Monday, August 31, 2009


Fitter Happier

Sydney FC on top of the table after four rounds...can I stop pinching myself now?

It hasn't always been pretty (especially last week's grind against the Mariners), but Vitezslav Lavicka can afford a grin. One gets the feeling that they have been lucky in their opposition so far; Adelaide and North Queensland both look like they will struggle to make the final six, and Wellington were utterly pedestrian in midfield last night, with the significant exception of Leo Bertos.

But there have definitely been pleasing signs from Lavicka's men. Prominent among these is the tendency for Sydney to overrun their opponents in the final stages of the game (exactly the opposite often happened under the reign of Terry Butcher). In the final twenty minutes of yesterday's game, the Kiwis looked dead on their feet compared with the Sydney players.

It was good to see Byun Sung-Hwan put in an improved performance; a couple of his crosses did find their mark this time, and he was caught out rather less often in defence. Sadly, the same could not be said for Shannon Cole, who is surely right-back only as long as Seb Ryall remains at the mercy of the law.

Some of the rumblings about his addiction to the long ball perhaps reached Stephan Keller's ears, and he had a much more constructive game, while remaining a pillar of strength in the air. A second Mark Rudan? Too early to say, but the possibility is there.

At the other end, it was heartening to see Mark Bridge occasionally looking in the mood, although (as usual) he drifted in and out of the game somewhat. His goal against Adelaide must have given him a lift, and some incisive moments last night - such as the shot which led to the corner from which Sydney scored their first - bode well.

Karol Kisel's contribution was harder to assess. He offers plenty of movement, but his passing was all over the place at times. He appeared happier in a wide position in some of the pre-season games, and it might not be a surprise to see him shifting to the left, especially if Lavicka is tempted to bring Brendan Gan back into the fold after his lively substitute turn against the Phoenix.

Next week's summit encounter against Miron Bleiberg's side will be fascinating. For once, their front three completely failed to gel against Newcastle, but Adama Traore will probably relish the thought of running at Shannon Cole on Saturday. At the other end, a newly confident Sydney attack will be aware that Kristian Rees and Bas van den Brink have their failings, especially on the ground. It should be a beauty.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Reds Reeling

Even the most diehard Adelaide United supporter would find it hard to argue that they deserved their point against North Queensland last night. Not only did Ufuk Talay and Daniel McBreen hit the woodwork for the visitors, but in the second half Adelaide were comprehensively outplayed at home, as rarely before. And this by the A-League's erstwhile easybeats.

There are mitigating factors, including the absence of Travis Dodd and Fabian Barbiero, but all the signs were worrying for Aurelio Vidmar. Adelaide's lack of cohesion and composure in the second period was quite extraordinary.

The main area where the Reds looked shaky was undoubtedly defence, for all their impotence in midfield for much of last night. Mark Rudan looks nothing like the player who kept a mediocre Sydney back four looking capable for so long, and Iain Fyfe and Robert Cornthwaite are both prone to sudden lapses, as we saw against the Fury. It's hard to overstate how much of a loss Sasa Ognenovski is.

Up front, Lloyd Owusu added a physical threat, but his first touches were often poor. I don't think that Adelaide have found their talisman up front, and Cristiano underlined his sorry recent form with that late headed miss (not that he has ever been at his best in the air).

The midfield simply disappeared at times last night, although Lucas Pantelis had his moments, including his well-taken goal. The fighting qualities of Barbiero and the surging runs of Travis Dodd were much missed, and what Vidmar perhaps needs most is for these two to return to the team and return to form. In their stunning Asian Champions League campaign, it was the midfield plus Ognenovski that really carried Adelaide throughout.

As for the Fury, if they had possessed a little more cutting edge, they would surely have put six past their hosts. Apart from their match against the Gold Coast, they have never been totally put to the sword; although Ian Ferguson would be desperately disappointed not to have taken all three points from Hindmarsh, there have been enough decent signs to suggest that they won't be an embarrassment to the league. Fred Agius was quite lively in his substitute appearance...perhaps a starter for future games?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Delayed Dozen

This news is perhaps not a surprise, but there are many ways to read it.

