FFA’s commitment to Sydney’s west needs to be long-term

Tony Tannous Columnist

By Tony Tannous, Tony Tannous is a Roar Expert

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    Prime Minister Julia Gillard is presented a football by Football Federation Australia chief executive Ben Buckley. AAP Image/Paul Miller

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    For the new Western Sydney football club to become the success that the FFA hope it will be, the governing body have to get one thing right, engagement.

    Not only do they have to reach out to new and old fans alike, and touch them, but they have to love them, nurture them, give them a reason to draw a connection to the club, and then keep giving.

    To paraphrase and re-engineer a famous John F Kennedy quote, this is not about what the FFA can get out of the western suburbs, but rather what they can give the western suburbs.

    Not just now, or next season, but for the next 50 or 100 years.

    The concept of engagement is not one the FFA have had a great deal of success with, to be frank.

    Indeed, for the most part, they have left a trail of disenfranchised stakeholders across the land, from some former NSL supporters, to the folk of North Queensland and the Gold Coast, to those in Canberra, Wollongong, Tasmania and just about anywhere else you care to name.

    Out there, among the football communities, there isn’t a great deal of goodwill left for an organisation that has struggled to make ends meet since the honeymoon period immediately post qualification for Germany 2006.

    In many ways, the governing body is banking much on its latest project.

    Which is why it’s imperative they find the right people to pull west Sydney together.

    Those people not only need to be passionate and knowledgeable about the game, but they need to understand the people and the areas that make up the west.

    From Campbelltown, Liverpool and Fairfield in the south, to Mount Druitt, St Marys, Blacktown and Penrith in the west, to Bankstown and Auburn in the inner west, to the Hills in the north, Sydney’s west is a sprawling mass of little boroughs, dotted and connected by a maze of M’s.

    From the M5 that connects the south-east to Liverpool and Campbelltown, to the M4 that runs from the inner west in Concord to Penrith and beyond, to the M2 that runs through the north west, connecting the Hills region, Sydney’s west is vast.

    As someone who was born and has lived, played and coached in western Sydney, and still does, I know just how fractured and wide the game spreads.

    Each district, or association, is a world of its own.

    Connecting the football people that line these suburbs, giving them a reason to get to Parramatta, Homebush, Campbelltown or Penrith every fortnight, remains the big challenge.

    It will take a job perhaps bigger than the development of the M7, that road on the outskirts of Sydney that links the north-west with the south-west.

    In most of those districts, from Cambelltown in the south, to Penrith in the west, to Parramatta in the central west, there remains a deep passion for the local brand of football, rugby league.

    With free-to-air TV and saturation coverage in the biggest selling daily tabloid, where there are 12 rugby league journalists to football’s one, this only makes the job harder.

    The FFA, in undertaking the project to get a western Sydney team into the competition by October, need to get out on these roads and touch every part of the west.

    Not once. Forever.

    It can’t be a simple tip-and-run. It has to be a deep relationship, built over time, full of give and take.

    This is a discerning audience, many of whom know and understand the game. They can sniff out a “sell” or an inferior product from a mile away.

    Particularly in the ethnic areas, among the South Americans, Croatians, Italians, Assyrians and Serbians of Fairfield, or the Turks in and around Auburn, folks that arrived here with the game already in the heart, the quality of the football is likely to mean much.

    But in a crowded entertainment market, with much competition for the weekend spend, including from rugby league, it’s more than just the football that will help engage.

    In Bossley Park, for example, an area with a shifting demographic, full of younger families, with English now the dominant language at home, providing the family with affordable entertainment, and getting them away from other commitments, remains the key.

    Getting the “soccer mums” on board would help in a big way.

    Whereas the NSL appealed to the first generation of post war immigrants, and mainly the men, who had little else, now their sons and daughters are married, with children, a busy social life, and choices.

    Which is why any form of engagement has to be real and involve good people, on the ground, able to relate to the world out west.

    Engagement isn’t as simply as setting up a Twitter or Facebook account, tools some across the west are unlikely to have used.

    Indeed, a large percentage of the players I’ve played with, across various associations, and even in the state leagues, have combined their football with work on a construction site.

    For some, computers just aren’t a part of their daily routine. A cut-price digital marketing push is unlikely to resonate.

    Nor will sticking players exclusively in Westfield’s five western suburbs centres do the job.

    That would exclude such key areas as Bossley Park, Bankstown, Castle Hill and Campbelltown, where the Frank Lowy empire doesn’t reign.

    This is not a time to cross-sell. Frankly, the punters are sick of those games.

    The coming months are a time to get the players out to every shopping centre, school, football club and association.

    It’s a time to make sure players aren’t wasting valuable engagement time beating each other up on Playstation.

    It’s a time to make sure every young registered player, be they from the Southern Districts, Granville, Blacktown, Bankstown, Nepean, Macarthur or Churches associations, has a free pass to attend.

    When I hear from a friend who is assistant principal at a Islamic high school in Auburn, or from another friend who is a PE teacher at a public high school in Greystanes (the same school Joel Chianese went through), or my wife, who teaches at a Catholic primary school in Bossley Park, that the players have visited, then we’ll know they’re on the way to engaging properly.

    When the players start visiting the many clubs, big and small, ethnic or otherwise, that make up the above-mentioned associations, then we’ll know they’re on the right track.

    When the FFA runs free football clinics, along with the other codes, as part of Sydney Olympic Park’s school holidays program, then we’ll know they’re building a community.

    When the western Sydney club sends its players to Stocklands in Merrylands and Bossley Park, we’ll know they care beyond the commercial arrangements with Westfield.

    When the FFA encourages families to attend games by coming up with the most affordable pricing structure in the market, and sustaining it, then you know they truly care about the people of the west.

    Sydney FC, in the first season, did give people an incentive to attend, often promoting discounted tickets in the Sydney Morning Herald.

    Then, in the second season, with the club in debt, Lowy tightened things.

    As an exercise in engagement it was a disaster, burning the very people the club had worked so hard to attract in the first place.

    Lowy and his FFA need to show they have learnt the lessons.

    This is a long term commitment, and the FFA must show the stomach and support to see it through.

    The news that they will hold their first fan engagement forum out at Mounties in Mt Pritchard on Thursday night is just the start of this massive project.

    Over the coming months and years, the FFA needs to replicate this a thousand times over, leaving no stone unturned.

    Anything less would be a complete sell out to the west, and the game can ill-afford that.

    This is my 200th column for The Roar since publishing my first almost three years ago, and I just wanted to take the opportunity thank you all for your ongoing interest and contributions to the football discourse down under.

    Tony Tannous
    Tony Tannous

    Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA

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    The Crowd Says (45)

    • April 10th 2012 @ 7:42am
      Kasey said | April 10th 2012 @ 7:42am | ! Report

      Well, it seems theyjust might be listening(for once) WSFC are off to a start with a listening tour scheduled to begin this Thursday
      http://au.fourfourtwo.com/news/236489,west-sydney-call-for-fans.aspx I hope this is the first of many taking in the various locations Tony has mentioned in his piece.

      “Community engagement will be at the core of this club’s foundation and Mounties is a great place to start our listening tour across western Sydney,” said the Head of Hyundai A-League Lyall Gorman.

      “We’re really excited by the idea of harnessing the passion of football people across western Sydney to bring this club to life.”

      Fans should register their interest in attending the forum by clicking here (http://www.footballaustralia.com.au/newsydneyclubinterest)

      Fans are also invited to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter: fb.com/newsydneyclub and twitter.com/newsydneyclub (@newsydneyclub)
      I really hope this is a success and 12 months from now we are all reading articles about how the new team gave the HAL a nice shot in the arm. Of course if nobody turns up to theser community forums, a sense of foreboding will begin to emerge. I expect almost blanket coverage from 442Ozthough (the 44s forums are where a izable number of football fans congregate online(both HAL and State Leaguers alike) , so if someone lives in the West of Sydney and is interested in football, there really is no excuse not to know about these events.

      • April 10th 2012 @ 10:23am
        Patrick Angel said | April 10th 2012 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        Gonna go to that I think. Can’t really expect that many people would go this early though.

      • April 10th 2012 @ 6:46pm
        Patrick Angel said | April 10th 2012 @ 6:46pm | ! Report

        Booked my spot, get in if you want to go, there are limited spots.

    • Roar Guru

      April 10th 2012 @ 8:04am
      The Cattery said | April 10th 2012 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      200 columns in 4 years is a great achievement, well done Tony.

    • April 10th 2012 @ 9:06am
      striker said | April 10th 2012 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      great read tony, the a-league needs western sydney to work as without a strong sydney presence the a -league will never reach its potential,they have to make this work, i worry even if they engage like melb heart do the old nsl supporters will never accept them i hope im wrong and they embrace it.

