To The Barricades (Or How The OSG & Parra LAC Have Pissed Me Off)

Late last night I came across this little article published in the Sydney Morning Herald of 24th September 2015:

Western Sydney Wanderers and NSW Police working through Red and Black Bloc restrictions

The management of the Western Sydney Wanderers and the Parramatta police are understood to be working their way through a series of tough restrictions on the club’s fanatical army of supporters known throughout the A-League as the Red and Black Bloc.
With less than a fortnight before the A-League kicks off, the Wanderers’ management refused to comment on the nature of the restrictions the police intend to impose on the Bloc when Fairfax Media contacted them on Thursday. However, it’s understood a document tabled to the club’s front office by the Parramatta local area command after a meeting between the two organisations in late July was aimed to prevent what the police viewed as an unruly element in the Red and Black Bloc from creating trouble.
The long list of tough restrictions the police intend to enforce when the Wanderers kick off their 2015-16 season on October 8 against Brisbane Roar include:
Banning the traditional march by the RBB through the Parramatta CBD to Pirtek Stadium;
The RBB won’t be allowed to display any banners that are considered to be provocative;
There will be a zero tolerance for swearing;
RBB supporters will be ordered to remain in their seats and to not ‘compress’ [stand shoulder-to-shoulder and jump and clap their hands above their heads ] when they chant;
Only one person, designated by the club, will be allowed to take a megaphone into the stadium; Flares will not be tolerated. The police intend to ensure the rules are followed.

The RBB generates an incredible atmosphere at A-League games through their chanting and singing. There’s even a school of thought that suggests the group ought to be considered a triumph of sorts because members of the various ethnic groups which make up Sydney’s multi-cultural western suburbs have united as one to join the RBB and support the Wanderers.

However, there has also been numerous complaints made about incidents that have involved some members of the group and the media has publicised the clashes they have had with the police over the years.

During last Anzac Day’s match against Perth, RBB supporters walked out of Pirtek Stadium at halftime in protest after pepper spray was allegedly used by police in response to a flare being set off. There were reports police were injured in the violence.

The confrontation continued outside with the supporters infuriated by what they believed was an overreaction by police. There was a newspaper report published in early 2014 which intimated while the majority of RBB fans were acknowledged as being well behaved and good supporters, there was said to be a hardcore element who police were concerned could potentially lead to criminal behaviour.

Police made it clear at the time they would not allow the formation of the old English football’s “firms” a group of hooligans who fight like-minded supporters from rival clubs. It is understood at the time police had gone to a lot of trouble to identify those with a penchant for creating trouble.

On the other hand the RBB has been widely applauded for doing socially minded exercises, such as helping to raise funds for the Blue Mountains bushfire victims.

Now putting aside a quibble here and there with some of the tendentious ‘facts’ (e.g. reports police were injured in the violence) , the nub of this article is that the NSW Police via the Parramatta LAC and the Parramatta Stadium Trust are endeavouring to put in place what can only be seen as thuggish, repressive, reactionary measures that are more about their inability to use intelligent measures against the tiny minority who may be anti-social, all within a context of a long standing tradition of victimisation of the non-Anglo-Australian soccer supporter by authority figures.

I could ramble on and on about this, however instead I have posted below a letter that I have composed and will be sending to as many relevant people and bodies as I can. If this is of use for anyone please feel free to copy, amend and use as you may wish in arguing against these potential strictures.

This is an issue anyone interested in protesting the usurping of personal and social liberties, within the context of football in this country by state authorities, hopefully should feel enraged about, and should protest vehemently.

Protest Letter on Behalf of A Concerned WSW Member

The Pyro Predicament (Or Why Flares Are Still Out Of Fashion For This Old Anglo)

I am not a fan of any pyro at any game of football full stop.

I personally find it annoying, selfish, deleterious to the atmosphere, well-being and attractiveness of my most beloved sport and those clubs or national teams I support.

There. I’ve made my initial point clear as I can and I am perfectly aware that if any pyro proponents take the time to click on the link that got them to this blog post they will instantly write me off as an old fart, a stooge of the FFA, a flog who has no ability to understand what passion is or how I should be called out for being part of the fascist regime trying to crack down on their desire to demonstrate how they are better supporters of said teams/clubs.

Of course I could counter with some reasoned and I would like to think fairly accurate diatribes against those individuals who find the use of flares and smoke bombs as being something to be at least defended, if not promoted as part of the football experience. I could make some rather nasty comments on the lack of intelligence on those who find pleasure in lighting flares and throwing them with a total disregard for the law or the people near them. I would not be alone in drawing some rather prejudiced conclusions about the age, socio-economic background of pyro proponents, and if I was closer to the mindset of the Rebecca Wilsons of this world I’d be drawing some rather heinous comparisons between the ancestral heritage of many flare fans and how they are not necessarily part of modern Anglo-Australian society.

However I refuse to go down those antagonistic paths, partly because they are either simplistic, prejudiced or as wrong as those arguments for pyro’s presence in our game, but also because those are the kind of points that will get repeatedly shouted in any argument over their use. In the end the debate over pyrotechnics at football becomes one where ‘You are an old Anglo fuckwit who has no passion’/’You are a wog dickhead kid who has no brains’ is the subtext to all points.

So, I hope I can write something here that steers as clear of those paradigms as possible, though if I lapse I am quite happy to admit I am bringing my own prejudices to this issue. I suspect that I have already turned away anyone who wants to negate my argument just by saying I’m anti-pyro from the get-go. However perhaps there will be someone who is happy to argue the contrary case, or has evidence that contradicts or undermines what I am trying to express. be that as it may I can only reiterate; I am not a fan of pyro at any football game full stop.

Before I get bogged down in long and detailed paragraphs of pseudo-intellectual comment, let me give this post some context. Last Wednesday night I went to see the Wanderers play Ulsan Hyundai in their first match of the current Asian Champions League tournament. I have to say that my feelings about the game were incredibly positive, perhaps more exited than I have been since the first home match of the current A-League season. There was the novelty of seeing my beloved club stepping onto the regional international stage for the first time, coming up against an opponent unfamiliar to me and with a very high quality pedigree behind it. This was going to be the first home game for the Wanderers in about a month, and before the game I had the opportunity to share some very convivial moments with fellow devotees of the red and black. My mood was up, and even though it was raining I was ready to support my club as best as I could.

The opening stanza of play was entertaining and quite positive from a Wanderers point of view, particularly as Brendon Santalab had scored a goal in the first minute of the game. Ulsan were laying a high possession, quick passing style and looked rather good, however their attacks seemed to be reasonably well coped with by the home team. Then, around the 33rd minute not just one bu several flares came flying out of the RBB area of the northern stand at Wanderland, with the subsequent smoke draping the home goal manned by Ante Covic in a haze that would not have looked out of place at the Somme in 1916. Te television coverage I have seen after the match indicates the visibility was okay, but I can guarantee that from one who was near enough to the scene at the time it happened there was nowhere near the clarity of vision needed to play at an optimum.

