August probably isn’t the best time of year for a new soccer team to play its first game in Melbourne. The AFL finals are only weeks away and with a top-of-the-table clash between Geelong and Collingwood at the MCG this Saturday, Melbourne’s sports fans are a little distracted. Add to that a poor attendance of only 11,000 and a final score that read ‘Melbourne Heart 0, Central Coast Mariners 1’, and it wasn’t quite the debut that the A-League’s newest team was after.
With people trickling through the gates at the newly-opened AAMI Park, the Rogue Traders did their best to warm up the crowd, receiving what could best be described as a lukewarm reception. As kick-off approached, the crowd was invited to participate in a bit of communal karaoke with the words to Melbourne Heart’s club song displayed on the big screens.
As club songs go, ‘Under the Red and White’ is ridiculously epic and sounds more like a Michael Jackson power ballad than a sporting club anthem. Still, all the popular sporting phrases are there – ‘we all will stand united’ and ‘true until I die’, for example – but the song’s first verse is by far the most cringeworthy;
‘Underneath the city, a long time ago,
A single heart was beating with nowhere to call home.
Until their came a saviour to bring it to the light,
Our hearts now beat together under the red and the white’.
The Heart’s chief executive Scott Munn has already admitted that the team won’t be singing ‘Under the Red and White’ after winning a game and that the club is in search of a more change-room-friendly anthem for the players to belt out.
The Heart’s fans are also looking for something to sing with last night’s game being noticeably lacking in the usual taunts and chants that feature at soccer matches. With nothing funny springing to the minds of the Heart’s fans, the default football chant of ‘Ole, Ole Ole Ole’ came into effect.
The match itself got off to a physical start with the Mariners’ Pedj Bojic being shown a yellow card inside the first 30 seconds. It was an indiscretion that resulted in the Heart’s first forward thrust for the evening. After two minutes Brazilian import Alex Terra forced the Central Coast keeper Jess Vanstrattan to make a good save and a brilliant opening ten minutes by former Socceroo Josip Skoko ensured that the Heart put a lot of pressure on their opposition defenders.
Indeed the Heart seemed to have the majority of possessions throughout the night but greater possessions weren’t enough to prevent the game’s only score, a 16th minute goal to Central Coast skipper Alex Wilkinson. With John Hutchinson delivering a perfect corner to the far post, Wilkinson got his head to the ball and steered it through a congested penalty box into the back of the net.
Despite being behind so early in the match, the Heart fought gallantly throughout the rest of the match and looked like they could have scored on several occasions. Terra’s header went just over the crossbar in the 43rd minute, a sensational cross in the 53rd minute from Dean Heffernan was put wide by Dutch import Gerald Sibon, a Michael Marrone strike in the 64th minute also floated wide and a header from Simon Colosimo four minutes later lifted above the crossbar.
The final fifteen minutes also saw a great flurry of action from the Heart and were it not for the solid defensive efforts of the Central Coast, the scoreline might have been a little different. A Sibon free kick in the 79th minute got within a metre of scoring and a bicycle-kick by Terra in the 93rd minute resulted in a corner that was eventually saved, ensuring the Mariners’ victory.
While the Heart’s manager John van ‘t Schip was understandably disappointed with the result, there are promising signs for the A-League’s newest franchise. They appear to be moving the ball through the midfield well, using Heffernan and Rutger Worm on the flanks to great effect, former Socceroos Skoko and Colosimo are demonstrating great leadership through the middle and Terra provides a great turn of a speed and crowd-pleasing flair up forward.
It remains to be seen whether the Melbourne Heart will be able to attract a sizeable fan base in such AFL-dominated territory, and it is likely to be until October before most of Melbourne starts to take notice. Still, if they can start winning some games and putting pressure on the Melbourne Victory as the local soccer team of choice, the fans might well come.
Just as long as they do something about that theme song.
Matt de Neef is a former editor of upstart, and recently graduated from his Graduate Diploma of Journalism at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter on @acursoryglance. For more on round one of the A-League competition, see John Takemura’s preview.