Late notes from the Melbourne Derby

By Ben de Buen

#melbderby City are winning

A photo posted by Thin White Line (@thinwhitelinemagazine) on

Tim Cahill’s strike from way out came as a bit of a shock. For many reasons. City looked stronger and more determined than Victory, but at that very moment the game was stranded in midfield with neither team looking more resourceful than the other. We the fans were starting to sink in our seats.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, as they say, the ball was in the air and heading for Victory’s goal. The shot was so long that it felt like it was suspended in Etihad’s inner orbit, giving us a moment to come to our senses and evaluate the odds of this random shot ending up in the back of the net. Not much of a margin—if the ball was to cross the goal line successfully it would have to hit the top right corner. But who was the last player to touch the ball?

Next, Tim Cahill is boxing the corner flag, that signature celebration that not many people in Australia – even Victory supporters at this point in time – would ever hate to see. A goal like that transcends rivalries. Until then, Cahill had blended well with the A-League. It didn’t last. Even at age 36, it only took a few minutes for him to stand above the rest.

It’s only week 2 but some have already started jumping to conclusions and calling out the uneven distribution of wealth in the A-League: City’s oil money is paying off; Cahill should have gone to a struggling team. In a way, these unhappy voices are not wrong – many things in the world could and should be fairer – but it’s not any different to the way professional football operates anywhere else. No one in the game appears embarrassed about being rich, and I can’t imagine Victory players went to the locker room blaming their City’s bank balance for the result in Saturday’s derby.

This young club has an advantage over other teams, which seems to be germinating true feelings in a very young league. Other rivalries have been born out of well-disputed finals or greater national rivalries. Thanks to petrodollars, the A-League now has something that many other leagues have, the rich club that divides opinions and is a standard case in most leagues around the world.

It’s probably best not to become inflamed about this. Rich clubs tend to perform well, but they also cause a lot of joy when they come stumbling down.