"We're back, baby."
With those three words from chief executive John Tsatsimas, the Western Sydney Wanderers shut the door on a painful era and began to bask in the promise of a bright new dawn.
Bankwest Stadium is more than just a place to play football. For the Wanderers, it's everything. The long wait has been made even more excruciating by watching the rugby codes play at Parramatta over the winter months. Australian football's sleeping giants can wake up again.
Dovetailing with the A-League's looming independence, and the power that will shortly be wielded by club owners as they assume control of the competition, the stadium takes on almost symbolic significance. This is what the future of the game could look like. With the new turf perfectly manicured, football goals erected at either end and safe-standing rails installed, it feels real, for the first time.
And the contrast with what Wanderers fans have endured through what Tsatsimas described as "the longest three years in history" couldn't be sharper. With more than 25,000 fans expected to pack in for Saturday night's friendly against Leeds United, the stadium's steep grandstands will be rocking.
There is genuine anticipation about Western Sydney games now, which simply could not be said at ANZ Stadium or the Sydney Showground.
The sense of sheer relief across all aspects of the club – the players, coaches, administrators and the rank-and-file – is palpable. You could feel it in the air on Thursday as the Wanderers held their annual Gold Star Lunch at Bankwest, where Tsatsimas delivered his three-word declaration with all the zeal of an evangelist preacher.
The next day, coach Markus Babbel oversaw his first training session at the ground. It was the team's second, but Babbel missed last week's run because he was in bed with the flu. The smile on his face told the story.
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