• Patrick Brischetto

How Dino and the Wanderers Captured the Heart of Western Sydney

It’s a dreary and chilly December afternoon in 2012 as Western Sydney Wanderers striker Dino Kresinger prepares to take the field at Parramatta Stadium. For the previous 70 minutes the Wanderers and fellow strugglers Brisbane Roar have been locked in a stalemate.

The newly-formed Wanderers have had an inconsistent start to the season, having to wait four rounds for their first goal and win; two straight losses leaving them in 8th place. The season-low crowd of 6,705 suggests that the club is failing to capture the attention of Sydney’s west in the way that was hoped.

Kresinger himself has so far failed to live up to expectations. His statistics are bleak; no goals or assists. Indeed some fans have already seen enough, as his introduction into the game was greeted by a smattering of boos and jeers. They can’t see how Kresinger would be able to help land a decisive blow.

The events that would transpire in the next 15 minutes and indeed the following weeks would not only transform Kresinger and his status, but the fortunes of an entire club.

Just 10 minutes after coming onto the pitch, Kresinger wins a penalty for his side, which is dispatched to give his side a crucial 1-0 win. Jeers just minutes before are replaced by chants of “Dino, Dino, Dino.” The big Croatian has helped his side to a crucial three points.

And the redemption arc would be complete two weeks later in a 6-1 home trouncing of Adelaide. It was a night of ‘firsts’ for the club. A first hat-trick for Mark Bridge, first time scoring more than two goals in a game, but the most important ‘first’ in that game came in first-half stoppage time.

As I was walking down the stairs to beat the half-time queue at the toilets, I hear a roar go up. As I race back to my seat to see what happened I can here everyone around me saying “He scored! He scored!” Yes, on that fateful December night Dino Kresinger would finally break his goal duck, with a cushioned header after a one-two with Shinji Ono. And to this day it remains the only goal I have missed when watching a Wanderers game live, and what a goal to miss!

This would be the game that put the Wanderers on the map. They would go on to win 12 of their last 15 games on the way to securing the minor premiership. They would go on to reach the Grand Final, however they were unable to secure the championship, losing 2-0 to the Central Coast Mariners.

Kresinger and Shinjo Ono with the Premiers Plate

But it was also the day that a cult hero was born. Dino Kresinger, the man from Çakovec, Croatia would endear himself to the people of Western Sydney. Soon word would spread of his genius and footballing prowess. Thousands would flock to grounds around the country to see the man at work. With flying limbs and elbows, he was a raging bull powered by rakija and the finest ćevapi from Edensor Park. Young footballers worldwide would pray that they could one day emulate the great man himself…

Ok, whilst most of that last paragraph is ‘far-fetched’ to put it lightly, Kresinger genuinely featured prominently in the Wanderers run home in that fabled season and began to make a more notable contribution to the team. His strength to hold up the ball and ability to flick on the ball to other players would be a constant source of trouble for defences, allowing the likes of Bridge, Shinji Ono and Youssouf Hersi to create constant goal scoring chances for the team. He would consistently press opposition defences off the ball, with many of his defensive efforts recognised with the crowd chanting his name, to which he would respond by fist-pumping the club crest on his shirt.

However he would save his greatest contribution for the semi-final against Brisbane Roar. In front of a packed Parramatta Stadium, Kresinger would score the first goal of the game with an uncharacteristically flashy back-heel flick in the first half, and providing the assist for Shinji Ono’s brilliant second goal.

Brisbane's Jade North being comprehensively overpowered by Kresinger's presence in the Semi Final

Kresinger would finish the season with two goals and three assists to his name. Hardly statistics that you want to attribute to your main striker, but regardless the club still achieved great things.

The fact is though, there were so many reasons the Wanderers should not have succeeded in that first season. They were a club that was built from scratch in 6 months, built up mostly by rejects from other A-League clubs that were considered not good enough for the A-League, and by unknown foreigners. Shinji Ono was the only big name signing but even he was overshadowed by the arrival of Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero to Sydney FC. The Wanderers also had a rookie manager and no proper training facilities.

Yet these rejects and misfits managed to go above and beyond what was expected of them. A centre-back partnership of Michael Beauchamp and Nikolai Topor-Stanley became the league's best. Mateo Poljak and Iacopo La Roca would become midfield anchors and chip in with goals and assists. Even Mark Bridge, who would go on to commit many crimes against football in subsequent seasons, got himself 11 goals and became a key attacking outlet for the Wanderers.

Kresinger was emblematic of the entire club that season. Both were unknown quantities, with no one knowing what to expect of them. An uninspiring start leading to some writing both of them off, before a resurgence that became one of the great footballing stories of that year. A story that concluded when the club did what no Australian club has done before or since; winning the Asian Champions League in 2014 at their first attempt.

Kresinger would end up being released at the end of the season, and despite knowing it was probably the right decision from a footballing point of view, many fans couldn’t help but feel a bit sad that we would no longer be able to see Dino in action for the Red and Black.

Those of us who were there that first season can always smile when we think about that team, with the glorious bald head of Dino Kresinger leading the line, fist pumping his way into our hearts.

It’s the fairytale story the Wanderers have become famous for.

The rejects and misfits lift the Asian Champions League

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