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Football

Vignettes From Row Six Of The Big Blue: The Oldest Rivalry In The A-League

The name carried across our heads like yellow marmalade: "Carneee!" "Carrrrnneeeee!" The balding 32-year old Sydney FC veteran of some 13 clubs in his 14 year career fingered himself in the chest and prepared to make history.

by Jed Smith
07 November 2016, 12:00am

All images courtesy of the author

The Rivalry: The Big Blue, Sydney FC vs Melbourne Victory

It was once the biggest rivalry in Australian football. When the A-League was formed back in 2004 it was, of course, the cream of the nation's cities, Sydney and Melbourne, that rose to the top. Since then Sydney have won two A-League Championships and Melbourne three. Coming into tonight's Big Blue Sydney had not beaten Melbourne in a derby in the past seven starts.

To understand what's at stake here you have to understand the two cities. Sydney is objectively better than Melbourne in every geographical, climactic and aesthetic way. Tonight's game, for example, took place on a spring evening so balmy we could have left our clothes at home and turned the Sydney football stadium into a Spencer Tunick exhibition. Put simply, this is the external temperature humans are meant to exist in.

On the same night Melbourne was probably covered in a lightning blizzard and gail force hail stones. But what it lacks in good looks, good weather and hard currency (Melbourne is definitely more povo), it makes up for with gritty urbanity and people who aren't vacuous money-grubbing c**ts. Melbourne is the beating cultural heart of Australia. It also has an abundance of places you can pissed at after 1.30 am, which is a big one-up on Sydney prior to kick off.

Sydney FC Are Killing It Right Now

With four wins from their first four games, and not a single goal conceded, Sydney FC are enjoying the best start of any team in the A-League ever. It's been great for the city, which has been tanking in every other way as this pig of a State Premier #Casino Mike Baird locks us out of our nightclubs; lets his global investment banking buddies sink their gazillions into our property market, forcing us to rent it back off them for an exorbitant price (read: gentrification); and basically shits on everything we were taught to believe in as Australians (fairness, equality, diversity etc). But our football team is killing it and that's something. My cousin Rhyan 'Buster' Grant plays right-back for FC and hooked us up with the tickets. I said I'd repay the favour by scrutinising his every footstep. Tonight he would play a major role in sending these smug Melbourne pricks back to Revolver with a slightly less euphoric grin on their faces.

Multiculturalism My Old Friend

With time of the essence we make the obligatory pit stop at Golden Pide (pronounced Pid-day. Duh.) on the corner of Cleveland and Bourke St. Fast, reliable and without the side of surliness that so often accompanies humble kebab joints, it's still the jewel of the Surry Hills (aka Yuppie Hills) despite the cruel asphyxiation of gentrification. I'm so stoned I forget whether I've paid and might have forked out twice for my felaffel with hummus and tzaziki. Let that be a lesson to ya. Stay poor. It keeps you sharp.

But wait, something's wrong?

There's something missing here. Ah, that's it: people. It was around the same time I registered the paltry number of travelling Melbourne victory supporters that their Kiwi-born forward Marco Rojas squandered an absolute sitter in front. Victory would have another disallowed for offside before 31 year old former-Albanian national striker, Besart Berisha stepped up and blasted this penalty over the bar.

You're not travelling a distance equivalent to half of Europe to watch this nonsense. But still, Victory continued to create chances and eventually broke the deadlock 41 minutes in when a bizarre defensive lapse at left back let a Melbourne midfielder jog onto it and deliver a perfect cross to Austin who one-touched in. Damn, that was Buster's man.

Everyone Hates Kevin Muscat (And he don't give a fuuuuuuck).

The Melbourne Victory coach and noted firebrand responsible for some of the worst challenges (and most comical flare-ups) in Australian football history, is the universal whipping boy of A-League fans. And he don't give a fuck.

You suspect he might even enjoy it. Which I get. It's easier to be hated for something you are, then be all confused and constantly fuming while pretending to be someone you're not. The jibes hurled at him by anonymous FC fans in the crowd bounce off his shiny bald head like sonar. In a rare show of sportsmanship, coach Muscat took the liberty of moving the 'officiating table' away from the sideline after that nasty incident where Sydney midfielder Zullo's head flew through the air and landed on the plastic. It happened right in front of us but I was off buying beer and a $6.20 serving of hot chips. Zullo was KO'd on the ground when I got back and a hush had fallen over the stadium. Zullo was fine and I suspected Muscat only moved the table so he could get an opportunity to give the fourth official a serve, which he did. Muscat! Peow, peow!

Rhyan 'Buster aka Buzzo' Grant And The Journeymen

Yeah, so it turns out my cousin is a fucking gun. He played out of his skin in the Big Blue and ended up walking away with man of the match (also creating a minor frenzy in the twittersphere after the game as fans demanded he be called up to the Australian team for the World Cup qualifiers). His combination with old school journeymen, David Carney, would yield the match winner not to mention one of the most poetic things I've ever seen on a football field.

There he is: cousin Buzzo signing autographs and having a yak with the fam.

It's around the 60 minute mark when Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold stands up and screams toward the substitutes warming up behind the goals, the name carrying across our heads like yellow marmalade:

"Carneee!"

"Carrrrnneeeee!"

The balding 32-year-old red-head, and veteran of some 13 clubs in his 14 year career, fingers himself in the chest, before removing his bib and racing up the sideline. Carney is a true footballing nomad. Whether it's Bunyodkor in the Uzbekistani league, or third-tier English outfits Oldham athletic and Sheffield United, the New York Red Bulls, or second division Spanish side, AD Alcoron from the autonomous community of Madrid, Carney has turned out with vigour and enthusiasm for whoever has agreed to pay his more than reasonable transfer sum. He loves football.

He's also represented the Socceroos national team in an impressive 49 caps on his way to a birth in the 2010 South Africa World Cup, so he's no slouch. He proves as much when two minutes after his substitution he beautifully disguises a handball inside the box and drops it (literally) onto his calloused left foot firing home for Sydney's first. He's having a great time out there. He gets laughs all round when he picks up the ball and runs with it held out to the referee who punches it back to a Victory player waiting to take a free kick.

Then the piece de resistance. Starting near halfway, cousin Buzzo sets off the move combining with Carney for a delightful one-two down the right side. They are the most experienced Sydney FC players in the lineup, with Carney one of the club's foundation players from the inaugural 2005/06 season, and he searches Buzzo out in his periphery as they combine again in the right corner. Carney tracks back toward goal as Buzzo waits for the pieces to line-up and... get fucked...a double one-two!...Buzzo fires a low cross back to Carney and...GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLLL!

Sydney FC 2 - Melbourne Victory 1