Monday, 29 March 2021

Not unacceptable - Altona Magic 1 South Melbourne 4

You'll miss this backdrop when it's gone.
Photo: Luke Radziminksi.
To begin this blog post, a quick question: when was the last time you attended a game where South Melbourne was both dominating a game, and leading by a margin big enough to make you feel comfortable in paying less attention to the game than you otherwise would?

It's almost a trick question, because the answer is probably our 5-2 win over Eastern Lions last year, but I tell you what, it did feel like it's been a lot longer than that. When we were 3-1 up midway through the second half, and looking like we were cruising, our local chat turned to reminiscing about Neighbours, late night television hosts, and my flailing attempts to talk about how the best band of the '90s was the one that seemingly cared the least. 

Before we got to that point though, we saw what was the most complete performance by a South team for quite some time. Notwithstanding the poor luck which saw us fall behind - seriously, that "shit" was headed for corner flag before it deflected off Lirim Elmazi - almost everything either side of that goal was remarkably not displeasing. Unlike much of this team's timid temperament thus far under Esteban Quintas, on Saturday night the team was assertive in attack to such a degree that it was almost unrecognisable from the previous four rounds.

Marco Jankovic's shot finds itself just out of
 reach of Altona Magic keeper Chris Oldfield.
Photo: Luke Radziminski.
Instead of relying on longballs to Harry Sawyer, the team was getting - as a collective - in and around the box, and looked threatening. A bit better shooting, and a bit more luck with the ball landed after a ricochet or clearance, and we wouldn't have even needed to come from behind to win this game. 

Incidentally, that's the first time that we've come from behind since  we beat Bentleigh Greens in round 14, 2019. And think of how many times we've fallen behind since that time!

To be fair, the opposition was coach-less, having reputedly sacked John Markovski during the week, which took away some of the potential fun of a game against Magic. They were also missing some good players, or so I'm told; but to be fair to us, Altona still also had some pricey players out there, even if they were of a vintage that was frightening for the fact that one of those geriatrics - namely, Vince Lia - was so old, that he had played for us back in 2004, after having made his debut for us in 2001!

Like, what year is this even?

The performance was everything I thought that the capable albeit unremarkable squad that we had at our disposal should be able to achieve. Conditional competence, with occasional bursts of dominance, and some excellence. It was never too much to ask for, and on Saturday we saw what this team could do by selecting its best (or at least better) personnel and adopt an assertive, confident approach.

We're also becoming a strong, bullying team. Because of the mediocre results and performances, and the way we've gone into a our shell far too often, it's gone largely unremarked that we have some tough players who are willing to put in some hard tackles. Of course that approach comes with collecting yellow cards, and that will become a problem across the season - but if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

The win leaves the team as still the only undefeated side in the competition, as well as in second place on the ladder behind Melbourne Knights. That little factoid has left people wondering when the last time South and Knights occupied the top two places on the table at the end of a round, with most people's guesses being some point in the mid-1990s; either that, or early 2015. But who's going to put the effort to find out? Not me, that's for sure.

So after several less than inspiring performances and results, everything's good now, right? Well, not quite. A couple of days after the fact, the shine is taken off the win just a smidge because five rounds in, it turns out we've played three of the current bottom four sides. It may well be that 2021 will be one of those very even, perhaps even mediocre years of Victorian soccer. Are we set up for a season ala 2011, where some opportunist team will claim a title because they were the best of a meandering bunch? That could play right into our hands.

Of course, we could just as easily put in a mediocre performance midweek, in which case I'll take back everything good I said about the team here.

Next game

Dandenong Thunder at home on Wednesday night. Keep in mind that this match is scheduled to kick off at 7:30PM, and that there will be no reserves curtain raiser. 

FFA Cup fixturing news

While no one seems to have come out yet and made an "official" announcement, it appears as if our round 4 FFA Cup match against Werribee City is going to be held this Saturday afternoon at 2:00pm at Grange Reserve, Hoppers Crossing - not at Werribee's normal home ground of Galvin Park.

Final thought

Some serious issues have emerged with NPL Victoria's livestream service. Poor filming angles due to no elevated camera positions, and light-towers obstructing views are old problems, added to this year by Gardiners Creek Reserve having a whole damn tree in the way. But the real issue is the service cutting out or stalling repeatedly. This seems to a be a weekly occurence now. Plenty of issues emerged with our game last week, as well as in the curtain raiser. Even while I was sitting in the carpark at Sunshine station waiting for a mate, just trying to watch the last ten minutes of Avondale vs Knights, and the whole thing just froze around the 81 minute mark. 

Whatever one's opinion on the merits of the livestream, if they're going to have it the least they could do is make sure it works. 

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Not winning, not losing - Port Melbourne 0 South Melbourne 0

I don't know why I sometimes take so long to post match reports. I think it might have something to do with the farther away we get from a game, the less bad I feel about it. If I wrote and posted this straight after getting home last Friday? Probably full of queasy hyperbole about sacking everyone and doom and the pain of it all, and things like that. If I posted it on Sunday? Maybe something a bit more imbued with try-hard levelheadedness.

Now though, at this very late stage of the report writing week? Meh. We got a point. Probably should have got all three, but things could be worse. Onto next week. Did you notice that there are pomegranate trees out the back of Port's ground? How teeth-rottingly good are $2 cans of soft drink? I really should have brought more than half a pack of lozenges with me. That kind of thing.

Anger has dissipated to acceptance at a remarkably rapid rate; that state where we must accept the things we cannot change, while still having the courage to keep turning up to South in the hopes of being the person who can finally shut the lights off - winning the title of all-time smugness champion (for enduring longer than anyone else), and also the title of all-time pointless masochism (also for enduring longer than anyone else).

Every week my belief that we have at least a competent squad is bolstered. The way this season is going, albeit based on a small sample size, this squad could even make the finals just based on how middle-of-the-road almost every other team seems to be. But the weeks have also bolstered my belief that the coach is not up to it. Is it a communication issue? Is it a case of playing favourites? Is it my latest cack-headed theory, that he's actually too smart for this league, that he's overthought what's going on out there? 

