Sunday, 27 May 2018

So it's come to this - Port Melbourne 4 South Melbourne 2

You don't want to read it. I don't want to write it.

But the fact is, you guys have a choice in the matter, whereas I at least am unable to find a good enough reason not to write this.

Fourteen years ago the club looked for all money as if it was going to disappear into the history books, assuming there were going to be history books, which at that time would have probably been a fanciful idea. Then a year later, having survived, 12,000 people [citation needed] turned up to watch us, and things looked good. And ever since then, despite the odd spike in interest for mostly stupid reasons, things have been leading to this moment.

Sure we won a few championships, the odd cup, and got the odd bit of media notoriety, but this moment had to come sooner or later: a relegation dogfight. Whether it was self-inflicted (and there's no arguing there's a lot of that to blame) or whether there's a been a ton of bad luck (and we've had our fair share there, too), this moment is here. Other notable ex-NSL brethren have danced with the relegation devil, some have succumbed, and there's no reason why we should be immune.

At the halfway point of the season, we have three wins, three draws, and six losses. Our few saving graces? That we still have a functional goal difference compared to our fellow relegation battlers, thanks to the Dandenong game three months ago. That we have a game in hand, albeit against a title contender. And that we still have good players in the team, and the potential to recruit some useful players in the transfer window - or at least I hope that we do.

I could add the fact that we have ten games at home to come, but since we've only managed one draw and one goal for from our three home games so far, it's not something I'd want to wager the house on.

The club is beset by infighting, as everyone - except perhaps skipper Brad Norton - tries to point the finger at everyone else for this dog's breakfast of a season so far. But that's for another time, because we're not doomed yet, just well on the way there.

Yesterday's loss was familiar because we've seen elements of it throughout the previous five losses in the league. An inability to take what chances are presented to us early in the game? Check. The tendency to let the opposition play out of the back without nearly enough pressure? Check. The whole group dropping its head when we concede, and the inevitable disastrous 10-15 minute period where it all goes to hell? Check. It's not even singling out individual players or the coaches or the board, because the failure is a collective one. They'll either succeed together, or fail together. For now, I'm just hoping that we can mediocre together, middling enough to win ourselves safety and a chance to reboot for next year in this division, rather than keep up these kinds of performances and have to deal with the unspeakable but increasingly plausible alternative.

It is so frustrating knowing that at any given moment, no matter how well we've been playing, the longer the score remains at 0-0, the better the chances are of the other team doing the business. In the not so distant past, it was so often the other way around. Having no striker doesn't help, it hasn't helped for several weeks, just as our goalkeeping troubles early in the season also contributed to our stuttering start to the campaign. But there are issues of structure, of desire, even of hope which need to be addressed by someone, but which yet remain unresolved. Marcus Schroen looked keener than most out there, but his keenness got him sent off for a reckless challenge. Leigh Minopoulos provided a measure of structure and desire when he came on - and a goal! - but he's clearly not injury free and not a full match-length proposition.

As for the rest of them, what can one say? Some clearly want out, and we're at the stage where if we can replace them, we should. Hell, some may not want out, but their performances have been so shoddy, that we've really been left with no choice. So, farewell to all those leaving the club, thanks for your service, hopefully you don't become embittered by your time and exit from the club, but it's probably best for everyone that you move on. Seeing ex-South players - Eagar, Koroma, Ibrahim, Stella - do the business, of course hurts even more, but that's another issue entirely.

There are tons of rumours about who's going to stay, go, and be signed up. Famous, respected Greek journalists; mug punters; complete randoms; all of them are saying that this or that player is leaving, that there's big swaps in the works, and that we're even signing an ex-Victory player from APIA that our dear random interlocutor can't remember the name of. As usual, I would say wait until not only these players are named, but also until they take the field for whoever it is they're allegedly playing for before getting excited.

Brace yourselves: it's going to be an interesting second half of the year, but probably not a very enjoyable one.

The positives
I got a free drink from the canteen, thanks to a χωριανό of my dad's running the canteen. We got to go on the outer side again. That's about it.

Next game
Relegation six pointer against Bulleen at home on Sunday.

My word is my bondage
So on Thursday the club held a members forum to discuss things. I was told in very blunt terms that there was to be sensitive information, and that I - and the other people in the room - could not divulge that information on social media. OK. I can keep a secret, and not willing to make a scene, I hung around and listened to what was said.

Christ on a bike! When they said sensitive information, they meant it. In fact, I am confused about the whole experience on that level alone. There was a very small turnout (for reasons which I won't go into now, but which may become apparent in due course), but one wonders that if there was an AGM sized crowd in attendance (say 50-60 people) how the board would've compelled everyone keep all the information dished out secret? Especially if it was filled Greeks, the world's worst keepers of secrets.

The discussions ranged from Taylor's sacking, to operation of the futsal court, to our networking efforts with different bodies, to junior coaching (both our own and other groups), to our A-League bid. That's almost all I can say on these matters, not just because I was specifically asked not to publish what was said, but also because we were told things that in my most honest opinion we should not have been told. I mean, of course I'd like to know, I'd like to know everything, but do I need to know everything? This isn't (yet) an anarcho-syndicalist collective where all the decisions of that week's executive officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of internal affairs, and a two-thirds majority in the case of external affairs.

Though we do have a lake nearby from whence some moistened bint may lob a scimitar at the one she wants to anoint king.

Regardless, anything specific I could say about the meeting would not be enough to quell the anger of those who are increasingly determined to do something about this board, not only because of our results, not just because of a lack of transparency, but because in these supporters' minds the board has removed itself so much from the concerns of supporters (whatever they are) that there's no reconciliation possible whatsoever.

