RUOK with WSW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUOK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

With my red and black family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COME ON YOU WANDERERS!

Ante of Arabia (or How The Wanderers Feared None, Conquered All and Returned From Riyadh With The ACL Title)

I’ve often talked to friends and family about the moments in my life when I experienced true bliss, when happiness was not just a transitory feeling but a pure state of being. Unlike many I’ve not couched such experiences in the traditional contexts of births and marriages, but instead focused on sport. Perhaps that demonstrates a certain shallowness or a paucity of exposure to meaningful life matters, however they are my experiences and I will always treasure them.

The first was back in the early hours of September 24th, 1993. Before there was an A-League, in the days when football was more a dormant like than an all-consuming love, I was engrossed in the Olympics. Before I knew of the legendary 1974 Socceroos I had been bitten by the bug of the five ringed circus thanks to watching Munich 72 on a black and white television in a caravan in East Maitland. So, when Sydney’s bid for the 2000 Olympics came to the all important juncture, aiming to get the nod by the IOC over Beijing, Manchester and other bidding cities, well it was one of the moments in my life. At the ungodly hour local time that the late and not much lamented Juan Antonio Samaranch said “….And the winner is Sydney, Australia”, well there and then I had the first defining moment of ecstacy in my life thanks to sport.

Come forward over 12 years and it was Germany 2006 qualification time for the Socceroos. Another November date with destiny, having gone through the heart ache of watching the national side fail at every attempt to repeat the wondrous achievements of Rale Rasic’s 1974 heroes, it was a long and tortuous experience having to watch the Socceroos triumph over the Uruguyans. Thirty-two years of sadness, of frustration, of disappointment melted away under the floodlight glare of legends like Schwarzer, Bresciano, Kewell, Viduka, Alosi and that man Tony Popovic, and once more I was taken to another plane of happiness. Giddy with the penalty shoot-out win and a few good measures of kartoffelschnapps all I could do was euphorically celebrate the erasing of all those disappointing years, all those bad memories, all those frustrated Socceroo campaigns. I had another moment in my life that was filtered through sport and epic success to memorize.

So last morning, as my beloved Western Sydney Wanderers battled through possibly the sternest challenge ever faced by any club of any code in this country to win not just a famous victory, but one with global implications…well let me say that I am on a high equal to the intoxicating joy as I experienced back in 1993 and 2005, if not higher.

Popa and the Wanderers Jubilant in Riyadh

I had been debating whether to go to the live site in Parramatta’s Centenary Square, as I’m not as young as I once was and the stress of what was going to be an all-nighter was something better dealt with in my old university days 30 years ago. Throw in the hassle of heading into Parramatta, the possibility of a loss souring the mood post-match (as was experienced after the 2012/13 grand final), and being a lazy old prick, well my mind was not made up until my beloved said the right words; “You’ll regret it if you don’t go”. A few additional incentives from friends online who were going to be at the first (and arguably best) home of the RBB (i.e. The Woolpack Hotel), I decided to let go of my middle aged doubts and get on board the live site experience.

The hours leading into the match were profitably spent drinking a few ales, chatting with some of my aforementioned keyboard comrades at the Woolie, contemplating the imposing date with destiny for the Wanderers over in Saudi, and trying not to feel sick in the stomach with nerves. If there is one thing that really helps with the trials of being a Wanderers fan it’s the brotherhood and sisterhood of fellow fans. I know this might sound a bit hyperbolic, a bit over the top, however I can honestly say I’ve not felt a greater and more enjoyable sense of camaraderie, dare I say family, than with those who share my passion for the Western Sydney Wanderers, since at least my time as an undergraduate up at UNE. The range of ages, of ethnicity, of home roots, of opinions matters not a jot when we get together. Over a few cleansing ales or steins we can relate without all the BS our non-Wanderers lives could bring to bear on our communication. Young or old, male or female, bogan Anglo or effnick wog I am part of this amazing community of western Sydney people, all sharing the love of the Wanderers, and it is a wonderful experience made even more potent at 3.30am before an AFC Champions’ League final.

