.

As for the Facebook and Instagram people, I couldn't care less about those mediums, so you're on your own there. A lot of clubs seem to prefer Facebook for news and score updates, but I've made my choice of preferred social media tools, and I stick by that decision.

Contribute to South of the Border
As always, the opportunity is there for readers to contribute to South of the Border, in whatever way you can think of that won't get me sued, or which doesn't come across as a sovereign citizen style rant against FFA or whatever - that's what Twitter is for. Ongoing or one-off contributions welcome.

Friday, 16 February 2018

2018 squad finalised

The Tuesday that just passed was the day everyone had to submit their final squads of 20 players for season 2018, and from a South point of view everything seems sorted now, sorta, even though we had to wait an extra day or two to know for sure who'd fill out the last quarter of the roster.

Even before the, er, unpleasantness, the team was set for a decent overhaul, especially in defence. New keepers, new centre-backs, even new wing-backs. Alastair Bray will be the obvious first choice starting out, and Brad Norton the starting left full-back, but the other three spots in the back four will be be up for grabs. Injuries to new recruits Jake Marshall and Darby Dexter mean that it'll likely be Kristian Konstantinidis and new player Christos Intzidis in the centre of defence for the start of the season, and *probably* Matthew Foschini at right fll-back, but who knows for sure?

For everything which has changed however, other things will look stunningly familiar even where we have recruited new players. The midfield suffered few changes; the outs amounted to Jesse Daley, whose place in the starting eleven was all over the place in 2017 (and who disappeared to Perth for trials twice), and Stefan Zinni and Andy Kecojevic who were about as marginal as midfielders could get in a semi-professional squad that plays as many games as we have been in the habit of doing.

And yet two of our midfield pickups are entirely familiar - Andy Brennan and Iqi Jawadi have been here before, the latter for a lot longer than the former, but still, it's not like we don't know what they're like. Oliver Minatel, if he plays in the attacking midfield role, will be where a lot of this year's planning will likely sink or swim. That, and the fact that because we got and then got rid of Sam Smith, the next in line for replacing striker Milos Lujic (should something happen to him) is Leigh Minopoulos and Giordano Marafioti.

One thing which is puzzling me is that, by my very erratic calculations there are 19 confirmed players where we need 20. So, is it Luke Pavlou or Ajdin Fetahagic that takes up one of those spots? Anyone with a better idea of this situation is more than welcome to post it in the comments.

Need more Greeks!
We have signed Greek defender Christos Intzidis. He's a 25 year old journeyman who has spent most of his career bouncing around the Greek second division. My main concern here is that he just doesn't seem to have played very much football for a 25 year old professional, especially recently. And while I could watch the highlights packages and see what he can do, these things seldom if ever show us what a player can't do.

It's an interesting signing in some other ways as well. Obviously as a visa player, he'll need a certain amount of renumeration, which suggests that money is still coming in from somewhere, or that savings made elsewhere have been funneled towards a signing like this. There's also cultural and language issues, but that's to be expected with an overseas signing, especially from outside the British Isles or New Zealand.

I'm also reminded of discussions that were had a few years ago on the old smfcboard, especially following the onset of the Greek financial crisis, that we should be looking at players in the Greek second and third divisions who would quote/unquote kill it in this league of ours. Despite the plethora of Greek clubs in this league however, it's not a recruiting tactic that's been used very often. I think maybe Northcote had recruited a Greek player from below the top tiers, but they got relegated anyway.

It promises to be a fun experiment. When was the last time, guest players like John Samaras not included, that we even brought out a player from Greece? Was it Margaritis Hatzimanouil in the mid-1970s?

What was that about visa players?
We've also signed Oliver Minatel, a Brazilian most recently of the US non-MLS tiers. Again I haven't watched the accompanying highlights package, though someone claimed to be about as impressed by them as they were by Andy Bevin's compilation, which doesn't fill me with confidence. Anyway, the general scuttlebutt non-highlights watching consensus is that Minatel is a left-sided attacking player.

But I can hear you already asking, don't we already have one of those in the form of the People's Champ? Is this an attempt to shunt out the Champ, or was he on his way out in due course anyway? Shurgs shoulders, maybe? I don't know

The other theory is that Minatel will be the more-or-less like-for-like replacement for Marcus Schroen, so something like an attacking midfielder. Seeing as he's possibly the direct replacement for Schroen, I wonder if Minatel can take a set-piece? Not that Schroen himself had much success there in 2017 barring that goal at home against against the Knights, but it has been a long-term problem for us.

Anyway, after an AGM where the board had said it would be very cautious, perhaps reluctant even to sign visa players unless they fit an absolutely obvious need, we've signed two visa players. These things happen I suppose. One day you have a successful coach of four and half years' tenure, the next morning you don't. Likewise, one week you're making noises about a change in signing philosophy, and then another week you seemingly quickly change to another one.

