2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Fortress Wanderland Dilemma…Or #NoToANZ

Thanks to what must be described as one of the most important wins in the Western Sydney Wanderers short but illustrious history, i.e. the 2-0 win over FC Seoul in the home leg of our semi-final of the 2014 AFC Champions’ League, there has arisen a certain degree of angst and social media bickering over the venue for the upcoming final home match, against the wealthy Saudi team Al-Hilal. For the Wanderers and their supporters a nice-if-you-can-get-it problem reared its head; should the game be played at Parramatta a.k.a Wanderland, taken a little eastwards to the Sydney 2000 Olympic stadium, alias ANZ, or even shipped further towards the coast and sent into the heartland of the Smurfs, Allianz Stadium (the old Sydney Football Stadium).

After a few days of postulation, public debate, musings in the media and discussion behind close doors between the relevant organisational bodies, clubs etc, as well as a Wanderers’ members’ poll, the decision was made. We are going back to Festung Wanderland, our fortress, our bastion, our RBB-bolstered bunker where, since the club debuted in the comp against Ulsan Hyundai the players have not conceded a single goal at home in over 450 minutes of football. Now for the club the agenda of staying at Wanderland for the ultimate home game of this campaign was announced very early, as club CEO John Tsatsimas said on the day following the win over FC Seoul

It’s where we played our first match of the tournament and it will be fitting if the final was played there. Also, it represents our commitment to the region of Western Sydney,” (Sydney Morning Herald 2/10/14)

On the same day Wanderers stalwart and one of the key men in helping the club get to where they are in the championship, Ante Covic, said this:

Parramatta has been a very solid home for us, both in the A-League and the ACL,” said Covic. “We feel comfortable here, the fans love it, the atmosphere fantastic and it’s our home.We feel we can beat anyone here and our record is pretty damn good. In the ACL I’m sure it’s tough for teams to come out here after a long trip and play in front of this crowd, against a team that’s going to work so hard until the final whistle. I’d love the final to be here – I understand the concept of getting the biggest crowd possible, but this is a great football field. That’s what I love about it, the fans are close and vocal and it’s their home as well. (Daily Telegraph 2/10/14)

Throw in an online poll for members that had a 70% response in favour of Parramatta and the choice of getting Al Hilal to play against the Wanderers at Wanderland on 25th October seems to be a no-brainer. And yet…

There have been some rather intriguing responses online regarding the choice, even with the majority of the members who voted in the poll, the players and the club management itself wanting to play at Parramatta. Such as these:

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Now Facebook is hardly the barometer of reasoned and intelligent debate. However it is disturbing that there are some people out there who have any kind of interest in the Wanderers who believe that (a) there is such a thing as ‘real’ football fans and (b) more the so-called ‘real’ football fans would go to ANZ than already do to Parramatta.

Is it really the case that there is such a thing, such a creature as a ‘real’ football fan. How (in the Wanderers’ context at least) does one identify him or her? Is it dependent upon their eagerness to go in greater numbers to ANZ instead of the locus of so much WSW glory these last 30 months? Is there some kind of culture war between the non-real fans who prefer to go to Parramatta to see the Wanderers than the real fans who would prefer the Olympic Stadium? Are real football fans less willing to be like the 70% who voted for Parramatta, or the players, or indeed the club itself, thus making those three constituencies non-real fans?

I’m sorry; taking the home leg of the Champions’ League Final to ANZ does not instantly make a non-existent class of fans more able to go in larger numbers. If anything, if there is such a thing as a ‘real’ football fan who is going to Wanderers games he or she has already been and will continue to go to Parramatta. I suspect that that 70% + poll result was the projection of the wishes of most of those who have made the most ‘real’ commitment to the Wanderers.

Then there are thoughts (also on Facebook) such as this:

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This argument seems to have some kind of benevolent wish at it’s heart. For the good of the club, for Australian soccer it would be better if the Wanderers played at ANZ. How could this be, and what kind of good would such a staging have been?

