Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Going, going... South Melbourne 2 Pascoe Vale 3

The less said about the 7:00PM kickoff the better; about the only good thing about it was getting to see a mediocre game of footy beforehand. There must have been some serious turf preservation issues, as neither the under 20s nor the women's teams played on the Lakeside surface over the course of the weekend. The scoreboard was also on the blink, which lent the whole affair the unmistakable air of serious decay.

Oh, and we started the game in the relegation playoff spot, after being jumped by Hume City on Friday night after they beat Knights 3-2 at Somers Street.

As for the match itself, it started off reasonably well, and ended up in a much worse place. The proviso for most of our season has been that if we take the lead we have a chance, and that if we fall behind we're stuffed. That we were at first in front, then behind, and level again deep into the game showed at least some character. Then came another very special moment from everyone's favourite heel, and whatever positives we could've gotten out of the game - even just the measly point to get us out of the relegation zone - were soon forgotten.

Without necessarily creating too many clear cut chances, we gave a good account of ourselves early on, and did our best to keep Davey van 't Schip in check; well, as much as any team in our situation could be expected to do. As noted, we even took the lead and managed to carry the lead into the break, Ndumba Makeche putting away one of the better crosses we've put in this season. George Howard was having his best game since he joined us, and Oliver Minatel, who continues to be a minor revelation in his new role. But the second half wasn't as crash hot, and we counted off the time until we were due to concede.

I can't understand the subbing off of Makeche, who seemed to be lively and causing at least some problems for the Pascoe Vale defence, as well as of Pep Marafioti even though he was less effective. The Ndumba subbing was particularly strange, as apart from his attacking efforts he also put in a lot of defensive work on the left hand side of the park, sometimes coming up even into our half to offer extra coverage. The reshuffle seemed to unbalance the team, but at the same time it wasn't like we were far and away the better team - with a bit more luck Pascoe Vale could've been in front long before they actually were. But we were still in the game because most of the team were at least putting in a decent effort.

But Paco got there eventually anyhow, with some truly shoddy defending and clearance work, and our usual lapses in concentration. 2-1 down with just over ten to play, I didn't see us making any sort of comeback, but credit to the team they did well enough to get us back level, Leigh Minopoulos setting up Oliver Minatel for the latter's fifth goal of the season. There was at that moment even a hint of optimism among the crowd. That didn't last very long. Sadly in pushing for the win, we gave up even our nominal point in spectacular fashion. Deep in attack on the right, Nick Epifano was dispossessed when he may have copped a stray arm to the face. Perhaps expecting a free kick that never came - and the incident occurring on the referee's blindside made that call less likely to go our way in any event - or perhaps just as likely putting in one of his customary displays of on field petulance, he showed no interest in chasing his opponent back down the field, and the sequence of play ended up with what what turned out to be the winning goal to the visitors.

Epifano was booed by large sections of the crowd before the ball even made it to the halfway line, let alone into our net. And to be clear, he was booed not for losing he ball, but for making no effort whatsoever to chase back. He shushed the crowd and later performed a small fist pump celebrating the visitors' goal. Every time he touched the ball after that he was greeted with anger from the crowd. It being late on a Sunday and preferably wanting to get home before that evening's World Cup coverage started, I left as soon as the final whistle went. It didn't help my overall goal - the transport situation worked out so that I got home at 10:30 - but at least I got to avoid whatever post-match nonsense may have taken place. At this point in time there is no official word on whether Epifano is still at the club. There have been some rumours about him ending up somewhere in the state leagues for the rest of the season - the only place he can go now that the NPL transfer window is closed - but who actually knows? It would be easy to assume that there is no way he'll be allowed to come back, but how many times has that been said before? Before publishing the obituary for his colourful South Melbourne Hellas life, we should make sure it's dead first.

The only positive for the team's fight against relegation is that Bulleen thumped Kingston on yesterday, which while it brought the Lions to within a game (and much worse goal difference) of our position, it at least kept Kingston within touching distance for us rather than let them get away from us completely. It gives us something more than the illusion that survival is possible.

Sasa Kolman resigns as senior coach
Sasa Kolman is officially no longer the South Melbourne senior men's coach. It had been rumoured that Kolman had offered his resignation earlier in the season on one, or perhaps even two occasions, with that offer(s) rejected by the board. It was clear that the board had - for probably noble and ignoble reasons - a lot of faith in Kolman, but the circumstances have proved them wrong.