      • April 10th 2012 @ 9:13am
        Kasey said | April 10th 2012 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        Striker, just as there are SANFL fans that will never give the time of day to the AFL, why would old Soccer give the time of day to the A-League? There will always be something “not quite right” about the new WS team that they will use as an excuse to reject it(they don’t like the name, the colours whatever!). They appear to be having too much fun sitting on the sidelines and throwing scorn in the direction football has taken (i.e. profesionalism, full TV coverage, you know those things the NSL never had.) I say FFA do the best you can with WSFC(In the short timeframe you’ve created for yourselves). I predict they’ll be a success. If som fans of ex-NSL clubs decide they want to jump on board, then more power too them, but getting them on boaard should not be the be-all and end-all of this teams existence. I believe that there are thousands of football fans in the area with no ties to ex-NSL teams just waiting for a HAL team to jump on board with. these are the fans that wil make or berak WSFC.

        • April 10th 2012 @ 9:52am
          pete4 said | April 10th 2012 @ 9:52am | ! Report

          Anyone see Berti Mariani from Marconi was on TWG last night. Offered very little besides to say the old NSL community needs to be engaged by the FFA. This bloke has been involved in 20+ years at Marconi and offered little advice and no solutions. It was another poor SBS interview IMO

          • April 10th 2012 @ 10:40am
            PeterK said | April 10th 2012 @ 10:40am | ! Report

            Agree, pete4 — nothing was asked and nothing was offered!

            • April 10th 2012 @ 1:26pm
              Qantas supports Australian Football said | April 10th 2012 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

              PeterK, nothing asked? Craig Foster gave him a dozen questions in one go. That Berti replied saying that’s a lot of questions to answer… No it was Berti who had nothing to say that was of a positive nature..

          • April 10th 2012 @ 11:03am
            Qantas supports Australian Football said | April 10th 2012 @ 11:03am | ! Report

            Yep, an indication that Marconi are not impressed.. Next please…. Sydney Croatia representative

            • April 10th 2012 @ 11:13am
              Kasey said | April 10th 2012 @ 11:13am | ! Report

              What was Mariani’s role at the old SocAus? his name sounds very familiar. vested interestsin WS not succeeding?

              • April 10th 2012 @ 12:32pm
                Qantas supports Australian Football said | April 10th 2012 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

                Berti Mariani was/is a legend at Marconi soccer club, with Italian heritage as a player and coach now on the board I think.. I guess MelbCro was right—the ethnic clubs will not support the WS concept unless it is one of the established ethnic teams that is invited into the HAL and we know what that means—well I do–one in all in…

    • April 10th 2012 @ 9:11am
      j binnie said | April 10th 2012 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      Tony – More power to your pen.This article contains more good sense than I’ve read in these columns for a long time though every now and then a good suggestion does appear. This one has them all.
      However what you are describing as being needed to be done is in fact a huge task and I’m not so sure the FFA is geared up for such an effort. The “testing of the waters” is a step in the right direction but you will forgive me if I remind you we had the same strategy used nationally to test acceptance of a national trophy. We are still waiting some 18 months later and in this case the FFA don’t have 18 months to get this identity up and running.
      I think everyone who enjoys the game hopes for success but the actual logistics involved if it is to be done as you suggest just don’t fit into the time frame.Like the PFA I think failure in this exercise could be catastrophic to the game’s image but ,with it started, we just have to hope for success.I hope you follow the progress with regular columns and let the greater Australian football public know what is going on. Keep up the good work.jb

      • April 10th 2012 @ 10:47am
        PeterK said | April 10th 2012 @ 10:47am | ! Report

        j binnie, I’m more than 1000 km from this action, so don’t know what’s already transpired, prior to the announcement, if anything, but I’m concerned that only now is FFA (which is essentially to be the owner) consulting with the public. I would have thought that such a process should be essential before making the decision to go ahead or not.

        I do hope WSydney “works”. We do not need any more debacles.

        Some time ago I remember that one poster suggested FFA seemed to have difficulty boiling two billies at once. I hope that FFA has now learned this skill, but recent signs would indicate that maybe it’s lost the ability to boil even one billy! Oh I do so hope I’m wrong.