I will admit I am going to make assumptions here, but having been to domestic and international football matches at all three venues posited for hosting the final leg, the obvious advantage (and thus ‘way to promote how big this is’) is that the Olympic Stadium holds over 80,000 people. I do agree, a full ANZ from a financial as well as a visual spectacle could do some amazing good for football and the Wanderers. Yet when you consider the evidence of the knock-out rounds of the Champions’ League, where Wanderland was not entirely filled to its near 21,000 seating capacity, how can anyone justifiably believe that a stadium further to the east of the Wanderers’ home territory will attract four times as many supporters. Even with an unbelievable amount of Al-Hilal fans traveling would there be say 60,000 people willing to go see the Wanderers play at ANZ? I strongly doubt it.

It’s a lovely thought, and someday it will happen. However right now logic and the experience of the recent past would indicate it would be very hard for such a huge crowd to be assembled, which then would instantly open the club, the FFA and football in Australia up to criticism for failing to live up to its promise. As history has shown, for decades in this country the other codes and certain parts of the Australian community love to find ways to criticize football. Why then take what will be a magic and momentous occasion in the Wanderers’ history, or indeed football’s as a whole and make it vulnerable to the same old hacks and critiques from those who do not have the game’s interest at heart.

Then there is the demonstrable issues with ANZ as a stadium for football, specifically in relation to its configuration and location. Ask anyone who has been to Parramatta for a Wanderers’ match and they will almost invariably rave about the atmosphere. The RBB and other supporters are all within a short distance of the action, and the players themselves have a more intense connection with the fans, as shown by Ante Covic’s previous quote. ANZ on the other hand struggles replicating with a crowd three or even four times larger than Wanderland the same passion, the same enjoyment, the same fervour. I know from personal experience that the atmosphere at say a Parramatta home game between the Wanderers and Central Coast has far more fan engagement than a Socceroos world cup qualifier at ANZ. The stadium is an oval, thus better suited to AFL, whose fans provide a different dynamic to ANZ’s game day environment.

The Olympic stadium is also located in an area that does not as yet have anywhere near the infrastructure to create the same energy, the same excitement seen around Church Street and beyond when the Wanderers are at home. Going by the numbers in the poll conducted by the Wanderers, the vast majority of those who are responsible for what has been the best promotion of domestic football in this country since the A-League started have not felt the emotional attachment with ANZ. Thus by inference they are less likely to be engaged in the same demonstrations of passionate support in as seen in the streets of Parramatta and the stands of Wanderland, in contrast to what can be described (rather cruelly) as a half filled canyon.

All these criticisms of ANZ are subjective, yet they are valid when considering how to create the best advertisement for football in Australia through the opportunity the home final leg provides, as well as through the ability of the Wanderers and their supporters to create a lasting visual memory of the sports’ passion, its appeal, its community engagement. Can a semi-filled ANZ mutely echoing the RBB and a few Al Hilal fans rival the spectacle, the sound, the energy, the television friendly look of a packed Wanderland? If not, and I think there is no doubt it cannot, then it will not serve as the best way to promote such a big moment for football in Australia.

Now if the argument is solely about attending crowd numbers, and the potential to give casual or non-partisan spectators the chance to see the match and the sport in person, then ANZ (and the smaller though more distant Allianz Stadium) holds a huge advantage over Wanderland. However I must point out that quantity of spectators does not necessarily guarantee success in promoting football in this country, or facilitating its growth. The sport’s history in Australia is littered with events and clubs who have reached a peak of popular appeal in a one event, such as exhibition friendlies or international cup ties. Yet when it has come to translating those one off moments into continual and a deeply connected attachment to football for an increasing number of people in Australia, I would argue they have not succeeded. Where the game has progressed, where it has grown on a sustainable basis is when grass roots support is given the chance to participate in the football club’s culture. The core advocates of football and our clubs must be given the assistance and benefit of being the best advertisers for the sport, as they will be the ones who will come back week after week after week, through good times and bad. Plus they will be the better evangelists for football in Australia than the casual who drifts into an AFC Champions League home leg final with the same commitment as if they were seeing an ‘event’. Bottom line; larger crowds are not always the best promotion for football in Australia.

