At last, after several months of the pandemic lockdown crushing local sport; then several more months of not much action anywhere, which may have been part of the lockdown, I don't know, because the back-end of 2020 went by in a big couch potato blur; followed then by a good couple of months of actual pre-season action, which included several games at Lakeside behind closed doors, a game in regional Victoria, a handful of games reputedly in metropolitan Melbourne but which may as well have been in regional Victoria, and another otherwise accessible to me game called off for the recent lockdown; after all that, I finally got to a South game.
And then, as per my custom during pre-season, I proceeded to pay as little attention as possible to the game being played in front of me, reminiscing instead about junk food and the kickboxer Dennis Alexio.
And that's fine. Those of us who attend pre-season games have our own motivations for doing so. Some enjoy the proximity to South; some enjoy attempting to play the optimistic or pessimistic prognosticator; some people are there to scout the opposition. I'm there to socialise and overhear conversations that I can leverage for content for this blog.
Having said all of that, what did I learn from the experience? In terms of the on-field stuff, almost nothing. The team that South fielded today had a large number of youth team players, likely bench options, and a handful of people who will start games, and some who may have started in the recent past but who are not guaranteed to do so in 2021.
Our backup goalkeeper option James Burgess should be a step up from the back-up options we've had in the past few years, but in terms of everyone else that played today, I did not see anything to make me think that they would be the key to an improved overall performance from the senior men's team. Having said that, my pre-season ratings of South players and performances on a scale of 1 to 10 - where 1 is bad, and 10 is good - tend to be begin at -5, and move very little from there.
St Albans (no idea of the relative strength of their lineup) were the better team - in a game that I want to say was messy, but was it really? When's the last time I actually watched a match to remember what a good or bad one looked like? - and probably should've ended up scoring one or two more than the one goal they did. My estimation of what St Albans should have scored is based on them creating about six or seven really good chances, with a competent forward line scoring from between one-in-three or one- in-four of that quality of opportunity.
Maybe 1.5-2.5 goals would've about right.
As for South, we had one loopy long range shot which the opposition keeper tipped over, and a moderate flurry within the last five minutes. The rest was, as alluded to elsewhere, very meh. Nothing to get worked up about either way, yet. Soon enough though, we can all claim the club is dead.
Next game - possible venue change, check your local guides
This week's first game of the season is against Heidelberg. This is a game that is scheduled to be played at Olympic Village on Sunday. However, the ongoing renovation of Olympic Village is not complete, and there is strong talk that the game will not be played at that ground.
(there is even some discussion, based on what exactly I don't know, that the Olympic Village stand itself has actually been condemned, but that's neither here nor there for the purposes of whatever happens this week, assuming that rumour even has any basis in fact)
Just where exactly the game will be played - assuming that the game goes ahead at all, and is not instead postponed - is something that is yet to be determined.
Reversing the fixture so that we host it at Lakeside is not an option, as the Victorian Track and Field Championships are being held at Lakeside from Friday until Sunday. My understanding from hearing chat today at Churchill Reserve is that John Cain Memorial Park is also not ready to host games just yet. I suppose Heidelberg could ring around the rest of the NPL's Greek teams and find out if Port or Kingston Heath or Jack Edwards are available.
For the time being, I would say keep an ear out for whatever change may happen for this game, because things could change at quite short notice
Everything has been going on for too long, but let's keep going anyway
The other week South Melbourne's Facebook page put up a "Happy Valentijn's Day" gimmick post, making allusion to Dutchman Jasper Valentijn who played with us during the 2007 pre-season and Hellenic Cup. In order for that post to happen, the club's social media person needed a photo of Jasper, and they thought that I might have a photo of him. Well, I didn't, though I know one existed, and not the one where he's naked in a locker room with teammates from one of his clubs in Europe, but an actual photo of Jasper in a South top.
I could not for the life of me find a photo on the net, until I remembered something I heard on a segment of an Australian soccer history podcast - yes, a podcast that I co-host, and the relevant segment of which I led the discussion of. Thus I went scurrying through the Wayback Machine, and managed to find a photo of Jasper Valentijn during his brief time at South, and thus the post went up to general indifference. Not every attempt at engaging social media users is going to be a homerun, and that's fine.
Of course, the most dedicated of South of the Border's readership will recall that this blog already did the Valentijn's Day gimmick eleven years earlier (and did it with slightly more narrative effort), which is not to accuse anyone of being derivative; only to acknowledge that (with the appropriate amount of horror that I have wasted my life) that I have been posting on this blog for a very long time. Kudos to those readers who were there at the beginning and stuck around, and kudos to those who came later and foolishly decided to start reading this nonsense from the beginning, when it was legitimately awful.
Oh, and when there so much of that awfulness.
Anyway, I found the relevant photo on this archived page, and instantly aged about ten years. Fourteen years ago. There wasn't even a South of the Border then. It's ten years since we signed Trent Waterson for a second time, and seeing Frank Drakopoulos trying to punch-on with half of Cobram Victory when he was playing for Clifton Hill in a Dockerty Cup match. Nine years since Dino Djulbic made his Socceroos debut. About seven and a half years since Fernando played his last game for us. About six years since I saw Andy Bourakis playing at Western Suburbs, and six years since we played against Tansel Baser's Whittlesea United in the backblocks of Thomastown. Approaching five years since we won anything. Fourteen years since the first - but not the last - attempt by South to get a spot in the A-League.
