Let me tell you about the time I became a fully-blown football (soccer) fan.

Now, as a long-time Rugby League fan, this was no mean feat. I like my sport like my weekends – fast paced, entertaining and once they’re over, all you want is for another one to come around.

I’m hearing you ask “but Edwin, what event made you become a football fan?” to which the answer is the Melbourne Derby. It was a special Saturday night at AAMIPark, which involved a march to the game among thousands of fans, chanting, a few beers and most importantly a highly entertaining game of football that featured a last second winner to Archie Thompson.

I’ve followed the English Premier League fairly loosely for the last few years but the process of moving from a very casual EPL fan to a true believer in the A League has been a rapid rise similar to that of the Western Sydney Wanderers. Half way through my Sports Media degree (2010 maybe?), I realised my sporting knowledge was very limited to tennis, Rugby League and bits and pieces of other sports, so when a die-hard EPL fan wanted a buddy to watch some late night Manchester United games, I was happy to oblige.

Soon enough, thanks largely to Fantasy Football and a little game called FIFA, I started to know some players names and realised there was more to soccer than boring 0-0 goal starved bore fests where teams are happy to camp in their own area and keep possession.

Then I moved to Melbourne at the start of the year, where I decided I would begin following A-League closer and also decided I would whole heartedly throw my support behind the Melbourne Victory. After attending a few games and loving the atmosphere, I found myself at the Melbourne Derby last Saturday night, Victory v Heart, Melbourne v Melbourne in the battle for supremacy in what many (myself included) call the sporting capital of Australia.

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AAMI Park packed to the rafters

After consuming a few beers and tried to fend off the hangover from my work Christmas party the night before, we made the stroll to AAMI Park only to be greeted by a huge crowd of Victory fans marching towards the game, chanting and basically making a hell of a lot of noise. Those who know me personally know that I am all for making a bit of noise and shaking the shackles after a long week of work, so we jumped in the front of the line and marched into the stadium, joining the Northern Terrace in a sea of fanatical supporters in blue.

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Huge crowd marching to the game

There is just something so amazing about hundreds of people all singing in unison, and is something that only truly exists in football in Australian sport. Sure, NSW have the age-old “New South Wales, New South Wales, New South Wales,” chant they employ in the yearly State of Origin series and the classic “Aussie Aussie Aussie” that can be found at the cricket and tennis, but when the entire end of AAMI Park sing “there’s only one team in Melbourne” you’d be hard pressed not to believe them.

I said it two years ago, but I really believe the A-League is the sleeping giant of Australian sport. Sure, it doesn’t pit itself against NRL or AFL directly as it’s a summer sport, but the atmosphere at these games really is something to behold and once more people start realising this, I can’t see many things standing in the way of crowds continuing to rise and rise.

Obviously, the key to a successful sport is free-to-air coverage, and with the latest sponsorship deal allocating them on live Friday night A-League match per week (via http://www.theroar.com.au/2012/11/20/free-to-air-coverage-vital-for-a-leagues-future/) it’s well on it’s way. When the next deal comes around, don’t be surprised if SBS looks to pick up half the games or even if a Channel 7 wants to start broadcasting the games. But time will tell. Image

There has been much said about the negative crowds, flares and violence at games, which I honestly believe is the media blowing things out of proportion, as they love doing. At every sporting match, there will be idiots who are there to cause trouble and get into fights, that’s a given and it will happen at every sport – football, NRL, AFL and more recently there was a brawl in a Big Bash match that basically went unreported. At the recent Boxing Day Test, I was reading that 40 odd people were kicked out, yet nothing was made of that. You can only image what would have happened it if were 40 people getting kicked out of the Melbourne Derby.

Now, on flares,  I’m not trying to say they are fine to use – they aren’t, we had one go off five seats away from us during the Melbourne Derby and it’s not a pleasant experience.

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Flares aren’t fun when they are 5 seats away

But apart from some smoke inhalation, I survived and so did everyone else. Let’s also not forget that the majority of fans are there to enjoy to spectacle and shouldn’t be grouped in with the tiny minority who somehow manage to sneak flares in. (Side note – how DO people sneak flares in? Surely security must take some kind of responsibility or is that just me?)

Tonight, Victory take on Heski’s Jets and from all reports it’s close to a sell out, which is another remarkable effort considering the Jets come from Newcastle and have no real history with Victory.

For your viewing pleasure, here are a few snaps I took on Derby Night:Image

This is one of my favourite photos: note that almost EVERY person in the whole stadium has left, except from the whole Northern Terrace. 

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Yep, a good old fashion pitch invasion. Note the area the fans invaded by comparing this pic with the pic above.

Now, if you excuse me I have a game to attend, I’ll let you know a final flare count if you follow me on Twitter – @Edwin_smith1

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