I threw up that idea at about halftime last week, that maybe Quintas is actually really smart, and that his tactical prowess might be too much for this competition. If that's the case, maybe we need an out-and-out idiot coaching us instead, someone with a rudimentary at best understanding of soccer tactics; someone who will go out of their way to pick the best eleven players available to start a match, play them in their most suitable positions, and sub off players who are injured or tired.

Maybe such a coach could even throw on a player to take advantage of their opponent going down to ten men, especially when you're in the midst of overrunning them. I don't know. Maybe we're so broke we can't actually afford to put subs on when the opportunity seems to present itself. Maybe it's not even the cost of the individual sub who'd' get paid an appearance fee, but the win they might contribute towards, which could end up seeing the whole squad paid a win bonus.

One could blame Harry Sawyer for our not scoring last week - I mean, his penalty attempt was pretty tame - but on the other hand, he has scored two of our league-lowest tally of three goals (hello 2019!). And would it kill us to have to rely on more than one clear-cut chance a week to maybe win a game, or at best break-even? Oh, I found some working earphones left behind the bus, does that count as getting ahead? Probably not, but these are the kind of skinny margins we're talking about here.

The first half, my goodness, what was it with this switching the ball from the right to the left? I mean, it worked insofar as the ball managed to get where it was designed to go, but it failed to do nearly anything else, because by the time the ball did get to the left (where everyone assumed it would end up) Port's defence was now in place. The second half, where for some reason that tactic was abandoned for half an hour at least, was much better. We even looked like scoring a couple of times. Imagine we set up the team like that for the whole game, instead of trying to stalemate our way to a one win, 25 draw season.

I'm not going to say that the opponent was of a particularly high calibre, but since most of our fans (and probably the rest of the league) have written us off as also being meh, it was nice to be clearly the better team at least in part by choice and/or design. That's not to say that Port didn't have chances to score, and Pierce Clark has done his bit to keep us with one of the best defensive records in the game. 

But you can't help but feel that somehow, despite self-indulgent grumbling about how awful we are, that we could, perhaps should have an extra four points on the board, and thus maybe even be top of the league, which says something about the filthy state of the league at this particular moment of time. 

I felt sorry for Daniel Clark, who had to be both right-back and winger; for Brad Norton, who needed to be relieved at about the 80 minute because he'd worked so hard, and had nothing left to give; for Zac Bates, and Ben Djiba, and whoever else was on the bench, but not given a chance. I felt good for Gerrie Sylaidos, who looked more decisive, like maybe he'd turned a corner. And I felt good for me, for finally getting some new glasses so that I could see all of this a bit better.

Having missed seeing the previous week's game because of public transport shenanigans, it was only fitting that I did not bother to check on whether there were going to be any train shenanigans this week, and get burned because of it. The 234 being a silly bus which does not stop exactly near any CBD train station, on the way back I took it up to near enough to Flagstaff so that I could exit the city loop in the shortest amount of time possible; only to then learn that there were no trains to Sunshine going through the loop, so I had to walk to Elizabeth St, catch a tram down to Flinders with some pissed guy who considered pulling the emergency door release handle, and then catch a train back to Sunshine.

If you try hard enough, you may be able to discern in that a metaphor for what this South team is trying to do. Though, to absolutely butcher a lyric from Art Brut's 'Emily Kane', "every allegory looks like a South one, when I squint".

Next game

Altona Magic at Paisley Park on Saturday evening, the last of this stretch of early season away games.

FFA Cup news

Last Monday I was sitting on my laptop, waiting for the livestream of the local women's cup draw to finish, because I assumed that soon afterward there would be the draw for the next round of FFA Cup matches. That didn't happen. I then completely forgot about the possibility that Football Victoria might do the draw yesterday, so of course that's when they did it, while I was out galivanting around Brunswick with a mate.

I jumped on Twitter later on, and found that the draw had taken place, and that we'd been drawn away against NPL 2 team Werribee City. Without wanting to overinflate the capabilities of our opponent, it was a bit of a dud draw for us, seeing as how almost every other team in our division seemed to get fixed up against a team lower down the food chain.

New old videos being added

Some of you may have seen that I've begun uploading some new South related content to my YouTube channel. On Friday I was given a good amount of South videos spanning 1983 to about 1995 on a couple of portable hard drives, and I'll be uploading those at a gradual rate. The best way to keep up to date with new uploads is to subscribe to my channel, check my Twitter feed, or hope that someone else shares links.

I'm thankful to those who passed the videos on to me, though they wish to remain anonymous. The content is mostly, but not exclusively, South Melbourne wins in the National Soccer League. A reasonable amount of the videos have been uploaded in other formats, either by me or by others sharing the same kinds of content, so my initial focus will be on uploading those games that I have not seen uploaded anywhere on the net. 

I've not had a chance to go through all the videos yet, but the labelling on the files is a bit off on a few occasions, so I also have to figure out what game's from when. Still, having a basic understanding of when certain players were at the club, as well having John Kyrou's spreadsheets on hand, means that figuring what game it is isn't that time consuming.

For those who take an interest in such things, much of the 1990s footage in this tranche will be familiar viewing; still, more recent South fans  - who are unfamiliar with the great early 1990s era of South Melbourne Hellas - will get a kick out of seeing what was a very good team, as well as a great feel for Middle Park in the early days of summer soccer. 

The 1980s footage will be less familiar to even keen older fans. Apart from its relative rarity (especially the 1983 stuff), it includes some of the lower points of the club's history - those 1986, '87, and '89 seasons weren't exactly crash hot for us, or for the NSL in general. So in the videos which cover that era you'll see some small crowds, a few truly dire pitches, and an often very physical style of play. 

But the good players and moments still shine through, and like me, I anticipate you'll appreciate the skill of players having to put up with less than ideal playing conditions, and yet still being able to do some quite wonderful things with the ball. 

