Thursday, 27 September 2018

One final lot of disappointment for season 2018

Another delayed round up of recent events.

Hopes were high on Sunday for all sorts of reason, but were dashed mercilessly in both games I was privy to seeing. Having battled through illness during the week, I pushed through and made it to AAMI Park for the women's grand final. I arrived at the ground early, intending to catch the promotion-relegation playoff between Green Gully and Moreland City. Green Gully, who hadn't won a game in about four months, were facing their first relegation since being demoted from the NSL in 1986, and their first ever relegation in the history of their state league participation which could have seen them in the Victorian secnd tier for the first time since 1976.

Meanwhile Moreland City were trying tio make their own history. The result of an elongated merger of three clubs - Moreland and Park Rangers, and later Coburg - the merged entity has never been in the Victorian top flight, basically battling around two or three levels below that for most of its post-merger history. The last time any of the constituent clubs was in the Victorian top-tier was Moreland all the way back in 1962, making this the most important in the pre and post Moreland merger history since Moreland won the Dockerty Cup in 1957.

Now I may be blind, but one thing that was obvious upon entering the - in my case, via the media entry in Gate 5 - was that there were more than a few purportedly neutral onlookers from other clubs in attendance, to my mind hoping for a Gully loss in order to pick apart the choicer elements of that carcass. I mean, some of them may have been there to watch a game, see a bit of history, but isn't it better to be pragmatic about these things? The crowd for the first game of the day was mostly Moreland City people, a very small amount of Green Gully people, the odd curious onlooker, and the rest was filled with vultures and hyenas.

These aren't always the best games to watch from the point of view of a good standard of play, even if there is usually the obvious effect of tension due to there being so much at stake. Moreland City had the better of the first half - and not just because they took a 1-0 lead into halftime - but Gully were far from out of it, and probably should have had a goal of their own had they been a bit more willing to pull the trigger with both shots and crosses.

The second half between minute 45 and about minute 91 was all Moreland. A lot of that was not because Moreland were really any good, but rather because Gully were worse than bad, like they were barely there, like their players didn't even care. There was no urgency, no feeling that there was even pride on the line, whether that was the club's or the players' own. Under such circumstances, Moreland scoring their second goal just before injury time was probably the worst thing that could've happened to the NPL 2 side. They celebrated like mad (as you would), and then seemingly promptly forgot that the game hadn't finished yet.

Gully got a goal back soon afterward, and then incredibly got a second before full time. I've seen a few hokey comebacks, but this one took the cake. In almost every other nonsense getting off the canvas kind of win I've seen, there's at least been a sign of life, no matter how fragile - something like a renewed desired, taking risks, someone getting fired up. There was nothing to suggest Gully even had half a goal in them for almost the entire second half, but we found ourselves heading to extra time, and if I must say so - and I did - Gully were now the more likely to win. And they did, scoring extra-time's only goal, with Moreland having no answers, in part because they'd made their time-wasting subs during regular time, but probably mostly it's just that Gully had better players who finally decided to pull their finger out.

Suffice to say that from my point of view, this is a result that we didn't want. While there's no guarantees that Gully will sort out all their problems from this season, you wouldn't think they'd have as much of a horror run as they did through the latter two thirds of 2018. With big spenders in Altona Magic and Dandendong City coming up into our division, and a revitalised Gully, 2019 is going to be a brutal year with no obvious candidates for relegation, except for someone like Kingston who wouldn't have the budget capacity of everyone else - and even they've been able to punch above their wight with some good coaching and recruiting.

Further proof if you needed any that finals systems do not work for soccer
Time eventually for the women's grand final. About a dozen or so Clarendon Corner and affiliated persons parked at the northern end of the ground, adjacent to a group of teens who seemed to be cheering for both sides, before they chose to support Bulleen. To be fair, that mostly the work of one very loose unit.