The goal that was scored by Ulsan during the minute or so that the pyro’s smoke wreathed the ground should not be made directly attributable to said flares and their effect. There was a mistake in front of the Wanderers’ goal by Jerome Polenz compounded by Nikolai Topor-Stanley, and the visitors’ Kim Shin Wook took advantage of these errors to slot home the leveling goal. Having said that the pyro didn’t directly lead to the goal I do believe they did have at least a distracting effect on the Wanderers players. Just like playing with an iPhone whilst driving in the rain would contribute to the potential for an accident, so did the half a dozen or so flares that some people in the RBB decided to throw have an environmental impact on the play. I wont say it was a direct contributory element; that is something for the players and Tony Popovic to say. However I find it hard to believe that it was the optimum situation to be in for those on the pitch.

The rest of the game was to be honest a big let down. Rain that had threatened and drifted in and out decided to really come down not long thereafter, leaving folk like me without much cover little option but to stand under whatever cover one could find and if lucky catch a glimpse of the game through grills and bars. The Wanderers retained a reasonably high amount of possession yet their penetration and ability to pass with any accuracy had dissipated faster than the smoke from the pyro had. There were more mistakes at the back of the pitch that saw two more Ulsan goals, plus back in the stands with the rain stopped there were people around me who were so passive it seemed like they were comatose. The loss, when it eventuated, had been amplified by a very miserable experience in the stands.

It would hardly be surprising to assume that my negativity towards flares and smoke bombs is going to be exaggerated or deepened by the circumstances of the game, and in all honesty that is something I will agree with. Perhaps my depth of antipathy towards pyro would not be as it is if the Wanderers had won their match. I may have even found the son et lumiere show entertaining  if the pyro display happened when the Ulsan Hyundai team were down that end instead of Covic and the rest of the team. However there is greater certainty for me in my distaste for the flares as when it happened I couldn’t but fail to see casual members of the crowd next to me taking photos of the pyro, having been awakened from their stupor. Aside from all the legal, social and financial ramifications (which I will discuss later) I was pissed off that people had come to see my team play on the biggest stage they have attained since last season’s grand final, and they were seemingly more energised by illegal fireworks than the guys on the pitch, the love of my club, the sense of occasion, the need to support the Western Sydney Wanderers.

This is where I find the most disagreeable and illogical aspect of the use of pyro by so-called fans. What does it say about those who either actively use pyro or those who agree with it or defend its use at football about their ability to engage with the actual club, players and fellow supporters? I have it on very good authority (having spoken to someone who has been closer to pyro culture than me) that there is some kind of benefit for energy levels in active members when flares are thrown. The short lift in morale and passion is apparently effective for a few minutes. Okay; that may be the case. However I would argue why does anyone need to find that extra (illegal) visual and aural stimuli to improve their feeling of ecstasy in supporting their club? Isn’t the experience of connecting with the players enough, identifying with them? Aren’t the other rituals of being an active supporter of the Wanderers such as the chants, the clothes, the pre-game march, the flag waving, the banners, the music, the Poznan sufficient? If they aren’t why aren’t they?

Another aspect of my disagreement with pyro and its proponents is the cultural cringe inherent in their use. More often than not the paradigm behind flares and smoke bombs at football matches is that ‘It’s what happens in Europe and South America’. It is as if because the nominally best leagues, best clubs see pyro as part of their game day experience we must slavishly follow such rituals down here in Australia. Of course if one was to point to all the leagues, all the clubs, all the grounds and all the countries that actually have attempted to ban pyro that would not get much of an audience here from the proponents of flares. For example, here is a recent story regarding the use of pyro in Germany:

Bundesliga flares condemned
November 26, 2012
By Stephan Uersfeld, Germany Correspondent
Flares lit by Hamburg and Schalke fans at the weekend counteracted German fans’ attempts to silence the ongoing security discussions in German football.

A Hamburg Ultra group lit flares ahead of Hamburg’s game in Dusseldorf on Friday while they set fire to their own banner. ‘Let us play our game’ the banner in front of the Hamburg fan area read, with another sign above the away section reading ‘Reject the DFL paper!’

The DFL paper on Safe Stadium experience, which could restrict fan rights and also prohibit pyrotechnics inside the Bundesliga stadium, has caused uproar among fan groups and also divided Bundesliga clubs.

While sections of the proposals have been heavily debated, it is deemed common sense by the majority of Bundesliga clubs that pyrotechnics should be banned from the stadiums.

DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach said in a statement: “In this direction we will enforce a zero-tolerance policy.”

The ongoing discussion on pyrotechnics were reignited at the weekend. Hamburg fans lit flares ahead of the Dusseldorf match and shouted ‘Pyrotechnic ain’t no crime!’ amid the red clouds that flooded the Dusseldorf arena.

And when a banner by Hamburg Ultra group Chosen Few caught fire, the other fans replied with ‘You are too daft!’ and ‘Beginners! Beginners!’ chants. The kick-off of the game was delayed by several minutes as firemen extinguished the flames.

On Sunday, the Ultra group released a statement in which they called their actions ‘totally failed’. “A severe accident, with the degree leaving us shocked. It has shown us that pyro does not work THIS way,” read the statement.

Meanwhile, in another incident Schalke Ultra group Hugos lit flares ahead of the second half between Schalke and Frankfurt. Some 150 Hugos members had been handed a stadium ban after the Revierderby against Dortmund five weeks ago. With the stadium ban only coming to effect after the match, it was Hugos’ way of saying goodbye to the Schalke Arena.

Before the pyro-show after half time the Ultra groups had unveiled banners reading ‘We will never be that way, you will never get us down’. But when the flares were lit the stadium replied with ‘We are Schalke and you not’ and ‘You are s**t like BVB’ chants.

After the game a Gelsenkirchen police spokesman confirmed that some 60 offenders had been identified. “We videoed the action and identified the offenders. We got hold of them after the match,” he said.

Schalke general manager Horst Heldt said: “We have to absolutely condemn this.” But added on the fan chants: “Our fans gave the right answer.” (Source)

Other reports on the same incident involving Hamburg Ultras stated there were injuries, and there was both a five figure financial penalty imposed by the DFB by on the club, plus Hamburg player said “Many ultras demand the legal right to use flares. But if you behave in this way, you don’t have to be surprised that it won’t be allowed. That was unbelievably disappointing.”.

There have been deaths at games involving the use of incendiary devices by fans at European and South American football matches, as recently as February last year in a Copa Liberatores match (see this report), and whilst I will readily admit that these are isolated incidents, with pyro being responsible for less injury or death at football matches overseas than ineffective crowd control or hooligan-related violence, these circumstances must be considered by those at football matches in Australia when deciding to ape overseas experiences. The simplistic paradigm that pyro in Europe and South America is great and a true and virtuous display of football passion must be challenged on the evidence of what really happens, plus what is wrong with Australians trying to develop our own fan culture that doesn’t slavishly copy overseas models?

If our sport is to grow further than it’s current profile in Australia it mustn’t remain hidebound to old and faulty models of culture that have blighted the game for as long as I can recall. Before I expand upon that point please let me also state that I am a great believer in the value of overseas social, sporting and cultural influences on football in Australia, and to be blunt without those decades of European, South American, and more recently African and Asian influences on the game here there would be no A-League no Socceroos, no Wanderers. Yet it has to be asked why do we need to keep trying to emulate what happens overseas on the terraces to demonstrate how great our supporters can be? The RBB and other members of the Wanderers supporters groups with their syncretic approach to integrate overseas symbols (e.g. the Poznan) with active support focused on ‘westie’ pride was something unique and worthy of great commendation. It was and still is an exciting experience that draws together the foreign and domestic values, and creates an Australian football experience for fans that cannot be matched by the AFL, NRL or Union. By taking the aggressive and shallow tool of pyro and trying to integrate it into local supporting methodology all the flare throwers and their defenders are doing are reminding Australians of the ‘otherness’ and the extremism of its support overseas, thus fueling the xenophobic attitudes of the likes of Rebecca Wilson and others of her ilk.

Further to my argument, I question the knowledge and appreciation of those who willingly put the game in Australia into disrepute by their adherence to flares and other illegal pyro displays, when it comes to understanding where football has come from in its past forty years or so. This will sound like yet another grumpy old man haranguing young people, yet let’s be up front about the ignorance of past problems among those who are now in their teens and twenties and who are (and this is my assumption) most likely to be the advocates or agents for illegal pyro displays. If one considers that most of these fans not just of the Wanderers but of all A-League clubs who are in active supporters groups almost certainly came on board without being previously engaged with NSL clubs (and I believe that is a fair assumption considering the attitude still held by many old guard fans of those clubs, as demonstrated here), then they will have little understanding of the continued problems that were the ongoing narrative of Australian football’s stagnation pre-2004/5. The core problem of supporters acting in a manner which was often highlighted by illegal acts such as flare throwing, and the associated disengagement with mainstream Australian society effectively helped to keep our game in a ghetto for decades. The scenes at Wanderland last Wednesday with illegal pyro use was an evocation of past sins from the bad old days of our game in our country, and it showed that no lessons had been learnt by its proponents, or they were happy to ignore the historic burden that football has carried to its detriment for many a long year in Australia.

Yet another problem I have with the use of pyro at any game, let alone those involving my beloved Wanderers, is the at times explicit, at times subtle link between said illegal fireworks, the Ultra pathology of implicit elitism and by association a subtext of extremist political views. Much of the discussion I have observed on social media after the incident at Wanderland during the match between the Wanderers and Ulsan degenerated into a ‘them versus us’ slanging match where those who were opposed to flares were frequently tarred with the brush of not understanding active support, not being true to the club’s most loyal defenders, not being worthy of what more active fans did etc etc. Admittedly there was also some regrettable commentary directed at the RBB as a whole by those upset at the events. Frankly attacking the RBB as an entirely homogeneous organised single entity is wrong, as the thousands who stand in the Northern bays are as split within themselves over all manner of issues let alone this one as are other Wanderers fans. Yet it must be said by their actions and their belief in their own image (and that propagated by the media and other observers) mean their sense of superiority is already established (if not entirely harmonious). Throw in the involvement of sub-groups and their even ‘more hard’ active support vision, then it’s only a small logical step to take all actions associated with flares and other pyro into the realm of the super-passionate, the aggressively superior Ultra types who obviously form a volatile minority.

What is perhaps even more disconcerting is that within the construct of those who are most vociferous pro-pyro is the language of Ultra supporters’ culture, which is very narrow in what is deemed as acceptable and what isn’t, and how similar it can be to the verbal and non-verbal language of extremist right wing associates of Ultras in Europe. I will admit things are nowhere near as bad here in Australia’s A-League as they are in Germany (as shown in this Der Spiegel article). There is also a gulf between what happens in the Balkans and in their Ultra culture and what is experienced here, although there are echoes in this article from The Guardian in what happened in Melbourne when certain hooligan elements in the Victory fan base attacked traveling Wanderers fans. The nexus between pyros, extremism in football support and in far right politics is however cogently symbolised in the similarities between the display seen at Wanderland last Wednesday night and such imagery coming from groups such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, an extreme right wing movement and political party that as early as 1999 had links with volatile football supporter groups.

Golden Dawn members using flares at a nocturnal rally in Greece

Perhaps the most obtuse irony about this situation is that within the anti-authority symbolism and culture of the most passionate proponents of hard core football support and the associated use or defence of illegal flares, there is a massive contradiction. It is unacceptable for many who enjoy the use of pyro at games to question its validity, yet they find the need to express their freedom of action and thought at a football match so powerful they will ignore anyone laying down socially responsible laws prohibiting their use. In the race for reaching the lowest levels of mutual disrespect those who are the extremists and who find the ignition of a flare of smoke bomb as the purest and most exciting way to energize higher passions for what is happening on the field are leaps and bounds ahead of the forces ‘repressing’ their freedom.

Now I have read online articles such as these that do put another angle on this issue, though in the context of coming again from Europe and looking at the stigmatisation of football fans in general as a public order risk. Yet in light of these kinds of evidence as well as what I have seen from my own eyes and discussed with other members of the Wanderers online and in person, there can be an exaggerated response to anything that doesn’t fit the paradigm of normal supporter behaviour from those in positions of authority. Unfortunately as a result of past crimes being revisited or revered by certain extremist fans there is an o’erwheening reaction from police, security officials and even club and league administrators to clamp down hard. Throw in the changes to our public culture in recent years, where attending any sporting event has become an exercise in negotiating your way through a maze of over-expensive items from seats to food to merchandise, accompanied with a private security industry employed to deliver conditions guided by a paranoia with any variance from what politicians, media personalities and sports administrators has deemed appropriate in said arena, ground or stadium, it is hardly surprising that the anarchic revulsion embodied in illegal pyro displays are dealt with such draconian intensity. Yet this doesn’t excuse the provocateurs and agents of flare and smoke bomb throwing at Wanderers games, or indeed any football game.

For me the bottom line is pyro is an indulgent and dangerous display of egregious selfishness that detracts from almost every aspect of a football game, and at heart is nothing more than a few moments of whizz bang fire and sound to give young men jollies they can’t find from actually watching the game before them. One can dress up the arguments pro and con in all kinds of philosophical, moral, historical or cultural constructs yet when all is said and done how can the indulgence of a thrown flare be seen as bettering the experience at a place like Wanderland, when (as shown in the vast bulk of games played this season and last involving the Wanderers and the RBB) there was more than enough passion, excitement, spectacle and emotional satisfaction to be drawn from the way the players played, or how the fans chanted, sang, waved flags etc?

Postscript: Please note this opinion piece is not aimed to either attack the RBB as a whole nor is it designed to be a criticism of the recent protest by the RBB; the former situation is as explained above negated by the fact that the RBB is not a single entity with a coherent agenda re pyro, and as for the latter I take on board and agree to some extent with the distance being put between the motivation for the protest and the issue of illegal pyro at the ACL match. There are some causal links between illegal pyro and the events that triggered the protest however they are not of sufficient breadth of connection to make the one correlate to the other and vice versa.

