Sydney derby has the potential to be one of Asia’s best
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Sydney's Ali Abbas and the Wanderer's Michael Beauchamp. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
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With all due respect to the wonderful folks of Melbourne, but surely the Sydney derby possesses the requisite ingredients to become the most ferociously contested fixture in the A-League.
Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC will go head to head at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night in a clash which bears all the hallmarks of the fierce intracity derbies we know and love around the world.
On the pitch, the Wanderers are undoubtedly keen to stay in touch with league leaders Brisbane, while Sydney FC are desperate for a win and the chance to divert attention from their abysmal away record.
Off it, many Sky Blues fans harbour a genuine resentment towards Wanderers supporters for either jumping ship or failing to support entirely a club which was established to represent the whole city.
Meanwhile, Wanderers fans – or at least the law-abiding majority of them – should feel aggrieved that a suspended sentence which threatens to dock competition points hangs over the team, thanks to the criminal actions of a bone-headed few.
There’s now little stopping a Sydney FC fan from donning a Wanderers jersey and wreaking havoc down Church Street in a bid to have Western Sydney stripped of competition points, and how Football Federation Australia plans to accommodate that sort of scenario is anyone’s guess.
At any rate, there’s a growing animosity between the two clubs and unlike in Melbourne, the supposed East-West divide between the two supporter bases adds an extra dimension to an already heated affair.
It reminds me of the time I attended the last ever Cologne derby in the Bundesliga’s second division, when cellar dwellers Fortuna thumped table-topping rivals 1.FC Köln 4-1, seemingly for no other reason than that they despised their bigger brother’s existence.
There was a crowd of 40,000 in attendance that afternoon, and I have no doubt that almost single every spectator was attracted by the lure of the kind of atmosphere only generated on derby day.
There’s something almost comical about intracity derbies, as though the inhabitants of certain cities have nothing better to do than play out their petty squabbles within the gladiatorial confines of a football pitch.
Some cities such as Barcelona boast two clubs so diametrically opposed, it’s a wonder the city can even function adequately, while others like Liverpool support two clubs with perhaps more in common than its respective fan-bases care to admit.
And while some of the world’s fiercest derbies aren’t strictly intracity affairs – the M1 derby between Brisbane Roar and Gold Coast United was as keenly contested as any – the A-League’s most recent such addition adds a spark in a city renowned for the fickleness of its fans.
Some of those supporters have a right to be fickle, mind you, and indeed my own attempts to buy a few tickets for Saturday night’s showdown ended in farce.
A litany of errors in Ticketek’s log-in system left me and hundreds of like-minded fans frustrated in our attempts to buy tickets to the game.
The problem was laughably compounded by the mass email I received shortly thereafter, apologising for the issue and ending with the line “(w)e hope to see you on terraces”.
Well, no – since that would require me to be in possession of a ticket!
It’s a small price to pay for the growing popularity of one of the A-League’s most anticipated encounters, though one would hope that FFA does not use the ticketing fiasco as an excuse to move the derby to ANZ Stadium in the future.
Part of football’s charm is supporting your team home and away, and much of that is lost when marquee fixtures are played on what are essentially neutral grounds.
Here’s hoping that the lucky fans inside Parramatta Stadium cherish the experience then, and generate a vociferous atmosphere at what is fast becoming one of Asia’s most anticipated derbies.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman