Some Naval Soccer History (Or When The Köln and Karlruhe Came Down Under)

For anyone who has met me in person, and perhaps a few of you who have read previous blog entries or listened to my podcast One On Wanderers, it doesn’t take long for my love of history and of most things German to bubble up to the surface. Throw in football and they’re the holy trifecta of hobby horses that I (often) ride on. I may not be an expert on the historical minutiae of the German competitive football (though I can heartily recommend the book ‘Tor’ by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger as a starting point), and whilst I know of the German heritage of Manfred Schaefer and Mark Schwarzer I have zero knowledge of Australian soccer clubs that developed as a result of German migration to this country. However, thanks to the resources of the National Library Trove website and some previous exposure to both German and maritime football links to Australia, I’ve been able to piece together some notes about two Nazi warships and their soccer teams down under.

Having dabbled in the history of football in Australia one aspect that I have picked up on is the role that teams from foreign ships had in engaging with local clubs. As would be expected more often than not the majority of visiting ships’ teams were British, either Royal Navy or merchant marine. Take as a case in point this match report from the Sydney Morning Herald of 29th April 1907:

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Interestingly enough in both of the two games were naval personnel played against local clubs the visitors went down (though HMS Psyche was part of the Royal Navy’s Australian Station so it may have had some local crew members, if not football players). At a time when Australian football was undoubtedly seen as a poor cousin to the other codes in this country, and exposure to foreign competition was often an ad hoc affair, then matches against British sailors must have served as some small taste of the international dimension for the sport down under.

I could ferret out some more British naval visitors who took on Australian football teams whilst visiting these shores, however returning to my earlier remarks about German history and soccer, thanks to the inestimable treasure that is Trove I have discovered some teasing nuggets about the German cruisers Köln (Cologne) and Karlsruhe and their links to soccer in this country in 1933 and 1934.

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The Cruiser Köln in Sydney Harbour, May 1933

The visit of the Köln to Australia in the autumn of 1933 was at a most interesting point in Germany’s history, and came only 15 years after the end of the First World War (when the nascent Royal Australian Navy had claimed the sinking of the SMS Emden as one of the most important victories of that conflict’s sea battles). With Hitler’s Nazi Party only having just come to power in late January 1933, the Köln was at the vanguard of German diplomacy when that country was about to set out on a programme of major military expansion. The agenda was set by the ship’s captain, insofar as he was both looking to recognise Australian sensitivities to the (then) recent war and the losses incurred during that conflict, whilst also presenting the ‘face’ of a new Germany:

The Sun, 9th April 1933

The Sun (Sydney), 9th April 1933

Obviously what was said by Captain Schniewind in the press item above was at best misguided, and at worst horrendous propaganda. However at the time the visit of the Köln was a major social event in all the ports it visited, engaged on a ‘charm offensive’ to nominally dispel enmities from the ‘Great War’ . In Fremantle the ship’s crew were gifted a kangaroo mascot, Seppl (joining a lion cub and cockatoo), whilst in Adelaide there was a performance by the ship’s band, visits to Adelaide University and a ‘smoke social’ at the German club.

When it came to sport the crew of the German warship were at a disadvantage when it came to mainstream Australian sports such as cricket and Australian Rules. However, and this is where I personally find the visit of the Köln fascinating from a local football history perspective, the ship’s crew had a team that played soccer games in almost every port she called in at, against Australian XIs.

Ad for Football Match between South Australia & Köln crew, 24/3/1933

Ad for Football Match between South Australia & Köln crew, 24/3/1933

The fact that the games between Australian teams and the Köln’s crew were presented as international matches indicates the desire by local football interests to put the code on a pedestal that particularly Australian Rules couldn’t reach. There was much made of the social, diplomatic and sporting benefits to be had by playing these matches. For example, when the Köln team met the Fremantle Soccer Club ticket sales went to the benefit of a fund for then recently deceased WA sportsman Ron Doig. In Adelaide though the South Australian team lost 2-3 the positive response to their performance was noted by interstate observers. In Hobart the Southern Tasmanian team won 2-0, and the match was played in front of ‘The largest crowd for many years…’, and when they met a RAN team in Sydney the visiting Germans gave the Australians a bit of a football lesson:

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The RAN & Köln teams in Sydney, and matchplay from the 8-3 win for the Germans

The RAN & Koln teams in Sydney, and matchplay from the 8-3 win for the Germans

Now it would be very hard to make any comments on the lasting benefits of these games on Australian soccer without having more information to hand. My suspicion is this would’ve been minimal, as per any type of exhibition football match that is played even in this era (for example, the A-League All-Stars hardly revolutionised support for the code in Australia after two games, and are arguably best forgotten as PR stunts). However the importance of a team of foreign nationals taking on Australians in a sport that was still in its early years of development must have resonated for those who battled to keep football in the wider public consciousness. Of course when it comes to international relations, whatever was achieved by the visit of the Köln in autumn 1933 was wiped out a few short years later when it and other Kriegsmarine vessels were engaged in Nazi Germany’s war of aggression against countries such as Australia.

Almost a year later the Köln’s sister cruiser, the Karlsruhe visited Australia, however unlike the sporting contact between the locals and the first German ship’s crew, the 1934 football match schedule was far more limited. There was only the one match, and this was played in Brisbane against a metropolitan representative team (a first for the then recently reorganised Brisbane District Football Association). The Brisbane team went on to win this match 2-0 against the German navy squad, which was reported as being due to the ‘lack of condition and match practice‘, and I would assume that this match had far less resonance for the popularity and development of football in Queensland than the earlier Köln matches had interstate.

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The significance of these two German ships’ crews playing soccer matches in Australia against local teams in the early days of the Nazi regime is not that crucial, not that important. I personally find the stories fascinating, but I also recognise that contrasted to other international team visits (such as the Indian tour of 1938) these exhibition games were more about entertainment and diplomacy than developing football in this country. However, as I mentioned above, the local football adherents were able to look to the visit of the German naval teams as a reaffirmation of the global context of soccer, when the indigenous code couldn’t do so, and both rugby codes were limited to other (mostly) English speaking nations. I believe it is also important to acknowledge these games as part of the long and significant football relationship conducted between Australia and Germany. Before there was Holger, before there was Ned Zelic playing in the Bundesliga, before there was Manfred Schaefer speaking on German TV about his 1974 team mates, there were the soccer teams from the Köln and the Karlsruhe.

Edgeworth, Cevaps and the FFA Cup

So, how good is the FFA Cup?

Admittedly when it comes to the Wanderers, there will always be that caveat added by all and sundry regarding our first venture in this most recent iteration of a national football knock out cup competition. That shock loss to Adelaide City back in 2014 was arguably a presage of what became our ‘tempus horribilis’, although barely two months later the Wanderers were ACL champions. Since that 1-0 loss away any coverage of  the FFA Cup, most particularly when it comes to the context of any NPL level club upsetting a more fancied A-League opponent, will at some time or another include that result.

Our 2015 campaign was marginally better, thanks to a good win against Brisbane at Penrith, followed by a 0-2 away win over Mitch Nichols’ home club, the Palm Beach Sharks. The quarter final loss to Perth Glory was controversial, with one specific omen of the coming season, vis-a-vis the failure of then marquee Federico Piovaccari to slot home one of the required penalty shots. However to have progressed to the final eight was a marked improvement on our first foray into the FFA Cup, and one that has been matched in the 2016 edition.

Now before I get into the guts of this blog entry on the Round of 16 match between the Edgeworth Eagles and the Wanderers, let me take a diversion and make some personal observations on how I perceive the FFA Cup. In a nutshell, this is possibly the best addition to the domestic football environment since at least the entry of the Wanderers, with a strong argument for the FFA Cup being a partial redress of the errors and omissions made when the A-League was established. The fact that lower tier football clubs across Australia, many with a proud and long history (including perhaps NSL participation) can now play in a cup where they may beat the more fancied A-League clubs has re-engaged many fans of the code with its history and its community. It has also given the so-called ‘new dawners’ a chance to look at the clubs that were crucial to the history of the sport in this country pre-2004. Of course there are still fierce rivalries and some degree of suspicion or anger felt by some, left over from the split between ‘old soccer’ and ‘new football’. Having said that there are many A-League fans who revel in the opportunity to watch NPL teams compete either against their latter day clubs, or against each other. I have seen in person how vibrant and enjoyable the NPL experience of the FFA Cup can be, such as when I watched Sydney United take on South Hobart FC last year. Played at Edensor Park, this match saw the 58 year old Croatian based club take on the 106 year old Tasmanian visitors, with the result only going to SU58FC after a 3-3 regular time scoreline and a 3-1 penalty shoot out.

