Western United shoot for A-League Men’s history in grand final against Melbourne City

The shades of green and black grace the inside of a small cafe on a main road in Melbourne’s western suburbs.

Streamers and balloons hang on the walls, homemade green and black cookies are on the counter, and mom and son co-owners Rhonda and Lee Hayhow proudly wear their Western United scarves as they pour coffee.

“When we first heard there was going to be a club in the west, we knew we had to get on board,” Lee said.

“’Westies are really good at supporting each other in the community.

A man shaved a W in his head
Western United fans are buying into the hype of the grand finale in all sorts of ways.Supplied: Western United

Lee and Rhonda are excited. Western United will play the biggest game in their short history on Saturday.

In just its third season, the young club representing West Victoria has reached the men’s A-League grand final.

United face a mammoth task against defending champions Melbourne City, an established club with bigger names and more resources.

“‘Westies are used to being underdogs in the sport and in a lot of other ways,” Lee said.

“Nobody tipped us to beat Melbourne Victory, but here we are.”

If United hadn’t already notified Australian football, last week’s win over Victory would have done the job.

United defied the odds of reaching the decider with a 4-1 victory in the second leg of the semi-final, ending Victory’s 16-game unbeaten run and thwarting Victory’s own fairytale story.

“Just make it to the first final [against Victory] was exciting … and then to get all the way through the grand finale, I think, exceeded everyone’s expectations,” said Rhonda.

Two people wear green and black scarves and display a Western United football on a counter
Rhonda and Lee Hayhow proudly show their loyalty at their West Footscray cafe.ABC News: Tom Maddocks

A field of dreams

It was a difficult start for United.

After three seasons, their promised stadium in Tarneit is still largely dirty, and the board admitted the initial two-year build time was ambitious.

However, construction has begun and completion is scheduled for May 2023.

It means they have played home games in Geelong, Ballarat, Melbourne and even Tasmania, and have demanded a lot from the developing fan base.

“A lot of people were talking about, ‘Are they really going to build their own stadium?'” said coach John Aloisi of those who questioned the team’s poor performance last season.

“‘Are they really going to build their own training facility? Do they really represent the West?’

“Well, we do, and a lot of hard work has gone into it.”

New Kids On The Block

A green Western United flag is waved for supporters holding up green scarves
Western United supporters enjoyed the win over their city rivals last week.Getty Images: Daniel Pockett

United’s fan base may be small in number, but big in spirit.

“As a new club people will always try to write you off and… [say] that you’re irrelevant, you shouldn’t be here,” said fan Jay Sutcliffe.

A group of men stands and sits with beer glasses in their hands in green and black
The Western Service Crew travels far and wide to support Western United.Delivered: Western service crew

Jay is from the Western Service Crew, a group of 30 to 40 passionate, mostly local supporters who love to travel far and wide to cheer on United loudly.

They meet in a pub before the game and discuss tactics on social media during the week.

“Honestly, I couldn’t be more proud of the team,” said Jay.

“We’ve had a hard time at times. Especially because we don’t have our own purpose-built stadium, we’ve moved a lot. But they’ve dug deep and played fantastic football.

“Whether or not we push the weekend to the limit, we will still be very, very proud of how far the club has come in three short Covid-affected years.”

United as underdog: ‘We’ll show you’

Adisu Bayew smiles and shakes a teammate's hand
Adisu Bayew says it’s “great” to play for a club that represents the western suburbs.MONKEY: Scott Gardiner

For some United players, such as Sudanese-born Adisu Bayew, playing for the club is a dream come true, having grown up in the western suburbs.

“Once Western United came into being, it was honestly something amazing for me,” said Bayew.

The emerging talent rose through the ranks of junior club Green Gully, then earned his shot at United’s seniors after starring in the National Premier League.

†[United] wasn’t far from where I lived,” he said.

“I also had friends who played here.”

United go into the grand final against Melbourne City as an underdog, a tag they use as motivation.

Dylan Pierias points as he runs past a goal with a soccer ball in the net
Dylan Pierias says Western United has been one of the best teams in the A-League men’s league all year.Getty Images: Steve Bell

“We’ve been one of the best teams all year and we’ve been overlooked,” said Dylan Pierias, the winger and western suburbs.

“We were underdogs in every game, even when we had five or six wins in a row… and we just accepted it and said, ‘Well, we’ll show you.’”

Win or lose, players and fans said the team had earned the respect it deserved.

“I think it will be great for the A-League in general to see a team that’s only been here three years can do it.”

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