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

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

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

Premier Baird went on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pepper Stadium, Penrith

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Summary:

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

Spotless Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Summary:

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

Belmore Sports Ground

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Summary:

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

ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Summary:

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

Campbelltown Sports Stadium

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Summary:

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

Conclusions:

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

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

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

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

 

Why I Am Glad The Boycott Ended Before Saturday Night (or a Paean to a Wanderers versus Victory Classic)

I have seen some wonderful games at Wanderland since climbing about the Red and Black experience before the kick off to the 2012/13 A-League season. The first derby against the smurfs. The 6-1 demolition of Adelaide where I saw first hand a Bridgey hat-trick as well as Dino’s very first goal in a competitive match. The semi against the Roar where Dino again wrought a miraculous goal with his left heel; a goal that’d make Berisha weep in envy. The 1-0 wins over Guangzhau Evergrande and Al Hilal in the 2014 ACL campaign, the 2014-15 Round 19 derby where Bulut almost single-handedly beat our eastern suburb rivals, and in the same disastrous domestic campaign a nearly flooded midweek Wanderland come-from-behind conquering of Melbourne City.

Yet when it comes to quality opponents and quality games hosted at Pirtek Stadium, it takes a lot of effort to match the Melbourne Victory and most particularly Saturday night’s amazing game.

To put this into some kind of perspective, let me state from the get-go that of all the clubs in the A-League that rival the Wanderers the one that I have a more than passing respect for is MVFC. I have a soft spot for Newcastle due to a few factors such as the nature of their bumpy ride in recent years, they have a proud, parochial football culture in the Hunter not too distant from here in the west of Sydney, and one of their most loyal supporters (indeed most loyal of any club’s supporters) is a great mate of mine. Adelaide also gets a nodding smile as it is the pissant town I was born in a long, long time ago. Wellington I find I can take with plenty of equanimity; they are neither a club to encourage great loathing or great liking. As for the other clubs, well it ranges from pure unadulterated hate to dismissal as mostly irrelevant.

I expect those attitudes are not entirely isolated among other fans across the entire A-League spectrum.

However when it comes to Melbourne Victory I cannot find volatile emotions like despising, hating, pitying, loving. No; the most successful A-League club over the last calendar year in terms of trophies won on the pitch, as well as a business model off the pitch deserves the respect one gives to a great rival following a similar path in this world. The kind of attitude that might be fictionalised in a dogfight between Biggles and a German ace in World War One. Or that feeling engendered between two old political war horses such as Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser post-Dismissal. For all the pantomime villainy of Berisha or the aura of ‘being a prick’ that surrounds Kevin Muscat, Melbourne Victory give as good as they get from us, and undoubtedly share the burden of being the two most important clubs in the A-League in the two largest metropolitan markets. With combined MVFC/WSW membership in 2015/16 to date exceeding the combined memberships of Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne City, Perth, Wellington and Central Coast by a good margin, it is blatantly obvious where the majority of the hearts and minds of the A-League have found a home Throw in the 2014 ACL championship for the Wanderers and the three domestic trophies for the Victory in 2015, and the bulk of the available silverware for Australian A-League clubs in recent history has been heading to these clubs as well.

These kinds of numbers, these kinds of quantitative measures mean that when I (and I believe many of my fellow Wanderers fans as well) look at the Victory and put that into the context of a match, we know this isn’t going to be a friendly, a hit and giggle affair. The proof of this idea has been demonstrated again and again in the history of our meetings since 2012/13. For example, it could well be argued that the Wanderers’ best ever game in season one was that played in Round 14 at home against the Victory, with two magical goal from Shinji Ono:

In the 2013/14 season there was another cracker between the two biggest clubs in the A-League, when in Round 12 a last minute Gui Finkler stunner gave the home team a draw that stunned everyone who was fortunate enough to see it:

More recently, with the Wanderers weary and beaten down by injuries and travel in 2014/15 MVFC took all available 9 points and scored 9 goals to 2, demonstrating that in the battle between the most heavily subscribed A-League clubs the Victorian-based team was in the ascendancy. By the end of that season the overall record stood at three Wanderers wins, five Victory wins and one draw; a healthy rivalry that leaned a little to the Melbourne-based club. Hence the appreciation of what was going to be a very tasty encounter Saturday night at Wanderland, the tenth match between us and them, in the tenth round of the 2015/16 season.

Of course what made this match even more attractive and more significant was the relationship between the Wanderers fans (including the RBB) the Victory fans (notably the North Terrace actives) and the recent walk-outs and boycotts. As the two most high-profile supporter groups targeted by the likes of the News Limited gossip monger Rebecca Wilson, and with a reputation for unseemly behaviour among the the ‘non-football cognoscenti’, epitomised by an ugly incident involving some criminal acts away from AAMI stadium, both clubs’ fans may be regarded as having a deal of animosity and unruliness. However, putting aside the specifics of that situation which involved a smaller amount of arrests than have taken place at recent large musical festivals, in the last fortnight it was the Wanderers and Victory fan bases who led the popular revolt against the FFA’s policies vis-a-vis the banning process as it has been implemented. Whilst other clubs’ fans started their protests against the FFA by following a negotiation path (such as the Cove), the RBB and North Terrace were united in voicing their initial discontent with a walk out in their respective Round Eight matches:

Interestingly enough the administrative leadership of these two clubs echoed the attitudes of discontent as their fans, hence these statements from John Tsatsimas and Ian Robson (respective CEOs for the Wanderers and Victory):

“We will always advocate for the rights of our members (in both public and private forums) who are exceptional in both their behaviour and their passion for this club and who have been branded unfairly in a negative manner, This includes members who feel they are unjustly banned.” (John Tsatsimas Source: 25/11/15)

“We’re proud of what we do and the fans are at the heart and the core of that. That’s why we fight hard to protect those that do the right thing, which means by definition we have to be hard on those who do the wrong thing.” (Ian Robson Source 2/12/15)

So, coming into the Round Ten match between the Wanderers and Victory there was a shared history of playing some high quality football matches against each other, synergies in terms of politics and attitudes from the respective clubs’ leaderships, a parallel approach to protesting the FFA from the most active fans, and finally the vitally important aspect of this being a first versus second top of the table clash. With the fragile peace of the FFA and active fans in place, there was every expectation this would be a cracker of a game on almost every level.