A Derby Day Diary, Or How Manfred Watched The Smurfs Succumb to the Wanderers at Wanderland

Saturday 11th January 1.18 pm: On the train to Parramatta, with no one checking tickets at the station when I get on. It’s early for the trip to the game but I have important matters to deal with when I get to my destination. The trip is quiet and unlike most others  I take on game day, as I see no other Wanderers fans in my carriage. I guess six and a half hours before kick off is a bit premature for waves of RBB supporters to make the trip. When I finally arrive at Parramatta station there are a few brothers in the home strip. So, it’s off to the Roxy.

2.10 pm: Sitting in a shaded area of the forecourt of the Roxy with about ten other people (almost all Wanderers fans) spread out under cover. It’s fucking hot and whilst I would love a beer I decide to pace myself and not go in too hard. The set up is good, and whilst not as flash as the Woolie there is certainly far more room to maneuver in. Sipping on water and checking out the usual online haunts on my smart phone. Get some text messages from friends in WSW who will be meeting me shortly. Did I say it was fucking hot?

2.45 pm: First of my Western Sydney Wanderers friends rocks up…WhoDoWeSingFor (his nom de plume online). WSWSF and I met in person at the friendly versus Adelaide at Penrith pre-season and had a great road trip to the Mariners away game in round one. He’s feeling the heat and agrees to rehydrate through a beer and some cold water. Once suitably supplied with drinks we chat about life, the game, the Wanderers, basically anything that can somehow be related to the game.

3.00 pm: Lloydy from Coona arrives and we say hello to one of the Wanderers most traveled supporters. Another middle-aged Anglo (thus defying the media stereotypes of A-League/WSW supporters) I have a lot of respect for a man who comes from a country town approximately 6 hours drive away from Parramatta to come see the Wanderers play. We talk a bit about his experiences as a football fan in a town that is typical of many bush places in NSW (i.e. union and league are more appreciated and supported than our preferred code).

During the balance of the afternoon at the Roxy the courtyard, bar, bistro and other areas slowly fill up. There is a good mix of people, young and old, rabid RBB and passionate regulars, and the mood is positive. Everyone is obviously gearing up for what will be one of the biggest matches of the season. WDWSF and I grab a feed and join Lloydy is keeping our thirst quenched, though we all stick to lights. At one point I feel the need to attend to a call of nature and upon entering the appropriate facilities I can’t but smile at how someone has put a Sydney FC shirt to (good) use. That and the smurf toys do get a well-deserved drenching.

Between drinks and our conversation every now and again a rather attractive female member of the Roxy’s staff passes by again and again, sometimes disturbing my train of thought. We also meet quite casually another Wanderers fan who takes the chance to sit in the shade and like old friends well met we continue our convivial talk about core subjects (i.e. how good are the Wanderers, the smurfs are shit, fuck it’s hot, loving the RBB and Wanderers support, etc).

5.15 pm: The capos and La Banda start up the chants and the Roxy becomes a cauldron of sound and music. Lloydy, WDWSF and I join in however in our shaded nook we find it too difficult to get closer to the action. Whilst the melee of chanting, singing RBB and Wanderers fans isn’t as densely packed as captives in a Borneo death cell moving freely is a big ask. The new diss chant against the smurfs of ESFC gets a good run and sounds like a winner. More and more people are entering the venue, and as we three are not that committed to being in the march we decide to decamp. Also, as both WDWSF and Lloydy having never been to one of my favourite Parramatta haunts, the Bavarian Bier Cafe, I suggest we head there for some German libations.

5.30 pm: Leaving the Roxy and walking to the Bavarian we see a ratio of about 50 Wanderers supporters to 2 policemen to 1 Sydney FC fan. The streets of Parramatta are suffused in a mass of people in red and black, with gaggles of lazying coppers keeping a languid eye on the behaviour of one and all. As we three walk to our next drinking hole another friend unexpectedly joins us. Beerslayer tags along plus provides some valuable information about our next venue (i.e. his sister is a waitress there). I know it’ll be booked out for table seating in the restaurant however I hope that we four can at least find somewhere to stand and have a few drinks.

The Bavarian Bier Cafe is pretty chockers, but that doesn’t stop us from heading into the sweet air conditioned comfort of the main bar and dining room to buy some drinks. As the resident German beer expert (and all round piss-head) I get questioned as to what to order. In the end WDWSF goes for a small Stiegl, Beerslayer for a Spaten and Lloydy for a small Hofbrauhaus Dunkel. Partly because I love the heft of such a beer as well as the taste, I also indulge in a Dunkel, though mine is a full one litre stein.

Back out in the biergarten of the Bavarian it is still warm, and there are a few seccos, coppers, one or two smurf fans and a vast number of Wanderers faithful present. Miraculously we get a table to sit at and enjoy our drinks and chat some more. Beerslayer works at SBS so we have quite a long conversation about Thursday FC. The general consensus is that it’s a decent premise ruined by Matt Okine. The beers are all enjoyed though in my case it takes a little longer to go down (in my defence it was more than three times bigger than those steins tackled by my friends). We all agree that we need to come back here again, which gives me no pain as the Bavarian has been almost my second home when it comes to pre-Wanderland games. Plus as much as I enjoyed my meal at the Roxy I know that the Bavarian does a very tasty huge schnitzel.

6.30 pm: We four start the final part of our pre-game build-up and take a walk from the Bavarian to Wanderland. More and more people are arriving and the attendant police numbers are also on the rise. However the atmosphere is nowhere near as oppressive nor as frantic as I saw at (for example) the pre-season game at Penrith. I know that this might be surprising or a little controversial, however the cops and the fans at a Wanderers home game give no call for alarm whatsoever. With Beerslayer and WDWSF in different stands at the ground they leave me and Lloydy to head to our eastern stand bays.

6.40 pm: Lloydy has gone to sit in his seat in a bay close to the RBB, whilst I am on the tooth again and need to track down the mythical ‘Wanderdog’. Lo and behold, I find it:

In the process of securing a much fabled WanderDog I find myself accosted by a stranger. “Hey Manfred, I know you” comes the says the unfamiliar voice from someone behind me. I exchange greetings (hoping that this isn’t an undercover Hatamoto wanting me banned for crimes against A-League blogging). Instead it turns out to be one of my favourite posters from the West Sydney forum, dmixtaa. We share a Wanderers embrace of shared happiness and I compliment him on his posts in the forum. It’s always a bright moment to put a face to some of the denizens of our social media world. We part with him off to buy his WanderDog, and me to eat mine.

7.10 pm: My beloved has turned up to share the experience of the derby with me (plus provide chauffeur services post game), and as this is her first chance to see the Wanderers clash with ESFC she is a little hyped. Me; well now that I’ve had a few beers and some meat in tube form to settle the stomach I am tense yet assured.

7.15 pm: The news comes in that Tony Popovic isn’t using Jerome Polenz (ex-Alemannia Aachen legend and hero for me and many a Wanderer devotee). The shock is a little disconcerting, but has been written in both small and incredibly large print, in Popa we trust.