This FFA Cup tournament we have already seen two A-League clubs dumped out of the tournament by NPL teams, with last season’s premiers and Grand Final winners Adelaide United stunned by Redlands United 2-1 at home in Brisbane, and the Central Coast Mariners losing with the exact same scoreline against the Victorian NPL club Green Gully. Here’s just a tiny sample of the reaction to the Redlands’ victory on Twitter:

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This video shows how important such a result can be for the lower tier club, not just in terms of the on field reaction, but also for the community of fans and members who often put in the hard yards without anywhere near the support and glory that the A-League clubs can provide:

Watching the match from home I was unashamedly barracking for Redlands, though to be honest I have no knowledge of their club’s history, current playing roster or position in their local NPL competition. To cheer on an underdog in such a match, sensing how important football history and community is, recognising the value of the more recent football culture as vivified by the Lowy era FFA in engaging with soccer as it was and still is in Australia, well this is where I believe the FFA Cup delivers in spades.

Focusing again on the Wanderers, this current FFA Cup tournament has mirrored (so far) our last. Entering the mix in the Round of 32, the club took on our perennial bête noire, the Wellington Phoenix, at a cold, wet and miserable Campbelltown International Sports Ground. To be honest the initial performance of the team was underwhelming, and the 0-2 scoreline after 31 minutes seemed to indicate the Wanderers were going to lose again in a pre-season match against the Kiwis. Thankfully the balance was more than redressed by match’s end, thanks to two goals by exciting young striker Lachlan Scott, and a long range pearler from Mitch ‘Butters’ Nichols. Thankfully we had evaded an early exit from the FFA Cup, and possibly even more importantly, we had booked a rendezvous with Northern NSW Football’s Edgeworth Eagles.

Taking yet another diversion (I know, get to the point Manfred!) Wanderers fans generally love heading up the M1/F3 to Newy and watching our team play the locals. This has meant, until last Tuesday week’s match, a rendezvous with the Newcastle Jets. There are a host of good memories for a host of us, such as the final regular season round match in our debut season, with the 3-0 win over the Jets confirming our first piece of silverware. Then there is the Round Five game at Hunter Stadium last season, when Mitch Nichols won it for us near the death with a 86 minute goal. I would also argue that there is a healthy modicum of respect for the Jets and for the football culture in the Hunter given by many Wanderers’ fans, and vice versa from the Newcastle folk.

In my opinion, and within that context, there were plenty of WSW fans who schlepped up to Magic Park last Tuesday week who were both looking forward to bringing back some red and black love to the Hunter, and engaging with the smaller, yet vigorous, passionate supporters of the Eagles. Perhaps I’m drawing a far too long bow, but even the complimentary nature of the two clubs’ colours validates this willingness for the A-League club to engage with their NPL competitor. Throw in the (arguably unconscious) hope that the local club would benefit financially from a solid turn out of the Wanderers fans, and the attention given to them and NPL football in Newcastle, then the rendezvous at Broadmeadow for away fans such as I was most attractive.

