Friday, 29 January 2021

Friendly at Casey Comets

Tomorrow night, the senior men and the 20s are playing pre-season friendlies against Casey Comets, out at Comets Stadium. The 21s start at 6:00pm, and the Seniors at 8:00pm.

As the game is not at Lakeside, the game is open for people to attend, though I won't be there myself - a three hour public transport trip doesn't quite seem worth the bother. Yes, I have gone soft.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

*opens newspaper* hmm, let's see what's in the news today

The online response to the club's release of the 2021 membership packages seems to have been pretty muted. Maybe it's because people have stopped caring, or maybe because the club did the right thing (whatever their motivation for doing so) by offering the renewal discount to 2020 members, there's nothing to complain about. And when people aren't complaining, there's fewer clicks, less rage posting, and less overall engagement. Maybe the club should've actually charged the full rate to everyone, getting those social media metrics up?

(Also, where is the link to the membership portal on the front page of the club's website? And are members still going to be charged for entry to home FFA Cup matches?)

Anyway, memberships are for real games with with real meaning, unlike the past two pre-season friendlies, which mean nothing. These two recent friendlies, both played behind closed doors at lakeside, were a 2-1 win over Northcote, with what looked like a pretty soft goal to concede; and a 3-2 win over Avondale, which I hope people won't latch on to as proof of anything, especially competency. 

Not that I think that there's actually much chance of people getting carried away, because I wasn't there and neither were you. So what can we say? Nothing, that's what, except that maybe Marcus Schroen looked thin or trim or skinny or what have you on one of those recent videos the club posted. Maybe I've forgotten what he looks like in person, and while it's not like he was ever the chonky type, maybe a proper pre-season instead of galivanting about the Spice Islands has done him some good.

Much of the rest of the week's focus (online at least) seems to be on the continually degrading state of the Ferenc Puskas statue out the back of Gosch's Paddock. In a recent-ish I noted the reaction to what appeared to be the then vandalism or theft of the plaque on the plinth. Now whether because of more vandalism, or shoddy craftsmanship, the plinth has degraded further, and the calls by South fans (and some others) to repair the statue and move it to Lakeside have been re-doubled.

Most of this anger comes from a good place. The statue is of a South legend, and the statue is in a poor location and in an increasingly poor condition. And after all the effort involved in getting the statue project up in the first place, I don't think that anyone would be happy with the outcome four years on, not just because of the money spent, but also because it's supposed to be honouring a legend of world football, and someone the statue's funders apparently hold in high esteem.

Moving the statue to Lakeside (apparently there's plans to at least try to make that happen now) would probably solve at least some of those problems: namely, the more prominent location, being closer to the club he was closest to while he was here, and you'd like to think also a reduction in the chance of vandalism. Repairing the statue and moving it to Lakeside (hopefully at someone other than the club's expense) won't solve the aesthetic problem of it being a lousy looking statue, or of its design bearing little connection to what Puskas looked like while he was here, but the perfect being the enemy of the good, you'd rather an imperfect solution rather than the situation that exists now. That, and it would be funny to have a statue conceived of and funded in part by a prominent former sponsor long since associated with the A-League, to have visit Lakeside and South Melbourne in order to get close to his attempted homage to one of his heroes

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

2021 memberships now available

The low-key build-up to the 2021 season just kicked up a notch, with the release of the 2021 membership packages.

It's pretty much the same deal as last year, with the notable exception of a $50 renewal option for 2020 financial members.

This is a very sensible decision by the board, even if though the club will take a financial hit from it. It's certainly a good outcome for paid up 2020 members. More importantly, it's an obvious gesture of goodwill to the members from the club, as well as a practical demonstration - hopefully the first of many - that this board does not take South supporters for granted.

At the members forum last month, the cost of membership dues for 2020 members in 2021 was discussed, and the idea thrown up from the floor that the membership for renewing members should be capped at $50, the same as an active life member. The board's representatives on the day weren't exactly thrilled with the idea, but it was a constructive suggestion without malice - and I hope that the fact the suggestion was constructive, and not belligerent, was part of what got this idea over the line.

