Sunday, April 13, 2014

Opinion Piece: Campbelltown's Poor Crowd

The disappointing crowd at Campbelltown this Saturday stems from issues going way back.

In 1987 the area had the Western Suburbs Magpies forced upon them. It was not their own team, but an inner city team relocated to the population growth area.

Though the Magpies were somewhat successful in 1991 and 1992, it was not with local players but with a team based on imported players and an imported coach.

Wests Tigers crowd of 6456 at Campbelltown 2014

In 1995 Tommy Raudonikis rebuilt the Magpies into a successful team that by 1996 made the semi finals. This time the side was comprised primarily of local players. The team trained in the area, lived in the area, embraced the area and the fans responded. Finally this felt like “THEIR” team.  Unfortunately just when things were looking up for Wests, dark clouds rolled over Rugby League.

1997… Super League.

Money talked and the rest walked. All the good work the Magpies had done became null and void overnight. They just couldn’t compete with the cash being thrown around by the bigger clubs. This led to two wooden spoons, small crowds and their exit from the NRL. Important growth areas like the Macarthur, Central Coast, Gold Coast, Illawarra and Perth were tossed away in favour of the traditional established markets.

The Magpies only option for survival was a joint venture. St George beat Wests to partnering with Illawarra, and the geographically sensible partnership with the Bulldogs looked more like a hostile  take-over.  Wests only option was to jump into bed with fellow foundation club Balmain.

Again the Macarthur area was forced into a new arrangement that would see them with 50% less games a year being played at Campbelltown, and many of their local players being forced out of the game in favour of Wayne Pearce’s Balmain boys.

Wests negotiated that the team was to wear a Black Wests “inspired” jersey for half the games a year, and that the Magpie logo was to be permanently placed on the shoulder of ALL Wests Tigers jerseys.

Wests Tigers vs Broncos in 2000
The first game of the Joint Venture at Campbelltown was against the Brisbane Broncos. The area was willing to give the new identity a chance with 15,376 people turning up.

Unfortunately results didn’t follow and with a few on and off field dramas, the club’s support dwindled. So much so that by the end of 2004 Wests Tigers reduced the games played at Campbelltown and Leichhardt to 3 games each for the following season.

Board room support for the joint venture was now at an all-time low with the deep divisions between Wests and Balmain beginning to surface.

But these divisions were put on the sidelines with the amazing mid-year turn around the team had in 2005 that led all the way to the Wests Tigers first premiership. A record 20,527 people turned up at Campbelltown Stadium to watch Wests Tigers beat the Cowboys. The club’s on-field success puttied over the cracks. Things seemed to be heading on the right track, but even though on the exterior everything appeared ok, the foundation still remained fractured.

In 2006 Tim Sheens put in place a plan that would eventually bring the joint venture close to breaking point.
Rightly or wrongly, Tim Sheens wanted all the fringe players in a single NSW Cup side, and he chose to have them play for the Balmain Tigers. Now all Wests Tigers contracted players would play in a Balmain Jersey and would train a stone’s throw away from Leichhardt at Concord Oval in Sydney’s Inner West.

Campbelltown Stadium then played only 3 NRL games a year and mostly against out of state teams. The majority of the players lived and trained in the inner west, merchandise was predominately Black and Gold and the Wests Magpies Football Club was in turmoil.

These decisions greatly upset the Wests side of the joint venture and led to a general feeling that Wests and the Macarthur were being treated as second class citizens. This peaked in 2011 when the decision was made to remove the Magpies from the NSW Cup. At the last minute after much public outcry the decision was overturned and the Magpies and Balmain again fielded separate teams. 
No Magpie Logo on Sleeve 
Balmain with their NRL fringe players (including many Magpie Juniors) made the NSW Cup Grand Final. The Magpies with a thrown together team with no NRL experience and no Wests Tigers support, came dead last.

Wests had reached the darkest of times. The Magpies dropped down to 3rd grade Ron Massey Cup, Wests Tigers ran out on the field wearing a jersey without the Magpie logo on their sleeves and Wests Campbelltown Leagues Club pulled the pin. 

The Wests in the Wests Tigers had been all but removed. Throw in bad weather, supporters from the Inner West reluctance to travel to Campbelltown and playing an out-of-state team, it’s no surprise that Campbelltown’s crowd was so disappointing.

The question is, how will the Wests Tigers rebuild local support in Macarthur?

By Graeme Szynal
This opinion piece is the authors own and does not represent the official view of the Western Suburbs Magpies Football Club. 

Check out Wests Tigers Crowd Stats here:


Trevor Atkins said...

maybe its not an official opinion but it should be! to me,the only way to right these wrongs is to get Wests Campbelltown back involved & put money into a senior Magpies team,remove most of the orange & get the team based in the area. theres to many people that are looking at short term ways to make cash & not considering the long term benefits to the club & the game in general.

Anonymous said...

Overall..Campbeltown crowds are better that of Leichhardt..Go do the figures..Leave Campbelltown alone..