Sunday, 1 March 2015

Air Force One - North Geelong 0 South Melbourne 3

After complaining on Twitter about the fact that there were no taxi ranks at either Lara or Corio stations, I received this offer of a lift, which blew me away,
The option being either to go hardcore and take the public transport, or sell out to the man and take up the president's offer, so of course I did the latter. Ghastly Top 40 station music aside, it was a pleasant enough experience, going along for the ride not just with Leo, but also Leo's son, Leo's father, and Gains squished up in the middle seat.  The warning of Avalon Air Show traffic leading up to the game proved to be ill founded, both on the way there and especially on the way back. Indeed like a few others I assume, we got a little bit of a free show on the way there, with planes flying low across the freeway in front of us.

Upon entering the ground, it feels so much like what a country soccer venue should: clearly rural, but also clearly loved. There's a strong soccer culture here, and on the whole the locals were very hospitable. I spent a good part of the under 20s match indoors in the North Geelong SOCIAL CLUB (did you see what I did there, real subtle) having lunch (glorified rissole cevapi roll and a Snickers, tasty sure, but let's be honest hardly the equal of well made souvlaki) and watching Australia get smashed in the cricket on the TV, but avoidinh the temptation to have a go on the jumping castle.

Steve from Broady showing everyone he's a man of many talents, as he
goes about filming the under 20s game from way up high on the scaffolding.
Photo: Skip Fulton.
Outside the heat and the humidity conspired to make things less than pleasant, and it was a credit to the under 20s players, who had to deal with the worst of it, that they put on as good a show as they did, while the rest of us marvelled at Steve from Broady making it to the top of media tower scaffolding. The conditions were scarcely better for the two teams in the senior match, who still had to deal with pretty adverse weather conditions. In particular I was a little concerned that due to our obvious lack of fitness last week, whether we would be able run out the game strongly. As it was, it looked like we did enough to control the game for the most part without completely busting a gut, chasing and closing down when necessary, but not going out like greyhounds in the way that Avondale Heights did last week against the Knights.

The first half was spent hiding from the sun underneath the social club's terracing, as well as performing the usual feat at these kinds of grounds of trying to find the best spot to see both goal mouths, while avoiding the support pillars and players race. Apart from the two goals we scored, the moment I'm most keen to see on the replay was the header which seemed to be pulled in by the North Geelong goalkeeper with Inspector Gadget arms. Plenty at the ground thought the header had gone in - indeed, even the Dodgy Asian Betting guy had it registered as a goal - but somehow it stayed out. No doubt that on the replay it will look like it was n where near to being in. In the second half, it was more of the same, though I dare say we played it a bit more cautiously. The rain that began in the second half would have made it more comfortable I hope for the players, as it did for the fans behind the goal, who were less interested in chanting than in engaging in good natured banter with the North Geelong keeper, who took it in his stride.

More photographers than fans. First there was Cindy Nitsos, then Skip Fulton, and now Kevin Juggins, very capable with a lens. 
I can't say it was pretty, because it wasn't really, but I don't think it was as ugly as the players singing the song implied. North Geelong battled hard, but apart from set pieces couldn't really muster up too much of a threat on our goal, and I reckon they'll probably struggle to avoid the drop. Still, we also weren't at our sharpest. David Stirton was copping (rightfully) the brunt of the frustration from the actually pretty decent travelling South contingent, especially from one notable yapper, but Stirton then scored a nice header and laid one off for Milos Lujic to more or less ice the game before half time, and his laziness was for the time being at least excused.

Still, we had been and would continue to be wasteful in front of goal, with the lack of decisiveness being my main gripe. If you're near enough and there's space in front of you, why not have a ping? I don't know, maybe we have a team full of perfectionists, maybe the turf wasn't playing as true as its verdancy would indicate, but substitute Andy Brennan showed what might be achieved if you just hit the damn thing; even if it ends up going at straight at the keeper, it may end up going through his legs, and the game becomes a little more comfortable.

One last observation from this game, and the possible arrival of a new trend. In the difficult years prior to our most recent championship, we South fans would often bemoan two things - first, that we were not as physical as other sides in the competition, and second, that referees were loath to punish the more violent teams such as Green Gully. The bit we can control, the physicality aspect, seemed to have been sorted out last year, if not even earlier upon the arrival of Chris Taylor and his cohort of Dandenong Thunder players. Certainly an intrinsic part of that physicality, the ability to grind out results, went a huge way to securing us the championship. The referee leniency issue is something largely out of our control; however in the first two games this season it appears we're gpoing into tackles with a bit more fervour than I've seen from a South team for a long time. My concern is not just for the yellow and red cards that we're likely to pick up along the way, but also for the reputation of the club. Some of the tackles that have been put in by our players in the early part of this season have been getting close to cringe worthy.

Next week
Not round three as you might expect, but round four. Round three is spread over several weeks, and our game in that round isn't on until April. Instead, we'll be jumping straight into round four, and an away fixture against Werribee City, whose round round three game is to be played midweek this week. Here's hoping we don't have to put up the scaffolding ourselves again.

Meet me in St Louis
After the mysterious exit of defender James Musa had failed to elicit anything resembling a concrete explanation - apart from the fact that he was quite clearly no longer with us - it appears that we finally have an answer as to his next career move. Musa has joined Saint Louis FC, an expansion team in the third tier USL competition in the USA, after the MLS and NASL. Saint Louis FC are, according to Wikipedia, affiliated with Chicago Fire of the MLS.

The stranger case of Peter Gavalas
All sorts of strange rumours were circulating from all sorts of different sources yesterday, about the exact status of Peter Gavalas' injury. The consensus seems to be that yes, it's a back injury, but worse than that, that it's far more serious than previously given credit for. Rather than the half dozen weeks initially mentioned, it's likely to be twice as long. Much more speculative was whether Gavalas had actually carried this injury into pre-season, whether he was struggling with it before the season had started, and now whether he's been let go, pending the approval of a goalkeeping signing exemption from FFV.

Media pass
As per usual, earlier this year I was waiting with anticipation for the release of the application form for FFV media accreditation. But before I could even get to fill out anything, and pray to Morgoth that I would fail so I could have a good old fashioned whinge, I received a phone call telling me not to apply, How come I asked? Well, my mystery caller said that'd he'd arrange to get me one.

Now whether it is true or not that the relevant person in FFV communications agreed to this request because it was 'easier to just to give it to him', I can't say for sure. Anyway, despite the fact that I'd rather have been accepted or denied for accreditation on my own terms, one doesn't simply knock back this kind of unsolicited thoughtfulness put in on one's behalf. To that end, I will try my best to do either of the following:
  • Prove that there is actually no harm done in rewarding someone who actually puts in the effort to cover the competition, and not just by providing menial match reports
  • Make sure they regret the decision.
Only time will tell which one will happen. As a closing note, I've gone a little ways I hope to repaying that kind deed, when my youngest brother - who happened to be with me when I picked up my media pass from the South office - managed to decipher the handwriting on one of the membership applications that the club got during the Antipodes Festival.

Listen, George, I got some bad news. I'm not gonna be able to give you that parking space.
Interesting letter sent out to State League 1 clubs this week by FFV. Here's the most interesting section.
Throughout 2016 and prior to expiration of the current term we will conduct a review of our NPL competitions with a view to determining the best competition structure and appropriate licence tenure commencing in 2017. That process will include consultation with existing stakeholders (including NPL Clubs) and will involve consideration of an automatic promotion and relegation system between NPL and Victorian State Leagues. 
Given the review process to take place in 2016 and the fact that following the 2015 season only 1 year will remain of the current licence period, FFV has decided not to offer new NPL licences for the 2016 season. The result of that decision is that the two State League 1 champions in 2015 (NW and SE) will not have the right to apply for an NPL licence in 2016. 
We reiterate that the opportunity to enter NPL in Victoria will exist in 2017 and that the terms on which that may occur will be the focus of our review and consultation process.
This will, I think, annoy some State League 1 clubs that have decided to loosen the purse strings this year in the hope of making it up to NPL. I'll let others discuss the relative justice of this move, but I suppose those clubs with NPL ambitions can always take this as an opportunity to further strengthen their structures in readiness for the 2017 season.

Speaking of the social club
Apparently at this year's family day, the Member for Albert Park, and our number one ticket holder, Martin Foley, made a promise that the social club situation would be sorted within 100 days, a promise that ge claimed we could hold him to. Now whather that was 100 days from the election of the Andrews government - in which case I have been told it would fall on March 15th - or 100 days from the family day, I'm not sure, but there's something for people to use as measuring stick. Frankly, just for the moment I'm much more annoyed that something interesting actually happened at South Melbourne family day, and I wasn't there to witness it.