I made my journey up to Newcastle with these thoughts in mind, accompanied by two boon companions from my Wanderers’ fraternity. One was my mate Mick, who was the poor bastard lumbered with driving duties. Mick has been a great mate of recent years, and provided one the guts of one of the best episodes of my ‘One on Wanderers’ podcast. The second member of our trio was renowned Socceroo supporter Pablo Bateson, who has seen more air miles following the green and gold than possibly anyone else in this country. We three set off early on the day, endeavouring to make it a real long term sojourn up north. As done by thousands of traveling fans over decades and decades, we were looking to enjoy some of the local delights pre-match (i.e. have a drink and feed in Hamilton), meet some of the locals (in this case catch up with the legendary ‘Nobody From Newcastle‘ Todd Blackwell, and then make our way to the game. It was a most convivial afternoon, fueled by plenty of football talk, some beverages at the Kent Hotel, and even a catch up with those friends of the Western Sydney Wanderers, the Public Order and Riot Squad from the NSW Police:

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From there it was a reasonable easy and short drive to Magic Park, the home ground for the Broadmeadow Magic. Competitors to the Edgeworth Eagles in the local Northern NSW NPL, this very attractive if small venue was allocated the FFA Cup match for the night.

The atmosphere on arriving at the venue was wonderful, thanks in no small part to the number of local fans who were there for a night to barrack for the ‘minnows’ versus the Wanderers. Whilst the Eagles faithful were out in force, including plenty of kids, there were other Hunter football devotees in evidence, some sporting Jets colours, others partisans for Magic, Adamstown, Hamilton Olympic etc. The volunteers were selling raffle tickets and Eagles merchandise, the stand on the eastern side of the ground chockers, the beers and barbecued meats flying out of the tents dotted around the perimeter of the ground.

Mick, Pablo and myself made sure to touch base with several fellow Wanderers fans who had made the trip up, chatting about the day, the match, our lads, the oppo…basically engaging in the usual chit-chat and socialisiation one does before a game. However the immediacy of the community environment for this FFA match was dare I say more fun, more carnival like. Yes, it was a serious game with a definitive expectation that the Wanderers should win. However standing around on the western hill, taking in the sights and sounds of perhaps an intimation of what football has been like for decades in this country, where the dogged band of committed soccer lovers get behind their local club and bugger the bigger, more fashionable rivals; it was pure FFA Cup goodness.

The match itself was a fairly hard fought one, with the Eagles being unwilling to concede early goals. They were unable to break the shackles of their own deep defending except for a brief foray here and there when the Wanderers lost their (dominant) possession due to an errant pass. Some of the Eagles tackles were exactly what one would expect; hard with little respect for the far more well paid professional Wanderers player they flew at. There was a particularly brutal challenge put in on Dimas which the Spaniard was not happy with. This however gave cause for much chiacking and derision from the Eagles faithful. I’ll happily admit it was both infuriating to see such practices from the ‘home’ team, but great to see their supporters giving our ‘stars’ a real old rev up.

As the game progressed the goals began to flow, with ex-Jet Scott Neville snaring the first and the third, with the latter coming after the half time break. Brendan Hamill grabbed a goal between those two, giving the plentiful of Wanderers fans something to cheer for. An old acquaintance of the Wanderers, ex-Mariner Daniel McBreen was the go to man for the Eagles when it came to responding, and he had already provided some entertaining resistance earlier in the match when he gave one of the Wanderers fans a bit of handbags after a contretemp near the RBB. However his more important contribution was scoring a well taken goal after Wanderers’ new Uruguayan import Bruno Pinatares, giving Edgeworth a small sniff of a comeback. Their supporters were keen to vocally do what they could, fueled by pride, piss and cevaps, however two late goals from Brendan Santalab killed off the match. The 1-5 win for the Wanderers was certainly a fair result.

However what was a far more significant result was it was yet another instalment of what makes the FFA Cup such a worthy and enjoyable addition to the football environment in Australia. Two clubs with many disparate attributes were brought together, and alongside that meeting came the chance for people like myself to engage with a community and a history of the sport that sometimes we forget. In the A-League era it is all to easy to be hyped about big derbies between say the Wanderers and the Smurfs, or the two Melbourne clubs. A lot of attention this impending season is already being given to the advent of Tim Cahill as the league’s biggest name since del Piero. Many people in the huge amorphous pool of football fans in Australia see problems, division, challenges that no one can easily solve.

Yet on a chilly night in Broadmeadow, all of that was put aside by those who came to watch this FFA Cup match, and we all came away better for the experience.

Thanks Edgeworth!

 

P.S. The cevap rolls were good, but where was the avjar?

RUOK with WSW

Today is RUOK Day, a day when we are encouraged by RUOK organisation “to connect with others & ask about life’s ups and downs” as part of the public fight against suicide and associated mental illnesses. It is for many folk out there just another awareness event that lines up alongside other worthy charity days such as Red Nose Day, Daffodil Day etc etc. I can understand that, insofar as there is such a plethora of good causes in the public domain struggling for attention, for funding, for active support. However this year, this RUOK Day I have a significant commitment to this event, and (unsurprisingly) this is filtered and concentrated through my association with the Western Sydney Wanderers football community, and by extension others out there in the online and offline band of brothers and sisters that share my passion for the round ball code.

I have already touched upon some of the circumstances that have caused me some serious anguish earlier this year in my post on why I wish I had traveled to Adelaide for the 2015/16 A-League Grand Final. The most damaging experience for me emotionally not just in the last year, but arguably since I left school was the collapse of a sixteen year long relationship. I won’t get into the messy specifics of my situation, as there are some intensely private and personal matters to consider not just for myself, but also for my ex. However I think it is both appropriate and of value to put on the table some of the more general aspects of what has been (and still is) a seriously troubling time for me. This includes confronting certain emotional and mental health ‘demons’, and trying to address the very problems that RUOK Day is focused on. It is also very important for me to put out there the positive influence my comrades in red and black, and in football in general, has had on my ongoing battles. It helps me immeasurably to publicly acknowledge my brothers and sisters in red and black (and some in other clubs’ colours) as being there for me with a kind word or an open ear, never judging, always listening.

One of the earliest expressions of this most-welcome support came on the eve of the Easter holidays. Two of my Wanderers comrades offered out of the blue to meet up in Parra for a feed and a drink, with the added diversion of watching the Socceroos play Tajikistan in Adelaide on TV. Mick and Balks (they know who they are) sat down with me and did what great mates do. They asked me how I was, listened to some of my troubles, told me a few yarns of their own to get me out of my self-absorption regarding my problems, debated aspects of the Wanderers season, laughed with me about the shit state of Adelaide Oval for a World Cup qualifier. This therapeutic conviviality was definitely for my benefit, both in terms of their original motivation, and also in the effect it had on me at that time. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t going to be left to stew in my juices; these two mates who I have found through our shared love of the Wanderers were there to help me at that time in the best way that they could.

There have been other moments of unsolicited sympathy and a willingness to let me pour out my heart and soul to my Wanderers comrades, and I have been grateful for every one of them, to every one. For quite some time earlier this year I was getting almost daily texts from one of my Red and Black sisters, checking in on me, asking me how I was fairing, discussing topics both football related and those that weren’t. Before one of  the Wanderers NPL2 friendlies I shared about an hour with one of the few WSW mates I have that is of my generation (i.e. an old bastard who remembers Jimmy Shoulder and the Phillips Soccer League), sitting down to chew the fat over a few beers before venturing next door to Popondetta Park. He was more than willing to both let me yammer about my problems, tell me a few things to help me put my issues in perspective, and divert my dispirited sensibilities into football.

I must also refer to two men who have really given me plenty to think about through the agency of their experiences and their thoughts, as I discovered when I sat them down for their sessions on my Wanderers themed podcast, ‘One on Wanderers’. First there was the recording I made with Matt. In this podcast (admittedly produced prior to my relationship breakdown) he made some cogent and (for me) surprising comments on the mental health benefits of active support. It was after my personal life had turned to shit that I really comprehended some of the wisdom and empathetic thinking within Matt’s words. I can verify through my own experiences since then (more on that later) how true his comments are about the positive aspects of active support on relieving depression and stress.

To add to Matt’s football-focused comments, a few weeks after I was fortunate to find an even more expansive and positive message in another podcast guest. Another Wanderers comrade who goes by the name of Mick was incredibly open and brave when he talked about his battles with mental health issues on the episode I recorded with him.  This was produced only a week before things went seriously pear shaped for me on the home front, and through the agency of that podcast I was lucky enough to hear a man, a fellow Wanderers supporter, express his emotions and thoughts in a context very similar to mine. I feel even more fortunate and dare I say a little bit proud (which in turns helps me) that Mick was willing and able to pour forth his experiences, his ruminations on being bipolar, on his time in mental health care, and how he connected his efforts to stay well through football, through the Wanderers.