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Centenary Square, Parramatta…3.40am before the ACL Final

With a few of my comrades as company it was a short walk over to Centenary square, and within minutes it was a sea of fellow Wanderers faithful in red and black, or perhaps a sprinkling of white and red away strips. The mood was one of nervous energy, coupled with that unmistakable air of people trying to either stay awake or wake up. It wasn’t the most well organised or comfortable of set-ups, and the three mobile big screen displays had their issues. However as my beloved said, I would have regretted not being there to share the whole experience. Throw in the presence of members of the RBB and La Banda, a bracing cup of coffee and a collapsible camp chair I was about as ready as I could be for the big game.

Now when it came to the match itself, first off I note with approval that Tony Popovic followed his own mind and ignored my manifesto on how to beat Al Hilal. It was a little surprising to see Kwabena Appiah run on as the RAM and Shannon Cole take over from Daniel Mullen as RB, however as is the mantra of all who follow the Wanderers, in Popa we/I trust. The early moments of the game were positive for the away team, and it looked like perhaps the match would be more even than that played last week at Wanderland. Then the tempo changed, and it was as if Al Hilal were always on the attack and the Wanderers hunkered down for an assault of biblical magnitude. Time and time again the home forwards surged forwards, putting the back five of Cole, Hamill, Topor-Stanley, Golec and Covic under pressure. The referee didn’t aid matters with his seemingly endless awarding of free kicks to Al Hilal, with every contested meeting between players in red and black versus those in blue ending in the home team’s favour. Fast and creative, the Saudi team were playing as if they were chasing the win, and all I could feel as I watched was a gnawing worry in my gut, that we would concede and the dream of an Asian title would crumble with an Al Hilal goal.

However as the game went on in its scoreless manner there was that kernel of hope that kept sustaining me. Through every shot from the misfiring Al Hilal strikers, through every controversial decision from the Japanese referee, through every last minute clearance from NTS or heroic save from Ante Covic, the seemingly doomed chance of an AFC Champions’ League title stayed alive. Half time brought some respite, and discussing the validity of the claims for a penalty that was denied Al Hilal, and my assertion that Vitor Saba was volatile helped divert some of the tension. There had also been some pyro ignited by certain ultra fans, and to be honest it was something visually engaging yet also a pain in the arse when I began coughing my lungs up. However I was glad of the display in that it gave my racing mind something else to latch on, aside from the nervous trauma of watching the Wanderers under the pump in Riyadh.

The second half was, if at all possible, almost twice as stressful that the preceding one. There was more controversy courtesy of another claim for a penalty for the home team, waved away emphatically by the referee (perhaps suffering from nerves himself after his display in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup between Brazil and Croatia). Tomi, Vitor and Spira each came on as Popa rang in the changes. Unfortunately unlike last Saturday the effect on possession and attacking opportunities were minimal, and there was to be no repeat of the magical goal from Golec and Juric as staged in the Wanderland leg. Play opened up a little and there was one or two minor chances from the Wanderers, however it was mostly one way traffic, all towards the goal guarded by Ante. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and those last fifteen minutes or so after a confidence building Poznan in Centenary square was simply a festival of Covic’s acrobatic heroics. In the 86th minute his effort at keeping out an almost certain scoring shot was arguably the best ever save from any Australian goalkeeper in any game ever:

I have seen a lot of good and some great Australian goalies over the years; Jack Riley, Allan Maher, Terry Greedy, Robert Zabica, Mark Bosnich and of course the magisterial Mark Schwartzer, and the last mentioned has a true candidate for save of Australian football’s history with his amazing stop on Zayaleta’s strike from the penalty spot. However the efforts of Covic not just in this match but in others during this AFC Champions’ League campaign are going to be the stuff of legend. Maybe I am succumbing to my own hyperbolic love of the Wanderers, however I would argue that the first statue erected of any player to have worn the red and black at Wanderland must be of Ante. On a slightly less excited note, surely he needs to be considered as at least the no.2 goalie in Ange Postecoglu’s AFC Cup Socceroos squad.