Walking and chewing gum at the same time
For the most part I don't take part in online Australian soccer debates anymore, especially its asinine culture wars, because I've done my tours of duty; if they ever have a memorial day for this this war, I'll keep my medals for valour on several forum battlefronts inside the bottom drawer, and let those who think they were there carry on the flame. These days I prefer to take the role of Australian soccer's Thucydides, someone who will claim the moral high ground in describing the full horror of the carnage, while also making up a whole bunch of stuff because everyone's going to die eventually and who'll be able to contradict me? Exactly.

Anyway, as mentioned the other day, we have submitted our expression of interest for an A-League expansion bid. What can I tell you about it? Like everything else from the Thursday meeting, almost nothing. There is a bid book. I saw it from a distance of a few metres away. It's in colour. It looked professional. The board members present skimmed across the book and explained elements of the bid. This included what government support we'd need or have, what improvements Lakeside would need, the barest hints about investors, etc. Of course they talked up the bid; everyone (except Brisbane Strikers) talks up their bid.

What can I say about it? It looks good. It looks like they've put a lot more work into it than what had happened with the Southern Cross bid, and it looks like the club has learned a lot about what it will need to do to succeed in a top-flight environment from its dealings with the Mariners and Phoenix. Even if the bid fails, one can argue that it still serves the club well in its attempt to return to the big time by providing valuable groundwork for what will be needed to run a team in a hypothetical second tier, or in the event that Wellington's licence isn't renewed and FFA need someone to fill out the numbers.

Being a classical contrarian, even though I think we have no chance of being selected, I'm not one of those people who thinks an A-League bid is a complete waste of time, or that the club shouldn't pursue it because it takes attention away from everything else going on at the club. What kind of board would it be if people could only do one thing at a time? Don't answer that.

Anyway, we apparently have fourteen rival bids to contend with, in a process that's both long overdue and conducted on the fly. It's a process that's as much about FFA trying to outrun the second division/promotion-relegation/FIFA Congress tsunami as it is about actually trying to grow the game. It's a process where even for those who have planned for this moment for years, its details remain frustratingly murky.

Among the rivals bids are applicants from across the country. Some have made their intentions and plans clear, while most have preferred to hide in the shadows: no website, no media, and if anything preferring Gabbo-esque shenanigans. Most haven't talked about women's soccer at all.
Best of all, at least from a Victorian perspective, every bid is going to claim - either in private or especially to its media mates and whoever else will listen - that its bid is the best in town, how much HQ is impressed, how much the Victorian government is blown away by it, and that in a just world they'd be a shoe-in for selection. Good for them, good for everyone. There is of course no justice in Australian soccer, and thus you and I and everyone else has about as much idea about who's going to make it in as the next person: diddly squat. What we can safely surmise is that, among the various bids vying for an expansion slot, there are clear distinctions, and it is those that FFA will have to decide on.

At the forefront of that is TV. Fox Sports fund this league, and they want derbies, which apart from finals games is the only thing that consistently rates. Romantics can talk about the regions (Wollongong) or the chance to get into largely empty sporting markets (Canberra, Hobart), but they won't increase the ratings bottom line. So FFA is going to go with two teams in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne, right? Well, some of the franchises that already exist in these markets aren't already stoked about that. Sydney FC flat out does not want a new team in what it considers its territories, and Melbourne Victory wouldn't be happy to share either, and especially against us.

(And further to that, since Victory's season ticket holders come from all across Melbourne, any team that gets put into Melbourne will have to take supporters away from them, and I still don't buy that we have those same Sydney style geographic divides.)

Ultimately though, it'll be up to FFA (and Fox Sports) to decide between two very different models, especially in the Victorian market. They can go with a boutique, ready-to-go option, which will never become a behemoth like Wanderers, but will still provide something different from everything else that's being done in the A-League. Or FFA can go for one of the much more ambitious, lots-of-assembly required options, which could either succeed in much the same way as the Wanderers have, or fail spectacularly because a lot of people will have misread the local sporting market.

The ethnic question has always made South seem like a risky option when it comes to A-League expansion, and that idea obviously persists. But in a lot of other ways, South is also a safe option compared to a lot of the competing bids, because what South is offering (stadium infrastructure, women's and junior pathways, etc) is here now, whereas the other bids are talking about what they would like to do, build, and create.

While remembering that arguing about this stuff on Twitter and other, lesser forms of social media makes no difference - and the less said about those damn internet polls, the better - I will step down momentarily from my ivory tower and offer this piece of wisdom for waging this internet war. If someone complains about Lakeside's smaller capacity and less than optimal spectator vantage points, just use this hasthag: #ItExists. It is astonishing how many people who denigrate Lakeside as a possible top-flight venue are more than happy to talk up venues that do not exist as anything more than an artist's impression.
It really is the FourFourTwo forum's "pin the A-League licence on the donkey" game on steroids. Even funnier is the assertion by some people that any failed bids be grouped into a second division immediately, as if there is the money or the plan (from FFA at least) to do that, and is if any of these bids are preparing for anything other than participation a closed-shop first division.

And as comical as much of the politicking and media stunt work is, along with the pie-in-the-sky nonsense from people with way too much trust and optimism in Australian soccer's potential, this behaviour also obscures one very important detail, namely the incredibly difficult situation that faces FFA: that in reality, none of the bids are perfect. All have serious flaws in either conception, infrastructure, investment, public sentiment, public transport, or some combination of these and many other factors. Add to this that FFA has a floundering A-League licence model which its current franchisees want to see changed, and no coherent plan for how that would be resolved, let alone firm criteria for the league's expansion or how the teams hoping to join up will judged.

And in June or July - I forget which, not that it makes any difference - the fifteen bid hopefuls will be cut down to a shortlist, serving only to concentrate the madness of speculation on those bids which are in all likelihood probably not really any good, just less crap than the ones that will be left behind.

Not that any of that matters, of course.

Final thought
Somebody asked me about where the PPS tallies are, and to make a big fuss about them, but nobody cares, not FFV, not me, not you, no one. Let's just admit that's a it's a sham, that we should've stuck to the simpler measure of restricting visa players, and forget whimsical, self-policed regulatory systems no one understands nor wants,

Thursday, 24 May 2018

A-League bid news that you won't be surprised by

Normally I'd just wait until after the weekend's match in order to just lump this kind of news in with everything else, but this is kinda momentus, whether you believe in this particular cause or not, or whether you think we even have a chance.

It does say a lot about me that this is what I immediately thought of when I saw the original tweet:
Attention. This is President Athanasakis, your president, with a message from the president's office.
Anyway, yes we have submitted an expression of interest for the A-League's expansion program. The board said they would, you wanted them to - well, at least most of you, probably - so they've gone ahead and done it, complete with a hundred page bid document. No word though on whether the bid document is double-spaced, is in the form of a double-sided print job, is presented in a suitable font, nor whether the referencing and citations are up to scratch.

By Zeus, I hope they remembered to put their name and student number in the header and on the title page.

In the announcement there's reiteration of how awesome we were (and my god, we were indeed awesome), how that past awesomeness doesn't matter nowadays (and my word, how much does it not matter), and the steps we've put in place to become awesome again (I'll need to see the bid document for myself to verify those claims).

More to come "towards the end of June". Not that any of that matters.

Monday, 21 May 2018

I don't like to smile unless I have a reason - South Melbourne 0 Avondale 3

There are myriad minor grievances one can have with the world, and goodness I've got my fair share. Some people use going to South games as a ways of dealing with those grievances, by giving themselves a chance to vent their frustrations at the world as some kind of budget primal scream therapy. Me, I consider South as being an essential part of those lived grievances, not a break from them. Yet even though I expect to be frustrated - and in 2018, that frustration has been guaranteed on an almost weekly basis - I have still not felt anything like catharsis.

The playing side is one thing, and we'll get to that eventually, but the off field stuff has been just as annoying. Take Sunday for example. As I approach the ground from across the street, I can see that the under 20s have kicked off. Having not read the email from the club which said that members should head in from the office side - and not that there's any signage to indicate otherwise anyway - I go in through the futsal entrance. The lady at the door to the social club says as a member, I can't go through there, I have to go around to the office side.

OK, frustrating, but I'm not here to cause a scene, so I go out and to the office entrance, whose doors are of course locked. So I spin around in a daze of confusion wondering if maybe I got the instructions wrong, but the lady comes away from her post and motions to me to come back in to the futsal entrance because the office entrance is clearly not open yet, and I can just scan my card at the merchandise/ticket sales desk. I am frustrated and confused, but these are the things which the cosmos throws up to test us - if you believe in a sort of deterministic universe - and all you can do is grit your teeth and carry on. In the greater scheme of things, it's a very minor annoyance. I went out to watch the rest of the first half the under 20s, in what was a pretty dire opening half.

At halftime I went into the social club. There was a notice next to the bar that alcoholic drinks could not be taken outside, thanks to another new face at the State Sport Centres Trust trying to push back on something in an attempt to remind South Melbourne Hellas who the top dog is. As if we don't know. Again, that's fine, *serenity now*, I can drink my booze inside where it's warm, I'll have a gin and tonic thanks. After SES volunteers spent three days and nights searching through dense scrub on difficult, mountainous terrain, it was established - at great cost to taxpayers, probably, assuming that they also sent the chopper out - that there was no gin in the social club. Ready as ever to take these kinds of things as a personal slight, I remembered that board member Andrew Mesorouni also likes a G&T, and thus it was probably just "one of those things" and settled for a rum and coke, which generations of underage drinks know could easily pass as a standard cola drink and thus able to be taken outside.

Not that I did that, because I was on my very best behaviour. I finished my drink, and watched the rest of the 20s game, which at least managed to yield three goals to the good guys. Mr Hollywood didn't get on the score sheet, but he did his best People's Champ impersonation when one of his shots was deflected and finished off by a teammate. You'd think you'd be happy when one of your teammates scores, but our man in Burma looked like someone had told him his dog had died. Also, good on the club for putting on all the lights at their disposal in the increasing gloom, unlike when the women's team got only half of them for a night game a few weeks back. Maybe that - and the missing corner flags - should've been enough of a clue that we didn't really care about the Team App Cup all that much.

The 20s done, and waiting for the loukoumades truck to do its business, but that takes a while, and eventually we ran out of time before the game kicked off. Besides which, I got into a convo with journalist Gregory Letort and his photographer pal (the latter of whom knew Matthew Klugman, one of my PhD supervisors; any word on when on if the second examiner's report has come in yet Matthew? It's only been four months...). I'd had a lengthy chat with Letort not the other week, but the week before that, about all things Australian soccer and South Melbourne Hellas, for some work he's doing hopefully to get into Le Monde and/or L'Equipe. The photographer wanted a photo, which is fine, but he also wanted a smile, which is against my ethos. Yes, I used that Daria line.

The game started, and we looked OK, not great, not good, maybe not even passable, but considering our form and that of opponents, OK was, well, OK. Lot of corners, but in all honesty, not a lot of chances, and never really looking likely to score. No striker doesn't help, it hasn't helped for weeks, but if that was the only thing you could sort of throw your hands in the air and exclaim "what else we can do?" and just wait until someone with an innate goal sense comes back into the starting eleven. But it was also the structures and the willingness of players to go up and down the field. Missing Iqi Jawadi didn't help. Whatever his drawbacks as a player, he does have a ways of making the play push forwards. His replacement, Luke Pavlou, whatever his positive attributes as a player, is the opposite.

When we fell behind to a Stefan Zinni header, that was probably the ball game right there. With out limited firepower and discombobulated attacking methods, falling behind at any point is pretty much a death sentence. We battled away in the second half, but it was more of the same. Players playing out of position. Players playing when not fit. Players playing who probably weren't entirely motivated. If there was any doubt, Avondale's second goal clinched. The third was the misery cherry on the despondency cake. Luke Boland launched one from halfway over a back peddling Jerrad Tyson, sending a good portion of the miserly crowd out the door.

