Since the inception of Heart, Melbourne’s second A-League outfit, the Melbourne derbies have been the envy of the football community. It’s one of those games that no matter how well or how badly a team has been doing, the underdog (mostly being Heart) holds the same chance of pulling off a win against their opponent.
I remember the first ever Melbourne derby, it was also my first A-League match. Early mornings and late nights from the month before, watching the World Cup in South Africa had inspired me to move away from my traditional AFL in search of a new game to sink my teeth into. It took only ten minutes on that sunny October evening for John Aloisi to score, leading Heart on to win the first battle of Melbourne and to win me over as a football fan.
Melbourne prides itself on being the sporting capital of the world and the way Melbournians have welcomed this match as being the pinnacle of the game in Victoria is remarkable. Three years ago, a humble 25,000 turned up at AAMI to see if the game was going to be a real contest or if the original Melbourne team were going to dominate the Red and White. The effect of that first game in October has been dramatic. This Saturday upwards of 4o, maybe even 50 thousand spectators are expected to jam into Etihad Stadium to create an atmosphere that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the country, maybe even the world.
Sure it’s not Europe. It’s not the cauldron of Old Trafford or as deadly as the San Siro , but it’s ours. The chorus of the North Terrace chanting for ninety minutes, competing with a slightly smaller Yarraside, with some flares (yes, I am a sokkah hooligan) and quality, competitive football in-between has made our derbies the biggest regular A-League fixture.
The unprecedented popularity of when Liverpool played Victory at the MCG is a sure sign that Melbourians are jumping on the football bandwagon in droves, setting this weeks Melbourne derby to quite possibly be the biggest and in the larger picture, the biggest season yet. This week alone I’ve seen friends I’d never see as Football fans physiqued for Saturday’s derby, similar to the Socceroos’ previous World Cup campaigns when the AFL and NRL snobs suddenly care who Tim Cahill is and think he’s a bloody legend.
At Tuesday’s season launch, I realised that Melbourne’s football culture is growing. Contrary to the previous year, instead of the usual football media entourage plus Fox Sports and a couple of public broadcasters, there was an unprecedented amount of journalists from radio, television, print and online all keen to buy into what the game is doing in Melbourne. Twitter has been abuzz, a soccer ball is being picked up over a footy, United & Liverpool shirts are ‘cool’, FIFA14 is THE game to have and most importantly, attendances and participation in football is skyrocketing.
On Saturday in-front of a packed Docklands Stadium, you’ll be able to see first hand just how much football is doing in this city. No longer is football being looked down upon as a game boring game, instead embedding itself into Melbourne’s ever growing culture.