All fine in the West, but let’s not get carried away with Wanderers

Joe Gorman Columnist

By Joe Gorman, Joe Gorman is a Roar Expert

Tagged:
 , , ,

73 Have your say

    Western Sydney Wanderers vs Central Coast Mariners. AAP Image/Quentin Jones

    Related coverage

    Less than a year has passed since former national coach Ralé Rašić labelled the FFA “suicidal” for attempting to establish a new A-League club up in just five months.

    Indeed it was a case of crash or crash through, and the initial success of the Western Sydney Wanderers has got football fans punch-drunk with joy.

    As the team proved they weren’t just making up the numbers, the naysayers turned into cautious optimists. After the Wanderers twice defeated the reigning champions Brisbane Roar, and then beat their cross-town rivals Sydney FC in round 11, the caution was thrown out the window, replaced by uncontrolled adulation.

    Indeed, it’s been a dream start for the fledgling Wanderers. On field and off – to borrow a line from Alec Baldwin – their existence has been one unbroken boulevard of green lights. They have, amazingly, won over the most sceptical of opinion makers as they continue their climb up the competition ladder.

    But every boom is followed by a bust. Eventually, the Wanderers will be forced to slow down for a red light.

    There has been plenty to like about the way the Wanderers have packaged themselves. They are perhaps the first club in the A-League to truly push the multicultural angle, and they seem genuinely interested in engaging their constituents in Western Sydney.

    Even the name is fitting. Filled with journeymen footballers who had been cast-offs from other A-League sides, they are Wanderers by name and Wanderers by nature. Between them, captain Michael Beauchamp and his defensive partner Nikolai Topor-Stanley have played for no less than six A-League sides in just eight seasons.

    Particularly impressive has been the realisation that a franchise can only become a football club if the fans feel like they belong. On game day, big banners surround Parramatta Stadium, each with the faces of all the locally-born Wanderers players and the suburbs they come from. It’s a nice touch, and a real statement of intent.

    But there is a tendency for we football fans to get carried away with any signs of success. It’s the flip-side of our persecution complex.

    As John Huxley wrote back in 2003, “no other sport in Australia has seen more false dawns, no game slaughtered so many last chances, no sleeping giant slept through so many wake-up calls than Australian soccer.”

    It should make us a little more wary about predicting such big things for the game in this country. But we never learn.

    Already, we’ve got Mark Bosnich talking about the Wanderers becoming a powerhouse in Asia, and Lyall Gorman likening the side to AFL giants Collingwood or the Brisbane Broncos in rugby league.

    A few weeks ago, Gorman even suggested the club might look at capping memberships in coming seasons to ensure members don’t outnumber seats at Parramatta Stadium.

    Someone should remind Gorman that when you’ve got just over 6500 members and 22,000 seats to fill, you’re getting a little ahead of yourself.

    Yes, they have attracted thousands of fans in season one, but these numbers tend to plateau as the novelty wears off.

    And please, let’s just give the other sports a rest. No self-respecting football fan wants the Wanderers compared to the Broncos or the ‘Pies. It’s unnecessary and reeks of desperation. We don’t need validation from other codes of football.

    Similarly, talking about any A-League side becoming a powerhouse in Asia is just plain silly. Until the salary cap is lifted there will be no Australian football powerhouse, period.

    It’s understandable to plan ahead and commendable to aim high, but it’s still very early days for the Wanderers. Indeed, some of their biggest challenges lie ahead.

    So much of the Wanderers success has hinged upon the FFA’s strategic vision for the club, which has revolved around grassroots engagement and creating a visible and attractive identity.

    But, to state the obvious, the FFA can’t fund the club forever. Prime Minister Gillard’s $8 million gift to football in Western Sydney was a one-time offer. Sooner rather than later, a buyer will have to be found.

    And while we all hope that whoever purchases the franchise from the governing body will be keen to keep the existing structures in place, it’s by no means guaranteed they will.

    Similarly, rookie manager Tony Popovic has impressed us all with his astute tactical awareness, clever recruitment and brave squad management, but it seems only a matter of time now before he is poached by a bigger overseas club.