Kolman has and will cop stick for being the guy who knew beforehand that Taylor was going to get ousted, and that he himself was the one earmarked to replace one of the club's most successful coaches on short notice and to the surprise of pretty much everyone at South Melbourne outside the board. Hamstrung to a degree by the incredibly late move of the board to sack Taylor, as well as recruiting decisions made by the board and/or Taylor before Taylor's sacking, I have some sympathy for Kolman. It is not a sympathy that will be shared by many supporters, understandably so. He will be viewed as disloyal, which would've been more tolerable had the club done better than it has done. He will also be viewed as inept, a youth coach getting in over his head.

Kolman started off the season confidently, a good pre-season result against Guangzhou R&F and a solid first couple of league games giving him the chance to get some clear air. But bad luck (the goalkeeping mess, poor discipline by players, especially regarding concentration and suspensions, and his own two dismissals) and his own backing away from his high pitch, high energy pressing style of game have lead to a poor run of results, where each good result and passable performance is followed by two or three poor ones. His lack of confidence in his initial game plan was later mirrored by his disappearance from the club's media avenues.

It also saw an erratic shuffling of the playing decks from week to week, no two lineups ever quite being the same even when there was the chance to follow up on a winning effort. In defence and in midfield, it was impossible to tell what his preferred structure was once he abandoned his high press. Player positions changed, mostly to no improvement - except for the move of Oliver Minatel to defensive midfield - and morale obviously crashed. Some of the poor morale is on the board as well, obviously, and clearly at least some of the players have little enough respect for Kolman or for the board - leaking posts from their senior squad's private Facebook group is just one sign among many at the collapse in discipline and morale within the playing group.

And Kolman's use of the bench - or just as often, non use - was also inexplicable. I understand that he may have thought that the youth players he had there were not ready to step up, but there were situations where an inexperienced but nevertheless fit youth team player was seen as far inferior to a crippled senior team regular.

Con Tangalakis has been appointed the senior coach for the rest of the season, which was always a likely outcome once he was brought into the fold a few weeks ago. At the moment I'm hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. here's to being proven wrong. Please, prove us all wrong.

Next game
Northcote at home on Sunday, in the club's most important game in 14 years. I know I've said something like that across the past several years, but is it any less true this time around? It could be the start of something good, or just the continuation of the very bad thing we already have.

No word on whether Matthew Millar will be back from his trial at Central Coast Mariners, though the word on the street was that it was a two week stint of which last week was the second week. No word yet either on whether Iqi Jawadi will be fit enough to take part in any way this week.

Around the grounds
At McKechnie Reserve in St Albans on Saturday arvo  for the state league 2 north-west Greek derby between Westvale and Altona East. Hadn't been to Westvale for a few years now, but times there seem pretty damn tough. Very low attendance, and not much support or even volunteer culture - when you have an elderly bloke with obvious hand tremors making the souvs, it's not a great situation out there. (An OK souv at a good price by the way, which makes me wonder why South can't do something similar). Westvale on field are also in big trouble, just the one win so far this season, in second last place, and almost certain to go down to state 4. Altona East aren't crash hot, but their lower mid-table position means they're safe from relegation even at the midpoint of the season. To Westvale's credit they put in a solid shift throughout this game, and perhaps deserved to lead at the break. Altona East were better in the second half, which doesn't mean they were good, but this game had a bleak hue to it, and the increasingly dark skies - this game finished in near darkness - created a portent that this was going to be hard-fought scoreless draw. Which is exactly what happened.

Final thought
During the game someone found what appeared to be discarded membership card in Clarendon Corner, and the vibe seemed to be that someone had had enough of everything South Melbourne related, and who could blame them. I was given the card, recognised the surname scrawled in texta on the back, and having contacted the card's owner, I can relay to you dear reader that it was not "discarded", only "lost". So, one very minor saving grace from last week's mess of a match day.

Monday, 18 June 2018

From sucker punch to ordinary sucking - South Melbourne 0 Oakleigh Cannons 1

Apologies for this one coming out a little late, and for it being relatively short, and thus almost a placeholder piece than anything else. As you'll see later, I've been sucked in to some other writing duties, plus there's all the the other writing things that I would like to finish, etc.

