This derby is an anchor; amid the meaningless chaos of the rest of our days spent playing against opponents who struggle to come up with meaning, the fact that people still care about both South and Knights, gives matches between our two clubs a weight that is scarce within our league. Looking at an NPL fixture list and searching for games with a weight of history and feeling leaves most people coming up short. There's games against Knights, games against the Bergers, and little else.
Now not every game and every opponent can and will have equal meaning, let along significant meaning. But clearly we all look forward to some games more than others because, as South Hobart blogger Richard Rants wrote about when we played his mob in 2014, it feels like somebody cares. Depending on the day and despite the best efforts of our behind the scenes team, so much of what we do nowadays feels like a chore, or going through the motions, or as a social gathering.
But the league games between these two sides over the past 15 years or so (the results of which heavily favour us) have hardly set the outside world on fire. No matter how good the games have been - and there have been several good league games between the two sides in the post-NSL era - few of them have had any meaning in regards to final placings, or been finals themselves. That's not helped by our erratic appearances in the finals, but especially Knights - in fifteen completed post-NSL seasons, they've made the finals just four times.
Say what you will about our bouts of mediocrity, but we've made the finals eight out of fifteen seasons, and won an additional title when there was no finals series. Apart from that one blessed moment when we stole that finals game in front of that Cro Tourney inflated crowd in 2013, we've barely been in the same postcode when it comes to competing for league honours. During that same time, we've had multiple finals matches against Heidelberg, Gully, Hume, Bentleigh, and Oakleigh, but this so called "OG Derby" has been a letdown in terms of the league.
But that's where the cup comes in - specifically the FFA Cup, and not the Dockerty Cup, much to my ongoing chagrin. Because cup matches allow for one off and focused moments of success, and because the FFA Cup brings (or at least used to) with it all that garbage of national stage, relevance, promotion and relegation, and that brief moment to be able to exploit national and nostalgic attention. As thoroughly sick I am of being matched up against them in the cup - that ridiculous four times in seven years - it is nice to have that attention on this fixture in a way that we used to.
Still, that didn't mean the crowd turned up in proper droves on Tuesday night. Knights had their pockets, we had a stronger than usual contingent, and we were boosted by enthusiastic South junior players to Clarendon Corner's left. But it wasn't an earth-shattering crowd. For every person that turned up, there were far too many clicktivists who tagged their mates into the event on Facebook in the usual way, and were never going to show.
So while I feel sorry for those that genuinely couldn't make the game having to make do with no livestream, and while I feel bad for our media team that we couldn't get a large stream audience to accentuate their promotional efforts, I also kind of feel like for the rest of the stay-at-homes and we-shoulda-gones that they got their just desserts.
I don't care what people say - for me, the proof in this fixture's popularity, or lack thereof, lies not in minutes watched at home, but minutes watched in person.
So, you know, if you squibbed attending this game because it was too cold (it wasn't) or made only half-hearted noises about maybe possibly thinking of being interested in attending: well, fuck you. There's a handful of "meaningful", old school rivalry games each year in the NPHell and its affiliated competitions, so if you're complaining about missing on a livestream because you decided to stay home, that's on you.
Our clubs need bums on seats, not couches. I get that not every game has the same appeal, not every opponent brings the same vibe, and not every timeslot suits everybody. But if not this fixture, than which one? An elusive grand final between one of the current NPL's NSL Three of South, Knights, Bergers (with apologies to Gully)?
The best thing about it is, all those stay-at-homes missed an absolute cracker of a game. Missing out on a classic like this won't mean that they'll up to the next game, but it did bring a smile to my face when I was reading the Facebook comments later. That was an old-school vibe - either you were there, or you weren't.
And what a game it was, end-to-end, ebb and flow, and no shortage of drama; another chapter added to this strange generational rivalry which is both ethnic (because in the Australian soccer scheme, we are inevitably ethnic), and not ethnic (because our ethnicities share no obvious hereditary animosity). It is a rivalry founded on two teams who once excelled at the same time, and then became the default remaining Melbourne-based national league teams, and finally two of the few teams left that everyone who's moved on can name.
I thought we had the better of the first half, but it wasn't like Knights were far off the mark. You could feel a goal coming from somewhere, some mistake, one piece of luck, one stroke of brilliance. Both teams were looking to attack, and if the skill level didn't quite match what the players would have liked to have done, it was still a very watchable affair. Then we conceded a corner early in the second half - Knights first for the game - and fell behind.
I was ready to concede the game at that point, not because I thought we couldn't make our way back into the game - but mostly because I thought we'd had a good run this year, and it was bound to end at some point. Losing would be disappointing, but not disastrous, nor even shameful. And besides, considering we had a day's less preparation and our best three attackers on the bench, it;d make sense if we lost. I'd made my peace with the eventuality.
