Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Heart Flutters at the End


Bubbledome Sat 8 December 2012

About time! About time Heart had a win. About time Melbourne Heart was rewarded with three points for their efforts in a game they just shaded. We all know the gods of football are often happy to punish teams who dominate but fail to penetrate. But at last they were kind to a Heart line up that was missing its Socceroos and led by an out-of-sorts Fred. The last minute goal to Golgol Mebrahtu – his first one in the A League – meant that a game seemingly headed for a scoreless draw ended up in the squeakiest of victories for the Cardiac Boys. It was hard to escape Aloisi’s Cheshire Cat smile after the game. And for all of Ian Ferguson’s cannily delivered, gruff disappointment in the post-match presser, his bearing suggested it was result he had already accepted as being hard-but-fair.
The first half of the game was pretty awful. Heart once more looked like lost chooks, faffing about with the ball, giving away possession way too easily and shooting and crossing weakly when the many opportunities to do so arose. Kalmar seemed to switch into slow motion a number of times when in a shooting position. Unfortunately for him the Perth defence intervened at normal speed.
When Perth received possession they did a pretty good job of looking steady and capable. However, their calmer organisation seemed only to lead to impotent conclusions. Having said that, Smeltz looked somewhat dangerous a couple of times but was ultimately wayward in his attempts on goal. Perhaps their best chance of the first half came to Harold, who took advantage of Heart right back, Walker’s being out of position after overlapping in attack. Harold looked good taking the ball into the vicinity of the area but shot benignly and straight at a grateful Bolton.
Jeremy Walker, the young Tasmanian, held on to his place in the continued absence of Marrone and justified the glowing reports from the previous week in another solid performance. He looked undaunted against more experienced attackers and got forward well. He was found out of position a couple of times and in one instance revealed a lack of body strength when easily pushed off the ball by a defender he tried to skin. But the young man has a fabulous future ahead of him if he can build on this performance. Perhaps the greatest compliment paid to him on the day was when the Glory’s pet Rottweiler, Jacob Burns was put on him at the beginning of the second half, a challenge he took in his stride.
David Williams again took my eye. He had many opportunities to cross and/or shoot that he fluffed in the first 60 minutes. Yet he plays with such energy and commitment that it always feels that he may well do something special at any moment. In the final part of the game he came into his own, putting in two exquisite crosses from the left to an unmarked Fred who failed to convert both times.
Towards the end Perth came close, with Bolton saving Heart’s hide with two splendid saves. But in the end Heart’s domination of the second half resulted in the deserved game breaker at the death, scored by a young man whose joy seemed to light up the Bubbledome.
A couple of whinges: Heart’s crowd was pathetic. It’s a good club with seemingly good values and a decent list that plays an attractive if erratic brand of football, coached by the man (the right Aloisi!) whose name should forever trigger delight in the Hearts of Australian football supporters. How about turning up to support them then?
And Nick Kalmar, if you ever again dive like you did in the 83rd minute to try and get a penalty, then I will personally arrange for you to be carted off to NIDA where they will teach you to act properly. Bah!

Monday 17 December 2012

Scraping the Ising from the A League Souffle

Here's an oldie but a goodie from Paul Mavroudis first published in Das Libero about three years ago.

There's a complaint that pops up every now and again about the A-League and the FFA as well – from both lovers and haters of the new era – and it goes more or less like this: while there are plenty of clever and successful business people involved, there are not enough football people to balance it out and protect the game's essence. Which makes the recent departure, or sacking if you will, of Tony Ising from the Melbourne Victory – Ising came up with the concept in the first place – an interesting development in the club and league's history, but also one that that will probably be minimised when the post 2005 creation myth is finalised.

So poor Tony. Or not. The man's dream started in the Carlton SC outer back in the bad old NSL days. (Saying 'old' together with 'NSL' is still mandatory; 'bad' is optional, used with venom by the new footballing breed, while 'old soccerites' make use of it with sarcasm or irony.) He even posted the dream on a webpage which he later had torn down. Rumour has it that he tried to ram his idea through the South Melbourne board at one stage – either that or they weren't very perceptive or progressive, which would surprise few within that club. Among the more dedictated Victory supporters (ie, those who knew who Ising was) some were glad to see him go, seeing him as arrogant and flippant, while others were disappointed by his axing, seeing him as their man on the inside, someone who appreciated their concerns and viewpoints, as well as for taking the time out to answer their questions on the Victory online forum. The reaction from people outside the Victory was almost non-existant, save for some South fans dancing on his grave. Others were more philosophical while still seeing it as the inevitable taking place.

Ising's departure stems from the fact that there are two factions operating at A-League level. One is represented by your Ising types who, in numerous interviews prior to the A-League's beginning, emphasised uniting existing soccer supporters and creating some sort of new footballing culture as opposed to ditching everything that came before. The other types are your Geoff Lords who, let's be honest, are in it for the money. And if Ising thought he was going to be able to buck the general sporting trends in this country, well good on him; but I reckon he was wrong, even if hindsight works a treat.

Because it works like this. Say you're a rock band with a heavy leftist political slant, calling itself The Machine Rages On. Now if you happen to stay small time, your ability to make a difference is compromised by the fact that you're preaching to the converted, and frankly, the converted are fairly few and far between and already doing their bit. Of course, should you have a surprise breakthrough song, perhaps with some anti-police/authority motif, you may find yourself with quite a few more fans. Word spreads, radio's playing your song everywhere, and heaps of people love you. But people are more in tune with the barely restrained anger of your song rather than with the politics. Some of your original fans criticise you for selling out, while others feel uneasy with you being the in thing with a lot of people who are merely on the bandwagon. Your message of social upheaval and change gets lost in the pop-cultural milieu. And all of a sudden the idea you had of starting a political rock band to make a difference stares you back in the face. Yes you did make a difference, but what sort? In the end and despite all your best intentions, you only made a difference in so far as you furthered the capitalist ambitions of someone who saw your idea and happened to see it differently, and was able to make money off you and those whom you sought to help and call to action, who frankly couldn't have cared less to begin with. And the world keeps on turning in more or less the same fashion before you and your lofty dreams arrived on the scene. And it's not as if you did anything wrong per se; after all, you yourself maintained your integrity for the most part. But once your idea isn't just yours anymore, but also that of some guy who saw a chance to make some dosh and as well as it getting attached to some guy semi-consciously nodding along in his car, your control of that idea is gone, and you ain't getting it back.

There was a time in this country, and I was born into the tail end of it, where most of the people at sporting clubs really gave a toss about their team's fortunes. They were at the home games almost every week, most got to as many away games as they could, their emotional barometer was heavily affected by a win or a loss. This crossed sporting codes and all strata of society. Their club was something they believed in, it was their imagined and at the same time very real community. The notion of sport as part of the entertainment industry was inconceivable, But times changed, the old community clubs were eventually destroyed from without by those who couldn't appreciate what was already there, and often from within when the money ran out and revolutionary steps were taken to bring in more people, more money, and in turn more success, whatever the consequences.

And the price paid in the end was far too great. The AFL destroyed itself, in its quest to dictate what culture should exist, by choosing the corporate and fairweather over the philanthropic and diehard. In soccer's case, the diehards were essentially most of those who were left at NSL level, whether ethnic club or broad based. The money wasn't there, people across the board generally felt that changes needed to be made, but pretty soon it was obvious that the baby was thrown out with the bathwater, and we were going to have a fresh new start – for people who believed that kind of thing is possible. And so about 50 years of accumulated culture, the good, the bad and the bizarre was discarded, and not even consigned to a history book. Everything had to be new, even the primordial creation myths had to be reinvented. But I digress.

There are people who cling on to some notion of the A-League being for the 'real' football fans, people who went to the NSL, people who couldn't make an association with existing clubs or the NSL, etc. And maybe it was a little like that in the beginning. But pretty soon it was taken over by people who needed something to do over the summer, those sucked in by the far too serious and self-referential 'atmosphere' and those who wanted to be in the 'in crowd', and who saw soccer as giving them some sort of cosmopolitan flavour in a country torn between cringeworthy parochialism and a need to be loved by everyone overseas. 

But all this could just be the bitter nostalgic rant of a disenfranchised NSL supporter. And for all anyone knows, Tony might be happy with how the club and league ended up. But on the same token, it is worth wondering why Tony did get the sack, who gave him the sack, and the potential reasons for this. Because for all the bullshit propaganda of a new era, Tony was one of the many remnants of that past mythical age, and his departure is a significant milestone for the Victory and the A-League, even if it goes largely unnoticed. 

It might be hard to read but this incarnation of Melbourne Victory is from Hattrick game c. 2001. Tonestar70 is the manager.