Final thought / Puskas documentary

Some of you may remember the ongoing effort to create a documentary on Ferenc Puskas' time in Australia, and especially Puskas' time at South. Well, the following message has been posted by Tony Wilson on Instagram and Facebook:

For quite a few years now, I've been making a documentary about Ferenc Puskas in Australia, that's also about the old NSL, South Melbourne Hellas, Greek immigration, Hungarians in exile post '56, community and sport, and the 1991 Grand Final.

We're at the business end, literally in the sense that we have to raise money to pay for post production and footage licences. but also we need to close the lid on the archival resources we're going to use:

Does anyone have photos or footage of: 

1. Middle Park, crowd shots, atmosphere at games, arriving at games, club rooms, club functions, with South Melbourne being the focus, Just missing 1991 (say 1994) might still work.

2. A photo that shows the ethnic affiliation of the club they supported, with fans or players - we have an explainer on the ethnic nature of the NSL for overseas audiences; (Croatian flag... star of David, Yugoslavian connections etc etc)

3. Puskas photos or footage, any era, but particularly South Melbourne or out at Keysborough doing his clinics, pre-South Melbourne. (The holy grail here would be hand held video 8 or beta or vhs or super 8 from fans hanging around the club rooms, or going to airport to meet Puskas)

4. Footage or photos from the welcome function, 1989.

5. Footage or photos from the crowd on grand final day 1991, especially post match, club rooms.

6. Footage or photos from the post premiership end of season trip to Greece, 1991.

7. Great photos of South icons of the 1988-91 era, Ange Postecoglou, Mike Peterson, Paul Trimboli, Kimon Taliadoros, Mehmet Durakovic, Con Boutsianis, Paul Wade, Peter Tsolakis, Jim Pyrgolios, Steve Blair.

We hope to have the film finished in the next few months. Any help would be appreciated. My email is tony at tonywilson dot com dot au

This is it folks. Somebody out there must have something, or know somebody who has something, to help out Tony and Rob with this film.

I've had a sneak peek at some of the film segments. The match footage is great. The talking heads lined up for the interviews have done their bit. Now the filmmakers need the stuff that only exists in people's scrapbooks, photo albums, cupboards, and boxes in the garage, to really take the film to the next level.

If you have anything stashed away that could help filmmakers Tony Wilson and Rob Heath, or if you know someone who has this kind of material, then now is the time to step up and be counted. Don't be that person who'll see the film when it comes out, who'll say "oh, I had this photo or that homemade footage, they should've included that in the film". Be the person who'll be able to say, "that photo or footage at that part of the film? That was mine".

Monday, 15 March 2021

Streaming - Oakleigh Cannons 1 South Melbourne 1

Maybe it's because I'm getting older, and because my family circumstances have changed, but on Friday night I found that I had a limit to what it would take to keep me away from a South game in Melbourne - and that limit was what I surmised as being a train replacement bus service that was just going to be too much bother.

Getting there wasn't going to be a problem - and it usually isn't when it comes to getting to Jack Edwards Reserve, one of the NPL's better grounds for the public transport minded - but getting back was going to be a different story. Basically, it would have required getting a train for one stop to Oakleigh (or walking through the dark industrial backblocks), a bus out to Burnley, a train back to the city, and then another train to Sunshine.

On a normal night, when everything goes as planned, I'd get back home about midnight. And maybe something similar would have happened last Friday even with the altered travel arrangements, but lord help us if something went askew. And while I could've, I guess, asked someone for a lift back to the city on the night, I'm not a big fan of doing that because of my first rule of using public transport to get to a ground - that being, always be sure you can actually get back.

I made the call early enough in the week so that I could arrange other entertainment for myself and a mate, in this case seeing Luke Howard (piano) and Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet) at the Melbourne Recital Centre, playing material off their Ten Sails album. If this was early last year, I'd say it was unusual for me to head to a concert of any sort; but as it's this year,  it's unusual for anyone to head to a concert.

Aside from the sauna-esque conditions of the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, and some problems with a crackly speaker during the performance of the seventh piece, the night was otherwise the epitome of middlebrow contentment, in the best sense of jazz-classical improvised compositions, complete with overpriced drinks from the bar next door. 

And despite not being at the game, I still reached my weirdo quota for the week, when some blokes - who may or may not have been attached to the Free Julian Assange protest on the Flinders Street station steps - trailed me and my mate, trying to recruit us for what they called an Oceans Eleven style attempt at busting Assange out of jail. Luckily as we were walking past the National Gallery of Victoria, our potential recruiters noticed that some bloke was standing in the gallery's moat looking for something, and we were able to walk on in peace.

All of which is a very longwinded introduction to my actually watching the game on YouTube the next morning. I thought the biggest issue would be coming across something to do with the game on social media, especially on Twitter to which I have a serious addiction. But actually avoiding news of the game was quite easy. The most difficult part? Turning on the stream on Saturday morning and having Brandon Galgano's voice blaring out of the television. Now I'm a morning person, but Brandon's enthusiasm was nonetheless a bit startling, but one became accustomed to it soon enough.

It looked like a decent crowd, but since the effects mic (if they had any) wasn't picking up any noise, I don't know if the atmosphere was any good. Bit too much food talk for liking, of which I have a low tolerance even when it's meant well and with zero attempt at being patronising. I tell you one thing though, this is the closest attention I've paid to a South game for some time, not because I'd stopped caring, but mostly because in-person attendance is also a social and sensory experience. 

One thing that surprised me however was how much I still care. When Henry Hore tore that Oakleigh defender a new one, and Josh Wallen subsequently tapped home, I was in raptures - and I don't think it was just because it was unexpected. Within the context of the game we were the better side in the first half, and even though it wasn't like Oakleigh weren't in the game, we actually looked the most competent we have so far in 2021. Big sample size I know, and I wasn't getting carried away with anything, but it was nice that even within the strictures of Esteban's ultra-defensive setup, that we could be competitive against one of the league's better squads.

After half time though Oakleigh adjusted and started playing a few more balls in the channels either side of the 'D' the 18 yard box. When the ball got played there, there was confusion between our DMs, CBs, and FBs - all of whom are generally playing deep - about who was meant to step up and fill the space. That doesn't mean one should excuse the apparently blatant handball in the leadup to the goal, only that on the balance of probabilities, Oakleigh were going to score a goal eventually, and they did.

