by

Alex Gluyas and Patrick Durkin

Businessman Tony Shepherd and investment banker Andrew Pridham play hard in business but even harder in sport.

Sydney’s opposing AFL presidents face-off in Saturday’s cut-throat elimination final in what has been coined the “Battle of the Bridge” and is expected to help deliver record AFL finals crowds this weekend.

“The clubs co-operate because we are in the one game … but when it comes to on the field, we hate each other, there’s no doubt about that,” president of Greater Western Sydney, Mr Shepherd told the AFR Weekend.

“To lose to the Swans is one of the worst things that can happen in the year and to beat the Swans is one of the best things to happen in the year,” he said. “It will be on, it will be on for young and old”.

Sydney Swans ruckman Callum Sinclair, left, and Greater Western Sydney Giants forward Jonathon Patton prepare for the ...
Sydney Swans ruckman Callum Sinclair, left, and Greater Western Sydney Giants forward Jonathon Patton prepare for the ‘Battle of the Bridge’.

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Mr Pridham, president of the more established Sydney Swans and CEO of Investment bank Moelis Australia, didn’t mince his words about the emerging rivalry either.

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“I hate the colour orange,” Mr Pridham told the AFR Weekend.

Room for two?

He dismissed the bridge tag that doesn’t refer to the city’s most famous bridge, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but to the Anzac Bridge that connects the east and west of the city and reflects the perceived demographics of the rival clubs.

“We obviously have the larger supporter base, they’re growing, they’re the disrupter.”

Lance Franklin, of the Swans, is one of the stars who will be in action at the SCG on Saturday.
Lance Franklin, of the Swans, is one of the stars who will be in action at the SCG on Saturday.

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“I think we have enough respect for them that we always behave and act as if that [GWS becoming more popular] is the risk. Do I think it will happen? I will do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Mr Pridham does have some cause for concern with the Giants enjoying a surge in club members to 25,243 from 20,944 last year.

“Sydney were unhappy when we started in my view, they were worried about the fact that this could in fact cannibalise their membership base,” Mr Shepherd said.

Trash talk or not, Mr Pridham has faith his beloved Swans will continue to dominate the Sydney market with his club also experiencing record club membership growth.

GWS Giants player Toby Greene is expected to be a key figure in Saturday's cut-throat elimination final against the Swans.
GWS Giants player Toby Greene is expected to be a key figure in Saturday’s cut-throat elimination final against the Swans.

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“We have 60,000 members, a seven-year straight increase in memberships and our crowds are always double or triple NRL crowds achieved next door,” he said.

One million members

For the first time in the sport’s history, AFL club membership has hit more than a million while the code enjoyed record attendance in the home and away season, capping off a record year for the league chaired by fellow businessman Richard Goyder.

The enthusiasm surrounding the first week of finals has the AFL anticipating it will break the week one finals attendance record of 270,678 set in 2011 when all four games were played in Melbourne.

Collingwood Magpies player Adam Treloar, centre, runs with the ball as his team train for their clash with the West ...
Collingwood Magpies player Adam Treloar, centre, runs with the ball as his team train for their clash with the West Coast Eagles in the second AFL Qualifying Final on Saturday.

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The record crowds kicked off on Thursday night when 91,446 supporters packed the MCG to see Richmond convincingly beat Hawthorn by 31 points.

Hawthorn will face the winner of Friday night’s game between Melbourne and Geelong where another 90,000-plus fans are again expected at the MCG.

Saturday will see Mr Shepherd’s Giants take on Mr Pridham’s Swans at the SCG, with both teams welcoming back a wealth of star players including the likes of Luke Parker, Buddy Franklin, Toby Greene and Brett Deledio.

The winner of that game will face off against the loser of Saturday night’s game when West Coast will host Collingwood in Perth.

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