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!’

To The Barricades (Or How The OSG & Parra LAC Have Pissed Me Off)

Late last night I came across this little article published in the Sydney Morning Herald of 24th September 2015:

Western Sydney Wanderers and NSW Police working through Red and Black Bloc restrictions

The management of the Western Sydney Wanderers and the Parramatta police are understood to be working their way through a series of tough restrictions on the club’s fanatical army of supporters known throughout the A-League as the Red and Black Bloc.
With less than a fortnight before the A-League kicks off, the Wanderers’ management refused to comment on the nature of the restrictions the police intend to impose on the Bloc when Fairfax Media contacted them on Thursday. However, it’s understood a document tabled to the club’s front office by the Parramatta local area command after a meeting between the two organisations in late July was aimed to prevent what the police viewed as an unruly element in the Red and Black Bloc from creating trouble.
The long list of tough restrictions the police intend to enforce when the Wanderers kick off their 2015-16 season on October 8 against Brisbane Roar include:
Banning the traditional march by the RBB through the Parramatta CBD to Pirtek Stadium;
The RBB won’t be allowed to display any banners that are considered to be provocative;
There will be a zero tolerance for swearing;
RBB supporters will be ordered to remain in their seats and to not ‘compress’ [stand shoulder-to-shoulder and jump and clap their hands above their heads ] when they chant;
Only one person, designated by the club, will be allowed to take a megaphone into the stadium; Flares will not be tolerated. The police intend to ensure the rules are followed.

The RBB generates an incredible atmosphere at A-League games through their chanting and singing. There’s even a school of thought that suggests the group ought to be considered a triumph of sorts because members of the various ethnic groups which make up Sydney’s multi-cultural western suburbs have united as one to join the RBB and support the Wanderers.

However, there has also been numerous complaints made about incidents that have involved some members of the group and the media has publicised the clashes they have had with the police over the years.

During last Anzac Day’s match against Perth, RBB supporters walked out of Pirtek Stadium at halftime in protest after pepper spray was allegedly used by police in response to a flare being set off. There were reports police were injured in the violence.

The confrontation continued outside with the supporters infuriated by what they believed was an overreaction by police. There was a newspaper report published in early 2014 which intimated while the majority of RBB fans were acknowledged as being well behaved and good supporters, there was said to be a hardcore element who police were concerned could potentially lead to criminal behaviour.

Police made it clear at the time they would not allow the formation of the old English football’s “firms” a group of hooligans who fight like-minded supporters from rival clubs. It is understood at the time police had gone to a lot of trouble to identify those with a penchant for creating trouble.

On the other hand the RBB has been widely applauded for doing socially minded exercises, such as helping to raise funds for the Blue Mountains bushfire victims.

Now putting aside a quibble here and there with some of the tendentious ‘facts’ (e.g. reports police were injured in the violence) , the nub of this article is that the NSW Police via the Parramatta LAC and the Parramatta Stadium Trust are endeavouring to put in place what can only be seen as thuggish, repressive, reactionary measures that are more about their inability to use intelligent measures against the tiny minority who may be anti-social, all within a context of a long standing tradition of victimisation of the non-Anglo-Australian soccer supporter by authority figures.

I could ramble on and on about this, however instead I have posted below a letter that I have composed and will be sending to as many relevant people and bodies as I can. If this is of use for anyone please feel free to copy, amend and use as you may wish in arguing against these potential strictures.

This is an issue anyone interested in protesting the usurping of personal and social liberties, within the context of football in this country by state authorities, hopefully should feel enraged about, and should protest vehemently.

