The withdrawal symptoms from the lack of A-League football have already started to kick and we still have another four and a half months of the offseason to go. Like anything else, when something is taken away from you the gap needs to be filled and your mind starts to wander. A usually small story becomes bigger than it should without the usual distractions.
The latest example of this centred around comments made about the Western Sydney Wanderers by Australian Rules Football (AFL) legend Kevin Sheedy, the current coach of the Greater Western Sydney (GSW) Giants.
Sheedy, who has been coaching at AFL level since 1981, lashed out at football following criticisms of the attendance at the GWS game against the Adelaide Crows where just 5830 showed up to the 25,000 capacity Skoda Stadium in Sydney. It was the AFL’s lowest regular season attendance since 1996.
“We don’t have the recruiting officer called the Immigration Department recruiting fans for the West Sydney Wanderers,” he said.
“We don’t have that on our side. We’ve got to actually start a whole new ball park and go and find fans because that’s what happens when you bring a lot of people through, channel into a country and put them in the west of Sydney and all of a sudden they build a club like that in one year and all of a sudden they’ve got 10,000 fans and 20,000 going to a game.”
The Giants are the AFL equivalent of the Wanderers, an expansion team put into a huge catchment area which wasn’t properly catered for previously. However, while the latter has excelled, making it to this season’s Grand Final, the Giants continue to be on the receiving end of heavy defeats and have won just two games out of their first 25.
Sheedy believes that the Australian Government’s leniency in opening its borders to people from football centric countries gives the code an easy leg up when it comes to attracting supporters for a new team.
The fallout from Sheedy’s outburst has led to him being branded a racist and a xenophobe amongst other things but he isn’t; he’s simply ignorant. Former Socceroos midfielder Craig Foster, who had a spell in England with Crystal Palace and Portsmouth, spoke out angrily in the aftermath of the comments. Now a pundit for The World Game TV show and website, Foster branded Sheedy “a disgrace to this country” in his most recent column and recounted a tale from a few years ago where the AFL man acted in a similar fashion.
“Kevin Sheedy’s comments are … a throwback to the dark old days of anti-immigration and the ‘sheilas, wogs and poofters’ mentality that football fought against for so long,” wrote Foster.
He wasn’t alone in his criticism of Sheedy, with Wellington Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante tweeting “Sheedy you #muppet”.
Even when he was given a chance to clarify his comments, Sheedy refused to back down or admit any wrongdoing.
“It’s a throwaway line to make sure that everybody understands that is why soccer can get such a quick crowd,” he said.
“And of course, quite amazingly why it’s taken so long to put another (A-League) team in the west, because they’ve got an enormous fan base there.
“When I said the immigration department was one of the best recruiting agencies for soccer, well I didn’t mean anything untoward by that. But it’s a fact.”
There is an air of jealousy emanating from Sheedy’s comments given the success of the football franchise in contrast to his own team.
Back in July of last year I wrote a piece for this very site on the creation of the Western Sydney Wanderers as the latest start up club in the Hyundai A-League. Following the much publicised demise of both Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury in recent seasons, there was plenty of scepticism surrounding the decision to give it another crack. However, a Grand Final appearance having topped the league after the regular season has seen the club become arguably the biggest success story in Australian sport over the past 12 months.
They aren’t resting on their laurels though.
“It’s not about a one year wonder it’s about putting the building blocks in place for a long term future,” says executive chairman Lyall Gorman.
“This club is built on the fundamental principles of values, vision and culture.
“We built this club on what the fans told us in those seven forums in July last year: What might this club stand for; what does it represent and what should the colours be.”
The club’s average home attendance for their debut A-League season was 14,749, the third highest overall behind traditional big draws Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC. On field success should see that figure be at the very least sustained over the course of the 2013/14 campaign.
The season is still a long way off though and between now and October there may be other battles off the pitch to be fought with the likes of Kevin Sheedy. The key is not to bite back flippantly and go down the road of similar lazy throwaway comments. Football continues to grow in Australia and the other codes know it. They feel threatened, and that’s more than enough for now.
By Neil Sherwin
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona