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


  1. Apologies to Con for not getting this post up in a timely manner.

    1. Apology accepted, but please don't let it happen again.
      Next thing to fix is the music selection played over the PA.
      Major changes needed at South in that dept.

    2. Might need to set up a supporter taskforce to sort the music situation out.


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