Why I Wish I Was With The WSW Folk In Crow-Eater-Land

It is very fucking hard for me right now, very hard indeed.

A tick over six days ago I was bathing in the collective euphoria of that now legendary win by the Wanderers over the Roar, when after less than 25 minutes of the game it appeared that our season was coming to a shuddering, ego-destroying end. Those three goals scored by the visitors looked as if they were not just three reasons to bemoan the end of the Western Sydney Wanderers’ 2015-16 campaign, they also insinuated that our team were lapsing into comical errors that were more in tune with our cross-city rivals this season. Then, as if the men on the pitch had decided ‘Okay, that’s enough head start.’ it was the lads in red and black who were doing almost all the roaring. In what seemed like the blink of an eye Romeo had clawed one back, then in the opening stanza of the second half it was Santa delivering the second goal, Castelen the third and yes…quelle surprise…Romeo grabbing a third to put us one goal to the good:

Okay, so Brisbane Roar got one back, and that meant the semi was taken to extra time. However I don’t believe anyone of us who were there that night on the eve of Anzac Day 2016, or perhaps many who were at homes or elsewhere watching the game though that the Wanderers were destined to lose. The Roar had performed enough Houdini-like escapes from defeat in finals matches; now it was time to pay the piper and when Bridge and Vidosic combined to play the tune, well it was yet another magic moment of history for anyone associated with the Western Sydney Wanderers.

So, why am I feeling like three kinds of bad shit right now? What is causing my weltschmerz, my ennui, my depression right now?

To be blunt, I wish I was in Adelaide with my family.

With my red and black family.

With my brothers and sisters who have been there for me in ways that makes me both proud and humble.

Plus, to add salt to the wound of being absent from the ‘greatest trip we’ve ever been on’, my Wanderers family are in my home town, where my other family by blood mostly reside. Where I took my first breath, my first steps. Where I feel the sun shines on me in a different way than it does here where I live. Where the food tastes better, the beer sublime, the local lingo my mother tongue.

Now before I wax too lyrical about Adelaide and South Australia, I will gladly lay my cards on the table and say this is not the emotional state of a man who wants to go back to the land of the Crow Eaters to live. An extended holiday? Sure. A road trip akin to those taken by many of my fellow WSW supporters? Fuck yeah. However I am now (and have been for more years than I probably would admit) well ensconced in NSW, in western Sydney. Hell’s bells; the Wanderers have done more to make me feel attached to the west of Sydney than living in the area (on and off) for over 25 years. To leave here and return to the fatherland would cut that umbilical cord of community and football that is my Wander-love. Yet I cannot fail to feel envious, sad, a little jealous of all who are right now in SA’s capital city on the eve of the 2015/16 Grand Final.

The manner in which so many of my comrades have taken the run westwards, by train, by plane, by car and by bus stirs up plenty of feeling in me right now. I have had some of the best times of my life out in the back blocks of western NSW taking the run towards South Australia. Driving on the Hay plain, with its great wide brown expansive landscape is one of those quintessential life experiences that I think should be mandatory for anyone who wants to understand what it’s like to be Australian. The flat and empty earth as you drive west of Hay, heading towards Balranald and further points west is one of those things that can’t be described, it has to be lived.

Then there is the strange delight of hitting South Australia and being asked to undergo a fruit fly inspection. I am unsure if this is a purely SA/Australian experience (I think it is), however it must be such a bemusing and puzzling experience for foreign tourists and even citified folk like my WSW kin to have to pull up at a building near Pinneroo or maybe Renmark if coming in further north and be asked ‘Got any fresh fruit sir/madam?’. I grew up with that, and as a kid would beg my father to be the one who would jump out of the Kingswood to show the man from the fruit fly inspection station that no, we weren’t trying to smuggle tangelos and apricots into South Australia.

I’ve also mentioned above the food and drink culture in SA, and I can’t let the ties that bind me there loose. When last in South Australia I made sure to take in all the goodies I could, even if it may have shortened my lifespan and increased my waist line. Mettwurst, bung fritz sambos with tomato sauce, Yo Yo biscuits, Kitchener Buns, King George Whiting, pints of pale, bottles of green death or woodies lemonade. Pie floaters and real pasties that make anything issued from an eastern state bakery look and taste like a hat-full of scraps and gristle; ye gods, when it comes to the tucker you can get in my home state it’s a friggin’ cornucopia!

