Berisha outburst gives birth to Brisbane-Sydney rivalry

by Sebastian Hassett on Jan 23, 2012

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It's hard enough trying to get your story in on time when the deadline is incredibly tight without the added drama of late goals. Usually you're given five or so minutes after the full-time whistle to have your prose on the editor's desk, and they roughly the same time to cast their eye over what you've cobbled together before it is pressed onto a naked page for the world to see.

So you can imagine my horror when Brisbane Roar decided to do the unthinkable last Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium and produce one of the comebacks of the season, and certainly the one which arrived the latest. They scored twice in the final two minutes of injury time to the result out of Sydney's hands.

And that, remarkably, wasn't even the most newsworthy thing to happen on the night. That was still to come, for when the final whistle sounded, off went Besart Berisha's shirt as the red mist descended over his eyes.

The television cameras beamed the sight of him challenging Pascal Bosschaart to a fight into homes right around the country, and for the 15,000 or so who were present in the stadium, it was an epic, raw moment.

Was it a good look for the game? No. Is this something we want to see every week? No. Should Berisha have been allowed to escape without punishment? No. But was the talking point it created good for the game? Probably - if you consider how many column inches it generated for the game. Was it good for the rivalry between Brisbane and Sydney? Absolutely.

It was like lowering the cages on two wild animals who've stared at each other for six years.

There will be no more anticipated match in the whole A-League than when the Sky Blues and Roar next meet. A strangely dormant rivalry, their feud on the rugby field never translated into the football field. Until now.

My gut feeling was that this fixture only ever needed a push in the right direction to get going, and that's exactly what last Saturday night provided. Sydney and Brisbane hate each other in the same way that Melbourne and Adelaide despise one another. It's only natural that when they meet in the A-League, sparks should fly.

The Melbourne-Adelaide rivalry, which transplanted itself seamlessly from the world of AFL, was triggered by a chain of memorable events, right back to their first ever meeting in the Club World Championship qualifiers in 2005, a match Adelaide won on penalties. Adelaide would then beat Melbourne in a pre-season friendly, and then topple them three times during the regular season. Victory couldn't take a trick.

The next year, the rivalry exploded: Melbourne knocked over Adelaide 2-0 on the opening night, and then went to Adelaide and won 3-1, spoiling Romario's visit. Adelaide would sneak a 1-0 win at Etihad Stadium thanks to Nathan Burns, but that was the match only remembered for Kossie's choke on Musky. They then met in a dramatic two-legged semi-final, decided by James Robinson's late header. Melbourne won the grand final 6-0, and won it over Adelaide two years later, and the rest is history.

Cumulatively, those moments have served to ensconce the Melbourne-Adelaide rivalry as one of the league's fiercest. But as I see it, there's no reason Sydney and Brisbane can't see to it that their feud becomes one of the league's marquee matches for years to come.

For one, I hope the pair meet in the finals this year. Just imagine if, by some miracle, Sydney were to host the final. The oft-sedated crowd at the Sydney Football Stadium would go feral in the hunt for Berisha's blood, just like they used to whenever Kevin Muscat was in town. Maybe we'll have to wait until next season.

And so while it was bloody annoying for myself and my colleagues in the press box when we had to furiously re-write our stories in record time to cover the goals and fights that happened at the death, I'd like to think we were witnessing the start of something special.

Sydney and Brisbane have never liked each other. Now as far as football is concerned, it's official. Let the fireworks commence.