7.35 pm: The stands are well nigh full and I can see some movement below the fence line of the seething mass that is the RBB. It looks as if there will be a massive tifo shown by men, women and children that drive so much of the energy and passion at Wanderland:

7.45 pm: We have kick-off! The crowd goes berko with a combination of confetti throwing from everywhere, and the aforementioned tifo plus a sea of red and black flags in the RBB:

7th minute: The first really serious attack on the ESFC goal, and its that man Tomi Juric taking a shot that skids like a V-1 flying bomb at the right post of the opposition’s goal. It take a hell of a save from Janjetovic to deflect what was part-speculation, part-inspiration into the goal post, then over the line for a corner. The guys are looking very strong already.

16th minute: Well it had to happen…the one true genius in the dross that has been Sydney FC over the last two seasons gets a chance to shoot, however del Piero’s effort is swallowed up by the best goalkeeper of last season in the entire A-League (and pretty freaking good in 2013/14 so far), Ante Covic. Covic is assisted mightily by Nikolai-Topor-Stanley. Yes, it was a nervous moment however there’s plenty of game time to come.

18th minute: Tomi almost scores on a Ned Zelic-like angle. By christ he is good value

20th minute: The RBB raise what I believe is both the cheekiest and most enjoyable banner ever seen at Wanderland, if not any recent A-League game:

For me this is a riotous laugh-inducing joke at the expense of arguably the most craven, illiterate, self-serving know-nothing to have ever got a job in the media thanks to having relations with men of power in the industry. Hats off RBB…well done.

30th minute: Hell of a terrible hack on Iaccopo La Roca by a typical ESFC grub in Matt Jurman. After the last derby at Allianz Stadium there was all kind of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the likes of Richard Garcia and media mates of the sky blues such as Andy Harper over Jerome Polenz. Well that hit on La Rocca was worse than anything JP has done all season. Plus for all the tommy rot over how many fouls the Wanderers commit ESFC have already had two suspensions for reds this season, whilst the home team have had none.

34th minute: Bridge almost gets a goal thanks to a mighty through ball followed by an audacious step-in that opened up the ESFC goal mouth. The angle was just a little too acute and yet again the woodwork saves the visitors from embarrassment.

42nd minute: Holy shit…it’s all happening. First Youssouf Hersi sees Janjetovic in a lazy stupor and from a position closer to the half-way line than the box he takes a lob shot that yes, you guessed it, hits the woodwork (this time above the flailing ESFC’s grasping hands). There is a rebound that falls in Tomi’s way and he gathers gracefully, then drops his foot into the ball like an 88mm flak gun firing an anti-tank round. Unfortunately this too hits the cross bar. For fuck’s sake; four post strikes in 45 minutes of football! Talk about cruel.

8.33 pm: Halftime. The beers have caught up with me so I have to attend to certain matters, and when I return the pristine field of Wanderland has plenty of young tackers running around in either our colours or those of the intruding team east of South Dowling Street. There is also a rapper and DJ on site performing, but I pay them no heed. Like me my partner in life and Wanderers membership is a little frustrated the score doesn’t reflect the dominance of our team over the visitors.

46th minute: Second half starts up and with the Wanderers running from our left to right usually this would be when I can really let my Jerome Polenz man-love out. However his replacement 16 year old Daniel Alessi is there in the right back’s role, and doing a mighty fine job of things.

52nd minute: Emerton gets subbed by Cranky Franky Farina. I used to love Emo’s work as a Socceroo but since he swapped wearing the green and gold with sky blue my estimation of him has dropped several magnitudes. Having said that my lack of support for him is probably still superior to the hatred his own club’s fans feel against him.

The next twenty minutes are incredibly frustrating as time and time again the Wanderers get themselves into forward positions yet lose the ball or play an ill-aimed pass or cross. Hersi particularly gets me grumpy, as he has moments of listlessness than is atypical of him from previous games and especially contrasted with last season. The visitors don’t cause too many heart palpitations however I confess to my partner that I am nervous that this may the kind of game where the Wanderers play all over the opposition yet they steal a goal on the counter or through some egregious fuck-up. Tomi is subbed for Santalab, joining Trifiro as a second half sub. There is plenty of run in the boys but it seems just a little aimless.

80th minute: Time for the Poznan. Like everyone else in red and black I join in and jump rather non-athletically in spot, arms linked with my neighbours. I don’t stay the course for the entire Poznan as things are afoot on the pitch. Shinji has a dead ball chance to send the ball into the ESFC box, then whilst it ends up as a fruitless endeavour del Piero is yanked by his boss from the game. As the ageing Italian marquee meanders grumpily off the field he gets a loud and rather effective ‘who are ya’ yell from all the home fans. Frankly his effort tonight ranged from somewhat threatening to slow and old, with a dive here and there to spice up his acting resume.

After this amusing moment the familiar feelings of frustration and exasperation boil up again. I may have used a few rude words in some loud pejorative comments aimed at officials, ESFC players and even Youssouf Hersi after yet another failed effort to keep the ball, then…

86th minute: The maligned player I had just been swearing at sends up a slightly shanked cross that Brendon Santalab takes control of in the box, and then before you can say ‘suffer ESFC dullards’ the ball is in the net. Just like about 17,000 fellow Wanderers fans I go into a crazed screaming moment of pure euphoria, exultant at a thrust into the very bowels of the opposition’s rapidly diminishing hopes of sharing the honours at the derby. As the happiness fades just a little up comes the nerves; will we get through the dying minutes of the match including injury time and win, or will there be some dastardly conspiracy from the fates or the referee to screw us over, as per the last minute draw against Victory two rounds ago.

Thankfully my concerns were unfounded, and aside from more thuggery from the likes of McFlynn, Gamiero and Janjetovic the Wanderers survive, scoreline intact. The ref blows the whistle on the fourth minute of injury time and that’s it; our fourth derby game in a row undefeated, and three wins out of five against the evil empire that is ESFC. Oh frabjous day, calooy callay!

The remainder of the night was a long dark journey home, illuminated by my smart phone and checking out all the bitterness and self-lacerating hate being spun by the Cove and other ESFC fans on their social media sites, and the mutual congratulation coming from Wanderers fans. Leaving Wanderland was marked by a bevy of handmaidens and servants of Rupert Murdoch, giving away free copies of one of his slimy tabloid publications which gives voice to red neck bigots like Rebecca Wilson. I made sure to reject any offering, though I didn’t accompany this action with a sincere diatribe at the dross being proffered to me.

Then there was a blockade of O’Connell Street mounted by the men and women of the NSW Police Force (Parramatta LAC) ensuring there was no revival of some half-remembered 1980s English soccer hooliganism. The ESFC fans were give untrammeled access to their avenues of return to all points east, north and south of Parramatta (with perhaps one or two deluded folk possibly heading west). Then, after about ten minutes a senior sergeant said “let the Wanderers fans go’ and we were free.