I'm not terribly flustered about this; visa spots are there to be used, and the club felt it had two spots it really wanted to fill either because of a genuine need to do so and inability to find a suitable local option, or because it felt it needed to reinforce the squad for Kolman's and their own sakes. I mean, imagine it all works out?

South Melbourne Fringe Festival
Four youth players have been upgraded to the senior list. Striker Giordano Marafioti, right full-back Josh Hodes, winger Ben Djiba, and centre-back Giorgi Zarbos have all been what I suppose you'd call provisionally elevated into the senior list.

It's easy to be cynical and say that these four players have been elevated to the senior list in part to get the squad underneath the 200 PPS limit, but it's also true. Every club does it, we've got two visa spots filled worth 20 points each, and something has to be done to get us a pass mark.

While I don't doubt that Sasa Kolman wants to use these players - as their former under 20s coach, he knows them better than anyone - the reality is that for most of them, this is as good as will it get. People can talk about youth development until the cows come home, but the higher up you go, the harder it is to put into practice.

Fans and boards want senior success; who's going to risk that on some unknown and untested quantities, whose careers thus far have been spent entirely playing against only players their own age? Anyway, all the best to the lads, but most people will be hoping we won't be needing their services.

Arrivals and Departures
The squad deadline was last Tuesday 5PM, so apart from everyone else already named and shamed, it's worth notung Andy Kecojevic has officially left the club, joining Springvale White Eagles. It never quite worked out the way it should have there, right?


In, then Out
  • Sam Smith (Port Melbourne)
  • Stefan Zinni (Avondale)
  • Zaim Zeneli (North Sunshine Eagles)
  • Michael Eagar (Port Melbourne)
  • Luke Adams (Ljungskile SK, Sweden)
  • Tim Mala (12 month sabbatical)
  • Nikola Roganovic (retired)
  • Jesse Daley (returned to Queensland)
  • Andy Kecojevic (Springvale White Eagles)

Out for injury related reasons
  • Marcus Schroen
Players whose status I'm unsure about
  • Luke Pavlou
  • Ajdin Fetahagic 
  • Bardhi Hysolli
Standalone Friday night games
Friday night NPL matches kicking off at 8:15PM or at 8:30PM, especially in the middle of winter, have been a bugbear for some people for some years now. There's been little that clubs have been able to do about it, as there are rules about the times at which reserve and senior matches can kickoff for night games. Besides which, more and more clubs, both in the NPL and in the state leagues, have been moving their fixtures to Friday nights.

But I see that Melbourne Knights have tried to get around the problem in a way that most if not all clubs have been reticent to try, by playing their reserves/under 20s games on a different day. South has done similar things in order to accommodate women's/men's double-headers, and games like the Old Socceroos vs Copperoos, but this is the next logical step.

So, Knights have moved to try and play some of their early season senior home games as standalone fixtures kicking off at 7:30PM instead. The possible benefits? More attractive to families and people desiring to stay back after a game, and maybe not having to put up with the worst of the winter conditions. Oh, and possibly lower costs on hiring security for matches.

The drawbacks include less time to get across town to a game, especially for the handful of people who rely on public transport to do so. Maybe less revenue from people that get to games early? Look, we're probably well past the point where anything is going to make a drastic difference to attendances, but why not try something anyway?

The question is, is this something you would like to see happen at South games, should we ever consider playing Friday night games again? Is the idea of standalone senior matches something you'd like to see brought in across the board for Friday night fixturing in the NPL?

South of the Border, freeloading once again at an NPL or state league game near you in 2018
Of course it's not completely freeloading. In exchange for the pass, I write this blog about South, and try to get to at least 1-2 other games a weekend in order to write up everyone's favourite "around the grounds" segment. And I usually put at least something back over the bar and bolster the crowds by at least one person.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Pound of Flesh" is not a good movie - South Melbourne 3 Gunagzhou R&F 0

I was not there last night, had other things to do, and none of those people who did attend have put their hand up to do a guest match report. So what you're going to get instead is a patchwork quilt of stuff I've gleaned from he web about this game.

First, it's important to reiterate an important point: this was not Guangzhou Evergrande, the seven times consecutive winners of the Chinese Super League and two-time winners of the Asian Champions League, This was their smaller and significantly less successful city rival Guangzhou R&F. That doesn't mean they don't have resources at their disposal which would put them well outside our reach, but you know, the opponent is not as prestigious as some people may have inadvertently thought they may have been.