Not great news to start off with for South, with senior goalkeeper Beth Mason-Jones out of the game because of... well, I'm not sure. Thus the 19s keeper, who had played the day before, got a grand final starting berth, and while I was assured that she could do the job, hindsight would show that while she hardly cost us the game, the defensive reshuffle put in place to help her out unsettled our set up.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves. We had not lost to Bulleen in the NPLW era, and had looked good in beating them 3-2 - it could've been so many more - to win the premier's plate a couple of weeks ago. Yet on Sunday, the team looked a bit off, and even if Bulleen weren't exactly brilliant, they were the better organised and more in synch of the two teams.

Still, we made it to half time level, and to my mind had the chance to improve significantly on what we'd produce, and with some good subs we should've been able to improve our general build up play. No dice. We copped the opening goal from a very dubious penalty, were soon 2-0 down, and just about cooked then and there. I know that we had a habit of coming back from deficits in 2018 - and hadn't we just seen Green Gully play much worse and still get a result? - but it never looked likely.

One of our supporters made the comment during the course of the match that the South team looked like eleven good players who'd never played before, and there's some validity to that comment. Communication wasn't right almost from the start, and not even the appearance in the second half of Lisa De Vanna made much improvement on that front. There was no meaningful movement off the ball, few decent overlaps, and nothing going right for us anywhere.

Then we went 3-0 down late, and that was that. Sure, we finally put in a decent cross for Melina Ayers ti head home, and then hit the crossbar soon after that, but it would've been the greatest of highway robberies to win this game that we never really looked like winning even when we had the nominal upper hand.

That the Bulleen keeper won the player of the match award tells you a bit about how this game - we created enough chances but were held out by determined Bulleen defence led by their keeper. Take nothing away from Bulleen though, they were the better team, and certainly more clinical, while we struggled to produce our usual levels of quality both in terms of crossing and certainly in terms of finishing.

Despite what was reportedly mentioned by president Leo Athanasakis on radio some weeks back - that Con Tangalakis would be coaching us next year - no announcement has yet been made on this matter. Maybe the board reshuffling has delayed things? Maybe the club is waiting to see what all the available options are? Maybe there's a review being undertaken of what went wrong? Who knows. It's early days yet, so I'm not pressing any panic buttons

On the signings front, it looks like we've lost the race to sign former junior Peter Skapetis, who has signed at Dandenong Thunder. People seem very disappointed about this, for obvious reasons, and are wondering if we're already on the back-foot for regenerating the team for next season.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

South Melbourne NPLW side through to grand final

South's NPLW side overcame Alamein and a torrential downpour to reach
another grand final. Photo: Rachel Bach.
Unfortunately, competing commitments kept me from attending last night's NPLW semi final between South Melbourne and Alamein at Lakeside. I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't get to see South in the grand final this season, mostly due to the combination of a daft finals system which offered no double chance to the lading sides, and also Alamein having been a troublesome opponent for us this year.

Keeping tabs on the affair via Twitter, it seemed like the first half had its fair share of nervy moments, but it all worked out rather nicely - a big win in difficult conditions, and another trip to grand final day. Arguably, we've got our preferred choice of opponent in Bulleen, who crushed Calder in the other semi final. Of course, having finished top of the table, we're the favourites, but (famous last words) I think we match up better against Bulleen than we do against the physical Calder. We've beaten Bulleen in all three of our league meetings in 2018, and in a Team App Cup meeting which we later lost as a forfeit due to playing an ineligible player - while they're a more than competitive team with some speed - which might become a factor on the wide open spaces of the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, I'm confident that the women can take out another title.

The senior women are aiming for a fifth title in a row in various formats and official alignments with the South Melbourne Hellas parent body. In 2014 we beat Heidelberg 1-0 in the grand final, and followed that up with a penalty shootout win (after the game finished 2-2) against Boroondara Eagles. In 2016, having missed out on entry to the NPLW competition and placed in State League One North-West, South edged out University of Melbourne by a game, and thrashed South-East winner Boroondara 4-0 in the state league grand final. Of course in 2017, officially back in the Hellas fold, the women won another grand final penalty shootout, this time against Greater Geelong Galaxy, after that game finished at 3-3.