So there it was, done and dusted, another derby consigned to history. Each one has been special in their own way, however this one was especially convivial. Whilst humiliating the smurfs is now commonplace what took the day to greater heights was the way in which camaraderie, entertainment and sport collided in a melange of pleasure. It’s days like these that will stick in my football memory for years to come, alongside the Socceroos win over Uruguay in 2005 and Japan in 2006, or seeing both of Dino Kresinger’s goals last season (including the massacre of the Reds at Wanderland).

100 Moments, 100 Memories: The Wanderers in 2012/13 (Part Nine)

Today’s The Day, and it’s time for the Western Sydney Wanderers to kick-off 2013/14 by wreaking revenge on the Mariners. So just before the ball starts rolling up at Blue Tongue here are the final Top 20 moments from the 2012/13 season.

20. Ante Covic keeps out Mat Ryan at Blue Tongue

With a crucial game to define whether or not the Wanderers would win the Premier’s Plate for 2012/13 being played in the wet up at Gosford, it was no surprise that the man who probably did more than anyone else to make sure the Wanderers did the deed was Ante Covic. Facing the danger of a penalty goal, awarded after a clumsy moment from Dino in the box, the best goalkeeper of the 2012/13 season stared down his hesitant opposite, with Mat Ryan shooting straight into the welcoming arms of the tall ex-Socceroo. Covic added lustre to his efforts late in the game with a scrambling save that ensured the thousands of Wanderers fans drove back to Sydney that Saturday night ecstatic with the resultant win.

19. Mark Bridge is named as the Western Sydney Wanderers best player of 2012/13

In a well-deserved award recognising his importance to the Wanderers first A-League season success, left wing forward and club golden boot winner Mark Bridge was named as the Western Sydney Wanderers best player of 2012/13.

18. Wanderers captain Michael Beauchamp scores his first goal against Sydney FC in Derby II at Allianz

Shaping up against his ex-team and in front of a huge contingent of RBB fans occupying the southern end of SFC’s home ground, Michaewl Beauchamp sealed a fantastic win against the Sky Blues in the 77th minute of the second Sydney derby. Whilst the goal was not the most stylish or technically proficient it was a stake through the heart of SFC and a sign of the pride and leadership inherent in Beauchamp’s leadership of the Wanderers.

17. Shinji Ono signs for the Western Sydney Wanderers

If ever there was a crucial signing among the playing members of the Wanderers it was Shinji Ono’s on September 28th, 2012. The first and obvious impact was that the Wanderers had a legend of Japanese football as their marquee player, and a man who would both elevate the technical skill of the squad plus add a potentially large new market for the club in Asia. However what was equally important if not more so was that by signing Shinji Tony Popovic and Lyall Gorman indicated they were willing to make hard choices in terms of the squad (in light of all the talk about Michael Ballack) and they were not going to be swayed by anyone else’s agenda. As shown in this countdown and throughout every account of almost every game involving Shinji this recruitment is demonstrated as probably one of the top 2 or 3 during 2012/13.

16. The virtual sell-out of Derbies I & III

Wanderland a.k.a. Parramatta Stadium has a nominal seating capacity of 20,741 spectators. In its debut season the Wanderers were able to attract 19,126 people to their Round 3 clash with SFC, and 19,585 people to their Round 26 game. Tickets were well nigh impossible to buy for casual fans and these two games saw the best football crowd numbers since the 1989-90 NSL grand final (when Parramatta Stadium was not a wholly seated venue).

15. The post-season celebration in Parramatta

Whilst the Wanderers failed to win the Grand Final the overall magnificent effort from the club over 2012/13, including of course the winning of the premier’s plate gave impetus to a massive celebration of the Wanderers in Parramatta on 23rd April 2013. With thousands of fans marching with the team down Church Street to a civic reception and party at Prince Alfred Park, this was another example of how the Wanderers had won over the community they represented. Particularly powerful was Lyall Gorman’s pledge to the club’s supporters, reflecting western Sydney pride and passion.

14. Shinji Ono buries the Roar at Wanderland

With this amazing goal Shinji Ono ensured that the Western Sydney Wanderers were destined for a grand final appearance in their debut season. With a sublime arrogance of style Ono’s floating ball hit the back of a dumbfounded Theo’s net, completing a 2-0 win.

13. Tony Popovic named the A-League coach of the season.

Given the task of melding a squad together in less than 3 months before the start of the 2012/13 season, without having been the main coach/manager of any club before, and then taking that disparate band of Australian and foreign players all the way not just to a premiership but also to a grand final was simply brilliant. The A-League recognised this achievement by Popa naming him as its coach of the 2012/13 season, beating out more fancied or experienced rivals Graham Arnold and Ange Postecoglu.

12. Dino’s left boot goal of God, versus Brisbane

Perhaps not as stylish or as elegant as other goals from the likes of Ono, Visconte or Bridge, Dino’s left back heel into Brisbane’s net during the semi-final at Wanderland was still a glorious moment of Wanderers magic. Bereft of luck for much of the season the lumbering Croat displayed an instinctive skill for scoring goals his much touted bald head couldn’t. The reaction from the home supporters was commensurate with the achievement (i.e. out of this world with joy). Whilst Dino never really delivered all we hoped his efforts like this one will always be remembered by the Wanderers faithful.

11. 25th July 2012 – The first ever Western Sydney Wanderers football game

The Wanderers debuted against NSWPL side Nepean FC at St Mary’s Cook Park on this chilly winter’s evening. With Joey Gibbs netting four times and Labinot Haliti once, the 5-0 win was a propitious event for the fledgling club. Among other future stars for the coming A-League seaosn were Aaron Mooy and Mark Bridge.

10. The Round 12 Wanderland Bloodbath of the Reds

Coming into this game the Wanderers were looking to demonstrate that they could hold their own against top six clubs. The Adelaide Reds with a long and proud history in the A-League, possessing some major talent and sitting in the top four at the time were daunting prospects for the home team. Instead of being a dour and hard fought game it turned out to be a goal-fest, with the Wanderers slipping 6 past a hapless Eugene Galekovic and his defensive screen. With Mark Bridge snaring a hat-trick and Dino, Shinji and Joey Gibbs each getting a goal it was easily the biggest win for the Wanderers all season. The only minor blemish was a late goal to the Reds, however that mattered not a jot. From this game on the Western Sydney Wanderers juggernaut took flight.

9. The birth of the RBB

Just as the Wanderers made their debut at Cook Park against Nepean FC on July 25th 2012, so did the Red & Black Bloc. From a small but fervent group of committed fans grew the most exciting and passionate active fan group in A-League history.

8. Tony Popovic named the inaugural coach for the Western Sydney Wanderers

May 17th 2012 was the date when the wanderers began the journey that took them to the premier’s plate in 2012/13 and a Grand Final in front of over 40,000 fans (mostly wearing red and black). In appointing Tony Popovic the club made the first of many very correct decisions, and this bore fruit over and over again in the following months.

7. The very first A-League game played by the Western Sydney Wanderers

Wanderland, 6th October 2012. The opposition, Central Coast Mariners. The result, 0-0. The crowd, 10,458. History was made.