Protest Letter on Behalf of A Concerned WSW Member

2014/2015 Round Nine Preview: December 5th-7th

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Central Coast Mariners vs Melbourne Victory (Friday, 5th November 2014, North Sydney Oval)

This match has been overshadowed by the issues facing the Mariners future as well as the controversy of taking another game away from Gosford to North Sydney Oval. Whilst there are intriguing and arguably positive reasons for Mike Charlesworth to take the Mariners into broader markets that are not that far away from their central coast base, there has already been a negative reaction from many of the more rusted on fans. Then there is the hostility shown to the venue from Melbourne Victory’s coach Kevin Muscat, who has already voiced his concern over the potential for injuries to his players on the hard surface.

All this controversy and media huffing and puffing means that assessing the actual possible result is almost a secondary concern. Melbourne will be undoubted favourites even if they do not play their full and best team. The absence of Finkler may cause some problems for Berisha, but in Ben Khalfallah Muscat has a great alternate. Again there may be defensive concerns with the continuing absence of Delpierre however this iteration of the Mariners do not look good enough to take advantage of that issue. Whilst they may be able to maintain a high possession rate against the visitors, going forward and convincingly attacking their opponents with the resulting goals doesn’t seem to be happening for Moss’s team.

Final Verdict: Victory may be discomforted by the venue and the Mariners will want to maintain the same stolid work that has seen them only lose one of their last four games this season. However the visitors should be able to win well. My Prediction: 0-2 Melbourne Victory win

Newcastle Jets vs Wellington Phoenix (Saturday 6th December 2014, Hunter Stadium)

Two of the least fashionable clubs of the A-League meet in this match and it will be most interesting to see what kind of crowd come along to see the home team who are struggling this season, or the visitors who are playing well but are poor purveyors of traveling fans. The Jets have been finding it hard this season, and whilst they have found some degree of stability in the last two rounds with draws against the Wanderers and Mariners there is still no definitive expectation that they can run rampant against any opposition. Flores and Carney are playing well and the switch of Birighitti with Ben Kennedy in goal seems to have corrected some of the defensive woes Phil Stubbins’ team has had.

As for the visitors, even with the departure of goal scoring ace Jeremy Brockie to South Africa there is lots to like up front. McGlinchey, Burns, Bonevacia and Krishna have helped give the Phoenix their best ever start to an A-League season. It would be a foolish person to consider them less than an even chance for reaching the top six in April next year, and Ernie Merrick is getting the best out of a team that is hardly filled with stars.

Final Verdict: Wellington Phoenix may not be the best team away from home in the past, however this season they are looking much better. This should be a win for the visitors, even though the Jets won’t die wondering. My Prediction: 0-1 Wellington Pheonix win

Adelaide United vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Saturday 6th December 2014, Coopers Stadium)

The Reds are at home and have plenty of reason to shine against the last placed Wanderers after their defeat away to their nemesis the Victory last round. Plus, like every club who will be playing the Wanderers this season the added incentive of knocking off the AFC Champions’ League winners must give Gombau’s players another motivation. Adelaide are looking very good this season thanks to the growing depth and cohesion of their team on the field. Up front Djite and Cirio have been scoring goals, Carrusca has been arguably the best playmaker in any club and at the back Elrich and Mabil have been able to switch defence into attack regularly, The Reds will be missing the multi-talented Osama Malik however that shouldn’t be fatal for their chances.

As for the Wanderers, well almost everything that can go wrong with their 2014/15 A-League campaign has indeed gone wrong. They had been improving in their performances against the Mariners, Jets and Sydney FC at home, and whilst the goals weren’t coming in great floods the combination of Rukavytsya, Bridge, Juric and Castelen looked very potent. However on Wednesday night their effort against a Broich-less Brisbane Roar was simply not good enough. There are issues all over the park, particularly in relation to the sub-par returns from two key imports (Saba and Adeleke), and if it wasn’t for the likes of Covic, Topor-Stanley and Hamill the RBB and other fans would be starting to doubt the wisdom of Tony Popovic. Throw in the impending trip to Morocco for the Club World Cup and it is almost as if their success has laid the foundations for their current faults.

