RUOK with WSW

Today is RUOK Day, a day when we are encouraged by RUOK organisation “to connect with others & ask about life’s ups and downs” as part of the public fight against suicide and associated mental illnesses. It is for many folk out there just another awareness event that lines up alongside other worthy charity days such as Red Nose Day, Daffodil Day etc etc. I can understand that, insofar as there is such a plethora of good causes in the public domain struggling for attention, for funding, for active support. However this year, this RUOK Day I have a significant commitment to this event, and (unsurprisingly) this is filtered and concentrated through my association with the Western Sydney Wanderers football community, and by extension others out there in the online and offline band of brothers and sisters that share my passion for the round ball code.

I have already touched upon some of the circumstances that have caused me some serious anguish earlier this year in my post on why I wish I had traveled to Adelaide for the 2015/16 A-League Grand Final. The most damaging experience for me emotionally not just in the last year, but arguably since I left school was the collapse of a sixteen year long relationship. I won’t get into the messy specifics of my situation, as there are some intensely private and personal matters to consider not just for myself, but also for my ex. However I think it is both appropriate and of value to put on the table some of the more general aspects of what has been (and still is) a seriously troubling time for me. This includes confronting certain emotional and mental health ‘demons’, and trying to address the very problems that RUOK Day is focused on. It is also very important for me to put out there the positive influence my comrades in red and black, and in football in general, has had on my ongoing battles. It helps me immeasurably to publicly acknowledge my brothers and sisters in red and black (and some in other clubs’ colours) as being there for me with a kind word or an open ear, never judging, always listening.

One of the earliest expressions of this most-welcome support came on the eve of the Easter holidays. Two of my Wanderers comrades offered out of the blue to meet up in Parra for a feed and a drink, with the added diversion of watching the Socceroos play Tajikistan in Adelaide on TV. Mick and Balks (they know who they are) sat down with me and did what great mates do. They asked me how I was, listened to some of my troubles, told me a few yarns of their own to get me out of my self-absorption regarding my problems, debated aspects of the Wanderers season, laughed with me about the shit state of Adelaide Oval for a World Cup qualifier. This therapeutic conviviality was definitely for my benefit, both in terms of their original motivation, and also in the effect it had on me at that time. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t going to be left to stew in my juices; these two mates who I have found through our shared love of the Wanderers were there to help me at that time in the best way that they could.

There have been other moments of unsolicited sympathy and a willingness to let me pour out my heart and soul to my Wanderers comrades, and I have been grateful for every one of them, to every one. For quite some time earlier this year I was getting almost daily texts from one of my Red and Black sisters, checking in on me, asking me how I was fairing, discussing topics both football related and those that weren’t. Before one of  the Wanderers NPL2 friendlies I shared about an hour with one of the few WSW mates I have that is of my generation (i.e. an old bastard who remembers Jimmy Shoulder and the Phillips Soccer League), sitting down to chew the fat over a few beers before venturing next door to Popondetta Park. He was more than willing to both let me yammer about my problems, tell me a few things to help me put my issues in perspective, and divert my dispirited sensibilities into football.

I must also refer to two men who have really given me plenty to think about through the agency of their experiences and their thoughts, as I discovered when I sat them down for their sessions on my Wanderers themed podcast, ‘One on Wanderers’. First there was the recording I made with Matt. In this podcast (admittedly produced prior to my relationship breakdown) he made some cogent and (for me) surprising comments on the mental health benefits of active support. It was after my personal life had turned to shit that I really comprehended some of the wisdom and empathetic thinking within Matt’s words. I can verify through my own experiences since then (more on that later) how true his comments are about the positive aspects of active support on relieving depression and stress.

To add to Matt’s football-focused comments, a few weeks after I was fortunate to find an even more expansive and positive message in another podcast guest. Another Wanderers comrade who goes by the name of Mick was incredibly open and brave when he talked about his battles with mental health issues on the episode I recorded with him.  This was produced only a week before things went seriously pear shaped for me on the home front, and through the agency of that podcast I was lucky enough to hear a man, a fellow Wanderers supporter, express his emotions and thoughts in a context very similar to mine. I feel even more fortunate and dare I say a little bit proud (which in turns helps me) that Mick was willing and able to pour forth his experiences, his ruminations on being bipolar, on his time in mental health care, and how he connected his efforts to stay well through football, through the Wanderers.

