Foreword: As I sit at my laptop on this balmy November night, I also make my debut as a Forum Sevens poster. We?ve all got stories to tell about how we became followers of the greatest game of all. I?d like to tell you just a little bit about how I came to support my team, The Penrith Panthers.
As a Year 1 student back in 1988, I had never even heard of Rugby League. One day I was talking to some kids in my public school?s vast concrete playground, and they were swapping bubblegum cards.
?What have you got there?? I asked curiously. ?They?re footy cards. Here look I?ve got Cliffy Lyons.? The boy replied ?Who is Cliffy Lyons?? I inquired. ?He plays for Manly in the Winfield Cup. He?s one of the best Rugby League players. Haven?t you heard of him? Here have a look at some cards.?
I shuffled through the cards. There were so many different players, so many different emblems. It was all very new to me, but I was impressed.
Who do you go for? I go for the Manly Sea Eagles. They are reigning premiers of the Winfield Cup.? The boy boasted proudly.
?I don?t go for anybody. I haven?t seen a game yet.? I replied, looking slightly dumbfounded
?Why don?t you watch Channel Ten on Sunday Night? You can catch the State Bank Big Game and see what it?s all about.?
Unfortunately I missed the State Bank Big Game, but I caught the Ten Sports News. I saw the names of some of the teams I?d been told about, the Manly Sea Eagles, the Canterbury Bulldogs, the Parramatta Eels, the Balmain Tigers, but I just didn?t feel like I could adopt them as my team. Then I saw a team that no one had mentioned. They wore brown and white and their name sounded funny to me, the Penrith Panthers. They had just been defeated by the Eastern Suburbs Roosters 34 points to 12. The match reporter described them in most unflattering terms, calling them the Chocolate Soldiers and referring to their tendency to self destruct in matches with ?panic football?.
You might have thought that this would have turned a 7 year old off, but strangely enough I took sides with them. They may not have been everyone?s favourite team, but they were still doing quite well, just outside the top five and I thought they might be on the brink of something special.
The next week I told the Manly supporter the answer he had been waiting to hear.
?I found a team to support. I am a Penrith Panthers supporter.? ?Penrith!? he smirked. ?They wear brown and white and they?re losers. Why would you want to support them?
Comments like that of the Manly supporters? were exactly why I wanted to support the Panthers. Not that I was doing it out of rebellion, but I just wanted to support a team for my own reasons, not because someone else supported them, or because they always won.
The children of Castle Hill back in the 1980?s were a fairly predictable bunch at large. These were the days when Canterbury and Parramatta dominated the Sydney Premiership, with 8 titles between them. They were the fashionable clubs of the time. Whether you were 7 years old or 70, everyone knew that Peter Sterling & Brett Kenny, Steve Mortimer & Terry Lamb had won premierships and starred at Origin and Test level I was just as intrigued by characters such as Big MG (Mark Geyer) and unfashionable toilers such Col Van der Voort and Neil Baker. These guys were just as much heroes in a 7 year old?s eyes as were the household names.
Later that year I met another confused young league lover, unsure of the right club for him. I pointed him in the direction of the brown and white and I was able to share my passion for the Panthers. We became best friends.
In the years ahead the ?Chocolate Soldiers? became the ?Licorice All Sorts?. I experienced the highs and lows of Grand Final defeat, Grand Final glory and many moderate to lean years, before the Panthers signaled their revival with their second premiership in 2003.
Whenever my loyalty is tested, I just remind myself of a 7 year old boy who believed in his team, no matter what anybody else said.
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