Kevin Sheedy is an ideas man. That’s why everyone calls him the Ideas Man. He has lots of ideas.
Kevin might just be a humble football coach, but we all know him as the face of Greater Western Sydney and one of the best salesmen the AFL has to offer.
He’s come up with heaps of ideas on how to change football for the better. First it was Anzac Day football. He thought of that when he was pottering his garden. Then it was Dreamtime at the ‘G.
OK, he’s not quite the AFL’s Steve Kerrigan (of The Castle fame, and if you haven’t seen Australia’s greatest comedy movie ever – go, now) but every now and then Sheedy comes up with a crackerjack idea.
Just before the new year, he struck again – he wants matches between Sydney and the Giants to be called ‘The Battle of the Bridge’.
“It’s about east versus west,” Sheedy says. “There’s the Harbour Bridge, which takes in the north and the southeast of Sydney, whose people are mainly Swans fans, and then there’s the Anzac Bridge out west.”
Now, his declaration that it will become the greatest rivalry in Australian sport was laughable – typical Victorian hubris – but he actually was onto something. Surely the AFL must run with it.
At the very least, it’s a starting point; the seeds for a brilliant derby. The divide between the west and the rest presents an opportunity to capitalize on the real divide between the middle and working classes.
Look to rugby league – the ‘enemy’ – and Western Suburbs and Manly have enjoyed a similar ideological and sporting rivalry, which began in the 1970s.
Their story is told in the brilliant ABC documentary, ‘The Fibros and the Silvertails’, the title of which comes from a quip by then-Wests coach Roy Masters, who used it to describe the ongoing struggle between the working class and the elite in sport.
Over time, the Sydney Swans have come to represent the northern and eastern parts of Sydney – the elite – while GWS have been brought in to serve a perceived need as the blue-collar club of the west.
Now we’re still without conclusive proof that GWS will succeed to the degree Sheedy expects them to but it’s not getting ahead of schedule if the AFL is thinking about derbies.
As the A-League has shown with the Heart/Victory clash, crosstown rivalries are a buzz machine.
Elsewhere in the AFL, there are great examples. The ‘Showdown’ in South Australia takes advantage of the decades-old hatred for Port Adelaide in the SANFL, while the Western Derby has come into its own in recent years.
They can also learn plenty from the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns, whose fledgling rivalry hasn’t taken off as well as the AFL might have liked.
Appallingly dubbed the ‘Q-Clash’ (or Queensland Clash), the name itself was met with widespread derision. Local media refused to run with it, openly mocking it and opting for ‘Sunshine Stoush’ instead.
The last ‘Q-Clash’ fizzled out into nothingness, despite a captivating – though entirely stage-managed – build-up before their first match, which centered around Simon Black calling some of his former Lions teammates ‘mercenaries’ after they switched to the Suns.
It will grow, but perhaps the AFL overestimated the level of animosity between residents of the Gold Coast and Brisbane. It’s tame at best, and it’s got zero on the other rivalries in the league.
Nothing beats class warfare. Just look at Milan’s soccer teams. It’s still an uphill battle, but at least the Swans and the Giants have something to work with, thanks the ‘Battle of the Bridge’. He’s an ideas man, Sheeds.
But the Q-Clash? Tell ‘em they’re dreaming.
The Roar welcomes Vince Rugari as an AFL expert columnist to the site – we hope you enjoy his contributions.