Friday, 9 December 2016

Friendly tomorrow morning at Lakeside

I have been told that there will be a sparring session tomorrow at Lakeside, at 11:30 in the morning, with NPL2 side Dandenong City.

Now since the club is making no effort to publicise this (I don't know why), you turn up to Lakeside at your own risk tomorrow.

I'm going to go anyway, because I'm going to finally resolve the question of the seating capacity of our grandstand, a problem which has plagued mankind for centuries.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Book Review - Garry Nelson's 'Left Foot Forward'

That's the trouble with decisions: You make them and they don't seem to have any relevance to what happens next. That, of course, goes a long way to explaining why football is so popular.
Garry Nelson, Left Foot Forward
Left Foot Forward is a book from all the way back in 1995. It's a diary of the 1994/1995 English football season, as experienced by the forward/left winger Garry Nelson of Charlton Athletic, who were then in the second tier. Beginning during a family holiday in the United States and running through an entire season of mediocrity punctuated by the odd up and several downs, Left Foot Forward's mission is to show the punters out there what it's like to be a professional footballer of moderate ability in England.

Most will never play in the top division. The average length of a professional footballing career (at that point in time) is eight years. Wages in the second tier are above the average punter's, but not brilliant. And you're always one injury or red card or disagreement with a coach away from being thrown on the scrapheap.

At 34 going on 35, Nelson was near the end of his career, and during the book he is readying himself for the inevitable transition to life away from football. Unlike others, he's trying to get himself set up for that future, but knows it won't be easy. Still, he counts himself as one of the lucky ones, having been able to make a career out of football for 16 odd years.

Other players we encounter in the book are not so fortunate or forward thinking. Other older players haven't done that planning. Injury cuts others down in their prime. Scores of youngsters on the youth team get cut. As a PFA representative, Nelson tries to do his best to help out those players, but more often than not there is little he can do to overcome the egos of players - the youngsters think they're always going to make it - or the cost cutting of smaller clubs, or widening gap of the haves and have nots.

And while there are a lot of interesting moments in this book dealing with the mundane, workaday nature of being a professional footballer - the injuries, the bus trips, the commutes, training sessions, video sessions, recovery sessions, games in the reserves, long goal scoring droughts - the most interesting parts for me were those which dealt with the economics of football and Nelson's role as a union shop steward. As a snapshot of the professional game in Europe just before the onset of the Bosman Rule (Bosman's then ongoing case is discussed) and before the English Premier League really took off into the stratosphere as an entertainment product, this book is fascinating.

Nelson counts himself lucky to be at that point in time at a good and fair club, having been put through hell at some of his previous teams. Still, having lived through the transition of the Taylor Report and its mandating of all seater stadiums, and with free transfers just around the corner, Nelson is not overly optimistic for the future of the game. Some will get richer, but most will not. Job security will be flimsier. The fact that Nelson plays for a London club but finds it more economical to make a 90 minute commute says it all really.

Having said that, it's not all doom and gloom. Nelson loves the game, and loves playing the game. When things go right, when the team plays well, when luck runs your way, the game is a joy to experience. There is a camaraderie within the industry, though whether it's because Nelson is playing at non-elite level is hard to gauge. Nelson also has a knack for being completely wrong about big name player transfer of the time, and it's details like that (which will be appreciated by keener followers of English football than myself) that add a sense of levity.

When Nelson goes off on philosophical tangents, the book can drag a little, but the diary entry nature of the book means you quickly move on to the next entry. An interesting and not inconsequential read about a not inconsequential pursuit.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

November 2016 digest

Friendly vs Box Hill United
On the Monday that just went past the club had an informal hit-out against now regular pre-season sparring partner Box Hill United. Three by thirty minute periods. Box Hill United scored the only goal of the affair, from a goal mouth scramble. They had only one other clear cut chance, a free header straight to the keeper. For South, the squad was made up of many of 2016's regulars (except those that have left, and Luke Adams who is playing for Eastern Suburbs in New Zealand), some fringe/youth players, that Zinni kid and some other blokes I couldn't recognise - not that that matters anyway, because my recognition skills are not good. The outing was high intensity, and the South bys controlled most of it albeit the end product was rubbish. So it goes. At one point Milos Lujic poleaxed an opponent and himself in a bizarre challenge, but he got up eventually and resumed playing.

I don't know when the next friendly hit-out will be. If I get more forward and definitive notice than I did for this one, I'll try and post something somewhere.

Social clubs news
Earlier this month they were putting the floor in,
And progress has been steady since then.

During mid-November I was fortunate enough to be invited to the club to take a first hand look at the progress being made (sorry, no photos allowed) and to ask some general questions. Any chance of that visit being conducted relatively incognito was scuppered because several board members - some of whom are working on the project in a hands on manner, lending their expertise to the project - also arrived during my visit.

Upon entering the space (with mandatory hi-viz safety vest), one still had to imagine what it would look like when it's finished and how everything would fit together. Suffice to say that one already feels that it will be a drastic improvement on the increasingly decrepit former social club space.

One of the key differences will be a lower ceiling, creating what one hopes is a more intimate atmosphere. There are plans to try and get more natural light in there as well, though I'm unsure how that will come about. When there weren't big numbers in the old social club, its dankness and degradation became increasingly noticeable - one expects that this time a bit more thought and care will be put into the design. Another difference will be the bar, kitchen and dining areas all being on the same level, as opposed to the raised bar/lowered dining areas arrangement of the old social club.

There will be several television screens of various sizes around the space, as well as museum space dedicated around the room as opposed to being concentrated in one area. The museum space will also have, it is hoped, a multimedia component. For the futsal court, apart from the court itself there are plans for a raised viewing area behind one of the ends (I'm thinking of perhaps something like the upstairs behind the goal area of the Icehouse, or a squash court), as well as of course new changerooms.

The office space will be an open plan set up, and integrated with the former boardroom space into one large room. I am led to believe that the old, massive board table has been dispensed with - which on the one hand is sad, because it was a beautiful table and a part of our history, including alleged mythical sordidness - but now that we don't have the constitutional scope for 21 board members it probably doesn't need to be that big.

Those who have been to recent AGMs will be relatively familiar with how all of this will actually function. Chief of those concerns is whether management of the space will be outsourced or kept in house, with the club preferring to keep it in house at this time. The club of course hopes that all will be ready in time for the first home games of the season, which will be some time in February.

AGM news 
The date for the 2016 AGMs (SMH and SMFC) have been announced. They will be held on Tuesday 20th December in the Presidents Room at Lakeside, SMH at 7:00PM, SMFC at 8:30. Those members who have not received any notification via mail or email by I suppose the end of next week should probably contact the club.

While I am pleased that the AGM is being held in a more timely fashion this time around, holding it in the week before Christmas is a bit lame, as we noted of the last occasion that such a thing was done back in 2011.

With so many things apparently going very well for the club - lease sorted, trophies being won, women in WNPL - one wonders what kind of trajectory the meeting will take. At the very least one hopes that apart from the usual deal of finances and football updates, that members will get an update on the progress of the social club, as well as some explanation on the mechanics of our A-League bid.

Apart from the many other issues which will be discussed, this year also happens to be an election year. I don't suppose any new tickets will emerge to challenge the board which has in one form or another been running the club for most of our post NSL years, but you never know.

Season schedule
The 2017 season will starting in mid February, on the week ending Sunday 12, which is a bit earlier than the 2016 start. The Community Shield, which South Melbourne will be participating in for a third consecutive year, will be held two weeks earlier than that.

Arrivals and departures
As per last time, the following players are known to be contracted for next season.
Players who have left the club.

A number of names have been posted to a certain forum, but unless it comes from the club itself (and even then, after the Jason Hicks situation...), take nothing as gospel.

A-League expansion murmurings
So after the explosion of expansion news across the past two weeks, things have settled down a bit - though we're still getting press for not doing very much other than repeat ourselves. But South Melbourne Hellas is at this point in time for parts of the press a valuable commodity, and since both our objectives are apparently being met by this pseudo-cooperation, one can't really complain. We even got some positive, albeit generic, coverage in Neos Kosmos.

A more concrete bit of news was that FFA would visit Lakeside as part of this process some time this week, although of course the expansion criteria have not been released yet. Still, it's nice that our interest in being an expansion side seems to have at least garnered some reciprocal interest from FFA, as opposed to the Southern Cross bid where we had to cry to the press for attention, and the Heart/Mariners takeover bids in which afterwards one felt South had been used for the sake of drawing out other interests.

It's so hard to tell which other bids out of the myriad that have appeared in the past fortnight are actually anything more than thought bubbles, apart from the Tasmania bid and Third Sydney. Something unusual about all of this has been the lack of anything to do with this on the official website, but I suppose one can put that down to the main website person not being in the country during this part of the news cycle.

South gets a mention in a book
Les Street found this mention of South and assorted other Australian soccer clubs in a book about 1000 clubs from around the world.
It's nice to be acknowledged I suppose.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Ten more South rumours I'm starting just for the hell of it

Many years ago I came up with ten South rumours just for the hell of it. Apart from the usual suspects, few read them. In that spirit then I present ten more South rumours just for the hell of it.
  1. A single post on smfcboard can slay an entire A-League licence bid in one fell swoop.
  2. A South Melbourne Hellas A-League team would not cannibalise support from other Melbourne A-League teams.
  3. South Melbourne Hellas needs more Greeks.
  4. The Cros can no longer access smfcboard.
  5. My enemies list is not made up of people who choose to merely 'like' instead of re-tweeting my posts on Twitter.
  6. I did not recently re-discover a photo I took of a whiteboard upon which the South Melbourne Hellas board was doing rough sums, during the period we were looking to take over Central Coast Mariners. 
  7. The South Melbourne Hellas social club will be ready in 2017.
  8. A Twix from a Victoria University vending machine is a totally healthy and legitimate breakfast option.
  9. I am SMFCMike.
  10. Blogging about South Melbourne Hellas provides me with a lucrative income, as well as access to fringe benefits such as invites to exclusive yacht parties, with like, um, super-models and stuff. 

Monday, 21 November 2016

South Melbourne Hellas A-League bid musings (not that any of that matters)

Preface
The probably very bad arguments contained here could have been refined, but writing this has already taken up too much of my time as it is. Destroy it as you see fit.

Prologue
I thought about the hours wasted
Watching TV, drinking beer
I thought about the things I thought about
Until immobilized with fear
And all the great ideas I had
And how we just made fun
Of those who had the guts to try and fail
Ben Folds Five - Regrets 
Let us be clear on one thing first: any post about a South Melbourne Hellas A-League bid must be read with the proviso - even if we must suspend all disbelief - that such a bid has any chance at success. If you don't believe that South has any chance whatsoever of becoming an A-League participant, I hold nothing against you. Truth be told, 99% of the time, I'm one of you in that regard.

So having put forward that disclaimer, as well having interspersed disclaimers throughout this piece, here are several thousand unreferenced words of no value to anyone except Joe Gorman (and he's already submitted his manuscript, so it's too late for even that) which sum up some of what I've been thinking over this past week and several years.

In the depths of forum hearts
I have been scouring the forums, Facebook and Twitter trying to gauge the reaction to this latest announcement. All of this is anecdotal, mind you (not that any of that matters), but most of the discussion seems reasonably reasonable. Indeed, the discussions on this particular matter have become more reasonable over time from the part of current A-League fans. Whether that is because of the security they feel in having had their competition last this long (as well as the attendant success of FFA, national teams, etc), or because they are becoming bored with a stale and stable league, or just the passage of time taking the edge of these discussions, the tone of the conversations nowadays tend to be very different to what they used to be.

There is one notable exception to this: Facebook. Because very few South Melbourne fans use forums or Twitter these days, much commentary by South Melbourne fans on this matter is done on Facebook, and because the debates there haven't developed in the way that forums/Twitter have done (because unlike a forum or Twitter community where different posters get to know each other over time, there is often little continuity in Facebook discussions) we still see the 'overly-exuberant' type of South fan, who is often passionate, and often arrogant. These people are often matched up against the most hostile of A-League fans. Rather than one group emerging because of the other's existence, these groups have existed from the start of this long running old soccer/new football debate; in effect, their existence is symbiotic, as they egg each other on to greater heights of passion and hatred.

[As an aside, what is remarkable about this trend is that just about everyone attaches their names to those comments. We have been told repeatedly that the anonymity afforded by social media has allowed people to become more hateful and spiteful, and yet on this issue I have found that, in general, by far the least civil discussions are being conducted by people who have chosen to waive their right to anonymity.]

Anyway, over the course of many years of observation, I have become aware that of those who oppose a South Melbourne Hellas aligned bid being awarded an A-League licence, that they are not of a uniform mindset. Indeed, they run the full gamut of both the sensible and the ridiculous. Here are some of the different types out there:

The Racist: No explanation needed.

The Assimilationist: whether openly assimilationist or hiding beneath the guise of multiculturalism, the assimilationist can't handle a pluralistic form of multiculturalism. The openly assimilationist person's emphasis tends to be on exclusion - if there are people who do not wish to conform to the largely Anglo-Celtic norms of behaviour and forms of cultural expression (this goes for soccer as much as other parts of the public sphere), they should be ostracised and vilified for choosing to actively pursue their own culture; this is especially the case if the assimilationist believes that the practice of said culture is in direct opposition with the dominant mainstream culture.

Those who support the proxy form of assimilation that is multiculturalism tend to emphasise the point of inclusion - that because of the obvious mainstreaming efforts of FFA, more people than ever before are now included as equals in the current arrangement - even if, again, by doing so they are conforming to the imagined notion of a shared cultural centre. Still, in terms of raw numbers, they've won the argument. Pluralism as a whole has been rejected by the Australian public, and that includes its application to top flight soccer.

[and let's not use the argument which compares attending an 'ethnic' restaurant with supporting an ethnic soccer team - eating a bowl of pho or dipping your kafta bi sanya into your labna is not equivalent to giving over your heart to a week-in, week-out lived in the flesh passion.)

Let's be clear - I don't like either of these approaches. In this matter I like to think that I am a pluralist - but I'm not so stubborn as to think that it is not a minority point of view.

A comment on this aspect I found interesting was posted on 442's forums, in particular regarding the 'opening the floodgates' line of thinking should South somehow be allowed in. Trying (I suppose) to allay the fears of those who worry about an open slather approach to ethnicity, 'Benjamin' argued that rather than opening the floodgates to other, especially more overtly ethnic teams than South, the inclusion of South would actually make it harder for those other ethnic teams to join.
I'd argue the contrary - South wouldn't be getting in because of the ethnicity, they would be getting in because of the strength of their bid.  This in turn would demonstrate to ALL older clubs that ethnicity isn't the issue, and force them to put-up-or-shut-up - improve facilities, finances, etc., and put a serious bid together.  South coming in = proof of no prejudice.
South Melbourne getting into the A-League would change that competition's ethnic/mainstream dynamic, turning it away from the very rigid ideas of 'inclusiveness' that we have now. But it would not be the complete victory that the pluralists would want. A successful South Melbourne A-League bid would occur in no small part because South has shed (whether naturally or otherwise) its rougher edges (and for some within the club as well outside of it, a measure of its authenticity), therefore emphasising that it is South which has had to change more than the A-League/FFA have had to change.

Now my preference has always been for South to get in and lock the gate behind us. But one interesting development of a successful South for A-League bid would be to see how other disgruntled entities would respond to the challenge.  For those who care about the give and take in such matters, and the consequences of that process even outside the scheme of Australian soccer, there's a really good sociological thesis to be written about this.

The Apostate
The Apostate is of course the former South fan, who has abandoned us for 'the future'. They have used many reasons for doing so, and formulated many rationalisations. Without going into those reasons, we should note that some of them are even valid reasons! However, there are some apostates who rather then move on gracefully having left the few hundred regulars left to fight the good fight, have instead decided instead that they need to demonise the club and those who still follow it.

