A fan first: Why Santalab joined the Wanderers

It was hard to escape the hype of Western Sydney Wanderers’ inaugural season back in 2012 and not even the great firewall of China could block its reach. The infectious atmosphere around the birth of Australian football’s next giant captivated the region and as they steam-rolled their way to a premiership in their debut year, the passion behind the club and its supporters seeped all the way to central China.
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In the isolated metropolis of Chongqing was one of those instantly converted. In spite of the frustratingly slow online stream, a 30-year-old Brendon Santalab would watch the newly formed club’s every game. After being seduced by the devotion of the fans, he made up his mind that he would one day join the club.

“I was playing in China at the time, I read a lot on the internet, I watched games,” Santalab said. “I actually said to myself that I would love to be a part of that.”

While playing for Chongqing Lifan in the Chinese second tier, the Wanderers were put on Santalab’s radar from the moment their inaugural coach, Tony Popovic tried to sign Santalab in 2012. Popovic tried again in the January transfer window of the Wanderers’ first season but again a deal couldn’t be struck.

By the time a third attempt at signing Santalab was finally concluded before the start of the 2013-14 season, they weren’t just signing a long-term target, but also a fully fledged supporter.

“When I joined the Wanderers, I was already a big fan,” he said. “I had already dreamed about playing at that club, then I got to join the best club – at that point in time – in Australia with the best coach and a club growing with a dream like no other.”

A man who shared the passion from the stands quickly became a fan favourite and his record in the Sydney Derby cemented his status. It’s not just that his right boot delivered the Wanderers’ last two wins over their fiercest rivals but the intensity in which he plays reflects that demanded by the club’s members, perhaps marked by the four yellow cards he’s received against Sydney FC.

The 35-year-old is set to start his first game of the season in Saturday’s Sydney Derby in place of the injured Oriol Riera. It’s a match he dreamed of playing since watching on a laptop in China. Now in the final year of his contract, in the twilight of his career, he knows it could be one of the last he starts in before he’ll one day be singing from the stands.

“All the hard work you put in over the years comes down to just 90 minutes in a Sydney Derby. Being at my age, I don’t know how many more derbies there will be for me. It’s a moment for me to focus and think of creating more history,” he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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