Around the grounds
When something happens twice, it's a coincidence. When something happens three times, it's a trend.
Me, being well known as a social butterfly, decided it was a good idea to not stay home and feel sorry for myself, and instead head down to Port Melbourne, where the home side would be taking on Pascoe Vale. Now of course the expectation of me among certain parts of my readership would be that I would have gone to Knights instead, but even I have my limits as to how much Croatia i can handle in a week, and besides - I was going to be seeing North Geelong in action anyway.

The beauty of the FFV providing cameras to every club means that you can see at least the key action from the previous week. In the case of Pascoe Vale, because Heidelberg have started filming their games for television now, it was good to see how decisive Pascoe Vale's 3-0 round one loss actually was. And to be honest, not that decisive, only capitulating once they'd conceded the opening goal. Now, Pascoe Vale utterly dominated the first half against Port Melbourne, The home side couldn't even get out of their own half. Still, Port survived unscathed until point, and came out firing in the second half, where Kamal Ibrahim scored a very nice goal to give Port the lead and see Pascoe Vale deteriorate into a rabble. A cheap goal closer to the end killed this game off, though it was a good game to watch overall.

Aside from the game, there was also mingling to be had. As usual I chatted with George (Jesus of Port Melbourne fame), but I also met Elio and Elizabeth, the parents of former Richmond and now Port defender Andrew Viola, and chatted with them about the old days at Richmond before the recent turmoil, and of course the mandatory reminiscence of the food there and Mark Boric chasing balls onto the freeway.
It also turned out that the Violas knew roving reporter Skip Fulton, once briefly of this blog before I banished him to more suitable places. Of course by sheer coincidence Skip Fulton was also there, along with Mark Gojszyk of all sorts of things including Shoot Farken. This is a small world indeed. My entry with media pass to Port was also unproblematic, but two problems persist - the lack of access to the outer side, which has the best viewing spots in the ground; and the fact that Port Melbourne still insists on canteen pricing that resembles a hotel mini-bar. $4 for a bottle of iced tea? $2 for a Killer Python? I know you're in a heavily yuppified area, but you're not running a 7-Eleven outlet.

Final thought
They've got chocolate milk now?!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Black rice and a beer - Kiss of Death, round 2, 2015

Friday 27th February, Port Melbourne vs Pascoe Vale @ 8:30, SS Anderson Reserve
Port Melbourne walloped Hume City 1-3 and Pascoe Vale copped three against the Bergers. Now, let’s not look too much into Port's win. They’re a bunch of men who played a very raw bunch of boys. Yeah three goals is good, but really, look at the quality of your opposition. Pascoe at least can say, we played a decent team and yeah, OK, we copped three. Will be a very interesting match, and from my view a very difficult one to call. Port are usually good starters 'til around round four, then they fade out. Pascoe take a while to start playing OK football. Based purely on that fact and nothing else, Port should win this one. Port Melbourne 2 – Pascoe Vale 1.

Friday 27th February, Melbourne Knights vs Northcote City @ 8:30, Knights StadiumThe Knights had a woeful first half last week against Avondale, but found their feet in the second half to win 3-1. Northcote City had a tough first outing at Green Gully and got hammered 4-1. The Knights need to realise that football is a game of 90 minutes, not 45. They had a brain fade in the second half vs South in the Community Shield, and a brain fade against Avondale in the first half last week. Northcote played more than half the match at Gully with 10 men, in what my sources tell me was a yellow card at worst. Yeah, you could say unlucky, but then again, they were at an unforgiving Gully. If the Knights are able to concentrate for 90 minutes, then they should have no issue disposing of Northcote. Melbourne Knights 2 – Northcote City 0.

Saturday 28th February, Green Gully vs Oakleigh Cannons @ 3:00, Green Gully Reserve
Gully hammered Northcote 4-1, and Oakleigh as expected lost to South Melbourne 1-0. Gully were clinical against Northcote. Haven’t heard any rave reviews about them yet, and I’m not going to kick that off. Oakleigh though, well, are they better than last year? No. I think they have too many egos this year. They were OK against South, but weren’t threatening. They will be looking to bounce back against Green Gully, but Gully is on a high. They will be too good. Green Gully 2 – Oakleigh Cannons 1.

Saturday 28th February, North Geelong vs South Melbourne @ 5:00, Elcho Park
Match of the round! North Geelong had a bit of a trip down to Bentleigh last week and left empty handed. South was at home in their plush surroundings by the lake and had an OK win against Oakleigh. Although unconvincing last week, South still is the team of the century and we don’t lose to teams like North Geelong. South needs to improve. We weren’t the best and were playing with fire towards the end. Nikola Roganovic was brilliant. Kept us in it with three magical saves in the last ten minutes. News has it that Peter Gavalas will be out for another five weeks. If Nikola has a ripper next 5 weeks, then Petey will be warming the bench. Regardless, we are human too, and we wish Peter Gavalas a speedy recovery. My only concern with South is Dane Milovanovic who looks like a goose, and gets lost in the midfield, and Stirton who is underdone like my mate's chicken sticks. I will be touching down at Avalon some time in the mid morning, heading to Cunningham Pier for an autograph session, then chauffeur driven to Elcho Park. There I will expect VIP treatment, pivo on tap and crni rižot, Riba na gradele i blitva and Janjetina s ražnja. I also expect a better South performance this week by a literal country mile. We rode all our luck last week, and have none left. Now, it’s time to play football! North Geelong 0 – South Melbourne 3.

Saturday 28th February, Dandenong Thunder vs Bentleigh Greens @ 7:00, George Andrews Reserve
Dandy beat Werribee 1-2 last week and Bentleigh beat the newcomers North Geelong 2-0. Was expected to be a tough game for Dandy last weekend, and it was. Scrappy affair that copped the rain halfway through it. But they dug in, and left with three points. Bentleigh had a somewhat more comfortable result against North Geelong. But bang for buck Bentleigh didn't show much last week, where you could say, 'WOW! What a team!'. Will be a difficult visit to Dandy. Dandy have things to prove and they won’t just sit back and let Bentleigh come. Expect plenty of goals at this one. Dandenong Thunder 2 – Bentleigh Greens 3.

Sunday 1st March, Hume City vs Avondale FC @ 3:00, Broadmeadows Valley Park
Hume went down to Port and Avondale had a tough welcome to the NPL at the Knights. Won’t say too much about this match because I really don’t have much to say, surprise, surprise. But, I will say that this will be Avondale FC’s first win. If they can do to Hume what they did to the knights in the first half, then hume should be worried. Hume City 1 – Avondale FC 2.

Sunday 1st March, Werribee City vs Heidelberg Utd @ 3:00, Galvin Park
This match has Heidelberg win written all over it. If they can beat a stubborn Pascoe Vale 3-0, then imagine what they can do to a shithouse Werribee! Werribee City 0 –Heidelberg United 4.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

More than a little shaky - South Melbourne 1 Oakleigh Cannons 0

First half
Drinks held at new club sponsor The Water Rat - and with no social club, you may as well - and it went well, except for the burger that was too damn dry. Fancy capsicum paste is all well and good, but it's no substitute for a good tomato sauce. Apart from that it was quite enjoyable, cheap pints and a good vibe, though the start of the season always seems to attract pretty much everyone that still cares about the club to turn up. A woman who I assume is associated with the pub asks us how do we refer to our club and we answer, 'South' or 'Hellas', and I add but never 'Souths', which while a smattering of people do use, it has never sounded true to these ears.

(and if ever you're having a discussion about 'Against Modern Football' and ask the AMF proponent what is 'modern football exactly?', and they begin their answer with 'well, for me it's..,', just know you've already won).

Of course a huge part of round one - or more correctly, our first home game - is getting all the membership goodies, including personally being welcomed to the new season by El Presidente. The card is a solid piece of work this season, unlike the flaccid effort from last year, the championship review DVD is a nice little collectors item, but where was the other stuff? Where were the bumper sticker to help my car get smashed in at Somers Street? Where's the little championship pennant? It looks like we'll have to wait a bit longer for those, like, the next home game, whenever that is.

The Valkanis family were also back, outside cooking several large spits of meat. Having already eaten, I was happy to pass this time, but perhaps if they;re back again in several weeks time, I might be keen to relive some old memories. Seeing radio people set up on the balcony, my instinct was that it was the FFV group doing their thing for another year, only to cotton on that it was actually 3XY Radio Hellas. Apart from the weird hybrid Greek-English Singapore Cup match from a few years ago, can anyone remember the last time they bothered to cover one of our games live? And is this going to be a regular occurrence, or a one off? Will they be sharing the love with the other Greek clubs?

