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 Six)

Another ten moments that helped define the magic that was the first full A-League season for the Western Sydney Wanderers.

50. Dino Kresinger’s first A-League goal

In the massacre of John Kosmina’s Adelaide United in Round 12 at Wanderland the big Croat up front at the pointy end of the Wanderers attack finally scored his much desired first goal in red and black. After 11 rounds of every fan wondering if, let alone when our bald headed number 9 would convert he finally nailed the back of the net to rapturous acclamation. I can proudly say I was there that night and saw Dino score!

49. Shinji Ono re-signs to the Western Sydney Wanderers

In a great affirmation both of the Wanderers’ belief in Shinji and his willingness to continue his mission with the red and black the great Japanese no.21 re-signed by the end of April 2013.

“Yes I want to [stay] but actually I have just a one-year contract, and we have to speak about next season. I don’t care how much the contract [is worth], but if they give me a chance to play . . . I want to do what I can possibly do.”

48. Youssouf Hersi re-signs to the Western Sydney Wanderers

Another vital cog in the red and black machine, Youssouf was the first major overseas signing to re-commit to the club:

“It was difficult because I wanted to go somewhere else, maybe, But I thought no, it’s better to stay here, follow my heart.”

47. The Mark Bridge and Adam D’Apuzzo combination on the left flank

The manner in which these two players were able to work together was one of the best combinations in not just the Western Sydney Wanderers but also the entire A-League during 2012/13. Bridge particularly shone understanding how and when to respond to the defensive challenge faced by D’Apuzzo whenever the opposition threatened their flank. D’Apuzzo was also able to distribute many balls up to Bridge which put the left wing forward into strong offensive positions. With D’Apuzzo injured late in the season there was a noticeable drop-off in the team’s capabilities on the left.

46. Aaron Mooy scores his first goal for the Wanderers

In the only home game against Perth Glory during 2012/13, in round 22 Aaron Mooy finally delivered on his promise throughout the preceding games. His shot from outside the Glory’s box took a fortuitous deflection however considering Mooy’s lack of luck in earlier games this was fair recompense. IN a very tight and defensive game Aaron’s goal was the difference between the teams.

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45. A ten-man Western Sydney Wanderers’ team beats Perth Glory 0-1 away from home

In the early stages of the Round 7 game at nib Stadium in Perth the Wanderers went a man down thanks to a red card being show to Youssouf Hersi (the victim of some nasty niggling from Scott Jamieson). In a demonstration of the team’s character and stamina, a successful combination of Iacopo La Rocca scoring in the first half and Ante Covic saving numerous shots resulted in a fine win away from Wanderland. This victory ended Perth’s early unbeaten run at home of 3 games and put the Wanderers into fifth position on the table.

44. The reaction of the Wanderland faithful to Dino Kresingers’ goals

In both occasions during the 2012/13 season Dino’s goals set off wild celebrations within both the RBB and the other stands at Wanderland. From personal experience I can verify that no other player electrified the Wanderers faithful than Kresinger when he put the ball in the back of the opposition’s net.

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43. Ante Milicic…Popa’s Right Hand Man

Whilst other clubs had problems with their coaching staff during 2012/13, the Wanderers had the ideal pair to lead the squad through its debut season. Milicic had already shown his talents as an assistant coach at Melbourne Heart, and preceding that he had  experience as a head coach at the NSL club Sydney United, and in joining with Tony Popovic he formed the best pairing of coaches in the A-League since the Roar’s Postecoglou and Vidosic. There is every expectation that Ante will coach A-League club in the near future (hopefully after Popovic moves on to a European club).

42. Michael Beauchamp named as first captain of the Western Sydney Wanderers

A true son of Western Sydney football, Beauchamp went through many clubs over his first twelve seasons of senior football before becoming the inaugural club captain for the Wanderers. Bringing experience ranging from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, through Bundesliga appearances and A-League stints with the Mariners, Heart and Sydney FC, Beauchamp formed a highly effective pairing with fellow centre back Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the Wanderers’ first season. Hard to get past and always on the look out for transition passes out of defence, Beauchamp also set a great example for the team off the field in media and community engagements.

