How Wanderland changed the face of Australian football

Trust those brave warriors from Wanderland to concoct such a fitting finale to their four-year love affair with Pirtek Stadium.


Dario Vidosic captures the moment Source: Getty Images

At the end of an absorbing 5-4 A-League semi-final contest against Brisbane Roar that ebbed and flowed like the nearby Parramatta river, Western Sydney signed off on a ground that has become inadequate in unforgettable style.


They were never going to leave the venue without making a bold statement about who they are as a football club that is going places.

And when the realisation dawned on the club's faithful that this was it, that their heroes had played their last match there, they did not want to leave the ground that had brought them so much joy over four incredible years.

They stayed there in their thousands, catching their breath after a tumultuous match and savouring the triumphant moment before it was time to bid a final farewell.

The Wanderers started their odyssey on Saturday 6 October 2012 with a tentative 0-0 draw against Central Coast Mariners.

Little did the 10,458 nervous fans know that in four years the club that was born out of the Gold Coast United fiasco would reach three grand finals, win the Premiers' Plate and become the first team from Australia to land the AFC Champions League.

In four seasons the Wanderers had outgrown their home ground and their colourful and loyal fans showed the rest of Australia that going to a football match should be an experience to savour, regardless of the result.

The ground will be torn down later this year and the team will return to a brand new home on the same site that will be big enough to accommodate their growing legion of fans.

The Wanderers have played 55 league matches at Parramatta, winning 26 and losing 15.

They also played 10 matches in the Champions League, winning six and losing three.

The Wanderers earned the right to contest their third A-League grand final after staging a remarkable comeback in their 65th game at the venue.

Adelaide United await them on Sunday.

The Wanderers have provided some of the most memorable moments in Australian club football ever since they entered the competition in 2012.

Their home ground has been the scene of some uplifting nights over the years but this semi-final against Brisbane will top the lot for sheer drama and the high quality of football shown by two sets of players who, yes, made mistakes but ran themselves to the ground as if their lives depended on it.

Brisbane were three up inside 25 minutes via a penalty from Dimi Petratos, an own goal from Andreu and a deflected shot from Jamie Maclaren.

Yet when Romeo Castelen pulled a goal back soon after with a well-taken free kick, you just knew that a classic comeback to mark the special occasion was on the cards.
And when Brendon Santalab reduced the gap even further before halftime, a record crowd of 20,084 sensed an opportunity and smelt blood as the visitors started to wilt under the sustained pressure of the home side and the incredible atmosphere generated by the home fans.

Castelen made it 3-3 early in the second half when he pounced on a loose ball and hammered it into the net and the Dutchman competed his glorious hat-trick with a fierce low shot that gave goalkeeper Jamie Young no chance and put his side in the lead for the first time in the match.

The stadium was rocking at this stage but Maclaren momentarily silenced the crowd by slotting home an equaliser from close range with nine minutes to go.

As no team could score any more goals in the 90 minutes, the game went into extra time and substitute Dario Vidosic settled the issue by stabbing the ball into the net after being served by Mark Bridge.

There would be no more drama and when the excellent Peter Green blew his final whistle the ground erupted as one to hail a match for the ages and one of the Wanderers' finest victories, up there with the 2014 Champions League final win against Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal.

The Wanderers' support can be a bit samey at times and rather monotone, resembling a concert atmosphere rather than a football match ... but not this time.

It was as if the occasion of their team's final match at their loved home and the precariousness and ramifications of the score gave the fans an added determination and desperation to help their heroes save the game and finish with a bang.

The fans rode every tackle, groaned at every misplaced pass and willed every attack. The roar that greeted Vidosic's winning goal must have reverberated across Parramatta.

They never stopped chanting as they usually do - not even when Brisbane scored three times in eight minutes in their opening blitz that would have knocked the stuffing out of most sides - but this time the deafening support came from the heart and was full of unbridled, raucous passion.

The fans' unwavering backing was rewarded with arguably the greatest match in the history of the A-League, even better than the 2011 grand final epic at Suncorp between Brisbane and Central Coast Mariners.

Wanderers coach Tony Popovic best summed up the extraordinary events that unfolded at the weekend by saying it was perhaps the club's greatest night and "a fantastic way to sign off on the stadium in its current form. It was special on and off the field. I'm sure that this football match will go down in the history books."

The Wanderers and Wanderland were a marriage made in heaven.

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5 min read
Published 25 April 2016 at 11:57am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS