What the Melbourne derby teaches us about the A-League

Adrian Musolino Columnist

By Adrian Musolino, Adrian Musolino is a Roar Expert

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    Melbourne Heart in a-league. AAP images

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    The Melbourne derby is far and away the best thing to happen to the A-League over the last two seasons. And that’s saying something given the positive developments that came into force this season.

    In terms of atmosphere, traction and buzz, it already ranks alongside finals football, if not exceeds it – and the rivalry is still only a season and a bit old. The stats don’t lie: five games in, the lowest crowd was 23,059 in the second encounter, with 16 goals scored across all those matches.

    The derby is better than any advertisement/promotion Football Federation Australia could dream up.

    Ultimately, its success proves the one club per market model the A-League was founded on was flawed, and that a city such as Melbourne can sustain two clubs, with the rivalry between the two helping to pump up the weaker/smaller.

    If anything the success of the Melbourne derby should push the case for a western Sydney team, giving Sydney FC a rival to play off, which, unlike Heart and Victory, would have a distinct geographical base.

    Rivalries are what the A-League needs; matches with meaning. It was also in evidence in the Queensland derby hosted by Gold Coast United on Boxing Day, where a crowd of 6927 was over double their usual, measly average.

    The one club per market model means the rivalry is out of kilter somewhat; Victory had a five-season head start on Heart that included two premierships, two championships and three grand final appearances.

    But points of differentiation will emerge and grow: Victory is more associated with Etihad and Heart with AAMI Park (why it’s important Etihad stays in the mix); hopefully the two clubs will become synonymous with two distinct football cultures and styles of play; and the more matches they play the more the rivalry will grow and create a necessary divide in Melbourne.

    Some have suggested there is a geo-political divide the rivalry could exploit; Heart representing Labor to north (and west) of the Yarra and the Victory the Liberals to the south (and east).

    But as the AFL found after it moved its Melbourne clubs into two city stadiums, suburban and geographical divides in the city don’t really foster modern day sporting rivals. If the AFL were invented from scratch today, could it really have nine suburban Melbourne teams truly representing their geographical bases?

    Perhaps the best point of difference was, in fact, that one club existed from day one and the other was the intruder that butted in five seasons later; and that is the real sticking point that will divide fans.

    Some think the A-League should build on this and one day prompt a third Victorian club. Geoff Lord takes this to the extreme with his recent claim that former NSL greats South Melbourne should be instated into the A-League, with Heart moved out to Geelong or the outer suburbs.

    But the premise for South Melbourne or another new club is based on Heart being undeserving of their status in Melbourne; some claiming their crowd average of over 5000 is a grave concern.

    But those people forget the difficulty of Heart’s task; going up against the established Victory. Now that they are in and the rivalry is building, Heart should only grow – and it’s up to both Melbourne clubs to aggressively attack and carve up as much of the Melbourne market for themselves.

    In the aftermath of Heart’s 3-2 derby win and four-goal victory over Sydney FC in Sydney, the talk in the Melbourne media is that the second-year club is now out of the shadow’s of the Victory – in a season in which we thought the Harry Kewell-studded Victory would crush Heart into submission, on and off the pitch.

    Heart should take inspiration from NBA franchise, the Los Angeles Clippers, who relocated to Los Angeles in 1984, just as the established LA Lakers’ ‘Showtime’ era began. The Clippers lived in the Lakers’ shadow for decades until a gun draft pick (Blake Griffin) and trade (Chris Paul), combined with a poor season for the Lakers, gave new life to LA’s “second team”.

    Melbourne Heart could be on the brink of something similar, and the A-League is better for it.

    Adrian Musolino
    Adrian Musolino

    Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.

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    The Crowd Says (44)

    • January 5th 2012 @ 7:13am
      JohnL said | January 5th 2012 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      “The Melbourne derby is far and away the best thing to happen to the A-League over the last two seasons.”


      I’ve heard that the Roar v Mariners grand final, the way the Roar played last season and even the unbeaten streak (this put a lot of NRL noses out of joint) to be the best things to have happened for the sport.

      Then again, I do support the Roar, so I could be biased there.

