Thursday, 27 July 2017

The law of averages - South Melbourne 1 Edgeworth Eagles 0

I find myself attracted to the safe and meaningless, and repulsed by the risky and meaningful. There's no risk and little meaning in what South Melbourne does in its day job as an NPL club. When people call such an existence 'living in the wilderness', it's not merely an existential turn of phrase. Like wild animals left to roam free and undisturbed, people only pay attention to us occasionally, most usually when an Oz Soccer David Attenborough type comes drifting in to take stock of our oddness, before moving on to the next oddball species.

However events like last night's match much more resembled a zoo. We were there not just to play a game, but also to be marveled and gawked at by the audience at home, neutrals and unfamiliars at the game, and the roving cameramen and photographers. It was quite unlike anything I'd ever experienced at a soccer match. Since the NSL ended, we've had games with bigger crowds than this, games with actual silverware on the line as opposed to the most rank outside chance of achieving such in four month's time. But nothing quite like a situation where Lakeside and the club were the main point of interest.

An inflated special occasion Clarendon Corner in action last night
against Edgeworth. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
So apart from feeling compelled to eat down the road because the social club was being used for a sold-out pre-game function - and I'm led to believe by some that got to Lakeside earlier than I did that the transition from private to public function wasn't entirely smooth - one found oneself on the terraces not only with a couple of thousand of more or less strangers, but also sharing Clarendon Corner with people I wouldn't know from a bar of soap. Of course the club in its public pronouncements spun it a different way, framing the match as a dress rehearsal for what they hope is something bigger.

And speaking of dress rehearsals, what about going for the Kappa kit last night as opposed to a Puma one? It was rather like the use of BLK as opposed to Adidas for the Palm Beach game two years ago, do not be surprised to see Kappa become our kit sponsor next season. Of course with Kappa being the signature label of the 1990s Altona North effnik techno bunny test station KISS (or Hitz or KIX or Stomp or Clomp or some piece of crap) FM listening demographic, that rules me out of buying any merch next year. - unless it's a beanie with a pompom.

Anyway, while I don't begrudge the club framing the match as a sort of top-flight audition, I and others have an issue in the things said as part of that process. But that's no secret, and if one must turn to someone who almost by necessity bucks this trend, it's Chris Taylor. Taylor acknowledges the importance of the team's success in the FFA Cup and the implied magnitude of the opportunity, but he also has to make sure the players don't get too far ahead of themselves, and instead treat the game on the field on its own merits.

Alas, at South Melbourne that's probably an impossible task to accomplish. Everyone has expectations, and the players are no different, regardless of whether they were there two years ago against Palm Beach, were making their South FFA Cup national stage debut last night, or had experience of playing on bigger stages than this one. None of it seemed to make a difference early on for us, because even if we didn't exactly crumple under both the implied pressure of the occasion and the real pressure of our opponent, we didn't exactly set the world on fire either.

The first half had a a measure of ebb and flow about it, but no one is under the illusion that anyone other than Edgeworth should have led at halftime. We relied on Nikola Roganovic being right on top of his game, Jesse Daley just manging a goal line clearance onto the crossbar and out, and Daniel McBreen butchering the best chance of the entire game just before halftime, to keep things level. At that point I was wondering how we would come out in the second half, and not much more than that - things were getting too hectic and nervy to pay attention to the fact that unlike every other team in our league, Edgeworth played with two up front.

That we started the second half a lot better didn't entirely reassure me. 'How long is this going to last?' I wondered. As it turned out, apart from probably one more chance for the visitors requiring another Roganovic save, that improvement lasted for the rest of the match. Our runs forward went deeper, our ball retention lasted longer, and apart from the monotonous and repetitive long ball tactic, we looked far likelier to score than our opponents in the second half.

Milos Lujic had been double-teamed all night, and effectively so. It's not that bombing it into him was absolutely the wrong idea, or the only idea we had, but Edgeworth's tall and tight defense kept close check on our man. I guess the aim then was if there was so much attention being paid to Lujic, that there would be free players in and around the box to pounce on a loose ball and have a crack at goal. Unfortunately that seldom happened, the ball landing unfavourably for us when it was not properly cleared by the Edgeworth defense. The good thing however was that in the second half at least, our midfield had the composure to keep the ball and stick to their plan of moving the opposition from side to side. Granted, this was made easier as the match wore on by several things.

First, Edgeworth clearly didn't have the fitness to keep up for the whole game. I had a decent discussion after the game with one of the behind the scenes folks, who reckoned that had Edgeworth been playing in our NPL, that would be an area they'd improve on quickly, and that they would finish in the top four in our league. I'm not so sure - they'd be competitive, but I couldn't see them finishing higher than 5th or 6th - they just don't have the spread of talent. Second, their lack of fitness was also tied to a conservative game plan, which saw them sit back deeper and deeper as the game wore on. Because so much of their emphasis was on Lujic, and then on negating our left hand side, they also played exceedingly narrow in defense. Thank goodness that the right hand side eventually clicked into gear - helped by bringing on Leigh Minopoulos for the 'having a bad day' Jesse Daley - and the midfield, especially Pavlou were able to do as they pleased.

Once the increased room down the left made itself apparent, our chief weapon of Nick Epifano and Brad Norton overlapping on that wing and crossing the ball started to get into gear. Speaking of the People's Champ, last night was far from his most glorious game in terms of getting on the score sheet or putting in the pivotal pass, but it was by far the most composed and complete game I've seen him play for South. His penchant for losing focus and turning inward was almost non-existent, his willingness to do his defensive duties unquestionable. The slide tackle near the sideline towards the end of the game was a highlight, but the more important stuff of covering his part of the pitch was more noteworthy.

Third, when we needed players to step up, we had them. When Edgeworth needed players to do the same, they were found wanting. At the pub before the game, one of the more perceptive people made the observation that Edgeworth had four good players against our seven. I didn't bother asking about who those seven might be for us, let alone who Edgeworth's four may have been (McBreen? The Japanese guy? The goalkeeper?). It occurred to me however afterwards that the observation played out as being fundamentally true. Millar, Schroen, Daley, Foschini - none had good games. But Foschini's output in the second half improved significantly, and Schroen came into the game late on. He delivered the pinpoint corner to Lujic, who was heavily marked even then, for what was the winning goal which sent us all into pandemonium.

Marcus Schroen and an Edgeworth opponent both go to ground in search
 of the ball. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
The first half was topsy-turvy, but ended up with Edgeworth being unfortunate not to be ahead. The second half we made our adjustments, had players who hadn't been good in the first half increase their input in the second, and there was little that Edgeworth seemed to able be able to do to counter that except batten down the hatches and wait for extra time and penalties. It's my well-researched opinion that when it comes to the leading sides in each NPL, just about all of them are of equivalent quality to each other. But it's also true that some NPLs are more equal than others. Whatever setbacks and quasi-disasters we've endured at a national level in recent years - the losses to MetroStars, Palm Beach, and Hobart Olympia - it's not for having been played off the park by any of them. At least two of those losses we were all over our opponents, without being able to take our chances. Call this result the law of averages sorting its business out for us at last, at least on the field.

Off the field - the crowd, atmosphere, stadium - is where much of the attention was. I don't think anyone expected a huge Edgeworth contingent to come down for the game, and that turned out to be the case. Situated mostly in the balcony section - they were VIPs I suppose - they made a bit of noise, having the advantage of being able to stamp on the wooden floorboards and having decent coverage from the roof to carry their chants. Too bad for them it took them a while to figure out who they were playing:
I guess our fame has either diminished in the time we've been absent from the national spotlight, or it hadn't traveled as far as we'd thought it had in the first place. That, or the Edgeworth fans were being casually racist in thinking that every Greek team's nickname was Olympic, as is the case for the main Greek mob in Newcastle, Hamilton Olympic.

Some of their other behaviour was less than endearing though, and that's coming from the perspective of South fans who themselves don't always have the best reputation of being either gracious hosts or guests. Coming up the stairs next to Clarendon Corner, they got a bit lippy, as well as making a few objectionable gestures. Not that I would countenance any retaliation - which from our end didn't happen anyway - but it seemed like a stupid thing to do and something that could've easily led to something worse than moronic banter. From some accounts closer to where they were camped for the match, their behaviour up on the balcony wasn't much better.

