Monday, 14 August 2017

Suffer for your crimes! - South Melbourne 2 Bentleigh Greens 0

SMFC TV boss and self-styled active support maestro 'Doc' attempts to corral
the monkeys of Clarendon Corner into producing a coherent performance.
There are some weeks where going to Lakeside feels like you're visiting a terminally ill relative in hospital. You spend the week or day or hours leading up to the visit feeling like crap, knowing that the patient feels worse, and feeling worse because you've made it all about you. Then during the visit you make an extra special effort to be cheerful for the sake of the invalid, and it sometimes kinda works if the sun is shining and the team manages to pull its finger out and pull off an unlikely or not entirely expected win. And after having spent your time putting on a brave face and consoling the poor unfortunate soul, you then leave and return to the coldness of the real world. But enough with the cheerful opening.

One way to get by in times like this is to do other things, usually burying oneself work. I do my studies as a matter of course, and I try to find things that aren't soccer related; last week I went to a session at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and I've got three more sessions planned for this week; I read my books; I cultivate my cult on Twitter. And sometimes you need a reminder that the things which seem to happen by themselves every week at South actually require work. After the implied (or is that inferred?) turmoil of the past week or so, it seems that a good deal of the more transient (uni intern) volunteer base disappeared, and things reverted to requiring a bit of old fashioned doing things ourselves.

Thus after having a beer and a so-so burger in the social club, I found myself being called upon to help with the utterly manual task of putting up the advertising boards. This wasn't new to me per se, but it had been a while since I'd done it, and it brought back memories of taking down the signage after a Clarendon Corner vs Original Melbourne 21 game back in the day; of moving rugby posts with George Kouroumalis and a surprisingly athletic George Koukoulas; and moving those toblerone-style ad bags back into the deteriorating though still yet to be gutted social club during our early days of our return to Lakeside.

Tiff Eliadis competes for the header, while Chelsea Blisset, promoted
 from the 18 waits for the spill. Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
At least we had the use of several pairs of hands, and the golf cart with the wagon at the back. And when we weren't focused on the job at hand, which was most of the time, we got a pretty good close up view of the South women in action against Alamein, they of the choo choo song. Despite having a penalty saved - which is what regular women's team watcher Pavlaki said would happen when we got the penalty - we won the game 4-2, putting us five points clear on top with three games to play, and second placed Calder having a game in hand.

Eventually the time came around for the senior men. No Milos Lujic, suspended. No Jesse Daley, gone, maybe, to a better a place. No Michael Eagar, on the bench for reasons unknown. In their place, Leigh Minopoulos, Luke Adams, Tim Mala, and a reshuffle seeing Matt Foschini back in midfield. Would it work? Well the answer is 'sort of'. We got the win, generally looked the more dangerous, could have had another goal or two, and looked by Johnny A's own admission the hungrier and more lively of the two teams. And beating Bentleigh is its own reward, certainly from the players' perspective, what with having struggled against them so much in recent years.

Having said that, as one of our more astute observers of the team has noted, it wasn't just that Bentleigh looked fatigued, but that we also won the ball further up the field. In his post match comments Johnny A noted much the same - errors at the back giving us the chance to punish his team. But that's the risk that a team that likes to knock it around the back always takes - if it's not working on any given day, turnovers will happen much closer to your own goal.

Leigh Minopoulos wheels around to celebreate his second goal.
Photo: Cindy Nitsos.
Of course turnovers close to goal are easier to punish when you have a more mobile forward line, and Leigh Minopoulos - who doesn't always have the best track record when starting games as the principle striker in this set up - had a great game. It wasn't just his opportunistic goal poacher's double, but the way he was able to harass and corral the Bentleigh defense, running himself to a standstill. I've argued before that there is the possibility, if not always the actuality of us being more mobile and unpredictable as an attacking unit when we don't have Milos in the side. This was one of those times when it worked, but it's never a sure thing, and of course no matter how much I love Leigh (my favourite player in this squad) you'd always rather have the bloke who has the incredible amount of runs on the board.

