Western United and Melbourne Victory play a football match, which should feel as momentous as it does

And so, Melbourne Victory played a football match. Not that shocking, really, given that we’re at round nine of the 2022-23 A-League Men season and they’re one of the clubs that compete in it. But given what has transpired over the past week, from the moment that a mass of its supporters spilled over the AAMI Park to Saturday’s opening kickoff, that Victory was actually taking part in something that wasn’t steeped in crisis management felt like a bit of a novelty. 

And what those in attendance and those watching along at home was, indeed, a football match. Eleven men in green and black took on eleven men in fluro yellow – at least until the former’s number was reduced to ten when Nikolai Topor-Stanley inadvertently launched a flying side kick into the abdomen of Chris Ikonomidis in the 32nd minute. In the form of Western United, there was also a 1-0 winner: Josh Risdon ghosting clear of Kadete at a corner and sending home an unmarked header at the back post in first-half stoppage time – albeit Victory boss Tony Popovic was incensed with a missed offside call in the build-up to the corner.

Josh Risdon’s first-half header won the game for Western United
Image: Paramount+

Further, a ‘football match’ might have been the best way to describe what took place across the 90 minutes. Not a pulsating match, nor a dramatic or barnstorming one, just a football match. 

As the half progressed, both sides had a few chances that quicken the pulse – Nick D’Agostino getting on the end of a long-ball forward only to put a shot wide under pressure from Tomoki Imai, Aleks Projivic and Leigh Broxham doing similar up the other end, Ikonomidis almost setting up Bruno Fornaroli at the top of the box, and James Troisi launching a long-range half-volleyed effort off the crossbar in the 62nd minute – but there wasn’t anything that would suggest this game will be featuring in any end-of-season retrospectives anytime soon. 

The fixture felt like stepping into a time machine back to the 2021-22 season, in which Western built a championship-winning campaign off the back of a stout defence that was able to grind out a record-equalling amount of 1-0 wins. Despite playing almost a full hour with a one-player advantage and 45 minutes chasing the game, Victory’s inability to create high-quality chances, again, meant they could only muster two shots on target until the during stages of the contest – the same number as their out-possessed and more defensively-minded foes, who seized upon on a rare moment of incisiveness from their attack and made it count. 

Sort of summing it all up for the nominal visitors, as things were getting a corner fell to substitute Stefan Nigro with just four minutes remaining, a golden opportunity to bring his side back level and salvage something from a rather depressing day only to blast over. Minutes later, D’Agostino part chested, part shouldered a free kick towards the near post, only for Jamie Young to produce a save of the season contender to deny him.

In a week in which Victory needed a win, it just wasn’t happening for them and they didn’t do much to suggest that they were hard done by. 

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Western is now up to tenth on the ALM table with the win and level on points with their foes, whose goal difference has now slipped into negative territory for the first time this season and who are now averaging more than a goal a game only thanks to a 4-0 thumping of the Newcastle Jets that constitutes half their goals scored. 

Inevitably, though, despite the game mostly leaving a lasting football legacy as simply yet another addition to the pile of Western performances that should have produced a win but did so anyway – because, football– it will feature in those listicles and montages of remembrance set to stirring pop music when the season comes to an end anyway. It has to. Because Monday’s game wasn’t just a football match, it was the latest chapter in what has become the three-week saga surrounding Victory and the A-Leagues and themselves. And there were plenty of reminders around the ground to make sure one didn’t forget. 

Thanks to the violence of the Derby the week prior, the fixture was nominally supposed to be played in front of an audience of Western members and fans only and the active away end – the same end where fans just over a week before had lept the barricades and made their way onto the playing service – was closed and tarped off. Victory fans, in theory, were supposed to be persona non-grata at the fixture, turned away from the gate and told to source a refund if they attempted to gain entry. Nonetheless, one didn’t exactly need to be eagle-eyed, however, to observe a scattering of their fans around the ground anyway – the duo sporting their own fluro Victory away kits not exactly choosing the most inconspicuous of garbs to wear to the footy. 

There was something ironic about the away active end being tarped off. Fans had initially been threatening mass boycotts and walkouts to protest the Australian Professional Leagues’ (APL) decision to sell hosting rights of the next three ALM and A-League Women’s grand finals to Sydney, a powerful showing of empty stands designed to force a reconsideration of the move. Now, though, Victory fans didn’t have any choice in the matter: their ability to protest and show their dissatisfaction with the APL’s decision, as well as any semblance of moral high ground they had as a fanbase, was taken away from them not by vengeful administrators but, instead, by the actions of their fellow supporters. 

Few that took the time to comment on social media, of a Victory bent or otherwise, were fans of the scenes that were created but, as the 90 minutes came and went with no violence or signs of disturbance, Football Australia was convinced their actions were fit for purpose and achieved the right outcome. 

Western supporter group the Western Service Crew, forced back five rows by more tarps, did stage their own walkout in protest of the APL’s move but, unfortunately for the optics of their messaging, several other fans took the opportunity in the aftermath to move into the more premiere seating that had been vacated. At least they got a win, though, and they were quick to return to their position to celebrate with their players once the whistle sounded 

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You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 5cbec633ae2b882fff068659_ko-fi_horizontal.png

Image: Paramount+

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