Oh What A Night

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The comparisons to the Merseyside, Manchester or Milan Derbys are very much premature but last night Melbourne got the first taste of a proper A-League Derby.

Heading towards the stadium my thoughts were that with Heart coming off a 4-0 loss against a team that found it hard to score (Brisbane) and losing captain Simon Colosimo on top of that, it was going to be an easy win for the established Victory team who have played in front of big crowds and in big games for five seasons.

Kevin Muscat had said during the week that this isn’t a normal game, this is a game that will mean more and the intensity will be lifted, which goes against everything footballers learnt in cliché school. That is where real Derby games differ from regular games, the form guide goes out the window and the team that ultimately plays with more vigour, passion and Heart (I swear that’s the only Heart Pun I’ll use) is the team that wins the match more often than not.

The papers here in Melbourne had been generous during the week with the game making the back page in the main paper (Herald Sun) on the Thursday. (A page usually set aside for AFL, cricket and horse racing only.) There was a scattering of talkback callers during the week to the local sports radio station (SEN) and some minor coverage on the free to air channels during the news, sure there were some twitter updates and Facebook statuses mentioning the game but I knew these people were interested before hand, the big test was going to be the casual observer; the Melbourne sports fan who heads out to sporting events in Melbourne because that is what Melburnians do.

As the Victory fans marched as one with full police escort down Swan Street I expected to see a Heart scarf here and there but there was definitely more than a scattering of Red and White on the concourse. My Victory mate turned to me and said “Oh it’s On” much in the tone of an African American rappers wife. That was when I realised this wasn’t a manufactured rivalry, this was a real one and we indeed have a real Derby on our hands.

AAMI Park was built for a night like this. The ground looked immaculate (and even better knowing that there were 50,000 people on it for a concert/function only 6 days earlier – Etihad Management please feel free to contact the AAMI Park management during business hours), the atmosphere inside the ground is exactly what football should be like every week, the crowd was close enough to capacity the two sets of fans were singing and chanting and the place erupted when the goals were scored. My initial thoughts is that there was going to be 75% Victory fans, 10% Heart fans and 5% mutual. After the game I was convinced it was closer to a 65% Victory and 35% Heart split.

The game itself had everything you could ask for; great quality passing, fantastic goals, crunching tackles, cards, heroes and villains on either side. All of this covered in The Football Sacks match report.

And whilst I walked away disappointed that my team was on the wrong end of the first Melbourne Derby result I was able to look past that and realise that the night was more important than the result. The result means that the next Derby (Victorys home game at Etihad) could quite possibly draw 40,000 plus. The night meant that 26,000 are guaranteed to come back for another A-League game. The night meant that football has made it to the back page of the main paper in Melbourne for the second time in three days. The night meant that SEN was flooded with calls all Friday night and Saturday morning. The night meant that the sports section of the news lead with the Derby. The night should also have sent a message to the FFA that Melbourne and Friday night football just works. If the FFA is smart then they should schedule a game in Melbourne on a Friday night for the majority of the season.

So whilst it’s not the Merseyside, Manchester or Milan Derby just yet. It is the Melbourne Derby, it was real and it was spectacular.

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