In April this year, the Federal Government made two significant announcements which will bring lasting benefits to young people who play football in the Western Sydney.
Firstly, we announced a special $5 million program to help lift grassroots participation in the game.
As the Patron of the Mt Druitt Rangers Football Club, in an electorate where it’s estimated nearly 10,000 people play football, I was delighted that the Government had committed so generously to boosting participation in what is already one of the most popular football codes in Sydney.
In 2010, there were approximately 90,000 registered footballers in Western Sydney playing in Junior and Senior competitions accounting for over 20% of participants nationally.
There are more registered football participants in Western Sydney than in Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and the ACT combined, with approximately 374 state-league or grassroots clubs operating in the region.
Over 50 per cent of the 400 plus Socceroos have hailed from Western Sydney, including Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer, Mark Bosnich, Harry Kewell, Brett Emerton, Paul Okon and many more.
The other major announcement, made with Football Federation Australia CEO Ben Buckley, was the inclusion of a Western Sydney Team in the Hyundai A- League.
News of a Western Sydney franchise was welcomed by the entire community but most notably by the Football fraternity.
While many will lay claim to the origins of Football in Australia, Western Sydney has a compelling place in the game’s history.
The first recorded match played in NSW under Association Football rules took place when the Wanderers played the Kings School Rugby team at the Parramatta Common on 14 August 1880.
In the A-League’s predecessor competition, the National Soccer League, there were four, sometimes five Western Sydney teams represented.
These were four time premiers Marconi Stallions, the Melita Eagles, two times premiers Sydney Olympic and three times runner-up Sydney United formerly Sydney Croatia.
In the 1980s, a Blacktown City team also played in this competition.
Given the regions strong links to the game of Football, it was fitting today that the new Western Sydney franchise was unveiled as the Western Sydney Wanderers, the same name as that first team.
When they make their debut in October against the Central Coast Mariners, they will be wearing a striking home strip, designed by their apparel sponsor Nike which consists of a red and black hoop jersey with white shorts and black socks.
The colours, the name reflect the wishes of Western Sydney fans – who flocked to the FFA’s fan nights.
The Club has a great deal of building to do in the months ahead but already have a CEO in Lyall Gorman and they’ve signed a coach and three players, all with links to the region.
The Head Coach, Tony Popovic has returned to wear it all began for him.
Tony grew up in Fairfield in Western Sydney and began his career with Sydney United before moving to the J-League in Japan and eventually signing with Crystal Palace in the UK.
His career included 58 appearances for the Socceroos over 11 years, scoring 8 goals.
Like many others who grew up in Western Sydney, I look forward to the game’s heartland being represented in its premier competition for the first time since 2004. This is terrific news. I cannot wait to see them play.
While few of the games founders will still be around, I’m sure many of their children and grandchildren are still active and involved in the game in Western Sydney and will rejoice when a local team proudly takes to the field in the A- League.
Our funding for the game, where it is played most, will pay dividends in years to come, both in terms of the social fabric but also our sporting prowess.
Finally, on the same day we welcome our own A-League side, I also want to recognise that today is Matilda’s star and Quakers Hill resident Kyah Simon’s 21st birthday. Hope you had a great day – best wishes to a terrific ambassador of the game, a wonderful ambassador of our region.