Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Calamitous - South Melbourne 1 Altona Magic 2

You wait a few weeks to get back to Lakeside, and you get served that rubbish. Maybe one or two shots on target in 90 minutes, against a side that hadn't won a game all year.

Once again, I get that we have suspensions and injuries, but a good chunk of this terrible run of form (especially after the lockdown break) feels like chickens coming home to roost.

The constant rotations on and off the field remain mindboggling, How can any player feel secure, when they are in and out of the side, on and off the field, and played in several positions, with little sense of rhyme or reason?

How can the team as a whole feel confident about scoring goals, when the default set up has them playing so deep, that even mediocre opponents feel confident in taking the ball up field, knowing that they will not be pressured?

I know that it's not 1966, or 1976, or 1984, or 1991, or 1998, or 2001, or even 2014. And I know that sometimes as a coach you've got to deal with the hand you've been dealt (or the one you've dealt yourself).

But there is still room for mythology, and an acknowledgement of the club's history: that this club was built upon entertainment, and that a desire to score goals is in the club's DNA. It is an indispensable part of what this club represents to its supporters.

What happened to the South team that, just a couple of months ago, pressed the Knights, and Gully, and Bentleigh, and looked like a million (NPL equivalent) bucks?

If the coach and anyone else with a say about how things are done on the field doesn't want to do things the South Melbourne Hellas way, there are plenty of other clubs they can go to where they can be timid.

Next game
This Saturday night away to Dandenong Thunder.

FFA Cup draw news
Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, for the next round of the FFA Cup we've been drawn as the away team against the winner of tonight's Oakleigh vs Green Gully match. The game is due to be played next Tuesday or Wednesday. The way we're going, they only advantage we're likely to have against either opponent is that they'll have played a rather more congested schedule than us, especially Oakleigh. 

Things could not really have gone much worse in this draw. I mean, we could've got Avondale, but this ain't much better. It does kind of feel like all roads will lead to a Chris Taylor (and Foschini, and Matthews, and Holmes) vs South clash for the national stage, as some kind of massive let's see who was right after all these years.

What I wouldn't have done for another match up against Monbulk; but one has to admit, we've at times had a blessed run in this competition. While we've done quite poorly in FFA Cup qualifier fixtures against NPL teams (two wins, four losses), we'd never lost against a lower league opponent (something like fourteen wins) even though we struggled in more than a few of those games.

And notwithstanding how overpowered Dandy City were for an NPL2 side in 2017, in that year we didn't face a single foe from our own division in qualifying. So if this is the universe righting itself after a number of years, than I suppose we can't complain too much about finally getting a difficult run to the FFA Cup national stage. And who knows, if we actually do manage to make it through to the FFA Cup nationals (and the Dockerty Cup semis), we'll have really earned it this time.

Women's chat
I watched the first half of this game against Box Hill United in the social club, and the second half outside in the grandstand. After smashing Bayside last week, and getting off to a very fast start here, I was expecting another avalanche of goals. It did not happen that way, and that can be put down to some untidy finishing, but also to Box Hill's tenacity throughout the game, never throwing in the towel. But the South women did get the win, and they remain on top of the table.

Merch chat
How good did those retro bomber jackets look in the pro shop? Now if only they made them in adult sizes.

Food chat
Had the salt and pepper calamari, with salad. Calamari was a bit too much salt, and not enough pepper, but otherwise it is a significant improvement over the chicken burger.

Final thought
Just behind Row H, someone made a comment so obvious and insightful, that it'll be carved into Esteban Quintas' coaching tombstone: "he tried to win games 0-0". 

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Painful - South Melbourne 2 Eastern Lions 1

Gerrie Sylaidos aims to keep the ball in play. 
Photo: Gold Leaf Creative.
At home, yelling at the television. That's not a way to live, not for the NPL. But enough on that. we all know what that's like. 