It also doesn't mean that this Guangzhou R&F don't have other things going for them.
This was also not the first time we've played Guangzhou R&F this pre-season; we played them last Saturday evening in a behind closed doors game, losing 4-1, with perhaps a mix of senior and youth players from our side, though I can't verify that.
Guangzhou R&F have also been busy playing some other teams; before our last Saturday game, they played Oakleigh two days prior, and two days before yesterday's game they'd played Melbourne Heart, and on Sunday they play Dandenong Thunder. As you can see, it's a crowded schedule, and the squads Guangzhou R&F are likely to be using for each friendly are going to have a high degree of variability.

Someone noted of yesterday's game that our guests used a reserve squad for the first half, and a fuller strength side for the second. The reserves therefore would be made up of Chinese players, whose quality I can't gauge from the comfort of my home office, but. Unlike the A-League teams, Chinese sides seems to adhere to the AFC's 3+1 foreigner rule, but they're still fully professional whereas we're a glorified pub team, a gastro-pub team if you like.

For ourselves, it was a pretty full-strength squad, probably close to what you'd see for round one against Bulleen.
Martin (no first name provided) is a defender, probably a visa slot candidate, unsigned as yet as far as I'm aware. Not much evidence of youth team players there, for those who are going to ride that hobby-horse for superior and/or ulterior motives.

We were 2-0 (Lujic, Konstantinidis) up at the break, and added a third (Brennan) in the second half. From what I can gather from the piecemeal information floating around, we looked good going forward, very exciting, and lousy going back the other way. Those hoping for clues in that description to something of how a Sasa Kolman team might play should perhaps temper their excitement just a bit; even under the late Chris Taylor era during this pre-season, the team looked OK going forward and less than adequate defensively. Nevertheless, one can't be disappointed with the performance, only cautious as to what actual worth can be extracted from it. Some people are born optimists, while others are hoping for some evidence that we are going to be shit-hot after the turmoil of the past couple of weeks.

Of course what's a pre-season friendly win of indiscernible worth without South fans, their current politically adjacent affiliates, and aspiring doyens of the local soccer press going off half-cocked just because they can?
Sometimes South fans are like a bloke who has caught a glimpse of side-boob, getting excited beyond all measure of reasonableness to the point where he's started planning the wedding. In our case, when we see something approximating hope, we rush out to vote for every online poll no matter how meaningless it is
and end up making ourselves feel like dirt when nothing comes of it. There was a solid contingent of Chinese supporters in attendance, many more than South fans. I don't know who they were, how they got there, and whether they'll be back. OK, I don't think they'll be back, but I suppose for those South fans who were there it was nice to see a decent crowd for whatever it was that was happening last night.

There was also this
which I assume lead to the halftime melee that some reported, which saw the ejection of Lujic and Epifano, as well two players from the opposition. Sounds like it was am eventful night all round.

And he's gone
Like Jason Hicks and Francesco Stella before him, off-season South Melbourne signing Sam Smith has moved on to another club without playing a single legitimate game for us and indeed, like the others mentioned before the season has even started. In Smith's case, he's ended up at Port Melbourne. After all our efforts to get Smith - one rumoured attempt before he re-signed at Gold Coast City, and then as Gold Coast City got into an administrative mess we lured him down to Victoria - it seems like an odd decision,

Truth be told, I never saw much in his pre-season form (when I was paying attention) to get excited about. Others were far more critical of his skill level. I'll say this: judging from his highlights package, he looks like a classic out-and-out striker, and during pre-season we seemed to be trying to play him a lot on the wing, hoping as we've done since he left us to find the next Jaime Reed. It didn't work out, Smith would've taken up a visa spot we're apparently keen on using on a defender, these things happen. If that's the worst thing that happens during this off-season, we're doing OK.

In a similar vein, forward Amir Osmancevic, who had been trialling with us (and who did look impressive at times), has ended up at Pascoe Vale. Likewise, Kaine Sheppard has ended up at Avondale, or so people say. Oh, and Iqi Jawadi's back.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

This industry moves so fast

I can't figure out what, if anything, the Australia
 China Football Development Association does. 
Chinese visitors, with caveats
I noted in an earlier post that Chinese Super League club Guangzhou R&F were due to tour Victoria this February (ie, "now") as part of their preparations for their 2018 league campaign. Though there was no firm detail about who they would play while they were here, it looks like South Melbourne is one of the lucky ones. Of course, we'll probably decide to pretend that we're a special case, even though Guangzhou R&F played Oakleigh last Thursday (and against other clubs while they're here), and I think maybe even toured here once before (I just can't find the damn photo I took a few years ago of a jersey on the walls of Dandenong Thunder's social club of some random Chinese soccer jersey).

Some of the hoopla around our connection to this tour is a bit strange. OK, so the club's press release over-eggs the custard a bit, but that's par for the course when Bill Papastergiadis is being quoted. The press release says that Guangzhou R&F will train at Lakeside (makes sense I suppose), but it also includes references to a formal dinner, as well as to something called the "Australia China Football Development Association", which has an ABN dating back to October 2017 but not much else to go on for people relying upon lazy internet searches.

