Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Tales of the Countryside

The above is a song that may get a run as teams make road trips up to the country for NPLV fixtures this year. Hopefully no one will make a wrong turn and get lost in a backwater where "Dueling Banjos" is the number one tune in town.

In a previous blog I referred to the non-metropolitan Melbourne clubs as "country bumpkin clubs" which is a little disrespectful. Then again, respect is something that should be earned, which is hard to have for clubs being placed in higher leagues at the expense of ones that have earned their place on merit. That's an issue for another blog however, as this time I will be looking at the history of country teams in Melbourne/Victorian competitions.

The first non-metropolitan side to make an impression on Melbourne football was Submarine Depot in the early 1920's. Also known as Osbourne House, the Geelong-based sailors won all their games in the debut in the top flight of 1920. Unfortunately they pulled out of the League after just four games, finishing fourth in Section B. The following year they competed in the Dockerty Cup, where they reached the Final. After a 1-1 draw, they were beaten 2-0 in a replay by Northumberland and Durham United.

In 1924 Naval Depot, based at Crib Point, won the Second Division and made it a double by taking out the Dockerty Cup with a 1-0 defeat of Footscray Thistle in the Final. Another Cup win would follow before 1928 saw them take the District League Championship and Dockerty Cup double.

Wonthaggi Magpies, beaten by Naval Depot on the Cup Final of 1928, were the next country team to make a mark. In an epic series in 1931 they claimed the Dockerty Cup by finally defeating Brunswick 1-0 in a Second Replay.

Following World War II the first country team to join the League competition was Yallourn, who finished 8th in Section B of the First Division of 1947. Struggling at the foot of the First Division, they were relegated in 1949. Bouncing back as Runner's-Up in the Second Division the following season, they continued their momentum by storming to the First Division Championship in 1951.

In 1952 Yallourn finished 5th in the First Division. International Harvesters (Based in Geelong) and Flinders Naval Depot were competing in the Second Division. Another relegation and promotion followed before Yallourn departed the top flight for good at the end of 1955.

With new migrant clubs beginning to dominate the football landscape, leading to the formation of the State League in 1958 country clubs struggled to reach the highest level. Geelong had a top flight stint in 1959. In the lower reaches, Seymour and Bendigo United competed in the Provisional League in that year, with Seymour rising to Division Two North after finishing 3rd. Norlane Olympia competed in that division until being relegated in 1963 in a season in which Geelong Scottish took 3rd place.

As those clubs faded out of the scene, Yallourn bounced back by taking out the Fourth Division and then Third Division in 1967 and 1968. Their successors as Fourth Division Champions were Ballarat. Yallourn were unable to breakthrough beyond the Second Division this time, and in the mid-1970's the next big thing from the Latrobe Valley was just starting to make it's mark as Morwell Falcons won the Provisional League in consecutive years in the time before automatic promotion to the Metropolitan League.

Despite only finishing Runner's-Up to Geelong in the Provisional League of 1976, the Falcons were finally accepted into the Fourth Division and another Runner's-Up finish saw them win promotion instantly. Reaching the Second Division, it was expansion of the Leagues rather than promotion which took them to the top flight for 1982, when they finished in 4th place. At that time Corio and Yallourn were in the Third Division, with North Geelong, Geelong and Hamlyn Rangers giving the Fourth Division a strong Sleepy Hollow-flavour. Ballarat, Kyneton and Shepparton City were all competing in the Provisional League which now had three Divisions.

Morwell Falcons became State Champions in 1984, backing it up by being Runner's-Up the following season. Another State League title was claimed in 1989. When the new Victorian Premier League first adopted a Grand Final to determine it's Championship, it was North Geelong who took out the first showpiece at Middle Park with an extra-time defeat of Brunswick United Juventus the season after being promoted as Champions of the State League First Division.

Morwell Falcons, who had finished 8th that season, were accepted into the National Soccer League that year. As an NSL club, they would win the Dockerty Cup in 1994, before changing their name to Gippsland Falcons and then Eastern Pride before folding in 2001. When North Geelong were relegated from the VPL in 1997, it would be the end of a provincial presence in the top flight until the NPL Victoria came into existence this year.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Good and Bad of the NPL Victoria

With the opening round done and dusted it's an opportune time to consider what worked and what didn't as the season got underway.

Crowds, most notably at Olympic Village where more than 3000 witnessed Heidelberg United v South Melbourne. Two clubs with tradition and a strong rivalry. Had the original vision of a zonal NPLV with generic clubs/consortia come to pass, would SE1 v N2 or NW1 v S2 have been able to draw comparable figures?

Sprinklers coming on during the game and causing an abandonment between Whittlesea Ranges and Kingston City. Even in one of the more modern NPLV venues, things can go wrong and despite the attempts to increase professionalism across the board, we may not have made the great leap forward just quite yet.

Radio commentary on NPLV LiveCast. Solid coverage judging by the opening game. If you can't get to a match, a radio call should suffice. If you really want to watch a match, get to it. Video live streaming games to an audience of 30 or 40 for a match that may only attract a few hundred spectators is counter-productive. Radio is the way to go, I say.

