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Melbourne have lost the Heart to show their true colours

Melbourne Heart AdvertThe announcement of 5th June to change the name and team colours of Melbourne Heart was not a surprise to A-League fans. As well as news of the changes, the announcement was made that Spanish international David Villa would make ten ‘guest’ appearances for the newly named Melbourne City FC.

The homogenisation of the team, into the Manchester City brand, has happened quickly as does most business done by the City Football Group (CFG) who has majority ownership of the club.

What effect will this have on the fans?

Why would Football Federation Australia (FFA) be happy with such changes?

What about the wider issue of club ownership?

Is it acceptable for common ownership of several teams?

Since the team was formed in 2009, Melbourne Heart has been represented by the colours of red and white.  For the 2014-15 A-League season, fans will be wearing new colours of white and sky blue.  Although the team is fairly young in football terms, team colours are intrinsically linked to that team’s identity.  In the English Premier League, Cardiff City abandoned over one hundred years of tradition when new owner Vincent Tan decided that the team should play in red, because it’s “lucky”, rather than their blue and white kit.  Naturally, fans were outraged but Mr Tan has not backed down and reversed the decision.

However, Melbourne City (Heart?) fans should note that he has said that he is now willing to discuss the issue with supporters groups.  The situation in Melbourne has less weight in so far as the longevity of its use but that doesn’t necessarily weaken the argument to revert to red and white.

Along with the colour change, the team will be sporting a new club badge.  It is emblazoned with the name of the club in abbreviated form which, fortuitously, is the same as parent club Manchester City Football Club. If only MLS’s new club New York City FC, another CFG acquisition, played in Manhattan then they’d be on to something. Interestingly, a team of the same name is mounting a legal challenge to retain the right to use ‘Melbourne City’ exclusively.  The team, from Victoria’s State league 4 division, are looking to apply for an injunction and have engaged a specialist law firm.

For me, the real loser in the short term is the fans.  Although CFG are taking the line that this is a change of ownership, it is difficult to not view it as being a completely new team altogether.  The tangible things that define a sports team, the name and the colours, are completely different.  Even the most supportive fans of the takeover are viewing this as a new team rather than the less antagonistic view of CFG.  One fan group, Yarraside, has decided to disband because of the changes at the Melbourne club. One member said:

“I think the general understanding is that as much as CFG try to say otherwise – it is a new club”.

He did stress that 98% of the group remain supporters of the new (sic) club. Another fan said they were sad about it because:

“The name and ethos was what drew me to the club”.

The Manchester City business model has delivered trophies and I think that it is this potential that has resulted in a more passive resistance to change. If this were to be replicated in Melbourne, the fans appeasement would soon turn to joy and the takeover would be ‘justified’. Melbourne Heart’s best finish in the A-League has been 6th place (in 2011-12) so investment was undoubtedly required for the team to be able to compete.


The investment from CFG must be seen as a huge opportunity to get the A-League on a more global setting.  Fans of the English Premier League and Major League Soccer, in the USA, will be more aware of football in Australia due to the Manchester City link.  Having players such as David Villa play in the A-League will bring with it even more media attention than past greats such as Alessandro Del Piero have.  Each of the ten games featuring Villa will attract a far wider worldwide audience and that will be attractive to the FFA.  With the 2015 AFC Asian Cup just around the corner, the FFA as hosts will want to maximise exposure.  Over the longer term, if this business model works, the FFA could be more open to foreign investment and, potentially, ‘bigger’ names in the world of football.

As an investment for CFG, $12 million is small.  Since taking over in 2008, over £300m has been spent to transfers by Manchester City and there is no sign of this abating.  For me, it is the question of ‘should it be allowed’ rather than questioning the legality of the transactions.  The choices of acquisitions, by CFG, have been quite astute.  Manchester City is legislated by the European federation, UEFA, whose rules clearly state that clubs under ‘common control’ are not allowed entry to the same competition.  No problem here: New York City FC will be regulated by CONCACAF and Melbourne City is under the auspices of the AFC.

Where this starts to get interesting is CFC’s recent minority shareholding in the J-League’s Yokohama F Marinos.  Clearly an Asian team, therefore AFC rules apply, but they do not have majority shareholding so can’t control the club.  What will be more interesting is if the shareholding is increased.  Currently, all these transactions meet administrative regulations but the ethical question must be levied.  How fair is it that players can move from clubs at a less than at an arm’s length transaction? Surely this is disadvantageous to opponents wherever they are domiciled?  Football is truly a global game now so surely the intra-confederation club ownership rules should be made inter-confederation.  What happens if CFG’s clubs all win their respective Champions Leagues and qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup? Will two out of the three not be allowed to enter? It’s a ridiculous example in one respect but illustrates the issue of common ownership. 

It is too simplistic to try and decide if the acquisition and transformation in Melbourne is right or wrong.  As with all transactions of this nature, the fan base is the loser in this in the short term.  CFG and FFA both argue that it is in the interest of the club, and development of football in Australia, in the long term.

I hope that is true.

My fear is that a monopoly will be created in the A-League, and that cannot be good for the development of the league or the national team.  The ‘foreign’ players rule in Australia is a good defence for this.  In the UK, any European player can move freely to Manchester City due to European Union labour legislation. If the decision is made to disinvest in football, I fear for the repercussions.  This would have a destabilising effect on the whole league not just Melbourne City.  I think that it is important for CFG to retain many of the aspects of Melbourne Heart whilst growing the club on the pitch as much as off.  A club bringing in players such as David Villa will help develop young Australian footballers.

A competitive Melbourne City is good for the A-League.  Not for the same reasons as Melbourne Victory fans, but I just hope that they don’t get too good.

Photo Credit: AdamAxon

About the author

avatarJonathan is a freelance writer, and contributor to Ultimate A-League.

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  • Wallyman

    Interesting article but let’s focus on Australia Melbourne heart was becoming a basket case small crowds poor performances training facilities poor all the indicators of a club in crisis enter new investment players infrastructure etc and the landscape changes and in a crammed Melbourne spurting environment this to me gives football the clout to become a big player and that can only be good for a growing sport that can call upon a global network unique to football all good onwards and upwards for football in this country at last