I'd heard from another South fan that the club had hosted some big Chinese soccer organisation dinner in the social club, but I don't recall our interlocutor saying much more than that, and I just assumed it was an independent body with no specific connection to South, just some group which wanted to hire our facility for the night. Which now that I think about it, is horribly naive of me. What's so special about our social club that an outside entity would want to use it instead of another venue?

Anyway, the only other evidence I can find for what the Australia China Football Development Association actually is appears to be photos from the dinner event held I'm guessing in July or August 2017 (the latter at least is when the photos were uploaded to the web).

Left to right: South Melbourne president Leo Athanasakis, unidentified Asian gentleman, unidentified Caucasian gentleman, Victorian Member of Parliament for Glen Waverley (Liberal) Michael Gidley. another unidentified Asian gentleman, and South Melbourne director Andrew Mesourouni, flanking the FFA Cup. Photo: borrowed from Gidley's social media.

As for what it is that the ACFDA do, and what we have do with what it does, I'm not sure. When Papastergiadis says the following:
Our partnership with the Chinese business and football community continues to strengthen and grow each year. Establishing the Australia China Football Development Association has played a large role in this. Our youth coaching staff have recently returned from delivering a coaching conference in Jinshan for seventy local coaches
are we meant to infer that South is directly involved in actually forming the ACFDA, and that we have some material interest in it? If so, should we maybe have been told about this at the AGM?

Contrary to Neos Kosmos' otherwise word-for-word rehash of South's press release, the game will not have "invitation-only access to the match for invited community members and South Melbourne FC members and season pass holders." Rather, the game will be open to the general public, with kickoff at 7:30PM, and free entry. And while nothing says you're ready for broad-based mainstream success like operating your soccer club along the lines of Cartmanland, it's too bad that I can't go anyway, what with already having an actual exclusive, invitation-only commitment on that night.

If someone wants to do a guest match report for this game, let me know.

Latest on the Taylor sacking
Interesting Neos Kosmos article on the sacking of Chris Taylor, including direct quotes from both Taylor and South president Leo Athanasakis. Taylor asserts that he's still waiting to find out what exactly contract breaches were which lead to his sacking. He also reiterates the shock of the sacking, as well as noting that so far as he was concerned, the performance benchmarks contained in his contract had been met.

Taylor also notes that it's "obviously going to become a legal case and it will get dealt with in the courts I’d say”. We'll see if it pans out that way. A mediated settlement is usually the aim here, both to keep costs down and to avoid a public spectacle, but that's just my uneducated two cents on the matter, keeping in mind that my legal expertise only runs to Year 12 legal studies (in 2001!) and since then only attending court cases involving South Melbourne Hellas and/or Football Federation Victoria.

If this matter did proceed to a court case, the confidentiality agreement that would likely form a part of any out of court settlement between Taylor and the club would not come into being; interested onlookers with way too much time on their hands (ie, me) could witness (under oath!) for themselves why the club did what it did. Short of any of the parties directly involved blurting it out before then, it's probably the only legitimate way a mug punter would know for sure what happened.

For his part, Athanasakis says that the decision to sack Taylor had unanimous support from the board, but in the article he provides no further specifics as to why Taylor was sacked. The fact that he claims it was a whole board decision and not a unilateral one means that there had to have been a board meeting where the matter was discussed, and therefore this was planned at least some time in advance of the Saturday morning slaying. The questions then are how long ago did the board come to the conclusion that Taylor must go, and what made them come to this conclusion? As one of South of the Border's former contributors used, these are the questions that keep you up at night.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

January 2018 digest

I've got to warn you, dear readers, that from Saturday morning when the news broke of Chris Taylor's sacking until about some time early yesterday, I was as distraught and confused as many of you were. Maybe not as demonstratively angry as many South Melbourne Hellas supporters, but still very upset by the whole situation. But yesterday, in reading the latest forum and online updates, I could not help but also find the situation incredibly amusing. Don't get me wrong - the treatment of Taylor by the board still seems extremely callous, but it's reached that point now where I've been able to tap into the absurdity of the situation. And it really is so absurd that I'm not sure words alone can do this situation justice.

It's worth noting briefly how my off-season digest posts come into being: I don't write them all in one go, but rather I add stuff to a draft file incrementally and polish off the product on the eve of the scheduled posting date. If something really big happens, I try and write something special about it, and I guess I could've rushed something more substantial out after the initial post, but there was always a chance of more things coming to light or at the whole situation moving along that it wasn't the effort to make multiple posts.

