Football Federation Australia boss David Gallop has issued a blunt warning to new AFL chief executive, Gillon McLachlan: hands off the Western Sydney Wanderers.
The runaway success of the Wanderers – formed virtually overnight in 2012 and on a fraction of the GWS Giants’ mammoth budget – has been the source of amazement among those at AFL House, not least from the game’s highest office.
But instead of fighting the rival sport – currently in the midst of unprecedented growth – the AFL has instead held out the olive branch in the hope of joint growth in western Sydney.
However, Gallop told Fairfax Media that the suggestion the two codes could work together seemed implausible in the current environment.
“What would that [working with the AFL] entail? At the end of the day, we are in a competitive environment,” Gallop said. “We want people to choose our game to play and watch.
“Our popularity is booming and we are going to concentrate on our sport – and the business of our sport.”
Speaking at a western Sydney business lunch hosted by the Giants last Friday, which was attended by Wanderers’ chief executive John Tsatsimas, McLachlan said he liked the idea of the two clubs working together, hailing the Wanderers’ success as good for the Giants.
“I think it’s great for us. I think the success of the Wanderers is actually incredibly exciting for the Giants – a community binding behind one team,” he said. “I think if we can collaborate and partner with the Wanderers ongoing, I think that’d be fantastic. This is a very big market.
“I think seeing teams being successful out here is great for us and what we think we can achieve with the Giants.”
Apart from the Wanderers’ week-to-week success, the AFL remains envious of the popularity of the A-League Sydney derby, which has ascended into the pantheon of the nation’s must-attend sporting events.
Remarkably, of the seven times the Wanderers have played Sydney FC, six times the match has sold out.
Matches between the Giants and the Sydney Swans have never sold out; nor have they ever come close. While the Giants finally defeated their older brothers in round one this season, the relative disparity between the two teams has dented the credibility of the rivalry.
However, speaking at a school visit in Auburn Public School in Sydney’s west on Monday, McLachlan said the east-west rivalry would soon be replicated in the AFL.
“Some ask if we’re concerned about the success of the Western Sydney Wanderers. Quite the contrary – we are delighted by what they have achieved as it only further enhances Western Sydney’s status as one of the great sporting regions in Australia,” he said.
“I’ve also got no doubt that it won’t be long before the Giants’ rivalry with the Swans is akin to that between Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers: clubs from the east and west fighting for bragging rights in front of packed stadiums across the city.”
Privately, the FFA is still fuming at the way the AFL has responded to its requests to find a suitable venue for the A-League grand final, should Melbourne Victory or Melbourne City – two of the favourites for this year’s title – win the rights to host the event.
The FFA is looking to secure either Etihad Stadium, which has already hosted three A-League grand finals, or the MCG. The date it is looking at is Sunday, May 17, which is later than usual because of the break for the Asian Cup in January.
However, the AFL claims Victory and the Docklands stadium management approached it in July about keeping May 10 free and says it was only alerted to the request for a change in dates a fortnight ago.
Should a suitable venue not be found in Victoria, and the opponent be from NSW, the Victory is even contemplating shifting the match to ANZ Stadium to capitalise on a blockbuster pay day.