Sunday, 26 February 2017

Kids, you noticing all this plight? Avondale 1 South Melbourne 0

Even if one acknowledges the limitations of the competition, one doesn't necessarily see the sense in just kicking it for the sake of it. When required, one tries to find the good and defend the competition from those who try to classify it as merely park football. After all, we (mostly and/or usually) don't play in parks anymore!

There are good teams in this league, who can play good football, and in general the style has improved from the dark days of 2011 when Ian Dobson's brutish Green Gully side were the benchmark; when two thirds of the grounds were minefields, sand-pits or mud-heaps by round three instead of round fourteen.

In this game, played on a decent surface, with a non-bothersome breeze, we had two worthy combatants. One team was the reigning champion. The other team was the only one left with a chance of having a perfect record after three games. And yet what they dished up was utter, irredeemable garbage.

Now I know that South Melbourne has problems, and we'll get to those. But first things first - that was putrid. The first half especially was so unwatchable you couldn't even enjoy it on an ironic 'so bad it was good' level. It was just bad. 

During the game I pitied those who had to pay to get in, until I remembered that the reason I didn't pay to get in was because I've invested so much into this project. One could almost pity the players, were they not getting paid very, very well to be very, very bad. Some had been A-League players. Many had spent a good decade in this league. Some had aspirations of breaking out and upwards.

Almost all of them utterly, utterly hopeless.

[I could've throw some more 'utterlys' in there for emphasis, but I need to save those up to torment Ian Syson in a future thesis chapter draft. That's a little poisoned in-joke you don't need to concern yourselves with.]

To refer to some of the abysmal sequences of play as pinball would be an insult to those who have mastered the realm of the silver ball. To note that, at times, the fact that 20 players were bunched together chasing the ball like it was an under 10s game, would be an insult to children everywhere - the kids would at least have better touch.

It was a half in which Avondale, not for lack of talented players, could barely muster any meaningful possession in their attacking half. Meanwhile, South's rare moments of attacking half competence were undone if not by poor passing, then by players in their prime not understanding the basics of the offside rule.

In the second half, things were a bit better, but like last week our domination of possession amounted to nothing. Another maddening goal conceded, which brings to mind, apropos of nothing, some interesting questions, such as:
If we can't take proper set pieces, how do our defenders learn to defend set pieces at training?
and
If we can't defend set pieces, how do we know those attacking set pieces we try out in training are working?
Even when Leigh Minopoulos came off the bench, his best chance to do something was scuppered by Milos Lujic passing inside instead of out. There were some bad offside calls, too, but were they the difference between us winning and losing? Not in any meaningful sense.

After Avondale scored, the game opened up as we committed numbers forward and the nominal home side had another couple of chances to seal the deal. In the end, they didn't need those - they only needed goalkeeper Chris Oldfield to pluck out our one (very late) effort on target from almost underneath the crossbar and tip it over the bar for a corner.

There are those who say that all this - our one dimensionality, our inability to mount meaningful attacks from set pieces, our inability to properly deal with set-pieces - was all there last year, and that when push came to shove in 2016, we managed to hit form, ride our luck and change things enough to get by and win what is still called a championship in these confusing times.

If that's the case, how have we gone about strengthening and improving over the off-season? So far, it has been, with the exception of Luke McCormack, to only use our new players out of necessity, and not it seems out of desire - maybe they're not ready yet? If that's the case, that's a concern for a pre-season that started sometime in November.

Defensive issues aside, set piece issues aside, one man up front issue aside, tactics and matters of personnel issues aside, we don't even look like scoring from every mediocre team's best friend - the counterattack. The only positives that people seem to be clinging onto from this game was Jesse Daley, who came on as a sub, managed to hit two decent corners late in the game. You've got to start from somewhere I suppose.

From the 'what was that all about?' files
There was an unusual post-script to this game. After the match finished, Avondale goalkeeper Chris Oldfield decided to get smart with those South fans situated behind his goal - albeit from a considerable distance away.

It was unusual in that, apart from one or two misplaced smart-arse comments about Oldfield's short lived tenure in the A-League - misplaced because, duh, it's not like South's actually made it to the A-League - there seemed to be much less hostility directed towards him than one might have expected.

Much more hostility was being directed towards the team and the officials. I'm not sure what set him off.

The time spent marveling at the genius of how humankind launched hundreds of tons of steel and fibreglass into the air, and what's more, did it with some measure of grace
On a lighter note, it has been reasonably enjoyable watching the under 20s so far this season. They played their game on the weekend on the outside pitch at Somers Street. Because of this, no fewer than five different people asked me upon their own arrival whether we were playing on that ground, confusion added to the fact that Avondale were running the gate the car park entrance rather than the usual stadium entrance. The South 20s butchered a lot of chances during the time I was there, but managed to get a deserved 2-1 win. Of note was the relatively close proximity of Avondale parents to South parents, and the impassioned support for both teams - most notably from a couple of women still dressed in their work clothes, which happened to be air stewardess costumes. People did momentarily wonder whether there was some sort of sponsor gimmick going on, but the banal reality is that they had parachuted down to Knights Stadium which makes sense because, as far as public transport goes, incoming flights to Tullamarine are probably your best option when traveling to Somers Street.

Next game
Saturday night away to the Bergers. Oh joy.

People's Champ in trouble?
That melee after we pulled a goal back in the Community Shield loss at Kingston Heath a few weeks ago? There had been allegations made that Nick Epifano had spat at someone, and it looks like the matter is coming to a head at the tribunal this week. One suspects that if he's found guilty, he'll be out for a while.

Social club update
Always nice to get an update without twisting someone's arm.
There were some (though not many) more photos on the club's Facebook page.

Don't look at it children!
Meanwhile, at the Festival Formerly Known as Antipodes, South Melbourne has been circulating an A-League advocacy t-shirt, which for reasons of social propriety, we at South of the Border will not reproduce here. Suffice to say, for some of us still actually attending South matches 13 years after our last national league stint, this kind of nonsense is slightly irksome to the senses. Even more reassuring are reports that South's A-League bid team leader Bill Papastergiadis told the audience at the Festival Formerly Known as Antipodes that the FFA Cup is the only thing that really matters for us at this time (not that any of that matters).

Around the grounds
No canaries
Hours after seeing this game, or maybe even the next day, I remembered that I had wanted to see this fixture two years ago, and was foiled by the weather. Oh, how times have changed. Having never seen The Cult edition of Nunawading City play before, this was all sorts of the wrong time to do it for the first time. For starters, they have (out of necessity) deviated from the Master Plan, because relegation is now a very real possibility. Thus they have put in big cash for hired guns, flights and accommodation - though one of those hired guns, Jason Trifiro, was not in attendance on Friday night, possibly due to injury, maybe due to not being able to get a flight of Sydney on time, who knows? Papa Ange was there, or at least some bloke who looked a lot like him. Probably looking for the next Socceroo bolter. While Nuna's team looked young, their opponents and hosts, Richmond, didn't look much older. Mind you, there was a kid out there during wearing number 10 who myself, Mark Boric, and two former Richmond presidents all assumed was the Nunawading child mascot for the day. Turned it was Nuna's captain. Nuna raced out to a two goal lead, but Richmond pulled it back to 2-2, and looked the likelier to go on to win. Not so, however! Nuna's heavily front-loaded team scorched Richmond's brittle defense, and showed that, whatever other weakness they have - and they have plenty down back - that against defensively suspect weak opposition like Richmond they have the firepower to put teams away. Those hoping that Nuna will go down this season may be in for year of disappointment, 

Final thought
A good thing this wasn't streamed to the multitudes at Lonsdale Street like some people wanted to.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Everything in its right place - some overdue thoughts on the Ferenc Puskas statue

Ferenc Puskas bust at Real Madrid
training ground, Valdebabas, Spain.
Here is another post which would have been better off shorter and presented in a more timely fashion. So it goes.

Some of the photos of the various statues on this page were sourced from 'From Ptich to Plinth: The Sporting Statues Project', a quite interesting website with a fair bit of academic content as well. 

In retrospect, it made a lot of sense to walk from Flinders Street Station to Gosch’s Paddock along the Yarra. Yes, I had gotten into the city too early for the scheduled start of the unveiling of the Ferenc Puskas statue, but it was a nice day for that walk anyway, along the shaded path, just before it got too hot.

Along the way, I came across a broad spectrum of Melburnians. There were those making their way up to the tennis centre for the Davis Cup doubles tie; tourists; joggers; cyclists at various points along the Lycra-wearing spectrum; families out for a stroll; rowers on the river.

Statue of Collingwood champion Bob Rose, outside
Collingwood's Holden Centre headquarters.
Coming up to the revamped and renamed Glasshouse, now occupied by the Collingwood Football Club and re-named the 'Holden Centre', I saw the statue of Collingwood champion Bob Rose, captured in mid-baulk, and thought about how far away he was from home, both geographically and chronologically. How much would he recognise of what Collingwood had become? Would he wonder why his statue was not at Victoria Park, the scene of his greatest triumphs?

I then walked past Olympic Park, or what remains of it after Collingwood’s annexation of the stadium. This is where Puskas’ crowning achievement during his involvement in Australian soccer took place, the onetime de facto – and democratic – home of Victorian soccer. It had hosted Socceroo matches, National Soccer League matches and Victorian finals ranging from top-tier and Dockerty Cup deciders to amateur cup finals. Of course you would not know that if you looked at it now, but some peoples' histories are more important than others.

Statue of John Landy helping up Ron Clarke,outside what was once
Olympic Park.
Then it was past the statue of John Landy helping up Ron Clarke, which at least provided a sign of athletics’ past at the venue. At this point I was joined by an older, grey-haired gentleman wearing a suit - a bit too for me much considering how hot it had already become - complete with an embroidered Melbourne Victory jacket. We pooled our efforts into trying to find where the Puskas statue was meant to be unveiled. I never caught the man's name, and he didn't learn mine, even though he had attempted to tell me about his connection to Puskas.

We then went past the Bubbledome where keen Bruce Springsteen fans had already camped out hours before the gates were due to open for The Boss' concert. My grey-haired companion then saw some people he knew exiting the car park, and I left him to it. I proceeded around the eastern side of the Bubbledome, to the back of a Melbourne Storm training ground to where a couple of small marquees had been erected. The caterers had arrived, but not many others as yet.

The statue prior to its unveiling. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
I mention the existence of all these people not just to set the scene (which is a literary weakness of mine anyway), but to note the complete and utter obscurity of the unveiling of this statue as an event in its own right. Not that statue unveilings are usually big events in Australia, let alone for a soccer player, but that all added to the unnatural feel of this event even before it had properly got under way.

The statue was sitting underneath some trees almost in a grove, covered by a black cloth, out of the way of most foot traffic likely to approach the Bubbledome. On that matter, I found myself in polite disagreement with Roy Hay, who felt that there would be plenty of foot traffic that would come across the statue where it was situated. But more on that later.

Because before the statue could be unveiled, there was the necessity of enduring the official proceedings, which I assumed would be relatively short, so we could get to the business of seeing the statue and taking our share of the complimentary food and drink on offer. How wrong I would be on that front.

A small crowd gradually built up, a mix of elements of the local Hungarian diaspora, assorted official flunkies of the government and sporting worlds; a small official South Melbourne Hellas contingent; Australia’s preeminent soccer historian in the form of Roy Hay; South Melbourne Hellas fan and local Greek sports journalist George Karantonis; and me. Oh, and those who were due to speak as part of the day's formalities.

Les Murray opened up proceedings, discussing Puskas the player and what he meant to Hungarians of that era, followed by a video montage blighted by the kind of rousing, over-the-top symphonic montage music we should have all become de-sensitised to by now. Then for reasons that I still cannot fathom, Mark Bosnich was asked to speak. Bosnich had never played for a side coached by Puskas, nor played (so far as I’m aware) against a team coached by Puskas, and yet there he was, asked to be the day’s equivalent of Bob Newhart being asked to speak at Krusty the Clown’s funeral.
Peter Tsolakis, Mehmet Durakovic, Kimon Taliadoros and Joe Palatsides.
Photo: Roy Hay.
The most poignant part of proceedings soon followed however, when four members of the South Melbourne Hellas side that Puskas coached to the 1991 NSL title were given the opportunity to reminisce. Peter ‘Gus’ Tsolakis was first, and he provided perhaps the most profound insights into Puskas’ soccer idealism. Tsolakis recalled playing on the wing and tracking back to defend during a training session, and subsequently getting told off by Puskas: ‘that’s the full-back’s job – your job is to score goals’.

A statement like that reflected Puskas’ idealistic but also antiquated views on how to play football, one in which there was little room for cynicism, let alone tactics. Tsolakis went on to recall another simple instruction from Puskas: ‘show me what you learned as a child’, thus giving licence to his players to be creative, and to enjoy themselves, and to remember that the crowd is there to be entertained, that the game is about goals, but also that it is a players’ game, not a coach’s one.

Ferenc Puskas statue, Obuda (Budapest), Hungary.
Scuplture by Gyula Pauer and Dávid Tóth,
The statue was 'conceived the idea from a photograph of Puskás
 enthralling a group of children with his ball control
 at the Toros de Las Ventas square in Madrid
'
Mehmet Durakovic recalled being re-united with Puskas when Durakovic was captain of Selangor, and Puskas was there to coach the Hungarian national team against them. Puskas slapped Mehmet in greeting, shocking the Asian onlookers, who had very different rules of etiquette around physical contact.

Current Football Federation Victoria president Kimon Taliadoros recalled practicing free kicks with his non-preferred left foot, and being castigated for it by the notoriously single-sided Puskas. When Taliadoros scored a long-range bomb with his left foot for South against Melbourne Croatia at Somers Street, he ran to Puskas to let him know all about it – only to be greeted by Puskas wielding a doubled-handed mountza, the Greek hand gesture of insult descended from the Byzantine practice of smearing ashes over the faces of criminals.

Ferenc Puskas bust, Zala County, Hungary.
(For reference, there is also of course the recollection by Paul Wade in his autobiography Captain Socceroo, of Wade initially interpreting the mountzes he would receive from the crowd as a variation of a high five.)

