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.

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.

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

More classic moments from the Western Sydney Wanderers during their amazing debut season…

80. Aaron Mooy’s crunching tackle on Alessandro del Piero during Derby II

If ever there was a statement of no fear and no submissiveness from the Wanderers in the 2012/13 A-League season it was the effort at Allianz Stadium against the complacent Sydney FC in the second derby. With ADP being all the talk of the season due to his immense reputation and significance to particularly the ranks of Euro-snobs who have in the past looked down upon the A-League, his importance to the sky blues cannot be underestimated. However in the closing moments with del Piero brought on by a desperate Frank Farina Aaron Mooy effected a crunching tackle that was as much about reminding Sydney FC that the Wanderers were not going to lie down in the shadow of their older, wealthier, more illustrious rivals  as it was about getting the ball of the Italian marquee.

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79. The ‘Habemus Popa’ sign at Wanderland

As both a gesture of Wanderers fan humour as well as a demonstration of the almost religious belief the faithful red and black had in our coach, this was a better than decent effort.

78. Exit Row release the unofficial Wanderers anthem ‘Welcome To Our Wanderland’

It didn’t take too long for the excitement and popularity of the Wanderers and the RBB to permeate popular culture in the western suburbs of Sydney, and Exit Row’s thumping rock song gave all the fans something to listen to on their iPods etc (plus it was performed with great fervour at the Wanderers’ post-season party in Parramatta).

77. Wanderers beat Melbourne Heart 3-1 in the rain away at AAMI Stadium

Throughout the 2012/13 season Heart had been the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde club, playing like champions at home and like busted arses away. When the Wanderers came down to Melbourne in Round 25 and took up the challenge of continuing their unbeaten run against Aloisi’s team in wet and soggy conditions, in front of a hostile crowd, it was a sublime effort for the boys to come away with a 3-1 win. In fact this was one of those games where if it hadn’t been some cruel luck for the likes of Dino Kresinger and Mark Bridge in front of the Heart’s goal it could’ve ended up being a massacre. To complete the achievement, the RBB responded in a well-behaved and passionate manner to some pretty grubby provocation from the Heart’s active fans.

76. Wynston the Wanderer…our unofficial mascot

The garden gnome who goes wherever the team does, who helps out where he is needed with community charities and being a mate for kids and grown-ups alike, Wynston is the man!

75. Dino dons the Santa hat and calls out ‘Who Do We Sing For’ to the RBB

A magical moment when the man we all loved last season led the best active supporters in the A-League in our signature chant.

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74. The NRMA Wanderers ball amnesty at Wanderland

A clever piece of marketing for the kids, the NRMA ball amnesty saw hundreds of all types of old footballs swapped for a brand new Western Sydney Wanderers ball. To make the community engagement even more valuable the returned unwanted footballs plus some new Wanderers balls were donated to the Salvation Army and their Oasis Youth Foundation. A win-win situation for all involved, and an example of how good the grass-roots connections are between the Wanderers and its community.

73. The Topor-STAND-ley section at Wanderland

Another example of Wanderers fans finding a humorous and effective way of conveying support for the team As the 2012/13 season reached its pinnacle out at Parramatta Stadium more and more supporters were sitting behind the sign that made us all smile.

72. Mateo Poljak re-signs with the Wanderers

One of the best overseas players in the a-League in 2012/13, it was a positive step when Lyall Gorman and Tony Popovic showed their confidence in Matteo by re-signing him for anotehr season

71. The establishment of and continuing online discussions at the Wanderers’ online forum, West Sydney Football

One of the busiest and liveliest internet forums in the A-League, WestSydneyFootball.com has grown to be an integral part of the Wanderers’ fan experience. Whether it’s a place for the RBB to discuss chants, supporters to make contact with others behind the club and establish new friends, or spend over 44 pages of postings to talk about the legend that was and still is Dino Kresinger, WestSydneyFootball.com is a great avenue for all Wanderers fans to explore.

Looking Back On Last Season: The Dino Kresinger Factor

In the formative season of the Western Sydney Wanderers there were a lot of intriguing personalities, players who had come to the newly formed squad either with great reputations, unfulfilled promise or a solid career which was taking them in a new direction. There was the Japanese Tensai, Shinji Ono, a true legend of Japanese football who signed with the Wanderers in the wake of the failure of Michael Ballack to come to Wanderland. Then there were two worthy stalwarts of the Socceroos second-line during the golden years of 2006-2010, in Michael Beauchamp and Ante Covic. From Europe came Jerome Polenz, a former German youth team representative who had started at the substantial Bundesliga club Werder Bremen, then went from their down a division to Alemannia Aachen and Union Berlin before flying to Australia. Mark Bridge and Nikolai Topor-Stanley were looking for fresh fields after running aground on the shoals of stagnation at Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets respectively.

And then there was Dino.