The crowd was reported at being 2,622. Being a South crowd, I'm not going to go into the debate about whether the number was 'real' or not. How would I even know? The crowd looked good on the broadcast, and seemed to sound good when there was something happening (or when there was chanting), otherwise it was a lot like the old NSL days of reactive noise, which I don't mind. I hate when crowds become so self-absorbed they don't pay attention to the game. There were a lot of free tickets handed out by the club, and there was clearly an effort - or directive - made to to get as many of our juniors and their parents out there as possible.

But you can hand out as many free tickets as you want, but it doesn't mean people will turn up. Given the opponent, the weather, being midweek and every other complicating factor, I was expecting about 1,500, hoping for 2,000, and glad if we were able to get anywhere near filling the stand. As it was, the match was reportedly the second best attended in the FFA CUP national stage between two NPL sides, and the best between two NPL sides at the round of 32 stage. What does that prove? I'm not sure it proves much beyond what we already knew - that the NPL is of little interest to anyone but a few hundred diehards, and that South has a core following of about 2,500 who can be counted on to come out for 'occasion' matches. Oh, and that should there be bigger occasions, and more favourable fixturing circumstances, we could get more of the old recalcitrant, drifter, fickle South fans back for such games.

Of course it was a relief to win for the sake of getting the national stage monkey off the back. But it was also a relief to win for the sake of not having to put up with the usual torrent of crap that emanates from people who hate us whenever we talk ourselves up and go on to cock up in one way or another. Instead right now all we have to deal with is pockets of online saltiness, mostly based around the usual complaints - Greeks this, ethnic that, chanting Hellas, and something to do with the Crawford Report despite the person making claims about its contents not having read it. But there were also unusually desperate comments, complaining about our playing style, or that the quality of game was not up to scratch. Quite what people like that expect from two semi-professional teams, which play in a second tier whose talent is spread thin across eight or nine divisions, and without the benefit of starting lineups being half made up of visa players, I'm not exactly sure. People are funny like that.

But for every knocker there are people who found the contest at the very least entertaining, and not only for its climactic finish. Which is more than can be said of the broadcaster covering the game. Waiting at the tram stop and watching the Fox Sports coverage of the winning goal on my phone was a little underwhelming - not for the goal itself or the wild celebrations, but for commentators Brenton Speed and especially Simon Colosimo sucking the life out of a 94th minute winner.
People took the piss out of Brandon Galgano and his over the top call of our win against Dandy City, but at least and the understated Rick Mensik seemed to care about the game they were calling. Still, no tram that terminated early, and certainly no rail replacement bus, could take the edge off the win.

Meanwhile, for those keeping track of these things...
It appears as if our fixture didn't manage to crack 40k viewership on Fox Sports. While obviously finishing too late for Neos Kosmos to do a write up today - though it managed to get brief pieces in on a couple of NPL teams playing A-League teams in the latter's pre-season friendlies. Our current best friends at the Herald Sun got their piece in, while I assume The Age's Michael Lynch had a day off, which is why The Age relied on an AAP piece for its FFA Cup coverage, as did The World Game. Looking at ABC News Breakfast this morning, and Channel Ten News this afternoon, there was no mention of the FFA Cup. But I think someone noted that Channel Nine had something in its evening news broadcast, which if true, would fit insofar as they also featured our win over Dandenong City.

Lest we start howling at the torment of our own irrelevance though, it's worth noting that for 'some reason' Fox Sports persists in showing our FFA Cup games, even without an A-League opponent draw card, and that the wider lack of media coverage says as much about the wider sporting public's disinterest in the FFA Cup and Australian soccer as a whole. The competition may have captured the attention of some dedicated members of Australian soccer, but it has a long way to go before it crosses over to being anything like a mainstream concern.

Next game
Back to league action away to Pascoe Vale on Saturday night.

Final thought
It's rather a minor thing of course, but Fox Sport's on screen scoreboard and clock having us listed by the three letter shorthand of 'SOM' just seems unbalanced at best. What's wrong with a two letter initialism of 'SM'? If they insist on three letters, why not even 'SMH'? Of course, I kid...

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Prelude to madness - Hume City 1 South Melbourne 2

Roganovic, Norton, Adams, Eagar, Foschini, Pavlou, Millar, Schroen, Daley, Epifano, Lujic.

That was the starting line-up against Hume last night; full-strength, taking no chances, and about as much of a dress rehearsal for Wednesday - and perhaps the rest of the season - as you could get. The only change I could see happening? Pavlou being dropped for Konstantinidis, with Foschini being moved back to defensive midfield, and Konstantinidis being put in at right-back. In ordinary situations - where the team is unaffected by injury, suspension or the need to rest players, this will be the usual starting eleven. Mala is now only a backup defensive player. Zinni is the impact player off the bench if the opposition is tiring. Minopoulos is the player most likely to be put into situations where one of Daley or Schroen are under-performing, the 'fixer' if you will.

If there was the temptation to rest certain players, than this game was probably not a good enough fit for that. Hume are stuttering but still have some good players, and were able to pinch an undeserved win against Heidelberg last week. The game was on a Saturday rather than a Sunday, and so the extra day to rest would've also convinced Taylor to put out the strongest team he could. After all, even with the FFA Cup being so important to the club, we're still right in the mix for top spot, which gives us the chance to play nationals and earn an FFA Cup spot for next year. Besides, at South Melbourne we want to win everything.

So with a full-strength team and Bentleigh having won earlier in the day (and Heidelberg winning today), expectations for this game were that nothing less than a win would be acceptable. The potential for a spectator-friendly game was ruled out from the start. A strong, cold, and relentless wind from the north made things difficult for all concerned. We had the benefit of that wind in the first half, and fortunately we were able to nearly make the most of it.

I say nearly, because it took a penalty about 25 minutes in to get us on the scoreboard despite having being camped in Hume's half for most of the first 45 minutes. At first glance it looked like a pretty stupid and unnecessary tackle by the Hume player. We were playing the ball in the box, carefully trying to find a gap, with no immediate or obvious danger. The replay suggests it was perhaps a bit soft, but I'd have given it. Regardless, if it was there the ref should give it, and if it wasn't, then that's just more fuel for those pushing the conspiracy that South gets looked after by the refs. Milos' penalty being hit straight up the middle did the job even if it didn't make me happy in the long run for its future predictability.

Hume keeper Michael Weier dives left as Milos Lujic's penalty shot goes straight up the middle. Bulent Yontem

The second goal summed up the game. A nothing moment when the Hume defender should've and normally would've cleared the danger, ended up with Lujic one-on-one with Hume keeper Weier, and this time I could not begrudge Milos' finish, a tidy one into the bottom corner. So 2-0 up at halftime, and while I would rather had been 3-0 up it was better than many of the alternatives.

Then we gifted one back to Hume early in the second half, with an over-hit Eagar pass meeting Pavlou hesitation, The feeling then was not so much the nerves that began, but rather the feeling that with that wind it should be near inevitable that we would concede another. Hume however didn't do that much with that wind advantage, and we still had our moments going the other way. Lujic was taken off for Minopoulos after an hour, who did the running and hustling stuff pretty well under the circumstances.

The officials plucked five minutes of additional time out of nowhere, and added two more probably for how slowly we made our late subs. Had anyone used this game as a measure of what the NPL is capable of, or as a form guide for our cup match on Wednesday, they'd have walked away disappointed. The history books, should they bother to remember this game, will note a result and not much more of importance.

Annual Broadmeadows trip whinge
It was fortunate that I had things to take care of earlier in the day, which meant that I couldn't get to the ground much earlier than 6:00. I say fortunate, because for reasons unknown to me, the under 20s game was played at 3:30 instead of a 4:30 or 5:00 kickoff. I don't understand that at all, but having not looked at the fixtures closely at least I lucked out in not getting there at 5:00.

