Friday, 30 September 2016

September 2016 digest

In case you missed it...
We won the grand final!

Social club news

AGM date news
Not yet.

Arrivals and departures
Early days of course. So far looking forward to 2017 we can assume that the following players will be with us next season:
Players whose contract status I'm unsure of:
Players we can safely assume are gone:
  • Iqi Jawadi, who appeared to walk out on the club prior to the end of the regular season.
As for everyone else, most of their contracts end this year, so anything one adds to that will be pure speculation.

Seeing red
After a recent and admittedly also persistent discussions throughout 2016, South of the Border's request to friend of the blog Gains to compile a list of all the red cards that were dished out in South matches this year, along with the scoreline at the time of the dismissal. Gains has also been good enough to add a coding system (see below) to remind our readers of how the red cards were earned.
  1. Violent conduct
  2. Denying obvious goal scoring opportunity
  3. 2nd Yellow Card
Community Shield
  • Bentleigh Greens (away): Epifano (1), score at red card 0-3 down
  • Heidelberg United (home): Theodoridis (2) 3-0 up. South Melbourne assistant coach Chris Marshall also possibly sent to the stands.
  • Northcote City (away): None.
  • Port Melbourne (away): None.
  • Bulleen Lions (away): None.
  • Richmond (away): Niagoran (3) 3-5.
  • Hume City (away): Tavsancioglu (3) 0-0.
  • Bentleigh Greens (home): Kirk (3) 1-1.
  • Oakleigh Cannons (home): Black (3) 4-1. South coach Chris Taylor sent to stands.
  • Melbourne Victory (home): None.
  • Avondale (away): None.
  • Melbourne Knights (away): Miskulin (2) 3-2.
  • Pascoe Vale (home): Milardovic (2) 0-0.
  • Green Gully (away): None.
  • Heidelberg United: None.
  • Northcote City (home): None.
  • Port Melbourne (home): None.
  • Bulleen (home): None.
  • Richmond (home): None.
  • Hume City (home): Mala (?) 2-2, Chris Taylor and Hume City assistant coach Zoran Markovski sent to stands.
  • Bentleigh Greens (away): Adams (2) 1-0, Ibrahim (1) 1-1.
  • Oakleigh Cannons (away): Konstantinidis (2) 0-0.
  • Melbourne Victory (away): None.
  • Avondale (home): None.
  • Melbourne Knights (home): Miskulin (3) 1-0
  • Pascoe Vale (away): Nakic (2) 0-1, Pavlidis (2) 2-1. Pascoe Vale coach Vitale Ferrante sent to stands.
  • Green Gully (home): None.
  • Hume (home): None.
  • Heidelberg United (away): Way (1) 0-1.
  • Oakleigh Cannons ('Neutral'): Chiapetta (3) 3-1.
  • Keysborough ('home'/John Cain): None.
  • Altona Magic (away): Bozinovski (3) 2-0.
  • North Geelong ('away'/SS Anderson): None.
  • Bentleigh Greens (away): Eagar (3) 0-2.
  • South Melbourne: 5 (3 League, 1 Cup, 1 Shield)
  • Opposition: 14 (13 League, 1 Cup)
With the new FIFA ruling starting just before Euros (no double punishment), both reds in the Pascoe Vale away game should be yellow and penalty for both offenders. If we extend it to earlier fixtures, the red for Theodoridis and Milardovic also fell into the same category.

2017 WNPL application 
As expected South has shown its intent in applying for a WNPL licence for next season. The brief press release focuses mostly on South Melbourne's sense of itself as having past pedigree in women's football, and also on the measures taken in recent times to treat women's football more equitably.

No detail on the finer points - such as the status of SMWFC, as well as naming issues -, but one would expect that to be in the bid itself, and revealed in the event that South Melbourne FC is awarded a place in next year's WNPL.

Match programmes
Not a lot to report here, but I will hopefully be making more of an effort with some non-South materials that I've had sitting around for a long time.
2002/03, Round 1, Newcastle United away 
2007, Round 21, Melbourne Knights away - pretty ugly to be honest

Around the grounds
Going up, going down
So the NPL grand final wasn't the end of the season. No, there were state league finals and promotion battles to be sorted; the NPL national playoffs, which Bentleigh botched by losing 3-1 at home NNSW team Edgeworth - that loss means that FFA Cup qualification for Victoria will once again be limited to four teams; and the NPL/NPL2 relegation-promotion playoff between Richmond and North Geelong. Once again there was a gap of several weeks for the NPL candidate to wait until the NPL2 season was finished and the best second placed side identified. In that game, North Geelong had beaten Dandenong Thunder, whose ineligible player penalty against Nunawading of all teams will potentially haunt them. Meanwhile Richmond faced the prospect of going straight back down to NPL2.

