Sunday, 29 April 2018

Game abandoned after 15 minutes - Heidelberg United 0 South Melbourne 0

There's a few things which happened this week which are worth discussing, but given the events of last night South of the Border will be putting those aside until next week.

The short version
About fifteen minutes into last night's game, Heidelberg player Harry Noon collided with a corner flag in such a way that he dislodged the flag and had the flag impale his left leg.

Unable to be moved from where he had fallen just outside the field of play, the resumption of play was at first delayed, and eventually the game was officially abandoned.

At the time of print this was the latest news on Noon's injury.
For more updates on Noon, you're best advised to follow Heidelberg's social media outlets.

There are no details about when the fixture will be rescheduled for, nor whether the match will be replayed from the beginning or whether it will resume from the 15 minute mark.

Should the game (or its remainder) not be rescheduled for some time this week, then the next South Melbourne senior men's game will be at home on Sunday against Green Gully.

Before then, our NPLW side is at home on Saturday against the NTC. Before then they have a cup game against Bulleen at Lakeside on Wednesday night.

The slightly longer version
Thanks to a defective train which dumped all its passengers at Croxton, an ill passenger which delayed the service behind the defective train, and an unscheduled detour to the Chemist Warehouse outlet on Murray Road, it took me an hour longer than normal to get to Olympic Village.

Add to that the fact that the gates on Southern Road were not open, necessitating a very long walk around to the other side of the venue, I thus missed the majority of the under 20s game where we were 3-0 down already. The team rallied to bring it back to 3-2 - including a goal from a free kick, how novel - but could not find the equaliser.

Then it was time for the main festivities to start, The match was a celebration of Heidelberg's 60th anniversary, and thus Heidelberg were treating it as a bit of a special event. They wore a commemorative jersey which is probably a heritage strip of sorts; I think I've seen that jersey in old photos, though I can't say for sure.

Kickoff was delayed by seven minutes in order for certain ceremonial matters to be be taken care of first, which mostly consisted of former Berger players being brought onto the field. There was also a minute's silence for reasons which were not immediately clear, but which were reportedly to do with Anzac Day.

Both teams were far from fielding their best starting elevens, especially up front. For South there was no Milos Lujic, no Leigh Minopoulos, and an injured Andy Brennan was on the most threadbare of benches. Tom Cahill was absent for the Bergers, who also claimed that they were well below full-strength.

Whatever the truth of these claims, the game itself - at least the 15 minutes that managed to get played before Noon's injury - was scrappy and unsightly. There was little tactical or skilful fluency on display. Some of that you can put down to it being a derby, some due to the absent players, and probably a good chunk of it due to it being an NPL Victoria game.

It was exciting though, albeit mostly for the wrong reasons. Harry Noon was the centre of attention even before he sustained his serious injury. Five minutes on he made out to stomp on the prone Oliver Minatel on the halfway line, incensing the South crowd nearby when he escaped unpunished for that action. Considering that a similar incident happened two seasons ago at this same ground with these two teams - with Reuben Way getting sent off then - the South crowd was already fired up and angry.

Add to that the ref not calling the blatant penalty when a Heidelberg player clattered into Minatel from behind in the box an action which should have resulted in a penalty and a possible sending off, and the ire of South fans was already at breaking pont.

The "heat of the moment" is the Faustian pact that all sports lovers make, whether players or spectators. It is the extreme and essential thrill of living in the now that makes sport compelling, knowing that what is done at any given moment cannot be undone later on, only potentially made up for.

A stray Heidelberg pass was heading out for a goal kick, and despite it seeming evident to all that there was no way to keep it in, Harry Noon decided to lunge for it, managing to get only a touch on the ball and collecting the corner flag for his troubles. The corner flag was dislodged from the ground and flew into the air, and Noon went down injured, but not before trying to get up from the initial fall to respond to the bronx cheers of the South fans.

Noon didn't get up again. Possibly a hundred metres away from Clarendon Corner, and obscured by the ad boards, it was unclear what his injury was nor how serious it was. Thus came the chants of "karma" and a "dig a hole", and variants thereof for some time, as confusion surrounded what was happening. The game was stopped, but there was no serious sign of a stretcher being moved out to toward Noon.

Anger at the lack of information provided to the crowd - - at one point it was announced that the game was delayed "for now" - coupled with the apparent lack of any obvious signs of distress from the support staff. That's not to justify some of the nastier stuff that was said during this time (from both sides), only to set the context for how it came about. Once word filtered through about the exact nature of the Noon's injury, most of the jeering and chanting stopped, and when it was announced that the game was abandoned as they waited for the ambulance to arrive, the crowd filtered out of the stadium fairly quickly and without much complaint.

Still, much like Noon may regret his feigned stomp or his reaching for a ball that was not worth going for, so too there will be South fans who will (probably) regret some of the carry on they were involved in. Or at least I hope that's the case.

Others are debating the safety of the type of corner flags used at Olympic Village last night, including whether they were banned several years ago by FIFA and thus by extension FFV. South goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson was one of those shared his opinion in this matter last night:
While an interesting topic and one that should be looked in the fallout from the incident, I'm not qualified to go into these matters. I just don't know enough about corner flags to make even speculative judgements.

An issue I do know something about is posting on the internet, and that stress combined with sleep deprivation do not make for good or sympathetic posting. The late Bob Ellis noted that the internet never sleeps, but that people do. Should the world end while you sleep, chances are that you wouldn't have been able to change the course of history, let alone enjoy those final few hours.