41. The Wanderers squad appearance at Westfield Parramatta

From the willingness of the squad to meet, greet, talk with the fans and sign autographs, through to the amazing passion shown by hundreds of RBB supporters in the middle of Sydney’s largest shopping centre, the Wanderers’ day at Westfield Parramatta was one of the best community/club engagements all season.

2013/14 Western Sydney Wanderers Preview: The Defenders

First Squad Players: Ante Covic (GK),  Jerome Polenz (RB), Michael Beauchamp (CB), Nikolai Topor-Stanley (CB), Adam D’Apuzzo (LB),

Substitutes/Reserves: Matthew Spiranovic (Def), Shannon Cole (Def), Iacopo La Rocca (Def), Dean Heffernan (Def)

Defence was the backbone of the successful 2012/13 campaign for the Western Sydney Wanderers and again Tony Popovic has built what should be a very solid defensive structure to the team. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this line-up is the very recent addition of Matthew Spiranovic who has both unrealized potential not just at the domestic but also national level as well as some quality experience with overseas clubs (specifically Nuremburg in the German Bundesliga).

Ante Covic was without doubt the best goal keeper of 2012/13 and whilst his performance in the trial match against Melbourne Victory was less than adequate he is not the type of player who will let a mistake dictate either his motivation nor future work. His experience is crucial and alongside Beauchamp his guidance of the back four is vital to the team on the field. Last season he also effectively implemented Popovic’s second man tactics, targeting the likes of Dino Kresinger with long clearances to great effect. Even before the 2013/14 season commences Covic is being given new directions by the coach, and it will be interesting to see how he responds.

Jerome Polenz was the star right back in 2012/13 across the A-League, with his defensive efforts continually helping to keep rivals out of the box. The goal saving tackles he put in against Melbourne Victory away were the stuff of legend, and there was no doubt the Wanderers suffered at the end of the season and in the finals without him due to injury. However the most important aspect of Polenz’s game is his combination with Youssouf Hersi. These two are the best defence/attack combo in the A-League and when either one of them is missing the Wanderers lose a sizable percentage of their on-field capabilities. If Polenz can stay fit and maintain that relationship with Hersi (plus avoid the red cards) he should again be a monster at right back.

Nikolai Topor-Stanley was possibly the not-so-secret weapon of the Wanderers in 2012/13, with his booming clearances both a source of wonder and sometimes humour. However this was not the sole dimension to his game. High pressing and willing to get his considerable height up in the opposition’s box he was a double threat at all times. There were some moments where he didn’t get it right (most notably the horrendous back-pass in Derby III that led to a goal from Allesandro del Piero), and it will be intriguing to see how he copes with a potential change in tactics from Popovic. He and Spiranovic could be dueling for the same position.

Michael Beauchamp was both an admirable captain and more than adequate central back for the Wanderers last season and it would be hoped he can do the same again this season. Unfortunately he has had injury problems and there is a possibility he may go through similar rigours this season. Not as forward in positioning as Topor-Stanley and arguably more skilled at ground ball work, he too may be supplemented by Spiranovic during 2013/14. A fierce competitor and excellent captain.

Adam D’Apuzzo is possibly the weakest link in the back four however he is still going to be a logical first choice for the Wanderers come next Saturday. A more dogged and unfashionable defender than his right back counterpart Polenz, D’Apuzzo will put his body on the line time and time again. Also unlike Polenz he is not as adventurous in coming forward with his flanking forward, who is usually Mark Bridge. In fact whilst Polenz and Hersi will patrol higher up the right flank Bridge will often find himself dropping back more on the left to assist D’Apuzzo.

