Juventus and Italy legend Alessandro Del Piero said the emotions and atmosphere produced were comparable to the biggest games in Europe. Former Dinamo Zagreb player Mateo Poljak said that the atmosphere was the best he had ever experienced.
Considering these players played in some of the fiercest rivalries in world football, it is a ringing endorsement for the passions and fervour of the Sydney Derby.
Since its inception in 2012, the game has captured the imagination like no other game can, it has successfully tapped into the geographic, cultural and social divide that encapsulates the city.
East vs. West, Bling FC vs. the working-class club created by the people, The Cove vs. the Red and Black Bloc.
It was always destined to be a heated game, but the seeds of animosity were sown back in 2005 – seven years before the first game – in the creation of the first Sydney team in the league. The decision to base the team out of Moore Park, instead of Parramatta as originally intended, left many in Western Sydney feeling alienated. They felt that a team based in the Eastern Suburbs did not represent them.
Though Sydney FC claimed to represent all of Sydney, many in the West shunned the team, choosing to wait until a new side was formed in the heart of Western Sydney. And when the Western Sydney Wanderers were formed in 2012, the rivalry was always going to produce fireworks on and off the pitch.
Throughout its nine seasons, the Sydney Derby has become known for flair – and flares – grandiose tifo’s, and spats between both players and fans. The atmosphere created is unrivalled in Australian sport.
The first ever Sydney Derby took place in the third round of the 2012-13 season, amidst much excitement.
‘It’s a first ever Sydney derby, it will be great for the fans and the two clubs,” then Wanderers coach Tony Popovic said in the leadup to the first derby match.
”We’re all looking forward to having that rivalry, which is important anywhere in the world.”
In front of a packed house at the old Parramatta Stadium, Sydney FC would run out winners, with Alessandro Del Piero scoring to secure a 1-0 win for the Sky Blues. The game captivated the Australian football world instantly.
The Wanderers would strike back, however, as they would win the next derby 2-0 at Allianz Stadium. This began a period of derby superiority, as the Western Sydney side would win two of the next three derby games. One was in front of 40,000 fans at Allianz -10,000 of which were away fans, a familiar theme for the next few seasons – and another at home where former Sydney FC striker Brendon Santalab would score a late winner.
They didn’t know it then, but it would be their last derby win for 1,135 days.
Sydney would win a home derby for the first time in March of 2014 and would emerge victorious two of the more memorable derbies of all time the season after.
In Round 3, in front of a then record derby crowd of 41,213, the Wanderers raced out to a 2-0 lead. Sydney FC would peg them back just after half-time, then their captain Alex Brosque would score a 79th minute winner in front of The Cove who then invaded the pitch in celebration, in of the most memorable derby moments.
In the return fixture in Parramatta, Sydney scored three goals in 14 minutes, before Wanderers debutant and former Sydney FC striker Kerem Bulut scored a brace to help level the scores at 3-3, sending the home fans into raptures.
However, a goal from Terry Antonis would extinguish the fightback, the midfielder highlighting the passion in the game by celebrating with the away fans.
In just three seasons, the derby had become one of the best sporting events in Australia. Sell-outs were a certainty, and it was a perfect advertisement for the A-League, with excitement, passion and colour on and off the pitch.
Notable rugby league writer Phil ‘Buzz’ Rothfield was blown away by the derby atmosphere, writing after attending a game in the 2013-14 season that the derby was proof that “the round-ball game has not just arrived but is bigger than rugby union and closing in on AFL and NRL”.
And the players relished the game too. Current Wanderer Keanu Baccus in a recent interview with Kick360 stated that the stakes are always higher come derby day.
“You do think about it a little bit more, and you definitely want to win that game”, he said.
“You want to win every game, but that one means a lot for us as well.”
The 2015-16 season saw goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne join the Wanderers. He had experienced derbies during his time at Melbourne City, but says the New South Wales matchup has the edge in terms of the heat.
“I think there’s a bit more heat and passion going on in the Sydney derby”, he said speaking to Kick360 exclusively.
“The Sydney Derby has a bit more rivalry, a little more bitterness between the clubs and more on the line on game-day.”
Redmayne then moved across the divide, joining Sydney FC midway through the 2016/17 season.
“You’d need a couple of hours to explain the reasoning behind the move”, said Redmayne on his midseason switch to Sydney FC.
“I might save it for a book I write one day – I’m happier with where I am now and more than happy with how it’s turned out.”
The now sky blues custodian made his first derby appearance in a 2-2 draw.
Oriol Riera opened the scoring, before Brendan Hamill doubled the Wanderers’ advantage in the 30th minute.
Bobo clawed a goal back for Sydney eight minutes later, preparatory to Josh Brilliante’s strike in the 61st minute, which presented the final scoreline.
However, Redmayne’s true derby to remember came in the following matchup, with Sydney putting on a scintillating performance, winning 5-0 against their nemesis.
Redmayne has fond memories of the celebrations following the match, but points out how Sydney deal with themselves, focusing on the long run of the season more so than the individual game.
“I think (the celebrations) is something Sydney FC do well”, said the Socceroos shot stopper.
“We’re a pretty modest club, and we know that while they’re big games, it’s a long season.
“There’s a lot more games than just a derby, and we know there’s a long road ahead until the end of the year.”
That 5-0 win began a run of form that saw the sky blues win five straight derbies, ranging from December in 2017 to December that very next year.
During that dominance, Sydney conceded just two goals and scored 16.
However, a 1-1 draw the following April signified a changing of the guard – the Wanderers went on a six-game unbeaten run.
By the 1st of May in 2021, Sydney hadn’t won a derby in 869 days – almost 2 and a half years.
However, it was a similar story for Sydney, who struggled to recover from a slow start.
By the time they managed to find their groove in around the 20th minute, they were already 2-0 down.
They lost 3-2, with Bobo missing a penalty in the 85th minute, and Anthony Caceres unleashing a stunning strike that narrowly deflected off the crossbar, and was centimetres away from drawing proceedings in almost the last kick of the game.
“I think that game last year was one of our best performances”, said Redmayne.
“The ball just didn’t roll over the line for the boys.
“But like I said before, we know it’s a long road in the season and although it was disappointing for the fans to lose to our bitter rivals, the playing group don’t take too much to heart because there’s a long road ahead.
“You can have one over your rivals if you’ve got another trophy at the end of the year.”
Sydney finally got their derby win 22 days later, with Bobo scoring the solitary goal in the 62nd minute.
Sydney has the chance to make it two in a row, while the Wanderers will be looking to get one back on their rivals, in a game that could prove crucial in the latter stages of the league table.
“It’s always a special match, but being round 1 as well, it’s going to make it a fantastic occasion”, said Redmayne.
“It’s been a hell of a long preseason – almost 18 weeks now – and the season has been delayed a couple of times and whatnot.
“It’s good that it’s finally here and upon us, and I’m ready for an exciting campaign this year.”
“It’s one the playing squad is really up for.”
Former Sydney FC midfielder and current Wanderer Terry Antonis also expressed his eagerness for the round one derby when speaking to Kick360.
“It’s exciting. Derby games are the ones that players want to play in, and it’s good to be a part of. Winning it would be amazing, a good feeling.
“I’ve played in many derbies overseas and also in Australia, they are definitely the games you look forward to when you look at the calendar.”
Redmayne and Antonis will clash on Saturday evening, as the two Sydney sides begin their season at Commbank Stadium in what promises to be an electric, intense affair.
For the vanquished champions Sydney FC, it could be the first step on the road to redemption. For their rivals, it could act as a springboard to success in their 10th and potentially most important season yet.