Thus we have probably the most passionate anti-South for A-League push coming from those who were once of us. They display the need to, as a convert, prove their worth above and beyond what others more naturally born into supporting new football would be asked to do; they often end up pushing themselves into a crescendo of hate. The most extreme example of this is of course the ex-South supporter of Greek descent - thus you tend to see these people emerge especially on the Neos Kosmos Facebook page.

The most frustrating part is that these hostile apostates often claim an agency that is not their own, not admitting that they began following the A-League/Melbourne Victory because it was the 'in' thing, and a choice made possible to them only or mostly because of the exclusion/omission/absence of South Melbourne Hellas from the top-flight.

They may also claim the team they support now is what they always wanted South Melbourne/Australian soccer to be. Thus the apostate may also retrospectively claim that they were never really South fans, and that they only went to South Melbourne matches to support soccer (it is strange that their support of soccer didn't extend to going to watch other Melbourne based clubs play, not that any of that matters). And all the things which allegedly plagued South or the NSL back then seem to matter so much more now to them than they did back then. Which, to be fair, is not a crime in itself - people and their values can and do change over time. But it is the dishonesty in their motivations that really sets these people apart.

To be fair, some apostates are more open about their own position, admitting that should South somehow get back in, that they would be faced with a moral quandary over who to support. They have left us (or in some cases remained with us) and joined an A-League team because the very idea of South being let into the A-League under the conditions it exists is absurd. I don't agree with that decision, but I understand.

The Not Yet Theorist
Whether because of the ethnic factor (let's wait until absolutely everyone's moved on), or because they want to see a second division up and running first, this person is not against South Melbourne joining the A-League per se; they only ask that it be done under extremely precise circumstances - circumstances which never seem to arrive.

The Sacrificial Lamb Theorist
This person does not necessarily hold an abject antipathy to South. Rather they believe that of all the ethnic, metropolitan NSL clubs, South was the best placed to make the transition to new football. The unfortunate thing is, according to them, that to allow South into the A-League would be impossible on two fronts (keep in mind that these two ideas are not necessarily held in tandem). First, they adhere to the idea that admitting South (or any ethnic club) would jeopardise the 'clean break' with the past, and that the proof of that approach (however unpalatable) is in the pudding. Second, that to let South in would be to potentially open the floodgates, giving hope to 'worse' ethnic clubs than ourselves. I'm not at all sure who they could possibly mean....

The Melbourne Croatia fan
Like all other South Melbourne Hellas news, Knights fans are attracted to South Melbourne Hellas A-League bids like (insert your favourite cosmic law of attraction). They follow our progress on AGMs (or lack thereof), on the social club (or lack thereof), and apparent delusions of grandeur (or lack... no wait, we have that in abundance). One wonders what Knights fans would talk about if South didn't exist.

Many people who have spent years reading the comments section on this blog, or who have observed the points of view of Knights fans online should by now be very familiar with their view of themselves, of us, and Australian soccer more generally (and while South of the Border has good reason to suspect that their discussions away from the public eye are much more diverse, their collective online ideology is quite uniform).

The reasons they oppose a South Melbourne bid come down to two broad ideas, presented in no particular oder of preference: first, they believe that it is traitorous to the greater cause of promotion and relegation and a second division; second, that we are selling out our traditions, a claim which extends to our club's evolution in general.

All of these things are perfectly understandable if you agree with some of those claims, or more to the point, if you agree with their view of what an ethnically aligned Australian soccer club is, and how it should conduct its business. To be fair, when reading the revisionist claims of some South fans about how our club was founded and the purpose thereof, one can sympathise with this point of view. To be blunt: South was founded as an ethnic club, for the Greek community of Melbourne, run by the Greek community of Melbourne, and it became a club which discarded the Anglo elements of the merger at the earliest possible opportunity.

On the other hand, that founding was almost 60 years ago. Those who made those decisions, who set the course of the club's cultural direction, are mostly no longer with us - either because they are dead, or because they are no longer at the club in any capacity. In addition to that, those who now look after the club (and I include here not only the board, but also those who have volunteered their time for the club) and who have done so over the past 15 years or so - have increasingly come from younger demographics better integrated with Australian society. Now knowing many of these people, I know that they genuinely respect the traditions and culture of South Melbourne Hellas, but I say that as someone who sees the potential of culture to evolve; indeed, that to stay still leads almost inevitably to atrophy no matter how noble the intention.

The ultimate point I'm trying to make though is that we are not the Melbourne Knights. They have their way of doing things, and we have our own. This insistence (whether from them or some of our own) that we run our club the way they do theirs is at times mind boggling, not for any personal problem I have with the way Knights are run, but because we are two different clubs. Our members decide which cultural direction the club wants to head towards. It may not please everyone at South, but there is more or less a consensus that the cultural direction South Melbourne Hellas is moving towards is one supported by most of its fans. At times it seems as if Knights fans are more upset about South becoming (or at least trying to become) more mainstream than South fans are.

Now if you are dedicated to maintaining the ethos of the 'founding fathers' as closely as possible (whichever club you're aligned to), you're more than entitled to do so. But as far as I'm concerned soccer clubs are for the living. I have no interest in tending to a soccer cemetery. I am on record as having written posts that in the soccer environment we live in, there is no correct approach and that indeed there may not be any correct approach for ethnic clubs/old soccer to somehow become part of the mainstream revolution. To each their own, and good luck to both (not that any of that matters).


The Geographer
The person (usually a resident on 442's forums) who sees Lakeside as being too close to Docklands and the Bubbledome, and therefore unable to meet some bizarre condition of the laws of space and time which only seem to apply when discussing Australian soccer. See the 'People who don't know Melbourne' section below for further elaboration.

The Far and Wide advocate
Sort of like the Geographer, but usually more measured, their argument is not usually against South Melbourne, but rather geared towards reaching areas not already represented in the A-League. So, that means more regional teams, Canberra and Tasmania, etc.

The Other Places Need Derbies First theorist
These people believe that before further sides get added to Sydney and Melbourne, second teams should be added to Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth to create derbies. It's an idea which tends to ignore the difficulties in getting people to stump up the cash for markets where the available number of A-League fans has pretty much been tapped out.

The Lakeside Stadium hater
The one for whom the current Lakeside Stadium, with its athletics track, should be an automatic deal breaker.

The Current South Melbourne fan
Hard as it may be to believe for people outside the club, there are current South fans who would be or are against an attempt to join the A-League. Many (if not most) of these people hold what I would consider conditional opposition to South participating in the A-League. These conditions include:
  • member ownership and control of any such entity
  • continuance of name, colours, history
  • control of intellectual property
  • concerns about continuities should any possible investor bail out, or should the club itself no longer be able to continue as a partner in a public/private partnership. 
Others meanwhile are against any South bid which achieves the goal of A-League participation without needing to prove itself on the field via promotion and relegation or the mechanism of a second division. I have sympathy for some of these conditions, but not all. There are even some South fans who are happier (all things considered) to be in the NPL, because at least there they know that everyone going to South games is a hardcore South fan, and not a bandwagoner, many of whom would have been apostates or deserters of one form or another.

In summation
While all those people still exist, and are deserving of various degrees of repulsion, we should take stock of the fact that the amount of people who outrightly deny us the right to even try are far fewer than they used to be. More importantly, most people involved in the A-League as spectators do not waste their time on forums and the like commenting about the A-League, let alone expansion. These are niche discussions.

This is an important point I feel needs to be made again and again. The discussions around the future of Australian soccer which take place online are very niche discussions. Within those discussions there even more niche discussions, which while promoted with quantifiable passion, make no ripple whatsoever on the greater whole of Australian soccer. Promotion/relegation, second division, NCIP, the NYL - like those people who keep making petitions to bring back Toobs or the KFC tower burger - their enthusiasm and its attendant clamour more often than not obscure the fact that there are not actually very many of them: it's just that they're louder.