There are many fine elements to this ground: the grandstand is comfortable for the crowds that will usually turn up; the dining facilities are of a good standard,;the surface is always good; and there's an electronic scoreboard that's big and clear (and which has a clock that counts up past 90:00). But how a facility was built in the plains of the outer northern suburbs without any meaningful windbreak I can't understand. Some more trees or even just a hedge, anything to lessen the impact of the wind coming through the ground unimpeded, would be most appreciated.

The lighting is also inadequate. The well lit areas are clear, but those areas at the margins of the ground, including the goal ends, are awful. I know my eyesight is pretty bad, and I will also apportion some of the blame to South for not wearing white and Nikola Roganovic for wearing black, but the action at the other end of the field became a dark and muddy blur.

From a personal point of view, pedestrian access to the venue remains appalling. One can cross the road from directly across the entrance to the car park, but that's a death-trap with cars coming past quickly and unsighted from both directions. There is a paved path next to the bus stop on the south side of Barry Road, but it stops well before the entrance to the car park, where the safest place to walk is in the gutter. Who designs these places?

Next game and match day details
Our next game is our FFA Cup round of 32 match at home against Edgeworth Eagles.

South Melbourne members and season ticket holders receive free entry as part of their membership.

For walk-up punters, the price for an adult ticket is $15, concession $10, under 16 free. Ticket sales and entry for non-members will be via Gate 2.

There is no online pre-purchase option for this game.

If you are not attending the business coterie function in the social club, you will have to wait until 7PM to enter the venue. To that end, I'll be having dinner and a drink at the Limerick instead.

For those unable or unwilling to attend, the game has been selected for broadcast by Fox Sports. There will be no streaming available outside of Foxtel's services - at least when it comes to legal ones.

Click and hate and click and hate and click
As FFA Cup times rolls around, so do the articles on South's ambitions.
I noted to our friend Les that the secret lies mostly in hatred - sure, every South fan with internet access will click on the link, but let's be clearheaded for a moment here: there aren't that many of us. It's those who despise us who really push things along.

There's a strong argument to be made that it's as much the idea of us than the reality that these people hate. It's an argument which is implied by earlier posts of mine on this issue, but also by the comments some people leave on these pieces. These are comments so exaggerated in their vilification of us that one can only sit back and laugh, The best are those comments which allege South fans going deliberately out of their way to make supposed curious newcomers feel uncomfortable. I mean, who has the time?

But the specifics of that hatred are neither here nor there in the great scheme of things. The point is that the hatred exists, and there are people who can make mileage out of it. Matt Windley of the Herald Sun has done well on this front in recent times, and good luck to him. There's another article by Windley on us that's come out in recent days, but even I have to admit this one starts off with an unexpected bang by starting off with Bill Papastergiadis relating a meeting he had with Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

So much of what we have done over the past decade is play down our Greekness, not out of shame (as some South fans would have it), but out of knowing that it's not what a lot of people involved with Australian soccer want to hear. And besides which, there are all sorts of other arguments that could and should be made about what South Melbourne can offer Australian soccer as it is now. But the point is that even if it wasn't meant to come across as apologetic or timid, it often came across as if we were avoiding the elephant in the room. When conversations turned that way, the responses came across as weak. But Papastergiadis' front foot approach here, and Windley's putting it at the front of the article, offers a change in approach:
“Everyone has a history and ours is a proud one,” Papastergiadis said. 
“But what defines us is that we've continued to refine and develop our future rather than relying on our history."
Put so simply, so succinctly, it encapsulates what I and others at the club have been saying for ages now. Don't write off the past, don't overemphasise it, just acknowledge it, with something like AA Phillips' 'relaxed erectness of carriage'. A comment like Bill's above shows that we are comfortable with who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be.

As to whether internet hatred is enough to run a sustainable A-League team... well, I think you know where I stand on that question. Hatred is useful but what is more important is love. Do people love us enough that should we come back into the national spotlight in some fashion. that they will support us at games in good times and bad?

To get back to the point we started on. Les, if you want to get the kind of publicity that South gets, it's difficult, but not impossible. You need to network. You need to wine and dine. You need to learn how to whisper sweet nothings into people's ears. But you also need to be hated. You then need to look at what South has achieved under this manifesto, and ask yourself, is it worth it?

South, too, needs to ask itself at some point if whether being hated is enough - there is after all a more important question that needs to be asked: 'is there enough goodwill, and is there enough love out there to draw people towards us?' Not that any of that matters of course.

I'm not an expert, so please don't hurt me
I don't really like talking about second divisions or promotion and relegation, because as you're all no doubt well aware, I consider them at present to be pie in the sky ideas.

That's not an expert opinion, nor is it an opinion based mostly on my self-loathing and loss of hope. In part it's based around the fact that there has been nothing concrete done about this for a ten year period apart from mostly self-pitying waffle, and I like to think it's understandable, perhaps even forgiveable if I mostly ignore the whole thing, come up for air every six months or so to give the whole scene a bit of a half-arsed bake, and then go back to ignoring it again while writing my usual piffle about other nonsense.

Certainly that approach to this topic makes me happy, but others apparently don't agree that it's particularly helpful, which misses the point somewhat; the point being that if all the dreamers of dreams on this front actually got together, put some effort beyond mere plans scribbled on the back of metaphorical napkins, there'd be less justification in me being grumpy. Though as we've all no doubt established by now, I'd be grumpy regardless of the situation. There's some interesting background to that, but that's not for this blog.

It's not that I hate the idea of a second division or promotion and relegation; it's just that I have serious doubts about either of them working. I don't believe there are the funds, or the prospect of substantial and continuing customer support. I believe that the concepts are largely anathema to Australian sporting culture at the top level. I don't agree that we should have them simply because nearly everyone else does. Yes I do agree that there are potential benefits in condensing the second tier talent pool into something more meaningful, and that a merit based system which includes up and down is more desirable than what we have now. But I also put forward the notion that a principle is not the same thing as a plan.

But the most important reason I don't think it will happen is because it undermines the very idea of the A-League. The A-League was designed to be self-contained, and to be like the other major sports in Australia. It's a cartel league, but sporting leagues in many places are cartel leagues for good reason - it's about creating a situation of mutual interest, almost a sense of commonwealth. That doesn't imply that the intentions are always pure - members of the cartel can and are motivated by selfishness - but when a cartel works roughly as it should, no individual team's interests are set above the others by such a magnitude as to destroy those at the bottom end.

That ideology has always bothered some people - especially when the cartel's interest is misleadingly or undeservedly put forward as equivalent to the whole of the game's interest - but the proof is in the relative pudding. The A-League, for all its faults, for all its stuttering, is the most stable national soccer competition that has ever existed in this country. It has also been embraced by the media, by broadcasters, by sponsors, and by patrons in a way that the past competition was not. I'm not arguing that the A-League is perfect, or that the cultural assumptions it makes about Australian society are not distasteful to me; but for the time being the competition is working, and has been relatively successful against the benchmarks both those within the game and outside of it have set for it - give or take a TV deal that didn't manage to reach the heights some people misguidedly hoped for.

So to my mind then a second division and promotion/relegation completely undermine the ideology that underpins the A-League, and of course the cartel would be against it. Be that as it may, I reiterate that I'm no expert on this issue. That's not of out some flimsy sense of self-preservation. It's just that I don't have the relevant data, information, research, call it what you will, to go beyond casual assumptions. My feeling however is that, except as concerns their own estimated capabilities of how they could function in such an environment, most of the interested parties don't have that data, information, or research either. And that to me is a big problem.

That some would hide behind notions of intellectual property also troubles me. Doubtless that's because apart from a lack of trust in other groups - that lack of truly believing in a common interest - some would also be happy to unleash a more dog-eat-dog model of competition upon Australian soccer. My concern then is that if proper vetting isn't done to ensure that a second tier league (with or without promotion/relegation) as a whole would be sustainable as opposed to individual licensees being sustainable, then the whole thing could collapse in a heap very quickly, and the consequences for such would be much worse than a little bit of embarrassment at having tried and failed.

And yes, there are very good points to be made about this same kind of distrust being at the core of the current FFA/A-League licence holder wrangle. Each side of that debate is attempting to claim the moral high ground, putting forward that in one way or another they have the game's best interests at heart. Instead things have gotten so bad that those masters of ethical practice FIFA have been brought into to sort stuff out. Anyway, that's where a lot of my less than informed reticence to discuss this particular matter comes from.

Like other issues that come up in Australian soccer these days, #prorelforaus is one that's embedded within the ultra-niche #sokkahtwitter culture; yet it's also managed to get more traction than #EraseNCIP ever could in all sorts of media circles. Even Elias Donoudis of Neos Kosmos chipped in with his opinion, urging people to get on with it sooner rather than later, adding in the slightly pithy piece of folk wisdom:
όποιος δεν θέλη να ζύμωση, 40 μέρες θα κοσκινιζει
('whoever doesn't want to knead, will spend 40 days sifting', with the 'whoever' replacing the less PC 'νοικοκυρά/housewife')
And while I'm a sucker for peasant sayings, each piece of folk wisdom also has its counterpoint saying. Anyway, in tune with those who want something to happen and for it to happen quickly, the Association of Australian Football Clubs has met recently and nutted out a few things, which is a good thing! It's not the be-all and end-all, because goodness knows a gabfest without any subsequent action is pointless. I've seen those kinds of things happen so often in all sorts of different spheres. But on the matter of the second division and such, they had this to say in a press release:
We intend to talk with all stakeholders, as well as complete some financial modelling from independent experts, ahead of publishing a report on the preferred model by the end of October.
October! Of this year! That seems like an awfully short turnaround time for an organisation that hasn't been around for all that long, but for those who know how to evaluate such things, it would be interesting to put this eventual model up against the sketchy modelling put up by the PFA, who have come out strongly against what they consider a cut-price semi-pro set up. I can see their point of view on this, from both their own self-interest and from a wider operations point of view. From their own point of view, a fully professional second tier means more PFA members. More full time professionals who are members of the PFA also means that their bargaining hand improves. There's also the hard-fought player welfare angle they've got in mind, but also the influence they've had as a collective in shaping the direction Australian soccer has taken.

South Melbourne chairman Nick Galatas in the thick of
 things at the AAFC meeting held recently. 
There's also of course the self-interest of the clubs, some of whom are no doubt interested in seeing the game progress out of the goodness of their own hearts, but the driving force for change comes mostly from another place. It's one of the reasons Crawford recommended eliminating the power of the clubs, as he had done with the VFL before. Keeping this in mind, many modern people fronting these clubs will be diplomatic and careful with their public words, but for some the thoughts of what is best for clubs is best for all is not that far from the surface - and lest one think I'm targeting only the dispossessed here, the A-League teams are no different when it comes to the manoeuvring they are trying to do to get on the FFA board.

There's always going to be argle-bargle on this but the issue is also tied up in the FFA's need to expand its voting structures. The AAFC want to get on the FFA board, as do the PFA, and of course the A-League licence holders. Being already represented by the states, it's difficult to see from my non-expert and very much outsider position how the AAFC could possibly get onto the FFA board. The A-League franchises, which generate most of the FFA's revenue because of the A-League broadcast rights will get some representation, and I don't see how the conceptual architects of so much that has happened in Australian soccer in recent years - the PFA - are going to be left stranded. That means that one way or another, the voting franchise will be made up of state votes that need to look after more than the interests of their NPL sides, and the A-League and PFA whose interests at this point in time lie in maintaining and refining the status quo.

For the South watchers though, there was also this:
The Board also welcomed the appointment of Nick Galatas of GPZ Legal as Legal and Regulatory Advisor to the Board, on the same voluntary basis as the AAFC Board.
which means that we're well involved in the goings on in this area, while still beating the South for A-League drum. It's nice to have something slightly different to occupy our time.

Then again...
If one doesn't care for my lacklustre enthusiasm for this topic, I'm always on the lookout for people to do guest pieces. South of the Border was never intended to be solely made up of my miserableness.

Final thought
There's a certain old foe which wears red, white and blue that's doing it a bit tough at the moment. Now I'm advocating sympathy, because goodness knows they'd be quick to dish it out if the positions were reversed. But it's always best to be careful what you mock, lest you become it. Greeks invented hubris, don't forget.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Notable Greeks of Melbourne artefact Wednesday

Well, lest one think that because  we spoke earlier in the week about one South Melbourne Hellas president that we have some sort of perverse agenda against our current nightmarish regime, here is a short piece which spreads the love to a despotic and nightmarish regime of an earlier, more innocent time.

Some time last year I think it was, while sitting on the outside tables at the Limerick Arms because we didn't have a social club at the time, that frequent artefact provider to South of the Border known as The Agitator lent us this book called The Greeks of Melbourne (published 1996) that he'd found in an op shop somewhere. Maybe it was even the Sacred Heart Mission shop just down the road from the pub. Clarendon Street's good like that.

The book is by someone named Dominique Francois De Stoop (who according to their own bio on the back had a very colourful career) which is not a very Greek name no matter how you try and spin it, and is unusual on that front for the fact that it's not a Greek writing this book because it's usually our deal to spin crap about how great we are.

Rather than going back and identifying every Greek that has ever done anything in Melbourne, the book msotly seems focused on contemporary Greek identities from all walks of life, and my goodness there are a lot of obscure people in there who happened to hit the jackpot by timing their burst of mediocre prominence to co-exist with the compilation of this book. Which is not to cast aspersions on any single one of those lucky souls, because soon enough the same will happen to this South of the Border correspondent in an upcoming book, and we'll all be the poorer for the experience and entertainment this fleeting bit of non-fame will provide.

Yes it's a terrible scan, but wait until you see the next one.
So anyway, The Greeks of Melbourne would surely have something about Hellenism's contribution to sport in Melbourne during this time. And because it would have that contribution to sport, surely soccer would be in there. And because soccer would be in there, surely there would be something about South Melbourne Hellas, but what exactly?

Well as it turns out, yes there is a section on sporting Greeks, and yes there is something about soccer, and yes there is something about South Melbourne Hellas. But for whatever reason this is limited to a brief biographical sketch of the club's then president, George Vasilopoulos.

For the record, here are the other names included in the sport section. Carlton footballer Ang Christou; his team mate Anthony Koutoufides; tennis player; Mark Philippoussis; super marathon runner Yiannis Kouros; taekwondo champion Lydia Zykkas; and er, Arthur Euriniadis, CEO of Collingwood Warriors. That not one Greek soccer player is included is perhaps interesting - maybe there were none good enough, or considered high profile enough - and instead we get two administrators to represent local Greek soccer.

The relevant biographical segment begins by noting that Vasilopoulos was the manager of a local bank branch, which is an extraordinarily dull thing to note except when you recall that so many slurs directed at the management of ethnic soccer clubs from those who mocked our capabilities focused on the 'fact' that our clubs were run by fish 'n chip shop owners, milk bar proprietors, and greengrocers. First, as if there is anything wrong with those kinds of people running a club at any level; second, in our case it just wasn't true. Surely the more important thing would be that the people running the joint were not out of their depth, and not their origins? Besides which, soccer in Victoria and probably across the country is so much more dependent on the health and wellbeing of the construction industry than anything else.

You want to read this? Click on it in order make it bigger.
The section on Vasilopoulos continues to trundle along aimlessly, providing a prosaic recap of George's life before finally getting to his involvement at South Melbourne Hellas, and then after just one paragraph, quickly returns to talking about George's life independent of South Melbourne Hellas.

Oh, but what commentary on our club in that brief space allocated to it. Vasilopoulos claims that the club had 3,500 paying members and expected to have 10,000 members by the year 2000. I am amazed by these assertions on so many levels. There is of course the 3,500 claim, because popular legend has it that our record was 2,700 at some point in the early 2000s. Then you have the ambition to reach 10,000, which just seems out of this world.