Then it was time for one-time South Melbourne sponsor, then Melbourne Victory shareholder, and now Tasmanian A-League bid backer Robert Belteky to speak. As the Australian delegate to the Puskás Foundation Board of Trustees, Belteky was apparently instrumental in getting this statue commissioned and brought to Melbourne. Unfortunately, while Belteky spoke for a while, most of what he said was inaudible to those not underneath the marquee. This was not due to any technical malfunction, but rather due to Belteky mumbling his way through most of his prepared remarks.

Ferenc Puskas bust, Kobanya-Kispest traffic junction, Budapest, Hungary
Then it was the turn of a representative of the Hungarian government to pontificate for a while (a quick google says it was Zsolt Németh, chairman of the Hungarian parliament's foreign affairs committee) saying nothing of importance, while those members of the audience not fortunate enough to have snagged a spot under the marquee tried to avoid becoming roasted by the heat of the day.

Then another speaker in the never-ending cavalcade, a public servant or state government flunky of some sort standing in for the Victorian Minister for Sport John Eren (turns out it was Liberal state upper house member Bruce Atkinson). The aforementioned flunky at least managed to pique my interest as we sweltered in the shade, after what was almost an hour and a half's worth of speeches and formalities, by somehow bringing in a connection to Melbourne Victory and the Bubbledome, and throwing in the line that roughly went, 'wasn't it wonderful that South Melbourne had contributed to soccer's growth in Australia by bringing over Puskas, but wasn't it even better that we had now subsumed that tribalism and moved forward with the A-League and teams like Melbourne Victory'.

Ferenc Puskas statue, Pancho Arena, Flecsut Hungary.
It bears a striking resemblance to the statue unveiled in Gosch's Paddock.
Sculpture by Béla Domonkos 
Missing from the reminiscences of Puskas’ time in Australia was the story of how he got here and how he came to coach South Melbourne Hellas, regardless of whatever conjecture there is around that story. One can understand and forgive leaving out the controversies, while still feeling if not aggrieved, then at the very least disheartened by the lack of acknowledgement of the Greek community’s experience during this celebration of Puskas’ time in Melbourne.

If, as was acknowledged on the day, Puskas’ time in Australia went unnoticed by Australian society, then why was so little attention paid to those who did pay attention – in this case, one thinks specifically of Melbourne soccer’s community and the local Greek soccer community in particular who would flock to training sessions to be near Puskas?

Ferenc Puskas statue, Szentes, Hungary.
Sculpture by László Csíky
Photo: Dr László Csíky
If nothing else, Puskas' time in Australia was a supreme exemplar of what soccer was like in this country at the time. It was a pursuit that was followed madly by its adherents, but which was nigh on invisible to the rest of Australia society. One of world football's greatest was here for three years, living here in almost total obscurity - except, importantly, for those who knew and understood. It many ways, Puskas' time mirrored that of those who watched him, especially those of the predominantly central and southern European migrants involved with soccer at the time - both subaltern, and existing in a parallel cultural world to that of mainstream Australia.

There is little doubt that Puskas’ tenure at South had at least something to do with Puskas’ tenure as manager of Panathinakos in the 1970s. Because Puskas could speak Greek, but very little English, Ange Postecoglou, who was captain of that Hellas side, would act as the de facto translator. There were no South Melbourne Hellas office holders or supporters of that era asked to speak, nor any Greek-Australian soccer journalists of that time.

Instead, apart from those former South Melbourne players, the emphasis of the day was more on Puskas the phenomenon, to the point where even his managerial career was being extolled, when the record shows that he was in fact a mediocre manager at best.

Ference Puskas statue in Gosch's Paddock, Melbourne.
Photo: George Donikian.
Then finally, the statue was unveiled, and I must say I was underwhelmed. Keep in mind though that I'm at best an armchair art-critic when it comes to the visual arts - but I think there is something to the idea that soccer is a difficult sport to capture effectively in marble or bronze. With the exception of a goalkeeper making a save - something much better suited to photography than sculpture - the game's most poetic moments are embedded in movement, not in moments of stasis.

In that sense, cricket and footy have significant advantages when it comes to presenting heroic moments of stasis: for cricket, a batsman captured at the end of of his follow through on a batting stroke, or a bowler at or just after the moment of release; for footy, the high mark or the booming kick.

With the exception of the aforementioned diving save, soccer's most significant moments are not about stasis, but movement. The dribble (could you sculpt a nutmeg?), the interplay of a string of passes with the requisite movement off the ball, and of course the swerving shot, which at its peak exists purely in the realms of applied physics, independent of any player.

Ferenc Puskas during his stint as South Melbourne Hellas coach,
resplendent in a trademark ugly jumper.
Having said that, such observations do not seek to elevate the aesthetics of one sport over another, as was attempted - and irretrievably badly at that - by academic Stephen Alomes at the 2012 Worlds of Football Conference held by Victoria University. Nevertheless, having set up the parameters of soccer's most pleasing aesthetic moments in this way, this statue (to me if seemingly not to anyone else at the unveiling) seems lumpen and lacking in grace.

There is of course, also the incongruity of having a statue of Ferenc Puskas the player in Australia as opposed to the manager, despite Puskas having never played the game in Australia.

Yet to be completed Ferenc Puskas statue.
Ultimate destination unknown.
Sculptor, László Csíky.
Now despite the strong desire of what has been dubbed Australian #sokkahtwitter - including your correspondent - that Melbourne's Puskas statue be of the overweight, bad jumper wearing Puskas, or the tracksuit wearing Puskas, or at least the suit wearing, grand final day Puskas, one had to be realistic. Yet, all the same the fact it was a statue of the playing Puskas as opposed to a managerial Puskas was disappointing - the statue of a playing Puskas is utterly alienating, existing outside of almost all local context.

If the most poignant of reminiscences on the day were about Puskas' kindliness, humility and gentlemanly conduct while he was a football manager in Australia, this statue fails to get anywhere near that feeling. It was noted at the unveiling, almost as an aside, that this will be one of four Puskas statues around the world. Did they mean based on this mould? Or did they mean overall? If it is the former, then it hardly makes our statue unique. If it is the latter, it is not much better, as busts and statues of Puskas have sprung forth in many places, especially in Hungary. All the more reason then that our statue should have been of the Puskas that we knew.

The statue's position at the back end of a rugby field also separates Puskas from where he did his greatest work here. To a very large extent, this is unavoidable - Middle Park Stadium no longer exists; Olympic Park also no longer exists, if we're being honest; and for whatever reason (see later notes on this), the Hungarians and the Puskas Foundation, who funded this enterprise (along with a regional tour of the FIFA Puskas Award and a gala dinner on the Friday night before the statue's unveiling), didn't feel like placing it outside Lakeside (which would pose its own historical-conceptual issues, ala the Bob Rose statue, but at least it would be closer to where South Melbourne Hellas currently lives).

Soccer players statue at Australian Institute of Sport.
Scupltor, John Robinson.
Photo: Philip Abercrombie. 
The path that the statue sits alongside is very much out of the way - the majority of the mass of people that will head to the Bubbledome for its various sporting and musical events, or heaven forbid, Olympic Park for a Collingwood VFL game, will not come across the statue, as most people who visit those venues tend to come from Richmond station, or via the tram, or if they're feeling particularly fit, from along the river from Flinders Street. The people most likely to come across the statue are cyclists, who probably won't stop, or a Melbourne Storm player collecting a stray ball during a training session.