I'm not saying that these discussions need to stop, nor the anger or ideas - what would this blog be without that as a driving factor? - but they are discussions that one needs to view in their proper context.

Dude, you're not helping (not that any of that matters)
All that carefully applied PR of Bill Papastergiadis got thrown into the bin somewhat when people started acting like pork chops on social media. And while the antics of SMFCMike are such that there is no one who takes him seriously as a representative of the South Melbourne Hellas cause (treating it as all a bit of a laugh), it is a bit of a concern when officials start weighing with their ill-conceived two cents (not that any of that matters).

So we had our lovable larrikin president trash not just the Geelong bid on Twitter, but by extension the Central Coast Mariners, too, as part of the perceived ill-conceived regional A-League experiment. Now whether Leo was right or wrong (not that any of that matters), it's just a bad look for the president of our fine organisation  - especially an organisation that is not part of the competition that they want to be in - to be trashing an actual member of that organisation; in particular an organisation that is run as a cartel.

I mean, on the one hand, I admire the buffoonery chutzpah candidness of the remarks, but the emphasis in this matter should not be about smashing down a bid rival whose existence at this stage may at best be only nominal; rather the South bid should, as Bill Papastergiadis has been doing, emphasising what a South Melbourne Hellas backed or aligned franchise would add in terms of value to the A-League and FFA's metrics, without reference to any other real or imagined bids.

Take my word on these matters, because I know about PR. I once did an undergrad unit called Writing for Public Relations and Advertising, which I passed (not that any of that matters), and never mind that I spent most of that semester arguing about the lack of discussion about ethics.

People who don't know Melbourne 
Let's cut to the chase - most discussions on A-League expansion (this one included) are not based on anything resembling reality. These are discussions undertaken by people with no business knowledge; no meaningful background in sports administration; no meaningful background in advertising, media, public relations; people with warped views of ethnicity (are there any other kind?); basically no one of any use to the people making the decisions whatsoever.

Stock photo of 442 forum member vetting future Melbourne A-League teams.
But the one thing that gets me riled up the most (not that any of that matters) are the arguments based around geography. People see maps, and their imaginations run wild. The great Australian suburban sprawl for these people is not made up of actual people, let alone actual demographics, but is instead viewed as a blank canvas. Worse, it is viewed as some sort of real life game of Risk, a giant zero sum game where we just plonk down our plastic soccer armies without any sense for local feeling just because we can, and because if we don't some other army apparently will.

Thus because of the success of Western Sydney Wanderers, we now have people (who are not from here) perpetually looking for the Victorian 'Wanderers'. In part they do this because Heart have been an incoherent mess in terms of creating any sense of deliberate difference from Victory. They also do this because if Melbourne sporting associations do not work on geography, then maybe that means South Melbourne becomes a more viable option in people's heads, which is not something everyone is comfortable with.

So we have people spewing forth nonsense about south-eastern corridors, dumping a team out somewhere in the western suburbs 'for the west', and even contorting themselves into saying that if South Melbourne were to get an A-League licence, that it could/would/should focus on Melbourne's south-eastern sprawl - as if that was South Melbourne's natural constituency, as if there is such a thing as an untapped market of soccer fans waiting to be won over and which somehow haven't been won over yet, and as if South Melbourne could possibly be the franchise that makes it happen out in the far south-eastern reaches.

We've reached the bizarre stage where even the South Melbourne bid advisory group have started pointing at things like that. The reality is, that except during the years when South Melbourne was filled with Greeks, South Melbourne has barely ever even represented South Melbourne the suburb, let alone an imagined geographic area. Some of that is down to South's own negligence in nurturing or even caring about its local area, some of it is because of the hostility of the Anglo-Celtic locals, but so much of it is because what happened to South Melbourne Hellas is what happened to a lot of the VFL clubs - in that what may have started as a local gathering eventually became a conceptual existence.

So just as footy fans of most clubs made their pilgrimages from all corners of Melbourne and beyond, first towards the inner suburban stadiums, and later towards the two rationalised stadiums, so too did South fans make the journey from the outer north, the inner west and the sprawl of the south-east towards Middle Park and later Lakeside Stadium. For those outside of Melbourne, especially Sydneysiders (who have a fear of leaving their enclaves and journeying over the hill to the next village, let alone the one after that), this may be hard to understand, but it is second nature to Melburnians.

I'll finish this section with an anecdote based on someone's interpretation of actual evidence. Once, sometime during the days of the Melbourne Heart/Southern Cross/second Melbourne licence nonsense, or maybe sometime after that (not that any of that matters) I asked someone who had been intimately involved with Melbourne Victory in its early days whether there was any geographic bias in Melbourne Victory's membership season ticket holder base. The answer was clear: there was none, or at least nothing that could be meaningfully construed as such (not that any of that matters).

If nothing else, it points to people wanting to set up an A-League shop in Melbourne needing to think differently from how such a thing would be done in Sydney. The team itself needs to mean something different beyond geography, because geography is still a secondary concern for Melbourne sports fans.

Unless that's somehow changed in the south-east of course. I'm not from there, so it's possible I don't know about them as well as I'd like to think I do.

People who don't know South Melbourne Hellas
It is incredibly frustrating to be talked about without ever being spoken to, let alone be heard (see, I did learn something from the compulsory post-grad ethics unit I had to take).

One of the things that has bothered me mightily have been those people who talk about South Melbourne as if they know the club intimately, when they clearly have no idea what they're talking about.
They know nothing about us because they're:
  • Not from here.
  • Have never been to one of our games.
  • Last went to one of our games circa 2004/1999/1995/1991.
  • Rely on and take as gospel hostile media reports from media organisations they only now consider to be hostile towards soccer in Australia, and even then only because they themselves have something on the line now.
  • They get their view of the club from SMFCMike.
You want the clearest example of people not knowing anything about South Melbourne as it exists now? There are people who claim that South Melbourne needs to drop the 'Hellas' tag. Drop it from where exactly? From the club's on field name? We (and other clubs like ourselves) have not been able to officially call ourselves 'Hellas' or 'Croatia' or 'Basil the Bulgar Slayer' for 20 years. If the fans continue to chant Hellas, there is little that the club let alone anybody else can do. There are people who are claiming that we're still bringing Greek flags to games. Again, something banned for decades, and which happens so rarely now that one is surprised when one does see such a flag at our games - usually brought by people who attend very infrequently.

And to be clear, I don't have an issue with our fans or our enemies calling us Hellas. Whether for good or ill, it is who we are (not that any of that matters).

This kind of rhetoric is linked to the general phobia of the NSL or the continuing fad of trashing the NSL because it is what is expected by the whole old soccer/new football dichotomy.

What people like this often miss is that just because people's teams were in the NSL, it doesn't mean that they themselves liked the NSL, its administration, or Soccer Australia. Some people may have a fondness for the counter-cultural aspects of the NSL (I am on record as being one of those people), but that doesn't mean they liked the seedier, violent or corrupt parts of the competition.

As I noted on Twitter earlier during the week, there were indeed violent incidents in the NSL. Some of those are well known, whereas other (sometimes worse) incidents and examples of poor behaviour are far less well known. None of that matters however when the people discussing the ethnic and/or violence angles are only able to bring up or argue against the same 2-3 incidents.

(And yes, a very similar argument could be made for the A-League, where violent incidents happen with a frequency they are not usually given credit for; but because these incidents tend to happen outside of and away from the stadium, they are not as well known. Likewise, the discussion around the use of modern stadia being a contributing factor to reduced occurrence of bad behaviour within the stadia, especially the way any such incidents are now largely contained to one portion of the ground, is an angle rarely remarked upon. Quite a different thing having a whole group leave one of end of AAMI Park (for example) and migrate incognito to the other side of the ground, to being able to run around (or walk casually) to the other side of a ground made up three quarters of terracing or a grass hill. Just as pertinent is the attitude of those who, like their NSL counterparts, want to downplay the frequency and severity of incidents.)

Neither are those discussions helped by trying to downplay the seriousness of the Bonnyrigg-Sydney United and South Melbourne-Preston incidents in the intermediate period between the end of the NSL and the beginning of the A-League, which were absolutely perfect examples to everyone who was arguing for the A-League and against the NSL on these terms.

FFA's David Gallop interrupts bi-hourly meeting of typical suburban
 Australian soccer club. This meeting centred on whether Aldi tomato sauce
 was an acceptable canteen condiment instead of name brand tomato sauce.
In search of the elusive anarcho-syndicalist collective soccer club; or the soccer club run with citizens initiated referenda; or failing that, via polls on the Herald Sun website.
There have been some people - including South people and frightened mischievous Knights fans - who have made a point about how all this is being done without the express written permission of the National Football League South Melbourne Hellas membership base.

To which I say: phooey! That's right! Phooey!

Phooey, because a board is elected or at least in our case performs a self-perpetuating existence because no one dares to challenge them (not that any of that matters) to do board things. If and when the time comes for the club to enact a plan so major that it changes the course of club's history (whether that is constitutional change, approval of an MOU with the government, or a decision on what kind of taps we want for the toilets), then the club will consult with the membership accordingly.

Without in any way measuring it scientifically, there is broad consensus from the current members of this club that they want their team to be in the A-League. Certainly the question of A-League aspirations seems to come up often at AGMs. Therefore, the board has the right to explore all options available to it in order to make that desire a reality. That mandate doesn't extend to proceeding without the approval of the members, but the board does have a mandate to put in place procedures which will ultimately give the members the chance to vote on plans that actually exist, and not on figurative, pie in the sky propositions.

If we're being honest with ourselves the reality is, and I'm going off gut feeling anecdotal observation here (not that any of that matters), the vast majority of our supporters would give up their firstborn (or even more significantly for some, collection of vintage Iron Maiden t-shirts) for the club to get into the A-League.

Seeing as that is the unadulterated truth, surely the thing to do is to be bold! Strike while the iron is hot! Not wait until it is absolutely too late! If it isn't too late already for course, which it almost certainly is (not that any of that matters).

OK, let's speculate just a little
So far we've only been given a little bit of information about what a South Melbourne A-League team would look like and how it would function. As noted earlier this week, the team would play in blue and white, with the red vee heritage strip as an away kit option; it would play most games out of Lakeside, which has a purported break even point of 1500; it would start a W-League team; and there is also the claim that the bid has the financial backing required to get going as early as the start of the next A-League season.

(though that aim of being ready for next season seems unrealistic to me, and even by extension FFA, who have said that they'll release the expansion criteria - whatever the hell that means, and won't it be fun to see regardless - some time early next year. That seems to suggest a 2017/18 season expansion, which makes eminently more sense, not that any of that matters)

The exact nature of that financial backing has not been expanded upon very much. We have a member of the bid advisory committee, Luisa Chen, with no known connection (so far as I can tell after having done absolutely no research) being touted as an investor, with no detail however as to what the arrangement would entail. In a more recent Michael Lynch article however, we have a little bit more information of the sort which may not appeal to the desire for some (many?) South Melbourne Hellas members to maintain control of such an entity in our own right,
"We have large amounts of capital to support this bid," Papastergiadis says, citing investors who will all pump in a minimum of $500,000 each. 
The club is confident that it will raise capital of some $7 million for the start-up phase and then prove an attractive proposition to potential sponsors
So, almost certainly a sort of public-private partnership rather than people willing to stump up the necessary cash as part of the push to join a reformatted South Melbourne Hellas board. Fair enough - under these circumstances, the reasoning would be (and I doubt it would be far wrong) that there is no way any member owned club has the cash to stump up for an A-League bid, operating under the conditions that exist in the A-League now (and not some imagined future where there is no salary floor, playing out of stadia that don't meet the high standard and high costs of those FFA seems to demand and which the public expects). The costs are, for too many reasons, too high for member run clubs to withstand.

The usually erudite 'DoubleKreas' on smfcboard summed up what may be the best case scenario for South Melbourne Hellas in terms of ownership of an A-League franchise licence,
Can we have South Melbourne Hellas Ltd own 50+1% of the A-League entity and the other 49% owned by private investors fronting up cash for an equity stake.  
Hellas equity in the license deriving from its lease on the stadium, junior team set up, womens etc
For those that would reject this scenario out of hand, it must be remembered that by and large top flight clubs worldwide - including those that many Australians support overseas, even if mostly from the comfort of their lounge rooms - are not owned by their fans, nor is their success funded by the fans except via the gate, merchandise and (indirectly) via pay television subscriptions. When there has been (say in England) a recent trend of supporters trusts come in to take control of either the entirety or a portion of a club, it is usually because all other means of finding someone to bankroll their club as a hobby have been exhausted.

A 50+1% ownership (along the lines of what the Germans do) may be the best scenario for those Hellas fans who desire an A-League side with some measure of membership rights and ownership. If someone were to vote against that on principle however, one should not hold it against them. Neither should it be held against those who would find such an arrangement acceptable - after all, as a member owned club, ultimately it would be (at least I really hope it would be) the decision of the members as a collective that will decide the future of the club one way or another on this issue.

Of course at such time apart from the matter of the proposed licence ownership structure, there will be concerns about control of our intellectual property; the prospect of the club eventually buying those investors out or being able to have some role in vetting who invests; and what safeguards are put in place should things go pear-shaped for the A-League bid, in order that South Melbourne Hellas is still protected, and related matters (not that any of that matters).

Second division and  promotion/relegation
As far as I'm concerned a second division with promotion and relegation is simultaneously the noblest of sentiments (provided that it is not actually some sort of fifth column attempt to derail Australian soccer) and the filthiest, stupidest idea that I can think of. If that sounds like an argument for promotion and relegation in Australian soccer - at least from the point of view of the sheer anarchy that it would cause, and I will admit from that angle it does have an apocalyptic charm about it - then so be it.

But let's be realistic - it would require an overhaul of the A-League of such radical proportions that it is hard to imagine any of it happening. Apart from likely dismantling the salary cap and salary floor, it would need a drastic reconfiguration of the apparently imminent new broadcast deal and the Australian sporting business notion that markets across the country need to be covered (not for nothing do 442s geographers keep looking for supposed untapped and suitable markets). It would also need a drastic renegotiation with the current licence holders, which FFA would be loathe to do because whether you agree with how things have been run or not, those people are the ones who have kept the competition going.

The A-League also runs on and in some respects is successful in part because of the illusion of prestige that it puts out to the public. Even if the quality of the play is not up to scratch, the presentation around the game - the use of modern stadia, marketing, broadcast arrangements - lends to it in the minds of the general public a measure of credibility. While this projection of prestige does not come cheap, and is also the cause in large part (especially regarding the stadia) of the financial difficulties many of the teams are facing or have faced, it is not something that can be dispensed with for the sake of a romantic suburban terrace.

That kind of approach may work in small doses in the FFA Cup, but over the long haul people attending sporting events in the Australian top flight want their creature comforts - comfortable seating, easy access to venues by car or public transport, etc.

(The exception to this is the NRL, whose public is split between those who go to games - and who are happy to put up with suburban grounds at least some of the time - and those who watch on TV.  Either way, they are often funded not only by television rights but massive leagues clubs, giving them a measure of independence from the controlling body.)

Whatever other faults the A-League has, it has had a stability that has put its predecessor to shame. It has maintained and increased its broadcast appeal. It has maintained most of its teams, even if luck was sometimes more involved than good governance. If the apparently soon to be signed broadcast deal is a good one, it is conceivable that even the struggling licensees will be better off than they have ever been.

Don't get me wrong - I understand the appeal of promotion and relegation, both from the 'romance' aspect but also the 'merit' one. It is a problem that exists in Australian soccer because in recent years despite the existence of salary caps and salary floors, the same teams end up near the bottom, with no obvious negative consequences for poor performance (apart from economic ones, I suppose). But stability has been one of the things the game has craved for years, and it is has by and large achieved that. I can't see FFA or any members of its cartel being willing to dispense with that after the obstacles they've had to overcome, especially if it is to please a loud but very small minority of clubs and their supporters.