To conclude, I and almost all of my comrades in red and black are mightily pleased that we will be seeing Al Hilal come to Wanderland in a little over two weeks, and it will be what our players do on their preferred field there and then, plus what the Western Sydney Wanderers fans passionately demonstrate on that Saturday night, that will hopefully achieve two things. Firstly, show off how wonderful our club, our culture, our community, our sport is to not just a national but also an international audience. Secondly, with the Wanderers at Wanderland instead of ANZ we can hopefully create history by being the first Australian club to claim the most prestigious trophy to be on offer in Asia, the largest continental market for football in the world.

The Return of the Prodigal Wanderer

Fark, did I ever lose the plot trying to write a blog last season!

There I was thinking “Okay, I am a nutter for the red and black, for the Wanderers in the A-League and the ACL, for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, yadda, yadda, yadda. Of course I can put my verbal diarrhea on the ephemeral pages of the interweb and posit some provocative or pun-filled articles about my club, my preferred sport and all things inbetween , around and over.”

It started off nicely too. I had some good times (and no death threats or legal suits) writing up op.ed. pieces on Dino, the smurfs, the 1974 Socceroos, security at Penrith etc etc. I got into the habit of composing at least two articles a week, with at least a preview and then post-mortem on the week’s round of A-League games. Some kind folk commented with words of appreciation, and I had my own forum to pontificate in ways that didn’t get in the way of other folk’s opinions (as has been known to happen at the West Sydney Forum).

Then, as the last few weeks of the 2013/14 A-league season came around I lost the drive, the energy, the focus. What had started as an indulgent, self-serving pleasure, an exercise in practicing my supposed literary attributes, became too burdensome, too demanding, too much.

In other words I turned into a lazy sloth who expended all his energy watching games, talking about them on the forum, drinking at the Bavarian Bier Cafe and  generally given this place as wide a berth as Rebecca Wilson does Wanderland.

However whilst the will was weak, the spirit diminished and the corpulent flesh far too comfy being fed schweinhaxen and supping on Hofbrau Dunkel, deep down in my mind was the nagging need to come back. To return from the self-imposed lackadaisical ennui of saying fark all to the power of nought over the square root of bugger all about Ange, Spira, the FFA, Popa, Guangzhou Evergrande, the farewells to Shinji and Jerome, grand final disappointment etc etc. Like Frank Lowy looking at the hole in the A-League’s structure after the demise of Clive Palmer’s unlamented Gold Coast United, I felt that the job was not done, I have to try again, be better, take another ride on the turntable of football fandom.

So dear reader, with scarcely two sleeps till the start of the tenth A-League season and the third for the Western Sydney Wanderers, let it be known…

I have returned.

(P.S. I promise I won’t write anywhere near the amount of guff I did last season. Well, maybe not as much in the previews and post-mortem side of things).

So Manfred, What’s With The ‘Skoda Fails’?

I’m only going to say it once.

I abhor everything associated with the Australian Football League’s expansion into the western suburbs of Sydney, whose name I shall not use. Instead I will refer to them by the nicknames that have (hopefully) become notorious among the posters on the West Sydney Football forum and the RBB bays at Wanderland. Skoda Fails, the Orange and Black Clowns; these are but two pseudonyms I have bestowed on a venture that is almost completely alien to the sporting ethos of western Sydney. So please bear with me as I take a few paragraphs to conduct an anecdotal comparative analysis of the Western Sydney Wanderers and the Skoda Fails. I promise this will be the only time the O&B Clowns will darken this blog, so please bear with me.

