For regardless of whether it was something that could actually be claimed outright, courtesy of Sydney FC's fifth A-League title yesterday, South Melbourne is on most objective levels no longer the most successful soccer club in the country.
So as South fans, should we feel sad? Aggrieved? Petulant? Resentful? Argumentative? Aloof? It's really up to you I suppose. Who I am to tell you how to deal with this utterly momentous, yet also inevitable moment?
And it was inevitable. For most of its 15 years, the A-League has been a competition comprised of an average of 10 or so teams. Furthermore, according to the people who follow that league closely, and whose comments I most frequently come into contact with, in most of those 15 seasons about three-quarters of the teams have been garbage. That doesn't exactly compare favourably with the NSL, which always had more teams in a season, and of which it could be said only five-eighths of the teams in any given year were utter rubbish, leaving out the mess of the 1984-1986 conference system.
Be that as it may, the combination of a small league and a large contingent of non-competitive teams - despite salary caps and salary floors - means we were going to end up here eventually. It could've happened earlier, it could've happened in another few years. You're free to treat it like the SANFL pre-1997 - two very successful clubs with 60 flags between them, and three or four others that couldn't muster ten flags collectively.
For my part, I'm not too fussed. In fact, for someone who cares little for the goings on in the A-League - except for when there used to be crowd shenanigans which exposed everyone's hypocrisies, and the sports business side of things - I was always more annoyed by other things. Namely, the way the A-League elevated what used to be called the minor premiership into a championship in its own right; which also lowered the worth of a grand final already compromised by a finals system which let more than half the league in as if it was the Canadian Football League, and the fact that said finals system gave almost no material benefit to a team finishing higher up the ladder.
Even so, that garbage, no double chance finals system bothered me more because it's the system we've come to use in Victoria. They could do what they like in the big leagues, but if we are to have finals in Victoria, why can't we have something which doesn't render one early false step in the finals for a top side an automatic failure? But I digress.
I have argued before that merging stats doesn't mean merging narratives. On a raw data level, Sydney FC have won more national titles than anyone. On a narrative level, we haven't been allowed to compete for any of the titles Sydney FC has won; which is not the same as Sydney FC not even being a twinkle in Frank Lowy's balls when we won our four NSL titles. Indeed, for a good chunk of the A-League's history, the narrative was that what came before the A-League was either irrelevant or non-existent.
Which, to be fair, is actually true on both counts. Forget mealy-mouthed and revisionist takes from people involved with dismissing or burying the NSL's history. Except for little checkpoints like this, everything that came before (with the possible exception of some player records) is irrelevant and/or non-existent.
And it's not just on an official level. Someone asked the question on one of our forums, about what our seven pre-NSL state league titles mean in the great scheme of things. And when it came down to it, all I could really think of is, "not much". Yes, they matter to the few hundred supporters who still attend South games. But most of our supporters are either dead, or doing something else with their lives these days. For both the dead and living South fan (and I assume, for the fans of other clubs like ours), the past has long receded in the rear view mirror.
Yes, people may jump on the odd social media post (whether posted by us or by some nostalgia site) and wax lyrical about good old days and whatnot, but that's the totality of the emotional engagement. It's little different to the way people reminisce about 1980s and early 1990s NBL. A few wistful signs while remembering Gaze to Copeland, Bruce Bolden's free throw routine, or Phil Smyth's bald patch, and then on to whatever it is that occupies their attention in the present.
But for those of you that care about the seeming indignity of our situation in a more, let's say... "robust" manner than my trademark morose indifference, there's little reassurance or guidance that I can offer on how to respond to those who would wish to goad you on these matters. I guess you can just hold to the dream of a National Second Division and eventual promotion and relegation; or if you're still an unreconstructed 2005 World Game Forum-style bitter, plan for the death of the A-League within three years, tops. Those of us still here are all in this together, but we're all in it together in our individual way.