Then again, Bob probably didn't stay up into the early hours to watch overseas soccer matches.

I woke up this morning to see that there was discussion on the matter well into the morning, which continued later into the day. Some of the back and forth on social media leaves neither side of the issue looking particularly classy, especially given that after the heat of the moment had dissipated, all the concern should be on Noon's condition, and making sure that even such unlikely and one-in-a-million incidents never happen again.

Final thought
I would like to wish Harry Noon all the best in his recovery.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Temporary gratitude - Hume City 0 South Melbourne 1

If we must thank anyone for the win, let's thank Darby Dexter. The defender had signed for us during the off-season, but was let go in mysterious circumstances before a ball had been kicked in anger, his only contribution to the club seemingly being sharing some of the finger food on offer at the 2017 South Melbourne Christmas party.

Ending up at Hume, even those few who had paid attention to him during his time at South would have forgotten all about him. But it was two of his interventions in this match which more than anything else helped us get over the line for just our second win of the season. First, his poor pass into the middle of the field resulted in a turnover, which lead to our goal.

Later, he fouled Matthew Millar from behind as Millar was running in on goal, and Dexter got himself sent off. At least some South fans would've asked themselves of that play, knowing Millar's shooting to be notoriously poor, was it worth Dexter fouling him, instead of just letting him shoot and miss?

The beneficiaries of those decisions were South Melbourne as a whole - except perhaps the directors who had to fork out a win bonus to the players for the first time in months - and Oliver Minatel in particular. Minatel has been worse than underwhelming in his time at South, and that's when he hasn't been sidelined by injury. Still, he has two goals now for the season, and the match winner here was a tad more legitimate than his rushed behind attempt against Oakleigh.

Following Dexter's turnover, the team sped up the field to make the most of the chance, On the byline, the ball was played back a bit behind Minatel, who lunged desperately with an outstretched boot which on replay looked like it would have at best snuck in at the far post. In the real world and in real time though, it struck a Hume defender and wrong-footed Hume keeper Michael Weier, and proved to be the fittingly decisive moment in a game which lacked much in the way of quality.

Both teams came into this match in rubbish form, just one win apiece in the league, sitting uncomfortably close to the relegation zone. The win means South gets a little bit of breathing space from the relegation scrap, and finds itself in seventh place, two points behind sixth placed Port Melbourne. The loss for Hume means they sink down to the automatic relegation slots.

So if Minatel's goal celebration was a bit over the top for a deflected goal, it was excusable on the grounds that the team has been having a rough trot in form and results in 2018, the players as frustrated as much as anyone else at the club. Ugly as the game was at times, and as much as some would wish we had an ounce of Minatel's luck with the goal in our earlier FFA Cup fixture against Hume, sometimes you've got to be grateful for the things you have.

This is especially so considering we had no strikers within cooee of Broadmeadows on Saturday night, and might not have one for several weeks to come. As we've noted before, under 20s striker Giordano Marafioti is out for the season; Leigh Minopoulos was out injured, and could miss at least another couple of games; and Milos Lujic has four more weeks of his five game suspension to serve, and that's not counting the talk around the internet terraces that he's going overseas for the World Cup in June.

You've got to be grateful as well when we lost Brad Norton to concussion within the first two minutes, and later had to endure bad foul after bad foul for most of the rest of the game. And you've to be grateful for the three points when despite being a goal up and a man up, the team tried to commit footballing seppuku by giving away half a dozen fouls in the defensive half of the ground in the last five minutes. Thankfully nothing came of any of those chances, mostly because of unusually poor delivery by Nick Hegarty, and once because of the crossbar.

Other than the win, the best thing about the night was no repeat of the hired goons nonsense from the FFA Cup game.

Next game
Heidelberg away on Saturday night.

Paywall Paradise
From this Herald Sun piece about Wellington Phoenix's woes - which even I can't access now, because it's been pay-walled - I have to say the following bit of info just leapt off the screen.
South Melbourne also made a play to buy Wellington 11 months ago before talks broke down with the former NSL champions reluctant to pursue a hybrid model. 
Negotiations centred on buying a 25 per cent stake for $1.5 million with games split between Wellington and Lakeside Stadium while South would have fielded W-League and youth teams.
“We had preliminary, forthright discussions with Wellington about what South Melbourne could offer, especially regards to bringing a W-League and youth league component,’’ bid chairman Bill Papastergiadis said.
This is not the first time South Melbourne has considered both a buyout of an A-League team and a hybrid ownership-dual location model. Apart from a couple of attempts to buy out the then Melbourne Heart licence, there was also the noted attempt to purchase at least some of the Central Coast Mariners, a deal which would have involved the mind-boggling arrangement of splitting games between Gosford and Lakeside.

The attempted purchase some of the Phoenix licence looks to be an attempt to get our foot in the A-League door via getting women's and youth teams in first, while at the same time trying to get a foothold into the competition via the most vulnerable of the extant A-League licences. I have my doubts that FFA would've allowed something like this to take place, and I also have doubts about exactly what it is that actually took place in these meetings, because I don't really trust anything that Bill Papastergiadis has to say about anything to do with our attempts to get into the A-League.

This is even more the case when the ordinary South Melbourne Hellas member is the last to find out about such shenanigans; but then again, aren't we the last to know about lots of things these days? Even if nothing came of the attempt, it would have been nice to know that an attempt had been made. It would also have been nice to know who was going to stump up the $1.5 million to purchase the 25% state in Phoenix.

Anyway, though the relevant article is pay-walled, it appears that we weren't the only parties currently bidding for an A-League licence to have a stab at the Phoenix licence, with the Southern Expansion bid exploring options on that front. I suppose it's all a bit moot for the time being anyway, as there is now actually a really real bidding process under way, which even if we don't succeed at, will still give us the chance to get our hands on some materials that will make it clearer what it is that FFA expects of its A-League licence holders. Not that any of that matters.

For the benefit of the skips/Football Federation South Melbourne Hellas
While I was watching a state league game yesterday, my attention was drawn to this tweet:
The gist of this small article by Elias Donoudis is that according to "strong sources", current Perth Glory CEO Peter Filopoulos is going to become CEO (or possibly general manager) of FFV. The rest of the article just says that Peter is pictured with his mate Manny Kotis, that Peter was formerly general manager at South Melbourne, and that there'll be more in this story in the next edition of Neos Kosmos.

Of course, considering that Filopoulos was general manager at South Melbourne during the 1990s, a period of time in which Donoudis still cared about Hellas, "strong sources" could very well mean Filopoulos told Donoudis himself about this latest career change. In any event, the rumour mill didn;t even get a chance to go into overdrive, and FFV announced Filopoulos' appointment as FFV CEO this morning.

Not that one doubts Filopoulos' professionalism and qualifications, but it's funny amid the hand-wringing from some South fans about alleged back room politics at FFV by other clubs, that we now have the roles of FFV president and CEO occupied by persons once involved as front office staff at South Melbourne.

Then again, as Donoudis will tell you, that was a different South Melbourne to the one that exists now, and so any possibility of conflicts of interest or future examples of favouritism can be batted away with that fact.

Puskas film
I was pleased to see that the official South Twitter account finally got around to promoting this project's call for photos and footage.
That tweet seems to have already paid dividends, with one Andrew Pirchan noting that he has materials which could be useful. Now for the club to put the call-out for stuff onto the Facebook page...

Around the grounds
Really slumming it
On Friday night I dithered - twice! - as to whether to go Knights Stadium, and finally decided to stay in instead and watch Batman. Put up the question early on Saturday to Gains as to whether to go Newmarket Reserve before the Hume game, and got the answer in the affirmative, rationalised on my part by the fact that the ground was only 600 metres or so from Newmarket station on the Cragieburn line, and this convenient enough to get from Point B to Point C. The game was the State League 5 West fixture between Kensington City and Keilor Wolves, the kind of game one attends as a neutral because either a mate is involved or the food is good; in this case, both being true. Thank goodness for the $6 chorizo rolls, because the football (and the beer) was pretty ordinary. I wasn't expecting miracles from Kensington, but Keilor I thought would put up a better show. At least there were plenty of goals. Kensington took the lead early, conceded the equaliser within 30 seconds, and coughed one up just before halftime to trail at the break. After the break Keilor came out a bit more switched on, Kensington a bit less, and three quick goals later it was 5-1 and the game was dead in the water. Goal of the day was the last kick of the game, a Kensington player launching a shot from halfway, over the Wolves goalkeeper who'd got himself stranded after a poor clearing kick. The shot bounced and rose, threatening to go over the crossbar, but ending up tucked just underneath. Then it was off to Broadmeadows.

Final thought
Google changed the Blogger dashboard's default date format to that nonsensical mm/dd/yyyy format and I lost my mind for several hours afterwards.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Six Dollar Gelato - South Melbourne 1 Bentleigh Greens 1

Things are marching on to an inevitable and joyous end point. That's a good thing. Another week closer to the end of this abortion of a season. At least now there's ice-cream involved. I mean, apart from diabetics, the nutritionally hyper-conscious, and vegans, who doesn't like ice-cream? Still, the usual frothing madness of South fans, combined with this woeful run of form and people on a late afternoon sugar high may make things worse rather than better. But that could provide it's own entertainment.

Everyone got tentatively excited when Milos Lujic put us in front, because we were looking good, at least as good as the opposition were. Then he got sent off for a very bad tackle, and we waited for the inevitable. And the inevitable did come, but not before some of those in the stand who had not properly seen the tackle decided to go off full-bore at the referee for the perceived injustice.

Still, even if the officials got that decision spot on, there were other like the missed penalty call when we were 1-0 up, and a brutal foul on the outer side, which only served to make everyone - those South fans who thought Lujic shouldn't have been sent off, those who thought he should've, and those with short attention spans who were distracted by something or other - even madder.

Now I understand that referees have to make decisions in real time, and that more often than not they're in the best position to make a decision as opposed to someone fifty metres away. Sometimes though their decisions or lack of decisions remain perplexing to me. These things happen. On the other hand, I wonder about the preparation referees make for relatively high profile contests like this. I'm not suggesting that the refs will go back and watch tape, nor that they will prepare themselves in such a way as to pre-empt what will happen on the day, but I would've thought that there would be an awareness of how fixtures between certain sides are likely to go.

In this case I'm talking about the tendency of South vs Bentleigh games to get heated, to have a lot of niggle, and for things to get out of hand quickly with players and coaches trying to stir things up and undermine the authority of officials. This isn't just a whinge because we're bad at it and Bentleigh are good at it, although it's partly that. It's also about referees laying down the law early enough that the game is won and lost on its sporting merits and not because of other nonsense. But that's just me being precious and yearning for a return to the days of the two captains refereeing the game in the spirit of gentlemanly conduct.