First off, it must be said that I do hold some respect for the actual sport played by those who follow the Sherrin, no matter where their club is located. It can be an athletic and skillful game, and having a very limited playing experience within it I can see why it would appeal to participants with a particular physique. There is scope with Australian Football for both the lanky male who finds enjoyment from leaping high to catch a ball, or for the small of stature guy who finds barreling along the ground in a running, fumbling wrestling contest the height of athletic achievement. Make no mistake, to play the game is more than just standing around waiting for a ball to be kicked in your direction, or hanging onto the shirt tails of your opposite player like a rather intractable piece of dog excreta. There are tactics, there are skills, there are tests of character and motivation for those who play Australian Rules Football with keenness.

I am also willing to cut the code some slack due to my long term exposure to the sport, having supported Hawthorn since 1975 from the old VFL days through to the current era. Having ancestral links to South Australia and far western NSW, where this winter sport is given far more prominence than any other football code variant, I have some insight into how obsessive AFL’s fans can be. I have spent time in Victoria and been to the ‘G for a game, plus seen it played on dusty ovals in mining towns or on verdant fields at rural universities. I have met people who are besotted by the Adelaide Crows or the Collingwood Magpies, I’ve watched ‘The Club’ umpteen times and recall with great clarity the Saturday afternoon broadcasts of the games from VFL park hosted by Malcolm T Elliot on Channel Seven (usually followed at around 5.00pm with an old ‘Felix The Cat’ cartoon).

So before anyone comes at me and comments “Manfred, you’re talking through your Wanderers’ soccer-obsessed wannabe-Kraut over-educated arse” I have actually got some runs on the board when it comes to talking about the game. I’m not some mindless code warrior perpetually fighting a guerrilla war to destabilise the empire built on clubs like the Swans, the Demons, the Dockers, the Blues etc. Yes, I sometimes call the game aerial ping-pong but that is more my continuance of a popular conceit than a heart-felt blast of negativity.

Now it’s all well and good to have some awareness and appreciate the qualities and characteristics of the actual game itself, and to some extent the social and cultural heritage and significance it has for a very sizable portion of Australia’s sport-loving peoples. However, there is a point I cannot cross, my own Rubicon which I refuse to countenance violating. That, dear reader, is excusing let alone offering any tincture of support to the Orange and Black Clowns. I can enjoy a long range bomb from a Sydney Swan against Hawthorn with a care factor a billion times greater than my willingness to consider any merit in the Skoda Fails. This cynical, heartless, exploitative sortie made on behalf of a man I describe as Juan Antonio Demetriou, the most Machiavellian power-hungry sports administrator ever produced by Australia, into the terra incognita of western Sydney deserves to be repelled as if it was a genetically engineered virus, attempting to re-wire the hearts and minds of a community ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’-like, that for the most part has almost zero connection with the game.

My first and biggest beef with the Orange and Black Clowns is the whole exercise has been foisted upon my local community as if it was a cuckoo’s egg. If there was any real substantive and vociferous crying out for the placement of a new AFL franchise in the west of Sydney prior to the delivery of the Orange and Black Clowns it certainly missed being featured in the local media, or grabbing the fervent wishes of my friends and family in the area. Unlike the Western Sydney Wanderers who were seen as the missing link in the recent revival of domestic football, as championed through the establishment of the A-League, there was minimal continual public debate about the need to fill in the blank spaces by those who would supposedly benefit. I have never seen the local junior Australian Rules Football kids and their parents strolling around my neighbourhood demanding they be liberated by the AFL from the onerous yoke of Football and Rugby League oppression. On the other hand I have seen time and time again on both the wider urban scale and at the nearby playing fields a strong urge, a powerful need for western suburbs kids and adults to have a team in the premier FFA competition. It has been exemplified by the intense debate over the failure of the FFA to not have a team in the western suburbs of Sydney for the first 7 seasons of the A-League versus the mild interest in Sheeds and Folau’s dog and pony act at the start of the Skoda Fail farce.