For me the lead up to the game involved a riff off my usual processes before a Wanderers game. I headed into the local Bavarian Bier Cafe for some German pork goodness and a litre stein. There I met with some of my comrades, RBB and non-active alike, and we chewed the fat whilst I chewed the schnitzel. There was plenty of discussion about form, players, the FFA, the boycott’s cessation, and then came the RBB march, which I and many others watched with pride and happiness:

Then it was a quick Hofbrau Dunkel-soaked stroll over to Wanderland, the usual rigmarole of getting into the stadium, grabbing a seat, saying hello to my game day acquaintances nearby, and awaiting kick-off. The Wanderers had an almost totally fit squad for Popa to call on, with only Piovaccari being a nominal first team absentee. For the visitors (whose fans were in decent numbers down in the away fan seating) their biggest gap was their absent captain Carl Valeri. However these were two line ups brimming with quality; Andreu, Nichols, Bridge, Dimas, Vidosic, Castelen and Jamieson for the home team, Ben Khalfallah, Barbarouses, Berisha, Vukovic, Finkler, Bozanic for Victory. The opening twenty or so minutes were exciting, attractive, filled with fast paced and creative football, and to be honest there could’ve been several goals scored. Redmayne almost gifted a Victory goal, if it hadn’t been for an errant Berisha finish followed by a goal line clearance from Scott Jamieson. At the other end Mark ‘Fat Head’ Bridge had two golden chances that he missed with all the aplomb of a man who did this regularly during his golden run in 2012/13. From there the match settled into thrust and counter-thrust, the referee arguably being more interventionist than he needed to be. However there was one man who stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch; the Wanderers’ import Romeo Castelen.

If ever a player deserved to shine as part of the new attractive, aggressive, possession-based Wanderers’ system it is Romeo. Brought into the club before the 2014/15 season, he was in some eyes a natural replacement for Youssouf Hersi. Like his countryman, Castelen was given the role of playing in a right wing position, nominally both creating chances and finishing them off, whilst where necessary drifting into the centre or even over to the other flank for defensive requirements or counter-attacking thrusts. Sadly for Romeo the combination of a dysfunctional schedule for the entire club, resulting from the Wanderers’ ACL and CWC commitments, plus his own injury woes meant he had minimal impact through the annus horribilis of last season. Aside from a very good game against a depleted Brisbane Roar up at Suncorp he never went near matching the standard of his predecessor from the Eredivisie.

This season however Castelen has blossomed, undoubtedly due to having a better fitness regime and a more suitable tactical structure in place which is aided and abetted by the Spanish midfielders Andreu and Dimas. He caused all manner of worries for Adelaide when the Wanderers picked up their first point of the current season, and whilst he again missed some matches due to injury, his return to first team play in recent rounds has shown he is a very important, high quality element of the Wanderers. However he took this to a new level in Saturday’s match against the Victory. As outlined in this Sydney Morning Herald report Romeo was in shining form against the current A-League champions. It was the kind of effort that, in the context of past Wanderers versus Victory matches, was right up their with the aforementioned Ono double in season one.

The manner in which Castelen dominated his opposition whilst on the field was certainly eye-catching, not just for the partisans of either club in the match, but also for the neutrals. He was able to make Macedonian-Australian international Daniel Giorgievski look cod ordinary, and Victory’s Tunisian ace from last season Ben Khalfallah also seemed to cower under Romeo’s shadow. Vukovic was the one who felt the worst of the Dutchman’s work, starting with some incisive passes that almost set up a goal for Bridge, which was subsequently scuffed. Then just before half time Castelen put his foot through the ball in such a manner it took a wonder save via the Victory goal keeper’s left leg to keep the scores locked at 0-0.

In the second half he turned from major threat to shuddering terror for the visitors. There was a deserving call for a penalty denied and more florid movement with the ball on the right flank, before he finally had Fat Head do the right thing by one of his passes:

Then, to top things off Castelen finally put the ball into the back of the Victory net in the 78th minute after he hit a hard shot low and straight at Vukovic. Sadly for the Victory but happily for Romeo and the Wanderers family the shot was badly handled by the visitor’s goalie, hence:

 Not long thereafter Castelen was subbed, being replaced by Golgol Mebrahtu. I’ll be honest; when it comes to Golgol I have a soft spot for this Wanderer, insofar as he has had a helluva time battling injuries since he first joined the club. I can still recall with admiration and respect his goal scored against the red and black, when he represented Melbourne Heart, in the closing stages of the Wanderers remarkable run of wins in season one.

Mebrahtu has barely worn the Wanderers’ colours competitively since he first signed for the club, and it must be assumed that the coaching staff believe he can add a lot to the existing squad having kept him on the books for so long. He played an important hand in the FFA Cup Round of 32 match out at Penrith before the start of the 2015/16 WSW campaign, however again succumbed to an injury. Bottom line, with Castelen off the pitch it was rewarding to see Golgol given a chance to get a run and remind us all of his capabilities (within the last 10 minutes or so let in the match).

Another ex-Heart player who appeared for the Wanderers (getting another full match under his belt) was Andrew Redmayne. The goal keeper who arguably had the worst reputation among regular starters in the A-League before 2015/16 has become a far better stopper than he once was, undoubtedly due to the influence of Zeljko Kalac. Yes, there was a terrible fumble that could’ve led to a goal in the early stages of the first half. However, not long thereafter he turned what should’ve been a Barbarouses goal around the right goal post, Ante Covic ACL Final style, then in the second half made a crucial save to stop a solid shot from Connor Pain from drawing the Victory level.

In some respects it is unfair to single out the likes of Castelen and Redmayne for their heroics. This was a total team performance that was at a standard I have not seen before from the Wanderers. It wasn’t a dogged, driven, defensive effort like those that won the club trophies and plaudits in their first ACL campaign. Nor was it a counter-attacking, reactive style of play where Topor-Stanley would hoof the ball up towards a forward who might lay it off for a second man, as used with great effectiveness in the first Wanderers’ A-League season. When you see the high press, possession based style being implemented by Popa and his other training staff with his squad, including the crucial Spanish trio of Alberto, Andreu and Dimas, it is hardly surprising that words such as ‘breathless’, ‘relentlessness’ and ‘a joy to watch’ are bandied around.

However what was happening on the pitch was only part of the story. There was, returning to the off-the-field culture issues of active support, media disinformation and FFA administrative and PR fuck-ups, a need for this match to be a show case for all that was great not just about the Wanderers, but the entire experience of football in Australia. Thankfully, the supporters who attended the match, whether part of the overwhelming majority of red and black fans and members, or those who traveled as Victory partisans, were in big numbers and wonderful form. The crowd of 17,073 was the highest number to attend a regular A-League season game at Wanderland outside a WSW versus Smurfs derby, thus belying the ridiculous lies from the likes of Rebecca Wilson re people staying away from the A-League games due to active supporters. Fox Football commentator Simon Hill made pointed reference to her and others of her tawdry, ill-informed ilk whilst celebrating the atmosphere and passion that was on display in Parramatta:

From my own personal standpoint over in the Eastern Stand, it was a game day experience where the joie de vivre of just being there (particularly after the troubles of the boycott held during the previous round’s matches, or the walk-out undertaken up in Gosford the week before that) added a soupçon of happiness to the raucous, passionate, energetic, at times ribald atmosphere. Every chant had a bit of extra bite and bounce to it, every insult hurled at the ref and linesmen came with a hearty laugh, and even the Victory supporters seemed to share in the joyful excitement. I’ll admit there was a certain chant that may have raised eyebrows  (‘intercourse the Victory, intercourse the Victory, Melbourne boys are still number two’), and I guess wowsers and overly sensitive folk may find it offensive. Of course I could make a point about the hypocrisy of attacking people for using a swear word at the football versus finding no moral problems with watching convicted criminals at the AFL or NRL, but I shan’t. Instead I’ll just point out the most potent problem with that chant; at the end of the match ‘Melbourne boys’ were n fact number three (on the ladder). Oh, and to further undermine the haters’ paradigm of anti-social soccer hooligans  lighting flares, and mass arrests, not a single moment of pyro use arose at the ground, and as far as I am aware not a single arrest was made by the bored, inactive members of the NSW constabulary. The RBB were simply superb, acting as the touch paper to ignite an explosion of football passion.

Photo courtesy of FourFourTwo Australia & Eric Berry

Young RBB Members

When all was said and done post-match I made a point when seeing some Victory fans outside Pirtek Stadium to thank them, and congratulate them for traveling and helping us show how very, very, very good it is to experience Australian football at its best. It only seemed fair to recognise that without an opponent of such a high quality the Wanderers’ couldn’t respond accordingly. Nor for that matter would it be right to not, after the dust had settled, to shake hands with similarly passionate fans who have shared our recent fight against maladministration and misrepresentation.

Let me close by heading back to what I said right at the beginning of this post. I’ve seen some marvellous games and shared in some memorable moments of camaraderie in my three and a bit seasons of being a passionate Western Sydney Wanderers’ member. At the very summit is that Sunday morning last year when the Red and Black faithful congregated outside Parramatta Town Hall to witness the Wanderers’ claim the ACL crown in Riyadh. However, only a few virtual feet below that Everest like peak of satisfaction and happiness wrought through football and through WSW is the K2-like 2-0 win against Melbourne Victory on December 12th 2015. I was bloody ecstatic to be there, and the win was made all the more sweeter because I shared with my brothers and sisters the moment of standing up and saying to the haters and to the FFA, ‘Fuck you…WE ARE FOOTBALL!’

There Was a Striker From Ironbark…(or What’s Bush Football’s Story?)

For all its sporting history Australia has been renowned for throwing up some of its greatest sports stars from the farming communities, the mining towns, the railway sidings and the flyblown specks on the map that dot the great expanse of the nation’s rural and regional heartland. Rod Laver came from Rockhampton, whilst up the Bruce Highway Cathy Freeman was a Mackay girl. In cricket the legendary Don Bradman made his way from Cootamundra to Bowral where he flourished as a prodigal young talent, and thence journeyed to Sydney and immortality. Cadel Evans started life in Katherine in the Northern Territory before heading to Armidale in the New England region. League great Arthur Beetson came from Roma in Queensland, Greg Norman was from Mount Isa and squash great Heather McKay was a Queanbeyan girl. You can’t mention the name of our first great female Olympic sprinter Marjorie Jackson without appending the nickname ‘The Lithgow Flash’, whilst ‘the Maitland Wonder’ was boxer Les Darcy.

Meanwhile, in football the catalogue of country born and bred heroes and heroines is stark in its emptiness.

Yes, Ray Baartz (who probably deserves the accolade of being our greatest football player of the last century) was a Newcastle lad, and Archie Thompson spent time as a junior around Lithgow, Bathurst and Albury. The industrial centre of Whyalla, on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula has been a productive regional point of origin for footballers such as Robert Bajic, Carl Veart and Alistair Edwards (though Edwards actually began his career in Perth). However when we talk about the greats of our code in this country, the same major urban geographies crop up. For Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer and Harry Kewell it’s Sydney’s western suburbs. John Kosmina and the Vidmar brothers were from Adelaide, whilst the two Pauls (Trimboli and Wade) were young players from Melbourne. Mark Viduka was another Melburnian, whilst Stan Laziridis is a Perth lad.

If one was to look at the Socceroos squad that triumphed in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup only two of the players selected by Ange Postecoglou came from a truly bush background, these being reserve goalkeeper Mitch Langerack (who hails from the Queensland coal mining town of Emerald) and Nathan Burns (like Archie Thompson, Burns is of mid-western NSW provenance, also playing as a junior with Bathurst ’75 Western). Contrasted to the Australian cricket squad that has completed its most recent test series against India with five key players coming from the scrub (Brad Haddin, Josh Hazelwood, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Johnson), I think it’s only fair to ask the FFA and indeed the wider football community what the f@ck are we doing to encourage our game outside the big cities?

Obviously the strong links between football’s history in Australia and the post-World War II immigrant boom is of vital importance. Whilst certain parts of regional and rural Australia have some degree of a multicultural population (e.g. Griffith in NSW’s Riverina with its large Italian community, or Woolgoolga near Coffs Harbour with its Sikh Indian populace), there has been nowhere near the congregation or concentration of those who came from the Balkans, from Greece, from Spain, from Germany or more recently from South America, Asia or Africa in Australia’s bush towns as have stayed in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth or Adelaide. The major regional centres of Wollongong and Newcastle have benefited from the large number of Europeans who came to these steel and coal cities before and after World War II, thus increasing their prominence in football’s Australian history. However I would argue that as both these cities are within two-three hours of Sydney they are not so much part of the bush, but more an extension of the great conurbation of our biggest Australian city. The immigrants who were behind the Hungarian St George Budapest, the Greek South Melbourne Hellas, or the Polish Adelaide Polonia didn’t emigrate in similar numbers with a similar impact to Mudgee or Shepparton, to Port Lincoln or Alice Springs.