Look, while I was obviously pretty upset at the time, I'm pretty much over that goal now. These things happen, what's the use of crying over spilled milk and all that. I mean, yes Tyson put up an edited highlights video of himself from the Green Gully we lost 3-0 - probably omitting the three goals we copped that day - which is great for self-promotion, but not great in terms of being in tune with supporters' expectations. Neither does any keeper want to be chipped from long range like that, ever - and he's not even the first goalkeeper Boland has done that too, and on far bigger stages than this. And I'm still trying to figure out how Tyson missed the ball considering that it seemed like he';d managed to get back on his line in time to keep the ball out.

But we were already cooked by then. The one thing you could take out of the game was the return of Marcus Schroen, and to a lesser extent, Leigh Minopoulos. Schroen looked keen, and - within a very limited framework - seemed to make things happen. Who knows how much match fitness he has, but it's good to see him back, and good to have at least another option. For Leigh's return from injury, who knows how much he's actually recovered from his injury.

Somehow we're still in positive goal difference territory, which considering we're only three points clear of the relegation playoff spot, is worth an extra point.

Next game
Port Melbourne away on Saturday night, to round out the first half of the home and away season. It's the last game of Milos Lujic's suspension, so we'll have to wait and see whether Leigh Minopoulos is good enough to start.

Welcome Ndumba Makeche
Makeche is a striker who played five games several years ago for Perth Glory, and has since puttered away in Malaysia for a few teams in a few different divisions. The transfer window doesn't open until after the Port game, probably, so he won't be available for selection until the Bulleen game. As per my custom, I'm not going to watch the YouTube highlights reel

Members forum on Thursday
The club has announced a members forum for this Thursday, in the social club, starting at 7:00PM. It's open only to "full voting members", but I'm not sure if this means only South Melbourne Hellas members (ie, social club members), or also South Melbourne FC members (ie, season ticket holders).

The announcement of the meeting has come up at what looks like quite short notice, and as best as I can recall, no announcement was made over the PA system at any points during yesterday's game before the club put up the details of the meeting at about 9:30 last night. There is also no agenda or specific purpose for the meeting articulated in the club's announcement of the meeting.

Cynics may come to the conclusion that this meeting has been hastily arranged because of a non-club sanctioned meeting of supporters held after yesterday's game - but more on that when that group formally comes out with its plan and/or demands. However, if my memory serves me right, at the most recent AGM President Leo Athanasakis did mention that there would be a supporters meeting held in April of this year, and perhaps this is just that idea a little overdue. Maybe because we have a huge run of home games coming up, that they'd like some ideas and feed back on how the social club is going.

Or maybe because the A-League bid expressions of interest are due in this Thursday, it seems like an opportune time to give us an update on how that's going?

Speaking of our A-League bid
I see that last week local member of parliament Martin Foley stepped up from being a well-wisher to actually joining our bid team. Is that a good thing? I don't know. Who am I to judge?

More hilariously, journalist Jack Kerr has been doing some good work, asking some interesting questions and getting some interesting answers. Roberto Carlos as our A-League coach? Yeah, that's probably not going to happen. As Kerr rightly muses:
Which makes you wonder why they called the press conference in the first place.
There's also some interesting stuff in there about old mate Morris Pagniello of Genova International School of Soccer, and the ways in which South initially talked up Pagniello's proximity to South, and later tried to sort of pretend that it never happened, and now it's "hey, look over there, Pagniello's hanging out with the Team 11 people" and "we never knew about his alleged shady dealings, honest". Which is all very sophisticated. Not that any of that matters, of course. But it is fun.

As for the rest of them
One bidding team has pulled out of the running, and it's not us. Brisbane Strikers have withdrawn their bid citing a lack of clarity from FFA regarding financial and other requirements.

According to a (pay-walled) article by David Davutovic, 15 consortia from across Australia - excluding the Northern Territory - have indicated their interest. Though I suspect some of these are more pie in the sky than others, the bidders include:
  • South Melbourne (whoever they are)
  • Team 11/Dandenong corridor
  • Western Melbourne - confirmation that this a rebadged/repositioned Geelong Patriots bid.
  • Tasmania - the bid backed by Harry Stamoulis and Robert Beltecky 
  • South-West Sydney - the consortium that tried to buy out the Phoenix licence.
  • Apparently another south-western Sydney group. 
  • Southern Expansion - the Southern Sydney (whatever that means) and Wollongong combination
  • Brisbane City 
  • Ipswich
  • Gold Coast
  • Wollongong Wolves
  • Canberra - though Davutovic only says here that "people" think Canberra should have a team, not that anyone is actually putting one in on the city's behalf.
  • Fremantle 
  • West Adelaide Hellas
So even with the uncertainty of the A-League operating model, the FFA Congress issues, and whether there's even any money left over to give to expansion sides from the TV deal, a lot of groups seem bizarrely interested in putting up their hand for this. I guess we'll find out in October how it all turns out.

Around the grounds
After Saturdays spent at the footy, Kensington City, watching the South women, and chasing the men's team to far flung places, I finally got around to seeing an Altona East game. Not at Paisley Park mind you, but rather at Kevin Flint Reserve in Cairnlea near enough to my old stomping ground of Victoria University's St Albans campus. Cairnlea and Altona East used to be relegation battling rivals in State League 1, and after a year or two apart they're now mediocrity battling rivals in State League 2. Sunrise, sunset. I caught the tail end of the reserves match, which finished with the absurd scoreline of 7-4. Then the seniors. A cold, swirly, breeze. A bumpy pitch. Two teams of panel beaters. Not much chance of a quality contest, and so it prove, but at least the company was good. Cairnlea took an early lead. That's pretty much all that happened in the first half. The second half was a little livelier, but that's not saying much. Cairnlea - who were the better team, even if they weren't creating much - iced the game just before injury time. East scored from their only chance right at the end. I spent the second half catching up with Richard Maynard, father of ex-South keeper Chris, who was playing for Cainrlea on the day, and didn't have much to do.