The disappointing thing for us, as is likely to be the case going on, is that because we are set up in an obviously unbalanced manner, scoring one goal is going to be tough, but two or more even harder. That's especially the case if we decide to just hold on to a 1-0 lead for 45 minutes. While at least in this game the long balls to Sawyer were less a case of being the first option, and a bit more of the being the next option, when he got subbed whatever our one plan is for going forward this season went to the bench with him. 

But back to that unbalanced lineup. If you were to take a stab at who was going to be our most important player in 2021 based on these three games, it's got to be. He's the midfield lynchpin, he's the pivot, and he's the main harasser. If he's not being marked out of a game, if he isn't gassed an hour in from the workload, and if he doesn't trip over the ball under his feet, we might have a chance of jagging a goal. If he's not in the game, the midfield becomes rudderless, and there's not enough pressure to create a turnover higher up the field - because Quintas basically only has Clark and Sawyer doing that job.

Sawyer is our second most important player, because as streaming co-commentator Lachie Flannigan noted, we're playing Sawyer as the bounce-pass forward for whoever's meant to be running off him. I don't think Sawyer's particularly suited to the hold-up role despite his frame, but if we're going to play with one up front and using this method, he's all we've got. 

(though one should remember, when extolling the success of the Chris Taylor era, that as much as Milos Lujic was a superior talent to Sawyer, Lujic barely missed a league game from 2014-2017, an astonishing run broken up only very rarely for injury or suspension; things might have been a different for us back then if Lujic hadn't played as much as he did)

Our third most important player? It's go to be Brad Norton. Why? Because he's the only attacking threat from behind the halfway line, considering how defensively this side is set up. Quintas needs to decide once and for all to select players in their best position, and where necessary in their best tandem. We have several full-back options. Lirim Elmazi, Brad Norton, Ben Djiba, Perry Lambropoulos, and yet we play Luke Adams at right-back, who cannot effectively make his way up the field.

If Adams is not the best option for a centre-back pairing with either Jake Marshall or Marco Jankovic, then he should be on the bench. If Adams is a better centre-back option in a pair with either Jankovic or Marshall, then one of those two should be on the bench. Because Adams is at right-back, one whole side of the field is taken away from us going forward, and we are essentially already pinned back there when we're defending.  

Watching this team is becoming annoying, not because I think it's capable of winning a championship any time soon, but under another coach there'd at least be the chance to pick the best eleven to start a game without playing favourites, and without thinking you're halfway to losing a game from kickoff. Whatever enthusiasm the team is showing - and they're certainly having a go - playing ninety minutes of frightened or neutered backs to the wall football every week is going to wear thin eventually. 

And that's got to have a deleterious effect on our attacking options. Gerrie Sylaidos looks like he's lacking confidence. There were moments in this game that, had they happened even last year, Sylaidos would have certainly acted more assertively. His refusal or inability to pull the trigger so far this year, whether that's in the form of a pass or shot, is of a deep concern. Henry Hore finally got the ball at his feet and managed to show what he can do, but like Gerrie offers nothing going back. Now that's fine if the team is set up in a way where Hore and Gerrie don't need to do things they're not equipped for; but everyone else (apart from Norton) is sitting so deep that Gerrie and Henry have to run themselves ragged, and if they do get the ball up field, they then have to wait for everyone to come up by which time they've been dispossessed by a stronger player, or had to make a backwards or sideways pass which kills the momentum of the forward thrust.

And bloody hell, are we actually going to manage to get behind an opposition defensive line by design rather than by fluke? And some of our players need to stop looking for soft penalties, too.

All of which is to say that, as usual, you'd have taken a point before the game, but you hate the point you got at the end of it. Hard to please, it's true, but I know this team can do better. I'm not sure anyone with the agency to make that happen believes it though.

Next game

Port Melbourne away on Friday night. I should be there for that one.

This Luke, That Luke

Last week I wondered Luke Patitsas of fellow South blog Sour Grapes would resume his efforts in 2021; word is that work and study commitments, as well as inconvenient fixturing are going to limit his output this year, though he is looking to write some stuff when he can.

But if you want Luke action, Luke Radziminski - better known for his photography - has been writing pieces on South games for the Footy Almanac, which you can find here

On the streams

Wet n' Wild

At home, just because. No genuine opportunity to go see a game of any sort, but there's streams, always streams. And then when it starts raining, staying home looks like a sensinble deicision, even when it's not really a decision. Mark Van Aken and a cameraman are huddled together under a tarpaulin in the media scaffold at the Reggio Calabria Club. It starts raining, and then bucketing down. The camera operator periodcially wipes the lens clear. Van Aken's research notes are ruined by the weather. He pushes on, taking his commentary a step back from naming individual players, as Gully scores, has a man sent off, and as the rain comes in sideways late during the first half, he decides that people shouldn't have to work under these conditions; he's had enough, and as he abandons his post, I can't say that I blame him. The cameraman stays in place, and we get the rest of the game, Gully gets the win, and we find that collectively we have a long way to go before our facilities catch up to our ambitions.

Unwatchable, and to some people, also unlistenable

Found myself with a little bit of spare time late on Sunday afternoon. Decided to drop in on the stream of St Albans vs Melbourne Knights. Now Greg Blake as main commentator... I get it, he's not everyone's cup of tea. I can tolerate his style when I'm in the right frame of mind, or when he has someone like George Cotsanis in special comments. But a game should at least be watchable. Thanks to Melbourne Knights style-over-substance kit preferences - wearing some of grey and black number - watching passages of play that drifted into the shadowed parts of Churchill Reserve absolutely pointless. So I stopped watching, with Knights 1-0 up, and moved onto something else. But then I decided, what the hell, let's just have the video and I'll listen to it in the background, and what do you know, that was a nice payoff as Dinamo scored two goals in the last ten minutes or so. Squinting at the video was a little more fun than usual.