Back to the game itself, those last few minutes and particularly the excoriating stretched moments of injury time were simply agony. It was almost unbearable, yet fascinating and joyful as the game’s duration came closer and closer to ending. Then, at the 96th minute, came release:

It was a moment of pure elation, or unadulterated joy. In a paroxysm of happiness mixed in with disbelief I hugged my nearest red and black adorned compatriot, then went berko with glee. Everyone around me, from all the suburbs of western Sydney and beyond, Anglo or wog, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, rich or poor, man or woman…we all were united in euphoria.

More Glorious Than Death…victory celebrations in Centenary Square Parramatta as the Wanderers claim the ACL title

In the next hour or so it was all about sharing the happiness, living in the moment, of being with my brothers and sisters who have put our hearts and minds behind the Western Sydney Wanderers. We sang ‘Campiones’, we chanted, we hugged, we danced, we fist-pumped all in true Dino Kresinger style. Tears were shed by some, for others there was the cathartic pleasure of laughing, letting go of the nervous tension that had been all too apparent during the match. Many of us in Centenary Square became angry at the disgusting bad-sportsmanship from the grubby Al Hilal striker Al-Shamrani, whose spitting and head butting was just as vile as Luis Suarez biting incident at Brazil 2014. However our hatred for such a dirty bastard was mollified a little by the fact he and his ineffective and impotent comrades lost what they arrogantly proclaimed as theirs without any concrete justification.

I could describe what happened in Parramatta in more detail but already many aspects are being lost in that forgetfulness you have when extreme happiness creates a memory fog. Plus, I didn’t stay around much longer after the presentation of the trophy was broadcast from Riyadh. The sun was shining and it’d been 24 hours since I’d last slept, plus I wanted to get home to my beloved and share my glee whilst watching whatever I could on TV focused on the Wanderers.

After the rest of the morning and some hours in the afternoon passed in sleep I woke to watch the recording I had of the game. I couldn’t bear to watch the entire match again; it had been far too stressful the first go around. Instead I watched the last few minutes of play and then the celebrations for the boys over in Saudi Arabia. There was one last moment of catharsis, of release, when I saw Vitor Saba cry with joy in the arms of Tony Popovic. I’m not ashamed to say I blubbered a little…nay, a farken lot, watching those scenes from earlier that glorious day. It was the perfect end point for a perfect night and day. I have now got a trifecta of euphoric experiences in my life through the agency of sport, and right now it is the greatest of them all.

The Sydney FC Vacuum: A Non-Bandwagoner’s Perspective

In the early stages of the Western Sydney Wanderers’ journey, before the start of last season and then more noticeably as the new boys on the red and black bloc grew in stature and results, the standard riposte from the ranks of Sydney FC’s supporters were that the Wanderers were attracting mostly bandwagoners or traitors into the stands at Wanderland. Instead of seeing an organic and popular explosion of support, the advocates of such negative theories believed that the Wanderers fan base had some kind of basis in their own unchallenged role in Sydney’s A-League landscape for the first seven seasons. It wasn’t so much an expression of spontaneous willingness from the western suburbs of Sydney that spawned the increasing ranks of men, women, boys and girls wanting to don the red and black hoops; no, if one believed the ‘Sydney is Sky-Blue’ fanatics anyone who had decided to take up a Wanderers membership or even just come and support the team were the Benedict Arnolds, the Lord Haw Haws of Australia’s largest city’s football environment.

Now I can’t provide any statistical data, nor do I have access to any learned academic arguments from demographers, sports marketing gurus or statisticians from the government. I can only rely on anecdotal evidence and put forward my own situation. Before I commence my refutation, I will admit that there is a small contingent of people who have abandoned Sydney FC. Of course the merit of such a switch is debatable. I would argue that if I was a fan or involved in actively supporting or administering any sporting club, instead of bemoaning the retreat of what may be considered part of the constituency, I would ask why they left, what that meant in the long term to the viability of the club, and how it could meet the challenge and surpass the achievements of the new rival.

