A tale of two clubs: Western Sydney versus Central Coast

Adrian Musolino Columnist

By Adrian Musolino, Adrian Musolino is a Roar Expert

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    The Western Sydney Wanderers celebrate after their win over the Central Coast Mariners during their round 23 A-League match at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford, Saturday, March 2, 2013. The Wanderers defeated the Mariners 1-0. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins

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    The two benchmark clubs of the 2012/13 A-League season, who face off in the grand final, Western Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners, are polar opposites in the A-League spectrum.

    On the one hand you have the Wanderers, the first season sensations that a year ago was hurriedly created in the desperate attempt to replace the basket case Gold Coast United.

    With a premiership won and a grand final appearance on debut, the word fairytale is apt. With funding from the federal government and backing from the governing body, Football Federation Australia (FFA), Western Sydney Wanderers was built on a solid foundation.

    Having messed up its expansion plans, the FFA nailed it with the Wanderers – right area playing out of the most suitable stadium, strong brand identity from the area’s footballing heritage, and the best leadership and coach, who built a side that has defied all expectations.

    There was always a massive untapped market in Sydney’s west that Sydney FC failed to attract to the A-League, and the rise of the Red and Black Bloc (RBB) and Wanderers fan base, made up of such a variety of multicultural backgrounds, highlights the naivety of not placing a club in the region from the league’s foundation.

    Remarkably, Western Sydney has stolen the limelight from cross-town rivals Sydney FC at a time when the more established club has had Alessandro del Piero to market. Yet despite Sydney’s head start and name marquee, Western Sydney’s crowd average is just 6000 off Sydney FC’s. And in terms of crowd participation and active support, Western Sydney is already ahead.

    Yet the potential to grow the club’s already healthy supporter base is limitless, with the Wanderers’ catchment area extending from anywhere west of Sydney’s CBD to Orange and everything in between, including the huge population bases of Parramatta, Penrith, Blacktown and more.

    Then there’s the Central Coast, a club who continues to exceed expectations from the smallest base in the league. Despite another season of ownership and financial concerns (players and staff not being paid only weeks ago), Central Coast will play off in its fourth grand final.

    Unfairly labeled with the tag of poor crowd pullers, Central Coast’s crowd average was just under 3000 shy of Western Sydney’s, from a population of around 300,000. And yet it still outranked Adelaide United, Perth Glory, Melbourne Heart and Wellington Phoenix…

    However, the potential for growth is clearly limited from such a small base, at a time when Western Sydney has upped the stakes and rival clubs have far greater potential for growth, hence why initiatives such as Central Coast’s Youth Academy are so vital. Many believe this community club is already being left behind.

    As commentator Mike Cockerill recently pointed out, “In an era when supporters groups are flexing their muscles in all sorts of ways (my personal view is that some are behaving beyond their remit), the Mariners fans seem to be heading in the opposite direction.

    “When everyone else is getting louder, they’re getting quieter. It is one of the few disappointments of the Hyundai A-League that Bluetongue Stadium has lost its atmosphere.”

    An elusive grand final victory could help bring the spark back to the Central Coast, at a time when its ownership dilemmas appear to be solved.

    On the park, Western Sydney’s suspension and injury list could prove decisive in the showdown. Injury clouds hang over Mark Bridge, Jerome Polenz and Aaron Mooy heading into the match, while Iacopo La Rocca and, crucially, Youssouf Hersi are suspended.

    Hersi, together with marquee Shinji Ono, has been vital to Western Sydney’s attacking transformation, having struggled so badly in the front-third early in the season.

    In fact, Western Sydney has not won a match when Hersi has been absent, including the 2-0 home defeat to the Central Coast in Round 15.

    While Western Sydney has defied expectations with a 13-match undefeated run that includes 12 victories, one has to wonder if the injury toll will prove decisive when it matters most, in contrast to a close to full strength Central Coast.

    Central Coast, for its part, has a grand final hoodoo to shake after three defeats from three finals. Remarkably, a club that last season lost Mustafa Amini, Tom Rogić, Alex Wilkinson, Matt Simon and more remains an A-League threat.

    In the coaching department, its two local coaches and former NSL teammates, Tony Popovic and Graham Arnold, doing battle. At a time when question marks are raised over the current Socceroos coach and given the push for an Australian replacement, two possible suitors will be out for bragging rights in this showdown.