Australian sporting supporters are also not accustomed to relegation. Even Australian soccer supporters, especially those who follow overseas teams and competitions, are not accustomed to relegation. In part this is because 95% of them follow clubs in the major leagues of Europe who will never get relegated. The charm and romance of promotion and relegation is for them at best an abstract notion. Comparisons with Leicester are bollocks. Whatever other deficiencies Leicester faced against its more affluent rivals, Leicester still had ten of thousands of people supporting them in a cornered market. In other words, they still had far more than the bare minimum to create at least the possibility of doing what they did.

The notion that 'they do it everywhere else' (or at least in places that count, however you quantify that) is a misleading line of argument. One could easily argue that they (whoever they are) only do that because it's what they always done; had they started again, today, from scratch, would they definitely do it in the same way? Are not many of the leading clubs (who many people in Australia follow) that play in those leagues interested in leaving that system?

Despite many false dawns on this issue, people can still be made to believe that the construction of a second tier based on a combination of untested, remote markets and teams that began their terminal decline 20 years ago, is not only imminent, but also eminently desirable. Even this week we went from a story about positive noises coming from FFA on promotion and relegation, to the idea being (forever) delayed again within the space of about three days.

Even if a second division were to be created that would/could one day lead to promotion to the A-League, it would not necessarily bring forth the bounteous harvest of support and sponsorships some people think would happen. I get the appeal of the romantic storylines; I get that there are clubs and people who believe that not enough is being done to make the most of soccer's talent and resources that exist below the top-tier, and that the lower tiers are ignored by FFA; but I am yet to be convinced that the economics stack up, that there is a genuine desire beyond the limited sphere of #sokkahtwitter and similar outlets for such a competition or arrangement.

Now we all know that being stuck here in this state league cesspit (all of us with real and genetically inherited memories of happier times in higher places, not just South people) is not ideal, to put it politely. But waiting for the FFA to make something happen on this from, or hoping that FIFA or the AFC will make something happen, is the height of naivety.

If that is the case, start making the case, and do it properly. Having proposals pop up here and there from various bloggers and others associated with quote/unquote ambitious clubs is fine, but these ideas need to be machine tooled to within an inch of their life into a proper proposal; not only that, such a proposal needs to be one that is understood in the terms of those who will have to give it approval to go ahead.

Whatever other issues the A-League has had with financing, the path to getting there didn't happen only because the government of the day decided to step in and make things happen. The PFA, disgruntled at the mess that was Australian soccer and the NSL, put up serious amounts of cash to do research and draw up plans.

Now with South constantly trying to go it alone, clearly we're not much help to this cause on this front either. But if a second division and promotion/relegation are such good ideas, then they don't need South to make them work - every other consortium clamouring for a second division and/or promotion relegation should be able to come together and start the process of nutting out an economically responsible/feasible plan.

This is one of the reasons why South Melbourne keeps making A-League bids. Yes, it is borne of ego, of delusions of grandeur, an insufferable bout of arrogance almost inherent to the way the club operates. But surely part of the club's reasoning is waiting for something to happen means nothing will ever happen. You have to make your own destiny. If that means trying to join a cartel league, and putting the behind the scenes work over the past decade to make that happen, that's what they'll do.

The most laughable aspect of this whole thing at this present time
The belief (or at least the rhetoric from the bid advisory committee) that South Melbourne in the A-League would not cannibalise support from the other Melbourne teams.

The two funniest things that could happen
1. FFA accepts a South Melbourne aligned bid for the A-League, and South Melbourne Hellas members approve.

2. FFA accepts a South Melbourne aligned bid for the A-League, and South Melbourne Hellas members reject it.

Final thought
I make no apologies for referring to ourselves as South Melbourne Hellas (not that any of that matters). It is the name of the SMFC parent company anyway (not that any of that matters).

The other final thought
The construction of our new social club is kicking along nicely. Not that any of that matters one little bit.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Short notice summary of another South for A-League bid

For sale? Dumb cunts same dumb questions
Virgins? Listen, all virgins are liars honey
- Manic Street Preachers, Yes 
Tonight I was going to finish writing a post just to break up the quietude - a post that would have been of interest almost only to myself - but thankfully one can always depend on the club to deliver.

From right to left: Board members Grabrielle Giuliano and Bill Papastregiadis,
next to Luisa Chen, the currently mysterious 'investor'.
Photo by Tim Caraffa, as stolen by us from the Herald Sun wensite
In this case it's another A-League bid, presently located in an article behind the Herald Sun's online paywall, or in other places if you can be bothered doing the runaround to look for them. Never mind, I managed to have a look at it before the paywall kicked in for whatever reason.

This time it was Bill Papastergiadis who was the public face of the bid as opposed to president Leo Athanasakis or anyone else who's done this work in the past. Papastergiadis, fellow board member Gabrielle Giuliano, former federal sports minister Andrew Thomson and 'bid investor' - whatever that means - Luisa Chen are members of the 'advisory committee' apparently behind the bid. The bid claims it wants to do the following:
  • Play in blue and white, but probably use the red vee heritage strip for away matches,
  • Play all matches out of Lakeside except for derbies.
  • Also apply for a W-League team, as well as maintain our NPL side.
  • Be based out of Lakeside in terms of the headquarters.
The bid also claims
  • It has the licensc fee and financial backing required.
  • It also claims that it can break even at Lakeside with just attendances of just 1500.
The full bid will be launched or put forward to FFA in a month's time. At that time I would hope for more detail about financial backers, the improvements (if needed) for Lakeside Stadium ('There are no immediate plans to expand Lakeside Stadium’s capacity') what the club structure would be (would there part privatisation?) and everything else that members deserve to know. After all, should we actually somehow be given the green light by FFA, the club would have to get approval from its members, right?

It's short notice, so there hasn't been the chance to wade through a lot of the usual responses to a South A-League notice, but one thing that has cropped up is the integrity of the club and the fears that it may not be South Melbourne as a member owned entity. Until we actually get more information - on finances, on logistics, on everything - there's no point in speculating. When's that AGM coming by the way?

In its own way, this news is actually kind of reassuring on two fronts. First, that the club is still trying to aim high. Second, that in amid the 'scramble for Africa' style theatrics for what seems to be the apparently imminent A-League expansion, we've made our ambitions known after sitting quietly through talk to various degrees of,
  • second Brisbane (probably Strikers)
  • second Adelaide 
  • second Perth
  • third Sydney (Shire team)
  • Tasmania (backed by former South and Victory cohorts Harry Stamoulis and Robert Belteky)
  • Geelong
  • Canberra
  • Wollongong
Much of this discussion is admittedly predicated on South being considered an actual chance by anyone not at South and with actual influence in the places which count. For those who think or feel that there is no chance, there is no need to discuss pretty much anything - just sit back and watch us reach for the sky and fail again. 

On a lighter note, this is the best comment about A-League expansion I've seen for some time.
About as transparent and equitable as a bidding process can get in this country.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

October 2016 digest

Two weeks after the season was finished I was glad it was over. Now I'm bored. Anyway, here's some stuff that happened during October.

Congratulations to...
Matthew Foschini for winning the Theo Marmaras Medal for our best and fairest this season. Best and fairest? Maybe just best. Or maybe the guy the who TOLD IT LIKE IT IS AND/OR WAS in post-game interviews more than anyone else. I don't know what the criteria is. But that's small fry news because, drumroll...

Social club news
Well, actually, yes, there is actually some news on this!

First there was this photo from October 13th by board member Tony Margaritis' (who is also working on the redevelopment in his guise as someone who does electrical work, which I suppose is more useful than getting in someone to write a poem or provide an undergrad level cultural studies critique) Twitter feed, showing something maybe happening, albeit two guys just standing around looking busy doesn't automatically mean they are busy being busy. I have a whole bunch of photos of Steve from Broady from when he was on work placement for school at the club when we cleaning out the social club, and I can tell you now still shots of people holding boxes aren't evidence of any work actually being done, especially if they don't include photos of people playing foosball.