Didn't we have fun doing the crossword puzzles?
Chris Taylor is as stunned as everyone else at the preemptive breakup.
Well, what looked a like a fairly run of the mill, pedestrian, steady-as-she-goes pre-season has been turned upside-down by what looks like the most insane bit of hubris this side of an Athenian tragedy. From outside South Melbourne Hellas' innermost sanctum - which at its most elite levels comprises about three people - it is a decision which makes no sense whatsoever. I wonder if it even makes sense to the people who made it.

Chris Taylor is one of the most successful coaches in the club's history, as well as one of its longest-serving. He was some way into a long-term contract of unspecified length, and which by internet consensus had two years to run; he was sacked in the middle of pre-season, in the process of finalising his squad during its biggest overhaul since his arrival; he was sacked just one month out from the start of the season, a campaign which starts with nine out of ten games away from home, a good deal of time spent training away from Lakeside, and thus a period fraught with the danger of poor morale and continuity effecting results.

And then, on Saturday morning - three days after the AGM, on the morning after an ordinary friendly against Springvale White Eagles - the news was published by the club on its website that Taylor and the club had euphemistically "parted ways". It's a proclamation that's so mealy-mouthed that you have to feel pity for whoever was tasked with writing it up and posting it online.

I'm as stunned by the decision now as I was when it was announced. Having published a brief and sloppy post to mark the occasion of Taylor's departure, I was approving comments on here while pushing a shopping trolley around Coles, and spending much of the rest of the day fielding Twitter DMs, Facebook correspondence, and text messages all asking me the same thing. Why did this happen? It's a question I do not have an answer for, only the rumours and innuendo of the Victorian soccer community trying to make sense of this situation.

I said in that Saturday post "that nature abhors a vacuum", and cliché that it is, it is also true. From the comments section here, to Twitter, to soccer-forum.net, and even to the New South Wales border where Green Gully spent the weekend, people are scrambling to come up with scenarios to explain what happened and why. With only the stony-faced club press release to go on, it was time for the punters to engage in speculation to fill the information void.

So far, there are two theories which stand-out as being more tangible than the rest. One of these relates to nepotism, and the allegation that Taylor would not play the son or a relative (there's some conjecture about the exact nature of the particular familial relationship) of club director and sponsor Andrew Mesourouni. That Mesourouni is the board member responsible for overseeing youth development at the club, while also being one of our main financial backers and one of those directors guaranteeing our loan to complete the social club complicates matters in that regard.

To be perfectly clear: I am not saying that this is what actually happened, only that this is where much of the rumour-mongering has settled on in a variety of online forums. Taylor has in the past made subtle remarks about board interference, but the true nature of that is something that would only be known to Taylor and those board members who dealt with him on a regular basis. It is also the nature of coaching at this level in this country - indeed, it is one of our great traditions as a soccer culture - that the boundaries between the coach of a team and the people putting the money into that team are much blurrier than perhaps would be the case in other places.

The other rumour comes down to finances. The club had cash-flow problems last year when it got into a dispute with the State Sport Centres Trust, when the SSCT attempted to change the delivery time of the club's monthly stipend. While players and staff went unpaid for a short while, the board claimed it had caught up on that shortfall after the situation with the SSCT was rectified. Still, rumours persist about the club falling behind in superannuation payments to various employees. However, the fact that Taylor had returned from his Bali holiday (and time off following the death of his father) suggests that financial issues, whatever their nature, can't have been that severe if he was prepared to get busy with pre-season and setting up the squad.

On Sunday evening, Taylor fronted up for an interview on 3XY Radio Hellas, a show which I unfortunately did not think to listen to. Hey, it was a billion degrees in this room where my computer is, and I was listening to a jazz programme on community radio (but then again, I also forgot to listen to the George Karantonis show on Tuesday night). From what I've been able to piece together from the helpful summaries provided by people who did listen to the 3XY show:
  • Taylor's sacking was done over the phone.
  • Taylor has some time left on his contract, seemingly two years.
  • Taylor is considering his legal options.
  • Taylor doesn't know why he was sacked.
  • He thanked the fans and said he loved his time at the club.
No matter how big of a defender of the club and/or the board you are (with the de rigueur exception of our dear friend Shouty Mike), the optics on this look astonishingly bad. Forget becoming the butt of internet jokes; sacking a coach by phone? It's cowardice of the highest quality, overtly lacking any sense of moral fibre. Even some of the people who hated Taylor (whether because of his tactics or his handling of the Nick Epifano issue) and who are glad to seem him gone are appalled at the way it's been done.

Whatever differences there may have been between the board and Taylor on any number of issues, Taylor generally seemed to do the right thing for the club. He brought back player discipline (mostly, perhaps as much as you can get in a semi-pro environment), he brought trophies and a higher national profile thanks to the most recent FFA Cup run, and he did most of the media stuff that others may have found beneath them or even demeaning. He spruiked for the club's history and ambition, and even played the game of not rubbishing the nonsense Roberto Carlos stunt.