I said 'Step pause turn pause pivot step step,' not "Step pause turn pause
 pivot step pause!' Oh, shudder. Photo: Peter Psarros.
The pre-game news circled around the fact that Peter Gavalas had gotten injured at training, and was going to miss six weeks. Now, was this a new injury, or the recurrence of a pre-existing injury he's brought into this year? We'll probably never know, but the immediate consequence was that Nikola Roganovic, out of the game for years, got the call up to the starting eleven. In the end, he did more than most to get us the three points, in what was at best a pretty disjointed performance. Despite Oakleigh's dominance, including a shot off the crossbar, it was us who went into the break 1-0 up after an own goal of all things, which seemed to surprise a lot of people in the ground in the way that it happened, but that's OK. They all count the same, and don't you ever forget that. Mind you, I almost missed because of the mistimed efforts of someone trying to get some choreography started.

The bit in the middle
Sometimes a conversation just follows its own muse. We discussed the Iliad and the Odyssey, and the relative merits of teaching either of those to children, even in children's editions. Having never read the Iliad, it's difficult for me to make educated comment on that, but the Odyssey of course does lend it itself to a certain 'fantastic' means of entertainment (see the movies etc). But you have to wonder about the blinding of Polyphemus after Odysseus and his men got him drunk (and yes I know they had to do something to escape otherwise certain death, but it is a pretty gruesome scene). But at what age do you introduce the kids to the scene where Ares and Aphrodite have an affair, and Hephaestus traps them in a fine net and gets the rest of the gods to see them trapped. Then we ended up at Philip K. Dick, and how as good as Blade Runner was, it failed to capture the full complexity of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep; I also recommended my friend read Dick's Ubik, not because it's a great novel, but it because it's a real head fuck. After then moving on to discussing the vastly underrated oeuvre of the late Japanese anime filmmaker Satoshi Kon, the discussion finally ended up on Manowar, and how awesome it would be if they toured Australia (both for those who love them  and those who hate them), and how cool it would be if we could somehow get them to play at Lakeside. Also, the fact that they released their own branded condoms, called Warriors Shield.

Oakleigh coach Miron Bleiberg has already won the hearts of Oz Soccer's
Twitterati (follow him @MironBleiberg). Photo: Peter Psarros.
Second half
If we struggled in the first half, the second half was worse, and the most startling thing was the disparity in fitness between the two sides. Yes it was a warm night, but considering how well we ran out the game last week against the Knights, it was disappointing to see us outrun and outlasted throughout most of the match. With very little midfield presence, the defence probably did as well as they could to keep Oakleigh out, but it was Roganovic who saved our bacon on several occasions, including what looked like a ridiculous double save at the end. But it was the bread and butter stuff - coming off his line, his distribution and the sense that he wouldn't screw up (especially as the game wore on) that was most pleasing about his performance. Of course, it's only the first game, and the first out of perhaps 30 odd matches we'll be playing this season, if not more, Considering they got next to no help from the midfield, the defence stood up well enough, though Kristian Konstantinidis' penchant for sliding in for the tackle promises to be both a thrilling and nervewracking phenomenon. Milos Lujic battled hard up front, and I thought Leigh Minopoulos did OK, but we otherwise pretty ordinary going forward. Usually we're on the other end of the kind of game where one team dominates but can't get the points, so there's both concern that we found ourselves in that position, but joy and/or relief that we managed to get the points.

The refereeing was a bit all over the shop, though of course the footage may make the fans (and Miron Bleiberg, for that matter) look like fools again. Then again, considering the very minor fooforah in the comments section of Kiss of Death's most recent post, even that may not be enough. On a related note, every NPL club has reportedly been given a video camera this year to film games, I assume for collation into a weekly highlights package - though at our AGM (I think) it was also noted that FFV would be using the footage to improve the standard of officiating. Oakleigh were very upset that they didn't get given a penalty late on - a free kick just outside the box instead, while South fans seemed upset that it was given a foul at all. There were many other erratic decisions and cards gicen - mostly to us - but the ones that I would really like a second look at are the offside awarded against us which seemed to be still in our own half, and the moment when Oakleigh keeper John Honos seemed to handle the ball outside his own 18 yard box.

Overall, we looked far less in synch than we did the previous week against the Knights, with our midfield in particular struggling to get the ball, let alone shut down their opponents. Nick Epifano is a talented player, and did some nice things, but he needs to sort out his attitude, at the very least regarding second efforts. He did not look like a happy chappy going down the players' race after the game. I was a

The crowd was listed at a touch over 3500, which the usual scamps found especially ludicrous, and why not? We have a well earned reputation of fudging numbers (in both directions), but the club claims that it was legit because we have the scanning technology, and the FFV was happy to also put up that number. Me, I felt (and I emphasise that this is purely a horrendous guesstimate) that it was closer to 2500, which is still a very good turnout for a Thursday night, and a school night no less, but for the next AGM it may be time to ask for a more detailed breakdown of our attendances, which shouldn't be too hard to accomplish if it's all on computers now. Regardless, the marketing team went to a big effort for this game, and should feel proud of what they achieved.

Next week
North Geelong, in the first of a long series of away matches. Gotta figure out the best way of getting there and back, too.

Joe Simunic rocking it modified Austro-Hungarian style, going with sandals
but no socksPhoto: I don't know, I got this off the Football Anarchy site,
 but if someone knows the original source, let 
me know
Around the grounds
Za Dom Sandals!
No media pass in my grubby little hands just yet, and Gains couldn't make it either, but I decided to head to Knights Stadium anyway to see the home side take on Avondale Heights in what me and Athas Zafiris tried to dub as the #quarryderby. Everyone's favourite exponent of the bear hug was also there, one Aussie Joe Simunic, and he got a remarkably mild and largely disinterested reception from the crowd before the game. Probably a lot more love afterwards, if you know what I mean. Avondale surprised me and a lot of people by dominating the opening half of this game - and not just dominating, but doing it with style. Their style was based around quick passing, keeping it on the ground and lots of runs forward. For their part the Knights looked confused as to how to take on this feisty minnow, and especially the impressive attacking player Chris Irwin. It was Irwin who gave Avondale the lead, helped by chaotic bit of defending by the Knights resulting in a 30 metre lob into an empty net, and thus the second surprise of the night, the relatively large support of the visitors going relatively wild in the grandstand. Going much wilder on the other side of the ground were MCF, who seemed to be involved in some kind of brawl among themselves, about who knows what, but it's not like it hasn't been seen before, Knights came out in the second half looking more like their usual Andrew Marth inspired selves, imposing themselves on the game with more physicality and frontal pressure on the visiting team. The early equaliser was just reward, and the go ahead goal - which came straight after Avondale's second shot off the woodwork for the night - just about wrapped this up, as the visitors simply ran out of gas. Knights picked up a junk time goal at the end to make the win look more impressive than it was.

Final thought
Ren and Stimpy. It's a little tragic that I'm still laughing about this over a week after it happened.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Soccer's back - Kiss of Death, Round 1, 2015

I did promise Paul a season preview this week. But to be honest, I cant be fucked reviewing something that’s been previewed countless times by other websites. Waste of my time. I have however studied round one, and I can give you my tips for the start of the season.

Thursday 19 February, South Melbourne vs Oakleigh Cannons @8:15, Lakeside Stadium
I’d call this one the clash of the titans, but it’s more Titan vs Minnow. South has had an excellent recruitment drive in the off-season. Signing no less than ten players, and releasing nine. Now before everyone points the finger, Dimi Tsiaras has retired, Jamie Reed has moved to Wales, and the other seven were if anything, bench players. The ten we have signed are pretty much all first eleven players. There will be a lot of competition and headaches for Taylor this season, which is a good thing. We lacked depth last season, and I mean quality depth. These signing have made depth a non-issue. South the side to watch this season. Oakleigh as usual are being overrated by everyone. They sign one or two fancy names and everyone starts pulling themselves. Calm the fuck down. South signs a few and it's “South's stealing our players”. The double standards, eh? They have an, 'eh', not bad team at Oakleigh, but not championship winners. Mentally it will always sit in the back of their heads. They are not a big enough character to deserve anything, and their trophy cabinet will be sitting bare for a while to come. South Melbourne 3 – Oakleigh Cannons 1.

Friday 20th February, Bentleigh Greens vs North Geelong @ 8:30, Kingston Heath
Bentleigh are still on their high from their FFA Cup run, where they played no team of note. Big fucken deal really. Have as usual splashed the cash and made signings, which I think are useless and unnecessary. North Geelong have an issue with leaking goals. Only had two clean sheets last season. However, they should still offer good value to this league in their maiden appearance [Let's not forget they did win the predecessor VPL competition in 1992. Ed.]. If they don’t have any coaching issues midway through the season, I can see them trying to force themselves into the finals series. Bentleigh Greens 2 – North Geelong Warriors 1.

