In the land of internet forums, the passionate sport fan reigns supreme. Sometimes it's a straight up heated debate, other times a diatribe develops into raw fanaticism that resembles a matter of life and death. But sometimes, the heart of a true believer can be expressed in just a few words.
"Give us Kogarah and we will give you an army!" - DaSuperhero2
In round one of the National Rugby League, TV commentator Phil 'Gus' Gould took a swipe at the lack of numbers in the Dragon Army at Homebush. The match was supposed to be a home game for the St George Illawarra Dragons. The fact that Homebush is miles away from the St George fan base at Kogarah and even further away from the Illawarra supporter base seemed to have been lost on Phil. Gus also seemed to have little time for the fact that a notable protest was already brewing amongst a number of Dragons supporters.
During the 2013-14 off-season, the Dragons club and the NRL announced its 'Right Game, Right Venue' strategy. Essentially it meant that four games would be taken away from Kogarah Jubilee Oval and WIN Stadium in Wollongong for the next four years. One third of 'home' games would be played at Allianz Stadium (Sydney Football Stadium), the Sydney Cricket Ground and ANZ Stadium (Olympic Stadium), Homebush.
The reasoning for the initiative was somewhat opaque. There was talk of how this would increase crowd numbers and gate takings; and there was an underlying offer of revenue to the Dragons club... in exchange for home ground advantage. The games with the best drawcard appeal were immediately scheduled for these neutral venues, Kogarah in particular seemed to be left with the dregs. The Illawarra media mounted a protest, they were rewarded with the Charity Shield fixture, the traditional pre-season clash between St George and South Sydney was moved to Wollongong after ANZ Stadium became unavailable. For reasons unknown, Kogarah was overlooked.
Then came March 9th, 2014, Dragons vs Wests Tigers playing to mostly empty seats in a venue designed to hold over 80,000. This opening round match was promoted with free tickets in an attempt to bolster numbers, but it was not enough to get a blockbuster crowd and fulfill the dreams of the promoters and broadcasters. A reported 19,860 turned up, not too bad. But it was not a good look for TV, sparking Gould's criticism. While some pointed out that 19,000+ fans at Kogarah Jubilee would have provided a tremendous atmosphere, there were those with vested interests who still felt the fans (aka consumers) had let the game (aka promoters) down.
But the fans, it seems, were disillusioned. And with disillusionment, comes protest.
As the debate raged online, with arguments flowing back and forth, LeagueUnlimited forum member 'DaSuperHero2' perhaps gave the most succinct response to the knockers when he posted, "Give us Kogarah and we will give you an army!"
Of course, the Dragon Army has a history of its own. Born out of the St George golden days and culminating into a radical force to be reckoned with in the 1990s, the Dragon Army had a reputation of snapping at the heels of club officials.
In his book, Saints: The Legend Lives On (published 2001), Ian Heads writes, "[The Dragon Army] represented the club's cutting edge - and were a sometimes prickly pressure group whose relationship with Saints administrators tended to ebb and flow."
While the modern Dragon Army may have lost some of that edge, there are those still willing to take up the cause when front office starts making decisions the fans don't agree with.
Enter R2K (Return to Kogarah), also with a history of its own. R2K's prime objective is to see games being played at Kogarah Jubilee Oval. The club's home ground since 1950, Kogarah was abandoned by order of the newly formed NRL in 1999. In 2002, R2K were instrumental in getting the Dragons back to Kogarah. That should have been the end of the matter, but recent events have seen the re-emergence of R2K.
While the issue has been simmering away for some time, matters probably came to a head in round five when the Dragons apparently played a 'home game' at the SCG. Their opponents, South Sydney Rabbitohs, were treated to a pre-game celebration of past and present Rabbitoh greats. Plus, the South Sydney members were allowed free entry, much to the delight of the crowd. And if that wasn't enough, the ground announcer continually rallied the crowd to get behind the Rabbitohs. This did not look like a Dragons game. With home ground advantage all but extinguished, Saints supporters would have been excused for leaving the SCG in a state of bewilderment, and anger.
Of course, Dragons supporters are not alone. Other supporter groups feel they are getting the rough end of the proverbial pineapple from their club and the NRL. Despite the 'strategy', crowd numbers are down. This is a reflection of pricing, poor customer service and lack of consistency in home ground allocation. Recent events even prompted Channel Nine CEO, David Gyngell (Phil Gould's boss) to enter the debate.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Gyngell noted the poor crowd figure of only 6,456 at a recent Wests Tigers v Cowboys match.
“Everyone’s confused,” Gyngell said.
“The Wests Tigers are at Campbelltown, ANZ, Leichhardt Oval. St George are at Homebush, Wollongong and Kogarah. How would you know if you are a punter where your team is playing?"
"Families going to the football like consistency.”
It's little wonder that R2K has re-emerged. The group's founder, Lachlan McLean believes the Dragons club needs to be reminded of its obligations to Kogarah, the spiritual home of St George. In an interview with LeagueUnlimited.com, McLean stressed the importance of maintaining a presence in Kogarah.
"We want to highlight to the club that the fans want to be at Kogarah." McLean said.
"They want better quality games, including the local derby."
The traditional St George vs Cronulla clash hasn't been played at Kogarah Jubilee since 2011, a point that has not been lost on both Saints and Sharks supporters. Indeed, when arch rivals start to agree with each other, it is time for the game's officials to take notice.
Petition - have your say
Prior to Saturday's Dragons vs Warriors clash, fans can sign a petition at Kogarah Jubilee Oval (Princes Hwy, Carlton).
WHEN: Saturday 19 April from 3.15 - 5:15 PM.
ONLINE: There is also an online version at: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/a-better-deal-for-kogarah.html
The petition's author, R2K writes:
"Kogarah Jubilee Oval is the Dragons' spiritual home and has received $37.6 million in funding for upgrades since September 2002. The community worked hard to get the Dragons to return to Kogarah and we must ensure that an adequate number of NRL fixtures are played at Kogarah on an ongoing basis."
"There's no place like home!"
We call on St.George-Illawarra to provide:
1) A minimum of 5 NRL games a year at Kogarah Jubilee Oval.
2) A return of the local derby against the Sharks to Kogarah Jubilee Oval.
3) A guarantee from the Dragons that they won't switch matches from Kogarah Jubilee Oval to other venues during the season.
More forum discussion about the petition can be found here: http://forums.leagueunlimited.com/showthread.php?t=433754