Derby atmosphere unrivalled in Australian sport

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troyheadshotI’ve been to plenty of great sporting events at ANZ Stadium, from NRL Grand Finals to State of Origins, football internationals and of course plenty of NRL club matches.

But nothing has matched the atmosphere that Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC fans provided last Saturday night.

The Sydney Derby – played in front of a record A-League crowd of 61,880 – highlighted what was a stellar opening weekend for the competition.

It also showcased just how far football has come in Sydney in such a short period of time.

David Gallop and the FFA may have dreamed about scenarios like last Saturday night when they hastily launched the Wanderers just in time for the 2012/13 season, but I doubt they thought it would happen so quickly.

And while all sports have their particular spectacles that will attract big crowds, both the AFL and NRL would be exceptionally jealous of what the A-League can now provide via the Sydney Derby at club level.

Photo: Megan Dunn
Photo: Megan Dunn

Both codes would argue that the bigger picture tells a different story but the A-League certainly delivered a body blow last weekend.

The NRL has nine Sydney clubs and will never be able to match the crowd and intensity of the rivalry at club level.

The AFL could come close given they have just two clubs in Sydney, but the growth of the GWS Giants has been much slower than the Wanderers.

In fact, when the Swans and Giants met in a Finals match at ANZ Stadium last month, a crowd of 60,222 turned up. That figure was surpassed by the A-League in a round one match last weekend.

The atmosphere at the Olympic precinct was simply sensational.

Sydney FC fans. Photo: Megan Dunn
Sydney FC fans. Photo: Megan Dunn

The Red and Black Bloc (RBB) was in fine voice, and The Cove (Sydney’s FC’s active supporter group) gave as good as they got. Most of the time it was friendly fire and a wonderful thing to watch.

The singing, the chanting, the finger pointing – it’s all great fun.

Even when the Wanderers fell behind in the second half, the RBB kept singing. They never lost their voice.

There was one negativity – a couple of flares were again let off in the RBB and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

Wanderers fans are so passionate and active that they don’t need the flares to deliver a wonderful atmosphere.

After all the warnings, you’d have to be a real knucklehead to let off a flare and potentially cost your side three points.

A flare is let off last weekend. Photo: Megan Dunn
A flare is let off last weekend. Photo: Megan Dunn

While the A-League can’t provide a Sydney Derby every weekend and the Wanderers won’t always attract such huge crowds, the code has every right to boast about what the Derby presents.

A TV audience of 142,000 certainly won’t open too many free-to-air cheque books, but it does make people take notice.

The key now is for David Gallop, the FFA and the A-League itself not to get too far ahead of itself.

Speculation about a third Sydney club, which refuses to go away, threatens to derail the success and intensity of the Wanderers / Sydney FC rivalry.

The Derby works because it draws a line across the geographical centre of Sydney and creates an “us versus them” mentality.

The A-League should not expect a similar result by throwing a third team into the mix.

Expansion is something that of course should be considered but with four clubs in New South Wales, the code really needs to look further afield.

It’s also important that officials insist the Derby remains at big stadiums.

It has simply outgrown suburban venues and must be kept at ANZ or Allianz Stadium moving forward.

When the Wanderers return to Homebush to take on Newcastle at Spotless Stadium next Sunday night, the atmosphere and the crowd will be less significant than last Saturday.

But it matters little.

As long as the Wanderers can produce that two or three times a year, they’re very well placed to continue what is an amazing Australian sporting story.

Photo: Megan Dunn
Photo: Megan Dunn
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