Phoenix and Wanderers show how the A-Leagues can expand successfully

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Success in football cannot only be measured by a team’s performance, it’s a concoction of crowd numbers, engagement and members.

With expansion back on the A-Leagues’ agenda, two clubs have shown how it can be done successfully…

Wellington Phoenix

The Nix entered the competition in the 2007/08 season subsequent to its founding in March 2007. The club replaced New Zealand Knights as the New Zealand-centred team in the A-League Men, making it one of the rare clubs worldwide to participate in a league of different association from that of the nation it is based in.

By reaching the playoffs in 2009/10 season, Wellington Phoenix made history and brought their name to prominence.

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The preliminary final saw a controversial defeat against Sydney FC ending the Phoenix’s season. Although they were just short of the title, this season marked the rise of the Phoenix. Many consider Wellington’s capacity to compete in the A-League Men as critical to the national team’s and the greater football landscape’s advancement.

Wellington Phoenix has a large following in Wellington and especially among New Zealanders living in Australia. The Yellow Fever, the main fan organisation, was formed the day after the Phoenix was revealed.

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The Yellow Fever are well-known in the A-League Men for its traditions, the most famous of which is that if the Phoenix are leading by the 80th minute, members of the team remove their jerseys. In addition, before to the Yellow Fever’s final home game before Christmas, the team hosts a pub crawl called The 12 Pubs of Lochhead, named after defender Tony Lochhead.

Yellow Fever’s website, yellowfever.co.nz, has grown into a community hub for all things New Zealand football. The website features non-Phoenix football news from both local and national levels, as well as information on all New Zealand national teams and players.

Due to the club’s charitable efforts, Yellow Fever fans have a deep bond with the team. Yellow Fever is the first A-League fans club to organise and fund an annual football scholarship, “Retro Ricki Youth Scholarship”.

The Nix has played the majority of its home matches at the Wellington Regional Stadium (now known as Sky Stadium for commercial purposes), which is affectionately known by supporters as the ‘Ring of Fire.’ The stadium can hold 34,500 people.

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The Phoenix played two home games away from Sky Stadium during the 2009/10 A-League season, the first at Arena Manawatu in Palmerston North and the second at AMI Stadium in Christchurch. The two games were crucial in growing Wellington Phoenix’s fan base in New Zealand. During the 2011/12 A-League season, the team played a game in Auckland at Eden Park in front of 20,078 fans.

The magnitude of prosperity for the Nix in both performance and support in such a short amount of time inaugurates them as one of the most succesful expansions in the A-League Men.

Western Sydney Wanderers

Having won the A-League Men premiership and the AFC Champions League, Western Sydney Wanderers have established themselves as a dominant power in both Australia and Asia.

The Wanderers were founded in April 2012 with a strong community focus. The club’s name, colours, culture, and playing style were all decided through a series of community meetings held around Western Sydney.

The team’s first season was a record-breaking success, with the club winning the A-League Men title and reaching that season’s grand final. In their second season of the competition, the team made another decider but once again tasted defeated. In their inaugural AFC Champions League season, the club did claim silverware, making them the first and only Australian team to win the competition.

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Western Sydney Wanderers is one of the well-supported clubs in the A-League Men. The Red and Black Bloc (RBB) is the club’s major fan group. The autonomous organisation was founded in June 2012, although its founding members had been communicating for months on internet forums and conducting meetings. When Wanderers played Nepean FC for the first time in 2012, the RBB very quickly made themselves heard.

The RBB has gotten a lot of attention and appreciation for the mood and intensity they create, especially for their cry “Who do we sing for?” The group frequently participates in local humanitarian endeavours. Following the devastating bushfires in New South Wales in 2013, the RBB contributed $15,000 for the NSW Salvation Army Bushfire Appeal.

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Over 5,000 Wanderers fans watched the second leg of the 2014 AFC Champions League Final live in Centenary Square in the Parramatta CBD on October 2, 2014. Thousands of people turned out to welcome the freshly crowned Asian champions home at Sydney Airport after the event.

‘Exit Row’, an Australian rock-pop band, released their debut single “Welcome To Our Wanderland,” a Western Sydney Wanderers hymn, in 2013. The club, the RBB, and Western Sydney were referenced in the song’s lyrics, which included the RBB shout “Who do we sing for?” in the chorus. The song charted at number 93 in Australia on iTunes.

Western Sydney Wanderers had extended their membership base to 7,500 individuals by the conclusion of their first season, with total match attendance at home reaching 174,520, with an average of 12,466. By the start of their second season, the club’s membership had doubled to 16,100 members, with another 2,000 on the waiting list. In addition, overall attendance at home games increased to 193,178 in the second season, with an average of 14,860. By their third season, the club had grown to 18,706 season ticket holders.

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The Wanderers’ fanbase is extraordinary regardless of the scoreboards and so, rightfully earn their place as one of the most successful expansion sides in the A-Leagues.

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Paloma Darjani
Covering the Western Sydney Wanderers for the 2021/22 season. Studying a Bachelor of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney.

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