Sunday, 26 August 2018

So it's come to this, he says, again - Avondale 6 South Melbourne 2

Gains and I took the 58 tram through the inner north yesterday on our way to the game. On its mazy route the tram goes by the Queen Vic markets, the zoo, and several hospitals. So many opportunities to do something more worthwhile with our Saturday afternoon. But then what kind of South fans would we be if we did that?

It's good what Avondale have done with their refurbishment of the Reggio Calabria Club, and it'll be even better when they put in the grandstands and sheltered areas. Everyone who has given them stick for Doyle Street and their shifting from ground to ground also has to give them credit for establishing a much needed spectator friendly match day venue for the inner north.

Some people still hoped for a win, or a draw. The most I was hoping for was a loss that didn't destroy our "goals for and against" tally, and that Hume would do us a favour by beating Gully later that evening. Of course neither of those things happened, and our survival now hinges on last day heroics or, more likely, some kind of dumb, undeserved luck going our way.

We started the game half asleep but woke up before any damage had been done. That didn't mean we dominated the game in its early stages, but we were at least trying. Still, every time Avondale went up the other end of the field, they looked like they were a good chance to score. Corner after corner was repelled, while we resorted to long balls into space.

Funnily enough, that tactic worked enough to get us the lead, not even entirely against the run of play. Pep Marafioti slotting his penalty was a good morale booster for the day, and for Pep personally, as his form in front of goals had been scratchy in the past couple of games. Sadly, we couldn't hold onto that lead for the rest of the first half. At that moment you kinda knew what was going to come in the second half.

Worse, because we'd taken the lead, the usual bipolar suspects had started dreaming again of a late and unexpected finals run. The team's performances have hurt supporters, that's true, but some people have been just as responsible for the damage done to themselves due to their inability to maintain a proper emotional equilibrium. That, and they choose to ignore what has been staring them in the face for most of the season: that regardless of its configuration, the team has been mostly a shambles this season, perched on a perpetual ledge of imminent self-immolation.

Everyone reacts to a game differently, and how boring would it be if everyone supporting the game was an emotionally distant chin-stroker? As for me, I might not react as outwardly incensed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown as some, but I hurt just the same. After all, everybody hurts, sometimes™, and my goodness hasn't there been so much hurt this season, and possibly worse to come next week. You know, I got to the stage yesterday where I though to myself, even if we survive this season, we'll probably get relegated next year?

Maybe I'm just trying to pretend that, whatever happens next week, there will still be a club to follow next year. Maybe all I'm hoping for is that if we do end up relegated, that we don't end up in NPL 2 East purely from a personal travel convenience standpoint, though that's probably what will happen, and how much that would suck despite the opportunity for long train trips into the country. As morbid as that sounds, is it any worse than getting into arguments with Shouty Mike from a distance of 50 metres, like two small dogs safely locked away in their suburban front yards, yapping at each other's voices?

When we pulled it back to 4-2 - and I'm still not convinced the ball went over the line, but I'll defer to those in a better position - I hoped not for a comeback, but for damage limitation. That was also too hopeful. Another two goals conceded, including one right on full time which makes you wonder what the referee's motive was in playing five minutes injury time when the game was done and dusted anyway.

We fought for a bit, but as soon as adversity struck - in the form here of Elvis Kamsoba, probably the season's most improved player - we just couldn't keep up. Sometimes it's a matter of not wanting it as much as the other team, but more often this season it's just been about not being good enough. There are myriad reasons for that, endlessly explored here and especially elsewhere, and most of which will get turned over again during the off-season.

For now, as doubtful as I am that we can do it, I want more than for the team to do enough to survive. I don't care about board egos, and I don't care about which players aren't going to be there next year. Just get the damn job done, and can resume tearing each other apart after that.

Next week
Port Melbourne at home. We hope this will be our last game of the season.

But it might not be
Kingston beat Heidelberg by a large margin on Friday night, in a result some are calling very suspicious; nevertheless, that win has secured their NPL survival. Dandenong Thunder beat Northcote last night, also securing their survival. Last night, Green Gully came from behind twice to draw with Hume City. It is not a result that does us any favours; then again, even a point in any of our previous three matches could've made this discussion moot.

That discussion is of course the relegation discussion, one we were *this* close to not having to deal with a few weeks ago following our win over Gully, but following a three game run where we've conceded sixteen goals, it is very much a possibility.

There had been some debate yesterday on the order of tie-breaking procedures in the event that two or more teams finished on the same amount of points. I was of the opinion that goal difference was the most important consideration, while some said that head-to-head was the most important factor.  Upon looking at the NPL regulations, it is clear that goal difference has primacy over head-to-head.
4.5.4. If one (1) or more Teams finish the Regular Season on the same number of
points, their final position will be determined as follows:
  • a. The Team with the greatest Goal Difference will finish higher. 
  • b. If Goal Difference is the same, then the Team that has scored the most Goals FOR will be deemed to have finished higher. 
  • c. If Goal Difference is the same and Goals FOR is the same, then the final order will be determined by the aggregate results of Competition Fixtures played between those Teams For the current Regular Season (excluding Cup Fixtures). 
  • d. If the aggregate scores between the Teams are the same, then AWAY goals will count as double.
As a point of hopefully useless trivia, if after all that two teams are still inseparable, a playoff match will be arranged.