Final thought
Thanks to all those who asked after my health, I appreciate it.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Home and away - Kingston City 0 South Melbourne 2

Last Thursday evening I got a new floater in my "good" eye, and following my doc's repeated instructions, I turned up to his office first thing on Friday, and then followed that up with a Monday afternoon visit, which seeing as it would result in my eye being dilated, ruled me out of Monday night's game. So, in lieu of my actual presence, this week we've got a guest match report from Josh McKenzie. Thanks to Josh for answering the call to give it a go.

Josh McKenzie's take
As one would expect, there was only a small crowd on hand to watch this game, with a good deal of South's usual traveling support probably being put off by the Monday night start in the middle of nowhere. Not that this game was going to draw in a blockbuster crowd at any rate. Thankfully, things were better than in recent weeks on the pitch.

Hell, we even looked good and/or better than our opponent, like we actually deserved to win by even more than the two goal margin that we did win by. The coach even made some good, attacking subs, our attacks looked almost fluid, and even our crossing wasn't so bad once Matthew Millar decided that trying to launch balls onto the other pitch was probably not the best use of his latent talents; although to be fair, he did tuck away our first goal with a nice finish. Our defending meanwhile was a bit higgledy-piggledy at times, but Kingston weren't able to take advantage of that; and on the one occasion they did, Tyson made a fantastic save from the penalty. Rumours are that Luke Adams will be rejoining the side, which will go a long way to fixing that.

Tragically, we didn't help ourselves in stretching out this lead by falling back on playing corners either short or along the ground, an abnormal choice considering that opposition goalie Stephen Hatzikourtis isn't the tallest goalie in this league. Intzidis and Foschini put in some beautiful balls forward for Minatel and Brennan, which again influenced our attack to look significantly more potent. In the second half, we found it very hard to keep the ball and were camped in our own half for long periods of time; and while we managed to scramble well in defense and repel most of the aerial bombardment, Kingston’s poor finishing - and the tidy goalkeeping work of Jerrad Tyson - was as important to keeping the home side from scoring as whatever else happened on the night.

Our focus turns to the big game on Sunday against high flyers Avondale. I’ll see you all there!

As for myself
After my getting home from my doctor's appointment, I settled in to listen to the FFV's radio broadcast of the match. This used to be a common enough thing for me to do regardless of the match at hand, but South's form being what it is this season my enjoyment of the NPL as a whole has been diminished. Call it petty, call it what you will, it's the truth - my enjoyment of this league as a whole is lessened when when we're not doing well.

And while still not having reached even the halfway point of the season is a good enough excuse not to talk up relegation fancies yet - as well as Bulleen and Hume having fallen way behind the pack and into the automatic relegation slots - this was a relegation six pointer in all but name, even if it was only for the relegation playoff spot. So, I tuned in to the stream nervous as all hell, as nervous as or if not more so than for FFA Cup battles with our relevance supposedly on the line, or for grand finals.

How confident could you be with the way we'd been playing, or with the personnel we'd had out, and the threadbare bench we refuse to use in any case. And even Kingston had their own outs, and their own troubles putting away goals - just nine goals in their ten matches up until that point - they still had an actual brand name striker in their starting eleven, the kind we'd probably try and pinch in the event they got relegated. But then three minutes in, Kingston coughed the ball up in midfield, someone - possibly Nick Epifano - put Matthew Millar through on goal, and he scored. Of all the games for me to miss, it was one where Millar actually took one of his many chances.

(Albeit, when watching the replay later, having hit it straight at the Kingston keeper instead of picking one of the two corners, Millar was exceptionally lucky to have the ball go through the stranded keeper's legs. One problem at a time though.)

Then just a few minutes later, makeshift striker Oliver Minatel scored to put us two up, in a fashion that commentator Teo Pellizzeri was not quite sure of; in it's own way, it was a fitting description of all of Minatel's goal so far for South, following his unsighted ruck hitout against Oakleigh, and his fortunate massive deflected effort against Hume.

(There was some comment in the aftermath of the goal on the radio broadcast, that a South Melbourne free kick in the lead up to the goal was not played from the correct spot, the result of an error from the referee. While normally I would absolutely agree with this kind of rationalisation, the replay made me reconsider because of one point, on a moral of not legal technicality. The reason that the ball was not even near the correct spot of the foul following the awarding of the free kick was because a Kingston player had thrown the ball away from that era.

Did that ease the nerves of this listener at home? Not really. Kingston came out fired up, we seemed to be stuck somewhat in our half for the remainder if the opening 45 minutes, and judging from the commentary, lucky not to have conceded one or two goals. Kingston had a penalty, no one calling the game quite sure what for (replays says it was holding by Brad Norton, which is fair enough, but then that should be called every game), but Jerrad Tyson made a double save from the ensuing penalty, and then I really regretted not being able to be there.

Then Kingston hit the crossbar at some point, and then halftime. We were two-nil up, but not playing particularly well, which given the circumstances is probably still better than being nil-nil and having created a handful of golden chances you haven't taken. After the musical interval, the second half began, and I'd like to say that we sounded sharper and more dominant - maybe we were, I dunno - but more importantly it didn't sound like Kingston were doing much, and most of the rest of the game passed by in a haze.

It was a haze punctuated by Andy Brennan's long range effort cannoning off the inside of the right post, and after a good period of listening to Teo and his offsider talk about the weekend that was - and being able to make out Shouty Mike's voice in front of the commentary position - it occurred to me there were only 15, then 10, then 5 minutes left, and only a pending collapse of spectacular dimensions to deny us all three points. The collapse never came, and relieved, I switched off the Mixlr app, and didn't think much more about the immediate consequences of the result.

The win put us three points clear of Kingston, along with our far superior goal difference, and three points closer to the finals places, for those who dare to dream of such lofty heights.

Next game
At home on Sunday against Avondale.

Just a heads up that if you notice any unusual people taking photographs on Sunday, it's probably either French freelance journalist Gregory Letort or a photographer friend of his. Gregory's working on a few different pieces for French language press for the World Cup, and our very own South Melbourne Hellas is one of the things he's been doing some research on.

Premature mid-season transfer talk
As far as I can tell, the transfer window doesn't open until May 28, but this hasn't stopped people from talking about all sorts of possibilities. And why would it? Whether we're in a race for the top or a scrap at the bottom, pointless speculation about who you could bring in and who you could turf, and especially who's about to betray the club and become dead to you is what makes the soccer world go 'round.

Alongside the persistent rumour-mongering that any number of players are due to ditch for this or that club, there's been talk former South Melbourne championship winning centre-back Luke Adams has either signed with us, or is being courted by a few different teams. Adams had been spotted at Lakeside during the Green Gully game, but the usual rules apply - until they step into the field for us in a competitive fixture - and in these increasingly paranoid times, until it's clear that they weren't ineligible for that fixture - there's no point in going off the deep end.

Even under the circumstances of such rampant uncertainty, one of the more curious things to happen on Monday night was the naming of Marcus Schroen on the bench. I know he's been back in training for a little while now, but it does seem like an awfully quick recover from *insert whenever it was Schroen did his knee*. Does he even have any match fitness? Still, good to seemingly have him back, even though I'm not a huge fan myself. At least he'll be a step up in the free kick taking department.

Mother of all something
I did manage to get to one soccer match on the weekend, that being the WNPL game between South and Box Hill on Saturday. Neither team has set the world on fire so far this season - though South has been better than Box Hill - and this game kinda showed why. The first half wasn't too bad, Box Hill trying to hit us on the counter, and us trying to pass our way to goal. We took the lead, conceded the equaliser, and then retook the lead before halftime through Julia Nicolaci, even if her name was almost impossible to read on the redesigned scoreboard graphics. The second half was mostly played between the two 18 yard boxes, and nothing much important happened, though there were some people waiting for Sofia Sakalis to get called offside at one point, which has become a sort of parlour game for a very small handful of people that watch the women's team. Some of those people are also involved in coming up with nicknames for the players... "Little Slugger" for Kathryn Vlahopoulos is the main one these people are working on. Despite the erratic season the women are having, they've managed to work their way into third, which is pretty good considering that the squad seems younger than last year.

Final thought
On the matter of the PFA's history conference, which was held on Tuesday, I hope to get something written up on that by the end of the week.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Looking for guest match reporter for Monday night

Owing to a very necessary medical appointment due to take place on Monday afternoon through to the evening - my one working retina is playing funny buggers again - South of the Border is looking for a guest match reporter for Monday night's game against Kingston. My usual fall-back position in these situations is to ask Gains to do it, but he won't be at the game either.

The prerequisites are minimal:

  • Be at the game.
  • Pay attention to some of it.
  • Note any and all ridiculous happenings.
  • Avoid obviously libellous comments.
If no one decides to do it, I'll just have to listen to the radio broadcast - provided there is one - and write something based on that. If you'd like to do the match report, contact me at Cheers.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Highway to Hell - South Melbourne 0 Green Gully 3

Someone at last Sunday's game compared the season so far to a car crash, which I thought was an incredibly morbid idea.

It's also an incredibly wrong one. After all, the car hasn't crashed yet. All that's happened is that someone's kicked the driver out of the car, taken his keys, and started careening down the freeway weaving in and out of traffic. Now it's starting to get wet, which means the tyres on the car haven't had time to adjust to the newfound slickness of the road. Oh, and as we're getting closer to winter, daylight is getting in shorter supply, and because we play home games which finish up close to dusk, visibility is becoming an issue. But we haven't decided yet to drive on the wrong side of the road and climbing over the median strip, and we're still some way (and a willing partner) short of initiating a drag race which will see us plunge off Dead Man's Curve into the ravine below culminating in our fiery deaths.

So, to say that this is a car crash of a season is wrong. It's a car crash waiting to happen, and we're doing our best to make it happen, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy the ride - wherever it ends up.

The reasonable question that has been asked is with Milos Lujic suspended and soon to go on holidays, and Leigh Minopoulos and Giordano Marafioti injured, where are the goals going to come from until such time as we can get a striker in during the transfer window? The same people ask - perhaps genuinely, perhaps mischievously - why doesn't the club just use the next available 20s striker? It's almost comically ironic that the player in question just happens to be the progeny of the director of which so much potentially libellous innuendo has been spread. Even funnier that on Sunday in the 20s game, that the player scored a couple of goals.

But as it was, we continued to rely on the three pronged attack of Oliver Minatel, Andy Brennan, and Matthew Millar. OK, we know Minatel isn't a forward, and we know that cruel as it may sound, everyone at the ground has given up on Millar scoring goals - though we'll be overjoyed for him and for the club if he does. But Brennan is a different prospect. For whatever reason, he hasn't been able to put it together this season. There's fitness issues to be sure. But clearly there's also mental stuff. How else to explain the four or so clear-cut, harder-to-miss-than-score chances that he wasted in the first half?

Rather than going in to half time a solid and very fair three goals up, we went into halftime at 0-0, and the signs and premonitions were ominous. We'd likely have a couple of good chances early in the second half, probably fail to take them, than concede some stupid goal which consign us to defeat. And that's exactly what happened. Those first half misses by Millar and Brennan kept Gully in the game, a game we weren't playing particularly well in, but which we were nevertheless doing better than our higher ranked opposition.

Having failed to take our chances, the eventual mistake came in the form of a careless penalty. Jake Marshall fouled his opponent in a part of the 18 yard box and in such a situation where it didn't seem like there would be much danger or need to tackle his opponent. But he did, Gully scored the penalty, and though we persisted in trying to get back into the game, the game was done. The second and third goals conceded were icing on the cake, one of them infuriating and demoralising in equal measure because the low cross to the unmarked player at the back post was so simple, and yet something that we ourselves have botched time and time again.

