I Got Those Where’s The New Wanderer’s Home Gonna Be Blues (or Where To Post-Pirtek)

Back on September 4th 2015 the premier of NSW issued a press release indicating that, after years of speculation and lobbying, there would be an overhaul of sporting stadia in Sydney focused on suburban venues. The overall plan included:

  • A new rectangular stadium at Moore Park with 50,000 to 55,000 seats;
  • The completion of the SCG masterplan
  • A new rectangular stadium at Parramatta with 30,000 seats;
  • The redevelopment of Stadium Australia, which may include a retractable roof;
  • A new indoor arena near the CBD; and
  • A new outer western Sydney sporting venue.

Premier Baird went on to say:

“Our first priority is building a new 30,000 seat stadium at Parramatta on the site of the existing facility, with work to begin as soon as possible and construction expected to be completed by 2019.” (source)

With these words the hopes and concerns of thousands of Western Sydney Wanderers members and fans were brought into focus as to where the club’s playing home should be both in the short and in the long term futures. As of today Wanderland, alias Pirtek Stadium is still our home, and for all its problems (which are not few in number) it is the locus of our club culture, our short-lived history and the hub of a wider game-day experience that leaves almost nothing to be desired. After all, it is Parramatta Stadium where the Western Sydney Wanderers played their very first competitive A-League game, saw their greatest wins in the ACL campaign of 2014, and served as the emotional centre for ever member who has been to a Wanderers’ match:

However it would appear that our days at Wanderland are coming to an end, at least in terms of the current venue’s structures and set up. Club CEO John Tsatsimas spoke with the hosts of the Daily Football Show on their Tuesday 16/12/15 podcast and stated that next season the Wanderers would in most likelihood not be playing out of Pirtek due to the construction work needed for the previously cited new stadium for Parramatta:

This of course opens Pandora’s Box of worms both in the short term, with reference to alternate venues to host the Western Sydney Wanderers’ home games until (perhaps) 2019, as well as long term issues regarding the structure, layout and fit out of a new Wanderland back at Parramatta. Where will we be going to see our home games in the 2016/17 A-League season? Will there be, as hinted at by Tsatsimas a scenario where “…one model (for Wanderers home games) would be to use a multitude of venues, dictated by their availability.” (source). Will the Wanderers be wandering between ANZ Stadium at Sydney Olympic Park, Pepper Stadium in Penrith and perhaps Belmore Sports Ground?

Before I put forward my analysis of the pros and cons of each potential ground I must say that in my opinion it would be preferable for an interim home for the Wanderers to remain at one stadium, and one alone. Assuming we have maybe three seasons of A-League football to be played before we return to a new Parramatta Wanderland, it would be most helpful for the purposes of retaining members and simplifying the logistics of the interim move if we are placed at a stadium that has some degree of permanence. In my opinion circulating between 2-3 venues during an A-League season would do more to disenfranchise or impede a larger cross section of supporters, plus add more costs to the club’s ongoing game day expenses, rather than settling on one venue. If, for example games were taken to both Penrith’s and Campbelltown’s stadia there will be a nominally increased liability in terms of expenditure at the venues for matches, as well as creating more logistical problems for a wider cross- section for members and fans.

So, who are the candidates for an interim ‘Wanderland 2.0′, and what are the pros and cons of each. For your consideration, these are the five potential stadia the Wanderers’ faithful may have to call home until we have a rebuilt Parramatta Stadium hopefully ready for us to return to in 2019:

  • Pepper Stadium, Penrith
  • Spotless Stadium Sydney, Olympic Park
  • Belmore Sports Ground, Belmore
  • ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park
  • Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Leumeah

What follows is just one Wanderers’ (semi-informed) analysis of the pros and cons of each venue, taking into account not just the pros and cons that are quantifiable (e.g. capacity, design, accessibility) but also an attempt at making some judgments vis-a-vis the ability for said stadium and its wider setting to live up to the original Wanderland experience. Obviously these are my views, and I suspect what I write below can and will be rigorously questioned by those with a preference for one or more stadia, or who use a different set of values to judge the suitability of the venue(s).

Pepper Stadium, Penrith

  • Capacity: approximately 22.500 (approximately 8000 each in the western and eastern grand stands)
  • Distance from nearest train station: 1.4km (17 minutes walk)
  • On site car par: No (parking available across Mulgoa Road in Panthers League’s Club precinct)
  • Other tenants: Penrith Panthers (NRL)
  • Hosted previous Wanderer’s games: Yes (including pre-season, A-League and FFA Cup matches)

dium is the most westerly of all the potential stadia for Western Sydney Wanderers’ home games for coming seasons, and has, as pointed out above, seen service for previous Wanderers’ matches. I have been to all three games (a pre-season match against Adelaide prior to the 2013/14 season, a ‘community round’ match against Wellington last season, and a FFA Cup game against Brisbane immediately prior to this season), and to be blunt two of those experiences were god-awful and only one satisfactory. However before I get into personal comments, there are these pros and cons to take into account.

Pros:

  • Pepper has an appropriate capacity to take an average Wanderers home game, excluding most likely a derby and possibly any semi-finals. A proper rectangular stadium, it has two grandstands that compare adequately with those in place at Pirtek. Like Parramatta the two grandstands face west and east, with the western stand nominally more suitable for corporate and higher value ticket holders. Whilst there are two grassed areas (at the north and south ends) the overall size of Pepper Stadium will probably meet the club’s and the member’s expectations.
  • Penrith is a bulwark of Wanderers support in the west of Sydney, with (according to John Tsatsimas prior to last season’s match against Wellington) ‘having the second highest number of Foundation Members‘. As a region the Nepean area is of major importance to not just the club but football in general, and there has been a long history of players and clubs from the Penrith region contributing to football (such as Mark Schwarzer and the old Penrith City NSL club). Were the Wanderers desirous of moving most if not all home games to Pepper Stadium this would be ample recognition of the popularity of the sport and the club in the west of Sydney.
  • The Panthers Club directly across Mulgoa Round is a major entertainment precinct available for the use of the Wanderers’ fans and members on game day. There are reasonably capacious car parks within its boundaries, and plenty of food and drink options are available for the visitor.
  • With Penrith being on the main western train line, serviced by both urban and inter-urban trains, the ability of most fans to use public transport along the main western Sydney corridor (i.e from Strathfield to the Blue Mountains) is reasonably good. The M4 motorway provides good access to Penrith and the stadium, with the Great Western Highway an alternate route. Travel times from other major suburbs of western Sydney would range from about 20-30 minutes (Blacktown, Richmond, Parramatta) to 45-60 minutes (Hills District, Liverpool, Campbelltown, Bankstown, Katoomba).
  • The relationship between Pepper Stadium and the Wanderers sponsor Pepper Finance is an obvious one.
  • Local state MP and minister for sport is Stuart Ayres, and it would undoubtedly assist the Wanderers’ political cause (such as in the recent stoush with the Parramatta LAC) to be seen to be part of the local MP’s ‘clients’. Considering football clubs in Australia have struggled to find patronage among the various tiers of government this could be a fruitful by-product of moving to Penrith.

Cons:

  • The previously mentioned grassed areas at the northern and southern ends are not suitable for active use, which means that (as seen in those games previously played at Penrith) the RBB would be positioned within the eastern stand seating area. To be blunt this hinders anyone’s view from behind them, who are not in an active bay. Also in summer that area can get exceedingly hot, which is not conducive to active support. As Pirtek is an all seated stadium to move to Pepper would be a downgrade in facilities.
  • The Penrith Panthers group has a vested economic and political interest in Pepper Stadium, with certain benefits allowed to their members (e.g. discounted drinks and food) not passed on to Wanderers members. Considering that the Panthers group once expressed an interest in buying the Western Sydney Wanderers (after going through serious economic problems caused by over-aggressive expansion and the associated debt), and when its offer was rejected by the FFA the same Panthers group compared buying the A-League club to buying an ice cream shop, there is a definite disconnect between the values and agenda of the Wanderers and Panthers. There is also the issue of Pepper Stadium being the home ground of the Panthers NRL team, and with their competition starting in early March of each year and the A-League not concluding it’s season until late April, there will be an issue relating to conflicting schedules, where the Panthers may well have first use rights. Whilst this scenario may not be much different to that in place at Wanderland vis-a-vis the Parramatta Eels, there is arguably not the same vested interest in that stadium contrasted with Pepper. Whilst the entertainment and food and drink precinct of Panthers is very close to Pepper Stadium, it provides nowhere near the quality, range and eclecticism of offerings seen in Parramatta. Plus money spent at those facilities integrated into the Panthers Club area will help fund a sporting club that has a history of being disconnected with the Wanderers and with football. I personally raised issues regarding food and drink prices at Pepper Stadium last season after the Phoenix match and the disparity between what was charged there versus Pirtek Stadium, and as the local media spun the story it was more a case of Panthers wanting to do right by their members first and foremost. Frankly I don’t believe Wanderers should be spending money at a venue that then partially contributes to the income of a rival club and sport in western Sydney.
  • Security, policing and other entry issues at Pepper do raise concerns, particularly as I have experienced first hand the difference in capabilities and expectations of those managing these areas at past Penrith based games. I wrote about the scenario that played out when the friendly against Adelaide was hosted at Pepper Stadium before Season Two, and last season’s Wellington Phoenix match also demonstrated shortcomings with the manner in which access to the ground was controlled. Admittedly Parramatta is no utopia where everything goes right, and with more experience perhaps Pepper Stadium staff and the Penrith LAC could learn with more practice. However I don’t believe anyone can guarantee a better experience at Penrith in this area.
  • From a local resident’s perspective Penrith City Council has hardly been pro-active in seeking to engage with the Wanderers and its fans, unlike (for example) Liverpool City Council. PCC have a demonstrable and obvious link to the Panthers NRL club and it’s promotional and civic relationship with that entity would arguably run contrary to the need to invest heavily in supporting and promoting links with the Western Sydney Wanderers.
  • A further disconnect between the Penrith area and the Wanderers when it comes to home game experiences is the lack of engagement between local businesses and the fans when game days have been held at Pepper Stadium. I know of one pub in the area that promised to do much to support the Wanderers fans after the Adelaide friendly, however within a short time those promises were not met. It has to be said that as almost every major non-Panthers entertainment facility or pub is at a considerable distance from Pepper Stadium the ability for said businesses to engage with the fans is extremely limited.
  • The location of Penrith as a home venue for Wanderers games, whilst more advantageous for those fans and members in the Nepean, Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains area, does put a sizable portion of the Wanderers fan base at a disadvantage (especially those in the Bankstown, Lidcombe, Campbelltown and Hills District). This of course is an issue of variable impacts for every venue being considered. However Penrith is certainly at the most extreme end of traveling distance for many fans. It must also be cited that Penrith train station is a considerable distance from Pepper Stadium (unlike other potential venues) and parking near the stadium can be limited if Panthers car park is being used by that club’s patrons.