So keeping all of that in mind, here's how things currently stand.

Gully plays Kingston at home, while Hume is away to Pascoe Vale. Leaving aside conspirational thinking about what their opponents may do in terms of resting players and such, the circumstances are reasonably clear:

  • If we win, we're safe regardless of what Gully or Hume do. 
  • If we draw, then we rely upon a) Hume failing to win, or b) Gully losing, drawing, or winning by fewer than three goals, unless Gully end up winning by a two goal margin via the absurdly high scoreline of at least 8-6 (assuming our game against Port finishes 0-0).
  • If we lose, we rely upon either Gully or Hume failing to win.

Final thought
No reader comments will be published this week. If you have a grievance with the board, take it up with them directly. For whatever it's worth, I think all our efforts this week should be on supporting the team to make one final push for survival. That's the extent of my inspirational capabilities at this stage.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

In the slash - Heidelberg United 4 South Melbourne 2

Unlike Cosmo Kramer, it's unlikely that we'll run out
of gas and wake up in a ditch to find the tank full.
Whatever illusory momentum we'd seemed to have built up by the end of the Green Gully match seems to have flown off into the ether. That goes for on field and off field, as the end of the season can't come fast enough, and the subsequent reckonings of how we ended up in this situation can get played out properly. At this stage all I'm hoping for is that our season ends in two weeks time, and is not extended to the damn playoff game on grand final day.

The previous week, an indeterminate amount of supporters were suddenly banned by the club for less than clear reasons. There was some talk that those people would also be banned from the away game against Heidelberg, but that did not seem to come to pass. Clarendon Corner arrived, situated itself in south-east corner of Olympic Village as opposed to its usual spot underneath shed roof, and chanted their usual repertoire as well countless adaptations of those familiar tunes substituted with the words "sack the board".

The club has since put up a notice on its website acknowledging the bans - clumsily noted as "up to eight supporters", as if they don't know the exact numbers.

It is impossible to make out from that post what exactly constituted the anti-social behaviour. In the past there have been attempts to clamp down on swearing in chants, but if that was the case here, then even your correspondent would be banned. If it was for the "sack the board" chants, those have been a serious and non-serious staple of South Melbourne matches for 20 years. If it was for the "sack the board" banner, that seems incredibly petty. If it was because of the events following our last home game against Heidelberg, I wasn't in the vicinity of that action, so I can't say with any authority whether the club has the moral right to do what it has done. If it's something else apart from that, I'd love to know what it is.

All that will be answered in good time, one way or another, but back to the immediate concern at hand. I don't think anyone seriously expected us to get a point at the Village, and the state of the substitutes bench said a bit too. Marcus Schroen started there, I would assume because he was still suffering from the effects of his injury the previous week; but talk around the ground was that he'd been dropped because he'd missed a training session due to new work commitments. As it was, Schroen came on during the second half and made a noticeable difference, and you wonder what would've happened had he played the whole game?

Milos Lujic started, even as rumours began circulating around the possibility that he's already come to a verbal agreement to play at Oakleigh next year. I don't know how much stock to put into rumours like that, which seem to gain momentum mostly when he has a bad game for us. He didn't have a  great game on Sunday, but to be honest, the service he received from our almost completely poxy midfield in the first half was very poor. Ndumba Makeche came off the bench, and seemed to do a lot better, being more mobile and more willing to throw himself into the fray.

Disregarding for a moment the post-season chaos that could engulf the club, I waver between thinking that there are at least a handful of players from this squad that could be retained, and then thinking that just about everyone is likely to bail and that we could be seeing an entirely new squad next year. Leigh Minopoulos played his heart out, but will his persistent injuries finally see him move on? Matthew Foschini sometimes shows proper leadership qualities and determination, but he's just as prone on his worst days to playing lazy football, hitting blind passes to nobody.

I could go on, but there really isn't any point just yet, because we still have to survive this season. With no other teams playing this weekend, it was our nominal chance to get a point or even a very unlikely win, or at the very least lose minimally and keep our goal difference advantage over Green Gully. Instead we found ourselves 4-0 down at halftime, our goal difference lead nearly evaporated, and the likelihood that it would disappearing over the subsequent 45 minutes. Somehow that didn't come to pass, which I put down to Makeche and Schroen's intervention. Back at 4-2, at least something from the day had been salvaged, and for some even the possibility that had we just got that third goal that we could've stormed our way to an unlikely draw.

But that's people getting way too optimistic for my tastes. All we can take out of the game is that Heidelberg didn't put away any of their numerous second half chances, that we clawed back a couple of goals and maybe something positive to take into next week.