What this game revealed is that there's something to be said for the mentality you take into a match. Eastern Lions came to Lakeside looking to try and win the game, and South... I'm not sure South went into the game trying to win it. When they took the lead, when they were down to ten men, and then chasing the game, Lions were trying to win the game. It may not have been the smartest thing to do in every situation, but as a fan of a team which is cautious to a fault, my goodness it was invigorating (and infuriating) to see a team that no one in our league really rates, having a go because quite clearly their coach believes in the talent at his disposal.

And while ordinarily I would use the term "limited" next to the word "talent", it would be a misnomer to a certain extent, because in this league every player's talent is limited. Even the talent of a squad as a whole is limited. Some are more limited than others, but at this level the standard of individual players is such that individually and collectively there are faults and weaknesses which are glaring. That's fine, we all know what we're watching and who we're watching.

But these players and teams also have strengths, and credit to Lions, they seem to focus more on what they can do rather than what they can't. Can I say the same for South Melbourne? Maybe those closer to the team can, but I can't. Maybe the emphasis is slanted toward a method I can't discern. Maybe the coaches believe the greatest strength of the team is not in its individual and collective talent, but in its adaptability; not in terms of changing its approach to a game based on different circumstances presented to it, but rather, every player should be able to play within a variety of positions within the rigid philosophy set by Esteban Quintas; a philosophy which seems to be, play almost no one in the same position two weeks in a row; that nearly every player belongs in the starting line-up; and that we should sit as deep as possible, and hold on to the ball for as long as possible, and take as few chances as possible.

We move the ball back and around, back and around, sideways and backwards, and only pass the ball forwards at "obvious" moments where it's not likely to come back the other way. I could talk about taking more chances in midfield, but that would be too obvious. But here's the worst of it: we pass the ball back to the keeper when there is no material benefit in doing so. So on Wednesday, Lirim Elmazi (but it could be any of our rotating cast of centre backs), will collect the ball on the edge of his own box, pass the ball back maybe a metre or two to goalkeeper Pierce Clark, who then passes it back to Lirim. An eternity passes by in the meantime, as the playing system which seeks to instil an abject deferral of responsibility to someone else at all times comes into play.

Thus we are trailing, and there is no urgency. Urgency is different from panic; panic is wayward, agitated, scattershot. Urgency is alert, aware, and proactive. We are not proactive, at least not nearly as much as we should be. Is there open shot on offer? Let's hold on to it. Is there a pass that could be made? Let's hold on to it  Should we put in a corner directly into the box, to our tall timber, against a small and inexperienced back up goalkeeper? Let's play it short, and hold on to it.

I'm not against rotating players, horses for courses when it's necessary or obvious, nor in giving young players a go. But where's the method to how it's done here? Where is the method anywhere? Without going back and harping on our last period of success four years ago, because the circumstances were different then - a much bigger budget for a start - there is one thing we can say about the Chris Taylor era: that for all his drawbacks as a coach, he had a method. It isn't even about the method working or not, but I would like to know what is the exact thinking that goes into team selection, team arrangement, team philosophy. Of course Quintas doesn't really do interviews, and his English isn't crash hot either, but still... what's the method?

Say we get to a stage where we have our next FFA Cup against an NPL opponent as opposed to Monbulk Rangers (and let's hope that it is Monbulk Rangers in the next round). Or let's say that we are in a finals match. So, a game in which, if we lose, our participation in the competition ceases. What is our best team? Who is in our starting eleven? How are they arranged? What does the bench look like? I don't think anyone, not the fans, not the coach, nor the players, can honestly say what that starting eleven looks like.

Anyway, we haven't scored from open play for several matches (against Hume was the last time), and since then we have scrounged whatever results we have thanks to penalties, and on Wednesday a set piece (a corner). Maybe it was a case of Daniel Clark playing 5D chess when he rounded Keegan Coulter and didn't take the initial shot; he probably would have missed, or it would have been cleared off the line, or something would have gone wrong. And not even because it was Daniel Clark, though he's had a torrid time in front of goals the last couple of games, but because we just do not seem to remember how to score.