The game was played out at Oakleigh, apparently because Oakleigh had applied to host the game. Too bad they forgot that they were hosting a birthday party in their club rooms, which meant that the crowd of let's say 500 odd people who were there to watch the game could not get any food or drink during the game. After the heat that FFV copped for their management of the NPL grand final at Lakeside, this was a more low key shambles, but a shambles nevertheless. The game itself saw North Geelong take an early lead from the penalty spot, then sit back and try to absorb pressure and hit on the counter. Richmond thus had most of the ball, but never really looked like doing anything important with it - even though they managed to hit the woodwork twice, effective entries into the their opponent's 18 yard box were few.

The second half was more of the same - another penalty to North, another goal - and instead of making changes then and there, Richmond's coach waited until they were 3-0 down before doing something about the situation other than moving Nick Niagoran (who was tightly marked throughout) central from his wide position. 4-0 as the final score was a bit rough perhaps, and one can see North struggling to avoid relegation in 2017 if they rely on the same personnel and the same ultra conservative game plan. For Richmond, a few of the players out there on the night may get picked up by NPL vultures - Niagoran is young enough to warrant another chance; Brian Bran, if he lost a few kilos he'd be as handy as during his Thunder days; fullback Kris Kioussis (who trialled at South during the 2016 pre-season) - but a few others have surely hit the wall, such as Hamlet Armenian, and perhaps even Jake Barker-Daish, who offered almost nothing in this contest.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

South of the Border Awards 2016

Clearly I put as much thought and care into these things as I usually do.

Player of the year: Nikola Roganovic, who apart from Milos Lujic, almost singlehandedly kept us near the top of the table, and who pulled off two wonder saves in the grand final. Apologies to Milos Lujic, who would have won it any other year.

Under 21 player of the year: The Cliff Hussey Memorial Trophy goes to Matthew Millar. This is especially pertinent once I realised he was only 20, and not something like 23. Apologies to no one else.

Goal of the year: Iqi Jawadi away at Port Melbourne. A goal so good, it destroyed his South career. Marcus Schroen would have won it if he scored from that free kick in the grand final, or from any free kick for that matter, because no one scores from free kicks for us pretty much ever.

Best performance: Round 1, Bergers at home. Maybe I should have picked a game where we didn't win thanks in part to a red card, but good luck finding that game. Apologies to the first seventy minutes or so against Bentleigh in the league - you were scuttled by a) bad coaching and b) losing.

Best away game of the year: Victory away. 'So much to do at Cartmanland, but you can't come' and all that. Apologies to those of you who couldn't get in to that game, and for whom the best away game would probably have been the Heidelberg semi-final I suppose.

Call of the year: The Melbourne Knights fan at Somers Street who abused the officials (who got the relevant offside call and subsequent red card absolutely right, then abused MFootball's commentary team accusing them of being biased because he thought they were working for Greek radio. Apologies to myself for several witty comments made throughout the year.

Chant of the year: '6-5, on aggregate!' You shouldn't hand out such awards to yourself, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and that chant probably saved a few people from going catatonic with rage that night. Apologies to 'thanks for beating Bentleigh' from the grand final.

Best pre-match/after match dinner location: Nasi lemak at Old Town White Coffee. Apologies to the fifty bazillion Korean fried chicken places we went to. No apologies to places that sponsored the club, because you all dropped the ball at some point.

Friends we (apparently) lost along the way:Another umbrella. Maybe Skip Fulton. Possibly West of the Quarry.

Barely related to anything stupidity highlight of the year: Steve from Broady's initial itinerary for his trip to Perth to watch the Socceroos vs Iraq. Unfortunately he came to his senses and avoided creating a sequel to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

No Kevin Nelson artefact Wednesday - VPL 2006 Champions T-Shirt

This Saturday marks ten years since the 2006 VPL grand final, where we beat Altona Magic 1-0. To mark the occasion, South put out a commemorative championship t-shirt with the names of every player who played for South that year. All except one, that is. Striker Kevin Nelson's name does not appear on the t-shirt, for reasons which do not remain clear. Nelson's contract was terminated following a 2-0 win away at Melbourne Knights, during which he came off injured. Nelson took the matter to arbitration of some sort, the result of which I'm not certain. Just about everyone else who had a hand in that championship - other players who left, players who barely played, the massage therapist - managed to get on the shirt, but Nelson - who scored seven goals in 18 league appearances - did not. Now I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but I do suspect that this omission was deliberate, in which case it's a callous way of rewriting history.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Bruno told us so! South Melbourne 3 Oakleigh Cannons 2

Thank goodness we won because otherwise doing stuff all work during the week (except for reading the first essay in Josef Pieper's 1948 book Leisure, the Basis of Culturewould have been considered a tremendous waste of time.

Sleep was hard to come by the night before the game, but the nerves only really kicked in about 11:30 on Sunday morning as I was on the train on my way to the Limerick Arms for the pre-match drinks session. It took a while for people to filter towards the pub - the late start maybe dissuaded people from getting there at noon - but soon enough there was a good turnout there, with plebs and civic leaders paying due homage if you know what I mean. 

There was some good chanting from those who felt like chanting before a game, politeness shown towards the elderly couple who had to make their way through the crowd outside the pub, and hilarious gags such as,
'Hey, we should change our name to Social Media FC - we'd still be able to use the SMFC acronym.'
And one other heinous joke about making a movie about South's overcoming adversity in 2016 that's probably not fit for print.

What's the hubbub? Did Taylor finally get the sack?
Walking up Clarendon Street with Gains (earlier than everyone else, because who knew when they were going to leave the pub) we saw Richmond ruck/forward and St Albans Dinamo president Ivan Maric and some other St Albans people, seemingly ready to go home rather than watch the main event. Even getting to the ground an hour before the game you could tell there was going to be bigger crowd than last year's final, but more on that later.

Apart from several moments of skill and close combination play by the usual suspects, I don't think it was the highest standard match - last year's contest had a lot more quality I felt - but it will be remembered within Victorian soccer circles as a classic in its own right for the non-stop entertainment it provided. Both sides hit the woodwork on multiple occasions, forced good saves, had shots cleared off the line and were prone to the kinds of mistakes which made fans of the two sides and neutrals alike feel like a goal was never far away. Otherwise, there was a nervousness to much of the ball control, with players preferring to clear the ball rather than take control of possession in situations where they probably could have done so. Even defensively, South especially looked cautious, and unwilling to go hard at Oakleigh's attacking players, which was concerning at the time - one realises now, with the benefit of hindsight, that probably only part of that was due to the skill and size of Oakleigh's attackers, and that we were being cautious not to give away fouls anywhere near the edge of the box.

Whoo! South rule!
It was a game that embodied the idea held by armchair pundits that both sides had top line attacks but suspect defenses. South started the game better, pressing well and earning a number of corners, but Oakleigh soon wrested control of the game. Leigh Minopoulos' goal to open the scoring against the run of play highlighted two things; first, Chris Taylor's maxim that games are won in 'moments' (or at least Taylor conditions his team in that way), but also that desperate defending and super saves can all be undone by slacking off in defense. Minopoulos finding himself with no one in front of him on the left flank from a throw in, and strolling towards goal before executing a calm finish, is exactly the kind of thing that kills coaches and supporters; indeed, it's the kind of thing that killed South during the increasingly barren years after the 2006 championship.

Getting that goal could have served to settle our nerves, but instead Oakleigh managed to pull the goal back soon afterwards, after another one of those 'moments'. An out of position Brad Norton, way upfield, instead of holding his ground went in for an all or nothing challenge and came out of that with nothing - less than nothing in fact as Oakleigh exploited the space Norton had left behind to score the equalising goal. At that point - midway through the first half - I was hoping that we could somehow get to halftime level and reboot from there. Credit to the team however that they managed to work their way back into the contest in the final five minutes of the half.

No one thought we'd score from the free kick - we've barely got close over the past five years - but Schroen managed to get closer than I'd anticipated, hitting the top of the crossbar. His curling shot right on halftime also smacked into the post, and should have been at least attempted to be hit back at goal instead of (and I'm not sure who it was of our players) being responded to by turning around in anguish or disappointment.

I thought that we would carry that momentum into the second half, but Oakleigh again were the better team. Yet we took the lead again, thanks to a pinpoint cross by the People's Champ to Marcus Schroen, who nodded home from close range. Schroen will justifiably get the plaudits for the goal, and he did end up winning the Jimmy Rooney medal for his performance as our most important player going forward, but it was a great maneuver from Nick Epifano, exploiting the lack of speed of the Oakleigh defender (and perhaps his belief that the People's Champ would cut in on his right?) crossing on his non-preferred left foot into just the right spot.

Nikola Roganovic was then forced to make two clutch saves, one from long range from Dean Piemonte tipped wide for a corner, and one from a medium range Goran Zoric effort which Roganovic tipped onto the crossbar. The bloke who had almost singlehandedly kept us within touching distance of the minor premiership for far longer than we had any right to stepped up big time when it counted. If it is to be his last game for us - some have hinted he may hang up the gloves - than I am glad that he's been able to secure a championship while playing for us.

Our third goal was from another throw in, although this had a little bit of a sense of a set play about it. Minopoulos' superior game sense - the mere fact of his being on the field lifts the collective soccer IQ of our team by a significant margin - saw him nod the ball down to Schroen who smashed home his own volley. After that we should have absolutely hammered them. One sequence of play which saw at least three attempts from more or less point blank range rebuffed was the height of madness; at the other end, Oakleigh kept plugging away, while we were at times camped in our own half, unable to clear the ball on occasion except in the most comical of fashions. And as much stick as we've all given stick to Tim Mala for his downturn in form this season, thank goodness he was on the line to clear that shot which could have turned things on their head once again.

In this season of red cards in South games it was fitting that the game ended the way it did, with a red card to Oakleigh's Adrian Chiapetta, followed by a late Oakleigh goal which had us squirming for another thirty seconds. Once again, we were scored against by a team with a numerical disadvantage, even in this case where there were just moments left in between the dismissal and the end of the game.

The final whistle for some was the time to celebrate, but for me it was a chance to feel some relief. It has been a chaotic, sometimes exhilarating but mostly frustrating season. There were huge wins, especially early in the season which gave us a sense of false hope; theheavy losses, some of them absolutely devastating - Richmond away, Heidelberg away, Bentleigh away twice, Avondale at home where we looked desultory; the three point deduction, no FFA Cup run, the fact that we had not beaten a top six side for the whole second half of the year until we beat Gully in the last round.

Added to that was the fact that we were playing awful, ugly football, which we had accepted two years ago because it by and large worked and because we had been starved of success, but which we were now over because it was slightly less successful and we wanted to be entertained and to have two up front as a minimum. To his credit Chris Taylor made the necessary adjustments, managed the interferences and the egos and got the team clicking at the right time of the season. Beating the Knights and Pascoe Vale, then knocking off four finalists in a row, and snaring the title could only have realistically come about with a change in mindset, or as Nicholas Tsiaras said, Taylor embracing his inner gambler.

So apart from the satisfaction of winning the title, Taylor gets the joy of knowing he has overcome his detractors, some of whom clearly had no idea what they're were talking about. Although to be fair to people who can't remember all the way back to July 2016, I did hint at the possibility that things could get better, and that a more attacking, risky approach would pay dividends in a season where finals would be the final (ahem) arbiter of the 2016 champion.
While we can enjoy the anarchic spectacle of a Chris Taylor side actually playing attacking football (and try to convince ourselves that maybe this approach will pay off in the finals)
Which just goes to show that if you hold every opinion possible at one stage or another, even though you'll always be wrong, you'll always be right, too. All of which keeps the universe in balance.

Post-match celebrations
Apparently not quite as many managed to get into the change rooms for the celebrations as in 2014 - probably for the best to be honest, as things got very claustrophobic that night.

Suitably blurry photograph of the post-match celebrations.
Photo: Paul Mavroudis. But seriously, why would anyone else want to claim it?
As for myself, I was just happy to stay outside in the grandstand and on the causeway in front of the grandstand, just letting it all sink in, and having a final catch up with South folk who I won't see - their attendance at an AGM notwithstanding - until next year.

No social club and a late finish meant that once again celebrations after the game at the Limerick Arms were fairly low key, before I assume many of the players, coaches, board members and support headed out to a nightspot or two.

Speaking of a lack of a social club, even our replacement social club the Limerick Arms almost failed us, when a dishwasher caught fire, forcing the temporary evacuation of the premises.
Although the fact that the harebrained rumour that managed to take hold, that someone had thrown a flare into the dishwasher, causing said fire, doesn't say much for the gullibility of some people. To be honest, the less said about how staff members allegedly tried to put out the fire, the better. Drink service resumed, though the kitchen was out of action. A trip down the road to a local Greek restaurant and sponsor of the club for a takeaway souv also saw us come up short. At least one could find comfort in having won a record tenth Victorian title.

Match day operations fail / Neutral venue chat
Once the venue for the grand final had been announced, and especially once it was known that South would be one of the two competing teams, most people without a rampant hatred of South Melbourne or who sought to play down the significance of the grand final as Victorian soccer's 'showpiece event' (blecch) were begging FFV to open up the northern stand to spectators. They didn't listen, they didn't organise with the State Sports Centres Trust to do so, and didn't that make them look like fools on the day.

But even before that there were massive issues outside the gate with long lines and the return of the tedious Ticketmaster ticket sales process, who were reportedly printing off tickets one by one instead of having a whole stack of them pre-printed and ready to go. That dire process as well as having too few ticket booths open meant that there were scores of people who didn't get into the ground until 20 minutes after kickoff.

Of course, one can note the advice given to pre-purchase tickets
but the reality is that not everyone reads this blog (hard to believe, I know), and most of those in attendance yesterday only visit Lakeside when a big crowd is expected, which is seldom the case these days.