It is no secret that the FFA favour a second Sydney team, and preferably as soon as possible, but they have probably been wise to keep the lid on it as yet. None of the bids on the table look at all convincing, and the more general problems of a second Sydney franchise are not to be trivialised.

From a more cynical viewpoint, you could say that the FFA are determined to ignore all other reasonable bids until Western Sydney, in whatever form, has gotten its act together. I'm referring, of course, to the Canberra bid, which should really be a shoe-in for the next franchise.

The community support for this bid is excellent, the proposed stadium is suitable, and the initial investment is virtually guaranteed. Perhaps most importantly of all, the Canberra team in the W-League has already given local administrators a small taste of the logistical issues involved.

Perhaps, despite the worrying lack of football knowledge at FFA HQ, the words Canberra Cosmos have been uttered once or twice in an unflattering context. Yes, it was basically a disaster, but those were different times. The more family-oriented ethos of the A-League would surely suit Canberra far better from a fans' perspective, for one thing.

So then, on the double-up issue: it will be interesting to see how the Melbourne Heart franchise fares. It's hard to build an "artificial" intra-city rivalry, and if the FFA are prepared to hold off on the Western Sydney option for a little while longer, they would at least have the chance to see how that particular dynamic will work in a similar-sized market.

In the meantime, the Canberra crew will continue lobbying, organising and hoping. In my view, they deserve better.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Getting Shirty

From the Etihad, and Henrique's bare-chest yellow card, to the Jose Alvalade and another player to receive that most nonsensical and infuriating of all the sanctions in the rulebook.

This time, flashing his pecs actually got the already-cautioned Simon Vukcevic sent off, just after he had equalised.

As Craig Foster commented afterwards, it was the sort of thing that would drive a coach to drink, and of course it's extremely foolish on the part of the player. But the simple point is that there is just no earthly reason for this stupid regulation.

For the record, the "clarification" of the rule is set down here. As one can see, it has only been set in stone for a little over five years. The reasoning of that anachronistic body, the IFAB, is risible. Apparently, since:

...removing one's shirt after scoring is unnecessary and players should avoid such excessive displays of joy...

...a shirt over the head deserves a yellow.

Had any of the IFAB members actually watched any football over the past twenty years?

Goal celebrations these days stretch to simulated masturbation, reckless taunting of opposition fans, stacks-on-the-mill style hug-ins (it's a miracle that so few players get hurt in this sort of pile-up), and plenty more, including Robbie Fowler's infamous touchline sniff. Granted, there is also a stipulation in the rules for a player to be cautioned if: the opinion of the referee, he makes gestures which are provocative, derisory or inflammatory...

...although you will note the "in the opinion of the referee" caveat, and opinions may differ. Removing a shirt is not provocative, derisory or inflammatory. It is not dangerous. It is not against the spirit of the game. And if players are to be given cautions for excessive displays of joy (let's not forget, that is the logical extension of the IFAB's position), then you'd need a yellow or five for just about every single goal in a tense game, now that Alan Shearer has retired.

Of course, players can discipline themselves not to do it - but why should they have to?

Back to the cracking Sporting v. Fiorentina game for a moment: it provided an excellent example of how momentum can sometimes outweigh numerical superiority. After their early goal, the visitors had sat on their laurels for so long that they were unable to shift gears when it became 11 v. 10, and in fact Sporting kept the initiative for at least the next quarter of an hour. Only after Alberto Gilardino scored a classic striker's goal for the Italians did the imbalance start to become apparent.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Decisions, Decisions

A fair few contentious refereeing decisions to chew over in the wake of the A-League's second round of matches.

First, the Gold Coast v. North Queensland match (or massacre, if you like). A round of applause for Chris Beath for producing only a yellow card rather than a red one for Beau Busch when he upended Michael Thwaite in the box, for the penalty that gave Shane Smeltz his second goal. Yes, Busch was the last man, and yes, it was an obvious goalscoring opportunity. But, as I've mentioned previously, if the offence has occurred inside the box then the penalty is punishment enough. Beath went for common sense over the letter of the law, and credit to him for that.

Sadly, he deserves less credit for letting Robbie Fowler off with a talking-to after the North Queensland marquee man outrageously aimed his studs at Anderson's face late in the game. As so often in the A-League, genuinely dangerous challenges go unpunished. And one hopes that Fowler's star status didn't induce Beath to keep the card, of whatever colour, in his pocket. In all honesty, Fowler could have had few complaints had he been sent off.

On to Etihad Stadium for the exciting draw between Melbourne and Brisbane. Did Archie Thompson deserve his early booking for going down in the box? Hardly. Srebre Delovski perhaps felt the weight of the FFA's pre-season bleating about clamping down on diving, but Thompson got straight up and continued with the game; there was no anguished appeal or feigned agony. Such a reaction, to my mind, scarcely qualifies as "diving".

In the following day's Sydney v. Adelaide encounter, Steve Corica probably was fouled by Iain Fyfe when he went down in the area in the first half, but Matthew Breeze at least had the sense to wave the play on without producing a card; Corica, like Thompson, hardly made a dramatic attempt to milk a penalty.

Back to Melbourne, and it was sad to see yet another player receive one of those wretchedly petty yellow cards for removing their shirt during a goal celebration. Yes, Henrique was stupid to do it, and Delovski hardly had a choice in the matter, but it's high time for FIFA (via their IFAB subsidiary) to scrap this utterly pointless regulation.

As for the football, Gold Coast continue to impress. Their attacking trident looked settled and menacing once again, and their third goal was a strong candidate for the finest team goal since the A-League's inception, a gem of swift one-touch interplay. North Queensland, meanwhile, currently look as ordinary as their squad suggested they would be. But it's still early days.

Sydney? A good performance against Adelaide, but hardly an outstanding one. Adelaide's curious tactics meant that Lavicka's men were rarely threatened, and when Travis Dodd has such a poor game, you can take it as read that Adelaide are not at their best. Sydney's deciding goal, however, was beautifully constructed, and could give Mark Bridge a much-needed fillip.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


A Save Before Dying

Quite some time ago I reviewed Brian Glanville's enjoyable novella Target Man. I've just finished reading his most well-known football novel, The Dying of the Light, and it is a very different book. Longer, far more intense, and of a much darker hue.

This time, the setting is Glanville's native England, and the book's protagonist is Len Rawlings, a celebrated international goalkeeper who has found it impossible to adapt to life beyond football. Brief stints in management have proved painful and frustrating, and the days of endless cosy commentating jobs are a long way off (the book was published in 1976). Rawlings' seething anger at his new-found irrelevance go hand-in-hand with his jealousy of the playboy lifestyles of contemporary stars, unencumbered by the dreaded maximum wage; a potent mix which sends him down the path of petty crime.

The book shifts between two narrators: Rawlings' upwardly-mobile daughter Jenny, by turns contemptuous of the footballing world and heartbroken by her father's steep descent, and Rawlings himself, a fallen idol who hasn't managed to move beyond adolescence, and is stuck in an atavistic holding pattern of derision and self-pity. The ruminations of the tragic hero are interspersed with quotes from a fictitious autobiography, From Post to Post, in which Glanville has great fun parodying the ghostwritten inanities of that particular genre.

The cast of characters is a cross-section of the English football establishment in the sixties and seventies: ignorant self-made chairmen, gushing former fans offering double-edged assistance to the likes of Rawlings, flinty-hearted administrators, and all the rest. Rawlings finds refuge in the past, but the story of the book is essentially that of the present catching up with him.

The chronological jumps in the first part of the book are a little off-putting, and the idea that Rawlings feels "cheated" by football is rammed home a little too thoroughly. But as a portrait of a sportsman whose life is left a terrifying blank after his playing days are over, the book works very well, and resonates for many sports other than football. Rawlings' description of the circumstances that led him to steal a watch after a tribute dinner - his first step on the wrong side of the law - is acutely poignant. And the unexpected conclusion of the book is genuinely disturbing.