But back to the inevitable. Having gone a man down, we still created two or three golden chances, all of which seemed to fall to Matthew Millar, the hardest working man in NPL Victoria show business. His enthusiasm, his strength, and his gut running are awesome, but his decision making lets him down far too often. Of course, like we always say about the players in this league, if they were better than they are, they wouldn't be playing here.

The effort to try and pinch a second goal, and then to prevent the equaliser eventually took its toll, and Bentleigh equalised. The reshuffle and substitutions seemed to be OK at first, but they had the net effect of leaving Brad Norton isolated on the left against a Greens opponent with a lot of space to defend and not much help. That lead to a cross from his side and a back post goal. Only some desperate defending prevented Bentleigh getting a second goal and the win, which by the standards of our season so far, would ordinarily be a good result.

I mean, here's a team against which we have a very poor recent record, which itself had a perfect record up to that point, and we matched them and perhaps outplayed them for large chunks of the game even being a man down for half of it. But all we get is a point, which along with our Dandenong Thunder derived goal difference, is what's keeping us out of the relegation playoff spot. And now we don't have our one out-and-out striker for at least a couple of weeks, one is hesitant to call this an opportunity to explore new structural and personnel horizons.

The member experience
There were some complaints about the organisation of membership payment and collection. It happens. My experience was fine, because I paid for my membership ages ago, got to the ground stupid early, but for those who couldn't do that it would've sucked if things didn't go so smoothly. Merchandise was ready though, and though I'm opposed to Kappa on moral grounds, it's nice that people were able to get their fill of new gear. No pompom beanies though.

The dining experience has had some changes, for better and worse. I'd been to the NPLW game the week before, where there was an understandably limited menu of chips, calamari and chips, and fish 'n chips. On Sunday it was again a limited menu, with chips, souvlaki, and burgers. I had the souv and... it was passable. It was filling, but bland. I hope that there will be improvement on this front.

There was also no table service, with the system now being needing to remember the number on your order and pay attention to when they call it out. On the other hand, those who complained last year about the bar serving exclusively craft beers will be glad to see that the club has moved to CUB's range.

Keeper Kapers
It seems as if Keegan Coulter's days as stand-in first-choice goalkeeper are close to an end. It's been suggested that ex-A-League goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson has signed up with us. Depending on who you ask, Tyson was either blocked from playing with us last week because of the nefarious scheming of rival clubs, or because we got the paperwork in too late for FFV to process things.

Coulter's shot stopping has been good, but in the air he's become increasingly suspect. Good shot stopping keepers being a dime a dozen in Victoria, it looks like someone with influence has finally bitten the bullet and decided to reinforce this position. And while there's a solid and perennial argument that that there's another ten players the ball has to get past before it gets to the goalkeeper, goalkeepers know what they sign up for.

Meanwhile Nikola Roganovic has signed up with Richmond for a short-term stint.

Rumour mill in overdrive
Reputable and disreputable non-South people alike are talking about some kind of shady Asian takeover of South Melbourne Hellas. For anyone that wants to ask me, I know nothing about any such thing, but am willing to listen to any conspiracy theory, the more crackpot the better. The truth would also be welcome, albeit boring.

Next game
Hume City away on Saturday night. Let's hope for a win, and none of the nonsense which accompanied the last visit there.

Football history conference at Lakeside next month
I had heard some murmurs about such a conference being organised. Well now the details are out. To be held at Lakeside on May 15th, the conference's official name is the "PFA Football History Conference", curated this year by Joe Gorman and Roy Hay. The conference program is available, and there are some familiar names on there from an Australian soccer history perspective, but also what looks like deviations into engagement with Asia, and player pathways.

There's good news and bad news in terms of access to the event for ordinary punters. The good news is that registration to attend is free; the bad news is that it's on a Tuesday during the day, which will make it harder for people with 9-5 jobs to attend, though to be fair, I'm not sure when else the event could've been held in order to make it more accessible. In any case, I've registered to attend, and will in all likelihood provide the necessary recap of the event.

Around the grounds
Where were the Port Melbourne Plebs?
Friday night was my first time out to Port Melbourne this season. They were playing Dandenong Thunder, who had recovered a little from their early season issues, and demonstrating that there is hope for the least of us. They got off to a great start here, scoring on five minutes, and to be honest, this is what made the game. Port were obliged to chase the game more whole heartedly a little earlier than they would've liked, and they took control of the game insofar as possession and peppering the goals went. Nothing worked though. Meanwhile Thunder continued to look dangerous on the counter, and went 2-0 and then 3-0 up. My usual practice here is to tweet "stick a fork in this one, it's done", but I didn't do it because the two sides were going up and down the field easily enough and looking likely to score as well. Port did pull a goal back with about a half hour to play, and it seemed like maybe something could happen. But nothing did. Port's performance died in the arse at almost that exact moment. The remaining interest in the game then became whether they would be able to notch up one more corner, so the bloke sitting next to me - who had a multi bet of eight corners in this game and an Avondale win against Oakleigh - could get his win. As hopeless shot after hopeless shot ended up with the Thunder keeper or in Plummer Street, our man got his win when Port earned a meaningless corner in the final seconds of the game.

Final thought
I think they may have changed the traffic light sequence at the intersection outside the ground. More updates on this in the coming weeks.

Monday, 9 April 2018

The Old Adage - Melbourne Knights 3 South Melbourne 2

It's not how, it's how many. Truer words have never been spoken. OK, maybe they have, I'm not conducting an audit here. And now that I think about it, sometimes the how is as important than the how many, perhaps even more important. No, as important.