But take note also of the expectation that the club's new facilities would be a key factor in attracting new members, and what may otherwise come across as merely an obscure oddball comment suddenly has a kind of relevance to our present situation. After all, has not Bill Papastergiadis of our A-League bid team made similar comments about our club currently having 6,500 members? Does the club not hope that the people who will come to use our futsal court will in time come to our games, and in turn become South supporters? Sometimes it seems as if time is neither a straight line nor a circle, but rather just us sitting on the same spot forever. I'm sure some notable physicist has proven that to be the case anyway.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Making people happy - Melbourne Knights 0 South Melbourne 2

Kristian Konstantinidis goes over the top of his Knights opponent.
Photo: Melbourne Knights.
In the match report for the last time these teams we played each other, I noted that it fit almost perfectly into Knights fans' ideas of how they always lose to us - that is, after dominating and creating a ton of chances, they concede some arsey goal and lose the game. Yesterday wasn't quite like that, but the second half had enough to make what was a middling game that much more enjoyable. Because while the three points are pleasant and useful, especially as we didn't play that well, the manner in which we won while not objectively pleasing on aesthetic, it was pleasing on the 'sick burn' front.

In terms of the lineup, Stefan Zinni was in for Jesse Daley, and Michael Eagar came back into the team after a two week absence replacing not Kristian Konstantinidis, but rather Luke Adams. Zinni would eventually get subbed off in the second half, while Konstantinidis did some good and less good things - the good being offering a real aerial threat from attacking set pieces, his high leap being a feature - but also perhaps choosing to dive in too often for my taste.

Assorted concerned citizens check to see if Knights' player Nikola Jurkovic
is OK. Photo: Melbourne Knights.
We started the game quite well, dominated the first half, and should have gone in to half time further ahead than the 1-0 scoreline. Still, Marcus Schroen's goal from 25-30 yards out was magnificent, especially because it got a deflection which added to the luck factor. Other than that, we weren't good enough in the final third against what has been a flimsy defensive line. Apart from a late flurry by Knights where they failed to take advantage of a Nikola Roganovic spill, the most notable thing to happen in the first half was a melee from a behind the scenes incident involving Schroen. That melee at least followed on from the melee during the under 20s game earlier on.

Tensions being so high, it was a credit to the South fans who took the banter of the flag waving Knights children and their calls of 'Hellas, up your arse' with such good grace. Luckily for us those fearsome future hooligans had vacated the area behind the southern goal, so we could move there for the second half and create a good effect for SMFC video, which is what it's all about these days.

The second half by us was not so good. We gave Knights far too much possession and territory, a lot of corners, and survived mostly thanks to a goal line clearance, the crossbar, and Knights' woeful finishing. As the match wore on however, I was not so concerned. As some of you may have observed, I've watched quite a few Knights games this season, and I became confident that they wouldn't score. On that point, someone noted that Jason Hicks is probably the only ex-player of ours in recent times who hasn't come back to haunt us, that must of course come with an asterisk because Hicks didn't actually play a game for us.

Cheer up CT! You're the manager of the winning team!
Photo: Melbourne Knights.
Watching through the goal net and the large black net, I probably had no idea how close Knights were actually getting to scoring. But even after the game's most controversial incident, I didn't think there would be cosmic justice directed Knights way. The incident in question was farcical even by Oz soccer officiating standards. A ball to the back post saw Lujic handle the ball in a contest, and Knights captain-coach Ben Surey assume that handball had been called - or that the ball had gone out, I'm not sure which - and catch the ball and get ready for a goal kick. The referee, having not called the Lujic handball, called a penalty for Surey's handling of the ball - which was still in the field of play - and then all sorts of confusion laughter and pleading broke loose.

Eventually the officials made the right decision and overturned the penalty, but who knows what their thought process was to get to that conclusion. After one more Knights chance, we eventually got our sealing goal. Good work by Brad Norton to take a throw in on the wing quickly when he might have chosen to slow play down, equally good work by the People's Champ to provide the option on the win catching the Knights' defense half asleep, and one decent cross to the back post later, Milos Lujic finishing it off with a header that snuck across the line at the opposite post.

All in all, a top night out despite the cold and the pretty small crowd, a Knights portion of which apparently started tearing into each other after the game, which is none of our business when I think about it. With Heidelberg's loss today, we've reclaimed top spot on goal difference from the Bergers. We're also equal on points with Bentleigh, but they have played an extra game compared to the top two.

Next game
Hume away on Saturday.

Gods and clods, and a bee in my bonnet
For the upcoming FFA Cup game against Edgeworth, one area I would've expected there to be unavoidable issues would've been access to the social club. I mean, the joint fits what, 300 people sitting and standing, which is perfectly acceptable for our bread and butter state league needs. But I didn't expect the club to shoot itself in the foot quite like this.

For you see, rather than opening up the social club early so that members and other people can arrive there early for a meal, the social club space has been set aside - from 5PM until 7PM - for a corporate event hosted by the club. While ordinary members and punters will be able to attend that function, it will set them back either $70 or $90 to do so.

This is especially galling for those like myself who have purchased a social club membership in part for the benefit of preferential access to the social club on busy days. The club is entitled to leverage off big match days in all sorts of ways. It should not aim to do so at the expense of ordinary members. If the club was worried about capacity, they could've taken reservations, with priority for social club members - after all, wasn't that the point of the social club membership?

There must be a very good reason why the club cannot host this function in the upstairs reception space, or as others have noted, in the President's Room itself where all these corporate big-shots and assorted one game wonders will end up anyway. I have not heard a good reason for this. If this is being done in the best interests of the club, isn't the club the membership? Are we that hard up for cash that the club feels it needs to effectively lock out members until as late as possible, unless they pay a supplementary fee?

Arguments that there's only a half hour difference to the amount of pre-game social club access people would usually get, and that an hour for the pleb supporter is enough, are outright nonsense. This is a midweek game, and much as it irks me to say this of the FFA Cup, it is a special occasion. People were looking forward to getting to the social club early on to spend more time there than they usually would, to buy more food and drink than they usually would, to be in the company of their fellow South fans for longer than they usually would.

Remarkably, without any prompting from South of the Border, several fans have sent emails to the club about this decision, and as long they are civil in their approach, I applaud the initiative. It probably won't change anything, but at least it lets the club know that there are people who aren't happy. I must admit I was appalled at one of the responses a fan received from president Leo Athanasakis, who asked the relevant fan 'where he got his information from?'. Well, it was from the information the club put out itself.

The most incomprehensible comment from the president (on Twitter) was that the social club doors would've otherwise opened only an hour and half before the game at the earliest. Is he implying that there would somehow not be enough interest from fans to turn up early, yet simultaneously enough interest that the club could charge a minimum $70 entry fee for early access? And furthermore, as one fellow pointed out to me during a discussion about this today, if this was a business networking opportunity thingamabob, why not have a cocktail party in the President's Room where people can actually move and you know, network?

I'm not one for taking up extreme and knee-jerk pro or anti board positions, but sometimes they need to cop a serious bake when they pull stunts like this. The good thing is that having not had a social club for seven years before this season, I'm well aware of what's on offer from the many quality restaurants and pubs on Clarendon Street and its surrounds. Those of you who are happy to stump up the cash for the club's function, have fun. Those who resent what's happened here can join the rest of us up the road somewhere, or you can sulk on the front steps.

Anyway, that's all I have to say on the matter. I've had my grumble.

Around the grounds
It's official - I am a distraction
Let's get the prosaic stuff out of the way. Essendon Royals (coached by Michael Curcija) have even lower credibility than the rump state that was late Byzantium. Altona East (coached by Alan Davidson) at least have access to a proper ground, even if they're lower on the table and looking likely for relegation after losing this fairly dud game 1-0. East also have better souvs, which shouldn't need to be said, but so does every club who doesn't put tasty cheese on them which congeals while the pre-made souvs wait in the bain marie. Here's where it gets a bit weird. Me and a few other blokes decided to watch the game from the behind the goals East was attacking in each half. Ormond Park is an open ground, with various combination of string and portable metal barriers spread out to act as a marker for where spectators should stand behind. First half, stood behind one of those barriers. Second half, stood behind one of those barriers. No problem. Until about 70 minutes in that is, when referee Harry Milas decided that our small group was a distraction to him. We were behind the arbitrary fence line, we weren't talking loudly or to the Royals goalkeeper, but yet we were told to move about ten metres to the right. It ruined a perfectly adequate afternoon of boredom.