This is not meant to deny the importance of those people who either emigrated to Australia or were born here and then have tried to develop bush soccer. I’ve recently come across the story of one of those so-called ‘wogs’ from a country town that I have deep personal links with. Broken Hill is possibly one of the most famous small bush cities in this country, and the recently departed Rudolph Alagich has been lauded by many for his efforts in the community to promote football. A pre-war emigre from the old Yugoslavia, there is abundant evidence for Alagich’s impact on the Hill and its sporting profile. The grand old man of SBS’s football commentators Les Murray had this to say about Rudolph:

I also understood him because our lives followed a similar narrative. He came to Australia as a penniless boy at a similar age, from a similar part of the world. And, like me, he and his brothers came bearing gifts – bearing the gift of football to an unsuspecting Australian community.

Among the gifts the Alagich family was to yield were three members who were to represent Australia in football at various levels: Joe, Richie and Dianne. I am sure there will be more in future generations. Rudi’s son, my very good friend Richard, is the most accomplished junior development coach in Australian football. (source)

Roy Hay has written a more detailed but still laudatory article about the Alagich’s however what I find most telling is another item mentioned by Les Murray in his epitaph for Rudolph:

Rudi was a fine citizen and a very popular man in Broken Hill, even if that wasn’t always unanimous in the local community. I remember him telling me the story of how, when he was made captain of a school Aussie Rules team, an angry parent wrote to the school saying “I will not have my son playing under a dago”

Whilst Broken Hill was and still is a reasonably cosmopolitan mining town (for example, one of my great-grandfathers from the Hill was Norwegian), there is no doubt that like so much of regional Australia parochialism in sport and race meant that those who wanted to play and propagate ‘wogball’ were often either vilified because of their non-Anglo background, or expected to play the local code. The smaller the town, the more remote and less ethnically diverse its community, the more pressure would be placed on the soccer/football partisans in such country towns and villages.

So whilst our round ball code of football has always been under the pump nationally, at least in the largest cities along the coast there has been enough of a ethnically diverse supporting community to give football space to breathe and prosper up to the current era. Yes, in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth Australian Rules pressures football, and Brisbane and Sydney are more avowed rugby league and union areas. However anyone who lives in these cities have almost no understanding of the problems facing the bush footballer. Forget your David and Goliath struggles between say an A-League club and a NPL club in the FFA Cup, try being a bush footballer battling the social and community pressure exerted by a mainly Anglo, Aussie Rules or Rugby focused sporting landscape.

Then there are the day-to-day problems facing anyone in the scrub. Distance is king once you get west of the Great Dividing Range, and when community regional sport is already run on the smell of an oily rag, it must be a Sisyphean task to fund and organise a football club playing out of a place like Broken Hill, Longreach, Horsham, Ceduna, Broome, Strachan. Things are not so bad for parts of regional Victoria, the central west of NSW or the Richmond/Tweed Valley around the Queensland/NSW border. However take the example of players who represent Moree FC. They may have to travel as far afield as Tamworth, Gunnedah, Narrabri and Armidale, whose players of course may have to reciprocate with a similarly long journey. For those of us supporting an A-League club and bitch about having to cross one city, or fly interstate, I’d suggest a reality check is needed when considering our country cousins.

Returning to Broken Hill, it is interesting to see that even with such sizable numbers on their books (over 800 players were registered in 2013: source), as recently as last year they couldn’t get assistance from the local city council either logistically or financially to help refurbish their playing fields. Meanwhile, half a state away in the Riverina city of Wagga Wagga the local council there was able to find $300,000 to help support the GWS Giants. Obviously Wagga and Broken Hill are different in size and in wealth, yet these parallel stories illustrate the priorities of local councils in the bush when it comes to supporting football codes. It must be extremely disheartening for those who labour hard in the scrub for our preferred ball game to know that the AFL or to a lesser extent the NRL can garner major political and financial support whilst soccer struggles for similar patronage, similar support, let alone something along the lines of what their big smoke brethren can obtain.

I believe there is also a lethargy within the higher echelons of our own codes’ administrators to help those footballers in the bush to have something similar to the resources and impact that those based in Sydney or Melbourne etc receive. My club, the Western Sydney Wanderers, have played through choice and/or by direction from the FFA community round games in Campbelltown and Penrith, trialed in Canberra, Wollongong, Balmain, but have made no effort to take the squad out past the Nepean River unless it’s been on a jet. I’ve already written about my hope that a place like Parkes may have the option to be the venue for a community round game. Sadly that was not to be, and I may in future write a bit of a denunciation of the experience in the world of Panthers. I’m aware that the Central Coast Mariners have some links to the central west, having played a trial match in Mudgee as recently as September 20th 2014. Yes, there have been friendlies played up in Lismore involving Melbourne City and again the Mariners (viz here) , or even a community round game between the old Melbourne Heart and Perth Glory in Albury last season. However if you contrast this effort with what happens with the NRL or AFL in their pre-season, where for example the Parramatta Eels go to Alice Springs for a match against the West Tigers, having formed a relationship with the Northern Territory government, or the aforementioned links between the GWS Giants and Wagga Wagga City Council, it seems to me the FFA and the A-League clubs are both dropping behind in the race to engage with their constituency outside major urban centres.

On top of all this is the problem our code faces when it comes to an even more marginalised section of the football community outside the cities, indigenous sportsmen and women. If there is one aspect of our sport’s history that needs to be told again and again it is how a man like Charlie Perkins found an acceptance in our code, that even today is remarkable in its social, political and cultural significance.

I went out, and mixed socially without too much embarrassment – a thing I could never do amongst Australians. These migrant clubs treated me better than white Australians did. They gave a person a feeling of dignity and self-respect.” (A Bastard Like Me’ by Charlie Perkins)

Considering the tortured and troubling history of racism particularly in AFL, a sport that holds immense sway in the bush and among the indigenous community, Charlie Perkins is an example of how football can and has gone beyond its competing codes in empowering and giving dignity to the first Australians. The same can be said for 1974 Socceroo Harry Williams, who represented Australia on a global stage more widely than many other sports in this country have done before or since.

Then there is John Moriarty and his Nangala Project, which is endeavouring to create better career, education and health prospects for the indigenous people of and near the Northern Territory’s community of Borroloola. This is in itself a remarkable and noble activity, however it is focused on one very small part of a huge area of back-blocks Australia that seems to have been left behind by football’s administrators. Where are similar efforts from (hypothetically) Football NSW to assist those indigenous kids and adults into our sport in places like Walgett, Narrabri, Coonamble, Trangie, etc etc? If there is a recognition of the need for more work to be done not just in the bush for football, why isn’t it being discussed more or promoted actively? Where indeed are the players who should be coming through the ranks of scrub soccer, blackfella and gubba alike, to appear in our A-League squads?

