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,

10 comments:

  1. Welcome to the Peoples Republic of South Melbourne!

    Seriously, WTF is going on here....top secret members forums, relegation battles, over indulgent a-league bids. τα χάσαμε or should that be τα χεσαμε

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wonder what our record was at the midway point in 1979?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. After 12 matches in 1979, we had three wins, two draws, seven losses.

      However, the first three results were later made into 3-0 forfeits because we played Tony Turner before he was registered, so it would be two wins, one draw, and nine losses.

      Delete
  3. Big punch ons in the change room after the game involving Leo president. Fish, Epa, Lujic all set to leave. Playing group seem to be sick of the tactics being played and the signings and money thrown around to other players.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Epa can fuck off. The disrespect he shows for his team mates and fans is obvious. Clearly having a go at Minatel as he was walking back to the bench. Saying out loud "hows the step overs going now"

      Potentially a great player but we have only seen glimpses of that over his time at South. Can't have players that do not work off the ball in this league.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous your an idiot but you have got your wish - have fun in the NPL2!

      Delete
    3. Don't blame him for having zero respect for most fans as most are flogs, I distance myself from most during games as most have small man syndrome - never a positive word from the bunch.

      You try playing with guys like Milos, do my head in after a half let alone 3+ years.

      James

      Delete
    4. Punch ons ���������� are you high - zero punch ons - keep spreading your stories.

      James

      Delete
  4. When was the last time South Melbourne made such an apparently calamitous decision regarding the coaching change? 1979? Even then, after reading what you said about the points deduction for UNREGISTERED PLAYERS(!!), it may have been less about the coaches, and more a result of the committee's incompetence.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have never read such dribble in my life, it's a small drop in form - relax a little.

    Fairweather supporting at its best.

    James

    ReplyDelete

A few notes on comments.

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

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

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