Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Not ideal - South Melbourne 1 Heidelberg United 3

Got there early enough to buy a burger and watch the women's curtain raiser. Within ten minutes it was 3-0 to South, and the game was as good as done. It was only 4-0 at the break, but after having chatted with people throughout the first half, I'd decided I'd seen enough. It's not the fault of our women's team, it's just that there are so many uncompetitive teams in their league. Besides, you can't buy gin and tonics in the booze tent outside the social club, and I was hoping someone would have the good sense to put on the women's game that was being streamed on Facebook on the screen inside the social club. No dice, but at least they won 7-0.

Onto the men's game, about which I had no grand expectations, hoping at best for a draw. Other relevant results across the weekend were mixed, and Kingston were beating the Knights, so even in there were good vibes in the stand from a bigger than normal crowd and the feeling that this was a game we could win, did anyone think we could actually win this game? Our recent results had been good, but our form doing so was sketchier than we'd perhaps like to admit, even if the attitude and morale had clearly improved.

Playing with a gale force wind in the first half certainly helped us, but to be fair, we also actually looked as good as we have for long time. We looked to open up, we looked good in moving the ball up the field, and kept the Bergers to a minimum of chances. There was that one moment where Nikola Roganovic had to make a good low save, but apart from that we had taken the game up to the best team in the league, and looked good in doing so.

That we took the lead was a joyous but also a deserved thing, Marcus Schroen finishing some actually pretty good lead up play. But then Pep Marafioti squandered two great chances to put us up by two or three goals at the break, and playing against a superior opponent, with the wind at their backs, and having probably withstood the best of what we could throw at them, I didn't feel great about our chances of getting win, and even a draw wasn't something I'd have bet on.

That's not to blame Pep, he's scored some nice goals since he came to us, and he helped set up Schroen's goal, but he should've buried at least one of those chances, certainly at least got them on target. As it was, it didn't take long for us to concede in the second half, and then when the second one went in... I don't like to say we were cooked then and there, but the odds were so stacked against us I couldn't see it happening. The third goal was the killer, obviously, and while we battled to the end there's no complaining about the merits of the result - although I would like to see if Heidelberg's second goal was scored by a player in an offside position.

Despite being a less than ideal result, especially when coupled with some of the week's other results, the performance and the attitude that spurred it on were pleasing, and something which I hope can be carried into the final games of the season. We may not be able to play with so much freedom in those games which are pretty much six-pointers, but it's reassuring to know that the squad will fight it out to the death if need be, though we all hope it doesn't come to that of course.

The loss and our performance and attitude were only half the story of the game though. What was at first pantomime hostility and humour gradually built up into something much more stupid. It began with Clarendon Corner taking the piss out of players falling over or being fouled and staying down - including South players - by chanting "call it off", in reference to the last time these two teams met, a match aborted due to the Bergers' Harry Noon suffering a serious injury courtesy of his collision with a corner flag. It's the kind of thing that's funny only because Noon has made a stunning recovery from the injury, and to a lesser extent also his excellent run of personal form.

When the Bergers scored their goals, while briefly acknowledging their own rather quiet support on the right hand side of the grandstand, Noon (among others) decided to direct to flip the bird towards Clarendon Corner on more than one occasion, including the double bird. Some have argued that  he should have just kept it as a "shush" gesture, or nothing at all, but for what's it's worth I'm not offended by the gesture though I get how others were. For mine, it was so childish, and so... haven't we seen this kind of thing directed at us so many times before by opposition players?

You can say that players should act more professionally, and they should seeing as they are professionals, but it's also in its own cack-headed way a compliment to South fans that these guys would rather turn their attention towards us rather than their own fans. That's understandable in cases where players are representing teams in this league with no fans, especially no travelling support, but the Bergers scored all their goals at the end where their supporters were, and yet their attention was still on us, and that we are to some extent living rent free in their heads.

Still, whatever the feelings between ourselves and opposition players, one thing that is interesting is that opposition players continue to get away with deliberately trying to incite South supporters. Again, we should be used to it by now, but Noon's double bird crossed a different line. So much noise is made about abuse and players showing proper decorum on the field, to the point where even bouncing a ball hard into the turf after a foul has gone against you can lead to a yellow card. So why no punishment here? Players have been yellow carded (and sent off because of those yellow cards) for all sorts of nonsense conducted during goal celebrations; would not such flagrant and repeated offensive behaviour warrant at least a caution from the officials?

Who knows to be honest, and I was pretty much over it even as it was happening. It prompted the tone of Clarendon Corner's chanting to go a bit lower, including reminding Noon that his injury was self-inflicted. All of that contributed to some unsavoury scenes at the end of the game on the other side of the players race (and well away from Clarendon Corner), where who knows what was happening, and who knows who was inciting who. All I could tell from my vantage point was that security had moved in, and competing chants occasionally broke out from supporters, and that this lasted for about ten minutes. Then the situation calmed down enough as people went home, or back into the social club, and I'm none the wiser for what actually did happen, leaving me to speculate wildly that George Katsakis (who was in the stands, having been suspended for several games following an incident in the recent Dockerty Cup final) and his consumption of one too many cans of Red Bull (for an excitable person like him even one can being probably one too many) had something to with it. But as I've noted, that's just wild speculation on my part.

All I can hope is that by the next time we play each other - in just a few weeks time when we replay the aborted fixture from the earlier in the season - that everyone comes back to their senses a little bit, and there's no repeat or worse of what happened on Sunday. Also, that we win, because that would also be good.

Next game
Green Gully away on Friday night. Freezy fun for the whole family.

Relegation/survival prognostication, very much still an ongoing concern and not likely to be put to bed this week
There was marginal good news and a lot more bad news on the relegation scrap front this week. The good news? Bulleen, Northcote, and Green Gully all lost. That means Bulleen remain ten points behind us with just four games to play, meaning it is highly unlikely they'll be catching up to us. So I think we can safely say we won't be finishing last in 2018, unless someone gets us docked points for some reason, but let's not dwell on that possibility just yet. Northcote's result sees them remain seven points behind us, and while not without the chance to make up the difference, you'd like to think that they wouldn't be able to catch up to us.

So putting our cautious optimist caps on, the worst we could finish is in 12th, aka the relegation playoff spot. And on that front, last week was not a good round for us. For starters, we lost. Then there's the fact that Kingston beat the Knights, closing the gap to us from four points to one. Hume also snagged a late equaliser against Thunder to earn a draw - incidentally Thunder's first draw for 2018 - and closed the gap to us from three points to two. So the four point buffer we had between ourselves and the playoff spot is now just two, and that dreaded nauseous feeling is back again after a solitary week where we could feel just a little better about our situation.

These results, and Gully's free fall in form and/or results (which sees them level on points with us, but behind on goal difference), means that the next two weeks for us are huge. It's Gully this week, and Kingston next. Picking up four points from these two games would be good, six points even better obviously, but failing to win either of them would be not good at all.