There'll be people out there who were paid up members in 2020, who will be happy to treat their 2020 dues as a donation, and once again pay the full-rate again this year.  But while it's beyond cliché to reiterate these things, it is true that the club itself is not the only thing that's taken a financial hit from the pandemic. 

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Farewell the grand inconvenience, at least for this year

So it the Australian Grand Prix has been postponed until the end of the year. 

Usually that event is an incredible pain in the arse for South Melbourne, as it messes with a ton of operational matters.

Fixturing is the most obvious grand prix related issue that most fans will have to deal with. Apart from relatively minor inconveniences like diminished parking access, the assembly of the grand prix's infrastructure usually means that the area around Lakeside Stadium is out of bounds for several weeks. 

That often means no more than one home fixture within the opening seven or eight weeks when the weather is still warm, neither the state leagues or juniors nor the AFL have started their seasons, and before people have become even more jaded than they usually are about all things South.

It also means that all those home games that we didn't get early in the season get piled up in winter, taking a toll on fans and the playing surface. On top of that, our senior teams are forced to scour Melbourne looking for grounds to train on.

So now that we're not going to have a March grand prix, will we get some positives out of this? I guess we should be able to avoid training away from Lakeside and our grounds down near pit lane. But will we be able to somehow score an extra home game within the first six weeks?

2021's fixture isn't the worst when it comes to the grand prix impacting our early season, perhaps because of the later start to the coming season. Still, I think it's worth taking a shot at getting one fixture reversed, that being the round 4 game away to Port Melbourne. 

Considering the fixture, it'd be worth at least asking the question. Unlike the rest of our stretch of winter home games, our scheduled home game against Port in the middle of the season is not a part of double-header with a senior women's game.

You'd like to think we'd get at least some boost in membership and attendance, and it would ease the burden on the Lakeside surface during the winter months. Well, maybe not, but it'd still be nice to have to play the usual streak of early season away games when the main reason for that annual extended road-trip no longer exists.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Believe me, this is not a complaint, I'm just trying to make a serious but elusive point

So last Saturday South had a friendly against Green Gully. It was at Lakeside, so it was behind closed doors (such is life), we lost 1-0 (the score-line really doesn't matter), and the world moved on. 

On the socials after the game there was an unsurprising interview with one of the youth team players who got a run. Again, no complaint from me, because these interviews are not meant to be particularly interesting or illuminating.

We got some sort of quick highlights package from a camera-angle reminiscent of one of those novelty video game angles that no one in their right mind ever uses. Once more, I expect no different, because why would there be a multi-camera set-up for a pre-season game of no importance?

Still, it is hard not to feel emotionally distant from the club at the moment. The members forum late last year and the couple of games in the eastern suburbs aside, everything's been closed doors and just... distant. I can't really find another word for it at the moment.

Memberships for 2021 aren't out yet, but they will be here soon enough, and so too will the season proper. We'll get our first home game in round 2, and then be away for a month. You'd like to think that those who are there most weeks will find themselves back at South games, but will they actually?

There's the beginnings here of an outline of a post I'd like to write, about the nature of conditional support, and the limits of "<insert team> until I die". In the past I'd probably have already written it, because I'd have felt it necessary to do so. I'd have felt that it was a pressing and worthwhile matter to discuss.

Now I'm less jaded (which for me sometimes worked as a motivating factor) and more tired. By life, sure, but also by the lack of South Melbourne action, but also by the lack of proximity to the culture. And to get to the point, how many people still care?

I mean, that's a question we've asked a lot over the past 13 years of this blog, so forgiveness please for retreading old ground. But the post-Taylor seasons were a drain and the pandemic enforced break, rather than allowing people to recharge, might it act as a disincentive to come back to South?

We know that the rest of Australian soccer hasn't missed us, and neither have most of the supporters we used to have. But what if during this time off, a good chunk of the South fans we still have, spent 2020 not missing South, to the extent that they don't think about coming back?