Final thought

Monday, 8 March 2021

Clichés - South Melbourne 1 Eastern Lions 1

For this week and likely the next two or three weeks to come, match reports on South of the Border will be more useless than usual. I was a bit concerned by a recent sudden decline in the vision in my one working eye; it turns out that my lens prescription hasn't changed, and it's just that I need a new pair of glasses. So pandemic sluggishness of international trade and mail systems notwithstanding, hopefully the folks at Nikon in Japan can get me my new lenses sooner rather than later. 

It's not that everyday things have become impossible to do or enjoy, but reading certainly has become harder, and to a certain extent so has typing, at least on machines in this house that aren't my own laptop. For a very long time now it hasn't bothered me that I might not be able to tell one South player from another at first glance. Friday night though showed that things were a bit worse than that, both due to the distance separating the field from the stand, but also surprisingly because of the glare of the floodlights filtering haphazardly through my scratched up lens.

Thanks to an unrelated problem with my bad eye (which has corneal scarring), sometimes moderate infections in that eye can cause a sensitivity to light which affects the good eye as well. I haven't had that issue spark up for a while (I suppose that it helps that I've spent most of the past year indoors and away from people), and besides which, most NPL games are played at night, and in winter where overbearing sunlight is less of an issue. 

The previous Sunday at Jack Edwards was fine enough by my standards, but I wasn't prepared for the shock of the glare caused by the Lakeside Stadium lighting hitting my way too scratched up lenses. So for the next little while I must be more patient than usual with my ocular deficiencies

Having said all that, I was still able to see enough on Friday night to be concerned, as were many of you; though bless, some of you are willing to be bit more patient, and more power to you for being able to take that stance. We all want to see evidence that something has changed in Esteban Quintas' coaching method during his admittedly interrupted tenure as South coach, but all we are seeing is much of the same, performed by slightly different personnel. And thus for many of us, the question remains pretty basic - what is he trying to get this team to do? 

There are many paths to victory in soccer,  none of which can guarantee success. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Some teams rely on the innate superiority of their playing personnel. That approach requires money, and since we are trying to cut costs, that's not an approach we can take. We do have some talent on the books, but right at this moment we are not a destination club for the league's best players looking for a high wage.

Some teams go for a physical approach, seeking to outmuscle and outrun their opposition. The hope is to make up for deficiencies in skill by wearing down your opponent. It won't be a pretty approach, and the problem here is that your advantage is unlikely to be that great against most opponents. You can recruit big and fast, but chances are that the sacrifice made to gain strength and stamina over skill will only get you so far against teams that can move the ball quickly and effectively. And besides which, in a semi-pro league, how much faster and stronger can you expect the players to get?

Some coaches specialise in being motivators, getting their teams to run through brick walls for them. In theory you're never out of a game if you're playing for someone like that; but the funny thing about this approach is how it eventually runs up against the reality of superior opposition, who may or may not be as equally motivated as you. And there's another thing too - players aren't robots. They can't be "up" for every game at the same level every week. 

Then there's tactics. Good tacticians make lesser teams more competitive, and make talented teams more than the sum of their parts already excellent parts. Tacticians understand their team's strengths and weaknesses and play to maximise one and minimise the other. They seek to nullify or at least manage the strengths of the opposition, and exploit their weaknesses. Where they can, tacticians seek to recruit with an eye for their preferred style of play, and where they can't, they try to make do with what they have, selecting a team where the best player plays in the most suitable position.

All of this is really basic stuff, and yet if someone can tell where we fit into any of this, I'd love to hear it. All we have seen so far in 2021 - which doesn't seem to differ too much from the little we saw in 2020, and the second half of 2019 - is a complete lack of imagination and especially courage, let alone a discernable tactical approach. I have to assume that the players are playing to instruction; if they are not, then clearly Quintas message is not getting through. If they are following instruction, and this method is the result of that, then Quintas needs to take responsibility for it.

One of the most instructive moments in coaching practice I happened to witness was many years ago at Point Gellibrand, back when I used to make intermittent trips to watch Williamstown footy club play. Brad Gotch was the coach of Willy at the time, and in the three quarter time huddle he made this point to his players, who were trailing at three quarter time - that the coaches had designed a game plan, that it was the players' duty to implement it on the field, and that if they did so and the results did not stack up, then the coaches would take responsibility.

Where is the evidence that anyone is taking any responsibility or initiative for South Melbourne's style of play? We have overloaded the side with defenders and defensive height that we have hamstrung a whole side of attack. We are playing a true centre-back in Luke Adams at right back. Adams cannot effectively overlap, yet the most obvious alternatives in Lirim Elmazi and Perry Lambropoulos are either injured (are they even?) or out of favour for reasons unclear to me, and Ben Djiba is still a few weeks away from playing after a pre-season injury.

Apart from Zac Bates, who showed a little something off the bench, we had no attacking options on hand. While the concern with Bates is always on whether he can run out a game, he can at least use his speed to harass opponents and break open lines. He's no Matt Millar (yet), but the midfield (when it wasn't bypassed by longball after longball) was otherwise so static that it made me pine for the manic method of Melvin Becket.

The tactical psychological cowardice of the first half was infuriating. It's one thing to be cautious and patient when playing against a leading side; but we were playing against a team that everyone knows is going to struggle to stay up, and yet in the first half we sat back and waited for openings to present themselves. 

If you're meant to be a serious contender you don't wait for openings against a team like that, you go out and make them yourself. Instead we resorted to playing the ball endlessly across the back line, before eventually squeezing ourselves into a narrow space next to the touchline and hoofing the ball on to Harry Sawyer's head; or worse, hoofing it onto the head of Gerrie Sylaidos or Henry Hore, players who need the ball at their feet in order to make the most of their talents.

Right at this moment, those two players may as well be Fernando De Moraes playing for New Zealand Knights, watching the ball ping back and forth over their heads. How are we supposed to score with such a method? We were fortunate in round 1 to score from a legitimate albeit very irregular goal, and on Friday night it was the one long ball that worked, and which Lions will be spewing they conceded from.