Sporting statues in Australia seem to me to be a fairly recent phenomenon. Before that, when it came to erecting statues we probably did much as the British did - when we commissioned sculptures, it was of soldiers, politicians, explorers, and maybe the occasional scientist. In more recent years, as sport has started catching up not just on the merits of history in its own right, but especially the propaganda value that it can elicit in the hearts and minds of the general public, various sporting bodies have seen the cultural heft that can be achieved by neoclassical tributes to sporting icons. Thus footy statues have sprung up in all sorts of usual (MCG) and unusual (Braybrook Hotel on Ballarat Road) places, and even tennis has chimed in with the cheaper alternative of using busts of its champions at the tennis precinct. (the only one of which was immediately recognisable was John Newcombe, because of the moustache).

Johnny Warren statue outside the
Sydney Football Stadium.
Sculptor, Cathy Weiszmann.
Photo: Johnny Warren Comnunity.
Aside from this Puskas statue, there are three extant soccer statues or sculptures in Australia that I am aware of. One of these is at the Australian Institute of Sport, and is of a generic soccer scene, with anonymous players. There is also the statue of Johnny Warren outside the Sydney Football Stadium. And lastly, there is the statue of the late Dylan Tombides outside Perth Oval.

In their own way all of these statues - including the Puskas one - represent some crucial aspect of the Australian soccer experience, even if that was not the chief intent of each of the sculptors. In Tombides, we have the personification of the young Australian soccer player venturing overseas, to Europe and especially England, seeking their footballing destiny and fortune. In Warren, we have the supreme archetype of the Australian soccer evangelist - noted more for those efforts rather than the exploits of their playing career. In the statue of the anonymous players, we have the anonymity of the game and its participants. And in Puskas, we have the overseas guest, a giant of the sport living almost anonymously in a town which was and still is alternately oblivious to soccer's existence, and envious of soccer's global reach. But the net effect of all of them is to remind Australians of soccer's sense of displacement within Australian culture. Even Warren, whose club career was entirely spent in Australia, is more notable for his efforts to create a place for a global game in this most crowded and parochial of sporting nations.

Now one can, as is often the case with my writings, take all of this pontificating with a large dose of salt. I am almost by nature drawn to the farcical and absurd in situations such as this, unwilling to accept the prosaic and straightforward nature of such projects. As nonsensical as I find the statue's placement to be, it will apparently be joined in future by other statues in what has at least been informally dubbed an 'avenue of champions'. I am told that there had been an attempt or an offer made by FFV to the people behind the Puskas statue project to have it located outside Lakeside Stadium, but that the decision to locate it at that particular part of Gosch's Paddock had already been made.

Stature of Dylan Tombides
outside Perth Oval..
Sculptor, Robin Hitchcock.
Photo: Perth Glory
If this 'avenue of champions' does actually come about, one wonders who will pay for it, and what hope there is of soccer getting any more statues as part of such a project. (I will leave the question of which Australian, or especially Victorian, soccer player would merit a statue open for now). This statue of Puskas reputedly cost $75,000, and was paid for by Belteky; though to cast doubt on that, there are various media reports which suggest this was all done by the Hungarians, who plan to unveil three more statues of Puskas around the world; even this monument then is not unique, but instead intended to imply a message of ubiquity.

(I should note that of the four Puskas statues to be created, I don't think any of the photos of the Puskas statues I've included here, apart from the Gosch's Paddock one, are part of that project. I have searched for a Puskas statue in Madrid, but I do not think one exists, and thus I assume that one of these four planned statues will end up there.)

It has been intimated to me that the Victorian Government initially didn't even want the statue, but after much negotiation eventually came around to the idea. As part of one of the most extended quid pro quo agreements I can think of, this whole thing is being done at the behest of the city of Budapest's bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Apparently, when Melbourne was bidding for the 1996 Olympic Games, Ferenc Puskas had acted as a sort of ambassador for the bid.

In its design, procurement, placement and veneration, the statue is more about Hungarians' ideas of Puskas than of what his Australian tenure meant to those who experienced it first hand. Later, I would attend the Moreland City vs Werribee City game at Campbell Reserve - apart from those at the game who had also been at the statue unveiling, such as George Donikian, no one would have been the wiser that a Ferenc Puskas statue had been unveiled on the same day. Why would it?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Deflated - Port Melbourne 4 South Melbourne 0

No Michael Eagar, who would be out for two weeks with a knee injury received against Bulleen on the Monday night. No Brad Norton, who pulled up sore from the Bulleen game. Tim Mala out of action, too, not sure why. An underdone Kristian Konstantinidis in at right back, uitlity Liam McCormack at left back, and Carl Piergianni at centre back. Then we got kicked out of the far side of the ground by security man Arthur Akritidis, and things only went further downhill from there.

(And yes, as a media pass holder I could have stayed there, but that's not the point is it? Why are patrons barred from what is the best viewing spot at this ground? It's not like they don't have security there. It's not like other clubs stop people from going next to and behind the benches. )

Forgive me if I don't pontificate in my usual way about tactics - being behind the goals we were nominally attacking in both halves was not ideal for either where the interesting things happened, let alone my sub-par vision staring into the darkness.

The first goal we conceded, it seemed like no one bothered to mark anyone either on the wings for the crosses, or for the man sitting by himself in the six yard box. Then there was the chance they had where they somehow headed the ball down into the turf and over the bar.

What did we offer in return in the first half? A lot of possession, but zero penetration. Crosses which missed Milos Lujic, and because of the way we play, no one else was there to make a difference. Oh, and we called for handball a million times, hoping for the ref would bail us out.

Second half, and we let Andreas Govas do the thing that Andreas Govas does better than anyone in the league, namely launch a bomb from distance. Why or how he was allowed to have that much room is anyone's guess.

The rest of the game has become a blur. They scored twice more and hit the crossbar, while we switched things around personnel wise for little improvement. Trying to walk the ball in is a problem, no support for Lujic is a problem, bad crossing is a problem - and yet none of these are new problems.

Getting done over by a team half made up of South discards and rejects - Alan Kearney, James Karvelis, Francesco Stella, Andreas Govas - was the cream of the humiliation cake. Getting done over 4-0 by a team that had reputedly not even had a shot on target the week before was the cherry on top of the cream of the humiliation cake.

Just one slightly fortunate point from our opening two games, against opponents predicted to be nowhere near finals contention. Not much of worth to hold onto from this game in particular. It'd be easy to get hysterical, but as it was the whole experience was so deflating that there was nothing worthwhile getting angry about. Also, it's only round two, so you know, things might get better.

Or they might get worse, and wouldn't we all look foolish for getting carried away now instead of then?

Next game
Avondale Heights at Somers Street on Saturday night.

Dear Sir and/or Madam (I am not a crackpot)
I am disappointed - nay, disgusted - with the decision by persons at FFV to no longer produce an online NPL and NPL 2 video highlights package.

