Lately you seem like another language
Are you in trouble, are you in trouble again
And you know how they say
The past is a foreign country
How can we go there
How can we go where we once went
Lately - British Sea Power
|Photo: Luke Radziminski.|
The day started off with literal warning sirens in the social club before the main game, and a mandatory visit by the local fire brigade to make sure that there was nothing wrong, and then they left. No one moved, no one was alarmed. It was dreamlike, unreal. It had also apparently happened the day before at the women's game, probably with much the same outcome.
A different kind of alarm bell rang out after the game, one that's been ringing out for at least the past couple of years, and which has had about the same effect and has elicited the same reaction as the fire alarm going off in the social club. Maybe a few raised eyebrows, but not much action in response. "Doomed!" they scream, "we' doomed!". Well, maybe. It's always a case of wait and see for South fans, because apart from the odd banner or "sack the board" chant, there's not exactly been action. What there is a lot of is a kind of waiting for a new board and alternative direction to materialise from out of nowhere, as if a better committee and way of doing things exists in occultation, waiting to emerge at the people's most desperate hour. Maybe times are desperate enough.
Our 60th anniversary season could only really end like this, with the cliched proverbial "not a bang, but a whimper". The threatened rain kept away, the sun shone its warmth, and there were more people in row H than the previous week; but otherwise, the post-Taylor malaise continued. Ten years ago, for our 50th anniversary, the on-field stuff wasn't crash hot either - remember, we only just snuck into the finals, after two seasons of having missed them - and there was a similar (if not quite the same) sense of general doom about the club's future, notwithstanding the then pending redevelopment of Lakeside.
Yet somehow, maybe it's not just misplaced nostalgia that afflicts us now compared to then; at least the 50th anniversary had as a feature a grand gala ball, the Les Murray write up, three heritage jerseys... Sunday had Mike Mandalis and Jimmy Armstrong (two of the few regular old players to still visit Lakeside) on the field, an informal VIP gathering on the balcony, maybe some kind of function for volunteers, and a band later on. It was as low-key as low-key can get, hopefully only because more emphasis will be placed the '98 and '99 championship reunion, and not because we were a bit afraid that we might get relegated this season.
Before the game our players booted free balls into the stand, which came across as both not a good omen - keep the ball in play, even if it's only pretend - but also just begging for an insurance payout ala Saverio Rocca getting sued by Philadelphia Eagles fan after he punted a ball into the stand during a family day gig.
The Bergers dominated us on our turf. We barely threw a punch, putting in one of our tired, listless and unimaginative performances for the season, one which was a long way from the opening half and hour humiliation we dished out to the same team at the halfway mark of the season. The Bergers threatened from the start, missing a gilt-edged chance, scoring from an offside play that was called offside, and then scoring from an offside position and having it count. After that, they coasted, being nothing more than perfectly in control and disciplined. What difference did it make if they scored two more goals after that, or four? The way we were playing, we weren't likely to score any.
Leigh Minopoulos came off the bench for one last hurrah before retirement, hoping to break his duck for 2019. It didn't happen, and his final season at South will be remembered mostly for the assist he provided for Brad Norton's first goal in two season's, which gave us a win away to Knights. Kristian Konstantinidis also came off the bench, in what most are assuming will also be his last game in a South shirt, though nothing has been officially announced, only heavily hinted at. Nikola Roganovic, also possibly playing his game (again) in a South shirt, came up for an attacking corner, and made a good run at the ball, but missed making contact with the cross - which is probably for the best, as he was still wearing his cap at the time.
Getting beaten heavily by our oldest and most traditional rival on our turf, with them sealing the minor premiership is not ideal, but it could have been worse, and that's the sorry bit of grace that I'm holding into the off-season. There was a sardonic chant for the internally suspended (and not sacked, yet) Pep Marafioti, there was mirth when Heidelberg coach George Katsakis copped a yellow card when it was still 0-0, and some half-arsed chanting. Lefteri's son brought out his father's trumpet and jacket in lieu of his old man's absence, we marveled at the fact that all three bottom teams won and that it meant nothing, and that's about as much as we got out of the day. Did we even meaningfully test their keeper?
Think back, looking forward
For mine, the season could've gone a lot worse - we avoided relegation a lot earlier than we did last season (admittedly a very competitive year on that front), and managed to pick up two more wins than we did with a much less capable squad. Unfortunately, none of that will be pleasing to anybody, though quite what can be done about it under the circumstances
It's the first time since 2008 that we've missed the finals two years in a row - and let's not forget that we only just squeezed into the finals in 2009 by the skin of our teeth. We scored just 27 goals in 26 games, our lowest goal-scoring rate probably since the disastrous 1979 season, where we scored only 26 goals from 26 games (in 1977 we also scored just 27 from 26). While we beat the Bergers and Bentleigh, the only other points we could manage against the eventual top six was a couple of draws against Gully.
We lost three games out of four against the eventual bottom two, losing twice against Kingston and once against Pascoe Vale. Throughout the season, at certain times during games we would look fluid and dangerous; that kind of play though would seldom last long enough, the team often going into its shell, especially when it would concede soft goals against the run of play. Neither was there an identifiable and consistent game plan evident at any point during the year. Lineups changed not only due to suspensions and injuries, but just as often due to the imperceptible whim of whoever was coaching.