Now onto next week. The grand final is at AAMI Park on Sunday, kickoff at 3:30 - which is frankly a great time. If you get there early, you can watch the men's NPL promotion/relegation playoff between Green Gully and Moreland City. If you really want to, you can watch the NPL grand final afterwards - that's your own business. More importantly, whether you're a regular, intermittent, or never-was supporter of the South women's teams, it would be great to see as many South fans as possible at the game. They're a good side to watch, and they fight 'til the end. And how many chances do you get to watch any South side at AAMI Park? Exactly. I'll see you there.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

NPLW (Minor) Premiers - Bulleen Lions 2 South Melbourne 3

 No idea if FFV chartered a chopper to fly the plate between Keilor and Bulleen.
 Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
Trundled out to the Veneto Club last Saturday to see the South Melbourne NPLW side take on Bulleen Lions in the final round of the home and away season. At stake was what I still call the minor premiership, casting me as a walking talking anachronism in that regard, because it's all about premier's plates nowadays. The situation was that South had to win the game in order to finish the regular season on top of the ladder - and with second placed Calder United playing Heidelberg and likely to win that game comfortably, anything other than a win would almost certainly consign the senior women to a second place finish.

After doing the requisite meet and greets with various movers and shakers, I parked myself in the grandstand up toward the southern end where we ended up shooting in the first half. The first forty minutes by us wasn't great. Erratic play, no cutting edge, nothing seeming to be working. Bulleen making the most of a bad defensive error to take the lead, and even though Bulleen are also finals bound, I know we are favourites in this game and it's been such a let down so far. The last five minutes of the half look a bit stronger, but still we were down, not up, and that's not where we wanted to be with Calder doing the business against the Bergers.

The second half started off better, We leveled! And then we conceded, from a blistering counter attack exposing a vacant left hand side. Then Lisa De Vanna came on, and while not the catalyst for everything that came afterwards, her appearance didn't hurt. By that time the pattern was already set anyway, with our girls pressing hard onto the Bulleen defense, who couldn't handle the pressure, struggling to play through the high South press. But there was always that risk of the counter attack, and it was one of those classic scenarios, the team leading but fading, their opponents raining shots and chances on their goal, all of it coming down to who would land the next decisive blow.

It was us! Then we took the lead, and good luck to Bulleen after having to chase the game. Full time whistle went, and time for celebrations! Everyone seemed happy, except for the security guard who didn't want people going on to the field after the game, and I guess he was doing his job and all, but in the context of things he was still being a bit of a killjoy. I slipped on my media pass and acted like an official journo person for my one token moment of any given calendar year

Now onto the finals, this Saturday at Lakeside against fourth placed Alamein, with a 4:30 kickoff  - there are also under 19 and under 16 curtain raisers involving South. For some reason the top two don't get the benefit of the double chance.
One wonder why you even have a finals series under such circumstances, really.

Leo Athanasakis announces retirement from South presidency and board
What is it about South Melbourne Hellas and Saturday morning bombshell announcements in 2018? First we sack Chris Taylor while some of us were still munching our corn flakes. Now we get this big announcement while watching Saturday morning cartoons in our pyjamas.

So what to make of it? Was he pushed or did he leave of his own volition? Theories will abound, but I'm going to go with exiting unwillingly, due to pressure from within the board, but that's on the increasingly few mumblings I'm privy to. There had been murmurings about such a thing happening or at least needing to happen for at least a couple of years, but since nothing happened, it was all idle talk. But now one way or another, it has happened, or rather will happen - Leo is staying on until the next AGM which the club claims will be held this December.

From what I gather, Leo joined the board sometime in the late NSL era, and became president at probably the club's lowest ebb at the end of 2007, unless you think the club;s lowest is right now, a not entirely unjustifiable position to take. Back then we'd gone through three presidents in more or less three years. The naive idea of the VPL being a way to get some crowds to watch the old derbies and such didn't last long. The even more naive hope that winning championships would be the key to bringing back crowds, or proving who knows what else, didn't materialise. Lakeside as a venue was in an increasingly dilapidated state, and the lease was running out. The club's playing arms - seniors, juniors, women - were in three different pieces.