Tribunal tribulations
So, yes, we did end up at the tribunal for the stupid, stupid, stupid melee that took place in the game against Northcote. How did this happen, after the incident was already apparently dealt with some weeks ago? Well, the original report was compiled by the referee, and since that painted a relatively benign picture of the whole affair, with George Howard getting three weeks for his part in the affair, cut down to two for a guilty plea. But then FFV was apparently given several pieces of footage, so that the issue was brought to the tribunal.

In the end, we were fortunate to get away with a small fine for the club and a suspension for Giordano Marafioti. So how did we get off relatively lightly? My understanding of it is as follows. First, by the sheer dumb luck that Marafioti had an Access All Areas pass by virtue of being a senior/under 20s player. Second, by the incident taking place on the running track, and not the field of play (though who knows if that was actually taken into account). Third, as noted in the tribunal notice itself, that South had imposed its own five match suspension on Marafioti immediately following the incident, to which FFV has added two more games. Lastly, by the video itself (as provided by SMFC TV), showing no clear evidences of punches being thrown by anyone, and thus putting this incident at the lower end of the violent incident scale.

It has been noted that FFV are apparently seeking to clamp down on corralling of the referee by players, as well as melee push and shove nonsense. This is good of course, as long as it is applied consistently too many clubs have been getting away with these kinds of antics.

Trumpet troubles
Every year it seems that someone from the State Sport Centres Trust tries to get the trumpet or drums banned from Lakeside. Now admittedly, neither is brought out often these days, but yesterday was a special occasion if not for the fact of the derby itself, than for the fact that Clarendon Corner's only know competent trumpeter Bruno was in attendance; Bruno living quite a distance from Melbourne these days, the trumpet doesn't get as much of a workout as we'd like, which might mean someone else will have to go and learn the basics.

Anyway, the famous trumpet sound was played, and then security rocked up to tell us that the drum was fine, but the trumpet was not. To be fair to security, they were very good at explaining themselves and the situation, and eventually what happened is what always seems to happen in these situations - a board member, in this case as per usual Tony Margaritis, goes up to the SSCT booth, lays down the law/calmly explains the situation and the important cultural heritage underpinning the use of the trumpet, and everything is right again with the world and we move on.

Until the next time it happens, I suppose.

A-League bid info night meeting thingamabob 
Last Thursday there was an information session for South supporters - and I suppose anyone else that wished to turn up, because it wasn't like there was a door bitch checking memberships - to let people know some more detail about the club's A-League bid. Those in attendance, about 40 people, were treated to just over an hour of South Melbourne board member and A-League bid team leader Bill Papastergiadis giving a presentation on various aspects of the bid, reading from the bid book while slides were put up on the social club's projector.

Papastergiadis did not want to be quoted on specific elements of the presentation, but the truth of the matter is that there was little new information provided. That doesn't mean that I'm unappreciative of the gesture to hold the meeting, but for those expecting something revelatory to emerge from the meeting, they would've been left disappointed. It also means I'm comfortable writing about what was said on the night, because it was as much about how it was said as what was said.

We got what Papastergiadis believed were the selling points of the bid. Among these were the club's history, not as something to be deferred to as some sort of token gesture or PR guff, but as evidence of the club's success and the fact that it has survived as an ongoing concern; in other words, the club has a longstanding continuity. This was backed up by testimonials and references provided within the bid book by past and present players of the club. For the present, this included male and female players, emphasising the club's commitment to gender equity, as well as its commitment to youth development, with the revelation (if one were to use that term) that the club currently has sixty scholarship places for youth players.

I was less comfortable about our claims regarding Socceroos produced, and I will continue to blanch at those claims; but I suppose when the Southern Expansion bid makes historic claims to Socceroos, we look almost cute doing it by comparison; at least all those players we list played for us, and many of them played for the Socceroos while they were at South Melbourne even if they were not our own juniors. Still, like the internet popularity polls, much of this stuff is about optics rather than objective reality. At least, that's what I hope.

But as Papastergiadis noted, this bid wouldn't have a chance if not for the stadium and our ongoing lease. The stadium's mere existence is our foot in the door; without it we'd be nothing. To summarise points on the night and which have made here and elsewhere often enough, Lakeside Stadium exists (#ItExists) whereas the stadiums the other Melbourne bids wish to use are just "artist's conceptions" at this point in time. The deal we have at Lakeside means that we will apparently be able to pull profits on crowds much lower than what current A-League teams do at their stadiums. The point was also made that while we already have good public transport connections to the ground, these will only be improved once the Metro Tunnel is completed; again, this is a project which is currently under construction, as opposed to the planned but still almost hypothetical future stations on the Regional Rail Link line.

However, it is worth noting a few things in regards to these matters. While the club claims it has bipartisan political support, it's not like the other Melbourne bids don't have their own supporters within government (and opposition) ranks. Likewise, just because we may believe that either side of politics would be unwilling to fund a Dandenong stadium, or rush through planning approvals for the Western Melbourne group's Tarneit idea, it doesn't mean that they won't change their minds. In the same vein of thought, the idea that we're at an advantage because governments now prefer centrally located stadiums is tempered by the idea that the state government spent money on refurbishing a Ballarat football oval so that Footscray could play three games a year there.

Again, it all comes down to points I've made here before. The FFA's choice will be between boutique options (whether in Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, or Wollongong) or big dream options (Southern Expansion, Dandenong, Western Melbourne). In our case, there is a also a counterintuitive scenario which has revealed itself: for so long South Melbourne Hellas has been judged to be a risky proposition, and yet if the numbers stack up, and FFA's need is such that it needs a bid that's likely to provide the full package (stadium, women's, youth, etc) sooner rather than much later, then all of a sudden we look like a much more reasonable and agreeable proposition than we have for a long time, especially when compared to bids which have a lot more unknowns surrounding them.

I know I'm hammering away at the same point but it does seem to be that simple: FFA making a decision between "what is" and "what might be". That gives us advantages in some regards, but the flip side of that is that if we screw up in some way, these are screw ups which can only happen to us because we exist and the others do not. Thus the FFA Cup semi-final last season was, whether anyone liked it or not, a trial run for what a South Melbourne match day might look like on the big stage. It was an opportunity to show what we can do, to learn about higher end FFA match requirements, and a chance for us to screw up.

There was no information provided on who the private backers of the South Melbourne bid are, nor was there any public commitment to a specific ownership/partnership model. There was reiteration that it would be in effect a public/private arrangement, but supporters would have already figured this out long ago, because there is no way that a member-owned soccer club in Australia can finance an A-League team on its own. There was no information provided on what an A-League licence would ultimately cost. There was no information provided to those in the room on potential branding, colours or a name, except to say that so far in this bid process the club has been unashamed to use current logos and the name South Melbourne in its pitch to the FFA and Deloitte.

