Winning the west

Western Sydney has a deep history within the game and the decision to move a new club there has to be applauded.

In early April 1977 - exactly 35 years ago - the National Soccer League (NSL) boldly staked its place as the first football competition in Australia to go national.

The inaugural NSL clubs were mostly teams from the 1976 state leagues, and while in the first round of the first season all eyes were on the big glamour clubs of the day - St George (formerly Budapest), South Melbourne (Hellas), Adelaide City (Juventus) and Brisbane City (Azzurri) - it was a little team from a big region that stole the limelight.

Sydney-s Western Suburbs smashed Mooroolbark 5-0 on NSL match day one, and in fact the ‘Magpies- won its first five matches to lead the NSL ladder during the first few weeks of the maiden 1977 season.

However with a tiny budget, and with the bigger clubs of the day breathing down their necks, Western Suburbs- opening sprint could not last, and by round 7 the club were replaced at the top of the NSL ladder by Marconi Fairfield - another western Sydney team.

These two early NSL pace-setters ultimately lived out quite different futures.

After coming close to taking out the 1977 Championship, Marconi won it two years later, and powered on for the remainder of the NSL years, winning three Championships and four Premierships along the way.

Western Suburbs however lasted just one more year, and were effectively disbanded after the 1978 national league season.

Marconi (who took part in all 28 NSL seasons) and Western Suburbs (2 seasons) were two of seven NSL clubs who were distinctly from Sydney-s west.

The remaining western Sydney teams Sydney United/Croatia (21 NSL seasons), Blacktown City (7), Parramatta/Melita Eagles (7), Parramatta Power (5) and Penrith City (2) enjoyed and endured a variety of success and failure.

Sydney United, formerly Sydney Croatia, was the most unlucky club in NSL history. The club finished on top of the ladder three times and also reached three grand finals, however the Edensor Park team never won a NSL Championship.

At the other end of the spectrum Penrith City joined the NSL in 1984 in a fairly hastily-arranged manner. Penrith-s time in the NSL was abysmal, and they were barely missed when relegated at the end of the 1985 season.

Like its large number of NSL clubs, Sydney-s west has been the home of many of Australia-s top-notch players over the years.

The first two leading NSL clubs mentioned earlier had more than their fair share of Socceroos playing for them in the 1977 national league season, including Jim Rooney, Ray Richards and Ivo Prskalo (Marconi), and Peter Wilson, Col Curran and David Harding (Western Suburbs).

But back in the 1970s, the bulk of the Australian national team were born and raised overseas. And so while Marconi and Western Suburbs could boast plenty of proud Australian national team players, no region, including Sydney-s west, could really lay claim to actually developing a significant number of representative players at that time.

However when the balance of Socceroos tipped from overseas-born to Australian-born players in the 1980s, a number of Socceroos born or bred in western Sydney emerged to become the big-time players of the time.

In the early 1990s it was western Sydney players such as Mark Bosnich and Paul Okon who came to the fore; in the mid-1990s Zeljko Kalac, Mark Schwarzer and Craig Moore (who spent several years as a child in Sydney-s west) became big-time Socceroos.

And then came along Harry Kewell, Brett Emerton and Tim Cahill - the Aussie names don-t get much bigger than these guys from western Sydney.

The vast nursery of western Sydney clubs that spawned or helped spawn a large number of Australia-s leading players over the last 25 years was led by the aforementioned Sydney United.

In fact, Sydney United has a good claim to being the single most influential club in terms of developing the highest number of Australia-s greatest players over this time, including Kalac, Bosnich and Tony Popovic. Additionally a number of other Australian greats made their name while playing at Edensor Park, such as Graham Arnold (1983-1990), Robbie Slater (1987-1989) and Ned Zelic (1989-1991).

With its home base in nearby Bossley Park, Marconi also helped make a number of Australia-s best players over the past 25 years, including Frank Farina (1987-1988), Schwarzer (1991-1994) and Okon (1989-1991).

While neither of these players spent more than three years in the Marconi senior team, the fact that they each left Marconi to go directly into strong European teams speaks volumes for the club in getting each player to that level.

In addition to these former national league clubs, there are hundreds of other clubs from western Sydney that have shaped some of Australia-s best players.

The large and increasing number of top-notch players and clubs from Sydney-s greater west underlies the region-s population size, and growth over the past three decades.

If we draw a line from the eastern boundary of Hawkesbury council area in the north west, down through the Parramatta, Fairfield, Liverpool and Campbelltown council areas, and all Sydney areas to the west of these, the latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the population of western Sydney is around 1.9 million people (around the size of Brisbane), and has increased by around 600,000 people (around the size of Newcastle) over the past 25 years.

So clearly, based on the clubs and the big-time players that have come from western Sydney, and the large and increasing population base of the region, it would appear that a western Sydney is well overdue for representation in Australia-s premier football competition.

It-s now up to the community to make it work.

Follow Andrew Howe-s Aussie football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto