If the world was Wanderland
Saturday night at Parramatta Stadium might just have been football’s coming out party in this country, the atmosphere was electric and Western Sydney delivered.
Wouldn-t it be wonderful… if the world was Wanderland - well, the footballing world at least. The third rendition of the Sydney derby had it all; drums, singing, flares, on-pitch drama and an atmosphere I never really thought I-d see at a football match in Sydney.
Saturday night at Parramatta Stadium might just have been football-s coming out party in this country, with 19,585 fans packing into the stadium to celebrate a derby of diversity. East took on West and no one was disappointed with the spectacle.
The game had a bit of everything; a defensive mistake of epic proportions from Nikolai Topor-Stanley, which led to a goal for the biggest marquee Australia has seen in Alessandro del Piero; ADP silencing the raucous Western Sydney crowd for the slightest of moments before they broke back into song.
Then there were the red cards; Brett Emerton-s dismissal for a studs-up lunge on Shannon Cole turned the game, and put Sydney on the back foot, which in turn allowed Shannon Cole to unleash a screamer of a free kick to level terms.
Later on Iacopo La Rocca thoroughly deserved his last minute marching orders for elbowing Terry Antonis in the face and he will deserve the few weeks he gets too.
But what brought the house down was the passion from fans on both sides. Even the disgraced la Rocca got a warm reception from the home fans, quizzically cheered off after receiving the red card for what in all honestly was a "brain snap" moment, proving no Wanderers player can do any wrong in front of their own fans.
The atmosphere though... It took your breath away.
Not long ago I questioned Wanderers CEO Lyall Gorman about moving this game to Homebush or a venue that would allow more fans to enjoy the spectacle, but Gorman was staunch that the game should stay at Wanderland, saying making Parramatta their home was part of the plan.
“You never say never and I don-t like to use the word strategic because it sounds manipulative, but we have a very clear business model we are building and a large part of that is absolute loyalty to our fans in the western Sydney region.
“They come first. Without them we are nothing. That-s our commitment to our fan base and it proudly sits right in the western Sydney region and that-s where we will play our games of football.”
Gorman was right and on Saturday his decision was vindicated. The atmosphere alone was worth the price of admission, forget the football.
The RBB brought their usual gusto, maybe even a bit extra to the game and to their credit Sydney-s Cove brought their A-game too. They knew they had to lift and they did. Even the controversial flares, still an ongoing problem for the Wanderers, had an impact, the image of sky blue smoke drifting to the middle of the field to meet with the red haze before kick-off as both teams went into a huddle was mesmerising, it seemed fitting.
The fans from both sides were on their feet and singing throughout the match, the most prevalent being the war cry from Western Sydney. “Who do we sing for?” “We sing for Wanderers!”
That particular chant even permeated into the media area, with at least one member breaking the age old rule of no cheering in the press box, though, to be fair, there was an unusually large amount of blue or red smattered through the area and the banter was flowing as the media dissected every detail of the match.
The crowd too were dissecting it and for 95 minutes it felt like I was at a football match in Europe or South America, such was the deafening roar of the crowd, and credit to the Wanderers fans for having a sense of humour; the “Dino” chants for their much-maligned striker added tremendous value.
Try as Kresinger might have or even Mark Bridge, whose radar was off, it was impressive to see the continued evolution of Kwabena Appiah-Kubi on the pitch.
He was, in my opinion, the biggest threat to Sydney FC. His pace was dazzling as he routinely got in-behind the line, and if he had any other Sydney defender other than Rhyan Grant on him it might well have been his night, but he-s young and there will be many more nights for him in the future.
Post-match and on the exercise bike, he was even level-headed enough to say that there is still plenty of time this year but more importantly “next season” for him. It was a great sign of maturity for a young man who has shone rather brightly in front of the media, if not the cameras since the day the Wanderers announced him as one of their first three signings.
Shining brightly have also been the fans, that Western Sydney is football-s heartland is undoubted, and while the team deserves the Premier-s Plate, it will belong to the fans just as much - they have delivered in every way. Wanderland as a place gives you chills in the right way.
The fans at the derby were largely well-behaved and to borrow an oft used cliché football was the winner on the night, for in Sydney football came of age and delivered all the drama it is capable of, which does make me think that truly it would be wonderful if every ground in the league became just like Wanderland.