Heartland needs love

MAGGIES, MAGGIES, MAGGIES: A scene from Orana Park (now Campbelltown Sports Stadium) in the late 1980s, with enthusiastic young fans cheering on our new "local" team. To paraphrase Tom Cruise, they had us at hello.
MAGGIES, MAGGIES, MAGGIES: A scene from Orana Park (now Campbelltown Sports Stadium) in the late 1980s, with enthusiastic young fans cheering on our new "local" team. To paraphrase Tom Cruise, they had us at hello.

My dictionary describes a home ground as “the field a sports team usually plays and practices on”.

Usually. Hmmm.

Out of 12 Wests Tigers home games allocated for next season, just three of them will be played at Campbelltown Sports Stadium. That’s one less than in 2017.

Mayor George Brticevic calls it “disappointing”

 I agree with George, but would add five extra words: We. Need. A. Local. Team.

A team that truly regards Macarthur as home, not a place to visit every now again to try to keep the Rabbitohs at bay – who actually played a “home” trial game at Campbelltown earlier this year.

This seems so sad, when we remember the excitement and pride of the 2005 grand final, and the days when local patriots like Steve Noyce of Ruse ran the club, with then-coach Tim Sheens publicly speaking of his desire of establishing a club HQ here. Seems so long ago.

In more recent years, the club (under very different leadership) almost seemed to hate Campbelltown, snarling at us at every opportunity, failed to return this newspaper’s calls, and gave us the impression we should be grateful for any scraps we were thrown from the table. At the same time, possible HQ sites were mooted at Ryde, Liverpool, and basically anywhere but Macarthur.

Now they whinge at us if if the crowds are small at Leumeah. To put it bluntly, it was Wests Tigers that dropped the ball, not us.

One of the more controversial front page headlines I ran when I was editor, in 2010, was a screaming headline: “Easts Tigers”.

That was the year Wests Tigers finished in the top four teams and therefore got rewarded with a home ground advantage in the semi-finals.

A few other teams did too – such as the Penrith Panthers who chose to play at Penrith in front of cheering Penrith crowds. Penrith is a Penrith team and regards Penrith as its home ground. Easy.

It was a bit harder for St George-Illawarra, a joint venture, but it went with Jubilee Oval, in saints territory.

So, did Wests Tigers toss a coin between Leumeah or Leichhardt? Neither. It’s, um, “home game” was held in Sydney’s eastern suburbs at the SFS (Allianz), the home ground of, believe it or not, our opponents that day! The Roosters’ fans couldn't believe their luck, packed the ground, and cheered on as their team won.

Dunno about you, but that decision marked a watershed with me, and perhaps sums up the Wests Tigers identity crisis: its fan base in Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly (a growth centre demographic most clubs would kill for) were told their “home ground” was a soulless stadium on the far side of Sydney next to Paddington and Randwick.

That’s not a home ground, that’s a financial deal.

Re the slap on the wrist at Leumeah next season, Wests Tigers said the game taken away would be played outside Sydney, as it is important to “develop the game across multiple locations.”

I agree. But that game should be coming from ANZ stadium, not the suburban grounds. It’s no good developing fan bases in Dubbo, or interstate, if it is losing its own unloved heartland.

The Macarthur area is capable of great love, it just has to feel loved back.

This is up to Wests Tigers to fix, not us. Here’s a hint: it doesn’t take more “visits” to Macarthur, it takes being part of Macarthur.

We need a local team.

It’s our turn to be the club HQ

To understand why Macarthur feels so unloved by Wests Tigers recently, you perhaps have to cast your mind back to 1967.

Campbelltown had one of the best lower grade teams in NSW, and was a proposed growth centre for young families. A perfect fit as one of two new outer Sydney teams to join the first grade comp. 

But alas, no. Penrith and Cronulla were chosen instead. We would have to wait until the next intake. When it came, in 1982, we were screwed again as they leapfrogged us to invite Illawarra and Canberra teams instead.

The only way we got a look in, in 1987, was embracing a fobbed off inner city club, Western Suburbs Magpies. A humbling scenario, but Campbelltown did it with pride and gusto.

I was a young reporter at early games at Orana Park and recall the local passion building, as we eventually cheered on homegrown talents such as Skando and the McGuinesses.

Thanks to Rupert Murdoch, Campbelltown’s team looked set to vanish again, in the wake of the Super League war, until we merged with the Balmain Tigers in 1999.

I totally get that a joint venture has to be shared. But in the almost two decades since it kicked off, Balmain and Ashfield/Concord have been at the epicentre of things and even local homegrown players have to move in there to train.

When is it Macarthur’s turn at being the HQ?