Even the young lad (was it Sasha Murphy?) who was teed up by Henry Hore (the only player who seemingly takes the game on with any consistency in forward positions) and blasted a gimme goal wide. Luckily for all concerned, Clark's eventual shot (which may have ended up going on to hit the post) was saved by the hands of a diving Lions outfielder. It was a remarkable sequence of play which changed the game on several fronts. One, we scored from the penalty (thank goodness) and equalised; two, the Lions defender got sent off; and three, Coulter injured himself in trying to prevent Clark from getting to the ball first.

Even so, Lions did not go into their shell and try and grind out the match. They played to win, and made us look silly in the process. And it wasn't even like those cliched "ten men firing up against eleven" moments - they were outplaying us tactically. Sitting deep and using the false nine set up (because we have no strikers) was not going well. Thank goodness that we finally decided to put a corner directly into the box, which Elmazi scored from, because otherwise we were going to be riding our luck for the the rest of the game. Which we did anyway, because we took off Elmazi straight after his goal, which must be a sign that Quintas has supreme confidence in the team, much more than I could possibly have.

Skipper Brad Norton chaired off in his 250th game.
Photo: Gold Leaf Creative.
Unable to finish them off - even three on three chances were ruined by repeated poor touches - we managed to get away with it, as Lions failed to bundle a late goal home from very close range. The whole experience reminded me somewhat of that Dockerty Cup quarter final from 2013 against Preston, Makeshift line up against an inferior opponent, and needing all the luck in the world to get through. I suppose we should be happy that we did, but my goodness it was hard work watching this game. Centre backs playing defensive mid when your defensive mid is on the bench. No strikers, and the bloke you recruited and called a striker (but who is really an attacking mid) not able to run out a full game (or so it seems).

And I just can't wait to go and see and complain about it all the in flesh again.

Next game

At home on tonight against the winless Altona Magic.

Final thought

Congratulations to Brad Norton on his 250th game for the club.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Drifting toward the void - South Melbourne 0 Port Melbourne 1

The email from Football Victoria came in at about 5:21 on Friday evening. It said that FV just wanted to clarify that while venues were closed to crowds for the resumption of games in NPL Victoria, media would be allowed in, though it would be best to check with the host club first. Well, ordinarily I would've jumped at the opportunity to head to a South game, but alas! I had made other plans! By which I mean, it didn't seem right to leave loved ones in the comparative (and not really that inconvenient) lurch at such short notice.

Also, given the lack of due notice that accredited media would be allowed in, there was just no real time to make an official application of my intention to attend. I mean, there kinda was, especially if I wanted to back channel things with my South insider people, but wouldn't that just reek of "don't you know who I am" antics, and I'm clearly not about that. Usually.

So instead I decided to do (more or less) what many of you would have done on the night, and watched this game from the comfort of a loungeroom in suburbia (in my case, on YouTube on my Xbox One); after watching Argiro Barbarigou with my mum, of course.

Fair to say, and I know it's obvious and cliched, but when it comes to watching South Melbourne Hellas,  that compared to being there in person, streaming just ain't it. The quality of the camerawork is good, the commentators for our game were good, and the production values were good (sans the persistent lack of replays). But it's not soccer as I think it should be.

And that's not to say that being there on Friday night would have been some transcendent experience, because it wouldn't have been. Closed door games suck whether you're there or not. I know, I've been to one, and while it's preferable to not being there, it's still a less than ideal experience. What I'm trying to say is, that under normal circumstances, you'd prefer to be at a game - even one with a horrendously low attendance - as long people have the choice of attending or not attending.

Competitive, organised football at a level where spectators are part of the equation, is meant to be a social and civic affair.  Furthermore, it doesn't matter if anyone shows up or not (well it does, but humour me for a moment for the sake of the argument I'm going to try and make), and whether those that do show up show anything like being interested or amused or entertained by the spectacle. Being part of a collective experience that's entirely based on intermittent digital interactions with people during spectacle doesn't quite do it for me. 

Watching a stream together, in a shared space, also isn't ideal, but it can have its charms. And it's not like I don't watch my fair share of Collingwood matches on television, and tweet about them. But that's somehow also quite different from the local soccer experience. Collingwood, and the AFL, are very, very big in this culture. You can be classed as a supporter and participant in the culture, even if your actual involvement or engagement is very small.

