The Giants – A Continuing Eggshell Walk

Those who know me and my writings about sport will know of my interest and reasons for supporting the GWS Giants. Today was hard, sitting amongst the dismal crowd of 5,300, watching what was possibly the worst performance in the time I have been following the team.  I can’t say my supporting life is as hard as that of long suffering Bulldogs, St. Kilda, Richmond or Melbourne supporters – the latter currently writhing in despair.

It’s still hard though. 5,300.  Loss by 130 + to a team that probably won’t make the finals. I walked very slowly to my car.

It was clearly also tough on the coach, Kevin Sheedy, whose post match press conference revealed the pressures brought to bear on the club that has so many millions of dollars riding on its long term success.  In the press conference, as outlined here, he isolated two key concerns for the club – its growth as a playing group and growth of a supporter base.  They are the main issues affecting the club and will be for the next five years.

For passionate Melbourne based football fans, Sheedy’s comments will echo loudly in the next week. He places the blame on the current performance of the Giants at the feet of existing powerful clubs unwilling to let go of existing stars whose presence at a club like the Giants would make an immediate and profound difference. As can be seen by the presence of Gary Ablett Jnr at the Suns, as well as the work of Chad Cornes last year at the Giants, experience and body development count a great deal towards the success of a team in AFL. You just can’t build a team entirely on the promise of 19 year olds.  From where I sit, if there were two more experienced players in the back, two more experienced players in the forward line, the difference would be marked.   You will hear, however, on the SEN talkback in Melbourne that clubs “shouldn’t be giving up players they developed” from a range of passionate fans.  I can understand their point. The idea of transfer, however, is a feature of most football codes in the world, but is considered sacrilege by many in AFL.

This is a key difference between the on field success of the Western Sydney Wanderers and the Giants. The Wanderers had players of varying levels of talent and experience – with key outstanding players like Ono, which helped to create a team that was quick to mature and blossom. This is why their sudden success of the year shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise as it was.  Soccer (I will call it soccer here, as distinct from Australian Football) easily transfers players from other clubs, it’s part of their game.  In AFL, it is a major, painful sticking point.

What we will also hear is reaction to his other comment – already he is being accused of being a racist.

“…That was probably a reminder of what the Swans have been telling us. (Sydney chairman) Richard Colless says you’re going to do it hard early.  So it just tells everybody how tough it’s going to be to build the club. We don’t have the recruiting officer called the immigration department, recruiting fans for (successful A-League soccer club) Western Sydney Wanderers.  We’ve got to start a whole new ballpark and go and find fans.”

It’s a silly comment, a clumsy, insensitive attempt at humour and should not have been made. What I suspect Sheedy was trying to say was that soccer has a wide following from people who come from overseas to Australia while AFL, being home grown, doesn’t have that natural, from birth support. It is an accurate observation to make, especially when we consider that the soccer mad UK is the source of the third highest number of migrants to Australia.

DIAC Source Country for Immigration Statistics, 2011 - 12

Source Country for Immigration Statistics, 2011 – 12 – from DIAC.

It is also the case that soccer’s supporter base in Western Sydney was well established amongst various British, Irish and non – British migrant communities long before the Wanderers came along. This explains why the Wanderer support base was quick to form. Due to that heritage, I still think Western Sydney should have had a soccer team before Sydney.  I was a supporter of the Parramatta Power back in the NSL days.  That the Wanderers was a hurried afterthought was an indictment on the A League’s founders.  However, maybe because it was an afterthought that it’s been a success.  Perhaps, if there had been more planning, Parramatta Leagues club might have stumbled in and repeated the mistakes they made with the Parramatta Power.  Due to the fact almost all games are played at Parramatta, the Wanderers are little more than a reborn Power, but this time with genuine grassroots engagement, as opposed to top – down control.

Thus, what Sheedy should have said in the press conference is that AFL doesn’t have the same cultural roots in Western Sydney as sports like soccer and rugby league and this makes it a hard, long sell.  But he didn’t, thus leading us to what will be a bit of a storm on which the media will feed for a while.

Sheedy did come out and explain his comments on Twitter later in the evening, which fit into what I suspected he meant –

Sheedy Tweets

What he will find very quickly though, that it’s a thorny field, talking about immigration and Western Sydney.  Accusations of dog whistling are always quick to form whenever immigration is mentioned.  It will be interesting to see where this issue heads. Soccer fans will be furious, saying that it shows that Anglo Celtic people like Sheedy see soccer as “wogball” and only played by European migrants. Yet others will see it as sour grapes because the Giants haven’t built the support that the Wanderers have.  In truth, I don’t think Sheedy should have mentioned the Wanderers at all in comparison to the Giants. They play at a different time of the year for a start and the codes don’t necessarily compete for juniors.  The two junior codes play on a different day – Saturday is soccer day, Sunday is AFL day in Sydney.

Ultimately, Sheedy should have focused on the fact there’s still work to be done on the team and on the poor mother’s day scheduling. It would have been less controversial and not make it into an us and them issue. The Giants and the Wanderers should not be fighting against each other, no matter what journalists will ask and write in their articles comparing the two codes.