6. Shinji Ono scores the best goal of entire Wanderers season

Sublime, spectacular, stylish, brilliant, the apogee of control, skill and class. Watch and marvel at Shinji Ono against Melbourne Victory at Wanderland, Round 8. The final result, Western Sydney Wanders (and Shinji Ono) 2-0 winners

5. Western Sydney Wanderers first ever A-League victory

Coming into this Round 4 game against the A-League champions for the past two season, the Wanderers were underdogs away from home in Brisbane with no goals in their preceding games. However in what was a remarkably gritty win Mark Bridge made history with the first goal for the Wanderers, and with no answer from the Roar the final victorious score was 1-0.

4. The Second Derby and the Destruction of Sydney FC

There is nothing sweeter than beating your cross-town rivals. However it is even better yet again to crush both a cross-town club on the field and their supporters at their own home grown after both elements of the opposition demonstrated little respect for the new boys on the block. When the Western Sydney Wanderers and the RBB with other supporters ventured to Allianz Stadium for the Round 11 Derby game against Sydney FC the team nailed a historic victory with 2 goals (one each to Hersi and Beauchamp) and the RBB out-sung the Cave. It was a great time to be a Wanderer!

3. The 2012/13 Grand Final (with over 30,000 Wanderers Fans in attendance and performing a stadium wide Poznan)

No one had a sane expectation that the Wanderers would finish the 2012/13 season in the top six at the start. However by season’s end the newest club in the A-League would not only win more games than any other team, defeat the champion team from the last two seasons four times, beat their cross-town rivals 2-0, slaughter a past Grand Final runner-up and Asian Champion’s League finalist team 6-1, and then after winning the premier’s plate for topping the Western Sydney Wanderers went to a sold out Grand Final against the Central Coast Mariners. Whilst the game was eventually lost 2-0 over 30,000 Wanderers fans went to see their club achieve something truly historic, and when the 80th minute of the game came the whole stadium rocked to an arena-wide Poznan.

2. The Wanderers beat the Central Coast Mariners 1-0 at Blue Tongue

Without doubt the best game for the Wanderers all season, with a gritty against the odds win for the team, securing their leadership on the table. On a soaking wet Gosford evening there was high drama on the pitch and in teh stands the RBB and other Wanderers fans simply owned their rivals. A defining moment in our club’s history.

1. The Western Sydney Wanderers win the 2012/13 A-League Premiers Plate

After 27 regular home and away games and less than a year after they were first founded the Western Sydney Wanderers made history by winning the Premier’s Plate in their inaugural season. Nothing was better than this moment, this achievement, this time.

A Letter To A New Wanderers Fan

G’day

Nice to see that you’ve decided to come along with me and nearly 16,000 other members of the Western Sydney Wanderers and see them play in their second A-league season. I’m sure there’s a great reason for your newly-found interest in the team and the game. Maybe you saw the footage of the RBB on the news. Perhaps one of the guys like Jerrad or maybe Aaron came to your kid’s school and showed your child a little something about the game, perhaps kicked the ball around a bit. There was lots of coverage of the Wanderers on Foxtel, so if you had that maybe you saw them playing in last season’s grand final, and they’ve even featured on free-to-air channels who don’t talk about the game much, like Seven and Nine. Whether you saw them at Westfield Parramatta or just had a friend tell you how great going to the Wanderers games is, it’s all good. Welcome to the our Wanderland.

Now before we get started a few things you might like to consider or know. First off I know in lots of places and among a lot of people what we are going to see in coming days, weeks and months is called soccer. In certain circles you might find a few not-so-nice reactions to that word. For now if you’re thinking you are watching soccer and want to talk about it with fellow Wanderers fans, call the game football. We’re smart enough to understand that we ain’t watching one of the rugby games, or Aussie Rules. Old farts like me grew up with the idea of soccer as the name of the game and in a way it’s not bad. Especially when you think about the long and deep history of the Socceroos. Even the guys who run the game overseas in places like America and South Africa and Switzerland (well, they make money from it…but that’s another story) sometimes call football soccer. But honestly, it’ll save you a bit of grief, help with your credibility and make sure you fit in with the majority of fans by talking football, football, football.

Right, I understand your ticket says you are sitting in an eastern stand bay at Wanderland. Why Wanderland? Well that’s the name that was given to Parramatta stadium for the first season of the Wanderers and we like what it represents. We understand that this is a ground used in the past mostly by the Parramatta Eels. and they will continue to do so. It also has a great history of being where old National Soccer League teams played, including one of the clubs that indirectly lead to the Wanderers, Parramatta Power. Some time in the future someone might talk to you about the best grand final ever played in the NSL era, between Wollongong Wolves and South Melbourne, here in 2001. Anyway, that’s history. Right now Wanderland is our home, the place we have claimed as our ground. Plus, and I might be waxing a little lyrical here, there’s something magical, ineffable, mysteriously exciting about Wanderland. My first game in the stands, watching the team on the pitch and the RBB in full cry; it was a wonder, honestly. So the name of our home stadium has plenty of meaning, and I hope you understand and appreciate all this through your own experiences as well.

I know one of the reasons, if not the central cause to why there is so much excitement and attention given to the Wanderers is due to the RBB. The Red and Black Bloc are active fans and they are located in the northern bays of Wanderland.  With us being in the eastern stand we have a great views of the men and women, boys and girls over in the RBB and it is true about what you have heard, or maybe seen on TV. They are the most passionate, vocal, proud and entertaining supporters for any sport and any club in the entire country.

By the way, being in the RBB is not about just jumping up and down, clapping and chanting, giving the Wanderers’ players support. And no, unlike some of the more biased stories you might read in the Daily Telegraph or hear on 2GB, the RBB is not a gang of soccer hooligans. The RBB is in some ways no different to any large group of people put together; there maybe an idiot here or there  but 99.9% of everyone in the RBB are normal, law abiding folk like you and me. This is a game, a club and a group of supporters who appreciate that passion is not a crime, and that we are a broad church of supporters.

On the other hand the RBB is very different to any other group of people. There are the chants and songs of course, but they don’t just happen, like some spontaneous session of clapping. There is lots of talk, lots of debate over what gets presented by the RBB and how its done. It’s also pretty hard yakka; being an active RBB member means you are expected to be always on your feet unless the capo tells you not to be, and you need bloody strong vocal chords. Oh, before I forget the capo is the bloke up front with the megaphone, helping and directing the RBB with what to do. People like the capos and the marshals are very important for other active support things, like the march to the game before kick-off. The music, the drums and horns that help set the rhythm for the RBB is called La Banda, and they are also important like the capos. After all how can anyone sing club chants like ‘Glorious’ or ‘Euphoria’ without someone providing the beat.

Perhaps most importantly the RBB are the people who carry the spirit and pride for our club perhaps more in their hearts and lives than anyone else associated with the Wanderers. They eat, sleep and drink the club, the team, the chants, the home games, the away games, the players, the shirts…everything. Of course there are less active, non-RBB members who are just as keen but usually they don’t go into the RBB because they know how hard it is to stay active for so long. Or maybe they just want to watch the game and enjoy it passively. No worries either way; the game  and the club is big enough for all types of fans. However you will never find anything in any other sports context as passionate, unique or as exciting as the RBB.