Look, if there's one certain thing about South Melbourne in 2018 it's that if we fall behind, we're not going to win the game, and we'll be lucky to draw. We're not the kind of team that can break down tight defences which are happy to sit on a lead - at least not until Iqi Jawadi comes back from his injury, and even then - and we're going to rely a lot on getting the first goal. Of course getting the first goal is always the main er, goal, if you like, and if we do manage that and we can coax our opponents to come out and try take us on, I think we might be able to do something in a game.

Last Saturday though, well, 40 minutes of dominance in general play was worth diddly squat when Oakleigh opened the scoring, and speaking of doing diddly squat, thank you very much Andy Brennan for that goal, like a dagger in the heart. Anyway, after that goal we did our other customary thing, which is fall to pieces mentally or near enough to it, and Oakleigh looked like if not world beaters, which they aren't, than at least they resembled something competent. We recouped a little bit, but the taking off Clarendon Corner's new favourite (though I'm still holding off for now) Oliver Minatel for Tim Mala and a strange reshuffle kinda screwed everything up.

Mala gave away a penalty, but it was probably too late by then anyway, and Nikola Roganovic saved it anyway. Not that we would have scored anyway no matter how much injury time was played, but how the referee came to the conclusion that only three minutes of injury time was to be played was anyone's guess. Still that doesn't compare to his decision to do absolutely nothing to dissuade Oakleigh from making stupid tackles early on, which lead to them committing behind the scenes transgressions which also went unpunished.

Anyway, as well as our midfield still being a mess, the forward structure was also wonky. Ndumba Makeche was being played as a lone striker, which is fine, that's the style of the time, but he is not a Milos Lujic type who can hold up the ball against two or three defenders. Makeche is clearly the type of forward who needs to be fed balls to run onto, especially in situations where he can quickly take a shot - something which he seems very keen to do.

The loss was a missed opportunity get away from Northcote and Hume, who both lost on the weekend; we're still only two points ahead of both of them. Conversely, Kingston seem to have found a bit of form, and their win against Port over the weekend saw them go above us.

Next game
Pascoe Vale at home on Sunday, at the unruly time of 7:00PM. That timeslot has been chosen so as to link up better with that night's World Cup broadcast, which kicks off at 10:00PM, and which it is hoped you will watch in the social club. I won't be sticking around for that because public transport dies in the arse after midnight, but at least I might be able to also make the Collingwood-Carlton game beforehand. Probably not the club's intention, but when life gives you lemons, well, you know the rest.

Women's team
Before the men's game, the women took on Alamein. I was still on a tram somewhere along Clarendon Street when the rain came bucketing down and the game had started, and thus missed the first goal which came about 50 seconds into the game courtesy of Melina Ayers. I did get to the ground in time to see Alamein equalise. The game got a bit messy after that, though I wasn't as disappointed by the standard in the first half as some people may have been. Alamein probably should have been in front, but they skied one over the bar from six yards out. The second half was harder to watch, but Ayers and Lisa De Vanna got goals to put us up 3-1 late on, and even a late Alamein goal wasn't going to be too much of an issue to hold out against. The result sees us sit in second, four points behind ladder leaders Calder. The women's next game is against bottom of the table Southern United at Lakeside on Saturday afternoon.

Some very brief thoughts on the quality of the food in the social club
I know that it's not a like-for-like situation, but the food served to those who had booked tables for the Socceroos was light years ahead of the usual canteen fare. Not that it was uniformly superb (except for the roast goat, which was outstanding), but it was a clear step up from the standard menu items. Even the very basic home style food offered on Thursday's social club nights - $20 all you can eat - is better than what you get on a match day, though to be fair, last Thursday I hung around long enough to sample the rather good spit roasted pig cooked by board member Andrew Mesorouni for the non-Muslim and carnivorous members of the squad..

And yes, the club will be showing the Australia-Denmark game on Thursday; not sure about any spit roasts for this week though, but you never know.

Heavy Sleeper 2018
Yes, despite much reluctance on my part, the Heavy Sleeper World Cup diary is going around for another tournament. Check out the Shoot Farken site and its affiliate social media accounts for updates.

Vale Fred Villiers
We forgot to talk about this last week. Sad news, of course, though Fred had a good innings. Later in life Fred's mind had started to wander, including on the one occasion I got to meet him back in 2009. But he still got some crucial points across, about how if we want to get soccer stuff out into the public sphere, we have to be prepared to do it ourselves and we have to be prepared to make the arguments for soccer, because there was and is a status quo which makes assumptions about how little people care about soccer, or how difficult it is to leverage, when half the battle is in overcoming the assumptions of the gatekeepers of our sporting culture.

Around the grounds
Too cold, stayed home and watched Batman and the footy.

Final thought
North Preston and North Heidelberg, oh you wacky kids.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Bold and the Hellas - South Melbourne 4 Dandenong Thunder 0

After Saturday night's results, there was not much sleep to be had. While nominally a good result for us, in that they took points off each other, the draw between Northcote and Hume saw us drop down into the relegation slots. Even worse, Kingston pulled their finger out against a lacklustre Avondale, and jumped up a few spots at our expense. So there we were on Saturday night, and into Sunday, sitting in second last spot, with a game in hand, but nothing else to latch on to.

Then when you rock up to a game and you hear so many different squad and lineup configurations that you have no idea what's real and what isn't, that doesn't fill you with any confidence either. No Matthew Foschini seemed pretty certain, he being suspended with five yellows. No Schroen (still suspended) and no Jawadi (still injured) was also something to bank on. But what of everyone else?

Previously, word on the street was that Milos Lujic had made his one appearance in between serving his five match suspension and leaving for Russia, so we were going to see Ndumba Makeche start... no! Milos was due to start, and Makeche on the bench. Jerrad Tyson was meant to be off to India, having received an offer too good to refuse to play there. He would be replaced by Zaim Zeneli (currently of promotion to NPL2 hunting North Sunshine) and/or Nikola Roganovic (currently or recently filling in at Richmond), except Tyson started this game and who knows for sure when he'll go exactly and who will replace him.

There were reputed doubts about Brad Norton';s fitness for the match, but that rumour was at least put to bed when he told me that he would be playing. But the surprises kept coming. Kristian Konstantinidis was reputedly struggling with personal issues, and likely to start on the bench, replaced in the starting lineup by... Tim Mala! Well, that turned out to be half true. KK started the game and played most of it, and Timmy Mala came on later on.

Such "getting the gang back together" shenanigans smacked of the end of Golden Gordon or every hokey American sports movie you can think of - minus the reformed outsider delinquent. Actually, speaking of reformed outsider delinquents, what of the People's Champ? He didn't play last week. He was gone from the club. He was, finally, a former South Melbourne player. Except that didn't happen. Somehow, through the reputed magical intervention of mediation, new coaching assistant (or something like that) Con Tangalakis, and a team bonding barbecue(?!), everything was sorted out well enough that everyone's *redacted* player was back in the staring lineup.

It was me, Clarendon Corner! It was me, all along, South Melbourne!
No doubt this whole situation has been handled incredibly poorly for so many years by so many parties, but having tolerated it for long enough until it finally broke of its own volition, everyone immediately concerned could have at least come up with a more creative way of doing things. For instance, would it not have been better for the club to make an announcement that Nick Epifano had left Lakeside, only to be replaced by a new player (El Boyo Loco or whatever) from "parts unknown", wearing a mask or some sort of disguise, who would play brilliantly over the course of the second half of the season, before finally revealing his true identity for the purposes of finally going over with his face-turn or, even better, going for a monster-heel double-down. Look, we're in the entertainment business, and I'm just trying to help.

If you wanted even more surprises, there was no Christos "Patrida" Intzidis in the starting lineup, with the returning-from-Scandinavia Luke Adams taking his place in central defence, and surprisingly perhaps Intzidis not even used in the role of defensive midfield. With Luke Pavlou departed, and Foschini suspended, that role was taken up by... Oliver Minatel! Oliver Mintael, reputed winger who's barely played on the wing (his apparent preferred position) due to the injury and suspension situation of the club. Oliver Minatel, who even when he has played as a winger, has showed little. Oliver Minatel, whose almost entire worth to the club thus far has been four goals of varying degrees of novelty value.

And yet, he was actually quite good in the role. I'm not going to go over the top and say that it was a transformative experience - he could be found out next week for all we know - but for this game it worked well enough. Minatel seems to read the game well, but more importantly, being in that position meant he was in the game a lot more whether he liked it or not. (And for whatever it's worth, he did apparently volunteer for the role). Being much more in the game rather than being stranded up front or out wide meant that he was able to influence a game in ways that he has not been able to do so previously in 2018.