The tall, bald Croatian had played for eleven seasons in the HNL, turning out for five clubs in that league including Lokomotiva Zagreb and Cibalia. Part of the (symbolic) Croat minority at the Wanderers (alongside the younger Mateo Poljak and Aussie Croatians Ante Covic and the coaches Tony Popovic and Ante Milicic), Dino’s reputation was that of an honest tradesman of the game who could use his beaming hairless cranium to good effect in front of the goal mouth. His height and physique promised much value from his participation in the Wanderers games if and when long balls were played towards him. Therefore hopes were high as the 2012/13 season began.

Unfortunately for many of the spectators and members who had only just signed onto the brave new world of the Western Sydney Wanderers, the first few rounds through October and November revealed some serious questions over the big Croat. His vaunted heading skills were slightly off-cue at best, woefully wayward at worst. His problems in using the ball at his feet were significant, and moments like those in the first round game against the Mariners where he had an elegant pass to Jerome Polenz almost lead to a goal were almost as rare as a Sydney FC fan in the RBB. Lumbering around the front third of the pitch he would run like a man trying to look like he wasn’t standing still, and yet showing all the signs of being immobile. His turning circle was as wide as a pantechnicon trying to do a three point turn in a one way alley, and his overall performance made him the first squad member to be booed by certain sections of the Wanderers supporters.

Yet whilst all this fumbling and ponderous work was underway from Dino, there was that certain something within him that had the faintest spark of hope. It wasn’t a God-given footballing talent, a thunderous right boot that intimidated goalkeepers, a genius for tactical positioning that put him in the right place at the right time. No, it was probably the greatest attribute any football fan on board with the Wanderers mission in this, the formative season. It was stubbornness. Dino was never willing to surrender, never willing to say ‘Fuck it, I’m done’. In a community that respects the battler, the always trying, the person trying to go beyond their external or internal limitations, Dino Kresinger still demanded attention and some applause.

Gradually through the rounds leading up to Christmas he began to motor like an old World War II heavy tank. Cumbersome but inexorable, stolid and stoic he lumbered around grounds with steely resolve. Whilst he had missed playing in the Wanderers first ever win in the A-League (the Round Four defeat of Brisbane Roar 1-0 away from home), and was used more often than not as a substitute in the next few weeks, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Injected as a replacement for the then in-form Joey Gibbs during the second game against 2011/12 champions the Brisbane Roar, Dino rumbled onto the pitch at Parramatta Stadium to derisive cat-calls. These soon turned to cheers and hollers of approval as the towering Croatian was brought down in the Brisbane box mere minutes before the end, giving the Wanderers  a shot at scoring a goal from the penalty spot. Ending his own period of frustration with a well-slotted goal, Shinji Ono completed the good work begun by Kresinger, thus giving Dino that fillip he needed within the fans and I firmly believe in himself and the squad as well.

The following fortnight’s game was however when the true apotheosis of Dino began. Kresinger had been used as a sub in the preceding week’s game (the legendary Derby II victory over Sydney FC), and came into the Round 12 match versus Adelaide United finally back in the starting line-up. This promised to be a challenging game for the Wanderers as the Reds were solidly locked in the top of the table battles at this point of the A-League’s season, whilst the Red and Black boys were banging on the door of the top six with new found confidence. However in what turned into the first truly joyous explosion of Wanderers passion and power at Parramatta in their fledgling season, the visitors were rocked to the amazing scoreline of 6-1. And Dino with that thick, balding bullet-like bonce of his made damn sure of slotting in the third of those six goals for the Wanderers dead on the cusp of half-time, sending the faithful into paroxysms of joy. The lumbering striker who mere weeks ago was being written of as a dud, a joke, a hopeless Croat clown, had become the new favourite son of Wanderland.

Dino with the faithful of the RBB, celebrating the win over Adelaide Round 12 2012/13

Dino with the faithful of the RBB, celebrating the win over Adelaide Round 12 2012/13

From thereon the previous whistles and boos coming from the Wanderers’ supporters at the game died off. There were still plenty of moments to laugh at Dino, whether it was due to a sprayed shot that had a better chance of hitting the nearest Westfield shopping centre than the targeted goal, or because he still ran around the park like an agitated Frankenstein. However this wasn’t cruel or vindictive hilarity, but more the joyous celebration of a man who was more ‘one of us’ than any other Western Sydney Wanderer. His fist pumps became the stuff of forum chat legend, and alongside ‘Who Do We Sing For?” the next most important chant around any ground featuring the Wanderers was ‘Dino, Dino, Dino, Dino!’. Then as 2012 became 2013 and the Wanderers began their climb to the summit of premiership success, Dino kept tracking along the path onwards and upwards, never quite sealing the win with his goal scoring (of which he went back into hibernation). Instead he became the point man for the second ball on the offensive, looming like a towering target for a clearance from Covic or Beauchamp or Topor-Stanley to aim for. Then, when the ball plummeted down towards him he would use that boulder-like head to cannon the ball forward, or perhaps shield its receipt from the ferreting feet of the nearest defender.