      • January 5th 2012 @ 7:26am
        nordster said | January 5th 2012 @ 7:26am | ! Report

        a good honest league match between two local rivals, always superior to any cup/grand final. Its derby games that keep league football bubbling along. The one day spectacles are fine but just that…

        • January 5th 2012 @ 7:37am
          JohnL said | January 5th 2012 @ 7:37am | ! Report

          The unbeaten streak was actually 36 matches (longer than an enitre season), not a one day spectacle…..

          • January 6th 2012 @ 12:56am
            The Link said | January 6th 2012 @ 12:56am | ! Report

            The record got up no-one’s noses in RL.

            The Easts record from way back was in no way celebrated in recent times by RL prior to the Roar’s run.

            It was probably the first time many people had heard of it.

            Saint’s 11 straight premierships in RL is way more celebrated in Australia and rightly so.

            • Roar Guru

              January 6th 2012 @ 8:06am
              Redb said | January 6th 2012 @ 8:06am | ! Report

              Celebrated in RL circles not .Australia. to be fair to the Roar. Both unbroken streaks were relevant to their competitions but had little traction outside of them.

              • January 6th 2012 @ 8:23am
                Punter said | January 6th 2012 @ 8:23am | ! Report

                What is more relevant to ,those within the football circle, even more so than the unbeaten streak, was the way the Roar played, unseen in football in this country.

                As far as St George 11 straight premierships, I think this is a world record for any sporting TEAM, so I think this is recognised not only within Australia, but outside of it.

              • January 6th 2012 @ 8:34pm
                The Link said | January 6th 2012 @ 8:34pm | ! Report

                Spot on Punter. There’s no comparison. Easts streak was probably unknown even to the RL faithful. St George’s streak is well known to RL (obviously) but is also widely quoted and known.

                Anyway this is a football thread and we’re splitting hairs here, the Roar’s streak has been celebrated and quite rightly.

    • January 5th 2012 @ 7:47am
      Punter said | January 5th 2012 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      Brisbane Roar is the best thing for this sport in the last 2 years & I ain’t no BR fan.

    • Roar Guru

      January 5th 2012 @ 8:16am
      The Cattery said | January 5th 2012 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      If the Victory is more associated with Etihad, I would have thought it is they who are more associated with the North-West and the Heart with the South-East. The Heart already have some sort of presence in the out SE suburb of Casey.

      Anyway, the two grounds are barely 2 kms apart.

      Ultimately, I think the idea that you have the established club and the interlopers will end up being the differentiator.

      • Roar Guru

        January 5th 2012 @ 8:36am
        Redb said | January 5th 2012 @ 8:36am | ! Report

        Victory would still be considered the overall Melbourne club I sense no attachment to any region in Melbourne. When Heart came along it seemed to split the hard core base of Victory. The derby crowd record (26K) proof of that.

        • January 5th 2012 @ 9:14am
          Chris said | January 5th 2012 @ 9:14am | ! Report

          The derby crowd record is actually over 39,000 – at Etihad in Round 3.

          • Roar Guru

            January 5th 2012 @ 9:38am
            Redb said | January 5th 2012 @ 9:38am | ! Report

            Kewell factor?

            • January 5th 2012 @ 10:03am
              Dean said | January 5th 2012 @ 10:03am | ! Report

              26k is more likely a reflection of the AAMI Park stadium capacity factor. Last season (well before Harry was in Melbourne) MVFC v Heart attracted 32 231 to the Docklands at a time when neither team was playing that well. For sure, Harry will have an impact this year (maybe 10-15% extra patronage).

            • January 5th 2012 @ 10:59am
              Kasey said | January 5th 2012 @ 10:59am | ! Report

              I’ll give you the ‘Kewell factor’ for the first game against Sydney in Rd1
              The Derby was all inter city rivalry IMO.

          • January 5th 2012 @ 6:09pm
            Stevo said | January 5th 2012 @ 6:09pm | ! Report

            Agree. The way to judge the impact of the derby on Melbourne is to look at the Etihad attendance. The figure of 39000 I believe exceeds the combined membership of both clubs so there is a fair amount of general interest in the sporting community in Melbourne.

          • Roar Guru

            January 6th 2012 @ 8:03am
            Redb said | January 6th 2012 @ 8:03am | ! Report

            yes the recent the record crowd was for AAMI Park.

            If you take last season the crowd between Victory and Heart looked split, the difference this year appears to be the Kewell factor and some improvement in Heart’s fanbase (albeit minor).

        • January 5th 2012 @ 11:48am
          Axelv said | January 5th 2012 @ 11:48am | ! Report

          AAMI Park was sold out 2 days before the match.

          The volume of demand kept increasing until it was sold out.

      • January 5th 2012 @ 11:09pm
        Anne Tenna said | January 5th 2012 @ 11:09pm | ! Report

        Herat has its training base at Latrobe University in the north of Melbourne – and no base in Casey (that fell through)

    • January 5th 2012 @ 8:25am
      striker said | January 5th 2012 @ 8:25am | ! Report

      Good to see the heart get over 8k yesterday it shows there support base is growing, as for the Gold Coast derby with Brisbance there were at least 5k of Brisbance supporters at Gold Coast so i really dont see much of a derby there as Gold Coast crowds are a joke.

      • January 5th 2012 @ 1:11pm
        JamesP said | January 5th 2012 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

        I was at the big bash cricket last night at the MCG. I saw over a dozen heart shirts in the crowd and even on the bog screen…not sure if it was planned but a smart move to have the games one after the other.

    • January 5th 2012 @ 8:47am
      Stam said | January 5th 2012 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      Just an observation from someone who works in the cbd but I definitely see more younger people wearing heart supporter gear compared to victory

    • January 5th 2012 @ 9:15am
      Chris said | January 5th 2012 @ 9:15am | ! Report

      Does anyone outside Melbourne care about a game between the Victory and Heart?

      • Roar Guru

        January 5th 2012 @ 9:21am
        The Cattery said | January 5th 2012 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        It seems to get good ratings on Fox. It has become the marquee fixture of the A-League.

        • Roar Guru

          January 5th 2012 @ 9:41am
          Ben Carter said | January 5th 2012 @ 9:41am | ! Report

          Hi Chris, Adrian… Does anyone outside Melbourne care? Yes. I live in regional Victoria and have been most impressed by Heart’s willingness to embrace a more non-metropolitan side to things (training and practice games outside Melbourne, etc). I am nominally an Adelaide-admirer but If I had to pick a Melbourne-based team to follow now I live in Vic I’d say Heart. They’re the fresh thing on the A-League menu, and keeping the Yarraside Derby alive is an undoubtedly healthy thing for the A-League and the world game in Australia generally, I reckon.

          • January 5th 2012 @ 11:02am
            Ben of Phnom Penh said | January 5th 2012 @ 11:02am | ! Report

            I tend to agree, Ben. I’m a non-Victorian who is based overseas yet find myself looking forward to the Melbourne derby.

      • January 5th 2012 @ 10:17am
        Kasey said | January 5th 2012 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        I’m Adelaide thru and thru and I love a good derby game. I always watch the Melb derby expecting that there will be a good quality, high intensity game and of course that both teams kick the stuffing out of each other! 😉 The Melb Derbies and one day the Sydney Derbies will form the slate of ‘must-see ‘event games’ for the League, along with the GF. If one was trying to convince a Eurosnob that the local product was worth sampling and getting emotionally involved in, these event games will be vital to doing so.

      • January 5th 2012 @ 11:49am
        Axelv said | January 5th 2012 @ 11:49am | ! Report

        Hmmmm, the TV ratings according to astra is only 93k on 23rd Dec for the Melbourne Derby.

        That is tiny and it nearly half of what the round 2 figures were for the Derby.

      • January 5th 2012 @ 1:08pm
        Qantas supports Australian Football said | January 5th 2012 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

        Yes Chris I live on the Gold Coast and it’s the best derby of the HAL season—a must watch game from any part of the country you live in. And most probably throughout Asia now.. Can’t imagine any AFL or NRL game could hold any greater interest throughout Asia

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