Australian Football Has A New Baby

Building a football club from scratch is normally something born out of a crisis. Often it’s a last resort due to the liquidation of a club or the product of fan protest, but it’s not always the case, certainly not for Western Sydney Wanderers Football Club.

The New Hyundai A-League season will witness the emergence of a new team in 2012/2013, emerging not out of a financial mess or fan disillusion, but from a dream to create a family oriented football club for the community of Western Sydney, an area dubbed the ‘Football Heartland’ of Australia.

The club is the true essence of a community club and its new fans held multiple meetings with the relevant governing body during the clubs creation and had decision making power in everything from the club colours, badge, name, stadium – even the teams playing style.

Everything has been built from the base, from the fans forums to the clubs Wikipedia page, the club has been heavily fan created in an attempt to stay true to the area and it’s rich sporting heritage.

The area of Western Sydney is a hot-bed for football support, home to a large percentage of the Socceroo faithful, many in the area have been following teams from the State League at a grass roots level and now their chance has arrived for them to fuse their enthusiasm for football to help invent a well- supported, passionate club that the city has been longing for.

A failed attempt to bring a club to the area was made last year with Sydney Rovers, who failed to get off the ground due to a lack of investment. That’s not a issue this time around though and the team is starting to take shape with the A-League Season just 9 weeks away.

Like the formation of any new team, the club held dozens of trials, handing opportunities to young players released from A-League Clubs and talents from amateur sides in New South Wales, chances have also been afforded to older players looking to resurrect their careers within a new exciting project.

Except this isn’t quite like organising a team for a Sunday kick-around, this is a club being built for the big league, playing in a 20,000 all seater stadium with a former international and Premier League footballer as its manager, making its debut season at the highest level its country has to offer, everything is in place for Western Syndey Wanderers to be a major force in the A-League for years to come.

The creation of the club isn’t without some opposition however. There are still a small percentage of hardcore football fans in the area who are against the A-League as a concept and still follow the country’s former National League teams. Much of this opposition comes from second generation Europeans whose parents came to Australia in the 1950’s and 1960’s from Southern Europe and established their own clubs.

Whilst being here in Syndey however, you do get the impression that the city is fully behind the Wanderers and their plan to build a football institution that is centred around a culture of hard work and honesty.

The man charged with the daunting yet fascinating challenge of building the first Western Sydney Wanderers squad is ex-Crystal Palace and Australia defender Tony Popovic, who signed a 4-year-contract to become the club’s first manager in May of this year, despite the club not even having a name or a team of players when he put pen to paper.

The club will play its home games in Parramatta after signing a 5-year-deal with the Parramatta Stadium, a large culturally diverse area and just one of many suburbs in Sydney’s Greater West, an area populated by an estimated 1.6 million people and unofficially regarded as Sydney’s second CBD.

The potential fan base is clear for all to see and they are determined to engage with the community to ensure this potential is fulfilled unlike the cities other team Sydney FC, who are struggling to compete on and off the field with other more successful and better supported A-League Clubs.

An impressive 3,600 spectators watched Wanderers beat Nepean FC 5-0 in a friendly on a chilly Tuesday night just two weeks ago and the club’s community focus was plain to see as fans were allowed in to watch the game free of charge.

The supporters have created their own fans group, charged with the responsibility of creating atmosphere at games, they are called the ‘Red and Black Bloc’ and A-League fans will learn to recognise the chants of “RBB” that will ring around the Parramatta Stadium in the forthcoming campaign, they are the personification of Western Sydney’s enthusiasm for football, an enthusiasm that has existed for decades.

Some of the RBB’s founder members were kind enough to tell me of their expectations for the clubs first season and also told me how they wanted to remain loyal to the area when forming the clubs culture, I was also keen to find out whether any British football clubs had influenced them in their decision making:

“Many of the clubs in the Western Sydney area have red and black included in their colours and that was one point repeatedly made at the dozen or so supporter meetings that were held by the governing body as they started to create the culture and look for the club. However, I don’t think any specific football clubs were ever seen as influencing the development of the club, as the area is highly diverse in terms of culture and football support”

The club is expecting to bring in an average attendance of 10,000 fans in the A-League in its first season, including a bumper crowd against local foes Sydney FC, yet the fans know the key is to build a sustainable club, ensuring the attendance figure grows slowly over time and doesn’t gradually decrease like some of its rivals.

“If the club loses it’s momentum and focus on supporter and community engagement it could suffer the same problems Sydney FC had where the membership and supporter base has dwindled over time.”

Despite having never faced each other on the football pitch, the rivalry with Sydney FC is already apparent, the city has previously been deprived of two professional football rivals going toe-to-toe and the emergence of the Wanderers is healthy for the city’s footballing future.

“Any finish higher than 4th would, in our opinion, be an over achievement, as it would mean leap frogging one of the Mariners, Roar, Victory and Glory who should have strong seasons again. Of course, I would like to beat Sydney FC in the league position and in the derbies.”

“Realistically we have a long way to go to reach Melbourne Victory. Over time, if we do things right, we will reach them, surpassing Sydney FC will be like taking candy from a baby”

Unlike Rangers and potentially Portsmouth, this is a club that has been built from a clean slate, without affliction hanging over them like a dark depressing cloud reminding them of former glories that have been distinguished by a flame of financial mess.

In a year when some of Britain’s oldest clubs are dying it is refreshing to see the birth of a New Football Club first hand. A club without preconceptions that has been purpose built to bring joy to the people of its community. Football has a new baby, and its’ name is Western Sydney Wanderers.