It's difficult to imagine, these days, the grip exerted by the maximum wage in England before and just after the war. Footballers were the idols of their day, but they could be left virtually penniless at the ends of their careers, and Glanville undoubtedly knew figures like Rawlings in real life. Coincidentally, his latest column for the World Soccer website contains a splenetic account of the activities of the current Chelsea squad, and a sad aside about the heroes of the past. For John Terry et al., crassly advertising their wealth in nightclubs may have no effect on their performance on the pitch...

...but at a credit crunch time, when more and more thousands are losing their jobs, more and more thousands are in fear of losing their houses, it is surely the height of insensitivity to go into such an orgy of conspicuous consumption. And one cannot help thinking – though it’s no fault of the current crop – of all those fine players of the past who died in obscurity and poverty.

I would imagine that, as he penned those last lines, Glanville was thinking of The Dying of the Light.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


The Song Remains the Same - yet another update

Sometimes the lofty derision of the SBS tirades is annoying enough to stir even a former employee into an acerbic response:

Like a petulant child disdainfully fingering at his dinner, picking out the bits he doesn’t like, these football fashion bores believe there is a massive debate going on about style.

There isn’t - only a lecture from one dogmatic corner, which brooks no counter perspective, and feels the need to impose their views - relentlessly - on everybody else.

Now, Mr. Hill, who could you be referring to?

To my mind, falling back on the old "long ball" shibboleth misses the point about the football played in the A-League, and why it has frequently failed to entertain in recent times. It's far more a question of managers being willing to attack, to commit players forward in numbers, to take a few risks.

There was plenty of passing (or rather shuffling) the ball along the carpet during the closing stages of the last World Cup, but much of the football was unspeakably turgid. And this had plenty to do with five-man midfields constantly stifling each other, ensuring that the ball rarely reached the forward line (or rather, the forward).

I just wish that managers in the A-League were more interested in playing football than stopping the opposition from doing so. It's a delicate balance, of course, but the trend towards focusing on harrying and blunting opposition attacks at birth (while standing around like Brown's cows once possession is recovered) is what needs to change, if anything.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


In Sydney's Defence - update

It's always nice to start a season with a win, and Sydney FC hadn't done this since 2006/07. But although Vitezslav Lavicka can be satisfied with some of Sydney's attacking play against North Queensland, the defensive concerns remain.

When Kofi Danning scored that delightful second goal, the game looked all but over. The fact that the Fury hauled themselves back into the match had much to do with the same old problem which has bedevilled Sydney for so long: the lack of a decent fullback.

Byun Sung-Hwan remains a fairly unimpressive figure. True, he was given little help on the left last night by a listless Brendan Gan, but once North Queensland's Dyron Daal had shifted to the right midway through the first half, Byun looked incapable of holding the fort.

On the other flank, Shannon Cole proved for the umpteenth time that he is merely employing his well-known acting skills in playing right-back. He is simply not a natural defender, as Jason Spagnuolo convincingly demonstrated.

In my view, what actually saved Sydney's bacon was Ian Ferguson's strange use of his bench. Just when Daal was really beginning to click with the right-back Kajiro Kaimoto, he was substituted for David Williams, who took a good ten minutes to get into the rhythm of the game (as substitutes often do).

Then, just after Spagnuolo had again tormented Cole on the left, the former Adelaide man made way...for the largely inoffensive James Robinson. Not surprisingly, the initiative, wich had been with the home side for much of the second half, shifted back to Sydney.

The new acquisition Stephan Keller did well in the air, stifling Robbie Fowler in that department, but his constant floated long balls suggested that he doesn't exactly back himself with the ball at his feet. Lastly, Simon Colosimo did well, as expected; how badly Sydney need him to stay fit in 2009/10.