Sure there's a difference between the hardcore who buy reserved seat memberships and those who mainly read about their teams in the paper or make idle chat about the footy in the office; but there's enough depth to the supporter culture in footy to make a range of supporter experiences and approaches appear at least notionally valid; you can go to games regularly or not go at all, and still be part of something much larger than yourself.

Soccer  - likely throughout Australia, but more specifically at our level, and even more specifically South's situation - does not have that luxury of supporter depth and cultural embeddedness; where the culture of competitive, organised, spectator oriented soccer is so embedded that the game can make do with "enough" people turning up to make up for all the people who claim to take an interest but then don't actually go to that many games of senior soccer.

It's not just that you need people at games to pay for player wages and other costs. You need people at games to demonstrate that there's a purpose to this club that transcends creating content for media conglomerates and the gambling industry; otherwise you may as well just either shut the whole thing down, or hand over control of senior soccer to a betting company. 

Every game with a low attendance makes people wonder if the whole South Melbourne Hellas thing is a going concern, not just or even primarily economically, but culturally. Every game like this, with no attendance except a very strict limit on barebones staff and designated drivers and/or guardians, chips away at the feeling of being connected to something bigger than ourselves, even if it is not very big. Every closed door game also just kicks the question of what the future holds for this club, in a shared community sense, a little bit further down road.

During the game we played maybe 15 minutes of good football, and apart from that, looked generally clueless as to how to score. It looked cold. It rained. The players that I have no faith in screwed up their moments, and the players that I had some faith in didn't do much better. The coaching staff keep messing around with line-ups and positioning. And the team is being found, or so it seems, for the board not having signed a striker, nor for finding a way to encourage those responsible for team selection and organisation to pick a youth team striker to have a go.

And while we could have lost by more than we did, it felt fitting to lose to a solitary goal which will also probably be the goal of the season. That we spent the last half hour in utter cluelessness trying to figure out how to score a goal from open play was the cherry on top. All of this would have been experienced with much more anguish and anger and self-loathing if we could have watched it together at Lakeside. And again, I understand why we couldn't, but that last half hour for me wasn't even shared online.

At about the 58 minute mark, I had to drive up to Sunshine Marketplace to pick up my youngest brother from his job. So I paused the YouTube stream, and drove the five minutes to the shopping centre. I had the footy on the radio. I waited two minutes for my brother to come out of the shops, then drove back home. By the time I got back onto the couch and resumed the stream, I was 17 minutes behind the present.

I avoided the socials until the match concluded in my own reality's real time, and I avoided fast forwarding through the action... mostly. I say mostly, because when it became clear that Port were going to slow down every stoppage in play to the nth degree, I was able to move the cursor ahead by a few seconds each time. Eventually I made up about four minutes of differential; it could've been more had I started doing that earlier.

But even being able to have that choice to do that, destroyed the feeling of being part of something other than watching something to kill time on a Friday night. When you're at the game, you can't fast forward or pause. You can make nonsense comments like "gee that half just flew by" or "this half has been going on forever", and they'll be perfectly valid statements of your perception of the temporal experience, even if they're completely wrong. Devoid of the shared experience, the whole thing loses much of its  accumulated meaning. Without the journey to and from the game, there is a lack of a framing device. Without other voices, without the chorus of the crowd, it's just you and an increasingly oblique for why you care about this thing. 

At home, and mostly alone, time elapsed during a soccer match becomes nothing. Fast forward it. Pause it. Turn it off. Go to bed.

Next game
Eastern Lions on Wednesday night, in the rescheduled FFA Cup fixture. Once again, due to covid restrictions, you won't be able go! What you will be able to do, is tune in to the game via South's Facebook page. No idea yet if the game will be streamed through a streaming service that I prefer, like YouTube.

A quick word on the senior women
I assumed their return to action (also behind closed doors) against Bayside United was going to be on the Sunday, and then all of a sudden I see on the old socials on Saturday arvo that there were line-ups being posted and all sorts of things of the nature of "they're actually going to play very soon; like in a few minutes". And what do you know, within mere minutes of the kickoff they're 2-0 up, and then it just didn't dry up.

After that advance notice of South dismantling their opposition, I didn't stream any of it, not out of slackness or spite or carelessness, but because the whole thing seemed macabre. As the season rolls on, South's senior women add more and more top-shelf talent, and sides like Bayside end up being treated like Southern United.

Ten-nil it finished. South is completely entitled to crush any opposition it faces, and it would kind of be remiss of it not to flex all its muscles when it can. But, also, poor Bayside. What good does a result like this do for them, and for player development in local women's soccer? It probably does as much good for them as it does for Southern United, who no longer have senior representation.

Not sure what good it does for the development of the South players either. But I suppose they'll be happy to take the three points and move on to the next game.

Final thought
Here's hoping that we can get back to games by the weekend. I miss watching games in person, and I even miss some of you.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

This week's game is going ahead, but you can't go

So the news - as it currently stands - is that tomorrow night's senior men's game at home against Port Melbourne will be going ahead, but that fans will not be allowed to attend.

I don't expect that arrangement to change any time soon, but keep your eyes tuned to official channels just in case something miraculous happens.

The game will be live streamed as has been customary these past few years, so at least there's that.

This is obviously disappointing on so many levels, but these are the times we live in. Also, while not a direct factor in why Lakeside specifically is out of bounds to crowds (because every stadium in metro Melbourne is supposed to be out of bounds), have you seen how many exposure sites are in and around the South Melbourne area?

People have suggested that the clubs would have preferred to wait another week, so that crowds could be welcomed back, but I guess Football Victoria thought the backlog in the schedule was already getting out of hand.

Still, it's not just about the desire of fans to get back out there, or even the gate and canteen money that will be lost, but also whether the players will be match fit after this break. Of course every club will have had its mid-season injury toll, which this break would have alleviated to a certain extent, and here's hoping for us that Josh Wallen at least has been finally given the all clear to resume playing.

Quite how games played in what are essentially public parks will be policed is another question, but not something that concerns us terribly much.

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Puskas doco update - Ange at Celtic - NPL getting back into action?

Ferenc Puskas documentary update

Some of you may have seen the recent Neos Kosmos article on this matter, but the Ferenc Puskas in Australia/at South Melbourne Hellas documentary being put together by Rob Heath and Tony Wilson is progressing well. I have recently seen a rough cut of the full film - about which I cannot say very much at all - and it's not too bad. Some truly surprising moments. Several funny moments. Many moving moments.

With more support from the public, the filmmakers believe the film could be even better. I know I've banged on about this a bit, but I will continue to bang on about it. If people have homemade footage, or even footage off the TV, which includes prominent, or even incidental footage of Ferenc Puskas in Australia, you should get in contact with Rob (heath@vicbar.com.au).or Tony (tony@tonywilson.com.au), or even me (blackmissionary@hotmail.com). 

If you have photographs or footage of Middle Park from that era - the ground, the social club, the celebrations following the 1991 grand final win - get in contact with us. If you have photos of Ferenc from that time, or from his time coaching juniors out in Keysborough before he joined South, get in contact with us.

Huge thanks to the people who have already made their personal collections available to Tony and Rob. You know who you are, and you're all champions.

There are also people out there who have made promises to look through their materials, but who haven't done so yet. I get it - you get excited, but it slips your mind. The pandemic and lockdowns haven't helped. But this is another prompt from me, on behalf of the filmmakers, to dig out the VHS tapes, the Betamax, the photo albums, the scrapbooks, the Super 8 and 8mm.

The people who have this stuff may or may not read this stuff. Maybe you, dear reader, know someone though who has this material. If you fall into either category, do what you can to get those materials to Rob and Tony. Because of its subject matter, this is a film that has the potential not only to be seen in Australia, but throughout the soccer loving world. Imagine that - the ephemera of soccer loving Australians, gathering dust in a cupboard or box or garage, seen by people all around the world.

Here's the other thing the filmmakers need: financial support. They need money for purchasing film rights, and for production costs. To that end, Rob and Tony have a set up a fundraising section on the Documentary Australia Foundation site. You can check with your accountant, but donations may even be tax deductible.

His stint with Yokohama F Marinos saw no revival of CC Japan, but does Ange's Celtic move mean the return of the SPL thread on the South forum?

Congratulations to Ange Postecoglou who is now the manager at Celtic. Is it a step up or sideways? It's a curious question for Australians to ask, because in this country Celtic were last considered a "big" team in Australia back when SBS still used to have its World Soccer program, which would include highlights from mid-ranking leagues like Scotland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. 

Of course now we're at that stage of civilisation where SBS is basically soccer-free, and just as likely to torch its The World Game digital archive along with its soccer tapes. Anyway, even after SBS stopped its World Soccer program, we would still get occasional bouts of Celtic on free-to-air thanks to Celtic's participation in the Champions League, and every now and again you'd get a news report of the goal scoring exploits of Scott MacDonald and Tom Rogic. Even that though seems like a long time ago to me, even though Rogic is still there.

Certainly a long, long time ago though, was when this blog used to take a sort of strange interest in the life and times of Ange Postecoglou, in particular as it pertained to his wilderness years following his run with Australia's national youth teams, but before his career revival with Brisbane Roar. More specifically, South of the Border was probably the only English language outlet anywhere to take any regular interest in Ange's attempts to revive his coaching stocks in the Greek third division with the then Con Makris owned Panachaiki in 2008. 

That's not meant to sound like aggrandisement of this blog - even back when South of the Border mused on Ange's ascension to Socceroos coach, we noted that our interest in Ange's Panachaiki stint was covered "more as an oddity than as anything serious". I had space to fill, and a yearning desire to post relentlessly in the early days. That was a long time ago, for both Ange and myself. I've already written about the accomplishment of Ange digging himself out of a football coaching grave - in no small part not just because someone at Brisbane Roar thought it would be worth taking a chance on him, but also because he was willing to take chances himself.

Since the beginning of his career revival, so many words have been written about Ange, and there'll be many more to come. One day, hopefully, he himself will write the full version of his story, discussing not just his well known achievements and failures, but also Panachaiki and Whittlesea Zebras, and the very first coaching gig - and his last playing gig - at Western Suburbs. Celtic will be a challenge of course, something more regular viewers of Scottish football will understand better than me. It's also an opportunity though, not just for Ange, but should he be successful, for other Australian coaches as well. It took decades for Australian soccer pioneers to break down the playing doors of European football; now we may see the first big blow struck for Australian coaches.

Let's not forget though...

Congratulations also to Joe Montemurro, who became the manager of Juventus' women's team during the week. Blimey, South Melbourne related coaching trailblazers wherever you look these days. 

Return to football coming soon?

Now that lockdown restrictions are being tentatively eased, are we likely to see a return to football soon? Seems to be a suggestion that the competition could resume next week, but that may be hard to do if the 25 kilometre limit, as well as limits on public gatherings, are in still in place. Of course things could change again for better or worse between now and next week. Probably best to keep tuned to better sources of information and news than South of the Border. 

Friday, 4 June 2021

Some thoughts on the Greek episode of Optus' Football Belongs series

Well, some people were certainly underwhelmed, confused - and perhaps even a little miffed - with the Greek episode of Optus Sport's Football Belongs series, which was released the other week. Since I was also underwhelmed, confused, and miffed, I feel it warrants a now rare non-match report spiel from me on South of the Border, if for no other reason than it's better than me posting vaguely that "it just wasn't very good" on Twitter.

For those unfamiliar with the concept: Optus Sport's Football Belongs series focuses on European migrant communities in Australia, and their connections to Australian soccer. The series is made up of short episodes (usually around five minutes), with each episode focusing on a different ethnic group. Originally intended to act as a promotional tie-in for Optus' coverage of the Euro 2020 tournament, with Euro 2020's postponement until 2021, half the episodes were released last year, and the second half are being released now. 

