“A Team for All of Sydney” read the Cove’s pre-game tifo.
Nail. On. The. Head.
The fundamental distinction between Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers isn’t geography. It’s a sense of entitlement.
People from all points of the compass – including the West – embraced the Sky Blues from day one. They caught the train in from Parramatta, Liverpool, Penrith and everywhere in between to see McFlynn et al. take to Moore Park of a Saturday afternoon. Sydney’s pre-season schedules traversed the city’s greater west and A-League fixtures were taken to Parramatta, Campbelltown and, this weekend, Homebush. Thousands jumped onboard their local team. Some didn’t.
While their neighbours supported a fledgling competition, others sat on their hands until the Wanderers franchise was announced earlier this year. They felt entitled to not lift a finger until a side was plonked in their backyard. If I was a Sky Blue Westie, I’d feel pretty cheesed off. And herein lies the distinction between the clubs: the new franchise caters to a group of people who, for seven years, simply couldn’t be bothered.
Either that, or they’re last minute turncoats. “You were Sydney last July” rung the chants from the Blue hoards in Parra Stadium’s south-east corner. Yep, either that, or playing FIFA 12 until Ben Buckley brought them Wanderers on a silver platter.
As for the Harbour City Hoedown, what a spectacle. A glittering advertisement to a code that is slowly and surely bolting itself onto the Australian sporting landscape. Del Piero was indifferent but sparkled when it counted. The good guys won, Ian Crook opened his account, and – 270 minutes plus stoppage time into their existence – the new boys are yet to find the net.
Two gripes. Firstly, any intimation that Del Boy’s penalty wasn’t a foul. If being angry was an Olympic sport, Ante Covic would make the final (probably with a host of other goalkeepers), so his comments today come as no surprise. But that the Fairfax papers thought his errant judgement was newsworthy does furrow my brow. Aaron Mooy clipped his leg, he fell, and Strebre Delovski pointed to the spot. Cut and dried.
Secondly – and I should qualify this criticism by complimenting the Red and Black Bloc for a truly impressive effort in their first two home games – their ‘Back to the Toolshed’ banner was cringeworthy. Apparently, it referred to a gay Paddington adult store, and the homophobic sentiment was baffling. On a night of so much good-natured banter, this left a sour taste. Sporting officials need to take a stronger approach against homophobia: if an equivalent banner referred to race, it would be roundly condemned. Vilification of the queer community is just as vile, but outrage is harder to come by.
In general, though, hats were doffed to the RBB for their classy card display that greeted their players, their 90-minute effort, their numbers and their organisation so early in their franchise’s history. I’m still not sure how a franchise bankrolled by Frank Lowy’s FFA enjoys a mortgage on the working class, anti-establishment tag without acknowledging the irony. But for ostensible colour, movement and volume, the Wanderers have impressed.
Western Sydney’s active supporters will become increasingly important as the gloss wears off their debut campaign. The team has looked solid – manager Tony Popovic has forged a young, capable squad committed to organised football – but the goals column remains empty, which doesn’t suit West Sydney’s fickle sporting public that has already turned their back on one A-League club. The drawcard of the flag-waving, drum-beating, singing-and-dancing energy of the RBB will become an increasingly important factor in the casual fans’ decision to return to games later in the season.
As an aside, did anyone notice there was a Bledisloe Cup game on Saturday night? The front page of the Sydney Morning Herald’s sport section – the paper lobbed into the palatial front gardens of Sydney’s leafy North Shore in rugby’s heartland – featured Shinji Ono and Alessandro Del Piero rather than Scott Higginbotham and Richie McCaw. The Sydney Derby lived up to the hype; the Bledisloe lived down to its lack thereof. Six penalties each in a 18-all bore draw. Yawn. It’s clear that football has clearly leapfrogged union into third place in the Australian football pecking order, and with Del Boy Down Under, the rugby’s toffs might have to get used to performing off-Broadway.