Next week
Avondale away on Saturday afternoon at the Reggio Calabria Club. By Saturday night we'll have a good idea of what it is we'll need from the final round.

MCC Library on Wednesday, with the panel for the launch of Ian Syson's
 The Game That  Never Happened. In the far distance, Ian Syson, John Harms,
 John Didulica, and Roy Hay. Photo: Les Street.
The game that never happened
Last Wednesday, soccer journalists, football academics, Twitter elite, and assorted other people found themselves at the MCC Library for the launch of Ian Syson's new book The Game That Never Happened: The Vanishing History of Soccer in Australia. 

The launch party was in the form of a panel, as seems to be the trend of these things - well, this is the second book in a row that I've seen launched in this way at least. Joining Syson on the panel were Australian Rules and general sports writer John Harms, and PFA CEO John Didulica, with the book's publisher Roy Hay being the compere of sorts. Sadly, noted sportswriter Gideon Haigh was unable to attend due to a competing engagement, but he did send in a short summary of his thoughts which was read out during the launch, I think noting the way the book overturns the illusion of Australian sporting meritocracy.

Harms proceeded to discuss the ways in which the book fills a gap in its intersection of sport and culture, as well as noting its combination of two intellectual streams - narrative history and classic cultural studies. Harms also reflected on the book's touching on an aspect of his history, when it mentions the south-east Queensland town of Oakey, where Harms grew up. Asked whether Syson's book had changed his views on the development of Australian sporting cultures, with particular reference to his Queensland experience, Harms answered that it had actually solidified his opinions that as worthwhile and vibrant as soccer was, it had nevertheless failed to establish itself at the apex or centre of the local or national sporting cultures. The book's discussion of the spread of British miners however did illuminate why some towns had more vibrant soccer scenes than nearby towns.

For his part, Didulica noted that his reaction to the book was an aggrieved, visceral reaction, centred on the injustices faced by the sport in eras prior to those of the ethnic game. The book reveals layers of history, to my mind kind of a series of Troys, each one built on top of the ruins of the previous city. Didulica connected in particular with page 60, and the ways in which the Australian Rules fraternity was able to embed itself (within its dominant states) as being authentically British and Australian, while the commitment of the soccer people was seen as only towards Britain. It's an issue of perceived separateness which has persisted in the portrayals of Australian soccer and its adherents as having a lesser commitment to Australia, despite the fact that the formation of those clubs was in itself a commitment to a permanent existence in this country. But we return again to the idea that soccer, existing outside the official institutions and cultural mainstream of Australian life, finds itself forever battling for a way in against entrenched and defensive competitors.

Syson sees this soccerphobia beginning in Perth, where the Edwardian ideals of sporting amateurism and pluralism are shown to be an illusion, as the choice of which football code to pursue becomes more than just an aesthetic choice; morality and values exhibited through sport become important, and a sort of footy nationalism begins to take hold. There was some follow up discussion after that discussing the public debates of system of chaos vs scientific play, differing depictions of the violence of play, the militarisation of sport then and now, and the danger of people working on these histories having their work become part of what I consider to be pissing contests between codes about who sacrificed more for various war efforts. It's certainly not Syson's intention to contribute to that kind of discourse - his intention is show how the growth of early 20th Australian soccer was devastated by players volunteering for war - but it is something that could certainly happen, and probably already has.

If I were to summarise the point of both the book and the launch discussion in a sentence, I would say that soccer is popular in the wrong places, then popular with the wrong people. Where it becomes the mainstream game in its early days, it is too far away from the centres of economic and social power to become a game embedded within the broader culture. Later, of course, it becomes associated so much with foreignness that even though the game has been revived in metropolitan centres, there is a stigma that cannot be overcome.

As for the book itself, it is in many ways a reworking and consolidation of several academic journal articles that Syson has written, mostly on the pre-wogball history of soccer in Australia. There's other stuff that could've been included - including some really interesting stuff on early Aboriginal soccer players - but this is a lean book whose main goal is to provoke a fervent revisionist discussion about Australian soccer history, while also prompting further research from others. Only time will tell of course how successful this book is at doing that.

Knowing the author for so long, and having discussed elements of this work with Ian for many years now, I can't really go out of my way to review the book as such. What I can say is that for various reasons the book had a protracted and difficult gestation period, and I'm glad and relieved that it's finally seen the light of day. Like many Australian soccer books, this one hardly sets out to provide the definitive take on the game's history. What it does do is scratch the surface of hitherto under-researched areas, breaking down assumptions about the origins of the game in Australia and its relationship to other football codes. It flies across the country, to both urban and rural areas, taking what on the surface seem like random formations of often short-lived clubs and soccer scenes, into what could be classed as broader trends. (One day Syson will have to follow through on his interactive historical map idea).