Sure our team managed to accrue other chances in the second half, and probably should have grabbed another goal; but even if we had, the whole affair would still have remained unconvincing. I'm less upset about the goal we conceded now than I was at the time - there's always a chance someone's going to hit the ball just right from range and score a cracker - but that's where you should be prepared to be scoring two goals a game on a motr regular basis. Out of 31 matches in charge of the team in the league and cup, using a variety of players, a Quintas coached side has managed to score more than one goal on just ten occasions. Demonstrating how front loaded this stat is, in our last ten matches we've scored more than one goal on just twice.

1, 0, 1, 2, 0, 1, 2, 3, 2, 3, 0, 2, 2, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1, 1, 3, 1, 2, 0, 0, 5, 0, 0, 1, 1, 1, 1.

If you're not scoring goals, you're not going to win games. If you're scoring only one goal a game, you're basically relying on the opposition being repeatedly inept in front of goals to get you the win. Now if the plan is to make up for a shortfall in available talent - which should not have been an issue against Eastern Lions - with a grinding, cautious, risk-averse game plan, why the hell do we need to hire an Argentine with experience of playing in Spain to do that? There must be dozens of local coaches who could achieve the same results using the same playing style.

We don't play effectively a neat passing style, we don't play a nimble pass and move style; apart from our defensive players, and Josh Wallen at defensive mid, we don't or can't play a bruising, intimidating style. We seem to lack line-breakers, or we if we have them, we are wary of using them. Just about the only thing that seems to have improved in an attacking sense at this early stage of the 2021 season is our being a threat from set pieces, and it's something we're going to have to rely on if we cannot score goals more regularly from open play.

Next game

Back to Jack Edwards Reserve on Friday night, against Oakleigh Cannons.

The match day experience

How nice of my phone to remember the details I'd entered the last time I went to Lakeside and did the covid sign-in procedure. Still, other things went a bit funny. Not getting my membership card clipped, a bit odd, but maybe everyone just knows that I'm a paid-up member. But well-known South supporter and scourge of South committees "Box", somehow scoring himself a corporate access pass? The man himself was most confused and amused by this, but he was glad to be able to take advantage (in moderation, I'm sure) of the club's probably unintended hospitality. Well, I did say that the club needed to show more signs of goodwill to its supporters.

I'm not sure if Box paid any attention to the Australian soccer heavy-hitters being entertained upstairs in the South Melbourne corporate spaces. Those upset by the presence of particular heavy-hitters present on Friday are free to hate as their hearts desire, but moaning about Football Australia bigwigs being there at all seems counter-productive. If such people are in town, and you have delusions of grandeur in terms of being an important club; or just the plain desire to feel more important for a couple of hours than you otherwise would, then you simply must do this kind of schmoozing. Besides which, even if nothing comes of it in the form a National Second Division or some such, then at least the club's sponsors would hopefully be impressed enough to keep supporting the club.

Meanwhile down in the lower decks with the plebs: after many years of food of erratic quality, which in recent years was also served at an embarrassingly slow pace, have we turned the corner in the social club? It's too early to say if the good vibes on the social club catering front will last a whole season, but the verdict from those who ate and drank within the social club on Friday night seemed to be positive. Reportedly good quality food (even with a beetroot flavoured bun on the burgers), and very fast service. I haven't had the chance to sample the food yet, but I did manage to grab a gin and tonic, which saw the return of name brand gin and an $8 price point, a welcome step down from the $10 of the past couple of seasons.


The day before our game, the scheduled W-League game at Lakeside was moved to a closed doors match at AAMI Park because the pitch was deemed unsuitable. Disappointing for them, and annoying for us that we still had to play on that ground, but what else we can do? We share a venue with athletics, the nature of whose use of the grass field is very different from our own. Our season starts in February, coinciding with their peak events, which cause significant damage to the playing surface that takes weeks and not mere days to properly repair. And yet we also want late summer home matches early in the season, as well as avoiding clogging up the schedule and overuse of the ground in winter. No way out of it, unless relocate the club to Oakleigh.

Where is Luke Patitsas?

His Sour Grapes blog seems not to have been updated yet this season. Where are people who want to read about what actually happened during a game (including me), supposed to go for information now? Is Luke temporarily pre-occupied with more important writing? Or has South of the Border outlasted another blog from the state leagues?

Tearing apart the fibres holding together the Twitter universe

This is a not a big deal, really, just something stupid that's happening on the old Twitter machine at the moment. Several years ago now, Shouty Mike blocked me on Twitter. In recent weeks, I've had to mute a certain hashtag (#aleague) because a certain media organisation I appear on had begun to live tweet A-League games, and I didn't need that guff clogging up my timeline. As with muting a user rather than blocking them, muting a hashtag means I have the option of viewing a post with said content should I choose to. Somehow Twitter's internal machinery has decided that so far as my muting of #aleague goes, this includes being able to see the posts Shouty Mike has used #aleague in, despite his having blocked me.

Not on the streams

With six of the round's seven matches being played on Friday night, opportunities to watch the streams of any other games were pretty limited. For both those who like to stream games, but especially those who prefer to go to games, this is a less than ideal situation. Blaming Football Victoria though won't really cut it here; the clubs choose their timeslots based on what suits their likely audience and other fixture commitments, and Football Victoria tries to put together the puzzle of the fixture as best it can. 

I'm personally miffed at the lack of a Sunday home game this week - even a Labour Day game would have been nice - but I guess our club and others would baulk clashing with NPL juniors for Sunday games, or public holiday penalty rates, or having only a short turnaround before the inevitable Friday night fixture in the following round. 

The less said about the chance to attend early round FFA Cup games locally, the better, what with most of them being on the other other side of town. The only streamable game available was Magic vs Avondale, which I didn't watch for two reasons. First, the way the wind rockets through the effects mic on the bad side of Paisley Park. Second, I just plain forgot. 

