It’s the battle of the football powerhouses. The biggest club of the opening decade of the Hyundai A-League against the club that threatens to become the biggest one in the next.With strong membership numbers, passionate fan bases, great crowds and healthy trophy cabinets, it’s no surprise that fans and media often enjoy debating the merits of each club against the other.
The truth is that the stories of the two clubs are very similar, especially in the formative years of each team.
A club formed in a strong footballing region that engages the community, encourages active support and is the envy of their neighbours across the city.
Sound familiar? It should do, as it rings true for both of tonight’s combatants.
Melbourne Victory were established in the inaugural Hyundai A-League season to fanfare and expectations and while results didn’t go their way – finishing as the bottom Australian club – their average crowd was a healthy 14,785.
Outgrowing their venue Olympic Park they moved to Docklands Stadium (now Etihad) and by the end of their second season they saw a crowd increase of 112%.
This coincided with improved performances on the pitch where the Victorian outfit walked away with the Hyundai A-League Premiership and Championship.
Their fans are passionate, demanding of success and until the Wanderers came around, acknowledged as the best in the league.
Comparable with the Victory’s early years, the Wanderers also had a healthy crowd in their inaugural season and followed that up with huge growth in the second.
An increase of Membership of 141% for the Wanderers saw Pirtek Stadium packed for the majority of matches in the second season.
The Red & Black also finished their second season with two trophies in the bank.
An unlikely Hyundai A-League Premiership in their inaugural season was followed by an even more incredible AFC Champions League title – a feat that Victory are yet to come close to even after ten years.
It is perhaps no coincidence that both Wanderers and Victory held onto their Foundation Coach for an extended period of time; more than can be said for most clubs. Perhaps it is representative of each club’s culture of stability, success and style of play that has allowed each to flourish.
The next step for the progression in terms of player development will be the establishment of the Western Sydney Wanderers Academy that will see an entire coaching and scouting network set-up to identify and nurture the region’s talent.
A fully fledged academy has been the wish of A-League fans for many years and it will become a reality with the Red & Black having teams from U12s all the way through the age groups to play in the state-wide National Premier Leagues competition.
While Friday night’s result will give an indication of the short-term on-field fortunes of the clubs – as well as a full off-season to hold bragging rights between fan groups – the similarities between the two in terms of stability and long-term planning are staggering.
Whether programs like the academy and success in Asia will see the Wanderers surpass Melbourne Victory over the next ten years will remain to be seen but what is certain is that both clubs will continue to learn off each other, compete with each other and help grow the sport of football in Australia.
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