The sputtering at best midfield of last week became a lot more fluid as well, the new jelling with the old in promising ways, albeit mostly from counter-attacks. Again, small sample size and all that, but we were counter-attacking well and smoothly, transitioning quickly from defence to attack. Of course counter attacking is much easier to do when a) you have a lead and b) you have a lead in part because you haven't conceded after seven seconds. It was probably just an accident that the scoreboard didn't kick in properly until about 15 seconds into the game.

So yes, going ahead early makes the opposition have to come out and chase the game and therefore makes counter attacking easier, at least in theory. What was astonishing about the early lead we took is that the Dandenong player didn't get a yellow card for that vicious tackle but also, considering how our season has been going, that Milos Lujic didn't miss the penalty. Indeed, he put it right into the top corner. The second goal was a good finish from the People's Champ after being released on the break. The third goal, almost unseen, came from a short corner, and thus I'm not comfortable with it being counted in the first half tally.

Three-nil at the break would suggest we were all over Thunder, but that was not quite the case. It was a far more free-flowing, end-to-end, and much more competitive affair than that. Thunder probably struggled to create as many clear cut chances as we were doing, but they could've scored, and had they done so you wonder how the game would've gone, what with our penchant for rapid self-immolation this year. Thankfully, that never came about. We only added one more goal in the second half, Ndumba Makeche tucking away an easy back post chance, and everybody was happy to get out of this game with all three points, and out of the relegation zone.

It was a terrifying 18 or so hours in the red zone - and there's no guarantees that we won't be back there again soon - but the wash up of the win on Sunday was that we actually distanced ourselves ever so slightly from two members of the chasing pack. What's more, we got ourselves back into positive goal difference, which in dire situations like this, is worth a half a point by itself. Oh, and there seemed to be renewed effort and desire in the squad. No one's sure if that newfound lust for battle will last the first test of true adversity, but it was exciting to have it back for at least 90 minutes.

Next game
Oakleigh at home on Saturday evening. For those who concern themselves with such triviliaties, it will be Chris Taylor's first game at Lakeside since his sacking, and his first game back after his mid-season trip to Europe. Of course, it is also worth noting that after the game, the social club will be screening the Socceroos vs France World Cup match, for which he club has said you will need to book tables for if you wish to sit down and watch the game instead of stand - that's $50 per head, and you get meal platters, etc. It's also worth noting that rather than the under 20s curtain raiser, our NPLW side will be playing against Alamein, with kickoff at 2:30PM.

Shortlist shenanigans
Those hoping for closure on the matter of the A-League expansion process will have to wait a couple more days at least. Today was the day - yes, I know it's a public holiday, but this is Australian soccer after all - where there was meant to be an announcement of the shortlist for the A-League expansion hopefuls.
That kind of make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is of course remarkably reassuring, as are rumours that the licence fee will be $15 million. Not that any of that matters.

Around the grounds
...and if you're in jail, break out!!!
As promised to no one in particular last week, I headed north across the wrong side of the tracks to the catch up game between Westgate and Whittlesea United. Yes, Tansel Baser was there for the visitors, but that mattered not when Westgate opened the scoring after two minutes. But then Whittlesea took the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring three goals in the next 20 minutes. The pick of the bunch was the equaliser, which was a solo effort with the player in question dribbling past three or four opponents and slotting his goal just inside the post. Considering the usual standard of this league, it wasn't just beautiful, but transcendent, a distillation of everything good about football. At 3-1 it looked like Whittlesea were going to run away with it, but the first half settled down after that. After halftime Westgate were much improved, but they were wasteful in front of goal. They got one back, which made the game really interesting, but that's all they got.

Final thought
Safe travels to all those heading to Russia for the World Cup.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Dire situation - South Melbourne 1 Bulleen Lions 2

Yes, it's true. I have done everything in my powers to push the writing of this post to whenever the latest possible moment was. I read a novel from start to finish for the first time since January. I went on ridiculously long bus trips with one of my brothers so that he could order some new glasses. I watched a hell of a lot of TV that even I'm embarrassed to admit that I watched - though I stopped short at the Denton interview of Gene Simmons. I even read the letters pages of Royal Auto, where people who like going on car trips to see lighthouses or complaining about less than stellar driving by their fellow motorists go because they haven't discovered the black hole of social media.

Spoilt as we have been these past few years with something approximating relative success, being now mired in something very much more akin to complete and utter suckage makes being a South fan less tolerable. The suddenness of that transformation adds to the misery. At least when we sucked in the years 2007 to (June/July) 2013, that sucking felt like a warm blanket: yes we sucked, but in the VPL years it became basically all we knew, and on some level you could justify turning up to watch mediocre season after mediocre season. After all, the club was probably going to cark it soon, so what did it matter if we won or lost?