Con Tangalakis may have been the right (or most foolhardy) option to get us out of the mess (just) we were in last year, but the process of his eventual appointment, his overseeing a pre-season which never settled on a starting XI, the eventual sputtering, striker-less start to the season, and his probably forced resignation in the face of board (and I assume also senior player) displeasure left us in a difficult position early in the season. The appointment of Esteban Quintas as coach came across to some laypeople as the worst kind of decision, lacking any sort of ambition. Quintas and the team managed on the whole to improve the team's results and guide the team to safety earlier than what had occurred last season, but that's about all that can be said about his reign.
Despite being affected by cost-cutting, our recruiting on the whole was strange. We wasted our two visa spots on defensive midfielders, only one of whom - Kosta Stratomitros, when he wasn't injured - had any positive impact. We basically had zero strikers for most of the season. The ultimate utility player George Howard pinch-hit without success; Pep Marafioti was all left-foot and wasteful finishing; Nick Krousoratis started like a house on fire, and then fire brigade turned up and put him out; Billy Konstantinidis was a bust, who looked fantastic at times, and disinterested and frustrated at others.
The midfield lacked direction and meaningful leadership. Too many wingers, and not enough captaincy. Schroen was given an impossible task, and failed to make it work. Sometimes he made things worse, and copped the brunt of supporter frustration as the year went on. Defensively the only bright spots were the improvement of Jake Marshall at centre-back, and Ben Djiba being one of the few South youth team players who earned his spot and kept it. If Djiba was not quite a revelation at right-back, at least he was not a liability.
There will be a host of players leaving one feels, though no one knows for sure what the numbers will be. Probably Quintas will stay as coach. The ambition, as stated by the board., is play the youth, and acquire a spine to assist them. We'll see how it goes.
Next game and usual off-season blurb
I'm loathe to say that the blog will be taking a step back, because it's been a pretty laid-back affair anyway in 2019, with many half-arsed match reports and late publishing efforts. Thank goodness Sour Grapes was there to take up the slack.
But in the off-season meantime, I will be handing out my awards, I'll be catching up with some book reviews, and there'll be some artefacts and such, so there will be content on South of the Border to keep things ticking over.
One assumes the usual senior men's cobweb-blowing-out shenanigans will kick off in December, and we've been promised an AGM before this calendar year is done. For those who'll miss my wit and charm, as well as the soothing sound of my voice, all those things will still be available on If You Know Your History on Thursdays on Football Nation Radio, or afterwards if you don't catch the show live.
Until then, there's at least one more week for the senior women's team (see below for details).
As has become my unfortunate custom this season, I intended to go to this game, but my role as weekend chauffeur has made things difficult this season. I even missed the first fifteen minutes of the live-stream against Bayside United because I was helping my mum pick olives off a the neighbours tree - first off the branches that were hanging on our side of the property line - and then later standing in their front yard, without the express written consent of the NFL (or whatever the relevant authority is for these things).
When I did manage to tune in, I wasn't particularly impressed with what I saw. The standard wasn't too flash, and our side looked listless, tired even. That's understandable - it's been a long and difficult season with a young squad, and the midweek draw against second last NTC had brought the team to the brink of missing the finals. And when an error from the goalkeeper gifted Bayside the opening goal, that was pretty much the season cooked, or so it seemed, negating the fact that Heidelberg were behind in their game against Box Hill being played at the same time.
But though the second half wasn't much better - and the defence tried to gift Bayside turnovers far too often - South somehow found a way to score twice. It depended on some grinding, workhorse individual efforts rather than stunning team interplay, but you take what you can get - and that includes a ripper save from the keeper to keep South's finals chances alive.
Those finals chances will come down to the final match of the home and away season on Sunday afternoon at 3:00PM, where South will take on Heidelberg at Lakeside. We're currently one point ahead of Box Hill United, and one point behind the Bergers. Box Hill's goal difference is too rank to see them have an impact on the finals race despite their accumulation of points. Only a win will see us through.
An unusual turn of events
The South Melbourne player development machine rolls on, albeit in this case via an unusual detour.
Two years ago Greiser played a pivotal role - especially in the absence of star striker Melina Ayres - in securing South an NPLW grand final title against Geelong Galaxy out at Broadmeadows. Two years on, and she's going to be playing in the top-grade in a different sport. It's a mad world in women's sports, but South of the Border wishes Caitlin all the best, except when she plays against Collingwood.Training session turned fairy-tale ❤️— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) August 26, 2019
Brett Ratten delivers some life-changing news to our latest @AFLW elevation, Caitlin Greiser. pic.twitter.com/733jGWNC93
We'll meet again / Don't know where / Don't know when
It's goodbye for now to Kingston City and Pascoe Vale. Though both won their final round matches - with Kingston even racing out to a 4-0 lead over Hume within half an hour - Dandenong Thunder also won their game, meaning Thunder secured the relegation playoff spot against an as yet undetermined NPL2 opponent.
As for who's coming up? At this stage the only certainty is Eastern Lions. NPL2 West in particular is very competitive, and we won't know either the automatically promoted side nor the playoff contenders until the conclusion of this week's final round on Sunday. Those cheering for the disappearance of CB Smith Reserve from our NPL alongside Pascoe Vale may even have their celebrations cut short by the possibility of another CB Smith tenant coming up, in the form of Moreland Zebras.
Even those of us celebrating the seeming absence of Monday night football in 2020 will have to wait and see if Bulleen avoid making the jump back up to our division.
I know it would've screwed up so much of the season's planning, but we should've rescheduled our final round game for father's day.
Arrive at the ticket booth for a well-attended soccer match two minutes before kickoff, then leave five minutes before the end of the game, regardless of the score, in order to "beat the traffic". https://t.co/fD9t03cxHx— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) August 27, 2019