There was acknowledgement also of the FFA's current Congress crisis, and what effect that might have on the process, an effect that is unknowable. That admission solidified the sometimes Rumsfeldian feeling coming from Papastergiadis during his presentation. As much as the bid team (and the club as a whole) has sought to cover as many bases as possible, there is still so much that is unknowable and intangible until those things manifest themselves; in our case, whenever the FFA take

So given that there was not much new information provided, what was new and interesting about the night - to me at least - was seeing Papastergiadis in pre-prepared lawyer mode; not forced to ad lib or provide those infamous sound bites. Here he was in his element, creating a narrative for the club's bid, and reiterating the same points throughout the night in different ways. He also did the political stuff well, paying credit to those who had come before, both prior custodians of the club as well as those who had worked on previous A-League bids. The point was made by Bill on the night, as it has been made to me in private on other occasions by others, that though the club has failed to win an A-League licence up until this point, it has nevertheless learned much from each attempt to do so; not just about the political obstacles which need to be overcome, but also about the operational and financial requirements needed for participating at the highest level.

In that sense, as much as the club clearly wants to succeed in achieving its goal of returning to top-flight Australian soccer through this bid, not winning is not a complete waste of time as it would be for most of the other bids. This is because the reconnaissance made from each sortie is something that can be used for either a future attempt at entering the A-League, or at the very least in preparation for a second division should that ever get up and running.

Finally, Papastergiadis did note that there would be some more announcements made by the club soon, so we wait for those moments. Discussions with Deloitte, FFA, government, backers, and all sorts of bodies are ongoing. Not that any of that matters.

Statue of Swans champion Bob Skilton outside what used to be the Lake Oval.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis. 
Bob Skilton statue
There's now a Bob Skilton statue outside Lakeside Stadium, pretty much right outside our front office. Speaking of the office, there's now Sydney Swans branding out the front wall which seems to indicate that they have an equal presence to us at Lakeside, so that's reassuring. Or I suppose we could look at the positives of being considered as having equal cultural footing with one of this nation's more successful sporting brands.

True story - when I moved into my Sunshine West residence a touch over three years ago, I found a small amount of Swans memorabilia left behind into a built-in wardrobe, which included a card of some sort signed by Skilton. I sold all of it on eBay, and probably spent the proceeds at Hellas; either that, or squandered it.

There's probably some foot traffic or aesthetic or grand prix related reason why the statue couldn't be placed in front of the 1926 stand, but that's the least of my concerns here. Anyway, what's fun to do is stand on the statue's plinth and realise how short footy players were back in the day, before clubs started recruiting former basketballers for every position; though I suppose we have to take into account that Skilton was a rover. Just watch out for Skilton's left boot as you walk past the statue - I'm shocked at how something that in these OH&S and public liability times that something like that could be positioned as it is.

Now, who's going to stump up the cash and grease the political wheels for an Ange Postecoglou statue outside the ground? And do we want skinny player Ange, bad 90s tracksuit assistant coach Ange, Ange, suit wearing coach Ange, or sweaty coaching the Socceroos in the Persian Gulf Ange?

The intangible quality of Saturday afternoon mid-winter Melbourne light
 makes some people reach for the thesaurus to describe its beauty.
Me, I can take it or leave it. It's nice I guess. Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
Around the grounds
No profundity to be found here
Decided against going to the footy on a Saturday arvo, instead spending the money which would've ended up in the cost of a reserved seat and the privilege of printing my ticket at home on gate entry and a souv at Altona East instead. East are stumbling erratically towards the season's end, safe from relegation (probably), safe from any threat of promotion, occasionally picking up the odd surprise win, just as likely to drop points with mediocre performances. That's still a lot better than the doomed Diamond Valley United, who had yet to win a game after sixteen rounds. That Valley's reserves also lost 4-1 in the curtain raiser didn't bode well for an exciting or even contest in the seniors. And yet for the first 50 minutes or so, these teams provided enough entertainment to justify attending and not wishing nuclear holocaust on everyone. Valley created a couple of great chances in the first half, and East had the better of play, a disallowed goal, and enough momentum to suggest that they were the likelier to score. East created two great chances within the first minute of the second half. Then the game deteriorated by degrees, players got tired, coaches got frustrated, and the game increasingly had 0-0 written all over it, and I had my keys in my hand and was almost to my car by the time referee ended a game which promised nothing and ended up delivering, 

Final thought

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Luck's a fortune - South Melbourne 2 Hume City 1

As badly as we have played this season, it is fair to say that up until three or four weeks ago, we've also had our fair share of rotten luck. Suspensions, injuries, vacations, open goals squandered: you name it, we've had it, as well as some things we can't name. So, while we can commend the squad for its new found resolve, and new coach Con Tangalakis for setting the side up for the relegation battle, let's all give a massive round of applause to the goddess Tyche for finally giving us a bit of a hand.

We had our bit of luck the other week against Bentleigh, the but the good fortune was coming out of our ears on Sunday. Of course it didn't quite seem like that at first what with not having turned up for the first half or hour or so, and giving away what looked like either a very soft or very avoidable penalty in just the kind of position where there's no life or death need to do so.

But then we managed to wake up a bit and for the last 15 minutes of the first half at least we created some chances and such. Still, Pep Marafioti's goal, while admittedly well placed, relied as much upon the good fortune that such flick headers rely on, as well Hume keeper Michael Weier getting himself into a bit of a tangle trying to figure out which direction he was meant to be heading in. It was probably a touch fortunate as well that Leigh Minopoulos wasn't called for offside at the point Marafioti headed the ball. Maybe the linesman didn't see it, maybe he didn't think Minopoulos was interfering, either way it counted, and we were in with a chance of doing something we'd not done yet in 2018: win a game after going a goal behind.

Speaking of real and imagined offsides, the first half had what looked like two of the worst offside calls I've ever seen, one where Minopoulos was called offside when he was about three of metres onside, and one where he was called onside despite being two metres on the wrong side of the ledger. Anyway, such is life, but geez they looked like terrible calls at the time.

Now some people are saying that that 15 minute patch in the first half was all the quality that we were really able to produce during the game, but I think that's a bit harsh myself. I agree that we were outplayed, but I don't agree with the idea that we did nothing at all in the second half. Having said that, throughout the game Hume squandered about four or five clear cut chances that should've consigned us a to a loss. Our defending was not up to scratch, in particular knowing when to press, and even more in particular being able to track the runs off the ball that Hume's attacking players were making. They were excellent on that front, perhaps the best of any team I've seen this season, but unfortunately for them, they didn't have a striker up front to make the most of any of the chances they created. Nikola Roganovic didn't have to make a save off any of them, so wayward were Hume's shots on goal from otherwise point-blank range.

While we were bumbling about when in defence and sending balls forward trying to find a goal, we made a whole bunch of subs, one of which included a tanned Milos Lujic. Standing next to me, Dave - who is becoming quite the terrace wit of late - posited that it would be about 33 seconds before Milos took a dive. Well, Dave's estimation was about 15 seconds too generous. Now, maybe when the replay comes out, the EPL assistant calibre English referee here to teach us many things will be proven right and that Milos was indeed bundled over illegally by a Hume defender. Anyway, Milos stepped up and scored it, we survived the remaining 20 odd minutes one way or another, and got three very valuable points. It wasn't particularly convincing, but so what? We're getting back toward having all of our senior players available, and the team more often than not now looks up for the fight.

