For pretty much exactly half my life I have been a one-eyed and fully-committed Wests Tigers fan. Writing this comes from a place of both frustration and love.
For me, this club means more than just a favourite football team, it is literally like a child of mine. I have a sense of ownership over it, and as it turns 21 I say Wests Tigers, with all due love and respect…it’s time to grow up!
My Tigers following days started on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Kogarah Oval in 1985. I went on to feel the pain of 1988 and 89 and the many frustrations of the 1990s for the Balmain club.
In the post-Super League landscape of the late 90s it became evident that something was going to have to happen if the Tigers were to survive.
It was embarrassing the way the Eels treated us as they courted Balmain as a joint venture partner…clearly only interested in the Tigers brand.
But, thankfully, our much more respectful friends from Wests came along and it just all felt right.
As a Balmain Football Club member, I went along to the extraordinary meeting at Balmain Leagues Club and was in the majority with my fellow members voting for a new era, a new start and a stronger future together.
I must admit, in the back of my mind I was thinking how powerful we would be – a team backed up by three leagues clubs!
Six months later I was at Leichhardt Oval to see Wests Tigers play their first-ever game – a trial against the Northern Eagles that produced a dominant one-sided victory to the boys in black, white and gold.
Things were looking very good! The promise of success didn’t last long.
After a number of setbacks, five short years later we did what I thought might never happen in my lifetime – we won the premiership.
Many people would probably say that no fan should feel that a football team or a club owes them anything, I agree. I don’t feel like the joint venture owes me anything, I am here to the end.
But what I do feel is that it is time for there to be a line drawn in the sand.
There has been many, many sad, embarrassing, frustrating and simply unprofessional moments over the past 20 odd years and things have got to change.
We’ve all lived through these, I don’t need to name them again. Through all this, we Wests Tigers fans have remained optimistic, we have kept our chin up and carried on.
But I believe we are getting to the point that it’s time to gain some respect. And, as we all know, respect is something that only comes through being earned.
As Wests Tigers turn 21, I believe that it’s time for the club to have a real plan for the future and to sell this vision to the fans.
I have been there for all of Wests Tigers history – but it is time to start looking forward, not back.
The Centre of Excellence is a terrific enhancement for the Wests Tigers operation and with it now being (hopefully) a bit over 12 months away I believe now is the time to change this club for the better.
We need to rationalise our home grounds. We need to have a commitment to playing at a ground that provides Wests Tigers fans and sponsors with the best possible amenities and best game day experience.
There needs to be scope to fit all Wests Tigers fans into that facility and for those fans who commit to a season ticket to get to know their fellow fans, renewing and keeping their seat year in, year out.
We need to commit to a jersey design and stick with it for the long haul.
We need a club song that is not just the easy option – using Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger just doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t show confidence, creativity and belief in who/what we are.
In the player market, Wests Tigers need to be much more aggressive, much more dynamic and a lot more protective of our brand and reputation.
I feel at times that we lack confidence in ourselves and I believe that comes across to the rugby league world as a weakness.
There can no longer be room for sentiment in player contract negotiations.
We need to better control the media message, we need to be on the front foot and start setting the agenda around what is being said about Wests Tigers in the papers, on social media and on TV.
Wests Tigers need to stop trying to please everyone, or at least seemingly not wanting to alienate anyone…it just isn’t working.
Wests Tigers need to stop looking back at the past.
Yes, we have a proud and unique history, however, it’s the future, the vision, the dynamic performance of the club that will get the all-important new-generation of fans onboard.
New fans have no emotional connection with the past, often not even to the amazing efforts in the 2005 season, or even the last time Wests Tigers made the finals!
When I look at the Sydney rugby league landscape and compare Wests Tigers to every other Sydney-based team, all I see is unbelievable potential.
We are the only club, perhaps except for the generic Sydney Roosters, that aren’t tied to any particular suburb or area, this is a massive advantage.
Wests Tigers has the best emblem, colours and brand in the game…if only we recognized this! The potential for this brand is unparalleled and could be expanded well beyond our traditional homes/districts.
But it’s not all the club’s responsibility to change things up either. Wests Tigers fans need to be more vocal and less willing to wait for the club to move on things.
Fans who haven’t done so, need to become members (even non-ticketed) and take more ownership over the club. Don’t like something about the club? Tell the club!
As I said at the top, Wests Tigers need to grow up, get some real attitude, stop being seemingly terrified of being awesome and move out of the shadow of its parents.