One of the great traditions of following any sporting competition is supporting a so-called second team, one often diametrically opposed to the bitter rivals of the team you actually support.
Queens Park Rangers can hardly be called minnows – what with billionaire owners and an expensively assembled squad – but there was an immense sense of satisfaction in watching them beat London rivals Chelsea in the Premier League on Thursday morning.
Maybe it’s just because Chelsea is such a dislikeable club (in my opinion), but I bet there were plenty of neutrals willing QPR on to victory despite their support for another Premier League team.
And though it’s one thing to pick a side and cheer for it during any given encounter, there are plenty of fans who go one step further and actively support a second outfit.
I’ve done it myself when I lived in Germany and began to find the four-hour round trip to Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion more draining than enjoyable.
When I moved to Cologne, I increasingly began to watch one of German football’s most historic teams go around – not 1.FC Köln but their largely unloved city rivals Fortuna.
I watched enough games in the 2.Bundesliga to consider myself more than aggrieved when Fortuna were relegated but found myself somewhat surprised when I continued showing up at their dilapidated Südstadion the following season.
Trudging the frozen streets of Zollstock to witness another insipid performance became something of a ritual and even today – years after I saw my last ever Fortuna game in the derby against their namesakes from Düsseldorf – I still check their results online with monotonous regularity.
The other day I even pulled their old jersey out of the cupboard and its red and white design reminded me of the A-League club I would be most willing to call my second side.
If Melbourne Victory are the club I love to hate, then Melbourne Heart are the club I find least threatening to the team I actually support.
I’ve even flown down from Brisbane to AAMI Park to watch them play and it’s predominantly because the Heart tick several boxes in terms of what I think a second side should be.
For one thing, they’ve got an interesting stadium and though it’s rarely anywhere near full, it’s still worth checking out.
In their brief history they’ve also featured an eclectic cast of players, moulded first by the charismatic John van’ t Schip and more recently by one of Australian football’s genuine heroes, John Aloisi.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, their presence annoys Melbourne Victory fans and they’ve got a good record in the derby – notwithstanding the last result.
On a more serious note, I like watching the Heart play because I think the A-League needs a point of difference from its original founding clubs.
Not every team can be a financially well-to-do outfit backed by city-wide support, a la FC Köln – there has to be room for the Fortunas and the Hearts of the world.
And the prevalence of big two-team towns around the world – think Liverpool, think Barcelona, even Munich – shows there’s plenty of room for cities which boast one major football powerhouse and a more modest local side.
I suspect plenty of A-League fans have made the Central Coast Mariners their second side and while I can understand why that might be the case, the Gosford outfit could never be the second team for me.
The team I find myself most frequently tuning into, aside from my own, is Melbourne Heart and for the sake of the A-League’s competitiveness, I’d like to see a few more fans pledge their support.
If not the Heart, then which second team do you support and why?
I’m sure Scott Munn and his staff are awaiting your answers with bated breath.