A Change of Heart

By Tom Dixon

The A-League now well into it’s 7th season and crowds are slowly building to a sustainable level. Brisbane Roar are helping the cause by entertaining fans and dishing out weekly football lessons to their opponents. New teams such as Melbourne Heart still need a lot of support though, and everyone must feel equal responsibility to ensure games are well attended and the A-League’s financial future is secure. Every vote counts.

 

Melbourne Victory have built up a strong, loyal fan base over a rather successful 5 years that includes 2 championships. They recently recruited one of the greatest Socceroos of all time. And Melbourne fans just seem to lap it up. When you attend a mid-season AFL match with 90,000 people, you know you’re part of something special.

 

In my mind, the FFA made the right move in creating one new team per city to allow fans of all backgrounds to become united behind one team. In Melbourne it seemed to work right from the word go.  With a mixture of excitement and curiosity in my belly, I took a train down to Olympic Park on a September weekend and watched Victory beat Sydney 5-0. It was a great game that was rather disappointingly followed by string of losses and draws and a 7th place finish. Not to worry though, Melbourne had a new team, Australia had a new league, and the Socceroos were about to make their return to the World Cup after 32 long years. Ernie Merrick, Victory’s first coach and a man who I was unreasonably hard on, plucked a Brazilian named Fred from relative obscurity, put Kevin Muscat into the midfield and with Archie and Allsop firing the mighty Victory dominated the league and tore Adelaide United to pieces 6-0 in the grand final. Myself, along with 50,000 passionate Melbournians, chanted “Archie, Archie, Archie” as he pointed in disbelief to his shiny boots after scoring his 5th for the night. It was love. But how long would it last?

 

During the A-League’s 5th season I lost interest. I don’t know what it was exactly, perhaps a mix of my unreasonable dislike of Merrick and a totally reasonable dislike of Etihad Stadium (or was it still called Telstra Dome then?). I think I was also bored of the league itself. “Why can’t they play like the Premier League” I asked myself. “What do they do in training all week if they just end up playing long balls all game”?

It was around this time that the inevitable was coming. Melbourne had to have a second team. How could we not, we’re the best city in the world right? I went overseas for a year and missed the introduction of Melbourne Heart. I didn’t think much about them at first, all I knew was they wore red & white stripes and had signed several players from Sydney FC. I knew they played in a new soccer stadium that I hadn’t seen. I was drinking coconuts on a beach and living the good life. A-League you say? Be quiet and pass me a mango!

 

Upon returning I decided it was reasonable to make a choice, since during A-League season one there had only been one team. If both Victory and Heart began at the same time…who would you support? Changing teams is not as easy as it seems. I once tried to stop following Leeds Utd because they no longer had Kewell & Viduka and had dropped down to League 2 and I never heard about their games and, stuff them right? Wrong. I tried to pick a new Premier League team but it didn’t work. I am a Leeds man and always will be.

 

The concept of changing AFL teams is just uncomprehendable. It would be like changing sex. It would be like blowing up all you personal possessions and leaving town with nothing but some clothes and blank stare. You simply would not be you, and I would not be me without Collingwood.

 

But I am me without Victory. That’s not to say I’ve officially swapped yet, but I know I could live without them. I watched the first Victory v Heart derby of this season on TV and was less than impressed with their performance. Heart didn’t play much better, but they got the ball to the wings and there was something nice about them, they know their place in this town and they’re just out there having a crack.

 

In essence I decided to support both teams for the time being. After all, I’m just happy to watch good soccer. A friend felt the same way and we cycled to AAMI park to see Heart take on Sydney. We paid over $50 for seats on the wing and it rained heavily all game. Heart played well but lacked the killer touch. Brett Emerton was subdued, I was happy for him not to have an influence. On came Maycon and with some luck came a goal. The 5,600 Heart fans jumped for joy in the rain. This was worth it, we all said. It might be raining, but Heart are about to beat the old enemy 1-0. Unfortunately Heart fell asleep in the final minute and Nicky Carle pounced. Up in the stands, 66 Sydney fans went nuts. Two things were clear though – Heart can play, and they need support.

 

A week later the same friend and I went to the Victory v Brisbane game at Etihad. I think we just wanted to see Brisbane but it was also about giving the Victory a chance to steal our hearts back. Leijer gave Victory a bad start by giving the ball away and allowing Brisbane to win a penalty. But then Archie took us back a few years with two superb finishes. “Archie!”, we said. “Archie, Archie, Archie”. When Foscini was sent off (harshly), Victory looked to be in big trouble. Somehow, they survived 2-2. There was a view in some commentaries that Victory faired better with 9 men than they would have with 11 and I agree. Ultimately, they were in trouble from the start because they allowed Brisbane to control possession. A 2-2 draw was not a great result in my mind. Stringing together 10 passes would be.

 

Meanwhile, over at Heart, Fred returned from injury and they won 2 in a row. That’s the same Fred that orchestrated Victory’s rise in season 2. Who is this guy? Is the A-League a training drill for him?

 

Last weekend the Heart lost and Victory won. I haven’t seen either game but am excited about the derby on Dec 23.

 

So should I follow Heart or stay loyal? Will they exist in 5 years? Is it OK to hate Victory because they are blue and Carlton are blue? Why was Scott Pendlebury, my favorite player, wearing a Heart top with a Collingwood logo emblazoned on it?

 

For the moment I’m staying neutral, but I think it’s clear which way I’m leaning. Sorry Archie.

 

Comments

  1. Skip of Skipton says:

    I’d say if you care for the sport and health of the A League, jump on with Heart. Although $50 is a bit rich if they’re trying to attract people to come and watch. What ever happened to the second team in Sydney?

  2. Not sure what happened in Sydney, I heard there were bids put together but I don’t think the FFA supported any. Maybe they’re waiting to see how Melbourne goes with two teams first.

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