Rick D'Andrea

Many people consider Melbourne to be the sports capital of the world. And who can dispute it? How many places can boast having a raft of professional teams playing out of one metropolitan city? 10 Australian Rules Football (AFL) sides, one Rugby League (NRL) team, and an A-League football club have all somehow managed to carve out a niche and attract people week-in, week-out. But as of next season, the cosmopolitan city will need to squeeze another club into the equation.

With Melbourne Heart set to enter the A-League as the second Victorian team, questions are starting to be asked as to whether there will be enough support for them. Will people be willing to renounce Melbourne Victory and adopt Melbourne Heart as their new team? Are there enough people who are willing to wear the proposed red-and-white colours, and follow the new franchise?

Melbourne Victory was one of the original eight Hyundai A-League teams, and were created to remove any ethnic prejudice that had survived from the previous national competition (NSL). By not wearing the blue of South Melbourne, or the red of Melbourne Knights, the club was not associated with any one group. Instead, Victory's consortium decided to go for something very “Victorian”: navy blue shirt with a big, white-shaped ‘V’ near the neckline.

The origins of the design come from the AFL, where players – when representing their state – would wear a shirt to inspire and unite the fans from opposing clubs. Steeped in tradition, and a symbol of unity in the South-Eastern state, Victory were able to attract some AFL fans, as well as a host of previous football fans. Add to this the class talent of PSV striker Archie Thompson and the stalwart-defending skills of captain Kevin Muscat, and the Melbourne side looked like they could be successful from day one. Even their name oozed success – something that all Melburnians and Victorians could be proud of.

Now, with the A-League suffering a drop in attendances this season, Melbourne Heart are entering the market at a very tough time. Victory themselves – despite their legion of dedicated fans – have seen their fan numbers drop, and it is worth remembering that they are the reigning champions and current league leaders.

But what about Melbourne Heart? They don’t have an enthralling moniker like other teams already competing in the league, such as Wellington Phoenix or Newcastle Jets. Whilst their shirt design is still top-secret, something along the lines of imitating Dutch giants Ajax is widely rumoured to be in the offing – indeed the club have appointed former Ajax star John van't Schip as their first coach – thus, the club will have no established link with the world’s most liveable city. 

The franchise has not yet signed a marquee player, and is working hard to capture former Newcastle United forward Mark Viduka, who wants to end his playing days in his home state. Josip Skoko is also said to be in preliminary discussions to return home and see out his illustrious career. Melbourne Heart have only three confirmed players on their 23-man list: former Victory and Adelaide player Kristian Sarkies, Matt Thompson and Dean Heffernan.

City rivals Melbourne Victory are the most successful A-League team in the competition’s short history, so questions will remain over why Melburnian (and Victorian) soccer fans would want to change from a side with a winning culture, to one that is unproven, and with no link to the town it will supposedly represent?

But not all hope is lost. Melbourne Heart will be able to capture the attention of those people who got on the Victory bandwagon too late. They will have an opportunity to ditch the ‘big V’ and wear new colours. And a sizeable number come from other states and simply call Melbourne home for work or family purposes. There is also an underlying group across the rest of Australia that despise the blue and white of Victoria, and would follow any Melburnian team that does not have that symbol across its neckline, especially from South Australia.

Melbourne Heart may be a club that is still yet to be fully formed, but it is starting to divide a city. Many Victory fans will stick with their champions, whilst a small number will defect to Melbourne Heart. One thing that must be kept in mind is that football Down Under is played over the summer months, thus, it takes the 10 Victorian AFL teams and Melbourne Storm out of the equation.

Victorians love a rivalry, and they will appreciate one in their very own backyard.


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