I will cheerfully admit that I have barely scratched the surface of what is an issue I have only a smattering of knowledge on. Much of what I written is built upon anecdotal or presumed supposition. For me however I still believe I have a very real point that needs more attention, having spent many years either living in the country, spending time in places as far apart as Moree and Port Lincoln, and seen over several decades the importance of country people and towns in our national sporting culture. It would please me no end to see a small town like Yanco in the MIA, or maybe Kimba on the Eyre Highway, or perhaps Goomeri up in the South Burnett be able to say it was the town where our greatest ever Socceroo was born and learnt his trade. It’s the duty of all of us who love football in Australia’s big cities to remember those who feel the same way out in the scrub.

If You Build It, They Will Come (or Where is our National Museum for Football?)

I am an unabashed, self-confessed lover of history. From the broad sweep of a millenia of ancient Roman history, or the German experience of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, through to the more idiosyncratic niche studies of the history of the Oxbridge comedians of the post-war era, or the Berlin Olympics of 1936, and plenty of spots in-between, I have dabbled or dipped my curious intellect again and again into matters of the past. Some of these efforts have been more serious than others, and my interest in subjects has been known to wax and wane over the years. Whilst I’ve always had a fascination with the history of military aviation, when it comes to say the Space Race of the Cold War era, or colonial exploration of Australia, they are the matters that I’ve left behind in my now distant youth.

Partly as a result of my age, and more significantly as a result of my exposure to and love for the Western Sydney Wanderers, I have started to look more and more upon what I knew personally and what I didn’t come to know about the history of football in Australia. As I have referred to in past posts, my first engagement with soccer (to use the still popular but arguably politically incorrect name for football) came as a little boy who saw the heroes of the 1974 Socceroos squad head to West Germany for the finals of the FIFA World Cup. I was fortunate enough to know who someone like Atti Abonyi was, or how good St George Budapest were in the old NSW First Division competition. There are still memories of the tumult over Jimmy Shoulder and Rudi Gutendorf’s tenures as Socceroos coaches (which on reflection would make some of the #HolgerOut stuff seem like a storm in a teacup). I recall with some clarity the launch of the Phillips NSL, the first tentative steps from players like Alan Davidson, Eddie Krncevic and Craig Johnston to leave Australia and play in Europe or Asia. The 1981 FIFA World Youth Cup in Australia, the Bicentennial Gold Cup, Ned Zelic’s goal against the Dutch for the Olyroos, Eddie Thomson, Hakoah, the Carlton and Collingwood entries into the NSL, Melita Eagles, Northern Spirit, Mark Bosnich, that match against Iran in 1997…these were but small flag posts on my rather limited exposure to soccer’s long and deep links with Australian society. Manfred Schaefer, Johnny Warren, Col Curran; they were my childhood icons from football, but I was an Anglo kid with barely any real understanding of what the sport meant for migrants, for people from such disparate backgrounds as Charlie Perkins and Sir Arthur George. I knew who Newcastle KB were, but did I have any knowledge of the links between the Hunter coal miners and football as part of their culture? Yes, I was familiar with Rale Rasic, but what about ‘Uncle’ Joe Vlatsis? I had just missed out on seeing a man who many still consider our best ever Socceroo play (i.e. Ray Baartz), and it’s no surprise that Joe Marston’s name was relatively meaningless to me up until the last decade or so. I’ve read ‘Sheilas, Wogs and Pooftahs’ by Johnny Warren, but I never saw him play in person for any of his teams.

What is all this meandering and circumlocutory ticking of boxes in my personal soccer history meant to convey? I guess what I am trying to get across is that even a middle aged Anglo like me who knows a little about football’s place in Australia pre-A-League, pre-Crawford Report, can only throw out a few tidbits of trivia, a scattering of half-accurate memories. There are going to be plenty of people both older and younger than me who will know more, however I would hazard a guess and say that the vast majority of those who have engaged with the sport especially since Frank Lowy supposedly ‘saved’ soccer in this country have almost no clue whatsoever about even the limited things I know, I recall. As it is there are young men and women in the RBB, the Cove or the Den (for example) who would look at older folk quizzically if you asked them about what happened in Australian soccer before Schwarzer and Aloisi combined to send Uruguay home from Sydney devastated at not qualifying for Germany 2006. Names like Tommy McCulloch, Marshall Soper, Allan Maher most likely mean SFA to them. How many of Graham Arnold’s devotees would be waxing lyrical about his quixotic attempt to conquer the J-League when in Eddie Thomson Australia had a real pioneer in coaching overseas successfully. There is plenty of debate and discussion over the recent moves by the FFA to ‘de-ethnicize’ football in Australia, but who among those who were cheering for the Wanderers against Al Hilal a few weeks back can recognise the man on the left and his role in Australian soccer?

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Left: David Hill (Head of the old ASF/Soccer Australia 1987-1995) with George Best (right)

 

Of course an intimate knowledge of history and past people, teams and events of football does not make one fan better than another. However as someone who has had a similarly long engagement with cricket’s history, I can categorically state that any debate or discussion about that sport’s current place in Australia is almost always referenced within an historical framework. Whenever a game is played at home or abroad the media, the fans and the players themselves often couch their experience of cricket with references back to say a Don Bradman or a Dennis Lillee or a Shane Warne. Cricket in Australia is very comfortable with its history, and never fails to exploit it as part of its dialogue.

I also believe that the manner in which cricket history has informed many Australians (Anglos and otherwise) means it is often used as a lens through which we see the world and ourselves. Talk about the Commonwealth, about our relationship with Britain sometimes sees references to the Bodyline series of 1932/33. Our ongoing developing engagement with India is often filtered through the eyes of how our cricketers have embraced or been embraced by the emerging Asian giant. If a sports boycott is brought up as part of the potential reaction to the policies of a repressive foreign government the manner in which cricket led the fight against South Africa’s apartheid system is often thrown into the mix. For some one of the most defining and positive developments in the history of white Anglo-Saxon Australian society dealing with black people came about as a result of the 1960-61 tour of  Australia by Sir Frank Worrell’s West Indian cricket team. It could even be argued that the recent death of test cricketer Phil Hughes due to being hit by a bouncer made many Australians consider broader, deeper philosophical issues such as fate and mortality, and this will be forever part of cricket’s historical meaning in this country from now on.