Next game
Heidelberg United at home on Sunday afternoon. The men's match will be preceded by the NPLW senior match, also a South Melbourne vs Heidelberg affair. How convenient is that? The women's game kicks off at 1:30.

Tribunal shenanigans
So apparently we are going to the tribunal after all for that brawl against Northcote. I'm told it's not because Northcote pushed for it, and it's not based on any extant footage, so who knows what the hearing is going to be based on.

Bad taste chants
Bad George, bad George, what you gonna do?
What you gonna do, when he stomps on you?

I'm happy to lay off my persistent desire for a pom-pom South Melbourne
 Hellas beanie, if we can get branded accountant visors instead. Surely South
 has enough accountants on the board and in the stands to make this worthwhile.
Relegation/survival prognostication, still an ongoing concern
In regards to our chances of survival, the past week was a bit of a mixed bag. First, the good. Just in case you skipped ahead to this section: we won! And we beat a fellow relegation battler! That's three points we've got that they don't, and thus three points ahead of Hume with a much better goal difference. The other good news is that Bulleen lost, meaning that we are now ten points and significant goal difference ahead of the last placed Lions. Realistically, with five games to go, they ain't catching us.

In slightly less good news, Kingston beat Northcote last night in a match we would've preferred had ended up in a draw. That result means that Northcote are now in second last, seven points behind us, and again with a significantly inferior goal difference compared to us. You can't write them off though - after all, they have Bulleen yet to play - but you'd rather be where we are than where they are. Sadly, because Kingston got the win, they're still only four points behind us, making the game between us in a few weeks even more important.

Throwing a curve-ball into the works of all things relegation is the steep decline of Green Gully over the past two and a bit months. Our recent good run of results - ten points from a possible twelve over the past four weeks - means we have overtaken Gully, whom we play in a couple of weeks, on goal difference. Gully also have Hume and Kingston to play in their remaining games, completely upturning whatever half-arsed musings I made on this relegation situation a couple of weeks ago.

For those of us more inclined to be of a positive frame of mind - and let me make it clear that I am not one of you - our good run of form, if you want to call it that, has seen us keep up with the top six, maintaining the four point gap between ourselves and the current sixth placed side, which is Melbourne Knights. But that's for others to dream about. I'm only so bold as to say that we won't finish last, that we probably won't finish second last, and everything after that in this horror show of a season is a bonus. Quite obviously, we are not safe yet.

Vale Jim Postecoglou
Sad news this week that Ange Postecoglou's father has passed away. Ange has written a moving piece on what his father meant to him, which is well worth the read. The details for the funeral are below.
A-League meeting
A reminder that the club is hosting an information session for members and season ticket holders this Thursday evening on the club's A-League bid. The all-you-can-eat buffet meal service will also be running, along with I assume the half-price drinks.

"I can't believe a convicted felon would get so many
 votes and another convicted felon would get so few.".
Oh my God! The dead have risen and they're voting South Melbourne Hellas!
Speaking of the A-League bid, in their clickbait wisdom the good folk of FourFourTwo conducted a poll the other week, asking their readers which of the ten remaining A-League bidders they would like to see be included as part of the A-League's imminent expansion phase. This robust and unequivocally scientific poll was narrowly won by our very own South Melbourne Hellas over the Wollongong bid, both some distance ahead of the next best Canberra bid, and all three a very long way in front of the other land and property development firms masquerading as Australian top-flight soccer operations.

Anyway this result sent some of the very small amount of people who care and put value into these things into a bit of a spin. mostly those who hate South Melbourne, ethnic soccer, etc. "The result changed once South Melbourne shared the poll on social media!". Well, what did you expect them to do, sit there and let another pointless yet easy to exploit positive media opportunity go to waste? "The poll must have been corrupted!". Well, look, you know what? It probably was. Internet polls are an enormous waste of time, not least because of their easy corruptibility. But - and here's the kicker - if that was the case, still the only people who could be bothered to corrupt the poll apparently did so in favour of South Melbourne, and probably the other two vote winning bids. Why? Because they're the only bids with enough people that care, yet.

For all the talk about groundswells of untapped interest from the more nebulously conceived consortia, the only groups who have come out in support of them are local councils and assorted state politicians, and to a lesser extent some clubs - though these last are usually grouped together in an amorphous mass. Not that any of that matters of course, because this is just a playground optics game, but my word it is fun to watch the cat among the pigeons.

Ian Syson book launch
Here's something a few of us - OK, maybe just me - thought might never happen. Ian Syson, one of South of the Border's dearest friends, is holding a launch party for his new book, The Game That Never Happened: The Vanishing History of Soccer in Australia. This has been a work long in the making, and we'll be talking about that a bit on the blog at some point in the near future I hope, when I do a kind of overview of what this is all about.

The details for the launch are as per the flyer on the right. Understandably, being held in the middle of the working week in the middle of the working day isn't convenient for those outside the layabout university and professional sectors, but for those who can spare the time, it'd be great to see you there. If you do intend to show up, please RSVP to the MCC Library, because they need to put your name down so that security will allow you inside the building.

The book should be available in the usual online and bricks and mortar locations. If it isn't, you can contact the publisher or distributor directly, or give me a bell and I should be able to arrange something.

Final thought

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Smash. And. Grab. - Bentleigh Greens 0 South Melbourne 1

Let's be honest: at best, all you people were hoping for a draw. I admit that's all I thought we'd get.

Apart from anything else - our struggles, Bentleigh's good form, some sort of masonic conspiracy - it'd not been since Renco van Eeken's header early in 2013 that we'd beaten Bentleigh at Kingston Heath. That's seven games in league, FFA Cup and Community Shield. Think about it - it was that long ago that we had two less state titles under our belts, and Gus Tsolakis was coaching us. So no matter how much motivation there was at hand to beat Bentleigh, and even taking into account that the five year, seven game winless stretch also included quite a few draws, it hardly seemed like us winning was the most likely outcome. And I said that before the game, during the game when it was still level, during the game when we hit the lead, and even now that a priceless three points have been secured.

Speaking of motivation, much was made of a Facebook post by Bentleigh Greens about the then upcoming fixture, which noted that it was the "BATTLE OF THE CONTENDERS: NPL CHAMPIONSHIP VS NPL2". Now let me tell you, that got some people's backs up at South Melbourne, including people with influence - that is, the players - who were going to use it as "motivation" to win this game. Whatever works, right? I would've thought that, you know, Brad Norton's 200th game, our ongoing battle against relegation, even it just being a league game in its own right would've been enough motivation, but I'm just a Monday Morning Quarterback. Of course the post was taken down reasonably quickly, and replaced with something more benign but the damage, such as it was, was done.

As I've noted elsewhere, my main gripe was that it was taken down. Being simultaneously wary of and disinterested in "bants", especially when they come from official sources, my take is that if you're going to play these sorts of games, at least have the nerve to stick to your guns. I will grant that in this case, it seems to have been done without the express blessing of the Greens' hierarchy, and I guess that's enough of a reason to take it down, but still...