But winning changed the feeling, made the real or imagined post-NSL death spiral of the club feel less real. But winning has gone, so here we are, back to the old feeling, but much worse. Lining up with what could be considered a makeshift midfield at best - no Schroen, Epifano, Jawadi, Brennan, Pavlou, and instead fielding newly signed and probably out of position Howard and Marafioti, and a busted up Minopoulos - expectations were low. Sure there was a returning after five weeks' suspension and before he leaves for Russia next week Milos Lujic, but that was probably just as much down to new striker signing Ndumba Makeche's international clearance not coming through as anything. Unless of course Makeche actually isn't very good, and we were going to start Milos regardless.

Of course none of that mattered in the slightest because we conceded a goal after seven seconds. SEVEN SECONDS! I can only remember seeing such a thing happen in the flesh once, and even then it was a state league two reserves game and there were mitigating circumstances of an absolute fool of a referee who made a big deal before kickoff about the colour of the long sleeves worn under the jerseys, and despite that there were still no real excuses for copping that goal. The blokes who copped that goal for us on Sunday are experienced, well-remunerated, and any number of other positive epithets you can choose to use. You can point to discord and disquiet, low morale, poor coaching, any number of things, but you should still never cop a goal within seven second of play.

At least wait thirty seconds! That implies that there may have been some neat passing, or a piece of stunning bad luck, or at least some semblance of someone trying to provide an obstacle to conceding the goal. The only obstacle to us conceding was a hopelessly stranded Jerrad Tyson in goals, and what he could seriously do when seeing that blue and white Red Sea open in front of him except hope for the absolute best while expecting the absolute worst?

After that, we put in some effort to try and get back that goal, but it was rather like the proverbial dirty, slimy, airborne pig. No amount of rationalisation could convince anyone that it was still any good. Brad Norton, the one man seemingly willing to front up and take any responsibility for what has been going on this year, did his best; but as for the rest, whether new signing or old hand, nothing clicked, nothing worked, and nothing looked like working. And when you're going through a dire run of form, all the things which work out when you're going well - opposition mistakes, referee decisions, a cleared ball landing in or at the edge of the box with one of yours ready to hit it home - all goes the window, making things even harder.

I mean, there were neat touches, and lots of crosses and corners, but rarely any of these things in consecutive order, and thus rarely a moment where there seemed to be any coherence in our path towards goal. Everything seems forced and predictable now. And then the ball gets turned over, and then the other side of problem comes out, players out of position, players being played out of position, and players making fundamental errors of skill and concentration. Sure we lasted more than seven seconds without conceding after halftime, but the goal we copped three minutes into the second half was little better than the one we copped in the first. If there was any doubt that we were going to get back in this game, it was extinguished then and there.

Late on we actually managed to score, Oliver Minatel bundling home what we hoped but did not dare believe could be the goal that would kick start a comeback, and it turns out that it didn't. This is not 2017 after all. Sure we pumped balls forward, but never really got close, just as we hadn't got close for the rest of the game. Now, critical as I have been of Minatel this season, I will give him this much credit - even though his four goals in 2018 have been the arsiest collection of goals in a South shirt since Kevin Nelson's half season with us in 2006, at least he's managed to get them! While everyone else fiddles while Rome burns or wallows in their own misery, Minatel has something to point to as a contribution. Call it clutching at straws if you like, but in a shipwreck situation you try and grab onto anything you can to stay afloat.

I can't even say Bulleen played that well. They looked like the bottom of the table team that they are, but they still created three or four genuine chances compared to our measly half chances of crosses met by no one or players off balance or caught easily by the Bulleen keeper. And I don't mean to sell Bulleen short, because they did the job they came to do, but even out of form the calibre of players we had out there shouldn't have let the situation deteriorate so much. But we are so much less the sum of our parts at the moment that anything resembling competence from our opponents makes things seem impossible from our end. Indeed, the last game we won, against Kingston, was as much due to Kingston's incompetence in the two goals they coughed up to us as it was due to anything we did ourselves.

