A tangible sense of nervous excitement rippled through the football community as Ben Buckley confirmed the worst-kept secret in the game: Western Sydney will have a team in the next A-League season.
Forgetting for a moment that this seemingly rushed decision emerged from the smouldering ashes of tragically flawed and failed franchises on the Gold Coast and North Queensland, an A-League club in the heart of Sydney’s west will have profound implications on the people who call the area home.
I grew up in Western Sydney supporting Sydney United, worshiping its stars, following the team around week in, week out and eventually representing it on the pitch.
Playing for United was the realisation of a childhood dream and allowed me to play alongside the likes of Tony Popovic, Zeljko Kalac, Manis Lamond and Kresimir Marusic.
As a kid in the west, football was in our blood. It was what defined the ethnic communities that called the sprawling landscape home. It divided us on the pitch but united us in our shared love of the game.
Now these communities hold the key to the survival of the A-League’s latest attempt at expansion - an attempt that already has me worried.
Plonking a new team in an area will not guarantee support, just look at Gold Coast. In football, the maxim 'build it and they will come’ does not apply.
More so in the west, where the bitterness still runs deep at the way the clubs many football fans grew up supporting were treated when the A-League was established.
FFA’s biggest challenge will be uniting these tribes behind a common cause. How the governing body attempts to do this in the six months until the new club's first match remains to be seen.
FFA has to come up with a board, CEO, coach, squad, facilities, colours, name, kit and sponsors before it can even think about attracting fans. Other codes take years to expand, whereas FFA will be relying on the good grace of the people it has ignored for so long to help kick-start its latest band-aid.
Damage has already been done with the rushed nature of the new team, although the governing body is making the right noises about a community-based ownership model.
I believe there are a few key areas where FFA can make an immediate impact:
:: Engagement with local clubs
Sydney’s west is a diaspora of clubs and cultures. If FFA is serious about making a team work it needs to go into the schools and clubs that already call the area home and make the people with an investment in the game feel like they have a stake in the new team. They need to feel like they have a voice and that the team is truly representing them. FFA needs to do this now, not in five years.
:: Integration of facilities
The likes of Marconi Stallions and Sydney United boast some of the best football facilities in the country. What better way to acknowledge them than make use of these grounds for training and development. By establishing a rapport with the clubs that will be nurturing your future talent, you establish a rapport with their fans.
:: Central location
Parramatta has been mooted as a possible base for the expansion team. However, in the mid-term future an option where FFA can establish a purpose-built stadium, in the mould of AAMI Park in Melbourne, for the fans to call home would be ideal.
It will takes years for Western Sydney to be viable but FFA can take immediate steps to build bridges that were burned long ago and ensure it’s latest and most important expansion franchise doesn’t go the way of Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury before it.