As you may surmise, the boy may have been dragged out of South Australia, but he still has a huge chunk of it (wrapped in Balfours pastry) stuck inside him. It is of itself something I can deal with. However what does break the Crow Eater heart within a little is that I know so many of my Wanderers kin are going into this world and they will be looking at this through fresh eyes, with possibly no idea about how good, how enjoyable this scenario in front of them is.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that primarily this is about the RBB and other supporters making their way over to Adelaide to watch the boys play at the SACA (that’s the name I knew it by, none of this Adelaide Oval shit) and hopefully bring back the toilet seat. There is however I part of me that is like the father wanting to take his offspring back to meet the great uncles and aunts, to see the same hospital, the same school, the same church where pivotal life moments directed the parent’s early life. It would make me so happy to sit in a pub with some of my WSW compadres and watch them try their first Southwark. To see their eyes cast perhaps dubious looks over a meat pie turned upside down in a big bowl of pea soup, then  when the first mouthful hits my Wanderers’ friend’s gob those same eyes would glaze over with happiness.

So yes, I am partly jealous, partly sad to think that on the eve of the A-League Grand Final so many of my besties are heading into my old stomping grounds without my tutelage and/or my companionship as they possibly find out about South Australian goodness for the first time. However there is another, more significant reason for my slightly blue mood tonight.

In the last three months my life has been going through the most turbulent, most troubling time I have experience for at least the last couple of decades. I’ve had so many kicks in the teeth from life I’ve had serious doubts as to what actually gives one cause to continue getting up in the morning. There has been some ill-health which thankfully has improved somewhat. In late January I got the word that I was going to be made redundant from a job that I was very happy in. Thankfully that shitty scenario has changed, insofar as I have a new job. There was also the death of a much beloved (feline) member of the family, who had been ‘my’ boy for many a year. Finally, the most important relationship in my life, one that was the focus of my being for 16 years ended, throwing all my expectations and all my emotions into the shitter. It has been a very farken dark time believe me.

Yet through all this period where loss, infidelity and ego-crushing changes have battered my happiness into a pulp, there has been one constant. That is my band of brothers and sisters in red and black. I can’t name them because (a) they’re are so many and (b) I don’t want to embarrass them, however it needs to be said; without my friends from the Wanderers community I don’t know how I would’ve coped with the depressive influences on my life.

There have been instances where people who I had no knowledge of a scant year or more or so ago have become my boon friends, always willing to ask me how I am, what is happening, do I need an ear to bash or a beer to cry into. There is one WSW fan I know who has had a helluva rough time, probably worse than mine. Yet he has been there for me in ways that some of my non-Wanderers friends from university and beyond have not. There have been texts and tweets, visits and chats, shared meals and sessions at the Bavarian where I’ve poured my sick and sorry soul out to my circle of WSW mates, and men and women alike they’ve given me their support without question. It’s the kind of camaraderie that I’ve never experienced with my blood family, with long term work mates or even my past lovers. To find that kind of acceptance, that unique bond of never needing to apologise for who I am and how I feel…well, it’s pretty fucking amazing.

I guess what I want to say as I draw a close on this blog post is that sitting her at my PC, writing up this impromptu column, my thoughts and my heart wing westward over the Great Dividing Range, the Hay Plain, the SA border and down into the city on the Torrens. I am so very proud and happy to know that my team is playing for its (hopefully) first A-League champions trophy, after so much success in its short life. Yet I am also feeling huge needy pangs of desire; to be ‘back home’ with the best family football could ever create.

COME ON YOU WANDERERS!

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

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

20. Ante Covic keeps out Mat Ryan at Blue Tongue

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

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

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

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

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

17. Shinji Ono signs for the Western Sydney Wanderers

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

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

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

15. The post-season celebration in Parramatta

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

14. Shinji Ono buries the Roar at Wanderland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. The Round 12 Wanderland Bloodbath of the Reds

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

9. The birth of the RBB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Western Sydney Wanderers first ever A-League victory

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

4. The Second Derby and the Destruction of Sydney FC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s it’s those highlights that I’ve ranked from 70 to 61…

70. Youssouf Hersi’s goal against Newcastle Jets at Campbelltown in the Community Round

Whilst not the prettiest of goals Hersi’s goal in this game was crucial insofar as its timing (at the death of the first half) was impeccable and came from a set-piece which was not the normal avenue for Wanderers goals.