However that is for others closer to the Sydney beaches to contemplate, or for those in the conclave around Tony Pignata and David Traktovenko. I can however offer this personal account, these few paragraphs that may resonate for many of my fellow Wanderers fans. I don’t think my story is too unique, however it is one that was missed time and time again by the brains trust behind Sydney FC.

When the A-League began I was excited like so many other long term football fans to see the era of mismanagement and struggling clubs that was the old National Soccer League come to an end. During the very earliest years of its running as the Phillips NSL I was willing to cheer on my old Ampol Cup NSW team St George Budapest, however this was always from afar. Living on the very outskirts of Sydney’s metropolitan area as a kid whose family never really embraced the round ball game meant I never had a chance to travel the 30-40 odd kilometres to see games. By the time I was in such a position I was off to a major regional university, and living in the country meant I had nil chance of attending any games played by the Saints.

Before any reader of this post chimes in with ‘You abandoned your team and became a Wanderers’ bandwagoner.’ I was by the dying days of the NSL not a fan of any domestic football club full stop, end of story. If anything I had removed myself from the earlier passion I had for football partly because other things in my life took precedence, and contemporaneously the ability of the domestic game to cut through the noise of other sports and become noticeable particularly in regional New South Wales was barely possible. There was always the Socceroos to follow, though they too had their usual lengthy bouts of quietude and inactivity, due to the long pauses between World Cup qualification attempts and the media vacuum that corresponded to their efforts.

By the time I was back in Sydney the National Soccer League was slowly being garroted by a woeful confluence of maladministration, petty bickering, financial woes, complacent fans and the inexorable dead hand of the NSL still living up to popular perceptions of it being the ‘wogball’ wellspring for Socceroos to leave and go overseas from. I had no antipathy to those clubs who had begun their lives as community support groups for so-called ‘New Australians’. Having said that Melita Eagles, Sydney Olympic, Apia Leichhardt were never really going to win me over to the latter NSL competition. I thought that teams like the Wollongong Wolves, Northern Spirit, West Adelaide and Perth Glory each had their positives, but none of them were in the running to win my support. I guess you could say I was neither disaffected from or lost to the sport. In fact I was one of the worst kinds of football fans in Australia; I had no significant emotional devotion to the game that connected to where I lived, among my neighbours and friends, family or work colleagues.

Come 2005 and after what seemed like an interminable slumber for the sport Football came alive for folk like me who had simply lost the plot when it came to sticking hard and fast to all its levels. The euthanisng of  the NSL under the direction of Frank Lowy’s relatively newly formed Football Federation Australia was the clean break I believed the game needed, and combined with that magical night in November 2005 the onset of the A-League was like the first movements of a sleeping giant arising from its bed. However whilst I was in raptures over the Socceroos, there was still a chasm in my football world, and that was the absence of a team in the newly formed domestic comp to win me over.

So this is where Sydney FC stood for me, and I suspect hundreds if not thousands of other western Sydney based football fans in that early phase of the A-League; a potential suitor for a football fan who loved the game more than ever before, but yet to really commit to the new era and the new A-League. I was quite excited as a Germanophile who remembered the efforts of the Mannschaft that had won the World Cup for West Germany in 1990 to see that Pierre Littbarski was the coach of Sydney FC, however he was the only name in that club structure that attracted me. If anything I was somewhat repelled by the whole ‘Sydney Bling’ mythos, the carryings-on of ‘All Night Dwight’ and the overall showy, facile, glitzy facade that at heart was the antithesis of my experience of football in this country. To see a club sitting comfortably in its eastern Sydney home ground environs, getting as many headlines in the social pages of the tabloids thanks to Dwight Yorke, and making no effort to bring me into its fold either directly or by influence, well it was not what I wanted. My favourite aspect of the early days of Sydney FC was they formed a wonderful punchline for the sporting satire of Roy Slaven and HG Nelson.

