Wanderer for a day

Western Weekender journalist Nathan Taylor (back row, second left) with his Wanderers XI teammates last weekend at The King’s School in North Parramatta
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Last week I received an email from the Western Sydney Wanderers inviting me to be a member of the Wanderers XI for their annual Heritage Match against The King’s School Old Boys, to be held on the grounds of The King’s School at North Parramatta.

First, a little bit of history on why the match is played.

While the occasional football game was played in Hyde Park during the mid-1860s, the general belief was that the sport was not yet popular enough to be formalised in NSW.

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1880, football had not “prospered sufficiently in the colony to justify the introduction of the Association game”.

The excerpt came from a report on a meeting held to establish the game officially in NSW.

The meeting of around 40 men, held on August 3, 1880 took place in Sydney where it decided the game of association football would be played under English rules.

On the same day, English emigrate John Walter Fletcher founded an XI that would later establish themselves as the first association football club in Australia to last beyond a few years – they were known as the Wanderers.

The first ever recorded football match in NSW would be played on Saturday, August 14, 1880 between The King’s School and the Wanderers XI.

The match, played at Parramatta Common, was watched by roughly 1000 people and is regarded as the official birth of the game of football in NSW.

To celebrate the historic occasion, each year the Western Sydney Wanderers “re-play” the match involving ex-Socceroos stars, former Wanderers players and Sydney media identities. This year, I was one of them.

Having never played a proper game of football before, apart from the odd muck around game with friends, I was nervously excited heading into the match.

The day before the game I purchased my first pair of shin pads and gave my footy boots a bit of a polish.

When I arrived at the pitch I received the famous ‘Red and Black’ Wanderers kit and met my famous teammates, which included ex-Socceroo Craig Foster, Matilda Catherin Cannuli, former Wanderers players Adam D’Apuzzo and Jason Trifiro, and new W-League coach Rich Byrne.

My first assignment was to play right-back. Once I figured out exactly what right-back did and where they stood, the nerves started to really settle in.

Due to the fast-paced nature of the game along with my naivety, much of the game is a blur but I distinctly remember Foster and ‘Glovesy’ the goalkeeper giving me some ‘lip’ or pointers throughout the match – I couldn’t really tell!

I must admit the support from my teammates, when I told them I was a newbie, was outstanding and I truly have a newfound respect for footballers – on all levels of the game – from now on.

In the end we lost to the more polished The King’s School outfit 7-3, which I’m told was a lot better than last year’s dismal 8-0 effort.

As for taking up football on a full-time basis? I think I’ll stick to writing about it!

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