Somehow managing to swing it and attend both W-League Big Blues this season is an achievement I’m mighty proud of. The contrast between the two is significant, in regards to the experience, grounds and results. The Round 14 match had a feeling of something new, something blue and something old. The new being the W-League supporters group Vikings Victory fresh in their first active season. A big blue doesn’t really get much more blue. While the old was there, in the fierce rivalry between the clubs and cameo appearance of the more established Roar Corps, who watched the game with us.
When in Melbourne, and potentially one of the very few Sydney FC supporters attending a double header where the A-League Victory side play Adelaide United (who probably dislike Sydney just as much as Melbourne), it’s best to wear something Blue that’s not shouting “Sydney”.. you get me. So instead of packing my Sky Blue scarf, I had on my trusty Sam Kerr Chelsea jersey. It’s the wrong colour blue, but it’s not Victory colours and that’s all that mattered in my mind.
The next best thing about wearing my Kerr jersey was being easily recognisable and finding new but familiar faces in the Vikings Victory duo Teddy and Simon. Meeting these guys, plus Lee who soon joined in (sorry if I spelt your name wrong!), was an absolute treat. Learning they met in France during the World Cup, and their experiences lead them to kick start their W-League active support adventure to ignite this group.
While navigating the circular stadium of Marvel, I was speaking to Simon and the subject of the recent homophobic post by Western Sydney Wanderers A-League active support, the RBB, as well as general discrimination of some of the competition’s men’s active support was broached. It was spoken of with frustration, a hint of disbelief and determination to not replicate that aspect of supporters culture. Have no doubt, Vikings Victory embraces all, the same way each of the league’s active support that I’ve experienced do.
Finding a seat that was close to the action, but still provided a view across the field, was a fine balance that required us moving back a few rows after the opening minutes. Soon after we had settled, a travelling band of Queenslanders, AKA the Roar Corp, were found and joined in on the fun. When I say fun, I mean they were begrudgingly supporting Sydney FC with me for the ladder factor (at least at the start when there was a little hope, the fickle bunch returned the status quo once it was apparent Sydney weren’t going to help them).
While I experienced jubilation at Kogarah in round one, when Sydney produced a thumping win, it was the total opposite at Marvel for the final match of the regular season. Instead I found myself complaining about referee decisions (that I in no way had a good enough view of the situation to actually complain about) and had the noise of stoked Victory supporters in my ears, who leaped for joy at each and every goal, with scarfs waved above their heads.
Whenever Sydney came close, a catchy Casey Dumont tune, mastered from the return of a long home opener trip from Morwell, would stir up due to a stunning stop by the keeper. Much to my own dismay. The little joy I did find was when Tobin ripped a beauty from distance, much to my own disbelief. I appreciate that the guys let me celebrate that one.
Following the match, I asked if I could snap this photo of Teddy and Simon. The serious faces were a contrast to those donned throughout the match. Soon after the duo had the chance to finally give their poster to coach Jeff Hopkins, who had matches earlier refused to accept the gift representing a 50 win milestone because it didn’t follow a victory. The relationship between the group and Jeff Hopkins already looks very special from the outside. One forged with understanding, appreciation and kindness.
Experiencing the Big Blue in such a massive stadium is almost an injustice. For an AFL ‘oval’ stadium, Marvel is one of the better ones, as the lines of the soccer pitch didn’t get lost on the field. However, the double header nature of Australian soccer in big stadiums leads to many W-League fans feeling isolated, spread out amongst the seats. The atmosphere doesn’t have the bite smaller grounds produce, even if the match can draw decent numbers.
Having experienced a Big Blue at the smaller, square pitch of Jubilee Stadium, it’s easy to point to where these matches should be played. Even as a double header, the smaller stadiums produce an atmosphere football should seek, one of togetherness, fans and family.
One massively disappointing issue for double headers at big grounds such as Marvel is access to pre-match activities and drinks and food. Finding out Dowie bobble figures weren’t going to be available until kick off time was a kick in the guts. Trying to get a drink of alcohol at half time to be told “none of the bars open until 6pm”, to have to reply with “nah mate, people are drinking, it’s around” and seeking out an alternative drinks area for the refreshment, was equally disappointing.
If the W-League is to play at larger stadiums as part of double headers, heck even stand alone, the facilities should be available as if it were a stand alone A-League match in the same venue. I mean flip, I wanted a Dowie bobble figure and I definitely had money to splurge on cider.
For both teams, this was taking off from where they landed in round 13.
Victory looks good. Jenkins has really settled into the league and is electrifying, while able to find the back of the net. The midfield has settled in, with all the links finally working together, and they’re working the back three with ease and confidence. This is a team peaking at all the right times.
Sydney feels lethargic. Again problems with building play from the midfield to the attacking third. Questions need to be asked over whether Polias is fit after being substituted off the field for a second round in a row. To pick even further at the midfield, the pressure to earn turnovers and play the ball forward wasn’t urgent enough. Siemsen provided energy when she was on the field, and given her goals against Victory in round 1 it’s difficult to see why she didn’t start. Again though, her hot form of the start of the season hasn’t surfaced of late.
The semi-final will see a replay between these two teams. It’s easy to say it’ll be a repeat performance. Victory knows what they need to do to win, and have found the goals to go with their tight defence. Sydney needs to spend some time at the drawing board this week. Two losses on a trot isn’t championship winning form. It’s going to take some proper reflection and determination to turn this one around. Counting against a wounded animal, especially one as experienced as Sydney, is dangerous. But the ball is definitely in Victory’s court to win the semi final.