The fairytale is complete – The Western Sydney Wanderers have won the A League’s Premiers Plate in their inaugural season after beating Newcastle at Hunter Stadium tonight.
Last weekend’s draw with Sydney FC put history on hold for the Wanderers and a loss to Newcastle would have taken destiny out of the club’s hands and prompted a nervous wait for the Central Coast v Melbourne Heart match tomorrow.
But such a wait is no longer required, with the Wanderers beating Newcastle 3-0 to be crowned champions.
The emphatic victory was set up in the early stages when Mark Bridge grabbed the first of two goals in just the sixth minute, silencing the Jets’ faithful crowd, who were drowned out by the passionate Western Sydney suporter base for most of the game.
Leading 2-0 at half-time, the Wanderers confirmed they would win the most important game in their history when Ricky Visconte bagged an unexpected goal 10 minutes from full time.
“I’m very proud of the boys,” captain Michael Beauchamp told Fox Sports.
Coach Tony Popovic said it was “a great day”.
“It’s hard to reflect on it now, but I am so proud of all of the boys,” he said.
“It’s been a special journey.”
AN HISTORIC NIGHT FOR FOOTBALL
Whilst Western Sydney’s incredible success this season will prompt celebrations in the short term, it has long term impacts, too.
Football has struggled to find a foothold in the rugby league dominated market of western Sydney in recent years, but the Wanderers paved the way for the sport’s emergence as a powerful force in the region.
If soccer’s emergence in the west continues, it will largely be due to the Wanderers’ debut season and tonight’s win over Newcastle will be remembered as a key moment.
The Wanderers’ rise has been dramatically different to that of another western Sydney franchise trying to secure new fans – the AFL’s Greater Western Sydney Giants.
Whilst the Giants struggled through their first year and have a long-term plan for success that spans years if not decades, the Wanderers have had an immediate impact. In many ways, they’ve done it the easy way – success breeds big crowds and strong support, and this club found a way to make everything click and ensure such success, crowds and support came much earlier than anyone expected.
WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?
Early season results for the Wanderers showed very little sign of the juggernaut that was to come.
After a mediocre 0-all draw with the Mariners in their first A League game back in October, the Wanderers suffered 1-0 losses to Adelaide and Sydney FC before finally securing their first win in the most unlikely of circumstances – against the highly favoured Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium.
It wasn’t until January when the realisation began to emerge that something special was devloping in western Sydney. A 2-0 win over Wellington on January 13 would kickstart a record-breaking 10 straight victories and solidify the Wanderers as a true sporting powerhouse in the west.
Despite failing to make it 11 in a row against Sydney FC last weekend, it is an amazing statistics board that shows the Wanderers haven’t experienced defeat in almost four months.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
The Wanderers may have won the Premier’s Plate, but the finals beckon and the club now has an opportunity to further enhance its fairytale ride.
Whilst injuries have crippled the club in recent weeks, today’s win over Newcastle shows the club can rise above adversity. At times, it has seemed the spirit of the club and its large and passionate supporter base has been enough to get the Wanderers over the line – no matter who was taking the field.
The A League finals begin next weekend but the Wanderers will be granted a week off – a much-needed rest after a long campaign that now bares its scars.
The Wanderers’ win over Newcastle today is critical for another reason – it allowed the fan base to return to what it does best and celebrate what their side does on the field.
The club’s ride of success and popularity went somewhat off the rails this week when poor crowd behaviour became a focus of the media following incidents at Parramatta Stadium and its surrounds last weekend.
Police had sent out a warning to fans ahead of tonight’s game against Newcastle, following a promise that they would take a zero tolerance approach to poor behaviour.
There is likely to be plenty of focus on crowd behaviour when the Wanderers return home for a home final.
LET THE PARTY BEGIN
For coach Tony Popovic and his team, the week off next week and the relief of winning the Premier’s Plate tonight will surely be worthy of a deserved drink or two this weekend.
Whilst Popovic is known as a hard taskmaster, the Wanderers’ remarkable achievement deserves to be celebrated.
We can be lucky it’s a long weekend, because it seems two days would not nearly be long enough for Wanderers fans to soak up a remarkable finish to the regular season.
Popovic walked across the ground to thank the Wanderers supporter base in the moments following the full-time whistle tonight, realising the important role they have played this season.