By Ben de Buen.
It was City, Victory, and lederhosen all the way to the CBD.
What is usually a 15-minute train ride into the Melbourne became a public transport train-bus-tram triathlon. City and Victory supporters were on board to confirm the rumor of Docklands selling out, not to Etihad or Telstra, but to forty-three thousand football fans.
Oktoberfest celebrations took place simultaneously at Birrarrung Marr, a kilometre upstream from the match. Braids, suspenders, and long socks added to the broken journey.
The hype around derby day may not have been enough to stop authorities from shutting down part of the rail network for track repairs, but those bloody replacement buses were packed with football fans and Oktoberfest enthusiasts.
True, it’s a bit late to talk about Saturday’s derby. So here’s the spoiler alert: it was a full crowd at Docklands, only inferior to the Jehovah’s Witness convention held there a week earlier. If every seat on the grounds was occupied it was to witness a territorial dispute.
Saturday was one of Melbourne’s greatest football nights. I’ve never seen so many people at Docklands. The renovation of Heart also refurbished the divide between the city’s two clubs into a stronger rivalry. Banners displayed escalated antagonism across the the terrace: You can change your name, You can change your colours, This city will always be ours.
It appeared as though City’s “evil plan” to out-bling rivals had worked all too easily. They took the lead twice in the first 25 minutes of play and though Victory managed to level the scores, they certainly hadn’t matched City’s management of the playing field. They definitely didn’t have anyone looking as influential as Massimo Murdocca or Aaron Mooy.
After halftime, star Victory signing, Besart Berisha, proved a far more incisive change to the local football scape than City’s new emblem. His 46th minute goal shifted the tide of the match for good. Bez would walk away with a hat trick. Victory favorite, Archie Thompson scored the other two in what became an authoritative stamp on Melbourne’s football hierarchy.
In the end Melbourne City lacked heart (we may never grow tired of the poetry behind this idea). The final result is common knowledge by now, but more remarkable was the crowd’s response to a local match. With a competition that is just celebrating its first decade, rivalries can also seem somehow unripe, especially to outsiders. Thus far only Melbourne and Sydney had allowed their natural opposition to overflow into the pitch for the Big Blue.
The strongest football enmities in the world have sprouted from the rich soil of historical grudges, political hostilities, class disputes, economic disparities or ideological differences – often leading to regrettable consequences. Without reaching such extremes, City’s overhaul has added some of these spicy ingredients to the Derby, a distinction too often missing from franchises in the world’s youngest competitions: an identity constructed around wealth, a story that isn’t shared throughout the founding A-League clubs that may have been conceived in the same board room frolic.
It was to be expected that Victory would toll (and troll) City’s irruption into the A-League. It can also be expected for the league’s youngest rivalry to become the strongest, strong enough for transport officials to allow football – or soccer as they might call it – to influence their track replacement schedule from today forward.