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How valuable will Bankwest Stadium be to the Wanderers?

Can the Wanderers make their new home a fortress again? (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Expert
4 days ago
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1321 Reads

Those having had the privilege of experiencing the most impressive piece of sporting infrastructure in the country already have a clear answer to the above question.

In 1986, the now-demolished Parramatta Stadium was opened on the site previously labelled Cumberland Oval, with the Parramatta Eels as primary tenant.

In a somewhat unusual means of celebration, laced with a little protest at the underwhelming facilities, Eels fans burnt down the 2000-seat grandstand at Cumberland on the night their team claimed their inaugural premiership victory, in 1981.

With the drinks flowing at the leagues club, supporters assembled at the ground and ended the life of what was a substandard and humble, old-fashioned place that had well and truly passed its use-by date.

It was not befitting of a team that would string together three consecutive premierships from 1981-83, nor one blessed with a host of international representatives and champion players who would add another in 1986.

The fan-induced blaze was a raw expression of both elation and protestation, and eventually provided the city and its rugby league team with the facilities they desired and deserved.

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Parramatta was fast becoming a burgeoning business and entertainment hub, as the corporate-world sought an alternative to central Sydney.

It was a delightful mix of a briskly expanding business district and the hard-nosed, working-class roots.

Both elements still linger in the air when one walks past the array of eateries and cafes on show, or takes a stroll alongside the famous Riverside Theatre, where just about every child within 30 kilometres has featured on stage in a school performance.

Parramatta’s vibe is palpable and something the Western Sydney Wanderers used to their advantage when they entered the A-League in 2012.

What Tony Popovic managed with his inaugural squad was simply astonishing.

Tony Popovic

Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

To claim a Premiers Plate and an Asian Champions League trophy after just two seasons is nothing short of remarkable. And after wanting a team in the west for so long, the fans were not going to be left behind.

Initial average crowds of just under 15,000 eventually grew to 17,746 in 2016-17, before a series of events took the wind from beneath the Wanderers’ wings and a decline began.

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The cauldron that Parramatta Stadium had become was extinguished when the NSW Government’s 2015 decision to demolish and reimagine the site finally came to reality in February of 2017.

Popovic’s stunning and impulsive move to Turkey just prior to the 2017 season also rattled the club and neither Josep Gombau nor Hayden Fox were able to right the ship.

When the bulldozers took to the site, the Wanderers began a troublesome period of homelessness and poor play. Since the demolition and rebuild began, the club has managed just one finals appearance and sixth, seventh and eighth-place finishes.

Derby form capitulated as Sydney FC established a firm period of dominance and the infamous RBB fractured after some unsavoury incidents that were handled poorly by all parties, tarring Wanderers fans with the same brush.

Western Sydney Wanderers' fans

AAP Image/Paul Miller

However, with typical German efficiency, Markus Babbel appears to have slowly but surely tacked the club back on course, despite average attendances of just over 9000 in 2018-19.

The rebuild has its roots in recruitment and development, with a host of talented players on the cusp of A-League success and a contingent of European recruits brought in.

Potentially more important will be the Wanderers’ 12th man – a monumentally impressive new venue that saw its first action in April.

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Bankwest Stadium holds 30,000 people when bursting at the seams and has to be seen to be believed.

Visually stunning, the stadium is a pleasure to enter. Beautifully presented bars, food and beverage outlets and other amenities are positioned astutely, making access and fluidity of movement a breeze.

The slick and professional corporate facilities have received nothing but praise and I cannot wait to access the media spaces that, from first reports, are just as impressive.

There are no enormous trudges under a canopy of concrete before locating your allocated seat – merely a brisk walk to a wide and well-defined isle. Once seated, the sheer cleverness of modern architecture is apparent.

There is something so fundamental about feeling close to the action at a sporting event – something raw and satisfying – and the fans’ proximity to players at Bankwest has the potential to create something special.

Already, the Wanderers have signed on in excess of 12,000 members for the upcoming season. With still a month remaining and players no doubt making calls on a daily basis to reconnect with previous members to entice them with a shiny new toy, that number will grow.

When WSW take to the pitch and fans enjoy Australia’s first ‘safe standing’ section, at the northern end, the game will have well and truly returned to Western Sydney.

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The Central Coast Mariners will be the Wanderers’ first assignment, on October 12. With 20,000-plus seated, the RBB back in full voice and 1260 standing, the red and black could well and truly take active support to a new level in Australian football.

Yes, Bankwest Stadium will play a key role in the fortunes of the Wanderers this season, and each and every visiting team had want to be ready when they set foot on the pitch.

Something tells me fans of Western Sydney are going to make things pretty tough for them.