There was a very brief phase where I had a minor dalliance with the idea of supporting Adelaide United, though this was no more than an occasional “Hope they win.” kind of commitment. This was due to my link to the city as it was where I was born, and in other sports such as cricket and Australian Rules I always look kindly on South Australian clubs and teams. I was probably most vulnerable in becoming a Red when Coopers signed up as a major sponsor, but like many a beer fueled idea that was a transitory and futile blink of the mind.

Meanwhile, as Sydney FC lurched from occasional success to more frequent incidents of internal turmoil and ugly football, I was left to my own devices by the domestic league in my part of Sydney. I went to every Socceroos home game in Sydney during the post 2006 World Cup period and not once was I ever seemingly on the Sydney FC or FFA marketing radar. According to Wikipedia the Sky Blues condescended to play the Perth Glory out at Parramatta in their Round 26 game of the 09/10 season, and repeated the exact match-up at the same location the following season in Round 15 however they neither grabbed my attention with these sideshow efforts, nor did I find such ventures from a club anchored in the east of Sydney to my liking. I vaguely registered the seething resentment to Terry Butcher, and was mildly intrigued by the despatch of Victory by SFC in the grand final of 2009/10 thanks to a thrilling penalty shoot-out. I was however a neutral, with no attachment to the team that should have really captured me there and then if it ever could have. The coming and goings of coaches, the lack of a resonating western Sydney perspective on the SFC venture all contributed to my ennui for the (eastern) Sydney football franchise

It took until April 2012 before I finally had a mast to nail my football supporter’s colours to. With the launch of the then unnamed western Sydney club for the A-League I was provided with that window of opportunity that the FFA and Sydney FC had never thought to properly offer me before. Here was the genesis of a football club that would reflect my place of being, would be sited close enough for me to go to home games without taking a packed lunch and a GPS, would hopefully not be all about bling, transitory brilliance and manifest inadequacies. It wasn’t tied into the old NSL structures, however it became apparent as the vision was clarified that it would reflect football’s past. The process of the new western Sydney club’s establishment was all about asking what I (and thousands like me) wanted, instead of imposing its values on me and effectively saying ‘Take it or leave it’.

When the time came to finally sign up and become a foundation member of the Western Sydney Wanderers I did so without any pangs of illusionary kinship with Sydney FC. I was not in anyway shape or form someone who had rejected them after being beholden to them in past season; if anything Sydney FC rejected me and thousands of other ‘westies’ season after season. This wasn’t a still-born Rovers style offering, nor was it an inducement to jump aboard because the Wanderers would undoubtedly dominate the A-League thanks to patronage, sponsorship and a cast of star players (all these elements were in very scant supply before 2012/13 kicked off). I had spent upwards of 30-odd years waiting for a club that I wanted to support and that made it obvious that it wanted me to come along. I became a devotee of the Western Sydney Wanderers off my own bat, with no links to Sydney FC and no inducements in previous seasons to really consider them as a viable option for my support.

So as I close this tortuous and personal account I again reiterate what I said at the beginning of this post. I for one never have felt the petty jibes emanating from the Cove and their hangers-on about Wanderers fans being traitors or johnny-come-latelies to have any real basis in fact. I have my own experiences and history to draw upon, the firm belief in my own convictions to underscore why I never did and never will support Sydney FC. Whenever I or one of the myriad of Wanderers fans stand up for our team we do so not out of some kind of treasonous conspiracy against our past ‘love’, but as an affirmation of the football values that the Western Sydney Wanderers offered to us; values we’d not been offered before.

Sydney may have once had some part of its football culture colouring approximating azure, or maybe even ultramarine. However since the advent of the Western Sydney Wanderers, for me and thousands like me, it is definitely, distinctly, absolutely red and black where Sydney FC failed to fill in the palette.