To that end I would've liked to have seen perhaps an appendix dealing with the research methodology, and especially its use of the National Library of Australian newspaper database Trove. It's an interesting point because during the panel discussions Syson did go into a bit of detail into his use of Trove, finding issues of nomenclature, articles where it was unclear what code of football was being played, and moments where soccer disappears so suddenly from the public record, that people believe themselves to be founding "inaugural" soccer clubs in their towns, oblivious to the fact that soccer had been there before; in some cases, very recently.

History is forgotten then; now it's flattened, so that mythologies about the game (and its counterpart games) have taken firm hold, and that cultural assumptions also obscure how those deciding which sports to play in colonial and early Federation Australia came to their decisions. So much of what we claim to understand about how that all happened is informed by the present, not the past; for instance, the matter of low scoring being used as justification for Australian Rules' popularity over soccer, when in its early decades Australian Rules had scoring that was comparable to that of soccer.

Within the book, too, one gets the idea that as much as Syson has done well to unearth hitherto forgotten and neglected materials, still was is often found is viewed through the lens of people who are not from the soccer fraternity. That causes its own problems, but that correspondence is still better than nothing and especially the assumed absence of writing about soccer from that era. The contemporary reports Syson looks at may be spotty, biased, dismissive, curious, and any number of other things, including an often frustrating penchant for having no eye to posterity, a trait common to news reports on both proto-football and codified football. But these articles are there, and they provide their own clues to what Syson argues is a much more complicated situation than has been given credit for.

What Syson seeks to make clear is that soccer is often there physically, even in its ebbs and flows of popularity, but that its cultural and historical status is made much smaller than it actually is, or rendered entirely non-existent. That's not to argue that soccer is akin to the mainstream codes in its centrality to Australian culture, only that  the ledger leans too much one way. How it got to that stage is part of what the book begins to answer. There is scope then to discuss in future work - should it ever come to pass - ideas of Victorian (as in the state/colony, not the era) nationalism and cultural imperialism, alongside the self-inflicted wounds.

Syson is also careful though; while acknowledging the debates being had in Australia in the 1800s about what game of football is best and which to play, that we need to avoid elevating those advocating for soccer into higher positions of cultural prominence than they probably/possibly had. There book is also informed by the centrality of Victoria to these matters, and sometimes you can see glimpses of Syson's anti-Victorian leanings become evident throughout the book. It often does read like something written by a cultural outsider, and one wonders if there's scope for work on the cultural history of early Australian Rules to be written by someone from the outside.

(James Coventry's book on the evolution of Australian Rules tactics, Time and Space, does this to a degree - it helps reclaim the role in the development of Australian Rules from a hegemonic Victorian point of view - but Coventry is a still a fo0ty person, albeit one from South Australia.)

As for how to purchase this book, while sales have gone well, there is an issue with the book's distributor, which has gone into liquidation. That will be rectified soon I'm told. For those hoping for an ebook edition, I am told that this is also being worked on.

Final thought
The funniest thing to happen this week was seeing fellow South fan Dave's reaction at the book launch, as he saw me in my element of quasi Australian soccer writing celebrity. In that regard, it was nice to meet sometime poet Alan Whykes, and writer/coach/fan George Ploumidis at the game itself, and to have a casual chat. If it was only about watching the game, and not being able to share our joy and misery with other people, it'd be a much lesser experience.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Sack everyone and everything - South Melbourne 1 Kingston City 4

If I wanted last season to be over because of its brutal length, then surely this season I want to come to an end as quickly and as painlessly as possible. It has been a nightmare on several fronts, with a brief half-earned, half-gifted to us revival which is keeping our head above water, and which for a short period of time brought if not happiness nor peace of mind, than at least

It was a strange week, too, even before we got our caning against Kingston and pulled back down into the heart of the relegation stoush. South fans, paranoid, panicky, and with a 14 year chip on their collective shoulder, are ready to lash out at anyone. The first target was Paul Wade, for his support of the Dandenong A-League bid. It was a reaction from our fans which I wasn't surprised by, but one that I felt was misdirected for a couple of reasons. First, where Wade can be considered to have a coherent and/or consistent policy with regards to what our nation's top tier should look like, he is long ago on record as saying that "broadbased" teams (complete with gimmick nicknames) were/are the future of the game. That was all the way back in 1995, in his autobiography - which I apologise again for not having reviewed in depth, ten and a half years into the blog.

Now it was pointed out (and rightly so) that Wade had also endorsed our bid last year, and that therefore something must have changed for him to do this, and that "something" was money. I wouldn't rule it out - why rule anything out in Australian soccer? - but Wade never seemed to me like the kind of guy who would do something just for the money. Still, that seeming inconsistency in his endorsements goes to another point about how nonsensical the fury at Wade's most recent comments was: and that point is, who actually takes what Paul Wade has to say seriously? Yes, he'll get wheeled out by the ABC from time to time to talk about the Socceroos or the state of the game, but his overblown pronouncements almost always make him seem incredibly out of touch with everything going on in Australian soccer. He is in a lot ways an Australian soccer media relic, one whose heyday was a very long time ago as a player, not that much far removed as a commentator, and it's odd to me that anyone takes what he says seriously, let alone personally.