Credit to FFV president Kimon Taliadoros for fronting up and apologising, and throwing the gates open, but it makes one wonder how we even got to this point. Were they going off last year's crowd of about 3,500, when Bentleigh Greens brought almost no fans to the game? Did they not take seriously the idea that Oakleigh may try and bring some support of their own to this game, or that there may be a lot of neutrals, especially leftover from the curtain raiser?
So, far too many people were squeezed into one stand - and in front of the stand - when there was a perfectly good stand on the other side waiting to be used. Eventually they let patrons use the concrete terracing behind the goals at the scoreboard end, and finally during the second half managed to get organised enough to open the other stand.
That didn't make up for the absurd lines for food and drink (again, greatly underestimating the crowd, and to make matters worse, the loukoumades people didn't turn up either like they said they would). As noted by the Heidelberg supporting 'redboots' on soccer forum:
Surely at an event like this you invite people to either bid or tender for the placement of their food vans... For fuck's sake, Melbourne is the King of man bun wearing food vendors and even one other van would've made a world of difference.... A spit going with gyro would've made a difference...
Apart from FFV losing a huge chunk of cash - the 'official' crowd of 4,211 would have been nowhere the real crowd number (perhaps only 80%) considering how many people were let in for free - but also a lot of goodwill, too. The large crowd - which included a fair amount of neutrals - at least put those in their place who, however jokingly, suggested that Kingston Heath or Broadmeadows would have been a more appropriate venue.

Now whether the match should have been played at a neutral venue is another matter - and Gus Tsolakis let FFV board members and staff know his opinion after the game - but underselling the importance of the grand final by playing it at second and third tier venues, with limited shelter, limited seating and poor viewing angles is the last thing we need.

But with most suitable venues - and there really are only three suitable venues, being AAMI Park, Lakeside and at a pinch Knights Stadium - needing to be booked in advance, what happens if they do step up and host the game at AAMI Park, and we have another game with two minnow teams in terms of support? People will be lining up to kick FFV for wasting everyone's money. And what if they played the game at Knights Stadium and the surface was stuffed?

Short of a marquee fixture like a combination of Knights-South-Heidelberg, Lakeside is on most occasions the most appropriate place to hold the NPL grand final. Seeing as that is the case, the point is then to not skimp on the extras when using the venue. Designed for crowds up to 10,000, it can comfortably hold 5,000+ plus patrons as long as you don't try to squeeze them into the space of 3,500.

Finally, the game is not played in the stands, or on paper, it is played on grass - and in Lakeside's case, a regulation sized field - which to be fair, may be alienating for sides that don't have grass or a regulation sized field. Quite where the advantage for South is supposed to come into it, I don't know. It's also true that Oakleigh has beaten us just once in our designated home games in the league and cup since 2006, including venues as disparate as Bob Jane Stadium, Lakeside Stadium, Northcote and Kingston Heath; but let's not forget, this is the club that once forfeited a game against us for spurious reasons.

Some brief thoughts on the atmosphere
Felt better last year, probably because last year's crowd was almost entirely South fans, whereas this year was much more mixed, with a healthy neutral attendance. I didn't like the fact that some people kept trying to start anti-Oakleigh chants - they were the underdog in this game, so why the reference to them choking? - and besides which, isn't it better if we try and support and pay attention to our team? There was a decent cheer for the Oakleigh goal, and the chanting from Clarendon Corner often had a disjointed, nervous quality to it, probably in reaction to the nature of the contest and the context of the season. But I prefer that compared to non-reactive monotonous chants that seem to have no connection to the game as it's being played out. Best chant was 'thanks for beating Bentleigh', which probably contradicts a point I made earlier within this paragraph, but at least it had a self-referential honesty to it.

There were the usual array of banners, including a couple of small throw over ones, but I liked this Super Mario one best, even if I think a Sonic the Hedgehog who is naturally blue would work better.
Next year Cacophonix!

Lucky me though
I had forgotten my media pass at home, but luckily Tony came by the pub with some complimentary tickets courtesy of his connection to St Albans Dinamo.

Post-game flare
Some folk were concerned that perhaps we could get fined for the flare that was ripped late in the affair in the north west corner of the ground (possibly thrown over the fence?), but my sources say that won't be the case.

Media coverage - it was actually good!
In times past when our club mattered beyond the feelings of its own supporters, one of the great joys of winning a match was digesting the post-match news feeds. Of course over the past decade we have been starved of this joy, even following championship wins. This grand final however had what was for Victorian soccer some pretty decent mainstream coverage, especially after the fact. The oft-maligned (not least by South of the Border) Michael Lynch got in three pieces in The Age - one on the game itself, one on Jimmy Rooney medalist Marcus Schroen, and one with Chris Taylor about the staleness of the A-League and its recruiting. The Herald Sun's David Davutovic also got a report in on the game.

As for Neos Kosmos, their traditional early deadlines have seen them so far only put up a perfunctory summary in Greek online - one would expect more material in the Thursday print edition. I don't have a copy of the Neos Kosmos edition which reportedly had a photo of Clarendon Corner/South fans away at Oakleigh from earlier this season, which reportedly had the caption claiming they were Oakleigh fans.