Everything about South (its own media, online fan activity) seems so mellow, so withdrawn, that it doesn't feel like we're building toward anything. I get that there's a lot of players we haven't grown to love or loathe yet, and that's a part of the problem. I get that everyone's a bit cautious about over-selling what soccer will be like, and whether we'll have a truly competitive team.

Oh, and there's the National Second Division stuff which, even if it too isn't getting people particularly fired up, still looks more appealing to most people than another season of trudging around the industrial backblocks 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, once South starts again for real in late February, will it matter to the people who still cared?

It's not meant to sound alarmist. There's just been this incredible void with anything to do with South, and who knows what we'll see on the other side of it. It's not the first time we've had to deal with such an absence and degree of inaction. And unlike the previous we (as far as I know) haven't come close to carking it, but I guess there's at east a hint of the same quality of the unknown. 

It's not a matter of an ordinary off-season, take some time off, and welcome back. It's been so much time away that it's more than enough to break the habit of caring about South.

I guess I just want to get back to a game to see for myself if it still seems to mean what it's always meant; that there's still enough people who feel excitement, and angst, and camaraderie to keep this thing continuing as a viable cultural (and not just business) concern.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Friendly vs Kingston tonight

As per the club's notice, our senior men will be playing a friendly tonight against Kingston, at The Grange Reserve, 7pm kickoff.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Friendly this Saturday vs Goulburn Valley Suns

Great news everyone, finally some open doors, South Melbourne pre-season friendly action. The catch though, is that you'll have to be in Shepparton by 11:00AM.

So, um, yeah, that's me out. 

But if you're really keen, as part of its week in Shepparton, South Melbourne is playing Goulburn Valley Suns at the Shepparton Sports Precinct at 11:00 this Saturday.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Remembering Tommy Docherty, someone I don't remember

Former South Melbourne Hellas coach Tommy Docherty died on the last day of 2020, and while I don't usually do any sort of deep-dives (or even shallow dives) on the passing of former South people, Docherty's tenure at South has always intrigued me, as does that time in South's history.

I mean, even putting aside the decline of our collective Hellas and general soccer memory, that whole late 1970s and especially early 1980s period - at least the bit prior to Len McKendry turning up and sorting things out - seems to be glossed over by our supporters.

And that's understandable. because unlike our dominant 1970s state league performances, South's first few years in the NSL were hardly a runway success. After all, we did finish last in 1979, and only avoided relegation because of a certain degree of administrative shiftiness, for which Sydney Olympic has never forgiven us.

That loss of collective memory isn't helped by the acute lack of footage from those early NSL years, but that doesn't completely explain why that South era doesn't get remembered as well as other similarly unsuccessful eras. It's not helped either by 95% of our supporter base (give or take one or two percentage points) disappearing into the aether.  

Oh, sure, there are moments and players from that era that people like to bring up, like Malcolm 'Supermac' Macdonald's guest stint, and the extended presence up front of former Liverpool star Alun Evans. 

But in general it seems to have been a period of time when the club chased a lot of big name players, paid very big transfer fees, and got little reward for these endeavours. When that approach failed, the club continued to repeat the same process while wondering why the team wasn't improving. Stop me if you've heard this story before.

That's certainly a simplistic retelling from someone who wasn't even alive then. Nevertheless, from what I can tell, the signing of Tommy Docherty as South coach midway through 1982 was typical of the club's thinking at the time. Instead of pausing and perhaps trying to figure out the root problem, the committee would invariably try and throw more cash at the problem in the hope that money alone would solve the club's unbefitting lack of success.

Enter Tommy Docherty. The Scotsman was a former player of some accomplishment, and had coached a variety of teams in England, most notably Manchester United - whom he had gotten relegated, then promoted; then won the FA Cup with them in 1977, upsetting Liverpool; and then found himself sacked soon after, when his affair with the wife of United's physiotherapist came to light. 

