A winning formula
The divide between the two Melbourne clubs is wide at the best of times; ahead of the derby, however, Heart still have trouble matching Victory's consistency.
The contrast couldn-t have been starker. For starters, the sun was out for the Round 11 Melbourne Victory-Brisbane Roar clash, bathing the pristine turf of AAMI Park as opposed to the pelting rain that greeted Rado Vidosic-s men the last time they ventured onto the ground for their date with Melbourne Heart back in Round 6.
On that dismal November night, barely 5,500 fans braved the conditions to watch Heart send four goals past Michael Theo. On the sunny Saturday afternoon just past, 17,128 witnessed a different shade of Theo as the Roar custodian repelled attack after attack to salvage a point against his former side.
The divide between the two Melbourne clubs is wide at the best of times; heading into derby week, however, those differences (or lack of, as some might argue) are magnified that little extra as comparisons head into overdrive, whether it-s a scoreline, style of play, the number of bums on seats or even weather conditions.
Since Heart entered the competition two-and-a-half seasons ago, the focus has been on its ability to achieve a real foothold in the Melbourne sporting landscape; a task made even tougher by the presence of the best-supported club in the A-League.
An attendance of 4,505 for the Heart-Glory match in Round 10 — the first game this season to draw under 5,000 — launched a fresh wave of comparisons with Victory, with some questioning the club-s appeal, identity and even if it has a future in the A-League.
There-s no disputing that lackluster crowd figures aren-t great for the red and white side of Melbourne. But are the comparisons with Australian football-s biggest club fair?
The fact is, there isn-t a club in the A-League that can, in the short-term, go head-to-head with Victory in terms of supporter base and come out on top.
Heart CEO Scott Munn, Football Operations General Manager John Didulica and the board cannot be faulted for the way the club is managed as a business.
The club is run flawlessly, with community and media engagement second to none. As one source close to Heart revealed, there-s not much more they can do to improve the running of the organisation.
Compared with one-city teams in the A-League, Heart stack up pretty well with regards to crowd average attendances this season. Their average home gate after five home games sits at 6,872, compared with Wellington-s average of 8,117, Perth Glory (9,156 from six games), Central Coast Mariners (9,554) and Adelaide United (9,708 also from six games).
Those figures include attendances from either a derby or rivalry clash (i.e., Adelaide-Victory or Perth-Brisbane) or a visit from Sydney FC-s marquee man, Alessandro Del Piero. Heart-s average attendance figure does not. And should this weekend-s derby attract over 26,000 as it did for the same round last season, Heart-s season average would jump to 10,060.
But stats can be misleading, and what they don-t account for is the allowance for Melbourne Victory. After all, how many fans would those clubs expect to attract if they shared the same patch as the two-time champions?
Perhaps the single-most important ingredient required to yield a five-digit attendance average for Heart is winning consistently, just as Victory did in season two (there you go, another comparison).
unn admitted as much recently when he told The Age, “We also realise the best way to attract supporters is to have a winning team”.
After the derby win in October, Heart lost a golden chance to gain any sort of meaningful traction in converting the fence sitters, drawing against the Phoenix a week later in front of a season-best turnout of 10,907 and effectively losing its positive momentum.
Those at the club must surely have been frustrated at the missed opportunity, but it might get a second chance to set things straight should Heart defy the form guide and beat its cross-town rival for the second time this season.
Beating Victory is priceless marketing for the club, but despite claiming the honours on three previous occasions, Heart has failed to capitalise on its derby successes by backing up with a string of wins - particularly in front of a home crowd. Hence why it-s imperative that Heart wins on the road in Wellington five days later, and then at AAMI Park against Newcastle Jets and Brisbane Roar respectively.
Winning consistently did wonders for Victory during those formative years. It might just do the same for Heart.