There was also a live stream provided by FFV on Facebook, which managed to get about 1,000 viewers apparently. I don't know what the quality of the stream was like, but one complaint was it should have been in Youtube, like the NPL NSW grand final, which would have made it more accessible. A fair point, I reckon.

Gold Medal night round up
Last week we managed to pick up some awards. Matt Millar won the young player of the year award, Milos Lujic was officially presented with his golden boot prize, while Jimmy Armstrong was inducted into the FFV Hall of Fame. Nikola Roganovic missed out on goalkeeper of the year to Chris Oldfield, which I'm a bit surprised by.

Off-season schedule
That concludes South of the Border's usual in-season programming for 2016. Coming up is the now usual South of the Border off-season blog mode which will include:
  • pointless awards post
  • monthly digests
  • occasional match reports from assorted quasi-random sporting fixtures
  • hopefully an AGM
  • news, if it exists, on the construction of the social club (starting 'soon', apparently)
  • maybe an artefact segment here or there
  • the odd book review (Alex Duric has a book out!)
  • breaking news if it's important enough to consider as such.
Of course if anyone wants to submit something in the meantime, you're more than welcome to do so. For those who drop off at this time of year, thanks for stopping by. For those who like to visit us during the off-season, you pretty much know what you're in for.

Around the grounds
For whom the bell tolls
Headed out to Paisley Park for the final round of the state league season, and a relegation deciding match between Altona East and Cairnlea. East had the advantage in terms of ladder position and goal difference - Cairnlea would need to win by three goals to overtake East - and so this was if not quite a dead rubber, than one where the odds were heavily stacked in one team's favour. Unlike the usual state league procedure of people trying to scam their way into the ground for free, or pretend they're a concession holder or pensioner, or demand change back to the cent, most people seemed to be in a generous mood, happy to leave change behind as a donation to the club. Small South contingent in attendance as well, getting some 'inconsequential' football out of the way before our grand final, but also there to see ex-South junior and friend Anthony Giannopoulos strutting his stuff for East. The first half was pretty 'meh' to be honest, neither team able to offer much. In the second half a Giannopoulos pass inside set up East's first goal, and safety from relegation was secured. A second goal was merely icing on the cake. Long serving (albeit across multiple stints) Cairnlea captain Mustafa Mustafa (and let's not forget one time fringe South player) was chaired off the ground in his final game with a guard of honour, a nice gesture.
Relegation brings with it its own heartache, as does retirement. Avoiding relegation on the final day brings relief, but pretty soon leaves you wondering how you got yourself so deep into the mess in the first place.

The next to last final thought
Happy birthday to Tony Margaritis for yesterday. I think he got what he wanted.

Final thought
How much better are finals than first past the post?

Maybe later, OK?

I woke up. I had some breakfast. I watched the Giants beat the Cowboys on TV, thanks to the latter's inability to comprehend the basics of clock management. I've been reading forums. I wrote some stuff, stole some stuff, borrowed some stuff. I'm off to have some lunch now, and when that's done, maybe I'll write a little more.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Once more unto the breach, dear friends - Heidelberg United 1 South Melbourne 2

Olympic Village has one of the most elongated arrangements for players walking onto the ground from the change rooms - their social club being at the northern end of the ground, the players have to walk through the small terracing area there, past the running track, onto the back field and finally onto the ground itself.

Passionate celebrations after one of our two goals scored on Saturday night.
Photo: Kevin Juggins.
Maybe our players were still making their way to the southern end of the ground if not physically than at least mentally, which would go some way to explaining how we managed to cop a goal in the first 15 seconds. Naturally, copping a goal within the opening 15 seconds of a match is not the way you want to start. How Archie Thompson got so much time and space on the right to put his cross is troubling; even more disturbing is how no one picked up the runner at the back post.

Having said that, it's nominally better to fall behind 15 seconds into a game than 15 seconds from the end, because in theory at least in the former situation you have 90 minutes to claw the deficit back. The best thing is that we didn't lose our heads unlike the last time we played at that ground and copped five. So even if we weren't creating a lot of or even any clear cut chances, you could see that mentally at least we were on point pretty much straight after conceding. That didn't mean we couldn't have found ourselves 2-0 down regardless as Archie Thompson found himself one on one with Roganovic, but hit a weak shot within range of Nikola who pushed the shot wide.Thompson had been called offside by the linesman, but the referee allowed play to continue with our players standing around assuming the call would go our way. For the millionth time, play the damn whistle.