Apart from Optus seeking to dip its toe into a variety of Australian soccer history projects - there's a number of video stories they've done on players, as well as John Didulica's Australian soccer history podcast series - it's a project that's been made possible by recent changes to the local soccer cultural landscape. The most important of those changes has been the emergence of the FFA Cup which, even with the patronising tone of the broadcasters and organising body, began dismantling to a certain extent the ethnic boogeyman trope of Australian soccer.

Since then we've also had the dismantling and/or adjustment of the National Club Identity Policy, which means that now we can stop pretending that ethnic clubs aren't ethnic clubs - and that we may even want to celebrate the cultural variety and difference that exists within Australian soccer. Thus Football Belongs is also an attempt at remedying the specific kind of "ethnic club" bashing and erasure of history that Australian soccer took part in for the better part of the last two or three decades.

Within that context, you have the emergence of a series which seeks to celebrate the contribution of migrant European communities to Australian soccer. It's been an interesting diversion of a series, with many issues. There's the near total lack of women players interviewed, with most women interviewed being - at best - ancillary members of the soccer community; the lack of almost anyone from outside the specific ethnic groups covered discussing their place within the specific ethnic club structure they find themselves in; and (in general) the lack of people who had been involved with those ethnic soccer clubs, who ended up moving away from that particular scene for various reasons, without the requisite explanation as to why that happened.

There are also a lot of technical and philosophical obstacles to making a series like this, not least making an all-encompassing series which condenses into very small packets the often decades long experience of migrants to Australia and their soccer lives. Each ethnicity covered also provides its particular quirks and challenges. How do you avoid talking about politics, when the foundation of many of these clubs is overtly political? How do you make a club and culture based on self-evident minorities - when their mere existence upsets a good chunk of Australia that doesn't want ethnic minorities? How do you make a small, self-sufficient, even insular community, not come across as being so insular that they come across as unsympathetic? How do you approach a community whose younger generations have withered away entirely as a distinct Australian soccer ethnic group, or whose sense of self has changed so dramatically due to political developments that their former selves are no longer recognisable to their current selves? 

And with particular reference to this episode - how do you condense the experience of an Australian soccer ethnicity which is so large, so diverse, and spread across every state and dozens of clubs? These are questions which are hard to answer, especially in a five minute burst format. It's probably even outside the remit of the project to answer those questions with any sort of depth. And to a degree much of this is understandable - the series is meant to be a short, punchy, quietly celebratory look at communities which have nurtured soccer in Australia in difficult circumstances. 

I've found many of the episodes up until this point to be quite enjoyable, with a whole range of caveats (which you can hear about in the last segment of this episode of my history podcast from last year), but the Greek episode was not a good outing. This wasn't just noticed by the Greeks, but also by people from outside the Greek soccer community. 

But what the Greeks noticed first up (apart from Nick Giannopoulos; more on that later) was a film that ended up being neither very much about Greek-Australian soccer or about South Melbourne Hellas specifically, even as South featured more prominently than the other clubs featured. There was talk about Lonsdale Street, and Oakleigh's Greek precinct, and an erroneous statement by George Donikian about who was Australia's first minister for immigration. 

There was barely any mention of Sydney Olympic, apart from a very quick grab with Peter Katholos. Almost nothing about Heidelberg, apart from footage of them from our round one meeting earlier this year, There was nothing at all on Greek-Australian soccer from Tassie, Western Australia, Queensland, and most unforgivably, nothing about West Adelaide at all. I get that there are budget and time restrictions, and that there are a bajillion Greek backed clubs in Australia, and that the pandemic has made a mess of being able to travel especially for a Melbourne based production crew. But leaving out West Adelaide seems very wrong in this context.

There was some good content in there. There's Ange Postecoglou, no doubt the Greek community's most important soccer product, who makes the kind of comments on this topic you've heard him make before; there's Katholos and Con Boutsianis talking about how difficult it was playing for a Greek backed club, at least in terms of the expectations of the supporters. Unlike other episodes in this series however, there's no current supporters at all; even Football Australia chairman Chris Nikou, who makes an appearance in this film, makes the point that he is a former supporter of South Melbourne. And that's pretty much it. 

