There is no better indicator of the disconnect between Melbourne Victory’s board and the club’s sizeable fan-base than the fact they lost the derby at a stadium no fans want to go to.
It was the A-League game that captivated the football nation and typified the elegant quality of football on display this season.
Western United won the 5-4 nail biter against the Perth Glory which shattered both records and hearts, and simultaneously set the stage for another Melbourne-based derby this week.
Was the defending lacklustre? Perhaps. Yet these scintillating fixtures should act as the marker of what the A-League is able to bring to the table. More specifically, it is an illustration of the tactical adaptability of both young coaches Mark Rudan and Richard Garcia in fast-paced and ever-changing match situations.
In fact, this whirlwind of a fixture had, according to Andrew Howe, “an equal record nine lead changes thru the game (including to/from tied scores), which has only happened once before in Aus men’s national league.”
This fixture is also the highest-scoring half in A-League history over the course of its 16-year existence.
It may be inconceivable that we witness another goal-fest this weekend, yet the entertaining quality of Western United should prove to be a valuable advertisement for this weekend’s twilight and marquee fixture against cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory.
This fixture has been dubbed “The Battle of the Bridge” by the A-League and Western United, with WU hosting the fixture at AAMI Park due to a lack of COVID-safe venues throughout the state.
A refusal from Western United’s social media team and even coach Mark Rudan to name the side by name, referring them to the team in “navy blue” to avoid saying “Victory” or “V” has angered Victory fans on social media, quietly planting the seeds for the social media banter from the West Victorians.
Some would argue that the frustrations vented by Victory fans on social media where they decree that this fixture is not a derby has actually led to more animosity being geared towards Western United which potentially may spice up the fixture between the two sides.
The banter from Western United extends to them posting photo depicting black seats making out “WUFC” within AAMI Park which further infuriated Victory fans.
Victory legend and current Western United striker Besart Berisha lauded the prospect of increased tensions between the two sets of fan-bases.
“This is a ride and a good ride for each club to create this environment, it’s a rivalry, it’s a derby,” Berisha said in his press conference.
“This campaign, the fans have shown that we are here, don’t forget us.
“We are here, we are existing, and we want to be a part of this game and we want to be a part of the culture and that’s their right.
“My job is now to bring this club forward and that’s what I want to do.
“I want to help them create this culture and bring them forward.”
As remarked by CEO Chris Pehlivanis, the Western United supporters will be sitting on the western side of AAMI Park, while Victory’s fans will be seated in the eastern side of the ground.
Mapping out a geographical divide in a confined stadium may be considered cringeworthy by many within the Australian football community but it may be that these innovative ideas will hopefully intensify the rivalry between the sides.
This geographical divide between the three Melbourne clubs has become more defined ever since Melbourne City announced that their training base would be moved to the Dandenong region.
Western United head coach Rudan expressed his elation at the prospect of geographical rivalries within Victoria.
“I think it is wonderful,” he stated.
“I think it is important and I think we ruffled a few feathers with that [social media posts] as well.
“We came in and we said we are a team from the west for the west, even though there are members from other clubs in our area.
“We respect both Melbourne clubs – they were here before us – and maybe because we have identified a clear area, City have done the same now and moved to a different part of Melbourne.
“It is now up to the team in navy blue to go out there and pick up their own.
“We want to be like them and better than them and we want noise, we want to be loud.”
Despite the fact that Western United are playing a home game outside the geographical region of their traditional home in Geelong, with a 10,000 strong crowd at GMHBA last season welcoming this same fixture, can we expect more of the same with added tension between the two fan-bases?