Thursday, 1 February 2018

January 2018 digest

Preface
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.


Out


  • 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.”

16 comments:

  1. The only time I ever saw Taylor out and about without his family was in a pub in South Melbourne with Messourouni.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not happy of the decision of the board sacking a coach who is getting results and getting our club winning trophies the board should look at themselves the board people have never coached in there lives they have no idea how to run the football department i as a coach he was ok he was getting results at the end of the day and thats what counts the 3 points i have no confidence in the board its about they are voted out and let people who know how to run the club angry south supporter since 1968 go south

      Delete
  2. Digenis the painter1 February 2018 at 15:02

    EGM ! EGM ! EGM ! EGM !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. EGM EGM EGM

      Sack the board! Bunch of cunts.

      Delete
  3. Andreas andreou tou andrea1 February 2018 at 21:17

    Oxo ! Oxo ! Oloi sas mas katasrepsate tin ellas. Outen enan kokkalon alithias den exeten. Dropin sas

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm thinking in round 1, from the first whistle, for a full 5 mins, or even more, a continuous "sack the board" chant.. ha... that'll learn 'em.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. every chant should be a sack the board chant.
      Or a 'we want our CT back'

      Delete
  5. I'm pretty confident CT wasn't in Monday's meeting. He's only been gone five minutes and there's leaks already...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Maybe the board thought that we hadn't played very well since the 2014 season?

    Roganovic retirement reminded them that he got us out of jail many times!


    I will never forget the humiliating performance against Bentleigh in 2016.

    It was akin to the 7 nil mauling dished out by Marconi in 1994. Pyrgolios lost his job then too.

    ReplyDelete
  7. we lost 7-0 to marconi in 1993....pyro was still coaching the following year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True ..... but that in fact adds to my theory. In both cases, the board removed the coach a year later.

      It's just a theory, in any case.

      I mean, I can't think of anything else that sounds legitimate and acceptable!!!

      Delete
    2. Your theory doesn't even sound legitimate or acceptable

      Delete
  8. Taylor's tenure at Lakeside ends abruptly https://t.co/yMRyotf9fL article for Neos Kosmos English edition including quotes from Taylor and Athanasakis.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm hearing our juniors have now been outsource to Football Star Academy along with the Futsal Court. WHAT A JOKE.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can confirm football star academy was present with the junior sides today as I drove past the fields. Anyone care to elaborate further

      Delete
  10. I was going to suggest next time they re-jig football in this state (it WILL surely happen), they place all public transport friendly clubs in the 1st Division.

    But the reality is that not many are!!!

    ReplyDelete

A few notes on comments.

We've had a lot of fun over the years with my freewheeling comments policy, but all good things must come to an end. Therefore I will no longer be approving comments that contain personal abuse of any sort.

Still, if your post doesn't get approved straight away, it's probably because I haven't seen it yet.

As usual, publication of a comment does not mean endorsement of its content.