United they stand - the making of A-League new boys

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When you sell $1200 worth of merchandise to a single fan in your first ever match you know something tangible is happening.

It was the moment that Western United football director and co-founder Lou Sticca realised the enormity of the responsibility which comes with building dreams - both on and off the field.

The man in question shelled out on kits, scarves and assorted paraphernalia before the A-League new boys’ 4-0 pre-season win over Victorian State League 1 North-West club, Caroline Springs George Cross in front of nearly 3,500 supporters almost two weeks back.

A 5-0 victory over Preston Lions and 3-0 win against North Geelong have followed in front over combined audiences in excess of 5,000 as coach Mark Rudan builds momentum for the A-League debut of Victoria’s third team on October 13 - a return to Rudan’s former home at Wellington Phoenix.

But it’s what’s happening on the ground in a sprawling catchment area of over 1.5 million people beyond Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge and deep into Victoria’s hinterlands which is Sticca’s main focus.

“Apart from the team that plays on the park our biggest resource is the team that works in the community with the schools and football clubs and running clinics and interacting with people,” explained Sticca, who knows a thing or two enticing people to football matches having promoted the tours of Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.

“We need to go out and touch as many people as possible but we need to be patient also.

“We know it will take time and we won’t judge ourselves on year one. This is for the long haul.”

Sticca was touched by the symbolism of the supporter buying into a club which has come from the drawing board to reality in under a year.

“When you see people buying up the club colours like that it might not seem such a big thing but it’s actually quite an emotional thing because they’re spending their cold hard cash to buy into something which has been created from nothing,” he pointed out.

“With that comes a lot of responsibility to ensure that we deliver.

“We’re giving some of the people out in the west a club to follow when they might not have had one before.

“People are already traveling from far and wide - in some cases hundreds of kilometres round trip to watch the team and we want to keep them onboard with us.

“Our catchment area almost extends to the South Australia border.”

With a team melding both youth and experience, familiar names and some not so well known, Sticca feels that within the bounds of what was financially possible Western United will be a formidable on-field force.

But what gets his adrenaline bubbling is the tribe of followers buying into the project

“We’ve already got a significant amount of young people forming active support groups and they’re going to be very passionate,” he added.

“We’re appointing people to interact with numerous communities of new arrivals and our own indigenous communities too, already we have met with leaders of Nepalese, Chinese, Indian and many other groups that are new Australians - the feedback is that in the past other sports have gone out and there’s no follow up. We’re going to build long and committed relationships.

“Of course we won’t rest until we turn that first shovel of dirt (in building their own stadium at Tarneit) but we also know that it won’t be up and running there until year three of our club’s existence.

“We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that fans don’t care about where we’re playing, who owns the stadium or how big it is. They just want to follow a team.”

With that in mind, nine of Western’s home games will be played in Geelong and four in Ballarat, and Sticca is all about spreading the love.

“If there were more grounds around the region that were equipped to stage A-League games we’d be playing a few there as well,” he added.

“The public response has been very encouraging but one swallow doesn’t make a summer.

“We’re not popping champagne corks yet. There’s a long way to go from 3000 to 20,000 or whatever is deemed to be a good crowd. But it’s a great start.

“Looking at the faces in the crowd on the first night is a pretty good snapshot of where we want the club to go.

“That’s to be representative of all people and cultures that make up the West.

“Another pleasing aspect has been the attraction of females that have attended to date, especially so many younger girls.

“That should not really be a surprise given the explosion of girls in football. ”