Of course South fans having a rather, er, "passionate" social media presence, a lot was going to be made of it, and people may be able to use it as proof of contribution towards something going right on the night, though I'm not quite sure what. I'd put more stock in Bentleigh's team missing some a couple of absolute sitters as being relevant.

Anyway, before all that there was a very long and tedious solo public transport trip to the ground, whose sole highlight was the 20 odd minutes of yacht rock that was on PBS while I was waiting at the bus stop in Cheltenham. Then at the ground, searching for the 20s game, and finding it was being played not the on the synthetic second pitch - which was getting relaid - but rather on another field farther back. Not that I was paying that much attention, almost copping a stray ball to head because of it.

Finally, time for the main game, in front of an ordinary crowd. With four other matches scheduled for the same night, including almost all the other Greek teams, it was pretty much the usual South travelling crowd and whatever Bentleigh normally rustles up on its own, which isn't much. If you were in any doubt, you could tell just from the pro-South noise coming from different parts of the ground who the majority of the crowd were here to support.

The first half was a pretty free flowing affair, though light on for clear cut chances for our part. And that's where the worry was always going to be. We all assumed that if we were going to have any chance of taking the three points it was going to be from a smash and grab effort. Bentleigh had the better of things, but there were also signs that maybe we could do something. Still in amid discussions about Ryan Scott's purple outfit, which led to speculation about whether was indeed a purple Power Ranger (turns out there were three!), we were happy with the 0-0 scoreline, figuring that if we were at least able to keep it to a draw, well that was a point we didn't have before, right?

The second half was much the same, dragging on with Bentleigh again having the better of things, as I watched on nervously with Clarendon Corner from the opposite end of the ground, from where it was impossible of course to tell exactly how close Bentleigh were to scoring.

Then came the twist that few of us dared dream of.

What turned out to be the winning goal was pure 2018 Oliver Minatel Novelty Goal Madness. A South Melbourne free kick too far out for a direct shot. Minatel is called by the South bench to be subbed off, only for him to tell them to hold off a for a bit. The ball is put into the box, Ryan Scott comes out for it, but Minatel throws himself into the danger zone, and the ball hits enough of him in the right place in the right way as he collides with Scott so that the ball ends up in the back of the net. Cue wild celebrations from South fans and players alike, except for Minatel who's still on the ground, and from me because I'm waiting for the ref to call some foul against Minatel in the vein of those "goalkeepers are protected species" fouls.

I watched the replay on my phone several times, searching perhaps to see if there was a hand involved. Any other player I wouldn't have even thought about it, but there's history here... but after more than enough squinting, I'm giving the Oli the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how he got bulldozed by the oncoming keeper for his troubles. It's more than I've done for the club in a long time.

But just on Minatel's goals this season: as was noted by a few at the ground, they've almost all been important goals, which is at least partly due to him spreading them out over a number of games, rather than scoring them all in one-off downhill skiing extravaganzas. Earlier this season I said that Minatel was more than underwhelming, and I stand by that, but there's few who could argue that he has become the team's best player and its most important contributor - sans perhaps the returning Nikola Roganovic - in the side's gradual revival.

Anyway, the goal stood, and we then had 20 minutes of normal time to ride out. Some subs were made, and they did well enough, playing the game on its merits - that is still looking for a goal when there was a chance for one, but also wasting as much time as was possible. Still, I didn't think we'd make it all the way to the end without conceding. Against a team that likes to play wide, we defended quite narrowly, all part of the plan to stay compact I suppose. As much as it helped us by compelling us to keep a certain shape, it did allow Bentleigh a lot of space. Fortunately, their crossing was atrocious. as bad as much of ours has been this season.

Brad Norton chaired on the shoulders of Leigh Minopoulos
 and Kristian Konstantinidis all the way to the supporters at
the car park end of the ground at the end of the game.
Photo: Unknown/South Melbourne FC.
There was six minutes of injury time, in keeping with World Cup trends, and another close call or two, but we got there. We've played better here since 2013 for no result, and we've played better in parts of 2018 too - just don't ask for specifics as to when - but you take what you can in desperate situations. There were also a couple of little bonuses as well. First, those of our players who were on four yellow cards didn't add to their tallies. Second, when things got heated with the officials, and there was the chance for pushing and shoving to take place, our boys stayed out of those situations which have been so expertly exploited by Bentleigh these past few years.

Amid the joy of the three points and what turned out to be a half-step away from the relegation zone, the occasion was joyous of course for being a proper commemoration of skipper Brad Norton's 200th game for the club. I think back to when "Braddles" started with the club in 2012, and how certain folk never took a shine to him. And then through the 2013 player purge - both immediately before and after Chris Taylor's tenure started - and how no one's position was really safe. And then the following season where despite us doing so well in the league, Taylor brought in Shaun Timmins, either to ultimately replace Norton or (less likely in my opinion) to motivate him to do better. Well, six years later, the proof is there for all to see, 200 games, as well as a couple of championships and a Dockerty Cup for one of the most popular players at the club; one who as captain, has always been ready to front up to the supporters at a game or through the club's media channels when things have gone badly, and who always takes the time to say hello when he makes eye contact with the fans.

And South of the Border hopes that there's many more games to come, hopefully in NPL rather than in NPL2, of course.

Next game
On Sunday at home against Hume City.

Relegation/survival prognostication, an ongoing concern
So what's changed over the course of a weekend? Well, despite our efforts, not much. Hume won 2-0 at Bulleen, which is bad for Bulleen (and merely "OK" for us), but very good for Hume (and not great for us). As if to prove how competitive the bottom sides are in 2018, Northcote picked up a win at an admittedly out of form Green Gully. Even Kingston managed a point away to Pascoe Vale, and were perhaps a touch unlucky not to get the win.

Last week we were two points clear of 12th place (Kingston), and now we're four points clear of 12th place (Northcote). So, happy as we all are that we got this unexpected win, it wasn't quite the relegation-near-busting result that it could've been. Next week is huge on the relegation front, not just for our game, but also Kingston at home to Northcote.

There's even those who are looking to the possibility of finals. That's just nonsense talk at this stage as far as I'm concerned, even as we are getting close to touching distance there. More importantly as relates to the teams immediately above us, is that they could be dragged into the relegation scrap, but the onus remains on us doing our bit to save ourselves first, and leave high concept ideas like finals appearances well enough alone.

After all, what good's a win against Bentleigh if we fail to pick up points against our fellow strugglers?

South women roll on
Headed out to Lakeside on Saturday arvo for our NPLW game against the struggling Box Hill United. The first half was surprisingly close. Box Hill looked up for the fight, and also looked to have a bit of quality on field as well. Melina Ayers in particular was well marked, playing out on the left hand side of attack being matched up against a very pacey fullback; I think there needed to be some adjustment in that part of the game plan, but it wasn't coming. Indeed Box Hill took the lead, and while you didn't necessarily have any fear that the game was lost - it was only the first half - it did show that perhaps we weren't at our best, though we managed to go into halftime level. The second half was a rout, with South winning 6-1, as Box Hill faded away into ineffectiveness. There's a lot of uncompetitive and half-competitive teams in the NPLW this season, which must be concerning to FFV. That's not a slight on Box Hill, who've pushed us this season in I think all our games, but more of a general observation about the progress of women's football in this state.