Perhaps the most basic and most enjoyable thing about the crowd environment at Wanderland is the ‘Who do we sing for?” call and response. Again this is a pretty special moment in Australian sport, surpassing the simple-as-dirt ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ chant. I’ve never seen anything as electrifying nor as blood-pumping as that moment when the RBB starts off with a chorus of ‘Who do we sing for?’ and me and all of us come back with ‘We sing for Wanderers.’ If you ever have one memory, one deed to boast about after the game it’ll be that moment.

Having said that don’t forget there is also the amazing sight of the RBB doing the Poznan. On the 80th minute the northern stand bays and RBB fans there will unite in a seething, jumping, linked-arms wall with their collective backs to the ground. Some folk might take the mickey out of it but again, it’s a demonstration of an almost tribal feeling of community, plus a symbol of the fans’ respect for football’s history. With football first having been played out west in 1880 the RBB’s Poznan reminds us all that this great sport is not some ethnic blow-in like other sports and their advocates might have you believe. Our sport is as Australian as it can be and then some.

Okay, that’s the crowd and the RBB sorted. Next, let’s have a chat about what happens on the field and who is playing for us. The bottom line is every man who runs out onto the pitch in red and black (or if away from home in white and black) is a dead-set bona fide legend who will fight hard for the club, his mates, the coach, the supporters and the community of western Sydney. Yes, they are professional, but you’d be surprised how much they believe in what they are doing for everyone involved in football out this way.

The coach is named Tony Popovic, and he’s a great ex-Socceroo who has already shown in last season how intelligent and creative he is with the tactics used by the team. He and his offsider Ante Milicic (another ex-Socceroo) grabbed a team that only had 3 signings less than 18 months ago and turned them into a premier team that topped the A-League in their first season. You’ll often hear about ‘Popa’ and ‘in Popa we trust’, or might even see a sign up on the western stand saying ‘Habemus Popa’. Unlike other clubs (especially Sydney FC, or as we call them, the smurfs) we love and respect our coach.

Because our team was put together at short notice before last season you might see some guys who have played for other clubs in the A-League, or for overseas clubs. Take as a case in point our most proficient goal scorer form last season, Mark Bridge. Bridgey spent time with the Jets a few years ago, and even helped them win the A-League champion’s trophy (known as the toilet seat for reasons that are obvious when you see it). Then he played for the smurfs…oops, I mean SFC, and didn;t do that well. However like a lot of our guys when he came to the Wanderers it was like Popa gave him an entirely new career, and since then he has been always a threat in front of goal.

Our regular goalie Ante Covic is a similar story, and the big fella has a great record form last season in keeping clean sheets and stopping penalties. The captain, Michael Beauchamp is a defender, and he brings a lot of experience to the squad (like Covic he was a Socceroo). Beauchamp is also a westie born and bred, like our exciting young midfielder Aaron Mooy. Mooy has already played for the Socceroos and might be a name you’ll hear more of in future World Cups (he has a wicked boot when it comes to free kicks). Before I forget the other Aussie defenders there’s Nikolai Topor-Stanley who is a cult figure because of his booming clearances, Adam D’Apuzzo who is on the left (and basically resurrected his career through the Wanderers after semi-retiring), and Matthew Spiranovic who is looking to reignite his prospects as a Socceroo via the Wanderers. And keep an eye out for Jerrad Tyson, Shannon Cole and Dean Heffernan; they’ll be there in case we have some injury problems.

Further up the field there’s some more Aussies who will be playing for the Wanderers this season. Be on the look-out for Tomi Juric. he started off with a flyer with Adelaide last season but he has come to the Wanderers as our new key striker and has picked up a few pre-season goals plus selection for the national team. He’s going to be very important to our chances this season. Helping him out or keeping forward with him will be Labinot Haliti, Kwabena Appiah-Kubi, Tahj Minniecon, Brendon Santalab and Jason Trifiro. Tahj was bloody unlucky last season thanks to a bad injury so he didn’t get much time playing with the team. He’s looking to make amends this season and in the trails before today he has looked good. Also he is an indigenous Australian, which is very important for the growth of our game. Labinot’s another player you should see good things from. He sealed the win for us last season against the Mariners with a goal during the Poznan up at Gosford, and just watch to see if he pulls off his shirt after scoring…he’s been known to get a card for that simple act of celebration.

Now even though the A-league is all about domestic football in Australia because this is a global sport we have international players here in our competition. The foreign players that don our club’s colours are all great players, coming from top-flight European or Asian competitions. My personal favourite is the German right back Jerome Polenz. he has played in the Bundesliga for a few clubs, and he has a wicked sense of humour (look for ‘Jerome Polenz Pikachu Julia Gillard’ on Google or Facebook). His best mate and a guy all Wanderers fans love is Dutchman Youssouf Hersi. These two players form a great combination on the right hand side, and Hersi never gives up, always tackles or keeps the ball away from the opposition. Okay, maybe once in a while he might get a little too fired up and cop a card from the referee. However when all is said and done this Dutch maestro is a huge plus for the team, and if you hear or see fans talking about ‘Hersi for PM’ you might understand why after seeing him play.

We have a young Croatian midfielder named Mateo Poljak alongside Aaron Mooy, and he and Iacopo La Rocca (an Italian) are never shy of putting in a big effort both in defence and in going forward. By the way, if you hear anyone ranting on and on about the Wanderers being a Croatian club ignore it. Okay, we have had a lot of Croats play for us and there is a history of the old Sydney United team behind some of the players and staff. However the culture and spirit of the team and the club is pure western Sydney; passionate, proud, willing to have a scrap and never give up.

So, this brings us to the man they call Tensai. Before last season Tony Popovic had the chance to possibly bring a German great into the Wanderers by the name of Michael Ballack. However he made sure that when the club secured its first overseas marquee player it was Japanese legend Shinji Ono who joined the squad. And seriously, for all the talk about del Piero or Heskey last season, it was Shinji who was the best foreign player in the A-League. He has amazing skills and a great vision for where to pass, shoot, defend, run, and if you ever want to see a goal that should only happen in a video game or a movie, search online for ‘Shinji Ono first goal versus Melbourne Victory’. When you see all the fans in their Wanderers shirts at the game don’t be surprised to see a helluva lot with Shinji printed on the back.

Well, I could go into a lot more but it’s almost kick off. Get ready for a mad, fun, passionate, exciting, challenging season of football, and don’t be surprised when the season is over you’ll be counting down the days to when you can sign up again for 2014/15.  Yoru bank balance might empty a bit with having to buy several Wanderers kits, balls, flags, gifts etc, and you might find yourself humming ‘We’re from the streets of Western Sydney’ to yourself at the strangest of times. You will be living on the internet with Twitter, Facebook and the fan forum all bookmarked for repeated visits to get the latest news, and you’ll be telling more and more friends and family about why football beats the living bejesus out of aerial ping pong or league or union.

Again…WELCOME TO OUR WANDERLAND!