Western Sydney’s recent partnership with the African Nations Sports Association (ANSA) African Cup NSW is another glowing example of how the Wanderers continue to build their tight-knit community.
Saturday 26 October – Sydney derby day and my birthday – began with a 6am dip. My eldest swims squad at a Forbes Carlile aquatic centre in the north west of Sydney.
It is always something of an arduous effort to lurch from between the sheets and make the short drive to the pool, yet such is the commitment of parents. It was all made a little easier on the weekend, with the lure of Bankwest Stadium and the first clash between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC for the season.
It was to be a rare family adventure. Usually permitted to embrace football alone and unfettered in the isolation of a home office, this time my wife Helen was to attend her second ever football game.
Things began rather comically just before lunch when I informed her of Sam Kerr’s selection as the most valuable player in the United States’ National Women’s Soccer League for the second time.
I asked her, “Have you heard about Sam Kerr?”
“Explain to me who she is again. She’s the golfer right?”, was her immediate response.
I love her but it had the makings a long day.
My two children are a different kettle of fish. Kitted up, they get the drill and slip into the derby bubble quite easily. However, the missus was destined to spend a few long hours as a rather obvious fish out of water.
Arriving 90 minutes prior to kick-off, the atmosphere was intimidating. The RBB were in full voice outside the ground on the rather impressive Bankwest forecourt. The drums were pulsing and it occurred to me that once inside, the structure was likely to shake and tremble under the weight of fans who had waited so long for the Wanderers to return to Parramatta.
The little smurfy people were not silent either, although it was clear that Western Sydney were clearly marking their territory. Those wearing the sky blue of Sydney FC were proud yet somewhat reserved as they entered the gates amid a sea of red and black.
Having experienced Bankwest some months back, my first port of call was based on experience. My 12-year-old smurf fan and I headed to the food outlet adjacent to aisle 216. For a long-suffering Coeliac like myself, quality gluten-free pies are as rare as hen’s teeth.
After taking the steep climb up to row 20 on the eastern side of the ground, we settled in. The pies were smashed in record time and my little one beamed at the sight of her dad enjoying normal food at a sporting event – something that he whinges about constantly.
The stadium is no doubt impressive, the seating comfortable and those experiencing the safe standing areas looked like kids in candy stores. Things bubbled away as kick-off drew closer.
You couldn’t help but think we were all about to see something very special.
Early on, things didn’t look too special at all for the Wanderers. Sydney dominated possession and created opportunities. In fact, that pattern was to continue for much of the contest. However, with my foretelling words of the danger for Steve Corica of persisting with Paulo Retre at left back still ringing in my disinterested wife’s ears, the game exploded.
The most influential and inspirational player on the Wanderers’ books, Mitchell Duke, thumped home a cracking header for the only goal of the game after 19 minutes.
I swear the stadium swayed and the Wanderers were officially home.
Duke has continued his positive form of last season in a more polished Western Sydney set up, Daniel Lopar looks a star between the sticks and Retre appears out of his depth at the back.
Matt Jurman enjoyed the challenge of a derby against his old team, the Sydney front four looked as dangerous as we all anticipate they will be this season and Pirmin Schwegler was simply sublime in the midfield for the home side.
My girls were a little deflated and perhaps Sydney were unlucky not to snatch an equaliser, as posts, crossbars and VAR decisions stifled them at every turn. Yet the Wanderers deserved the spoils, on a night where the fundamental simplicity of football and putting the ball in the net prevailed for the billionth time.
As we filed from our seats, blending into the throng, a Wanderers fan kindly allowed my two little smurfs in front of him in the queue. I told him he was very nice to have done that considering their kit.
We smiled at each other and felt all warm and fuzzy.
All that remained was the short Uber drive home with Sumit Kumar in his Hyundai. Our driver was stunned at the thousands of people spilling into the pubs, bars and restaurants of Parramatta.
He enquired, “Wow, look at all the people. Was it good?”
Oh, it was Sumit. For Australian football it was very, very good.