Funny story about that foosball table actually, which I can't remember if I've told here before, but ti's the off season and we've got to pad out the time until the new season starts. In cleaning out the absolute junk heap that was the back part of the multimedia room, Steve and I found an old 'assemble it yourself' foosball table. In between actually doing work, we found that there enough pieces available so that we managed to put it together, and I killed Steve in every single game we played - that's what happens when you outlaw spinning and play properly. Anyways the table eventually ended up in the senior change rooms, which may or may not have contributed to the alleged party atmosphere in the change rooms under Gus Tsolakis, and the eventual decline of the on field performance and off field discipline.

Anyway, the talk that there was something to be released from the club on the social club matter got the cynical juices flowing. But then a few days later there was the photo below posted on the club's Facebook page, accompanied by a very low-key media release which included pretty much only the following statement. That's right, I said low-key. No more grandiose verbosities for this matter, just for the time being.

South Melbourne FC would like to confirm that construction has begun on our exclusive areas at Lakeside Stadium.

As part of the extensive development, we will be completing our new offices, social club, restaurant / bar, shop and futsal court.

We anticipate completion by early 2017.


My understanding is that rather than start with the offices first as was originally envisaged, the whole thing will just be done in one big go. There is also of course the matter of the club borrowing money to supplement the government grant allocated for this process.

No one's really talking about what role, if any, dank will play in the design, which is a concern. But early 2017! Who can't help but excited about that? For Twitter folk, Tony's Twitter account might be the best place to get spontaneous updates. That means you'll get little tidbits like the hoped for completion date
and stuff about the museum
It's all very exciting.

AGM date news
Not yet.

Arrivals and departures
While player movements around the rest of the league have been taking place at a brisk pace, there has been little news on the South front. Three departures are the main bit of news -  confirmation that midfielder Iqi Jawadi has officially departed the club, as well as the departures of Amadu Koroma and Chris Irwin. All three departures are sad, in their own way: Jawadi had given good service in midfield, and even added a goalscoring string to his bow, but injury and apparent disaffection took their toll; Koroma filled in for a struggling Tim Mala on several occasions, and added an attacking option, but injury it seems saw him left out of consideration towards the end of the season.  Irwin, whether you thought he was worth the punt of signing in the first place or not, never got much chance, his 'as late as possible substitutions' becoming maddeningly predictable.

As per last time, the following players are known to be contracted for next season.
Players who have left the club.
South Melbourne offered WNPL licence for 2017
South Melbourne has been offered the single expansion licence on offer for the 2017 season of the WNPL. While there were apparently two other applicants, one of which was from a regional consortium, it was expected that South would win the bid, and that's what has happened.

That that expectation has been fulfilled has not been met with acclaim by most people involved with Victorian women's soccer; nor has the reaction of some South fans online, who know very little about the state of women's soccer in Victoria, done much to endear them to those who have doubts about this decision.

Apart from the natural self-interest of the existing licensees, there are also valid questions about whether there is enough depth of talent to go around at this time; as an extension of that question, whether it would have been better therefore to place a team in another regional area; and even some more conspiracy laden accusations that South was granted the licence because FFV president Kimon Taliadoros' daughter plays for South Melbourne.

I can't speak for the depth of talent matter, suffice to say that one shouldn't just brush aside the concerns on that front. On the other hand, much as I like to question South Melbourne's genuine commitment to women's football, if the club does indeed take this seriously - and judging by more recent actions and even their licence application, they do - then South Melbourne will be able to offer facilities to women's football in this state that few other clubs or franchises can or are willing to do.

Having said that, it will be interesting to see how the relationship will then work between South Melbourne with a women's team, and the still nominally independent/it's sometimes hard to tell what's going on there South Melbourne Womens FC. Will there be enforced name changes? How will the two different boards - and unless special exemptions have been made for SMFC, there will still need to be different committees - function? Many interesting questions, but I think on the whole this is a positive development.

Puma Pride!
For the first time since about the year 2000, Puma will be the club's merchandise and kit supplier. That means the end of the deal with BLK, which was touted last year as a boon for the club both financially (massive savings compared to our Adidas deal) and aesthetically (in our being able to design our own playing strips as opposed to getting off the shelf stuff). That the three year deal with BLK lasted just one season probably comes down to the disastrous delivery times produced by BLK - any savings the club may have made, and any benefits from being able to customise our kits meant nothing if couldn't even get anything to sell to fans or even to kit up our players.

Some weren't fond of the BLK merch anyway - I wasn't too amazed with the home or away strips - but I did like the hooped socks (which you can buy online anyway, being just regular footy socks), and the modernised heritage strip they provided for our FFA Cup appearance in 2015 was rather excellent I thought.

On the face of it people are happy to be back with Puma. There's nostalgic reasons for that of course - they were out kit supplier in the club's on field peak. Compared to BLK, it's also a name brand and a soccer brand. Here's hoping that customisable kits are part of the arrangement, and that a trip to Brazil doesn't undo everything like it allegedly did last time we were together.

Verified!
In recent times Twitter has relaxed the criteria for which accounts it chooses to award its 'blue tick of verification'. And thus the long battle for South Melbourne FC to have that blue tick next to its name is over.
Not a major thing in the scheme of things, but it does make the account look a smidgen more professional and therefore reliable in the minds of those who take things like blue ticks and verification seriously - I'm thinking potential sponsors and everyone who will subliminally hold South Melbourne FC twitter in higher esteem because of this badge.

Offseason digressions - Vicbowl XXXII
Here are the reasons I went to Lakeside during a Sunday evening some time in mid-October to watch the Victorian gridiron championship game.
  • It was at Lakeside, and I was interested in how the field dimensions would work.
  • I don't actually mind American football.
  • I was bored.
The fact that it was free helped, but it wasn't a primary motivating factor.

The field dimensions were interesting. Plenty of space on the sidelines for both teams, thanks to the narrowness of the gridiron. The length of the field was more problematic, because the end zones took up almost all the length of the field. The goal posts were portable (and short) rugby posts rather than the fork goals of American football, but this is understandable given most of these teams probably use rugby goals during the regular season - not that they got much use, as you'll see. To that end, I was also interested in how the thing would be organised. For a small organisation probably not awash with funds, they did a pretty reasonable job. Both stands were open, and there was plenty of security on hand. Not that the crowd warranted the opening of both stands, but on a showpiece day, why not?

One really cool thing was the production of a simple eight page match programme.
Nothing fancy. Full colour, team lists, the gist of the rules. Less impressive was the first game running over time by quite a bit from its scheduled end time, and thus the Division 1 game started close to an hour late, because there were some ceremonial and award duties to be attended to as well. But there was at least some comedy there, with the marching band on hand not getting the memo to hold off their entry until later.
Interestingly the costumed marching band didn't get much more air time than that during the evening.

The match arrangements for the game were pretty professional though. Live video screen, with replays. Commentary over the PA that somehow didn't feel intrusive. No match clock as far as I could tell, but there were play clocks at either end of the field. The referees were miked up, so we got the thrill of NFL referee style explanations.

The crowd was probably split 50/50 between the two sides, with the Footscray (and by association western suburbs based) Western Crusaders having a number of Maori and/or Pacific Islander players and thus also family members and/or friends and relatives in the crowd. The Monash Warriors had their own crew doing some sort of soccer style chanting at times, and there was a decent atmosphere all things considered. Not very much NFL gear in the crowd - if anything, people tended to prefer wearing their team colours.