Anyway, three set piece goals, nearly identical to each other for the appalling decision making which lead to the cheap fouls gifting the opposition the chance to swing in dangerous balls, the appalling goalkeeping which saw Keegan Coulter get nowhere near two of the balls he came out for, and the appalling marking in a team with three or four centre-backs on the field at any given time. At the other end of the ground you had the farcical situation of attacking players being unwilling to shoot, or unable to put in a proper cross, or be in the right spot to receive a pass or latch on to a loose ball. It's like a variation of the Dr. Katz joke about the three most dangerous parts of flying, where our three biggest problems at the moment are attacking, defending, and everything else.

Having said all of that, I thought we actually played pretty well. Truth be told, Knights were rubbish after halftime, and ran out of gas well before full time, but still we dominated general play, looked good on both sides of the field, controlled the ball in the middle, and created many dangerous situations. It's probably the best we've played over a whole for several weeks. It didn't get us any points though, and that's all that matters at the moment, because as the arch-miserablists have been keen to remind everybody, we've pretty much played only the easy teams so far, and have all the leading sides to come.

Actually, and this isn't just contrariness on my part - or at least I hope it isn't - but the more I thought about the loss on Friday night over the weekend, the more optimistic I got about what's to come. As far as I could tell, we didn't pick up any new injuries, and with Andy Brennan due back this week, we at least have one more genuine starting eleven option. Marcus Schroen, even though far from my favourite player, is back in training. The return of Jake Marshall to the field means that we have more flexibility in how we line up defensively. And perhaps most importantly, after our troubles finishing games with any energy, we managed to run out the game with a decent head of steam.

But then I saw Brad Norton's post-match interview, and I felt like crap all over again. I know it was straight after the game when we all felt like crap, and while he said all the right words, the agony and despair of the situation was there for all to see. It's not the kind of thing that will be cured by a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, only by wins.

If I sound like I have nothing new to add it's because there's nothing really new to say at the moment. You try and find the motivation to come out and type up gibberish to a diminishing audience about a diminishing team (on and off field) without realising that maybe there's something more worthwhile to do with your time. Oh look, I missed three episodes of Batman on to watch us cough up a lead. OK, time to write some stuff, but there's double episodes of season one Law & order SVU on free to air. What about now? No, the lawn bowls is on the telly.

The past six or seven weeks have been like waking up from a wonderful dream. OK, so winning NPL titles and riding the crest of a ridiculous FFA Cup run is a pretty lame dream to have, but it's still better than this descent into awfulness. I mean, from a South perspective, who was even at the game on Friday? Heathens and pagans, that's who. The devoutly religious and the culturally religious were at Orthodox Good Friday services, others probably went to the footy, leaving some very strange people to cheer on the Hellas in its hour of need. I'm not judging, it's just the way it is.

So there we are, maybe ten to fifteen of us behind the goal, twenty at a pinch, trying to lift the team even though in our heart of hearts we don't think we've got a chance in hell of overhauling the 3-1 deficit. We're watching the game from the worst spectator vantage points deliberately out of spite, or to be on camera. So why are we there? Sense of duty? To what, the team, the club, the players, each other? Sport does this strange thing where you end up befriending or at least hanging around a whole bunch of people you'd otherwise have nothing to do with, and who would vice versa have nothing to do with people like me.

But general despair at being crap in an irrelevant league is one thing, but having to endure some of the other nonsense which you'd thought by now should have gone away, is quite another. No one is surprised when Knights fans bring out the "I'd rather be an Abo than a Greek" chant. It makes its appearance at just about every so-called derby game between us, and will in all likelihood be brought out again in every future contest between us. It's offensive on several fronts, but it's also sad to hear it in terms of its time capsule quality; like, have we not arrived yet in 2018, and are still actually in 1988? Is there a time-portal at the gates of the Somers Street car park?

There are three groups who could put an end to that chant but which probably won't. They are Knights fans themselves, the Knights committee, and FFV. If the first two choose not to, then you would think that FFV would, if not for any moral or governance dimensions associated with the racist chant, then at least from a public perception point of view. After all, the chants were made right next to the broadcast tower, from which FFV were conducting a live radio broadcast of the game. Or maybe FFV don't care because neither myself nor Mark Boric were at home to listen to the game online, and there was therefore no one actually listening to the live stream, in which case it's carry on as you were and as you always have for those Knights fans; and a reiteration from me to South fans to avoid similar behaviour if not because it's the right thing to do, then because you just know for sure FFV will take a different view on the matter.

But that's "just words", and as a very helpful random anti-political correctness police officer on Twitter informed me and some others, we shouldn't be policing other people's language, in a discussion which ended up discussing the non-existent anywhere in the world abstraction of freedom of speech. It wasn't even an interesting attempt to police our attempts to police other people; the least our out-of-the-blue friend could've done is put on the persona of Libertarian Cop for our amusement.

Of greater concern however were incidents of intimidation directed towards some of our fans after the end of the game. OK, Somers Street has never had the reputation of being the most family friendly sporting venue in Australian soccer, and if we're being honest Knights fans have often revelled in that reputation. But there are limits, no? Stealing scarves from opposition fans? Really? Gloat about the win and how awful we are as much as you like. No one's expecting gracious winners, and goodness knows South fans are hardly gracious losers, but we're living in a society for crying out loud.

