Western Influence

by John Davidson on Oct 25, 2012

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The Western Sydney Wanderers may only be six months old but the strong influence of the region the club represents can be seen widely across the A-League and especially in their cross-town rivals, John Davidson writes.

The history books will read Sydney FC 1 – Western Sydney Wanderers – 0 following a landmark event, the first-ever Sydney A-League derby, last Saturday night at Parramatta Stadium. Both teams remain a work in progress, especially the Wanderers who were put together in great haste. They are yet to score a goal in three matches and coach Tony Popovic is still trying to get his charges playing the style that he wants. It will be a long haul and it won’t be easy, with surely many roadblocks in the way.

While every other A-League club enjoyed an exceptionally long but stable pre-season, the Wanderers were running training sessions with a threadbare squad and were recruiting players almost right up until opening day kick-off. Despite this, they have captured the hearts of their area and already accumulated strong support. However, this really shouldn’t surprise, as western Sydney remains a hotbed of Australian football, as it has been for more than a hundred years.

It was home to the first football game in Australia by a registered club more than 130 years ago, and was a key component of the National Soccer League for decades through the likes of Sydney United, Marconi, APIA Leichhardt, Blacktown City, Parramatta Power and Sydney Olympic. It has also long been a centre of football development – for example, 10 of the Socceroos’ 23-man squad at the 2006 World Cup hailed from western Sydney or were developed there.

The same trend exists today. The AFL and NRL may squabble over western Sydney but it is the world game, football, where football really flourishes. Just look at the Wanderers line-up – of the 20-strong playing squad, 11 are westies. This includes the likes of Reece Caira and Labinot Haliti, who are from the Central Coast and Pristina originally, but who received their footballing education at western Sydney clubs Blacktown City and Sydney Olympic.

The region has had an impact on the round ball game in Australia that is both profound and dynamic, and it expands right across the nation. Just look at the rest of the A-League, players, coaches and officials from western Sydney abound at every club. By my count, Adelaide United has three players, Brisbane Roar just one, Central Coast Mariners five, Melbourne Heart two, Melbourne Victory two, Newcastle Jets two, Perth Glory four and Wellington Phoenix one player that were either born, raised and/or products of western Sydney. That accounts to nearly 20% of all players in the A-League – a simply staggering amount, especially so when you consider the amount of foreign and New Zealand players in the competition.

Let’s not forget Sydney FC, for seven seasons the only representative of the Harbour city in the A-League and the Western Sydney Wanderers fierce local competition. The Sky Blues currently field more western Sydney talent than other club, including the Wanderers. Thirteen players – 14 if you include the on-loan Nicky Carle – of the 23-man Sydney FC squad are part of the region’s output, from goalkeepers Vedran Janjetovic and Ivan Necevski to defenders Nathan Sherlock, Trent McClenahan, Daniel Petkovski, midfielders Terry Antonis, Paul Reid, Hagi Gligor, Brett Emerton and forwards Dimitri Petratos, Mitchell Mallia, Joel Chianese and Blake Powell.

Sydney FC have always set out to represent the whole Greater Sydney area and they boast fans from across Australia’s largest city, not just the eastern, northern or southern suburbs. It makes sense for them to have players from around the country and the world, as it is ability that is most important not heritage or background. But their large western Sydney playing contingent just further demonstrates how fertile the area is for football, how productive and influential it really is. The region is the pre-imminent nursery for football in this country, home to thousands of players, coaches, volunteers, officials and others who combined make up a vital building block of the sport.

The history books will record Sydney FC to have been the winner thanks to a Del Piero penalty of the inaugural Sydney derby. They should also record the crucial and ongoing contribution western Sydney, this diverse and multicultural area home to more than two million people, has made to football in Australia.