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It’s all in the numbers: Wests Tigers have to get out of the big smoke

The 1992 Western Suburbs Magpies drew good crowds at Campbelltown

The 1992 Western Suburbs Magpies drew good crowds at Campbelltown, where they were relocated in 1987.

The Townsville area has a population of around 180,000 and are able to support a successful club in the National Rugby League competition.

In less than 20 years’ time, the population of Campbelltown – currently not much less than Townsville – will be around 230,000.

If you include both the Macarthur region and Liverpool, we’re talking close to half a million people.

Despite those figures, some people have recently called for our major footy club, the Wests Tigers, to be relocated to Perth.

In the entire south west region of Sydney there is only one sporting club that competes at a major national football competition – the Wests Tigers.

Some people will point to the Western Sydney Wanderers in the A-League and the Greater Western Sydney Giants in the AFL.

Fair point, but I am talking about that area south west of Henry Lawson Drive and Cowpasture Road, places like Fairfield, Liverpool, Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly.

The Perth call, you should know, was not much more than the sensationalism you get from the print journalists these days, trying to get some attention from the public too distracted by their iphones.

But it did serve one good purpose – people thought about the issue of how to squeeze nine league teams in a city of almost 5 million people.

I wouldn’t have thought it would be that hard if some common sense was applied to the matter.

Manly are OK because they’re on their own on the northern beaches and the Cronulla Sharks are in a similar position.

Penrith have got Penrith, and Parramatta are OK, too, in terms of area.

St George, who play out of Kogarah and Wollongong do have an issue.

My guess is that they should completely relocate to the Illawarra – which is not that far from their spiritual home, where they can play one match a season.

The problems for the NRL are in inner city Sydney.

First of all the population is not there to support several rugby league clubs, and what there is has divided loyalties: Swans, Waratahs, Sydney FC and so on.

Add the NRL clubs, Souths, Bulldogs, Roosters and the Wests Tigers, who are based at Concord, and you’d have to agree that it’s at least one too many.

The solution is easy in theory: completely relocate the Wests Tigers to south west Sydney.

But in the longer run this won’t solve the problem of too many league clubs in the inner city market jostling for fans and the corporate dollar with too many competitors.

On the weekend the Voice Facebook page shared a column by Brett Kimmorley, which called for the two joint venture clubs to move to south west Sydney and the Illawarra.

One or two people expressed a view that having the Tigers in Campbelltown won’t draw good crowds.

The truth is local people have voted with their feet since the club reduced local home games from six to three, before going back to four a couple of years ago.

The Western Suburbs Magpies were relocated here lock, stock and barrel in 1987 and received excellent support from the local rugby league community.

To prove the point I dug out some crowd figures from the 1992 season when Warren Ryan was the coach.

In the year Jason Taylor was the club’s top pointscorer with 108 points, the Magpies’ average home crowd at Orana Park – as it was still known then – was 8,814.

The biggest home crowd that season was 11,842 against Balmain Tigers in round 16.

Considering that was 25 years ago, they aren’t bad numbers at all, especially when Campbelltown’s population was nowhere near the 160,000 it is now.

The Wests Tigers also drew big crowds at Campbelltown in 2000.

The Wests Tigers also drew big crowds at Campbelltown in 2000. The decline in crowds can be traced back to the decision to play only three matches a season there.

Let’s have a look at the attendances in the first year of the joint venture between Balmain and Wests in 2000, when each area was allocated six home games.

Against the Broncos 15,376 fans turned up at the recently upgraded Campbelltown Sport Stadium.

There were even more when the Bulldogs came to town, 18,119 fans were counted through the gates that day.

The Roosters drew 12,225, while 15,263 fans attended the match against St George later that season.

Only one match drew less than 10,000, the very last clash of the season when the 1999 premiers Melbourne came to Campbelltown for the first time.

History shows that a club based here, trains here and mixes with the local people every day, will be supported strongly on match days.

As a journalist who has lived and worked here for more than 30 years I have no doubt that rugby league is still the most popular sport in the south west Sydney region.

There’s been a decline, certainly, but league is still king here.

All it needs to secure its future is a full time club.






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