Oh, and there was also this
which is some straight out of NSL 1995 shit, that strange period where some Preston fans would tag along to Knights games against Greek teams for the sake of causing trouble, because their team was relegated and they wouldn't get to the play the Bergers or us on a regular basis until "insert the year each of those clubs got relegated to whatever division Preston was dwelling in". If your hardcore manifesto is being the Chester to MCF's Spike in order to push around scarfers, are you even doing this ultras thing right?

Next game
A home game at last! Bentleigh Greens on Sunday afternoon. The curtain raiser will be the men's under 20s game.

The first home game of the season is when nearly everyone pays for and picks up their memberships. I can't say with any certainty that it will be an orderly and well run experience. If it's not, please don't take it out on the volunteers. Ditto for the paid and volunteer staff whatever the situation is in the social club with food service.

I don't know what kind of merchandise will be available on the day. I'm only interested in getting a pompom beanie, but will not cry into my corn flakes the next morning if they don't have any. You have my permission though to cry into your breakfast cereal of choice if you are displeased with the range of merchandise on offer.

Variation on a theme
The club, in the form of our NPLW or WNPL side (I don't really know which acronym is the right one, but I assume it's the former) was back at Lakeside for a match for the first time during the season proper in 2018. The NPLW team's form has been erratic: some wins, some losses, lots of goals for and against, and a tendency to only get going once they fall behind. The lineups have tended towards the young side, as they tend to do in that part of the season closest to the end of the W-League season, but the starting eleven against Geelong Galaxy was as far as I can tell our strongest for the season. Galaxy, last year's losing grand finalist, had also been in less than stellar form. So even if this match was hardly a slam dunk for us, surely we'd be favourites to win? Not so.

After a tepid start from both sides, things started going bad when we copped the opening goal of the game from a set piece. I mean, what is even the point of living? To be fair, after copping the goal the team woke up, as I was promised they would, and they equalised, but the goal to get ahead never came and eventually giving Geelong chances on a silver platter cost us. Young gun Sofia Sakalis was brought on with about twenty minutes to go to try and salvage the game, but things just got worse for us. Needing to chase the game, we found ourselves opened up the back and instead of making inroads we copped a third and fourth goal, to give Geelong a deserved win.

On the topic of Sakalis, she's very good with the ball at her feet - though some of those who watch her more than I do say she could try and pass it a bit earlier - but wow, those offsides on Saturday. In my many years of watching soccer, I've seen players caught offside repeatedly in games, I've seen players whose speciality is being off instead of on, and I've seen players, usually strikers, too lazy to work back onside; but I've never seen anything quite like Sakalis' wilful offsides on Saturday, where she would keep running forward ahead of the ball instead of trying to work off the shoulder of a defender or at least be behind the ball waiting for a cut back.

It reminded of Greek school soccer matches on asphalt where the offside did not exist, or like a small child running forward with joyous abandon. And then you remember that Sofia is actually only 15 years old, knee-high to a grass hopper. I mean, she was born after I graduated high school. How many times have I failed and what exactly have I achieved in those 15 odd years to be criticising to a teenager playing soccer? The one possibly meaningful thing I could hope to achieve in this lifetime  hangs in interminable balance as I await the results of my thesis. The last time I played soccer was on the old Lakeside in the shit kicker curtain raiser to the Clarendon Corner vs OM21 where I was gassed out after five minutes

Really, it was no criticism at all; just an observation of a soccer novelty, a muffled and anguished scream from someone who lives vicariously through athletes in order to make up for everything else that's gone wrong in my life. People like me are not fit to tie the laces of those playing any sport even semi-competently.

More unpleasant news
Someone said to me the other day that our attempt to outsource the operation of the fustal court hasn't gone well, with the private operator walking away from management of the court. Here's hoping that one of the other purported offers leads to something.

Final thought
Got some text message from someone saying they were having "blog withdrawals", but probably because I recently bought a new phone - and you know how transferring your numbers from your old phone to your new phone is the one thing technological advances haven't been able to properly solve - well, I had no idea who it was that was writing to me. Of course I could've just asked them, but then I wouldn't have been able to get out this paragraph.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Fear and Loathing in Westmeadows - Hume City 1 South Melbourne 0

You go to a game "knowing" you'll lose but still hoping that you can win it, and then get all the more disappointed for not trusting your gut instinct.

Except for FFA Cup foamers, no one who has paid any attention to the opening few weeks of this season's NPL Victoria season could fail to see this result coming. But that's the FFA Cup for you, a far more gimmicky and therefore interesting competition compared to the grinding, gruelling, brutalising experience that is NPL soccer. And if that comparison doesn't just fill your heart with glee, remember that on these kinds of matters, we're partly responsible for digging our own public relations grave.

So with no Oliver Minatel (still injured) and no Andy Brennan (suspended for this game and one more week after that, but hopefully picking up some much needed match fitness), we started the game with eleven players on the field. Two of those - Milos Lujic and Leigh Minopoulos - were playing on one leg each, and who knows what extra damage they attained in being out there for 90 minutes they really shouldn't have been.

Even worse, there was no bench. I mean, there was a bench and it had players on it, but most of them were apparently defenders or too young to throw to the lions. The decision not to use any of them is a real worry on several fronts. First, we were told in January at the AGM that at long last, after several NPL seasons and youth system restructures, that we were on the cusp of introducing some of our youth products to the senior team. Second, the current senior coach knows these players better than most, having coached them himself.

