Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Six Dollar Gelato - South Melbourne 1 Bentleigh Greens 1

Things are marching on to an inevitable and joyous end point. That's a good thing. Another week closer to the end of this abortion of a season. At least now there's ice-cream involved. I mean, apart from diabetics, the nutritionally hyper-conscious, and vegans, who doesn't like ice-cream? Still, the usual frothing madness of South fans, combined with this woeful run of form and people on a late afternoon sugar high may make things worse rather than better. But that could provide it's own entertainment.

Everyone got tentatively excited when Milos Lujic put us in front, because we were looking good, at least as good as the opposition were. Then he got sent off for a very bad tackle, and we waited for the inevitable. And the inevitable did come, but not before some of those in the stand who had not properly seen the tackle decided to go off full-bore at the referee for the perceived injustice.

Still, even if the officials got that decision spot on, there were other like the missed penalty call when we were 1-0 up, and a brutal foul on the outer side, which only served to make everyone - those South fans who thought Lujic shouldn't have been sent off, those who thought he should've, and those with short attention spans who were distracted by something or other - even madder.

Now I understand that referees have to make decisions in real time, and that more often than not they're in the best position to make a decision as opposed to someone fifty metres away. Sometimes though their decisions or lack of decisions remain perplexing to me. These things happen. On the other hand, I wonder about the preparation referees make for relatively high profile contests like this. I'm not suggesting that the refs will go back and watch tape, nor that they will prepare themselves in such a way as to pre-empt what will happen on the day, but I would've thought that there would be an awareness of how fixtures between certain sides are likely to go.

In this case I'm talking about the tendency of South vs Bentleigh games to get heated, to have a lot of niggle, and for things to get out of hand quickly with players and coaches trying to stir things up and undermine the authority of officials. This isn't just a whinge because we're bad at it and Bentleigh are good at it, although it's partly that. It's also about referees laying down the law early enough that the game is won and lost on its sporting merits and not because of other nonsense. But that's just me being precious and yearning for a return to the days of the two captains refereeing the game in the spirit of gentlemanly conduct.

But back to the inevitable. Having gone a man down, we still created two or three golden chances, all of which seemed to fall to Matthew Millar, the hardest working man in NPL Victoria show business. His enthusiasm, his strength, and his gut running are awesome, but his decision making lets him down far too often. Of course, like we always say about the players in this league, if they were better than they are, they wouldn't be playing here.

The effort to try and pinch a second goal, and then to prevent the equaliser eventually took its toll, and Bentleigh equalised. The reshuffle and substitutions seemed to be OK at first, but they had the net effect of leaving Brad Norton isolated on the left against a Greens opponent with a lot of space to defend and not much help. That lead to a cross from his side and a back post goal. Only some desperate defending prevented Bentleigh getting a second goal and the win, which by the standards of our season so far, would ordinarily be a good result.

I mean, here's a team against which we have a very poor recent record, which itself had a perfect record up to that point, and we matched them and perhaps outplayed them for large chunks of the game even being a man down for half of it. But all we get is a point, which along with our Dandenong Thunder derived goal difference, is what's keeping us out of the relegation playoff spot. And now we don't have our one out-and-out striker for at least a couple of weeks, one is hesitant to call this an opportunity to explore new structural and personnel horizons.

The member experience
There were some complaints about the organisation of membership payment and collection. It happens. My experience was fine, because I paid for my membership ages ago, got to the ground stupid early, but for those who couldn't do that it would've sucked if things didn't go so smoothly. Merchandise was ready though, and though I'm opposed to Kappa on moral grounds, it's nice that people were able to get their fill of new gear. No pompom beanies though.

The dining experience has had some changes, for better and worse. I'd been to the NPLW game the week before, where there was an understandably limited menu of chips, calamari and chips, and fish 'n chips. On Sunday it was again a limited menu, with chips, souvlaki, and burgers. I had the souv and... it was passable. It was filling, but bland. I hope that there will be improvement on this front.

There was also no table service, with the system now being needing to remember the number on your order and pay attention to when they call it out. On the other hand, those who complained last year about the bar serving exclusively craft beers will be glad to see that the club has moved to CUB's range.

Keeper Kapers
It seems as if Keegan Coulter's days as stand-in first-choice goalkeeper are close to an end. It's been suggested that ex-A-League goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson has signed up with us. Depending on who you ask, Tyson was either blocked from playing with us last week because of the nefarious scheming of rival clubs, or because we got the paperwork in too late for FFV to process things.

Coulter's shot stopping has been good, but in the air he's become increasingly suspect. Good shot stopping keepers being a dime a dozen in Victoria, it looks like someone with influence has finally bitten the bullet and decided to reinforce this position. And while there's a solid and perennial argument that that there's another ten players the ball has to get past before it gets to the goalkeeper, goalkeepers know what they sign up for.

Meanwhile Nikola Roganovic has signed up with Richmond for a short-term stint.

Rumour mill in overdrive
Reputable and disreputable non-South people alike are talking about some kind of shady Asian takeover of South Melbourne Hellas. For anyone that wants to ask me, I know nothing about any such thing, but am willing to listen to any conspiracy theory, the more crackpot the better. The truth would also be welcome, albeit boring.

Next game
Hume City away on Saturday night. Let's hope for a win, and none of the nonsense which accompanied the last visit there.

Football history conference at Lakeside next month
I had heard some murmurs about such a conference being organised. Well now the details are out. To be held at Lakeside on May 15th, the conference's official name is the "PFA Football History Conference", curated this year by Joe Gorman and Roy Hay. The conference program is available, and there are some familiar names on there from an Australian soccer history perspective, but also what looks like deviations into engagement with Asia, and player pathways.

There's good news and bad news in terms of access to the event for ordinary punters. The good news is that registration to attend is free; the bad news is that it's on a Tuesday during the day, which will make it harder for people with 9-5 jobs to attend, though to be fair, I'm not sure when else the event could've been held in order to make it more accessible. In any case, I've registered to attend, and will in all likelihood provide the necessary recap of the event.

Around the grounds
Where were the Port Melbourne Plebs?
Friday night was my first time out to Port Melbourne this season. They were playing Dandenong Thunder, who had recovered a little from their early season issues, and demonstrating that there is hope for the least of us. They got off to a great start here, scoring on five minutes, and to be honest, this is what made the game. Port were obliged to chase the game more whole heartedly a little earlier than they would've liked, and they took control of the game insofar as possession and peppering the goals went. Nothing worked though. Meanwhile Thunder continued to look dangerous on the counter, and went 2-0 and then 3-0 up. My usual practice here is to tweet "stick a fork in this one, it's done", but I didn't do it because the two sides were going up and down the field easily enough and looking likely to score as well. Port did pull a goal back with about a half hour to play, and it seemed like maybe something could happen. But nothing did. Port's performance died in the arse at almost that exact moment. The remaining interest in the game then became whether they would be able to notch up one more corner, so the bloke sitting next to me - who had a multi bet of eight corners in this game and an Avondale win against Oakleigh - could get his win. As hopeless shot after hopeless shot ended up with the Thunder keeper or in Plummer Street, our man got his win when Port earned a meaningless corner in the final seconds of the game.

Final thought
I think they may have changed the traffic light sequence at the intersection outside the ground. More updates on this in the coming weeks.

Monday, 9 April 2018

The Old Adage - Melbourne Knights 3 South Melbourne 2

It's not how, it's how many. Truer words have never been spoken. OK, maybe they have, I'm not conducting an audit here. And now that I think about it, sometimes the how is as important than the how many, perhaps even more important. No, as important.

Anyway, three set piece goals, nearly identical to each other for the appalling decision making which lead to the cheap fouls gifting the opposition the chance to swing in dangerous balls, the appalling goalkeeping which saw Keegan Coulter get nowhere near two of the balls he came out for, and the appalling marking in a team with three or four centre-backs on the field at any given time. At the other end of the ground you had the farcical situation of attacking players being unwilling to shoot, or unable to put in a proper cross, or be in the right spot to receive a pass or latch on to a loose ball. It's like a variation of the Dr. Katz joke about the three most dangerous parts of flying, where our three biggest problems at the moment are attacking, defending, and everything else.

Having said all of that, I thought we actually played pretty well. Truth be told, Knights were rubbish after halftime, and ran out of gas well before full time, but still we dominated general play, looked good on both sides of the field, controlled the ball in the middle, and created many dangerous situations. It's probably the best we've played over a whole for several weeks. It didn't get us any points though, and that's all that matters at the moment, because as the arch-miserablists have been keen to remind everybody, we've pretty much played only the easy teams so far, and have all the leading sides to come.

Actually, and this isn't just contrariness on my part - or at least I hope it isn't - but the more I thought about the loss on Friday night over the weekend, the more optimistic I got about what's to come. As far as I could tell, we didn't pick up any new injuries, and with Andy Brennan due back this week, we at least have one more genuine starting eleven option. Marcus Schroen, even though far from my favourite player, is back in training. The return of Jake Marshall to the field means that we have more flexibility in how we line up defensively. And perhaps most importantly, after our troubles finishing games with any energy, we managed to run out the game with a decent head of steam.

But then I saw Brad Norton's post-match interview, and I felt like crap all over again. I know it was straight after the game when we all felt like crap, and while he said all the right words, the agony and despair of the situation was there for all to see. It's not the kind of thing that will be cured by a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, only by wins.

If I sound like I have nothing new to add it's because there's nothing really new to say at the moment. You try and find the motivation to come out and type up gibberish to a diminishing audience about a diminishing team (on and off field) without realising that maybe there's something more worthwhile to do with your time. Oh look, I missed three episodes of Batman on to watch us cough up a lead. OK, time to write some stuff, but there's double episodes of season one Law & order SVU on free to air. What about now? No, the lawn bowls is on the telly.

The past six or seven weeks have been like waking up from a wonderful dream. OK, so winning NPL titles and riding the crest of a ridiculous FFA Cup run is a pretty lame dream to have, but it's still better than this descent into awfulness. I mean, from a South perspective, who was even at the game on Friday? Heathens and pagans, that's who. The devoutly religious and the culturally religious were at Orthodox Good Friday services, others probably went to the footy, leaving some very strange people to cheer on the Hellas in its hour of need. I'm not judging, it's just the way it is.

So there we are, maybe ten to fifteen of us behind the goal, twenty at a pinch, trying to lift the team even though in our heart of hearts we don't think we've got a chance in hell of overhauling the 3-1 deficit. We're watching the game from the worst spectator vantage points deliberately out of spite, or to be on camera. So why are we there? Sense of duty? To what, the team, the club, the players, each other? Sport does this strange thing where you end up befriending or at least hanging around a whole bunch of people you'd otherwise have nothing to do with, and who would vice versa have nothing to do with people like me.