Anyone coming into fix that situation was on a hiding to nothing. Leo's listed what he believes his achievements are on the club website, and on the face of it, its pretty impressive. People have and will continue to question that legacy, but that's only fair and natural. When you're in charge for eleven years, you get enemies, people get cynical, but you also get things wrong enough times that that's what people will remember.

The expectation seems to be that Nick Maikoussis will take over the presidency, and some will be satisfied by that, while others are baying for more blood. I could go through a huge list of the things that annoyed me about board actions under Leo that have pissed me off, but I'm too tired to fight right now. One can't help but feel that the old me, that is the younger me, would have raged harder on here, done a presidential retirement spectacular. These days I'm amazed the club actually still exists.

Farewell Tony Margaritis the board member, welcome back Tony Margaritis the ordinary supporter
More board resignations than you can poke a stick at. Also, who are all these people poking sticks at things? Anyway, word on the street is that after ten years Tony Margaritis will be stepping down from the board. What can you say about Tony's time on the board? Whenever there was something that needed to be fixed, Tony was always there to do it, or at least organise someone suitable to do it. He was responsible for our merchandise, and worked the merch booth for years. His work on the social club was immense, giving up huge amounts of his own time and labour to complete the job. At a club known for its longstanding tradition of having its board full of suits, Tony provided a necessary dash of blue collar.

Most importantly, Tony has looked after me in so many ways that I know of, and probably in countless ways that I don't. He even bought a handbag off me one year, and even though all of that money ended up back in the club, I appreciated the gesture. I haven't always returned that favour in kind, which is partly because of the nature of writing South of the Border, but mostly because of inexcusable character failings on my part. But even if it's selfish of me to do so, I think it's better to choose to remember the better times, of which there were many and hopefully more than enough to redeem those times when I screwed up.

Maybe there aren't, but this isn't about me, it's about Tony's contribution to the club in an official capacity over the past decade, and unofficially for years before that. So here's to Tony's retirement from the board, and his return to the plebeian existence of the mug punter.

A few brief comments on FFA announcing a review into their National Club Identity Policy
There was intermittent discussion a week or two ago about FFA announcing a review into its National Club Identity Policy, and all of a sudden I found myself back in 2014, sitting in a theatre somewhere in Jeff's Shed or the Melbourne Convention Centre - and based on that stunning lack of suitable recollection, good luck to any future Heinrich Schliemann types looking for the site of such a momentous occasion three thousand years or so from now.

I remember sitting through so much nonsense, my cynicism unleashed to the fullest for no good purpose, waiting for the chance to get my hands on the microphone being passed around for audience Q&A. I did get that microphone, and I then made a bit of an idiot of myself (in the manner of my outrage if not quite in the complaint's content) by questioning the FFA panellists on the National Club Identity Policy. The rest is history, so to speak. People agreed, people disagreed, nothing changed. Was there even any minor valour in taking a small stand? Could it be that one small voice doesn't count in the room?

Anyway, I think most of what I've written and said over the years about the FFA's introduction of the NCIP over the years remains valid, though as with other issues I have mellowed over the years. That's right, I used to be cool, now I'm just old. It happens. I still despise any restrictions on what ethnic paraphernalia an Australian soccer club can use to identify itself with, but more so I despise the culture which created the possibility for this kind of ideology to take hold. Most of that resentment is directed at mainstream Australian society, with a small bit leftover for specific members of the ethnic soccer fraternity, who over the years weren't able to be mature or disciplined enough about such matters, and gave everyone who hated them every excuse in the book to try and ban this stuff.

Historically, those prohibitions were applied differently across state lines and across different football governing bodies. They were rules applied to some clubs and not others for reasons that were sometimes obvious, and just as often not. In some ways, you can see why FFA wanted to implement a policy that would standardise and supersede the contradictory and piecemeal regulations, even if I doubt that anyone really thought it was necessary.

Then the FFA Cup arrived, and there was all this good feeling around bringing the old and the new together, and for some reason FFA decided this was a good time to introduce their policy. They can claim all they like that some obscure and never-to-be-named Western Australian soccer official asked for it, but the timing of the announcement of the FFA Cup and the introduction of the NCIP were just too close together.