South Melbourne A-League bid information night
The club will be hosting an information night for members and season ticket holders regarding the club's A-League bid, at 6:30PM on Thursday July 26th, in the social club. Could be fun.

Good news, in a very minor way
Google has finally solved the issue of forwarding on comments for moderation to my email account. That should mean a return to former days of much quicker approval for publication of comments.

Final thought
I was over the Simpsons World Cup memes almost before they even started, but this is so beautiful.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Bobbin' up! - South Melbourne 5 Melbourne Knights 1

Does our fate lie in the hands of our youth? Manny Aguek, Pep Marafioti,
and the back of someone's head celebrate a goal. Photo: Mark Avellino.
The scene was set for another disastrous Sunday afternoon. Northcote had lost. Hume had lost. Kingston had lost. Even those recent form finders Bulleen had lost, thanks in part to a Michael Eagar header, which shows that at least someone out there still likes us. So there we were, another opportunity to get out of the relegation zone, just waiting for us to screw it up.

That's not taking anything away from the Melbourne Knights, who despite their own limitations have been hovering around the fringe finals places for most of the season, as opposed to where we are. But neither are they anything special. The idea among South fans, if not quite the belief, was that by our own low standards this game against the Knights were certainly winnable; and if we didn't win it - so the more extreme verbosity went - we were goners.

And why not? We'd still have Bentleigh, Gully, Avondale and Heidelberg away, and the Bergers at home as well, fixtures about which most assume - with some justification - that we'll probably get nothing from.

So at best we went into this match with a threadbare list - no George Howard (who somehow only got two weeks for his crazy tackle the week before), no Ndumba Makeche (probably out for several weeks with a hammy), no Milos Lujic (sunning it up in the Greek islands), and no Matthew Millar not only for this week but also for every week thereafter. Thus the notion that Knights fielded a depleted line up - probably true - should've been met with the response of, "yeah, and, so, what?". We've been fielding depleted lineups the whole damn year.

One thing we had an advantage in was the Knights personnel or at least some members thereof having probably stayed up or gotten up very early to watch Croatia's World Cup quarter final appearance, but who knows how many players from both sides had been clubbing the night before? At any rate, sleepiness can only excuse some of the nonsense play that Knights dished up. The bad throw from the keeper which led to Marcus Schroen being fouled on the edge of the box? Sleepy. But the appalling wall set up in front of the free kick from which Schroen scored with a grubber shot? Very bad, much as Knights set up a shocking wall last year for Schroen to bypass.

"KK" sounds like a court transcript identity given
 to a crown witness testifying against the mob.
The second goal came from a corner, which I suppose was our tribute to the 2018 World Cup and/or It's Coming Home. I guess since we never really even put in enough decent crosses from corners most of the time, Knights can hardly be blamed for falling asleep and letting Kristian Konstantinids float in unmarked for an easy header from the first flicked on effort.

The third goal, which for most other teams would seal the win, even before halftime, was even crazier for its combination of defensive sleepiness and carelessness. How Schroen was given that much space on the right is anyone's guess, but even better was that abysmal attempt at a clearance which by going backwards set up an otherwise offside Oliver Minatel for his sixth goal of the season, and yet another goal in his novelty tally.

There's probably some mathematical formula for how big a lead this South Melbourne team needs in order to win a game, involving complex formulations based on score, time left, rating of an opponent. While I'm not qualified to create said formula, it's fair to say that the gut feel about the place while happy with the 3-0 lead - how could one not be? - was also not really convinced about its impregnability. That's no false modesty on our part, because it's after halftime in most of our games where things have gotten particularly bad.

And the second half started off in much that vein, as we gave too much space to the Knights. It was a good thing that their end product was not nearly up to the standard of this season's leading sides. Eventually our compact, simplified game plan worked to our advantage in terms of shutting this game out, with Pep Marafioti winning a penalty and converting it to seal the win. The goal we coughed was not good, a mostly unforced defensive error gifting the Knights a goal if not much else.

But then we added a fifth from another counter, debutant Manylauk "Manny" Aguek nodding on a ball to Schroen, whose cross was met well and stylishly by an unmarked Marafioti. It goes to my opinion of Schroen that there's no real middle ground in terms of his performances: they're either brilliant or somewhere at the other, less reputable end of the scale. Marafioti's finish here (despite its lack of pressure) as well as his spectacular finish against Northcote, suggests to me that he should perhaps be the undisputed spearhead for the rest of the season, or at least until Makeche and/or Lujic are genuine options. Leigh Minopoulos slugged it out for 75 odd minutes, but you worry about how much each extra minute beyond a certain amount diminishes his fitness and chronic injury status.

The use of the under 20s players - and further to that, the whole three substitutes available - warmed the hearts of the fans, because they had a go and looked OK. Much as some of the senior players aren't happy to be subbed - Minatel looks especially annoyed when he comes off early - it makes sense in situations like this because we don't want him picking up extra yellow cards which could see our first or second most important player (after Nikola Roganovic) miss a game because of something which had no consequence on a match already won.

I'm not going to go overboard with the praise for Aguek and fellow debutant Will Orford, because the game was won by the time they came on, and the opponent wasn't really switched on. Still, it makes you wonder why some of these boys, or others like them, couldn't have been used earlier in the season even if they weren't considered quite ready yet. After all, sometimes inexperienced but fresher and fitter players are surely better than experienced but hobbled players? But that's one of the recriminations we'll return to at the end of the season, hopefully having secured another season in this tier of the Victorian NPL. Until that time, we make do with what we have - perhaps acknowledging that we have a little more in available playing stocks than we thought we did - and do our best until we can reset properly next year.

Relegation-survival prognostication
No point in including the teams immediately above us, let alone the ones in
finals contention. As you can see (click to enlarge), we still have much to do.
So after all of that, a fifth win for the season and more importantly, jumping out of the relegation zone by a whole two ladder positions.

There's a prognosticating arithmetic game going on among some fans about how many more points we'll need to avoid the drop, but there's still too many games to go before we can forecast those scenarios with any certainty - though when it comes time to doing so, there is an online tool on the NPL results pages that will let you speculate to your heart's content.

Here anyway are some unsolicited data points to keep in mind in terms of the number of points required to stay out of relegation since the onset of the NPL in Victoria in 2014, keeping in mind that 12th is the playoff spot and 13th and 14th are the automatic relegation places.