But general despair at being crap in an irrelevant league is one thing, but having to endure some of the other nonsense which you'd thought by now should have gone away, is quite another. No one is surprised when Knights fans bring out the "I'd rather be an Abo than a Greek" chant. It makes its appearance at just about every so-called derby game between us, and will in all likelihood be brought out again in every future contest between us. It's offensive on several fronts, but it's also sad to hear it in terms of its time capsule quality; like, have we not arrived yet in 2018, and are still actually in 1988? Is there a time-portal at the gates of the Somers Street car park?

There are three groups who could put an end to that chant but which probably won't. They are Knights fans themselves, the Knights committee, and FFV. If the first two choose not to, then you would think that FFV would, if not for any moral or governance dimensions associated with the racist chant, then at least from a public perception point of view. After all, the chants were made right next to the broadcast tower, from which FFV were conducting a live radio broadcast of the game. Or maybe FFV don't care because neither myself nor Mark Boric were at home to listen to the game online, and there was therefore no one actually listening to the live stream, in which case it's carry on as you were and as you always have for those Knights fans; and a reiteration from me to South fans to avoid similar behaviour if not because it's the right thing to do, then because you just know for sure FFV will take a different view on the matter.

But that's "just words", and as a very helpful random anti-political correctness police officer on Twitter informed me and some others, we shouldn't be policing other people's language, in a discussion which ended up discussing the non-existent anywhere in the world abstraction of freedom of speech. It wasn't even an interesting attempt to police our attempts to police other people; the least our out-of-the-blue friend could've done is put on the persona of Libertarian Cop for our amusement.

Of greater concern however were incidents of intimidation directed towards some of our fans after the end of the game. OK, Somers Street has never had the reputation of being the most family friendly sporting venue in Australian soccer, and if we're being honest Knights fans have often revelled in that reputation. But there are limits, no? Stealing scarves from opposition fans? Really? Gloat about the win and how awful we are as much as you like. No one's expecting gracious winners, and goodness knows South fans are hardly gracious losers, but we're living in a society for crying out loud.

Oh, and there was also this
which is some straight out of NSL 1995 shit, that strange period where some Preston fans would tag along to Knights games against Greek teams for the sake of causing trouble, because their team was relegated and they wouldn't get to the play the Bergers or us on a regular basis until "insert the year each of those clubs got relegated to whatever division Preston was dwelling in". If your hardcore manifesto is being the Chester to MCF's Spike in order to push around scarfers, are you even doing this ultras thing right?

Next game
A home game at last! Bentleigh Greens on Sunday afternoon. The curtain raiser will be the men's under 20s game.

The first home game of the season is when nearly everyone pays for and picks up their memberships. I can't say with any certainty that it will be an orderly and well run experience. If it's not, please don't take it out on the volunteers. Ditto for the paid and volunteer staff whatever the situation is in the social club with food service.

I don't know what kind of merchandise will be available on the day. I'm only interested in getting a pompom beanie, but will not cry into my corn flakes the next morning if they don't have any. You have my permission though to cry into your breakfast cereal of choice if you are displeased with the range of merchandise on offer.

Variation on a theme
The club, in the form of our NPLW or WNPL side (I don't really know which acronym is the right one, but I assume it's the former) was back at Lakeside for a match for the first time during the season proper in 2018. The NPLW team's form has been erratic: some wins, some losses, lots of goals for and against, and a tendency to only get going once they fall behind. The lineups have tended towards the young side, as they tend to do in that part of the season closest to the end of the W-League season, but the starting eleven against Geelong Galaxy was as far as I can tell our strongest for the season. Galaxy, last year's losing grand finalist, had also been in less than stellar form. So even if this match was hardly a slam dunk for us, surely we'd be favourites to win? Not so.

After a tepid start from both sides, things started going bad when we copped the opening goal of the game from a set piece. I mean, what is even the point of living? To be fair, after copping the goal the team woke up, as I was promised they would, and they equalised, but the goal to get ahead never came and eventually giving Geelong chances on a silver platter cost us. Young gun Sofia Sakalis was brought on with about twenty minutes to go to try and salvage the game, but things just got worse for us. Needing to chase the game, we found ourselves opened up the back and instead of making inroads we copped a third and fourth goal, to give Geelong a deserved win.

On the topic of Sakalis, she's very good with the ball at her feet - though some of those who watch her more than I do say she could try and pass it a bit earlier - but wow, those offsides on Saturday. In my many years of watching soccer, I've seen players caught offside repeatedly in games, I've seen players whose speciality is being off instead of on, and I've seen players, usually strikers, too lazy to work back onside; but I've never seen anything quite like Sakalis' wilful offsides on Saturday, where she would keep running forward ahead of the ball instead of trying to work off the shoulder of a defender or at least be behind the ball waiting for a cut back.

It reminded of Greek school soccer matches on asphalt where the offside did not exist, or like a small child running forward with joyous abandon. And then you remember that Sofia is actually only 15 years old, knee-high to a grass hopper. I mean, she was born after I graduated high school. How many times have I failed and what exactly have I achieved in those 15 odd years to be criticising to a teenager playing soccer? The one possibly meaningful thing I could hope to achieve in this lifetime  hangs in interminable balance as I await the results of my thesis. The last time I played soccer was on the old Lakeside in the shit kicker curtain raiser to the Clarendon Corner vs OM21 where I was gassed out after five minutes

Really, it was no criticism at all; just an observation of a soccer novelty, a muffled and anguished scream from someone who lives vicariously through athletes in order to make up for everything else that's gone wrong in my life. People like me are not fit to tie the laces of those playing any sport even semi-competently.

More unpleasant news
Someone said to me the other day that our attempt to outsource the operation of the fustal court hasn't gone well, with the private operator walking away from management of the court. Here's hoping that one of the other purported offers leads to something.

Final thought
Got some text message from someone saying they were having "blog withdrawals", but probably because I recently bought a new phone - and you know how transferring your numbers from your old phone to your new phone is the one thing technological advances haven't been able to properly solve - well, I had no idea who it was that was writing to me. Of course I could've just asked them, but then I wouldn't have been able to get out this paragraph.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Fear and Loathing in Westmeadows - Hume City 1 South Melbourne 0

You go to a game "knowing" you'll lose but still hoping that you can win it, and then get all the more disappointed for not trusting your gut instinct.

Except for FFA Cup foamers, no one who has paid any attention to the opening few weeks of this season's NPL Victoria season could fail to see this result coming. But that's the FFA Cup for you, a far more gimmicky and therefore interesting competition compared to the grinding, gruelling, brutalising experience that is NPL soccer. And if that comparison doesn't just fill your heart with glee, remember that on these kinds of matters, we're partly responsible for digging our own public relations grave.

So with no Oliver Minatel (still injured) and no Andy Brennan (suspended for this game and one more week after that, but hopefully picking up some much needed match fitness), we started the game with eleven players on the field. Two of those - Milos Lujic and Leigh Minopoulos - were playing on one leg each, and who knows what extra damage they attained in being out there for 90 minutes they really shouldn't have been.

Even worse, there was no bench. I mean, there was a bench and it had players on it, but most of them were apparently defenders or too young to throw to the lions. The decision not to use any of them is a real worry on several fronts. First, we were told in January at the AGM that at long last, after several NPL seasons and youth system restructures, that we were on the cusp of introducing some of our youth products to the senior team. Second, the current senior coach knows these players better than most, having coached them himself.

Third, that none of them were considered even good enough to replace Leigh Minopoulos, who could barely move in the second half. It is distressing to think that in our time of need, a goal down but a man up, that we chose to hobble out the game rather than even dare to give anyone else a go, for fear perhaps that they might succeed. Again, without wanting to make pointless comparisons, but four years ago Chris Taylor threw on Kobbie Boahene in a cup match and it worked.

Again, I can't fault the determination and endeavour of the players. Even crippled, we outplayed Hume more than they outplayed us, we had good chances to score, and we did not take them. Meanwhile our perennial lack of a free kick taker costs us again, this time as Nick Hegarty - among the two or three competent free kick takers left in this league - done us in with a free kick.

But that's just one of many holes we'll need to plug as we crawl our way to the mid-season transfer window, hoping like hell in the meantime that we don't end up in a relegation battle.

But at least we still have our health, for now
Of course things could always be much worse. The security arrangements on Friday at Hume City were, to put it bluntly, atrocious. There's probably different rules for the FFA Cup as opposed to league games - and clearly different rules and government by-laws for Lakeside Stadium compared to most venues in the suburbs -  but sometimes you still wonder how clubs and hired security details can get it so wrong.

It started with the baffling and ended up at the near disastrous. The baffling was the temporary fencing blocking the outer wing from the southern goal. This would make a kind of sense if the entire area behind the goal was closed off; but that area, like the rest of the ground, was accessible from the grandstand side of the ground. It was like a cheap metroidvania trick, a barrier constructed for no obvious reason except to create pointless backtracking.

The near disastrous was obviously a much more serious affair. In the second half, during the drawn out five minute deliberation by the referees on what to do with Hume captain-coach Nick Hegarty after he chopped down Leigh Minopoulos, the South fans behind the goal turned up the invective towards the ref and the Hume players involved in the post-tackle push and shove.

Without anybody important really noticing, during this time a group of Hume City supporters clad in black - including, apparently, their president - walked behind the southern end goal and planted themselves right next to the angry South fans. What these Hume City supporters wanted to achieve with this maneuver, only they could could know, but very quickly the whole thing escalated from shouting match to push and shove and very nearly much worse. Thankfully, enough people - mostly South fans, if we're going to be honest about this - threw themselves between those most likely to kick it off, yelled long and loud enough for everyone to back off, and eventually the Hume City supporters decided to move away from the area.

While all this was happening, one would've expected security to rush over to prevent any escalation of the incident, but all it seemed that all that was available was one security guard and one volunteer ground marshal. Now I can tell you from experience that while being a ground marshal is 99% boredom as you wear a fluoro vest and try to look nonchalant, that 1% of time when you're expected to do something but you're not sure what it is that you can do or even what you're allowed to do are an awful situation to be in. Even more so if your own club's officials are apparently in the mix as well, not trying to calm things down but trying to stir them up.

As for the lone security guard at that end of the ground, he was the typical poorly trained and poorly paid scrub that winds up doing this kind of work at NPL grounds. Clearly out of his depth, and seemingly without even a walkie-talkie, dealing with 20-30 odd angry men screaming at each other, and at him, by his own admission he didn't know what to do. And yet the other security personnel on duty for the day made no effort to come over and assist him. Glad as I am that nothing more serious kicked off, I also felt bad for that bloke.

I'll make no claim that South fans act like perfect little angels at every game. But it's clear that Clarendon Corner and to a lesser extent South fans in general are seen as a soft target for members of the opposition that want to act like smartarses, especially when we're at away matches. When this happens, most often it's limited to the antics of opposition players or coaches choosing to celebrate in front of our supporters rather than with their own fans or players. Sometimes though, like Friday's game, some opposition fans want to take matters into their own hands for reasons only they know.

It's the strangest thing, especially in light of the fact that for a good few years now, and with the exception of Jack Edwards Reserve and the Veneto Club, the most vocal South fans actually try to get away from opposition supporters at the suburban grounds, even if that means picking the worst spot at the ground from which to watch a game.

There are really only two other clubs in the NPL at present that consistently bring away fans to most games, and that's Heidelberg and the Knights. Heidelberg don't have an organised fan group, so there's a smaller target there automatically. But MCF is noticeable enough at most games home or away, and yet from my anecdotal observations at their away matches, opposition personnel (whether fans or on field representatives) don't dare try to instigate anything with them.

Of course MCF has a far more fearsome reputation than Clarendon Corner, and it's probably one of the reasons that the NPL's assorted on and off field clowns like to have a go at us when their team is up. But it shouldn't even need to come to that, but good luck FFV clamping down on teams that aren't us or the Bergers for off-field stuff.

And in just a few weeks time, we get to go there and do it all again. Oh joy.

Of all the days that South Melbourne and North Melbourne played on the same day
Late on Sunday evening, walking back to the crappy car park at Sunshine (the good one was closed to accommodate train replacement bus services), a bloke popped his head out from a car parked behind Pap's Market to ask me who had won out of South and Hume. Probably the first time ever some random has recognised that what I'm wearing is South Melbourne merch and not North Melbourne stuff. Good to know for what's left of the SMFC marketing team I suppose, that we've managed to get some brand recognition at last.

Next game
Melbourne Knights away at Somers Street on Friday night. Though I imagine many South fans will miss this game due to Orthodox Easter commitments, for those attending the match please be aware of the earlier than usual kickoff time of 7:30PM.

Keep in mind also that the senior women are at home this Saturday in a twilight fixture against Greater Geelong Galaxy, kickoff at 4:15PM.

A-League expansion process officially underway (not that any of that matters)
Well, here we go. The on again/off again, will they/won't they process appears, at last, to be actually happening - unless of course you're of the conspirational mind that the decision of which teams to add has already been made, in which case carry on as you do.

For the rest, the announcement of what appears to be at least a quasi-legitimate process for A-League expansion will be welcome. One way or another, South Melbourne Hellas fans will get a degree of closure on the matter of joining the A-League.

Well, at least until the bidding process after this one, for teams 13 and 14 and/or whatever vacancy arises out of Wellington Phoenix's four-year licence not being renewed.

FFA's timeline for A-League expansion for the 11th and 12th licences.
The successful bids will enter the competition in season 2019/20.
So it's going to be two new teams coming in for the 2019/20 A-League season, which gives the successful bids a year to get their operations up and running. I have no idea if that's enough time, or whether the delays to expansion up until this point have seen everyone who's keen for this refine their bids even further.

As part of its call for expressions of interest, FFA is asking for bidders to address the matters of "vision and strategy", "proposed locations", "financial capacity", and "details about persons involved in the prospective bid". It will be interesting to see if at any point South Melbourne Hellas members are informed about our club's efforts in any of these categories (with the possible exception of the location issue), seeing as how we never got around to learning about investors or ownership structures when we were trying to pull off the Southern Cross gimmick.

Anyway, if the following comment made on the Football Today site is true, it will have a significant impact on the kinds of bidders likely to front up:
Our understanding is that the two new expansion clubs will not have access to any of the broadcast revenue - and therefore will not have the salary cap covered - for at least 3-4 years, thereby ensuring that the new franchises must have very deep pockets to be able to cover potential losses. 
I won't claim any expertise on FFA's and the A-League's finances, but there are some things we can reasonably deduce as outside observers. Among these observations are the fact that the recent A-League television deal, while more or less securing the future of the competition for the next few years under its current format, was not big enough to pay for everything the FFA is responsible for; hence the cuts to things like the Futsalroos.

Apart from not being able to fund national teams and other programs, it's also not clear whether the television deal is big enough to actually expand the competition; nor whether the notion that Fox Sports will only accept new teams from Brisbane, Sydney, or Melbourne will have any influence on the expansion process.

You've also got this happening as the AAFC and other bodies are in the middle of developing their second tier model. At the same time, the representative body for A-League franchises is also unhappy about expansion occurring while the FFA Congress issue persists, and while the A-League operating model is still to be revealed. They've also gone further, saying that it "does not accept the legitimacy of the process", whatever that means

Of course, FFA as it exists now could be changed or turfed out depending on what happens with FIFA and the ongoing issues with the FFA Congress, but for the time being let's pretend that the version of FFA which exists now will exist for long enough that it will see the expansion process through until at least October 31st 2018.

At the time of print, South Melbourne had not released a statement or acknowledgement on the official opening of the expansion process. The Brisbane City and the Sydney/Illawarra Southern Expansion have released statements, and Team11, the South-East Melbourne bid, noted the opening of the process.

By the way, if you yourself want to bid for an A-League licence, you can start by filling out the expression of interest form.

Regular readers will know that I don't like to make predictions, but for whatever it's worth I reckon it'll be Southern Expansion and Brisbane City. Not that any of that matters, of course.

Around the grounds
If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys
The day before our game, figuring that we were doomed from the outset, I decided it was worth heading to someone else's sorta high profile FFA Cup battle in order to at least a last dose of FFA Cup schadenfreude before ignoring the competition as best I could for the remainder of 2018. To that end I ended up at Somers Street for Melbourne Knights vs Altona Magic. The 2018 Knights are if not even close to being world beaters, they are at the very least a long way from their abysmal 2017 variant. Magic meanwhile are in middle of an old school live-by-the-benefactor, die-by-the-benefactor revival, recruiting heavily from NPL 1 in order to get out of NPL 2 as quickly as possible. Out of all the teams outside NPL 1, they're the ones you'd want to play the least.

So, that being the case, it's fair to say that this game was decided by those moments when Magic decided to be switched on. When they were, they looked at least a half-step above the Knights in ball movement and skill. When they were switched off, Knights were able to get the ball up to dangerous parts of the field, and do largely nothing of note when they got there. The key moments? The sides being level at 1-1 after half an hour, but Magic switching on again and taking the lead again soon after; Kym Harris being stretchered off for Knights on half time, meaning an inadequate forward line reshuffle; a dull second half coming to life when Magic's Jon McShane getting sent off, but Knights continuing to be ineffective, conceding two further goals before finally looking dangerous in the last five minutes and pulling a consolation goal back.

Towards the end of the game, there was some hullabaloo near the visitors bench, as the assistant referee on that side left his post to talk to the referee, presumably about abuse he was receiving from spectators next to Magic's bench. I could not tell from my vantage point which side's supporters were responsible; while MCF is out of the grandstand and back on Quarry Hill in 2018, both Knights fans in general and the Vagabondi ultras firm or whatever they are that sometimes appears at magic games tend to wear black. The game eventually resumed, and ended with a deserved win to Magic, not realluy much of an upset except perhaps in how lopsided the score was. As patrons filed out of the ground and back to their dreary little lives, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was played over the stadium speakers, a nice touch only possible when you probably expected to lose anyway, and weren't going to be hung up about it.

Final thought
As if this season wasn't bad enough already, I got trolled on Twitter by a bloke who's the Australian soccer equivalent of George Costanza; a man whose lofty career high was getting sent off in a third/fourth place Maltese Summer Cup game five minutes after he got subbed onto the field.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

That's what you get for caring - Northcote City 3 South Melbourne 2

Apologies for taking so long to get this post up; it's not like there's anything revelatory in the match report segment to make it worth the wait, and not much for laughs either.

The good times seem so long ago now that it's hard to believe that they were still going relatively strong late last year. Fast forward to now, and while it's still early in the season,  we've already reached one of the least appealing markers on the road to being crap, namely, being beaten by the "little" Greek clubs whose supporters (whether full-time or just there for the day) then decide to try and rub it in our faces. Several winning seasons may not have made us any more likable in the eyes of those people, it may not have even made them respect us, but winning at least gave us that psychological boost to the ego of "who cares what those people think?" Still, that's what you get for caring.

Another less noticeable sign of our increasing decrepitude came later, when the SMFC TV video came out. I clicked ahead to the end, and sure enough, there were no post-match interviews with a coach or player. Maybe they were all too distraught with the last minute loss to speak to camera. Maybe no one could be bothered to interview them. Now I'm not expecting to glean clues to explain our poor start to the season, but it's nice to see someone front up even if it's just to spout clichés. I mean, the players do the best they can on any given day, and sometimes their best is nowhere near their actual best.

Nevertheless, someone is responsible for what's going on out there at the moment, and while the players and coaches have to take their share of responsibility, as yet the supporters haven't turned on them. No doubt this is because their anger is being turned squarely at those who have decided, for reasons which may yet be valid but which only they know, to set us on this course. They must have figured that whatever it was that Chris Taylor had done, it was serious enough to turf him out just weeks before the season started, after having scrambled to sign enough players to fill out a first eleven, and letting other reasonable calibre recruits go to rival teams so late in the pre-season that one has to wonder at the planning process which lead to such a situation.

Pity that this first eleven, which would've been covered by a degree of depth last year, is withering away on and off the field. To our on field struggles, lack of a Plan B, or even ability to run out a game, we've now got players sitting on the bench who are injured and unlikely to take part; why else would Leigh Minopoulos, who the previous week set up a goal and scored one himself, not come on even for the sake of fresh legs? Thus you get the strange situation of going down to ten men for the last twenty odd minutes and making just the one sub because that's all you can really do.

One of the more naturally pessimistic supporters said that season 2018 feels like season 2008, and to be honest, at this point it's not that far off the mark. Each week a little bit of hope is chipped away. Can't defend. Can't run out games. Can't hold a lead. Treading water until the mid-season transfer window opens up in several weeks.

But we've got to keep supporting the team through thick and thin, it's just what we do, and goodness knows the boys need all the support they can get at the moment. Maybe an unlikely cup win can spark something? Look at me clutching at straws. See everyone on Friday, unless they've got you working the night shift.

Next game
Hume City away in the FFA Cup, on the Good Friday public holiday. The match will be streamed by FFV.