And yet still nothing was definitively resolved. Melbourne Croatia tried a sort of punk manoeuvre with that chief sponsor on their jersey, and I think when we're all old and grey it'll still be stuck in the Human Rights Commission inbox. Gwelup was sometimes Croatia, and sometimes not. Hakoah always got be Hakoah for some reason. Journos old and new called us Hellas, Hellas fans chanted Hellas, but we were not allowed to display Hellas. This year the historically least likely Victorian Italian club to ever be half relevant was forced to black out an Italian tricolour on the back of the shirts, while the same basic pattern in their logo was fine. Little Charlestown Azzurri tried making waves.

Even FFV came out and said the NCIP was a junk policy, though did they mention what existed in their own state before the NCIP came in? If they did, I must've missed that. And that perhaps that many of the big players involved in FFV and all sorts of other similar places now would've argued for de-ethnicising policies back then to be trendy, or out of necessity?

Look, who knows what lies in human hearts at any given moment, and it's quite possible that decisions made at one time are just as right as rescinding those same decisions twenty years down the track when most people are no longer really sure how we got here. What we can say is that FFA's self-proclaimed search for procedural consistency has been a demonstrable failure, though since failure has seldom been something alien to Australian soccer, is that really such a thing to be worried about? It failed on two fronts.

First, consistency - as noted, the application of the policy, in part because of the tacking on of a non-retrospective clause, meant that all sorts of anomalies worked their way through into the public eye, most of which were handled badly, because since when do handle matters of ethnicity well in Australia? Exactly. Second, demand, or rather the lack of it. No one actually wanted this. Of all the things that were happening in Australian soccer at the time the policy was brought in, this would've seen so low down the list of priorities of anybody remotely sane. But then FFA made it an issue, and it's burbled away when really it should not have existed. Most ethnic soccer clubs had accepted their fate of being publicly neutered of any visible intellectual property oriented signs of difference, and powerless because of irrelevance, had chosen to stew in a bath of their own impotent resentment.

But here we are anyway, where things are being "reconsidered", whatever that means. Some people have asked here, if the policy and its affiliates were abandoned, would South fans want South to go back to being Hellas, or would they prefer to be SMFC? And it's a question which would be applied across quite a few clubs. I would say, really, it's up to the supporters of each club to decide for themselves. And it would be their decision. Would I go back to South Melbourne Hellas? Sure, but not for the reasons some might think of. I'm no nationalist, but I respect the club's heritage. Also it's a really beautiful name, one that has poetic quality that SMFC just doesn't, But would I be upset if the club didn't go back of it had the chance? No.

What I would love to see in the event that the policy is rescinded is choice, and maybe the acknowledgement that many clubs have more than one identity. One from the past, one from the present. Maybe some days, like om special occasions they want to remind themselves and others of their origins, and for the rest of the time they're happy to exist in a less-confronting public relations manner. Is Australian soccer mature enough for that kind of reasonableness? History says no, but if we've learned nothing else, it's that stranger things have happened.

Nothing in particular
I stopped listening to 3XY ages ago. I quit most forums except the South forum and, and even the former is a bit of a slog nowadays. I rarely visit Facebook anymore. I don't follow almost any of the soccer podcasts, and on Twitter I seem to mostly only follow funny people rather than angry people. And I tell you what, it's been good for my mental health. It's helped me calm the fuck down a bit, but it does mean that I'm more out of the loop than I've ever been with whatever the latest outrage or conspiracy is doing the rounds. And since I no longer get drip fed info like I used to - those days are so far back in the rear view mirror, that nowadays it feels uncanny that I ever even actually knew anything - just about anything that happens at South behind the scenes is as surprising to me as it is to most of you, if and when we ever find out about. So where we end up from here, I can really only blindly speculate, and what's the point of that? And really, what's the point of writing this section down anyway? I don't know, but don't mistake it for resentment, perhaps just the sense that South of the Border should periodically note where it sits in the pecking order of things, which has always vacillated between low importance and lower importance; which is how I like it to be honest. I'm not good with confrontation, as I think I've mentioned before.

