Sitting at home on Friday night, tuning into the broadcast of the first ever Melbourne A-League derby, I couldn't help but feel a bit envious. When the draw was released, I was seriously considering flying down for the game (which now has proved to be quite fortunate as I would have had flights for the October 2 game) just so I could witness history.
The sight of two ends of a stadium filled with two different colours was certainly welcome, as we all know, 'away' support in the league isn't exactly one of our game's strongest points. I also believe that the end result of the game will help the derby grow as the newcomers in Heart beat their older brothers Victory. The game also produced one of the fastest paced, highest quality displays of domestic football the country has seen.
The reason I'm envious? It's because I want that derby.
After a Double winning season, Sydney FC surely should have carried that momentum into the new season, both on and off the field. After pre-season glamour games against world class sides, only approximately 12,000 people showed up to the Round 1 game against Melbourne Victory, one of our biggest games in the calendar year. I know the NRL/AFL seasons were still in progress, but the Sydney v Victory game should have drawn more, regardless of the other codes. So apart from signing Lionel Messi or winning the AFC Champions League, what else can Sydney FC do to grow its supporter base?
Sydney Rovers. That's what.
I have always believed that Sydney could support more teams, despite the oft debated issues regarding Sydney FC's crowd numbers. Sydney is a big city, and it depends on who you talk to, but the Greater Metropolitan Area of Sydney extends approximately 50km along the East-West latitude from Bondi to Penrith and roughly 50km along the North-South longitude from Campbelltown to Berowra. For those who don't know Sydney FC's home ground, the SFS, it is located 4kms from the beaches of Bondi and Coogee. The placement of the stadium is very skewed to one side of the city, despite Sydney FC originally planned to be a team for all Sydneysiders.
Now, I'm from Sydney's northwest, roughly 40kms from the CBD, and the distance and time that it takes to get to the SFS for match day doesn't really bother me. I'm also in my 20s, without much 'real life' responsibility, so I can afford to do it. But how about all the families out in the west with young children? Most of Sydney FC's kick off times this season are at 7:30pm on a Saturday night. That will give you roughly a 9:20pm finish, which would get you home in the west at roughly 10:30-11pm, depending on your mode of transport. A lot of parents won't find that attractive for their young children to be out so late.
So I say, bring Sydney Rovers in, obviously on the condition that they are financially sound and have stability. All the people from the west who aren't bothered to travel out to the city for a game can have no excuse if they have a team based in the west, particularly if Parramatta Stadium were to be their home ground. It is centrally located in what can be considered Sydney's west and has a decent transport hub. Rumour on the grapevine is that Rovers aren't dead just yet, and some rich ex-fruit grocer might stump up the cash to see the team gain entrance for the 2011/12 A-League season.
Sydney Rovers will divide the city. Division would mainly arise from geographic location, but I have a feeling where you live will not be the be all and end all of deciding which team you support. Take me for example, even if Rovers gain entry, I WON'T be supporting them, and I'm from the west. I think another major divide will come with ideological differences, what both teams will stand for. Having another team will give Sydneysiders a choice, if they don't like Team A for whatever reason, they could support Team B. I know this is an overly simplistic way of looking at things and people could still go on not supporting either team, but at least they will have an option.
Having opposing teams share a city will help galvanise supporters on both sides to both become more passionate about their team, and potentially recruit more people to their cause. I know this sounds very war like and extreme, but historical leaders have done the same to galvanise their people in times of war. I feel that having Sydney Rovers enter the league won't diminish Sydney FC's supporters base, but actually expand it as an increasing sense of cross city rivalry will blossom.
Going by the success of the Melbourne Derby, I have no doubts a Sydney/Rovers derby will have no trouble capturing the hearts and minds of football loving people who live in Sydney. I cannot wait for the day that I enter a hostile Parramatta Stadium (10 minutes from my house) supporting my team who are based 40 minutes away from my house, and see them crush Sydney Rovers.
Crush them every single time.