Thursday, 30 June 2005 12:47 PM
By Mark van Aken
Derbies between SMFC and the Knights have been the main NSL fare for football fans over two decades. While other sides came and went, the battles between South and the Sunshine club have endured. The sides meet Sunday in the new world of the VPL and nothing less than a win will satisfy either side.
There have been some absolute classics over the years, from sell out crowds of more than 23,000 at Olympic Park for the 1991 Grand Final to the lower attended but no less hotly contested battles of late.
While the Knights glory years of the early to mid 90’s have subsided somewhat in recent times, both fans and players alike look back to those glory days with passion and pride. Despite some classic regular season matches through the years, it is in the post-season that the ‘old firm’ Melbourne derby’s true tales are told.
Olympic Park has been the setting for all but the most recent epics, the first such match being the major Semi-Final of 1984. South would win the day 3-2, but the Knights – better known simply as Melbourne Croatia at the time- would get the chance to exact finals revenge 6 years later. A long time between drinks maybe but that they did get there, edging out their cross-town rivals 7-6 on penalties after drawing the match 1-1. It would begin a period of 8 seasons where the Victorian clubs would face off in the playoffs no less than 6 times. Amazingly, they were drawn against each other in 3 consecutive years between 1989-90 through to 91-92, on each occasion the match was decided by penalties.
The 1990-91 Grand Final stands up as perhaps the most memorable of all clashes. Olympic Park was bursting at the seams with 23,318 fans who witnessed a tight affair, the scores locked at 1-1 after extra time. It would be the Blue and White prevailing in that shoot out and taking the silverware. 12 months later they were at it again, this time it was the Knights victorious 5-3 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the Major Semi-Final.
The Knights back-to-back national titles in 93/94 and 94/95 each came after finals victories against the Lakesiders. Their first title came after a two-legged playoff that resulted in a 2-1 Knights victory first up and a 2-2 draw in the return leg, both fixtures played out at Olympic Park. Goals flowed in the Preliminary Final of the next season, the Knights again victorious 3-2 on the road to consecutive championships.
The last finals derby between the two was in the 1996/97 season. It was the first and last time that each met in the finals at their own venues. The draw bridge at the fortress that is Sommer Street was down as South struck for a 4-1 win. The return at Bob Jane wasn’t much better for Western Melbourne club, falling 3-0 and 7-1 on aggregate.
Are we in for such classical football on Sunday? Time will tell, but you can be sure Melbourne Knights will be pulling out every stop to take some points from Bob Jane Stadium. If the Knights have any hope of playing finals football they must win.
While the circumstances aren’t so dire for SMFC, coach John Anastasiadis will be expecting nothing less than 3 points to keep the blue and white near the top of the table. Robbie Cattanach, the 20 year old striker joins South from NSW Premier League club Blue Devils this week, and he is itching for a run against the old rivals.