Just driving around the streets and suburbs of Western Sydney shows you how strong the need was, and still is for the Wanderers. Whether it’s Bonyrigg White Eagles, Blacktown City, the Melita Eagles, Marconi Fairfield, Penrith City, Parramatta Power, Sydney Croatia/United, Bankstown Lions; there is a considerable pre-existing and community-based football environment that the Skoda Fails could never ever dream of finding out in my locality. Okay, there are a couple of small outposts of Australian Rules Football however their numbers and their significance is infinitely lesser than those demonstrated by just the examples I’ve cited in this paragraph.

Perhaps I should draw attention to the fertile and incredibly rich vein of international football talent that has emerged from western Sydney that can never be matched either in quantity or in sporting importance by the johnny-come-latelies of the Skoda Fails. Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer, Brett Emerton and current Wanderers coach Tony Popovic all had international success in their playing careers and are giants of the code in Australia. On the other hand, where are the AFL’s heroes from Fairfield, from Auburn, from Windsor, from Rooty Hill? If they in fact existed what could be their highest achievement? Starring in a competition that has slightly more followers than the Zambian Premier League? Considering the supposed age and longevity of Australian Rules Football and its argued popularity someone somewhere must’ve in the last 100 years or so put their hand up as an Aussie Rules great. Unfortunately I fear there is an utterly barren vacuum on that point.

So straight away the questions need to be asked; where was the organic community need for the Skoda Fails? What good are they doing a minority of sportspeople in the western suburbs? How is their presence making the sporting life of kids any better? The disconnect between AFL headquarters down in Melbourne and the hard cold reality of what the western suburbs sports fans and athletes desired is incredible.

My next beef with the Skoda Fails is their cynical political and financial backdoor deals that have led to the supposed beneficiaries of their club actually being sold fallacy upon fallacy. Take as a major case in point the actual name of the club. Supposedly they are from west Sydney’s greater area, focused on that huge suburban sector taking in Campbelltown, Auburn, the Blue Mountains, Penrith, Blacktown, Richmond, Castle Hills, Windsor, Parramatta and all points in between. Yet where does this supposed integral component of the local community spend three home games of the year? Canberra…a good 3 hour drive from most suburbs in the great western suburbs area. The membership too is split along these disparate lines, including a sizable swathe of gullible folk from country NSW and Victoria. Unlike the Wanderers who have shown repeatedly over their short existence they are of, from and with the western suburbs of Sydney the Skoda Fails have shown a promiscuous, root-and-run approach to the people that supposedly should be their first and foremost fans.

As a member of the Wanderers I am assured of 13 home games at a ground that is nestled at the most appropriate ground for the supporters who come from all over the western suburbs. The Skoda Fails have duped their poor misbegotten members to traipse out to a tax-payer funded showground that is more popular for tent-pegging and grand parades at the Royal Easter Show, a good 40 minutes drive from Penrith or Campbelltown or Windsor, and that’s only for seven home games a year. If you want to see the Orange & Black Clowns for every home game in a season you may need to clock up 1500kms extra in travel. It’s hardly the kind of western suburbs friendly message you want to send your key constituency.

Now alongside this mugging of its members, the Skoda Fails have also been sure to take whatever money they can from taxpayers and rate payers across several constituencies for their own greedy purposes. For example, the $27.5 million training facility at Blacktown for the Orange and Black Clowns was built with about $6 million from the Blacktown City Council and $15 million of NSW state government funds, with less than 10% coming from the AFL (for more on this arrangement see this article) This supposed home of the Skoda Fails then was deemed unsuitable for half the year and the scam merchants behind this fraudulent franchise took their witches hats and punching bags to Homebush for a new training centre named after Victorian Aussie Rules icon Tom Wills.

Then there is the $300,000 stipend over 3 years provided by Wagga Wagga City Council to attract pre-season games to this Riverina city from the Skoda Fails. Considering that Wagga Wagga has had problems in recent years with flooding and the ratepayers of this Riverina town are hardly united in their love of either AFL nor able to access regular season games involving the shysters from Homebush/Canberra, it seems incredibly cynical for a club that is run by an organisation that has a $1 billion plus TV rights deal to squeeze such monies out of a big country city.