Sacking such a long-term servant by phone is also the kind of action which probably obliterates whatever trust remains between the board and those few who can tolerate its arrogance. Never mind whether people would want to be paid to work for an organisation which behaves like this; more importantly, would South fans want to volunteer their time for an organisation that treats its staff (paid or unpaid) so shabbily?

On the matter of legal options, two issues come to mind. First, in considering the financial cost of paying out Taylor's two year contract, how much would this set back the club? Already with a large loan to pay off, would the directors seek to avert going to court by paying Taylor out of their own pockets? Second, there is the matter of what it was that Taylor had allegedly done - or failed to do - which saw the club decide that Taylor had breached a part of his contract with the club; a clause so definitive that it would require such drastic action as a brutal summary dismissal. Add to that the idea that the club would be so certain that it would win any case brought against it, and you've got to worry about the possibilities. Contracts are funny things, which can be interpreted in a lot of different ways, but it makes you wonder what it was in the specific agreement between Taylor and the club that the club would dare terminate Taylor's contract with two years left to run.

(It also shows up the inherent risk of committing to such a long-term contract, which appears here to have been a five-year deal.)

Who knows what impact Taylor's sacking will have on the playing group, many of whom will have developed a strong sense loyalty towards Taylor; some of whom would only be at South because of Taylor; and some of whom may even have stipulations in their contracts that if Taylor left, they too would be allowed to leave. It certainly won't go down well with those players who have signed on during this off-season.

Checkmate! The club is always thinking two moves ahead.
From the very limited info I've been able to glean from my trustworthy sources, the sacking has caught Taylor completely off-guard. For those speculating (whether seriously or in devil's advocate desperation) that Taylor might have had another gig lined up, all I can say is that I've heard that it's not true. That's not to say he couldn't find another job quickly if he wanted to - his record speaks for itself in Victorian soccer - but that there was nothing planned in that way.

Well-known local referee James Milloy (who has officiated at most of our Melbourne based pre-season games during Taylor's tenure), posting under his alias of "REDREF08" on soccer-forum.net, posted this about the situation:
Apparently, on Monday before training a meeting was held by two board members and the senior squad. 
One of those two told the playing group, they had been trying to get rid of CT for sometime but with his Father dying, we delayed the decision.
What's interesting here is that one of the things that Taylor managed to bring to the club during his tenure was a new-found and rare - certainly by South Melbourne Hellas standards - level of information or disclosure discipline, plugging up leaks that previously flowed uninterrupted to the wider Victorian soccer community. On this occasion he's been surprised by the kind of information-discipline he attempted to instill at the club.

Of course this only really works if the board had indeed planned to sack Taylor months ago, and not on a spur of the moment decision. Without putting aside the callousness-under-the-guise-of-empathy allegation (which speaks for itself, no matter how well-intended it may have been), the idea that the board had wanted to end Taylor's tenure months ago is interesting, as it brings into question - or at the very least adds nuance to - the borderline conspiracy theories going around at the moment. It's not that one can instantly dismiss concerns about nepotism or money, but maybe there's other things to consider.

As a coach, Taylor was pragmatic; there's no getting around that. Most times when that pragmatism was framed as a criticism, that adjective was directed toward his game-plan, which at its worst could degenerate into dire long-ball. Initially South people were willing to put up with it, because it got results, and results at that time were more important than prettiness. Eventually being purely results-driven lost favour with more people (though I would never be so bold as to call it a majority or to put any number on it which would suggest as much).

If there were questions about Taylor's ability to recruit or bring over desirable players from other clubs, well I'm not sure where the issue would've come from there. For years it seemed, at least from an outsider's perspective, that the board and Taylor were in general agreement about recruiting strategies. Was Taylor not bringing through enough of the club's youth players? By his own admission at the 2017 AGM, Mesourouni noted that it was only in this latest batch of under 20s that there was a real chance of sourcing suitable talent from our youth program, because it's only now that the program has started delivering on its promise.

So, really, I don't know and I can't figure out what it was that triggered this move. A lot of other people have settled on their preferred theories, and until or unless we have something tangible to go on, those theories will have to do.

As for who will replace Taylor, for now the club has settled on under 20s coach Sasa Kolman. Kolman has all the necessary certificates and then some, but little senior coaching experience as far as I'm aware. Will he even be able to receive the trust of the players, or will he merely be seen as a board lackey? He'll also have to change his pedagogical methods, because senior players are very different from kids.

There had been rumours that there would be a "proper" senior coach appointed, with a lot of that talk focusing on Mike Valkanis, but others who professed to have at least some (unverifiable to me) knowledge of the situation claimed Valkanis was not a candidate for the vacant South senior coaching job. Of course not even a week ago no one thought that there would be a coaching vacancy at South, and yet here we are. Perhaps the club did have someone else in mind, but the delay (if Milloy's assertion is true) in getting rid of Taylor made things more difficult to get someone with better credentials in.

So, what next?
WOMAN: I didn't know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective. 
DENNIS: You're fooling yourself. We're living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--
WOMAN: Oh there you go, bringing class into it again.
Even those who loathed the board way before this particular escapade have been thrown off by the board's sacking of Taylor. Some people are considering taking up some sort of action, which is fine, each to their own and all that. But so far the proposals I've come across lack any sort of coherence. A boycott of the social club? Probably won't mean much in the short term, and besides, how will those suggesting such a move get the message out to everyone else who's no so emotionally invested in the politics of the senior wing of the club?

Call for an Extraordinary General Meeting? I can't argue against that - I was involved with calling an EGM not that long ago, as part of the few tools available to members to hold the board to account. While Foti Stavrakis (who worked with me on that petition) got the result we wanted in that it forced the club to call an AGM, the process for getting the necessary amount of signatures was a bit messy, with confusion about whether we needed to get members from the previous year or the current one.

I think with the 2017 AGM having been conducted this time it should be easier to pin it down to 2018 financial members, but which entity would you call an EGM for? The overarching body South Melbourne Hellas Limited, or the South Melbourne Football Club subsidiary? Calling it for the former means a lower turnout, because fewer people take up the more expensive social club membership, whereas the latter should be open to any adult with a season pass equivalent.

Just as importantly however, Foti and I were aided by the fact that we circulated our petition at the first home game of the season, usually our best attended affair and in that case held in round 1. There's no better time to round up supporters for something like that, because some people don't go to away games, people go missing during winter (footy, overseas, can't be bothered), and pre-season games, even at Lakeside, tend to attract some people but not others.

An EGM also needs a specific goal in mind. Do people just want an answer to the question of why Taylor was sacked, and if so, would the club even be at liberty (especially if there are legal proceedings pending) to disclose that kind of information? Or do people want to go further, and table a motion of "no confidence" in the board or specific individuals? If it's the whole board, are people banking on some in the board splintering from the dominant faction, and discarding the president? If the rest of the board don't abandon the president, and the board is dumped en masse, who or what will replace them?

I suppose we could try setting up an anarcho-syndicalist commune, though it would mean some drastic changes to the club's constitution (which in any case, is way overdue for an update). We could take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week. All the decisions of that officer would have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting, by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more external affairs...

OK, I kid, but only a little. Unless you want to go all Souvarine (everyone's favourite narratively anachronistic fictional anarchist) by blowing up the joint (sorry for the spoilers for the people here who were going to read Emile Zola's Germinal some day) on the assumption that whatever replaces the current regime could not help but be better, people will want to have some idea of what changes could possibly or would actually occur as the result of any member initiatives. Which is a just another way of saying that by all means, exercise your power (and if you want an EGM, you've got my signature), but some co-ordination and coherence would be nice.

In the post on the recent AGM, I failed to note that the board was keen to have a members forum within the next few months of its own accord. I'm wondering now not only whether they would dare to do so under the current circumstances, or whether any proposed EGM action would precede before

Arrivals and departures
Who knows how this situation will be affected by the Taylor's sacking, but here is a rather general look at some of what's happened over the past month on this front.

Andy Brennan is back, which will please some and annoy others. Not everyone was a Brennan fanatic when he first started with us in 2015, but he won quite a few people over in his short stint with South before moving to an ill-fated two year spell at Newcastle Jets. Others continued to see a donkey or, at best, someone who managed to have a handful (if that) of meaningful good performances coinciding with A-League scouts being in attendance. I admit, I was a fan from before he turned up, having been aware of him from his South Hobart days, and thus like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I am glad that Brennan is back not only because I think he is a good player, but also because I thought he was dead (in the metaphorical sense).

Meanwhile, Nikola Roganovic has retired, personal commitments finally getting the better of the situation there. From my understanding, it has been a season-by-season decision with Nikola, and it was possible that he could have played on this year if he deemed it absolutely necessary. Tim Mala has also stepped away from the game, though I had heard talk that Taylor had tried to get him to stay on. In conversations during 2017, I came across the idea that Mala was one of the best in the squad to have around for morale purposes, so even if his on-field performances of late drew only mixed reviews from the fans, there were other qualities which Mala brought to the club which ameliorated

Me, I'm mostly sad that this looks like the final nail in the coffin of the Minute with Mala segment.