Then, after Dino had worked his magic as the tall man up front on attack, freeing up the midfielders like Bridge, Hersi and Ono to score when needed, the popular Croat would then form a significant part of the imposing defence of Popa’s team. The ball may have been firmly at the feet of a Heart, Jet or Phoenix defender as the opposition was looking to play it out the back, however before you could say ‘Look at that big lumbering bastard go!’ Dino was steaming towards the enemy, on a rampage like the bulls of Pamplona. With a full head of steam up Dino must’ve been like the equivalent of a good old fashioned Rugby League forward barreling straight at some vulnerable back, ready to cream his victim through sheer momentum. It was noticeable again and again that Dino’s pressing in both defence and attack may have been ugly, but by Jesus it worked a charm for the Wanderers.

With win after win, victory after victory the Western Sydney Wanderers emerged as the feel good story of Australian sport, bringing football to a new level of support and excitement not seen down under since that night in November 2005 when the Socceroos finally laid to rest the World Cup hoodoo, qualifying for Germany the next year. And there in the epicentre was Dino Kresinger. Again and again his name would be chanted like the words of a Tibetan prayer, again and again he would throw his burly bulk into the air to pass the ball onto one of his more adept team mates. In the third match of the season against Brisbane, played at the Roar’s home ground it was Dino’s header that set up the important goal for Youssouf Hersi. Then, in the final match of the regular season up in Newcastle, Dino showed everyone at the ground and watching on television that he still had the targeting skills of a drunk blindman aiming a blunderbuss at an ICBM, his header at Jets goal in the 33rd minute ending up being the most spectacular of dummy shots, allowing Mark Bridge to score yet again.

By the end of the regular season Dino Kresinger had become a folk hero for the Wanderers’ faithful, a talisman who may not get the job done himself but would facilitate the efforts of all those around him.  However in what could be described as poetic justice, as a symbol of all he achieved in tandem with the club and the fans, there was one last moment of pure ineffable magic left from Dino.

It was the semi-final held at Parramatta Stadium and for the fourth time of the 2012/13 season the Western Sydney Wanderers were facing the previous season’s champions. The Roar had come into the finals with a solid run of results, however it only took sixteen minutes for the popular Croat to secure a vital goal for the Wanderers.

The Famous Dino Back-Heel...Versus Brisbane Roar at @anderland, Semi-Final 1 13/4/2013

The Famous Dino Back-Heel…Versus Brisbane Roar at Wanderland, Semi-Final 1 13/4/2013

In any other game and in any other context there would have been every possibility that Dino would not have scored. However for whatever reason the football Gods and his own inner talent contrived to give him possibly the most delightful goal scored by any Wanderer that entire first season. With the main beneficiary of his work in the earlier part of the season (Mark Bridge) now becoming Kresinger’s supplier, the man from Hratskva received his cut-back pass and with the deftness and aim of a Brazilian genius Dino deftly slanted the ball off the back heel of his left foot, sending the Roar goalie into confused depression with a goal for the ages.

Thankfully I was there that heady April night, standing in my sideline bay at Wanderland, my passion for all things Wanderers fueled by a season beyond belief and the courage and drive shown by the likes of big Dino. During most of the home games when I had seen Kresinger play I like so many of my colleagues joked about his lack of goals, his slow running gait, his inability to turn around without putting on his rear hazard lights. However in that fleeting moment when Dino leaped above the normal and scored a goal with his left back heel, well jokes and criticism was thrown away like a week old tray of used cat litter. Jumping around as if my arse was on fire, grabbing and hugging strangers in the same madcap spirit celebrated on VE Day back in May 1945, Kresinger’s goal was simply a magic moment that required unmitigated and totally free happiness; a football festival that only he could provide.

The remainder of the season was too anti-climactic for Dino, the rest of the squad and the fans. The grand final was lost a week later and Dino’s magic failed to return, so the saga ground to a slightly maudlin halt. Yes, everyone was remarkably upbeat about the past season, the achievements, the stunning rejection of nay-sayers and critics in a time when the Western Sydney Wanderers went from being noobs to masters of almost all they encountered. Yet at the post-season celebration in Parramatta we all knew the coming news. Dino had been a folk hero, a stalwart, a true part of the heart and soul of the Wanderers’ first ever squad. However the big Croat was probably not coming back for another season. He knew it, we guessed it, and a few days after this farewell to the class of 2012/13 he was gone.

So within nine months of his arrival Dino was heading back to Europe, where he now plies his craft for Slovenian Prvaliga team Zavrč. Some of us, the tragic and the passionate still need to hear news of Kresinger’s achievements back in the Balkans and so far he has given us some moments of smiling satisfaction. However when all is said and done his departure from the Western Sydney Wanderers has taken us away from those first few rounds of frustration, through the balance of a season which was simply amazing, into a slightly empty feeling of waiting for the new season to begin without him.

Thanks Dino…loved your work!

Dino...signing off

Dino…signing off