Born from the Suburbs

Players have come and gone, as have sponsors, coaches and even our name; however, the one constant for Tigers fans since 1934 has been Leichhardt Oval (we don't speak of the Parramatta Stadium debacle). I personally refer to it as the ?heartland?, not just of the Tigers but also of Rugby League in this country.

Leichhardt reminds of you of what our game is about, born from the suburbs for all. It's no coincidence then that the very first games of the NSWRL in 1908 were all played within two kilometres of Leichhardt Oval. At Birchgrove Reserve, Balmain overran Wests 24-0 and Souths beat Norths 11-7, while at Wentworth Park, Newtown beat Easts 32-16 and Glebe defeated Newcastle 8-5.

Call me a romantic but, there is no finer way to enjoy a Sunday afternoon than a pub lunch at one of Australia's finest and oldest pubs on Darling St, Balmain - there's dozens to choose from and everyone a winner - and then wander down Darling St, through one of Australia's oldest suburbs, over Victoria Road, through the picturesque grounds of Callan Park and up to the gates of Leichhardt Oval. Once in the ground you find your patch of grass on the hill, grab a drink from beneath the scoreboard and warm up the vocal chords for the mighty theatre of sport that is a Tigers home game.

There used to be a similar story to tell about dozens of grounds around the Sydney metropolitan area, but not anymore. Leichhardt is one of a few true suburban rugby league grounds in the NRL and its fate is in our hands.

Ric Sissons, Anthony Sinclair and myself, all mad Tigers fans, debated with others on fan forums and at games that Leichhardt's fate was not already sealed, that something could still be done to secure its future. Too often people would reply ?but nothing has so far? or ?who's going to make it happen? ? that?s the reason you're reading this.

If you love the Tigers, or simply love the sport of rugby league, get behind us to help save a true treasure to our game, community and heritage.

The recent state government announcement that Leichhardt Council and Balmain Leagues Club will receive an interest free loan of one million dollars to put towards up grading the ground is a start. And bearing in mind the current political climate, with hospitals and schools crying out for money, it is probably the best we could have hoped for this year.

However it still leaves us $4 million short of the money needed to complete the job, including upgrading corporate hospitality and press rooms. This loan will allow us to get the toilets, fencing and lights upgraded and repaired. At the moment the club needs to hire in lighting to the value of between $15,000 and $30,000 for night games depending on if it?s a Fox Sport or Channel 9 covered game. So it will make a difference.

But the battle?s not over; we?ll now turn our sights to the federal government, as well as revisiting the state government when their bank balance looks a little healthier.

Prior to the last federal election John Howard and the Liberals promised $8 million to Oki Jubilee Stadium and $10 million to Penrith Stadium. By no means do we begrudge the other grounds receiving the funds, however we do seek similar treatment for the remaining $4 million we require. Our request is equal to half or less than half of the other two grants; add to that John Howard?s own electorate of Bennelong is serviced by the ground. Even our Premier League side is now known as the Balmain Ryde Eastwood Tigers, encompassing two large suburbs in the electorate.

It?s been over a year since we formed Stop The Rot (Save Leichhardt Oval Campaign), and we?ve received amazing support from the club, government and more importantly the fans, not just Tigers fans either; it seemed everyone had a great memory from a game at Leichhardt no matter who they support and over 15,000 signatures demonstrates that.

Rugby league was a game born from the suburbs for the people of the suburbs and there is no finer example of that than Leichhardt Oval. We?ll continue to push on with our campaign, if you have the time to lend a hand, attend a match or just add your signature. We?ll welcome your support.

See you at the heartland.

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