Thursday, 27 February 2020

Nobody happy - South Melbourne 5 Eastern Lions 2

Come on, Pierce, give us a smile! You're playing for South Melbourne!
Photo: Luke Radziminski. 
It was said a few times after this game, but when was the last time we put five goals past an opponent and yet felt this bad? The playing squad's morale might be the best it's been in years, but the fans I'm blessed(?) to interact with are pretty much all doom and gloom. I mean how else to explain being two rounds in and this already being a must win game? How dreadful, how vile, how... sickening. And I mean literally sickening - when we were 2-1 up, and Lions' had a free kick saved by our goalkeeper Pierce Clark, I felt like I was going to have a massive spew. A good thing that soon afterward Harrison (Harry?) Sawyer completed his hat-trick, and the game was pretty much put away.

Before that there was plenty of entertainment for those who'd made the trip to the club's lone Sunday home game for this season. Chris Irwin scuffed an early chance which by his own admission he should've buried, but we got the opener soon enough anyway thanks to what looked liked a mysterious penalty at the time. On replay, you can see the shirt tug on the player attempting to make the run into the box during a corner, and more importantly, you can see the referee looking right at that shirt tug.

You can argue that it was charity, you can argue that it was soft, and you can argue that those sorts of things happen all the time. And if you argued that, you'd be right, but why should it happen at all? My argument has long been that if officials were stricter with punishing that kind of shirt pulling that it'd get rid of it pretty quickly. Now having seen yellow flag after yellow flag thrown in the NFL for holding, and no obvious reduction in players trying to get away with illegal manoeuvres of that sort, my thinking may be more wish/desire oriented than anything based in reality. But even if punishment doesn't act as a deterrent, it at least acts as punishment, which within the context we're dealing with, is a good enough starting point.

Irresponsible treatment of beer. Photo: Luke Radziminski.
Having taken the lead, we were rocked out of our very temporary complacency by Lions equalising with a free kick that didn't look all that convincingly taken at the time. Even looking at it afterwards, I don't know what happened, and why goalkeeper Pierce Clark seemed to latch on to it so late. We retook the lead very soon after, which only settled the nerves ever so much because, as noted above, Lions took another dangerous free kick, this time well dealt with by Clark. After a false dawn and a premature beer shower for a goal called offside, we eventually pretty much finished this game off with Sawyer's third, like his second goal a header from a corner. And the beer shower for that goal was at least legit.

Responsible treatment of beer.
Photo: Luke Radziminski.
Three first half goals essentially from corners then - one indirectly thanks to the penalty, and two direct, which is the kind of thing we didn't see enough of last year. Sawyer probably has a knack for this kind of thing, but by the Lions' assistant coach's own admission on soccer-forum after the game, the away side put in some terrible efforts at defending set pieces. Good delivery aside, and keeping in mind that scoring from corners is pretty much a lottery at the best of times, I just can't see us being marked that slackly for the entire rest of the season. Still, if any future opponents wish to be that generous, I'm happy to let them oblige.

The second half was pretty much a stroll - except for late substitution Matthew Loutrakis, who got a kick in the face from a Lions opponent - just waiting for that fourth goal to really make sure of it. After that came the fifth courtesy of a showboating team manoeuvre, which highlighted how poor Lions were on the day defensively. To their credit, the away team fought it out, but their lack of quality across the park was obvious for all to see. Not to disparage a club which has done exceptionally well to reach this level - nor to write them off after two games - but who were most of their players? A lot of clubs who make the step up end up recycling at least a few blokes who've been around the Victorian top-flight merry-go-round before; but the only names of theirs I immediately recognised were short-term ex-South keeper Keegan Coulter, and former South trialist and firebrand striker Amir Osmancevic.

As for us, it's been only two games, and yet I think we have a pretty good handle on what this South team will be able to do. Certainly not a front-runner, and probably lucky to make finals. Even though you never know what might happen, it's a squad with too much depth to be in serious relegation danger, especially when you have teams like Lions and Altona Magic whose budgets restrict them in what they'll produce. Goodness knows if well be able to produce anything in the middle channel, especially on smaller and narrower grounds - and this is what frightens me - especially if we fall behind. If we manage to go up, and force to teams to open up as they chase the game, we'll probably be the game

Next game
Oakleigh at Jack Edwards on Friday night, beginning our customary run of early season away games. No one's expecting us to win this game, and no one's expecting us to draw, and pretty much everyone's expecting us to get spanked; the idea behind that being, apart from Oakleigh looking good, that we couldn't beat them there even when we were good, so six losses there on the trot will become seven. I'd like to be more optimistic than that, but I'm struggling.

Alternative reality
Why was the live stream initially displaying a backdrop of Central Coast Stadium? For those watching at home, it must've been a confusing affair. I know we did try and take over the Mariners a few years ago, including the farcical proposal to split games between Melbourne and Gosford, but callbacks to gags seven years ago seems a bit of a stretch. What's more, once the stream was sorted out, home viewers had to deal with the commentary stylings of Greg Blake, Australian soccer's one time sort of answer to Aussie Rules' Sam Newman - in the entertainment sense, not the try-hard non-PC gimmick sense.