Congratulations to the other new side, incidentally, on winning their opener impressively last night. The second goal was a model of composure and precision in a 3 v. 2 situation; if the attacking trio of Joel Porter, Shane Smeltz and Jason Culina can stay fit, some A-League defences are in for a torrid time this season.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Revenge of the Pissants

A couple of A-League club fanzines have flared briefly before dying over the last few years, but I hope that an engaging new publication from Adelaide United fans, Because of a Pissant Town, can build up a head of steam and flourish.

The title is, of course, a reference to Aurelio Vidmar's notorious comment towards the end of last season, and Bill of The Spawning Salmon has been the chief driving force behind the mag. It's well worth a read; don't miss the "Pissantvertiser" section on pages 15-18, in which some of the great and good of Australian football are subjected to some Private Eye-style teasing.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Opening-Night Omens

It's an interesting little fact: in the first three A-League seasons, the winners of the season curtain-raiser went on to claim the premiership. And with that in mind, Lawrie McKinna can afford a little grin after last night's surprising result.

There were, in fact, plenty of parallels with the Mariners' dogged first-up win over Sydney FC in the first round of the 2007/08 season. An early, demoralising goal (or two), followed by a lull towards the end of the first half; then, the hosts come out firing in the second, but can't quite deliver a telling final ball to break the Mariners' stern resistance.

McKinna won the tactical battle, without doubt. He may have had last season's grand final in mind; in that game, the early sendoff of Cristiano forced Adelaide into a defensive posture early on. But this stifled Melbourne, who prefer their opponents to commit plenty of men forward, so that they can pick them off with swift breakaways...often arising from canny through-balls from Kevin Muscat.

Cleverly, McKinna detailed Brad Porter and Adam Kwasnik to be "defending forwards", with both tracking back effectively and diligently throughout. This allowed the midfield three to become nicely compact, and Carlos Hernandez often found himself squeezed out of the action by a combination of Pedj Bojic and John Hutchinson. With the centre so well-buffered, it was left to Melbourne's wide men to make things happen; but, as so often, Melbourne's play out wide proved their weak point. For all his eager running, Evan Berger's use of the ball was very poor throughout, and the combination of Tom Pondeljak and Matthew Kemp on the other flank never clicked, largely due to the defensive efforts of Dean Heffernan and Kwasnik.

Having said all that, the Mariners were hardly magnificent. Danny Vukovic still looks far from confident following his Asian Champions League embarrassments, and there were some hesitant moments from Alex Wilkinson, another player whose reputation has suffered of late. On the plus side, Michael McGlinchey had a bright debut, and Pedj Bojic, although a tad too agricultural in his challenges at times, did add some much-needed mongrel to the Central Coast midfield.

Ernie Merrick, for his part, must be concerned at his side's pitiful use of the ball in the final third. Interestingly, it was Nick Ward, hardly a success in that department last season, who finally created a couple of half-chances near the end with two useful crosses. Many teams will operate with a packed middle against Melbourne this season, and they will need to be able to counter the strategy (not to mention the Mariners' tactic of falling back immediately as soon as Melbourne secured possession in the back third) if they are to emulate last season's achievements.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Five and Still Alive, Part 2

Moving on with the brisk TFT preview for 2009/10:

Can Wellington survive the departure of Shane Smeltz? Their history with British journeymen has not been a happy one (Messrs. Devine, Bazeley and Gemmill spring to mind, among others), so one wonders how much faith they can afford to put in their new Anglophone brigade, although I've seen Paul Ifill perform well in the past.

Central midfield is still a problem area for the Kiwi club, with Michael Ferrante and Tim Brown (who cut an indifferent figure at the Confed Cup) not looking an especially daunting pairing. There should be some penetration on the wings, though; Leo Bertos and Daniel are both capable of getting the better of most A-League fullbacks on their day. Wellington will do well to make the finals; sadly, I can see them just missing out once again.

All change over in the west, with three fringe Socceroos snapped up and a useful-looking import slated to replace Nikita Rukavytsya up front. It all looks impressive, and certainly they should make the finals this time if the first team can gel. Can they go all the way? It might be a bit much to ask, given that the "big" signings have distracted attention from gaps in some areas, notably in the fullback positions.