There are numerous other people I could refer to, several other occasions or experiences that I could mention, where someone who shares with me a love of the Western Sydney Wanderers has given me a shoulder to lean on, a reason to smile, an ear to pour my heart and soul out to. I’ve had deep and meaningful moments over a stein with fellow WSW addicts male and female, young and old, new friends and not so new. At the semi against Brisbane I was taken into the bosom of the RBB with Lloydie, FCB, Wal and Valter and whilst I was feeling gutted away and outside the active stands at Wanderland, for those glorious few hours focused on that magnificent defeat of the Roar, I was given the heartening comradeship where my euphoria could supplant my depression. Admittedly if we had lost that would have drawn a pall over things. However we didn’t; that 5-4 come back from the dead ‘Miracle at Pirtek’ was the final sanction on a day when my red and black fraternity gave me every reason to feel good.

Perhaps the most crucial moment when I found how valuable, how life affirming it was to have my Wanderers’ mates behind me was the morning after I admitted myself to crisis care. Without going into all aspects of my situation, I was at that most low moment, where one questions why one should keep struggling with the emotional hell you are going through. Beaten down by issues relating to the ex as well as my work situation at the time (or should I say impending lack of work lol), I was in need of a refuge where professionals would make sure no self-harm would come to me. When I was asked to hand over my belt and shoelaces on admittance I was in serious doubt of my ability to go on, to continue to struggle with the feelings of hurt and hopelessness that seeped into every pore and bone of my being. However, when the immediate danger passed and I was later able to walk out of the hospital with trousers and shoes secured, there were my Wanderers mates there to ask me; are you okay? I had come through a very dark passage and they were there to shine a beacon of friendship to light the way.

Before I close off on the subject of how my Wanderers brothers and sisters have been so valuable in these last seven months of emotional trouble, I must make reference to the communal nature of this willingness to care, to listen, to openly discuss problems that give cause for RUOK Day. In the West Sydney Football forum, the home of Wanderers related chat online, there have been threads opened and fervently conversed in addressing mental health issues. It’s there that members and fans of my beloved WSW can articulate their own personal doubts and griefs, or perhaps offer succour to those like me who are in need of support during shitty times. I’ve availed myself of a willing audience for my woes there, plus also offered some thoughts and encouragement to fellow correspondents to try and help them with their issues. It’s a wonderfully positive and helpful conversation that helps set the paradigm of why being with my fellow Wanderers advocates is not just a football fan thing; it’s a real community in the best sense of that word.

At this point, before I finish this blog post, I would like to widen my observations on how my football friends have asked me ‘RUOK’ and then been willing to listen, by commending a bloke who is not a fellow traveler in red and black. A great mate for me and I firmly believe for the wider football community, Todd aka ‘A Nobody from Newcastle‘ has been consistently sending me messages via Twitter, Facebook, in person and by text asking me how I am, what I’m up to, chatting about his Jets or my Wanderers. Todd is the kind of member/supporter that every A-League club needs to look to when searching for that one individual that embodies the best values of their community. He is passionate about football in his Hunter homeland, but equally impressive is his commitment to mates away from Newy who share his love of football. He and I have bounced off each other through bad times and good, and I find his friendship incredibly life-affirming. I may feel miserable about what has happened to me due to my domestic issues and my mental health problems. However whenever Todd asks ‘Are you okay?’, or sits down with me at a pub in Parramatta or Hamilton to iron out the latest issues with our beloved clubs and code, the blues get pissed off quick smart. I would not be lying to say my brother from another A-League club is at the heart of my inspiration to engage with the whole message of ‘RUOK Day’.

