The ideal blueprint for the A-League might’ve been for two teams in Melbourne and Sydney from the outset, but the FFA has stumbled upon gold by delaying the introduction of main city derbies.
Fans have been treated to both of the rivalries in the last fortnight and the passion displayed by the fans in both states must have administrators of rival codes just a little bit jealous.
Allianz Stadium was a sea of red and blue for the return bout between Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers, and flares aside, the atmosphere was exceptional.
On Saturday night at AAMI Park, Melbourne came alive for the eighth instalment of their derby.
The two markets are completely different.
The Victory and the Heart aren’t divided along geographical lines like Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers.
The “about us” section on the websites of the two clubs couldn’t be more different.
The Victory blurb lists their achievements while the Heart blurb uses phrases like “a vision for a broad based community team” and “drawing a link between past, present and future, the Heart’s founders aimed to develop a club truly representative of the wider Victorian football public.”
Match meet fuse.
Sydney FC had seven seasons as the only club in the harbour city but expecting them to have won the hearts and minds of the metro area and the western suburbs is ridiculous.
They would’ve needed a super-human level of man power and resources to engage that whole market.
People in Sydney’s west don’t generally identify with people in the east and vice-versa. The location and identity of the two clubs was a no-brainer.
There’s no doubt that the rivalries would’ve been successful if the Heart and Wanderers were introduced in season one, but has the unintentional stagger of their introductions made the rivalries better?
Heart fans had to wait six seasons for their team while Wanderers fans looked longingly at the A-League for eight seasons.
Both sets of fans already had football available to them in their city, yet chose to either not support the Victory and Sydney FC, or saw something in those clubs they didn’t like.
On derby day, that makes for that special football atmosphere that other sports struggle to replicate.
If all four clubs were around in season one fans would’ve had to choose a side without really knowing what the other one stood for.
It’s hard to dislike something just because you’re told you have to.
Now, armed with at least six seasons of evidence, supporters have been able to make a firm decision about which camp they belong in.
There’s also the big brother/little brother scenario that is hard to manufacture.
The Heart and Wanderers supporters will feel like their clubs are the smaller sibling for a while yet, but that only serves to increase the level of passion again.
Victory and Sydney FC fans also get to play on the fact that another club has moved in on their city.
Certain elements of this would’ve happened in season one, but the delayed introduction of the Heart and Wanderers has made derby day something to savour.
It has made it genuine. The passion is real.
Football fans in general know how lucky they are to be seeing these matches because they’ve experienced the A-League without them.
Football Australia might’ve stumbled their way towards this outcome, but in a strange way, it has given the competition a sense of growth and development.
Perception is everything and at the moment the perception is that the A-League is booming.