Newcastle...what can one say? As a Jets fan remarked on one of my forum haunts recently, a week without a major embarrassment is a cause for celebration for the club. The last-ditch acquisition of Fabio Vignaroli will certainly help their cause, but the squad looks raw and somewhat unbalanced otherwise, with the defence heavily reliant on the presence of the irascible Ljubo Milicevic. They might scrape into the top six...after which it's anyone's guess, given Newcastle's mercurial history in the competition.

And so to the fresh faces. Gold Coast United's squad is, on paper, the best in the competition. The signing of Jason Culina was a major coup, and it's heartening to read that Miron Bleiberg is keen to use him in an advanced role, which he has so rarely occupied for the Socceroos (often, in fact, resting on his laurels in that midfield anchor role). If Bleiberg can avoid his habit of fiddling unnecessarily with the team, the new franchise will probably challenge for the title.

The other new squad looks less impressive, despite the presence of their much-hyped marquee man. He was an outstanding finisher in his day, and he surely has plenty still to offer, but where will the service come from? The failure to sign former Wellington Phoenix playmaker Felipe may cost Ian Ferguson and his men dearly, given that many of the other options in midfield for North Queensland are, frankly, cast-offs from other A-League clubs. It's difficult to see the Fury making the finals in their first year, and I hope they can be competitive (and attractive) enough to ensure a decent fan-base.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Five and Still Alive, Part 1

In years gone by, I've attempted to provide a separate preview for all of the A-League clubs prior to the season. This time, with ten teams now taking part and the various pre-seasons being played out a little more obscurely, it's a tough ask, so herewith a quick ramble about the whole lot on the eve of A-League Mark 5.

That number is significant, since there were many who predicted that the A-League would prove unsustainable and die after only three or four outings. Well, it's still going, there's still plenty of broad support for the national competition, and the off-field presentation is more professional than it ever was in the NSL era, even if the football is only marginally better. But sustainability in the long term...the battle hasn't been won yet.

So then, in order of last year's table:

It's interesting that most pundits are installing last year's champions as the favourites, given how badly they fared in the season following their first A-League triumph. Yes, there haven't been any significant departures this time (the loss of Fred was a major factor in Melbourne's 2007/08 flop, of course), but the squad is one year older, and there are few new faces.

Surat Sukha is an interesting addition; we witnessed his quality in patches at the 2007 Asian Cup, but we've already seen how Asian players can take their time to adapt to the greater physicality (not to mention the comparatively permissive refereeing) of the Australian game. I feel that Melbourne are not really the team to beat this season, even though they should reach the finals.

Adelaide can still boast the midfield riches that saw them through to the Asian Champions League final last term, but Sasa Ognenovski is a massive loss at the back. Iain Fyfe, for all his dogged qualities, doesn't fill the breach. The Reds go into the season with some injury worries as well, and a question mark over their strikeforce; it might not be the happiest of seasons for Vidmar and his men.

The re-badged Brisbane Roar look in slightly better shape, although like Melbourne, they haven't changed their squad significantly. The backline is starting to look on the geriatric side, but there are some fresh faces in Luke DeVere and Matt Mundy, both of whom showed promise last term. Further up the park, it will be interesting to see whether Robbie Kruse can rediscover his 2007/08 form, and, perhaps more significantly, whether Charlie Miller can stay fit. If Kruse and Miller both stay on song and Sergio van Dijk continues to provide the goals, Brisbane could well challenge for the premiers' plate...again.

The other team from last year's final four looks in questionable shape. Yes, the Mariners have gained some solid results in pre-season, to dampen the memory of their dismal Asian Champions League campaign. But they don't look like replacing the much-missed Mile Jedinak any time soon, and how many surprises can they pull in midfield, with Adrian Caceres starting to look past his best? It could be a long (ball) season for McKinna's men.

Plenty of optimism surrounding Sydney FC, of course, but they are still a long way from solving their long-running problems in defence. Stephan Keller looks a worthwhile addition, and he seems set to relieve young Matthew Jurman of the responsibility of being a first-team regular. The right-back position is still Shannon Cole's, despite the misjudgements he occasionally made in the position last term. Still, a pre-season with a host of clean sheets means things can't be all bad.