Final thought
Sometimes it's only right to go back to the beginning and remember the moment when someone decided to put their hand up...

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Safe - South Melbourne 0 Port Melbourne 1

Having looked for it in a few places since I first read it several years ago and come up empty, the following anecdote is possibly something I've made up. When the late Les Murray  published his memoir By the Balls, he joked that he wanted to use the title The Great Poison instead, alluding to the hold that soccer has on its most dedicated supporters. And whether my recollection is true or not, the trope of football fans joking about how their support of their team is like an illness is a well-worn one anyway.

Usually we laugh when we talk about such things. In the first place, it's because it's just an absurd thing to say. In the second place, it's because when we say such things we seek to establish a sort of self-valourising and self-justifying aspect to it; we add a moral dimension to our support of the game and our particular club, clothing ourselves in the idea that we are making a noble sacrifice, both misunderstood and not understood by those poor souls who exist outside that cultural milieu. The more dour the experience, the worse the results, the more obscure and downtrodden the club, the more football fandom karma we accrue if not quite the benefit in the next life, then at least the ability to be smug in this one. What would those other people know about loyalty, dedication, and good old fashioned sticktoitiveness?

But there is of course the other side of this fable: that the unconditional attachment to this kind of cause can be very unhealthy. Thus I put it to you, dear reader, that South Melbourne Hellas' 2018 season consisted of little to no nobility, honour, valour or whatever other lofty epithet you want to attach to it. Indeed, it probably actually made people sick. Proximity to the abomination that was this season made just about everyone who came into contact with it much worse off mentally, socially, and in some cases maybe even physically.

Things were bad enough as they were leading into the game, and worse when we saw Sunday's squad weakened by the absence of Luke Adams with injury, Then when Tim Mala got himself sent off a minute and a half into the game with one of the dumbest challenges you'll ever see, all thoughts turned towards waiting to see how much worse it could get, which didn't take long: youth team debutant Ben Djiba, thrust into the left-back position as a starter, gave Sam Smith - one of Port Melbourne's many ex-South players taking the field that day - the perfect chance to give Port the lead and thrust them towards the finals, and send us toward relegation.

At that moment I just wanted to leave, or throw up. I've had nervous spells and felt dizzy at football matches, I walked out (as far as the social club) once, I've had my arms go numb, but the only other time I ever wanted to spew was round one, 2010 in the AFL, when Collingwood dodged a bullet by beating the Demons by a point when some Melbourne plonker dropped a mark with about two seconds left. Thankfully for the patrons in the top deck of the Great Southern Stand that day, I was able to collect myself and not chunder across the row in front of me.

What made things much, much worse on Sunday was that all things considered, we actually started playing well. Sure we were shaky or less than competent across different areas, but we weren't nearly as bad as we had been at times in 2018. One felt that Port were the more likely to score next, but it was not the fait accompli that the previous two weeks had been. At times we even outplayed Port, though you knew the goal was never going to come, and thus we had to do that thing where half our time was spent watching our phones for updates of other games. Hume had taken the lead at Pascoe Vale, but Kingston were doing well against Gully, and thus despite being down in our own game, things were looking up.

Apart from a couple of near miss free kicks, our great moment came late in the first half, when Pep Marafioti squared the ball to an unmarked Marcus Schroen on the edge of th six yard box and right in front, only for Schroen to blast it over the bar. Realistically, we weren't going to save ourselves, and some atrocious refereeing didn't help, as the game threatened to flare up into several scuffles. The worst decision was none of the three officials seeing one of our players getting potted by a Port player behind play in the middle of the field. Not that any of that mattered. Kingston went up 3-0 late in their game, and for good measure Paco equalised late in their match. So, without having to do any heavy lifting of our own over the last four games, we survived thanks to the kindness of strangers - and that 3-2 win against Gully before things fell apart well and proper for the last month of the season.

