On January 23 this year, the lives of many and the profile of the A-League changed forever. Manchester City announced that in partnership with the Melbourne Storm Rugby League Club, they had purchased the struggling Melbourne Heart FC.
Earlier this month, the evolution of the club was completed as Melbourne City FC was unveiled. The home kit was now white with a sky blue strip down the side while the previous home kit was demoted to only being worn at away matches. Many Heart/City fans were upset at this decision, however it was necessary an perhaps the blow was lightened by the signing of Spanish International David Villa.
While Melbourne City carries with it the history (or lack of) from Melbourne Heart, effectively it may as well be a new entity. The four seasons of mediocrity will be a distant memory as A-League titles are collected and Asian Champions League campaigns are attempted.
No matter how poor Heart were during their years in the competition, I was always incredibly proud to call myself a supporter. Despite finishing last, the 2013/14 season consisted of many highlights that will never be forgotten and low-lights that will hopefully never be reached again.
Looking back on it, the passion I built up for an unsuccessful franchise in just four short years was staggering. By the end of last season, I could’ve easily put Heart on equal terms with my first love; Collingwood.
While City will receive my full support, I just don’t know at this early stage if it will be the same experience.
The band-wagoners have already announced their intentions to jump aboard, but I guess that is to be expected when money and success is involved. Active support group ‘Yarraside’ have decided to disband, although a new group is already rising from the ashes.
Supporting Heart, mind the cliche, felt like being a member of another family.
It was like an exclusive club; an underground movement if you will. Roaming Melbourne you’d expect to see people wearing AFL jumpers, particularly Collingwood ones. But if you saw someone wearing Heart gear, you’d feel pride in giving them a wink; it was a rare occasion.
Every week the same familiar faces would appear by the Yarraside promised land. We would all come together as one and support the team through the bad times and the not-so-bad times. A testament to Heart fans is that even during the worst spell in A-League history, the crowds remained the same.
I was only seven when the A-League first arrived. Like many others, that one John Aloisi penalty inspired me to become a fan of the sport and naturally, the team that play in navy blue. At only seven years of age, how was I supposed to know that Kevin Muscat was a thug?
I attended two Victory matches as a fan and while I certainly lapped up their Championship wins, I didn’t feel a part of it. When Heart were first announced I dismissed the idea simply because of the name ‘Heart’. I also remember telling my father there was no point switching teams as Victory would already have three championships to their name.
Five years on and they still have two.
Why I chose to support the red and white? Was it because John Aloisi signed? Was it because my father worked for major sponsor Westpac? Was it because at 12 years of age you feel the need to be different? Probably a mixture of all three. I knew as soon as Alex Terra scored in the inaugural Derby that I had made the right decision.
Supporting from home was how the first season panned out. I remember spitting all over my laptop when the thug that was supposedly the Victory captain committed that crude foul on Adrian Zahra and salivating when Terra kicked that goal in Perth.
My first game in attendance at AAMI Park was against Perth Glory early in season two. A 2-1 loss did nothing to deter my feelings for the club. Derby number six would be the next game I would attend.
I was thrilled when my mother said she had bought my friend and I the last two tickets to the game. Little did we know that the seats she had purchased were situated at the Swan Street end of the ground. Full grown men swearing directly at you simply for supporting a team is never a good feeling for anyone, let alone a 14 year-old, but I can only imagine it would have been worse had the game not ended in a 0-0 draw.
By this time I had grown an affinity for Aziz Behich. His pace up the left wing had allowed him to play football at the top of his game. Funnily enough I had attended his first ever A-League game as a Victory fan.
Season three was rather flat despite being in contention for the finals right up until the second last game. I was enjoying watching Heart smashing Victory from home in the season-opener until I heard the news my Grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t last the season.
Being linked to David Beckham for a brief period of time had Heart on the front page of the Herald Sun, but even the most optimistic fans couldn’t see it happening. Lucas Neill was a different story, however. He reneged on a deal to sign with Sydney FC and while ADP himself pulled 12,000 fans to the game in February, at least 5,000 were getting stuck into Lucas whenever he touched the ball.
Going into season four I was quite optimistic of at least qualifying for finals. With Harry Kewell on board, I thought anything was possible, but in true Melbourne Heart style, my hopes were dashed within the first month.
Loss after loss, Mifsud offside after Mifsud offside. The match against Adelaide in early December gave me confidence that we would turn it around, but by the end of that same month Heart were without a coach.
The match against Wellington on December 27 was one I’ll never forget. The atmosphere was toxic; the fans had had enough. Aloisi had to go.
JVS came back and suddenly we were competitive. Our first win of the season came against the Jets before a Richard Garcia turnover helped super David Williams to score the winner against Sydney FC. It’s fair to say Richard copped it from me all week on Twitter.
We were on a roll. A massive win against Wellington broke our away record curse while Perth fell to us in Albury and the top of the table Brisbane Roar were defeated at AAMI Park. Heart were in genuine finals contention.
The next match against Melbourne Victory was probably the best in the club’s short history. Everything just went to plan. Engelaar tapped in the first goal while luck was finally on our side as Dugandzic scored the second from the right wing. It wasn’t until late in the match that David Williams sealed the match with a third, but it was the fourth goal that became my favourite Heart moment.
Australia’s greatest ever footballer Harry Kewell scoring a goal from outside the box against his old side to give Melbourne Heart a 4-0 lead; it just seemed too good to be true. Looking around the stadium, I tried to savour the moment and take it all in. This was special.
From then on, the season took a turn for the worse and we missed out on finals, but to get that close to playing them after such a poor start to the season was an achievement in itself.
The final match for Melbourne Heart was at home to the Western Sydney Wanderers. It was Harry Kewell’s last match of professional football and there was also strong speculation that it was going to be the last match in red and white for this Melbourne side.
The Yarraside organised a display of cards featuring the words ‘Keep Melbourne Red And White’ on them. The City Group obviously heard the message as the kit has been retained, albeit for the away kit.
This match summed up Melbourne Heart’s existence; a sea-sawing match in which we take the lead twice only to lose after two late goals come in the final 10 minutes. You just couldn’t help but laugh.
Melbourne City will play their first competitive match against Sydney FC in the newly-formed FFA Cup at AAMI Park. I will be there cheering on the boys and looking forward to the future of this club, but you can never forget the past.
While our new colours may well be sky blue and white, I’ll be wearing my red and white scarf for many years to come.
Melbourne is Red & White