After a couple of short stints at Derby County and Queens Park Rangers, Docherty coached Sydney Olympic in 1981, though he soon returned to the UK to help his former club Preston North End - for whom he had played over 300 games - get out of a relegation scrap. For whatever reason Docherty's coaching stint at Deepdale didn't last, and so he hit the road again looking for new opportunities. 

And that's how he ended up back in Australia. Docherty was in the country in May of 1982 to promote a soccer skills program or some such over a five week period. During this time, South approached him to take over the club for those five weeks in his spare time, with an option to coach out the rest of the year. 

Despite big spending on numerous "name" players, under incumbent coach John Margaritis, South had played disjointed, inconsistent football, was apparently suffering from poor player morale, and was entrenched in the bottom half of the table midway through the season.

Docherty took over the coaching reigns from round 14 onward, with Margaritis stepping aside from the position of head coach while remaining within the coaching structure; that was an arrangement that would last little more than a few hours, with Margaritis quitting soon after introducing the players to their new coach. 

It's a little bit odd to think that a well-credentialed senior coach like Margaritis would agree to such an arrangement in the first place, and sure enough the man himself must have realised quite quickly that it made no sense. Certainly several pundits at the time, including Rale Rasic (who in just a few months' time  would succeed Docherty as South coach), agreed with the unusualness of the affair.

With training at the time only three days a week, Docherty was able to live large to a certain degree, supplementing his soccer income with radio and television appearances, and one also assumes his regular newspaper columns. One report from The Guardian in 2000 suggests he was making more in Australia from his combined coaching and pundit work than he would've made as a manager at a top English club at the time.

Being an affable and gregarious walking quote-machine, Docherty was good for publicity, but it's arguable that he was much good for South on field. Some players, like Charlie Egan, seemed to relish his fellow Scots' style, but other veteran players soon found themselves on the transfer list. And it's not like the team's results improved all that much, although Docherty's preference for attacking football at least probably made things more interesting.

After five weeks of mixed results, Docherty returned to England to take care of pressing legal and financial matters - namely the matter of a court summons over maintenance arrears due to his first wife, Agnes. During that time, Mick Watson acted as caretaker coach. On his return, Docherty coached out the rest of the season, made tentative plans for 1983, but his contract was either not extended or was bought out by Olympic.

And it's his second stint at Olympic which is perhaps his most notable legacy in Australian soccer, as some of their fans tend to give him the credit for building the squad that would go on be a regular competitor for titles in the 1980s. 

As for South, even if we don't seem to remember his time here too much, he certainly remembered us. Interviewed on the eve of the South Melbourne vs Manchester United Club World Championship match, Docherty remembered his time at South as requiring more diplomacy in the changerooms than he was accustomed to; he also noted of South's fans that "they were the best winners in the world, and the worst losers"; and that when some supporters threw apples and oranges at him, Docherty would goad those fans by eating the apples and peeling the oranges.

Even a cursory look through the papers of the time (both the mainstream outlets and specialist soccer press like Soccer Action), reveal that Docherty loved football, and was happy to entertain the press and public. In the long-run, South probably would've been better off if he'd taken the job a bit more seriously; still, there's something to be said of his not taking the game and himself too seriously. After all, soccer is a game, and games are meant to be enjoyed, or so I'm told.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

New year, new signings

A new year is here, and a little more progress has been made on the playing personnel front.

Two areas of concern seem to have been addressed with these signings, one being the back up goalkeeper situation, and the other, the desire for another forward.

The goalkeeper is one James Burgess, a 21 year old former South junior, who's been plying his trade Langwarrin and Springvale White Eagles. Insert some of joke about once a upon a time having a coach who would recruit from those places, or banish players to them.

I know nothing about Burgess apart from what comes out of the official press release, but one does wonder - surely a 21 year old isn't moving from (I assume) a starter's role lower down the leagues to sit on the bench here?

Burgess' arrival at Lakeside surely means that Josh Dorron's time is officially up, even if nothing is actually officially announced. He was on the fringiest of fringes in 2020, when he was "loaned" to some club lower down the food-chain, so it always seemed unlikely that he was going to get a game ahead of Clark and Nikola Roganovic last year. 