At the other end, Mark Bridge might take a while to rediscover his form after a miserable period in China, and John Aloisi...will need to pull his socks up. Steve Corica remains the one true creator in the side, and he won't often last for 90 minutes this term; will Brendan Gan or Karol Kisel be able to do what Corica has done so reliably in the past? Sydney still have the potential to challenge for the top two, but it will be a stern test of Vitezslav Lavicka's acumen.

Next: last season's tailenders, and the two newcomers.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


We Could Be Heroes - update

It's here! The first edition of Half-Time Heroes has officially hit the e-newsstands, and all of us involved owe a huge vote of thanks to Eamonn and Con for getting the whole thing organised so incredibly quickly.

May it be the first of many...

Sunday, August 02, 2009


Another Drama

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been following the fortunes of Sydney Olympic, on and off, for a good many years. Last night their season came to an end under a barrage of Sutherland goals, as the team from the Shire booked their place in the NSWPL finals at Olympic's expense.

For the "favourites" in this season's state league, it was a miserable end to another season in which Olympic's legendary self-destructive capacities were in full bloom. It was the Greeks who invented drama, and Euripides, Sophocles and the like would surely have gone to town on the events of 2009 at Belmore.

The season began with the obligatory derby loss to the West Sydney Berries, who always lift against Olympic, according to the fans. There were a few hopeful signs in the succeeding rounds, but then the first act of the drama played itself out: Aytek Genc, a coach with an outstanding record at this level, departed the club after a fracas with fans over the non-inclusion of mediocre goalkeeper Sam Emmanouil. The situation was unfortunate, the details unsavoury.

In came another experienced coach in Nick Theodorakopoulos (a.k.a. Nicky Alphabet for many aficionados of Australian football, or Nick Copyandpaste for journos rushing to make a deadline). Switching to a back three, he oversaw a brief revival, with the club winning three on the trot; the rot set in again soon afterwards, though, with a long barren period in the middle rounds.

Sensation! The messiah arrives! Midway through the season, Olympic make probably the most stunning signing of the NSWPL's recent history, snapping up a once world-class keeper in Mark Bosnich (allowing Theodorakopoulos, in passing, to relegate the flapping Emmanouil to the bench).

But this was a Bosnich diminished by age and extra pounds, and despite a few magnificent saves, his performances were tinged with embarrassment...not least when he was caught a mile off his line by Sydney United's Peter Markovic in a crucial game late in the season, thus conceding a horror goal.

Last night, a pensive Theodorakopoulos provided one of the most interesting (impromptu) press conferences I've ever attended, full of intriguing observations about the game in general, and the state league in particular. "It's a semi-professional league," he observed, "and there are some semi-professional attitudes."

It was probably a veiled reference to another act in the drama, when Olympic's high-profile (and lucrative) friendly match against Sydney FC led to some grumbles from two senior players about payment. One subsequently parted ways with the club at a critical period, the other was to be found on the bench thereafter. Revolving doors.

Another pertinent remark that Theodorakopoulos made was that Olympic's massive effort in last week's game, in which (as he justly claimed) they had played the competition leaders off the park, had precipitated a depression for last night's no less crucial encounter. "They say don't change a winning formation, that's rubbish," he asserted. "But unfortunately, I don't have 28 players to call on."

Olympic are still capable of beating the best and losing to the worst. They still, perhaps more than any club in the NSWPL, embody the best and worst of the old NSL. And Theodorakopoulos, who enjoyed plenty of success in the old competition, was far too long in the tooth to be bitter and twisted after a season such as Olympic's in 2009. Instead, he showed impressive candour and grace.

Having said all that: congratulations to Sutherland, who have done well to shrug off a couple of heartbreaking mid-season results to make the finals once again. Theirs is a strong, cohesive team, and in their adroit little attacker Panny Nikas they possess a player of huge promise.

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