Final thought
Rumour has it that a certain rotund lovable larrikin, having decided to go up to Sydney for the Arsenal tour, and having made a 'Wenger out' banner at some expense, ended up having nowhere to put this expensive banner at the game.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Pumpkin Seed Eater Origins artefact Wednesday

Way back in the mists of time, the NSL was still dead, but the A-League had not yet officially begun. In those days, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, as well as trepidation - and anticipation - of what the A-League would bring.

Many people had chosen sides, while a lot of other people hedged their bets. In amid the clamouring, there were many op-eds. and roving reporters, and prognostications. Would it work? Would the tribes be united? 

In Melbourne, this situation was probably more heated than anywhere else; one can speculate in their own time why that might have been.

Forums (remember them?) old and new were filled with passionate arguments and open hostility. Many were willing to offend, and many more were willing to be offended.

Come to think of it, that seems a lot like the present, too.

One of the most contentious (relatively speaking) comments made during that time was often attributed to then Melbourne Victory majority (or was he outright? Doesn't matter.) owner Geoff Lord.

He was accused of calling the old soccer guard 'pumpkin seed eaters'. 

Of course, later on the phrase 'pumpkin seed eaters' would be taken up by a podcast of the same name, one which others enjoyed more than myself. 

Then, as the arguments for and against got stale, and as 'three years tops' became many more, the phrase slipped out of the Australian soccer lexicon. 

But what was the context for that statement? How did people come to hear of this utterance? That seemed to get lost in the wash somewhat.

The answer lies, at least partly, in this week's artefact. In the Wednesday July 13th 2005 edition of Goal Weekly (remember print journalism, kiddies?), in Eddie Krncevic's 'Krncevic's Korner' segment - why did I think it was Krncevic's Krunchlines? - where Eddie opines on said incident.

Right off the bat, Krncevic makes it clear he didn't hear the comments made himself, nor does he name the person involved. And while Krncevic is concerned at the offence caused, he doesn't see it as a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination, only more of a misstep that should not be repeated if Victory and the A-League were to succeed in Melbourne.

Of course, as with many of these kinds of 'outrages', though they were heartfelt by many of those who were listening at the time, the fact of the matter was that most weren't - just as today most Australian soccer followers or participants have no idea of the debates being had on Twitter and the remaining forums and blogs.

Besides which, as was noted by a member of the Victory forum at the time, even one of the blokes who sold pumpkin seeds at Lakeside ended up outside Victory games anyway.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Warriors, come out to play! North Geelong 1 South Melbourne 5

They tried to make me move from my spot, and failed miserably.
Gains and my ride to the ground underestimated how long it would take him to get to my place. No matter - all the more time while waiting for him to talk about the Russian literature on my shelf both read (Gogol, Nabokov, Tolstoy) and unread (Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn), and the prosaic, surface level differences between Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World.  Once on our way, the inbuilt satellite navigation system thought that Lara was too vague of a suggested destination, but we figured it out eventually. I traded stories with the driver about visits to various prisons and courts of the land - a far cry from having aircraft swoop in front of you while sitting in the president's car, but that's no slight on the amenities provided on the day.

Despite needing to make a u-turn along the way, we got to the ground early enough to enjoy lunch (delicious but slightly undersized raznjici roll, overpriced and poor excuse for a cheese burek) and the second half of the under 20s game. Unlike the senior match, which was second place and against second last, this was first (them) vs second (us), and good on the boys for rallying from behind to win 4-2 and take top spot with a game in hand. More importantly, the style of football played by our boys was so good that the opposition coach - a rather excitable fellow, if we're being honest - was moved to praise them as the best team in the league, and the best ball playing team in the competition to boot.
We watched the referees warm up, marveled at them having to ask which of our staff was the South Melbourne coach, and then waited to see which side we'd be kicking to in the first half.  Having picked our viewing spot and in no way apologising for it, not even now, the senior game was about to start and I felt unusually confident that we'd get through pretty easily - probably because I've been reading too many Ante Jukic reports about how ordinary North Geelong have played this season, and especially in recent weeks. The inclusion of Marcus Schroen for Leigh Minopoulos didn't phase me - I figured it was all part of the rotation policy, and that Schroen's more physical style might suit the dodgy surface a bit better.

One of the great attractions of visiting Elcho Park is finding
 yourself in the presence of this homage to the wonderfully
 stupid  
cult classic 1979 film 'The Warriors'. Photo: Gains.
Even Michael Eagar's absence due to illness - meaning another start for Kristian Konstantinidis - didn't bother me, and while I was annoyed at falling behind early on, I wasn't as crestfallen as I'd usually be in the circumstances. And soon enough Schroen put the People's Champ through one-on-one with the keeper, and we were back on level terms. Not too long after that, Konstantinidis was left all alone at the back of the six yard box from a corner, and his header led to a goalmouth scramble finished off by Schroen. At this early stage, the surface didn't seem to be bothering us too much, and we were playing quite well along the ground for the most part, much more than I thought we'd do. It would have been nice to have had a bigger lead at the break, because strange things can always happen, and North looked more lively and dangerous than I'd expected them to.

But Schroen's second goal early in the second half more or less put paid to this contest, and even though North kept coming, the gulf in class was too great. Schroen got his hat-trick, allowing Milos Lujic to be subbed off early for Stefan Zinni, as well as giving Tim Mala and Bhardi Hysolli some game time. Depth is just one of the differences between the haves and have-nots of this league, and we're fortunate to have some. The highlight of the afternoon was undoubtedly Matthew Foschini getting forward and scoring our fifth goal of the afternoon, and just as notably his first for the club in his nearly sixty match stint - which he celebrated with gusto. He then somehow sent a header from inside the six yard box over the bar.

I think everyone felt we could've, and perhaps should've come out of this game with an extra goal or two, but we also came close to conceding on a couple of occasions, so the four goal win is not a letdown by any stretch of the imagination. With regards the race for top spot, the Bergers managed to edge past the Knights 1-0 this afternoon, so we're still three points behind - but at least we made up some of the goal difference we gave up last week. We're now on +21 to Heidelberg's +23.

Yes, it's true: Joe Gorman, South of the Border's 4th or 5th biggest fan, has
a book coming out about Australian soccer, the NSL, multiculturalism,
 and why promotion/relegation in Australian soccer will probably never
 happen. It's also got curmudgeons, and is out on July 31st via UQP.
Next game
Away to Melbourne Knights on Friday; or in other words, just an average Friday night out for me in 2017. The Knights are still in relegation playoff danger, but it's a 'derby' and they've seemingly turned a bit of a corner the last couple of weeks. The squad rotation and horses for courses approaches used in recent weeks might be in for an interesting time - one would expect Eagar to come back into the side, but Schroen's hat-trick - even if two of those goals were from a couple of yards out against lowly opposition - do in theory at least provide somewhat of a selection headache.

Upcoming fixture news
It's some time away yet, but our round 24 match away to Pascoe Vale has been moved from Friday July 28th to Saturday July 29th. The kick off times have also been adjusted, with the seniors kicking off at 7:00PM, and the under 20s at 5:00PM. These changes have been made to better accommodate our FFA Cup match against Edgeworth Eagles.

So they added a marketing person, how cute
After laying dormant during the the bulk of the last three and a bit months - coincidentally the best three and a half months of our season - South's A-League bid machine is kicking back into gear. While one could get upset, this was to be expected - after all, we're approaching an FFA Cup national stage date, and so you've got to make hay while the sun shines.

Before we move on, I am aware that by using that metaphor for this situation, I'm ignoring the advice of George Orwell in his famous essay 'Politics and the English language' to come up with new metaphors which are relevant to the age we live in. There's obviously a property developer adaptation to 'making hay while the sun shines' that would fit in beautifully, but since I'm lousy with metaphors at the best of times, I'm going to leave it up you, dear readers, to suggest it in the comments section. I can't do all the work around here.

