It’s a common misconception that football in this country came here on a boat, along with the thousands of immigrants fleeing Europe after World War II. The reality is, however, that the game has existed in Australia for almost 140 years – since the first recorded game was played just outside Brisbane in 1875. In 2013 the A-League has made monumental steps forward and the sport looks poised to finally establish itself as one of the country’s leading competitions. This Sunday’s Grand Final has the opportunity to become a landmark in the history of football in this country.
But let’s take a brief step back in time. The year is 1880 and in the west of Sydney a movement is taking its first steps. A certain John Walter Fletcher writes to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, and his letter is published:
Sir,-I was glad to see in your issue of this morning a letter advocating the introduction of the English Association game into New South Wales, and I am a little surprised that some old English player has not made the suggestion before. I have reason to think from conversations I have had on the subject that if the game could properly be started it would become very popular, not only with players, but with the public. Let anyone read the accounts of International or club contests in Glasgow, Sheffield, London, &c. witnessed often by from 10,000 to 12,000 spectators. It is, I think, about twelve years since the game was first started in England, though its principle, that football is a game for feet and for hands, had long existed in the Eton and Harrow games. I am quite sure that the principle of the game, which forbids the use of the hands, except by goalkeeper, and does away with scrummaging, collaring, mauling, &c, will commend itself to a very large section of this community. The game is essentially a scientific one, requiring, above everything else, unselfish and organized combination. [edited]
His letter was representative of a large proportion of settlers who were discontent with both Rugby and the Victorian form of football which had begun to gather popularity in Australia. They wished for a return to the traditional rules of football that they had played back in Britain, which they thought to be more entertaining. A flood of letters came in, announcing their support for his suggestion.
Two months later the first ever registered football club on our shores was established, in the heartland of Western Sydney. They played a team of boys from Kings School in Parramatta and the game was “well contested for an hour and a half”. The success was such that they quickly organised a game against Redfern for the next week. The team had no name yet, and a meeting was convened midweek to discuss the matter. Shortly after, the Sydney Morning Herald recorded the fixture: “WANDERERS vs REDFERN”.
It’s this moment, in 1880, that the Western Sydney Wanderers are named after; and this long heritage which they represent. On the 80th minute of each match, the Wanderers faithful in their active supporter group, the RBB, celebrate this occasion of foundation in what is called the Poznan.
The Poznan is known in Central and Eastern Europe as the Grecque, but was made famous by Polish side Lech Poznan. It involves, in a somewhat abstract form of support, turning your back to the game, putting your arms across the backs of your fellow fans and jumping up and down in unison. It’s not done, at least by the RBB, to celebrate a goal or a win – instead, it is a symbol of the fan’s unity as supporters of the club, no matter what happens on the field. Whether the Wanderers are winning or losing, on the 80th minute their fans do the Poznan to commemorate that incredible moment in 1880, that quite possibly could be responsible for the existence of the sport in our country to this day.
On April 12 2013, or to most of you reading this, last Friday, the fans in Parramatta Stadium created their own history. As the clock ticked over to 80:00 nearly the entire stadium, a capacity 19 500, stood up, linked arms and joined the RBB in the Poznan. Such an event is rare even in the most celebrated stadiums around Europe and South America. It was special, and something fans of all teams could appreciate. It was a brilliant way to celebrate what has been an amazing, ground-breaking season for the Wanderers and the A-League.
This Sunday is the Grand Final, between debutants Western Sydney Wanderers in their fairy-tale first season and the Central Coast Mariners who have been, traditionally, one of the best and most respected teams in the league. Both sides have fought for first place all season and deserve, above all else, to be facing off for the championship. Separate to the fiercely fought battle on the field will be the battle in the terraces; the supporters of each team who will be singing loudly all match to drive their side on.
Between fans of both teams is a certain respect. Both teams have fought hard all season and worked with reputable ethic. Western Sydney fans will hope their team can emulate what the Mariners continue to produce on the field, and Central Coast fans admire the incredible volume of support that the Wanderers have behind them. While both teams will be competing in intense rivalry for the championship, there will be a feeling at the end of the day that whoever wins it, deserves it.
Or, as someone on Twitter put very cornily (@osaussies, I’m looking at you) – the winner will be football. Could there be any better way to complete what has been a record-breaking season of Australian football then a sold out stadium watching the Wanderers take on the Mariners? Football, since 1880, has come a long way in this country – and this weekend, both sets of supporters would like to rejoice this fact together.
The proposal: a full stadium Poznan, all 45 000 of you. Turn your backs to the game for one minute (the 80th), link arms with the people to your sides (whether you know them or not) and jump up and down in celebration of our sport. This would be near unheard of in world football, and will surely, if only briefly, put our league on the world map. It would be a moment spoken about in centuries to come, just as we still reference school teacher and “father of Australian football”, John Walter Fletcher’s letter today.
Despite its ties to Western Sydney footballing heritage, the Red and Black Bloc have no qualms with Mariners supporters or neutrals joining in with the Poznan [EDIT: the RBB’s official stance on this is that they would NOT like Mariner fans to join in on what is a RBB tradition and celebration, ignore the following quote which was a simple miscommunication]. One of the group’s influential members told me to encourage all supporters in Allianz Stadium this Sunday to “be part of a world first event”.
Simon Fisher, a representative for the Central Coast Mariner’s active supporting group, the Yellow Army, believes that a Poznan on such grand scale would surpass any ties to the Western Sydney Wanderers, “Personally I think something that can get 40,000 people in a stadium involved in a single show of support is brilliant. I don’t look at it as belonging to the RBB, because this is something you see in stadiums all around the world.”
However, he applauds the RBB for executing it so successfully, “The simple fact that they’ve adopted it and made it the spectacle that it is, is phenomenal.”
Mr. Fisher has no doubt that if fans join together on Sunday afternoon, it will be a special moment for football fan culture in the country, “What’s not to like? It’s a minute or two to join in, and it’s all about just being in the moment and enjoying the occasion. Can you think of a better way to show a sense of unity and to prove active support is not all about the hooligan/ultra label that gets slapped on people who are standing and singing in the stands?”
Football fans, linked together for one special minute – let’s do it.
Join the conversation: #fullstadiumpoznan
Follow me on Twitter: @userlastname
Follow Simon Fisher on Twitter: @marinerfishGoogle+