EVER since their launch in June, the Western Sydney Wanderers have maintained their ambition to be a community club and coach Tony Popovic believes they have gone a long way to winning the hearts and minds of that community with a spirited A-League debut on Saturday night.
The Wanderers showed no sign of stage fright against the Central Coast Mariners, demonstrating a fighting spirit that Popovic said would already have endeared them to Australia's ''football heartland''.
''They want to win, which is very important, and that resonates with the people of the west,'' Popovic said after the game. ''They're winners. They work hard for their dollar; they work hard to strive for things in their life and hopefully that's a reflection of the team they watched today.''
As hard-earned as the fans' dollars may be, they were spent freely after the game, with reports that many merchandise stands at Parramatta Stadium sold out of the Wanderers home jersey. That will further cheer the players, who were given a warm and raucous welcome by their new fans, who have dubbed themselves the ''Red & Black Bloc'', as the team ran out to be greeted by a giant banner reading ''Football Comes Home''.
''It was great to see a lot of shirts out there, it was nice. It was great for the players,'' Popovic said.
''You could feel it before the game that there was a lot of passionate people here. They want to support a team; they want a team in the west.''
The Wanderers surprised many by outplaying the Mariners, showing great maturity by sitting deep and hitting the visitors on the counter.
Their fast-paced attack created seven attempts on target and drew cheers from the stands but their coach was not surprised at the benchmark they set themselves for the rest of the season.
''We set ourselves high expectations,'' Popovic said. ''We said that we will be very competitive [on] the first day that we took on this project, and we had no doubt that we would be.
''Each day we want to improve, and that's what we've done since day one,'' the coach said.