Tag Archives: Western Sydney

GWS Giants – Tim Lane fails to see the whole picture.

Parramatta RiverParramatta River. Photo: Jason Wong

Scour twitter and the internet and you see regularly plenty of supporters of different codes indulging in ‘code wars’. I do this myself, and as long as it is done in a lighthearted manner I think is OK. After all this is what social media is all about.

Sometimes you get journalists doing it which I think is a bit lazy as I see that as a way of generating clickbait for their article.

Fortunately Tim Lane is not one of those. Before I go on with this post I want to say to all my fellow Association Football supporters that I won’t hear a bad word about Tim Lane. Yes he’s an AFL journalist, and as far as I know while he’s not a Association Football fan, I’ve never read a word against it. I fondly remember him in my early days of AFL (or VFL as it was then) watching him with his 1970’s moustache on the ABC’s the winners. He is a man of principle refusing to share a commentator booth with Eddie Maguire when Collingwood was playing because of conflict of interest. He raised his daughter since she was 10 (sport journalist Sam Lane) as a single father when his ex-wife died.

However I have to take some issues about the article he wrote today ‘Giants are a weighty issue’ (but titled ‘A giant of the game, Wayne Carey, passes judgment on the AFL’s big problem’ online) about the problems faced by the GWS Giants.   This came off a comment by Wayne Carey that said that the GWS Giants won’ be in existence in 15 years, and  “describing an unwinnable war and providing a timeline for the ultimate surrender.”

Inevitably Tim Lane has to make a comparison to Association Football.

Until recently, the round-ball game had appeared incapable of penetrating the long-established cultural bases of the nation’s two popular codes. Till the last decade or so, these strangleholds only seemed to tighten by the year.

Then FIFA’s rules relating to World Cup qualifying zones changed, making Australia a likely regular participant. Also, the code now maintains an on-going place in the national consciousness via a thriving domestic competition. The achievement of this was imperative for a genuine foothold to be established.

While it took years to happen, this delay was – in a way – serendipitous. It meant the A-League was established at a time when national sport had completely superseded the old local model. This has enabled a genuinely national structure to be established on a clean slate, with cities and regions represented in proportion to their viability. It encourages support for each team purely on the basis of local pride and parochialism. There is no sense that soccer is a sport of any particular state, or group of states.

The A-League is a competition born of the jet-age.

This may come to some surprise to some Association Football supporters in Australia who are already ringing the death bell for the A-League.

Then Lane makes a comparison to the AFL and makes the point that its long history can actually be a handicap.  The majority of the clubs were born in the horse-and-cart era when they represented the majority of where Melbournians lived but have ceased to be so for a long time.  Tim Lane observes that the old VFL competition was so phenomenally successful that it couldn’t be rebuilt from the bottom up, only extended.  This, he explains, is a weakness for the AFL on two fronts. First, it imposes a limit on the scale of the game’s economy. That Victoria has continued supporting 10 clubs means that once those of the other states were added on, there were inevitably too many teams. This could not do other than spread the game’s resources – financial and otherwise – too thinly.  The second weakness in the AFL’s evolution, Tim Lane continues,  is that while its heartland is its greatest strength, this also has a counter-productive effect. It identifies the AFL within the psyche of residents of a city like Sydney as distinctly Victorian: something they resist.

I think that while Lane’s observations are right, they don’t explain the whole situation. And this may be the problem with many Victorians who grew up with Australian Rules Football.  They may be unable to see the whole picture.

The idea that Wayne Carey would know about Western Sydney because he comes from NSW (Wagga Wagga) can be seen as a bit strange.  Is a bit like saying Scott Pendlebury can comment on putting a new team in Toorak because he comes from Sale.  Yes, unlike Victoria, NSW is not an Australian Rules state.  But like Victoria, NSW is not all the same.  And Western Sydney especially so.

It is true that teams such as Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond etc. do no represent an area anymore. But this has been the situation for the past 50 years, times where the VFL/AFL didn’t have any problems in attracting fans.

The issue that the AFL is weighted too much to Victoria is certainly true. That is an historical fact.  But is putting teams where there is ‘population’ the right way to expand the league and make it more balanced?

You only need to read Ian Syson’s wonderful website ‘Neos Osmos’ to understand that for a variety of reasons when football codes were vying for predominance in the late 1800 and early 1900 – Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia, became predominant Australian Rules states.  While Rugby League became the  main code in NSW and Queensland.  Association Football was played everywhere but it never became the main code, as the other two became more and more supported by commercial and political interests.  But that’s another story.