Anyway, the gist of the article is that the extant A-League bid advisory committee will become the inaugural board of a South Melbourne bid in the event that it is granted an A-League licence. That means that the current A-League bid advisory committee made up of:
  • lawyer Bill Papastergiadis (current South Melbourne Hellas board member)
  • property developer Gabrielle Giuliano (also a current South Melbourne Hellas board member)
  • property developer Louisa Chen (South Melbourne's current major sponsor)
  • and consultant Andrew Thompson (former federal sports minister)
  • 'marketing expert' Michael McEwan (recently added to the bid team)
will move on unelected by the South Melbourne Hellas membership to become the operators of the South Melbourne A-League franchise, in the event that South Melbourne is given the green light by FFA - or whoever FIFA puts in charge of running the game here. Amid the vague fluffiness of the piece and lines like "History is something to be proud of” and “South Melbourne is all about what’s ahead", details like:
  • who is going to pay for this?
  • what will be South Melbourne Hellas' stake in this?
  • who or what is going to run this, and do we - South Melbourne Hellas members - get to have any say in the matter?
remain for the vast majority of us very much up in the air. Because while some (maybe even most - I've not done a survey) current South Melbourne Hellas fans will be happy to have an A-League presence dependent on a privately funded model which leverages our name, history and remnant cultural cachet, others will not.

The bid team remain deliberately vague on these and other issues - understandably so within the context of not showing all your cards just yet. Suffice to say though, that for those who had hoped that a wholly or even majority owned South Melbourne A-League franchise was possible, this seems to put another dent in those aspirations. Those people will have to either try to find a way of doubling down on the promotion/relegation and second divisions angles, or do some rationalising along Port Power/Port Adelaide Magpies lines.

Looking further ahead, it will be interesting to see if members of this bid/possible future South Melbourne affiliated A-League team board other than Papastergiadis and Giuliano will turn up to the AGM to answer questions from the membership - that's if those other members of the bid are members of the club I suppose. The best thing about all this is A-League expansion could be pushed back until 2019/20 - so we could be dealing with this stuff for even longer. Not that any of that matters.

Intermittent poetry corner (vale Fay Zwicky)
The Australian poet Fay Zwicky died the other week, which bears no relevance to South Melbourne whatsoever. But permit me, dear reader, to bumble along in digression as I am sometimes prone to doing on South of the Border, in writing about a particular poem of Zwicky's.

Before there was the Heavy Sleeper's guide to the 2014 World Cup on Shoot Farken, there was Fay Zwicky's poem 'World Cup Spell'. I can't say I'm much of a poetry buff - ask Ian Syson, he reckons I kill just about any poem I read out loud - but I know what I like when it comes to poetry, and I like this one.

The Homeric epithets are used playfully, rather than in Homer's purpose's of repetition and fitting into his rhyming and mnemonic scheme - and why not? This is a short poem about a peculiar kind of solitude experienced within a shared global moment, not an epic being transmitted down the years by bards to a largely illiterate people relying on oral traditions.

The 'hollow anglo saxon silence' is a my favourite line, though it must be looked at in very specific terms - 'anglo-saxon' here meaning Australia, not England. It's a lament and a snapshot of the cultural obliviousness (more likely, and less judgemental) or perhaps even wilful ignorance (less likely, and more judgemental) of mainstream Australian culture. That's my take on it anyway, and the angle I find most relevant to my thesis work - that, and the poem's combination of sport and art, which are uneasy bedfellows at the best of times in our culture.

Some might latch on to the blend word 'mediababble', and doubtless there's scope to wring out meaning from those five syllables, too. But that's for others to do; not 'the great curmudgeon, exploring his own misery'. As far as neo-Homeric epithet in-jokes go, that's a pearler.

Around the grounds
Life in the Forbidden Zone
Trekked out to Port Melbourne on Friday night for Port vs Pascoe Vale, a game of some importance to the finals race - Port trying to close the gap with a late run, Paco trying to consolidate their place in the six and put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack. I used my media pass to sit on the otherwise forbidden outer side, next to the Dodgy Asian Betting guy. A game can be both mediocre and entertaining at the same time. There were some crude tackles early on, but credit to the referee for pulling out the yellows when the received wisdom (which I loathe) is to let everyone have two or three cracks at each other first before punishment is due. I'm sure I've complained about this before in here, but I've never understood the tendency for leniency on the basis of 'it's still early in the game' - haven't most of these players been playing for a minimum of ten years already? Surely that's enough time to learn that a studs up challenge is of equal wrongness in both the 5th minute and the 95th minute? Oh, 'but it will ruin the game if you send someone off early'. Maybe the relevant player shouldn't be such a dropkick so early in the game then?

Anyway, as ordinary as this game was, Port had the lead early and were the better of the two sides a by a slim margin  Then one of their players got a second yellow card on the half hour mark, and Port didn't get close to scoring for the rest of the game. Pascoe Vale scored three times in the second half, which apart from earning them three points also helped calm down Pascoe Vale coach Vitale Ferrante, who had spent most of the game up to that point abusing his players. And while I don't agree with his conduct (while acknowledging that it had its own comedic qualities), somewhere in there was buried an interesting point - at what stage are senior soccer players in Australia expected to have the ability to organise themselves on the field? In a packed and noisy stadium, the coach's instructions struggle to be heard even at short distances; meanwhile at a suburban ground with at most 100 onlookers, a coach with a big voice is able to effectively yell and direct every single one of his players in real time. In Australia the difference between the two playing experiences are literally one step removed. So when do Australian players learn how to sort themselves out on a field independent of constant reinforcement from a coach? Isn't it a bit late by the time they turn fully professional?

Final thought
Thanks to Foti for giving myself and Gains a lift to and from the ground.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Coming up short - South Melbourne 1 Green Gully 2

Luke Adams puts in a cross during injury time. Photo: Cindy Nitsos. 
It's a good thing we've hit the month leading up the FFA Cup proper, and people have stopped caring about our league form. If the loss to Bentleigh in the Dockerty Cup semi final didn't freak out anybody, and a scratchy win against Oakleigh was overshadowed by the antics of Dr Aki, then yesterday was just plain old disappointing. And while some have sought to make claims for being unlucky, or counting it as a sort of blessing for shaking us out of our complacency - a necessary wake up call coming into the squeaky bum time of the season - I would've preferred we got the points and deal with the complacency in a different way.

And to think that we started this game off so well, with our most blistering counter-attack goal since forever. It looked like a fully fledged credible professional goal. Not some fluke long bomb, not a goal mouth scramble, not some dire defensive error, but a ridgy-didge team goal executed with flair and polish. Then we sat back, or least gave Gully too much room to waltz around the middle of the park. I'm not sure if it was an instruction, or something instinctive in the players as a whole, but it has happened on a few occasions this season where we've given the opposition to show initiative for reasons I'm not able to understand - neither do I exactly know who to blame.

I speculate that there was some instruction to sit back from Chris Taylor, because Leigh Minopoulos was sitting quite deep and playing pretty close to Matthew Foschini. Leigh's a good player, but he's not necessarily a defensive or grunt style player, so it seemed odd to me that he'd be so far back. I said to a mate I reckon he'd be subbed for Stefan Zinni, and lo and behold, that's almost what happened in the second half - though instead of Zinni, it was David Barca Moreno who replaced Leigh. But more on that later.

The absence of Michael Eagar due to suspension didn't help matters - his reading of the play both at centre back and on his forays to defensive mid to clean up attacks has been a big part of our turnaround in form. Kristian Konstantinidis, finally back after his long suspension, filled in for Eagar, but it didn't quite feel the same. This is understandable, because Konstantinidis has been out of the game for ages. Still, it was a general issue across the park. Gully's first goal from a corner was the tip of the iceberg - we'd been struggling to clear our lines, and it was only right that they'd pull the goal back from a goal mouth scramble.

That's not to say that we'd given up attacking, and we had our fair share of moments in the first half, but our execution let us down. But the sloppy play cost us at the other end of the ground as well, when Jesse Daley's misplaced pass in midfield, and Jonathan Bounas being allowed to ungracefully stroll through midfield by Daley and Luke Pavlou and launch a bomb. So, 2-1 down at half time, and in the second half more casual defending gifted Gully the chance to extend their lead.