Once everyone got bored with Wade, it was time to turn on The Age's Michael Lynch. Now goodness knows, South of the Border has hardly been Lynch's biggest fan over the years, but we've mellowed out to the point where my loathing is now muted, and I'm now mostly just plain old distrustful. Lynch, who has found if not a soft-spot for "the old clubs" in recent times, has certainly managed to rediscover at least a peripheral interest in them. As to what prompted that rediscovery, the only wisdom I can offer on that front is typically cynical and a little bit hackneyed: that Lynch and other soccer journos noticed a change in the air, and they thought that maybe their previously dismissive attitudes towards the old clubs might see them miss the zeitgeist.

And when it comes to Australian soccer media, the zeitgeist is all, and anyone who falls outside of that looks naff, old, fossilised, doddering. In this case, Lynch didn't necessarily commit any heinous crime other than putting forward the idea that in his view, and so far as the Melbourne A-League bidders were concerned, behind the scenes it was not South Melbourne that were favoured, but rather the other two bids. Enter a more subdued version of the angry mob that went after Wade, which hadn't necessarily taken the time to think about the situation. For as absurd as the South bid is, and as as absurd as the other two Melbourne bids are, and any A-League bids for a system that needs drastic overhaul (whether pro/rel or plainer reform to its current state), is noting that the powers that be might prefer some over others, and that such attitudes may have been locked in place for a long time, really that absurd of an idea?

Anyway, having amused ourselves by turning onto outsiders, and someone who people had convinced themselves was South through and through by virtue of stuff that happened most recently 23 years ago, ignoring the fact that Wade has had little to do with us since, it was time to lash out at each other. Which, to be fair, is a longstanding South speciality, and in recent times enjoyed by some of our people more than what happens on field. At some point during the under 20s game on Sunday, word was going around about a small group of South fans - perhaps half a dozen - being banned by the club, and/or possibly the stadium trust.

This was odd, in part because at least some of those supposedly banned were already in the stadium, an oversight which it turned out one could put down to the club being too slow to get its act together from the time gates were opened. Eventually had photos of the banned supporters, and prevented them from entering (or re-entering) the stadium. The other odd aspect was no one seemed sure why it was that these supporters had been banned, for how long they'd been banned, and what efforts the club had taken (if they had taken any effort) to inform those banned that they were indeed banned from Lakeside.

That obviously cast a pall over affairs from before kickoff, and eventually most of Clarendon Corner decided to watch the game from outside the ground from behind the fence at the western end of the ground. It's not the best of the view of the ground, but for this banned and their sympathisers, there was an obvious principle involved, and also precedent - let's not forget that members of Clarendon Corner had spent a good portion of our early time at Northcote protesting the banning of some fans following the pitch invasion at the final game at the old Lakeside.

There was next to no chanting from what was left of Clarendon Corner inside the ground, and a lot of chanting from the majority of those who decamped outside the ground. Nothing out of the ordinary was chanted that I could discern from my position inside the ground. Those at the ground who are not up to speed on all these kinds of things must have been very confused by what was going on. At times volunteer marshals spent some time there, as did security, and one stadium trust staffer seemed particularly nervous about the whole affair, though seemingly not doing much other than pacing up and down the stairs in front of his match day office.

While their chants were mostly clearly audible, Clarendon Corner in exile were largely invisible to those inside the ground, except for one character who was quite visible as he climbed on top of the ticket box next to the Gate 1 entrance, and proceeded to walk along the top of the outer fence to the bewilderment of most and even to the amusement of some - including a security guard - who I suppose could appreciate the farce of the performance and the situation that performance was embedded in. As security approached, he jumped down back outside

Me, I acknowledge that farce of what passes for supporting this club on a weekly basis, but I couldn't help find the whole thing exceptionally grim. I wouldn't go so far as to call the past few weeks a truce between disgruntled fans and the board, but as has tended to be the case at South in recent years, a run of good results acts like a sedative, numbing tension for a short time before a bad result or two brings the underlying issues back to the surface. The only odd thing, if one could it even call it that, is that on Sunday we didn't even get to the bad result bit before the unpleasantness began.

And if everything else going on wasn't making things grim enough, the team itself came out of the sheds half asleep and seldom looked like it was a chance in a game where, had we won, it would've secured our NPL status for 2019. Kingston took the lead early through a penalty (no complaints from me on the decision) and eerily - and not bloody helpfully - Gully had also taken the lead at Olympic Village at the same time. Kingston being a quick side, I just had a feeling that we would struggle to keep them away from goal, and we weren't helped by having an unsettled defensive set up thanks to the absence of Brad Norton.