Of course it got worse than the final 3-0 scoreline. Brad Norton got a yellow card for being injured in a tackle by an opponent; well, I don't see what else it could've been for. Oh, and coach Sasa Kolman got himself sent into the stands for the second time this season. At least in that he's been able to match one of the feats of his predecessor, who was sent to the stands twice in 2016. Prior to his dismissal Kolman could be seen desperately trying to motivate our players, probably trying to remind them to pick up their energy levels and to "pass and move" as per what I saw at their Wednesday training session before the senior women's cup game.

The greatest proof of our hopelessness was a corner we received in the second half. First of all, it clearly wasn't a corner; the ball probably didn't even reach the byline. Then we took it short, which never works for us, but here it almost did, except that despite executing it as best as we have for a long time, it still didn't work. And thus we're in the early 2013 phase, where we're going to comfort ourselves with the Gus Tsolakis mantra of that era "that one of these weeks we're going to absolutely batter a team".

It was little comfort then, and less comfort now, but there's still a transfer window coming up, and time to turn things around. But that's just my view, that of the perennial optimist.

New things
Another week, and more novel things to distract us from whats happening on the field. First up, it looks like there's new people in the kitchen. I'm giving them time to get themselves in order, but I reckon avoid the spanakopita, which lacks any semblance of salt or saltiness, which is absolutely essential to a good spanakopita. Anyone doubting my credentials on these matters, I'm happy to relay them in excruciating detail at a game near you.

Strangely, one beer in the social not available on tap was Carlton Draught, but I'm sure that'll get rectified. There was also no ice cream truck, but there was a loukoumades truck, which sadly because it took so damn long to set up I was not able to make use of.

In the stand there were new people, which rather than something we as South fans will celebrate we will find a way to be suspicious of. Not without good reason, mind you. These were young guys, dressed in casual gear, Melbourne City supporters invited over by the remnants of the Enosi group. Described like that, is it any wonder people were having flashbacks to when the Victory affiliated kids hung around and then caused all sorts of shit?

I don't want to tar these guys with the same brush, and on Sunday they livened the atmosphere a bit - even their rendition of the "schizophrenia" mosh was too rigorous for security - without causing any problems. But their mates who've invited them should make sure to remind them of a few things. First, no flares. Second, to ditch the casual "clobber". Third, that Clarendon Corner is casual in only one sense, in that it is incredibly slack about chanting, banners, organisation, and sometimes even paying attention to the game.

So to the boys who joined us last week and may or may not choose to continue coming to South games, remember that the goal is to take the game seriously, but not take ourselves seriously. Or something. One of the Clarendon Corner's elder statesmen relayed to me his wife's thoughts on what CC is: basically the soccer equivalent of the Lost Dogs Home. In other words, a bunch of scruffy, sad, yappy individuals who aren't looking for any trouble.

Next game
Kingston away on Monday night.

Rescheduling of abandoned Heidelberg fixture
The round 9 match - which was abandoned due to Heidelberg player Harry Noon's corner flag induced injury - will be replayed in full on Sunday August 19th.

Taylor to Oakleigh, at last
After apparently helping out at Green Gully for a bit, Chris Taylor has ended up at Oakleigh as their new coach. Gus Tsolakis must be sick of losing his job to CT by now. Taylor's been joined by his assistant Chris Marshall, and the third part of that former South coaching contingent, goalkeeping coach Bojo Jevdevic.

These things happen. *shrugs shoulders*

But just like the last time Taylor got a job at Tsolakis' expense, there's rumours of movement at the station, this time at our fine establishment, with three or four of players apparently looking to move across to Oakleigh. Some people are also claiming that there could be some players heading the other way if this happens, which makes the upcoming transfer window even more important than it already was.

Still, if this happens, I'm looking forward to how all this is handled given that we have players under contract, and indeed went to great lengths to get all our players (or at the least those considered worthwhile) under contract before we ditched Taylor.

Anyway, back to Oakleigh for a minute. Given that our results this season have been much closer to ratshit than glorious, it's probably not worth taking the time to take the piss out of Oakleigh's current predicament. Besides which, they're two from two under Taylor, so compared to us they're flying. Still, when they post stuff like this:
Even a non-betting man like myself is thinking about putting a cheeky tenner on Oakleigh finishing as runner up, bridesmaid finishes being that club's speciality.

Scent of blood
The other week came the revelation that South Melbourne was one of a number A-League aspirants which had approached Wellington Phoenix to buy out the Phoenix's A-League licence. From our end, it seems that about a year ago the club had negotiated with Phoenix for purchasing a 25% stake, providing women's and youth teams, and playing some games in Melbourne. The two parties however failed to proceed further than those early discussions, and the matter came to an end.

Following that news however, there has been a renewal of interest in the current state of the Phoenix licence, and to a lesser degree South Melbourne's designs to acquire it. That renewal of general interest in Wellington's ultimate fate as an A-League location is tied to longer term issues: should there be an New Zealand team in Australian soccer? What will the A-League look like when its make up is finally "complete"? What will even be the structure of Australian soccer as a whole once the necessary FIFA reforms are applied?

For Wellington's part, none of this is being helped by delayed and then unconvincing denials by their owners that their licence is for sale. And even if one were to believe them, remember this: in August 2013, Melbourne Heart's then Director of Football, John Didulica, claimed on radio that Heart were not for sale; just a few months later, Melbourne Heart were bought out by the City group.