But credit to the South boys, they had by far the better of the second half. A pity that our crosses were dealt with too easily most of the time, and that luck wasn't on our side. But you also make your own luck, and Daley being carded in the box for a dive, and then Millar (the latter at least probably a slip than simulation, but he was certainly claiming the foul).

Nick Epifano shot high from the edge of the area when he should've at least hit the target. Barca Moreno, who did little of note during his stint, missed an open header in injury time - a sharp chance, yes, but one he should score. And Milos Lujic thought he'd be smart and put his penalty shot (earned by a Zinni run) straight down the middle, again, but Lewis Spine didn't fall for it. The short corner played at the death was the stuff of a million South Melbourne short corner nightmares.

The loss is a setback, because having worked so hard to work our way to a share of top spot, we've fallen behind both in terms of points (three behind Heidelberg) and lost a good chunk of goal difference because of the Bergers' solid 4-0 win at North Geelong. Seeing as we have Avondale, Bentleigh, Hume and Pascoe Vale to play - as well as the desperate Knights and Kingston, our aim of finishing top, while not gone by a long short, is now that much harder because of this loss. The saving grace may be

Next game
North Geelong away, in the first of four consecutive away matches. I'm looking forward to this one, except for the getting there and back part.

Social club still ironing out the kinks
There was more refinement in the social club menu, though nothing earth shattering. There was pastitsio on the specials board, and I saw South of the Border favourite Savvas Tzionis trying to make headway into what was a frankly ludicrously huge piece.

It was also the first home game in quite some time with the under 20s playing in the curtain raiser. That meant that at least nominally, membership cards should have been scanned and tickets sold right from the start of the day. When having the women's team play the curtain raiser, FFV rules stipulate that club cannot charge for entry before half time of those games - this is because you're not allowed to charge entry for WNPL games.

But on Sunday, there was talk that entry to the venue was not necessarily effectively enforced. While I had my membership scanned, I didn't notice any security early on making sure people entering did the same or at least buy a ticket. To be fair, I think most people turning up did the right thing - and the security/bag check area outside the door leading to the arena was manned, as usual and asking for proof of membership or tickets.

But it seems like both an inefficient and error prone process. I hope it gets sorted out soon.

So it's come to this, again - FFA Cup draw news
The short version is that we've been drawn at home against Edgeworth Eagles for the FFA Cup round of 32. Our match has been scheduled for Wednesday July 26th - the game will also be broadcast on Fox Sports.

The long version is of course much sadder than the short version, because this is what we live for now.

The club put up the notice that they would open up the social club for lunch while the draw was streamed, and yea verily they turned up in their, well, not too bad numbers all things considered. Of those expected to 'represent' in some sense, there were club employees, some board members, Brad Norton and Michael Eagar. As for the fans, it was made of the self-employed, the non-employed, and those within rock throwing distance of Lakeside - all waiting to see who'd we get put up against in this tournament which I loathe with, if not quite every fibre of my being, then at least those bits that I can spare.

Having flown up a number of coaches up to Sydney for the draw, it made sense that the whole thing would be dragged out for as long as it took, but you've got to pity those who took the day off work to do so and then ended up not being interviewed. Aside from having to do deal with Fox stretching the draw out, the lowlight was having to endure the drone of Kenny Lowe's voice. Call me juvenile, but the highlight of the broadcast for me was host Tara Ruhston being caught off-guard when an ad break finished early with the camera, catching her fixing something on her teeth. I don't know why I'm so easily amused when things go even momentarily and minutely wrong on TV.
In the social club there was an unofficial and not very strictly enforced social media embargo placed upon attendees, as the stream was of course on slight but noticeable delay compared to the television feed - you know, to keep the suspense within the social club space itself at a maximum. To be fair, it kinda worked. As numbers were plucked out of the bowl, there seemed to be the inevitable feeling that we'd draw Victory or Palm Beach Sharks Gold Coast City or one of the Victorian teams - though no one seemed to understand that the numbers had no intrinsic value in themselves, and that they were merely representative symbols - having no. 29 picked out is no different to having 156 picked - because no ball had an inherent numerical value,

Then Hume were drawn at home to Bentleigh, and everyone had a big laugh, though on reflection I'm not sure it was actually that funny. I suppose once we get bundled out at the first go again, we can take solace that one of those two will be joining us. And then out came whatever the number was for Edgeworth Eagles, pleasing some people up to a point, but otherwise seemingly leaving no faction happy. Those positively gagging for an A-League tie were left particularly disappointed. I suppose for some it's a missed chance to promote Lakeside as an A-League venue - I mean, in the event that we're still actively striving for that. For others, not going on an away trip was the bigger issue, and I can sympathise - although unlike those hoping for a tropical or exotic escapade - like - Darwin - I was hoping for Hobart or Canberra.

As for possible non-A League home games, Edgeworth aren't exactly anyone's first choice - I think some people would've preferred an old NSL rival. While I'm sure they'll bring down however many numbers that they can, Edgeworth aren't exactly a draw card team. Neither are they an obvious easy beat - after all, they did knock out Bentleigh last year in the national NPL playoffs. In a sense, given the unlikelihood of a big crowd turning up - prove me wrong, bandwagon brigade! - there's not much to gain here for South except progression to the next round. Which, when I think about it, is actually kind of quaint - the event is taking place almost for its own sake. Maybe I've finally found the way I can get on board this farce of a tournament.

Others might be able to make do with spurious nostalgia.
But those people who wanted something where we'd clean up thanks to a big pay day - especially one particular mover and shaker who insisted the draw had been rigged beforehand to put us up against Victory - have been left disappointed. To which I say, suffer in your jocks chin up kiddo, maybe next time. Be like me and remember that of course there's also the usual fact that we have so much to lose - a disappointing crowd and/or a another loss would add to that multi--faceted on the back.

Congratulations to...
South Melbourne WNPL goalscoring machine Melina Ayres, who has been selected for the Young Matildas squad to play a series of preparation matches against Canada and the USA in Canberra, in preparation for the  AFC U19 Women’s Championships. Of course, Ayres having been picked for the Young Matildas before this selection and before she came to South, so it's not like we can take all the credit, but it's a nice thing nevertheless. Someone else is going to have step into the goal scoring breach in her place though, which will be tough as our lead at the top of WNPL ladder is back doiwn to one point after a 3-3 draw away to Geelong in Torquay.

Around the grounds
Yes, we also sell socks at our pro-shop on match days. 
Yes I ended up at a freezing and half blackout affected Somers Street on Friday night for Knights vs Avondale. Watching Knights lose has gotten a bit dull, so I was here to see Avondale as much as anything. Good old Avondale, the team going 1.2222222222222222 goals a game and yet not far off top spot with a couple of games in hand. They led this game early thanks to a penalty, but for those hoping for a Knights collapse, it didn't come. The home side pulled a goal back before the break, and while the game justly ended in a draw, the Knights were the unluckier of the two sides not to pick up all three points. Those who had written Knights off entirely for this season have probably jumped the gun a bit, and one expects a tough encounter for South in two weeks time.

Overclocked
Saturday afternoon was probably the last Paisley Park derby for some time. Altona East were coming off a rare win the week before, but still in second last and in the firing line for relegation to State League 2. Altona Magic have streaked this league, as everyone has expected them to, and promotion to NPL 2 is only a matter of time. It's not unreasonable however to suggest that Magic have overdone the spend this season in pursuit of that aim. Players the calibre of Amadu Koroma, Marinos Gasparis, Joey Franjic, Jason Hayne, and James McGarry make it so much easier. These are all players who should be either in NPL or at worst playing for clubs pushing for promotion in NPL 2. East set up defensively as you'd expect, did well to limit Magic to not much for 44 minutes, then copped a long range effort which hit the crossbar twice and which may or may not have gone in. The out of position linesman gave his assent, and East were stuffed from then on. Two more goals to Magic saw them win this in a saunter. It was actually pretty dull.

Final thought
Credit to the People's Champ for showing some maturity in getting Jesse Daley away from the referee and the Gully players after Daley was booked for diving. Minus credit for the cheap shot the People's Champ gave to a Gully opponent in midfield when he thought the referee wasn't looking.