I would argue that where we as Australians know more about the history of one of our sports we more often than not see more clearly who we are, what we are about, how that sport reinforces or accentuates what it means to be Australian, and gives us another portal into how we interact with the rest of the world. Surely then with football being the global game, with possibly the most complex history of any sport in this country, it seems to me to be mandatory for football fans young and old, players and administrators, academics and lay people alike to get a better handle on what has gone before today, whether it be old soccer or new football. Through the wonderful agency of football’s unique Australian history we can all have a more informed discussion about our culture, our politics, or racial make-up and our international relations.

As part of this ecumenical desire to see all of the history of football in Australia given due diligence and respect, a prime starting point must be a national museum that provides the physical evidence for what has gone before in football down under. After all, if Bowral can lay claim to the International Cricket Hall of Fame a.k.a the Don Bradman museum, or the MCG host the National Museum for Sport (with a large collection of AFL and Olympic related material), why can’t (hypothetically) a redeveloped Parramatta Stadium hold a National Football Museum? In wider terms, if Australians are able to better understand our military history through the War Memorial in Canberra, or learn about our past as a maritime nation via the Australian National Maritime Museum, why can’t the sport that has seen so many unifying and divisive aspects for much of its long history be given its own home, a place for people to come and see the artifacts, hear the stories, see the footage of a sport that existed long before the last nine or ten years of A-League and Socceroos developments arguably raised popular awareness and acceptance.

Having hopefully built the foundations of answering the first question over such an institution (i.e. why football and the broader Australian society deserve a National Football Museum), the next issue must be what form or type of institution it must be. To my mind it must be several things. It needs to be a central repository of as much of the physical evidence for the sport’s history as possible. To give some basis to this supposition, let me make a small diversion. Like many who have been down to to the Shoalhaven village of Jamberoo I’ve made sure of a pilgrimage to the pub there, with its sizable and impressive collection of Johnny Warren memorabilia. A few days after the Wanderers’ victory in the AFC Champions’ League I had a chance to return there, and whilst I sat among the photos and posters, the shirts and the pennants, I felt a warmth not just about my club’s achievements but also how in many ways what preceded beforehand and was physically surrounding me was in some way honoured by the Wanderers’ win. I know from anecdotal evidence there was plenty of talk after the 2005 Socceroos qualification for the following year’s World Cup Finals that many fans and pundits talked about that team’s success tying in with Johnny’s immortal phrase “I told you so”. Being in the Jamberoo pub, seeing photos and souvenirs line the walls, seemed to give a similar perspective to what had been achieved in Parramatta and Riyadh by my club.

Some of the many items of memorabilia held at the Jamberoo Pub, from Johnny Warren's collection

Some of the many items of memorabilia held at the Jamberoo Pub, from Johnny Warren’s collection

The Warren collection at Jamberoo is a good one, and as my preceding paragraph hopefully brings out, it can have a powerful emotional pull that informs the visiting football fan of today. However it surely must be a drop in the ocean of material that lies out there in the wider Australian football and soccer community. There are all those small community and lower tier clubs that must have records, memorabilia, archives, photos and other such items that could be brought together from across the entire nation. Then there are the collectors, the old players themselves and those who were deeply involved in the game from the sidelines who could contribute. One of the most important people who should be tapped for a possible contribution is the German uber-fan of the Socceroos, Andre Krueger. He is one who has had a long term and abiding passion for the national team and Australia in general, and I am sure he would be someone who could provide either physical content or failing that advice and information to assist in the collation of items. Then there is someone like Ian Syson who continually, through his own research and the resulting posts on his Twitter feed throws up some real gems from our sport’s past. Les Murray, Andy Paskelides and Tom Anderson are three older media figures with long term exposure to football who must have a plethora of material. Throw in the fans, the old NSL diehards or even the more recent adherents of clubs like the Wanderers who were there when the club started, and there should be a rich vein of content to be placed in such a National Football Museum.

The assemblage of a large cross-section of material that could then either be displayed or archived would give all of us a central focus to see these artifacts, and thus have a coherent physical context for football’s history. It would be easier (for example) for people to understand how important the current Socceroos jersey was as a cultural icon within football’s traditions if and when it is placed alongside its progenitor, the 1974 shirt, and those that followed. There would be more appreciation of the recent developments with the FFA Cup if there was the old Australia Cup on display. Items predating the Second World War or even beyond the First would undoubtedly give more visible credence to the long term historical depth of the sport in Australia. That vision is something that is very hard to recognise when these items are hidden away in individuals’ collections, or swamped by rival sports’ displays (such as that seen at the aforementioned Bradman Museum).

Another function of a national museum for football must be to act as centre for academic debate, research and promotion of the sport. Football is as worthy of an intellectual discourse as art, music, film or any number of any other social or cultural activities. Naturally one of the most critically important aspects of that side of the museum’s activities or role would be to continually review and examine the relationship between our identity and the sport. To draw parallels with other institutions for other areas of Australian society and history, an example can be seen with the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and its education program. If it’s appropriate for the South Australian Museum to focus academic energies on Antarctic research via the historical presence of Douglas Mawson in Adelaide, then what is to stop a National Football Museum to conduct or facilitate research on (for example) the politics of migration in pre-Crawford Report soccer? The FFA is certainly not the body to conduct this kind of research due to its own financial and administrative restrictions, and whilst universities may do so they would only exert the relevant energy and funding for individual projects. If we want to learn more about football and ourselves a coherent program of detailed research will be the best agency to achieve such an aim. The museum should serve as the prime agency for such a scheme.

A third arm or component of a National Football Museum would be to provide a focal point for the celebration of the sport’s Australian greats, via the agency of the FFA Hall of Fame. At various sporting venues around Australia there are statues or other insignia celebrating the careers and legacies of those heroes and heroines of the associated sports. Outside the Sydney Cricket Ground the likes of Fred Spofforth, Reg Gasnier and Paul Roos are given tribute in the form of bronze statues. All of Australia’s past Olympic swimming gold medalists and world champions are given a plaque outside the Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre. Now obviously football is a team sport, but there is every reason to desire similar recognition for a Johnny Warren, a Mark Viduka, a Les Scheinflug, a Cheryl Sainsbury. Considering that so much of our understanding or appreciation of the great men and women of the past require some kind of articulated vision made concrete, as seen in (for example) the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial, then for there to be (hypothetically) a display for Joe Marston or Rale Rasic at our National Football Museum seems entirely correct. This may be an incorrect assumption, however I strongly believe it would be a powerful inspiration for younger players if they could see more of the legends of football in Australia than just some archival footage from SBS or the ABC. Being able to access by sight and sound if not touch items owned by an Eddie Thomson or a Harry Kewell could serve that task very well indeed.