The original move to create such a highlights package and make it accessible via youtube was to me one of the smarter things the FFV's media department had done in recent memory. Each week, most of the previous round's action, usually watchable, was condensed into a ten minute or so package crammed with goals and incident from beginning to end.

But now it seems that approach was far too convenient for the audience. Now Savvas and Dave and I and all the other dateless wonders who pay attention to this miserable competition will have to trawl through the internet each week, looking for each NPL club's highlights individually, except for the A-League youth teams' games, because I don't see their participation in the NPL as valid.

Others meanwhile are angry that South is no longer screening its SMFC TV programme on the pay television community channel Aurora. Frankly, I reckon that decision is long overdue. If you wanted to put something on in the more obscure part of the media, that's where it was.

When SMFC TV was on Channel 31, which is accessible by nearly everyone with a television, it made perfect sense. Now I understand why the show was moved - Channel 31's digital licence was set to expire (and is hanging on for grim life). In addition to that, South had not only invested a fair chunk of money but also much ideological currency into the idea that this venture was an important part of the club's (modern) public face.

But what kind of public face can you have when you pick the most obscure corner of television on which to promote your product? Yes the internet is a bottomless chasm of information sources and competing ideas, but its inefficiencies in this case are so superior to Aurora.

Despite the pay TV industry itself having successfully manufactured the idea in the wider public sphere that everyone has pay television, the reality is that Australia's subscription television uptake is only about 30% of households.

And while I'm (perpetually) annoyed at the way FFV and South have used the stats from FFV's Facebook live stream against Bulleen, one can still note that those kinds of ventures have a greater chance of reaching existing and new audiences than most of the alternatives.

I'm more aghast that the club has stopped providing full length editions of South Radio, now breaking it up into bite size segments. This move totally misses the point of what made South Radio listenable - rather than the overly slick production values of the rest of our media efforts, the podcast had a looser, more personable feel.

I'm not saying it was great, but part of its charm - perhaps even the main thing I liked - was that the long-form version of South Radio was everything they don't teach people at media school.

Which, if I'm being honest, is seeing things through my moderately lo-fi aesthetic lens. But that's part of this blog's charm, too, no?

Frozen Tears news!
I don't know when, but apparently Jon Powers of Frozen Tears has remastered Frozen Tears' 'South Melbourne' song. Wasn't it fine the four different ways it was?

Aping Robert Christgau, badly




Around the grounds
Stop me if you've heard this one before
Went out to the John Farnham Retirement Tour This Is It Stadium on Saturday afternoon in the hopes of seeing bad soccer, something worse than what I'd seen the night before. Mission accomplished. Before that though I had three blokes at the gate stare at my media pass like a dog being shown a card trick, as Bill Hicks would say. Got there early enough for a hamburger before the 3:15 kickoff, but for reasons which will never be known this game didn't kickoff until 3:29 - it's a good thing that NPL 2 West isn't a real comp like the NPL proper, or else someone might care and do something about it. Nothing of any note happened for the first half hour. In fact so much nothing happened that one started reevaluating all one's life decisions even more intensely then usual. Then Georgies managed to get behind the Werribee defense, cutback, bundled in for 1-0. A second goal for Georgies right on half time was neater, but also worse - a free kick on the edge of the box played short, cutback, tap in, 2-0. The second half was marginally more interesting, not that the visitors did anything to make it so. They pulled one back from their first proper chance in the 92nd minute, but that's all they could do.

Final thought
Thank goodness this game didn't reach a million views or clicks or subliminal retinal imprints.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Kitchen sink drama - Bulleen Lions 2 South Melbourne 2

Seeing as the end result was the same as our 2016 trip to the Veneto Club, I could just do a rinse repeat of last year's summary, except for the fact that it was quite different.

I mean, right from the beginning you could tell that the synthetic pitch was less of an obstacle than it was last year - not because it was any better, but because we just seemed to adapt to it much faster than we did in 2016, when it took us 80 minutes to get anything resembling confidence on it.

And thus in part because of that, we dominated the first half. We should have had several goals during the opening 45 minutes, but only slightly poor finishing - and some good goalkeeping from the bloke that apparently kept against us in that Palm Beach FFA Cup game - kept the goal tally down to just the one goal for us.

I can't even fault the corner taking, because it was better than usual, and we even managed to get a free kick on target, which is miles ahead of where we were last year and the (counts on fingers, runs out of fingers) however many years it is since we had a reliably good free kick taker.

Though, to heap scorn on them again for no good reason, watching one of our lads in the under 20s plonking free kicks into the back of the net during the curtain raiser with consummate ease was bloody irritating.

Anyway, Leigh's goal was very nice, though I only caught brief sight of it from my angle (I'll explain later), and while Bulleen had the odd moment of counter attacking potential through their right hand side, there were no alarm bells ringing. I wasn't going all over the top like Colonel Mustard standing next to me claiming that it would finish three or four-nil to us, but I felt, dare I say it, almost pleased.

Then the second half began, and everything good about the second half disappeared into a puff of laboured metaphor smoke. Bulleen looked better, and before you knew it had swung in two excellent crosses from the right hand side for two headers. Of course you could say where was the marking, but looking at the videos afterwards, it was not as straightforward as that.

For the first goal, Marcus Schroen found himself out-muscled and outmaneuvered. For the second, no-one, least of all Tim Mala who would eventually get in screen shot, was even close. But there was only so much either of them could do - the delivery was perfect, and for the second goal, the clumsy turnover (one of a number of appalling, panicky turnovers) which lead to the cross being sent in saw the entire defense all at sea.

We worked our way back into the game with sheer effort rather than class, and it was that as much as luck and/or skill that got us a point from this game. Bulleen had a goal disallowed for offside (good call, he was right in front of the Nicola Roganovic for crying out loud), and in a neat reversal of what happened at the Community Shield the other week we went right up the other end and scored.

A puff of black powdery rubbery stuff comes up as Milos Lujic is brought
down in the box; the resulting penalty saw South level scores.
Photo: Mark Avellino.
Looking at it live, I didn't think it was a good call, but others thought differently; looking at the video the first time, my resolute opinion that it wasn't a penalty was weakened, but then when watching the SMFCTV footage I swung back to no penalty.

On the other hand, as I noted on Twitter after the game, when you watch the game from behind the goals (as I did in the second half) you'll see Milos gets scragged from pillar to post. If he gets a soft penalty every now and then, it's at the very least the justice of probabilities coming into play.

Someone may have been looking for an omen because of who the keeper was and his past history, but Milos did the job, and we got out of jail to a certain extent.

During the pre-season, it was intimated by some that it would take the team about seven weeks to get into our stride, and perhaps we all underestimated Bulleen following the turnover in personnel they had over the summer, so it's not panic stations yet. Still, some onlookers were quick to go the jugular for the 'kick it to Milos' game plan, but if you see the 'around the grounds' segment for this week, you'll see that's not just a South Melbourne thing.

The worst news - apart from the dropped points - was that Michael Eagar's injury (a knee?) looked serious, and while we have cover at the centre back position nowadays, one still hopes it's not too serious. Luke McCormack also seemed to hobble off a bit when he subbed off.

Mandatory Simpsons reference for my mate Dave
Ah, the promise of exhilaration at the start of a new season,

And then, well, the reality of the situation kicks in.

Non-mandatory literary reference
Some of you may recall that last year I burst a spleen when writing about the poor public transport and pedestrian access to the Veneto Club. It hasn't improved (duh) over the last 12 months but at the same time, one can change one's attitude to such things. That influence was effected in a practical sense by taking a more logical route (avoiding the Manningham Hotel car park) and doubling back towards the traffic lights on Bulleen Road. But the change in attitude was also influenced by having recently re-read James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


A digression taken in order to cut and paste something from a blog about books none of you knew existed and which none of you will ever see
Many years ago, I bought this book from the library stall at Bayside's Paisley campus. I felt that, even then, that it was sad that these books were being discarded. I would've also bought Ulysses at the same time, total cost surely not much more than a dollar? That I can't remember. Why did I buy it? I think it was the cover, but certainly the title. There was something irretrievably classicist, or rather, canonical about it. Of course back then, I didn't know about these things, even barely in the abstract, let alone that for something like Portrait to become canonical would have been unthinkable in its own time, because of its outright modernism. I just thought it sounded sophisticated, and like so many people who read 'serious' books, I thought reading this would give me a level of intellectual prestige.

As an aside, as an example of how erratic and eclectic my reading sensibilities were at the time - and even now, to be fair - around the same time I read Loaded. Hardly in the same genre, or was it? Well, perhaps one of them was more accomplished. I can remember one Christmas barbecue argument directed at me by cousin Aggie, chastising me for reading contemporary writers when I should have been reading the classics. Years later of course, she was as contemporary in her tastes as anyone.

So I bought the book and read it out of teenage intellectual vanity. I admit it. I saw the title, and had delusions of grandeur that it was not about the artist, about an artist, any artist. Maybe even in its grand scheme, even me. And yes, that is true to an extent, because Joyce has Stephen expand upon all sorts of aesthetic and ethical questions as they relate to how an artist should function in this world. It was only upon re-reading that I came to understand that, in a very important and central way, as much as this book was about any artist, it was very much about the artist, Joyce himself.

But I didn't think of the book in that way at the time. I thought, here is a novel, it is obviously a serious novel, it is out of sync not only with the world as a whole but especially with the world around me as I knew it. Who did I know who read? Mike, then a friend, eventually to become a sort of traitor, though who knows how much reluctance there was in the act when it came, and how much of it was sheer necessity to get rid of someone who could just not get the hint?

Anyway. what did I remember of the book after actually having read it? The very first scenes, but not much of them - I couldn't even remember the argument about Parnell. The scene that struck most were the long discussion of Catholic hell. Very vivid and frightening, but did it change me and make me more religious? No, just sympathetic to Stephen who is affected by the imagery, but then abandons his fear anyway because he can't keep up what becomes the pretense of his efforts at penitence.

What did I miss or forget? The Irish nationalist arguments, the political and cultural tensions. The way every other character that isn't Stephen drifts and blurs into the background. Often little introduction to who the other characters are - Stephen knows who they are and that's what matters. I forgot the endless amount of siblings who kept emerging whenever Stephen would return home. And I especially forgot about Emma, and the way she existed at the edge of novel. For some reason I had it in my head that she left with Stephen at the end, but that's all wrong. She goes with someone else, and Stephen only makes the decision to leave Ireland, but hasn't yet left.

I still failed to understand the long treatises interwoven into the novel, and of course the Latin phrases. They are of their time, more now than even then. Because of these stretches of the narrative, many of which I could not understand because of my limited intellectual capabilities, I found myself getting bored. But it always seemed to come around. There are lines and moments which just leap off the page, such as,
I have amended my life, have I not? he asked himself.
and
And yet he felt that, however he might revile and mock her image, his anger was also a form of homage.
The latter of which is surely talking about Ireland as much as a woman.

I remember reading this book at Greek School, Omiros to be exact, in the darkness. I did it to stand out, sure, but I did it because what else could I do? The kids there took pity on me, tried to include me in whatever it was they were doing, but I could not make the leap across to understanding. Neither could they, but bless them they tried.

But my most abiding memory is of a classmate and sort of acquaintance, Rachel (why did I think it was Rebecca?), who was then a photography student, taking some photos of various members of our group, or at least those willing to be photographed. I don't think I was very comfortable with the way I looked at the time (an understatement), but I got her to take a photo of me with the book, my eyes visible just above the cover, reading the book. Despite some soft pressing, I never did get to see the photo, if indeed it was ever even developed. It was vain of me, but was it not also at least human?

Now at least I can say that I don't mind my appearance so much, and am happy to have my photo taken by anyone - though I'll still try and pull a pose. Is not the ultimate goal of the artist, even a mediocre one, to become the embodiment of their own creativity?

Returning to the point I was trying to make several minutes ago
I love to perambulate!
where, apart from every other theme taking up by that remarkable novel, one is struck by how much walking is done by the characters. They walk through Dublin in rain or shine, and they walk through miles of countryside. This is understandable within the novel's historical context - it is the late 1800s, so of course people were accustomed to walking everywhere - but it also didn't seem to a burden to them. I was also reminded of a conversation I had with a friend of the South of the Border (let's call him Tony), recently returned from a European holiday, where he remarked on the strong pedestrian culture still extant in Europe.

Besides which, there was this old bloke who easily outpaced us up the hill on the return journey. Puts things in perspective.

Aping Robert Christgau, badly (another new segment which will soon tank)
'Leigh Minopoulos' goal' Choice Cuts

Next game
A short turnaround, with a trip to Port Melbourne on Friday.

The quasi-celebrity status of being a blogger in this dead-end league
I used to relish and protect my utter irrelevance. Now that it's gone,. one has to deal with all sorts of well-wishers, suck-holes and distractions at a game. In the first half alone and before the game, I found myself in discussion with famous journos, FFV employees, FFV board members, Twitter celebrities. It's entertaining, but also distracting when all you want to do is watch a game and act like a pork chop.

2017 Memberships
They are now available, with a notable caveat - that being that the online membership portal is not yet functioning, and will not do so until mid-March. I have been informed that this is because the membership portal is being updated, so that membership cards and details will be synced with the social club and new computer systems being installed by the club - for example, in order to quickly calculate member discounts in the social club, as well as track social club capacity.

Until that point, you can download the brochure and form directly, and email the completed form to the club.

The imminent return of the social club has seen the return of the social club membership category. At $220, I think it is good value, but then again, I even bought a social club membership that one year it was available when the new social club didn't materialise.

The social club membership gives one priority access to the social club during major match days, not guaranteed access. This had led to a reiteration of the grievance that the social club should not have included the futsal court, so that the capacity could go above the estimated 230-260 person limit. Of course the counter-argument to that is that the futsal court will provide an income on all the days that South is not playing at home, and that there exists the possibility that

Something to note here is the return of the social club membership has seen voting rights revert back to the situation to when we last had a social club - that being that only social club members will receive voting rights.

The other membership options therefore fall into the season ticket pass category. The options there are pretty straightforward. A $140 season pass, or a $35 three game pass. There are family and concession options available for the social club and season ticket options, but obviously not the three game pass.

