Sport Football How the ‘Big Blue’ became the A-League’s most compelling rivalry

How the ‘Big Blue’ became the A-League’s most compelling rivalry

Victory midfielder Terry Antonis under pressure from Sydney FC's Brandon O'Neill and Joshua Brillante in the 2018 semi-final. Photo: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Terry Antonis’ run to seal last year’s A-League semi-final for Melbourne Victory is one of the most famous moments in one of the biggest rivalries in Australian football, and he can’t wait for the replay.

In the 117th minute of play between Sydney FC and Victory, Antonis – who had scored an own-goal in the fifth minute of injury time to send the game into extra time – somehow emerged with the ball on the right wing and danced away from Milos Ninkovic and Ben Warland.

He then outpaced the exhausted efforts of Sky Blues defender Brandon O’Neill and burst into the Sydney penalty area. Shifting the ball onto his right foot, Antonis shot past Andrew Redmayne in the Sydney goals to give his side a match-winning 3-2 lead.

A year on from that magical moment, Sydney and Victory will once again meet with a grand final spot on the line this Sunday.

“For me, it’s like the original derby of the A-League,” Antonis says of the fixture.

“Two big clubs playing against each other. There’s always been good games against each other.

When it’s a derby, extra energy comes, the fans come, and crowds come.”

Indeed, the Big Blue is the closest thing Australia football gets to the El Clasico – a Spanish fixture that pits the two largest and most successful sides in the country’s two largest cities against each other.

As well as marking the penultimate game of the season, Sunday’s semi-final will also be the 50th occasion on which Sky Blue and Navy Blue have clashed.

Sydney has the edge of its southern opponents when it comes to regular meetings between the two, having won 14 compared to Victory’s 12, however, the inverse is true of finals meetings, Victory having won four compared to Sydney’s two.

The first of those 50 meetings between the two sides came on August 28, 2005, when the two played out a 1-1 draw in front of 25,208 fans in the first round of the first A-League season.

Between the posts for Sydney that day was Clint Bolton, who reminisced this week that the game “had the feeling of a big occasion”.

“I remember a big crowd, I think it was around 25,000, so it was just a really good atmosphere. This was the big rivalry from the get-go for me and our club,” Bolton said.

“And that’s because they were clearly the biggest markets but also the amount of money pumped in by both clubs, particularly ours.

The Big Blue is built … for me, the Big Blue was built around personalities on both sides along the way. I always enjoyed playing against Victory because of who I was playing against. Individuals like Musky, Archie and so on.

“The second season of the A-League and we drew a 51,000 crowd to a match, not a finals match, just a regular-season match. This was like … dreams.

“From memory, the first game of that season was a 3-2 match and it had everything a great rivalry had: Great attacking play, plenty of physical interaction between the players.

“I remember Robbie Middleby had his collarbone snapped by Adrian Leijer in a corner situation. We had the incident where Fred went through and put up an elbow on Mark Milligan and Millsy got caught around the neck area. [Mark] Rudan was sent off early.

“All this drama and theatre around the actual game, or within the game, was at its peak, so that 3-2 one definitely sticks in my mind.”

Bolton went on to play in another famous meeting between the two sides: the 2009-10 Grand Final at Docklands Stadium.

With the two unable to be separated after 120 minutes of play on that March evening, the A-League’s championship was therefore determined in the most dramatic of circumstances: the penalty shootout.

Stepping up to take the first penalty for Victory after Simon Colosimo slotted home for Sydney, Victory captain Kevin Muscat confidently struck his penalty to the right of Bolton – only for the ball to cannon off the post.

Bolton wrote himself into Sydney folklore in the aftermath of that miss, shrugging back in the direction of his teammates on the halfway line.

Sydney FC players celebrate their 2010 grand final win. Photo: Getty 

“The big sense was the sound of that ball hitting the post,” Bolton recalled

“I remember just whipping around to see where that ball was and then just feeling that sense of ‘It’s our day’ straight away. That shrug, it’s funny, that shrug seems to be the thing I’m remembered for the most from Sydney FC.”

Bolton then went on to save a penalty from Cosa Rican Marvin Angulo, helping his side to a 4-2 penalty shootout win and the A-League title.

“The memory of that day… there are different ways to win grand finals,” Bolton said. “In front of your home crowd is just a wall of noise.

“But the quiet, the silencing of an opposition crowd when you win something big is just as enjoyable. That’s what I remember the most.”

And what does Bolton think of the current state of the Big Blue?

“Healthy as ever.”