I would argue that the recent success of the Socceroos in claiming the 2015 AFC Cup has given more impetus to all these arguments in favour of a National Football Museum. Taking the first point argued previously, where better to hold the trophy if it is available for public display than in an Australian museum of and for football? From video footage to memorabilia from the Cup tournament, including say (for example) a pair of Tim Cahill’s boots, or recordings of ordinary fans’ reactions to that win at Sydney Olympic Stadium, all such items would help give some permanence to what has been arguably the finest moment in men’s football in the country. It goes without saying the same should have or could be done with the Matildas as well. Throw in the additional resources from previous continental tournament success (such as the OFC Cup wins by the Socceroos in 1980 or perhaps 1996) and there is a wider picture emerging of what Postecoglou’s squad achieved.

Additionally, it must be said that a well established and promoted a National Museum of Football could be a great revenue stream for the FFA and the local community where it is built. From exhibitions to conferences, books and souvenirs, videos and events staged at the museum would all serve the dual purpose of bringing money into the coffers of the FFA and promoting football. Perhaps if a leading international architect was given the opportunity to design the Museum building (such as Frank Gehry’s recent work on one of UTS’s new structures) that would also help raise the profile of our sport and the unique Australian context therein.

My final point, and one that will undoubtedly ruffle feathers and bring accusations of bias (of course I’m bloody parochial on this matter) is where it should be hosted. In my opinion a National Football Museum would be best positioned in Western Sydney, hopefully as part of a redeveloped Parramatta Stadium precinct. Whilst other cities and areas around Australia have strong links to the history of football in Australia, and may already have a strong cultural affinity to sporting history (such as Melbourne and the MCG), western Sydney is the powerhouse of the sport in terms of current players across all levels, past Socceroos and with a population of over 2 million with a widely diversified ethnic demographic, it would have a ready made audience. Throw in the paucity of cultural venues of national significance in Sydney’s west, and the tourism value of Sydney for the country as a whole, placing a museum focused on Australia’s past, present and future nearby or in Parramatta would be extremely beneficial for all vested interests. The ‘clear air’ such a museum would have in that location, against say the conflicting presence of a rival sports’ institutions, or indeed even other national icons such as say a War Memorial or National Gallery (as seen in Canberra) would be again work in the museum’s favour.

In closing, a National Museum of Football may be a hypothetical vision for now. However I strongly believe that it could create so many positives for our sport that it should be given some serious thought, particularly at this time where we have a wonderful platform for public acceptance of and/or support for the game. Knowing say in 10 years time overseas tourists, university academics, teams of U/10s boys and girls, and anyone else with a desire to learn just that little bit more about football down under could have a place to go to take it all in, to be enthused and informed, well, it seems like a no brainer.

Wandering Off Course, Or How The Good Times Soured

Up until the news broke about the pay dispute I would suggest almost every member and fan of the Wanderers thought that our club was different. I know I was guilty of feeling that things were going to be far rosier for us than they have been at other A-League clubs, in part due to our success, in part due to the people I know personally or indirectly online as fellow supporters, and in part due to the gap in the way the club’s administration and playing stocks were nominally managed and what was seen elsewhere (particularly Sydney FC). There was obviously the warm inner glow of having achieved so much in our first two seasons as a functioning, successful, competitive club domestically and indeed internationally. A Premier’s title in our first season, longest streak for successive wins in the A-League also wrought back in 2012/13, two Grand Finals and of course the historic AFC Champions’ League title all created a remarkable record to build expectations and support upon. The growth in membership, starting from zero back in 2013, to over 18,000, and by association the continued acknowledgment of the RBB as being one of the best supporter groups in the country, has fueled that belief. It’s hard not to get pumped when you read comments like this from the CEO of the FFA:

“(David) Gallop says the Wanderers have changed the landscape of Australian sport, partly due to their fan group the Red and Black Bloc.

” “Australian sport has never seen the level of engagement inside stadiums like they create,” Gallop said.

” “I love the story of the grandmother that hands out throat lozenges in the RBB. They’ve definitely been a shot in the arm for the entire A-League and I think they’ve been a critical part in football’s booming popularity because people have sat up and taken notice of the A-League in some way because of the Wanderers, and that’s only going to get bigger and bigger in the decades to come. (source)”

Additionally, there had been the a wonderful relationship built between the club and its supporters best exemplified by the words and deeds of two people, Lyall Gorman and Jerrad Tyson. Gorman, our former club CEO, made a point of again and again drawing a distinct connection between the values of the club and the community it represents, as seen in words such as these:

“…that is, to contribute to the greater good of Western Sydney. If it was ever about me, we’d be in trouble as a club – and you know, I’d have no value so it’s never about me trying to put my profile out there. It’s about making sure our club is visible, but in a positive way so that it’s seen to be a community asset. It’s about making a difference and adding value….to be involved in supporting activities that are put on by other people in the community that are working hard. I think we have, you know, a corporate responsibility to be out there critically involved in our community.” (source)

And these

“We really empowered the community to have a sense of ownership of the club. We stand on their shoulders here today and I’m privileged in the role of group CEO to have 47 years of people working and sowing and making the fertile ground for this football club.

“There’s a rich history there which we can’t afford to do anything but embrace and stand on their shoulders. They’re the true pioneers of the game and … we need to engage and embrace (them), and if they’re not in the tent, bring them back into the tent. That was the call we learned at the Wanderers.’’ (source)

Obviously some of this may have been seen as marketing spin, however I know from a personal conversation with Lyall he believed in this mantra.

Then there is our ex-reserve goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson. Even as recently as the home leg final for the AFC Champion’s League Jerrad was there to support the club and the players, amid the heart and soul of the club, the RBB:

The awarding of the ME Bank Fairer Player Award for 2013/14 to Jerrad was also a signal of his engagement with the Wanderers community, and perhaps it was all the more remarkable that the prize was given to a man who stood more often than not in the shadows of regular goalie Ante Covic. It could be said that his efforts off the pitch were more appreciated by those of the Wanderers’ fan base and membership community because he was willing and able to be just like so many of us; working hard behind the scenes without that much recognition. I don’t believe it would be too bold to argue that Tyson was a wonderful example of the Western Sydney spirit (which was even more remarkable considering his Queenslander heritage).