12th place finishers
  • 2014 - 28 points - Werribee finished behind 11th placed Port Melbourne on goal difference.
  • 2015 - 21 points - North Geelong finished five points behind 11th placed Oakleigh.
  • 2016 - 23 points - Richmond finished two points behind 11th placed Bulleen.
  • 2017 - 24 points - Melbourne Knights finished three points behind 11th placed Port Melbourne.
As you can see there's great variety in the number of points that the 12th placed teams were able to accrue, and how far behind they finished behind the next best side. There's also notable variance in terms of each season having weaker or stronger teams finishing in the bottom three as a whole, where it might be useful to look at the point tallies of the bottom three sides for each of those seasons.
  • 2014 - 65 points
  • 2015 - 54 points
  • 2016 - 53 points (this doesn't include Victory's six point deduction)
  • 2017 - 49 points
The 2018 points tally for the bottom three teams right now, with seven games to go, is already at 47. That tells us that this season's relegation dodgers and even the 12th placed playoff teams are probably going to have pick up more points than usual to achieve safety. Disregarding whatever points the bottom five teams may pick up against opponents higher up the ladder - or whether teams like Dandenong, Knights or Oakleigh could somehow be dragged into the scrap, though I think that's unlikely - there are also five fixtures where the bottom five teams are set to play each other:
  • Round 20, Hume vs Bulleen
  • Round 21, South vs Hume, Kingston vs Northcote
  • Round 24, Northcote vs Bulleen, South vs Kingston
Each current bottom five side gets two shots at beating at a fellow relegation rival, which says that as important as picking up points against everyone else will be, there are likely five season defining matches whose importance cannot be overstated - and the fact that we haven't managed to pick up wins against Northcote and Bulleen this year could well come back to bite us.

But let's not forget goal difference, and the game in hand we that we have. Though we hope that it doesn't come to that, at the moment we have significantly better goal difference than every team in the relegation battle; but a couple of heavy losses coupled with a couple of big wins to a relegation rival could also negate that.

So yeah, beating the Knights and getting out of the relegation zone? Great! Getting complacent about our chances of survival? Not on your life.

Next game
Bentleigh Greens at Kingston Heath on Friday night. We weren't winning there against the Greens when we were good, now that we're not very good I anticipate even greater struggles. But Bentleigh play the Bergers in the Dockerty Cup final tonight, so maybe they'll destroy each other by accumulating a ton of straight reds, injuries, and taking the game all the way to a penalty shoot out which keeps going into the following morning. Even then, I'm not expecting any miracles.

Farewell Matthew Millar
It's official: after a three week trial in Gosford, Matthew Millar has signed a one year deal with the Central Coast Mariners. While I will continue to be mystified about why it took the Mariners three whole weeks to figure out what Millar's all about as a player, I guess this is good news for him. While (probably) far too many players get immediate second chances in the A-League, there are not so many that can bounce back after getting dumped back to the state leagues for a season or two.

It's less than good news for us though, as whatever we South fans may think of Millar's deficiencies as a player, he was more than serviceable for us during his time with us, and it's one less experienced - and as importantly, fit - senior player available to us for the rest of the year. All that we get from it is some bonus points in the player points system that no one monitors anyway, maybe some minimal compensation (who knows?), and no chance (I assume) to replace him with any current free agents.

At least it's certain now that those damn inflatable apples will never see the light of day again at a South Melbourne match.

Around the grounds
That's it, back to Winnipeg Geelong!
My first time attending an Altona East home game this season. Blame scheduling conflicts? There's a bit of that, though hanging out at a couple of Kensington City games wasn't the sharpest idea in the shed. Blame the standard? I've watched a fair few other state league two games this year, and a couple of state five games. Blame the distance from Sunshine to Altona North? A very lame excuse. Blame the footy? Yeah, maybe. At any rate, it took long enough for me to get out to Paisley Park this year that I didn't even bother using my media pass to get in, just chucked the gate attendant a fiver and headed straight for the canteen,. PAOK's opponent on the day was Geelong Rangers, a team performing very much like PAOK this season: not good enough to be pushing for promotion, far too good to be in the relegation zone. I spent most of this game chatting to a South fan I met for the first time that day, not a bad conversation about many different things and people, which was a pleasant distraction from the not terribly inspiring match. Rangers took the lead in the first half, deservedly so, and it wasn't clear how an Altona East side that's hardly free scoring was going to work their way into the game. Well, 25 yard top corner screamers and curling shots from the edge of the box help. By full time it was 4-1, and Rangers like the rest of us must've been wondering where East managed to pull out that kind of football from. Makes you want to go there again to watch more of that style.

Final thought
We will fund our A-League enterprise by playing Croatian matches at the 2018 World Cup on loop in our social club, attracting local Croatians to our bar like moths to a flame.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Brain snaps - South Melbourne 1 Northcote City 1

Apologies for not writing anything sooner. Wanted to see if the club would spontaneously combust, whether or not there'd be more news about the club associate playing area invasion, or whether - and this was a real long shot - something even stupider would happen which would make any post redundant immediately upon publication.

The great thrill of this season, if you can call it a thrill, is wondering what will go wrong next. it's one bad thing after another, to the point where you wonder whether people are trying to fail. That's dangerous thinking with nothing to gain from it, so let's just focus on what went wrong against Northcote.

No Brad Norton, who had gastro, meaning that where one would've probably expected Christos Intzidis to replace Jake Marshall at centre-back, Intzidis had to go to right back to contend with the dangerous Gerry Sylaidos. And what did we do to make it easier for Christos, not the quickest player in the team? We played in a such a way which that allowed Sylaidos acres of space from counter attacks. Intzidis actually did pretty damn on several occasions, but there's only so much any defender can do in those circumstances.

There was also no Matthew Millar, on trial for a third week at Central Coast Mariners. Without wanting to delve into conspiracy theories involving jilted third parties, how long does it take to evaluate the merits of the player some-of-us-but-not-me call "Apples"? He can run fast, he can run all day, and his end product is frequently questionable. Look, maybe there's "he's prefect for the Mariners" joke there that I'm not aware of, but Millar's absence has been hurting us a lot, if only because we cannot run out a game for the life of us, which makes you wonder about the pre-season preparations.

Northcote had no end product, and that was their main issue for most of the game. The first half saw them open us up pretty easily, but the final touches were lacking. We weren't completely out of it, but we looked a mess going backwards, huge gaps opening up exposing the back line. That being said, we were at least able to craft chances of our own, and even took the lead for the second week in succession, Ndumba Makeche's cross met by a spectacular finish from Pep Marafioti, the only thing of note that Pep's done for us in his short South stint so far.

Sadly, Mekeche limped off soon after with a hamstring injury, adding further to our 2018 playing stock woes. Two goals and an assist are the visible stats of Makeche's productivity, but that obscures to a degree his work rate, often tracking back to provide extra coverage. Leigh Minopoulos came on earlier than many would've liked, considering Leigh's injury and fitness issues. But at least we had a lead, right?

Unfortunately, things went very badly in the second half from the get go. We couldn't get the ball, and it only seemed a matter of time before Northcote would equalise, and they did. The sheer number of chances that the visitors had created meant that there was a strong likelihood of them scoring eventually, but the manner in which the move began was heartbreaking. Marcus Schroen in his attacking half, going backwards, getting tangled up, and the ball flying up the other end for the goal. In its conception it was uncannily like a goal we conceded against Avondale last season.

