How big can the Wanderers become?

Tony Tannous Columnist

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    Shinji Ono helped the Wanderers to an inspiring 2-0 victory in the ACL. AAP Image/Paul Miller

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    Yes, they might be short of a final coat of lacquer and be sitting at the bottom of the table, but if the early signs are anything to go by, the A-League’s newest club, the Western Sydney Wanderers, could be anything.

    Indeed, while it’s still early days and the club is still trying to get the foundations in place, a process that will take a couple of years, it’s tempting to think they could one day rival the Melbourne Victory for the title of Australia’s biggest club.

    It’s a big call, but the early evidence is that there is genuine passion and support for the club, and knowledge about the game. 

    If there is one thing that resonated at the fan forums that followed the announcement of the new club, it’s that the people of Sydney’s west are proud of their roots and want a club that embodies the values they like to live by daily.

    They include hard work, honesty, respect and aspiration, and you can already see a few of these traits in the way Tony Popovic and his men have gone about their early work. 

    “Pride in the west” is an often used description, but there is evidence everywhere you look.

    One sign is that the fans appear to have instantly bought in to the club, purchasing and displaying their colours in incredible numbers. 

    That was evident even at the first game, against the Mariners, where the red-and-black hoops sold out well before kick-off.

    Again, at the derby on Saturday, the demand was greater than the availability. 

    Meanwhile, retail outlets like Rebel Sports have been struggling to keep up, across the west.

    And it’s not just the fans donning their colours which tells the tale.

    Walk around Parramatta Stadium on game-day any you see four digits on the back of a number of the fans shirts.

    “2770” was just one I spotted on Saturday. It represents the postcode of Mt Druitt.

    Other strips don the name of the suburb the fan is from. Two I saw on Saturday featured “Baulkham Hills” and “Blacktown”.

    They were worn like badges of honour. Tribalism at its best. 

    Another sign of the buy-in was the early clamour to sign up for foundation membership, and in lead up the derby it was reported the number of members has gone over 4000.

    While the shirts and numbers are one thing, it’s the passion with which the fans have jumped on board that tells the other story about the engagement.

    Leading the way have been the Red and Black Bloc, who, like any modern footballer, are all about movement, for the full 90 minutes.

    Even in the pre-season friendly against Parramatta FC, where just over 1000 fans showed up, the RBB were non-stop for the entire match.

    They’ve even introduced a couple of interesting routines, including the Poznan and one where the entire section goes berserk, bouncing about off each other. 

    While the focus in most parts has been on the early results and the lack of a goal, the fans have been a little more understanding, recognising that their team has been more than competitive.

    Indeed, in both home games Popovic’s men have managed to control large parts, thanks mainly to a compact structure and well organised forward transition.

    Against the Mariners they managed to stifle Tom Rogic, allowing very little room between the midfield and defensive lines, and rarely allowing the Mariners in behind.

    Against their cross-town rivals they were better at getting the ball into the final third, but lacked a player who could make the difference inside the box, as Alessandro Del Piero did to win and eventually convert the penalty.

    The work of the midfielder trio of Mateo Poljak, Aaron Mooy and Shinji Ono has been of a very good standard, while the back four have, apart from one moment in Adelaide, been rock-solid.

    Jerome Polenz even surpassed Mooy and Del Piero as man of the match on Saturday.

    Once Popovic finds a solution or two in the final third, which may involve giving Joey Gibbs an opportunity, and maybe playing Mooy higher, things should improve.

    It’s early days, but you can already see the base is there, with much potential.

    In many ways the early signs are similar to those in Melbourne in 2005/06, where the Victory built some incredible momentum and atmosphere out of Olympic Park.

    Now at AAMI Park, with 18,000 odd members, they remain the benchmark.

    If Lyall Gorman and his team continue to listen to their fans, and keep them at the core of everything they do, there’s no reason why they can’t aspire to be as big, one day not too far away.

    This might take a decade, or more, but if things go exceptionally well, the Wanderers might be there sooner.

    Tony Tannous
    Tony Tannous

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