Above: The Victory Vikings’ famous mascot Homer is taught to play the drums by Melbourne Victory players. Photo: Victory Vikings.
For this week’s #MidweekDub feature, Simon from Melbourne Victory’s A-League Women fans group, Victory Vikings spoke to Impetus’ Ben Gilby about the club’s season, crazy schedule, and thoughts ahead of the Finals (9/3/22).
Melbourne Victory’s Active Support Group, the Victory Vikings have their roots in a discussion in France during the 2019 Women’s World Cup as Simon explains.
“We were formed as a direct result of our experience at the World Cup in France in 2019. Some of us met over there and had huge fun being part of the Matildas Active Support at Matildas games.
“The night before the England v Norway quarter-final in Le Havre, we got chatting to some Portland Thorns fans who were part of the Rose City Riveters and over the course of a few beers decided it’d be fun to form a group when we got back to Australia. So shortly before the new season started in 2019/20, we put a call out on Facebook for any Victory fans wanting to join us.”
The Victory Vikings have also fostered a positive relationship with the club, which has ensured special access and dialogue.
“They help us out with ensuring we can get our drum and banners into the ground each week,” Simon revealed. “They also help us out when we go to away games by letting opposition clubs know we’re coming so again we don’t have any issues getting our drum etc into the ground.
“They’re also happy to meet with us and discuss any concerns or thoughts we have about the future direction of support at home games etc. and in return, we help them out with things like volunteering our time to appear in the membership advertisement that was made for this season.”
Active Support Groups in many clubs in the A-League Women are a key part of driving the atmosphere at stadiums around Australia. Simon highlights what a typical matchday is like at a Victory match.
“First, we have to make sure Homer isn’t too hungover from the night before and if he is, trying to fix this (see below!) Then it’s about going through our checklist to make sure we have everything we need ahead of the game – megaphone, banners, drum, camera etc.
“We’ll be messaging each other all morning to gauge our confidence levels/mood before the game. We’ll also be busy keeping an eye on social media for any news and of course posting things ourselves to build the hype. As we’re playing home games at AAMI Park this season we usually meet up at the pub a couple of hours before the game starts for a couple of quiet nerve settlers and then head to the ground just in time for when the gates open.
“Once inside it’s all systems go in setting up our banners and the drum, having a chat to others as they come along about what their predictions are.”
Victory Vikings’ Homer ‘mascot’ is a famous part of the A-League Women scene. Simon takes up the story of how it all began.
One of our Homers was a gift to one of the members of our group from their nephew as they knew what a massive Simpsons fan they were. The other Homer belongs to another member of our group. Prior to the first game of last season as a spur-of-the-moment decision, they decided to take Homer with them for a laugh as we’re all huge Simpsons fans.
“Initially, we decided it’d be fun to have a photo taken with Homer and the player of the match. Last season we flew up to the Gold Coast for the game against Brisbane and after the game, player Amy Jackson asked us where Homer was as we hadn’t brought him with us. We assured her he’d be back for our trip to Adelaide the following week as we were driving so she asked us to post updates on Instagram of his journey along the way and it just grew from there.
“The photos we do of him and the players is because we’re all Simpsons obsessives and it’s something that brings us a lot of joy. It’s also an easy way of generating engagement which in turn will help us grow. As for anyone we regret not getting a photo of him with yet, it’s a tie between Kayla Morrison and Angie Beard.”
Not surprisingly, the players warmly welcome and recognize all the efforts that the Victory Vikings put in.
“Our relationship with the players is really strong,” Simon said. “They’ve really embraced us and especially love all the Homer content we do. They’re always happy to stop and have a chat with us after the game, pose for photos win lose or draw. The coaching staff are also great at engaging with us, Jeff (Hopkins, head coach) is really great at coming over to us after a bad loss (especially at an away game) to say thanks for coming which is really good as if that was us we’d probably be wanting to go and bury our head in the sand.”
With the Finals campaign about to start and Victory facing an eliminator at in-form Adelaide United this weekend, Simon outlined how he’s seen things this season.
“This season has been its usual chaotic self. Sydney being top is no surprise as they always have quality squads and consistency in the playing group as well. We’re still trying to figure out how good Melbourne City is, but it’s massively annoying that they’re strong again this season after only a one-season blip.
“We’ve been decimated by injuries – it started when Melina Ayres injured her hamstring during the pre-season and carried on into the first game when Kayla Morrison went down with an ACL. Also because of Covid, the draw didn’t do us any favours as we had to play City and Brisbane twice in the first five rounds. It’s always really hard when that happens as you don’t get much chance to analyse what worked/what didn’t before you play them again.”
Into the New Year, Melbourne Victory were impacted by Covid which led to a number of games being postponed. The consequence was a spell of playing seven games in 21 days to ensure they completed all their scheduled matches before the Finals. The consequences of an already injury-hit side were far-reaching.
“The schedule in second half of season was ridiculous,” Simon reflects. “Players were coming off exhausted and then having to do it again in a few days. As fans, we care deeply about players’ welfare so was hard to watch. It seemed like we could never catch a break with injuries which made it worse.”
In the end, Melbourne Victory’s hopes of a place in the Finals came down to a straight fight with Perth Glory for fourth place which went right down to the wire on the final day of the season. Perth needed to defeat Wellington Phoenix and hope Canberra United defeated Victory at AAMI Park. Glory were comfortably ahead against Wellington. In Melbourne it was far from comfortable as Simon explains.
“The battle with Perth was a slow burn but then became increasingly stressful in the final round, we’d be panicking every time Canberra got the ball.”
With the Finals getting underway this weekend, Melbourne Victory travel to Adelaide United for the right to take on Sydney FC or cross-city rivals Melbourne City for a place in the Grand Final.
Simon is not sure what to expect. “It’s hard to get a read on Finals as injuries mean we’ve not been able to build much momentum. Our best is good enough to beat anyone and our key players are Claudia Bunge, Amy Jackson Alex Chidiac, and Melina Ayres. The last time we played away against Adelaide wasn’t a great day (Victory lost 3-0 a fortnight ago) so avenge that and anything else is a bonus.”