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.


  1. I forgot to mention this, not that it matters, but some of you may have seen Jack Kerr's article on match fixing in the local soccer scene, which included a quote by me about how easy it is to spot data scouts in the crowd.


    Well, as I was walking to the ground from across the street, I was walking alongside an Asian guy in an Orland City jacket, talking to someone on a hands free in a way which suggested that he was one of our data scouts for the day. He couldn't find the entry, and didn't know the price of admission, which says to me that he was probably a first timer.

    It's not much of a story to be fair, just something for the log book.

  2. Epa going to Oakleigh, fairly certain Lujic will follow suit as well..

  3. The end is nigh.

    The SMFC TV crew struggled to put 5 minutes of highlights together, such was the disgusting and unwatchable spectacle that was that match.

    We have become a big club only in name, but act like a State League 5 suburban club.


    We clearly have the wrong people in charge at the club. Their actions clearly highlight that their decision-making has been nothing short than calamitous and catastrophic.

    We have a coach who has mentally switched off and the stink of mediocrity has permeated throughout the dressing room.

    Quite frankly, we desperately need an EGM. Sweep aside the current board and instill a new one. At the very least, they could not do any worse than this current wretched mob.

  4. Have we done anything right this season?


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.