I often feel like Australian sport is in competition with itself. During NRL season people often express shock when I explain that while I love NRL, I also enjoy watching AFL. It is uncommon to find people passionate about more than one sport and I often find that very little respect is shown between the codes. Lover of NRL often don’t understand AFL and think that it takes less skill because it is not as physical, when this is certainly not the case.
Instead of being in constant competition I feel like the different codes can look at each other and use and share ideas to make each competition the strongest that it can be.
With this in mind, last night I attended my first A-League game between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC. If I am completely honest with all of you, my readers, then I will admit that I would have only watched 10 minutes of the game (maximum). Why you ask? The answer is because I was absolutely mesmerised by the crowd.
For those of you that have not been to watch the Western Sydney Wanderers play, I urge you to make an effort to. The most vocal Wanderers fans are called the RBB (Red and Black Bloc) and this group of supporters (last night I estimate they were about 10,000 in number) all sit together, ablaze with red and black (literally, 2 flares were let off) and chant, sing, clap and roar for the entirety of the game.
As a Rugby League supporter you must understand why I was absolutely intrigued by this. Throughout the year I have often written about declining crowd numbers and what the NRL can do to fix this. To have gone to an A-League game last night and seen a crowd of over 40,000, all I could think about was why can’t the NRL do this? Is there something fundamentally different between the two sports or is the A-League doing something better than the NRL.
The story of the Western Sydney Wanderers absolutely intrigues me.
Such fanatical support did not exist in the A-League before the Wanderers. Even the Sydney FC fans looked quiet in comparison last night.
While, chanting and singing may have existed, it did not exist on the same level that the RBB has brought to the A-League and as a result it has led other fans to have to lift their game.
What I find incredible, firstly, is that such fanatical support exists for a team that is only a year old.
I would certainly call myself a fanatical Parramatta supporter. In the dictionary, if you look up ‘Eels supporter’, you might just see my face. However the love for my team certainly developed over time. I certainly did not love my team at the level I do now when I first started supporting them. To see fans with such passion last night truly amazed me.
While the success of the Wanderers in their first year, probably assisted the fan base to raise their game to the levels they are now, there has to be more to it than that. Perhaps that prior to the birth of the Wanderers, Western Sydney was mobilised in its love of football – all they needed was an outlet and a team to be able to call their own. Football participation levels in the West have been on the increase and I would also suggest that few in the West completely embraced Sydney FC. In this respect, I find it fascinating that it took so long for a team to be born out of Western Sydney.
Seeing the Wanderers fans truly made me a bit jealous last night. I salivated at the possibility of seeing such support exist in the NRL. After having thought about it for a little longer however, I feel like the two sports are fundamentally different and historically have been supported in a different way which means that such fanatical support probably won’t ever exist in the NRL.
You only have to watch an EPL game to see what I mean. The way these fans support their team is completely different to what you see when watching the Super League.
This tends to lead me to the conclusion that there is very little that the NRL can learn from the A-League other than sitting back and watching in awe.
However, while we might not be able to bring such fanaticism to the NRL, as a Parramatta supporter I see tremendous opportunity for the Wanderers and the Eels to work together. We share a geographical location, we share a stadium and in many respects we also share fans. The A-League and the NRL does not need to be in competition with each other.
A useful step one I feel would be offering dual memberships for the Eels and the Wanderers. Last year the Eels expressed that their eventual goal was for 40,000 members – for a goal like this we need to mobilise more people.
I am not a massive soccer fan, but were such a membership option offered, I would certainly consider it. I love my sport and I love Parramatta – why not take up the opportunity to do something over the off season. I feel like I’m not the only fan that would feel like this.
As a final thought – congratulations to everyone who attended the game last night and thank you to Wanderers fans for absolutely inspiring me. Your support and dedication to your team is incredible and I hope it only leads to positive steps forward both for the A-League and for football in Australia.
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