I’d like to finish off with the message that asking a friend, a work mate, a relation if they are okay is something that is of so much value, so much help when one feels that it actually isn’t. From recent personal experience I have had family contacts, mental health professionals and old friends ask me how I am doing, sometimes to good effect, sometimes not. I appreciate their efforts, even if at times I have been reticent or have even rejected them. However, when it comes to the ‘RUOKs’ proffered by my fellow Western Sydney Wanderers comrades, from some select and amazing football mates, I have never felt unable to answer back “I will be, thanks in no small part to you.”

RUOK?

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Why I Wish I Was With The WSW Folk In Crow-Eater-Land

It is very fucking hard for me right now, very hard indeed.

A tick over six days ago I was bathing in the collective euphoria of that now legendary win by the Wanderers over the Roar, when after less than 25 minutes of the game it appeared that our season was coming to a shuddering, ego-destroying end. Those three goals scored by the visitors looked as if they were not just three reasons to bemoan the end of the Western Sydney Wanderers’ 2015-16 campaign, they also insinuated that our team were lapsing into comical errors that were more in tune with our cross-city rivals this season. Then, as if the men on the pitch had decided ‘Okay, that’s enough head start.’ it was the lads in red and black who were doing almost all the roaring. In what seemed like the blink of an eye Romeo had clawed one back, then in the opening stanza of the second half it was Santa delivering the second goal, Castelen the third and yes…quelle surprise…Romeo grabbing a third to put us one goal to the good:

Okay, so Brisbane Roar got one back, and that meant the semi was taken to extra time. However I don’t believe anyone of us who were there that night on the eve of Anzac Day 2016, or perhaps many who were at homes or elsewhere watching the game though that the Wanderers were destined to lose. The Roar had performed enough Houdini-like escapes from defeat in finals matches; now it was time to pay the piper and when Bridge and Vidosic combined to play the tune, well it was yet another magic moment of history for anyone associated with the Western Sydney Wanderers.

So, why am I feeling like three kinds of bad shit right now? What is causing my weltschmerz, my ennui, my depression right now?

To be blunt, I wish I was in Adelaide with my family.

With my red and black family.

With my brothers and sisters who have been there for me in ways that makes me both proud and humble.

Plus, to add salt to the wound of being absent from the ‘greatest trip we’ve ever been on’, my Wanderers family are in my home town, where my other family by blood mostly reside. Where I took my first breath, my first steps. Where I feel the sun shines on me in a different way than it does here where I live. Where the food tastes better, the beer sublime, the local lingo my mother tongue.

Now before I wax too lyrical about Adelaide and South Australia, I will gladly lay my cards on the table and say this is not the emotional state of a man who wants to go back to the land of the Crow Eaters to live. An extended holiday? Sure. A road trip akin to those taken by many of my fellow WSW supporters? Fuck yeah. However I am now (and have been for more years than I probably would admit) well ensconced in NSW, in western Sydney. Hell’s bells; the Wanderers have done more to make me feel attached to the west of Sydney than living in the area (on and off) for over 25 years. To leave here and return to the fatherland would cut that umbilical cord of community and football that is my Wander-love. Yet I cannot fail to feel envious, sad, a little jealous of all who are right now in SA’s capital city on the eve of the 2015/16 Grand Final.

The manner in which so many of my comrades have taken the run westwards, by train, by plane, by car and by bus stirs up plenty of feeling in me right now. I have had some of the best times of my life out in the back blocks of western NSW taking the run towards South Australia. Driving on the Hay plain, with its great wide brown expansive landscape is one of those quintessential life experiences that I think should be mandatory for anyone who wants to understand what it’s like to be Australian. The flat and empty earth as you drive west of Hay, heading towards Balranald and further points west is one of those things that can’t be described, it has to be lived.

Then there is the strange delight of hitting South Australia and being asked to undergo a fruit fly inspection. I am unsure if this is a purely SA/Australian experience (I think it is), however it must be such a bemusing and puzzling experience for foreign tourists and even citified folk like my WSW kin to have to pull up at a building near Pinneroo or maybe Renmark if coming in further north and be asked ‘Got any fresh fruit sir/madam?’. I grew up with that, and as a kid would beg my father to be the one who would jump out of the Kingswood to show the man from the fruit fly inspection station that no, we weren’t trying to smuggle tangelos and apricots into South Australia.

I’ve also mentioned above the food and drink culture in SA, and I can’t let the ties that bind me there loose. When last in South Australia I made sure to take in all the goodies I could, even if it may have shortened my lifespan and increased my waist line. Mettwurst, bung fritz sambos with tomato sauce, Yo Yo biscuits, Kitchener Buns, King George Whiting, pints of pale, bottles of green death or woodies lemonade. Pie floaters and real pasties that make anything issued from an eastern state bakery look and taste like a hat-full of scraps and gristle; ye gods, when it comes to the tucker you can get in my home state it’s a friggin’ cornucopia!

As you may surmise, the boy may have been dragged out of South Australia, but he still has a huge chunk of it (wrapped in Balfours pastry) stuck inside him. It is of itself something I can deal with. However what does break the Crow Eater heart within a little is that I know so many of my Wanderers kin are going into this world and they will be looking at this through fresh eyes, with possibly no idea about how good, how enjoyable this scenario in front of them is.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that primarily this is about the RBB and other supporters making their way over to Adelaide to watch the boys play at the SACA (that’s the name I knew it by, none of this Adelaide Oval shit) and hopefully bring back the toilet seat. There is however I part of me that is like the father wanting to take his offspring back to meet the great uncles and aunts, to see the same hospital, the same school, the same church where pivotal life moments directed the parent’s early life. It would make me so happy to sit in a pub with some of my WSW compadres and watch them try their first Southwark. To see their eyes cast perhaps dubious looks over a meat pie turned upside down in a big bowl of pea soup, then  when the first mouthful hits my Wanderers’ friend’s gob those same eyes would glaze over with happiness.

So yes, I am partly jealous, partly sad to think that on the eve of the A-League Grand Final so many of my besties are heading into my old stomping grounds without my tutelage and/or my companionship as they possibly find out about South Australian goodness for the first time. However there is another, more significant reason for my slightly blue mood tonight.

In the last three months my life has been going through the most turbulent, most troubling time I have experience for at least the last couple of decades. I’ve had so many kicks in the teeth from life I’ve had serious doubts as to what actually gives one cause to continue getting up in the morning. There has been some ill-health which thankfully has improved somewhat. In late January I got the word that I was going to be made redundant from a job that I was very happy in. Thankfully that shitty scenario has changed, insofar as I have a new job. There was also the death of a much beloved (feline) member of the family, who had been ‘my’ boy for many a year. Finally, the most important relationship in my life, one that was the focus of my being for 16 years ended, throwing all my expectations and all my emotions into the shitter. It has been a very farken dark time believe me.

Yet through all this period where loss, infidelity and ego-crushing changes have battered my happiness into a pulp, there has been one constant. That is my band of brothers and sisters in red and black. I can’t name them because (a) they’re are so many and (b) I don’t want to embarrass them, however it needs to be said; without my friends from the Wanderers community I don’t know how I would’ve coped with the depressive influences on my life.

There have been instances where people who I had no knowledge of a scant year or more or so ago have become my boon friends, always willing to ask me how I am, what is happening, do I need an ear to bash or a beer to cry into. There is one WSW fan I know who has had a helluva rough time, probably worse than mine. Yet he has been there for me in ways that some of my non-Wanderers friends from university and beyond have not. There have been texts and tweets, visits and chats, shared meals and sessions at the Bavarian where I’ve poured my sick and sorry soul out to my circle of WSW mates, and men and women alike they’ve given me their support without question. It’s the kind of camaraderie that I’ve never experienced with my blood family, with long term work mates or even my past lovers. To find that kind of acceptance, that unique bond of never needing to apologise for who I am and how I feel…well, it’s pretty fucking amazing.

I guess what I want to say as I draw a close on this blog post is that sitting her at my PC, writing up this impromptu column, my thoughts and my heart wing westward over the Great Dividing Range, the Hay Plain, the SA border and down into the city on the Torrens. I am so very proud and happy to know that my team is playing for its (hopefully) first A-League champions trophy, after so much success in its short life. Yet I am also feeling huge needy pangs of desire; to be ‘back home’ with the best family football could ever create.

COME ON YOU WANDERERS!