Summary:

Pepper Stadium would be a very reasonable option for hosting future Western Sydney Wanderers’ home games, with its record of hosting matches, layout and local supporter base being advantageous. However there are some serious questions over the game day experience that could be had there, and politically, economically and culturally there is nowhere near the proven engagement with the Wanderers that the clubs fans and members deserve.

Spotless Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park

  • Capacity: approximately 24,000 (all seated)
  • Distance from nearest train station: 0.5 km (6 minutes walk)
  • On site car par: Yes (P1 car park station has numerous levels of paid car parks all within walking distance of the stadium)
  • Other tenants: GWS Giants (AFL), Sydney Thunder (BBL), Royal Easter Show
  • Hosted previous Wanderer’s games: No

Pros:

  • An all seated stadium, with a sizable quantity of those seats under cover, there is a plenty of modern comfort and good accessibility at Spotless Stadium. The concourses and layout ensure that crowds can move freely and easily in, around and out of the venue, and as this is venue was refurbished in 2011/12, it is the most modern of the potential venues. The capacity of 24,000 is certainly within the desired parameters of the Wanderers for all home games, and offers an increased capacity for Sydney derbies.
  • The proximity of major transport facilities and routes will mean that Spotless can facilitate access for a large number of Wanderers fans and members, with the Sydney Olympic park train station specifically designed for the flow of large numbers of people attending sporting events in the area. The M4 motorway is very close to the venue, which allows for relatively easy access for those driving to Spotless along the east-west axis of the motorway’s corridor, and parking is available in sizable quantities. Nominally the worst added travel time on weekends for matches would be approximately 15-20 minutes for those traveling to the Sydney Olympic Park from those Wanderers’ fans and members living in the Nepean, Macarthur, Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains areas, with similar savings in time for those in the Bankstown, Lidcombe and similar areas.
  • Corporate and catering facilities at Spotless Stadium are more varied and configured to be more appropriate to the Wanderers’ needs than suburban grounds such as Pepper and Campbelltown.
  • The Sydney Olympic Park location for Spotless Stadium is good for large crowd movement and control, and with the close proximity of other facilities (e.g. Sydney Aquatic Centre) there could be an increase in casual attendees coming to watch a game plus make a day of the trip to the ground.

Cons:

  • Spotless Stadium is configured as an oval, with the focus for current and past tenants being on using that space instead of a more football friendly rectangular configuration. There has been a lack of engagement with other oval or circular grounds used for A-League matches (e.g. Westpac Stadium Wellington, the Adelaide Oval) and anecdotal evidence indicates that Spotless is viewed with much disfavour because of this factor.
  • The multiple existing tenants (GWS, Sydney Thunder, RAS Easter Show) means that Spotless Stadium may offer only limited access during the football season. The Royal Easter Show uses Spotless for many different events during their running in March, which would definitely cut across access for the Wanderers at that time. In December this year the Sydney Thunder Big Bash League cricket team play four games at this venue as well, which means that for possibly 8-10 weeks in the same time frame as an A-League season conflicting requirements for other tenants will impact on the Wanderers’ home game schedule. Whilst the GWS Australian Rules club may only have 1-2 games max being played at Spotless during the A-League season, there is the unpalatable idea for many Wanderers members and fans that a rival code and club could either share in and/or profit from our club’s presence at their Sydney base.
  • The price of car parking at Sydney Olympic Park can be prohibitive, so unless there is some kind of quid pro quo offering for members which may reduce this cost, then moving to Spotless does offer a challenge to those who would drive to the ground. Additionally any home games played on a Friday night may present a challenge to the fans driving to the Spotless and Sydney Olympic Park, as the M4 is notoriously stressed in that area during peak hour traffic.
  • Rail transport to Spotless may well mean changing at Lidcombe for anyone traveling from the west, south-west or Hawkesbury regions, and this will undoubtedly add time and stress that other, more direct venues such as Penrith and Parramatta may or do offer. This is arguably a minor inconvenience, but an inconvenience just the same.
  • Unlike our current home in Parramatta, or indeed other suburban venues we may opt for, the Sydney Olympic Park area is effectively a sterile environment. Yes, there are some more varied options for catering and there are plenty of complementary and supplementary facilities near Spotless Stadium. However unless there is a sizable crowd in place there is a certain lack of atmosphere to the area. It could be that with a paucity of pubs nearby, generic takeaway joints and a short walk from the railway station, the iconic aspects of supporting the Wanderers in Parramatta (e.g. the RBB march) would be dissipated.

