Walking (with a police escort) in a Glory Wanderland

We’re drinking a few soothing unfamiliar schooners in the Royal Oak in Parramatta surrounded by pictures of Eels players with nicknames you would think have been thought up by Roy and HG in an ABC studio on a Sunday afternoon.

There’s ‘The Zip Zap Man’, ‘Bert’ and the seemingly effervescent ‘Guru’ staring at us with their dead battered eyes as we sip away the time before the march down the road.

We’re here on a beautiful Australia Day afternoon preparing for the A-League game between our Perth Glory and the Western Sydney Wanderers. Around 80 of us have travelled over from Perth to see ‘Wanderland’ for ourselves and see if this in fact the home of the new ‘best fans in Australia’ that the Sydney-centric SBS and Fox Sports claim they are.

After our walk from the station cracking jokes and generally being affable many are having a hair of the dog and not for the first time on this trip. Others are meeting up with now Sydney based friends while some fans put up the banners and announce they’re there to support Glory with songs that have all the humility of a love child produced from a Anthony Mundine/Lady Gaga love tryst. The bar owner is making sure we’re happy with our surrounds. He’s on the end of middle age, wiry, has some questionable tattoos and would’ve seen some interesting times as the owner of the place over the years.

It’s all very cordial in the bar area. A smattering of Wanderers fans are chatting with Glory fans in between our songs implying Wanderers fans ‘used to be blue’ and support Sydney FC while those with families looking like a cluster of Dennis the Menaces’ dine inside the pub. Everyone is bemused by Sydney FC’s battering of Melbourne Victory on the big screens which doesn’t help either side whilst others juggle their phones, beers and ciggies in the smoking area of the beer garden trying to see what was happening in the Hottest 100. A very modern Australia Day.

It was a bizarre time. More than a few quipped it didn’t feel like Australia Day when normally back in Perth most of us would be half submerged and half tanked in a pool complaining about how JJJ had gone commercial by this time on January 26.

We then get the call. The police are waiting outside and want to get us down to the ground well before kick off to ensure our safety. A bit over the top? Probably. Necessary just to ensure nothing untoward would happen? Definitely. We’d already been stopped by police walking to the pub by the station through Parramatta. They were checking up and being very friendly yet careful and their dear little push bikes. It was again, cordial.

The march to the ground is full of songs containing everything from being the pride of Western Australia to allegations of our iron ore paying for benefits for those in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. It’s fun, it’s patriotic and it’s showing our pride for a side that has more than tested the patience of fans since the concept of the A-League. For a league born from a Government inquiry it’s made a big impression with some age demographics and those of us left over from the NSL days.

I’ve been escorted out of football grounds perhaps once and even twice by security in my angry youth but escorted in to a ground? Well, that’s a new one for me. We’re shown in with curious kids playing on the community facilities outside the ground and families looking on with bemusement at our colour and noise that is provocative but in a Footy Show kind of way. All cheeky and with a wink and a smile…but actually funny. A quick wait with the police, an escort to our seats then with some watching we’re left to our own devices with 30 minutes to go before the game. Some put up the banners. Most hit the bar or the bogs.

The ground is smaller than expected but cosy and an excellent venue to watch this sport and (I’d assume) any form of rugby. Songs aimed towards Gen Y play over the speakers and Andy Paschallidis, an SBS throwback from long ago when Frank Arok was a relevant coach interviews kids, locals and injured players that gives off a real sense of community that encapsulates everything about the Western suburbs of Sydney that the FFA wanted. The RBB, the much lauded and now derided (depending on if they read Murdoch press) ‘ultras’ rock up but quietly on the other end of the ground. We’re disappointed there’s no pomp and ceremony with their arrival. Perhaps we shouldn’t have thought it would be like the entrance of a wrestler from WWE. The game ticks closer. We find voice as the players come out to warm up and everyone gets their second wind with the first wind of many who have travelled with us being lost somewhere in the Cross the night before.

The Wanderers fans saunter in showing off the multiculturalism of the region with a smattering of green and gold to go with the red and black of Australia Day. We’re concerned about some empty seats but both stands are full by the time kick off arrives with some empty spaces at either end where the goals are.  This smashes the myth that all games were sold for the whole season.

We’re bemused by the Wanderers song played over the loudspeakers that sounds like Anthony Callea’s career was back on track. The National Anthem is seemingly sung by a duo from the same school of manufactured music looking at this chance as their leg up to get in to X Factor. I take to the back of the Glory fans seating area with some friends to watch with one of our Sydney based friends with his partner and toddler not down in the throng. An acquaintance of many of the fans there who hails from Switzerland via a farm near Wollongong has also made the trip and finds it all very fun in a typically neutrally Swiss kind of way.

The Wanderers finally start to the find their voice after constant provoking by the ground announcer who sounds like he’s being prodded with electrodes to keep up the banter. We start our songs, some bratty teenagers next to us in the Wanderers section don’t like it. They voice this which is their first mistake of the night.

“Does your mother know you’re here?” is the first chant directed at them for the night and while they are surprised at our retort they don’t buckle.

Glory are keeping with the Wanderers on the pitch but as the first half drags on Wanderers completely storm the midfield and start to eke out chances as we keep the chants going and hope that our little collective in the corner can be heard.

Big Danny Vukovic, perhaps the ‘Guru’ of Perth Glory keeps us in the game when the Wanderers start to get shots on target. Somehow the ball miraculously doesn’t go in from a corner 10 minutes in thanks to Danny and a half fit Josh Risdon clawing and kicking madly to clear the ball. We cheer every Wanderers mistake thanks to 51% mocking the Wanderers fans and 49% relief as the songs are still traded between us and the private school prefects next door. The RBB are starting their songs and movements up the other end and whilst it isn’t the wall of noise we expect it’s impressive to a degree.

Then the Wanderers are ahead and it’s a long time coming. They break down the left (past the unfit Risdon) and equally unfit former French star William Gallas lets a Wanderers player cross to two of this teammates unmarked at the far post with Santalab the winner of the chook raffle between the two players tapping it in. A decent roar from the crowd, we don’t dare look at the celebrating rat pack we were just mocking some 5 to 10 meters away behind the fence moments before.We were holding in there but only just. Kiwi goal machine Shane Smeltz in his first game back in the first XI is getting no service and Jacob Burns and Stevie McGarry are made to look like the 30somethings they are.

Then it’s 2-0. The impressive Aaron Mooy hits a nothing free kick that deflects and loops over a stranded Vukovic and in for another goal that has the youngens next to us celebrating like they’d just seen One Direction parachute in on Australia Day for an impromptu gig. Some keep us going with a song. We don’t let up. We still sing our hearts out for the overran visitors out on the pitch.

A horrible half time break with Glory 2-0 down. Hostilities ease on the opposition and we focus on discussing our own side who have minds perhaps on the fireworks in Sydney Harbour or how they’d actually love One Direction to parachute in. It’s a more even second half and we start on the crèche next door again questioning their A-League affiliation before the Wanderers were around. They’re reminding us of the score of 2-0 with our comeback reminding them that that’s the same score of the Grand Final they blew last April against the Mariners.

Suddenly Glory are back in it. A fine pass from Chris Harold loops over to Smeltz behind the Wanderers defence and he finishes like he does to make it 2-1 and have us high fiving, berating the opposition fans and believing we could be back in this. We might be back in this but we know 99% of hope with Glory in the A-League is futile. The new signing from Serbia is subbed on for Glory to pull out some magic passes that are too continental for our lower standard players. Most in our end of the ground don’t recognise him for the fact he has his first name on his shirt rather than back. Glory have Wanderers retreating but their fans building a crescendo of noise from the RBB all around the group that swells up like a tsunami of sound but with loud speakers adding to the noise that makes them like the Lance Armstrong/Marion Jones version of the title for ‘best fans in Australia’. Brilliant yet manufactured.

Glory are holding in and hoping for a 2-2 draw to take home and celebrate but the ref has another idea. A Wanderer ducks inside the young Glory leftback Woodcock and at first contact milks the slight touch for all its worth which results in a penalty. A ridiculous decision and never a foul. The penalty is put away despite Vukovic going the right way and it’s 3-1. The bar has also just closed so it’s even worse for the travelling throng so we sing and don’t stop singing. We’re expected to sit down, check our phones and update Facebook statuses or try and leave early being 3-1 down.

We don’t. We sing. We don’t stop.

