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!

Looking Back On Last Season: The Dino Kresinger Factor

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

And then there was Dino.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Dino…loved your work!

Dino...signing off

Dino…signing off