by James Pennington
The Football Federation of Australia surveyed the views of football fans on plans for western Sydney’s new A-League club at a fan forum on April 17. Kyle Patterson, the Head of Corporate Affairs at the Federation, conducted the forum at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta, while Lyall Gorman, the Head of the A-League, and Ray Richards, the former Socceroo, answered fans’ questions on the planning process for the club, which will join the A-League when in its new season kicks in next October.
According to Mr Richards, a resident of western Sydney since emigrating from the United Kingdom when he was 17, it was high time the voice of a sports-mad community was heard almost a decade after the original formation of the A-League.
“This meeting is eight years late. Fortunately, it’s not too late. The people in western Sydney are passionate. They love their sports, no matter what it is. In Sydney we have a culture where people are passionate, and proud about their situation – and that is what this club has to be built on,” he said.
Mr Richards’ comments reverberated throughout the forum, with fans vociferously debating issues from where the team should be based, to kit design and the club’s name. While Parramatta Stadium was a popular choice for the team’s home venue, proposals for the club’s name proved far more divisive, with no clear consensus reached although one man conceded that the side could even be called the ‘Western Sydney Rhubarb Pickers’, as long as it won matches on the pitch.
After the event, Mr Gorman said he was pleased with the passion and excitement of fans at the forum, and the positive impact the new club could have on the western Sydney area.
“I know the sense of anticipation and expectation of this football community. They’ve been waiting a long, long time for their own united football team. It’s exciting to have their input on the core values of the club: passion, respectfulness, inclusiveness – all these words give me a lot of faith that we’re going to build something very special here,” he said.
Brian Gibson, the Federation’s Social Media Manager, emphasises that inclusiveness and a continuing dialogue with local supporters through fan forums and online interaction is a central feature of the new club’s development.
“We’re going out on social media and asking fans questions all the time. We’re getting a whole heap of responses in, collating them, reporting them to management, and getting a feel for what the west of Sydney wants,” he says. “Obviously, there are some aspects that we need to make a business decision on, but we want to give the fans as much input as possible.”
Christopher Betts, a Fairfield resident and owner of the independent website http://www.westsydneyfootball.com, is encouraged by the Federation’s willingness to include fans in the decision-making process. Above all, though, he wants the new club to avoid high-profile ownership disputes such as those surrounding Gold Coast United and the Newcastle Jets that have dogged the A-League in recent months.
“The most important thing is that once the club has been set up, it moves to an independent ownership structure within one or two years,” he said.
The Football Federation of Australia will hold two more fan forums in Penrith and Castle Hill, both of which look set to hear more heartfelt input from local fans of the world game.