Out with the Gold, in with the new

by Neil Sherwin

Six months is a long time in football. In fact, it’s the duration of an entire A-League season, which of course means that the other half of the year is as exciting as a Home and Away omnibus and not nearly as aesthetically pleasing.

Thankfully, the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) has come up with an effective way to keep people interested and passionate at the same time – kill a club.

Of the many things football fans are notorious for, a huge sense of injustice is right up there at the top, and the game’s governing body here has tapped firmly into that over the past couple of seasons.

By sending two clubs to their grave in just over 12 months, the FFA has tugged firmly on the heartstrings of supporters knowing full well that it’s the very same passion that will keep them coming back for more.

The demise and subsequent death of Gold Coast United is well documented both on this site and in the more mainstream media. If you aren’t familiar with the story, simply Google ‘Gold Coast United’, ‘Clive Palmer’ and ‘Ben Buckley’. Adding a few expletives to your search should make for even more interesting reading.

Gold Coast United aren’t the first (and cynics will say they’re probably not the last) club to go to the wall in the A-League era, following in the footsteps of the New Zealand Knights and North Queensland Fury.

There’s no need to despair though because a contingency has been put in place with the arrival of the Western Sydney Wanderers, a club in the ‘heartland’ of New South Wales to rival the already established Sydney FC.

Truth be told, the FFA should have gone into Western Sydney a lot sooner instead of giving licences to the likes of Gold Coast United who they only wanted for their owner’s billions. A previous bid for a second Sydney side, Sydney Rovers, was mooted a few years back but never got off the ground.

Thankfully there is massive potential for Wanderers to establish themselves, with the community having been canvassed to decide the club’s colours and logo amongst other things.

Unlike Gold Coast and Townsville, which was the home of North Queensland Fury, Western Sydney has football pedigree having produced the likes of Mark Schwarzer, Harry Kewell, Mark Bosnich and everyone’s favourite (not really) match day analyst/commentator, Robbie “I’ve a Premier League winner’s medal, don’t you know” Slater.

Tony Popovic, scorer of one of the Premier League’s greatest own goals, will be their head coach having left his assistant’s role at Crystal Palace. He is setting his sights high, and certainly talked a good game at the club’s first press conference at the beginning of June.

“In five years we certainly aim to be one of the most consistent and successful clubs in the A-League both on and off the park,” said Popovic.

So far there have been nine players confirmed for the playing squad, some of whom have at one point or another lined out for Sydney FC and none of which inspire great excitement.

It is yet to be confirmed whether Western Sydney will exercise the option to have a foreign marquee player in the squad, though supporters across Australia united in a collective display of salivating when the name ‘Filippo Inzaghi’ was mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

The club will play in red and black hooped shirts, white shorts and red socks. Think Flamengo in Brazil because that’s exactly what it is, with Nike on board as the kit supplier for the next five years.

“Football is a core focus for Nike and our commitment to the sport is long-standing,” said Paul Faulkner, Nike Pacific managing director.

“We are extremely proud to build on our existing support of the FFA and A-League with the sponsorship of the Wanderers.”

The Wanderers can look forward to proper baptism of fire in their first competitive game when they take on one of the league’s best sides, the Central Coast Mariners, on October 6 at Parramatta Stadium. The venue has a capacity of just over 21,000 and it’ll be important to hit the ground running with a big opening day crowd. Between now and then though, the focus will remain on recruiting more players and also engaging the community on which hopes are being pinned for an active supporter base.

There are no two ways about it – this latest franchise project simply has to succeed with the FFA running out viable expansion options and plenty of fans becoming disillusioned with how the game is run in this country.

A season of stability and a midtable finish for Western Sydney will do just nicely, even if it doesn’t make for soap opera style drama.

This article first appeared on the excellent In Bed With Maradona.

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