We are two matches into the group stages of both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, and we can begin to envisage how clubs are performing.
In Round 27, the final round of the 2012-13 A-League season, my family and I arrived half an hour before the Newcastle versus Western Sydney game at Turton Road.
I parked and while getting out of the car my wife remarked, “Can you hear the Jets fans singing?”
“That’s the Wanderers fans,” I replied.
Half an hour before kick off and there was already a barage of sound from Australia’s newest A-League team. Their season had been a slow burn, but they’d made it to the final game needing a win to secure first place.
Newy needed a win to make the finals.
For many Newcastle fans there was a natural affinity for the Wanderers. They had five former Jets in their playing ranks that day: Ante Covic, Tarek Elrich, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Labinot Haliti and Mark Bridge.
They were liked, and still admired, by many Novocastrians to this day. We have much in common. They may well be stereotypes, but Newcastle are seen by many as the blue-collar boys from the steel/coal town. The fact that the steelworks closed 20 years ago is still not lost on many outsiders.
The boys from Western Sydney are seen by some as working-class fibros. How true this really is, again, is up for debate. One thing’s for sure: we both have a dislike for the blue half of Sydney.
Newcastle had, by their own standards, a good season in 2012/13. Emile Heskey and Michael Bridges were at the forefront of the Jets’ attack with Adam Taggart starting to shine, too. Expectations at the time were justifiably high and I believe we were favourites to win, having already beaten WSW twice that season.
The crowd that day was 22,518, and at least 8000 Wanderers fans generated noise and a spectacle for the entirety of the game.
People stood in awe and captured vision on their phones. The east and west stands sang back and forth: “Who do you sing for? We sing for the Wanderers”.
For all those fans from other clubs that claim to take over other A-League grounds for the day, well, this was a true takeover.
They didn’t talk about it, it just happened. Newcastle were monstered on and off the field. It ended 3-0 to WSW – Bridge got two goals. Michael Beauchamp and Topor-Stanley put in a Herculean performance at the heart of the WSW defence. There was nothing minor about this premiership win.
Fast forward to this season and this fixture is eagerly anticipated. Plenty of Newy Jets fans can’t wait to get to Bankwest, too.
WSW have begun their campaign well, although they’ve faltered in recent weeks. Newcastle have got their first win, and should have more points in the bag. The Wanderers are back with a home ground and have reignited their Red and Black Bloc and Newcastle are looking to do likewise for this Saturday’s Round 8 fixture.
With Elrich out with a long-term injury, Daniel Georgievski is the only former Jet likely to be welcomed onto the Turton Road turf. His hard-working, tenacious style will be welcomed back to the Hunter, but obviously Novocastrians want him on the losing side of the ledger this time around.
Newcastle, from front to back, have looked much better defensively. With Lachlan Jackson likely to partner the indefatigable Topor-Stanley and a rejuvenated Ben Kantarovski back in favour and more importantly in form, it’ll be a a defensive spine that will be hard to break.
Up front, there may be more questions than answers, but with both Angus Thurgate and Jason Hoffman off the mark, this surely applies the pressure to score on the Panamanian Abdiel Arroya. One outstanding performer who is surely due a goal is the Energizer bunny of the team Steven Ugarkovic. For all his kilometres covered during games, he surely must start to add goals this season.
A crowd matching the size of that fateful day in 2013 is unlikely. In saying that though, with Newcastle’s membership in excess of 10,000 and Western Sydney’s at 15,000, maybe the A-League battlers could surprise.