Where improvement will come in the short term, let alone the rest of the season as a whole, is anyone's guess, but I don't think anyone's particularly optimistic. At some point Marcus Schroen will come back into the side, hopefully a fit Iqi. Maybe this Ndumba guy will show us that the Malaysian third division is a step up from the NPL? We're somehow still outside the relegation zone, but that won't last - indeed that could happen as early ads Saturday night if Northcote and Hume play out a draw. There's half a season's worth of games to go for us, but seemingly no one inside the club who knows how to "dig up, stupid".

Next game
Dandenong Thunder at home.

Mid-season ins and out
There are a lot of rumours flying around about who's in and who's out, and those rumours are getting increasingly extreme as befits our current crisis. Among the factual elements:

  • Luke Adams (miscellaneous frozen tundra) 
  • Giuseppe "Pep" Marafioti (Oakleigh)
  • George Howard (APIA, not the insurance company unless he has a day job there)
  • Ndumba Makeche (Malaysia)
  • Andy Brennan (Oakleigh)
  • Luke Pavlou (Oakleigh)
  • Keegan Coulter (dunno)
  • Ajdin Fetahagic (*shrugs shoulders*)
After that though... I don't know. There have been persistent rumours that night club proprietor and recently ousted Oakleigh Cannons co-coach Con Tangalakis will be coming in as an assistant or mentor or something for Sasa Kolman. That hasn't happened yet, it may not ever happen, or it could happen really subtly and one day he'll just happen to be there as if he was always there.

Not that it was any of our business, and it may not even become relevant regardless, but I always wondered how a co-coaching arrangement worked. I mean, co-captains is a stupid enough arrangement, but unless you're in a sport like cricket or rugby union where captains have some tangible responsibility aside from deciding which end to kick to, captaincy is probably a fairly overrated concept in sports; though I say this with no first-hand experience of having had to serve under a captain in any sport. But co-coaches? Who is ultimately responsible for success or failure? Typically, my mind goes to toward Andorra's dual-prince arrangement, though even there I assume that's mostly ceremonial in function.

As for the rest of the transfer window, I don't know if there are any other players lined up for entry or exit. A lot of that probably depends on the fate of the matter below.

A Gannon Television production, for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The whereabouts and fate of the People's Champ against Bulleen went largely unremarked upon, surprisingly. I suppose when you cop a goal within seven seconds of starting, trivial things like that seem to matter a lot less. Still, there are no official reports of what the ultimate fate is for Nick Epifano regarding his tenure at South. The overwhelming consensus of the rumour mill is that he is no longer at South, or that he is on his way out of the club. Somebody told me or I read somewhere that his name was taken down from his locker, but I have no idea if this is true or whether the players even have their names above their lockers.

While agreeing that he is out of the club, the various rumour mongers can't agree on just where he will or where he has ended up. Oakleigh to reunite with Chris Taylor? Avondale, whom he reputedly was set to join up with after the end of the 2017 season? Heidelberg, with his mate Andrew Cartanos? At the time of print, no one seemed to know for sure. Neither does anyone know whether these or any other potential destination clubs have room in their PPS caps - assuming anyone's still bothering to tally those up - or whether potential destination clubs even want him, seeing Epifano a disruptive and needy dressing room presence that they could do without, regardless of his talent.

And then of course you have those of our fans who view these things pragmatically and/or vindictively, who suggest that as an unwilling but nevertheless contracted player, the People's Champ should be made to play out the rest of the season in the under 20s especially if we can't get a decent transfer fee for him. I get the logic of that kind of sentiment, but... actually there is no but. Surely we should do what's in South's best interests here, right? It's coming across all very high school at the moment. Considering Epifano's inability to bust out a convincing highbrow pro-wrestling style face-turn, such a development in the storyline probably suits the low-rent Australian teen soap-opera the whole Epifano saga has actually resembled.

Andrew Howe's Socceroos Encyclopaedia
Last Tuesday, Andrew Howe's national tour to launch his Socceroos Encyclopaedia made its Melbourne stop, in our very own social club. It being a Tuesday (training) night and the proceedings getting underway at about 6:00PM perhaps made it difficult for people to attend; nevertheless to my mind the turnout was disappointing. At about 30 odd people, there was a distinct lack of South fans, general Australian soccer and Socceroos fans, and especially former Socceroos. Look, I get that it's a book launch, and not exactly the hottest ticket in town in Australian soccer circles, but when we complain that we don't get enough positive press and that we don't get enough of our stories told, and then we refuse to support those who are doing some of the heavy lifting - and in Howe's case, some of the heaviest lifting over a considerable period of time - then how surely we lose some credibility as a self-righteous and always indignant soccer culture.