I would like to think I’ve already provided a telling set of points demonstrating the antipathy that I feel towards the Skoda Fails and perhaps more tellingly the disconnect between this farce and their supposed community and supporters. Yet the most important and instructive evidence that I honestly believe slams shut the door of acceptance on the Skoda Fails is the notorious ‘Immigration Department’ conspiracy thesis from Kevin Sheedy (chief scam-merchant and huckster for the Orange and Black Clowns). Here is a transcript of the actual words used by the mouth from the south:

“We’ve got to play better, there’s no doubt about that. It’s a pity because in the end that’s how many turned up after a pretty solid performance against Essendon last week,” Sheedy said.
“It’s going to tell everybody how tough it’s going to be to build this club – as simple as that.
“We don’t have the recruiting officer called the immigration department recruiting fans for the West Sydney Wanderers. We don’t have that on our side.
“We’re got to actually start a whole new ball park and go and find fans because that’s what happens when you bring a lot of people through, channel into a country and put them in the west of Sydney and all of a sudden they build a club like that in one year and all of a sudden they’ve got 10,000 fans and 20,000 going to a game.”

(Source: Sheedy links Wanderers’ success to immigration department)

If ever there was an illustration of the disconnect and cultural ignorance about what drives the heart of the Skoda Fails’ supposed territory this was the acme, the paradigm, the sine non qua in excelsis. Already demonstrably out of his depth with his embracing of an utterly worthless Rugby League convert for the venture (the befuddled and richly compensated Israel Folau), the grumpy old man who was thrashing around in a sea of incompetence at his pet project thought it was smart to draw some kind of xenophobic contrast between the adverse environment his franchise faced, versus the multicultural, cosmopolitan and internationally conscious supporters of the Wanderers.

This moronic fusillade demonstrated the barren ideological mentality of the Skoda Fails. They were effectively like Mr Kurz in ‘Heart of Darkness’, lost, forlorn, going mad with their own visions of power whilst all around the natives were ungrateful, uncivilised, foreign. To ply such a whining joke of a justification of his ventures failures, whilst showing an ignorant contempt for the people who supposedly wanted the Orange and Black Clowns but were too stupid or too foreign to understand what they were missing…well, it was a crude and dumb-arse statement of biblical stature. In fact if it hadn’t been for preceding and following comments from another luminary of Australian Rules’ intelligentsia, Eddie ‘Collingwood and Being a Fuckwit Forever’ McGuire, based on racial stereotypes such as felafel loving lebs and gorilla-like indigenous players, well Sheedy would’ve won the Nobel Prize for Cultural Insensitivity 2013.

Perhaps if the fool and his dullard minions had followed the excellent example of the Western Sydney Wanderers his joke of a club might not have repeatedly failed to attract more than 6,000 paying customers to the loss after loss parade at their home ground, in the heart of Sydney’s middle west, Homebush. How can anyone take serious a man and a club that has no bloody clue whatsoever and then repeats such ignorance in portraying the very paradigm of western Sydney sporting success. The whole farrago of jealousy, impotent rage and xenophobia underscores the failures of a venture nobody really wants or needs in the area it is targeting. Like a Frankenstein or a zombified corpse the Skoda Fails follow a mindless path set for them by their Melbourne based overlords.

In summary, I reiterate my points about the vacuum of support, of engagement, of need and of awareness associated with the Skoda Fails within the western Sydney context. They are a liability to the sport of Australian Rules and a model of how to fuck things up royally that thankfully the Wanderers have avoided in their brief existence. Like the German army’s attacks on Verdun in the First World War, the airborne assault on the bridge at Arnhem in 1944, or the French occupation of Dien Bien Phu in the first Indochina War the Skoda Fails are a strategic blunder made by a behemoth force unable to understand the why, the how and the what to do in a Pyrrhic mission of failure.

Thank Christ I am a Wanderers fan!