69. Tony Popovic almost snares the job of A-League All-Stars coach

Whatever your personal opinion of the All-Stars concept the public recognition for all those included in the team was a significant reflection of the growth in interest and support for the game. As has already been shown the Wanderers provided a major component of the playing staff, yet what may be more impressive was that Tony Popovic missed out on the task of coaching the All-Stars in the popular ballot by only 0.6%. The successful candidate was ex-Brisbane Roar and current Melbourne Victory coach Ange Postecoglou, who was in his fourth season of coaching in the A-League (after previous years coaching NSL, junior Socceroo and Greek teams) and celebrated as the man who led the Roar to the longest unbeaten record in Australian sporting history plus two A-League championships. For Popovic in his first year coaching any side, drawing on the sucess and popularity of a totally new club, this was an amazing achievement.

68. The RBB and Wanderers supporters on the march to the 2012/13 Grand Final

To immerse yourself in the experience of the RBB is one of the most fulfilling and exciting things anyone can do in Australian sport, and I have been fortunate to spend some time with the most active of fans in the A-League on numerous occasions. On grand final day for the 2012/13 season the RBB made a supreme effort to demonstrate to the Wanderers’ faithful, neutrals and the opposition how passionate they are, and on the way to Allianz Stadium there was a massive roll-up, reinforced by thousands of regular supporters in red and black.

67. 16, 387 spectators come see the Wanderers host Central Coast Mariners in Round 15

Whilst the game may have been a disappointing defeat for the team, the club and its fans acquitted themselves incredibly well at this game thanks to such a big roll-up. Considering the same opposition in the first game of the 2012/13 season at Wanderland drew about 6,000 less this game confirmed that the Western Sydney Wanderers were getting bigger and better on all fronts.

66. Jerome Polenz re-signs to the Wanderers for another season.

As one of the five visa players signed by the club for their first season Jerome Polenz was one of the most successful not just in the squad but in the entire A-League. His decision to re-sign for another season showed faith and respect for both his achievements on the field and his own belief in the Wanderers.

65. The Wanderers exact revenge against the Phoenix in Wellington, Round 16

In Round 9 at their home ground the Wellington Phoenix had score a fortuitous 1-0 win against the Wanderers in part due to the flukey winds in Westpac Stadium, but more crucially the failure of the referee to award penalties for two obvious handballs committed by the Kiwi team. With the return to Wellington Round 16 after a loss to the Mariners the Wanderers were in a dangerous position. However thanks to two goals (one each from Topor-Stanley and Haliti) and Covic never letting one past him in the net the boys left New Zealand with a win and revenge for their previous loss. This game also started the amazing run of 11 consecutive victories for the Wanderers in teh remainder of the a-League season.

64. The FFDU awards Parramatta Stadium a.k.a Wanderland the stadium experience of the season award.

In recognising the amazing game day experience of being at Wanderland, whether it in the midst of the RBB’s passion or not so actively supporting the Wanderers, the FFDU underscored what everyone knew to be the most amazing aspect of the 2012/13 season. The Wanderers and their supporters had reinvigorated the A-League beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, surpassing the efforts of larger or longer existing rivals.

63. Joey Gibbs scores his first goal for the Wanderers

At a stage in the Wanderers’ season where goals were hard to come by, Joey Gibbs did his best to correct this situation with a smartly taken shot against the Jets in the Round 6 game at Wanderland. Although the final score was a 2-1 loss even this early in the existence of the Wanderers there were signs of them being more than just competitive.

62. Four Wanderers make the 2012/13 Professional Footballers Australia team of the season

With Jerome Polenz, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Ante Covic and Shinji Ono all listed in the starting line-up of the PFA’s team of the season was a remarkable achievement, especially in that this was a selection based on the players’ own votes, and the older more established clubs like Brisbane, Newcastle or Perth failed to register a single starting player. The Wanderers selected also outnumbered their grand final nemesis the Mariners by 2 to 1, and cross-town rivals SFC 4-1.

61. The establishment and debut season for the Western Sydney Wanderers’ W-League team

Alongside the beginnings of the A-League Wanderers the club also formed and fielded a women’s team in the W-League. In this 8 team competition the Wanderers came 6th, registering four wins.