    So, it’s the fairytale Wanderers or the overdue Mariners? Tough choice for the neutrals.

    Either way, it promises to be a great grand final at a sold out (45,000-capacity) Allianz Stadium to end the A-League strongest ever season – record crowds, television ratings, improved product, the three best ever marquees to grace the league and a new television deal with a free-to-air component to look forward to next season.

    Onward and upward!

    Adrian Musolino
    Adrian Musolino

    Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.

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    The Crowd Says (9)

    • April 20th 2013 @ 8:45am
      striker said | April 20th 2013 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      As a western sydney fan if central coast do win tomorrow i couldn’t be more happier for them because they do deserve a grand final win after losing three, after hearing today that tickets were snapped up in record time i would reckon ANZ would have been filled such has been the support for western sydney,still SFS will be rocking hard tomorrow i cant wait for the game.

    • April 20th 2013 @ 9:02am
      pete4 said | April 20th 2013 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      It’s interesting thinking of WSW replacing Clive Palmer. Remember Clive was telling anyone who listened his GCU would win the league (and go undefeated) in their 1st season. You wonder if even he’ll tune into the A-League football tomorrow to watch this one…

    • April 20th 2013 @ 10:03am
      Roarsome said | April 20th 2013 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      GCU were extremely successful on the park until their last season where they weren’t even a bad side. WSW, while impressive this still have a way to go to equal the continued success of GCU. Remember GCU were one game away from a QLD derby final. Off the park however, great job WSW!

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-roar/id327174726?mt=8].

    • April 20th 2013 @ 11:35am
      ken oldmanm said | April 20th 2013 @ 11:35am | ! Report

      “With funding from the Federal Govn.and backing from F.F.A.”……makes you wonder just what would have happened if the same scenario had been applied to the North Queensland Fury and Gold coast United……..probably would still be in the Competion..I mean what.s good for one is good for all.surely.
      Anyway let,s hope its a great final and no team is robbed,like Perth Glory ,last year……that comes from a Brisbane Roar supporter I might add.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2013 @ 6:25pm
        Cameron Kellett said | April 20th 2013 @ 6:25pm | ! Report

        Ken,

        The Glory were not robbed for peatsake! If anything… They robbed themselves for ill discipline, lack of penetration and lack of composure!

        Yellow cards galore!
        No goals scored by them!
        No shots on target (maybe 1, I’ll give them that)
        Red card!
        And Foxsports analysts… Experts… Men paid to offer their valuable opinion… Who have earned the right to voice their opinion…

        Brisbane won it and deserved it! Glory shouldn’t have even been in the final… Oh how everyone only wishes to remember what they like.

    • April 20th 2013 @ 11:46am
      Working Class Rugger said | April 20th 2013 @ 11:46am | ! Report

      The Wanderers should have been in the League from day one. Crazy the FFA overlooked the region with one of the strongest Soccer heritages in the country. Reading the article does suggest potential issues for the Mariners in the future which should be a concern. Wouldn’t be good for the League to lose their most consistent club since inception.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2013 @ 12:38pm
        Fussball ist unser leben said | April 20th 2013 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

        The FFA established the A-League with a model of “one city, one team for the first 5 years”.

        Hindsight is always 20/20. I wish I could use hindsight when managing my hedge fund.

        Maybe, if WSW had started in Yr1, we wouldn’t be having this re-invigoration of the A-League?

        I’d have preferred WSW to join the league when Melbourne Heart joined. But, the FFA got sidetracked with the WC2022 bid & rushed to put teams into regions to spin the story that the A-League is spread across the continent.

        In business, mistakes are always made. Success follows if you learn from mistakes, not repeat them.

        • April 21st 2013 @ 5:00am
          j binnie said | April 21st 2013 @ 5:00am | ! Report

          Fuss – Just a minor correction. The initial “model” for the HAL was built with the proviso that in Sydney and Melbourne there be a mandate covering that there would only be one club per city for 5 years. It was the prospective investors who demanded that not the FFA.(Remember who one of the major investors in the Sydney franchise was and the subsequent furore that saw him quickly divest himself of that interest). jb

    • April 20th 2013 @ 6:17pm
      asdf said | April 20th 2013 @ 6:17pm | ! Report

      Fingers crossed for good weather.Bucketing down in Sydney at the moment.

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