Unimportant observations
Northcote has changed its point of entry to the gate back of the venue on Clarendon Street. Northcote is also the latest club to move towards night (or at least this stage, twilight games), although they haven't yet bitten the bullet (or received the necessary approval) to go to Friday nights like everyone else. The candy bar in the social club is also gone, so if you're in the mood for Skittlebrau at John Cain Memorial Park, you're going to have to bring your own Skittles from now on.

There's also action going on in the western part of the ground with the hill behind that goal dug up, and where the small secondary pitch was there is now a massive hole in the ground which some people were speculating was for car parking for apartments, but is in all likelihood a "proposed underground water storage facility", which will likely include the reinstatement of the "full size senior football pitch to west of existing NCFC stadium pitch."

Within the John Cain Memorial Park Master Plan released in 2017 (which is an intermittently fascinating read) there is this tidbit:
The priority for FFV is to relocated the administrative base back to John Cain Memorial Reserve.
Which will of course have people flailing their arms in bewilderment. So it goes.

The following brain fart is based upon paying attention to about 35 minutes of under 20s NPL Victoria football for the first time this year, in between eating a souv, checking Twitter, and inadvertently eavesdropping in on other people's conversations
And as if there weren't enough disclaimers in the segment title, here are some more. Each year's quality of youth players is going to vary, even if that's not the point of the NPL. It could've been an off day for every player from both teams. It's Australia and we still have to be if not forgiving, then at least tolerant and expectant that the skill level won't be world class. Like everyone else, the kids are trying to do the best they can. Making sense of a game from up in the stand is much easier than making sense of it at ground level. And as always, my soccer opinions should always be taken with a large grain of salt.

But this is what got me unexpectedly flustered, because I usually invest very little emotionally into youth soccer, knowing that the results only really matter if you're at the top of the table at the end of season, and that most of the players will end up being nowhere near the standard of the state's top tier when they finish youth football. It was the on field decision making that dare I say it, actually upset me. The skill level wasn't great in last Saturday's 20s game, but there were so many bizarre decisions made that I feel like it's worth highlighting two of them to show what I mean.

The first moment actually involved a well executed piece of skill, which lead to an absolutely dead end situation. It was a cross-field diagonal ball, perfectly placed from the left wing to a player running towards the right hand corner post. And the brilliance of that pass masked the fact that the receiving player had nowhere to go, and no one to pass to. The best that could realistically be achieved in that situation is a corner, because it's unlikely that the player is going to be beat one, let alone two defenders in order to get into the box.

The second example had much less going for it in either aesthetics or thoughtfulness. A high loose ball was heading toward a defending player somewhere between the centre circle and his own 18 yard box. There was ample time to control the ball, but instead he took a massive swing at the ball, missing it completely. As much as he looked a fool after his air-swing, what would have happened if he had connected with the ball? It would have gone flying up the other end of the field, turned over back to the opposition goalkeeper.

My reaction to these and other confounding examples of poor decision making was, how did it come to this?

And I know that writing it all out like this probably makes me come across as petty, and naive, and ignorant, and I'll wear that because it's not like I have any education or interest in youth football methodologies. I can't tell you who or what is to blame when things turn out awry; the best and only advice I can give any young soccer player is to go out and watch more state league games, preferably ones with some elevated viewing spots. But I say this in part because that's the κουτσό στραβό  method I mostly rely on to learn about soccer.

But I am intrigued now about how decision making is taught to young soccer players, and I am even prepared to be enlightened on the matter by those who know about such things.

An old battered trophy, on a cheap plastic base.
The inscription reads "Winner, Port Melbourne,
 Summer Cup"; there is no date on the trophy.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis.
Musings on a trip out to the Greek archives at La Trobe University
The other week I ventured out to Bundoora to visit La Trobe University's Greek archives, ostensibly to offer an extra hand to Tony Wilson and Rob Heath who are making that Ferenc Puskas documentary that I've mentioned here once or twice. Of course, as well as hopefully being of use to Tony and Rob as they looked for relevant materials, one of the other benefits of visiting the archives was to see what South Melbourne Hellas stuff they had more broadly. The results of that secondary goal were a mixed bag.

But first to the archives themselves. Located on the southern fringe of La Trobe's Bundoora campus, the archives are located in a former high school site, almost invisible to the general public. To be fair, almost any kind of archive held at a university is invisible to the general public, who more often than not don't know that these kinds of archives exist, and that they can be accessed by the public.

Though who knows whether such contact information is even current. Hate the FFV website? Try navigating a university website looking for current and correct information after they go through countless updates and tweaks to their interface.

The Kambouropolos-McKay Memorial Cup, awarded to
 the winner of the 1998 "all-stars" (I assume veterans)
  match between Heidelberg United Alexander and
 South Melbourne Hellas. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
Anyway, from my place in Sunshine, it takes a good hour and forty-five minutes to get to the archives by public transport. Luckily on that day I got a lift to Sunshine station, and a late route 350 bus meant that I didn't have to wait an extra 15 minutes for a later bus. The bus winds its way through the inner north, goes up the freeway, than meanders through Ivanhoe and suburbs like that. It stops at the corner of the old high school, which is convenient enough.

The first thing you notice when arriving is the Melbourne City (Heart, not the Argentines) branding on the buildings. It is of course where their Melbourne headquarters/colonial outpost is situated. I got there a bit early, so ended up loitering outside in the rain as Heart players and personnel I didn't recognise filed inside, until I was eventually visited by an office staffer asking me what I was doing.

I could've provided any number of sarcastic answers, but settled for the truth, that I was waiting for people so we could visit the archives. Then she directed me to a completely wrong area. These things happen.

Tony and Rob having arrived we get ushered in by Michael, our guide for the day, through a side gate. What follows is a few hours of searching through boxes and plastic sleeves, interspersed with a potted history of Greek life in Melbourne, Victoria, and occasionally places further afield. Michael shows us the film room, filled with posters and film reels of the golden age of Greek cinema, the history of such being one of his specialties.

Another copy of a photo I first saw in Jim Pyrgolios' personal collection. Of
course, a blown up version of this photo is now part of the displays in the
 South Melbourne social club's museum space.
As is often the case, there are grievances aired about university funding and resource priorities. With similar issues coning up across the university sector, I feel like I could contribute a lot to this conversation, but decide to let it unfold as a monologue. Tenured scholars, archivists, librarians, post-graduate students; we all know the issues intimately, especially as they relate to the humanities, and the temptation is always to join in and vent. But sometimes you've just got to sit back and listen.

The archives are in if not quite what one would call a chaotic state, they are nevertheless not in their optimal catalogued state. Many boxes exist, the items contained in those boxes usually correspond to the box's chief designation, but items within the box are more often than tagged with a reference number and not much else. There is hope that one day a thorough and proper cataloging of items will takes place, but that will take several years, and the persistence of those who care about the archives. Looking at the troubled history of these archives, there's no guarantee that the quality of their itemisation and preservation will improve. But we can always hope!

Assorted graffiti, including "HELLAS RULES YOU'S FOOLS",
"LONG LIVE MAKEDONIA", a swastika, and some flags
 Unknown location, date, provenance.
Anyway, as part of their research for the film, Tony and Rob were looking for photos of Ferenc Puskas in Australia; moving out to images of South Melbourne Hellas from that era; moving out further again to images from South Melbourne Hellas history; and most broadly of all, images from Greek life from the 1950s to early 1990s. On that last front, there are a lot of photos to sort through, of social and regional brotherhood club clubs, of soccer clubs, picnics, church and festival days. Some photos are marked on the back, noting the event, the date, the location, but most are blank, its subjects anonymous. Over time, the people involved will become only more obscure.

Sorting through the boxes was a ramshackle affair, and yet also soothing in the way familiar to researchers both lay and professional. You get into a zone where the eclecticism of a collection becomes its own reward, and you get distracted by the breadth of materials on offer. So while I was there primarily for the task of finding materials relevant to the documentary, I could not help but go down detours, and to that end I found all sorts of photos and objects worth noting, including things you want to check out later on; in my case, the collection of Athletic Echo, Athletic News, and Athletic Flame Greek-Australian sports newspapers are likely to have all sorts of interesting information (and doesn't this stuff just need the most urgent digitisation!).

Two Northcote City Hercules players. The photo is dated
 "1969". Who the players are, where they are, who took the
 photo: all of that remains a mystery.
But there are of course problems with accessing archive collections such as these, and chief among those is the ever present spectre of copyright. In cases where stuff is old enough (say, prior to about 1954) things are pretty clear cut, but later on it all gets tricky. Who owns it? Under what circumstances can I or someone else (re)-distribute images of materials included in the archives? And is it possible that if I put up photos of photos into the public domain, that another researcher will have tighter restrictions placed upon them?

That's why I've been careful here not to reproduce too much. The South Melbourne Hellas "Red Vee" photo? I've put it up here because versions of the image are already out in the public domain. The trophies? They aren't photos, and ownership of their copyright quite clearly belongs to no one. The graffiti photo? So obscure that it's unlikely anyone will ever come calling to claim ownership of it. The Northcote photo (see right) of two unknown players, of unknown provenance, seems like the kind of thing that could safely be reproduced by again, the laws around these things are often murky.

It's one of the problems that Rob and Tony are going to have to deal with in making their documentary. The photos they found in the archive and which they may want to use were created by someone, and unless those people have relinquished copyright, they'll still have intellectual and moral ownership of the items. Similar issues come up in using different archives, including soccer collections like the Laurie Schwab and Les Shorrock collection at Deakin University. There are loopholes, considerations around fair use and honest attempts at finding out who owns the rights ti particular materials, but this is one of the reasons why Tony, Rob and I want the South Melbourne Hellas community to dig into its own attics, basements, cupboards and drawers to see what material it has, so Tony and Rob can get access to material which not only has a sense of cultural authenticity, because it was produced by non-journalists, but also because the ownership rights of such material will be much easier to trace.

Now I didn't want to do this
And that's why I'm a bit dumbfounded that the club hasn't put up anything yet promoting Tony and Rob's search for these kind of materials. The club's Facebook page has nearly 60,000 followers, and the club has 13,000 followers on Twitter. As far as social media goes, I have a reach of 60 people on Facebook (I barely use it), fewer than 1,000 followers on Twitter, and this blog which is read by the same old 300-400 people unless there's someone jumping a fence to attack someone else. Even if a good deal of the club's official social media followers are fakes, its reach would still be way bigger than anything I could muster.

