‘Big Blue’ the A-League’s biggest game?

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

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    The grand final pits Sydney FC against Melbourne Victory, adding extra spice to one of the A-League's most heated grudge matches. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

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    Is the Big Blue the A-League’s biggest game? Is the reputation undeserved, or are Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory truly the bitterest rivals in the land?

    It certainly seemed that way given the intensity of their clash at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, as the two sides battered each other on a dry and difficult pitch in an absorbing 1-1 draw.

    A point apiece was just about the right result, although Victory fans might argue their team enjoyed the better chances, while Yairo Yau’s post-goal celebration suggested he doesn’t much appreciate being forced to come off the bench for the Sky Blues.

    From a footballing point of view, the clash still left some questions to be answered.

    Can Sydney FC afford to drop points in their final two encounters on the road at Western Sydney and Brisbane Roar?

    Is Victory’s defence solid enough to mount a genuine title campaign?

    Can either side stop the juggernaut that is Western Sydney Wanderers?

    At the start of the season it would have seemed almost unthinkable for Sydney FC to go into the Sydney derby as underdogs, but that’s exactly what will happen at Parramatta Stadium next weekend.

    Nevertheless, with such a potent strike force they’ll fancy their chances of springing an upset against the upstarts from across town, and I wouldn’t bet against Western Sydney’s winning streak coming to an end.

    But what the Sky Blues may have to factor in is an irate supporter base, after the club released a press statement to admonish The Cove for unfurling an unauthorised ‘tifo’ banner against the Victory.

    The banner, which received only an instant’s worth of TV coverage from Fox Sports, used a commonly heard but readily offensive slang term to refer to the Victory.

    Some Cove members are now upset the club chose to admonish the supporter group publicly, but in truth it’s difficult to see what other choice club officials had and quite frankly, it’s naïve in the extreme to imagine someone wouldn’t have taken offence in the first place.

    The whole incident helps give rise to the notion that the Big Blue – a moniker we seem to be stuck with – is the most heavily anticipated and spiteful of A-League affairs.

    If that’s the case though, it’s a shame only 22,000 fans turned out at Allianz Stadium to watch it, even if that does represent a decent attendance figure for the Sky Blues.

    It’s a far cry from the consistent full houses some pundits were predicting when Sydney FC signed Alessandro Del Piero at the start of the season and for all his value on the field, it’s questionable whether Del Piero has been quite the expected box office draw card off it.

    He certainly knows all about the intensity of matches between the two fierce rivals, given how frequently he’s been fouled in them, but there are a couple of other fixtures which deserve further scrutiny when it comes to rating the A-League’s biggest rivalry.

    Fixtures between Victory and their cross-border rivals Adelaide United are certainly not for the faint-hearted, while the F3 derby between Central Coast and Newcastle can often be a niggly affair.

    However there’s a sense that matches between clubs from Australia’s two biggest cities just have that little bit more spice, though it remains to be seen whether the Wanderers become Victory’s fiercest rivals over time.

    Regardless, last weekend’s Big Blue truly was an exhilarating affair and hopefully it was a precursor of things to come with the finals just around the corner.

    Western Sydney may be the story of the A-League season so far, but on a night of high drama in Moore Park, Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory reminded us all that there are plenty of other talking points.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.