After 21 rounds, Western Sydney Wanderers sit just one point away from top spot on the Hyundai A-League ladder.

A new club doing so well in their first season has been a sensational story. But is it the unprecedented success some have already hailed it?

We saw the same thing just three years ago, as debutant club Gold Coast United led the A-League ladder after Round 23 in their first season 2009/10.

With experienced stars Jason Culina and Shane Smeltz at the helm, and youngsters Tahj Minniecon and Adama Traore making their names, Gold Coast finished the 2009/10 regular season in third place on the A-League ladder.

There are also a few examples from the NSL days of upstart clubs surprising all in their first (or return) year in the national competition.

Wollongong City Wolves, promoted from the 1987 New South Wales state league, stunned all in their return to the national stage to take out first position on the 1988 NSL ladder.

It was a remarkable year for the Illawarra team, with guest players Trevor Francis and Paul Mariner (from England) and Alan Brazil (Scotland) - who had all played in the 1982 World Cup - assisting the Wolves to the 1988 NSL Premiership on the last day of the regular season.

In 1997/98, brand new club Carlton swept almost all aside in their first NSL season. With teenagers Simon Colosimo, Marco Bresciano and Vince Grella helping tear apart the opposition, the Navy Blues were actually undefeated in their first seven matches of existence in 1997.

Carlton ended the 1997/98 regular season with a 5-0 rout over new-found rivals South Melbourne to finish on the ladder just one win behind South.

But perhaps the most remarkable story of a new team stealing the thunder in the NSL was a club that is still alive and kicking.

If you think Western Sydney's recent entry to the national stage with only a few months preparation was a sudden one then consider the birth of Adelaide United almost 10 years ago.

The Reds emerged out of nowhere just three weeks before the start of the 2003/04 NSL season.

Adelaide United's entry to the NSL followed the sudden withdrawal of foundation national league club Adelaide City on August 31, 2003. Brand new entity United was announced as joining the league on Friday September 12. The season commenced the following Friday, September 19.

Fortunately the 2003/04 league fixtures were rearranged so that Adelaide United, effectively taking Adelaide City's spot in the draw, could defer their first few scheduled games until later in the season.

On October 17 - just five weeks after the club's formation - Adelaide United kicked-off their first NSL game with a spectacular 1-0 win over Brisbane Strikers at an overflowing Hindmarsh Stadium.

It was certainly far cry from Adelaide City's last regular season match at Hindmarsh, watched by just 2200 people earlier that year.

Despite having to squeeze in several mid-week catch-up games after their delayed start, Adelaide United were mid-table by the halfway point of the 2003/04 NSL season, and ended the regular season in third place on the ladder.

And so just like Wollongong finishing at the top of the ladder in their return season in 1988, and new entities Carlton (1997/98), Adelaide United (2003/04) and Gold Coast United (2009/10) each finishing in the ladder's top three in their first seasons, we now see the Western Sydney Wanderers doing quite well so far in 2012/13.

However, while it's all well and good to finish high on the ladder, it's results in the finals that counts for the Championship.

So what happened to these other successful newbies come finals time, when they were pitted against more experienced and established opposition?

Not much really.

Wollongong's home-and-away season success in 1988 came to a sudden halt in the finals series, with successive losses to Sydney Croatia and Marconi denying the Wolves an appearance in the season decider that year.

Carlton's last minor round thrashing of South Melbourne in 1997/98 secured second place on the ladder. But it gave false hope leading into the finals campaign, with successive losses to South Melbourne in the two-legged major semi-final, and defeat by the same club in the 1998 Grand Ginal.

Although Adelaide United continued their regular season winning ways in the early stages of the 2003/04 NSL finals, with dramatic wins over Brisbane Strikers and South Melbourne, elimination with a 5-0 thrashing by Perth Glory in the preliminary final took the gloss off an otherwise respectable first season for the Reds.

And in 2009/10, the A-League's new boys Gold Coast United went down in their first play-off match, succumbing to Newcastle in the elimination final.

It seems first season sensations always fail at the final hurdle.

So while we watch in wonder as the Wanderers win a lengthy streak of matches in early 2013 to guarantee a finals placing in their first A-League season, the team from Sydney's west will have to defy history to avoid bombing out in the play-offs.

Can Tony Popovic, Michael Beauchamp, Shinji Ono and co prove history wrong?

Follow Andrew Howe’s Aussie football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not reflect those of Football Federation Australia.
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Comments (8)
Yes, well, we'll see about the poorest team in the comp winning the plate next week, when they come to Bluetongue after a weeks rest to play the real poorest club, who have to play midweek in the ACL... western mercenaries, the REAL peoples team are waiting for you...
Duke  |  
24 Feb 2013 05:24 PM
Yes the Gillard Government pitched in to the tune of $4million and should be congratulated for doing so. Was this decisive NO. The Wanderers are still probably the poorest team in the comp. The players , Lyall Gorman (exec chairman) and Tony Popovic deserve praise as do the RBB for building a very positive culture around the team and what they stand for. Good to get the historical facts about new entrants, but the Wanderers are transforming the game. Go the Wanderers!
David  |  
23 Feb 2013 11:09 PM
first of all I am a Queenslander (go the roar) so you can my view on the following is not biased. You really have to wonder, given the success of WSW (in terms of support, ect - not necessarily results), wtf were FFA doing trying to establish in North QLD and Gold Coast, ahead of Western Sydney (and a second victorian team for that matter). Somehting I will never understand (along with how the top six of a 10 team comp make the final.
chloesdad  |  
23 Feb 2013 05:07 PM
The government has had nothing to do with the Wanderers success. If the government was involved they would have screwed it up like they do everything else. Just face it, the Wanderers are a huge success and have exceeded all expectations and don't need any help from the government to win games.
John  |  
22 Feb 2013 10:47 AM
@ Bruce really? i mean really? are you talking local, state or federal intervention for this conspiracy? your ignorance is perhaps only rivalled by your poor grammar you do make me laugh though good article and i liked the historical comparisons i agree that WSW are fighting an uphill battle to win the grand final but regardless of what happens over the next couple of months what they have achieved in their first season - after literally being thrown together - is quite remarkable. i truly believe that they have laid the platform to become one of the largest sporting clubs in Australia regardless of codes (and government intervention)
Paraskos  |  
22 Feb 2013 10:08 AM
Sorry Bruce. . . . you are very missguided in your belief that the 'government' had a hand in establishing West Sydney Wanderers and will intervene again to ensure a championship win. You should have attended the New Club 'Fan Forums' for the WSW held last year before making unfounded comments. Wanderers to WIN.
JOHN  |  
22 Feb 2013 09:32 AM
Of course the Wanderers will win. The Government intervened in soccer massively to set them up and knock out any other teams from entering, and they will intervene again to make sure they win.
Bruce  |  
21 Feb 2013 08:04 PM
A sports writers article and well presented. History is about change!. Brisbane Roar created history with the longest undefeated run of any team in any football code in Australia a year or two back. In analysing Western Sydney Wanderer's game plan for the 21 rounds todate, the team and individual players have built a resolution factor that other Clubs haven't been able to comprehend. It's not just a system but a belief that everyone contributes. There are two issues interwoven in your article. The first being the highly valued 'first past the post' premiership which Western Sydney Wanderers can win and the second prize is the final series championship which carries a much higher degree of who plays and the luck on the day. The premiership is the one to win as this says that your Club was the best over the football season. Go WANDERERS.
JOHN  |  
21 Feb 2013 02:19 PM

Andrew Howe

Andrew Howe is a football fanatic and statistician who provides Football Federation Australia with a wealth of historical stats and data on Australian football.