As our survival was secured well before full time, there was time to ponder things half relevant. Like if we got into the A-League, how good would it be to have Clarendon Corner located in the few surviving spectator amenities of the 1926 Stand? It would fulfil so many of our requirements - in the best Clarendon Corner tradition it would be the worst spot in the ground to watch a game from; it would be perfect for making sure we were nowhere near the returning bandwagon; in a few decades there'd eventually there'd be just a couple of people left, leaving two lucky fans the chance to live out a real life Statler and Waldorf fantasy.

Some people broke out some chants, willing us to score to get Kingston into the finals as payment for rescuing us. Milos Lujic got benched, to his disgust. Everyone has the feeling that he's on his way out, probably to Oakleigh and Chris Taylor. We can talk about ignominious ends, but there almost no one came out of this year clean. You looked out onto the field, at the players who took part on the day and even those who weren't there, and wondered how many would be back next year. Brad Norton, probably. Leigh Minopoulos, if he feels his body is right, perhaps. Kristian Konstantinidis, if his head's screwed on right. Luke Adams if he wants to settle down in Australia permanatently. But the rest? Makeche, Howard, Foschini, Jawadi, Mala, Marshall, Minatel you'd all assume our likely to be gone.

Will we keep one or either of the Marafioti brothers? Pep did well enough I thought to earn another season; Giordano was meant to be the great white hope of the youth system, for whom so much was sacrificed for, but injury and insanity meant his season was a wash. Will the once implausible but now perhaps merely unlikely happen, and Nikola Roganovic stick around? We went through four goalkeepers this year - one injured, one discarded, one flew in and flew out, and the last came back in our hour of need but can he commit to something more substantial? What's the fate of the several youth players we tried once Sasa Kolman left? As promising as almost all of them looked at some point, did anyone of them do enough to warrant anything more than fringe bench spot next year? Next year, eh? What a luxury to be able to say that without a complete and overbearing sense of shame.

Those who still listen to 3XY say that they heard president Leo Athanasakis had re-appointed Con Tangalakis as our coach for 2019, but as usual with these things, I'll believe it when I see it. A strange coaching decision at the start of the season set all of this in motion, to the point where we were two bad results away from a relegation playoff, and our now on the verge of a player exodus the likes of which we haven't seen since the end of the NSL. Now maybe the sacking of Chris Taylor was necessary, maybe it wasn't - regardless one gets the feeling that things were coming to a head one way or another behind the scenes for reasons that probably have as much to do with interpersonal dynamics between Taylor and the board than any issues of competence.And even if his sacking was executed brilliantly from a Machiavellian, didn't see that coming point of view, clearly everything else to do with that decision was done so poorly, that one wonders if people actually thought this through properly.

At the end of the day and at the end of our season, there was relief, and time for a rum and coke. But there was also the feeling for me that had this season gone on any longer, then I would have had to follow in the footsteps of Julianne Moore's character in Todd Haynes' 1995 film Safe, and remove myself to an igloo in the desert, where none of this mattered, or even existed.

But, please, South, don't drive into that chasm!
Now a lot of this next segment originally made its appearance on Twitter, so if you've already seen it there, you can skip to the bit.

As much as South Melbourne's car crash 2018 season was (rightly) the focus of many people's attention, let's not let it obscure Green Gully's remarkable decline. After round ten, where Gully had crunched us 3-0 at Lakeside, Gully sat in fourth spot with six wins, two draws and two losses. They were eleven points clear of us, and in a good position you'd think to make a finals run, and certainly not be considered a likely candidate for (provisional) relegation. Yet Gully picked up just one win and three draws in their final sixteen games. For a club with a stable income, no obvious external sponsor and supporter expectations to live up to, as well twenty years of alternately successful/competitive teams, it's quite an astonishing situation.

Gully also have some quality players - who many clubs will be circling in the event they lose the playoff game - played some decent football, and seldom got belted (especially in the way that did). One shouldn't write them off in the upcoming playoff, of course - but you have to wonder how they of all clubs ended up in this situation. The on again/off again affair with Arthur Papas hasn't helped; and for a coach touted by some as part of a young generation of up and coming Australian coaches, that should put a solid dent in what's left of his local reputation.