Of the utility and substitute backs it would be reasonable to expect all bar Jerrad Tyson to get at least 2-3 games this coming season. Shannon Cole can fit into either flank and whilst arguably not as good as either D’Appuzo nor Polenz he has demonstrated in the past the flexibility and motivation to work hard in either slot. Heffernan might be the third choice back behind D’Apuzzo and maybe Cole on the left flank and for now appears to be designated as a squad reserve rather than a potential first team player. La Rocca is a flexible player who may figure in either defence or midfield and again would be considered a reserve squad player first, however he may have opportunities further up the field depending upon Aaron Mooy or Matteo Poljak’s contribution to the defensive midfield. Jerrad Tyson undoubtedly deserves more game time if one considers his work ethic, passion and motivation, however Covic is a lock for goalkeeping duties. Finally, as previously stated Matthew Spiranovic is a major and exciting acquisition for the western Sydney Wanderers who should press repeatedly for inclusion in the first team defensive line-up. Tony Popovic is to be congratulated for assembling such a solid back five

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

Today it’s those highlights I’ve ranked from 60 to 51…

60. The close relationship between the Wanderers A-League club, the RBB, the Wanderers Power Chair Football Team and the Wanderers Cripple Army

Demonstrating again the close links between the A-League club and its supporters and the wider community, the red and black figures prominently not just on and off the field but also in access and support assistance for disabled sport.

59. The Wanderers defeat the Jets at Campbelltown

In the first Wanderers home game played away from Wanderland, they took on and defeated in convincing fashion the Newcastle Jets 2-1. Part of the A-League’s community round, played at Campbelltown International Sports Ground saw 10,589 spectators come to see the Wanderers complete their fifth win on the trot and exact revenge for a 1-2 loss against Newcastle earlier in the season.

58. Tony Popovic selects Jerome Polenz as preferred right back for 2012/13

When ex-Bundesliga player Jerome Polenz joined the Wanderers he was nominally competing for a midfielder’s position. However in what turned out to be one of the best decisions regarding positioning any player in the A-League in 2012/13 Popa put Jerome in the right back no.6 position, whereupon the German had a monster season.

57. Wanderers defeat Roar Round Ten, 1-0

Whilst the crowd at Wonderland was not big there was plenty of reason to celebrate the 1-0 defeat of the 2011/12 champions Brisbane Roar. If ever a team was owned by the Wanderers in 2012/13 it was the Roar, and this was the second of a clean sweep of victories against what had been the benchmark team for the A-League

56. Wanderers defeat Roar Round Seventeen, 1-2

Away from home in Brisbane for the second time in the season, the Wanderers played one of their worst first halves of football against the Roar in this game. However in the second half  goals from Bridge and Hersi (the latter the result of brilliant combination work from Dino Kresinger, Shinji Ono and Youssouf Hersi) pulled the win back from last season’s champions.

55. Adam D’Apuzzo renews his career as a solid left back for the Wanderers

A former player for the Newcastle Jets, D’Apuzzo had effectively retired after his football career came to an end after a spell with NSWPL club Apia Leichhardt. However in yet another inspired coaching decision Tony Popovic brought D’Apuzzo back to the A-League as the first choice left back for the Wanderers, where he formed part of one of the most stingy defences in the competition.

54. Aaron Mooy becomes the first Wanderers’ player selected as a Socceroo

Whilst the Wanderers had numerous players who had previous national experience Aaron Mooy was the first to be chosen to represent Australia whilst playing for the club. As part of Holger Osieck’s 2012 squad that participated in the qualifying tournament for the East Asian Football Federation Cup in Hong Kong, he played 2 games and scored 2 goals. His free kick against Chinese Taipai that earned him his second goal was taken with incredible aplomb, accuracy and technique.

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53. The music and the rhythm that drives the RBB…La Banda

Just as the RBB is the heart and soul of the Western Sydney Wanderers’ support, La Banda give them and anyone else within earshot the beat and the music to drive the most passionate fans in the A-League

52. Jerrad Tyson and his continual efforts as the face of the Wanderers’ community work

If ever one player in the Wanderers squad was most prominent as the man who would play with the kids, go to the hospitals, participate in charity events, get involved with Power Chair football or even man the phone lines at WSW HQ it was reserve goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson. Unfortunately not chosen for a regular season game he played a vital role in keeping the club connected to its fans and the wider public. Jerrad was often seen in the company of unofficial mascot Wynston the Wanderer.

51. The arrival of Shinji Ono at Kingsford-Smith Airport

With the acquisition of Japanese marquee player Shinji Ono interest in and excitement for the Wanderers rose immensely, and in a celebrated moment for the club he was greeted upon his arrival by several fans of the club as well as chairman Lyall Gorman. Ono’s arrival crystalized the growing enthusiasm for the new club.