And in case anyone is wondering, yes I have forwarded on stuff about the call for homemade South Melbourne Hellas materials to the club to use and adapt as they see fit (and if they don't like that, they can even write their own stuff), and I've received no response. The lack of any promotion of the documentary and its call for footage and photos is especially weird because the club is aware of what Tony and Rob are doing, and Tony and Rob actually got an invite to the club's jersey night the other week, where I assume things went well. The club would even benefit from whatever film and photography gets unearthed by the call out because first, it will make a better documentary about South Melbourne Hellas, and second, because the club will probably get access to a whole bunch of material it didn't have before.

But there's also this
Folk from a range of former NSL clubs who have tried to get match footage from the any of the networks, and SBS especially, have come up against the problem that it costs a hell of a lot of money to get access to that footage. As much as it annoys me, I understand why this is the case, even if I can see little scope for any of these networks ever making money from NSL footage. Apart from oddballs with acute historical connections to the relevant clubs, the only use for that footage is television networks looking for easy access for soccer riots - and even then, they've got most that stuff on speed dial.

But televised soccer history isn't just the games, it's also the news segments, the off-field pieces, the humorous segments. While NSL matches may have (as far as we know, and only after certain dates) largely survived the "we need space" culls of network television archives, it came to my attention that other elements of our soccer culture have been taped over to create space. That this has been done by SBS is disturbing on several levels. First, SBS is a public broadcaster, whose remit goes beyond whatever short termism may exist at the commercial networks. Second, SBS is (or at least was) the self-proclaimed home of Australian soccer. Third, SBS was the network most closely associated with migrant - that is non Anglo-Celtic Australia.

All these things make SBS' erasure of our history something to be despondent about, but what's done is done and there's not much that any of can do about it. Except, of course, those who have (probably) broken the law in the past to record television programming onto VHS tapes despite the ubiquitous copyright warning notices, and who have then gone one step further to definitely breaching copyright by uploading those materials to online platforms without getting any permission to do so. As far as Australian soccer goes, these people have inadvertently saved otherwise impossible to find moments of our soccer history.

But here's the catch. If you want to use those videos in a commercial production - videos containing footage which no longer exists in any other format because of its destruction by the original broadcaster - they can still charge you for using that footage! When I heard this, I was dumbstruck. I mean, by erasing their footage, haven't the broadcasters forfeited the right to charge  if not legally, then certainly morally?

It's a mad world, to be sure. The good thing is that the interviews for the Puskas doco have been going well, and that most of the people you'd expect to be called upon to give their version of events have done so. No spoilers though!

Match programs update
Thanks to the visit to the archives, I managed to get copies of several home match programs from 1988 to add to the collection.

Around the grounds
Guinea Pigs
As is increasingly the case in Melbourne nowadays, there are more Friday night soccer options than you can poke a stick at, as clubs strive to get some of those sweet TGIF metrics, though the jury's still out on whether Friday night games make any difference in the long run. It's not like we have anything more than anecdotal evidence to go on, since almost no club posts attendance figures anyway. Given the choice of five NPL 1 matches, most of them within reasonable reach even for me, I decided to head to the round 1 State League 1 South-East  contest between Richmond and Beaumaris instead.

It was a mini late South Melbourne NSL reunion of sorts, with Richmond being coached by Sam Poutakidis, and Beaumaris by Marcus Stergiopoulos. The reunion didn't extend to Kristian Sarkies, who was unavailable for Beaumaris because he was in Hawaii. It was also an informal reunion for several people associated with Richmond's brief golden era, the circa 2010 period where the club finished minor premiers and grand final runners up, with the then coach (Mike Chatzitifronas, his first soccer game in several years), team manager (Mark Boric), president (Helmut Kalitzki) and a few others reminiscing and asking where some of the old players had ended up.

To be honest, my main interest in this match lay in its prurient qualities. Richmond is in the unenviable position of being the first club to have been relegated from Victoria's NPL system (Bendigo City were also relegated, but they disbanded their senior team soon afterwards, as was expected). So what happens to a club in that position and how do they rebuild? And what does rebuild mean? To answer that last question, Richmond's goal is to get back into the NPL, and to do so as quickly as possible. That much was clear from the visa player heavy squad which took the field.

Funnily enough, Richmond's trophies and pennants were absent both because
 of a fire several years ago and because what remained was being restored. 
Elsewhere, one had to look for clues in the way match day was being run, while being careful not to jump to doomsday conclusions. Entry was free, but that could have been a sign of goodwill for the first game of a 65th anniversary season. There was no memorabilia on display, but that was because it had been packed away for restoration and a hope for improved display in the social club. The crowd was small, but it was still bigger than most comparable affairs last year. according to those in the know. Even the canteen, which somehow ran out of bread rolls and was cooking nearly everything to order - even the bain marie staples - was apparently running along the same lines as last year.

More concerning is how does an NPL club's culture regenerate or persist when it is no longer an NPL club? Eavesdropping in on conversations over the course of the night, it appears as if most of the juniors which had played NPL with Richmond had moved onto other NPL teams. The introduction of the NPL itself, with its rigid junior squad frameworks, means that there are a lot of people at NPL clubs (youth players and parents alike) who are there only because of the fact that they club in question is an NPL club. Now to be fair, this was a trend that was in evidence before the establishment of the NPL, but the NPL has solidified it - nearly everyone's presence at an NPL club is strictly conditional upon the club remaining an NPL club. Just as concerning, is that in order to become or re-become an NPL club, the juniors you've accumulated along the way will have to largely be discarded.

(There's also the matter of the free-for-all signing sprees going on in the state leagues for teams hoping to become NPL clubs, especially with regards to visa players, compared to the at least nominal restrictions placed upon the senior squads of NPL clubs.)

As long as there's enough of the strange few who remain attached to senior men's football in a spectator or supporter capacity, there's a cultural bulwark in place to make sure those kinds of clubs can remain as such. But what happens when that cultural foundation is discarded, or wears away? What will the NPL clubs whose senior football reason for being becomes obsolete or discarded? Bendigo was always going to fall away, because there was no shared history for anyone to really care about. But if you think that some of the once upon a time stalwart clubs are going to be able to fare much better in the next ten years or so as interest in senior second tier men's wanes, then you are a much bigger optimist than I could ever hope to be.

Looking towards the bottom of both NPL2 divisions at the moment, and there's at least one candidate that I can see struggling to recover should it fall out of the NPL system. Richmond themselves were not so far away from that fate last year, with a large tax debt and relegation seeing the then custodians of the club prefer to pull the plug than fight it out, letting a long if not altogether storied history go by the wayside. They got lucky: they got a benefactor of sorts to pull them back from the ledge, restoring a sense of equilibrium. But as we should all know by now, regardless of the success they may bring, benefactors are a poor substitute for a strong supporter culture in terms of holding clubs together.

As for the game itself, it was pretty forgettable. Richmond opened the scoring with a nice enough move from the left, and Beaumaris drew level before halftime with a penalty, after an earlier penalty shout was changed to a free kick. At best, the two sides each produced a five minute burst of tolerable football during the opening 45 minutes. The second half was marginally livelier. Richmond retook the lead, had a man sent off for a second yellow card after some confusion, and polished off the game with a penalty of their own. Beaumaris, despite having the extra man and a game to chase, only looked like a team with those twin motivating factors

Final thought

Monday, 19 March 2018

Learnings - Pascoe Vale 2 South Melbourne 2

Because I squandered 7,000 words on that other post, and since nobody likes a waffler, let's keep this post reasonably short and sweet.

What have we learned so far in 2018 about what this team is?
  • We have no Plan B. It's the same subs trying to fix the same problem, which is mostly players running out of gas. We have no meaningful depth, which makes implementing a tactical adjustment very difficult.
  • We look great at the start, fresh and lively and dangerous. We actually look really good, and one can't actually say otherwise. Then it gets a bit iffy. We maybe concede a goal and drop our heads, lose our way quickly. Then as the game wears on, all of that disappears. Before we run out of gas, if we lose the ball anywhere, we're quick to win it back. When we lose the ball after the hour mark, the ball zips up to the other end in a flash. Our defensive transition becomes woeful.
  • Our crossing is garbage. That's been the case for a long time anyway, but this season it has been much worse than usual. We also don't have a set piece taker. Again, this has been a problem for a number of years, but this year even our usual tolerable option (Marcus Schroen) isn't available. Now in terms of corners, that's near enough to a lottery anyway. But whether you hate or merely tolerate him, the Peoples' Champ is not a free kick taker.
  • Last year it was the right hand side which was a mess, this year it's the left. And when Brennan runs out of steam and gets subbed off, both wings go missing, as Oliver Minatel hasn't yet done anything of note.
  • The striker insurance plan is in as much trouble as last year, and every year since we've relied on Leigh Minopoulos to be the one and only back up to Milos Lujic. If it's true that Giordano Marafioti has suffered a season ending knee injury, we're in even worse shape.
  • Some people got a little bit too excited about Christos Intzidis a little bit too quickly. Despite only having played against two of the smaller and weaker forward lines in the league, people - and not just our own fans - saw his good side and were talking him up big time. But the Intzidis and Konstantinidis partnership was always going to come up against sterner tests. Why couldn't people just be a little more patient?
There is that one possible saving grace that last year we had fewer points and also put up some garbage performances. Just awful really. Remember the 4-0 loss to Port? How about that abomination that was the loss to Avondale? We had five points from the first five rounds, two very ordinary performances wins against lower league FFA Cup opposition. We've already got five points on the board, and the team has looked more capable of winning games than at this point last year.

On the other hand, last year other teams were also tripping themselves up, and we're already streets behind teams that are winning all their games and winning them well. So, for those hoping for an unlikely first place finish, I'd let go of that wish for now. It's the way we've been dropping points so far that's the concern, coupled with the lack of depth, the sense of doom after Taylor's sacking which was temporarily alleviated by the win against the Chinese and the decent looking performances of the first couple of games.

But at least last year you had the idea that the team was playing so badly that at some point they could only play better. Does this team have that capacity?

Next match
Away to Northcote on Saturday. Please note that the kickoff time for this game has been changed from its original 3:00PM timeslot to a 6:30PM start. Also, a good deal of John Cain Memorial Park is under redevelopment, so the western end of the ground seems to be inaccessible to spectators.

FFA Cup news
The fourth round draw was held last Tuesday. This is the stage of the tournament where ourselves and the other Victorian NPL teams enter the competition. We have been drawn away against Hume City. It looks like the fixture has been set for Friday March 30th (the Good Friday public holiday), with kickoff at 5:00PM.

A-League expansion "news"
Um, so apparently this is back 'on' now. Looking at adding two teams in 2019/20, about ten bidding groups and maybe more coming out of the woodwork once the bidding process is made official or whatever. This is the bit I'm most excited about:
"Specific criteria for application will be released"
Though sadly this will only be released to the parties bidding for licences. But, come on, specific criteria at last! A carefully worded framework which has to ensure that the current A-League licence holders pass the mark, while also being set up in such a way to ensure that South doesn't qualify.