One can opine endlessly about what has and has not changed over the past decade and a half, but it's best to do that only intermittently, otherwise you forget that you're also living in the here and now; regardless of how much supporting an antique club like South under the current circumstances sees you be treated like a museum piece yourself. Every club is to some degree or other a personification of its supporters, and vice-versa, but damn it if supporting South for the past decade and a half hasn't made the club indistinguishable from each other in the same way that after a certain amount of time a dog owner begins to resemble his pooch.
On a personal front, last year was going to bring some changes anyway, and then the pandemic happened; and as with every major crisis that arrives, NOTHING WAS EVER THE SAME AGAIN and yet somehow also managed to stay pretty much the same. It is not out of the realms of possibility that we will have yet more lockdowns, delays, and rescheduled matches, alongside the restrictions that will be a part of our soccer lives for at least the immediate future
The blog certainly lost its edge and enthusiasm over the past couple of years, only some of that due to 2020's lack of things to write about. I got tired, and while I like to think I can bounce back and recapture some of the enthusiasm and quality of the blog's peak, why promise something that I might not be able to commit to?
In the NSL days, I was distant from South in a lot of ways, with the most important of them out of my control. I tried to make up for that in the post-NSL era, and have largely succeeded, perhaps going too far the other way. Is it any wonder I've got to the stage where I've felt there's no water left in the well to draw upon? Supporting South is exhausting work, and doing it the way I do it - trying to find ways to write about occasional and restricted glory mixed in with interminable periods of mediocrity - just makes things worse.
And yet here I am, still going for probably not very sound reasons such as a misguided and misplaced sense of loyalty, or contributing to the historical record, maybe even the kind of the pathetic hubristic guilt that comes from wanting to leave behind something of one's existence for future generations which will have bigger things to worry about than what some geek thought of overpaid park footballers (whom he was helping to overpay, in his own marginal way). Which is another way of saying that I can't wait for the season to start.
And if you're wondering what Jasper Valentijn is up to these days, I think he's the manager of a padel club in Groningen.
If Ian Syson can buy one, so can you
A reminder that memberships for season 2021 are available, including now via the official website! If you were a paid up member in 2020, you also have the option of renewing for the cheaper rate of $50.
Annual General Meetings on Wednesday
Also a reminder that the 2020 South Melbourne Hellas and South Melbourne FC AGMS are on this Wednesday evening at 7:00 and 8:00 respectively, in the social club.
South Melbourne Facebook pages taken down, and then restored
I'm sure that readers have been aware of the Facebook vs Australia situation, and the ways in which Facebook's blocking of Australian news pages has taken out a lot eof non-news pages as well. One of the victims of Facebook's brinkmanship with the Australian government (and the traditional media outlets that the government is acting on behalf of), was the South Melbourne FC Facebook page.
And then it was back-up, eventually, and we could learn all about which player's birthday it was again.
While it's easy to scoff at the temporary loss (especially by those who are banned from posting comments on there), the sad truth is that for many people out there, Facebook is the internet. For someone like me who despises Facebook for all sorts of reasons, and uses it only to keep in nominal touch with otherwise estranged relations, and for Australian soccer history guff, I could care less about Facebook's reckless implementation of banning news sites or the .
I mean, I still actually pay a subscription to a major daily newspaper, as well subscribe to other community broadcasters. I'm still a member of online forums (remember them?), and not just soccer ones! But the reality is that for many other people, if it's not Facebook, it may as well not exist. Not only are most community based organisations of a certain size not going to bother with updating a website (f they can even find someone to do it, or if the person who had the password hasn't pissed off from the club) - but a lot of people these days just don't visit websites that aren't information portals of some kind, as opposed to being an original source of information.
Which, to sum up, is a situation that sucks, because I really hate Facebook, but we're all trapped in it to some degree, even those of us who want nothing to do with it.
Public transport guide updates
Since every team due to compete in NPL Victoria in 2021 is the same as in 2020, I've not bothered to go back and update the blog's public transport guide. I assume pretty much everything has stayed the same, except for maybe some increased services in some areas.
A word on this week's game away to the Bergers though, assuming it goes ahead - if you're coming from the Sunbury line, there will be train replacement bus services, so plan your journey accordingly.
Accredited, once again
For season 2021, your main correspondent on South of the Border has once been granted media accreditation by Football Victoria. So, take that opposition NPL clubs, I'm getting in for free again. Who knows how my schedule will work out in terms of being able to get non-South games this year, but I'll do my best to get "around the grounds" where I can, even if it's the least loved segment of any given week's report.
Write for South of the Border
As usual, I'm always looking for guest contributors to South of the Border, for both regular and occasional segments. Especially keen for someone to do match reports for South's NPL women's games, but whatever South related topic or slant you have in mind, just send me a pitch and I'll consider it.
If You Know Your History has returned for 2021
The Australian soccer history radio show and podcast I host with Ian Syson on FNR has returned for 2021. It's going to air at the moment on Thursdays at 6:00pm, via Facebook, Twitter and Twitch, and available later as a podcast via a number of sources. I've been a bit slack with updating the show's blog page, but that's partly because my cheap earphones had started to cark it, and lockdown had made it difficult to get a new pair at short notice. And then it turned out that one of my brothers had two spare pairs, and now my only excuse for not updating the blog is laziness.