To become a truly national competition the AFL rightly thought that Sydney had to be represented.  That is why they shafted one of those inner suburban traditional teams, South Melbourne, up there and re-branded it the Sydney Swans.  The AFL kept at it despite some wobbly times and now it has become a successful team with a substantial number of fans who came from the whole metropolitan area.  The Swans were created in 1983, a very different Australia that it is now.  At that time Western Sydney was am area of working class people (many from Non English Speaking Background) and where the two footballs were Association Football and Rugby League.  Then Western Sydney became demographically more and more important and the AFL decided that a team had to be there.  The merits or otherwise of whether of how an AFL team would work in an area which was solidly Rugby League and Association Football was debated for some time.  A great blog by Western Sydney local Mike Salter provided very interesting views of the AFL new team and the FFA attempts of creating one as well.  I have made an anthology of them written between 2006 to 2010 in a post three years ago.  For anyone who is interested in the football situation in Western Sydney it makes interesting reading.

Mike’s posts highlight clearly something that Tim Lane hasn’t surprisingly grasped.  The difficulties of the GWS Giant is not because most of the teams in the AFL represent area of Melbourne where most of the fans don’t live anymore, or because it is mainly Victorian.  It is because the game of Australian Rules Football is outside the cultural framework of the people living in the area.  As Mike stated in one of his posts, dated  February 17, 2008.

Driving through Western Sydney, one is always struck by the vast areas of parkland set aside for competitive sport. But they tend to be arranged into rectangles, not ovals.

Western Sydney simply isn’t AFL country. As far as I can see, the Swans (like Sydney FC to a much lesser extent) have relied on the more affluent areas of Sydney and the desire for novelty and separate identity that often goes along with affluence; it’s difficult to see the same attitudes prevailing west of Parramatta.

I think that many Victorian Australian Football aficionados are so enamored in their sport (which – as a Carlton member – I also appreciate) that cannot clearly see that it would leave many unmoved.  The FFA was almost perfect in the creation of the Western Sydney Wanderers.  Organising community forums where Association Football fans were instrumental in deciding on the name and colours of the team.  But it was fertile ground which was sowed by teams with tradition such as Marconi and Sydney United. The AFL plonked a team there and said: “Here, it is a great sport.  Follow this team”.

The AFL  doesn’t admit defeat easily.  It didn’t become arguably the most successful sport organisation without plenty of persistence and money.  They will see the success Sydney Swans, which also looked like failing just a few years after their creation, as an example for keep going.  We will have to see.


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How the West was won (or not) an anthology of ‘The Football Tragic’ posts

There is a lot of talk around the blogosphere/twittersphere etc. about the new A League West Sydney team.  The fact is that this has been happening for some time.  Mike Salter  had a great blog called ‘The Football Tragic‘ which alas is now not going anymore.  Although the link is still there and provides a fascinating record of events which have happened in Association Football, mainly in Australia, from 2006 to 2010, and part of this are posts about the ‘Western Sydney’ issue.  And considering that Mike was also a local, it provides a very interesting insight and context of what is happening at the moment.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How the West Won’t Be Won

Five years ago, you’d never have believed it.

The AFL attempting to expand its market in Sydney, not so much to wrest the market from rugby league (which is well-established anyway), but to forestall the continuing growth of football. When even hardened egg-ball columnists such as Roy Masters and Greg Baum can frankly admit that football is now a serious player in the scramble for market share, and was a serious factor in the mooted AFL expansion, you know the sporting landscape has changed.

And this only three years into the A-League. The architects of the post-Crawford domestic competition can afford a little chortle of satisfaction.

Of course, plans to expand the A-League in Queensland next year will have made the AFL sit up and take notice, given that, with the Titans now established and the new “Gold Coast Galaxy” looking promising, the lucrative Gold Coast market might just become a virtually closed shop.

So, the counterattack: staking out the ground in Western Sydney before the A-League has a chance to. And in my opinion, it’s a blunder.

Driving through Western Sydney, one is always struck by the vast areas of parkland set aside for competitive sport. But they tend to be arranged into rectangles, not ovals.

Western Sydney simply isn’t AFL country. As far as I can see, the Swans (like Sydney FC to a much lesser extent) have relied on the more affluent areas of Sydney and the desire for novelty and separate identity that often goes along with affluence; it’s difficult to see the same attitudes prevailing west of Parramatta.

A Western Sydney A-League team is also a little more problematic than some have made out, given the club allegiances (Marconi, Sydney United etc.) that already exist in that part of the world. Having said that, the crowds that Penrith-Nepean United attracted in the NSW Premier League last season, not to mention the excellent turnout at CUA Stadium for the final, would suggest that Penrith – with its proximity to the football-friendly Blue Mountains – would be a worthwhile candidate for A-League expansion. CUA Stadium is not too far away from being an adequate A-League venue.

As for the likelihood of the AFL move working, I’ll leave the last word to a former AFL great:

Skilton said he didn’t believe the competition needed more than 16 sides and said the game’s development in NSW had not progressed far enough to split the supporter base.

“They want to expand the game so they can get more publicity. But I don’t think we have the depth.