Summary:

Spotless Stadium does have some string selling points, most notably those that relate to its modernity and to a lesser extent its location. Having said that there are several big challenges, most specifically relating to the other tenants and their interruptions to the Wanderers’ home season schedule. The oval shape of the ground is also a concern. It may be that Spotless could only figure as a venue for the period between the start of an A-League season through to early December, and thus increase the complexity of the problem (previously cited) with multiple home grounds.

Belmore Sports Ground

  • Capacity: approximately 19,000 (approximately 9,000 seats)
  • Distance from nearest train station: 0.5 km (6 minutes walk)
  • On site car par: No
  • Other tenants: Canterbury Bulldogs (NRL), Sydney Olympic FC (NPL)
  • Hosted previous Wanderer’s games: No

Pros:

  • Belmore Sports Ground is a rectangular football field with a capacity of 19,000, which certainly puts it in the same kind of preferred profile for size and shape for a temporary home for the Wanderers. The western stand (which holds the bulk of the 9,000 seats) is part of the recent redevelopment of the ground, and this specific installation of Belmore puts it ahead of less recently modified suburban football grounds such as Parramatta’s Pirtek and Penrith’s Pepper Stadia.
  • Belmore and the surrounding suburbs are prime Wanderers’ community territory, with a long tradition of a football culture. The multicultural demographic of the area has seen clubs from the NSL and earlier play based in the Canterbury district, including Sydney Olympic and Johnny Warren’s Canterbury-Marrickville Olympic (who have since become Bankstown Berries FC). This is a part of (western) Sydney that ‘gets’ football.
  • The major tenants and lease holders are not necessarily going to impose too heavily on the Wanderers’ home games during the summer season. The Bulldogs NRL team would be highly unlikely to play more than one game at Belmore (with their main stadium being ANZ) during the A-League season, which is less than the impact the Parramatta Eels have on Pirtek Stadium. It may be that the Bulldogs will use Belmore as their training facility in the NRL’s off-season, however as this would most likely not clash with the needs of the Wanderers (who are already using alternate facilities out at Blacktown) then this too should not be a problem. it may even be that the facilities provided under the auspices of the Bulldogs would be advantageous to the Wanderers. As for Sydney Olympic FC, whilst they may have some match clashes with a potential Wanderers home game in the last few weeks of the A-League season, the impact could be less than that experienced at Pepper Stadium in Penrith or Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
  • With Belmore train station under a kilometre away there is good access to a major public transport hub. The M5 toll way is about 7 minutes drive away, which will be advantageous for those fans who are traveling to the ground from areas such as Liverpool and Campbelltown.
  • The main business areas of Belmore and Campsie offer some unique and cosmopolitan dining options for visiting Wanderers fans, and with the Canterbury Leagues Club about 12 minutes walk from the ground there are more entertainment options there as well.

Cons:

  • Belmore Sports Ground may have 9,000 or so seats and a modern grand stand, but it it demonstrably deficient when it comes to matching any other current or potential home ground for the Wanderers for total seating and covered areas. It would also be a significant downgrade contrasted to other A-League stadia. It may be possible that temporary stands could be added to the venue, however with three sides of the rectangle provided with only a grass cover, this would be a major problem for the management and fans of the Wanderers. It would also present a challenge (arguably an insoluble one) for locating the RBB and any associated security and policing measures.
  • Whilst the Bulldogs Leagues Club and Sydney Oympic FC are both tenants, and arguably more passive than seen at (for example) Spotless Stadium, there would again be the issue of Wanderers members and fans contributing to the ongoing revenue streams of rival clubs if Belmore was selected as a new home ground. Whilst there are some synergies with the two other clubs, both the Bulldogs and Olympic would see the Wanderers presence at Belmore as a potential cash cow.
  • Canterbury City Council has not, as far as I am aware, not made a political or financial investment in the Wanderers, and thus there would be little benefit in these two key areas for the A-League club to venture to Belmore.
  • The lack of on-site car parking is a significant problem, and unlike Penrith or Campbelltown, the distance between the local league’s club car park and the ground is most considerable. Additionally, those fans and members travelling from the Blue Mountains, Nepean, Hawkesbury and Hills districts would be severely disadvantaged both in terms of rail and car access. With Belmore the most easterly of the potential venues travel time via the M4 etc from Penrith balloons out to almost an hour, whilst public transport would require about 100 or more minutes from Penrith, including both train and bus. This is obviously the reverse of the scenario for those people who live near Belmore if they were to travel out to Penrith. However even those who would be most likely to benefit with access to the M5 from Campbelltown or Liverpool have a cheaper option traveling to Penrith by car (using in some part Northern Road which is toll free). Interestingly enough, the issues relating to parking and the previous point re Canterbury Council are brought together in this article, where local council rangers have fined numerous people who’ve parked in residential areas close to Belmore Sports Ground.