Friday 20 February, Melbourne Knights vs Avondale FC @ 8:30, Knights Stadium
Watched the Knights last Friday night against South Melbourne for the Community Shield. They were woeful. It pains me to say it, but they will struggle. Their transfers in the off season have been poor. If they get the injuries they got last year, they’re fucked. Avondale FC have their turn in the NPL after being promoted again (three out of four seasons). They too have signed no one of note. You know, when you come to play with the big boys, you need to have some depth and players who can turn it on. Avondale have come into NPL with pretty much the same team. It will be a tough lesson for them. Melbourne Knights 3 – Avondale FC 1.

Sunday 22 February, Heidelberg United vs Pascoe Vale @ 3:00, Epping Stadium
Haven’t seen the Bergers yet, but by all accounts they have recruited well. Katsakis always seems to pluck these players out of nowhere and this season is no exception I suppose. I have no idea where or how he finds them, but they always seem to surprise. Pascoe Vale have a new ground this season, thank fuck for that. Their old ground is more of an antique now. They have signed three new players of not much calibre. Last year they were stubborn fucks, but this year everyone else's patience has worn thin. Expect Pascoe to finish in the bottom half of the table. Heidelberg United 2 – Pascoe Vale. 1.

Sunday 22 February, Hume City vs Port Melbourne @ 3:00, Broadmeadows Valley Park
Hume has gone on a spree, snapping up a bunch of NPL youth players. Are these players ready for the step up into senior football? No. Are Hume wasting their time? Yes. Will they have a strong campaign? No. Will they make the finals? No. Are they they a team to watch? Fucken LOL no! Port Melbourne have signed Trent Rixon, Alan Kearney and Shaun Kelly, just to name a few. Should other clubs be worried? No. We will see our first coaching change by round six. Eric Vass will be gone and Gus Tsolakis will be moved into his seat. You can see it already. Eric is being set up to fail. The clique has formed at Port and Eric will not be able to control it. Hume City 1 – Port Melbourne 1.

Sunday 22 February, Werribee City vs Dandenong Thunder @ 3:00, Galvin Park
Werribee City are already in relegation trouble and the season hasn't even started yet. Poor signings, poor friendly performances, poor youth team. They are doomed. Don’t bother tipping this team all season. Dead wood. Wasting everybody's time. Dandy Thunder, if they didn't have Stuart Munro, I’d have them down for relegation as well. All sorts of issues off the park, which has left a minimal budget on the park. Won’t get relegated, but will finish 3rd last, opa opa rok der! Werribee City 2 – Dandenong Thunder 2.

Monday 23 February, Green Gully vs Northcote City @ 8:30, Green Gully Reserve
Why would a team like Green Gully sign three players from Bendigo City? People have lost the plot. Overall poor recruitment drive. Disappointing. They've also signed Rani Dawisha from South Springvale Aris. Big jump for the young boy, will be under a shitload of pressure. Northcote has been raped and pillaged in the off-season. I dunno, really, I dunno. They’re one of those teams that always ends up being a pain in your arse somewhere through the season. Just wish they would go away. Green Gully 2 – Northcote City 2.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Stupid Branding Requirement - Melbourne Knights 1 South Melbourne 2

Well, that was a pleasant experience in all sorts of strange ways. Watching the rain start to come down and the lightning strike in the vicinity of Knights Stadium as I drove east along Ballarat Road, it felt good to be heading back to something resembling serious soccer. No need to pay for parking also added that little bit of extra value, though I probably should ducked into the NPL Victoria season launch being held inside the Melbourne Croatia social club adjacent to the ground - if only to add a bi more colour.

I had my umbrella with me, but the rain was that heavy and persistent, and it was only a pre-season affair after all, that I ended up staying in the stand for the whole game, copping cigarette smoke wherever I sat, Bad eye sight and increasingly decrepit short term memory meant that I spent a good bit of the game trying to figure out who some of the players were, especially that skinny looking number seven with the dyed blonde hair - oh, wait, it's Nick Epifano.

No difficulty picking out the goalkeeper at our end, since despite being the better side throughout the first half, and spurning several chances, we went into half time 1-0 down after Knight scored from a corner which Gavalas failed to get to despite it being in the six yard box.
But immaculately taken photos don't tell the whole story of course - it was an excellent corner from the Knights, but the knee jerk reaction from me and some others around me was to blame Gavalas and pine for the days of [insert last decent keeper you think we had and/or Chris Maynard]. I admit that I'm not a Gavalas fan, and that I was probably too strident last night, but when later that night Chris May came out confidently and punched a ball well clear, 'give Pete a chance' ran a clear second to instinctive malevolence - and that's taking into account Gavalas very good diving save from a long range free kick in the second half.

The game wore on, and while one doesn't ever knowingly or willingly discount the chance of an equaliser, time was running out, though we were getting closer. There are certainly games I've seen where we've looked a lot less likely to score a goal. Considering Gains had written us off - for shame, Gains, for saying that we wouldn't score - it was especially pleasing that Andy Brennan of all people popped up with the equaliser, taking advantage of a corner ending up at the back post for him to score with his first touch.
Leigh Minopoulos' winner in injury time, averting the skipping of extra time and straight to penalty shoot out scenario that was set to settle the game, was both an encouraging moment for the team itself in running out the game in the way that we did, but also a sign of the depth we have on hand, This depth may cause its own problems down the line - injuries and suspensions aside, Taylor tends to like putting out the same starting eleven if things are going well - some players are going to be spending a bit of time on the pine this season.

While it'd be stupid to extrapolate a whole season's eventualities based on one game - and a game played in atrocious weather, before the real stuff has started, and before anyone's settle down at that - there were signs of why I think we'll both win the championship again, as well as reasons why we'll fail to do so.

Going forward, aside from the poor finishing, we looked damn good, perhaps better than at any moment I care to think of during 2014. Some of the one-twos, the turns, and the way the forwards seemed to be in synch with each other was very encouraging. We also moved the ball forward quickly, without resorting to long balls; though Chris Taylor seemed to have a different opinion, remarking to the media after the game that he thought we were too direct - and who would have thought Taylor would ever say something like that?

The reasons we could fail to win the title? Complacency, for sure, but the keeping situation is undoubtedly the one everyone is focusing on whether you despise Pete Gavalas or want to him to do well for the simple fact that he's our keeper and that there's no point in trying to destroy our own, when there's already so many others willing to help us along in that regard. More than his failure to get to that corner yesterday - and I think the old adage 'karate yes, or karate no, but never karate guess so' applies for that situation - it was the fact that his defenders clearly weren't on the same page with him on several occasions that is most immediate concern, in this ear when you goalkeeper is meant to be a de facto sweeper.

Whether that was down to a newly re-jigged defence still finding its bearings - it was interesting for example to see Michael Eagar in a defensive midfield role, where the New Zealand soccer fans are more accustomed to seeing him - or due to the weather, you hope that it will be gone soon, because we've already been through this. The opposition, too, was not at full strength, and they too showed signs that they'll need to settle - and while I wish it was league match we'd just won, rather than a pre-season ceremonial shield, I'm still happy to have won said shield as opposed to meaningless scratch match.

Is that a 'happy to be back' face, or I' am
 going to fuck you guys so hard 'face? 
Welcome aboard more new faces
We've copped a little bit of stick for going all gung-ho with our recruiting so soon after a championship. Never mind that we've lost a few players, and that our best kids have been taken by the A-League NPL teams (not that we would have probably used them anyway, but it did happen), it's also part of our well established culture to snare talent from wherever we can, and damn the consequences.

To that end aside from the signing of Peter Gavalas, we've also signed midfielder Cody Martindale (who? exactly) from State League 1 outfit Noble Park; and Kristian 'Gonzo the Great' Konstantinidis (need more Greeks!) from Northcote City, another player who's had a run in with our supporters, I think that feud stemming from some idiocy during our ill-fated 2013 preliminary finals attempt.

Steven, I like your hustle. [Steven smiles]. That's why it was so hard to cut you.
It's farewell to the other of our two championship year goalkeepers, Chris Maynard, who has been let go. There had been consistent chatter about his tendency to miss training, but once he won the number one spot, it seems the fact that he turned up to pre-season training 10 kilos heavier - and remember how it was mentioned at the AGM that we're keeping track of all these things now - didn't help his cause any whcuh way The talk is that Nikola Roganovic will be the number two to Peter Gavalas. Both have spent a bit of time out of the game, and Gavalas of course has all sorts of baggage brings with them (already LOLing it up on Facebook), so it'll be very, very interesting to see how this plays out.

