Tuesday, 29 June 2021
Saturday, 26 June 2021
|Gerrie Sylaidos aims to keep the ball in play. |
Photo: Gold Leaf Creative.
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.
And I just can't wait to go and see and complain about it all the in flesh again.
At home on tonight against the winless Altona Magic.
Congratulations to Brad Norton on his 250th game for the club.
Monday, 21 June 2021
A quick word on the senior women
Thursday, 17 June 2021
Saturday, 12 June 2021
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 (email@example.com).or Tony (firstname.lastname@example.org), or even me (email@example.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
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.