Instead I read (thanks to reasonably large print) Helen Garner's memoirish novel (though I'd call it a novella) The Spare Room, whose plot centres on a woman who takes on a three week stint caring for a terminally ill friend, not fully realising what such a task will entail. If I were being flippant I'd say there were at ;east some similarities to supporting a once great Australian soccer club, but that would be a very juvenile take,

Final thought

Best wishes to Socceroo and South Melbourne Hellas championship player Ted Smith, who is recovering after a minor stroke suffered during the week.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

The New Normal - Heidelberg United 0 South Melbourne 1

A healthy crowd in a compact ground. It all felt
a bit country footy. Photo: Luke Radziminksi.
I know I said that I was unlikely to go to Jack Edwards Reserve, in the event that there was a lack of a plan with regards to ticketing and crowd capacity. And yet, though there was no plan publicised, I ended up at the ground anyway. 

You'll say that of course that I was always going to turn up, but what turned it for me was the Dandenong derby on the Friday night, where a large crowd was in attendance all around the ground, and who knows what if any advice was given to spectators beforehand. Later on I heard they may have begun to turn people away from George Andrews Reserve, but that's more or less hearsay to me, much in the same way that the rumour started that the grandstand at Olympic Village had been condemned. 

More likely in the latter case, it was actually the old media and VIP shed on the western side of the ground that's been deemed even more unsafe than the rest of the venue. That would make sense; after all, if the eastern stand was really that dangerous, why were there spectators and a film crew allowed in there to watch the under 19s and 21s fixtures? But I digress.

Out here in Sunshine, it's rail replacement services up and down the Sunbury line at the moment, which makes getting out to places like Oakleigh that little bit more bothersome. Still, one of the minor perks of covid is that there's fewer people using public transport, so everything went smoothly enough on that front. Caught up with Gains at Flinders Street (but not before trying to jog my memory about which line Huntingdale station is on), then we took another petri dish out to Oakleigh, and soon we were at the ground.

Once at the gate, I saw the first evidence of a covid plan of some sort. Usually my media pass is enough to get me into a ground without too much hassle, but on Sunday there was a QR code on the ticket booth to scan and fill in details for. Good for pleb members of the crowd, albeit it'd be nice if there was some forewarning in case the majority Greek crowd turned up five minutes before kickoff as per custom, and then had to fiddle with phones and digital forms to get in.

Which is another way of saying, considering that as part of my media pass a lication I already had to supply contact detail information, couldn't they just let me into the venue after taking down my pass number? But after no soccer for a year, one doesn't want to complain too much, because the experience on that front went fine enough. I do wonder though whether it will mirror the procedure for entering Lakeside this Friday and the weeks to come. Might be a good idea to put out a note in the socials in the leadup to the game. Maybe.

Once in the ground, everything just seemed mellow. Warm, sunny day, some people I saw last week or the week before, and a whole bunch of people I hadn't seen for about a year. There was also a distinct lack of emotional angst. Maybe everyone's a bit rusty and the angst and anger will come back, or maybe the time off has seen everyone grow a bit older in ways other than just the chronological. 

Maybe most of our diehards have realised, finally, that the war is indeed over, and that we should enjoy the time we have left with this club, whether that be two years, ten years, or somehow more. Sure, there's still going to be people who haven't got the message yet that we've surrendered, and thus they'll keep fighting in Twitter's Filipino jungles for a couple more decades; but most people just seemed glad to be back. How many people that were there on Sunday will once again become regulars - outside of a game against old rivals, and for many at least, at venues within short distance of home - remains to be seen.

Without being at all scientific about it, the consensus may well be that people are getting tired of fighting, or at least tired of fighting the forever war that was South Melbourne 2005-2020. Some of them are probably also tired of fighting with people at home to go South games, instead of family functions and sundry responsibilities. I reckon it's been a long time since a South game would've fallen under the category of a family outing as it was in the past. As usual though, I worry that when I make these kinds of observations, I am actually just extrapolating my own feelings onto the wider South Melbourne Hellas community who may have already reached that stage of emotional resignation years before I caught up to what might now be an ancient zeitgeist.

The mellow vibe extended to the surrounds. Middle Park was a classic suburban venue, Olympic Village much the same, and Lakeside a step or two up from either of those while still inhabiting that conceptual space. But Jack Edwards is more truly suburban, and no amount of new electronic scoreboards can change that feeling. Important things happened at the other grounds mentioned - and while it's not like there haven't been important games here, too - it's not really even remotely the same thing.

Instead of being partisan, the atmosphere was closer to that of a large community picnic. I reckon also that were there were considerably more South fans or sympathisers there than Berger fans. That's unusual in that the numbers have been more even over the past few years. Maybe being in more South friendly territory in the south-eastern suburbs, and the fact that the nominal home team support couldn't rally around the Snake Charmer (who was apparently banned from playing his clarinet) distorted that perception.

I don't know how many people were in attendance. The stand wasn't full, but maybe there were restrictions on how many could sit there - or maybe people didn't feel comfortable staring into the setting sun. Around the rest of the ground there was a solid amount of people without anyone feeling that their personal space and enjoyment of the game would be impeded. Is this the kind of crowd that people would envisage as being suitable for a second division, in both numbers and style? I don't know the answer to that question either.

The game itself - and there was a game in the middle of my musings on mellowness - was exciting, and occasionally of a certain quality, though the latter had more to do with Heidelberg's Japanese signing from New South Wales than anything we were able to put together for much of the game. 

Just about everyone's said it, and so there's no harm in me saying it as well: South's performance in the first half was rusty at best, and several unmentionable adjectives at worst. Only Heidelberg's profligate finishing kept us in the game at the break. To be fair, while we were cut up in midfield and allowed the Bergers to get into the box far too easily, I was at least pleased to see that instead of panicky defense, we decided to rugby union our way out of trouble more often than not, rather than pussy-foot around the back.

One thing I forgot to mention from last week's report from the St Albans friendly was how much it seemed that Esteban Quintas wanted the team to play out from the back. It didn't really work then, and while we set up in vintage Nunawading style from goal kicks a couple of times, I think someone figured out early enough (maybe due to the narrow ground, or maybe due to Pierce Clark's poor distribution by foot) that it wasn't going to work on Sunday and put an end to it. 

Even when we muscled our way back into the game after a shaky start - and apart from the three points, the welcome bullying physicality of Josh Wallen and Marco Jankovic seemed to be the main takeaway for a lot of people - going forward there were clear issues. Maintaining possession in midfield seemed difficult, especially when expecting Gerrie "he's only a little kid" Sylaidos to shoulder a lot of that burden. Henry Hore, who by all reports appeared lively during pre-season, was not quite as effective in this game.

What's more, it didn't really make any difference on whether a player had played something closer to a full season last year (say, in Queensland) or not (pretty much everyone else). Some people played better than others, and there was no real method to it other than the people I generally expected to play well did so, and those that I have longstanding doubts about, didn't.

It's funny though how sometimes dumb luck smiles upon you, and shows you what you may be good at. For us, that aforementioned physicality and the height that comes with it, might well be the thing that carries us to at least mid-table mediocrity in 2021. Six years ago at the same venue, Tim Mala put in the best cross of his life to find Nick Epifano at the back post, who controlled well and snuck the ball in past the goalkeeper. 

On Sunday, at the same end of the ground, Josh Wallen lumped a mess of a cross into the box, which fell onto the head of the very tall Harry Sawyer, who had front position in front of the very short Heidelberg keeper trying to reach the ball; after hitting Sawyer's head, shoulders, and back, the ball proceeded to fall over the goal line before the Berger defenders could clear it away.

The well-worn truism remains the same as it ever was - they all count the same. But a bit more polish and method wouldn't go astray.

Now the state leagues, mercifully, don't have VAR. And even if they did have VAR, you'd hope they wouldn't have overturned this goal. Still, goalkeepers being protected species, regardless of whether VAR exists or not, I don't think anyone was expecting the otherwise perfectly legitimate goal to stand. In that respect, the celebrations were muted as if there was VAR involved. 

Anyway, having gone ahead, we may have learned something about this team: that it looks better with a lead than without one. With the game in the balance, we looked more vulnerable than our opposition. With the lead, and with the opposition committing more numbers forward to get the goal back, we were able to break forward a few times on the counter-attack. That we were unable to add to our single goal was disappointing, as was the late fade out which saw the otherwise tired Bergers find a second wind, but we held on and won the game; our first win in round 1 since 2016.

Neither team was at its fittest. That's round 1 for you, and it's especially evidence of how much lockdown interrupted pre-season has stalled preparations. We were a bit fitter, a bit stronger, and a bit luckier. Sometimes that's enough. It's not a win that solved any of our on-field problems, but it did help expose them a bit more and hopefully gets the coaching staff thinking about more tenable solutions. Pierce Clark had a good game in terms of shot stopping, but a messy game in other facets. We have a lot of defenders to choose from, and not all of them can play in the same team. Apart from Brad Norton, our back four was tall, heavy, and somewhat flatfooted against speedy smaller players.

Having Luke Adams at right fullback also meant limited opportunities for overlapping runs. At one point in the second half Daniel Clark played a ball into the corner, expecting a run from Adams, but the run never came. And yet despite the disappointment contained in that sequence, I also get why Adams wasn't there - if the pass went awry in some fashion, all of a sudden there'd be no-one behind Adams to close down the channel on that right wing.

Attacking wise we have some talent which misfired a bit, especially when trying to work together. Much of the plan going forward became long diagonal balls to backtracking opponents, and hoping to win the second ball crumbs. That tactic worked a bit more than I expected, but I wouldn't expect that to work so much against the better teams. And the tactic also has the whiff of George Cross rugby tactics circa the mid 2000s that gives me the heebie-jeebies, if for no other reason than the fact that George Cross are several divisions below us for reasons like a reliance on that tactic.

At the end of the game, the celebrations were politely raucous, and contrary to one interpretation of a post-match photo of yours truly, I was content with the result, if not exactly the method used to reach that point. And then I had to find someone I'd promised to loan two portable blank hard drives. Then I saw my FNR colleague and NPL commentator Josh Parish, and asked him if he was able to work any of the insights I gave him into the game. Then I saw Ben Coonan, producer of the little Football Belongs ethnic vignettes. And then I went home.

Next week

Eastern Lions at home on Friday night. Lions are once again everyone's pick to get relegated, but that doesn't mean they should be taken lightly. I mean, they pushed hard against us last year

Optus Sport Football Belongs podcast

The other week I was on a podcast with Roy Hay, John Didulica, and David Davutovic, discussing the 1964 Slavia vs VFL XI match at Olympic Park, as well as other digressions.

Match programs

Greg Stock has been scanning and uploading Canberra City and Cosmos match programs, and sending the South related stuff our way. His efforts have filled in three or four gaps, including one where I didn't expect a program to exist - a 1980 pre-season friendly

On the streams

A half here, a half there, and bits of pieces everywhere else.

For better or worse, I'm going to be experiencing more NPL action via the streams than in person than I used to. I suppose that we should be reassured that this service is still going, though I'm not convinced that they need to do the under 21s matches. Then again, I'm not convinced that the under 21s need to exist, because I'm not sure any player reaching that age should be doing anything other than playing regular senior football. Still, while the service exists, we home viewers might as well as make use of it, much as the commentators and film crews make use of the experience gained. Friday night, I saw the first half of Port vs Knights, where the latter looked like they had a plan for the first time in a few years, while the former looked trapped by the way they'd been instructed to play. The second half of Thunder vs City was more competitive, but apart from playing spot the ex-South player, I saw nothing that would indicate a title threat. I watched the first 15 minutes or so of Eastern Lions vs Bulleen, enough to learn that Bentleigh will be fine, and Lions probably won't be. By the standard of Friday night's games, the first half of Avondale vs Oakleigh, and the bits I skimmed later on, were a revelation: fast-paced, competent, flexible, and hard football from both teams - and mistakes were punished with prejudice. The second half of Hume vs Altona Magic also had too good teams, albeit with less fluency.

Final thought

It was good to be back. There's no comparison to seeing a game in the flesh.