So another season has finished, and boy I’m going to miss my weekly dose of the A-League. There will be football before the next ball will be kicked for the 2013/14 season but it won’t be as enjoyable. I find the World Cup qualifiers very stressful and not enjoyable at all. The fact is that we are perilously close in not qualifying at will make them even more anxiety-producing.
As a non believer of the exhibition game, I won’t go to the Liverpool one. I know these sort of games create revenue for Club but I find them as exciting as a limp forgotten leaf of iceberg lettuce at the bottom of the fridge vegi crisper. Give me a meaningful match with Bangkok Glass in the Asian Champions League any time.
Anyway, the whole talk this year seems to have been around Alessandro del Piero (very cunningly dubbed the The Del Piero Effect™ by Ancelottery ) and of course the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Before the season started I was very interested about the creation of this club. Ever since the start of the A-League this was dubbed a mystical land, the cradle of football in Australia etc. etc. It became some sort of Garden of the Hesperides of football, a magical place where any team had to ‘get it right’ lest the unforgiving Gods of Australian sport would be angry and destroy the A-League and football in Australia as we know it. (Interesting though is how ‘Western Sydney’ has also become a place of importance for politics and the AFL).
Of course, as we know, there were the naysayers saying that it was rushed and it was going to be a failure etc. etc. Being negative and predicting doom and gloom which is part and parcel of being a fan of Association Football in Australia. But as I followed the process I could see that unlike previous teams’ creation, the FFA was going about it the right way. It set up forums across the region, asking about everything, including the colours, where to play etc. This meant that it created a strong sense of ownership amongst at least a core of the supporters. Unlike other A-league teams where it was basically a ‘Build it and they will come’ model, the Wanderers immediately were ‘owned’ by the fans.
This was also aided by the fact that the ‘West’ has a definite sense of identity, so the team had already an opportunity to express a sense of representation, something that it took much more time for other teams which were presented to us to support in the first season of the A-League. This sense of identity and community is gold for any team, and to their credit this time the FFA was able to capture it, and the results are there to be seen.
The other masterstroke was to engage Popovic as coach. Not only he was well credentialed as the assistant coach at Crystal Palace, but most important of all he was from Western Sydney, and fans immediately saw him as one of their own.
There is no doubt that for other supporters (especially Victory ones, who up to now were seen as being the benchmark of support in the A-league) all the gushing commentary by the Sydney media about the Wanderers and their supporters is somewhat irksome. Partly I think that part of this enthusing commentary comes from a sense of relief that such an important team, for such an important area for football in Australia didn’t look like going the same way as the Gold Coast United or the North Queensland Fury.
Another thing though that the Wanderers seem to have succeeded is that even the non-active sections get involved. The Northern Terrace is probably still the most organised, (I would venture the Southern end couldn’t care less, as they are there for the beer and to have a good time) but from what I can gather the whole Parramatta Stadium gets involved one way or the other, something that doesn’t happen at Victory matches.
However I think that there still something Victory supporters have over the Wanderers. Unlike the success of the Wanderers, Melbourne Victory had a dismal first season, finishing second last and being only saved by the ignominy of last place by the New Zealand Knights. The fact that fans still kept going after that, and that apparently crowds never fell below 10K is a source of pride for Victory supporters. The proof of the pudding for the Wanderers will be when, as inevitably all teams do, they will not perform as brilliantly. Will the some supporters fall away? There is a type of ‘supporter’ that instead of going to the match to encourage the players no matter what, go to the match to do the opposite. That is to derive satisfaction from winning, to identify with the winners and fell good. When the team loses these ‘supporters’ tend to stay away.
As a supporter of football in Australia first and foremost, and therefore of the A-league as a whole (in fact I made a point to travel to Parramatta in November to watch the first Wanderers-Victory encounter, as a way to support the competition) I have been very happy for the Wanderers success and the way the support has grown. And hope this continues. I’d rather have perhaps over the top commentary from a Sydney journo about the Wanderers’ fans than a depressing one about a dismal turnout. It also raises the bar for other fans, which is great.
Imagine if non-active Victory fans could get a bit more involved….a Victory – Wanderers Grand Final. What a moment that would be.