Another article in The Age on the Wellington matter this week noted that South was again seeking to talk to Phoenix about a deal. This was followed up by a piece on The World Game (ostensibly about Brisbane Strikers' interest in buying Phoenix), which included some information on the nature of the negotiations between ourselves and Phoenix. This includes the fact that Wellington originally approached South to try and offload 25% of its licence for $1.5 million, with board member and head of the South Melbourne for A-League bid team Bill Papastergiadis noting that:
"The enticement for us was to play the youth league and women’s league in Melbourne full-time with our colours, but still having some form of the Wellington brand."
More broadly however, there remains an infuriating vagueness about even elementary details of what a South Melbourne team in the A-League would look like. For example, while Papastergiadis said this in the The Age article:
"South Melbourne and our blue strip is our name, our history and our brand, and that's what we are going to be wherever we play."
It's not much different to what was said a couple of years ago when we kicked off this latest attempt at getting into the A-League. Still, when Papastergiadis says:
"we have not only past examples of record crowds but also recent evidence from our FFA semi-final against Sydney which rated 56,000 on Fox Football"
it's reassuring that Michael Lynch pushes back even just a bit on these kinds of claims by noting:
Whether fans tuned in to watch South or the A-League champions that night is a matter for debate
Of course in the grand scheme of things, it's still a far cry from the rigorous examination that every Australian soccer journalist should be applying to every A-League bid. But it's a start.

What we can say with some certainty as outside observers is that the market rate for the Phoenix licence seems to be $6 million, which is well below the over $10 million recently paid for the Adelaide United franchise by mystery overseas investors. Less certain is how any team seeking to buy out the Phoenix outright would get around the issue of the apparent geographical clauses in the Phoenix licence which ties that licence to New Zealand, though one can easily posit that that if FFA were amenable to it, that they could change the rules pretty easily.

Less certain, also, is whether Wellington's owners want to sell their team outright, or work on a finding a partnership solution. There's also no clarity on whether a team taking out the Wellington licence and transferring it to Australia would be guaranteed the Phoenix's share of the television rights; this is important, because talk is that the two expansion sides for A-League season 2019/20 will have to survive - at least in the short term - without such funding.

Further uncertainty was caused by Wellington Phoenix eventually issuing a passionate/ranting press release, more or less accusing a lot of people of lying, and of wanting to feed on the not-quite-yet existent Phoenix corpse. Which, to be fair, is their right to do so, I suppose, but I will say this: days of silence, followed by mealy-mouthed media mumblings, followed by backs-to-the-wall bravado a whole week after all this started, is hardly a clever PR game. Not that any of that matters, of course.

Winning and losing, in that order
Last Wednesday night the senior women strutted their stuff in the TeamApp Cup against Bulleen. They'd beaten Bulleen at Lakeside in the league the previous Saturday, and fielded a strong side in this one. Maybe too strong, as we'll soon see. There was also a members/dine with the players night, though I think only a handful of the saddest cases turned up for that; otherwise, the crowd was mostly made up of members of the junior girls teams, and their parents.

There were no corner flags on kickoff, but the game progressed anyway, and you kinda wondered why we bother with them. If we need to have a corner marker, might we better off switching to rugby league style short padded posts? Anyway, eventually some corner flags turned up, and no one thought about corner flags again for the rest of the evening, and hopefully ever again.

There was no Lisa De Vanna - she sat on the bench - but we didn't need her. We were the dominant team, and cruised to a 3-0 victory and into the next round against Greater Geelong Galaxy. Except that we didn't! We played an ineligble player - probably someone that was already cup tied - and had the result reversed. For a tournament that we didn't apparently care that much about, we sure when tout of oru way to do well and then completely botch it.

As disappointing as it was for all who were genuinely concerned by this shambles of bookkeeping practice, it was bizarre that some people who don't even care about women's soccer, nay, are just as likely to be actively hostile to women's soccer, saw this as an opportunity to feign indignation about the forfeit. Probably no accident that there's some crossover in that demographic of people who are caning the board for Chris Taylor's sacking when they spent the last few years wanting Taylor sacked.

More genuinely disappointing is the news that women's coach Socrates Nicolaides will be resigning from his post and heading back to the United States for family reasons. Soc was not only successful, but he also seemed to really care about the welfare of the players under his command, and seemed like one of the better people at the club. Oh well, an opportunity for someone else to carry on his good work.

Launch of Andrew Howe's Socceroos encyclopaedia 
Australian soccer statistician and historian Andrew Howe will soon be travelling around the country to launch his new Socceroos encyclopaedia. The venue for his Melbourne event? Our very own South Melbourne Hellas social club. The launch will be on Tuesday May 29th, from 5:30-7:00, and you can register here to attend.

Don't forget also that the PFA history conference is on Tuesday May 15th, also in the social club.

Around the grounds
Mucho delusions of grandeur
Last Saturday I ventured, alone, by car(!), to Scovell Reserve in Maidstone for Maidstone United vs Kensington City. Parts of the Liberal Party are debating bringing back corporal punishment for crimes; I reckon they could save themselves a lot of money and a lot of time battling civil rights lawyers in court by revising their plan and making them watch State League 5 - extra punishment is to stand behind the goals and focus on the goalkeeping. Three times from set pieces Maidstone dumped the ball into the six yard box, and the Kensington keeper just watched it get cleaned up by an opponent for a goal. Then there's the players who take the ball from their own teammates. Best of all was when the visitors had a free kick, and all of a sudden there was much frantic yelling of instructors from the bench and the few supporters present like they were audience members of a Spanish language Price is Right. Here's where it gets really stupid though: I was informed afterwards that some of the Kensington people thought I was a spy, because I was by myself and on my phone a lot. Now, in the unlikely event those boys are reading this post, I'm going to lay it out very clearly:
  1. I was on my phone doing occasional Twitter updates, and keeping tabs on footy scores.
  2. You're going to have to play much better than you do right now to be worth spying on.
Oh, Maidstone won the game 5-2, in a canter.

Final thought
Think of it this way: if Sasa Kolman's South Melbourne coaching stint ends badly, based on Oakleigh's recent coach hiring history, Kolman's still at worst a 50/50 chance of eventually getting the gig at Oakleigh.