It has been a long time coming, but Australia’s oldest football region, and one of its most productive talent nurseries, is finally represented in the national competition by a single united entity. Western Sydney Wanderers made their debut a fortnight ago, and tomorrow will compete in Sydney’s first A-League derby.
The match, which sold out a week ago - a first for a regular season contest in Sydney - will take place at Parramatta Stadium, barely a goal-kick away from what has traditionally been regarded as the first football match to take place on Australian soil. 132 years ago at nearby Parramatta Common, a team of local sports enthusiasts known as the Wanderers took on The King's School First XV rugby side in a match ‘played under the rules of Association Football’. Western Sydney Wanderers proudly take their name from those Victorian era pioneers, and have unashamedly embraced the game’s history and traditions.
Coach Tony Popovic featured in Australia’s breakthrough showing at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, while indefatigable goalkeeping coach Ron Corry featured for the Socceroos during the qualifiers for Mexico 1970. The western half of Sydney’s urban sprawl has produced a remarkable amount of the nation’s international representatives, with over ten from the region – including Harry Kewell, Brett Emerton, Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer – part of Australia’s ‘golden generation’ which featured at Germany 2006. While, a number of players in the squad are from the city’s west, including inaugural skipper Michael Beauchamp.
Many of nation’s most successful clubs in the largely semi-professional National Soccer League, the predecessor to the A-League, also hailed from the region. As the club’s Executive Chairman, Lyall Gorman, stated: “we feel a huge responsibility to honour our history... and show respect for those that have been pioneers.”
Already the signs are promising that the club, which had just six months to prepare for their debut, are quickly solidifying their roots. A strong opening performance saw last year’s champions, Central Coast Mariners, held to a draw by the Wanderers in front of a strong crowd, many of who were decked out in the club’s Flamengo-style red and black hooped strip.
A relatively low-key recruitment campaign for the Wanderers was boosted by the arrival of former long-serving Japan international Shinji Ono a month ago. Since then, media coverage for the team has been significant for a sport that sometimes struggles for air-time in a sports-mad city.
So too, the Wanderers’ big-name recruit has given the club a major foil to Sydney FC’s glamour signing; Italy and Juventus icon Alessandro Del Piero. Extra frisson has been added ahead of the derby with the Wanderers fielding a host of former Sky Blues’ favourites.
“Anything can happen on any given day this season,” Beauchamp told FIFA.com when asked about the looming derby against his former club Sydney FC. “It is a case of whoever wants it the most. It is great that Sydney FC now have a great rival and hopefully we can take it to them.
“It [the club] has been a long time coming, but the youngsters [of the region] have something to strive for, and I think it is a fantastic opportunity to get behind the team. Western Sydney Wanderers, I am sure, will turn a few heads this season.”
Now, 20,000 will fill Parramatta Stadium not only hoping to see their respective side victorious, but playing their part as a slice of Australian football history again takes place in Sydney’s west.