    Which is also true of the players. Popovic – like Graham Arnold at the Central Coast and Ange Postecoglu at Melbourne – has gotten the very best out of his squad. It’s a mark of a special coach. But in the A-League, the better the players, the more likely they are to be put in the shop window.

    How will the Wanderers respond to new owners, a change in manager and the inevitable turnover of players? They’ll all come eventually.

    Setting up an attractive team, in fact, is the easy part. But properly managing the transitions is the key to ensuring stability and long-term success in the A-League.

    What happens when they have a bad season? Or an extended run of injuries? The Red and Black Bloc have already shown themselves to be a volatile bunch, and every supporter group goes through periods of division and faces crises of identity when the team is not performing.

    The Western Sydney Wanderers deserve this year’s A-League title. It would be folly for football fans to wish any ill will on the club. Their success, at least for the next few years, will be intertwined with the overall success of the competition.

    But it’s far too early to judge the success of the club as a whole. Football fans are desperate for success stories, but the true identity and resilience of a club is often best seen in hard times, not good times.

    Joe Gorman
    Joe Gorman

    Joe Gorman is a football journalist with a particular interest in sports history. After completing his thesis on football in Australia, Joe started with The Roar in October 2012. He tweets from @JoeGorman_89.

    Have Your Say



    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (73)

    • February 6th 2013 @ 8:14am
      Christo the Daddyo said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      Excellent article. It will be interesting to see how the Wanderers are going after 3 or 4 years. If they put in place some good foundations then hopefully very well.

    • Roar Guru

      February 6th 2013 @ 8:18am
      Fussball ist unser leben said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      I see no issue with A-League clubs engaging in a bit of spin … heaven knows, we can’t rely on journos being optimistic about anything to do with football.

      “But, to state the obvious, the FFA can’t fund the club forever” … why not?

      If – repeat “IF” – the investment in WSW produces a profit that exceeds the profit the FFA could earn on the same investment in any other project, then the rational investor would say the investment in WSW should be maintained … in the absence of a someone wanting to purchase the FFA’s investment for an amount that exceeds the NPV of future profits.

      • February 6th 2013 @ 8:26am
        mwm said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:26am | ! Report

        The reason why they couldn’t fund it forever is that it would put the other team noses out of joint. They would be guaranteed to survive and would always have the help of the FFA with other clubs left to struggle themselves. Fans would start saying “why can’t they buy my club as its struggling?” etc

        Also the FFA aren’t in the business of running clubs…they are in the business of running the whole sport in Australia.

        • Roar Guru

          February 6th 2013 @ 8:46am
          Fussball ist unser leben said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:46am | ! Report

          All the clubs benefit from any revenue generated by the FFA.

          But, I 100% agree that the FFA should not be running clubs.

      • February 6th 2013 @ 8:31am
        AGO74 said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:31am | ! Report

        Fair points Fuss but the most obvious one is a conflict of interest. This was one of the big criticisms of Lowy’s involvement in Sydney FC. I think everyone is comfortable with the situation at the moment in the same way we were when FFA stepped in to takeover AU or Roar but this cant be a long-term ownership by FFA.

    • February 6th 2013 @ 8:19am
      j binnie said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      Joe – An extremely well written,& debated piece with your emphasis on what might happen being very close to the normal “path” trodden by clubs.The “rushed” approach that Rale worried about I feel actually worked in TP’s favour for ,being forced to go out & procure “experience” quickly, he did the wise thing & got the majority of his squad out of HAL experienced “gypsies”,guys ,as you said,who have moved around & got to know the game & the league & so could be deemed good journeymen.
      However that in itself doesn’t guarantee success & it is in the selection of “imports” that Tony has added the “brain” to his squad & his choices would grace any team in the league, so by forced selection & maybe just a little luck on his “imports” (they are not always successful) it should come as no surprise that Wanderers have a successful team,at this point comfortably in the top 4.
      You touch on how long the hiatus will last & that surely is the moot point for there has never been a franchise set up the way this one has, so the answer to the question has to be —-“No one knows”.
      There are interesting times ahead for the franchise for, with a minimum input from the unusual management team, & yet the source of funds guaranteed,Tony & his team have had a dream run that unfortunately does not exist in every club in the league,in fact probably in very few clubs. If new owners are found the chances are that the whole structure will change dramatically for the money men invariably like to “up” their input into how things are running.
      So once again that “rush”may have been a blessing in disguise for the “setting up” of Wanderers.
      Keep up the good work. jb

