back to top
Sunday, May 26, 2024
13.6 C
Sydney

Spirit of the Game: The A-League Derby showed football really does belong to the fans

Most read

Carl Marcus Christer Antonsson (L) of Western Sydney Wanderers FC and Max Barry Burgess (R) of Sydney FC are seen during the Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 season round 24 match between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers FC held at the Allianz Stadium. Final score Sydney FC 2:1 Western Sydney Wanderers. Photo: Luis Veniegra / SOPA Images/Sipa USA
Carl Marcus Christer Antonsson (L) of Western Sydney Wanderers FC and Max Barry Burgess (R) of Sydney FC are seen during the Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 season round 24 match between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers FC held at the Allianz Stadium. Final score Sydney FC 2:1 Western Sydney Wanderers. Photo: Luis Veniegra / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

People often say that football belongs to the fans. That bothers me. As a fan myself, I think it’s a bit selfish. For starters, it neglects everyone else involved in making the beautiful game come alive—players, managers and coaching staff, to say the least.

But this weekend’s A-League Mens Sydney derby proved me wrong.

In typical derby fashion, late drama against Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday 13 April provided one of the most exhilarating endings to a football match in recent history as the Sky Blues prevailed 2-1 in front of 26,155 fans to book their spot in this season’s finals series.

- Advertisement -

It seemed all but over by injury time as Sydney’s dominant display had them a goal up thanks to a Fábio Gomes tap in, courtesy of Joe Lolley’s deflected attempt on target. The Brazilian and teammates jumped the barrier to celebrate with The Cove, Sydney’s die-hard blue wall of supporters.

The home side kept the Wanderers to infrequent counterattacks for most of the game, until the red and black outfit finally found the back of the net in the dying moments of the match.

After 95 minutes, substitute Zac Sapsford headed a perfectly weighted cross from Aidan Simmons across the line to equalise and celebrated with a sea of faithful ultras who’d jumped the barriers. Sheer delight exchanged between fan and player.

Both teams were set to settle for a point each as fans anticipated the closing whistle, until one final ditch play produced a moment of magic as a 98th minute winner from Sydney’s Jaiden Kucharski sent the dominant blue supporters in Allianz Stadium into euphoria.

Perhaps in ironic mockery of his rivals (but more likely down to raw passion), the team celebrated similarly with their supporting end as WSW had with theirs only moments before.

Despite my disappointment as a travelling wanderer left empty-handed and in jeopardy of missing finals football, I couldn’t help but grin profusely long after leaving Moore Park.

There was something common across all three goals—each were celebrated with the fans.

Fans, who until 48 hours before the match may very well have not been there.

It was six weeks to the day and five games since the Red and Black Bloc, the Wanderers active supporter group, had even attended a match—after they walked out midway through the last Sydney derby in protest.

Over 20 supporters were denied re-entry to their bay by NSW Police and stadium officials on 2 March after they packed away a club-sanctioned banner displayed earlier in the match. An outbreak between supporters and police led to arrests and stadium bans.

Not the only drama that weekend, Brisbane Roar’s supporter group, The Den, also walked out in their game against Melbourne Victory in similar circumstances. Details aside, it’s drama the league doesn’t need.

In a season where average game attendance sits barely above eight thousand, the competition is a prime indicator that football in this country, and sport everywhere, is contingent on its faithful in order to survive.

The two Sydney teams rank in the top three of average attendance rates and have attracted 28,000-plus in each of their last two encounters alone, more than anyone else.

Beyond numbers, it’s clear an absent fanbase means a slow and painful death for football culture.

The two rivals are proof of the potential success this struggling league can deliver. They may very well be the reason it’s still alive and set to expand next season.

Despite finals qualification on the line, it could be argued this derby had very little to do with what eventuated on the football pitch. A result brings bragging rights, but the rivalry is a celebration of sporting achievement.

Score a try in rugby league or kick the winning mark in Aussie Rules and teammates come together in admiration. Score the equaliser or winner in football and a celebration with fans delivers an experience unseen in any other code.

The feeling goes both ways. Young Wanderers winger Marcus Younis couldn’t hold back tears as he approached the RBB afterwards, disappointed he couldn’t deliver more to the faithful.

This dynamic plays a role in the sport’s reputation as the world game. All a fan of any sport wants is to be a part of the action. This derby showed that. Football does really belong to the fans after all.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -