Derby Day in Melbourne - More than a game

by Steve Horvat on Feb 03, 2012

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Well, does it get any bigger than this?

Only the sixth game and in its second season, this fixture is arguably the piece de resistance of the A-League calendar. But we already knew it would be didn’t we?

Derbies are a massive part of the culture and fabric of our game. I played in many in Melbourne during the old NSL days, and played in and witnessed some incredibly fiery encounters overseas. It is one of the many truly incredible components of football.

The motivation is always the same when you have two opposing teams and players who cross paths in the same city; everyone wants to be the top dog. Not only that but both sets of supporters want to enjoy the spoils that come with winning the local derby. This creates an atmosphere unlike any other.

Throughout the history of the A-League there have been games that have tried to be promoted as derbies –Victory v Sydney, the F3 or the Brisbane v Gold Coast match ups.

However, nothing can really compare to the atmosphere that is created when two teams compete for the domination and bragging rights of one city. The only true derby began in Season six of the A-League with the inception of Melbourne Heart in the competition. Whether it’s a Manchester, Milan, Liverpool, (and yes there are others) or the Melbourne derby, no one can tell me there is the same amount of passion in any other rivalry.

Memo to the FFA – Get western Sydney sorted and re-create what we are privileged to encounter down here in Melbourne.

So Saturday night at AAMI Park brings us the sixth installment of this rivalry that seems to grow with every new encounter.

Melbourne Heart have the edge with two wins, and two draws and there has been no shortage of drama over the course of the five games. Great goals, red cards and many other talking points make this fixture the most anticipated each year when the draw is announced. I have no doubt that within time this encounter will outgrow AAMI Park’s capacity.

What makes this upcoming meeting all the more interesting is the fact that both teams are limping into it with poor form and with an incredible amount at stake. Heart is battling to regain its stunning form from a month or so back, while Victory is trying to find some form for the first time this season. I doubt there has been a more important derby for either club in its short history because both clubs have so much to play for in the context of this season.

Both are missing key personnel through Olyroos duty, and Melbourne Heart’s problems are compounded by injuries to key players in Fred and Matt Thompson who were fundamental to their win last time out against Victory.

With so many players missing for Heart they will have to rely on the likes of Alex Terra and Eli Babalj to help them get a result, whereas Victory will hope that Harry Kewell backs up well after the trip to Tasmania and continues his great form, and that Archie Thompson, who has been threatening of late, is able to find the back of the net.

Not only is it a battle of the players, but the coaches will have a big say in the outcome of this match. With the announcement of John van ‘t Schip’s departure, will the Heart players dig deep and do it for the coach who has been responsible for blooding many of them through the system? Or will Victory finally put it all together and give an already under pressure Jim Magilton his first win as boss?

Bring on 7:45pm Saturday night. I can’t wait.

Those in Melbourne can tune into the ABC Radio coverage of the game on 774AM from 7.30pm where yours truly will be lending special comments.