Third, that none of them were considered even good enough to replace Leigh Minopoulos, who could barely move in the second half. It is distressing to think that in our time of need, a goal down but a man up, that we chose to hobble out the game rather than even dare to give anyone else a go, for fear perhaps that they might succeed. Again, without wanting to make pointless comparisons, but four years ago Chris Taylor threw on Kobbie Boahene in a cup match and it worked.

Again, I can't fault the determination and endeavour of the players. Even crippled, we outplayed Hume more than they outplayed us, we had good chances to score, and we did not take them. Meanwhile our perennial lack of a free kick taker costs us again, this time as Nick Hegarty - among the two or three competent free kick takers left in this league - done us in with a free kick.

But that's just one of many holes we'll need to plug as we crawl our way to the mid-season transfer window, hoping like hell in the meantime that we don't end up in a relegation battle.

But at least we still have our health, for now
Of course things could always be much worse. The security arrangements on Friday at Hume City were, to put it bluntly, atrocious. There's probably different rules for the FFA Cup as opposed to league games - and clearly different rules and government by-laws for Lakeside Stadium compared to most venues in the suburbs -  but sometimes you still wonder how clubs and hired security details can get it so wrong.

It started with the baffling and ended up at the near disastrous. The baffling was the temporary fencing blocking the outer wing from the southern goal. This would make a kind of sense if the entire area behind the goal was closed off; but that area, like the rest of the ground, was accessible from the grandstand side of the ground. It was like a cheap metroidvania trick, a barrier constructed for no obvious reason except to create pointless backtracking.

The near disastrous was obviously a much more serious affair. In the second half, during the drawn out five minute deliberation by the referees on what to do with Hume captain-coach Nick Hegarty after he chopped down Leigh Minopoulos, the South fans behind the goal turned up the invective towards the ref and the Hume players involved in the post-tackle push and shove.

Without anybody important really noticing, during this time a group of Hume City supporters clad in black - including, apparently, their president - walked behind the southern end goal and planted themselves right next to the angry South fans. What these Hume City supporters wanted to achieve with this maneuver, only they could could know, but very quickly the whole thing escalated from shouting match to push and shove and very nearly much worse. Thankfully, enough people - mostly South fans, if we're going to be honest about this - threw themselves between those most likely to kick it off, yelled long and loud enough for everyone to back off, and eventually the Hume City supporters decided to move away from the area.

While all this was happening, one would've expected security to rush over to prevent any escalation of the incident, but all it seemed that all that was available was one security guard and one volunteer ground marshal. Now I can tell you from experience that while being a ground marshal is 99% boredom as you wear a fluoro vest and try to look nonchalant, that 1% of time when you're expected to do something but you're not sure what it is that you can do or even what you're allowed to do are an awful situation to be in. Even more so if your own club's officials are apparently in the mix as well, not trying to calm things down but trying to stir them up.

As for the lone security guard at that end of the ground, he was the typical poorly trained and poorly paid scrub that winds up doing this kind of work at NPL grounds. Clearly out of his depth, and seemingly without even a walkie-talkie, dealing with 20-30 odd angry men screaming at each other, and at him, by his own admission he didn't know what to do. And yet the other security personnel on duty for the day made no effort to come over and assist him. Glad as I am that nothing more serious kicked off, I also felt bad for that bloke.

I'll make no claim that South fans act like perfect little angels at every game. But it's clear that Clarendon Corner and to a lesser extent South fans in general are seen as a soft target for members of the opposition that want to act like smartarses, especially when we're at away matches. When this happens, most often it's limited to the antics of opposition players or coaches choosing to celebrate in front of our supporters rather than with their own fans or players. Sometimes though, like Friday's game, some opposition fans want to take matters into their own hands for reasons only they know.

It's the strangest thing, especially in light of the fact that for a good few years now, and with the exception of Jack Edwards Reserve and the Veneto Club, the most vocal South fans actually try to get away from opposition supporters at the suburban grounds, even if that means picking the worst spot at the ground from which to watch a game.

There are really only two other clubs in the NPL at present that consistently bring away fans to most games, and that's Heidelberg and the Knights. Heidelberg don't have an organised fan group, so there's a smaller target there automatically. But MCF is noticeable enough at most games home or away, and yet from my anecdotal observations at their away matches, opposition personnel (whether fans or on field representatives) don't dare try to instigate anything with them.

Of course MCF has a far more fearsome reputation than Clarendon Corner, and it's probably one of the reasons that the NPL's assorted on and off field clowns like to have a go at us when their team is up. But it shouldn't even need to come to that, but good luck FFV clamping down on teams that aren't us or the Bergers for off-field stuff.

And in just a few weeks time, we get to go there and do it all again. Oh joy.

Of all the days that South Melbourne and North Melbourne played on the same day
Late on Sunday evening, walking back to the crappy car park at Sunshine (the good one was closed to accommodate train replacement bus services), a bloke popped his head out from a car parked behind Pap's Market to ask me who had won out of South and Hume. Probably the first time ever some random has recognised that what I'm wearing is South Melbourne merch and not North Melbourne stuff. Good to know for what's left of the SMFC marketing team I suppose, that we've managed to get some brand recognition at last.

Next game
Melbourne Knights away at Somers Street on Friday night. Though I imagine many South fans will miss this game due to Orthodox Easter commitments, for those attending the match please be aware of the earlier than usual kickoff time of 7:30PM.

Keep in mind also that the senior women are at home this Saturday in a twilight fixture against Greater Geelong Galaxy, kickoff at 4:15PM.