For his part Thompson wasn't as bad as he was made out to be by some - after all, he put the cross in for their goal, and had their best chance for the remainder of the game - but his lack of fitness played its part, seeing him benched. If anything, the lack of familiarity between Athiu and Thompson was a bigger stumbling block to the Bergers than Thompson's lack of match fitness. Thompson would repeatedly peel off a defender by straying into an offside position (a typical Archie trait), but Athiu and the Berger midfielders didn't seem to be able to use this tactic to his advantage. His being subbed wasn't a turning point as such, but it did force Kenny Athiu to shoulder more of the forward responsibility for the home side. And while Kenny's size and mobility did cause us problems, it was much easier to handle one threat than two, especially against ten men.

After getting the experienced Perry Mur to officiate in our match last week, this time we had the bloke who did (I think) our Victory and Hume home games, officiating performances which were considered poor by several observers at the time. This game, too, saw scuffles and melees from early on, and the chance to take control of the game before it got of out of hand was missed. This included the pantomime villain behaviour of Heidelberg coach George Katsakis, who spent a good deal of the first half especially complaining in a manner which in other games would probably have seen him dismissed from the touchline.

One insider I spoke to after the game suggested that the reason we get so many of these younger refs for our games is to give them a taste of the big match experience, and a bit of hostile/vocal atmosphere (or any atmosphere at all, I suppose) which is part and parcel of becoming an elite official. Regardless of the merits of this idea, rightly or wrongly it was clear players from both sides had little much confidence in or respect for the referee. Conduct thus deteriorated to the point where Heidelberg's Reuben Way, despite winning a free kick and having his South opponent get a yellow card, decided to lash out at his South opponent (Millar? Norton?) and get himself sent off.
It was such stupid behaviour that even most of the home team's supporters couldn't excuse it, and it went a long way to helping us win this match. That said, going in to halftime 1-0 down was disappointing - especially because Leigh Minopoulos had failed to take his chance with a back post header - and I must admit that even with the man advantage I wasn't confident that we could pull off the win. I had the feeling instead that it would be one of those game where we would somehow fail to put away the chances that would come our way in the second half, especially if the Bergers went all defensive.

Instead the Bergers, even though they mostly looked to counter attack, kept looking for the second goal as a priority instead of trying to hold us out. In that way, Katsakis is Taylor's ideological opposite, always looking to take a game on rather than shut up shop and play conservatively. Chris Irwin coming on for Tim Mala, and Matty Millar going to right backm, along with Minopoulos moving over the left helped emphasise our ascendancy in this match, as did Taylor's decision to go to something that resembled three at the back when attacking.

So, after many months of asking for more risk taking in situations which seem to require it from an otherwise cautious operator, it actually happened, and we were the better for it. That's not to say that there wasn't luck involved with our two goals - the first one bundled in perhaps off a deflection, the second from a long ball not controlled by old mate Luke Byles which fell to a wide open Milos Lujic - but sometimes it's a bit like cricket, in that it's not the good balls that get you a wicket, but the bad ones which are a result of all the pressure from the good deliveries. All of which lead to a massive case of WILD SCENES when we did score, especially when we took the lead.
There were multiple opportunities to finish them off after that, but our failure to take those chances made the closing minutes of this match much more nerve wracking than they should have been. Our set piece taking still fails to past muster for the most part, but Taylor's change a a more attacking setup at least gives us more of a chance to score from open play than had been the case during mid-season.

Look at my range! Chris Taylor's 'serial killer movie' actor headshot .
Photo: Kevin Juggins.
With no suspensions or serious injuries to consider, one expects that we would field an unchanged lineup for the grand final. This would mean that Tim Mala would keep his spot in the starting eleven, despite some less than stellar performances in recent times. The issue is however, that dropping Mala would mean Chris Irwin would have to play a full game - not that there's anything wrong with that - but it would give us one less game changing option off the bench. Whatever else he may or may not be, Tim Mala is not an impact player, and his being on the bench would be useful in the event of an injury only.

It was good to see a decent crowd at the Village, with plenty of people from both sides. It would have been nice if there were more of course, but the halcyon days are gone and mainstream promotion of this game was just about zero. The atmosphere on our side was decent, though the combination of winning and mad fence runs after scoring goes some way to making that happen. No trouble at at the ground, apart from someone on the Heidelberg side lighting a flare after their goal, and a couple of drunk Berger fans attempting to accost our cameraman.

Of course even a win that felt as good as this one did won't be worth much if we don't manage to win next week - such are the hard headed realities of soccer. But at least it makes the laborious public transport trips to and from the ground more bearable, makes food and drink taste better, and makes life worth living just that little bit more.

Goodness, I've gone all sentimental again.

Next week, including match and ticketing information
The grand final will see us take on Oakleigh Cannons, at Lakeside on Sunday evening, with kickoff at 5:30PM.

While tickets will be available at the gate, it's probably best to pre-purchase them to avoid potentially stupid queues at the gate close to kickoff. Ticketmaster is the online vendor for this event.

For those unable to make it to the game, or who don't wish to give FFV any money, or who have some sort of moral objection to Lakeside hosting the event, it appears that FFV will also be streaming the game on Facebook.

Since FFV are running the event, there is no news on whether the opposite stand will be opened. Last year the venue comfortably dealt with the grand final attendance, but if Oakleigh put in more effort than Bentleigh did last year in getting their juniors and parents to this game, than opening the opposite grandstand and even perhaps the other gate might be worthwhile.

Oakleigh have had a good season, and were able to dispatch a probably tiring Bentleigh Greens yesterday in what sounded at times on the radio like a pretty physical game. Oakleigh's strengths are well known, mostly centred on their firepower up front which is in great nick, and their good range of set piece takers. That said, it'd be unreasonable for us to claim rank underdog status for this match, not because of home ground advantage or even form, but because we did finish some ways ahead of the Cannons during the regular season.

There will be a curtain raiser at 2:00, in the form of the NPL 2 East champion Kingston City, and NPL 2 West champion St Albans, in a match more for lukewarm pride than anything else - both sides will have put much more stock in securing automatic promotion into NPL 1 for 2017 than the arbitrary honour of being declared outright NPL 2 champion.

Some musings on the matter of a neutral venue
As with 2006 and 2015, the decision to have the grand final at Lakeside when South is one of the competing teams has been brought up - and not without legitimate issue it must be said.

Now for mine, unless you're playing on
  • a synthetic pitch 
  • a field of very small dimensions
  • a potato patch
home ground advantage is overrated when it comes to the Victorian top flight.Be that as it may, since there is a perception out there that there is a such a thing as home ground advantage, what should be done about it? The obvious answer is to play the match somewhere else - but where? There really are only two other options though worth considering.

If only one stand at Lakeside gets used, Knights Stadium has a larger seating capacity compared to Lakeside Stadium, and despite being inconvenient for public transport types, it at least has most of the trappings of a proper stadium. AAMI Park would be the other choice, but it's too expensive, even with a half decent crowd.

Some of the other options are laughable though. Epping Stadium has a great surface, but little else to recommend it, being in the middle of nowhere and with poor spectator amenities. Kingston Heath, with poor sight lines across 3/4 of the ground? Olympic Village? Realistically, nowhere else in Victoria has enough seating and modern amenities.So while not ideal, FFV can probably be excused for going to the default option.

All of which brings up a another more legitimate matter...

Why do we have finals, and why do we have this finals system specifically?
The debate about whether soccer should have a finals series will rage forever in Australia. My point of view on the matter is that soccer isn't suited to finals series as a means of deciding a league champion. The closeness of results and the elevated chance of draws compared to other sports, means that an inferior team has a much better chance of winning a title based on luck or a convenient burst of late season form.

Nevertheless, for sometimes contrived reasons of 'tradition' or 'Australianess', or the more reasonably posited economics or ' it helps to maintain interest' lines, we're stuck with finals as the ultimate arbiter of a season's champion.

Where the problem comes in here though is that the finals system we are seemingly compelled to use puts such extreme stock in late season perfection that one loss means you're out. That's not such a big deal for teams finishing lower down the table, but for those who finished near the top there's such a diminished advantage it's barely an advantage at all.

Now I don't have much time for Bentleigh, but it's hard not to see the ridiculousness of them or any other team in an equivalent position. We ourselves were just minutes away in our semi-final against Pascoe Vale from going to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out which would have undone 30 weeks of action.

Last year at least one could make the argument that the grand final showcased Victoria's two leading teams, who finished on equal points, in a winner takes all battle; the appropriate finale, even if the system is not designed to make that outcome occur.

This year though the composition of the final makes it all look a bit like the schoolyard kickabout at lunchtime. You're playing a game, the music starts playing to tell you to go back to class, and someone invariably shouts 'last goal wins'. That's probably acceptable for judging the champions of lunchtime, but is it really ideal for a purported 'proper' league to use the same methodology?

Doubtless there are mathematicians out there who could come up with reasons why this or that system works best, but for me the top five system seems to me to be the best one, in that there is some higher reward or benefit for finishing up near the top of the table.

And don't tell me it's about scheduling the season to finish a week earlier so we can fit it in with the national NPL playoffs. If scheduling was a such a huge matter, Richmond wouldn't have to wait a month between games to play its playoff match against the third best NPL 2 team.

Women's team news
Congrats to the senior women's team who after claiming the State League 1 North-West league title last week, annihilated their south-east counterpart Boroondara Eagles 4-0. It's a third straight title for the senior women, albeit this one is second tier Victorian title instead of the back to back WVPL titles of 2014 and 2015.
For some reason this match was played out at Knox, which meant that I was unable to make it out there. More's the pity.

Final thought 
It looks like soon I'll have the final say on Australian soccer in print. What an age we live in.