Mispronunciations of player names aside - and the one person who was upset that Blake referred to South on several occasions as "Hellas" - the audience feedback on Blake's style seemed to be fairly split down the middle. People either loved it, or hated it. While I can see the appeal for some in Blake's schtick, I'm more in the latter mode. But I guess part of the appeal of the NPL live streams for those not of a gambling mindset is the variety of commentary styles - I like Dan Lonergan's energetic style for example, which a few people find too much like listening to footy or horse racing. Still, I wish Blake was quarantined to Heidelberg games.

Claim and counter-claim
I suppose the one good thing about last week's continuing coverage of our alleged wage theft was, if you can frame it that way, that it became so bogged down by claim and counter-claim that even the niche audience that was nominally interested in the story has mostly moved on. And in Australian soccer, there's always something new to latch on to and gawk at.

On an unrelated note, thank you Tony Sage.

But for us remaining South fans, our focus remains resolutely on South. Following on from last week's match report post on the blog, the club released a statement that in the famous words of David Byrne, had both "good points, some bad points". The good points? I guess for me that's mostly in noting that the players are on professional contracts, as opposed to the (implied) pseudo-amateur contracts that other clubs up and down the lower tiers have their players on. There's also the club's support for a more formal process for wage issues between clubs and players.

If you were in a more generous mood than I, you may also say that the club managed to pick up on the vagueness of the allegations made in Tom Smithies' article. An annoying aspect of that vagueness is that it was picked up on by some of our fans, who have pursued the I suppose logical extension of "why don't the players pursue the matters via legal channels"; an idea easily refuted by the fact that lawyers cost money, and for young players especially that's money they don't necessarily have at hand. And considering the relatively small amounts being alleged (admittedly not small to the players themselves), likely to be swallowed up by any legal action.

The bad points? The digressions into the allegations of conspiracy, which plays well to parts of our membership, but makes us look deranged to outsiders. The demand for a journalist to reveal his sources, which I guess someone drafting this press release must have thought was a good idea. The not coming out outright and saying that the club do not owe former players any monies, leaving that as an assumption rather than as a definite statement of fact. The club instead noted that it was "very comfortable with its position regarding all past and current players", whatever that means. I'm not good at reading between the lines.

Anyway, Smithies followed up his first article with another one, which notes that:
... it [Professional Footballers Association] is involved in "a number of disputes with South Melbourne" and that it is seeking the involvement of both FFV and Football Federation Australia after previous attempts "to resolve the matters amicably" had not worked.
Who knows how true this all is, nor who the relevant players are. As much as some of us would like to heap scorn on the committee, it is possible that everything is actually legit. Like the claims by former player Liam McCormick from a couple years ago that he was owed wages - this could all be a result of the current relevant players signing what they thought was simply a standard form with some boilerplate clauses, not realising what they were signing - even though the forms are pretty clear as far as I can tell. Because McCormack decided to put his name to his claim when this issue flared up in 2018, the club - apart from knowing it had the law (technical or otherwise) on its side - clearly felt comfortable in leaking McCormack's player release forms, damaging the credibility of both McCormack and Clement Tito, the journalist who wrote the article at the time.

This time none of these players has come forward, and thus it makes it harder for the club to just come out and use the same tactic, assuming that the relevant players have in fact McCormacked themselves, and assuming that the club is even sure who the relevant three players are. And surely a journalist with the seniority and experience of Smithies wouldn't make such a rookie error as Tito did, by trusting the word of the players without corroborating evidence.

What's strange and slightly counter-intuitive about this situation is that the real, original, and genuinely noteworthy story - Chris Taylor's win at FIFA, pending an appeal from us - has receded into the background. Taylor's successful (so far) litigation is, without knowing what's owed to anyone else that may be owed any sum of money, by any stretch of the imagination a much more tangible and newsworthy event than the (so far) small sums allegedly owed. Like the Avondale senior team wage spreadsheet leak from last year, this story offers a peek into the kinds of money being paid to run a senior team at this level, the kind of detail that mug punters almost never get to see. In that sense Smithies' article, which on some level appears to be an (understandable) opportunistic follow up story pushed by representatives of the ex-South players who allege they are owed money, is a much messier and "he said-she said" kind of situation.

As for fan responses, they seem to have generally fallen into three categories. Those who've used the story as an opportunity to bash South, and occasionally by extension the proposed national second division and/or ethnic clubs; those who have sought to defend the club, mostly South people but not always, seeing a witch-hunt and conspiracy against South, and occasionally by extension any notion of a national second division and/or ethnic clubs; but there's also a third faction, made up only of South fans - and most of whom seem to be on - which while not completely trusting media reports on these matters, also do not trust the board and are unwilling to give the board and its version of events the benefit of the doubt. For them, having lost most of their faith in the trustworthiness of committees, it's going to be a long way back before they believe anything that comes of a South committee person's mouth.

If You Know Your History is back
Mine and Ian Syson's little radio show on Football Nation Radio has resumed for 2020. This year we're on Tuesdays at 8:00pm, but you can always catch up with whatever is we've been doing by checking out our blog.

Final thought
Wild scenes when one of Ian Syson's sons has been to a South game more recently than the old man.


  1. I never thought of Dan Lonergan as a NPL Soccer commentator. A welcome addition in my opinion

  2. No mention of the game clock in the second half, and the power of social media to address it?


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