Wanderers putting down roots

With Western Sydney signing agreements with local associations, a border is emerging between the Wanderers and Sydney FC.

Much of the talk this season has focused on the passionate support for Western Sydney Wanderers. In only a matter of months, the club have built the kind of voracious fan base most clubs can only envy.

In one way, a club that represents the football-loving western suburbs seems like an easy sell, but that misses the amount of work the Wanderers have done to integrate the club into that community.

And while Tony Popovic-s team continue to attract plaudits and fans to the red and black, the first signs of a geographical division between the Wanderers and Sydney FC are being established.

The Wanderers recently signed a number of non-exclusive agreements with seven of their local partner associations, Macarthur, Southern Districts, Bankstown, Granville, Blacktown, Nepean and Gladesville-Hornsby.

The agreements don-t preclude any of these associations or their clubs working with the Wanderers- Hyundai A-League rivals Sydney FC, but offer them the chance to make use of Western Sydney-s knowledge for their grassroots and community programs, player pathways, coach and talent identification and holiday clinics.

The Wanderers have also allocated each association a bay at Parramatta Stadium to display their own colours and banners, and a corporate box for their own volunteers or fundraising.

All A-League clubs extend similar programs and offers to their local associations, and Sydney FC already have their own fanbase in the western suburbs. But as the Wanderers look to increase their footprint, the greater Sydney football community is more likely to pick a side.

And according to Bankstown Association President Harry Sklavenitis, the manner in which Western Sydney have gone about their business could see the beginnings of true red-and-black territory.

“Western Sydney approached us, they wanted to work with the association, we listened to what they had to say, and the committee liked it,” Sklavenitis tells footballaustralia.com.au.

“They weren-t rubbishing the opposition, they were willing to be open about our relationship with Sydney FC, and they were were willing to let our kids in on matchdays. So we signed a memorandum of understanding that we will work together and promote one another.

“They didn-t come in bragging or bagging their competitors, which was a pleasant thing to see. They didn-t say we had to drop our ties with Sydney FC. And that was a refreshing perspective on how this could work.”

That openness to working in the same market as Sydney FC appears to have been a key strategy for the Wanderers putting down roots in Sydney-s west, with chief executive Lyall Goman saying the club never tried to define themselves as the opposition.

“At no stage did we discuss Sydney FC,” Gorman says. “It-s about us defining who we are, it-s about us listening to our fans and answering our questions, like if you were to have your own national football team what would its values be? What would its culture and vision be? What sort of football would it play?

“All these questions were nothing to do with Sydney FC but what this region needs in its own football club to form that emotional connection.”

And the independent spirit of that approach has gone a long way to capturing the hearts and minds of football fans in Western Sydney. By going in with open arms, the Wanderers have found many willing to take their hands.

And in Bankstown, arguably the borderlands between the Wanderers and Sydney FC, the first signs of that boundary are beginning to take shape.

“We work with both clubs,” Sklavenitis says. “Sydney FC have obviously been around longer and some of our clubs have connections with them.

“We-re not going to tell them those clubs who they should and shouldn-t have links with. But one thing I have noticed, a lot of people who didn-t support soccer - and one of them is my nephew, trying to get him to go and watch an A-League game was like pulling teeth - as soon as Western Sydney came about, every week he was on my back to go and watch them. There has been a change in outlook of soccer because of the Wanderers.

“Is it the start of a boundary? Yeah, most probably. You-ll have your Sydney FC die-hards and you-ll have people like me who support both teams, like me.

“But as years go past you-ll see a definite barrier and I think you-re starting to see it now already with the fans at games. The Wanderers supporters are supporting their club better than Sydney FC.”

Gorman denies this was ever the aim of the Wanderers- strategy but admits the differences between the clubs are likely to sway fans one way or the other.

“Does this signal the beginning of a border between the two clubs? It-s not our intent to do so,” he says.

“Our intent is to make a very clear statement that we are Western Sydney and this is where we will focus our energies. It-s a statement about who we are and who we represent; it doesn-t exclude anyone but it-s where we-ll dedicate the largest amount of our resourcing and time.

“I think before there were a lot of people who didn-t have choice [of two clubs to follow] and now they-re really excited by that. They-re loving what this clubs stands for.

"They-re very proud of the passion of the club. We never say don-t go to Sydney FC, we only talk about Western Sydney Wanderers and what we stand for. We-ll leave people with that free choice.”