Monday, 31 August 2020

Our time is passing, old friend

I suppose we should acknowledge something that happened over the weekend, if only to keep the blog ticking over, and to avoid being accused of glossing over quasi-significant events in Australian soccer history.

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.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

¿Esteban ha sido despedido? No parece probable.

The dark little corner of social media that deals with Australian soccer has been quietly buzzing with intimations that South Melbourne senior men's coach, Esteban Quintas, is no longer coach of South Melbourne's senior men's team. 

The rumours started because of this job listing by the club looking for a new senior head coach. South fans were perplexed, wondering if this was some bizarre new way of telling the public that the senior coach had been sacked. Non-South fans apparently scoffed at the combination of what they considered low pay and high experience and proficiency requirements.

So is the club actually looking for a new coach? If we follow the logic of one South fan who has made a comment on this issue... then probably not. Our friend on the forums suggests this is likely just part of the process of renewing Quintas' work visa, which requires that the club put up the job for new applicants. It may even be that the combination of a seemingly lowball monetary offer with high requirements is a way to put off potential applicants.

That, and the erratic grammar and references to the A-League and B-League, which may even indicate that this is a rehash of an employment ad the clubs used the last time we were looking for a senior coach.

I mean, it would be harsh to get rid of someone who hasn't lost a game in months. OK, I'll show myself out...

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Brad Norton signs on for 2021 season

Apart from whatever Football Victoria thinks it can concoct in terms of a short-forum tournament for the tail-end of this miserable year, it appears that the rest of 2020 for South fans will be spent like this - ticking off signings and re-signings for season 2021. And maybe the announcement of some sort of limited edition merchandise if we're lucky. Who knows how this year's AGM will get held, but I'm sure people will figure it out.

Anyway, not a new signing this time, but another re-signing, with Brad Norton committing to South for the 2021 season, which will be his tenth in blue and white. It's been a very long time since we had a ten year player at the club, and Brad has done well to last as long as he has. Think about this - he's not only survived the last two and a bit seasons of upheaval (in some respects for him, the easier said than done bit), but he's survived the clean-out that accompanied Chris Taylor's arrival.

So who was the last ten-year player at South? From the players who played for us only post-NSL, Fernando de Moraes managed nine seasons; among the next best, Ramazan Tavsancioglu, six. The best of the rest probably somewhere around that five or six year mark. 

Then there are those players who spent time with us both in the NSL and after it. Tansel Baser had five NSL seasons at South, and two more in the VPL era for a total of seven - there will be those who think that Tansel could've made it a few more, had he not been shuffled out the door perhaps before his time was done. Someone saw his injury riddled body and made a decision, which in hindsight turned out to be wrong, as Tansel had a good few years at Hume City after us.

Con Blatsis, like Baser, was part of that mid-1990s Frank Arok-era youth intake. He also had five NSL seasons at South, and played in our first two VPL seasons; but while remaining on our senior list from 2007-2009, Blatsis never managed another game due to injury.

Vaughan Coveny had racked up nine NSL seasons at Lakeside, and three more in the VPL in stints broken up by his participation in the A-League, as well as the 2004 season spent with Essendon Royals - so twelve seasons all up, including three erratic VPL seasons, which gets Horsey comfortably over the line. 

The other player that comes to mind is Dean Anastasiadis, who had four mid-1990s NSL seasons with us, and two more seasons right at the end of the NSL at Lakeside - though in the 2003/04 season he appears not to have managed a game, with most goalkeeping duties taken up Eugene Galekovic, and the remaining handful by the artist formerly known as Michael Theoklitos. In our hour of need after the NSL however, Deano came back for four more season to make it to ten years all up, even if we might have been better off with a different keeper in the last couple of those seasons. 

So there it is, or perhaps (fingers crossed) there it will be - our first post-NSL era ten-season player. If all goes to plan, Norton will be our first ten season player since Dean Anastasiadis; the first player to play ten consecutive seasons at South since Vaughan Coveny, if we leave out the necessity of players like Coveny having to play elsewhere in 2004 following the dissolution of the NSL, (Anastasiadis also played with Coveny at Royals that year).

Figuring out this stuff is not the worst way to pass the pandemic time.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

During this pandemic, I demand entertainment! Failing that, some sort of distraction will do.

You ask me here to have lunch, tell me you slept with Elaine, then say you're not in the mood for details. Now you listen to me, I want details and I want them right now! I don't have a job! I have no place to go! You're not in the mood? Well, you get in the mood!

During the week there was news that Mike Charlesworth, the current owner of the Central Coast Mariners A-League licence, had decided to put up said licence for sale. With the Newcastle Jets licence also up for sale, that makes two A-League licences currently on the market, both from the competition's two least valuable audience pools.