Glory have a few nibbles but no real chances as the game peters out but we still sing the same tune over and over again with ‘German John’ who is backpacking from Hamburg with St Pauli Football Club in his veins leading the chant of ‘Perth is Purple White’ as fireworks from an event down the road fire off next to us. It’s full time and Wanderers win but we keep singing until after they’ve done their little interviews and the mums and dads have taken the kids home. The teenage Wanderers fans we’d traded quips with all night give us a thumbs up for the entertainment we’ve provided and what it comes down to. It’s all a laugh. Our players come over and say thank you despite the loss. We keep true to the modus operandi of “you give us 90 minutes then we’ll give you a lifetime.”

The fun with the RBB stereotype your Rebecca Wilson’s of this world like to perpetuate begin after the game. We’re kept in our little holding cell inside the ground for 20 minutes waiting for the crowd to dissipate. We begin to make a move with the police. We again wait. People are waiting for us outside apparently and there are cars everywhere. We wait another 10 minutes then our lot are let out on to the road with police still around us before we then notice small clusters of locals in caps trying to look menacing as they are hidden. A few come up to try and give lip and start something. We laugh as the police push them back and threaten move on notices. A few more try from the other side like a pride of lions trying to take down a stray springbok in a nature documentary: The police deny them too. They’re moved on easily. They’re idiots.

Are we scared? No. Is it (again) necessary to have the police protecting us as a precaution? Definitely. It might give some of the more wannabe members of our group giddy with excitement that it’s like Europe but this isn’t Europe and whilst the RBB brings passion this cloak and dagger wannabe thuggery is unwanted bullshit from a small few that cheapens the warm and brilliantly loud family based atmosphere generated inside the stadium just 30 minutes before. The coast is cleared and we’re marched through Parramatta with the odd car beeping a horn and delightfully reminding us about the score.  We are back to the train station without incident. Some of us who have seen games around the world are bemused by the escort, some are bored by it, most just want to get back to the CBD and lament the loss with more beer.

We’re put on the train, the police get applause from us as a thank you as they remark they wished it was always a shift like that looking after well behaved fans. Stories are traded and some songs are sung on the train home as tiredness kicks in. A trip to Western Sydney has been done by the Glory fans in high numbers and spirits despite the result which went to script.

Are Wanderers worthy of the hype? Well, with the way they’ve managed to encapsulate the hearts and minds of the Western Sydney community they are They are doing this in ways the AFL would only dream about with the massive following by families and teenagers fantastic to see first hand. The RBB are fantastic in getting the crowd involved, don’t get me wrong, but the wannabe thuggery from some winners outside the ground needs to be stamped out.

Well worth the trip to Wanderland.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. Top stuff Dennis. Well done for keeping the faith in the soap opera of Perth Glory politics and history.
    As a casual observer they seem highly skilled at grabbing disaster from the clutches of credibility on the merest hint of success. Any comment on management and the coaching merry go round? Or would you need a police detail to smuggle you past Tony Sage’s enforcers at the next home game?

  2. Dennis Gedling says

    Thanks Peter. I just noticed a major flaw in my comment at the start on the Eels photos with a lot staring going on.

    Glory are doing their usual bullshit but they’ll just do enough to suck us in to getting another membership next season. Lowe probably won’t get the job but he’s now stacking the team with players that will get him goals, points and hopefully the job full time so the promise blooding the youth has gone well out the window. He gets paid more to work as an Engineer so why doesn’t he just do that.

  3. Dennis, well written, and a very amusing tale.

    Brought back some memories, I went to see the Glory play the old Sydney United (formerly Sydney Croatia, I think?) at the same venue in 1998 or 1999, and the visiting contingent was similarly escorted from the ground by police after the game, as the home fans tried to shake down a fence to get to us. Only time I’ve experienced anything like it – I also went to see the Glory play away to Marconi and Wollongong about the same time, and the home crowds at those places were genuinely friendly and welcoming.

    So perhaps it’s just some pockets of western Sydney… As you note, they could at leats show a bit of gratitude towards their economic benefactors…

  4. Maybe if you dropped the centrelink comments you wouldn’t need a police escort.

    It’s ok though, I was there – Perth’s away supporters vs WSW away supporters in WA…

    You still don’t rate.

  5. Dennis Gedling says

    The escort was there because the clubs and police insisted this happen due to previous incidents. Had nothing to do with any quip we made. We don’t rate but we know without us there would be no A-League.

Leave a Comment

*