Strangely though, rather than maintain a sort of moderate attacking focus, Knights decided to try and kill the clock from the 60th minute. Dangerous stuff as far as many of the people around me were concerned, all that going down injured, taking extra time to take free kicks, goal kicks and throw ins. I mean, if it works, you look like the master of shithousery. If it doesn't, it looks like what it did on Tuesday night - simultaneously arrogant and insipid.
So credit to our team for admittedly doing what was necessary and fighting and pushing to the end, and riding its luck to get the game at least into extra time. Credit to the South crowd, too, for helping push their side when the players were showing clear signs of exhaustion. I'll say this - despite some of our misses, the team didn't get disheartened.
I suppose it helps when Matthew Breeze - the focus of much mirth and mischief on the night - slammed what clearly should have and would been the sealer - against the crossbar from Pierce Clark's mistake. And it helps when the referee (who I felt had a good game), had the guts to make the right call on Harry Sawyer being dragged down by Nikola Jurkovic.
And my goodness, the placement of Marco Jankovic's penalty, and the (what I learned later) lack of shenanigans about who was going to take the penalty, considering Sawyer and Gerrie Sylaidos have taken them this season, and Marcus Schroen is always on hand to have a go as well. I remember Chris Taylor telling me back in the day (I think he did, anyway) about penalties being best left to those who want to take them. Still, we had that situation a couple of years ago when too many players wanted to take a penalty, which almost left to fisticuffs.
So while at 1-0 I was happy enough to take the loss on the chin and move on, at 1-1 I was rady to be appalled and heart-broken if we lost. Into extra time, and with the allowance of a fourth substitution meaning we could back to a back-four after having to chase the game with a back-three, we really should have won the game before penalties. I wish we had, because that way there's clearer moral clarity about the final result.
Too bad we don't replay cup matches anymore. And I hate penalty shootouts, not just because of their moral ambiguity, but also because our history with them is not good - like 30 years not good. Knights fans might say much the same on the later point. We handled the situation much better that our opponents, and everyone was free to revel on the eerie and hilarious similarities between this game and the 1991 grand final, whence we snatched an equaliser from the jaws of defeat, squandered the chance to win it in extra time, and then won the thing on penalties.
Almost thirty years to the day it was, too. The crowd went nuts, there was much smiling and playing of the trumpet, and we move on to the next round to get knocked out by a team of much lower historic pedigree than Knights, that of course being the magic of the cup. I can't say anyone played poorly for us; even the players I don't particularly like played well, or at least better than I usually expect of them. Not in that category was Ben Djiba, who is coming along very nicely thank you very much. A super game in the back-four and back-three setups, and some clinical one-on-one wins at very crucial moments.
So, yes I left this part of the game well pleased with the quality of the game, the generally lively atmosphere, and the result.
But also, I am over this shit
Some people cannot help themselves it seems. There was an admittedly small amount of South fans which stormed down to the players' race at the end of the game to heap abuse on the departing Knights players, instead of celebrating with their fellow fans or with our own players. Who knows what motivates those kind of antics. We'd just won a thrilling cup tie, there was nothing to be upset about, and yet these people's attention was unnecessarily sent outward to undeserving (in the sense of they do not deserve our attention) targets.
Worse though were reports of an isolated pocket of what I assume were now very irregular attendees of South games, spewing political and sundry comments that were once more common, but which had otherwise all but disappeared from South games. Some similar bullshit came from the Knights fans, as is often the case. This nonsense continued after the game outside the social club, when for some reason a couple of our fans - I assume the same fans as those mentioned just before - and a few of theirs decided to aggressively taunt each other in the dark of the car park.
It being well known that some Knights fans hardly need any excuse to fight opposition fans, the antics of our supporters were just stupid - not for what would happen to them necessarily, but what would potentially happen to innocent bystanders (like yours truly) caught in the crossfire as an easy target. Credit to those trying to get their mates to pull their heads. No credit to our idiot fans trying to start shit for no possible conceivably good outcome; especially when they come to realise that, actually, they parked in the opposite direction to the one in which they were heading, meaning me and a couple of others had to go back into the social club to kill some time instead of taking the risk that we'd get jumped in the dark for someone else's malakies.
Most of us just want to turn up to games, hang out with our mates, support our team, feel bad about after a loss, feel less bad after a win, and then get home in one piece like a normal human being. Some of us might even be good enough to accept a loss with good grace with an opposition supporter, or even be something other than smug and fuckwitted after a win. It's not too much to ask for.
Back to league action, away to Melbourne Knights on Friday night. Keep in mind that this game kicks off at 8:15, not the Knights now customary 7:30 kickoff time. The curtain-raiser however is not the under 21s fixture, but rather Knights senior women taking on Preston.
Apart from the spirited chanting from Clarendon Corner, the most pleasing aspect was the chanting from our youth team players, including their "where is your hair" chant toward Matthew Breeze. Simple, funny, delivered with no malice. Good to have them along for the ride.