Suspended player controversy, as revealed by South of the Border. Another black mark against the administration, especially if the club queried the FFV and was told the player was eligible to play.

Both NPL Victoria and NPLV1 leagues getting the full FFV match commissioner treatment of team sheets posted on twitter as well as live match updates. A few games being filmed and highlights packages hitting the internet rather promptly. Excellent.

Only 40 NPL badges for shirts being allocated to each club. That covers a senior home kit and a senior away kit. What about the junior teams? Are they not NPL elite as well?

After getting the Alex Ferguson hair-dryer treatment from the FFA, the FFV are promoting the League as if their life depended on it. Which is a nice change. Maybe now we can get somewhere if they and the clubs start pulling in the same direction.

Player Points System transparency. How is it being managed? With a suspensions shambles already arising, how can we be sure teams are meeting the PPS Cap? Should there be a list of players and their points value open to all? Maybe people can keep tabs on things through that? At the moment the whole thing seems to be shrouded in secrecy.

It's nice to be able to go to see some local football again. Melbourne Knights v Northcote City was an exciting game, with a cracking goal from Marino Gasparis. Plenty of goals at Richmond v Box Hill United, even if they didn't go the right way from my perspective. Good crowd at the Veneto Club for Bulleen Lions v Moreland Zebras, with a couple of tidy goals for the home side.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

And We're Underway

The inaugural NPLV1 season is underway with South Melbourne recording a 3-0 win against Heidelberg United at Olympic Village in the opening fixture. A big crowd was in attendance, but I chose to listen to the game on the NPL Vic Live radio commentary through Live Cast.

Host Teo Pellizzeri did the play-by-play commentary, and put in a solid, professional performance. At times it became a bit formulaic, as he'd first ask Adem Barolli, and then Ryan McGee for an opinion. Often there was no need for the second opinion, and by the time the Scot got to talk he was often left with little to do but back up what had just been said. With a bit of hash-tag pimping going on, things did seem repetitive at times.

Early crosses to Shaun Moran on the touchline seemed to have a few technical difficulties, with his volume quite low and hard to hear, but they were later resolved. There was a weird exchange after a goal where Pellizzeri asked Moran about the coaches reactions. Moran seemed a bit taken by surprise, and informed us that George Katsakis was still standing up and then walking around. I'm glad he was not paralyzed at the shock of seeing his side fall behind.

The lack of excitement in the game, and Survivor starting, saw me pay less attention to the second half. The Heidelberg fan who runs up and down in time with play got a belated mention. I know Griffin McMaster is going to be part of their team, but coupled with what I suppose was a bit of A-League Fanboyism, they seemed to over-rate him a tad.

Some of the NPLV hype has started to grate, the way in which the wheel seems to have been re-invented. It's the same teams as the VPL would have had with two added country bumpkin teams. Not really akin to landing a man on the moon or anything like that. All the hype shows is that the FFV seem to be putting in a bit more of an effort, possibly after years of tanking.

Was also bemused by a tweet from the official NPL Victoria account which read "Congratulations to @smfc midfielder Mathew Theodore on scoring the first ever #NPLVIC goal!" Given they wouldn't know who scored the first ever League goal in 1909, the first ever District League goal in 1927, the first ever State League goal in 1958 or the first Premier League goal in 1991, are they celebrating actual history or the creation of their own Year Zero?

The cynic in me asks did any of the bigwigs brought in for the NPL Victoria launch attend the game? How about the former South President who is now the Bergers No.1 ticket holder?

It's good to have local football back, and I am looking forward to getting to Knights Stadium tomorrow night for the clash between Melbourne Knights and Northcote City. Two good teams, great people at both clubs to catch up with, that is what it's all about.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

1922 Division Two Yarck You

After around six successive Sundays of trips to the SLV, I've taken the last two off after meeting too many dead ends in search final tables to compile a record of all the senior leagues that have been conducted in the history of Victorian football.

Regathering notes and thoughts, I had another look at the puzzle that was the Second Division of 1922. Starting in late April, from fixtures listed in The Age on the Friday before the games, we are told the league is structured like this:

Division Two Section A
Coburg, Caulfield, Footscray Thistle A, Sandringham, St David's, St Kilda A

Division Two Section B
Brunswick A, Melbourne Thistle A, Northcote A, Northumberland and Durham A, Welsh United A, Windsor A

Apart from the lack of every result being published, the big problem crops up in July, when teams from the different Sections start playing each other. The results and fixtures suddenly just refer to Division Two, with no mention of Sections. Going on the results found, it's clear that they did not suddenly merge into a 12 team league.

Later on, some weeks the results list those from Division Two as well as the Reserves League. All the "A" teams were reserves teams, and from that point on they do seem to have started playing each other exclusively. Which could give us a Second Division of four clubs, namely Coburg, Caulfield, Sandringham and St David's.

Starting by working back from the end of the season, I separated their results and fixtures until I got to July 15th. Which provided the following:

July 15 v Coburg July 22 v Coburg July 29 St David's 3-0 August 12 Sandringham 1-2 August 26 v Sandringham September 2 Sandringham 2-0 September 16 v Coburg

If one those first two games against Coburg was postponed until September 16, and the Sandringham no result of August 26 was postponed until the following week, this does allow for all teams having played each other team twice.