Now at this point I need to stop waxing lyrical about the past and trying to fill in the gaps between my hypothesis of how the Wanderers were nominally different because of the behaviours of the club in, for and with the community, to focus on the here and now. To be blunt, those ideals of past values and of a sense of being better or different to our rivals are now badly fractured. There is a new cold reality that all Wanderers fans must deal with. We are no longer the fairy tale of Australian, or indeed international football, with a romantic or mythic narrative, where we win more often than not, we are able to shrug off adversity, and remain united across all groups, whether we talk about players, owners or fans. The Wanderers are now a football club that can in many ways be hardly distinguished from hundreds from around the world. The last week or so of pay disputes, of mainstream and social media battles, of members arguing vociferously for or against aspects of the owners’ or players’ behaviours, means we have now (for want of a better phrase) grown up and had a hard, bitter lesson in the reality of the business of football. To top it off the first match for the Wanderers of the Club World Cup match against Cruz Azul pointed out some limitations to what can be achieved by this club, no matter how much we believe in its core values and qualities.

I don’t want to cast aspersions or throw mindless accusations out there, and if my narrative of the issues  at hand are a bit skew-whiff I apologise. It must be said however that the intransigence of management (either directly or indirectly influenced by the club owners) when negotiating with the players has been a brewing issue for some time now, and has arguably been around since at least the beginning of this year. The manner in which gifted and crucial overseas players from our first season Shinji Ono, Jerome Polenz and Youssouf Hersi were rumoured to have been dealt with when it came to extending and/or improving their contracts back in the middle of last season were not dissimilar to what was experienced by the current player group. If this story that circulated around the time of Shinji Ono’s contract not being extended is true there already was a worrying refusal or neglect of negotiations with the players from the administration, prior to the sale of the Wanderers to the Paul Lederer led group. The combination of management waiting until the last minute to resolve contract issues and the players waiting for a response sounds eerily familiar to those problems raised in the recent troubles.

When the news broke on December 6th that the players were considering a boycott of the Club World Cup in Morocco there was without doubt some serious debate and consternation among the members and fans. As seen below, the opinions ranged from pissed off over the owners’ attitudes, worry about either the squad actually playing at the CWC, and if they did what impact the dispute would have,  concerns about the finances of the club, the role of the PFA and mistakes they may have made, and even talk about greedy players and writing off the current a-League season:

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These posts from the core Wanderers fan forum were indicative of what became a very divisive issue for those in the stands, whilst at Wanderland, at the club’s HQ and even throughout the broader football community battle lines were drawn over the rights of the players to expect the bonuses they received after their AFC Champions’ League triumph to be replicated at the CWC. Shannon Cole, a player who has formed part of the bank of rotated reserves usually used by Tony Popovic when a first choice right or left back is unavailable or needs a rest, took up the cudgels for the players with management in his role as PFA delegate, and there was plenty of support for him and the players expressed across the entire A-League:

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At this point I have to state that I personally was in favour of the demands of the players to get more than the 10% originally offered. However there were some caveats that needed to apply, particularly in terms of the PFA and the players using the Adelaide 2008 experience as a paradigm for payments, plus the belief that a better bonus structure was assumed to be in place based on the players’ CBA, when in all honesty the CWC bonus arrangement should’ve been stipulated from the get-go.

Where things really did go off the rails for most fans and members of the Wanderers is that for the first time they saw their beloved club’s owners behave in what might be considered in some quarters a capricious and rude way, and in other people’s opinions, they acted like fiscally prudent businessmen protecting the club’s future. The latter motive was self-consciously integrated into the Wanderers’ management’s reply to the brouhaha as it developed, as seen in their statement issued on Monday 8th December. By talking about the difference between player’s appearance money and bonuses, and the desire to invest 90% of the CWC ‘residual amounts’ into “the purposes of enhancing and improving current training and player facilities, as well as junior academy, community, indigenous and women’s programs“, the owners and managers of the Wanderers were putting it out there that the players were effectively robbing the club of long term future investments, even though they had been the agents of achieving the success in the first place.

All this talk was to some extent acceptable as part of the argy-bargy of any wage negotiation, as seen both inside and outside the world of football. As Craig Foster said both on TV and in his weekly Sun Herald column the issue was not necessarily about the here and now, but instead a fight that players of his generation and even older had had to deal with back in 1997, or earlier immediately before the 1974 World Cup Finals. That aspect tapped into other streams of discontent or dispute, but straight away any long term football fan in this country who was now associated with the Wanderers could see an end to the ‘unique difference’ our club had. The likes of Lederer and his associates as owners of the Wanderers were following the spirit, if not the exact same practices, of the preceding suits and backroom staff at other clubs or indeed nationally in Australia’s football history.

To be honest, it has come as a rude shock to many who have sworn to always stay faithful to the red and black, that these behaviours have now tainted what was supposed to be the best new phenomenon to hit our sport in this country. It could be said that what was worse about the dispute, before its resolution on December 12th was that the owners and managers of the Wanderers put themselves into the same basket from a public perception as the likes of Nathan Tinkler, Tony Sage, Tony Pignata and the unlamented ex-Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer. At a time when the club should’ve been celebrating the achievement of making the Club World Cup it was embroiled in a sticky situation made nasty by the simple irritant of the club’s authorities being uncommunicative. For those of us who have relied on the mantra first propagated by the likes of Lyall Gorman, as featured above, or indeed by Paul Lederer himself, it was a bit of a kick in the guts:

“I have been a director of the club for the past two years and I’ve had the privilege to play a part and see first-hand what makes this club so special,” he said.

“The consortium has responsibility to ensure the Wanderers have a sound financial base and a strong administration so the club can continue to grow and be successful on and off the field.” (Paul Leder, ABC Grandstand, 14/5/14)

What made the Wanderers special up until the pay dispute was not the minutiae of fiscal responsibility or indeed the players’ personalities and achievements (though these aspects did help). What was different for old hands or new bandwagoners who threw in their lot with the Western Sydney Wanderers was over the last few years the perception was we were not like Sydney FC with its bumbling troika of Traktavenko, Barlow and Pignata. Nor were we like the cheapskate, forever poor Mike Charlesworth owned Central Coast Mariners, the fractured, in-fighting, Tony Sage owned Perth Glory, or if one was to look overseas, like a Vincent Tan owned Cardiff City.

This disillusionment meant that coming into the Club World Cup some serious joy was taken out of the club;s achievements leading into the match, and has arguably soured the efforts of all for the remainder of the current A-League season. The impact on the medium and long-term future of the club is hard to assess, though it must be said that some existing players may be more keen to leave at the first appropriate opportunity than they may have been in the past, and it may mean potential recruits will look askance at the owners and managers and ponder if they will be treated as negligently. However most importantly those of us who have been on this fantastic ride over the last thirty odd months or part thereof have been sobered up, with some degree of our innocence gone. The Wanderers experience has soured somewhat, however its hopefully also a sign of our maturation, and a period of conflict to build from, not to pull apart.