Maynard has since ended up signing for Heidelberg. Let's hope this gamble pays off for us. Rightly or not, many of us have doubts, perhaps magnified further by the fact that even last year the keeping situation was always seen as a weak point. [cliché alert] Only time will tell.

Next week
The official start of our title defence, against perennial bridesmaids Oakleigh Cannons. It's our only home league fixture until April. It sucks that it will be on a Thursday night, which sucks, but welcome to the concept of the marquee opening fixture, which because it went so well last year, will be tried again in 2015. I suppose we should be glad that we're handpicked for these occasions.

Memberships/Negative Nancy persona ditched for one paragraph at least
For those of you who have pre-purchased memberships - good on ya, and if you haven't, head here - then they will be available for collection as per usual outside the gate before our first home game.

Seriously - buy a membership, come to games, be part of the solution, not part of the problem. It's been ten years - get over the fact that we're still in the second tier, and remember that it's still the same club. Don't listen to the naysayers and the excuse makers - it's still South Melbourne, it's still Hellas, in blue and white. Come watch a team that looks like it will have a decent chance to defend its title. Never mind the running track - it's still among the best stadiums in the state, and it's not like you haven't watched sport from distances further away and in lesser comfort than what you get at Lakeside.

Final thought

Monday, 9 February 2015

This week, last week, whatever

Halfway to the real thing
We get an early chance to add to the silverware collection this Friday, with the inaugural Community Shield game to be played against Melbourne Knights this Friday at Knights Stadium. Of course if we win the game, who knows where the trophy will end up, but that's a better problem to have than its opposite.

I did consider asking the people that went over to Adelaide last week to bring back a social club if there was a spare one hanging about, but that would have been a stupid thing to do. The penalty for the extra baggage would have been murder.

Pie floaters, Farmers' Union Iced Coffee, and lazing by the hotel pool.
Praise be to Tiamat the Destroyer that I didn't end up in Adelaide after all. That whole Adelaide thing seemed to just pass by without much fanfare, didn't it? Yes, it's 'only' pre-season, but compared to the usually more thorough media service we've all become accustomed to, not much seemed to make it to those who didn't cross the border. For the record, we lost the first game against West Adelaide 2-1, with the last kick of the game, and lost the second game against Adelaide Blue Eagles 1-0, after being down to 10 men for a large portion of the game due to Brad Norton being sent off.

Ian Syson offered the rather biased (self-admission) observation that new attacking acquisition Andy Brennan didn't look at all out of place; another fan mentioned that Nikola Roganovic played 90 minutes against Blue Eagles; and that in he first game, we spurned quite a few chances. You can read the club's report of the trip here.

Comings and goings
Speaking of Roganovic, the word on the street is that Peter Gavalas has been confirmed as first choice keeper. As unpalatable as that may to some people out there (and in here), the point is now ti remember the following things:

  • That we've shown a lot of faith in Chris Taylor to make the right calls, and so far the results suggest he's usually on the money.
  • That Taylor is willing to make the change if he feels his keeper is not playing up to scratch (though opinions on whether the likely backup, Chris Maynard, is better are open to debate)
  • Gavalas did win the 2013 goalkeeper if the award, and regardless of the mistakes he made, was a lot better in that year than in 2012. 

It's also my understanding that James Musa is gone, though the club has yet to make any official announcement on that matter. Does that leave us a bit thin depth wise in defence? Probably, but we'll see how the club responds to that situation as the year goes on, I think it's fair to say that we had a pretty blessed run with injuries last year, especially when team needed to be rotated through the crowded mid-season schedule.

Another signing is midfielder Jake Barker-Daish, a former Gold Coast United anbd Adelaide United player, as well as an Olyroo. Apart from still being young, I know next to nothing about this player other than what's been put out in the official press. A couple of people seemed quite enthusiastic about this signing, so I'm interested to see how he goes.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

South and Syson off to Adelaide. I'm not going. Not sure about Musa.

Tomorrow, as part of its somewhat peripatetic pre-season, South Melbourne Hellas will travel to Adelaide for the first time in 11 years. While over there, the team will play a game on Friday night against West Adelaide Hellas as a curtain raiser to what seems to be the SA version of the Super Cup, and will follow that up with a game against Adelaide Blue Eagles on Sunday.

As noted earlier, it's unfortunate that I won't be in Adelaide this week, but Ian Syson of the Neos Osmos blog will be there, and he may live blog one or both matches depending on his mood and other vagaries of the universe. If any body else ends up over there, or is even by random chance a local who just wants to do a quick (or lengthy) report, send us a note.

But what about James Musa?
Someone else apart from myself that may not be in Adelaide is James Musa. There are reports that the defender has left (or will leave) to pursue an offer in the United States, I'm guessing in the second tier. As Musa seems to rarely update his Facebook status, and nor has there been any news that I've been able to find on the rest of the relevant parts of the net (ie, Yellow Fever forums), so there's very little to go on, apart from:

  • an Smfcboard post from a source close to the team.
  • the fact that Musa didn't play at all during the friendly against Bulleen Lions last week, though our scout says there was nothing preventing him from doing so,
  • and one fan letting me know beforehand that 'we lost a key player to america - don't know who'.
 No news from the official South channels either, so I'm assuming this was not a planned move from anyone within the club.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Me interviewed on Behind the Game podcast

A week or two ago I did an interview with Brogan Renshaw, founder and host of a podcast called Behind the Game. I had no real idea what it was going to cover (and afterwards we both relaised we hadn't ta;lked about my research into soccer and literature), and after doing the interview I was afraid there were going to be too many pauses, but it actually turned out OK. The interview goes for almost 50 minutes, or if you really can't be bothered just read the gist of what we talked about below.

It's early days yet for this podcast, so there's perhaps a few too many Western Sydney Wanderers people attached (and I even recommended one to Brogan to interview) but the more recent interviews tend to drift away from that, and I think it'll be a series worth keeping an eye (or ear) on.
  • Woe is me for being an outsider (no credibility as a soccer person).
  • How I got into South.
  • Feeling part of the community.
  • Attempt to marginalise myself as much as possible (Eurosnobs, pay TV).
  • A-League inclinations (or the lack thereof), and double standards in expectations.
  • Bitterness (parlance, emotion and being outside the conversation).
  • More marginalisation (backing myself in a corner).
  • Brogan tries hard to find the right words.
  • How the hell does a club like South get back to the top under the current regimes (political and cultural)?
  • Fondest soccer memory.
  • Least fondest memory (OK, maybe more than one, and the dangers of 'what ifs')
  • Betraying my father, betraying Heidelberg, dodging a bullet.
  • Why do I still go to South games? (regrets, you'll only go in for your mates)
  • Old Soccer/New Football (throwaway line my arse).
  • Who's paying for the current marginalisation of the old soccer?
  • The healing process. (hint: it's bullshit)
  • National Club Identity Policy (as if I wasn't going to talk about that)
  • Blogging! (Why?)
  • Success and pitfalls, style vs service.
  • The damn audience.
  • Friends and enemies.
  • Information control and the Whole of Football meeting (you can also hear me opening and closing a bottle of water at some point here).
  • The Greek national team (meh), the Socceroos (I don't want to be meh) and the Asian Cup.
  • Eddie McGuire.
  • What does the future hold for South?
  • The end.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Notes from the 2014 AGM

Prior to the AGM, there was a letter signed by several people (I was not one of them) asking a detailed list of questions about the management of the club, with particular emphasis on the proposed amendments to the constitution put forward by the club, and particularities of the finances and internal governance of the club. Regardless of what the content of the letter was, I was intrigued by the fact that dissenters from within the club managed to get organised enough for once (which is a good thing), and expected some fireworks.

To that end, I was a little disappointed. The inability and lack of desire of some supporters to stick to the agenda reduced the level of conversation at times to a sort of brutish braying. Others, still, were interested in dredging up events that should have been (and in reality were) settled five or ten years ago. Despite this, most of the meeting was conducted under reasonably edifying circumstances, though in the end I didn't walk out of there with a bounce in my step, more a sense of a lot of hard work needing to be done.

Because of the failure of the board to properly put forward its proposed changes to the constitution - something about merging the management of the SMFC and SMH boards - that debate has been postponed until a future time.

Try as I might over many years, I don't get the way the financials work, but those who seemed to do so managed to get fairly worked up about certain things, like what were our legal costs and why were they so high? Which lead into a conversation about...

