Geelong Advertiser, Thursday 21 June 2007, p. 00.
Billed in some quarters as old soccer versus new football one of the powerhouses of the National Soccer League, South Melbourne, formerly Hellas, took on the A-Leagueâ€™s Melbourne Victory in a practice match at Bob Jane Stadium last night. Despite its non-competitive status the match attracted around 5000 fans. Free entry probably helped but since South Melbourne has been drawing around 500 to home games in the Victorian Premier League (Foxtel Cup), while the Victory had 55,000 at its grand final earlier this year, the message is clear. New football is what draws the fans. Even on a freezing cold night in the city. There were queues back across Albert Park at the advertised starting time and the match was delayed for ten minutes.
Both sets of supporters were in fine voice as the Clarendon Corner of South fans, though outnumbered, kept up a lively response to the Blue and White Brigade behind the St Kilda end goal for the Victory. Like the Victory players there was a little bit of rust in the early chants by the fans, but soon they got their co-ordination going. South is in the middle of its Victorian Premier League season while Victory is just three games into its pre-season.
It was an opportunity for both teams to give some younger and fringe players a run. South was without playmaker Fernando de Moraes and former Victory striker Ricky Diaco, but tricky midfielder Andrew Bourakis returned after a long spell out with injury.
Victory rested Adrian Leijer, while Grant Brebner started on the bench, but skipper Kevin Muscat was determined to have his run out against one of his old clubs. Up front Daniel Allsopp and Archie Thompson resumed their dynamic partnership which produced Victoryâ€™s second goal after Adrian Caceres had opened the scoring. South did hit back with a scrambled effort from Trent Waterston before half-time. Seven minutes after the break Socceroo Thompson mesmerised three South defenders and rounded the keeper for a stunning individual goal and Daniel Allsopp headed another after his initial shot had been parried. Two of the young Victory trialists combined for a goal by Tabor to round off a five-one win for the A-League team. The gulf in class was evident, though South fought hard to show that their ambitions for a spot in the top class have some basis.
Unfortunately just after Thompson scored his second goal a flare was thrown from the crowd striking young Bourakis and leading the referee to warn that the game would be terminated if there was a repeat.
Last night there were lots of Geelong faces in the crowd, some to barrack for local hero, Adrian Leijer, who unfortunately was rested by coach Ernie Merrick, but most just because they have always wanted a team not identified with a particular hyphenated-Australian community.
On the way into the ground I met Ted Smith, former Socceroo before the name was invented, who represented Australia at the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956. He was as enthusiastic as the five-year-old grandson he took to Mark Schwarzerâ€™s book launch and football clinic the other day. â€˜The World Cup has consolidated the support for the game.Â For people who have not been involved before they now have a reason to come to gamesâ€™, he said.
Some of the critics of the A-League object to its corporate excess, its commodification of the game, its attempts to manufacture atmosphere and its slick, and sometimes not so slick, commercialism. But the game is what the fans want to see. Attendances have exceeded the dreams of the promoters in Melbourne, though the club lost money in both of its first two seasons.
The lesson for Geelong is quite stark. Get your act together. Get one team to represent this city then you have a chance of getting somewhere. Otherwise it is cold paddocks and little support, and less future for our young players.