Assuming of course that we are even any chance of meeting A-League criteria of any sort.

And to any member of a bidding team out there who wants to sneakily pass on the FFA's expansion bid checklist this blogger's way, that'd be terrific. Utmost discretion will be practiced.

Meanwhile
Our former journalist friend Matt Windley (late of the Herald Sun) has joined the South-East Melbourne A-League bid team. Need to find another journo to suck up to.

Around the grounds
Thank goodness the state leagues begin this week.

Final thought
If I hear the word "hektik" one more time this season...

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Summary of March 2018 AAFC roadshow Melbourne edition

Introductory remarks
Derisory as I am of the idea of promotion and relegation in Australia, attending the Association of Australian Football Clubs roadshow event in Melbourne last Thursday seemed like a no-brainer. This meeting was meant to be held in Sports House in Albert Park, but a text message received while I was on the train up there said that a burst water pipe had necessitated the relocation of the event to the South Melbourne FC social club.

Of course. What else could they have done at such short notice?

Nursing my gin and tonic I had not intended to tweet much about the event, but rather take some brief notes on my phone (I'd not bothered to bring pen and paper as I do for say, South Melbourne AGMs), but after getting a polite request and checking that I had enough battery left on my phone, I decided to give it a go. I did note that Shouty Mike was also in the room, and though long since blocked by him on Twitter, I guessed he would tweet at least some of what was happening on the night, so there's always that if anyone wants an alternative view of proceedings.

There were also summary notes taken by freelancer/interested onlooker Matthew Galea, if one cares to go back far enough in his time-line, and there has been a positive overview of the night by journalist Jonathan Howcroft on Football Nation Radio. Also on Football Nation Radio is an interview with Tom Kalas.

Through my limited internet trawling, there appears to have been very little comment made about any of the roadshow meetings outside the Melbourne event. I'm not sure why that is the case - was the roadshow not publicised well enough, or is there just inherently more interest in these matters in Melbourne? One thing which came across during the Melbourne meeting is that there were at least slightly different messages given to different AAFC constituencies. This makes sense because, as I'll reiterate later, each state's experience of the National Premier Leagues, let alone Australian soccer, is quite different from each other.

The crowd built up to about 40-50 people, mostly in casual (non-club) gear, with a few exceptions. I recognised (and learned over the course of the night) that there were representatives present from South Melbourne (Andrew Mesourouni and Leo Athanasakis), Northcote, Heidelberg, Goulburn Valley Suns, Bendigo City(!), and North Geelong, but not much more beyond that. There were some non-club representatives - that is ordinary fans, and one bloke from local Greek media who I see around a lot but don't know the name of nor who he works for - but otherwise the audience seemed to be mostly committee members of various NPL teams.

It is interesting that more ordinary fans didn't show up. That being said, AAFC only has a couple hundred more followers on Twitter than I do (I have no idea about their reach on Facebook), so maybe this was actually about as good a turnout as one could expect. Indeed, we were told on at least a couple of occasions that the Melbourne meeting had the biggest attendance of any of the AAFC roadshow sessions up until that point, with only Newcastle yet to come. Why was that the case? I suppose it helps that Victoria has one of the larger NPL setups in terms of numbers of clubs, at over 30, and more NPL teams means more people likely to turn up.

(As an aside, when AAFC representatives were asked who were the Victorian NPL teams not under the AAFC umbrella, it was noted that Whittlesea Ranges and Sunshine George Cross were among them. Ranges I could understand, I guess, from their Victory/sponsor connections - though Moreland Zebras/Victory man Joe Mirabella was in attendance on the night - but the Georgies one has me a bit stumped to be honest.)

There's also a continuity in recent times in terms of Victorian clubs getting together to fight the establishment, namely, the (mostly) united front by leading and aspirational clubs against Football Federation Victoria's original NPL framework. Indeed, two of the key figures in that campaign - Tom Kalas and Nick Galatas - are now key members of AAFC. There's probably other factors for the larger turnout too, like the more obvious seething antipathy in Victoria for Football Federation Australia compared to other states, which would extend to the general distrust of New South Wales' dominance of Australian soccer. Neither do Victorian clubs, even the powerful ones, have anything like the facilities (on field or off) of the wealthier New South Wales clubs. Add in existing under the Aussie rules hegemony, and I guess everyone feels a bit more vulnerable than they'd like to admit.

(As another aside, FFV president - and according to one source, also currently acting FFV CEO - Kimon Taliadoros was absent, due to a competing engagement. FFV had some representation at the meeting in the form of Gary Cole, recently hired by FFV as "Manager, Football Strategy and Special Projects". While an FFA representative attended AAFC's Queensland roadshow meeting, it was speculated out loud that FFA were not likely to attend a Victorian meeting due to the hostility they were likely to receive from members of the audience.)

Representing AAFC on the night on the front table/panel of sorts were Dean Hennessey, current Pascoe Vale technical director, ex-coach and TD of a few places; Tom Kalas, ex-South Melbourne board member, interim AAFC chairman during parts of 2017 and frequent spokesman for the group; Nick Galatas, South Melbourne chairman until very recently; and AAFC chairman Rabieh Krayem, one time Northern Fury chairman. Oddly, of those four only Krayem offered any significant contribution to the night's proceedings, with Krayem at times sharing the stage or delegating proceedings to AAFC treasurer Christo Patsan of Northern New South Wales.

From then to now
The evening began with an address by Rabieh Krayem, giving an overview of AAFC's progress and success up until now. He outlined the reasons for the establishment of AAFC, a summary of AAFC's rise to (relative) prominence, and noted the ongoing unity of AAFC member clubs. This theme of unity was returned to throughout the night, out of a certain degree of truth no doubt, but also in its own way acting as a polite reminder to AAFC member clubs that anything which would undermine that unity would be detrimental to their collective aims.

But as with so much of what AAFC is about, it's about adding a positive spin to everything that they do; thus extolling AAFC's ability to unite so many disparate soccer clubs, and celebrating an unprecedented collective effort in "putting football ahead of self-interest". This was reiterated by comments such as the unity of the AAFC clubs apparently confusing FFA. Added to the repetition of the need for continued unity were the virtues of focus and patience; not everything would happen at once, and the keenness for reform from NPL clubs needed to be properly directed.

Krayem went on to list the three broadest issues which the NPL clubs suffer under and which AAFC hopes to fix:
  1. Unsustainable NPL model. 
  2. The high costs of junior soccer. 
  3. The limitations on growth for NPL clubs under the current system.
Some of these issues were covered in relative brevity, either by the night's two main hosts, or during the workshop period of the meeting. As best as I can recall, no specific details were offered in terms of fixing points 1 and 2, but point 3 was addressed in detailing what AAFC hoped to achieve as part of its aim to help create a truly national second tier.

The Championship/Second Tier discussion
After announcing its initial framework for a second tier model (among other demands) last year (see my take here; or the guest point-counterpoint here), AAFC announced at the roadshow meeting that it is in the process of creating a working model group for the second development stage (out of three) for its second tier/Championship model. The intention is to finish this stage by June, and seeing as how AAFC met its own October 2017 deadline for releasing its original/stage one proposal, we can be optimistic that we'll see the results of stage two sometime in mid-year.

Sceptical as I am about many facets of this plan, one development (or the absence of) I was interested in seeing was whether other relevant Australian soccer parties - federations, players, etc - would become involved in trying to develop a second tier model. And this is where one of the more interesting - and as it turns out, also contentious - parts of the meeting took place. AAFC claimed that it would be working with FFV, Football New South Wales, and Professional Footballers Australia to develop the model; indeed, that those three groups would also provide funding for the necessary research. Apart from the (however vague) political vote of confidence that such a collaboration implies, the news that there would be pooled funding for the working model group caught the attention of a few onlookers both at the venue and among those observing online.

Later on though there emerged conflicting reports about whether FFV had actually agreed to provide funding for the working model group, as opposed to merely providing moral and/or logistical support. In communications I had with different people, from the AAFC side there was insistence that FFV (and even FFA) had committed to funding the working model group, while two sources from the FFV side insisted to me that no financial commitment had been made by FFV. Confusing things further, from the AAFC side I later received "clarification" that AAFC was still in discussions with the different groups about the possibility of funding the working model group.

When combined with the suggestion, made at the Adelaide meeting, that AAFC member clubs would be asked to contribute financially to the working model group, there seem to be mixed messages floating around about how the working model group will be funded.
So far, AAFC has apparently spent $90,000 on research - originating I assume from a mix of club donations, but principally from the generosity of some of its wealthier patrons. It's an expensive business getting together not just the conceptual framework for your new competition, but also putting together the mechanics of how you claim it will all work.

It's also necessary, not just from a "prove the doubters wrong" aspect, but also from a "putting in a competing framework to the only one that currently exists" aspect. When the NSL Taskforce Report was released many years ago (perhaps the most overlooked document in Australian soccer history, because everyone keeps focusing on the Crawford Report, the latter of which was related to governance, not the league), it had the added heft of being based on the research of the PFA, at the time "the most stable and cohesive institution within the game" according to Joe Gorman. The PFA model is what the A-League was born from, albeit not in its pure form; nothing is ever taken straight the shelf, much like the FFA governance model wasn't a direct lift from the Crawford Report.

The main point however is that long ago the one prominent organisation in Australian soccer that had not been sullied by Australian soccer's reputation of mismanagement and corruption was the only one that came up with a plan, funded by itself. In a moment when confidence in Australian soccer's leading institutions is once again at a low ebb, AAFC has the opportunity to do something similar to what the PFA did in the past, by transitioning from being a fledgling advocacy group to something which has its own intellectual property in the form of a firm plan - not just ideas - about how to improve the game in Australia. In an environment where the best ideas anyone else can come up with to rejuvenate the A-League and by extension Australian soccer are "maybe we should add a couple of teams, maybe..." and "all we really need to do is have an independent A-League" - as if either of those alone would be anything other than short term solutions - a bold, costed, detailed and logical plan would stand out.

If some observers of my Twitter feed were upset by the suggestion that FFV and/or FNSW would use "junior fees" to pursue the dreams of a collection of rebellious/ambitious/arrogant clubs, it wasn't just those people that had their jimmies rustled by information provided during this segment. When a slide was put up showing a comparison of current NPL club costs compared to possible Championship model costs, some in the audience were a bit stunned by the figures of current NPL costs, thinking them too high, especially in terms of wages.