“How many NSW kids are in our side, let alone how many Sydney kids

Thursday, September 03, 2009

So the favoured Western Sydney bid has collapsed.

In all probability, this is good news for the A-League. It’s surely inconceivable that the FFA will consider the nebulous bid fronted by a Socceroo captain who can’t even find a club of his own at the moment; Canberra is the only realistic option if they are going to expand to twelve teams in 2010/11.

The further expansion has undoubtedly been precipitate. The market manoeuvres of the AFL on the one hand, and the blackmail of the Asian confederation on the other, have scared the national body into two jumps in two seasons, which would never have been considered in more “peaceful” times. The relief is that the high-risk insertion of two same-city franchises will not happen now, barring a bizarre turnaround.

And if they are still not prepared to accept Canberra, what’s it to be for next season? 11 teams would be extremely awkward; there are very few national leagues with an odd number of sides.

The other, dreadful, possibility is the removal of Wellington as a sop to the Asian confederation, thereby keeping it at ten teams. The Kiwis would have a right to be mightily annoyed should this come to pass: the Phoenix have been competitive for the last two years, they have established a decent fanbase, and the continuing presence of a New Zealand side in the A-League has been an important gesture towards our near neighbours, who probably still feel a little aggrieved about Australia jumping ship for Asia in 2006.

Instead, the FFA should take the plunge and allow the Canberra bid its chance.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Delayed Dozen – yet another update

It seems things are finally clear.

Although the whole process has made the FFA look both clumsy and devious, the ultimate decision to delay entry for a Western Sydney team is undoubtedly the correct one. 2010/11 will give the national body a chance to see how the two-teams-per-city dynamic will work in Melbourne, where the market is similar, though not exactly identical, to Sydney’s.

11 teams next season, then, with the awkward bye. It remains to be seen whether this will have a further adverse effect on crowds (given that there will be greater gaps between home games at times); given the alarming drop-off already in 2009/10, the league could barely afford this.

Re the Western Sydney franchise, the key question of location remains. With a more gentle lead-in period, hopefully Ian Rowden and his crew will be made properly aware of the problems ANZ Stadium would entail.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How the West Won’t Be Won – another update

The acquisition of Kevin Sheedy as coach of the AFL’s new western Sydney franchise has set plenty of tongues wagging, and keyboards clicking. The presence of one of the sport’s most charismatic figures in enemy territory is good copy…especially for rugby league scribes defending the bastions.

Greg Prichard has given Penrith’s Mark Geyer a free kick (or should that be a scrum feed?) in this morning’s SMH, while another Fairfax stayer in Roy Masters had his say a couple of days ago. There was also a rambling segment on the ABC’s 7:30 Report on Tuesday, which managed to subtly portray Sheedy as something of a performing seal.

Anyway, to the point. All three of the above pieces had one thing in common: football was not mentioned at all. Not once.

Rather worrying when you consider a couple of things: firstly, that the round-ball game was considered an important future player in the western Sydney market only a couple of years ago, and secondly that the new “Sydney Rovers” franchise will not have much of a headstart on a Sheedy-led AFL venture.

I still feel that a western Sydney AFL team is doomed to failure, but football is another matter. A little while back, another piece from Masters grudgingly acknowledged that football was likely to have its say in the war for the entertainment dollar in Sydney’s overpopulated west.

Things appear to have changed. And it’s not just the A-League’s falling attendances; the whole bidding process for the twelfth A-League licence, steered towards western Sydney from the outset, turned into an embarrassing pig’s breakfast. And all the initial statements from Ian Rowden et al. re the new franchise suggest that no-one really has a clue about how to proceed as yet.

A good thing they have another year and a half to get things together…by which time, one hopes, the A-League will be on a better footing than it is now.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How the West Won’t Be Won – yet another update

And so it looks as if the final chapter is about to be written in the farcical Sydney Rovers saga.

The very first thing that the FFA should do is go hat in hand to the representatives of the Canberra bid, with a genuine assurance that future expansion bids will be assessed on their merits. This old article, from Half-Time Hero-in-chief Con Stamocostas, shows just how much was already in place in the nation’s capital over two years ago; that all this groundwork was ignored in favour of a bid based on nothing more than blind faith is symptomatic of the FFA’s style of management in the last few years.

Where to, then, for the expansion plans? The likelihood is probably that 2011/12 A-League will feature eleven teams once again, and one hopes that this time the FFA will give the competition the publicity that it deserves. Some of the football has been excellent this term, especially in Adelaide and Brisbane; the attendances have not.

In a way, given the dismal attendances at Sydney FC matches, things may have turned out for the best in more than one way. Considering that the NSW Premier League (with its western Sydney centre of gravity) will now clash with the A-League in any event, the Rovers crowds would probably have been pitiful. And had the matches been held at the cavernous ANZ Stadium, as was mooted at one point, the match atmosphere would have made Skilled Park look like a throbbing hive of excitement.


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