Derbies are one of the biggest facets of world football. Milan vs Inter, Lazio vs Roma, Olympiacos vs Panathinaikos, Atlético Madrid vs Real Madrid, Boca Juniors vs River Plate…I could go on.
It is said that civil wars are those with most hatred and (fortunately without the killing in the thousands) this can be said when two teams from the same city. There is an intense dislike for people who share the same air, walk the same streets supporting another team. The antipathy is amplified as unlike a defeat from a team from another town, the supporters of the winning team are far away, with a derby the opposition can be everywhere….your colleague, your neighbour….your boss. Of course the chortling and the schadenfreude if you win is also much sweeter much for the same reasons.
The A-League hasn’t had the same type of match (if you discount Central Coast Mariners and Sydney – maybe close, but no cigar). The introduction of Melbourne Heart will be the first time two teams from the same city will be battling it out in the competition.
I must admit that I have my misgivings. I look at the successful intra-city rivalries in world football and there is often something behind it. Inter is an abbreviation of Internazionale. A group of people were unhappy about the domination of Italians in the AC Milan team, and broke away from them, thus creating a different philosophy and mindset from the other team in that city.
Real Madrid have long been seen as the establishment club, with the Bernabéu Stadium alongside banks and businesses on the classy and aristocratic Castellana, while while Calderon is beside a brewery, with its Atlético fans being more working-class which comes particularly from the south of the city.
Of course I can go on and more knowledgeable football people will be able to recount many more (and we will not mention sectarian differences such as Rangers and Celtic). So rivalries come from differences. The team represent something that fans can identify with. I am not sure that Melbourne Hearts does provide that difference. There have been rumors that some of the fans disaffected by the ‘new football’ and that have eschewed Melbourne Victory will follow the Heart and create a rivalry. But why would that be the case? Like Melbourne Victory has been approved by the FFA with a consortium created and led by a businessman (Peter Sidwell). In that sense there is no split, no reason to be ‘against’ that team apart from the fact that on the pitch they will be trying to score more than us. Of course over time, a rivalry may develop, but it won’t be instant.
The other factor for me is that the health of the A-League, and consequently the health of football in Australia is the major concern for me. So while I want Melbourne Victory to be winning, I don’t want Melbourne Heart to fail either. Having Hearts draw a small crowd, and being unsuccessful would only be fodder for the ‘anti-sokkah’ brigade in the media.
Interestingly this apparent lack of difference will not be the case for Sydney FC and Sydney Rovers where the strong presence of football culture in the western suburbs of that city presents points of differentiation immediately.
So good luck Melbourne Hearts. As a Melbourne Victory supporter I hope will dominate you, but as a supporter of football in Australia I hope you will succeed.
So what should we call the derby? We have the Superclásico, the Clássico dos Milhões, Derby della Capitale, the Merseyside derby and the Steel City Derby. Maybe the Yarra derby? The Bearbrass derby? Or perhaps the skinny double shot caffelatte derby?