Final Verdict: I would love to believe that the Wanderers can come back, confound teh critics and win this week. However I don’t believe they are going to be able to bring away all three points. They may well jag a draw though. My Prediction: 2-1 Adelaide United

Melbourne City vs Brisbane Roar (Sunday 7th December 2014, AAMI Park)

Brisbane played well enough to keep a stuttering Wanderers out of their goal on Wednesday night, however they hardly set the world on fire with their own offensive efforts. Therefore coming down to Melbourne and facing a Melbourne City that was thumped by the Phoenix last round gives them an intriguing challenge, especially as Thomas Broich will again be absent. Defensively City do have problems, and with a core of Heart players in the backs and midfield John Van t’Schip must be hoping the likes of Paartelu and Mooy replicate their efforts from the first match between these two teams this season. In fact the area where the game will be won or lost will be in the midfield; Matt McKay played very well against the Wanderers and Mooy has been possibly the best City player all season so far. If the Roar midfield can get service to Henrique then he will cause problems for the home team. Conversely Williams can punish the City opposition so it could be one of those games that swings on one magic moment from the centre of the pitch. It will be interesting to see if and how Adam Sarota plays for Brisbane; he could be a quality addition to a Brisbane squad that still has some big gaps.

Final Verdict: I don’t think either team is really of a sufficient quality to get a huge win, but of the two Roar look better in defence and have been arguably better across the board even though they have lost more matches than won. My prediction 0-1 Brisbane Roar win

(N.B. as I missed the chance to post before the Sydney FC vs Perth Glory match I will only give a review for that game)

Round Four Preview: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Brisbane Roar (Wednesday 3rd December, Pirtek Stadium)

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If, immediately after last years’ grand final, anyone had suggested that this match would be going ahead with both teams at the foot of the current A-League ladder, in a mid-week match after the Wanderers had won the AFC Champions’ League and were readying for the FIFA Club World Championship, and that the Roar would have sacked Mike Mulvey in the week or so beforehand, they would’ve been labelled as insane. Yet here we are and the Wanderers are last, the Roar eighth, Mulvey is indeed gone, the home team is readying for a possible match in Morocco against Real Madrid and Broich is undergoing surgery for an ankle injury. In other words it is a rather bizarre situation that both clubs are in, and whoever can best emerge out of the chaotic circumstances should climb back up into the top six.

For the visitors the one major bright spot in their situation is that Henriques is scoring goals. Aside from that their form, their internal issues post-Mulvey’s sacking, the gaps in their roster due to Berisha and Franjic moving on, the injuries to Broich and Theo all indicates they are on a downward path. Their effort against Perth last round was barely satisfactory, and was saved near the death by the Brazilian striker. There is potential for Adam Sarota to play however his match fitness will be almost zero. New Roar coach Frans Thijssen has also been a very subdued addition to the visitors, and it is hard to see him knowing exactly how to deal with all the problems Brisbane face on and off the park.

As for the Wanderers, they must be very confident of picking up all three points tonight. There is every chance that recently crowned AFC coach of the Year Tony Popovic will wave his rotation wand again, and whilst Saba didn;t start against Sydney FC last weekend he may well begin the game against the Roar. Labinot Haliti might figure instead of Rukavytsya, and it will be interesting to see if Adeleke starts. The away game to Adelaide this weekend and the Club World Championship will be on Popa’s mind, and he may give some of his usual starters a break. If so the challenge will be particularly in the midfield, where Poljak, possibly Bridge, Saba and La Rocca will need to own that space. Up front Tomi Juric will be the main man for goals, however he will need someone like Castelen or another team mate to help out more. Last match against Sydney FC there were issues with the Wanderers’ willingness to shoot, as well as their organisation in the box, and this needs to improve.No doubt the RBB will again be driving their club on with all the home support they can.

Final Verdict: The Wanderers should win, but the Roar will be very keen to stop them. My Prediction: 2-0 Western Sydney Wanderers