The Lease
While the ticker on the blog takes a few liberties with its counting of the days since we last had a social club - for example, there were some minor events held there after re-construction at Lakeside started, and it also doesn't take into account the time spent at Northcote - nevertheless it is still ticking. As yet it does not appear as if construction on the social club has started, despite the deal for the lease apparently being solved with the previous State Government, and the subsequent election of a Labor government which is not supposed to give us as many problems as their Liberal predecessors.

While pondering this question last year, someone on smfcboard came up with the altogether reasonable explanation that it may require a sitting of Parliament to put a stamp on all the details. Since then however, one source has suggested to me that this may not be the case, and that the delay may be due to an entirely different reason. My source indicated that it is because the club is seeking a certain amount of compensation for the time lost due to the Liberals delaying tactics while they were in government, and that local member Martin Foley is trying to help us in this front.

If that is the case, then the delays may not be taken so badly by a good proportion of the membership, some of whom have long sought and/or suggested that as a tactical option for the board to take. Others though, may not be so pleased with this course of action, and may just want the damn thing built already. With regards to the lease, there is also some talk that now that the Labor Party is in power, there may be a restructuring of the State Sports Centres Trust and/or Lakeside's position within that framework. What this kind of restructure or repositioning may mean, I'm not exactly clear on; I don't know what it's like for the other main tenants of the venue, but the relationship between the SSCT and ourselves - and that goes for both the board and ordinary fan - does not exactly seem to be a good one.

The recently joined board member Bill Papastergiadis took control of the lease discussions, talking about how his firm (prior to him joining the board) was responsible with the legal side of the issues, as well his personally rallying influential members of the Greek community to put pressure on the government, and absorbed a lot of the cost that would otherwise have been incurred by the club, which lead to a discussion of...

Need more Greeks
The discussion then turned towards our relationship with the local Greek community, which will be improved one would hope at least at an official/high level by our association with Papastergiadis, the Greek community's president. That there are relationships that can be repaired and utilised there is little doubt, though I'm wary of a full scale retreat to the past. There were enough chirps out there of 'we need to move forward' to hopefully not turn a well meaning sentiment into a reactionary movement. Those asking for the return to the broader usage of the name Hellas in official media unfortunately missed the point that we can't do that, and that the choice to refer to us as Hellas in the Greek press is not ours alone, but more dependent on the spiteful twit who runs the local Greek language sports press. That, and the club has invested a lot time and even money into getting the 'South Melbourne FC' and 'SMFC' names up and going.

I think also that some people have been spooked by the rhetoric which comes out from certain non-South sources, which sometimes don't have our best interests at heart, or which are filtered through their own world views. The idea that we should hold a stall at the Antipodes festival though had me running for the hills. Having said all of that though, there is nothing stopping people outside of the official channels using the word Hellas as much as they want, whether online or during a game day - and there was nothing with one gentleman's desire to be able to one day have a souvlaki with his grandson in a South Melbourne social club again.

Back to the lease
Some of the answers given in terms of we're at, is that the access to the playing area has been secured legislatively. The forty year term for the rest of the deal is likely to be backdated to 2012, not 2009 and not from the hypothetical future completion signing date. The new sports minister John Eren meets with his department in early February, and hopefully this stuff is at the front of the queue when he takes control of that ministerial portfolio. So where are we at? When will it be all sorted out? The vague answer was 'Christmas' - that is, we'd be in a social club by then - but I'm not sure which Christmas they meant. Meanwhile, the board once again thanked us for our patience, and the blog's ticker keeps going up and up. Next year in Jerusalem and all that.

Back to the financials
As far as I can tell, things are pretty steady. Small profits affected by the outlays of the seemingly never ending legal situations we find ourselves in, and the fact that we have to pay the loan we took out to pay for the resolution of the Toumbourou affair. The club anticipates that the latter at least will be paid off in a couple of years time. Some doubt whether the reaming 600-700k left in the social club renovation yet to be handed over to us by the State Sports Centre Trust will be enough for a new social club, or whether social club revenue will be as lucrative as has been speculated. That's an extra step or two into the future though. Gotta sort out that lease first.

Much praise was heaped upon the media crew for the work that they do across all facets of the club's media output. While I have been and will continue to be displeased with the fact that the club is moving off Channel 31 and onto Aurora, the explanation provided went a little way to at least providing a reasonable explanation. The fact is, according to the board, that we were actually invited by Foxtel/Aurora to be on their network, so there's a long term plan of some sort being developed there. The argument that now we'll have national reach is less convincing to me, because we are a Victorian (and mostly Melburnian) club, and being out of reach of the 60-75% of the population that doesn't have pay TV in this state doesn't really make much sense to me. We'll see how it turns out.

Here's an interesting and rare occurrence. A current player was actually in attendance at one of these things, one Leigh Minopoulos. He left the room though by the time this section had started.

While the club was happy in general with the performance of the team in 2014, the fact that we only took out one of the four trophies on offer (out of NPL Victoria, NPL Nationals, Dockerty Cup and FFA Cup, though the last was of course more about commercial reasons than winning it) was deemed as being not good enough. While I disagree with the gentleman who said that we should focus primarily into getting into the FFA Cup, the fact is that the club did lose out by not being there, because unlike a lot of other clubs, we had already a put a lot of preparation in the event that we made it.

The goalkeeper situation was also discussed, with the possible signing of Peter Gavalas a hot topic among some at the meeting. The board's position has been that Gavalas' apology back when the flipping the bird incident happened is enough for them, and that like all playing decisions Chris Taylor is the main person responsible.

The club claimed it was keeping spending on player wages steady, and that it was also not spending as much as some other clubs. It claimed that the additional service it provided to players - the quality of the experience if you will - was also another way to attract and retain talent at the club. The specific example mentioned was the club's fitness program, which tracks fitness different attributes of the players across the season, including via electronic swipe card to accurately measure how much each player was making use of our fitness and recovery programs,

To that end, the club also stated the decision to play most of our home games on Fridays - though some of our games will be moved to Sundays - was in part motivated by the coaching staff's desire to optimise the recovery and training schedules of the players. This is despite 60% (a sketchily provided number) of our supporters responding in an online survey that their preference was for Sunday games. The hope that we would better attract corporate sponsors to attend on Friday nights was also expressed. Overall there was a lot of doubt in the room about the decision, but we'll see how it goes. In this writer's opinion, without the social club Friday nights just won't be a success, but they may as well try something different. Hopefully the games don't clash with Melbourne based Friday night AFL matches.

Finally, on the question of importing Greek players from overseas for guest appearances, a flat out 'no', and thank goodness for that

At times this discussion devolved into personal issues that some people had with their and their sons' experience of the South Melbourne junior program. While there were no doubt valid concerns to be raised on these matters, the nature of the discussion excluded the great majority of people in attendance. It's difficult for people without direct knowledge of the situation to get properly involved. This discussion also included people who countered the negative appraisal of the junior system with how the program is viewed by others both within and outside of the program - that it's actually very highly regarded.

More broadly, considering the upheaval and constant change that's been attached to the junior program - and the administrative framework they exist in - I wanted to know what kind of KPIs (arrgghh, corporate buzzwords) and benchmarks were being used to measure the success or failure of the program. Andrew Mesorouni, whose portfolio this is, more or less admitted that it was very difficult to quantify success or failure on a macro (my word) level, and that the focus was mostly on the individual player's experience. Have we made them better players? Better people? How can you measure the success of the program, when our emphasis with regards to seniors has always been championships first, development second? Is the fact that our five best youth players have been picked up the Victory and Heart NPL programs a measure of (backhanded) success?

And this is a complication that was always going to come up once those two franchises were allowed to have teams in the NPL, that they would collectively suck up 80 players from the rest of the system. The best you can hope for in that situation is that eventually those players will make a big money move overseas (good for the player), and something filters back down to clubs like ours (good for keeping up incentive to care about juniors). The long or medium term hope is that eventually players who will be prospective recruits for the Victory and Heart programs will realise that they're better off training with grown men, and likewise fighting for a first eleven spot against men rather than their peers.

How we end up converting people involved with the junior program - parents and children - into being fans of the club, is something that's going to be much harder to accomplish. Maybe the local coaching efforts in the schools will start seeing us make some headway there. Finally for this section, it's hoped that by aligning the juniors training schedule with Friday night games, it'll make it more attractive for them to turn up to games.