We did eventually start clicking into gear, and I thought we finished the half reasonably strongly. Marcus Schroen's goal direct from the corner got us level at halftime, just as the Bergers themselves had equalised. So at that particular moment, things were looking a lot better than they had five minutes into the game. I wasn't especially confident about the second half, but I didn't foresee the second half collapse. You could, as some have done, try to put it to the fact of Kingston having the wind in the second half, but it wasn't like they were hoofing the ball down the field. It was all very neat and tidy, and exploiting a slow defence.

Before you knew it we were behind again. By the time we got to 3-1, it was a matter of playing out time and hoping things didn't get worse. They did, of course, but the bigger concern was Schroen coming off injured; along with Oliver Minatel, Schroen has been the other key player in turning our season around from its direst point, and to potentially lose him for further matches would be a massive blow. This is especially the case when we have three tough games to go, including two of the top three side. But all credit to Kingston - they have a smaller budget, they play youth, and they play attractive football. I hate Monday night football, but if we're going to have a surplus of (Greek) minnow teams in this comp, the least that we can hope for is that try to entertain.

As the sun set on another home loss in 2018, and people retreated to their various internet hovels to vent and moan and plan their next moves, some of our people turned their attention towards the spectacle of the Western Melbourne Group's open forum, deciding to scoff and deride several of the key takeaways from that affair. Not that any of that matters, of course, but I guess it's nice to have a hobby that people get some joy from. Goodness knows there hasn't been much joy at South this season.

Next game
At Heidelberg on Sunday afternoon, in a replay of the previously abandoned match. It's the catch-up round, and we're the only teams playing, so there could be a decent crowd. That, and the Bergers can secure what I'm still calling the minor premiership with a win here. Rather than making the game free entry, there will be a cover charge - with the proceeds going to the Greek bushfire appeal. As noble as that sentiment is, I can positively sense the cynicism dripping out of some of our supporters.

The arrangement is going ahead with the blessing of our own club, which makes total sense when you think about it. After all, we are a Greek club; we would be destroyed in the media if we didn't support it; and at any rate, one of our board members also happens to be the president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne.

Apparently you will be able to get a receipt for your donation/entry ticket, if you are that way inclined. I'm just hoping for a win, and no repeat of the nonsense which took place after our most recent meeting. Which, when I put it like that, is clearly hoping for too much.

Relegation/survival prognostication - as stolen from Greekfire's post on
The following post by "Greekfire" appeared on, and does a much better job at summarising our predicament than any amount of waffling I could do. All I've changed from it is shortening the team names so they don't stretch out the table template.

I've run the numbers on the remaining games to analyse the scenarios whereby we can end up in 12th and the relegation playoff. There are basically 5 teams in the mix:
  • South Melbourne
  • Kingston City
  • Hume City
  • Green Gully
  • Dandenong Thunder
Before going on to look at the games that matter, there are a few assumptions:
  1. We lose all of our last 3 games - to put us in the worst possible case for ourselves
  2. Goal difference plays no part in the result (i.e. we don't get battered / we lose 1-0 in each game / no one else belts anyone)
  3. Dandenong Thunder is ignored for now - the teams they play (Northcote @ home, Knights away) don't have any other influence on the results of anyone else, so it's not worth analysing every combo of their games
The relevant games are then the games featuring the other 3 contenders:
  • Kingston City vs Heidelberg United
  • Hume City vs Green Gully
  • Hume City vs Pascoe Vale
  • Green Gully vs Kingston City
We're very lucky, at this point, that there are 2 games where 2 contenders play each other.

If we consider that each game can either be a win to the home team (1), a draw (X) or a loss (2), then there are 3x3x3x3 possible outcomes, or 81 scenarios.

Of these, we finish 12th in 7 of them, or in 8.6% of cases (assuming every result of every game is equally likely and independent) - these are outlined below:

Kingston Heidelberg 111XXX2
GullyKingston 11X11XX
South Melbourne28.528.528.528.528.528.528.5

Key things to note:
  • If we get a point from any of our last 3 games, we avoid all of these scenarios as we would move up to 29.5 points and safely above at least 1 other team in every scenario (assuming we still have better GD)
  • Green Gully have to get a result from Hume City in 2 weeks, or else we are safe
  • Hume City have to beat Pascoe Vale on the last day, or else we are safe
  • Green Gully have to get a result from Kingston City on the last day, or else we are safe
In summary, from these 81 scenarios, the team most likely to go down is Green Gully:

TeamScenarios finishing 12th% chance
South Melbourne78.64%
Kingston City67.41%
Hume City2632.10%
Green Gully4251.85%

Of course, if Dandenong don't get a point from their last 2 games, we are safe anyway as they would stay below us on 28 points and lower GD, and all this would be moot.

Around the grounds
Friday night
Sat at home reading Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant while watching Batman, and later the footy.

Saturday arvo
Supermarket duties.

Saturday night
Went to the footy. Was alright.

