Even as an outsider looking in, it wasn’t difficult to get caught up in all the hype, the drama, the joy and the devastating pain surrounding the Sydney Derby.
In my previous life as Chief Football Writer for The Australian, covering any Sydney Derby was always exhilarating.
You would get a sense of the fans’ excitement from early in the week – an excitement and build up that was ready to burst at the seams on all sides of the Great Divide as kick-off neared.
Understandably, like any Derby around the world, it’s the game that matters most for fans on both sides, whether the teams are near the top of the table or wallowing among the also-rans. It fuels the fire in the fans.
Depending on the result, it is the difference between having bragging rights and walking on air over the weekend or being engulfed in a miserable, wanting to kick the dog state until later in the week when the focus finally switches to the next game.
Jonathan Stevenson, writing for The Independent is 2012, best summed up a Derby when he wrote:
“(The Derby is) the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly of this global game all wrapped up in the context of two otherwise harmless words: ‘Derby match’. It is football squared, every last drop: a phoney war for a build-up; 90 minutes of brutally intense action; all hell to pay in the aftermath. It’s Armageddon for an age where sport seems to matter more than ever before.”
The inclusion of Western Sydney in the 2012/2013 season helped change the landscape of the Hyundai A-League for the better, bringing with it a vital ingredient that had been missing during the previous seven seasons of the national competition.
With apologies to the M1 (Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets) and Melbourne (Victory v City) derbies, at last, the League had a defining Derby – a contest drawn on political, geographic and socioeconomic divides.
East v West.
Silver tails v the Fibros.
Having grown up as a proud “Westie” in the housing commission in Cabramatta, the distinction between the two regions was extreme.
A trip from the West to the city was always a huge occasion for us. If anyone from the East ventured out our way it was only to pass through on the way to the South Coast on holidays!
Of course, the landscape has changed now. Western Sydney has thrived and the stereotypes and socioeconomic gap have decreased.
But, when it comes to sport and particularly football, there is one thing that will never change because the Sydney Derby is now entrenched as one of the great events, not just in Australian soccer, but Australian mainstream sport.
To be part of a Sydney Derby is to be caught up in a rollercoaster 90-minute ride of unbridled emotion, colour and nervous energy that builds into a firestorm of footballing passion.
Record crowds, controversy, and drama have been Derby bedfellows since the two clubs kicked off the bitter rivalry back on 20 October 2012 when 19,126 attended Pirtek Stadium in a game that saw the Wanderers fall just short.
However, it didn’t take long for the Red & Black to record their first Derby win as they overcame their rivals 2-0 at Allianz Stadium in front of 26,176 just two months later.
A move necessitated while Pirtek Stadium was knocked down and rebuilt at the end of the 2015/16 season saw the Wanderers home derbies switched to ANZ Stadium and resulted in a record Hyundai A-League regular season game attendance of 61,880 when the teams clashed in round one of the 2016/17 season on 8 October 2016.
Now, after three seasons in the home ground wilderness, the Wanderers are back at their spiritual home in Parramatta.
Saturday will be the first Sydney Derby at the magnificent state-of-the-art Bankwest Stadium and a sell-out is assured.
The RBB will be in full voice at the northern end of the stadium, enjoying the new standing room section which was purposely built for them.
The colour, the passion, the flags, the singing and chanting that was synonymous with the old Pirtek Stadium will be full-throttle on a night that will be a superb occasion, not just for the Wanderers but for the Hyundai A-League and Australian soccer in general.
And so, a new era in the contest that is the Sydney Derby starts on Saturday.