In the end, I just hope the bumper sticker is actually half decent this time.

Oh, and if that if happen to have emailed the club my completed form last week, that they might send me a note acknowledging receipt of said email before George Cross leave Chaplin Reserve for good, or the social club is complete - whichever happens first.

Please try harder
Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro popped up after having made some speech or whatever, which one assumes included words and thoughts which other people will care about more than I do. The one comment which did catch South of the Border's attention, if only because everyone else who pretends not to care but actually does care because they lack the discipline that I do, started talking about it. Apparently the aforementioned comment went as follows:
At the core of any expansion, we must be confident that any new licenses don’t compromise the mainstream integrity and the marketability of the competition. 
They must embrace all of us who enjoy sport. We’ve got to learn from lessons past, both good and bad.
The phrase 'mainstream integrity' in particular seemed to scratch the itch of anyone looking for offense. Even I've got to admit that as far as 'barely concealing your contempt and/or fear' comments go - especially comments where you don't name anyone specifically, but everyone still knows who you're talking about - it was pretty good.

On the other hand, while some South fans were happy to get upset - and more power to them for continuing that great tradition - I had to mark Di Pietro's comment down for being rather old hat, so 2007, and just completely out of step with the alleged reality that the A-League purports to have manifested for itself.

For example, seeing as how South is more or less no chance of getting an A-League licence, and seeing as how the A-League has done such a marvellous job of obliterating what little relevance old soccer had left, all while squatting on its portion of the rapidly diminishing unclaimed pastures of mainstream sporting attention, why would one even bother making that kind of comment at all?

It's sad enough when some chump on the 442 forums or The Roar comments section feels the need to ark up about how even the idea of a South bid could undo the relentless march of history which has led us to this point.

But those chumps are, for want of a better word, chumps, But you, Anthony, you're the leader of the most popular soccer club in the country. Do you really need to stoop to that level, of dare I say it, quaintness? Has the A-League stagnated that much that even its hoary insults for old soccer - and even the fact that they feel they need to make them - have become stale?

And then our club said, well, something not entirely stupid
They could have just let Di Pietro's comment go through to the keeper, but instead the club - or at least the bid team portion or affiliate of the club - decided to add its two cents.
"We're absolutely no threat to Victory. We're an asset to Victory, to the A-League and football in general," he told AAP. 
"We're not about cannibalising their membership, their supporters or the interest they've developed. 
"We think we can value add and that's the beauty of the South Melbourne bid. It's about the past coming to the future."
While South of the Border is on record here and here that we believe the notion that South in the A-League would not cannibalise Victory's support is ludicrous, the response is magnificent in its taking of the supreme moral high ground.

Not responding with hostility? Check.

Staying on message about what South would add to the A-League? Check.

Offer to meet with Di Pietro to discuss the issues? Check.

It's almost enough to make a jaded blogger shed a tear, watching the maturity - and proper taking advantage of a cynical PR situation - unfold before us. I mean, yes, we all know that they'll do something within the next few days to cock it up, but for now, let's just enjoy the moment.

Speaking of which
The latest roll out of #smfc4aleague propaganda is #smfc4wleague, as seen in this article. And it's not just mealy mouthed statements - serious recruiting for WNPL, eight women's/men's double headers, joint men's and women's training sessions - it's like this very traditional, conservative club has instead of trying out baby steps, has rather dived straight into the deep end. This could be fun,

Joint men's and women's teams training session. Photo: Kevin Juggins.


Amble! Saunter!
Around the grounds
OBEY YOUR MASTER!
In a choice between the afternoon Sunshine George Cross and Moreland City match, and the later Avondale and St Albans fixture, I decided on the earlier, closer, more public transport friendly affair. Also, it's useful to kid oneself that the kilometre or so round trip from the bus stop on Durham Road to Chaplin Reserve counts as meaningful exercise. Still, walking past the traffic lights outside Chaplin Reserve, past a guy sitting in an old bomb blasting Master of Puppets made all the effort worthwhile - which is more than can be said for the match itself. Moreland City is, allegedly, a title contender, and they dominated play insofar as they had more of the ball and territorial advantage - not that they looked likely to do anything with it. Sunshine George Cross is, allegedly, a relegation fancy, and perhaps lucky that Bendigo 'insert latest name of incarnation here' are also in their side of NPL 2. George Cross came closest to scoring for both sides - in the first half, a header from a corner almost ended up scoring an own goal - only a save from the Sunshine keeper kept it out. In the second half, a goal mouth scramble should have seen George Cross open the scoring, but to no avail. So it ended scoreless.

Just on that point: I am getting sick and tired of every team in the NPL and NPL 2 playing one up front. If either side here had the daring to give their front man some support, they probably would have won this game. Look, if we're being honest, I'm turning up to Chaplin Reserve these days just to see it die. I don't want to see it die, and I will miss the sight of metro and country trains rolling by, but die it will, even if it is taking its sweet time in doing so. Yes, I do plan to be there again next week for what will hopefully be the actual final senior game there ever. Surely this John Farnham style farce can't go on for much longer (June I'm now told, which means the social club will be finished before then). Not every game can be livened up by conversations with Trent Rixon on the sidelines, asking where my little Asian buddy was - hey Gains, you're famous!

Final thought
I hear that the negotiations for that south-eastern suburbs/Dandenong corridor A-League bid got a bit heated on Saturday afternoon (not that any of that matters).

Friday, 10 February 2017

Contribute to South of the Border in 2017

I usually, but not always, put the call out for people to contribute to South of the Border around this time each year. And usually, but not always, the call falls on deaf ears.

But here am I asking for people to contribute to South of the Border in any way that they can. Comics, videos, essays, match reports, satire, parody, photos - anything that you can think of.

Been to a conference or some sort of gathering to do with soccer, and have some thoughts on how it may apply to South?

Read a decent soccer book you think is worth sharing? Are you interested or involved with the women's side of the club and want to see more content on that?

Have a favourite or formative South experience? Want to talk about how you became a South fan? I'm happy to take that stuff up.

If you're worried about the quality or lack thereof in your writing skill, I am able to help on that front. I have an undergraduate degree that I think covered stuff like editing, proofreading and such.

If you submit something which isn't quite up to scratch - I'll be discreet and considerate. If it's good, but doesn't fit in with South of the Border's style (whatever that is), I'll try and find another home for it.

And if you're worried about nasty comments, I'll filter all the bad stuff so you never have to see it.

I ask not because I'm about to quit, but because I'm always looking for South fans to take more initiative in putting their considered points of view forward into the public sphere.

It doesn't have to be a regular thing, one off contributions are also fine. Of course a vague familiarity with this blog's general tone and style helps, but there is no need or requirement to imitate. My emphasis is always on getting your point across, in your language.