Summary:

Belmore is a very unlikely option due to its location, lack of internal infrastructure and the potential for financial and political issues possibly relating to the Canterbury Rugby League club and Canterbury Council. The benefits of playing at what is effectively a semi-refurbished suburban football/league ground are minimal contrasted to the other candidates.

ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park

  • Capacity: approximately 83,500
  • Distance from nearest train station: 0.5 km (6 minutes walk)
  • On site car par: Yes (P1 multi-level paid car parking station)
  • Other tenants: Sydney Swans (AFL), Canterbury Bulldogs (NRL), West Tigers (NRL), South Sydney Rabbitohs (NRL), Other Miscellaneous clubs and teams such as the Socceroos and NSW Blues (cricket)
  • Hosted previous Wanderer’s games: No

Pros:

  • There is no larger capacity stadium in Sydney, and with a fully seated capacity of 83,500 for rectangular sports there would be absolutely no issue with the Wanderers members and fans being able to find covered seats for any match played there (including the Sydney derby). Whilst ANZ Stadium has not undergone the same modernisation processes seen by its fellow Sydney Olympic Park venue, Spotless Stadium, it still easily surpasses smaller suburban grounds in terms of its recent build, internal infrastructure and ease of access for spectators entering and leaving the stadium.
  • Alongside the improved quantity and quality of spectator seating, corporate and media facilities at ANZ are second to none in Sydney, if not in Australia. With the background of being the main stadium for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and since its opening in 1999 a continuous history of major sporting events (including NRL State of Origin matches, Socceroos World Cup qualifiers, Rugby World Cup 2015 matches and AFC Cup games), there is arguably no other stadium in Australia (aside from the MCG) that has a recent track record of hosting world class events. So as to maximise the revenue from this continuous flow of major sporting events the ANZ Stadium consortium have established themselves as a leader for corporate customers (charging for example up to $1495 for a box at the NRL grand final). There are also the considerable resources available to the media, such as the stadium’s studio spaces for TV and radio, built to Olympic broadcasting standards. Contrasted with the other candidate venues ANZ presents a far more impressive and comprehensive ability to showcase the Wanderers via media coverage, a significantly superior standard of corporate facilities (which would come in most handy for any potential ACL commitments in future seasons)
  • As per Spotless Stadium, due to its location in Sydney Olympic Park ANZ Stadium has significant transportation benefits for any attending Wanderers members or fans (as well as visiting spectators from other clubs). The same ease of access to the M4 and quantity of parking sites makes life much easier for the Wanderers fan or member who drives to Sydney Olympic Park. The same public transport benefits regarding rail also exist for ANZ as they do for Spotless. It might even be considered that bus and River Cat ferry services could also add to the mix for public transport users heading to ANZ.
  • Catering, bar and other franchises within ANZ are in plentiful supply and offer a wide variety. This would again replicate some of the better aspects of Spotless Stadium’s advantages in this area, though where this stadium surpasses its neighbour would be sheer quantity and capacity of food stalls, merchandise stands, bars etc.
  • Free Wi-Fi internet support at ANZ is a plus for those in the Wanderers community looking for that specific point of difference for their home game venue.
  • Whilst ANZ Stadium does have multiple tenants, particularly NRL teams, the calendar for the bulk of the A-League season (as indicated by their 2016 schedule) is relatively light, aside from the period of March-May. The period between the end of the NRL season and Christmas does appear bereft of sporting events.
  • As per Spotless Stadium, the Sydney Olympic Park location of ANZ Stadium means there are additional benefits for those who may wish to use a Wanderers’ home match as the focal event of a day’s visit to the precinct. Plus there is plenty of scope for comfortable and safe crowd management in the precinct.
  • With its size and location ANZ Stadium would be a most capable venue for the Sydney derbies, and whilst the 83,500 capacity may not sell out there is every probability that those who are unable to attend either Pirtek or Allianz hosted matches would be able to come to ANZ. It may be possible that an ANZ Stadium hosted derby could host over 60,000 spectators and become the absolute flag ship event of the domestic football season.

Cons:

  • The sheer size and nature of ANZ Stadium may well mitigate against the most appropriate game day experiences for Wanderers fans and members. As it is a huge space that is imperfectly configured for football matches, there are significant problems with how spectators can see the pitch, and how they can produce a game day environment that would match those at Pirtek Stadium in Parramatta. Whilst seats closer to ground level are not too badly sited for watching a game, the slope of higher seating, the bowl shape of the stands and the height at which the higher stands reach mean that many feel they cannot see the game when there, and the atmosphere (a key part of Wanderland) is ‘sucked’ out of the venue. With a full crowd ANZ Stadium can be a very exciting and engaging venue. However there will be almost no chance that home games for the Wanderers against (for example) Perth Glory, Wellington Phoenix or Adelaide United could draw more than one quarter of the Stadium’s capacity. This means there is every likelihood that ANZ hosted matches will appear to be in a near void of spectators and atmosphere. These issues of capacity and lay out of ANZ will also impinge upon the RBB’s ability to interact with the match, possibly deadening their ability to create that unique Western Sydney Wanderers culture on match days. Plus there is every possibility that with the over-supply of seating those who currently hold club memberships may decide they don’t need to continue to maintain them, in light of being able to buy tickets on a match by match basis, knowing they will have no trouble getting a seat.
  • As per Spotless Stadium, there are issues and challenges faced by ANZ due to its Olympic Park location, that will impinge upon those traveling to the venue by car. Peak hour traffic on a Friday night when a match may be played there could be a nightmare for fans trying to get to the venue via the M4 (or for that matter Homebush Bay Drive, Silverwater Road and other nearby major arterial roads). The price of car parking at Sydney Olympic Park may also be too expensive to sustain.
  • Again, like Spotless Stadium, train travel to ANZ Stadium may not be easy as suspected on first inspection. Having to change trains for the Olympic Park loop service at Lidcombe would be an added complication for many traveling to Wanderers’ games at ANZ.
  • The same problems with Spotless Stadium vis-a-vis the relatively ‘sterile’ nature of Sydney Olympic Park, and how the area doesn’t replicate the same suburban energy felt in Parramatta on match day, exist for ANZ. Large open spaces, the inability to match Church Street’s entertainment and dining options; these aspects deaden game day experience, which is vitally important to Wanderers fans and members.
  • Whilst for the most part the other (mostly NRL) tenants don’t have an effect on the bulk of the potential Wanderers’ home season, they still have a major impact in the last few months of the A-League season. There is also the possibility that large outdoor concerts and similar non-sporting events held at ANZ could impact on the Wanderers home games, and not just on the match day. For example Taylor Swift held an open air concert at ANZ on November 28th 2015, and the pitch was used for seating and the stage. It may be that if a similar event happened during a Wanderers’ season the playing surface at ANZ could be damaged or unusable for a period of time both before and after the concert. As for the other tenants of ANZ Stadium, the multiple clubs from the NRL and AFL can create a congested schedule. In March 2016 there will be a four day period where two NRL games and one AFL match will be played, and such heavy use of the ANZ pitch must result in damage to the pitch unacceptable for football use. Finally, whilst the Royal Easter Show does not use ANZ Stadium as a venue, as the venue does lie within the Olympic precinct it will have an impact on the ability of Wanderers fans and members getting to games.
  • Politically there may be a conflict of interest, or at least some degree of concern for the ANZ Stadium ownership group with the Wanderers playing at ANZ, then returning to Parramatta to a newer, rival stadium. They may consider offering financial and other incentives to the Wanderers as being not in their long term interests. It’s hard to assess the implications, however unlike Campbelltown or Penrith, where the relevant councils may see a transitory Wanderers residence at their local grounds being a reason to encourage longer term investment in their facilities, ANZ Stadium’s owners and shareholders have more reason to cater for existing and/or non-competing customers. It may be that (unlike existing and alternate potential tenants) ANZ Stadium may not offer the same support and inducements to the Wanderers, knowing they will be playing their home game either for maybe 3 seasons at most.
  • There is also the potential impact of the possible redevelopment of ANZ Stadium, as suggested by Mike Baird in the original proposal to upgrade Sydney’s venues. Whilst it is probably not going to happen, what may be the impact of construction work happening at ANZ before the Wanderers return to their new digs in Parramatta. There could even be a scenario where Sydney FC are put into the position of having to move from Allianz Stadium if its redevelopment/replacement occurs, and thus they too may be looking at playing some games out of ANZ.

Summary:

ANZ Stadium is the most capacious option for the Wanderers’ temporary move away from Parramatta, and it’s facilities and location are most attractive. However there are some serious problems relating to the layout, excess capacity and atmosphere there. Also the political imperative to go there is not as advantageous as perhaps at other venues in Sydney’s west. Finally the manner in which ANZ hosts multiple tenants and events could be too disadvantageous for both the Wanderers and their fans and members to deal with, particularly in the period from March onwards.

Campbelltown Sports Stadium

  • Capacity: 20,000 (13,000 seated)
  • Distance from nearest train station: 0.5 km (7 minutes walk)
  • On site car par: Yes (with additional parking available at Wests Leagues Club)
  • Other tenants: Wests Tigers (NRL)
  • Hosted previous Wanderer’s games: Yes (including pre-season and A-League)

Pros:

  • Campbelltown Stadium is a traditional rectangular ground with a layout that is favourable to watching football. It’s capacity of 20,000 certainly puts it into the same category as Pepper Stadium at Penrith, and whilst smaller than Spotless and ANZ Stadiums it has the advantage of actually presenting as a ‘football friendly’ stadium. The two stands and seating capacity are better than Belmore and not that much smaller than Pepper Stadium. There are also all the requisite facilities within the venue for media, corporate and sporting needs.
  • With Leumeah train station only half a kilometre away from the stadium there is a strong advantage for those attending Wanderers games at Campbelltown Stadium to use rail to get to the venue. This is certainly a better option than the scenario at Penrith.
  • There is also an on-site car park which does allow for some usage (in the same range I believe as what is seen currently at Parramatta with the car park next to the council pool). Additional parking is available at the neighbouring Wests League Club Leumeah. Accessing the area by road is obviously most advantageous for those living in the Macarthur area. There are some additional time penalties for those traveling to the venue from Penrith, however they are not that different to expected travel time to Sydney Olympic Park in this instance, and with the M4/M7/M31 route to and from Campbelltown the roads are all multi-lane express ways.
  • Wests Tigers are the only other tenant of Campbelltown Stadium, and they do not play all their home games there (also using Leichhardt Oval for NRL matches). with perhaps only 2-3 games an A-League season max being played at this venue there is less exposure to potential pitch damage of scheduling clashes for the Wanderers than (say) Pepper Stadium or ANZ Stadium.
  • Campbelltown and the Macarthur area is both a good source of support for the Wanderers, as well as being where football has a strong footprint. It would be most beneficial for an area that has at times been spoken of as a place for a third Sydney A-League franchise, as well as for the Wanderers if they were to take their home games to Campbelltown.
  • As a council owned facility there is the distinct possibility that there would be political benefits flowing through to the Wanderers and to the local council be forming a partnership over the use of the ground. Conflicting interests, as possibly relevant at ANZ Stadium or Pepper Stadium, may not be as so prevalent or damaging to the Wanderers if they went to Campbelltown. It may even be feasible that additional (temporary) seating would be facilitated at Campbelltown Stadium, with the council’s assistance.
  • Wests Leagues Club is a considerable entertainment and dining facility within a very short distance of the stadium. There are also some reasonably close dining and pub options which expand the prospects of the Wanderers’ fans and members having a positive game day experience.
  • There have been a few games played by the Wanderers at Campbelltown, including a 2012/13 match against Newcastle and a 2014/15 pre-season match against the Macarthur Rams. These experiences will have helped everyone understand what may be expected if the Wanderers were to play more (home) games at Campbelltown Stadium in future, including security, catering and ticketing.

Cons:

  • The grassed hills at the northern and southern ends account for about 35% of Campbelltown Stadium’s capacity, and for the Sydney derby matches (plus perhaps games against Melbourne Victory) a fully seated venue would be preferable. Even if this were to be done the venue may not meet the requirements of these high demand matches.
  • The facilities and internal infrastructure for Campbelltown Stadium are not as modern and as well developed as seen at the two Sydney Olympic Park stadia. This includes catering options available within the ground’s precinct, as well as corporate facilities.
  • Leumeah train station is located on the South West and Cumberland train lines, which means anyone west of Blacktown would need to change trains. Of course this replicates the scenario for those traveling in the opposite direction from the Campbelltown/Macarthur/Liverpool area to Pepper Stadium in Penrith.
  • With Wests Leagues Club right next door to the venue, the Wanderers fans would be injecting serious money into a rival sport’s franchise in a key growth area for football and for the club. It could be argued that this is not entirely dissimilar to what happens now in Parramatta, or would happen in Penrith. However this doesn’t lessen the potential for a move to Campbelltown hurting the Wanderers future engagement and expansion in the area, by providing a new revenue stream for an NRL club.
  • Whilst there are some off-site, non-Leagues Club dining and entertainment facilities available near Campbelltown Stadium, they are not the equal in terms of quantity as seen in Penrith or possibly at Belmore. Campbelltown Stadium is located within Leumeah’s mix of semi-industrial, semi-residential environment, with no major CBD near by.
  • Ticketing for Campbelltown is run by ProTicket, which would put it nominally at odds with the current arrangement the Western Sydney Wanderers has with TicketMaster. This will need to be resolved as part of any resolution of ticketing rights for Wanderers fans who are members.

Summary:

Campbelltown Stadium does have some major benefits in terms of its capacity, lay out, accessibility for sizable portions of the Wanderers community and its location in the Macarthur area. However it is not fully seated in its current configuration, and there may be issues relating to how it may host major games such as the Sydney derbies. The presence of Wests Leagues Club nearby is a benefit in some respects but a problem in others.

Conclusions:

There is no doubt that every single one of these stadia have benefits and problems when it comes to hosting the Western Sydney Wanderers when it comes to home games after this season. None are 100% in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ of being just right. ANZ is arguably too big, Belmore too small. Campbelltown is the right shape but doesn’t have enough seats, Spotless has enough seats but is the wrong shape. Pepper is positioned in a strong hold of Wanderers support but has a rival code’s club dictating the space within and around the venue.

As I said beforehand I believe that if possible only one venue should be chosen to host all Wanderers matches if possible, and if that was the guiding principle my preference would be for ANZ Stadium. However upon consideration of each venues’ strengths and weaknesses I can’t see the Wanderers’ owners and management agreeing to this hosting model. It may well be that ANZ does get utilised for Wanderers’ home games, but only or derby matches, and perhaps against Melbourne Victory. Other than that I think that the suburban rectangular ground are more likely. Spotless may have its advantages, but its configuration and crowded schedule are too problematic.

Within that scenario Belmore is out of the running because frankly it is not of a standard facility-wise and offers far too many challenges for the club and spectators alike. That leaves Pepper Stadium in Penrith and Campbelltown Sports Stadium in Leumeah. It may be that Pepper Stadium is the more prudent choice in terms of capacity, proximity to large numbers of Wanderers members, has a sponsorship alliance with the club and is reasonably well sited in terms of transport options. However, personally I don’t believe the Wanderers should be investing money and the members’ good will into a venue which has some past issues regarding security and price gouging, and is too closely tied to a monolithic NRL club which has no interest whatsoever in seeing the Wanderers prosper. Campbelltown on the other hand replicates the benefits seen at Penrith, without the significant problem of a major NRL club monopolising the venue and the area.

Therefore, I would think that once the Wanderers leave Pirtek at the close of this season, so that Wanderland 2.0 can arise from the debris and construction site, it would be of most benefit if we play most of our home games out of Campbelltown, with perhaps derbies and maybe one or two other games played at ANZ, where we can expect a 20K plus attendance. I would not be surprised if we end up playing out of Pepper Stadium, or indeed we do indeed ‘Wander the west’ until we have a new home stadium back in Parramatta. However for the interests of club and members/fans alike Campbelltown  and ANZ seem better bets for the interim.

 

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).

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!

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

Another day closer to the 2013/14 season kick off, and another ten magic memories from last season.

40. Shinji Ono scores his first A-League game for the Wanderers

When Ono arrived at the Wanderers everyone expected him to be a vitally important part of the new club’s campaign in 2012/13. Unfortunately it took him a few games to find his match fitness, but when he did in front of goal for a penalty against the Roar at Wanderland in Round 10 it was exactly what the team needed. His goal gave the Wanderers their second win of the season over the 2011/12 champions.

39. Youssouf Hersi scores two goals against Adelaide at Hindmarsh

The club’s Dutch forward picked up two goals in the second away trip for the Wanderers to Homebush in Round 19. His biggest haul in one game, his second goal in this match was another example of his skillful ball control, a prominent feature of his game throughout the season.

38. Jerome Polenz and Youssouf Hersi show off the Harlem Shake

Words aren’t needed…just look at this:

37. Wanderers go top of the A-League table beating Perth 1-0

In Round 22 the Wanderers achieved something very few people would’ve expected before the beginning of the 2012/13 season. Defeating Perth Glory 1-0 at Wanderland in the wet put the Western Sydney Wanderers into the top position on the A-League table, where they stayed until the regular season’s end.

36. The RBB helping out a sick fan after the away game at Gosford

After the Round 23 away game at Blue Tongue Stadium, the celebrating fans and RBB were able to render invaluable assistance to a fellow fan who experienced a medical emergency. By marshaling and organising passers-by they helped facilitate the response of the medical personnel, and it is moments like that that underscore the true nature of how (active) Wanderers supporters help each other.

35. The RBB and other away fans descend on Melbourne and AAMI Stadium

In one of the largest showing of interstate away fan support in A-League history approximately 1000 RBB and regular Wanderers fans turned up at AAMI Stadium for the Round 21 game against Melbourne Victory. Challenged by the largest and most vocal active supporters in the A-League the RBB didn’t take one step back, acquiring a grudging respect from many MVFC and neutral observers

34. Being at the Woolpack Inn in Parramatta before a home game for the Wanderers

The energy and camaraderie at the ‘Woolie’ in 2012/13 was always good value, and in such a close and friendly  environment the RBB found their voice before every home game (and for most away games too)

33. Tony Popovic named PFA Coach of 2012/13

In an incredibly successful season for Popa he took out the PFA coach of the year award, beating out his arguably more well credentialed rivals Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold. This was not the only honour he would collect.

32. Dino Kresinger’s Passion and Drive

Whilst he may not have been the most fruitful provider of goals for the Wanderers, throughout every game he was involved in Dino was always a fan favourite thanks to his tireless running, his endeavours to get in the face of his opponents, his ability to draw some very useful fouls, and most importantly the legendary ‘fist pumps’. No one could fault his work ethic.

31. Nikolai Topor-Stanley and his clearances from centre back

Whilst his clearances could be seen as the source of great humour, Nikolai Topor-Stanley rarely kicked the ball away without some thought behind his booming hoofs up field. Whilst Covic had prime responsibility for forming the long ball basis for the second man counter-attack NTS would often play this role before the goalie grabbed the ball.