News, views and abuse from Australia
They’re new, play sexy football and are a headline writer's dream. Melbourne Heart kick off season six of the A-League with a home clash against Central Coast Mariners.
With the good names already taken – think Fury, Glory and Victory – the A-League’s newest club set about establishing their brand presence in the most confusing manner possible.
Originally Melbourne’s second team claimed that the Heart moniker was just a working title, and then asked fans to propose a new name through an online poll conducted by local tabloid The Herald Sun.
The poll was presumably hijacked by Melbourne Victory fans the second it went online, and when nothing ever came of it, the club eventually surmised that they might as well just call themselves the Heart.
Fortunately their recruitment has been less haphazard, and after luring former Dutch international John van’t Schip into the coaching hotseat, the Heart then went about securing the services of several big-name players.
Clint Bolton, Simon Colosimo and John Aloisi all moved south from champions Sydney FC, while dynamic duo Matt Thompson and Dean Heffernan arrived from Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners respectively.
Dutch pair Gerald Sibon and Rutger Worm join Brazilian talent Alex to give the Heart some international flair, but the undoubted jewel in the crown is marquee signing Josip Skoko.
Capped 51 times by the Socceroos, Skoko had his finest hour volleying the winner over European champions Greece in 2005, as more than 95,000 fans packed the Melbourne Cricket Ground for a pre-World Cup friendly.
It was a bittersweet moment for the much-travelled midfielder – who ultimately failed to get on the pitch in Germany – but it hasn’t stopped one of Australia’s most technically gifted players from making the A-League his final port of call.
Skoko will have a brand new stadium to call home, with the Heart signing on as permanent tenants of Melbourne’s newest sporting facility, AAMI Park. In a city littered with oval-shaped Australian Rules grounds, the lack of an adequate rectangular stadium has finally been addressed with the construction of the boutique 30,000-capacity venue.
Melbourne’s two A-League clubs will share AAMI Park, although the Victory will still play their so-called “marquee matches” at the unpopular Etihad Stadium – where the surface is currently slippier than an ice rink, rather than its usual sandy state.
Melbourne Victory kick off their campaign away at defending champions Sydney FC on Saturday night, but it’s a Friday evening fixture which could set the pulses racing, as Robbie Fowler faces the team he left in a blaze of acrimony.
Fowler skipped out on North Queensland Fury with the Townsville-based side seemingly at death’s door, but a last-minute recovery means the tropical town will still house the team in green – although Fowler had already signed on as the new marquee man at Perth Glory.
The Western Australian side can also call upon the likes of English defender Andy Todd and ex-Socceroos midfielder Mile Sterjovski, and colourful owner Tony Sage will expect nothing short of a finals campaign as a return on his sizeable investment.
The round’s other fixtures see Adelaide United host Newcastle Jets at Hindmarsh Stadium on Friday night, while the Sunday afternoon blockbuster between Gold Coast United and local rivals Brisbane Roar is sure to be a fiery affair – as Wellington Phoenix face the first bye in the unwieldy 11-team roster caused by the A-League’s ongoing expansion (with Sydney Rovers expected to join next season).
But it’ll be all eyes on Melbourne and specifically AAMI Park when the new season kicks off, and Heart coach van’t Schip has promised to play an attractive brand of football as the new boys bid to win over fans. They’ve got off to a rocky start with ticket sales reputedly slow, but if the A-League’s newest team can score some spectacular goals on the pitch, we can expect plenty more “Heart attack” headlines to follow.
Bluffer's Guide to the A League teams (20 Aug 2009)
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Just a rejoinder to my slightly harsh assessment that Fowler "skipped out on the Fury," but as my colleagues at au.fourfourtwo.com have illustrated, he was actually shown the door by the Fury.
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