Melbourne City could be the club we all love to hate, but their brief history has largely been marked by indifference. Is tonight the night that all changes?
There’s a lot to like about Melbourne City from a neutral standpoint.
They’ve given us Bruno Fornaroli and brought back Luke Brattan. They’ve revitalised the likes of Dario Vidosic and Oliver Bozanic and Stefan Mauk.
They’ve introduced seasoned European pros like Bart Schenkeveld and Michael Jakobsen, and their stadium resembles the sort of football cathedrals we see in Europe.
They even had Tim Cahill for a while.
Why, then, do they engender so much indifference?
It’s partly because Melbourne Victory are the most parochially backed side in the league.
Say what you will about Bleak City, but there’s no denying the fact that Victory fans are a ravenous bunch at the best of times.
It’s this sort of partisanship that ‘Team 11′ is trying to tap into with an expansion bid representing south-east Melbourne.
However, hampered by sharing their stadium with Victory, a rebadged City haven’t quite managed to attract the same level of support.
It didn’t help that the old Melbourne Heart was a bit of a non-entity.
The missing point of difference with Victory was one of the most discussed elements of the Heart era.
But now that the City Football Group are busy polishing another English Premier League trophy – and no doubt having a quiet word to Ange Postecoglou up in Yokohama as well – their focus should by rights return to the A-League.
So we should all care, especially if City go on and win the championship.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that they did everything they could to try and keep Ross McCormack. The Scottish striker finished as the league’s third-best goal scorer this season, despite playing just 17 games.
And the burly McCormack – who hasn’t featured in a single Aston Villa squad since returning to England – turned out to be one of the more inspired signings of the season.
So why should we begrudge a club which year after year brings down entertainers like Fornaroli and McCormack and the sadly missed Fernando Brandan?
And when is the A-League going to do something useful with the salary cap?
How is it actually helping if clubs that show some initiative lose players like McCormack – or worse still, Melbourne Victory star Leroy George – while others like the Central Coast Mariners don’t even spend the full amount available?
Isn’t a cap designed to act as an equalising measure simply holding back the bigger clubs, and robbing the A-League of the sort of players who might actually bring some fans through the gate?
If they weren’t so busy trying to stall for time to ward off FIFA’s advances, the first thing on Football Federation Australia’s agenda should be to revamp the salary cap.
Or get rid of it altogether.
And they should take a look at some more realistic ticket prices while they’re at it.
“We listened to the feedback from last year’s finals and dropped ticket prices across the board to allow families to attend,” was the headline quote from Greg O’Rourke in the build-up to the finals.
Yeah, yeah Greg… we’ve heard it all before. And there’s that magic word again: “families”.
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You sometimes wonder whether you’re supposed to be attending a football game or a Wiggles concert.
But putting aside the fact that many of the young fans who actually create the atmosphere inside A-League grounds are kids themselves, ticket prices for the finals series are still too high.
That’s not a problem for O’Rourke – he doesn’t pay for his tickets – but it is for fans expected to shell out an eye-watering $69 plus booking fee for a City Gold ticket tonight.
No wonder the seats on halfway are always empty.
That shouldn’t take away from what will be a blockbuster clash at AAMI Park.
Hated and proud? Melbourne City just need to do something memorable first.