Wanderers hope new stadium deal can arrest three years of decline

Wanderers hope new stadium deal can arrest three years of decline

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Western Sydney Wanderers have been exactly that for the past three years or so, living a nomadic existence in venues across Sydney’s Olympic Park and elsewhere. 

The rebuilding of their traditional home base in Parramatta has taken them to Campbelltown and as far away as regional Mudgee – some three hours and fifteen minutes from Parramatta – where they faced Brisbane Roar earlier this A-League season.

But the new, exciting chapter is finally materialising after a frustrating spell on the road with Spotless Stadium and ANZ Stadium the venues called temporary homes, the former of which was waved goodbye to on Sunday.

The Wanderers announced they had signed a 10-year deal to call the new Western Sydney Stadium – officially named Bankwest Stadium – home on Monday.

From the 2019-20 season, it will see each Western Sydney match in the A-League played at the venue as well as FFA Cup fixtures beyond the quarter-final stage and some W-League fixtures.

And the move back home could not come a moment too soon, either.

Since the old Parramatta Stadium was knocked over to make way for the new venue, forcing the Wanderers out, their figures both on and off the field have declined season after season.

Beginning in the 2016-17 campaign, the Wanderers averaged a home crowd of 17,746 at the two venues and finished the campaign sixth, losing an elimination final on penalties against Brisbane Roar.

The following season those numbers fell further, perhaps a bi-product of former manager Tony Popovic’s untimely departure to Turkish side Karabukspor just a week out from the new season.

The average attendance figure fell by nearly 6,000 to 11,924 and the Red and Black missed out on finals.

This season, with a fourth manager in three seasons – if former caretaker Hayden Foxe is included – crowd metrics have fallen by a further 3,000 to 8,451 after Round 20, and Markus Babbel’s team is all but out of the running for finals in eighth place with just 17 points, 11 behind sixth-placed Wellington Phoenix.

While the Wanderers showed enough grit on the pitch to earn a last-gasp 1-1 draw against league-leaders Perth Glory to farewell Spotless, the event itself was indicative of their unhappy time spent there.

Active support group the Red and Black Bloc (RBB) boycotted the match, leaving behind an eerie silence. It only worsened what was a hugely unattractive spectacle at the oval venue, which carries excess space between grandstands and boundaries even for AFL matches.

Speaking at the announcement of a formal deal with the new stadium to call it home, Wanderers chairman Paul Lederer acknowledged the difficult few years just elapsed, but was quick to highlight his excitement at seeing the nearly-finished venue.

“We’re not going to make excuses that the wins didn’t come because of the stadium, but nevertheless our fans have endured quite a difficult time,” he told reporters.

“The last three years have been very, very difficult. The stadiums we played in were reasonable, but nothing like this, of course.

“This is our home ground, it has been our home ground from day one, so it’s very exciting to be back here.

“I’m very happy for the fans.”

Sunday’s boycott by the RBB was not the first instance of disagreements between fans, club and security personnel for active support at an Olympic Park venue.

But soon to be back in a true football stadium, Lederer hoped the return to Parramatta would prompt rejuvenation in the group.

“The Red and Black Bloc is important to us. Hopefully they will come in numbers and of course we look forward to it,” he said.

The Wanderers’ first game at the stadium will be an international friendly on 20 July against Leeds United, who are in the running to be promoted from the Championship to the Premier League.

Western Sydney have just three more home matches to play at ANZ Stadium against Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory either side of a Sydney Derby on 13 April.

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