Anyway, that little rant out of the way, let's turn our attention to the festivities at hand. Bonita Mersiadies, (the publisher of the book via her Fair Play press, a new player in the local soccer publishing scene) was overseas, so it fell to former South Melbourne Hellas board member and current AAFC spruiker Tom Kalas to introduce the book, who did a good job. Then it was time for the man of the moment to do his thing. Howe provided a shortened version of the presentation he gave at the PFA's history conference a couple of weeks before (and I will get to finishing that write up, I swear), discussing trends of migration and ethnic origins of the Socceroos, as well the national men's journeys across the world over the past 96 years.

Then several Socceroos in attendance - Heidelberg's Jim Tansey and Gary Cole, South Melbourne's
George Christopoulos, Jimmy Armstrong, Alan Davidson, Con Boutsianis, and Ted Smith -  recounted brief highlights and recollections of playing for Australia. This can be seen below in George Cotsanis' video of that portion of the event.

Afterwards, I appreciated those Socceroos present - later joined by a late arriving FFV president and former Socceroo Kimon Taliadoros - taking the time to sign the books for those fans who had made the effort to turn up for the launch. I'm not usually an autograph hunter or prone to fan boy antics (except for one particular example from many years ago, but that's another story), and usually the author's signature is more than enough. But I made sure to go around collecting all the signatures available. I also enjoyed the conversations had with some of the players, especially about Middle Park and trying to identify the characters in South's Team of the Century painting.

As for the book itself... it's a beast of a hardcover, retailing at around $70. I'm not a fan of hardcover books myself, but I've no regrets over my purchase. It's beautifully presented, plenty of colour photographs, and the kind of thing that should find its way into every public library and into the home. Along with the biographies of each Socceroo, the book also included statistical and demographic analysis, and special features on four World Cup captains, which don't shy away from the personal toll that role can take on a player.

A Matildas version is also in the works, set for publication next year, which will tell a very different but equally important story. If the quality of that production comes anywhere close to this book, it'll also be worth purchasing. One feels also that with the 100th anniversary of the first Australian national team game coming up in 2022, that there could be a bumper centenary edition coming up.

Comment moderation issue
I'm slower in approving comments on here lately because they're no longer being emailed to me for approval. That's a Google issue, which I hope is sorted out soon.

Around the grounds
Shiny swinging metallic balls
Sometimes if South is going really badly or has lost an important match, I don't have the heart to go to other matches. And sometimes South is going so badly, that going to another match, one I can watch as a neutral, is actually kind of pleasurable. I don't mind the cold when the sun disappears behind a cloud or some trees. I don't mind the dewy grass, or the bracing winds. I don't even mind the dire football likely to be on offer. I don't even have a formula for deciding whether to go or not when I'm in one of these moods. At best it's a Newton's cradle; sometimes the metallic misery balls swing one way, and then another. So, after doing the weekly supermarket trip on Saturday I decided to drive to Ardeer Reserve for Westgate vs Corio. I hadn't seen Westgate play since they moved back to the newly renovated Ardeer Reserve this season, after spending last year playing home games around the corner from my house. I hadn't seen Corio for three years.

I bought my cevapi roll, resisted the urge to buy a "Косово је Србија" wristband, and settled in to watch the game. I got chatting to the Whittlesea United assistant coach who was there to watch Westgate - they play them this week in a catch-up game - and learned that Tansel Baser is still kicking arse for Whittlesea at 40 years of age. Corio took the lead from the one indisputable moment of quality in the game; a brilliant through ball cut up the Westgate defence, and the poor touch of the Corio forward actually saw the ball slip out of reach while also making the home side's keeper collide with said forward, giving away a penalty. The penalty was saved, but the rebound tucked away, and thus we settled in for about 80 minutes of Corio sitting back, soaking up pressure, and Westgate not really having any idea how to break that down. Oh, they got close a couple of times from set pieces - and one disallowed goal had the locals in a frenzy, which then ended up in a bizarrely amicable discussion between the crowd and the officiating linesman on the outer side - but they could've played for another 90 minutes and still not have found the equaliser.

Still, I look forward to seeing Tansel in action there this week.

Final thought
The loukoumades people couldn't even organise to have crushed walnuts on hand. End times are nearer than even I'd imagined.