At that point you had the sinking feeling that we would cop another one, but before that point we had the latest example in our spectacular 2018 brain fades when George Howard - who had been lining up opposition players all day - finally saw his chance to strike. After a couple of Northcote challenges in front of Clarendon Corner which should've been free kicks to us, Howard threw himself studs up and all in the kind of sick challenge which will see him miss several weeks.

If Howard's recklessness was the end of the affair, that would've been bad enough in our position: in the relegation zone, thin on available players, now with probably ten men to fight out the rest of the match before conceding. But because one stupid thing follows another in 2018, in the ensuing on field melee there came the involvement of a small contingent of what people from outside the playing area, jumping over the fence and getting involved in the fracas. My immediate thought was, "is this Northcote people?", not out of any desire that it was Northcote people, but only because why would a South person get involved when it was a Northcote player that was violently felled?

Sadly, one of the offenders seems to have been injured youth team player Giordano Marafioti, and thus now you wonder what punishment the club will suffer and whether that could include a points deduction. The consensus among some fans, including this one, seems to be that there really is no option but to throw Marafioti to the FFV wolves and hope that the broader club will be spared. Security seemed to move in fairly quickly, escorting away the people who weren't meant to be where they were, but you never know how these things will turn out when they reach the tribunal - especially since there's no such thing as precedent in FFV tribunal hearings.

Then came the "sack the board chants", and the "sack the board" banner, and it's amazing how all hell didn't break loose. In amid all this it took several minutes for a lot of us to realise that one of our players had been sent off. Incredibly, while we could've conceded another goal in the remaining time, we also had the chance to get all three points, as undeserved as that would've been. Minopoulos' back post header should've been better, but we can just add that to the list of things gone wrong this season.

We're not doomed yet - we're still only in third last place - but we're running out of games where we can reasonably consider ourselves having a chance of winning. Having picked up only two points out of a possible twelve against Northcote and Bulleen, we're left with games against only Kingston and Hume where we can take points off fellow relegation battlers. We still have games against Bentleigh, Avondale, and Gully away, and two games against the ladder leading Heidelberg. Being at home has made little difference overall to our prospects of success, and we keep losing players for one stupid reason or another.

The way things are going, it'll be a hell of an escape. I'm not optimistic.

Next game
Melbourne Knights at home on Sunday. Apart from adding to our death spiral, it's a chance for Knights to beat us twice in the same home and away season since 1995. Still, South picking up a win is more important than obscure statistical anomalies.

NPLW team keeps rolling on
Sick as I am of watching our women's team play against Bulleen this season, I nevertheless did make the decision to head out to Lakeside on Saturday ahead of two or three other options. And as usual, it was well worth the effort, the senior women putting in a good performance to finish up 5-1 winners, moving to first on the ladder, a point of Calder United who have a game in hand.

Always a bit more relaxed at women's games for me, which is no disrespect to the women's team who obviously take things seriously. Usual gin and tonic in the social club for me, where I was told by Tegan who's been working the bar that the night before an English futsal hiring had drunk about $3,000 worth of booze, including going through more gin than she'd ever seen before. Got to watch the first half in the match day operations booth, with a relieved George Kouroumalis at the helm, after the scoreboard malfunctions of the previous weeks necessitated repairs by the Trust. These kinds of situations are also good for a bit of scuttlebutt and rumour-mongering, not least that there had been an unusual spike in membership purchases during the week, getting in before the end of financial year cut off date.

Anyway, we were told by one insider that there would be a different style of play that afternoon, with South looking to press high up the pitch, and that proved to be the case early on at least. A very early 1-0 lead bucked the trend of much of what the NPLW side has done this season, which is fall behind and need to wake up and rally from that position. Here though there was the opposite, with the women controlling the game, mostly, and even doubling their lead albeit with a bit of luck from Melina Ayers' not exactly sweet finish. But the side also has a habit of defensive lapses, and copping a goal just before halftime wasn't ideal. Still, the second half was an improvement on the first, and I think the final scoreline does justice to the progress the team has made across the season.

That's a shame, etc
So Nicholas "the People's Champ" Epifano is gone. You could say something frighteningly obvious like "it had to happen", but you'd likely only follow it up with some equally obvious line like "it had to happen years ago". Rather than ramble on and recount the whole complicated history of this player and his time at our club, I'm keen to keep the obituary fairly short.

Along with several Dandenong Thunder players, Nick Epifano joined South Melbourne in mid-2013, during that time when Chris Taylor was appointed coach. The club had the opportunity to sack Epifano after he racially abused the club's own supporters - on multiple occasions - three years ago. Instead it decided to follow Chris Taylor's recommendation to help Epifano deal with his issues - whatever they were - rather than cut him adrift. That the club decided to do just that makes them come across as uncharacteristically noble and progressive, especially when you consider you're talking about South Melbourne Hellas here. Of course people would've also been operating under the idea that Epifano was a talented player that could help us win a championship. Thus followed a few years of South supporters watching Epifano ply his trade for South mostly through gritted teeth, feigned indifference, or with the assistance of supremely ironic emotional distancing. That facade broke apart at last against Pascoe Vale.

To sum up: Nick Epifano is a moderately talented soccer player who is, at best, an Australian second tier talent. Some people think he's got more talent than that, and that it's only character that's held him back, but I'm not convinced. On more than one occasion he was pivotal to our success in our good recent years, but he was just as prone to becoming a liability both on and off the field. He's signed up for North Sunshine Eagles in the state leagues for the rest of 2018 - the state leagues being the only place he can sign for now that the NPL transfer window is closed - and will likely end up back in the NPL somewhere next year, with Taylor's Oakleigh the obvious candidate. Whether we're there for our paths to cross again next year is another matter entirely, and of course the more important thing.

A-League shortlist news
Last Friday the announcement came from FFA HQ that the South Melbourne bid had made the shortlist stage for A-League expansion. Made up of ten out of the rumoured fifteen bids, it's a pretty long list.
  • South West Sydney
  • United for Macarthur (Sydney)
  • Southern Expansion (Sydney region)
  • Team 11 (Melbourne)
  • South Melbourne 
  • Western Melbourne Group
  • Brisbane City
  • Ipswich Pride
  • Canberra & Capital Region
  • Wollongong
If I were to attempt to discern some sort of logic as to the selection process thus far, it seems that the shortlist fits in rather neatly with the desire for expansion in bigger television markets - ie, David Gallop's "fish where the fish are" manifesto. Missing out are the Fremantle City, Tasmania, Gold Coast, and West Adelaide bids, and the rumoured but media silent Belgravia bid which no one seems to know anything about.

One could speculate in all sots of ways about why some were kept and some were left out, but that would be a waste of digital ink, and besides, in between now and the final announcement on October 31 there's bound to be all sorts of crazy commentary and shenanigans. Not that any of that matters.

Final thought
I get it now - getting relegated and spending our 60th anniversary in NPL 2 has been designed as a tribute to our 1960 team, which of course played in what was then the Victorian second tier. Coincidence that it was split into two sections back then? I think not! All we need to do is lobby for the east.west split to be refashioned into a north/south one.