      • Columnist

        February 6th 2013 @ 9:18am
        Joe Gorman said | February 6th 2013 @ 9:18am | ! Report

        cheers jb, some good points

    • February 6th 2013 @ 8:22am
      Crown77 said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      This club has created a winning identity and passion that on Melbourne Victory has shown me in Australia at least.

      WS Wanderers FC remind me of my team in Portugal: Benfica due the same passion it’s fans have and its winning mentality. It’s also the people’s club, we also have more members than Manchester United, and then it’s Red. Red is associated with the most popular clubs in the world and its been proven scientifically that Red attracts more people than any other colour. Just to add to the Red, Wanderers equipment is the same colours and pattern as the most popular club in the world Flamengo they have 23 Million followers alone, that Australia’s population.

      These small little factors are just some simple formulas that will make WS Wanderers FC the biggest club in Football (I don’t care about the other codes, just like I don’t read news about my rivals, Sporting Lisbon and FC Porto) in Australia.

      • February 6th 2013 @ 8:46am
        AGO74 said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:46am | ! Report

        Crown – you do realise that the “winning identity” Victory you refer to was < 12 months ago.

        And the colour red? Sure people wanted it and thats what they got but is absolutely nothing to do with a winning mentality. For every winning red club, I can also give you 10 losing red clubs.

      • February 6th 2013 @ 4:28pm
        Christo the Daddyo said | February 6th 2013 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

        North Sydney Bears anyone?

    • February 6th 2013 @ 8:40am
      AGO74 said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Great article. As a Sydney FC fan I’m pleased that its been a successful start. Most rational Sydney FC fans would agree that a team in the west is important to aid FC’s growth (via the obvious rivalry born out of it) as it is for FFA (placing a team in the traditional heartland of football).

      But honestly the hubris that is coming out of some (not all) of the WSW fans plus the public proclamations as to being bigger than Collingwood etc is ironic as it is exactly this hubris as to which they associate with Sydney FC.

      Anyway, great job so far WSW but this article should hopefully provide some food for thought for those when perhaps times are not so good.

    • Roar Guru

      February 6th 2013 @ 8:45am
      NUFCMVFC said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      Nice article

      It’s great to see an expansion club start off so well, it’s refreshing after seeing the problems with Gold Coast in particular

      But we can learn from the patterns of other clubs, I would liken WSW a bit to MVFC in season 2 in particular when there was a united explosive vibe about the place. The crowds have found something of a ceiling, and to its credit MVFC has managed to consolidate its membership base and prevented too much of a contraction when the second franchise was brought in and took away some of the fans. It is how the supporter base has remianed solid through upturn and downturns in form and a changign of the guard in the boardroom and coaching departments that we can get a proper assessment of where MVFC is at as a club, along with all of the others like Brisbane Roar for example in terms of the post Ange comedown it is experiencing now. The same will be the case for WSW.

      Similarly people got a bit ahead of themselves in Melbourne there was talk or concerns that the new rectangular stadium wouldn’t be big enough etc expecting the growth rate to continue, but AAMI Park will be able to hold many of MVFC’s games for a little while yet. And so it is the same with WSW and Parramatta Stadium, it will be a fair while until they have to consider capping memberships. I think they’ll steady at about 10-12k, and then drop to 8-10k when they go through the downturn phase. Should ahve steady support though

      In reality that scenario will only come in for A League clubs when the second generation of fans start to come through

      As far as the fans go, the RBB have started off very well due to no restrictions and obviously there is a united sense of goodwill and they have been in very good form, perhaps the form team in the competition. But there is a bit of an issue where some of them are getting ahead of themselves a bit too. As we have practically seen with just about every other A League club a form of factionalism develops given many active supporters have slightly different perspectives and little sub-groups develop, with all that comes politics.

      Half the challenge for active fans is effectively managing the politics, .and we have yet to see how the RBB will inevitable handle their politics. Add to the fact that the FFA are now in the process of applying the Python squeeze, which will see them subjected to a certain amount of strain when the banning orders start to hit their core and they have to deal with over zealous security which will come as a result of the ‘reputation’ some of their antics has produces – just have to look at how the Adelaide active fans have deteriorated over the past couple of years. It is how they handle these challenges that will really define their character, and it is then that we’ll be able to assess them a bit more realistically.

      Ultimately, I think they will do nicely. In the long term I think it will be a case of MVFC and WSW kind of battling it out as the two biggest clubs and the best quality fans. I am bias of course but I think MVFC will edge it essentially for the same reasons the AFL is edging the NRL as the countries biggest sporting organisation, Melbourne is a bit more focused as a sporting city, plus MVFC is based centrally in the CBD with a natural expansion out and public transport is easy, while Western Sydney is based largely in suburban Parramatta, but the area it represents has little fault lines for lack of a better word, eg inner west, outer west etc

      I think both can become respectable in Asia over time, but won’t quite be in the powerhouset clubs echelon, that will the the Japanese or Chinese clubs. Top Australian A League clubs can potentially become like the PSG or PSV Eindhoven/Ajax type clubs from France or Holland, generally big clubs and big names, but not quite in that top echelon like the Spanish, English and Italian clubs

      • Roar Guru

        February 6th 2013 @ 11:06am
        wisey_9 said | February 6th 2013 @ 11:06am | ! Report

        You make some excellent points – especially about the second generation of fans. The reality is that we have only taken the first few steps on a very long road. Imagine the state of football in Australia in 20 years time, when we have established clubs, established culture and a generation of fans that have been brought up knowing nothing but HAL clubs. It’s spine tingling thinking how great we can grow!

        • Roar Guru

          February 6th 2013 @ 1:39pm
          NUFCMVFC said | February 6th 2013 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

          Agree, I tend to look at the membership bases, a steady inaugural era membership base of even 7000 is interesting because it has a lot of potential down the line, eg imagine when those 7000 people start bringing children and other relatives along over time

          It irritates me to see some comparisons to AFL or NRL crowd figures at times, that is a bit of a story as often their fanbases go back generations

          Remaining steady through the early years is probably the most crucial thing for the A league, the big test is to stick with it, rather than have it slowly fade like Basketball did post 90’s. I think it is being successful in this for the most part

      • February 6th 2013 @ 11:57am
        football fan of not melbourne said | February 6th 2013 @ 11:57am | ! Report

        MV are the best quality fans – if you do say so yourself. MV fans who have to continually peddle this line about themselves gives the impression that the opposite is true , and of a persecution complex.

        of course no one else in australia is passionate about football.

        you might become respectable in asia when you win games consistently in the ACL.

        • Roar Guru

          February 6th 2013 @ 1:35pm
          NUFCMVFC said | February 6th 2013 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

          not really peddling any line, just making a remark of the state of play. That said I would say that there is a feeling that they have been a bit ‘out of form’ for a few years. NT has had some issues but is bouncing back in right direction, it can still probably move up a few gears and ST has a few apathy problems since it’s gone to AAMI Park it needs to sort out. Nevertheless they are still occupying the incumbency spot. Everyone seems to have flattened out a bit as the league establishes itself and loses the vibrancy of the early years, a bit like a season. Wanderers fans or RBB though certainly are full of the most energy atm and are probably the form fans of the league. From this perspective the game on the 16th should be fascinating

          Didn’t say no one else in Australia was passionate. Shed in Perth has a lot of potential

          Agree, Melbournes 3 campaigns to date have been a bit underwhelming, the first campaign wasn’t so bad, pity only top spot got through at that time. The second two are forgettable. Hopefully we’ll do better under Ange. This is probably something that is crucial for all A League teams, but is perhaps something for clubs to focus on beyod the next TV rights deal, just have to focus on consolidation atm

    Explore:
    , , ,