July 15 v Caulfield July 22 v Caulfield July 29 Sandringham 1-1 August 5 Sandringham 1-3 August 26 St David's 2-1 September 2 v St David's September 16 v Caulfield

Again, if one of those first two fixtures was postponed, it does work out that they played all the others twice.

July 15 v St David's July 29 Coburg 1-1 August 12 Caulfield 2-1 August 26 v Caulfield September 2 Caulfield 0-2 September 9 St David's 3-1 September 16 St David's 3-3

On published results, they played everyone twice. Are the missing results postponements, or are they unpublished results with each team playing the other three times instead of twice?

St David's 
July 15 v Sandringham July 29 Caulfield 0-3 August 26 Coburg 1-2 September 2 v Coburg September 9 Sandringham 1-3 September 16 Sandringham 3-3

No fixture listed for July 22, which would had to have been against Sandringham. No fixture either for August 5, when Caulfield were free.

Known scores give us 6 games from Sandringham for 8 points, 3 games from Caulfield for 4 points, 3 games from Coburg for 3 points and 4 games from St David's for just the 1 point.

That year the Alexandra and District British Football Association was formed, and they started a three team league. The clubs were Alexandra Town, Eildon Weir and Yarck United (answering a question I saw on a bumper sticker once of "Where the farck is Yarck?").

Deciding to finally go through their results (ending up two missing scores short of a full table) I went through the pages of the Alexandra and Yea Standard which incorporated the Yarck, Gobur, Thornton, Taggerty and Acheron Express. With their season over, league champions Eildon Weir invited Melbourne teams up to play friendlies. One such exhibition game took place on October 14th, a 1-0 win over Caulfield who the paper stated were "Premiers of the 2nd Division British Association football".

So the next trip to the SLV will be to check out the local newspapers (which are not online on Trove) of Caulfield, Sandringham and Coburg to see if I can find the missing results, or at least the three missing wins that would push Caulfield ahead of Sandringham.

So could they really have ditched all the early season games to start the League again in July? It is more than possible. Reserves teams playing as "A" teams in lower leagues do not appear again until 1931. Maybe a dilemma of what to do with an "A" team winning the League and earning promotion sparked the change in policy?

Neither Caulfield, or Sandringham were promoted for 1923. The ten team First Division was reduced back to eight clubs, with the Second Division also comprising of an even eight.

Feel free to express opinions in the comments section as to if I'm straying close to re-writing history to get a result, or am probably on the right track.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Still a Big Swindle

Last week the FFV announced an alteration to the 2014 Fee Schedule, reducing team entry fees across the State League board. What do these reductions mean to the figures discussed in The Great Football Swindle post of February 23rd? It means that instead of taking an extra $1,046,300 from clubs this year compared to last, it will only be $863,900 more.

One hopes the extra cash would see the game managed better, but there is little improvement on that front. Already the early Dockerty Cup games have descended into farce, with forfeits once again to the fore. The FFV blames the clubs, the clubs blame the FFV. The buck (no pun pardoned) has to rest with the FFV. Just weeks after the FFA triumphantly launched the FFA Cup as the chance for grassroots clubs to take on teams at the highest level and perhaps live the dream of fairy tale upsets, what is the entry point to that competition remains a debacle.

When Fee Schedules and Rules of Competition are still being adjusted this late in the piece, it is little wonder small, amateur clubs are struggling to meet requirements. Even if it is the clubs at fault, the onus should be on the FFV to find a solution as they are the ones who suffer in comparison to bodies in other states when the situation becomes shambolic.

The question still remains, will the services to clubs improve in line with the additional revenue to the FFV coffers? Over the weekend on Twitter I noticed @FootballChaos and @Socceraust were churning out results tweets and news at a high rate.The FFV account only seems to be activated when there's a link to a new article on their website to be promoted. I dare say  Football Chaos (now there's a domain name more apt for the FFV) will once again produce better video coverage (in terms of quality, frequency and variety) than what the FFV comes up with for the NPL Victoria.

One can only imagine the folks at South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights struggling to contain their sniggering when being instructed on utilising social media by the FFV recently. Either the FFV are following the strategy of spreading the release of information out over several days (and haven't started yet), or they have very little to announce. At this stage it seems there will be radio commentary of some games via the internet, with further details still to emerge. The FFV has advertised for match reporters, and will need to increase their pool from last year when they barely had enough to cover a 6 game VPL round to be able to cover two divisions of the NPLV.

It was interesting listening on radio station SEN the day after the launch of the FFA Cup. Talkback callers quickly changed the subject to that of junior fees at NPLV clubs and their tendency towards being exorbitant. When hearing a justification of the fees/national curriculum, journalist Patrick Smith asked "are these clubs, or are they academies?". Coupled with a rare piece from Craig Foster that I actually agree with, it is clear we are entering dangerous territory. The NPLV is proving very expensive to implement, exhausting all resources to do so and then getting it wrong would prove to be a disaster that would top all those that have come before it.