In the not too distant past, the potential sale of the sale of the Mariners licence (the Jets one would be harder to budge for various reasons) would've had South Melbourne Hellas committee folk laying siege to the A-League gates - exciting those among our fan-base who look forward to getting back into the big leagues; annoying those of our fans who want nothing to do with a competition which would compromise the (supposed or inferred) integrity of the club; and unnecessarily upsetting certain types who juggle the not-at-all contradictory beliefs that South Melbourne shouldn't be in the A-League, South Melbourne couldn't be in the A-League, and that if South were somehow to get into the A-League, it would instantly destroy not just a competition which is both healthier, more popular and more robust than than any national soccer league Australia has ever had, but also see Australian soccer collapse in on itself like a Cthulhu-esque horror being slayed in a Conan novel.

I mean, I've added a bit of extra mayo to the scenario for comic effect, but you know how these things usually go.

So after so many bid and takeover disappointments, when an A-League licence comes up for sale with a sketchily reputed price-tag of $4 million - well below the cost of a licence paid by those consortia which won the two most recent expansion slots - where is South Melbourne? As it turns out, nowhere. But why? What has changed? Well, clearly a lot has changed in Australian soccer in very recent times, and there are more changes set to come. There's the gradual shifting of the A-League season to winter, though for how long remains unclear. There's a revamped, stopgap television deal, effectively making the A-League a casual employee of Fox Sports. There's the people still trying to figure out a method and timeline for FFA to offload the comp to the owners of the A-League franchise licences. There's mooted overhauls of transfer systems and salary caps and salary floors. There's also the "depending on your viewpoint" of the either "perennially stalled and always improbable" or "the measure twice cut once to get it right" National Second Division.

Oh, and this whole pandemic thing, too, of course, whose end I'm sure is just around the corner.

For the official word, Joey Lynch managed to get direct quotes from our president Nick Maikousis - published in an article the club was happy to quote from and link to, rather than publish its own press release. Those few sentences suggest two things have happened from a South point of view, one minor, and one major. First, the relatively minor one - that more or less because of all the uncertainty noted above, plus the unknown about whether FFA (or whoever's in charge of the A-League now) would even allow the licence to be moved from Gosford, or even out of New South Wales, or any further than Canberra.

I mean, even if the FFA or A-League were to allow relocation of the Mariners licence, could you really see it being allowed to be moved to Melbourne, where we've just had a third team added that no one seems to particularly care about (yet) outside matters relating to housing developments and public amenities in Melbourne's west suburban sprawl? Less convincing is the argument about whether South Melbourne could afford to relocate the Mariners licence - as if the licence was anything more than a piece of paper saying "you are in the A-League"; it's not like we'd have to take the Mariners' stuff with us - this isn't moving the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night.

The more important thing though is that we have now well and truly hitched our wagon to the National Second Division train. Now you all know what I think about the NSD - that my now largely private derision for the concept is based upon ill-conceived ideas like: "show me the money"; "your views of promotion-relegation are ahistorical and don't allow for valid exceptions"; and "this is just a brilliant fifth column manoeuvre to undermine the A-League by being concerned for its welfare, all while taking advantage of the circumstance (in Australian soccer history terms) of a comparatively popular and stable competition, which nevertheless suffers the notable weakness of its poor public perception of success, value, and viability". 

But that's just me, the classic example of an over-read and under (real-world) educated contrarian nobody. Now who knows what the road to Damascus moment was for the people currently running South Melbourne, or even if this new found faith in the "global football standard" will stick, because we're not exactly the most dependable people in a crisis. Still, little moments like this help pass the time, because it's not like there's much else to do.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Joshua Wallen joins South, next year

Another day, another Bentleigh player set to come us. Honestly, I have no idea who this guy is beyond what the club presser says, and that Wallen is not a Queenslander - according to one of my correspondents, Josh is actually from far north New South Wales and has played in Queensland, which is much of a muchness really. Some South folk are asking who's going to make way for the new signings, which seems like a good question to ask.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Pierce Clark also heading north

Another pandemic day, and another Queenslander playing for South Melbourne is heading up north for a little bit to see out the soccer season in a place where they're actually playing soccer (in Bluey voice) "for real life".

So goalkeeper Pierce Clark will be heading up to play for South West Queensland Thunder, before returning to Lakeside for season 2021.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Marco Jankovic heads north, then South

So, in previous pandemic dispatches from the president there was mention made that, in true NRL style. we had already signed players for next season. Well, here's one of those - defender Marco Jankovic from Bentleigh. My concern with this is that I worry about when Bentleigh releases any player and we end up snapping him up, because I'm suspicious about why said player would leave a stable, successful environment for whatever it is that we're doing. Anyway, like Harry Sawyer, Jankovic will be spending the rest of the 2020 season in Queensland (in his case, playing for Lions FC), so our most immediate hope is that both players come through that in one piece.