    • April 10th 2012 @ 9:20am
      Futbanous said | April 10th 2012 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      Tony

      From yourself to Les Murrays article the other day, all knowledgeable football journalists point to the abundance of educated & passionate fans in the area from various backgrounds.
      You missed the largest group of all BTW, football fans from an Anglo/Celtic background like myself born & raised on the game with an equal passion.
      A group that football has never really engaged in Australia(I’m the exception not the rule).
      Nobody doubts the merits of “putting yourself about” in the local schools communities but that takes years of perseverance.
      You can’t replace generational support & tradition of following football with anything that is instant.
      So who in the West of Sydney in football has that traditional support?
      Mainly the migrant groups mentioned. This is passed on to the next generation & so on as we know.
      Of those migrant groups many formed their own clubs that participated in the NSL many just continued to follow their overseas club & pass this on.
      Regardless you can’t” pull the wool”.
      So their is no leg work in converting them to football they already are fans.
      How do you get them to attend a new Western Sydney club. You get their attention. How do you get their attention without years of blood sweat & tears, you get a marquee that appeals to all football fans in the West.
      Personally I don’t buy this give the kiddies a pass mentality & they & the parents will come.
      Its the other way round the parents take the kids because they are already football fans.
      We have this group of people in Australia lets take advantage by getting a real deal International marquee.
      Lyall Gorman stated the other day that this may not be possible. Cant remember whether he said it wasn’t necessary,but if he did he was wrong.
      Remember Kevin Keegan how he pulled fans from the woodwork for Blacktown its no rocket science.
      Remember the 88,000 for the second rate World all stars or whatever in 1999 or the thousands locked out of the Sydney Showground for the visit of NY Cosmos in 1979.
      Remember Lyall standing in line to watch the 1970 World Cup at A Bondi Junction cinema. See the multicultural make-up of the punters. The line stretched out the door down the street a couple of sessions a day packed out for a week.
      This is the nature of the game in Australia historically, to not tap into that IMO means the whole approach to engaging the overall football community is half arsed.
      So how?
      Well as its not happened so far with any real commitment from any club it means the money isn’t there.
      Where can it come from?
      Maybe a group of rich folk forming a “Marquee” club to fund it including Frank Lowy,much as the guy in the USA supported football, Lamar Hunt?
      However if that was going to happen it would have occurred already.
      So that leaves the next TV deal.
      The FFA Should negotiate with FOX to including a “Marquee”price in the next deal, say 20 million per annum on top of the rest. Share it between the clubs.
      Sound fanciful maybe ,then again maybe not.
      Fox is all about bringing in the moolah.
      The more people that watch the more moolah. What better way to bring em in than to speculate to accumulate.

      • Roar Guru

        April 10th 2012 @ 9:45am
        The Cattery said | April 10th 2012 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        Futbanous
        you have a way of getting to the heart of the matter.

        It’s interesting you mention the 1970 WC being shown on the cinemas – Santo tells the story of how his extended family (all 50 of them), rocked up to watch the famous Italy vs West Germany semi-final, the game has already been played and everyone knew the result, but it was packed and everyone was jumping out of their skin to see the game – as you often intimate, you can’t manufacture that sort of generational passion for the game. The kids were there because the parents, uncles and grand parents had dragged them all along.

        In these sorts of forums we get used to hearing from people who think the game came along only six years ago.

        They don’t understand how big the game was back in the 1950s and 1960s, yes, on the back of an immigration boom, but it’s actually more complicated than that – you touch on a bit of the story that is often missing.

        When Blackpool toured Australia back in 1958, and 30,000 crammed Olympic Park in Melbourne to watch (a huge crowd for that venue), we all know who the people had come to see, no prizes for guessing – but this is the crucial bit of info, the missing link – that perhaps for the one and only time, the Anglophiles were joined by the recent immigrants to form a massive crowd – all to see one legendary player, they all knew him, on that day, they all spoke the same language – and this brings us full circle to your key point.

        • Roar Guru

          April 10th 2012 @ 10:08am
          Fussball ist unser leben said | April 10th 2012 @ 10:08am | ! Report

          TC

          Loved reading Santo’s story. I arrived in Australia between the 1970 & 1974 WC, so my story is not exactly the same; but similar.

          For those, who haven’t read the story – here’s the link (I’ve saved the article and still enjoy reading it – especially before the World Cup!)

          Source: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2006/06/06/1149359750961.html?page=fullpage

          • April 10th 2012 @ 10:33am
            Futbanous said | April 10th 2012 @ 10:33am | ! Report

            Fussball

            Excellent story. Apart from the cinema bit I remember the anticipation of staying up for those live TV World Cup matches.
            Those born here may not understand it,but for many migrants like myself it provided two things.
            One a spiritual connection to the sport that runs through your DNA & by default your family & friends that followed it & two an extended appreciation of the World Game outside (In my case) the bubble world of English Football.
            ThIs is also something that needs to be understood by those who run football in Australia, that football followers have been exposed to a broader experience of the game than they would have if they had stayed in Scunthorpe,(SBS played a major part in this with “World Soccer”, then its extended World Cup coverage). They are in essence more sophisticated football wise,which makes the job of enticing them to the A-League harder.