That it turned out that no one would play a game after March probably just made it even easier to let him go. But we'll always have the night that South plucked him from obscurity - that is, recruiting him because the football department actually saw him - and one of the worst chants ever performed by South fans that wasn't racist, homophobic, sexist, sweary, or offensive in some other way.

The other signing is a bit more pivotal. The player in question is one Henry Hore, another Queenslander making the move to what one Bananabender has referred to as the Queensland Development League - that is, NPL Victoria.

Again, I know very little about Hore, except that he was in a championship winning team up there last year, including being teammates with fellow South signing Marco Jankovic. Who knows if Hore can make it happen down in Melbounre, but you'd rather winners than losers, yes? Maybe.

Scrabbling around on the internet suggests that Hore is a forward/attacking midfielder, who apparently only weighs 67kgs. I don't know who's been weighing him and posting his details online, but if that weight class is true, it does seem a bit on the lean side.

Nevertheless, asking around social media for comments on Hore's quality, and the Queenslanders seemed universal in their praise and assessment. They say that Hore is a technically sound, versatile player, who can play across any of the attacking positions; tyat we can expect plenty of goals and assists; that he has a bag of tricks and a good deal of pace, and covers a lot of ground, and that he loves to play a 1-2.

All of which sounds very promising, but there's always a potential catch, and in this case it's one of South of the Border's all time favourites: if he's actually that good, why is he playing for us, in this competition? It's a valid question when you consider that Hore has played for Perth Glory in the National Youth League, and apparently "killed it" there, and that he was also apparently close to getting signed by Brisbane Roar as recently as last month.

It makes you wonder what those two teams know that no one else is telling us, especially Roar, who you assume would have been Hore from up close for the past couple of years. Is it because he's too little? Too old at 21? A-League scouts too dumb or cowardly, or merely distrustful of the standard of the NYL or NPL Queensland to take a punt on home grown talent right in front of their eyes?

Whatever the case may be, in time we will hopefully see plenty of Henry Hore, or at least enough to judge for ourselves whether his admirers were right in their assessments. 

We'll also see whether or not we got the right Hore, with Henry's older brother Mitch signing for Bentleigh. 

South senior men's squad as of 3/1/2021

  • Luke Adams (played in pre-season friendly, and interviewed following one of those games)
  • Zac Bates (played in pre-season friendly, and interviewed following one of those games))
  • Daniel Clark (yes, back from Queensland)
  • Pierce Clark ((yes, also back from Queensland)
  • Ben Djiba (could yet become the right-sided fullback or winger of our NPL dreams)
  • Lirim Elmazi (was wished a happy birthday, distinctive head spotted in other social media content)
  • Chris Irwin
  • Perry Lambropoulos (was wished a happy birthday)
  • Mathew Loutrakis (interviewed post friendly)
  • Jake Marshall (played in pre-season friendly
  • Brad Norton (scored goal in pre-season friendly)
  • Luke Pavlou (some sort of mention in a social media gimmick video or something)
  • Harrison Sawyer (yes, also back from Queensland)
  • Marcus Schroen (was interviewed in that video about South Melbourne;s new blind football team)
  • Gerrie Sylaidos (scored goal in pre-season friendly, also easily recognisable thanks to trademark bandana)
Youth team players named as part of social media guff from a recent friendly played with a "youthful side", and/or, 20s players that might still be around next season:
  • Sasha Murphy
  • Yianni Panakos
  • Esad Saglam
  • Giorgi Zarbos (unclear if he will stay or seek greener senior football pastures)

  • James Burgess
  • Henry Hore
  • Marco Jankovic
  • Josh Wallen
Neither here nor there as far as I can tell:
  • Josh Meaker
  • Melvin Becket
  • Josh Dorron
  • Stephen Folan (returned to Ireland in mid-2020)
  • Amadu Koroma
  • Nick Krousoratis
  • Nikola Roganovic (retired, again)
  • Peter Skapetis (Kingston City)