The Melbourne Derby is contested between two of Australia’s best teams in the A-League: Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory. However, it has not always been this way. At the league’s inception in 2004, there was only one team in Melbourne, that being Victory, but since the beginning of the 2010/11 season, that number has been doubled. Two teams sharing one stadium is common, as City and Victory do at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, also known as AAVI Park, however, the derby is unique and one of a kind. Its rise to prominence has been a story that should captivate the minds of football fans alike.
It has not always just been contested between City and Victory. When another Melbourne side was introduced to the top flight of Australian football, it was, in fact, Melbourne Heart. Heart battled it out against Victory 12 times over a four-year period prior to Heart’s takeover with the games ending in a quartet of wins, draws and losses for both sides. The derbies were not just contested at the sides’ shared home ground as five of the games were played at the Docklands Stadium, known as the Marvel Stadium, which is normally utilised for derbies and finals. The trend of altering the venues for the games has continued into the City-Victory era.
During the 2014/15 season, the City Football Group (CFG) forked out for an 80% majority stake in Heart. The company, owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group who also own and are spearheaded by Manchester City, were looking to expand upon their horizons by investing into Australia. As well as their investment into the blue side of Melbourne, they also own shares in sides in the United States, Japan, Spain and Uruguay.
The relationship allows the CFG to act as a link between the outfits to exchange players who are under their ownership. That allows for the players to gain experience and to help the club in that area, meaning it is a win-win situation for both parties. City have been a prime example displaying that relationship between themselves and their Manchester counterparts so far. Luke Brattan and Andres Caceres are two players that have been bought from the A-League equivalent of City’s, which is the Manchester side. The investment has then seen the pair moving to Melbourne on loan, which is where they still both play their football to this date. Additionally, players that have impressed down under, like Daniel Arzani and Aaron Mooy for example, have been purchased back in Manchester, moving to other clubs in Britain. The former went on an 18-month loan to Celtic in the summer, where he suffered a long-term knee injury on his eventual first-team debut.
Despite the fact that Arzani certainly has time on his side, Mooy’s move has definitely been more of a success so far. The 28-year-old was brought to England in 2016, where he instantly went out on loan to Huddersfield Town. Mooy then aided the Terriers’ Championship promotion and has since moved there on a permanent deal, becoming a mainstay in their midfield. His development is a clear success of how the relationship can pay dividends and help bolster a performer’s career individually and in terms of opportunities for the national team. The four aforementioned names have all impacted the derby in their own respect for City, as Brattan has scored twice in the fixture, for example, both coming in wins for City.
When Heart were taken over by the CFG, accompanying a name change, the club also changed the badge to a circular template reminiscent of their sister-club in Manchester. Melbourne had aimed to play in sky blue, which Sydney FC reportedly complained about due to their questions about two teams playing in the same colour kit in a League with just 10 sides. City remained in their traditional red and white strip until June 2016 when the Football Federation Australia (FFA) altered their rulings on the League’s branding, allowing City to change their home kit ahead of the 2017/18 season to ‘City Blue’. City would have been wishing for better luck in their new strip, as in the red and white stripes, they won just two out of the seven encounters against Victory, whose development as a club has been significantly more streamlined than their Melbourne counterparts.
The rivalry between the two sides has obviously stemmed from both clubs emanating from Melbourne, something Victory fans may have felt intruded by when Heart originated. Over the years during the recent City-Victory era, there have been some interesting encounters that will long remain in the memory of their fans for years to come. The first game between the sides ended in a 5-2 win for Victory, over four years ago now. In the time period up until now, there have been 14 more derbies, in which Victory have won seven, City winning six and one draw. City’s greatest result came in October 2016 as they defeated Victory 4-1 at AAMI Park, however, since then, neither side has scored more than two goals in any of the fixtures.
The fans of each respective team follow their side across the country, passionately backing their team through thick and thin. The derby is hinged on each side’s active supporters, with football displaying Australia’s loudest and most poignant atmosphere in sport as a whole. Obviously being a local derby, it means more than the normal A-League game.
With Victory being the first of the Melbourne teams formed, their active supporter group also followed suit. ‘The North Terrace’, who, unsurprisingly, donned the North End of AAVI Park, made sure their voices were heard in the Melbourne derby. The group helped contribute to the derby atmosphere by chanting, jumping and clapping with banners, tifos and pyrotechnics themed navy, silver and white, which encapsulate the traditional sporting colours of Victoria, the state which Melbourne finds itself in. The noise created on derby day can only be matched in the other inter-city derby between Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers.
But what happened to The North Terrace? Well, essentially, two years ago, The North Terrace were dissatisfied with their club for banning marches, restricting banners and refusing and cancelling paid-tifos at the last minute. Also, Victory wanted to install a seating regime to counter the worries of the FFA regarding safety in Australian football at that time. The North Terrace group labelled Victory’s acts as “unsustainable and untenable”, also asking fans not chant the name, wear the merchandise, or to refer to the North End as the North Terrace. Following the group ceasing, the North End standing bays remain in which active supporters can still make Victory’s support heard, as is done, especially on derby day. Prior to every home game as the players walk out, Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’ rings around the ground with scarves held aloft, representing exactly what Victory fans have done with the club, consistently standing by them, even with the introduction of another Melbourne team in the city.
On the other hand, City’s active support is best represented by the Melburnians. It is a nickname coined after Melbourne’s Herald Sun allowed fans to submit their suggestions for the new Melbourne side. One of the preferred names being ‘Melburnians’, which, upon the naming of ‘Melbourne City’, soon became the label of City’s loudest fans. The Melburnians are most commonly seen displaying their affection for City’s history as they wave their red and white scarves and flags, bouncing up and down in the striped away top as well as blue and white shirts from previous years to create a sea of red, white and blue in the river end.
Both sets of fans have their own unique backstory to get to where they are today. Come derby day, both active sets of supporters will be helping to create a wall of noise whether that be in AAVI Park, or the Marvel Stadium. The attendance of the fixture has certainly varied over the years, with anything from just 20,000 fans to over 50,000 fans congregating at the game for the game. It can depend on the venue, with the larger attendances coming at the Marvel Stadium, which can hold over 56,000 people.
There is, of course, the inevitable expansion of the A-League to draw in further media attention and spectators, which could mean Melbourne would have more than two clubs in the top-tier of Australian football. South Melbourne were excluded from the top division upon the A-League’s construction and they will have been eager for a return ever since. With that in mind, there could be more than three Melbourne derbies per season in the near future.
Taking away the speculation though, there will be a Melbourne derby for fans to feast their eyes on in late December which is worth keeping an eye out for. The Melbourne derby is certainly unique with the fans exhibiting such passion that you would not have known that games between City and Victory have only been going on for four years. Looking ahead to the future, this one-of-a-kind derby should continue to heat up Australian football for years to come.