The mystery of the Peter Skapetis training compensation money
Of some serious concern is the case of Peter Skapetis. First off, we should mention that late last year Peter did his knee, and will be out for nine months. My concern here is not with that injury - get well soon, Peter - but the status of the training compensation we're due from his signing by Stoke. While Skapetis was at QPR in their academy, we weren't entitled to anything, but having (I assume) signed a professional contract with Stoke, we should be getting a good sum of training compensation money at some point. Unfortunately it appears we have cocked this up, something which even lower league clubs here know something about. I will give the benefit of the doubt to the board on one detail - my question was one that was asked without notice - but I expect some sort of positive resolution to this by the time of the next AGM. It is inexcusable that we would lose this chance of obtaining rightful income for a player that was in all likelihood always going to be offered an overseas professional contract. I hope for a good outcome, but I think we've fucked it up, judging by the confusing and made up on the spot kind of answer that was provided.

State of the NPL - onward to the future
Next it was Tom Kalas' turn to discuss the NPL and its further development. Kalas - whether because it's in his nature or because it's part of the role - is both an optimist and someone who's attuned to the sales pitch. Where others prefer to wallow in doubt and cynicism, he sees an opportunity. In past years, accompanied by one of his legendary Powerpoint presentations, he would have managed to give hope to the huddled masses yearning to be free. But things have changed a little bit, as one can see from the following comment.
Kalas brought up the changes taking place this year, including the already mentioned introduction of the Victory and Heart to the NPL. In addition to that, the player points allowed per squad has been reduced, but with the alleviation of some of the more onerous penalties that would normally have been applied. The FFV will also soon release a a spreadsheet allowing for an easy to use method for clubs to find out how many points they have, based upon FFA player identification numbers.

Kalas also tried to put a positive spin on the FFA's reform process, particularly their consultations during the Whole of Football talks from last year. Second divisions, promotion/relegation, AFC pressure, Frank Lowy's own words, the progress made under David Gallop - all these were things that Kalas hinted towards as evidence of the opportunities our club must be ready to embrace, in the manner that we met the challenge of the NPL Victoria saga by being seen as a collaborative force rather than as a disruptive one.

In that sense, he's probably right. Being rigidly idealistic might give you street cred, but where does it get you in the real world? Then again, cynicism has its place too. In a private discussion with a certain colourful local soccer identity from another club, I pondered that:
There may not even be a right approach under this regime. Maybe all approaches are doomed from the outset.
And if that's the case, let other clubs do what they will to make sense of the circumstances, while we'll do ours. It's not ideal, but what else can we do?

Not discussed
There was no discussion of the issues with the women's team. This was extremely disappointing, because in the past few years we were able to get at least a token discussion going. But not on Thursday night, so who knows where we're at with that. Just what is the situation with SMWFC? Who is negotiating with them on our behalf? What's holding the possibility of reunification? Is it even realistic, considering that on field at least, SMWFC have had their most successful years since officially breaking from us (though a late 2014 season exodus may change that)? If there is to be no reconciliation, how do we go about reclaiming our trademarks and intellectual property, especially our logo?

No discussion either of some other elements of our future Lakeside tenure. When are we going to get some sort of South Melbourne branding on the place? Are the lights up to scratch for a possible FFA Cup broadcast? (one board member afterwards said yes, and I'd like to believe them, but it's so hard to do). I did get to ask after the meeting whether there were crowd benchmarks that we needed to reach as part of lease - as some outsiders have suggested - and the answer was a categorical 'no'. There was however almost zero discussion of the exact figures of the crowd we've been getting, only vague reference to the fact they've been pretty much the same for the past two years. I think next year I should be asking for that detail to be included (with relevant breakdowns) in advance of the AGM.

Jerry's Final Thought
In discussing the issues with several different people last night, it struck me that much of the dissent, or disagreement or posturing or whatever you want to call it, all comes down to a matter of perspective. The accountants obsess about sums and details those of us without that training and an anally fixated patience for detail couldn't care less for. The lawyers in the room are both trying to get to the detail and bluff their way through, and see how much they can get away with without revealing their whole hand. I don't know what the chemical engineers are doing, but the those of us in the literary field - me - have been conditioned to think in grand narratives, broad sweeps of history.At least, that's the effect of my tutelage and influences.

So while it's always tempting to use AGMs as means of seeing where the clubs is at - and yes I realise that's exactly what they're for - at some fundamental level the perception of where the club is actually is dependent on who you ask. I know that whatever point of view I put across, it will be skewed to my particular way of viewing things. Thinking back to when I first started attending these things in 2006 to where we're at now, there obvious differences. More people ask questions, and more people expect there to be proper answers. The club has moved on. But we can always improve; we must improve. Those on the board must provide better information, must not becomes hostile to ordinary questioning. Those asking the questions and seeking reforms need to not let their emotions get in the way, regardless of how much they love the club.

I don't know. Things could be worse. How's that for optimism?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

2014 AGM tonight

Just a reminder that the 2014 (not a typo) AGM will be held tonight at Lakeside, in the Presidents Room, 7:00PM. Lot of interesting discussion to be had, and what's more, since the surgeon and I agreed to hold off on laser surgery for a couple of months or so, even I might be able to make an appearance.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Some news from recentish times

AGM on tomorrow
Just a reminder that the 2014 (not a typo) AGM will be held tomorrow at Lakeside, in the Presidents Room, 7:00PM. Lot of interesting discussion to be had, and what's more, since the surgeon and I agreed to hold off on laser surgery for a couple of months or so, even I might be able to make an appearance.

SMFC TV one step closer to being a gated community
As some of you have already noted, SMFC TV has moved to the Aurora Channel on Foxtel. While Channel 31's free to air future seems to be doomed, it's still disappointing to me that we couldn't see out the rest of Channel 31's tenure on free to air television. Aurora is basically pay television's community station, and while those who have Foxtel will be able to automatically record each episode, those of us without pay television (either because of cost, not enough interest in their programming, or because Fox own those chemical plants in Syria) will have to make do the with the internet and youtube product.

We're going to Adelaide!
Well, not me, I have other already established commitments. But the team is. They'll be playing West Adelaide Hellas on Friday 6th February, 6:15PM, at Adelaide Shores Football Centre in West Beach, as the first match of an double header, I think South Australia's version of the super cup. Then on Sunday we'll be playing Adelaide Blue Eagles at 2:00PM, at the Marden Sports Complex. Safe travels to all those making the trip over there, and hopefully someone can send in some colourful reports.

Community Shield
We've also been fixtured to play in the inaugural FFV Community Shield game, against last year's Dockerty Cup winner Melbourne Knights. The game will be at Knights Stadium on Friday February 13th.

Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children!
Some wonderfully sensationalist anti-sockah writing in the Hun recently. Basically, Little Athletics had the venue booked well in advance for their annual carnival, but the decision of the State Sports Centres Trust to resurface the grass on the arena and thus put out the Little Athletics people has not gone unnoticed by our citizen journalist, who's managed to rustle up a bunch of surly looking youngsters staring down the barrel of the camera with their arms folded at the injustice of it all.

Now I certainly feel for these kids, because they've obviously been put out by this decision, but the tone of the article which seeks to either directly or indirectly blame it on soccer (and therefore us) is so stupid it's mind boggling; unless of course, the article wasn't written by someone with an anti-soccer agenda. Did South get asked for comment? It doesn't seem like it. So no mention of the club's long tenure at the ground, no mention of the damage caused by the shotput, hammer and javelin on the turf during our winter season, and of course no mention of the fact that we have to share with athletics while Collingwood and Eddie McGuire get whatever they want.

The return of Sir Peter, of the Order of the Knights of the Raised Middle Finger
We're apparently considering re-signing Peter Gavalas out of his premature retirement as our first choice keeper. It seemed to be out of him and Nikola Roganovic, and Slippery Pete's may well have done enough to get Taylor's approval. This decision has caused some consternation not only for Gavalas' on field capabilities - is he a great keeper for this level, who managed to be keeper of the year in 2013, or is he actually a bum on the verge of another costly blunder? - but there's also his demonstrated lack of respect for the supporters and the club. Now of course this has set in train discussions about whether one should trust an experienced and championship winning coach to make the right kind of personnel decisions, or demanding the board intervene and overrule the decision. This could be a fun season.

Technical director signed
One step closer to meeting the NPL criteria by hiring a standalone technical director, one Sean Gale.

Some in-season fixtures changed
Among the changes
  • The away game against North Geelong has been moved back a couple of hours.
  • The games against Bentleigh Greens have been switched. We'll now be travelling to Kingston Heath first, and hosting them second.
  • The home game against the Knights, originally scheduled for the Greek Orthodox Good Friday, has been moved to the Saturday afternoon of that week.
  • The Pascoe Vale away game has been moved to Saturday evening.
  • Minor kickoff time changes to other home games.
The word is that there could be more changes, with the club looking to move some games to Sundays at 5pm. The club claims that during their online survey, Friday night games were the preferred timeslot of respondents, with Sunday evenings also being in demand. For my part, I'm in the Sunday afternoon camp, but it'll be interesting to see what happens, and whether the pro-Friday night crowd are proven right with improved attendances.