      • Roar Guru

        April 10th 2012 @ 10:18am
        AndyRoo said | April 10th 2012 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        What about if they played good football.

        I find Sydney’s conservative play of the last 3 years pretty unispiring. I guess it was ok when they win the championship but the last two years it certainly wasn’t worth travelling far to watch.

        If the new team played like the Roar that would be a treat for those involved in local football.

        • April 10th 2012 @ 11:05am
          Titus said | April 10th 2012 @ 11:05am | ! Report

          But the Roar play pretty football and still don’t draw a crowd, I think the Roar could use a marquee player as well.

          Playing good football is definitely part of it, you could get a marquee and everyone will come to look but if the football is bad they won’t return. On the other hand, you could play good football but without a name the critical mass of hype wont eventuate.

          I think we shouldn’t expect too much from WSFC straight away, if SFC and WSFC both average around 12-15 000 it will be a massive success for mine. The important thing is that WSFC gets that core group of passionate supporters to build a base from.

          If you had the resources to throw at it, there is no doubt that you could assemble a team in WS that would sell out ANZ weekly, the level of football support out there, and indeed along the coast isn’t the issue.

          It is important that the FFA get this right and that everyone is in it for the long haul.

          • April 10th 2012 @ 11:15am
            Kasey said | April 10th 2012 @ 11:15am | ! Report

            My measure of success for WSFC is set at a solid 7,000 average(discounting derby numbers) during the inaugural season to then build up towards 12,000 in the next 3 years. In Melbourne the football market has grown from just over 140,000 per season when it was only MVC in the HAL to last seasons 400,000. SFC drew 166,052 last season. When all NSW teams are grouped together, the number grows to 450,000. I would expect that a successful WSFC team will grow he SydneyFC+WSFC number to 320,000 within 3 seasons. That would of course cement the greater Sydney region as the centre of the football universe for this country, much like the NSL days when the majority of clubs came from NSW. But if the population centre of this country is Sydney then I guess it makes sense that the majority of teams will centre around Sydney.

      • April 10th 2012 @ 11:05am
        Kasey said | April 10th 2012 @ 11:05am | ! Report

        This is a similar feeling to my introduction to AUFC. For years Adelaide City and West Adelaide had been unable to bring in the myriad of Anglo/Celtic Soccer fans in Adelaide. The Arrival of AUFC in 2003 changed all that. In an instant I knew ‘this’ was the team for me. I was far from alone. One thing that seems to dip beneath the radar in the endless discussions about old Soccer and new football’s business plan is that the new league has been watched by over 9 million fans (regular season figures only) This is an incredible number and makes you wonder what all of these fans did during the NSL era for their football fix. I occasionally wet to an Adelaide City game, but never really felt that it was my team. I expect there is a group of people out there in Western Sydney who have been similarly un-impressed by the NSL clubs and Sydney FC just thinking…this finally is ‘my’ club. I really hope so. It is these people who become die hards and turn up rain, hail or shine. Who buy merch and take away trips to provide support to their team in hostile territory. If there are enough of them, they will ensure the new team is a success and perhaps like moths to a naked flame, will draw in those only curious but not quite yet thinking this is ‘my’ team.

    • Roar Rookie

      April 10th 2012 @ 9:25am
      Stevo said | April 10th 2012 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      Thanks Tony for a very good and insightful read from someone on the ground in Sydney. I noticed that you didn’t mention “uniting the football tribes” such as United, Olympic, Marconi but focused solely the on the mum, dads and kids. Whether this was deliberate or not but I agree with your emphasis on the grass roots. For me, a West Syd team or any HAL side for that matter is not there to “literally” unite a proudly independent group of state based teams but to provide a path way for junior players to rise through state comps to a national comp and internationally and Socceroos if good enough. Do we really expect Marconi, Olympic, etc to sit around a table and put their eggs into the WS basket and act like happy families? What we do want is for HAL and states to work together in a respectful manner to provide pathways and in so doing all will benefit in the longer term – in the decades to come. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day but you need to put in place solid foundations from which success can flow.

      Look forward to the next 200!!!

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