So have a think about it, and if the urge strikes you to contribute, give us a bell.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Cockatoos! Mornington 1 South Melbourne 6

I wasn't stupid enough to haul myself out to Dallas Brooks Park on a Monday night for a pre-season friendly. According to SMFCMike's Twitter reportage:
  • The game was two 45 minute halves.
  • Starting lineup was Roganovic, Konstantinidis, Adams, Piergianni, Mala, Pavlou, De Niese, Daley, Marafioti, Minopoulos, Kecojevic.
  • Goals for us were Minopoulos (x2), Epifano, Lujic, Millar, Schroen.
  • Highlight was cockatoos.
Next game, including live stream details
As I have already complained about numerous times, we open our league season against Bulleen at the Veneto Club on Monday night.

For those who cannot or who choose not to make the trek out there, there will be a live video stream on the NPL Victoria Facebook page.

Farewell hooped socks
Also, you'll need to wait a bit until you can buy these. Speaking of which.

Memberships
We have all been assured that they will be coming out this week.

Not that any of that matters just yet
This week the draw for the NPL national playoff series was held. The result of that draw will see the team that finishes on top of the NPL Victoria ladder at the end of the 2017 season play the equivalent NPL Western Australia side in Western Australia in the NPL national playoffs. I am mentioning this only, or rather mostly, to put the final nail in the coffin of a stupid rumour that was started by 'someone' around the time of the last AGM, and which has still kind of persisted even though it was refuted by eminent persons, or just regular persons, take your pick.

By the way, I really wanted to link to that scene in Death in Brunswick we're they're stomping on the coffin inside the grave, but youtube has failed us on that front, providing only links to the trailer. Which reminds me, I was in a coffin once, and not a very comfortable one I might add.

Around the grounds
Too early in the season to be jaded; too hot not to be jaded
After the unveiling of the Ferenc Puskas statue I headed out to Campbell Reserve to see Moreland City vs Werribee City in the opening round of the NPL 2 season. The man at the gate tried to sell me tickets to the raffle, but the prizes were too A-League oriented, and I told him as much. There was a hive of activity around the ground, as small shade tents had been erected behind the goals, a media gantry was in place, and even a new electronic scoreboard. Sadly the scoreboard froze eight minutes and seventeen seconds into the first half. Trent Rixon, suspended for this match after getting frustrated with a bloke doing 'too many Maradona turns', was one of many notable onlookers in this game, along with George Donikian (who was also at the statue unveiling) and a number of South of the Border well wishers. As for the game itself, a largely dull, grinding affair, only in part due to the heat. Moreland scored first, and Werribee scored second, against the run of play, After the game, I saw the route 1 tram wait through about six or ten traffic light cycles because of people in cars who wanted to turn right onto Moreland Road. I hate those people so much.

Final thought
Yes, I will be writing about the Ferenc Puskas statue at some point (either on here or for another website), hopefully soon, but I really want to nail this one properly, because of the sheer absurdity of the whole situation.

Friday, 3 February 2017

You think you've got problems - Bentleigh Greens 2 South Melbourne 1

(standard woe is me opening) Sitting here tonight and trying to type this post up, I am in agonising pain, not wanting to blink or close my left eye for fear of further aggravating an already aggravated and inflamed cornea.

Candidate for photo of the year already. Photo: Kevin Juggins.
(usual rank hyperbole) And yet that is nothing compared to the psychic pain caused by last night's performance by our beloved South Melbourne, who dared to dominate the first 15 or so minutes of the Community Shield against Bentleigh and provide a sense of false hope that we would be a super team in 2017.

(possibly rose tinted reminiscence) How good did we look, destroying Bentleigh out wide, getting into many good positions, winning several corners? We looked like the real deal.

(hackneyed comic attempt at mock relief) Thank goodness then that the dual-action remedy was close at hand - first, the fast acting patented not scoring, and second, the long lasting patented letting the other team back into the game and being outplayed for the next...

(runs out of fingers to count on) up until the 80th minute or so, maybe a bit more.

(mandatory footy reference) Oh, we kept fighting. Prototypical utility player Liam McCormick barreled through an opponent and a teammate at the same time with a reckless challenge, one reminiscent of Cameron Venables cleaning up Gavin Brown at a pre-season intra-club match in 1999 - and didn't Venables' career just take off after that?

(irony and/or coincidence) We finally found ourselves 1-0 down after the bloke we'd been promoting online for his ability to score from headers slipped over and left the rest of the defense stranded

(accusation of obvious corruption) And yet considering their utter dominance of our alternately meek and non-existent midfield, Bentleigh took their sweet time in actually finishing us off. That it had to happen after we had a goal disallowed from what looked like the worst offside call ever so far this year, only for Bentleigh to march up the other end and score again.

(irrelevant statistic) Having become engrossed in self-loathing, at some vague point during the second half someone had the gall to present the faux-insight that we had never led a Community Shield game until the 92nd minute, so that ipso factoergo, or even dorkus malorkus, we were still in the game. Terrible,m woeful logic.

(haughty derision) Phooey. As if we could somehow come back from 2-0.

(but here's the twist) We did actually make a game of it, when Milos Lujic managed to pull a goal back with five minutes of regulation time to go. Then some of our players and some of their players started punching on, wasting much valuable time and eventually delaying the finish long enough that I would end up missing the first available train back to civilisation. The People's Champ was in the thick of it, there were yellow cards bandied about it seemed mostly out of a sense of duty rather than a sense of the officials actually knowing what had happened and how to deal with the situation, and eventually the game resumed.

(premature disappointment) Leigh Minopoulos caused some problems as a substitute, and may have deserved a penalty when one on one with the goalkeeper and looking to level the scores. In the end, there was no penalty, no equalising goal, and no chance for us to lose in a penalty shootout. That in itself was bit of a letdown.

(leaving off on a positive) Michael Eagar looked quite good, and Marcus Schroen is playing like he is about to have a monster season. Something to look forward to, if you're the kind of person that needs something to look forward to. Like the promise of a new day, the ordeal itself is enough motivation for me to turn up.

Other things worth noting
The bus stop for the 828 across from Cheltenham station has a new and improved shelter.

Kingston Heath's surface was in excellent condition,

Bentleigh were missing Stipo Andrijasevic (injury) and Andy Brennan (Thailand?).

All things considered, the standard in the first half was actually quite pleasing. It felt like a real game, or very close to it.

This part of the south-east has the strangest try-hard homeboys I've ever come across.

Next game - update
Before our round 1 fixture eventually arrives against Bulleen on Monday week, we'll be playing Mornington away at Dallas Brooks Park on Monday February 6th, kickoff at 7:00PM.

Arrivals and departures (sometimes in that order)
Well, we finally have some closure on who is in the squad, and who is not. There were some surprises and left turns. Stephen Hatzikostas' time at South is over - absent for most of the -pre-season, he's found a new home at Green Gully. Francesco Stella, after being let go 'by mutual agreement', has ended up at Port Melbourne. Stefan Zinni has also been signed up Western Sydney Wanderers for the rest of this A-League season.

Meanwhile, the services of Andy Kecojevic have also been retained for 2017.

As per last time, the following players are known to be contracted for next season and the one after.

Players who have gone.

Social club update!
There's this photo
And one from where the pro-shop will be.

But also this!
You may remember that in my AGM summary late last year I made a note of the Swans moving their Melbourne offices into Lakeside. Here's a vague article about that,

Final thought
At least the woman working the counter at the bakery across from Cheltenham station threw in a free donut with my order. At least I think it was free.