Goalkeeper Alistair Bray had been reported by Neos Kosmos to have signed with us, but the club has made no announcement at the time this post was published. Instead and for the time being, Box Hill United Pythagoras goalkeeper Keegan Coulter has been signed up as our number one choice between the sticks.

Last time I saw South in action about a week ago, there were still a lot of players trialling, and who knows what the coaching changeover will mean on that front. Not that Kolman hasn't had some input into the senior scene at Lakeside, but his contributions would pale in comparison to those of "senior football advisor" Chris Marshall (who I assume is gone along with Taylor), who had taken the senior coaching reins in the past when Taylor was absent or suspended.

One thing I neglected to be specific on in last month's digest was centre-back Luke Adams departing to Sweden's lowest professional tier. It was no secret that Adams had been looking for a full-time professional football gig. You can read (and translate in your own time) an interview Adams had with a Ljungskile SK supporters site where they get him to try some of the local delicacies.

Update 3/2/2018 
Goalkeeper Alastair Bray signs for two years.


  • Stefan Zinni (Avondale)
  • Zaim Zeneli (North Sunshine Eagles)
  • Michael Eagar (Port Melbourne)
  • Luke Adams (Ljungskile SK, Sweden)
  • Tim Mala (retired)
  • Nikola Roganovic (retired)
  • Jesse Daley (returned to Queensland)

Public Transport Guide mostly updated for 2018
I've updated the public transport guide to NPL grounds. What's new:
  • Return of two convenient grounds in Northcote and Dandenong Thunder.
  • Added a train and bus option for Hume City.
  • Basically writing off Gully and Knights as viable PT options because there's no sensible post-match public transport options for Friday nights at those grounds.
There's nothing yet for Avondale because nothing has been officially updated on the FFV's fixtures.

Women's NPL fixtures released
As hinted at last year, our women's team fixtures have moved away from the men's/women's double header format to having their own separate days. This will have several effects. First, our men's under 20s and women's under 19s getting season long time at Lakeside instead of one of the substandard pitches down near the pit buildings. Second, it will hopefully mean a streamlined and more sensible gate operation on men's match days. Third, it will give the club a bigger footprint at Lakeside, which hopefully also means more traffic into the social club. South's WNPL side looks like it will be playing a lot of its home matches Saturdays at 4:15PM, which is a bit of a bummer for people like me who like to watch state league men's action, but I do intend to make more of an effort to watch SMFC WNPL home games in 2018. Of course this will mean an adjustment to the ways we use paid and volunteer staffing, including media, and it'll be interesting to see how the club copes with that.

NPL National Finals Series news
Despite Sony ending its Playstation sponsorship of the NPL concept, it looks like the NPL national finals series - the end of year competition for the teams that finish top of the table in their respective NPL leagues - will continue in 2018. The "minor premier" of NPL Victoria will travel to Tasmania to play their representative, as per the draw that was conducted earlier this week.

Match programs
Thanks to the Agitator, I've added a few VPL era items, most notably Gully away 2009 and Fawkner away 2008. You know where to find them.

Albert Park Master Plan
Did you know there was an Albert Park Master Plan in the works? I didn't until a couple of weeks ago. While South Melbourne Hellas' presence in Albert Park comes mostly under the auspices of the State Sports Centre Trust, we do have grounds which fall under the stewardship of Parks Victoria or whoever is in charge of maintaining the rest of the precinct. From what I can gather from a quick scan of the website, our meagre footprint is not going to be affected in any major way - it's mostly the patrons of the golf course who are upset, with the possibility of the 18 hole course being reduced to 9 holes in order to increase the space for other sporting grounds.

Albert Park is an interesting case study of many competing agendas over the course of its 140 year odd history. These include:
  • Local residents vs those who come from elsewhere to use the park.
  • Sports users of the park vs people who want the park to be a free form recreational space.
  • People against enclosed venues vs those who want to carve out territory. 
  • People who hate South Melbourne Hellas/soccer/wogs vs us.
  • The grand prix vs everyone who values the amenity of the park.
It may be worth doing a post in these issues at another time, but the list above gives you a taste of how hard it is to make everyone happy, especially now that inner Melbourne is gentrifying, experiencing a increasing population density, while also having more children and young people in suburbs which had shed a lot of that demographic. Hey, also the rise of women's sports, which we kinda have an investment in.

I just hope that our board is on top of this matter, though they might be a bit busy at the moment.

Mandatory Nell Yoa Closer
Always finish on a joke.
Yoa was still trying his luck with association football as well. Chris Taylor, coach of the South Melbourne Football Club, gives a sense of what this period was like. He received Yoa’s footballing CV sometime in 2016. “I had a look at it, and it listed Nelly as playing at Melbourne Knights in 2009. Well, I’d coached Melbourne Knights in 2009, and I’d never heard of the guy. You do get these bullshit ones now and then.”