Oh, except for Nick Giannopoulos. Now I'm not a fan, but I get that people out there were, and still are, especially those generations that grew up with his comedy. And that's fine, because different strokes for different folks and all that. And I'm not here to eviscerate Giannopoulos and his brand of comedy, because that's been done by far more capable people. But here's the problem as far as Giannopoulos' appearance plays out in this episode. A major part of Giannopoulos' schtick is authenticity - his belief that in his comedy, he tells an authentic story to both the demographic he emerged from (second generation migrants, especially Greeks), as well as to those outside that demographic, in this case principally those in Anglo-Australia.

Authenticity is also an important angle for this series. The producers are striving to present real people, real clubs, and real supporters. In contrast to the focus grouped, marketing spin, corporate backed A-League, this series seeks to relate a much more organic Australian soccer story. Authenticity is a tricky thing though. When you play around in generalities, you can get away with a lot more than when you deal with specifics. When dealing in generalities, the broadness of (for example) a comic stereotype is easily recognised by everyone watching. It's easy, it's cheap, but it's also artistically safe. 

But when it comes to making specific claims, that's where things get trickier. If your specific claims are laden with errors, the members of the audience from outside your demographic will likely struggle to recognise them. That's not the case though for those members of the audience who are "insiders" to your claims of authenticity, and whose ability to connect to the authenticity of your cultural product is dependent on your being much more precise.

Giannopoulos starts off badly with the claim that the Greek word "passatembo" is the word for "pistachios". It is not. Passatembo (a derivative of the Italian passatempo, meaning "pastime" or "diversion") in Greek refers specifically to pumpkin seeds. Eyes were already rolling at Giannopoulos even being in the film, then he makes that error, and finishes it off with his "compensaysho" bit. One of the stylistic challenges for a series like Football Belongs is to avoid having your subject - in this case Australian ethnic soccer communities - come across as fossils. And yet here we are in this episode, with a fossil comedian front and centre, dredging up gags that weren't that funny when he made his name with them thirty-five years ago.

But away from whatever specific details Giannopoulos gets wrong, or how tired his shtick is, the most dumbfounding thing for many current South fans watching this episode is that he was even asked to appear at all in a documentary about Greek-Australian soccer. Social media was awash with people trying to remember the last time Giannopoulos was anywhere near a South game; not only that, people were trying to remember Giannopoulos even attending South matches during the NSL.

More evidence, if you needed it, that Giannopoulos has little to no interest in local soccer, is the almost complete absence of soccer references in his social media presence. He seemed to be a Victory fan about six years ago, but has barely posted about them since. That's about as much soccer content as you get out of him online. References to South Melbourne? None. References to the Essendon Football Club? Plenty, especially if you want to dig in to Giannopoulos being a Hird Truther.

To be fair, it's probably the case that the producers just didn't know any better. They made an error in judgement in thinking that Giannopoulos would have something worthwhile and relevant to say on the topic of Greek-Australians and soccer, and so they approached him to appear on this thing. Having made that mistake, the onus should then be on Giannopoulos to say "sorry fellas, I'm flattered that you've asked me to be in this film, but I have nothing to do with soccer in Australia, let alone any local Greek clubs, and haven't for a long time - best to find someone closer to the scene".

Instead, over a quarter of the very short running running time - which all up, is just four minutes - is taken up with Giannopoulos, with a good portion of that consisting of his "ethnic" minstrelsy. That's time that could've been used to talk with a lifelong volunteer or supporter of any Greek-Australian club, or a player (like Boutsi or Kat) who understood what it meant to play for a Greek backed club, or to feature something on Heidelberg or West Adelaide.

The whole thing felt like a fundamental misreading of Greek-Australians and soccer. The joke was even made on the South forum that the only way it could've been worse, was if George Calombaris made an appearance as well; and perhaps the only thing preventing that from happening is the fact that for the time being at least, Calombaris remains a social pariah. Unlike other episodes, there was little about specific about any clubs. The references were so dated, that the film inadvertently raised the question of whether we are living clubs and a living culture, or just a memory of one.