As for what might happen next, I think we will see Sheedy on the TV in Sydney a bit this week, apologising, showing how he likes the cultural diversity in Western Sydney as well as soccer.  In Melbourne, however, he will be quizzed about “stealing” players from the successful clubs.

For me, though, it’s just been a hard Sunday. The Giants have a long way to go, in terms of team and crowd development. I sincerely hope these comments don’t make people think Giants fans and staffers are all racists and that we hate soccer. I just want to see better efforts from the players and more people to be part of what should be a great AFL club representing one of the best – and most misunderstood – parts of Australia.

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3 thoughts on “The Giants – A Continuing Eggshell Walk

  1. Sorry, but you like Sheedy don’t get it. He has shown yet again the casual and 1950s approach not just to football/soccer as well as to the cultural diversity of an area that neither he nor the club he coaches supposedly acts as a sporting icon for. Whilst he has not made an overtly racist statement a la Pauline Hanson his words are no different to the ‘sheilas, wogs and pooftahs’ approach to football taken by thousands if not millions of Australians over at least the last 50 years of our sporting and cultural history.

    Furthermore for all his supposed attempts to engage with the so-called Greater West he and the culture of the club has nothing but a retreat from the values and hopes of the western suburbs of Sydney. How can anyone take the GWS club and its administrators as seriously committed to the people of Blacktown or Berala, Penrith or Parramatta if they have effectively pulled stumps and retreated eastwards to Homebush, or bilked the good burghers of Wagga Wagga for great wads of council-supplied cash in exchange for a trail or two, or taken the ACT’s dollars to play out of Manuka? They have set themselves up for a massive fail in the PR stakes let alone their own self-imposed dictum of becoming the Greater Western Sydney Giants when they have effectively removed themselves from the fabric of western Sydney society and culture.

    Also don’t try and find comfort in your usage of immigration statistics to soft-soap Sheedy’s idiotic statement. For someone like me who has lived in the Western Suburbs for over 30 years the phenomenon that you claim with your reference to English migrants acounting for the rapid build up of the WSW fan base is absurd. The Wanderers prime reason for a rapid development of their fan base is they have been willing to be guided, informed, reactive and based on the values of the community they represent plus they have developed a sporting culture built around hard work, no bulldust and employing the best tactics with the limited resources they have. These are the antitheses of the GWS experiment. As a fifth generation Australian who has seen all codes of football at professional levels and played three of the four as an amateur/junior I haven’t been guided into supporting the Wanderers because of my ethnicity or racial background. I (like thousands of others) have joined the WSW phenomenon because they represent my community in a sport that I have a passion for. The Wanderers CEO Lyall Gorman has come out repeatedly and said the Wanderers are all about the western suburbs and he has made sure they have lived up to that paradigm through appearances at local fan forums, making sure Parramatta Stadium is used for sell-out home games instead of acceding to demands to shift to Homebush etc etc. The GWS Giants have done nothing anywhere near as substantive.

    You are right in that Sheedy should not have mentioned the Wanderers. In fact he should shut up full stop and learn from his cross-town predecessors like Hafey, Eade, Roos and Longmire. These are the kind of coaches who actually understand that your team’s actions are the first and best way to create a dialogue about your club…not making moronic comparisons about the relative ethnic base of a football club against your own AFL club.

    By the way, next time you look to immigration stats to help with your argument try and be a bit more discerning. It’s interesting to see that aside from the UK five of the countries who are the source of major immigration streams have either a limited football/soccer heritage and/or have never qualified for the World Cup, and those figures are for Australia as a whole, not the western suburbs of Sydney. There are lies, damn lies, statistics, GWS membership numbers and your immigration table…

    • I’ve made a couple of edits about the place of soccer. I think the Wanderers are the Parramatta Power without the top-down management structure. It’s good that it’s working.

  2. Have a lot of western Sydney ‘wog’ mates posting very unhappily on FB. Sheedy’s comment was bloody stupid. Draw a line through it. He cannot, however, hide from a few things:
    1/. So NOW he’s listening to Richard Colless? This was the problem sending him up here. He’s AFL royalty. Think the penny has just dropped – yes, you are the coach of the minor club in the minor sport in this huge city. It’s really, really hard.
    2/. The recruiting comment is objectionable. Who is responsible for GWS’ recruitment? Not Collingwood, Carlton, Essendon or Geelong. They paid $$$ for 18 year olds like Scully. Good on them, they’ll win the flag in five years, if they can hang on to these kids who are copping a prize belting week in, week out. Bloody silly waste of time and $$$ on Folau. They *could* have paid a lot of money for a true name player, a Buddy or a Cloke, but they didn’t. Tough.
    3/. What are they offering / not offering members that the crowds are so poor? Not just today – remember when we went to the Pies match? Swans game at ANZ was 23-25k from memory, a Giants home match and most of the crowd were Swans people who forked out $65 for the privilege.
    4/. Not getting any media unless Sheedy starts a fake row with someone is not smart. Comms strategy is ??? I could write one on the back of a postcard & send it over.
    5/. It’s really, really hard. We’re bloody lucky we’ve had Colless etc. hang in there. Hang in there, my friend, because it’s people like you they need.

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