It was free flowing even if it wasn't always pretty; it was energetic where one didn't know for sure how the team would come out to play; and no one really played a bad game for us, including Zaim Zeneli, who came off the bench after Nikola Roganovic seemed to injure his arm during the late stages of the first half. It was impressive even if we were playing against a tired opponent, who were also experimenting a little bit - they played the underdone Nick Ward, who had trialled with us during the pre-season, and brought on Andy Brennan only for the last half hour despite him only playing 60 minutes during the middle of the week.

Other than that, the biggest issue was the seagulls deciding to deploy missiles in the uncovered parts of the grandstand, forcing people in those areas to retreat further back. If getting crapped on by a bird is the worst thing that happened on Sunday, then the day mus not have been too bad. But not being of those people that received the seagulls' lucky prize, I would say that wouldn't I?s

Next game + and calculations
Kingston City at home, in the final round of the home and away season -- keep in mind that the kickoff time is 3:00PM thanks to the simultaneous start for the final round.

Barring some incredible disaster, we'll finish the home and away season in at least second position. To finish first and secure the national playoff position however, we need all of the following to happen:
  • We need to win our game against Kingston.
  • We need Bulleen to beat Heidelberg.
  • And we need the goal difference tally to work its way into our favour.
The Bergers are playing at Bulleen and the synthetic pitch, but I don't think that will cause them too many problems, and besides which, they only need a draw. The goal difference tally - their +25 to our +22 - is also an issue, but I figure that if the Bergers do lose, than we should be able to make up the difference and more, if things go as we'd like them to.

I can't see it happening, but you can always hope.

FFA Cup news
We have been drawn at home once more, this time against Western Australian side Sorrento. Apart from someone saying that they play a hoofball oriented style of soccer, I know nothing about them.

Goodbye, Jesse Daley?
Apparently been picked up by Perth Glory or their youth team, or maybe not, but who knows for sure? Anyway, so much for Kenny Lowe feigning disinterest in our man.
Or maybe I inadvertently made Kenny aware of Jesse? Heaven help Glory if they're making recruiting decisions based off my tweets. Anyway, I noticed that one of my retweets of a South tweet was retweeted in turn by Daley,
which is odd because I don't remember Daley pretty much ever tweeting anything (it turns out he has a measly 14 tweets). Let's just put it down to being supportive of fellow Queenslander and Brisbane Roar youth team-mate Luke Pavlou.

Good grief
As noted in a rather oblique post (with a link to funny poem by a dead junkie) earlier during the week, there was some chatter doing the rounds about the club being in crisis. I didn't post much more about it then, because I didn't know enough then to go off even half-cocked. Well after a few sessions of speaking to various intermediaries but no one of Capital I 'Importance', what did I learn? Probably not much more than you guys.

The problem, or perhaps more accurately the majority of the problem, stems from the State Sports Centres Trust. The SSCT, which is apparently once again under new management, had decided that rather than stick to the agreement of dishing out our allowance on a monthly basis, decided instead to give us our money as a lump sum... and later in the year. Now that's obviously going to cause cash flow problems, though it's probably a debate for another time as to whether we should be dependent on this cash or whether it should be seen as a bonus.

That saw the Trust withhold our monthly stipend for three months. Anyway, that situation has been sorted out, and the money due paid to us in full. Not that this was done without some damage to confidence in our management, from a public relations point of view at least. And not without the club going through either a forced, half-forced, or totally planned all along restructure of its front office staffing. Two people were let go, and then one of them brought back in a reduced capacity. It doesn't seem from an outsider's point of view to have been done particularly smoothly.

As for the more serious allegations, including players leaving and players not being paid, I'm little the wiser. For the former, as usual one has to wait until the end of the season to see what manifests itself as true. On the latter, I can't say with any certainty how long our players went unpaid for, but the Bentleigh supporting peanut man told me at Paisley Park that it was six weeks, so that seems to be the story which exists outside of the club. Whatever the amount, the fact that the story made it out of the confines of the inner sanctum - when the club has been much better at plugging leaks in recent years - is also of concern.

Anyway, for the time being at least it seems as if the ship has been righted, but there seems to have been a jolt put through the club. And the more serious issues with the Trust, the profitability of the social club, and the bigger issue of volunteer and staff continuity - that is, expertise being spread throughout the club as opposed to being contained solely within individuals - remain problems to be dealt with.

Of course, some people have different interpretations of all these things. It's not that I'm going out of my way seeking a middle path, only that there seem to be very adamant people on both sides of the ledger about how things actually played out and how things should be interpreted.

Trivia Night!
There's a trivia night being hosted at the social club on Friday 25th August. It's been so many years since the club hosted one of these, so I'm looking forward to it. My table (Secret Seven, if I recall our name correctly) did not do well at the last one, and the one before that I hosted in lieu of a sick board member. Oh, and there was the famous women's team trivia night in 2007 (pre-blog days) which my table (Team Cindy) did win, but at which I had to stay behind after everyone left the pub because the West Coast-Collingwood final went into extra time. My other appearances at trivia nights were a Melbourne Uni political interest club night (Shane Warne Appreciation Society; I was the only one in the very large room who knew the answer to who the only English pope was) and another Melbourne Uni one, this time a fundraiser for left-wing student politics. My team (PPPC, don't ask) would have won if they had more than two sport questions.

Anyway, it's not about winning or losing, it's about spending time in the social club among fellow South fans, putting more money into the club, and having a good time. Though if I don't win, I will probably have a big sook.

Around the grounds
Penance
15 years ago - or thereabouts - Altona East (coached by Chris Taylor!) and Preston played off in the Victorian Premier League finals. Fast forward to 2017, and Altona East is just about to drop out of the Victorian third tier into the fourth after several dodgy escapes; meanwhile Preston is pissing money up against the wall for goodness knows what reason considering they let Altona Magic get a five or six game head start. But Preston are still in better shape than they were about three years ago when they only brought about 20 odd fans to this same fixture; this time they brought a lot more, and a couple of banners and a drum. As for myself: I dithered about going to the Altona East vs Western Suburbs game the week before, and decided to skip it and go to the supermarket and the 'Pies game in the evening instead. Not exactly sterling behaviour in a crisis. I inadvertently made up for it during this game by ending up helping out at the gate for about an hour and a half. Not that I deserve an award for this example of accidental atonement of sin, and besides, it helped impair my view of a pretty ordinary game. An early goal in each half settled this otherwise mediocre contest in Preston's favour. Next week I'll be at Melbourne International Film Festival watching anime instead.

Final thought

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Les Murray on Laszlo Urge, and non-linear academic discovery

This is something I started last year but never got around to finishing. Seeing as how Les Murray the soccer pundit passed away this week, and seeing as how South has a week off, it's about time I fished it from the depths of my drafts folder, finished it off, and got it out of the way. I liked what was going on in this a lot more back then than I do now. A more useful version will hopefully end up buried in my thesis' literature review in due time.

This is the story of both the sometimes tedious and arcane nature of academic research, but it's also a story about the meeting of two parts of Australian culture that have little do with one another. If, as the popular notion seems to suggest, that sport and the arts in Australia are inherently irreconcilable pursuits, whose meetings are at best rare and awkward, then perhaps nothing quite encapsulates that cultural schism quite like the existence of Australia's two Les Murrays.

For perhaps most of Australia, even that which is not particularly enamoured with soccer, Les Murray remains the better known of the two Les Murrays. As the face and voice of Australian soccer, and by extension also the face and voice of SBS and a certain strain of the Australian multicultural experience, Murray's fame exists outside of the narrow trench of Australian soccer; this is best typified by the Australian public's familiarity with that strange, untraceable accent, which famously prompted TISM to ask 'What Nationality is Les Murray?' - a song which would not have worked quite so well had people had no idea who Les Murray the soccer pundit was.

Then there is the 'other' Les Murray, often lauded as Australia's greatest living poet and among the finest living poets writing in the English language, but whose work most Australian have probably only come into contact with by accident and most recently twenty years ago (unless they teach poetry in schools; do they still do that?) as the co-author of John Howard's preamble to the Australian Constitution which was attached to the republic referendum. For a minority of Australians, those who might be classed as too educated for their own good to care too much about sport and popular culture, as the poetry editor for the right wing literary and cultural magazine Quadrant, Les Murray the poet is a figurehead of one of the two sides waging perpetual cultural wars against each other.

So how is it that these two Les Murrays would have anything to do with each other? Many years ago while I was still an undergraduate, I seem to recall - though this could just be me inventing a myth of my own - that some now indistinguishable person told me, probably somewhere in the imaginatively named Building 8 at Victoria University's St Albans campus, that Les Murray the poet had written a poem about Les Murray the soccer pundit. Not knowing where to start looking for it, and not having much help from either the person who must (or may?) have mentioned it, the notion of trying to find the poem died quickly. This was before I had even decided that my honours thesis let alone doctoral thesis work would focus on soccer and its relationship to Australian literature; before, too, my ending up teaching some of Les Murray the poet's works in the Australian Literature unit that we teach to second and third year students at Victoria University.

After laying dormant for so many years, the re-ermergence of this apocryphal poem owes as much to the accidental happenings one experiences when travels Melbourne in the style of a flâneur, as it does to the inner suburbs of Melbourne still having enough bricks and mortar bookshops so that the act of finding one is less a freak accident than a statistical probability.

After meeting with my mate Chris Egan in the city, and conducting another piece of historical detective work at ACMI, we decided to head towards Lygon Street for lunch. Taking the tram up there from Federation Square, we - probably mostly me - had stopped paying attention to where we should have gotten off, went several stops further up Lygon Street than we had intended, and then kept walking in the opposite direction to where we were supposed to be going. By a happy meeting of statistical probabilities, we ended up outside Red Wheelbarrow Books, a small independent bookshop. While we could have turned around and just caught the next tram back, there in the front window were an assortment of books by the anarchist poet Pi O, so of course I decided to enter the store.

After discussing Pi O with the store's proprietor and being offered a returned/secondhand copy of one of Pi O's Selected Works for $15 (as opposed to $35 for a new copy), we somehow moved on to discussing my current doctoral work on Australian soccer and literature; the chance to discuss one's thesis work with interested parties who happen to be people other than one's supervisors being an opportunity few PhD students can afford to miss. The catalyst for this was I suppose my making a remark on Pi O's lack of interest in sport, especially soccer, despite his extensive work covering (whether incidentally or not) the lives and language of migrant Europeans during the 1970s and 80s.

Indeed, one couldn't help but note the sole poem where Pi O does discuss soccer, a piece called 'Soccor', which still barely manages to discuss the topic of soccer at all. From there the proprietor of the bookshop managed to make a couple of suggestions about other literary Australian soccer texts, including Peter Goldsworthy's Keep it Simple, Stupid, which I was already well aware of, but he then recalled that Les Murray the poet had written a poem about Les Murray the soccer pundit.That he could recall no further details of its content, title, year etc was now far less of an issue than it would have been in the past. For nearly a decade on, I was now armed with the resources of the AustLit database and duly went off to search for the database entry on Les Murray the soccer pundit, and works which were about him.

Alas, there were no poems listed as being about Les Murray the soccer pundit. What to do? After noting my disappointment on Twitter that the existence of this poem may have merely been an urban myth - a poem by one Les Murray on the other Les Murray, surely it was too good to be true - someone working diligently and anonymously behind the scenes at AustLit came to the rescue.
As it turned out, according to people at AustLit the poem had never been published either in a literary journal nor in a collection of work by Murray, but rather in one of the supplements of the Weekend Australian in October 1991. So, after a detour to a university bake sale, it was off to the State Library of Victoria to search through the microfilm, sifting through generic right-wing commentary and classified jobs for professionals, until there it was - in all of its if not quite unfortunate mediocrity, then its being something quite different to what I'd expected.

One didn't expect one of Murray the poet's more stunning efforts, but even so, I could not help but be underwhelmed by the poem's style as well as its content. To begin with, even a quick overview reveals that the poem is not about Les Murray the soccer pundit at all, but merely dedicated to him - and even then, not to Les Murray the soccer pundit, but to Laszlo Ürge, the identity the soccer pundit had left behind at the start of his television career.

Without knowing of the existence of any possible prior interactions between the two Murrays, the motivation for Murray the poet writing this poem and dedicating it to Murray the soccer pundit is hard to fathom. At the end of the poem, Murray the poet affirms that 'I'm Les Murray', but it is hard to read between the lines of whether this signing off is meant to be playful and linked to the opening gambit in the dedication itself, or whether it is instead some sort of pointed attempt at reclaiming the rights to the Les Murray name - and if so, what would be the nature of that resentment?

The poem then seeks to describe, in the semi-abstract, various sports played by Australians - among them rugby union and league, Australian Rules, soccer and basketball - but with a kind of dismissive attitude. These sports seem to Murray to be fueled by an anger and relentless trudging and sense of aimless, furious activity; worse still are those who aren't participants, but who live vicariously through the athletes making those exertions. In that sense the poem's tone is entirely consistent with Murray's oeuvre so far as I'm familiar with it - an innate distrust of modernity, and also of the speed and lack of space for thought and contemplation that is attached to that notion of modernity.

It is strange then that as an Australian bush nationalist of sorts, that one of Murray's preferred sports at the specific time of this poem's publication is not cricket, especially as it may manifest itself in those idyllic John Harms-ian forms played in the Australian bush, but instead what he calls American cricket - in other words, baseball. This is strange in the context of Murray's politics because as Michael Manley has noted, whatever elements of idleness, rest, anticipation and craft are shared by cricket and baseball, cricket in its purest essence is an agrarian and time-less game, while baseball was moulded very early on into becoming an essential part of the ordered and regimented cycle of life in the modern industrial north of the USA.

Strange also are Murray's interpretations of those sports, especially the various football codes enjoyed by Australians. Here Murray plays the accidental historian, placing the rugby codes first in order of genealogy but re-interpreting in a sense the origin myths of union and league, and therefore rugby as a whole itself; while one can perhaps sense Murray vaguely alluding to the class split which saw league split off from union, at no point does Murray place rugby union's origins in the English public school system, nor allude to the inherent link between industrialisation and the professionalism of rugby league. Instead we have 'poachers in blue', who one supposes may be members of the upper classes or the military, playing for a time at least either with or alongside - it's not clear to me which Murray deigns to mean - 'farmers in brown'.

The depiction of Australian Rules in this poem is typical of the generic response someone from the northern states may make of the game - the comical appearance of the players in their sleeveless shirts and tight shorts jumping on top of each other, and the near incomprehensibility of the large crowds who are there to watch them. Murray's familiar dislike of crowds and fear of their encroachment on his personal space gets doubled down in the depiction of soccer - the implied barbarity of the kicking of heads among caged foreigners, with little definition of who is being separated from whom. Aside from this however, Murray the poet offers little more on soccer than this scene of stylised allegorical violence and the crowds of foreigners who watch the game - an unusual step to take when dedicating a poem to a soccer man.

For the rest, basketball gets short shrift, as does tennis and the grunting efforts of its players. But the point seems to be that those watching either in person or drowsily watching on a TV screen, combined with the furious exertions of the players, are suffering form a kind of madness. For Murray, for whom crowds are a form of madness in their own right, the sporting machine is not a benign illness. It's almost as if Murray sees modern professional sport - such as it was in 1991, and goodness knows it's only gotten worse - as a corruption of both work and play. the idea being that play should be left alone, untainted by commercial interests, for when play is turned into work, work too loses its own nobility. Modern sport and professional athletes begin to less resemble people participating in a vocation or ritual attuned to the rhythms of nature, becoming instead automatons.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Lambchop delay nightmare - South Melbourne 0 Avondale 2

Forgive me if there are any mistakes in this posts or if it seems to lack my usual sterling effort but I busted one of my index fingers in a door and it hurts to type and worst of all it hurts to tweet but this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it 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yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because this is the game that never ends yes it goes on and on my friends some people started playing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue playing it forever just because

But seriously, it just seemed to take forever to start and forever to end. Having finished my dinner before the game - how good is the social club when you're allowed in there? - the lights went out in the social club, and then it turned out the lights outside were off as well and even the surrounding area. It got sorted out quickly enough, but the end of the 20s game took longer to finish and though it finished early enough to get the seniors out there for an 8:30 kickoff, we ended waiting until well after that for the start. A strong starting eleven saw us carve out some good chances early, but having not taken them we were soon on the back foot. A well taken Avondale corner to the near post at the edge of the six yard box was met an Avondale player unchallenged by any South defenders, and soon we were down 1-0. Everything kind of deteriorated after that, but worse was to come in the second half.

At 1-0 down in the second half, a possible turning point arrived. Our team having done enough from a slightly chaotic penalty box entry to get the ball on the verge of crossing the goal line, an Avondale player on the goal decided or was driven by instict to use his hands to prevent the ball from crossing the goal line.
Despite certain interpretation changes to 'denial of goal scoring opportunity' decisions, handball was not one of those, so it was baffling to see the Avondale player responsible for scooping the ball off the line given only a yellow card instead of being dismissed.

Baffled as we all were by the ref's decision not to red card the Avondale player, up stepped Milos Lujic to draw us level and he went on to do this:
Which brings me to another point. Putting aside this miss which, under the current arrangement is not even the first time this has happened to us in recent times, it once again brings to mind one of the worst problems with the laws of the game. Most notoriously, it is the Luis Suarez vs Ghana World Cup variation of this phenomenon. Currently a certainly goal bound shot can be deliberately denied by a handball, and the worst that can happen is a dismissal of the relevant player and a goal conceded. Yet penalty attempts are hardly sure things, and the risk reward balance seems completely out of whack, we being in the ridiculous situation that we still have this loophole where defenders can take the risk of preventing a certain goal in favour of conceding an uncertain attempt. For mine, the obvious solution seems to be introducing the concept of a 'penalty goal' ala rugby league's penalty try. The situation would be rare and limited to situations where the referee deemed that a player had handled the ball in a situation where a goal was otherwise inevitable. Indeed, it is a suggestion being considered by the rule-making bodies.

Back to our situation. Having not scored from the penalty we proceeded to run around like headless chooks, and suffered the ignominy of conceding a second goal. Taken from some distance, it appeared as if Nikola Roganovic should have had not trouble getting his hands on to the shot, only for the ball to seemingly go straight through him or something. But still the game would just not end. Extended injuries to Avondale players meant that there was a long bout of injury time. All the more time to watch our increasingly erratic efforts going forward.

The team has not only run out of gas, it has also run out of ideas. A compact schedule, the high of the FFA Cup win, the drop in form of some key players - all of it has seen us seemingly throw away our chance at snaring what used to be called the minor premiership and qualification for the national playoffs. Yes the first seven games away from home have hurt us, as have results like Green Gully away, and even probably the postponement of this fixture from early in the year to now. Maybe we just weren't good enough in the long run. Still, the season is not a complete wash. We have the finals series coming up, and at least one more FFA Cup game. Maybe this nine day break will refresh the side for one more push for this season.

Next game
With the end of this compressed part of our schedule, we now have a week and a half off before taking Bentleigh at home on Sunday week at Lakeside. No Milos Lujic for this one apparently, having collected his fifth yellow card.

Final thought

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Jelly beans and road rage - Pascoe Vale 2 South Melbourne 0

I scored two free packs of jelly beans on my way up to the ground, thanks to the rail replacement bus scenario (no trains from Coburg to Upfield), witnessed some road rage at the intersection of Jukes Road and Sydney Road, and that's about as much as any South person got out of our trip to Fawkner yesterday. Pretty much everyone expected the team to be flat and tired after the week's events, and that's what happened.

