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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

The Western Core: The first supporter group affected by the APL's Grand Final sale

Western United supporter and Western Core member Brooke Muscat recently spoke to Front Page Football about the bittersweet feeling of watching her side make a Grand Final but having to travel to Sydney to cap off a fairytale season. Despite winning the first final, which traditionally decides the Grand Final's hosting rights, Western United face Sydney FC in the Harbour City in today's Grand Final.

The Western Core will be forced to travel to Sydney to watch their side compete in their inaugural Grand Final. (Twitter: @TheWesternCore)


When Western United was granted its A-League Women's license for season 2022/23, most outsiders would have thought the league's newest side would have a competitive first season, competing to make the Finals Series if the stars aligned.


A foundation Western United member and a Calder United fan since the two clubs aligned, Brooke Muscat was well aware of the quality young players accompanying experienced stars such as Jessica McDonald, TJ Vlajnic, Chloe Logarzo, and Hannah Keane in the club's inaugural season.


Months after Western United claimed the A-League Men championship in their home city of Melbourne, albeit as the away side to premiers Melbourne City, their women's side was flying high in the opening months of the 2022/23 A-League Women season. Hopes of the A-League Women's side duplicating the men's Grand Final exploits in Melbourne were dashed by the APL's unpopular decision to sell all Grand Finals to Sydney for the next three seasons, which left Muscat and countless stakeholders around the league angry and upset.


"It was devastating; there’s no denying that, especially after just having a taste of Grand Final success in the A-League Men’s. The impact the Grand Final had on the club as a whole was massive last season," Muscat shared.


In their first year as a supporter group, The Western Core has experienced some unforgettable moments, celebrating their players' achievements on the pitch and getting to know them personally after matches. Travelling to Sydney for the Semi-Final and seeing her side defeat Sydney FC was a "surreal" moment for Muscat. But despite Western winning a game that would have traditionally earned them the right to host the Grand Final any other season, it meant the club and their fans would have to return to Sydney today for the big dance.


Muscat stated that the disappointment of missing out on what would have been a hard-earned home Grand Final feels worse when thinking of the effect the men's Grand Final had on the club, with fans bringing along friends for the big day, some that have stuck around to support the club since.


"Those people are now fans of the club and attend regular season games. We’ve lost that opportunity now; we’ve lost the potential reach that a Grand Final can bring. It’s so much more than a home-ground advantage," she said.


A group of fans often neglected in this conversation are the juniors who look up to senior players and watch them play at home every week. With Western United's squad mainly made up of Calder United players, the impact is much more poignant, according to Muscat.


"Our home games are predominantly full of families with young children, and you’ll also see a lot of girls in Calder United kits watching their role models out there on the pitch. It genuinely saddens me to know that a very large majority, if not all of those young girls, will miss out on watching their heroes potentially win a Grand Final," she added.


"It’s these things that are clearly not considered in the decision-making process. I feel for the fans, I feel for the players, and I feel for the club."


As upsetting as it is for the fans, Muscat considers the players as fellow innocent victims of the Grand Final sale.


"They (players) deserve that atmosphere, they deserve to be at home, they deserve to sleep in their own beds the night before, they deserve to not have to get on a plane, they deserve the advantage, and they deserve the opportunity to create so many positive memories for not just the people of the west but for themselves, with as much friends and family surrounding them," she said.


"I feel for everyone else, and I feel for the team, as they deserve to look out to the crowd and see a sea of green and black supporting them. Instead, we have no idea how many people will be able to join us in the stands on the big day."


Despite being heartbroken that the Grand Final will not occur in Melbourne, Muscat and The Western Core have decided to return to Sydney a fortnight after travelling for the Semi-Final. Muscat stated that the club's stance on the issue makes her and her group's decision much more straightforward.


"Our decision to attend stems from the fact that our club publicly and internally expressed how against the APL’s decision they were. They were, I believe, the only club to put out a clear statement expressing their disagreement and disappointment in the decision and continued driving that at our club, the fans come first," she said.

"They (the club) have been extremely supportive in The Western Core’s banners and signage expressing our displeasure of the APL’s decision and respected the decision of walkouts at the A-League Men’s games by our friends at the Western Service Crew."

 

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While The Western Core will attend the Grand Final, the group understands, respects, and supports anyone who wishes to boycott the Grand Finals due to the APL's decision. Having followed the team from their earliest point, though, Muscat feels that not showing up on the biggest day would be like letting down a family member.


"Whilst we know they (the players) would understand (fans not attending), they should not be punished and should not have to play in arguably the biggest game in some of their careers with no one there in their corner supporting them. We are such a tight-knit club; not attending would feel like I wasn’t attending a family member's Grand Final!" Muscat said.


Days after making the Grand Final, Muscat confessed that The Western Core had yet to hear from the APL about any transportation and accommodation subsidies promised to help fans travel when the decision was announced. Instead, members had received an offer for free premium tickets, which left fans like Muscat deeply unimpressed, feeling there was an ulterior motive behind the generosity.


"For transparency, all we have been offered so far is a code for free premium reserve seats, which, funnily enough, are all seats on the side that will be viewable on the broadcast. A clear and obvious strategy to make the crowd look full on the broadcast," Muscat said.

"I mean, it’s a brilliant idea that directly benefits them (APL), but ideally, these free tickets on offer to WUFC members should be in our home bay, not where it benefits the APL most."


The concept of releasing transportation and accommodation subsidies was so fans knew where the Grand Final was played months before and could book and plan. These subsidies should have been available long ago to anyone wanting to travel.


Western United has not put a foot wrong in their first A-League Women's season, setting an example for how most of the competition should operate their women's programs. Their loyal, growing fanbase has supported the club throughout a fairytale journey.


But Western's players and administrators have been forced to travel for a Grand Final they would have hosted in any other season. To rub salt in Western's wounds, the "visitors" on paper, Sydney FC, will have the advantage of playing in their home city, despite falling to their fellow Grand Finalists two weeks ago.


Fans will pay the price for a decision made without their input, the best-case scenario is seeing them fork out large sums of money to see their team take a shot at immortality, and the worst case seeing them at home, price-locked out of an event that should have taken place in their city.


Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the A-Leagues.

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