The broad range offered by the AAFC's slide claimed that current player wage bills were up to $800,000 a season; the exclamation from some in the crowd was that most clubs would be paying, at best, half that amount. Along with questions about how AAFC got those figures, reasonable comment was made from the floor that this section of the presentation should have included "bands" of spending to more accurately reflect current spending trends. And I agree that there should have been more detailed information about how many clubs were in different wage spending bands, (as well as other costs) and that this data should have also included a breakdown of these details by state, so AAFC members and interested onlookers could see a more complete economic picture of Australian soccer at the second tier level.

Of course, this means more clubs opening themselves up to the kind of scrutiny that few clubs at this level would be comfortable with, but what price the greater good?

With costs, including wages, obviously rising across the board for a national second tier model, it felt to me for a moment that for some clubs the penny may have finally dropped about how realistic participation in a national second tier would actually be for them. But then the discussion moved on to whether second tier teams would be obliged to spend that much, or whether they'd be allowed to get away with spending a lot less. And therein lies one of the problems to be worked out among those arguing for a national second tier. There is a very broad spectrum of people discussing things like a second tier and associated reforms, ranging from a complete laissez-faire approach to something much more regulated, but which side of that ideological ledger will AAFC's second tier model prioritise?

Among those who criticise the A-League, much of that criticism centres around things like the salary cap, the salary floor, minimum player wages, and the assortment of other measures which see the A-League operate as a cartel like the top competitions of the other major Australian football codes. (This includes what might be called the Rolls Royce model around fan experience, stadiums, etc). Apart from disagreeing with that cartel approach from the position of "it's not how a real soccer economy or system works" or "it doesn't replicate the global standard", the argument also claims that the cartel approach entrenches mediocrity. Teams that struggle on the park have less incentive to immediately do better in order to secure their position in the league; successful teams have artificial barriers preventing them from actually putting out the best product that they can, because they must be kept in relative check with all the struggling teams

Cost is one thing, revenue quite another. Of course a lot of the doubters are wondering where the money will come from, especially as costs increase. While some potential national second tier clubs are reasonably well placed to cope with the wage increases (and some will have the benefit of less travel than potential competitors), there will still be significantly increased costs which will need to be covered. In the discussion which reiterated the preferred administrative model for the hypothetical national second tier, there was also some discussion about pooled revenue and profit sharing. Uneducated as I am about these matters, it nevertheless seems to imply a certain degree of cartel discipline, and thus a step removed from a no-holds-barred spending model. It also says something about the fact that AAFC believes that there will be profit to be shared.

But where someone like me sees problems, AAFC sees opportunities. AAFC is frequently on record with talking about how much money is generated by its member clubs for the Australian soccer ecosystem (some would counter that by claiming that it's mostly generated by the junior fees paid to NPL teams), but also about the limitations placed upon teams outside the A-League because of Australian topflight soccer's closed shop. Almost inevitably, AAFC expects that increased sponsorship opportunities will emerge for teams participating in a national second tier. But aside from that, AAFC believes there is an opportunity to take advantage of a changing media landscape, which for me is code for non-traditional (and non-terrestrial) broadcast media.

Previously, if not from AAFC itself than from people advocating for similar outcomes, the idea (or hope) was that SBS would be a partner of a national second tier, an idea which I never had much confidence would be realised. For starters, SBS's Australian soccer content - indeed its soccer content outside of its lone EPL game a week at midnight Saturday -  has now regressed to an almost negligible existence. What could possibly prompt them to spend the necessary funds to show a second tier competition with limited opportunities for recouping any investment? This suggestion, which goes back years before the existence of any tangible second tier movement - and which was originally formulated around showing live state premier league games - has always left me stumped.

Should this subtle rhetorical shift in emphasis - from securing a traditional and established broadcast media partner to a non-traditional equivalent - concern prospective members of a national second tier? It's something that certainly bothers me, but I'm already long gone on the prospects of this thing even working. For those more open-minded on these matters however, it should still be something that they keep an eye on - every cent that The Championship model doesn't get from a broadcast deal is that much more revenue that will need to be collected from other sources to make up for it.

In terms of player recruitment for The Championship, Krayem was adamant that it was "not designed as a retirement home", and that rules would be set up in order to promote younger Australian talent. This was clearly a riposte to the geriatric progression of the A-League, but also perhaps a critique of the NPL as it currently functions with regards to player recruitment. For example, does the luring of players from Queensland to Victoria help Queensland soccer? It may help those individual players by having them play in a higher standard competition, but it also weakens the standard of Queensland soccer. And what does the Victorian appetite for recruiting players from outside Victoria - previously British backpackers, currently Queenslanders and players from smaller states - say about the lack of opportunity given to Victorian players? And in the case of bringing in players from Tasmania, might this actually be much more justifiable? It's a lot to chew on.

Regarding questions from the floor about the transfer model to be used in The Championship, and Australian player transfer reform in general (as part of the now longstanding grievances state league clubs have about their players being poached by A-League teams, including the latter's designated NPL sides), the short and only answer given was that this was something that would be worked on.

The Championship would be a summer competition, with men's and women's components. I was not able to ascertain on the night whether successful applicants for The Championship would need to field both men's and women's teams as part of their participation. (update: see the comments section for clarification) This is an interesting point for how women's soccer exists in Australia. More often than not, the wealthiest soccer clubs in Australia (below the A-League level) are those which have a long tradition of successful male teams, with their female teams, where they exist, being an afterthought. Meanwhile those state league clubs which have historically been most successful at running female teams - often by women themselves and existing in the void left by the absence of a strong senior mens' program - would struggle to find the means to support a grandiose venture such as ongoing participation in a national second tier competition.

There was no elaboration on the matter of promotion and relegation to and from the A-League, or from and to the extant NPL competitions. While perhaps this meeting was neither the time nor the place for an explanation of how the different league layers would be formally linked together, it did leave a gaping hole in the area most casual onlookers (admittedly not in the room, but among those observing online) wanted to know. Krayem said that the NPL would persist; insofar as my understanding goes, this positions The Championship as the mechanism by which Australian soccer begins to achieve a necessary realignment of the its competition hierarchy.

Christo Patsan said that the founding principles and intent of the NPL and National Competitions Review were sound and largely still relevant and worth pursuing. I'm not sure that feeling is shared by everyone. If I was to summarise what I think AAFC want, it is a nationally consistent NPL approach (and eventually second tier) where clubs have the ability to control their identity and destinies. Are the ideals of a consistent framework and the freedom for clubs to do their own thing compatible concepts though?

That the NPL competitions would continue means that there needs to be a lot of work done to sort out how this is all going to come together. I mean, that much is obvious to everyone. Even among the advocates for a promotion-relegation regime however, there are a range of views of how this would work, ranging from a "quasi-cartel, necessary criteria to be met" model, to something much more cut-throat and free-market. At the moment. it also appears that apart from Victoria and New South Wales, most states are only paying lip service to AAFC's aim of a second division. Cue the NSL conspiracy again. Should the Championship become operational, AAFC says its administration would be based in Melbourne, a deliberate challenge to Sydney's dominance of Australian soccer administration.

(And while really not important from the fact of its obvious implausibility, it is worth noting that there was also the odd call from the floor - with slightly more than muted approval from the guests in attendance - that if FFA and everyone else didn't want to get a second tier up and running, that the clubs should just breakaway and form their own competition. This idea had cold water poured on it from AAFC panel members, but it does highlight that there are very diverse views and attitudes to Australian soccer matters within AAFC's constituency.)

The most left-field proposal on the night...
Was AAFC's desire to hold an annual junior tournament for AAFC member clubs. The age range would be 13-16, for both boys and girls teams, with the event held in a single location. The annual extravaganza would also include conferences and seminars. Aiming to start in April 2020 - one assumes over the Easter break - this is a logistically bold, perhaps even insane proposal. It would require accommodating thousands of travellers (kids, parents, coaches, support staff), would cost a lot of money to organise, would require a lot of grounds, and all sorts of other things which someone like me who has never organised or been involved in such an undertaking could possibly think of.

Credit for the scope of the idea, but its scale is such that I'd love to see how this would all come together. Reading online, this idea was a hit with the Canberra people in particular.

FFA Congress progress
Another one of the key issues was the status of reform to FFA's Congress. FIFA and the AFC representatives had recently been in the country and left again, and looking in from the outside it appears that not much has changed. Naturally those involved closer to the action have a better idea than us mere plebs. In terms of AAFC's hope of getting a seat on FFA's reformed Congress, it all seemed to depend on who was speaking for AAFC. Krayem said that Victoria was the only state federation which was for AAFC having a vote on FFA's Congress, while Queensland was happy for AAFC to have observer status.

(A non-AAFC source later told me that most state federations were happy to let AAFC have observer status, until such time as AAFC could "prove themselves", whatever that means. I assume it means in part holding itself together through what will be the much more difficult phase of actually getting some of its grand schemes up and running.)

Krayem was hopeful but cautious about whether AAFC would get its seat in the FFA Congress, but Nick Galatas, making one of his rare contributions during the evening, piped up to say with uncharacteristic confidence that AAFC will get there. This belief is based on the support that AAFC believes it is receiving from FIFA and the AFC; they certainly aren't being made to feel welcome by FFA and the A-League teams, and probably quite a few of the states. This international support gives AAFC a kind of leverage that forces their inclusion into discussions.

The issue of representation
Every state and region is going to be different when it comes to its soccer experience; in fact, this is a problem that cuts across almost every aspect of Australian sport, that rather than anything resembling a uniform and universal sporting culture, we are instead a nation of micro-sporting cultures. One thing I didn't note earlier on about the make up of the audience was how overwhelmingly male it was. I don't think there were any women present at all. Intentional or not, it is not a good look for an organisation that will need to argue that its attempts to reform Australian soccer also include the best interests of women and girls, and not just high level senior male players. Indeed female football was very much an afterthought to the entire evening's proceedings, with AAFC talking heads mentioning little about the topic, and the questions from the floor referencing nothing about women's soccer at all.

This is a serious issue, and I don't doubt for a second that those representing AAFC don't take it seriously. However, apart from the issue of optics - never mind female participation and professional pathways being the zeitgeist of Australian sport - the lack of any almost any reference to the female side of the game plays right into the hands of those who would oppose AAFC solely on the accusation that the group was merely a front for a collective of culturally regressive ethnic clubs who had been unable to keep up with the times. And to be fair, some of those accusations would not be too far off the mark. The room was made up of at least some clubs who represent conservative or traditional ideas of what soccer is about in Australia on this and other issues. Related to those clubs would be those who, like South Melbourne perhaps, espouse a cautious modernism in its approach to women's soccer.

(Albeit a modernism as yet untested by what happens when the female program's principle advocate, in South's case Gabrielle Giuliano, moves on. The matter of cultural and club continuity has always been at the forefront of women's soccer.)

At the same time, apart from your different flavours of ethnically derived conservatism and cautious modernism, you have clubs which exist outside those frameworks, and those which go across several demographics. So while there are clearly clubs in the AAFC movement with a chip on their shoulder about FFA's treatment of ethnicity, there are also those clubs for which ethnicity is not even close to being at the top of their list of complaints. Then there are the clubs from regional areas. The ambitious clubs who have no NSL history. The clubs from states and regions which have never had national representation of any sort, and no obvious development pathway for their talented kids. All of these groups are being presented by AAFC as a unified collective with a common purpose, and not as the motley collection of clubs that this group actually is.

And it's not all smooth sailing. There was some discomfort from the floor about some of the decision making and negotiating processes of AAFC, namely that it does not consult as much as it could or should with its member clubs about key issues.

(I'd also add in the strange and sometimes unprofessional social media antics of AAFC. I think they'd be better off sticking to a conservative online approach - discussing only their affairs, and avoiding clogging up their timeline with stuff outside their immediate remit of being a representative organisation for second tier clubs. At present their social media efforts lack focus - probably operating on the whim of whoever's in control of the relevant social media accounts - while also coming across at times as petty. They need to at the very least get an off-the-shelf social media policy.)

But for the time being, in those narrow schemes where people actually pay attention to any of this stuff, AAFC is winning. It's winning the ideological battle because it is presenting a positive outlook for Australian soccer (even while often talking down present day Australian soccer); it's winning because its opponents have been successfully portrayed as out of touch and stagnant. And whatever the flaws with its social media/PR game, AAFC has also succeeded in having its public face, its front office if you will, obscure whatever disquiet and misgivings clubs under the AAFC umbrella have.

We are all in this together, but for how long?
Unity and patience are the virtues preached, but old habits and attitudes die hard. The nature of soccer in Australia has been, at least since after the migrant lead boom, one of self-interest and self-preservation. (The A-League has been the notable exception to that.) The pursuit of excellence (in all its forms) applies first to your club, and good luck to the others trying to catch or keep up.

But at one point during the meeting Krayem made the salient point - the kind of comment that can deflate a room full of fighting optimists - that "what may be good for football may not be good for your club". Amid the positivity and reinforcement of what it is that AAFC is trying to achieve, it's a message that cuts through, and it's certainly a message that we will look back on if and when a second tier gets up and it's not to everyone's liking.

Of course what the common good is insofar as Australian football goes depends on who you ask, and I'm in no good position to answer that. To me it's at best a nebulous concept, one that's been tainted because more often than not it's been used as a weapon rather than as the vague ideal that it is. For whatever it's worth, I don't think Krayem used the "good of the game" argument here in any sort of malicious way, more as reiteration that even within this group of (for now) united clubs, there would be winners and (at least relative) losers from AAFC's plans.

A word on the "NSL conspiracy"
There are some few pushing the line that AAFC and all of its associated antics are merely a front for getting ethnic NSL clubs back into the national soccer system. At the most extreme end of that argument is the accusation that AAFC is a front specifically set up to get South Melbourne Hellas back into the Australian topflight.

Such thinking (whether directed at ethnic NSL clubs or South Melbourne more specifically) requires two pre-existing notions in order to get off the ground. First, it requires the ethnic NSL teams having the necessary political, financial and grassroots clout to re-emerge from their otherwise terminal decline and irrelevance to Australian soccer (a terminal decline and irrelevance diagnosed by their detractors no less). Second, that these clubs would have the capability and competence (again, both of which their detractors claim these clubs lack) to establish and sustain such a complicated and unwieldy campaign in order to get back into the national league system. Needless to say, I find such conspiracy thinking beyond laughable. Truly, it is at the level of the conspiracies cobbled together by the so-called "bitters" of Australian soccer over the past decade and more.

Whatever else AAFC's faults, or the disagreements one may have with the aims of AAFC, it has been established and managed to succeed beyond the limits placed upon it by its detractors and opponents for a number of reasons. We have already mentioned the support AAFC is receiving from FIFA and the AFC, however much that support may be overstated by AAFC representatives. It has also managed to keep its broad constituency together for longer and greater ends than many people expected. Just as importantly, in an Australian soccer situation which reeks of stagnation - especially with regards to FFA and the A-League - AAFC is putting forward the boldest and most optimistic view of what Australian soccer could become. Whether their approach has gained any traction with people outside those few interested in the narrow field of Australian soccer politicking is almost beside the point; within the demographic that does care about such things, they come off looking more often than not like the good guys.

Something rather obvious that gets missed however is that AAFC exists to represent clubs which exist in a rather strange and hitherto unprecedented "between space" in Australia's football chain of command. The NPL clubs play under the auspices and control of their respective state federations, while at the same time participating in a system largely designed by the national federation. While in cases like Victoria, NPL clubs are able to perhaps organise well enough to exert a measure of influence over the running of their state federation - and thus alter elements of their own NPL environment more to their liking - they have no ability to act as a collective to put pressure on the body which set up the NPL framework in the first place, that being FFA.

Because of this bizarre operating system, no state operates NPL in the same way. When one person from the floor of the Melbourne roadshow complained (fairly enough) about A-League teams having more visa players at their disposal when they play FFA Cup matches against Victorian NPL teams, Krayem noted that when Victorian teams played against Queensland teams in the same competition, that Victorian teams had a PPS cap of 200 compared to Queensland's 170. Meanwhile other states have no restrictions on visa players. Not all of this is FFA's fault, and the clubs themselves - certainly in the case of the Victorian NPL - are also to blame for the mess that NPL has become.

But the point is, while ethnic ex-NSL clubs may be best placed to push for national second tier participation, they are not the only ones doing so. Neither are all of the former ethnic powerhouse NSL clubs best placed to take advantage of any changes. The goal here clearly is to start a competition which adds value across the country, and not just in forgotten suburban pockets of Melbourne and Sydney.

But still, what is it that South Melbourne Hellas is trying to do?
(I included this section because Leo Athanasakis asked what I thought was an unusual question, on the matter of potential A-League expansion and NPL/second tier queue jumping. While this was directed at other A-League consortium bids, I felt the queue jumping element could have - and indeed already has - been directed at South itself. Also South of the Border is a South Melbourne blog, so you know...)

When the campaign against FFV's original NPL model was begun by Green Gully and Melbourne Knights, South Melbourne - represented on this issue by one Tom Kalas - notably took a different tack, preferring to remain what it called "in the tent", believing that it could effect change more effectively from within the system rather than fighting against it from the outside. Then, like magic, South gradually changed its position to the point where it (and to be fair, a whole bunch of other Greek clubs) somehow became the leader of the movement against FFV and its NPL model.

Among those clubs who care to remember that this happened at all, there is understandably distrust and resentment about how that all played out; that the more obnoxiously regressive clubs on all sorts of issues who stuck their necks out on principle (however misguided that principle may have been) only for a bunch of Greeks to come in and take all the credit for getting not just a solution to the NPL impasse, but credit as being the leaders of a re-found boldness for clubs to stand up to the post-Crawford federations for their rights.

Me, I liked the fanciful idea that I invented that it was all coordinated; that certain clubs that had a more uncompromising ethos when it came to rejecting forced modernity would do the initial head kicking and grunt work, allowing more palatable alternatives - ie, us - to come in and finish off the job.

But the truth is that ever since it was compelled to vacate its position in the Australian topflight by the forces which took over Australian soccer, as well because of its own decrepit state, South Melbourne has had one distant goal in its sights above all others: to get back into the big-time, as soon as possible, and by any means necessary. So we bid for the second Melbourne A-League licence under the Southern Cross gimmick, losing out to Melbourne Heart. We tried to buy out the then failing Central Coast Mariners, under a scheme which may have included keeping some games in Gosford for however long it took for people to realise it was a stupid idea and just have all our games in Melbourne. Then we tried buying out Melbourne Heart, and failed there too. Currently, we've thrown our hat in the ring for the zombie A-League expansion process which may not even have ever existed.

They say that you miss all the shots you don't take, and when it comes to failed attempts to get into the A-League, no one's taken more shots than South. And yet, for whatever reason, South has never been at the public forefront of AAFC, other than by proxy association. To its own members, South has played AAFC and promotion-relegation issues as low-key affairs, preferring to put up a wait and see approach. The emphasis has always been on first and foremost getting into the A-League under its own steam (even if details of those attempts provided to members are sparing), and not through wholesale reform of Australian soccer's league structures.

And yet in most recent times, those paying attention to the social media contributions of especially our president Leo Athanasakis indicate a shift in our prior reticence to openly support a promotion-relegation model. Such a shift leads easily to the allegation from within the AAFC tent and from promotion-relegation fellow travellers alike that South Melbourne is not really ideologically committed to the principle of promotion-relegation; rather, South Melbourne is only committed to whatever South Melbourne believes will get it back into the topflight soonest. And if that happens, the rest be damned.

While not serious enough to threaten the unity of the AAFC revolutionary project by itself, it's the kind of fissure that people will need to keep an eye on; when persistent calls are made about unity and its virtues, any deviation from that ideal invites the possibility of infighting and sniping.

The question of heart and soul
I tried to write and re-write this section a number of times, never to my own satisfaction. So I'm going to try to keep it short and sweet.

Community, authentic, grassroots, corporate, franchise, elite. Words like these and many others can be useful in describing the cultural schisms that afflict Australian soccer. Used carelessly however, instead of clarifying the ways in which Australian soccer is divided, these words serve mostly as an act of self-justification.

By any measure, FFA and the management of several A-League teams have treated NPL teams poorly. There are countless examples of this, some of which were given on the night. But it's possible also that NPL teams are seen in a similar light by teams far lower down the food chain.

Claiming the moral and ethical high ground is a dangerous business. Anyone making claims for their own purity of support of the game is on dangerous ground. Resorting to the kinds of rhetoric which filled up forums a decade ago, and which paints simplistic pictures of an "us and them" which does not actually exist, is a tactic fraught with issues.

The focus should be on the actual examples of disrespect given by the top tier towards everything below it. Emotive language which loses sight of that should be avoided.

Final thought
During the aftermath over the next few days, it was funny to see the same info I'd received from different parties via Twitter DMs and text messages - sometimes intended for clarification, sometimes intended for further dissemination - make its way out to the public domain via other trusted vessels. It was like a proxy social media battle in the broader war for hearts and minds, except that I don't think anyone but the already interested even noticed.