Stefan Zinni and Tim Mala got rare starts, and Luke Adams was also brought back into the starting line up. Jesse Daley, Marcus Schroen and Michael Eagar all rested. Frankly, I don't think anything different would've worked. We had the aid of the strong wind in the first half, but could only really manage to loft balls over the top to Milos Lujic which would eventually drift into the arms of Pascoe Vale goalkeeper Peter Gavalas.

We had a few corners in the first half, but generally struggled to get in behind the Pascoe Vale defence. When the home side scored with a deflected shot, any doubts that this wouldn't be 'one of those games' were put aside. The second half going into the wind was worse, obviously, and when the opposition has who I consider to be the best player in the league in Davey van 't Schip, it's always going to be tough. Of course he scored to put us out of misery. The team rallied a bit from there - one of this team's virtues is that they push through to the end - but it wasn't going to amount to anything. Pascoe Vale could've won by more, but two-nil seems a fair enough scoreline.

I don't want to single anyone out in particular for not delivering yesterday - though I'm sure there's plenty of opinions on who may be apportioned more of the blame - because as a whole the team never looked quite right. The loss hurts our chances for top spot and national NPL playoff qualification, as Heidelberg beat Bentleigh 4-2 on Friday night, re-establishing the Bergers' three point buffer at the top. It was always going to be tough to make up the ground we lost in the first seven games, and once having made it up, to maintain the pressure.

As far our match last night goes, its main point of interest lay in another farcical example of poor duty of care directed towards a player from an opposition coach. This time it was former South man Gavalas who was the victim. Having copped a knock in the first half, he found himself on the receiving end again in the second. Milos Lujic had been released into a rare bit of space and found himself one on one with Gavalas. Lujic dinked the ball past Gavalas, who fell at Lujic's feet and copped a blow to the head.

Under normal circumstances it would've been a penalty, but the flag had gone up for offside, and thus several minutes were spent checking to see if Gavalas was OK. Despite looking pretty damn groggy, someone made the assessment that he should stay on the field. When play eventually resumed and after some time had elapsed, we endured the bizarre situation of Pascoe Vale coach Vitale Ferrante telling the South support behind Gavalas' goal to shut up so that he could ask Gavalas what day of the week it was. If this (and let's not forget this moment as well) is what passes for duty of care and concussion protocols in the NPL, especially in the case of goalkeepers, then we have to start having a really good think about our values as a sport. Gavalas was eventually subbed off in injury time with Pascoe Vale up 2-0 and cruising. He didn't look well.

Next game
Wednesday night in a catch up game against Avondale, back at Lakeside.

Around the grounds
Once more, with feeling
My last time at Somers Street for the season, and what a season it's been. I can't say I paid too much attention to this game, especially in the first half, seeing as I was talking about Joe Gorman's new book with a mutual friend. It was a pretty open game and Knights gave as good as they got except for the whole scoring a goal thing. Gully led at the break thanks to a wonderfully struck shot from a loose ball at the edge of the box, the kind of goal I'd like to see South score a bit more often. The second half was more of the same except perhaps a bit crappier. Putting their obvious limitations aside, Knights did everything they possibly could to get into dangerous positions and then did everything they possibly could to not score from them. I was actually kind of surprised that they did score, levelling the game and giving their supporters something to cheer for. The poor dears, as if anything other than Green Gully scoring late was going to happen. And that's exactly what happened. I missed the goal because I was looking at my phone because I'd been tagged in some silly Twitter discussion, but I am assured by a Knights fan who did see it that it was the 'kind of goal we would concede against South'. Which is good enough for me.

Final thought
After the game had dinner at this Sri Lankan place near the ground, but it took forever to get home yesterday; interminable wait for a replacement bus at the Gowrie stop, another 15-20 minutes at Coburg, and a half hour at North Melbourne. Mood not helped by reading Seneca's On the Shortness of Life, which puts forward the idea that the thing people waste most of all is time, and this includes games. He probably wouldn't have thought much of public transport delays or watching the NPL. But he's a bit of a know-it-all miserable bastard, and we can forgive him for being one, especially because he'll never experience the thrill of walking at night to a car parked near the soon to be derelict supermarket in the dodgy car park near Sunshine station.

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.