LAVINGTON Oval was transformed into a Border “Heartland” yesterday.
Melbourne Heart won plenty of new fans in yesterday’s 2-1 win against Perth Glory in the first
A-League match staged in Albury.
A crowd of about 6000 braved the 40-plus degree heat, with those supporting the “home” side not regretting they did.
Fans dressed in the team’s red and white colours erupted with loud cheers, waving flags and dancing with joy as each goal was scored.
Orange smoke filled the air from flares let off in the crowd near the Melbourne Heart cheer squad as players celebrated, jumping up and down in a huddled embrace.
Wodonga resident and Melbourne Heart Supporter Matthew Robin said he was thrilled when his team scored its first goal.
“I was excited — I thought they could get another one once they’d scored the first one,” he said.
Mr Robin, who usually has to settle with watching his favourite team on television, said it felt good witnessing them win in the flesh.
“It’s a good experience getting a A-League team up here just to show people in Albury-Wodonga the atmosphere and the players,” he said.
Mel Hotko and Rachel Eyles, of Albury, like many in the crowd, didn’t come as soccer fans but instead out of curiosity.
“We could be converted if Melbourne Heart win,” Ms Hotko said.
They said they were enjoying the game but not the heat.
The match was moved from 3pm to 5pm in an effort to evade the searing temperatures and, although it was above 40 degrees as the game kicked off, it had cooled down slightly by its end.
Albury mayor Kevin Mack said he was happy with crowd size considering the hot weather.
“It’s not about the numbers either, it’s about showcasing the sport,” he said.
“We want to put events on for the community but it’s at a cost.
“We want to be able to say to community, here’s an event, this is what we can do, but you need to support it.”
Cr Mack said Albury had proven to the rest of the world that it was capable of holding large sporting events.
“It’s about building infrastructure, creating the environment where we can convert an AFL ground into a world-class soccer pitch,” he said.
“Anyone who wants to come to town, this is what we can do.”
The Melbourne Heart supporter said he hoped the team would return to the Border in future years, with the club wanting to grow its support base in the soccer-loving region.