Final thought
This semester I am in what may be called semi-gainful employment, with the possibility that my workload will increase significantly at very short notice. So, if you've been disappointed by the quality of South of the Border match posts in 2018, the lack of ephemeral material, or even just the deplorable promptness of publication, things are going to be pretty annoying for the next three months or so. Also, I've become quite fond of coming home on a Sunday evening after a game, switching my phone off, and just lying on the couch watching trash TV. So you know, take all of that into account for the next little bit.

Monday, 6 August 2018

More to do - Green Gully 2 South Melbourne 3

Oliver Minatel's scored a few novelty goals this year; now he's taking novelty corners.
I only visit Green Gully Reserve once a season if I can at all help it, and thus I always have to remember that McIntyre Road becomes Sunshine Avenue at some point, and that I need to keep going straight instead of looking for some irrelevant turnoff. Anyway, I'd love to know the reasoning of whoever it was at Gully who thought it was a good idea to host games on Friday nights. At other clubs, I can understand - they want to have a separate day for seniors and juniors, and they may want to attract a younger adult demographic with the promise of being able to drink.

But Gully has never been a club with a history of great attendances, and on a cold night which threatened rain, this was one of the lower crowds between these two sides at this ground that I can remember. Still, perhaps they got their wish for at least one person to spend more money at the ground, with a couple of South fans venturing into the Gully social club/pokie barn to have some dinner. Didn't know it could take that long to make a pizza, but you learn something new everyday.

Back outside in the real world, the under 20s were finishing up a 1-0 win, and then it was the seniors' turn. Things did not get off to a good start, as Gully waltzed through our right-hand side to open the scoring. Issues with our right were going to be a recurring theme across the first half. I can barely remember Gully getting any penetration down our left during the opening 45. All told, they should've scored one or two more goals, but they didn't, so more good fortune to us.

Even more good fortune for us was Gully apparently having no idea about Marcus Schroen's complete lack of a right foot, because they kept letting him get onto his left for shots and crosses. Eventually that came back to bite them, as Schroen equalised with a ripping left foot strike across goal, after Gully coughed up the ball cheaply in their own half - itself a recurring theme. Their situational awareness was often atrocious; otherwise capable players I assume under instruction to take risks even in areas where the rewards for successfully pulling them off were negligible.

But hey, if other teams want to self-immolate against us, that's fine with me. Besides, we've been far too generous to other teams this year. Playing into the breeze in the second half seemed to work better for us, our crosses and through balls holding up inside the field of play rather than floating out or to close to the Gully goalkeeper. Leigh Minopoulos' cross to Milos Lujic - who was starting in place of Pep Marafioti - was excellent, the only thing better about it being how Lujic got down low to guide it into the net.

Cue the fence run down the hill - oh, did you know Gully got rid of the nonsense mesh behind the goals ends, and that they've also planted trees which in 20-30 years time will provide a sort of actual windbreak, maybe, and they also got a new kickarse scoreboard - and then the panting middle aged huff and puff climb back up the hill and out of breath chanting. We're getting too old for these kinds of antics.

Somewhere in between Milos' goal and Schroen's second, there was one of the great novelty misses by Oliver Minatel, who took a fresh air swing at the ball when a less grandiose gesture would have sufficed. Oh yes, Schroen's second goal, well he made Jason Hicks look foolish by dispossessing him in his own 18 yard box. Poor Hicks, I like him as a player, but somehow he's ended up going from being useless in a relegation scraping team (2017 Melbourne Knights) to useful in a good team (top three 2018 Bentleigh Greens) to being useless again in a relegation scraping team (2018 Green Gully).

Oh, but get this. Apparently you can give the opposition crowd the double bird - twice - ala Harry Noon, and not get a yellow card, but celebrate with your own supporters, and that's worth a yellow. See 'around the grounds' for worse behaviour. Anyway, more problematic is that Brad Norton finally collected his fifth yellow card, so that should be him out for this week's game. It had to come eventually, and it's a miracle it took this long to come, but it's something we're just going to have to deal with. Of course it'd be a little easier if there were obvious options other than putting Kristian Konstantindis at left-back, not the worst solution in the world but not great for the other problems it brings up.

And someone tells me that Iqi Jawadi is off on holiday? And Christos Intzidis has gone back to Greece to see his infant child, which was born while he's been at South and he has not seen yet? And that he may have contract offers in Greece?

But back to this game, because it's not like 3-1 is a safe score for us this season, and that's not even remembering that last year with a 'good team' we were 3-0 and 4-2 up and still cocked it up. No surprise that Gully pulled it back to 3-2, they're not that bad and we're still not very good even if we have improved from our worst efforts. The coach brought on Manny Aguek and Will Orford for fresh legs, and credit to the lads, they did more than just chase and harass. I'll say it again, not sure why more trust couldn't have been put into lads like these earlier in the season when we had nothing on the bench and cripples on the field. If Aguek was the standout of the two when they made their debuts, it was Orford's time to shine against Gully. He showed no fear, taking players on and putting Gully on the back foot, but he also made the right decisions almost every single time in whether to go on the attack or to hold the ball and kill time.

It was a game where we did enough to hold on, my umbrella finally carked it, and we kept our head above water for another week. Things could've been worse. They still could be.

Next game
At home against Kingston on Sunday.

Relegation/survival prognostication, yes, it's still an ongoing concern, and don't try and pretend that it's otherwise
The only positive result from this weekend's action on the survival front was ours: we won, and in doing so we also beat a fellow relegation scrapper. Who would've known that Gully's run of results would become so bad that we'd eventually overtake them and put them closer to the relegation playoff spot? But even as we're in our highest ladder position for months now, we're not really that much closer to safety.

Things looked much worse though early on Friday night though when we were 1-0 down and Kingston were up 2-0 at home to Bentleigh, which lead to me putting forard conspiracies about teams laying down to get us relegated. Eventually things righted themselves enough that Bentleigh came back to draw 4-4. It's a result that could've been worse for us had Kingston been given a pretty obvious penalty late on - even Johnny A thought it was a mistake by the ref not to give it.

Meanwhile Northcote earned a point against Port Melbourne, keeping their slim survival chances alive, but it was a result nevertheless that will make it nearly impossible for them to catch us. Only us losing every game by some margin, and Northcote winning all three of their remaining game could see them overtake us. I'm calling it now - it ain't happening.

The really nasty result was Hume convincingly beating a limp and disinterested Bergers outfit at Olympic Village, so that Hume remain just two points behind us. That means that the two point buffer we had from the playoff spot is now three, plus our superior goal difference.

A month or so ago I put forward some amateur calculations about what it would take to survive, based on a very small sample of years (2014 onwards), and being conservative about how many teams were going to be drawn into the relegation battle. I calculated back then that the highest combined points tally for the bottom was achieved in 2014, with a tally of 65 points (currently at 59 points in 2018, with three/four games to go!), a year which corresponded also with the highest playoff finisher total of 28 points. Right now it looks like anything less than 31 points is very unsafe.

At the time of putting together that loose forecast, my attention was only on Bulleen, Northcote, Hume, Kingston, and ourselves as likely to finish in the bottom three spots. Yet here we are with teams on 28 points - and one on 29 points - who are in a dangerous position. And yes, because this season is so competitive, many of those relegation threatened teams could also end up in the finals with a bit of luck and goof form.

Table excerpt sourced from 
So even as we've shed Bulleen to almost certain relegation, and Northcote to at best probably the playoff spot, other teams have been added into the mix. Green Gully, Dandenong Thunder, and even Melbourne Knights are now all in danger of finding themselves in the relegation playoff match.

As per last time though, we note that a lot the bottom sides are due to play each other over the coming weeks.
  • Round 24: Northcote vs Bulleen, South Melbourne vs Kingston
  • Round 25, Hume vs Green Gully, Thunder vs Northcote, Bulleen vs Knights
  • Round 26, Green Gully vs Kingston, Knights vs Thunder
All we know is that the end of the home and away season is going to be chaotic, and that any finals dreaming needs to be put aside until we secure our NPL status for 2019.

Around the grounds
Hard rubbish collection
A rare Sunday afternoon with no competing commitments, so I decided to make my way down to Ralph Reserve for the first time this year. The walk to the ground coincided with the local council's annual hard rubbish collection. Thus the deserted streets of Sunshine West resembled the neatly ordered ruins of a post-apocalyptic society that seemed to collect, more than anything else, reasonably modern furniture that still seemed fit for use. At least we're getting to the end of hard rubbish day meaning nature strips full of cathode ray tube televisions. At the ground, I watched the reserves game a 4-4 shootout. I took my seat in the stand, next to the bloke on Dodgy Asian Betting Guy duties. Soon, too, some strange fellows took a seat near us, from what I could gather some sort of acquaintances of Iqi Jawadi and Nick Epifano. They discussed in vague terms the kinds of money players get at this and other levels of the game, and assorted nonsense. Suburbs, who were in deep relegation trouble, had the aid of the significant breeze blowing their way, and scored early on. They looked better than their lowly position, but these things never last. North Sunshine, with a slim and fading chance at a championship and possible promotion, equalised thanks to a keeper error.

I moved to the other side in the second half. Going into the breeze I didn't give Suburbs much of a chance, but they started off well and looked good for 15 minutes or so. But they got tired, had only one sub left after making two in the first half, and gradually North Sunshine's bigger enemy became the clock and not the home side. Oh, and they'd say the officials too, and I know everyone gets mad at refs sometimes, but coaches going out of their way and out of your technical area repeatedly to abuse and swear at the officials? If FFV are serious about clamping down on referee abuse, they could do worse than look at a repeat offender like North Sunshine. Anyway, first minute of injury time, the ball falls kindly to Epifano who slots it for the winner.

Final thought
Always wonderful to go a ground who play music over the PA system that's just as bad as that played at Lakeside.