A-League expansion process officially underway (not that any of that matters)
Well, here we go. The on again/off again, will they/won't they process appears, at last, to be actually happening - unless of course you're of the conspirational mind that the decision of which teams to add has already been made, in which case carry on as you do.

For the rest, the announcement of what appears to be at least a quasi-legitimate process for A-League expansion will be welcome. One way or another, South Melbourne Hellas fans will get a degree of closure on the matter of joining the A-League.

Well, at least until the bidding process after this one, for teams 13 and 14 and/or whatever vacancy arises out of Wellington Phoenix's four-year licence not being renewed.

FFA's timeline for A-League expansion for the 11th and 12th licences.
The successful bids will enter the competition in season 2019/20.
So it's going to be two new teams coming in for the 2019/20 A-League season, which gives the successful bids a year to get their operations up and running. I have no idea if that's enough time, or whether the delays to expansion up until this point have seen everyone who's keen for this refine their bids even further.

As part of its call for expressions of interest, FFA is asking for bidders to address the matters of "vision and strategy", "proposed locations", "financial capacity", and "details about persons involved in the prospective bid". It will be interesting to see if at any point South Melbourne Hellas members are informed about our club's efforts in any of these categories (with the possible exception of the location issue), seeing as how we never got around to learning about investors or ownership structures when we were trying to pull off the Southern Cross gimmick.

Anyway, if the following comment made on the Football Today site is true, it will have a significant impact on the kinds of bidders likely to front up:
Our understanding is that the two new expansion clubs will not have access to any of the broadcast revenue - and therefore will not have the salary cap covered - for at least 3-4 years, thereby ensuring that the new franchises must have very deep pockets to be able to cover potential losses. 
I won't claim any expertise on FFA's and the A-League's finances, but there are some things we can reasonably deduce as outside observers. Among these observations are the fact that the recent A-League television deal, while more or less securing the future of the competition for the next few years under its current format, was not big enough to pay for everything the FFA is responsible for; hence the cuts to things like the Futsalroos.

Apart from not being able to fund national teams and other programs, it's also not clear whether the television deal is big enough to actually expand the competition; nor whether the notion that Fox Sports will only accept new teams from Brisbane, Sydney, or Melbourne will have any influence on the expansion process.

You've also got this happening as the AAFC and other bodies are in the middle of developing their second tier model. At the same time, the representative body for A-League franchises is also unhappy about expansion occurring while the FFA Congress issue persists, and while the A-League operating model is still to be revealed. They've also gone further, saying that it "does not accept the legitimacy of the process", whatever that means

Of course, FFA as it exists now could be changed or turfed out depending on what happens with FIFA and the ongoing issues with the FFA Congress, but for the time being let's pretend that the version of FFA which exists now will exist for long enough that it will see the expansion process through until at least October 31st 2018.

At the time of print, South Melbourne had not released a statement or acknowledgement on the official opening of the expansion process. The Brisbane City and the Sydney/Illawarra Southern Expansion have released statements, and Team11, the South-East Melbourne bid, noted the opening of the process.

By the way, if you yourself want to bid for an A-League licence, you can start by filling out the expression of interest form.

Regular readers will know that I don't like to make predictions, but for whatever it's worth I reckon it'll be Southern Expansion and Brisbane City. Not that any of that matters, of course.

Around the grounds
If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys
The day before our game, figuring that we were doomed from the outset, I decided it was worth heading to someone else's sorta high profile FFA Cup battle in order to at least a last dose of FFA Cup schadenfreude before ignoring the competition as best I could for the remainder of 2018. To that end I ended up at Somers Street for Melbourne Knights vs Altona Magic. The 2018 Knights are if not even close to being world beaters, they are at the very least a long way from their abysmal 2017 variant. Magic meanwhile are in middle of an old school live-by-the-benefactor, die-by-the-benefactor revival, recruiting heavily from NPL 1 in order to get out of NPL 2 as quickly as possible. Out of all the teams outside NPL 1, they're the ones you'd want to play the least.

So, that being the case, it's fair to say that this game was decided by those moments when Magic decided to be switched on. When they were, they looked at least a half-step above the Knights in ball movement and skill. When they were switched off, Knights were able to get the ball up to dangerous parts of the field, and do largely nothing of note when they got there. The key moments? The sides being level at 1-1 after half an hour, but Magic switching on again and taking the lead again soon after; Kym Harris being stretchered off for Knights on half time, meaning an inadequate forward line reshuffle; a dull second half coming to life when Magic's Jon McShane getting sent off, but Knights continuing to be ineffective, conceding two further goals before finally looking dangerous in the last five minutes and pulling a consolation goal back.

Towards the end of the game, there was some hullabaloo near the visitors bench, as the assistant referee on that side left his post to talk to the referee, presumably about abuse he was receiving from spectators next to Magic's bench. I could not tell from my vantage point which side's supporters were responsible; while MCF is out of the grandstand and back on Quarry Hill in 2018, both Knights fans in general and the Vagabondi ultras firm or whatever they are that sometimes appears at magic games tend to wear black. The game eventually resumed, and ended with a deserved win to Magic, not realluy much of an upset except perhaps in how lopsided the score was. As patrons filed out of the ground and back to their dreary little lives, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was played over the stadium speakers, a nice touch only possible when you probably expected to lose anyway, and weren't going to be hung up about it.

Final thought
As if this season wasn't bad enough already, I got trolled on Twitter by a bloke who's the Australian soccer equivalent of George Costanza; a man whose lofty career high was getting sent off in a third/fourth place Maltese Summer Cup game five minutes after he got subbed onto the field.