Crowds can affect quality

The latest installment of the Melbourne derby had everything: goals, controversy and a thrilling outcome.

The latest installment of the Melbourne derby had everything: goals, controversy and a thrilling outcome.

It also featured something we don't see often in the Hyundai A-League: a full house.

A record 26,579 crowd at AAMI Park gave the match between Melbourne Heart and Melbourne Victory a European feel and proved football fans the world over love a good spectacle.

And the pulsating atmosphere and colourful support seemed to drive both teams forward, as Victory exploded to life in a frenetic opening before ultimately going down 3-2 in a thriller to crosstown rivals Heart.

But watching Perth Glory lose to league leaders Central Coast Mariners straight after the derby seemed like a let-down, in part because the television coverage could do little to mask the sterile atmosphere inside NIB Stadium.

No doubt the fact Perth were trying to avoid a third straight defeat was partly responsible for the empty seats and vacant gaps on the terraces, as was the Glory fans' well-documented mistrust of coach Ian Ferguson.

But if football wants to move forward in Australia, we need to have more crowds like the one at the Melbourne derby and less games played in front of grounds only one-third full.

It's not just a question of receiving more mainstream media coverage.

Fans are by now well aware of the comings and goings of Hyundai A-League clubs, and it would take a brave critic to question the standard of football: currently as high as it's ever been and fuelled by the rise of Brisbane Roar and the response of teams like the swaggering Heart.

Clubs have worked hard to engage their local communities - though perhaps not hard enough - and issues of high ticket prices have been addressed through multi-game memberships and cheaper season tickets.

Yet many clubs can still only call upon small but dedicated support bases and it's this core which needs to be expanded.

What clubs like the Heart must do is appeal to those fans who turn out only for the Melbourne derby and encourage them to come to many more games.

Only when the 'theatregoers' become regular attendees will all our matches start to feel like the colourful European encounters we watch on television and less like a casual kick in the park.

The size of stadia isn't everything: Central Coast Mariners and Adelaide United play out of boutique venues but they aren't always full.

And even clubs like Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC can use larger home grounds to their advantage, if only they could attract some more punters through the gate.

Those who insist crowd sizes have little relevance to the football on show were clearly not watching the Melbourne derby.

Because as both teams showed at a packed AAMI Park, big-match atmospheres are often rewarded with high-class football and there's no doubt the derby was one of the games of the season... we just need more of them.

So next time you attend a Hyundai A-League fixture, bring your friends and your family and anyone else who loves the game of football, and let's ensure games like the Melbourne derby become the norm and not just the kind of spectacle we see only once every few months.