Then: 2008 seems so long ago. I wasn't even using
a clipboard as a makeshift mouse pad back then.
And now: In 2015, I have a lot of books packed away
due to a pending move to Sunshine, but books
somehow keep proliferating on my work space.
Disappointing news here, folks. My Benq laptop is nearly dead: it was bought by my littlest brother for some ridiculous over the top price nearly ten years ago, probably Centrecom in Sunshine; discarded by him within about 18 months; used by me for much plainer duties than his planned extravagant multimedia pursuits; converted from a dreadful Vista machine into first an Ubuntu, then a steadfast and reliable Linux Mint unit; and now finally, after many years of long service to the causes of education, Hattrick and especially South of the Border, it's time for it to retire to the great recharge outlet in the sky. Unfortunately, like all good players, it's had a noticeable slowdown in recent times; it's not as sharp as it used to be;, it finds itself dawdling where it used to sprint; and even its once sure touch has begun to desert it. And let's not forget the lack of an 'escape' key, after I dropped a book on it and broke it. While of course I've used other computers to write up items for the blog - various machines at Victoria University's St Albans, Footscray Park, Flinders Street and maybe even Queens Street campuses for example - the vast majority of this blog's outpourings of overbearing grief and negativity have been done on this machine. There was a trip to Hobart back in 2011, as well as non-South related trips to Canberra in 2013 and Sydney last year. So fare thee well, Benq Joybook A52. At least you got to go out on a high, with a championship under your belt. A pity that even though you lasted so long, you never managed to see South get back into the top flight. Here's hoping your successor can achieve even half your longevity and service. In the mean time, dear readers, please bear with me as I try to get used to the smaller keys on my new machine (named Charlene. Why? It just is, OK?),

Friendly tonight against Mornington, at Lakeside

Kickoff at 7:00pm, nice to be back on home turf again after a month or so away die to the Asian Cup.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

2015 Asian Cup adventure - Day 7 - A tournament well enjoyed

It's a pity that apparently some of our social betters in the government thought that we couldn't manage to host both the midpoint of a grand slam tennis tournament and an Asian Cup semi-final, but full credit to Newcastle and their state government; in this case, the well worn sporting cliche that 'they just wanted it more' appears to be true.

For those of us who attended every Melbourne based game of the Asian Cup that we could, we got more than our money's worth regardless of where we sat, and yet still left wanting more. The atmosphere in the stadium ranged from the parochial (Australia vs Kuwait), to glorious support for the relative underdog (Uzbekistan vs Saudi Arabia) to the raucous (Iran vs Bahrain). The games, with the odd mismatch noted (Jordan vs Palestine and large portions of Japan vs Jordan) were for the most part highly competitive affairs. The play was unusually free of the cynical diving and time wasting efforts we've come to associate with Asian soccer.

The different teams for the most part, even when they were clearly outgunned talent wise, still sought to try and score, which provided a huge amount of entertainment. Many of the games, while lacking a certain tactical cynicism and occasionally awful and foolhardy defending, at least provided plenty of heady attacking moments to savour. Some of the vision and movement off the ball by almost every team was glorious to watch, and Uzbekistan's perhaps most of all, as they went from dizzily uncoordinated defending to scintillating once touch football in the blink of an eye.

The last game at the Bubbledome for this tournament, the quarter final match between South Korea and Uzbekistan had so much of what made the previous six matches so special. A dominant and vocal number of the better known nation in the stands; enough people at opposite end, whether actual supporters of gleeful local hangers on, willing to add a counter voice; and plenty of neutrals just hoping for a great game. And what a game it was, despite the poor finishing from both sides.

While some people left at the end of the regulation 90 minutes in order to get to a television in time for the Australia game, most of the crowd stayed to watch the rest of the game: the inconsolable Uzbek defender who knew he should have just cleared the ball instead of being daring, and the goalkeeper who just couldn't keep the ball from crossing the line, both of which happened right in front of us; the way the South Korean player who streamed forwards and instead of going into the corner to kill off the game, set up the second goal; and palpable joy on the faces of the two Korean blokes sitting behind us, who were in tears with the result. And to think there are a small band of cynics out there trying to downplay the tournament's meaning, just because it's not the Euros.

We've made the semi-finals, so let's all have a parade
Of course going to extra time made getting home in time for the start of the Socceroos game impossible. Sure, I could have watched the game at a pub or something, but by the time I get home from the city, especially if that game also went into extra time... more annoying was when I got picked up at the station by my dad, I tried putting the radio on to the local ABC station in the hopes of at least an update of the scores, hopefully via a live radio broadcast of this important match, only to find that they were broadcasting Lleyton Hewitt's match instead. Right priorities as one particular member of the Twitterati likes to say; and aside from that, whoever thinks tennis on the radio is a good idea, has serious rocks in their head.

The second half was watched on free to air television, as nature intended, and even enjoyed because of Tim Cahill's heroics rather than anything his team mates managed to achieve, as well as the mostly mediocre Chinese opposition; though having to deal with Andy Harper's public orgasms is something I wondered how people dealt with on a week to week basis. One wit suggested alcohol; another a sort of learned selective hearing due to having children. Neither of those suggestions were much help to me. Anyway, the game won it was time to go the panel in between flicking between the two channels showing tennis, because I am such a huge tennis fan don't you know.

At one point during this panel, the reanimated corpse that is Gerard Whateley compared the Socceroos and/or Tim Cahill to now holding as much prominence and/or adoration with the Australian public, especially children as [Olympic hurdler] Sally Pearson and [Test cricketer] Steve Smith. Now Whateley obviously means this to be a compliment to Cahill and the Socceroos, but there's also a problem with this (perhaps offhand) analysis - and that's the fact that the Socceroos and Cahill have long been in the public consciousness as national icons, more recognisable than Pearson or Smith. Regardless of your thoughts on everything that's happened post-Crawford, the Socceroos' sporting stature has been secure since the Uruguay qualification match in 2005, and Cahill's on field reputation was secured soon afterwards.

What irks me about this issue is the need of certain people in the media feeling the urge to anoint the Socceroos as legitimately part of the elite (and therefore mainstream) Australian sporting pantheon. It speaks more to the fact on how far behind the times they are, and how out of touch with the actual sporting interests of the Australian public they are, than any serious consequences of their commentary. With particular emphasis on Whateley, I've always wondered how he gets it so wrong. I say this after years of watching him on Offsiders, where the end of each show is capped off by him doing the rounds of the horse racing news. And I'm thinking, if it wasn't for the twice yearly let's dress up and get pissed events, horse racing's interest lies only with the group of derros that hang out at the Borrack Square TAB (and their type across the country), and those who because they have smartphones can hide their derro-esque nature behind a mid-price label polo shirt, new pair of khakis and shoes that weren't better off being slung over the top of power lines in front of the house that has drugs in it - because everyone knows that's the like the Golden Arches of drugs.

Having said all that
It's been a tragedy that this tournament has not been on free to air, except for the very limited and delayed coverage. Here's a tournament that was predicted to be a lemon by impossibly conflict of interest affected media man, it's had a lot of goals and excitement, and had much better than expected crowds to most of its matches - crossing boundaries of old soccer, new football and even non-football people - and yet the interest generally has been low in the mainstream media. Outside the parochial Socceroos interest and the actually excellent writing of those in the print media - even from some of those writers I don't particularly have time for - there's been little traction. Now I can complain and cast conspiracies about the media being behind the times (see above), but there's an element of doubt that creeps in as well. Maybe they know something we don't? Maybe they have access to market data that shows that while soccer may have some worth as a niche product, that it's just not big enough to merit mainstream coverage, and that perhaps Paul Keating's dream of Australia seeing itself as being an Asian country is some time off yet. Or maybe it's the soccer people who are so ahead of the curve that it's going to take a long time for the straight and narrow world to catch up.
That Iran-Iraq game was so much fun to watch. It had everything that a great game should, and generated a lot of interest among people on the net, those who had pay TV, and those like me willing to break the law (a massive crime against the human rights of corporations who have paid lots of money to show the game) to watch the game on a live stream. But what of those who don't have pay television? What about the casual sports enthusiast, the one that may actually be won over by a game like that, notwithstanding my personal belief that it's better off seeing a sport at its most mediocre and then being intrigued with it, rather than getting the big pay off. I don't know. I guess I should be glad that I got to see it at all, and that I should be grateful to those members of the American military industrial complex that made such breaches of copyright possible.