As for the game itself.... look, here's my take on American football. 
  • It's wonderful to watch when played by two high calibre, evenly matched teams.
I watch a reasonable amount of NFL on 7Mate, but I can't maintain an interest in really lopsided games, or games between mediocre teams.
  • First you love the passing game, then the running game, then you love defence.
That's how I've rationalised my developing relationship with American football. Sure, big down field throws to wide receivers are exciting, but it can get boring pretty quickly, like too many sixes in cricket. And the running game is great, especially when a team gets its rhythm going. But defense! The battle of a great defense against a great offense, where the former has to second guess everything the offense is going to do, and not make any mistakes - which is why my brief exposure to college football was so disappointing. So many high scoring games because of inept defenses. But what to expect from a bunch of amateurs in the truest sense?

Well, I didn't expect quarterback theatrics or pinpoint rapier passes. And that was certainly true of this game. The rain didn't help, but even before it came down, the run game dominated. There were two or three nice long bombs from the Crusaders, but the Warriors scarcely bothered with such antics. If defense, too, is the pinnacle of the professional game, then both sides struggled to deal with the running game, which made the game resemble a stop-start of version of rugby league, perhaps resembling the game as it was a hundred years ago before the use of the forward pass was used with any regularity. One thing which was in sharp contrast to your professional gridiron experience was how quickly the game flew by. I guess with no two minute warnings, few injury breaks, no score reviews and no coach challenges, there's less reason for things to slow down. The game almost felt, dare I say it, brisk.

The game itself was close. The underdog Crusaders opened the scoring with a touchdown, but completely botched the snap for the extra point. The Warriors scored two touchdowns after that, converting one of two attempts at the two point conversion. Another Crusaders touchdown, this time with a failed two point conversion saw them trail 14-12 at halftime. The third quarter was tighter, thanks in part to some desperate goal line defensive stands from the Crusaders, but their ill discipline (chop blocks, especially) and poor decision making cost them in the end. I mean, on 4th and long on your own goal line, just punt it! Instead they went for it and conceded the safety. They got the ball back for one more go, but couldn't do anything with it, losing 16-12. All in all, an interesting and eye opening day, 

MCFC 100 Years doco - some thoughts
Moreland City, via production company 3 Nerds - the same people who did the Fields to Dream series for the FFA Cup last year - put out a film on the 100 years of their club. While that 100 year time frame is contestable if you think it about for more than a few seconds, it's more useful to focus on what the film actually talks about and how it goes about trying to tell Moreland City's story.

And that story is complicated by a number of factors. First is the fact that we are talking not just about one club, Moreland City, nor even about the three clubs that merged to form Moreland City, but also about the other digressions - the split from Brunswick that lead to the formation of Moreland; the war time merger between Moreland and Hakoah; the intermediary merger between Moreland and Park Rangers. There are so many dead ends and diversions in this story, some of which by necessity get covered in more detail than others - and as you'd expect, the more recent something is, the more detailed the story that can be told.

Thus the foundations of Coburg are sketchy at best; Moreland's split from Brunswick, and Brunswick's fate even more so; and the transition from what kind of clubs Moreland and Coburg in particular were before 1945 and after never get satisfactory answers. What we do get though in the post-war analyses is a look at the British migrant soccer experience from an angle not often covered or taken into consideration. While for better or worse, the British player and coaching influence on Australian soccer is reasonably self-evident, the kinds of clubs and people involved with more or less explicitly British (as opposed to Anglo or 'native' Australian) soccer clubs is hidden behind the focus on the exploits of Contintental Europeans.

And in a lot of ways, this angle is the film's greatest strength, even as it avoids being as upfront about that as it could have been. The interviewees are almost all British. Moreland and Coburg apparently had a clear Irish and British influence (visible now in its iconography of the rose, thistle, leek and clover); even Park Rangers, which began as a split of sorts from South Melbourne United/South Melbourne juniors, eventually came to have a strong Scottish/Celtic influence by the time Hugh Murney came along.

It's that sense of Britishness which ties the different strands and different histories together. Post-war, it's quite clear that many of the players for Moreland and Coburg aren't locals; they were Moreland and Coburg in name only, almost in the abstract, much as clubs like South Melbourne eventually came to represent almost nothing of South Melbourne the suburb once all the Greeks moved out of the local area. The same seems to be the case for Coburg and Moreland.

That Britishness is also a hindrance on the short term and long term successes of the various clubs involved in this story. In the short term, despite the pluck shown by Moreland into the late 1950s, the crowds and the cash just do not arrive as they do for other migrant clubs. That great, often unspoken question of why the British migrants - whose numbers exceeded those of every other ethnic group combined - didn't take up soccer as did their Continental equivalents doesn't get teased out more than just the merest hint. But even that small interrogation of the question makes it clear that the absence of broad British migrant interest in Australian soccer held Australian soccer back for decades; more broadly, because their absence made the game look more exotic than it should have done to mainstream Australia, and more narrowly, it prevented clubs like Moreland from becoming anything more than small time community clubs.

That interpretation, much as I think it needs to be made, downplays the importance of clubs like Moreland to their supporters and the communities that converged around them. The Moreland and Coburg rivalry gets a spell, as does the difficulty in coming to terms in merging in order to survive. The success the club gained from the merger - surviving and thriving where before there was seemingly terminal decline - while both opening up the club to the community and attempting to preserve what made the clubs tick is an example to many other clubs going through the same processes of renewal. In Moreland City, meaning has been created which incorporates both the old and the new.

[Naturally this is easier for clubs from ethnic groups which are already more closely culturally aligned to the mainstream. For the old 'wog' clubs, full of old men much further away from the mainstream, the ability to transfer control of their clubs to younger generations - many of which will be made up of junior parents with a more solipsist perspective, or with little concern for the history of the club they will soon take over; but that's another story]

The film is professionally produced, and comes up with clever solutions to certain problems, chief of which is the lack of archival footage and even artefacts, a common problem across the game in general. What Moreland does have compared to other clubs is high quality photos, and some old jerseys, which act as useful additions to the interviews and transition overlays. But there are also drawbacks. The film is clearly too long, with some of its digressions - especially the 1956 Olympics portion of the film - destroying the momentum of the film. Not that that material is unimportant, but it and the tribute to Frank Loughran could have been integrated into the film better.

There is clearly an attempt to squeeze as much as possible into this film, and thus what some people would consider as peripheral matters - pitch alignments, council relationships and aborted 1980s merger talks with Pascoe Vale and Sandringham - get into the discussion. That's OK with me, as I love that kind of information, but it doesn't necessarily make for the most chronologically or thematically coherent film. Nevertheless, there are moments in these matters which could have been tied more closely to the British migrant experience - I'm thinking specifically of a former migrant hostel building in Preston being transported to Campbell Reserve in the guise of club rooms.

But even if you have no interest in any of these historical and sociological questions, the film can still be enjoyed for what it does well - letting the subjects speak freely, and allowing them to get across what Moreland City means to them, and on that front succeeds handsomely. The filmmakers make the various interviewees come across as eloquent, dignified and relateable - the club has its own special qualities (in part because of its theoretical longevity), but it's also 'every club', fighting the same battles that Victorian soccer clubs have had to fight over decades.

I just wish there was more on Park Rangers to be honest, especially before they moved out to Kew.

Around the grounds
Stuck in a rut
Headed to the Socceroos-Japan fixture. Prior to this match your correspondent caught up with a child psychologist and a guy in a suit. That was OK. The game itself was an event spent with a party of four; then one bloke dropped out; another came in, then also dropped out; and then the spare ticket was taken up by of all things, a woman. How modern. The match itself was wearisome - an introverted Japan which after scoring the opening goal, preferred to sit back and wait to be gifted the ball back; and an Australian team that moved from side to side so much that it was like watching a game of Space Invaders, but with much less forward progress. The second half was better, although the penalty was a fortunate one - a player running towards the byline and away from goal on a tight angle probably doesn't need to be fouled. Plan A was eventually enacted, but that didn't work well either. A certain journo friend of mine is right - everyone's gotten too complacent. We just expect Australia to make it through to the World Cup now, and thus there is no tension, no sense of impending doom. Might it be better for Australian soccer to fail at some point to qualify, just to shake things up a bit?

Just remember that...
The ancient Greek oracle was probably high on fumes.