Part of the word on the street is that Papas shared at least one trait with fellow young full-time coach Sasa Kolman, in that his expectations of semi-professional players - especially the time they could reasonably be expected to give to their soccer careers - were wildly optimistic. I'm talking extra training sessions, before work morning sessions and the like. Now well may we say that for the money players in the NPL are getting, they should be doing more than what they do (especially since their ability to draw cards is negligible at best), but as long their chief source of income comes from a day job, that's not going to happen.

Alongside playing in a second tier cut up into a dozen pieces, we are all aware that the differing levels of professionalism between the A-League and the aforementioned second tiers is one of the most-significant barriers to Australian players making the step up to professional ranks. As we all know, there are people working on fixing at least one part of that issue, by virtue of getting a national second tier up and running, but one wonders whether it'll be worth it if the players are full professionals. But that's for the optimists to figure out.

In summary, this is another warning that in NPL Victoria you don't even have to completely sabotage your own season like we did to find yourself in trouble - just the slightest complacency in a tight season, and you're in the relegation playoff. And it's only going to get tougher next year with Altona Magic and Dandenong City getting promoted. For the moment just be grateful that were at least three teams worse than us in 2018, remarkable as that might be..

Off-season winding down mode, pending...
Usually when the senior men's team season ends, South of the Border goes into our half-arsed off-season mode. In recent times that's meant at least a few more weeks of blog action, but since this will be the first time since 2012 that the men won't be involved in any post-season antics, we find ourselves in the slightly anomalous situation insofar as the blog is concerned. That's because even though our men have greatly disappointed all of us, the senior women's teams are still very much alive and kicking, and looking to add several pieces of silverware to their collection.

This week they're aware to Bulleen on Saturday afternoon, hoping to clinch what I still anachronistically call the minor premiership, and after that they will be embarking on a finals campaign which will hopefully see them make an appearance at AAMI Park on grand final day. It'd be great to see a few more people at their games, because they are worth watching, and lopsided as the NPLW can be, at the business end of the season things get a lot more competitive.

Now that's all well and good for those who have an interest in our women's teams, but I get that's not a sentiment shared by everyone at South Melbourne. As noted ad nauseum recently (OK, twice), I'm a bit busy with work and stuff at the moment, and I don't expect that to let up until early November. Nevertheless, along with the women's stuff, there'll eventually be the usual off-season winding down of South of the Border. So that means the usual patchwork awards, book reviews, maybe some historical guff, and possibly drawing into the archives for draft pieces that maybe should see the light of day at some point.

There will also be some A-League bid news (not that any of that matters), and I assume there'll be an AGM at some point. So, there'll be enough to talk about: just gotta find the time to do it all.

Speaking of the A-League bid
The club has confirmed that it has "submitted its formal bid to join the Hyundai A-league in season 2019/20". Some have mocked the "60 years in the making reference", though I'm not sure why. If anything they should be congratulating the club on at least making the sensible decision to post the notice after we had avoided the relegation playoff, rather than putting it up beforehand.

Final thought
It's well before my end of year round round up, and it'll sound typically self-pitying as I write this, but I feel as if in a lot of ways I've let down the South of the Border readership this year with my writing efforts. There are some personal reasons for this - which I can hopefully let you all know about in due course - but mostly it comes down to me being utterly depressed and demotivated by the experience of watching and attending South Melbourne matches this year.

That goes for almost the whole experience - the performance of the men's team, the often self-serving and self-preservation antics of the board, the decline in quality of the social club (I'm leaving out manager Tegan, and Noula the cook, who did the best they could with the resources given to them), and the sometimes (often) embarrassing antics of the fans, myself included. The things that kept it all together? The fact that enough players gave enough of a stuff for just long enough to get us over the line, showing us that there was at least some residual pride left in the squad; the persistent camaraderie of the ramshackle operation that is Clarendon Corner, including some of the younger boys; lastly, the fact of what else are you going to do when there's a South game on?

Here's to the hope that this is a serious wake up call to the club that a half-arsed approach to running and supporting South Melbourne Hellas is going to end very badly. Here's to the hope that 2019 will provide us with a much better season on the field than the rollicking shambles that was 2018.