It’s one of the fiercest rivalries in Australian sport and divides the Harbour City like nothing else: hold on to your hats, it’s time for Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC.
The Sydney Derby has become a must-see event on the football calendar ever since Alessandro Del Piero scored a 54th-minute penalty and stole the headlines in their first meeting back in 2012.
Nothing quite matches the passion of when the Red and Black of the Wanderers meets Sydney’s Sky Blues and Saturday night at ANZ Stadium promises to continue the tradition of high drama and intensity that this fixture provides.
In the lead-up to the clash, www.aleague.com.au caught up with Wanderers duo Brendan Hamill and Abraham Majok and Sky Blues pair Milos Ninkovic and Aaron Calver to preview the final Sydney Derby of the season.
Q: You hear a lot of talk that Derby clashes are different to other games. Why does the clash against your closest rivals mean more?
Brendan Hamill: “Just being a Western Sydney boy it means more. You can play against other teams, but when you play against Sydney there’s an element of ‘hate’. Not that you really hate other players, but it’s that will to win. It’s another level.
“I’m not saying I hate the other team, but it’s that hunger and anger that flows through you. Being a Western Sydney boy you want to win for your area.
”It’s not just a game, there’s more riding on this and the fire is burning to get the win, especially for the fans.”
Aaron Calver: “It’s just the passion that both teams have. Especially lately we’ve had the wood over them and we just want to keep that going, not give them a chance to get a win over us.
When you score a goal, the sound that you hear in the stadium is surreal. Just how full-on and frantic it was.”
Abraham Majok: “There is nothing better than beating your crosstown rival team. The intensity is way different, the game is quicker, everything has to be done sharper and you have to try and get that win.
“Everything is crucial, you can’t afford to make mistakes, the first goal is so important too.”
Q: What is your earliest Derby memory?
BH: “It was my first game and we were in our run in the ACL [in 2014]. It was at Allianz Stadium and the crowd was half red and half blue.
It was just freakish, freakish noise and it was the loudest atmosphere in the A-League I’ve ever experienced.
“It gives you goosebumps even thinking about it and how crazy it was. Walking out at Allianz Stadium, half red, half blue, both sets of fans signing their lungs out. It’s what you dream about as a footballer. It gives me tingles just thinking about it.”
AC: “I was 18 and I kind of just got thrown in the deep-end playing right back. It was a full house at Allianz and we ended up winning 3-1.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking at the start, but as you walk out and you see half the stadium is blue and the other half red it was a little bit scary. But as soon as the whistle went I was fine.
“I just got stuck in and didn’t have time to think about it after that because it was so intense.”
Milos Ninkovic: “It was an unbelievable atmosphere, with 45,000 at Allianz Stadium. Everyone always talks about this game in the whole week leading up.
“For every player, we all want to play big games in front of full stadiums. I remember the first derby inside ANZ as well, in front of 61,000 fans where we won 4-0. It was amazing.”
Q. What is your favourite Sydney Derby moment?
BH: “Scoring in enemy territory in front of family and friends. It doesn’t get much better that that.
”I was also on the bench…that was sweet as well. I remember singing the team song after that, it was the only game they lost that year and it happened to be against us.
“The passion we had singing the team song after as a group, it was on a par with the way the RBB [Red and Black Bloc] goes crazy so it just shows you how much it means to the boys.“
MN: “It was a memorable night to score the winning goal was fantastic. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better start.
“That was my first derby and to be honest I was very surprised at the atmosphere and the animosity of the two teams.
I’ve said many times, I’ve played the derby of Red Star v Partizan [in Belgrade] and I thought that a derby would never compare with that one. But Sydney FC and Western Sydney is very similar.”
AC: “It has to be my debut [in 2013/14] and winning that game. We came from behind to win 3-1.
“Ali Abbas got a penalty and Richie Garcia got a tap in. That was just a good team win.”
Q. Who is your opponent’s dangerman on Saturday night?
AM: “I’d have to say [Adam] Le Fondre. He doesn’t need a lot of chances to score. He just puts himself in good positions so he can make the difference for them.”
MN: “Probably [Oriol] Riera. He can score from nothing.
Riera’s very dangerous in the box, he’s very good in the air and he’s scored some unbelievable goals this season.”
BH: “They are a great team, they have shown that and have a lot of quality.
“Le Fondre’s goals, Alex Brosque’s experience, you have Ninkovic, [Brandon] O’Neill, [Alex] Wilkinson at the back…they have more than one dangerous player.”