There are numerous other people I could refer to, several other occasions or experiences that I could mention, where someone who shares with me a love of the Western Sydney Wanderers has given me a shoulder to lean on, a reason to smile, an ear to pour my heart and soul out to. I’ve had deep and meaningful moments over a stein with fellow WSW addicts male and female, young and old, new friends and not so new. At the semi against Brisbane I was taken into the bosom of the RBB with Lloydie, FCB, Wal and Valter and whilst I was feeling gutted away and outside the active stands at Wanderland, for those glorious few hours focused on that magnificent defeat of the Roar, I was given the heartening comradeship where my euphoria could supplant my depression. Admittedly if we had lost that would have drawn a pall over things. However we didn’t; that 5-4 come back from the dead ‘Miracle at Pirtek’ was the final sanction on a day when my red and black fraternity gave me every reason to feel good.

Perhaps the most crucial moment when I found how valuable, how life affirming it was to have my Wanderers’ mates behind me was the morning after I admitted myself to crisis care. Without going into all aspects of my situation, I was at that most low moment, where one questions why one should keep struggling with the emotional hell you are going through. Beaten down by issues relating to the ex as well as my work situation at the time (or should I say impending lack of work lol), I was in need of a refuge where professionals would make sure no self-harm would come to me. When I was asked to hand over my belt and shoelaces on admittance I was in serious doubt of my ability to go on, to continue to struggle with the feelings of hurt and hopelessness that seeped into every pore and bone of my being. However, when the immediate danger passed and I was later able to walk out of the hospital with trousers and shoes secured, there were my Wanderers mates there to ask me; are you okay? I had come through a very dark passage and they were there to shine a beacon of friendship to light the way.

Before I close off on the subject of how my Wanderers brothers and sisters have been so valuable in these last seven months of emotional trouble, I must make reference to the communal nature of this willingness to care, to listen, to openly discuss problems that give cause for RUOK Day. In the West Sydney Football forum, the home of Wanderers related chat online, there have been threads opened and fervently conversed in addressing mental health issues. It’s there that members and fans of my beloved WSW can articulate their own personal doubts and griefs, or perhaps offer succour to those like me who are in need of support during shitty times. I’ve availed myself of a willing audience for my woes there, plus also offered some thoughts and encouragement to fellow correspondents to try and help them with their issues. It’s a wonderfully positive and helpful conversation that helps set the paradigm of why being with my fellow Wanderers advocates is not just a football fan thing; it’s a real community in the best sense of that word.

At this point, before I finish this blog post, I would like to widen my observations on how my football friends have asked me ‘RUOK’ and then been willing to listen, by commending a bloke who is not a fellow traveler in red and black. A great mate for me and I firmly believe for the wider football community, Todd aka ‘A Nobody from Newcastle‘ has been consistently sending me messages via Twitter, Facebook, in person and by text asking me how I am, what I’m up to, chatting about his Jets or my Wanderers. Todd is the kind of member/supporter that every A-League club needs to look to when searching for that one individual that embodies the best values of their community. He is passionate about football in his Hunter homeland, but equally impressive is his commitment to mates away from Newy who share his love of football. He and I have bounced off each other through bad times and good, and I find his friendship incredibly life-affirming. I may feel miserable about what has happened to me due to my domestic issues and my mental health problems. However whenever Todd asks ‘Are you okay?’, or sits down with me at a pub in Parramatta or Hamilton to iron out the latest issues with our beloved clubs and code, the blues get pissed off quick smart. I would not be lying to say my brother from another A-League club is at the heart of my inspiration to engage with the whole message of ‘RUOK Day’.

I’d like to finish off with the message that asking a friend, a work mate, a relation if they are okay is something that is of so much value, so much help when one feels that it actually isn’t. From recent personal experience I have had family contacts, mental health professionals and old friends ask me how I am doing, sometimes to good effect, sometimes not. I appreciate their efforts, even if at times I have been reticent or have even rejected them. However, when it comes to the ‘RUOKs’ proffered by my fellow Western Sydney Wanderers comrades, from some select and amazing football mates, I have never felt unable to answer back “I will be, thanks in no small part to you.”

RUOK?

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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!

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

I’m only going to say it once.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank Christ I am a Wanderers fan!